Chapters 7-8 Summary
Two years after Eliza’s return to Altamont from St. Louis, Gant takes a seven-week journey to California. He feels that this is his last great journey—that his death is already on its way. On the return journey, Gant feels that he is moving swiftly toward his end. As an omen, he learns at his arrival in Altamont that one of its citizens has died while he was gone. Gant feels that he will die soon, though his mother is still going strong at eighty-six. He must write to her more often while there is still time.
As he walks through the town, Gant sees signs of his doom all around him. He reads his own name on the front of his shop and likens it to a tombstone. It is early morning when he reaches his home and startles Eliza as she gets the fire going for breakfast. Despite her surprise, she tells him that she had predicted his return just the day before. Gant despairs that Eliza’s all-knowing ways have begun again. She offers to fix breakfast for him, and he goes upstairs to wake up the boys. The neighbors see the smoke rise from the fireplace, where Gant has poured kerosene to make a large fire; they declare with some satisfaction that Gant has made it home.
When Eugene turns six years old, he convinces his mother to let him go to school. His closest companion, Max Isaacs, is a year older, and Eugene does not want to be left behind. Eliza is convinced that Eugene will be a scholar, an idea for which Gant has no patience. Eugene continues to pour through the pictures in the books around him. He feels fascinated by the different lands around the world. The schoolyard bullies pick on him because he is strange. They influence him to draw dirty pictures in his schoolbooks and compose lewd verses about his teacher and the principal. When these verses are discovered in his desk, he is sent to the principal’s office. The principal asks him what he ever did to Eugene to deserve this kind of treatment. Eugene replies that he did nothing and promises never to do anything like it again. However, he continues to be surrounded by boys who take every opportunity to compose bawdy rhymes, including his brother Ben, who is growing to adulthood despite his immature behavior.