Chapters 3-4 Summary
As the year 1900 arrives, Gant turns fifty. Eliza is pregnant at forty-two with her last child. Gant decides that his wild days are nearly over, so he increases his drinking and carousing. He has become the butt of the town joke over the years, although rather than growing immune to it, he has become more sensitive. Only his daughter Helen has any measure of control over him. While Eliza is pregnant, Gant visits the town brothel frequently; often Steve, his oldest son, must carry him home.
As Eliza goes into labor, she despairs of any kind of future with Gant. She has kept the family together both spiritually and financially. On the night when Eliza’s pains begin, Gant is violently drunk and the household hides from him. The neighbors hear the shouts and come to intervene. Will Pentland, Eliza’s brother, comes to help. He offers Eliza a good deal on material should she wish to build herself a new home, but she is not quite ready for that. Gant, in his drunken rage, cries out for aid from his first wife. Soon he falls asleep and does not hear anything during the birth of his last child.
The next morning, Gant awakens and hears the sounds of his new child. At first he is excited that it is a boy, but then mourns that they now have one more mouth to feed. He tries to see Eliza and the baby but is shut out. Eliza names him Eugene, which means “wellborn.” Through Eugene’s early years, momentous events take place in the world, but Eugene is oblivious to them. He sees only the crib around him. When he learns to stand, he sees the floor of the nursery and eventually learns to climb out of his crib and play with blocks. Gant takes Eugene out to see the cow, which he mimics. When he is two years old, he is aware of his black nurse, who is somewhat neglectful of him. One day he crawls out of the house and into the alley by the neighbors, the Hilliards, who are one of the town’s elite families. The Hilliard drayman drives the family wagon, asleep at the reigns and unaware of the small child in the middle of the road. The horse steps on Eugene’s face. Eugene’s cries bring everyone running. The doctor proclaims that he is all right, though he will have the mark of the horse’s hoof on his face for some time. The Hilliards put up a “No Trespassing” sign.