Chapter 3 Summary

Twenty-five years previous to the current time of the story, Gail Hightower had come to Jefferson with his wife to be the pastor of the Presbyterian church. His wife, however, was unfaithful, and she was eventually killed in a house in Memphis. The community questioned whether Hightower knew about his wife’s affairs. They judged that Hightower had done little enough, either in keeping his wife in line or keeping her satisfied, so he was forced to resign from the church. Despite the urging of several in the community, Hightower refused to leave Jefferson and instead set himself up as an instructor of art. He had precious little business, however; he barely had enough to keep himself warm and fed.

When Byron Bunch came to Jefferson seven years previously, he was intrigued by Hightower’s story as he passed the sign outside his home advertising art lessons. He was told of Hightower’s wife, who came with Hightower to minister in the church but had kept herself apart. She was clearly unhappy, crying in the parsonage so loudly that the neighbors could hear her. Several times she left town. Even when she was in Jefferson, she frequently did not come to church. The true end came when she stood up at the back of the church, screaming out. She was placed in a mental institution for several months. When she came home, she seemed subdued, but she eventually returned to her bizarre manners. One day she took a train for Memphis. The next morning the people of Jefferson read that she had jumped from the window of a hotel where she had been staying with a man.

Hightower brought his wife’s body home and buried it with little ceremony. He continued to preach. As he had in the past, he especially focused on his grandfather, who had been killed in the Civil War. He kept his black cook, and eventually the people gossiped that they were having an affair. The Ku Klux Klan visited Hightower’s home, and the cook quit. Hightower next hired a black male cook, but he was also driven out by the Klan. Hightower himself had been tied to a tree and left. He never talked about who did it. Eventually he succumbed to the church’s request that he resign.

One Sunday evening, Hightower notices a man walking down the street. If it had been a weekday, he would have easily recognized him, but he does not make the connection now. He soon sees that it is Byron Bunch coming into town on a Sunday night—something that he has never done before.