One plate at a time, she
ladles watered gravy
over mashed potatoes,
winking at Clark from over
Henderson's bent shoulder
to show him her support.
The agent doesn't see.
He doesn't know where he is
or how he got here
or who these kind people are.
The shock of flight can do that.
It can make you forget yesterday,
can render one as ignorant
of what today transpires
as a bat is blind
to mites in the church's spires.
Clark will take advantage of that
in this interview between man
and boy over vegetable stew,
the aforementioned tubers,
and bowls of onion soup.
Henderson introduces himself,
and the Kents do likewise,
but they dine in silence otherwise,
the scrape of metal ware on plates
marking the moments as they pass.
It is quite late -- the party
having had to wait on their guest's
regaining consciousness --
when Clark finally asks:
"So, was that your car
you were trying to get into
in town before?"
Henderson says, "Yes. It was."
Clark: "And, what brings you to Smallville?," as
Ma retires, leaving to Clark the task
of inquiry, and the agent's answers.
-- An assignment.
-- Looking into the Klan?
-- Wasn't exactly my plan, no.
I was supposed to go
from town to town chasing down
rumors of sanctioned lynchings.
No arrests; just investigating.
-- Lynchings sanctioned by whom?
-- The local law.
-- Then there's a big flaw
in your having come here.
-- What's that?
-- Hasn't been a lynching here.
Not for six years.
-- Colored man?
-- That explains my reception.
Local law involved?
-- Sheriff told me not to ask,
something to which, at the time,
I took exception.
-- 'At the time'? What about now?
-- Six years, these six years,
with all Smallville's been through?
It makes a difference.
-- How's that, Kent?
What kind of difference?
-- My Pa thought he knew who'd done it
and started looking into it.
Bought himself nothing but trouble.
It wasn't worth it. Few cared then
(Pa and I both felt the chill
of dozens of cold shoulders),
and now? With this town bubbling
over into recovery
and uniting like family?
Even fewer will.
We have to care for our own first.
And the men? Pa's suspects?
They've borne the brunt of the worst
of the storms, the Depression
and everything else.
Your courts couldn't punish them worse.
Besides, they didn't mean it: to kill.
They just got drunk is all.
(Clark's head sinks and he stares
into his empty bowl.)
Again, the agent:
-- Clark, you sound like someone
talking from someone else's defeat.
Did they beat your Pa?
-- Nothing like that.
These men aren't that type.
They're not bad men by nature;
they just lost control is all.
It was the times,
-- I've heard that argument
before. It's untenable.
Men are made of more than clay,
Clark; we're not so moldable.
Tell me what happened that day.
What did they do?
-- Nothing that could be proved.
There was a fire that burned
the barn and Pa's metal shop
down. He blamed John Ross,
who was our neighbor then
and one of his oldest friends,
but Ma made Pa drop it.
-- But now you take it seriously?
-- I've suspected since Pa died.
Ross got all emotional
at the funeral, talked about political
things he and Pa had done before I was born.
I started asking around.
-- And found?
-- A stone wall. People altogether
stopped talking to me for awhile,
so I dropped it too.
Hadn't thought about it, much,
until I saw them coming for you.
-- You know who those men were?
-- Yes, I do.
-- How do you know?
-- Ross and his stalwarts meet
at the Grange Hall every week.
It's something we don't speak of,
but we all know who's hanging on,
who's still Klan.
The whole town knows. To a man.
-- And you think they killed
this colored man, this....
-- Joe. I don't know.
-- But you do know who was chasing me?
-- And one of them was this Ross?
-- And he's their boss?
-- Assaulting an agent is a federal offense.
I can make an arrest.
-- But you need a warrant.
And you need me to testify
when you go to apply for it.
-- You'd object?
-- It's like what I said before.
The town in its entirety
matters more than any one man.
A community on its land
is like a family at home:
you've got to keep it whole,
though the effort may take its toll
on outsiders like Joe.
Even though he was my friend,
in the end I have to recognize
that the too-flawed lives
of a few Smallvillers,
members of my community,
have to take precedence
over vengeance for a stranger.
There is a long silence.
Henderson has heard in Clark's speech
nothing but simple prejudice --
country narrow-mindedness preached
with unusual eloquence --
but he is unable to express
the roots of his outrage at this,
now all but visible. This boy
is obviously capable
of much good, but....He gropes
for the right words. They do not come.
He is still dazed -- from dizzy flight,
from having fled from a fight
he can scarcely recall --
and Kent's complacent rural
ethic so amazes him,
he almost falls for it himself.
But, that pit of moral dread,
wherein most people are bred
(and where more than will ever
admit it dwell) cannot
absorb this agent of right,
of Christendom's fading light.
From something he once read,
Henderson conceives a lesson,
something simple, which,
he thinks, will spell out better
those principles by which
and for which he lives
than any lecture he could give:
-- Clark. Have you ever eaten chinese?
-- Food? Here? No.
-- Well, I did once, in San Francisco,
when I was there on a case.
It was at a restaurant, a place
named after a book by Confucius.
He's like their Jesus, only less.
Sayings of his, on respect and duty
and on how to fit in
to a family or community,
were all over the wallpaper.
One struck me in particular.
It went something like this:
Foreigner says to Confucius,
"In my country, there is a good man.
We knew he was a good man
when his father stole a lamb,
because the man reported it."
Then Confucius answers,
"Good men are different in my land.
A father shelters his son
and a son his father,
for this is righteousness."
Now Kent, whose side are you on?
You agree with Confucius?
-- In principle, yes.
-- Want to know why I remember this?
-- Sure. Yes.
-- What's happening in China today,
Clark, what's its present condition?
-- Civil war. Foreign invasion.
-- Yes. Hundreds of Chinese smallvilles
have ceased to exist in the upheaval.
That's happened before.
In America. Hasn't it?
-- In the War Between the States, you mean?
-- Yes, in our Civil War.
And what were we fighting for then?
-- Southerners for Independence,
the North for Union,
and both over Slavery.
-- So, our choices were what?
You don't see the connection
I'm trying to make?
-- Between what? No, I don't.
Flustered, Henderson rises,
his heart racing with that passion
of ideas that smothers fatigue
quick as salt on a stove fire.
He speaks, aiming his words afar
distant, as serious as if
Clark were the League of Nations:
Clark, the Founders propped up
their Republic on two pillars,
Freedom and Property, but they let
some pursue the latter
taking from others the former.
Where humans were owned as chattel,
that could be no Land of the Free,
and the contradiction sparked a battle,
one that had to be.
Today we dwell in the world
won of that war, but still let
some men treat others like cattle.
We use the excuse that "those people"
aren't ours; not our brothers,
and we are not their keepers.
Clark, it's only an excuse.
I read that piece from Confucius
not long after the Japanese
first marched into Manchuria.
I remember thinking then that
if Americans keep thinking
so narrowly -- like we have been;
like the Chinese do, if that story
and their present situation
are any indication -- then
we're bound to be next in line
for an attack of fascism.
Whether it comes from beyond
our borders, or from within,
doesn't matter. In a hamlet
like Smallville or a Chinese village,
sure, people can stick together
like they do when they're a family;
but (think about it), then you get to be
so every stranger is a suspect,
even a countryman whose interests
are the same as yours, just because
he's from another town or state
half a continent away.
Family-type loyalty alone,
Clark, can't build a nation,
and you've got to have a country,
not just a "community"
if you want to survive
in the twentieth century.
Stretch that older notion --
tribes, clans, or plain localism --
and it flounders.
Everyone can't be brothers.
Why, if we were all meant to be like kin,
we'd've all been made with one color skin.
Fortunately, our Founding Fathers
didn't say we had to be kin,
they just made it so we all can be
citizens. Joe was an American,
Clark, and that's the only "family"
that matters. That's the choice our
Civil War made for us. There can't be
any black sheep in this house.
We can't let the feelings that made
slavery and secession possible
stay here disguised as brotherhood.
Let the Chinese have them; they're bound
to weaken them. Division
opens a people up to new forms
of slavery -- like Communism,
a form of brotherly love that's been
drained of all true compassion
-- subtle kinds of servitude
that sneak up on people
like a wolf in sheep's clothing
and bare their fangs.
That's what the Chinese're doomed to,
and that's where you'll be confined, too,
if you don't lift yourself off the farm,
if you don't overcome this hick kind of charm
you're cursed with....
And Henderson starts to hack and cough,
and all but falls back into his seat.
When he has recovered, he asks
where the bathroom is. Clark points.
The agent goes, leaving our hero
to repeat every argument in his head
until he all but goes mad. And who
can think in his mother's cluttered house
anyway? He must be out,
out the dining room window
and into his own element,
his home in the open air.
Let us follow him there.