East of Eden Chapter 40
by John Steinbeck

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Chapter 40

Kate is deeply shaken by Cal’s visit and words. Bitterly, she thinks that the only other person who has ever caused her so much mental discomfort was Sam Hamilton. As she ponders, she pulls up the chain that hangs between her breasts. The necklace has three things attached to it: two safety-deposit keys and a vial that contains grains of morphine. Her son’s words, “I think you’re afraid,” reverberate in her mind. She says them aloud in an attempt to divest them of their power.

Kate receives a letter from a woman named Ethel. Kate is clueless as to the identity of the woman. She knows dozens of women with that name, but she has had a sufficient relationship with none of them to warrant correspondence. Kate agrees to meet with the letter writer. Ethel turns out to be an ageing, addle-brained whore who had once worked in Kate’s house. As the poor woman babbles, it becomes clear that Kate had “run her off” some time ago. Ethel spent some time in jail and could never get enough money through prostituting to survive very well.

Kate offers Ethel forty dollars but Ethel was hoping for more, in light of the information she had sent to Kate in the mail. Kate has no idea what the woman is talking about. In her blundering way, Ethel finally reveals that she is blackmailing Kate. After Faye’s death, Ethel found the smashed medicine bottles in the backyard. She saved the broken glass in an envelope, certain an analysis of the glass would reveal poison. Kate offers Ethel room and board in exchange for some domestic help. Ethel refuses. She wants a hundred dollars a month to keep her mouth shut. Kate agrees, then counts out a hundred dollars and Ethel goes...

(The entire section is 458 words.)