Milkman waits for the day when he’ll inherit his father’s business, and have the money to be “free.” As it is, he still lives at home, working for Macon. At times, he begs for some money, so that he can leave town, but Macon refuses on the grounds that he depends on Milkman. Milkman mentions to his father a green sack of money that Pilate keeps in her house without ever spending it – she calls it her “inheritance” – and Macon seems darkly amused. He tells Milkman to meet him for lunch.
Milkman subscribes to what his father has taught him: money is freedom. By reading the novel, we’ve seen that this plainly isn’t true: Macon is hardly free at all — he’s obsessed with his tumultuous past, and his material possessions don’t seem to make him very happy.
Milkman meets Macon for lunch, where Macon tells him about his teenage years with Pilate. After the death of their father, Macon and Pilate went to live in secret with Circe, the midwife who delivered both of them, who works in a white family’s mansion. While there, Pilate makes an earring for herself; but shortly after she pierces her ear, she and Macon leave, since they’re afraid that Circe’s master will find them and fire Circe.
Macon provides information that we’ve been waiting to hear for a while — how Pilate got her earring — but it’s not yet apparent why she stuffs names into it. At this point in their lives, Macon and Pilate are extremely close, taking care of each other in the absence of a father.
Homeless, Macon and Pilate survive on fruit and live in a cave, in which at one point they think they see a terrifying figure who looks like their dead father. Another morning, Macon wakes up and sees an old man sleeping in their cave. Scared, he throws a rock at the man’s head. The man runs toward Macon, and Macon stabs him in the back. As the man dies, he seems to mutter, “What for?” Soon, Macon discovers that the old man was carrying gold with him. Pilate insists that they leave the gold, since they’d be stealing from a dead man. Macon insists that they take the gold and use it to take care of themselves. They fight, and Pilate gains the upper hand, holding Macon’s knife to his heart and then pushing him out of the cave. He waits outside for her, but some hunters come near and Macon is forced to run away. When he returns to the cave, Pilate and the gold are gone. Pilate took the gold, Macon concludes. He begs Milkman to get the gold.
Here is the event that seems to have come between Pilate and Macon: Macon murdered a man who he perceived as a threat (though he probably wasn’t, as evidence by his dying words), and then tries to take his money. Even as a young man, Macon is anxious for material possessions, though his anxiety is rooted in need, not greed. And this desire of his for safety helps to establish just why he has become so focused on wealth as an adult, even if that focus made him cold and unattractive. Pilate seems like the more moral sibling, at least until she apparently takes the gold. It’s not clear what happened, however, since Macon, the witness to the scene, wasn’t there when Pilate left the cave and the novel has already shown multiple occasions when Macon’s interpretation of events turned out to be affected by his worldview and not always accurate. Macon’s continued desire for the gold speaks to his greed, but also his obsession with the past — he wants to right an old wrong by reclaiming what he sees as his property.