The Stories of Erskine Caldwell

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This collection of ninety-six stories was first published in 1953 and presents the best of Erskine Caldwell's short fiction from his most productive period of work. Included is "Crown-Fire," which James Dickey praised as "the best story in the language," and such personal favorites of Caldwell as "Country Full of Swedes," "The Windfall," "Horse Thief," "Yellow Girl," and "Kneel to the Rising Sun."
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This collection of ninety-six stories was first published in 1953 and presents the best of Erskine Caldwell's short fiction from his most productive period of work. Included is "Crown-Fire," which James Dickey praised as "the best story in the language," and such personal favorites of Caldwell as "Country Full of Swedes," "The Windfall," "Horse Thief," "Yellow Girl," and "Kneel to the Rising Sun."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Caldwell is one of the best . . . a master illusionist who can create, as Hemingway did, an impression of absolute reality."--Time

"No fictionist has written more strikingly of the modern South's problems."--Chicago Sunday Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820316949
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Series: Brown Thrasher Books Series
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 688
  • Sales rank: 755,925
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was born in Newnan, Georgia. He became one of America's most widely read, prolific, and critically debated writers, with a literary output of more than sixty titles. At the time of his death, Caldwell's books had sold eighty million copies worldwide in more than forty languages. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1984.
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Read an Excerpt

The Stories of Erskine Caldwell

By Erskine Caldwell


Copyright © 1941 Erskine Caldwell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-1716-0


Country Full of Swedes

There I was, standing in the middle of the chamber, trembling like I was coming down with the flu, and still not knowing what God-awful something had happened. In all my days in the Back Kingdom, I never heard such noises so early in the forenoon.

It was about half an hour after sunrise, and a gun went off like a cofferdam breaking up under ice at twenty below, and I'd swear it sounded like it wasn't any farther away than my feet are from my head. That gun shot off, pitching me six-seven inches off the bed, and, before I could come down out of the air, there was another roar like somebody coughing through a megaphone, with a two-weeks cold, right in my ear. God-helping, I hope I never get waked up like that again until I can get myself home to the Back Kingdom where I rightfully belong to stay.

I must have stood there ten-fifteen minutes shivering in my nightshirt, my heart pounding inside of me like a ramrod working on a plugged-up bore, and listening for that gun again, if it was going to shoot some more. A man never knows what's going to happen next in the State of Maine; that's why I wish sometimes I'd never left the Back Kingdom to begin with. I was making sixty a month, with the best of bed and board, back there in the intervale; but like a God-damn fool I had to jerk loose and came down here near the Bay. I'm going back where I came from, God-helping; I've never had a purely calm and peaceful day since I got here three-four years ago. This is the damnedest country for the unexpected raising of all kinds of unlooked-for hell a man is apt to run across in a lifetime of traveling. If a man's born and raised in the Back Kingdom, he ought to stay there where he belongs; that's what I'd done if I'd had the sense to stay out of this down-country near the Bay, where you don't ever know, God-helping, what's going to happen next, where, or when.

But there I was, standing in the middle of the upstairs chamber, shaking like a ragweed in an August windstorm, and not knowing what minute, maybe right at me, that gun was going to shoot off again, for all I knew. Just then, though, I heard Jim and Mrs. Frost trip-trapping around downstairs in their bare feet. Even if I didn't know what God-awful something had happened, I knew things around the place weren't calm and peaceful, like they generally were of a Sunday morning in May, because it took a stiff mixture of heaven and hell to get Jim and Mrs. Frost up and out of a warm bed before six of a forenoon, any of the days of the week.

I ran to the window and stuck my head out as far as I could get it, to hear what the trouble was. Everything out there was as quiet and peaceful as midnight on a back road in middlemost winter. But I knew something was up, because Jim and Mrs. Frost didn't make a practice of getting up and out of a warm bed that time of forenoon in the chillish Maytime.

There wasn't any sense in me standing there in the cold air shivering in my nightshirt, so I put on my clothes, whistling all the time through my teeth to drive away the chill, and trying to figure out what God-damn fool was around so early shooting off a gun of a Sunday morning. Just then I heard the downstairs door open, and up the steps, two at a time, came Jim in his breeches and his shirttail flying out behind him.

He wasn't long in coming up the stairs, for a man sixty-seven, but before he reached the door to my room, that gun went off again: BOOM! Just like that; and the echo came rolling back through the open window from the hills: Boom! Boom! Like fireworks going off with your eyes shut. Jim had busted through the door already, but when he heard that Boom! sound he sort of spun around, like a cockeyed weathervane, five-six times, and ran out of the door again like he had been shot in the hind parts with a moose gun. That Boom! so early in the forenoon was enough to scare the daylights out of any man, and Jim wasn't any different from me or anybody else in the town of East Joloppi. He just turned around and jumped through the door to the first tread on the stairway like his mind was made up to go somewhere else in a hurry, and no fooling around at the start.

I'd been hired to Jim and Mrs. Frost for all of three-four years, and I was near about as much of a Frost, excepting name, as Jim himself was. Jim and me got along first-rate together, doing chores and haying and farm work in general, because neither one of us was ever trying to make the other do more of the work. We were hitched to make a fine team, and I never had a kick coming, and Jim said he didn't either. Jim had the name of Frost, to be sure, but I wouldn't ever hold that against a man.

The echo of that gunshot was still rolling around in the hills and coming in through the window, when all at once that God-awful coughlike whoop through a megaphone sounded again right there in the room and everywhere else, like it might have been, in the whole town of East Joloppi. The man or beast or whatever animal he was who hollered like that ought to be locked up to keep him from scaring all the women and children to death, and it wasn't any stomach-comforting sound for a grown man who's used to the peaceful calm of the Back Kingdom all his life to hear so early of a Sunday forenoon, either.

I jumped to the door where Jim, just a minute before, leaped through. He didn't stop till he got clear to the bottom of the stairs. He stood there, looking up at me like a wild-eyed cow moose surprised in the sheriff's corn field.

"Who fired that God-awful shot, Jim?" I yelled at him, leaping down the stairs quicker than a man of my years ought to let himself do.

"Good God!" Jim said, his voice hoarse, and falling all to pieces like a stump of punkwood. "The Swedes! The Swedes are shooting, Stan!"

"What Swedes, Jim — those Swedes who own the farm and buildings across the road over there?" I said, trying to find the buttonholes in my shirt. "Have they come back here to live on that farm?"

"Good God, yes!" he said, his voice croaking deep down in his throat, like he had swallowed too much water. "The Swedes are all over the place. They're everywhere you can see, there's that many of them."

"What's their name, Jim?" I asked him. "You and Mrs. Frost never told me what their name is."

"Good God, I don't know. I never heard them called anything but Swedes, and that's what it is, I guess. It ought to be that, if it ain't."

I ran across the hall to look out a window, but it was on the wrong side of the house, and I couldn't see a thing. Mrs. Frost was stepping around in the downstairs chamber, locking things up in the drawers and closet and forgetting where she was hiding the keys. I could see her through the open door, and she was more scared-looking than Jim was. She was so scared of the Swedes she didn't know what she was doing, none of the time.

"What made those Swedes come back for, Jim?" I said to him. "I thought you said they were gone for good, this time."

"Good God, Stan," he said, "I don't know what they came back for. I guess hard times are bringing everybody back to the land, and the Swedes are always in the front rush of everything. I don't know what brought them back, but they're all over the place, shooting and yelling and raising hell. There are thirty-forty of them, looks like to me, counting everything with heads."

"What are they doing now, Jim, except yelling and shooting?"

"Good God," Jim said, looking behind him to see what Mrs. Frost was doing with his things in the downstairs chamber. "I don't know what they're not doing. But I can hear them, Stan! You hurry out right now and lock up all the tools in the barn and bring in the cows and tie them up in the stalls. I've got to hurry out now and bring in all of those new cedar fence posts across the front of the yard before they start pulling them up and carrying them off. Good God, Stan, the Swedes are everywhere you look outdoors! We've got to make haste, Stan!"

Jim ran to the side door and out the back of the house, but I took my time about going. I wasn't scared of the Swedes, like Jim and Mrs. Frost were, and I didn't aim to have Jim putting me to doing tasks and chores, or anything else, before breakfast and the proper time. I wasn't any more scared of the Swedes than I was of the Finns and Portuguese, anyway. It's a God-awful shame for Americans to let Swedes and Finns and the Portuguese scare the daylights out of them. God-helping, they are no different than us, and you never see a Finn or a Swede scared of an American. But people like Jim and Mrs. Frost are scared to death of Swedes and other people from the old countries; Jim and Mrs. Frost and people like that never stop to think that all of us Americans came over from the old countries, one time or another, to begin with.

But there wasn't any sense in trying to argue with Jim and Mrs. Frost right then, when the Swedes, like a fired nest of yellow-headed bumblebees, were swarming all over the place as far as the eye could see, and when Mrs. Frost was scared to death that they were coming into the house and carry out all of her and Jim's furniture and household goods. So while Mrs. Frost was tying her and Jim's shoes in pillowcases and putting them out of sight in closets and behind beds, I went to the kitchen window and looked out to see what was going on around that tall yellow house across the road.

Jim and Mrs. Frost both were right about there being Swedes all over the place. God-helping, there were Swedes all over the country, near about all over the whole town of East Joloppi, for what I could see out of the window. They were as thick around the barn and pump and the woodpile as if they had been a nest of yellow-headed bumblebees strewn over the countryside. There were Swedes everywhere a man could see, and the ones that couldn't be seen could be heard yelling their heads off inside the yellow clapboarded house across the road. There wasn't any mistake about there being Swedes there, either; because I've never yet seen a man who mistakes a Swede or a Finn for an American. Once you see a Finn or a Swede you know, God-helping, that he is a Swede or a Finn, and not a Portuguese or an American.

There was a Swede everywhere a man could look. Some of them were little Swedes, and women Swedes, to be sure; but little Swedes, in the end, and women Swedes too, near about, grow up as big as any of them. When you come right down to it, there's no sense in counting out the little Swedes and the women Swedes.

Out in the road in front of their house were seven-eight autos and trucks loaded down with furniture and household goods. All around, everything was Swedes. The Swedes were yelling and shouting at one another, the little Swedes and the women Swedes just as loud as the big Swedes, and it looked like none of them knew what all the shouting and yelling was for, and when they found out, they didn't give a damn about it. That was because all of them were Swedes. It didn't make any difference what a Swede was yelling about; just as long as he had leave to open his mouth, he was tickled to death about it.

I have never seen the like of so much yelling and shouting anywhere else before; but down here in the State of Maine, in the down-country on the Bay, there's no sense in being taken back at the sights to be seen, because anything on God's green earth is likely and liable to happen between day and night, and the other way around, too.

Now, you take the Finns; there's any God's number of them around in the woods, where you least expect to see them, logging and such. When a Finn crew breaks a woods camp, it looks like there's a Finn for every tree in the whole State, but you don't see them going around making the noise that Swedes do, with all their yelling and shouting and shooting off guns. Finns are quiet about their hell-raising. The Portuguese are quiet, too; you see them tramping around, minding their own business, and working hard on a river dam or something, but you never hear them shouting and yelling and shooting off guns at five-six of a Sunday morning. There's no known likeness to the noise that a houseful of Swedes can make when they get to yelling and shouting at one another early in the forenoon.

I was standing there all that time, looking out the window at the Swedes across the road, when Jim came into the kitchen with an armful of wood and threw it into the wood box behind the range.

"Good God, Stan," Jim said, "the Swedes are everywhere you can look outdoors. They're not going to get that armful of wood, anyway, though."

Mrs. Frost came to the door and stood looking like she didn't know it was her business to cook breakfast for Jim and me. I made a fire in the range and put on a pan of water to boil for the coffee. Jim kept running to the window to look out, and there wasn't much use in expecting Mrs. Frost to start cooking unless somebody set her to it, in the shape she was in, with all the Swedes around the place. She was so upset, it was a downright pity to look at her. But Jim and me had to eat, and I went and took her by the arm and brought her to the range and left her standing there so close she would get burned if she didn't stir around and make breakfast.

"Good God, Stan," Jim said, "those Swedes are into everything. They're in the barn, and in the pasture running the cows, and I don't know what else they've been into since I looked last. They'll take the tools and the horses and cows, and the cedar posts, too, if we don't get out there and put everything under lock and key."

"Now, hold on, Jim," I said, looking out the window. "Them you see are little Swedes out there, and they're not going to make off with anything of yours and Mrs. Frost's. The big Swedes are busy carrying in furniture and household goods. Those Swedes aren't going to tamper with anything of yours and Mrs. Frost's. They're people just like us. They don't go around stealing everything in sight. Now, let's just sit here by the window and watch them while

Mrs. Frost is getting breakfast ready."

"Good God, Stan, they're Swedes," Jim said, "and they're moving into the house across the road. I've got to put everything under lock and key before—"

"Hold on, Jim," I told him. "It's their house they're moving into. God-helping, they're not moving into your and Jim's house, are they, Mrs. Frost?"

"Jim," Mrs. Frost said, shaking her finger at him and looking at me wild-eyed and sort of flustered-like, "Jim, don't you sit there and let Stanley stop you from saving the stock and tools. Stanley doesn't know the Swedes like we do. Stanley came down here from the Back Kingdom, and he doesn't know anything about Swedes."

Mrs. Frost was partly right, because I've never seen the things in my whole life that I've seen down here near the Bay; but there wasn't any sense in Americans like Jim and Mrs. Frost being scared of Swedes. I've seen enough Finns and Portuguese in my time in the Back Kingdom, up in the intervale, to know that Americans are no different from the others.

"Now, you hold on a while, Jim," I said. "Swedes are no different than Finns. Finns don't go around stealing another man's stock and tools. Up in the Back Kingdom the Finns are the finest kind of neighbors."


Excerpted from The Stories of Erskine Caldwell by Erskine Caldwell. Copyright © 1941 Erskine Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

After-Image 102
August Afternoon 439
Automobile That Wouldn't Run, The 134
Autumn Courtship, An 534
Back on the Road 224
Balm of Gilead 352
Big Buck 630
Blue Boy 286
Candy-Man Beechum 23
Carnival 147
Cold Winter, The 253
Corduroy Pants, The 459
Country Full of Swedes 3
Courting of Susie Brown, The 334
Crown-Fire 464
Daughter 235
Day the Presidential Candidate Came to Ciudad Tamaulipas, The 75
Day's Wooing, A 544
Dorothy 207
Dream, The 482
Empty Room, The 70
End of Christy Tucker, The 263
Evelyn and the Rest of Us 291
Evening in Nuevo Leon, An 365
First Autumn, The 180
Fly in the Coffin, The 576
Girl Ellen, The 119
Grass Fire, The 402
Growing Season, The 258
Hamrick's Polar Bear 588
Handy 528
Here and Today 193
Honeymoon 396
Horse Thief 200
Indian Summer 496
It Happened Like This 294
Joe Craddock's Old Woman 363
John the Indian and George Hopkins 165
Kneel to the Rising Sun 641
Knife to Cut the Cornbread With, A 602
Lonely Day, The 241
Mamma's Little Girl 391
Man and Woman 18
Man Who Looked Like Himself, The 610
Martha Jean 621
Masses of Men 448
Mating of Marjorie, The 616
Maud Island 38
Meddlesome Jack 317
Medicine Man, The 214
Memorandum 347
Midsummer Passion 540
Midwinter Guest, The 278
Molly Cotton-Tail 329
Negro in the Well, The 140
New Cabin 382
Nine Dollars' Worth of Mumble 246
Over the Green Mountains 80
People v. Abe Lathan, Colored, The 474
People's Choice, The 86
Picking Cotton 115
Picture, The 340
Priming the Well 565
Rachel 269
Return to Lavinia 96
Rumor, The 432
Runaway 469
Saturday Afternoon 28
Savannah River Payday 186
Shooting, The 571
Sick Horse, The 425
Slow Death 580
Small Day, A 488
Snacker 59
Squire Dinwiddy 111
Strawberry Season, The 34
Summer Accident 552
Sunfield, The 415
Swell-Looking Girl, A 507
Ten Thousand Blueberry Crates 371
Thunderstorm 310
Uncle Henry's Love Nest 306
Uncle Jeff 512
Very Late Spring, A 358
Visitor, The 521
Walnut Hunt, The 559
Warm River 50
We Are Looking at You, Agnes 596
Where the Girls Were Different 410
Wild Flowers 299
Windfall, The 150
Woman in the House, A 127
Yellow Girl 169
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2001

    a master story teller

    This book contains most of Caldwell's best stories.Despite his plain style Caldwell displays great mastery over nearly all of them.Since they seem simple in style at first sight,they may require careful reading for they usually carry deep meanings and symbols of American experience.Whereas The Medicine Man is a funny story,Kneel to the Rising Sun is bloodcurdling;and while reading Martha Jean you feel great pity.If you are a Caldwell fan,it is a must buy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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