Chapters 18-19 Summary
Following the move with Eliza to Dixieland, Eugene grows apart from Helen. She is categorized as belonging to the Pentland side of the family, along with Steve and Daisy. She is much closer to Luke. Steve marries a German woman, Margaret Lutz, who is twelve years older than he is. Her father had died and left her nine thousand dollars in insurance money, which to Steve seems a fortune. Margaret comes to Altamont with a friend and Steve seduces her. Eugene finds Steve and Margaret on Gant’s bed; soon after, the two are married. Steve lives off his wife’s money, and eventually the couple returns to Margaret’s hometown in Indiana. From there, Steve occasionally writes of divorce and then reconciliation. Both Gant and Eliza feel that Steve has done well for himself.
Helen has started a traveling singing act with Pearl Hines. The duo travels throughout the South and sings in moving picture theaters. After two or three years, Pearl decides to get married, so the act comes to an end, and Helen returns to Gant’s home. She feels unappreciated while a slacker like Steve is admired. Luke has gone to study engineering in Atlanta but returns often to Altamont to be an auctioneer. He earns the money for his tuition but does not study. Eventually he leaves and moves to Pittsburgh and then Dayton. The Great War starts, and he works in a boiler factory making war materials.
Gant is now almost sixty-five years old, and he is beginning to slow down. He thinks of old age often, and he becomes an old man. When Helen’s friends come to the house, they are charmed by his “dirty old man” routine, though this enrages Helen. Elizabeth, the madam of the town’s bordello, comes to Gant’s office. She tells him that one of her best girls, Lily, passed away recently. Elizabeth speaks of a young life cut short at twenty-two, with all the best years having been taken from her. She had loved Lily like a daughter, so she wants to do something special in her memory. Gant offers to carve her tombstone, but Elizabeth says she wants to purchase the angel Gant has outside his office. Although Gant has cursed that angel frequently over the years, he had imported it from Italy and is secretly fond of it. He warns Elizabeth that it will cost her quite a bit of money, but he decides he will let it go for $420 dollars, the amount it cost him. He offers to carve a poem on it as well. As he bids Elizabeth good-bye, Gant looks over the people in the town, feeling that he alone is moving inexorably toward death.