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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Milkman decides he wants to leave town and start on his own. He asks his father to stake him in his endeavor and promises to return after a while and help his father with the business. Macon doesn’t want Milkman to leave. He has come to rely on him for taking care of his business. As Milkman is trying to convince his father, he tells about the sack Pilate has hanging from the ceiling of her house. Macon gets excited about it and tells Milkman the story of its origins.
According to Macon, when his and Pilate’s father died, they went to Circe, an old woman who was the midwife for both of them and who worked for some rich, white farmers outside of Danville. She harbored them for six days trying to think of a plan to get them to safety. Since Macon had seen the men who killed his father, he couldn’t be seen for fear that he would be killed also. Pilate and Macon go crazy locked up in the third floor room all those days because they are so used to living a free, country life. They decided that after Pilate’s ear healed from the new earring she has made for herself, they would leave. They leave without telling Circe where they’re going and they only take a knife and a tin cup.
At first they’re very happy outside, but soon they begin to be afraid. They wander in a general southerly direction, hoping to end up in Virginia where Macon thinks their mother had family. One day, they see the ghost of their father sitting down on a post. He looks past them in such a way that they become scared and run. This scene is repeated over and over all during the next three days. Finally, they end up at the mouth of a cave. They see their father’s ghost again, but this time, it is beckoning them to come inside. They decide to sleep in the cave that night. The next morning, Macon gets up early to relieve his bowels and as he finishes he sees an old man asleep on the ground against the wall of the cave. He is so frightened that he grabs a rock and throws it at the man. The rock makes the man’s head bleed. He starts after Macon and Macon throws more rocks at him. Finally, he reaches for the knife and stabs the man over and over until he dies. Before he dies, he asks what seems like "What for?"
Macon tries to get the blanket the man was sleeping on to cover him, but as he is standing by the bedroll, he sees a shallow pit filled with bags full of gold. He gets excited and tells Pilate they must take the gold and they will have no more worries. She refuses to let him take it, saying it would be stealing. They fight and she gets the knife and holds it to his chest. He runs out of the cave and waits outside. That evening, hunters come and Macon runs into the forest. Three days later he works his way back to the cave to find Pilate and the gold gone.
Macon tells Milkman he knows Pilate stole the gold. He says he used to think Pilate had spent all of it in the twenty years between the time he left her at the cave and the time she came to town with her daughter and granddaughter. Now he thinks she has it in the canvas bag hanging from her ceiling. Macon tells Milkman to get it and he will be able to keep half of it and then leave town as he wants to.
The cause of the rupture in the relationship between Macon and Pilate is finally revealed, at least his version of it. Macon’s life revolves around money. It’s not surprising that the reason he left his twelve-year old sister and the reason he now thinks she is a snake has to do with money he thinks she stole from him.