Go Tell It on the Mountain—James Baldwin

[I read this 1952 debut novel in three sections, writing in detail about each section before reading on. Spoiler alert: If you read this running commentary, you will find out everything that happens in the book as I read it.]

9th April 2021
Part 1
This feels like an angry novel written by a young man. Baldwin had already left New York to live in Paris some years before its publication, but he had written early drafts of some parts when he was still in his teens. Part 1 takes up about the first quarter, and the anger in it is almost palpable. Most notably, it’s the anger felt by John, the character whose point of view we’re following, and of Gabriel, his preacher father. John is already seriously disenchanted with his life long before his fourteenth birthday, which is the day on which most of this section is set. Baldwin has a whole series of events conspire to let John know that he needs to do some very serious thinking about what he’s going to do with his life. It’s probably going to be a good thing, in the long run, that simply letting things carry on with no intervention from him is clearly not a viable option.

But that’s in the long run. At this particular moment, his life is becoming intolerable. It’s obvious right from the start: ‘Everyone had always said John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father…. Not until the morning of his fourteenth birthday did he really think about it, and by then it was too late.’ Following this, there’s a fairly typical Sunday, and we’re shown how in their Harlem church, there’s no room for any kind of negotiation. Either you’re saved or… what? Or you’re like John’s younger brother Ray, doomed and on the road to hell. Surely, everybody thinks, John will be like the seventeen-year-old Elisha, already saved—as he regularly and noisily demonstrates during their Sunday meetings. Later, Elisha seems contrite after having been caught with another saved young member of the church, Ella-Mae. As John looks at him during a Saturday evening ‘tarry’ service, he sees what Elisha wants them to see: ‘The Lord had lifted him up, and turned him around, and set his feet on the shining way.’

John is steeped in this world but, somehow, he is different from these people. He is clever enough for white teachers to take a special interest in him—a big problem for his father, born in the South and who regards whites as the enemy. John isn’t easily satisfied either with what his family see as the problem or their solutions to it. To find Jesus and live the life of the saved seems utterly narrow to him, although he follows every rule to the letter. With a father like his, proud of how hard he comes down on the sinners in his flock, what other choice does he have? He sings the songs, does his church cleaning duties, carries out the housework his downtrodden, worn-out mother assigns to him. But he’s bitterly disappointed by the latest proof that nobody ever thinks about him. All this Saturday morning, nobody has mentioned his birthday. After shifting the heavy dust of the living-room around for what seems like hours, he goes back to where his mother is doing the endless washing… and she gives him the small handful of coins she has in a little vase. ‘I never asked you what you wanted for your birthday….’ No.

And John goes out. On this fine afternoon, he knows he needs to look for more in his life. As he loves to do, he climbs the mountain and sees the shining city before him. No, really. There is a hill in Central Park he always seeks out: ‘there arose in him an exultation and a sense of power, and he ran up the hill … willing to throw himself headlong into the city that glowed before him.’ This is definitely not the Black church’s version of the Promised Land, but his own, the city in which his Blackness will not define him, even though we soon see how out of place he feels in its libraries and museums. He even feels out of place in the movie theatres, but that’s where he goes, the little ticket stub entitling him to see the movie about the ambitious, amoral white woman who knows exactly what she wants and goes for it. There’s no redemption for her, and she comes to a bad end, but she must represent something for John. Maybe he sees how far from his own life he will have to go striving for something very different from it.

And then he goes home, for revelations of a different kind. There’s blood outside his apartment block, and the kids hanging around tell him Ray is hurt bad. His father’s sister Florence is in the apartment, so John knows it’s serious. Ray has a gash across his forehead and down through one of his eyebrows, and his father is looking for somebody to blame. Where has John been all day when he should have…? Why doesn’t their mother look out for her own children when…? Why do white kids do this to Black kids when all they’re doing is…? This is clearly the way he always deals with things, citing the hard work he does to keep food on the table and keep all the family on the right path by way of his dedicated ministry. But this time is different, because…

…Florence is there, and she’s having none of it. He’s only making such a fuss because Ray is the favourite, and blaming everybody for what he, Gabriel, used to do as a child—go looking for trouble. Ray is just like his father at that age. He was not standing by innocently but, with the bad kids he runs around with, looking to pick a fight in a white neighbourhood. We know she’s speaking the truth, because Gabriel has no answer, choosing instead to smack his wife across the face and leave everybody stunned. Here is a man who seeks to fight his demons through administering harsh church laws as he pretends God is on his side, and it clearly isn’t working. Florence’s presence in the apartment confirms what John has somehow known for a long time. The church his father uses to define himself has no meaning for his fourteen-year-old son.

It’s after this that John goes to do his cleaning duties before the evening ‘tarry’ meeting. Uncharacteristically, Elisha is there to help, and John resists very robustly when the older boy tries to push him around. Maybe he’s had enough of the kind of sanctimony that pardons bad behaviour…. Whatever, a couple of the big ladies of the congregation arrive, Elisha gives the what they want, and John only sings because it would look strange if he didn’t. And then, highly unusually, not only his father and mother arrive but Florence too. Are there more revelations to come? ‘John knew that it was the hand of the Lord that had led her to this place, and his heart grew cold. The Lord was riding on the wind tonight. What might that wind have spoken before the morning came?’

This is turning out to be quite some birthday.

11th April
Part 2, Chapters 1 and 2 (of three): Florence’s Prayer and Gabriel’s Prayer
We stay in the same store-front church on the same evening for these chapters. The ‘Prayers,’ from these other characters’ points of view, are a mixture of what is happening to them this evening and telling moments from their back stories. These are not the autobiographical outpourings of a young writer. This is James Baldwin using everything he knows to give us insights into a claustrophobic, intolerant, problematic world. He shows how this evangelical church, with its insistence on loud outpourings in response to the Word of God, is rooted in the Christianity of the Southern slaves. Florence and Gabriel’s mother had been born into slavery, had an unwavering certainty that the overthrow of the Southern whites was God’s work, and was just as sure that Hell awaits anybody who does not submit heart and soul to God’s power.

Some time in the 1870s both she and her daughter have a problem. For Florence, the new arrival means she will have to be ‘content—helping with the washing, and fixing meals and keeping Gabriel quiet.’ The mother’s problem is that the boy soon becomes exactly the unruly child Florence described in the apartment earlier in the evening. He’s worse when he grows into young adulthood, and only his mother believes there’s any hope that he will change his ways and find God. By the time Florence leaves, already in her twenties, there’s no sign of it yet. As she sees it, he’s only annoyed by her departure because it means he’ll have to do something for their mother for a change. She’s on her deathbed, but if Florence doesn’t go now, she fears she’ll be stuck in their stupid post-slavery world forever. She’s never seen their church bringing improvements to any of their lives, however faithful.

If in Part 1 Baldwin writes about what he knows, Part 2 seems like an extraordinary feat of imagination from a writer still in his twenties. In order to sum up the failure of Florence’s life in New York—and the failure of a whole community to make any progress—he focuses on her fairly short-lived marriage. Nobody, especially not Baldwin, is saying that her immature, useless husband is typical, but everything about him is recognisable. If he forgets to give her his wages for the housekeeping, he might end up spending it all on the first day, or buying some useless gift for himself or her just to do something nice for a change….

One Saturday comes to stand for the ten years of her frustration and anger. In a grandly generous gesture, he does the shopping for her, spending too much money on enough coffee for a month—he hates how they’re always running out—and a huge turkey she has to spend tedious hours plucking and gutting. He rewards himself for his generosity by bringing a useless friend over to play cards while she’s busy in the kitchen. Her frustration and exasperation mount, and an almighty row ends only when he leaves the house. ‘She remembered, too late, that he had all his money with him,’ and he doesn’t come back until he’s drunk it all away. Baldwin gets the tone perfectly. Florence waits until she thinks he’s asleep before coming to bed, but he isn’t, and wonders ‘what you want to be so evil with your baby for? Don’t you know you done made me go out and get drunk, and I wasn’t a-fixing to do that? I wanted to take you out tonight.’ So, of course, it’s her fault they didn’t have a lovely time. The scene ends with his kisses and his tongue all over her, and with her having to take it all.

Back in the church on this different Saturday night, she thinks about how he was killed in France in the First World War, about how the woman he left her for is the one who tells her about it—and about something else. For years, she has kept a letter written by her friend Deborah, Gabriel’s first wife. This is when she’s still with Frank before the War, and she had told him what was in it: ‘nothing to surprise me none. She say she think my brother’s got a bastard living right there in the same town what he’s scared to call his own.’ Florence has never been a church-goer, but she’s here now. Gabriel’s appalling behaviour earlier in the day has brought her there. She ‘had always thought of this letter as an instrument in her hands which could be used to complete her brother’s destruction.’

She doesn’t know how this might be achieved and fears, knowing she has not long to live, that she will never see the day. And ‘the thought filled her with terror and rage.’ Above all, it’s the awful injustice of him being held so high above her. Gabriel says the right things, has all the respect, and will be in heaven with their mother, looking down on her ‘burning in the pit.’ She rushes at the altar to beat her fists against an indifferent God. One of the women of the congregation thinks she’s found God and holds her shoulders in support, telling her to ‘Call on the Lord!’ But Florence, who must know more than we do about her own health, only feels ‘the hands of death.’

Gabriel’s is a much longer chapter, and it’s a tour de force. There are more set pieces than in Florence’s, most of them revealing the hugeness of the chasm between Gabriel’s conception of his own epic destiny and the squalid reality. He thinks he has only really made one terrible mistake—or, as he thinks of it, Satan only really won one battle—which is his nine-day sexual relationship with an unmarried woman. In reality, he never gets anything right. The first set piece is when he thinks that not only has he found God, but God has found him. Through him, Gabriel, God’s word will be channelled as never before—and, in fact, it seems that he really does have the ability to preach a fine sermon. He begins to get a reputation…

…which, of course, he interprets as proof of something far beyond the simple fact that he knows how to use the conventional rhetoric of the church. He is chosen to represent his town alongside twenty other preachers over many evenings, famous ‘elders,’ and he is praised for his speaking. It leads to another set piece, the grand dinner provided for them all on the last night. Pride turns into a kind of hubris as he comes to see the elders not as his equals but, in certain ways, his inferiors. One of them jokes obscenely about the fine, upstanding Deborah, raped by white men when she was young. ‘She had been choked so early on white men’s milk … that she would never now be able to find a nigger who would let her taste his richer, sweeter substance.’ Baldwin, whilst critiquing shocking attitudes among these respectable men, is also giving the supposedly reformed womaniser the opportunity to take the moral high ground.

Stupidly, following a dream that he interprets as a direct message from God—I’ll come back to dreams—he marries Deborah. He will rescue the ruined woman from the taunts of the hypocrites by doing the right thing… as though her habit of sitting close to the front in church and looking up at him adoringly as he speaks has nothing to do with it. He really doesn’t get it that his own motives have almost nothing to do with his new-found high-mindedness, and everything to do with pride and the seeking out of status in the church community. He is fooled by his own borrowed rhetoric.

The epic dreams confirm his self-image, and he takes them very seriously indeed. His conversion is a damascene waking vision of the evil of his own life, ‘his body freezing with sweat, and yet altogether violent with the memory of lust….’ When the whole land becomes silent around him, ‘this silence was God’s judgment; that all creation had been stilled before the just and awful wrath of God….’  The dream he has when contemplating marriage to Deborah is over two pages long. The first part of it ends with a mighty struggle—‘he was going to be stoned, and then he was in battle, and then shipwrecked’—and he wakes up, having ejaculated so fulsomely ‘his loins were covered.’ This is a warning. Satan wants him to waste his seed, he knows, but the next part of the dream he has struggled up a high mountain to Heaven and, feeling like God himself—is Baldwin laying it on a bit thick?—is shown ‘the elect’ in glory. He is told explicitly, ‘So shall thy seed be.’ Ah. This is what his seed his for. He will have a son who will be chosen by God. Deborah, he decides, can be the vessel.

We see how little he understands himself. The wet-dream of a sexually frustrated man becomes a struggle with Satan which he can win. And he doesn’t get it that he’s kidding himself if he believes a reformed man like him will be satisfied with an older, almost asexual wife. He doesn’t understand the real world either, so it’s disastrous in two ways. Naively, he believes his gesture in offering to marry her will bring nothing but respect. What it actually brings is bemusement at best.

And then along comes the mocking, pleasure-loving Esther. He thinks he’s interested in her because she’s somebody to be saved, and high-mindedly encourages her to come to his church. He is disappointed (but not surprised) when she doesn’t. Except then she does, late, for the part when Gabriel himself is speaking. He still doesn’t get what she’s there for, to see a man urgently displaying himself for her approval. She understands this, but he doesn’t.

Their first sexual encounter is one of the most powerful set pieces of all. Baldwin presents us with two opposite mindsets, both equally compelling and plausible. He is the man who, despite the dissolution of his early life, has chosen the path of righteousness. She is bemused by him, sees him as a ‘pretty man’ who clearly desires her—what else would he do?—but, for reasons of his own, beats down his desire whilst describing her in the most dreadful terms imaginable. She thinks it’s nonsense, and ignores all he says because she can see what he wants far better than he can. He thinks Satan is using her to break his resolve, and that when he allows her to undress him there is one of those cosmic struggles going on. And wouldn’t you know it? A mere human like him simply isn’t strong enough to withstand the power of evil on this scale. He tries, Lord, he really tries. Or thinks he does.

This goes on for nine days. They are both working for the same white family, so temptation is always there until, finally, he puts a stop to it. She’s still bemused by him, but if he wants to stop it, what can she do…? The consequence of all this full-on sex is inevitable, and his response to her pregnancy reveals his true weakness. When she tells him about it as soon as she’s sure, some weeks after he’s stopped having sex with her, he carries on getting everything wrong. A woman with loose morals bearing his bastard child? He’ll have to send her as far away as possible, or his reputation will be in tatters. He’ll keep in touch, sure, but nobody must know. He has a fine, upstanding wife, and for her sake as much as his own… etc.

He finds out years later that Deborah knew. Everybody knew. And the child that Esther names Royal, because he had told her that his first-born son will be exactly that, is even more dissolute than Gabriel himself had been. Once, by chance, Gabriel meets him in the streets of their Southern town—Royal lives in Chicago—and all Gabriel can think of is that this young an is likely to get himself killed by the whites who are out looking for a lynching. He doesn’t, in fact, because he seems to be destined to be stabbed to death at the gambling table. That’s what happens, anyway. It’s Deborah who tells him, having found out from Esther’s mother—and she tells him she would have brought the boy up as her own if he had let her. All Gabriel can do is weep at all this news, stare out at the thunder and lightning, and announce to Deborah that God is talking.

Everything about Gabriel’s life is a failure because, I suppose, he falls into all the traps. Hubris, pride, and a mistaken belief that only faith in God has any value all blind him to uncomfortable truths. They let him fool himself into thinking he’s doing the right thing or, if he clearly isn’t, that it isn’t for want of trying. And his next mistake, after Deborah dies before her time, will be to marry Elizabeth. She’s an unmarried woman who arrives at the church with a baby and, when she is duly saved like so many others, Gabriel decides this is another sign to him. The baby, we come to realise as ‘Gabriel’s Dream’ ends, is John. On this terrible day for Gabriel, John had not turned his eyes away as Ray shouted obscenities at their father. On the contrary, he ‘seemed to want to stare forever into the bottom of Gabriel’s soul.’ Gabriel now stares ‘in wrath and horror at Elizabeth’s presumptuous bastard boy, grown so suddenly old in evil.’ Even in the church, he would have ‘raised his hand to strike him’ If Elisha hadn’t been between them. My goodness.

27th May
Part 2, Chapter 3, Elizabeth’s Prayer; and Part 3, The Threshing Floor—to the end
The only other novel I know that has soul-wrestling on anything like this scale is Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Like Joyce, Baldwin places the struggle right in the centre of the religious culture his main characters inhabit. And, also like Joyce, Baldwin takes his protagonists to the limit of what that culture can provide and demonstrates how it simply can’t bear the weight. In Portrait, Joyce is explicit about the way Stephen recognises this, and about how he therefore chooses a different way of life. Baldwin does it differently, relying instead on a mixture of the characters’ dissatisfactions and a kind of dramatic irony. The reader can tell that the language of sin, salvation and the rest, which is all these people have, serves no useful purpose in their lives. The way that this becomes clear is different in every case. And with John, whose struggling consciousness we are inside for a large part of The Threshing Floor, it’s still a work in progress at the very end of the novel. His salvation, if that’s what it is—it almost certainly isn’t in any conventional sense—is deeply ambiguous.

But first, Elizabeth’s chapter. When still quite young in the South, she meets a young man who, we later come to realise, could be the tragic hero of his own novel. But in this novel Richard is there to let Elizabeth know that there’s more to life than her religion. He’s like a less fortunate John, in that he’s forced to work in thankless jobs from a young age. The young Elizabeth is immediately struck by something self-enclosed about him, as though somehow he isn’t defined by the cheap shop he works in. It starts when he astonishes her with his smile on their first meeting, and… much later, they decide to move to New York. Marriage, he assures her, will come soon. They live separately, but see a lot of each other, and she is endlessly impressed by the world of culture that he seems to know a lot about. But how could he, beyond the little he has time to read and their visits to museums? He knows how limited his knowledge is.

Like John, he’s convinced there’s a life to be made in this city built for white people. But there’s never been anybody looking out for him and now, in his twenties, there seems to be no path for him to follow. The myths of life in the city have no foundation in fact. When she finds she is pregnant, Elizabeth daren’t tell him because he’s troubled enough already. And she soon learns to regret the omission—because Richard, never a part of Baldwin’s future plans for her, has little time left to live.

On a subway platform in the early hours—they don’t usually part so late—he sees, too late, three Black youths being chased towards where he is standing. He is arrested with them, and the police—this is early 1920s New York—don’t listen to the others saying he had nothing to do with it. They beat Richard mercilessly when he refuses to plead guilty, especially after the white victim of the robbery says all four of them did it. They all look the same to him, he says, but Richard was definitely one of them. Elizabeth is shocked at how broken he seems by the experience when she makes her own statement… and his acquittal, through lack of evidence, comes too late. The experience has broken more than his body, and he slashes his own wrists. It’s as though Baldwin is acknowledging that although his frog-faced alter-ego John doesn’t recognise his own privilege he, Baldwin does. Richard’s experience is much more common than either of theirs.

Elizabeth’s dark night of the soul lasts for something like two years, in fact. She leaves her young boy alone so she can spend nights of drudgery cleaning the white men’s buildings… and she meets Florence doing the same thing. They both have carapaces of defensive armour by now, but a coffee in the early-morning diner leads to Florence wanting to do offer a hand to this young widow, as Elizabeth says she is. And guess who’s coming to New York? Florence’s brother. And… there’s a terrible inevitability about what comes next—and not only because we already know what’s coming. It’s totally predictable that Gabriel regards her plight as another sign from God—he and Florence know by now that she was never married—and promises to bring up her son as his own. Florence is appalled, because she knows what will really happen. But she can do nothing about it. Elizabeth is as bound by her culture as Gabriel and, although she has hardly been inside a church in recent years, when the chance to be saved comes her way—and marriage to a preacher too—she buys into it completely.

In the present day, on the fateful Saturday night, she weeps and prays. The lady saints see this as a marvellous sign, but we know that really Elizabeth is weeping for John, and for herself. The events of the afternoon have proved Gabriel’s contempt for both of them, but she can do nothing about it. And she can do nothing about what John seems to be going through on this night. It looks like a particularly gruelling version of what the ladies have been hoping for, John truly finding Jesus. But, in The Threshing Floor, Baldwin reveals to us how complicated it all is. Gabriel has nothing to do with it, of course, although he is deacon of this church and the golden letters of ‘Jesus Saves’ feature in the nightmare-like hours John spends in a kind of torture.

The person who is truly involved is Elisha. He, like Gabriel, has all the words—and, as far as we know, is sincere in his hope for the salvation of John’s soul. But in this novel, and in the church culture that Baldwin presents, the spiritual and the physical are inseparable. They are, in some ways the same thing—and, in John’s fourteen-year-old mind, Elisha’s sexuality is a part of the mix too. Baldwin never makes it explicit, but the young John’s desire from the start that Elisha should admire him, his wide-eyed wonder at Elisha’s emergence as a sexual being when he is caught with Ella-Mae, and his exciting physical presence during the long Saturday night all suggest that John’s interest in him goes far beyond spiritual admiration.

It’s heady stuff and, like so many other things in John’s life, it’s a part of the culture. Spiritual salvation is only possible through an exhausting kind of physical and mental self-exposure, during which the whole self has to be surrendered. And we have seen with Gabriel how the sexual is indistinguishable from the spiritual. A wet dream becomes a message from God that he should father children—and by doing so, he will bring a great spiritual leader into the world. Version 1 will be Royal, and version 2 will by Roy. Baldwin has chosen to make these two boys the most dissolute in the book, worthy successors to their father’s own youthful debauchery. Meanwhile, all strong relationships are sexual or family-oriented.

Baldwin is not presenting this as a workable social blueprint. In fact, it’s a muddle, leading only to failure and disappointment…. And yet this is what we witness John buying into as he struggles through the night. For a dozen pages or more he has visions, feels cast down into a grave, hears the sound of singing and calling he has heard all his life. But this time, when ‘someone’s’ voice asks Have you been to the river? He sees the river, ‘and the multitude was there. And … their robes were ragged, and stained with the road they had travelled….’ It’s as visionary as anything that Gabriel ever saw. ‘Then John saw the Lord… and the darkness… was filled with a light he could not bear.’ He erupts into weeping, and the ‘saints’ in the church all celebrate—and it is no accident that the devoutly wished-for consummation is brought to him by Elisha. ‘And a sweetness filled John as he heard this voice….’ It’s a masterful mixing together by Baldwin of the spiritual awakening John seeks with a different kind of awakening, one he doesn’t yet recognise.

Would the ambiguity be so pronounced if we didn’t know about Baldwin’s own life? Following a conversion at the age of fourteen, he threw himself into a religious life… until he stopped, three years later. And we also know what I guess readers did not when the novel was first published, concerning Baldwin’s sexuality. But contemporary readers would probably know about the disaffection he felt that was deep enough for him to become an émigré writer in Paris at the age of 24. Although nothing is stated at the end of the novel—ambiguous, I called it—we can see where Baldwin is going with this.

In fact, it doesn’t end with John’s supposed spiritual awakening. Somebody else is going to have to spend time on a different ‘threshing-floor’, and little will emerge but chaff. On the way home, Florence finally does what she has wanted to do for so long, to confront Gabriel with the hypocrisy of his life. It isn’t mere cruelty. She has had enough not only of the way he has spent his life living one lie after another, but of seeing the suffering he brings to Elizabeth and the rest of his family. At the heart of what she says to him is Deborah’s letter to her from all those years ago. Before this, Baldwin has already allowed us to see that Gabriel’s twin demons are his lack of self-control and his lack of self- knowledge. The first leads him to do the wrong thing. The second leads him to do what he pretends to himself is right, while turning a blind eye to his own faults.

Florence doesn’t know the details of what happened with Esther and the child she gave birth to in Chicago. But she knows enough to be able to tell him that in not confessing to his congregation he will never absolve himself of the sin. Gabriel argues—of course he does—that he has confessed it to God, and he knows that God has forgiven him. Florence treats that little piece of self-deception with the contempt it deserves—as she does with his pretence that he is bringing John up as his own son. As they walk through the early-morning streets, the light beginning to strike the tops of the buildings, she reminds him of his promise to Elizabeth—and of his fixation on the no-good son he fathered. For Gabriel, the blood relationship is all, and it blinds him to the truth of Roy’s true nature.

And, walking ahead of them as she says all this, she can see the ‘listening’ head of John as he walks before them. The reader might expect that this will lead to some sort of denouement, that John will confront his so-called father with the truth that has always been hidden from him. But no. A denouement suggests a resolution of sorts, and Baldwin isn’t offering any resolutions. John has reached a spiritual awakening we expect will be short-lived. Gabriel is simply unable to accept the truth of what Florence is telling him, and will no doubt live with his dark secrets until the Judgment Day she urges him to think of. In fact, we know, nothing at all will change. Blacks will continue to be treated with contempt by white people, and will seek solace in a theology that offers them nothing but biblical tropes. Florence, like Cassandra, will never be heard.

The novel ends with John. Everything good in the final half-page or so comes from Elisha. He tries to get Gabriel to acknowledge what John has achieved—‘He come through, didn’t he, Deacon Grimes?’—and kisses John’s forehead. It is like being anointed… and it is like being kissed. The light now filling the street ‘fell over Elisha like a golden robe, and struck John’s forehead, where Elisha had kissed him, like a seal ineffaceable forever.’ He turns to smile at the man still referred to as his father, ‘but his father did not smile. / They looked at each other a long moment. His mother stood in the doorway, in the long shadows of the hall. / “I’m ready,” John said, “I’m on my way.”’

The end. And the only thing we can be sure of is that wherever he is going, his so-called father will not be going with him. John almost certainly doesn’t realise it yet, but we know that one day soon he will.