What is the answer to the mystery observed by Lou Dimes in A Gathering of Old Men?  

The answer to the mystery observed by Lou Dimes in A Gathering of Old Men is that the men are going 'round back, under the auspices of going to use the bathroom, to stock up on additional ammunition.

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To answer this question, we first need to establish what the mystery was. While Lou Dimes was standing around the murder scene, he noticed that the “old men” referenced in the novel’s title are gradually disappearing from the front yard and heading round back. Each man is gone a few minutes and then returns, and non-verbal signals between the men let the next one know when it was his turn to go.

As it turns out, the men are using the excuse of going to use the bathroom while they are actually stocking up on as much ammunition as their weapons (and their pockets) can carry. Early on, they all have one empty chamber in their weapons, so as to give them all an equal likelihood of having been the murderer. It seems that they later realize they could be facing a confrontation, and they want to be well-prepared for this eventuality.

The reason for “arming up” in secrecy is the furor that would be created by a group of Black men ensuring that they were well-armed. This would be even more extreme given that the authorities already believe that one of the men in the group—although they do not know which one—is guilty of murder.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on June 29, 2020
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The old men must keep their true intentions hidden for as long as possible. Hence the necessity of shrouding their actions in mystery to deceive outside observers such as Lou Dimes.

The men are quietly arming themselves for what they expect will be an imminent showdown with the forces of law and order. Only they daren't do this openly, as it would be likely to cause a huge stir in this neck of the woods, where the sight of a large group of black men arming themselves up would cause a good deal of alarm, to say the least. Loading their guns in such a secretive way gives the men a head start over the sheriff or any white men who might be thinking about meting out some summary justice in revenge for the death of Beau Bouton.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 4, 2019
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After he had arrived on the scene of the murder and waited with the men, Candy, and the sheriff for awhile, Lou Dimes noticed that the old men began

"leaving the front yard one at a time to go to the back.  The only time they didn't move around was when Gil and (the) other fellow were here, but as soon as they left, the people started moving one at a time toward the back again.  Each one would stay four or five minutes, return and nod, then another one would go.  Mapes didn't pay them any attention, and neither did Candy".

Lou was mystified as to what the men were doing.  He says, "I didn't know what was going on.  I was just there" ("Lou Dimes").

A few chapters later, Rooster sheds light on what was really happening.  Under the pretext of going to the toilet, the men were going over to a shoe box filled with shells that Clatoo had hidden under the house.  The men were reloading their shotguns and taking a few extra shells each as well.  Whereas before, they had all had one empty chamber in their guns to make it look like they had been the one to shoot Beau Boutan, now they were preparing for a confrontation should one ensue ("Albert Jackson - aka - Rooster").


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