Truman Capote. The grass harp

     For miss Sook Faulk
     In memory of affections deep and true

     When was it that  first  I  heard of  the grass  harp? Long  before the
autumn we lived in the  China tree; an earlier autumn then; and of course it
was Dolly who told me, no one else would have known to call it that, a grass
     If on  leaving  town you  take the church  road you  soon  will pass  a
glaring hill of bonewhite slabs and brown burnt flowers: this is the Baptist
cemetery. Our people,  Talbos, Fenwicks,  are buried there;  my mother  lies
next  to  my father, and the graves of kinfolk, twenty or more,  are  around
them like the  prone roots of a stony tree. Below the  hill grows a field of
high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go  to see it in  the
fall, late September, when it  has gone red  as sunset, when scarlet shadows
like firelight breeze over it and the autumn  winds strum on its dry  leaves
sighing human music, a harp of voices.
     Beyond the field begins the darkness of River Woods.  It must have been
on one of those  September  days when  we were there  in the woods gathering
roots that Dolly said: Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a
story-it knows the stories of all the people on  the hill, of all the people
who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.
     After my mother  died, my father, a traveling man, sent me to live with
his cousins, Verena and Dolly Talbo, two unmarried  ladies who were sisters.
Before that,  I'd not ever been allowed into their house. For reasons no one
ever got quite  clear, Verena  and my  father did  not speak. Probably  Papa
asked  Verena to lend him  some money, and she  refused;  or perhaps she did
make the loan, and he never returned it You can be sure that the trouble was
over  money,  because  nothing else would have  mattered  to  them so  much,
especially  Verena,  who was the richest person in town. The drugstore,  the
drygoods store, a filling station,  a grocery, an office building,  all this
was hers, and the earning of it had not made her an easy woman.
     Anyway, Papa said he would  never set foot inside  her house.  He  told
such terrible things about the Talbo ladies.  One of the stories  he spread,
that Verena  was a morphodyte, has  never  stopped  going  around,  and  the
ridicule he heaped on Miss Dolly Talbo was too much even  for my mother: she
told him he ought to be ashamed, mocking anyone so gentle and harmless.
     I think they  were very much in love, my mother and father. She used to
cry every time he went away to sell his frigidaires. He married her when she
was  sixteen; she did not live to be thirty. The  afternoon she  died  Papa,
calling her name, tore off all his clothes and ran out naked into the yard.
     It was  the  day after the funeral that  Verena came to  the  house.  I
remember the terror of watching her move up the walk,  a whip-thin, handsome
woman with shingled peppersalt hair, black, rather  virile  eyebrows  and  a
dainty cheekmole. She opened the front door and walked right into the house.
Since  the  funeral.  Papa had been  breaking  things,  not with  fury,  but
quietly, thoroughly: he would amble into the parlor, pick up a china figure,
muse over it a moment, then  throw it against the wall. The floor and stairs
were littered with cracked glass, scattered silverware;  a ripped nightgown,
one of my mother's, hung over the banister.
     Verena's eyes  flicked over the  debris.  "Eugene, I want  a  word with
you,"  she  said in that  hearty,  coldly exalted voice,  and Papa answered:
"Yes, sit down, Verena. I thought you would come."
     That afternoon Dolly's friend  Catherine Creek came over  and packed my
clothes, and Papa drove me to the impressive,  shadowy house on Talbo  Lane.
As I was getting out of the car he tried to hug  me, but I was scared of him
and wriggled out of his arms. I'm sorry now that we did not hug each  other.
Because a few days later, on his  way up to Mobile, his car skidded and fell
fifty  feet  into the Gulf.  When I saw him again  there were silver dollars
weighting down his eyes.
     Except  to remark that I was small for my age, a  runt, no one had ever
paid any attention  to me; but now people pointed me out, and said wasn't it
sad? that poor little Collin Fenwickl I tried to look pitiful because I knew
it pleased people: every man in town must have treated me  to a Dixie Cup or
a box of Crackerjack, and at school I got good grades for the first time. So
it was a long while before I calmed down enough to notice Dolly Talbo.
     And when I did I fell in love.
     Imagine what it must have been for her when first I came to  the house,
a loud and prying boy of eleven. She skittered at the sound  of my footsteps
or, if there  was no  avoiding me, folded like the  petals of shy-lady fern.
She was one of those people who can disguise themselves  as an object in the
room, a  shadow in the  comer, whose presence is a delicate  happening.  She
wore the quietest shoes, plain virginal dresses with hems  that  touched her
ankles. Though older than her  sister, she seemed someone  who, like myself,
Verena had adopted. Pulled and  guided by the gravity of Verena's planet, we
rotated separately in the outer spaces of the house.
     In  the  attic,  a  slipshod  museum spookily peopled with  old display
dummies from Verena's drygoods store, there were many  loose boards, and  by
inching these I could look down into  almost any room.  Dolly's room, unlike
the rest of the house, which bulged with fat dour furniture,  contained only
a bed, a bureau, a chair: a nun might have lived there, except for one fact:
the walls,  everything was painted  an  outlandish  pink, even the floor was
this color. Whenever I spied on Dolly, she usually  was to be seen doing one
of two things: she was standing in front of a mirror snipping with a pair of
garden shears her yellow and  white, already brief hair; either that, or she
was writing in pencil on a pad of coarse  Kress  paper. She kept wetting the
pencil on the tip of her tongue, and sometimes she spoke aloud a sentence as
she put it down: Do not touch sweet  foods like candy and salt will kill you
for  certain.  Now I'll tell you, she was writing letters. But at first this
correspondence was a puzzle to me. After all, her only  friend was Catherine
Creek, she saw no one else and she never left the house, except once  a week
when  she  and Catherine  went  to  River  Woods  where  they  gathered  the
ingredients of a dropsy remedy Dolly  brewed and bottled. Later I discovered
she had customers for this medicine throughout the state, and it was to them
that her many letters were addressed.
     Verena's room, connecting with Dolly's by a passage, was rigged up like
an office. There was a rolltop desk, a library  of ledgers, filing cabinets.
After supper, wearing  a green eyeshade, she would  sit at her desk totaling
figures and turning the pages of her ledgers until even the street-lamps had
gone out. Though on diplomatic, political terms with many people, Verena had
no close friends  at all. Men were afraid of her, and she herself seemed  to
be afraid of  women.  Some years  before she had  been greatly attached to a
blonde jolly  girl called Maudie Laura Murphy, who  worked for a bit  in the
post office here and who finally married a liquor  salesman from St.  Louis.
Verena had been very bitter over this and said publicly that the man was  no
account.  It was therefore  a surprise when,  as a wedding present, she gave
the  couple a  honeymoon  trip to the  Grand  Canyon. Maudie and her husband
never came back; they opened a filling station nearby Grand Canyon, and from
time  to time sent Verena Kodak snapshots of themselves. These pictures were
a pleasure and a grief. There were nights when she never opened her ledgers,
but sat with her forehead leaning  in her hands, and  the pictures spread on
the desk.  After she had  put them away, she would pace around the room with
the  lights turned off, and  presently there  would come a hurt rusty crying
sound as though she'd tripped and fallen in the dark.
     That part  of the attic from  which I could have looked  down  into the
kitchen was fortified against me, for it was stacked with trunks  like bales
of cotton.  At that time  it was the kitchen I most wanted to spy upon; this
was the real living room of the house, and Dolly spent most of the day there
chatting with her friend Catherine Creek.  As a  child, an orphan, Catherine
Creek  had been hired out  to Mr.  Uriah  Talbo,  and they had all  grown up
together, she and the  Talbo sisters,  there on the old farm that has  since
become a railroad depot Dolly she called Dollyheart, but  Verena  she called
That  One.  She lived in the back yard in a  tin-roofed silvery little house
set among sunflowers  and trellises of butterbean vine. She claimed to be an
Indian, which  made  most  people wink,  for she was dark as the  angels  of
Africa. But for all I know it may have been true: certainly she dressed like
an  Indian. That  is, she had  a string of turquoise beads,  and wore enough
rouge to  put out your eyes; it shone on her cheeks like votive  taillights.
Most  of  her teeth were gone;  she kept  her  jaws  jacked  up with  cotton
wadding,  and Verena would  say Dammit Catherine,  since  you  can't  make a
sensible sound why in creation won't you go down to Doc Crocker and let  him
put some teeth in your head? It was  true that  she was hard to  understand:
Dolly was the only  one  who could fluently translate her  friend's muffled,
mumbling noises. It was enough for Catherine that Dolly understood her: they
were always together and everything they had to say they said to each other:
bending my ear to an attic beam I could hear the tantalizing tremor of their
voices flowing like sapsyrup through the old wood.
     To  reach  the  attic, you climbed a ladder in  the  linen closet,  the
ceiling of  which  was a trapdoor. One day, as I started up, I saw that  the
trapdoor  was  swung  open  and,  listening, heard  above  me  an idle sweet
humming, like  the  pretty sounds small  girls make  when  they are  playing
alone.  I would have turned back, but the humming stopped, and a voice said:
     "Collin," I answered, showing myself.
     The  snowflake of Dolly's  face  held its shape;  for once  she did not
dissolve. "This  is where you come-we wondered," she  said, her voice  frail
and crinkling as tissue paper. She had the eyes of a gifted person, kindled,
transparent eyes, luminously green as mint jelly:  gazing  at me through the
attic twilight they admitted, timidly, that I meant her  no  harm. "You play
games up here-in the attic? I told Verena you  would be lonesome." Stooping,
she  rooted around in the depths of a barrel. "Here now," she said, "you can
help me by looking in that other barrel. I'm hunting for a coral castle; and
a  sack of  pearl pebbles, all  colors. I think Catherine  will like that, a
bowl of  goldfish,  don't you? For  her birthday. We used to have a bowl  of
tropical fish-devils,  they were: ate each  other up. But I remember when we
bought them; we  went all the  way to Brew-ton,  sixty  miles.  I never went
sixty miles before, and I don't know that I ever will again. Ah see, here it
is, the castle." Soon afterwards I found the pebbles; they were like kernels
of corn or candy,  and: "Have a piece of candy," I said, offering  the sack.
"Oh thank you," she said, "I love a piece of candy, evea when it tastes like
a pebble."
     We were friends. Dolly and  Catherine and me. I was  eleven, then I was
sixteen. Though no honors came my way, those were the lovely years.
     I never brought anyone home with me, and I never wanted to. Once I took
a girl to the picture show, and on the way  home she asked couldn't she come
in for a  drink  of water. If I'd thought she was  really thirsty I would've
said affl right;  but I knew she was faking just so she could see inside the
house  the  way people were always wanting to, and so I told her  she better
wait until she got home. She said: "All the world knows  Dolly Talbo's gone,
and  you're gone too." I liked that girl well enough, but I gave her a shove
anyway, and she  said her brother  would  fix my  wagon, which he did: right
here at the comer of my mouth I've  still got a scar where he  hit me with a
Coca-Cola bottle.
     I know: Dolly,  they said, was Verena's cross, and said, too, that more
went on in the house on Talbo Lane than  a body cared to think  about. Maybe
so. But those were the lovely years.
     On  winter  afternoons, as soon  as  I came in  from  school, Catherine
hustled open a  jar of preserves,  while Dolly put a foot-high pot of coffee
on the  stove and pushed a pan of bis"  cuits into  the oven; and the  oven,
opening, would  let  out a hot vanilla fragrance, for  Dolly, who lived  off
sweet  foods,  was always baking a  pound cake, raisin bread,  some kind  of
cookie or fudge: never would touch a vegetable, and the only meat she  liked
was the chicken brain, a pea-sized thing  gone before you've tasted it. What
with a woodstove  and an open fireplace,  the  kitchen was warm  as a  cow's
tongie. The nearest winter came was to frost the  windows with its zero blue
breath. If some  wizard would like  to make me a present, let  him give me a
bottle  filled  with  the voices of  that kitchen,  the  ha  ha ha and  fire
whispering, a  bottle  brimming with its buttery sugary bakery smells-though
Catherine smelled  like  a  sow  in  the spring.  It looked more like a cozy
parlor  than  a kitchen; there was a hook rug  on the floor, rocking chairs;
ranged along the walls were pictures  of kittens,  an enthusiasm of Dolly's;
there was a geranium plant that bloomed, then bloomed  again all year round,
and Catherine's goldfish, in a  bowl on the  oilcloth-covered  table, fanned
their  tails  through the  portals of  the coral castle. Sometimes we worked
jigsaw puzzles,  dividing  the  pieces  among  us,  and Catherine would hide
pieces if  she  thought  you were going to  finish  your part  of the puzzle
before she finished hers. Or they  would help with my homework;  that was  a
mess.  About  all natural  things  Dolly  was  sophisticated;  she  had  the
subterranean  intelligence of  a bee that knows where to find  the  sweetest
flower: she could tell you of a storm a day in advance, predict the fruit of
the fig tree, lead you to mushrooms and wild honey, a hidden nest  of guinea
hen eggs. She looked around  her, and felt what she  saw. But about homework
Dolly  was as ignorant as Catherine.  "America must have been called America
before Columbus  came.  It stands to  reason.  Otherwise,  how would he have
known  it was America?" And Catherine said: "That's  correct.  America is an
old  Indian word." Of the two,  Catherine was the worst: she insisted on her
infallibility, and if you did not write down  exactly what she said, she got
jumpy and spilled the coffee or something. But I never listened to her again
after  what  she said  about Lincoln: that he was part Negro and part Indian
and only a  speck white. Even  I knew  this  was  not true.  But I am  under
special obligation  to  Catherine;  if it  had not  been for her  who  knows
whether I would have grown  to  ordinary human size?  At fourteen  I was not
much bigger than  Biddy Skinner, and people told how he'd had  offers from a
circus. Catherine said don't worry yourself honey, all you need is  a little
stretching. She pulled at my arms, legs, tugged at my head as though it were
an apple latched to an unyielding bough.  But it's the truth that within two
years  she'd stretched me from four feet nine to five feet seven, and  I can
prove it by the breadknife knotches on the pantry door, for even now when so
much has gone,  when  there is  only  wind in  the  stove and winter  in the
kitchen, those growing-up scars are still there, a testimony.
     Despite  the generally beneficial effect  Dolly's medicine appeared  to
have on those who sent for it, letters once in a while came saying Dear Miss
Talbo  we  won't be needing any  more dropsy cure on  account of poor Cousin
Belle (or whoever) passed  away last week bless her soul.  Then  the kitchen
was a  mournful place; with folded  hands  and  nodding heads my two friends
bleakly recalled  the circumstances of the  case, and well, Catherine  would
say, we  did the best  we could  Dollyheart,  but the  good  Lord  had other
notions.  Verena,  too,  could  make  the  kitchen  sad,  as  she was always
introducing a new rule or enforcing an old one: do,  don't,  stop, start: it
was as though we were  clocks  she kept an eye on to see that our time jibed
with her own, and woe if we were ten minutes fast, an hour slow: Verena went
off like  a  cuckoo. That One! said Catherine, and Dolly would go  hush now!
hush now! as though to quiet not Catherine but a mutinous  inner whispering.
Verena in  her heart wanted, I think, to come into the kitchen and be a part
of it; but she  was too  like  a  lone man  in a  house full  of  women  and
children,  and the only  way she  could  make  contact  with us was  through
assertive outbursts: Dolly, get rid of that kitten, you want to aggravate my
asthma?  who left the water running in  the bathroom? which one of you broke
my umbrella? Her ugly moods sifted through the house like a sour yellow mist
That One. Hush now, hush.
     Once a week, Saturdays mostly, we went to River Woods. For these trips,
which lasted the  whole day,  Catherine fried a  chicken and deviled a dozen
eggs, and Dolly took along a chocolate layer cake  and a supply of  divinity
fudge. Thus  armed, and carrying three empty grain  sacks, we walked out the
church road  past the  cemetery and through the  field of Indian grass. Just
entering the woods there was a double-trunked China tree, really two  trees,
but  their branches  were so embraced that  you could step from one into the
other; in fact, they were bridged by a tree-house: spacious, sturdy, a model
of a tree-house, it was like a raft floating in the sea of  leaves. The boys
who built  it, provided they are still alive, must by now be very  old  men;
certainly the tree-house was fifteen or twenty years old  when  Dolly  first
found it and that was a quarter of a century before  she showed it to me. To
reach it was  easy as climbing stairs; there were  footholds of gnarled bark
and tough vines to grip; even Catherine, who was heavy  around  the hips and
complained of rheumatism, had no trouble. But Catherine felt no love for the
tree-house; she did not know, as Dolly knew  and made me know, that it was a
ship, that  to sit up there was to sail along the cloudy coastline  of every
dream. Mark my word, said Catherine, them boards are too old, them nails are
slippery as worms, gonna crack in two, gonna fall and bust our heads don't I
know it.
     Storing our provisions in the tree-house, we  separated into the woods,
each carrying a grain sack to be filled with  herbs, leaves, strange  roots.
No one, not even Catherine, knew altogether what went into the medicine, for
it was a secret Dolly kept to herself, and we were never allowed to  look at
the gatherings in her own sack: she  held tight to it,  as though inside she
had captive a  blue-haired  child, a  bewitched  prince. This was her story:
"Once, back yonder  when we  were children (Verena still with  her babyteeth
and Catherine no higher than a fence post) there were gipsies thick as birds
in  a blackberry patch-not like  now,  when  maybe you see a  few straggling
through  each year. They  came with spring: sudden,  like the dogwood  pink,
there they  were-up and down the  road and in the woods around. But  our men
hated the sight of them, and daddy, that was your great-uncle Uriah, said he
would shoot any he caught on our place. And so I  never told when  I saw (he
gipsies  taking water from  the creek or stealing old winter  pecans off the
ground.  Then one evening,  it was April and falling rain, I went out to the
cowshed where Fairybell had a new little calf; and there in the cowshed were
three gipsy women, two of them old and one of them young, and  the young one
was lying naked and twisting on the cornshucks. When they saw that I was not
afraid, that  I  was not going to run  and tell,  one of the old women asked
would I bring a light So I went to the house for a candle, and when  I  came
back the woman who had sent me was holding a red hollering baby upside  down
by  its feet, and the other woman  was milking Fairybell. I helped them wash
the baby  in the warm milk and wrap it in a scarf. Then one of the old women
took my hand  and  said: Now I am going to give you a gift by teaching you a
rhyme. It was a rhyme about evergreen bark, dragonfly fern-and all the other
things we come here  in the  woods to find: Boil  till dark and  pure if you
want a dropsy cure. In  the morning they were gone; I looked for them in the
fields and on the road; there was nothing  left of them  but the rhyme in my
     Calling to each  other,  hooting like owls  loose  in  the daytime,  we
worked all morning in opposite parts  of  the  woods. Towards afternoon, our
sacks fat with  skinned bark, tender,  torn roots, we climbed  back into the
green web  of the China tree and spread the food. There was good creek water
in  a mason jar,  or if the weather was cold a thermos of hot coffee, and we
wadded leaves to wipe our chicken-stained, fudge-sticky fingers. Afterwards,
telling fortunes with flowers, speaking of sleepy things, it was  as  though
we floated through the afternoon on the raft in the tree; we belonged there,
as the sun-silvered leaves belonged, the dwelling whippoorwills.
     About once a year I go over to the house on Talbo Lane, and walk around
in  the yard. I  was there the other day, and came  across an  old iron  tub
lying  overturned  in  the weeds  like a black  fallen  meteor: Dolly-Dolly,
hovering over the tub dropping  our grain-sack gatherings into boiling water
and stirring, stirring with a sawed-off broomstick the brown as tobacco spit
brew. She did  the mixing of the medicine alone while Catherine and  I stood
watching like apprentices to a witch. We all  helped later with the bottling
of it  and, because  it produced  a fume  that  exploded ordinary corks,  my
particular  job was to roll stoppers of toilet paper.  Sales averaged around
six bottles a week, at two dollars a bottle. The money. Dolly said, belonged
to  the  three  of  us, and we spent it fast as  it  came in. We were always
sending  away  for stuff  advertised  in  magazines:  Take  Up  Woodcarving,
Parcheesi: the  game for  young and old.  Anyone Can Play A Bazooka. Once we
sent  away for a book of French lessons: it was my idea  that if  we got  to
talk  French  we would  have a secret language that Verena  or  nobody would
understand. Dolly was willing to try, but "Passez-moi  a spoon" was the best
she ever  did, and after learning "Je suis fatigue," Catherine  never opened
the book again: she said that was all she needed to know.
     Verena  often remarked  that there would  be trouble if anyone ever got
poisoned, but otherwise  she  did not show much interest in the dropsy cure.
Then one  year we totaled up and found we'd earned enough to  have to pay an
income  tax.  Whereupon  Verena began  asking questions:  money  was like  a
wildcat whose trail she stalked with a trained hunter's muffled step  and an
eye for every broken twig. What, she wanted to know, went into the medicine?
and Dolly,  flattered, almost giggling, nonetheless waved her hands and said
Well this and that, nothing special.
     Verena seemed to let  the  matter die; yet  very often,  sitting at the
supper table,  her eyes paused ponderingly  on Dolly, and once, when we were
gathered in the yard around the boiling tub, I looked up and saw Verena in a
window watching  us with  uninterrupted fixity: by then, I suppose, her plan
had taken shape, but she did not make her first move until summer.
     Twice a  year, in  January and  again in August,  Verena went on buying
trips to St. Louis or Chicago. That summer, the summer  I  reached  sixteen,
she went to Chicago and after two weeks returned accompanied by a man called
Dr. Morris  Ritz. Naturally  everyone  wondered who was Dr. Morris Ritz?  He
wore bow ties and sharp jazzy suits;  his  lips were blue  and  he had gaudy
small swerving eyes; altogether, he  looked like a mean mouse. We heard that
he lived in the  best room at the Lola Hotel and ate steak dinners at Phil's
Cafe.  On  the  streets he  strutted  along bobbing his shiny  head at every
passerby; he made  no friends, however,  and was not seen in the  company of
anyone except Verena, who never brought him to the house and never mentioned
his name until one day Catherine had the gall to say, "Miss Verena, just who
is this funny  looking little  Dr. Morris Ritz?"  and Verena, getting  white
around the mouth, replied: "Well now, he's not half so funny looking as some
I could name."
     Scandalous,  people said, the  way  Verena  was  carrying on with  that
little Jew  from Chicago: and  him twenty  years younger. The story that got
around was that they were up to something out in the old canning factory the
other side of town. As it developed, they were; but not what the gang at the
pool-hall  thought Most  any  afternoon you could see Verena and  Dr. Morris
Ritz walking out toward the canning factory, an abandoned blasted brick ruin
with jagged windows and sagging doors. For a generation no one had been near
it except school-kids who  went  there to  smoke  cigarettes  and  get naked
together. Then  early in September,  by way of a notice in  the  Courier, we
learned for  the first time that Verena had  bought the old canning factory;
but  there was no mention as to what  use she was  planning to make  of  it.
Shortly after this, Verena told Catherine to kill two chickens as Dr. Morris
Ritz was coming to Sunday dinner.
     During  the  years that  I lived there.  Dr.  Morris  Ritz was the only
person ever invited to dine  at the house on Talbo Lane. So for many reasons
it was an occasion.  Catherine  and Dolly did a spring  cleaning:  they beat
rugs, brought china from the attic, had every room smelling  of floorwax and
lemon polish.  There was to be fried  chicken and  ham, English peas,  sweet
potatoes, rolls, banana pudding,  two  kinds  of  cake and  tutti-frutti ice
cream from the drugstore.  Sunday noon Verena  came in to look at the table:
with  its  sprawling  centerpiece  of  peach-colored roses and  dense  fancy
stretches  of  silverware,  it seemed set  for a party  of twenty; actually,
there were  only two places. Verena went ahead  and set two more, and Dolly,
seeing this, said weakly Well, it was all right if  Collin wanted to  eat at
the table, but  that she was going to  stay  in the kitchen with  Catherine.
Verena put her foot down: "Don't  fool  with me. Dolly.  This  is important.
Morris  is  coming  here expressly  to  meet  you.  And  what-is  more,  I'd
appreciate it if you'd hold  up  your head: it  makes me dizzy, hanging like
     Dolly  was scared to  death: she hid  in her room, and long  after  our
guest had arrived I had to be  sent  to fetch her. She was lying in the pink
bed  with a  wet washrag on her  forehead, and Catherine was  sitting beside
her.  Catherine was  all sleeked up, rouge on her cheeks  like lollipops and
her jaws  Jammed with more cotton  than ever; she said, "Honey, you ought to
get up from  there-you're going to ruin that pretty  dress." It was a calico
dress Verena had brought from  Chicago; Dolly  sat up and smoothed it,  then
immediately  lay down again:  "If  Verena knew how  sorry  I  am,"  she said
helplessly, and so I went and  told Verena that Dolly was sick.  Verena said
she'd see about that, and marched off leaving me alone in  the hall with Dr.
Morris Ritz.
     Oh he was  a hateful thing. "So you're sixteen," he said, winking first
one,  then the  other of his sassy  eyes. "And throwing it around, huh? Make
the old  lady take you next  time she goes to Chicago. Plenty of good  stuff
there to throw it at." He snapped his fingers and jiggled his  razde-dazzle,
dagger-sharp shoes as though keeping time  to some vaudeville tune: he might
have been a tapdancer or a soda-jerk, except that  he  was carrying a  brief
case, which suggested  a more serious  occupation. I  wondered what kind  of
doctor he was supposed to be; indeed, was on the point of asking when Verena
returned steering Dolly by the elbow.
     The shadows of the hall, the tapestried furniture failed to absorb her;
without raising her eyes she lifted her  hand,  and Dr. Ritz  gripped  it so
ruggedly, pumped it so hard she  went nearly off  balance. "Gee, Miss Talbo;
am I honored to meet you!" he said, and cranked his bow tie.
     We sat down to dinner, and Catherine came  around with the chicken. She
served  Verena, then Dolly, and when the  doctor's turn came  he said, 'Tell
you the  truth, the only piece of chicken I  care  about is the brain: don't
suppose you'd have that back in the kitchen, mammy?"
     Catherine looked so far down her nose  she got almost cross"  eyed; and
with  her  tongue  all  mixed up in  the cotton wadding she  told him  that,
"Dolly's took those brains on her plate."
     "These southern accents, Jesus," he said, genuinely dismayed.
     "She says I have the brains on my plate," said Dolly, her cheeks red as
Catherine's rouge. "But please let me pass them to you."
     "If you're sure you don't mind..."
     "She  doesn't mind a bit,"  said Verena.  "She only  eats sweet  things
anyway. Here, Dolly: have some banana pudding."
     Presently  Dr. Ritz commenced a  fit of sneezing.  "The flowers,  those
roses, old allergy..."
     "Oh dear," said Dolly who,  seeing  an opportunity  to  escape into the
kitchen, seized the bowl of roses: it slipped, crystal crashed, roses landed
in  gravy and gravy  landed  on  us all.  "You see," she said,  speaking  to
herself and with tears teetering in her eyes, "you see, it's hopeless."
     "Nothing is  hopeless. Dolly; sit down and finish your pudding," Verena
advised in a substantial,  chin-up  voice. "Besides, we have  a nice  little
surprise for you. Morris, show Dolly those lovely labels."
     Murmuring "No harm done," Dr. Ritz stopped  rubbing gravy splotches off
his sleeve,  and went  into  the hall,  returning  with his  brief case. His
fingers  buzzed through a sheaf of  papers, then lighted on a large envelope
which he passed down to Dolly.
     There were gum-stickers in the envelope, triangular  labels with orange
lettering: Gipsy Queen Dropsy Cure: and a fuzzy picture of a woman wearing a
bandana  and gold earloops. "First class,  huh?"  said  Dr. Ritz.  "Made  in
Chicago. A  friend of mine drew the picture: real artist, that  guy,"  Dolly
shuffled  the labels  with a puzzled, apprehensive  expression  until Verena
asked: "Aren't you pleased?"
     The labels twitched in Dolly's hands. "I'm not sure I understand."
     "Of course you do," said Verena, smiling thinly. "It's  obvious enough.
I told Morris that  old story  of yours  and  he  thought  of this wonderful
     "Gipsy Queen  Dropsy Cure: very catchy, that," said  the doctor.  "Look
great in ads."
     "My  medicine?"  said Dolly, her eyes  still lowered. "But I don't need
any labels, Verena. I write my own."
     Dr. Ritz snapped his  fingers. "Say,  that's  good! We can have  labels
printed like her own handwriting: personal, see?"
     "We've  spent  enough  money already," Verena  told him  briskly;  and,
turning to Dolly, said: "Morris and I are  going up  to Washington this week
to  get  a  copyright  on  these  labels  and  register  a  patent  for  the
medicine-naming you as the inventor, naturally. Now the point is. Dolly, you
must sit down and write out a complete formula for us."
     Dolly's face loosened; and the labels scattered  on the floor, skimmed.
Leaning  her  hands  on  the table  she pushed herself  upward;  slowly  her
features came together again, she lifted her head  and looked blinkingly  at
Dr. Ritz, at Verena. "It won't do," she said quietly. She moved to the door,
put  a hand on  its handle.  "It won't  do:  because  you haven't any right,
Verena. Nor you, sir."
     I helped  Catherine clear the table: the ruined roses, the uncut cakes,
the vegetables no one had  touched. Verena  and her guest had left the house
together; from the kitchen window we watched them as  they went  toward town
nodding and shaking their heads.  Then we sliced the devil's-food  cake  and
took it into Dolly's room.
     Hush now! hush now! she said when Catherine  began light' ing into That
One.  But it was as  though  the  rebellious inner whispering  had  become a
raucous  voice,  an opponent she  must outshout: Hush now! hush  nowl  until
Catherine had to put her arms around Dolly and say hush, too.
     We got out a deck  of Rook  cards and spread them on the bed. Naturally
Catherine had to go and remember it was Sunday; she said maybe we could risk
another black mark in the  Judgment Book, but there were too many beside her
name already. After  thinking it  over,  we told fortunes  instead. Sometime
around dusk Verena came home. We heard her footsteps in the hall; she opened
the door without  knocking, and Dolly, who was in the  middle of my fortune,
tightened her  hold on my  hand.  Verena  said: "Collin, Catherine, we  will
excuse you."
     Catherine wanted to follow me up the ladder  into the attic, except she
had  on her fine clothes. So I  went alone. There  was a  good knothole that
looked straight  down into  the  pink room; but Verena was standing directly
under it, and all I could see was her hat, for she was still wearing the hat
she'd put on when she left the house. It was a straw skimmer decorated  with
a  cluster  of celluloid fruit. "Those are facts," she was  saying, and  the
fruit shivered,  shimmered in the  blue dimness. "Two  thousand for the  old
factory. Bill Tatum and four carpenters working out there at eighty cents an
hour,  seven  thousand dollars worth  of machinery already  ordered, not  to
mention what  a specialist  like  Morris Ritz  is costing. And why?  All for
     "All for me?" and Dolly sounded sad and  failing as the dusk. I saw her
shadow  as she moved from  one part of the room  to another. "You are my own
flesh, and I love you tenderly; in my heart I love you. I could prove it now
by giving you the only thing that has ever been mine: then you would have it
all.  Please,  Verena," she said, faltering, "let  this one thing  belong to
     Verena switched  on  a light. "You speak of giving," and her voice  was
hard  as the sudden  bitter glare. "All these years that I've worked  like a
fieldhand; what haven't I given you? This house, that..."
     "You've  given  everything to me,"  Dolly interrupted  softly. "And  to
Catherine and to Collin. Except,  we've earned  our  way a bit: we've kept a
nice home for you, haven't we?"
     "Oh a fine home," said Verena, whipping  off her hat Her  face was full
of  blood. "You and  that gurgling fool. Has it not struck  you that I never
ask anyone into  this house? And  for a very simple reason: I'm ashamed  to.
Look what happened today."
     I could hear the breath go out of Dolly. "I'm sorry," she said faintly.
"I  am truly.  I'd always thought  there was a place for  us here, that  you
needed us somehow.  But it's  going  to be all right  now, Verena.  We'll go
     Verena sighed. "Poor Dolly. Poor poor thing. Wherever would you go?"
     The  answer,  a little while in coming, was fragile as  the flight of a
moth; "I know a place."
     Later, I  waited in  bed  for Dolly to come and  kiss me goodnight.  My
room, beyond the parlor in a faraway comer of  the house, was the room where
their father, Mr. Uriah Talbo,  had  lived.  In his mad old  age, Verena had
brought him  here from the  farm, and here  he'd  died, not knowing where he
was. Though dead ten, fifteen  years, the  pee and tobacco old-man smell  of
him still saturated  the mattress, the closet,  and on a shelf in the closet
was  the  one possession he'd carried away with him from  the farm,  a small
yellow  drum: as a lad  my own age he'd marched in a Dixie regiment rattling
this little yellow drum, and  singing.  Dolly said that when she  was a girl
she'd liked to  wake up  winter mornings  and hear her  father singing as he
went about  the house building fires; after he was old, after he'd died, she
sometimes  heard his  songs in the  field of  Indian  grass. Wind, Catherine
said; and Dolly told her: But the wind  is us-it gathers and  remembers  all
our  voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and  the
fields -I've heard Papa clear as day.
     On such a  night, now that it was September, the autumn winds  would be
curving  through the taut  red grass, releasing all the  gone voices, and  I
wondered  if  he was singing  among them, the  old  man in whose  bed I  lay
falling asleep.
     Then I thought Dolly at last had come to kiss  me goodnight, for I woke
up sensing her near me in  the  room; but it  was almost  morning, beginning
light was like a flowering  foliage  at the windows,  and roosters ranted in
distant yards. "Shhh,  Collin," Dolly whispered, bending  over me.  She  was
wearing a woolen winter suit and a hat with a traveling veil that misted her
face. "I only wanted you to know where we are going."
     "To the tree-house?" I said, and thought I was talking in my sleep.
     Dolly nodded. "Just for now. Until we know  better  what our plans will
be." She could see that I was frightened, and put her hand on my forehead.
     "You and  Catherine:  but not me?" and I was jerking with a chill. "You
can't leave without me."
     The town clock was tolling; she seemed  to be waiting for it  to finish
before making up her mind. It struck five, and by the time the note had died
away I had climbed out of  bed and rushed into my clothes. There was nothing
for Dolly to say except: '"Don't forget your comb."
     Catherine met us in the yard; she was crooked over with the weight of a
brimming oilcloth satchel; her eyes  were  swollen, she had been crying, and
Dolly, oddly calm and certain of what she was doing, said it doesn't matter,
Catherine-we  can send  for  your  goldfish  once  we find a place. Verena's
closed quiet  windows  loomed above us;  we moved  cautiously past  them and
silently out  the gate. A fox terrier barked at us; but  there was no one on
the street, and  no one  saw us pass through  the town  except  a  sleepless
prisoner gazing from the jail. We reached the field  of  Indian grass at the
same  moment  as the sun. Dolly's veil flared  in the morning breeze, and  a
pair of pheasants,  nesting in our path, swept before us, their metal  wings
swiping the cockscomb-scarlet  grass. The China tree was a September bowl of
green and  greenish gold:  Gonna fall, gonna bust our heads, Catherine said,
as all around us the leaves shook down their dew.

     If it hadn't been for Riley Henderson, I doubt anyone would have known,
or at least known so soon, that we were in the tree.
     Catherine  had loaded her  oilcloth  satchel  with  the  leftovers from
Sunday dinner, and  we  were enjoying a breakfast of cake  and chicken  when
gunfire slapped through the  woods. We sat there with cake going  dry in our
mouths.  Below,  a sleek bird  dog  cantered  into view,  followed by  Riley
Henderson; he  was shouldering a shotgun and around his  neck  there  hung a
garland of bleeding squirrels whose tails were tied together.  Dolly lowered
her veil, as though to camouflage herself among the leaves.
     He  paused  not far  away, and his  wary, tanned  young face tightened;
propping his gun into position he took a roaming  aim, as if  waiting  for a
target  to  present itself. The suspense  was  too  much for  Catherine, who
shouted: "Riley Henderson, don't you dare shoot us!"
     His gun wavered, and  he spun  around, the  squirrels  swinging  like a
loose necklace. Then he saw us in the tree, and  after a moment said, "Hello
there,  Catherine  Creek; hello. Miss  Talbo.  What are  you  folks doing up
there? Wildcat chase you?"
     "Just sitting," said  Dolly promptly,  as  though  she  were afraid for
either Catherine  or I to answer. "That's a  fine mess  of squirrels  you've
     'Take  a couple,"  he said, detaching two. "We had some for supper last
night and they were real tender. Wait a minute, I'll bring them up to you."
     "You don't have to do that; just leave them on the ground." But he said
ants would get at them, and hauled himself into the-tree. His blue shirt was
spotted with  squirrel  blood, and  flecks of blood glittered in  his  rough
leather-colored hair; he smelted of gunpowder, and his homely well-made face
was  brown as  cinnamon. "I'll  be  damned,  it's  a  tree-house," he  said,
pounding  his foot  as though to  test the strength of the boards. Catherine
warned him that maybe it was a tree-house now, but it  wouldn't  be for long
if he didn't stop that stamping. He said, "You build it, Collin?" and it was
with a happy  shock that  I  realized he'd called my  name: I hadn't thought
Riley Henderson knew me from dust. But I knew him, all right."
     No one  in our  town ever  had themselves so much talked about as Riley
Henderson. Older people  spoke of him with sighing  voices, and those nearer
his own  age, like myself,  were  glad to call him mean and  hard: that  was
because he would  only  let us envy him, would not let us  love him,  be his
     Anyone could have told you the facts.
     He was bom in China, where his father, a missionary, had been killed in
an  uprising. His mother was from this town, and her name was Rose; though I
never saw her myself, people say she was a beautiful woman until she started
wearing glasses;  she was rich too, having received a large inheritance from
her grandfather. When she came back from China she brought Riley, then five,
and two younger children, both girls; they lived with her unmarried brother.
Justice of the Peace Horace Holton, a meaty spinsterish man with skin yellow
as quince. In the following years Rose Henderson grew strange in  her  ways:
she  threatened  to sue Verena  for selling her  a dress that  shrank in the
wash; to punish Riley, she  made him hop on one leg around the yard reciting
the multiplication  table; otherwise, she  let  him run wild,  and  when the
Presbyterian  minister spoke to  her about  it she told  him  she hated  her
children and  wished they  were dead.  And she  must have meant it,  for one
Christmas morning she locked the  bathroom door and tried  to  drown her two
little girls  in the tub: it was said that Riley broke the door down with  a
hatchet, which seems a tall order for a boy of nine or ten, whatever he was.
Afterwards, Rose  was sent off to a place on the Gulf Coast, an institution,
and she  may still be living there, at least I've never heard that she died.
Now Riley and  his  uncle  Horace Holton couldn't get on. One night he stole
Horace's Oldsmobile  and  drove out  to the Dance-N-Dine with Mamie Curtiss:
she was fast as  lightning, and maybe five years older  than Riley, who  was
not  more than fifteen at the  time. Well,  Horace heard  they  were  at the
Dance-N-Dine and  got the  Sheriff  to drive  him  out there: he said he was
going to teach Riley a lesson and have him arrested. But Riley said Sheriff,
you're after the wrong party. Right there in front of a crowd he accused his
uncle of stealing money that belonged to Rose and that was meant for him and
his  sisters.  He offered to fight it out on the spot; and when  Horace held
back, he just  walked over and socked him in the eye. The Sheriff put  Riley
in jail. But Judge Cool,  an old friend of Rose's, began to investigate, and
sure enough it turned out Horace had been draining Rose's money into his own
account.  So  Horace  simply packed his things and  took  the  train  to New
Orleans where, a few months, later, we heard that, billed as the Minister of
Romance,  he had  a job marrying couples on  an excursion  steamer that made
moonlight cruises up the Mississippi. From then  on, Riley was his own boss.
With money borrowed against the inheritance he was coming into, he bought  a
red racy car and went  skidding  round the  countryside with every floozy in
town; the only nice  girls you ever saw in that car were his sisters-he took
them  for a  drive  Sunday afternoons, a  slow  respectable circling  of the
square. They were pretty girls, his sisters, but they  didn't have much fun,
for  he  kept  a  strict watch, and boys were  afraid  to come near them.  A
reliable colored woman  did their housework, otherwise they lived alone. One
of his sisters, Elizabeth, was  in my  class at school, and she got the best
grades, straight A's.  Riley himself had quit school;  but he was not one of
the pool-hall loafs, nor did he mix with them; he fished in the daytime,  or
went hunting; around the old Holton house  he made many improvements,  as he
was a good carpenter; and a  good mechanic,  too: for  instance,  he built a
special car hom, it  wailed like  a train-whistle,  and  in  the evening you
could hear it howling as he  roared down  the  road on his way to a dance in
another town. How  I longed for him to be my friendl and it seemed possible,
he  was  just two  years older. But I could remember  the only time he  ever
spoke to  me. Spruce in a pair of white flannels, he  was off  to a dance at
the clubhouse, and he came into Verena's drugstore, where I sometimes helped
out  on Saturday nights.  What  he  wanted  was a  package of Shadows, but I
wasn't sure  what Shadows were, so he had to come behind the counter and get
them out of the  drawer himself; and he laughed, not unkindly, though it was
worse  than  if it had been: now  he knew  I was a  fool, we would never  be
     Dolly said, "Have  a piece of cake, Riley," and he asked did we  always
have picnics this early in the day? then went  on to say he considered it  a
fine idea: "Like swimming  at night," he said. "I come  down here while it's
still dark,  and go swimming in the river. Next time you have a picnic, call
out so I'll know you're here."
     "You are welcome any morning," said Dolly, raising her veil. "I daresay
we will be here for some while."
     Riley must have thought it a curious invitation, but he did not say so.
He produced  a package of cigarettes and passed  it around;  when  Catherine
took one. Dolly said: "Catherine Creek, you've never touched tobacco in your
life." Catherine allowed as to  how she may have been missing something: "It
must  be a comfort, so many folks  speak in its favor; and Dolly-heart, when
you get to be our age you've got to  look for comforts." Dolly  bit her lip;
"Well, I don't suppose there's any harm," she said, and accepted a cigarette
     There  are  two things that  will drive  a boy crazy  (according to Mr.
Hand, who caught me smoking in  the lavatory at school) and I'd given up one
of them, cigarettes,  two  years before: not because I thought it would make
me crazy, but because I thought it was imperiling my  growth.  Actually, now
that I was a normal size, Riley was  no taller than  me, though he seemed to
be, for he moved with  the drawn-out cowboy awkwardness of a lanky man. So I
took a cigarette, and Dolly, gushing  un-inhaled smoke, said  she thought we
might as  well all be sick together; but no one was sick, and Catherine said
next time she would like to try a pipe, as they smelled  so good.  Whereupon
Dolly  volunteered the surprising fact that Verena smoked a pipe,  something
I'd never known: "I don't know whether  she does  any more, but  she used to
have a pipe and a can of Prince  Albert with half an apple cut up in it. But
you musnt tell that," she added, suddenly aware of Riley, who laughed aloud.
     Usually, glimpsed on the street or seen  passing in his car, Riley wore
a tense,  trigger-tempered expression; but there in the China tree he seemed
relaxed:  frequent smiles enriched his whole  face, as though he  wanted  at
least to be friendly, if not friends. Dolly, for her part, appeared to be at
ease and enjoying his company. Certainly she was not afraid of him:  perhaps
it was because we were in the tree-house, and the tree-house was her own.
     "Thank you  for the squirrels, sir," she said, as he prepared to leave.
"And don't forget to come again."
     He  swung  himself to the ground.  "Want  a ride?  My car's up  by  the
     Dolly told him: "That's kind of you; but really we haven't any place to
     Grinning, he lifted his gun  and aimed it at us; and Catherine  yelled:
You ought to be whipped, boy; but he laughed and waved and ran, his bird dog
barking, booming ahead. Dolly said gaily, "Let's  have a cigarette," for the
package had been left behind.
     By the time  Riley reached town the news was roaring in the air  like a
flight of bees: how we'd run off in the middle of the  night. Though neither
Catherine nor I knew it, Dolly had left a note, which  Verena found when she
went for her morning coffee. As I understand it,  this note simply said that
we were going away and that Verena would not be bothered by us any more. She
at once  rang up her friend Morris Ritz at the Lola Hotel, and together they
traipsed off to rouse the sheriff. It was  Verena's backing that had put the
sheriff into  office; he was a fast-stepping,  brassy  young  fellow with  a
brutal jaw and the bashful eyes of  a cardsharp; his  name was Junius Candle
(can  you believe it? the same Junius Candle  who  is  a  Senator today!). A
searching party of deputies was  gathered;  telegrams  were hurried  off  to
sheriffs in other towns. Many  years later, when the  Talbo estate was being
settled, I came across the handwritten original of this telegram-composed, I
believe,  by  Dr.  Ritz.  Be  on  lookout  for following  persons  traveling
together.  Dolly  Augusta Talbo, white, aged 60, yellow grayish  hair, thin,
height 5 feet 3, green  eyes, probably insane but not Ukely to be dangerous,
post  description  bakeries as  she  is cake eater. Catherine  Creek, Negro,
pretends to be Indian,  age about  60, toothless, confused speech, short and
heavy,  strong, likely to be dangerous. Collin Talbo Fenwick, white, age 16,
looks younger, height 5 feet 7, blond, gray eyes. thin, bad posture, scar at
comer of  mouth,  surly  natured.  All  three wanted  as runaways. They sure
haven't run far, Riley said in the post office; and postmistress Mrs. Peters
rushed  to the  telephone to  say  Riley Henderson had seen us in the  woods
below the cemetery.
     While this  was happening  we were peaceably setting about to  make the
tree-house  cozy.   From  Catherine's  satchel  we  took  a  rose  and  gold
scrapquilt, and there was a deck of Rook cards, soap, rolls of toilet paper,
oranges and lemons, candles, a frying pan,  a bottle of blackberry wine, and
two shoeboxes filled  with  food:  Catherine bragged that  she'd robbed  the
pantry of everything, leaving not even a biscuit for That One's breakfast.
     Later, we all  went to the creek and  bathed our feet and  faces in the
cold water. There are as many creeks in  River Woods as there are veins in a
leaf: clear, crackling, they crook their way down into the little river that
crawls  through  the  woods like  a green alligator.  Dolly looked  a sight,
standing  in the water  with  her  winter suit-skirt  hiked up and her  veil
pestering her like a cloud of gnats. I asked her. Dolly, why are you wearing
that veil? and she said,  "But isn't it proper for ladies to wear veils when
they go traveling?"
     Returning to the tree, we  made a delicious jar of orangeade and talked
of  the future. Our assets were: forty-seven dollars  in  cash, and  several
pieces of jewelry, notably a gold fraternity ring Catherine had found in the
intestines  of  a  hog  while  stuffing  sausages. According  to  Catherine,
forty-seven dollars would buy us bus tickets anywhere: she knew somebody who
had gone all the way to  Mexico for fifteen dollars.  Both Dolly  and I were
opposed to Mexico: for one thing, we didnt know the language. Besides, Dolly
said, we shouldn't venture outside the state, and wherever we went  it ought
to be near a forest, otherwise how would we be able to make the dropsy cure?
"To tell you the truth, I think we should set up right here in River Woods,"
she said, gazing about speculatively.
     "In this old  tree?" said Catherine.  "Just put that notion out of your
head, Dollyheart." And then: "You recall how we saw in the paper where a man
bought a castle across the ocean and brought it every bit home with him? You
recall that? Well, we maybe could put my little house on a wagon and haul it
down here." But, as Dolly pointed out, the house belonged to Verena, and was
therefore not ours to haul away.  Catherine answered:  "You wrong, sugar. If
you feed  a man,  and wash his clothes, and born his children,  you and that
man are married, that man is yours. If you sweep a house, and tend its fires
and  fill its stove, and there is love  in you all  the years you are  doing
this, then  you and that house are  married, that house is yours. The way  I
see it,  both those houses up there  belong to  us: in  the eyes  of God, we
could put That One right out"
     I  had  an  idea: down  on the  river  below  us there  was  a forsaken
houseboat, green with the rust of water, half-sunk; it had been the property
of an old man who made his living catching catfish, and who had been run out
of town after applying for a certificate to marry a fifteen-year-old colored
girl. My idea was, why shouldn't we fix up the old houseboat and live there?
     Catherine said that if possible she hoped to spend the rest of her life
on  land:  "Where  the  Lord  intended us,"  and  she  listed  more  of  His
intentions, one of these being that trees were meant for monkeys and  birds.
Presently  she went  silent  and, nudging us, pointed in amazement  down  to
where the woods opened upon the field of grass.
     There,  stalking  toward us, solemnly, stiffly,  came  a  distinguished
party:  Judge Cool,  the Reverend and  Mrs. Buster,  Mrs. Macy  Wheeler; and
leading them,  Sheriff Junius Candle, who  wore  high-laced boots and  had a
pistol  flapping  on  his  hip.  Sunmotes  lilted  around  them like  yellow
butterflies,  brambles brushed their starched  town clothes,  and Mrs.  Macy
Wheeler, frightened  by a vine that  switched against  her leg, jumped back,
screeching: I laughed.
     And, hearing  me,  they looked  up at  us,  an expression  of perplexed
horror collecting on some  of  their faces:  it  was  as  though  they  were
visitors  at  a zoo who  had  wandered  accidentally into  one of the cages.
Sheriff Candle slouched forward, his hand cocked on his pistol. He stared at
us with puckered eyes, as if he were gazing straight into the sun. "Now look
here..." he began, and was cut short by Mrs.  Buster, who said: "Sheriff, we
agreed  to leave this to the  Reverend."  It  was a rule  of hers  that  her
husband, as God's  representative, should  have first say in everything. The
Reverend  Buster cleared  his  throat, and  his  hands,  as he  rubbed  them
together, were like the dry scraping feelers of an insect. "Dolly Talbo," he
said, his voice very  fine-sounding for so stringy, stunted a man,  "I speak
to you on behalf of your sister, that good grar cious woman..."
     "That she is," sang his wife, and Mrs. Macy Wheeler parroted her.
     "...who has this day received a grievous shock."
     That she has," echoed the ladies in their choir-trained voices.
     Dolly looked  at Catherine,  touched my hand, as  though  asking  us to
explain  what was meant  by  the  group  glowering  below like dogs gathered
around a tree of trapped  possums. Inadvertently, and just,  I think to have
something in her hands, she picked up one of the cigarettes Riley had left.
     "Shame on you," squalled  Mrs. Buster, tossing her tiny bald-ish  head:
those  who  called  her an  old  buzzard, and  there were several,  were not
speaking of her  character alone:  in addition  to a small vicious head, she
had high hunched shoulders and a vast body. "I say shame on you. How can you
have  come  so  far  from  God  as to  sit  up in  a  tree  like  a  drunken
Indian-sucking cigarettes like a common..."
     "Floozy," supplied Mrs. Macy Wheeler.
     "...floozy, while your sister lies in misery flat on her back."
     Maybe  they  were  right in describing Catherine as  dangerous, for she
reared  up  and said: "Preacher  lady,  don't  you  go calling  Dolly and us
floozies; 111  come down there and slap you bowlegged." Fortunately, none of
them  could understand her; if  they  had, the  sheriff might  have shot her
through  the  head: no exaggeration; and many of  the  white people in  town
would have said he did right
     Dolly  seemed stunned,  at  the same time self-possessed. You  see, she
simply  dusted her skirt and said: "Consider a moment,  Mrs. Buster, and you
will realize that we are nearer God than you-by several yards."
     "Good for you. Miss Dolly. I call that a good  answer." The man who had
spoken  was   Judge  Cool;  he  clapped  his  hands  together  and  chuckled
appreciatively. "Of course  they  are nearer  God," he said, unfazed  by the
disapproving,  sober faces around him. "They're in a tree, and we're  on the
     Mrs. Buster whirled on him. "I'd thought you were a  Christian, Charlie
Cool. My ideas of a Christian do not include  laughing at and  encouraging a
poor mad woman."
     "Mind who  you name  as  mad,  Thelma," said  the  Judge.  "That  isn't
especially Christian either."
     The Reverend Buster  opened fire.  "Answer  me this. Judge. Why did you
come with us if it wasn't to do the Lord's will in a spirit of mercy?"
     "The Lord's will?"  said the Judge  incredulously. "You dont  know what
that is any more than I do. Perhaps the Lord told these people to go live in
a  tree;  you'll admit,  at  least,  that He  never  told you  to  drag them
out-unless, of  course,  Verena Talbo is  the Lord, a theory  several of you
give credence to, eh Sheriff? No, sir, I  did  not come along to do anyone's
will  but my own: which merely means that  I felt like taking  a walk  - the
woods are very handsome at  this time of year." He picked some brown violets
and put them in his buttonhole.
     To  hell with all  that," began the Sheriff, and was again interrupted
by  Mrs.  Buster,  who  said that under no  circumstances would she tolerate
swearing: Will we. Reverend? and the  Reverend, backing her up, said he'd be
damned if  they would. "I'm  in  charge  here,"  the Sheriff  informed them,
thrusting his bully-boy jaw. "This is a matter for the law."
     "Whose law, Junius?" inquired Judge  Cool quietly. "Remember that I sat
in  the  courthouse twenty-seven years,  rather  a longer  time than  you've
lived. Take care. We  have no legal right  whatever to  interfere  with Miss
     Undaunted, the Sheriff hoisted himself a little into  the  tree. "Let's
don't have any more trouble," he said coaxingly, and we could see his curved
dog-teeth. "Come on down from there, the pack of  you."  As we continued  to
sit like three nesting birds  he showed  more of his teeth and, as though he
were trying to shake us out, angrily swayed a branch.
     "Miss  Dolly,  you've always been  a peaceful person,"  said  Mrs. Macy
Wheeler. "Please come  on home with us; you don't want to miss your dinner."
Dolly replied matter-of-faetly that we were  not hungry: were they? "There's
a drumstick for anybody that would like it."
     Sheriff  Candle  said, "You  make it  hard on  me,  ma'am," and  pulled
himself nearer. A branch, cracking under his weight, sent through the tree a
sad cruel thunder.
     "If  he lays a hand on any one of you, kick  him in the  head," advised
Judge Cool. "Or I  will," he  said  with sudden gallant pugnacity:  like  an
inspired frog he hopped  and  caught hold to  one of the Sheriff's  dangling
boots. The Sheriff, in turn, grabbed my ankles, and Catherine had to hold me
around  the  middle.  We  were  sliding,  that  we  should all  fall  seemed
inevitable,  the  strain was immense. Meanwhile, Dolly started pouring  what
was left of our orangeade down the Sheriff's neck, and abruptly, shouting an
obscenity, he let go of me. They crashed to  the ground,  the Sheriff on top
of the Judge  and the Reverend Buster  crushed  beneath them both. Mrs. Macy
Wheeler and  Mrs.  Buster, augmenting  the  disaster,  fell upon  them  with
crow-like cries of distress.
     Appalled  by what had  happened, and  the part  she herself had played.
Dolly became  so confused that  she dropped  the empty orangeade jar: it hit
Mrs. Buster on the  head  with  a  ripe thud. "Beg  pardon," she apologized,
though in the furor no one heard her.
     When  the tangle below unraveled, those concerned stood apart from each
other  embarrassedly, gingerly  feeling of  themselves. The  Reverend looked
rather flattened  out, but no broken  bones were discovered,  and only  Mrs.
Buster, on whose skimpy-haired head a bump was pyramiding, could have justly
complained  of injury.  She did so  forthrightly.  "You  attacked  me. Dolly
Talbo, don't deny it, everyone here is a witness,  everyone saw you aim that
mason jar at my head. Junius, arrest heri"
     The Sheriff, however, was involved in  settling differences of his own.
Hands on hips, swaggering, he bore down on the Judge, who was in the process
of replacing the violets in his buttonhole. "If you weren't so old, I'd damn
well knock you down."
     "I'm  not  so  old, Junius: just  old enough to think men  ought not to
fight  in front  of ladies," said the Judge. He  was a  fair-sized man  with
strong shoulders and a straight body: though not far from seventy, he looked
to be in  his fifties. He clenched his fists and they were hard and hairy as
coconuts. "On the other hand," he said grimly, "I'm ready if you are."
     At the  moment  it  looked like a fair enough  match.  Even the Sheriff
seemed not so sure of himself; with diminishing bravado, he spit between his
fingers,  and  said Well, nobody was going to accuse him  of hitting an  old
man. "Or standing up to one," Judge Cool retorted. "Go on, Junius, tuck your
shirt in your pants and trot along home."
     The  Sheriff appealed  to  us  in the tree. "Save yourselves  a lot  of
trouble:  get  out of there and come  along with me now."  We did not  stir,
except  that Dolly dropped her veil, as  though lowering  a  curtain on  the
subject once for  all.  Mrs. Buster, the lump on her head  like a horn, said
portentously, "Never  mind, Sheriff. They've had their chance," and,  eyeing
Dolly, (hen the Judge, added:  "You may  imagine you are  getting away  with
something. But let me  tell you there will be  a retribution -not in heaven,
right here on earth."
     "Right here on earth," harmonized Mrs. Macy Wheeler.
     They left along  the path, erect, haughty  as a wedding procession, and
passed into the sunlight where the  red rolling  grass swept  up,  swallowed
them. Lingering  under the tree, the Judge  smiled at  us and,  with a small
courteous bow, said: "Do I remember you offering a drumstick to anybody that
would likeit?"
     He  might have been put  together from parts of the tree, for his  nose
was  like a wooden peg, his legs  were strong as old roots, and his eyebrows
were thick, tough as strips of bark. Among the topmost branches  were beards
of  silvery  moss  the  color  of  his center-parted hair, and  the  cowhide
sycamore leaves, sifting down from a neighboring taller tree, were the color
of  his cheeks. Despite his canny, tomcat eyes, the general  impression  his
face made was that of someone shy and countrified. Ordinarily he was not the
one  to make a show of himself. Judge  Charlie Cool; there were many who had
taken advantage of his modesty to set themselves above him. Yet none of them
could have claimed, as  he could, to  be a graduate of Harvard University or
to have twice traveled in Europe. Still, there were those who were resentful
and felt that  he put on airs: wasn't he supposed  to read a  page  of Greek
every  morning before breakfast? and what  kind of a man  was it that  would
always have flowers in his  buttonhole? If  he wasn't  stuck up,  why,  some
people asked, had he gone  all the way to Kentucky to find a wife instead of
marrying one of our own women? I  do not remember the Judge's wife; she died
before I was old enough to be aware of her, therefore an that I repeat comes
second-hand. So: the town never warmed up to Irene  Cool, and apparently  it
was  her own fault. Kentucky  women are difficult  to begin with,  keyed-up,
hellion-hearted, and Irene Cool, who was born  a Todd in Bowling Green (Mary
Todd,  a second  cousin once  removed,  had  married  Abraham  Lincoln)  let
everyone  around  here  know she thought  them  a backward, vulgar  lot: she
received none of the ladies of the town, but Miss Palmer, who did sewing for
her, spread news of how she'd transformed the Judge's  house into a place of
taste and style with Oriental rugs and antique furnishings. She drove to and
from Church in a Pierce-Arrow with all  the windows rolled up, and in church
itself she sat with a  cologned handkerchief against her nose: the  smell of
God ain't good enough  for Irene Cool. Moreover, she would not permit either
of  the  local doctors to attend her family,  this  though she herself was a
semi-invalid: a small backbone  dislocation necessitated  her sleeping  on a
bed  of  boards. There were crude  jokes  about the  Judge  getting full  of
splinters. Nevertheless,  he fathered two  sons, Todd and  Charles Jr., both
born  in Kentucky where their mother had gone in order that they could claim
to be natives  of the bluegrass  state.  But those who tried to make out the
Judge got  the  brunt of his wife's  irritableness, that he was  a miserable
man, never had much  of a case, and after she died even the hardest of their
critics  had  to admit  old  Charlie  must surely  have loved his Irene. For
during the last two years of her life, when she was very ill and fretful, he
retired as circuit  judge, then took  her abroad to the places they had been
on their honeymoon. She never came  back; she is buried in  Switzerland. Not
so long ago Carrie Wells, a schoolteacher here in town, went on a group tour
to  Europe;  the  only thing  connecting our town  with  that  continent are
graves, the graves of soldier boys and Irene Cool; and Carrie,  armed with a
camera for snapshots, set  out to visit them all: though  she stumbled about
in a cloud-high cemetery one whole afternoon, she could not find the Judge's
wife,  and  it is  funny  to think  of  Irene  Cool,  serenely  there  on  a
mountain-side still  unwilling  to receive. There was not much left for  the
Judge when  he came back; politicians like Meiself Tallsap  and his gang had
come into power: those boys couldn't afford to have Charlie Cool sitting  in
the courthouse. It was sad to see  the Judge,  a fine-looking man dressed in
narrowcut suits with a black silk band sewn around his sleeve and a Cherokee
rose  in his buttonhole, sad to  see him with nothing to do except go to the
post  office  or  stop  in  at  the  bank. His sons  worked  in.  the  bank,
prissy-mouthed,  prudent  men who might  have been twins, for they both were
marshmallow-white, slump-shouldered,  watery-eyed. Charles  Jr., he was  the
one who had lost his hair while still in college,  was vice-president of the
bank, and Todd, the younger  son, was  chief  cashier. In  no  way  did they
resemble their  father, except that  they had  married Kentucky women. These
daughters-in-law had taken  over the  Judge's house  and divided it into two
apartments with separate entrances; there was an arrangement whereby (he old
man lived with first one son's family, then  the  other. No wonder he'd felt
like taking a walk to the woods.
     "Thank you. Miss Dolly," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his
hand. "That's the best drumstick I've had since I was a boy."
     "It's the least we can do, a drumstick; you were very brave." There was
in Dolly's voice an emotional, feminine tremor that struck me as unsuitable,
not dignified; so, too, it  must have seemed to Catherine: she gave  Dolly a
reprimanding glance. "Won't you have something more, a piece of cake?"
     "No  ma'm, thank you, I've had a sufficiency."  He unloosened from  his
vest a gold watch and chain, then lassoed the chain to a  strong  twig above
his  head; it hung like a Christmas ornament, and its feathery faded ticking
might have  been the heartbeat of a delicate thing, a firefly,  a frog.  "If
you  can  hear  time  passing  it makes the day  last  longer. I've  come to
appreciate a long day." He brushed back the fur  of the squirrels, which lay
curled in a corner as though they were only asleep. "Right through the head:
good shooting, son."
     Of course I gave the credit to the proper party. "Riley Hen-derson, was
it?" said the  Judge,  and  went on  to  say it  was Riley who  had  let our
whereabouts  be  known.  "Before  that, they must  have sent off  a  hundred
dollars'  worth of telegrams," he told us, tickled at the thought. "I  guess
it was the idea of all that money that made Verena take to her bed."
     Scowling, Dolly said, "It doesn't make a particle of sense, all of them
behaving ugly that  way. They seemed  mad enough  to kill us, though I can't
see  why, or what it has to do with  Verena: she knew  we were going away to
leave her  in peace, I  told her, I even left  a note. But if she's  sick-is
she. Judge? I've never known her to be."
     "Never a day," said Catherine.
     "Oh, she's upset all right,"  the Judge said with a certain contentment
"But  Verena's not the woman to come down  with anything an aspirin couldn't
fix. I remember when she wanted to rearrange the  cemetery, put up some kind
of mausoleum to  house  herself and all you Talbos. One of the ladies around
here  came to me and  said  Judge, don't you think Verena Talbo is  the most
morbid person in town, contemplating such a big tomb for herself? and I said
No, the  only thing morbid was that  she was willing to spend the money when
not for an instant did she believe she was ever going to die."
     "I  don't  like to hear  talk against my  sister,"  said  Dolly curtly.
"She's worked hard, she deserves to have things as she wants them. It's  our
fault, someway we failed her, there was no place for us in her house."
     Catherine's  cotton-wadding squirmed in her Jaw like  chewing  tobacco.
"Are you my  Dollyheart? or some hypocrite? He's a friend, you ought to tell
him the truth, how That One and the little Jew was stealing our medicine..."
     The  Judge  applied  for a  translation,  but Dolly said it was  simply
nonsense,  nothing worth repeating  and, diverting him, asked if he knew how
to skin a squirrel.  Nodding dreamily, he gazed away from us, above us,  his
acomlike  eyes  scanning  the sky-fringed, breeze-fooled  leaves. "It may be
that  there is no place  for any of us. Except we  know there is, somewhere;
and if we found it, but lived  there only a moment, we could count ourselves
blessed. This could be  your place," he said, shivering as though in the sky
spreading wings had cask a cold shade. "And mine."
     Subtly as the  gold watch spun its  sound of time, the afternoon curved
toward twilight. Mist from the river, autumn haze, trailed moon-colors among
the  bronze,  the  blue trees, and  a halo, an image of  winter, ringed  the
paling sun. Still the Judge did  not leave us: 'Two women and  a boy? at the
mercy  of  night? and Junius Candle, those  fools up to God knows what?  I'm
sticking with you." Surely, of the four of us, it was the Judge who had most
found his place in the tree. It was a pleasure to watch him, all  twinkly as
a hare's nose, and feeling himself a man again, more than that, a protector.
He skinned  the squirrels with a  jackknife,  while  in the  dusk I gathered
sticks and built under the tree a fire for the frying pan.  Dolly opened the
bottle of blackberry wine; she justified this by referring to a chill in the
air. The squirrels turned out quite well,  very tender,  and  the Judge said
proudly that  we should taste his fried catfish sometime. We sipped the wine
in  silence; a smell  of  leaves and smoke  carrying from  the cooling  fire
called up thoughts  of other autumns,  and we sighed, heard, like  sea-roar,
singings in the field of grass. A candle flickered in a mason jar, and gipsy
moths, balanced, blowing  about  the flame, seemed  to pilot  its  scarf  of
yellow among the black branches.
     There  was,  just then,  not  a  footfall,  but  a  nebulous  sense  of
intrusion: it might have been nothing more than the moon coming  out. Except
there was no moon; nor stars.  It was dark as the blackberry wine.  "I think
there is  someone-something down there," said Dolly, expressing what  we all
     The Judge lifted  the  candle.  Night-crawlers slithered away from  its
lurching light, a  snowy owl flew  between  the trees. "Who  goes there?" he
challenged with the conviction of a soldier. "Answer up, who goes there?"
     "Me, Riley Henderson." It  was  indeed.  He separated from the shadows,
and his  upraised, grinning face looked  warped, wicked in the  candlelight.
"Just thought I'd see how you were getting on. Hope you're not sore at me: I
wouldn't have told where you were, not if I'd known what it was all about."
     "Nobody blames you, son," said  the Judge,  and I remembered it was  he
who had championed  Riley's cause against his uncle Horace Holton: there was
an understanding  between them.  "We're enjoying a  small taste of wine. I'm
sure Miss Dolly would be pleased to have you join us."
     Catherine complained there was no room;  another ounce,  and  those old
boards  would give way. StiB,  we  scrunched  together  to make a  place for
Riley, who  had no sooner squeezed into it than Catherine grabbed a  fistful
of his hair. "That's for today  with you pointing your gun at us like I told
you not to; and  this,"  she said, yanking  again and speaking distinctively
enough to be understood, "pays you back for setting the Sheriff on us."
     It  seemed to me  that  Catherine was  impertinent, but  Riley  grunted
good-naturedly,  and  said  she  might  have  better  cause  to  be  pulling
somebody's  hair  before the  night  was over.  For there  was, he  told us,
excited  feelings in the town, crowds  like Saturday night; the Reverend and
Mrs. Buster especially  were brewing trouble: Mrs. Buster was sitting on her
front porch showing callers the bump  on  her head. Sheriff Candle, he said,
had persuaded Verona to authorize a  warrant  for our  arrest on the grounds
that we had stolen property belonging to her.
     "And Judge," said Riley, his manner grave, perplexed, they've even got
the idea they're going to arrest you. Disturbing the peace  and  obstructing
justice, that's  what  I heard. Maybe I shouldn't tell you this-but  outside
the bank I ran into one of your boys, Todd. I asked him what he was going to
do  about it, about  them arresting you, I mean; and  he said  Nothing, said
they'd  been expecting something  of  the  kind, that  you'd  brought it  on
     Leaning,  the Judge  snuffed  out  the  candle;  it was  as  though  an
expression was occurring in his face which he did not want us to see. In the
dark one of us was crying, after a moment we knew that it was Dolly, and the
sound of her tears set off silent explosions of love that, running  the full
circle round, bound us each to the other. Softly, the Judge said: "When they
come we must be ready for them. Now, everybody listen to me..."

     We must  know  our  position  to  defend  it;  that  is a primary rule.
Therefore:  what  has  brought  us  together?  Trouble.  Miss  Dolly and her
friends,  they are in trouble. You, Riley; we both are in trouble. We belong
in this tree or  we wouldn't be here." Dolly grew silent under the confident
sound of the Judge's  voice; he said:  "Today,  when I started out with  the
Sheriffs  party,  I  was  a man  convinced  that  his  life will have passed
un-communicated and without trace. I think now that I  will not have been so
unfortunate.  Miss Dolly,  how long? fifty, sixty years? it was that far ago
that I  remember  you, a stiff  and  blushing  child riding to town in  your
father's wagon-never getting down from the wagon  because you didn't want us
town-children to see you had no shoes."
     "They had shoes. Dolly and That One,"  Catherine  muttered. "It  was me
that didn't have no shoes."
     "All  the  years  that  I've  seen  you,  never  known  you,  not  ever
recognized, as I did today, what you are: a spirit, a pagan..."
     "A pagan?" said Dolly, alarmed but interested.
     "At  least, then, a  spirit, someone not  to  be calculated by the  eye
alone.  Spirits  are  accepters of  life,  they  grant  its  differences-and
consequently are  always in trouble. Myself,  I should  never  have  been  a
Judge; as such, I was  too often  on  the wrong side:  the law doesn't admit
differences.  Do you remember old Carper,  the fisherman who had a houseboat
on the river? He was chased out of  town-wanted  to marry that pretty little
colored girl, I think she  works for Mrs. Postum now; and you know she loved
him, I  used to see them when I went fishing, they were very happy together;
she was to him what no one has been to me, the one person in the world- from
whom  nothing is held back. Still, if he had succeeded in  marrying her,  it
would have been the Sheriff's duty to arrest and my  duty to sentence him. I
sometimes  imagine all  those whom I've called  guilty  have passed the real
guilt on to me: it's partly  that that makes me want once before I die to be
right on the right side."
     "You on the right side now. That One and the Jew..."
     "Hush," said Dolly.
     "The  one  person  in the world." It was  Riley  repeating  the Judge's
phrase; his voice lingered inquiringly.
     "I mean," the  Judge explained,  "a person  to  whom everything can  be
said. Am I an idiot to want such a thing? But ah, the energy we spend hiding
from  one another, afraid as  we are of  being identified. But here  we are,
identified: five fools in a tree. A great piece of luck provided we know how
to use it: no longer any need to worry about the picture we present -free to
find out who we truly are. If we know that no one can dislodge us;  it's the
uncertainty  concerning themselves that makes our friends  conspire  to deny
the  differences. By  scraps and bits I've in the past surrendered myself to
strangers-men  who  disappeared down  the  gangplank, got  off  at the  next
station: put  together,  maybe they  would've  made the  one  person in  the
world-but there he is with a  dozen  different faces moving  down  a hundred
separate  streets. This is  my chance  to find  that  man-you are him.  Miss
Dolly, Riley, all of you."
     Catherine said, "I'm no man with  any dozen  faces: tile notion," which
irritated Dolly, who told her if she couldn't speak respectably why not just
go to sleep. "But Judge,"  said Dolly,  "I'm not sure I know what it  is you
have in mind we should tell each other. Secrets?" she finished lamely.
     "Secrets,  no,  no."  The  Judge  scratched  a match and relighted  the
candle; his face sprang upon us with an expression unexpectedly pathetic: we
must  help him, he was pleading.  "Speak of the  night, the fact there is no
moon. What one says hardly matters,  only the trust  with  which it is said,
the sympathy  with which it is received. Irene, my wife, a remarkable woman,
we might have shared anything, and yet, yet nothing in us combined, we could
not touch.  She died in  my arms, and  at  the last  I said. Are you  happy,
Irene? have I made you happy? Happy happy  happy, those were her last words:
equivocal. I  have never  understood  whether  she was saying yes, or merely
answering with an echo: I  should know if I'd  ever known her. My sons. I do
not  enjoy their esteem: I've wanted  it, more as a man  than  as a  father.
Unfortunately, (hey feel they know something shameful about me. Ill tell you
what it  is." His virile  eyes, faceted with candle-glow, examined us one by
one, as though testing our attention, trust "Five  years  ago, nearer six, I
sat  down  in a train-seat  where some child had left  a child's magazine. I
picked  it up  and was  looking through  it  when I  saw  on  the back cover
addresses of children who  wanted  to correspond with  other children. There
was a little girl in  Alaska, her name appealed to me. Heather Falls. I sent
her a picture postcard; Lord, it seemed a harmless and pleasant thing to do.
She  answered at once,  and the letter  quite astonished me; it  was  a very
intelligent account  of life in Alaska-charming descriptions of her father's
sheep ranch, of northern  lights. She was thirteen and enclosed a photograph
of herself-not pretty, but a wise and kind  looking child.  I hunted through
some  old albums,  and  found  a  Kodak made  on  a fishing trip  when I was
fifteen-out in the sun and with a trout in my  hand: it looked new enough. I
wrote her as though  I were still that  boy, told her of the gun I'd got for
Christmas, how  the dog had had  pups  and what we'd named them, described a
tent-show that  had  come to town.  To  be  growing  up  again  and  have  a
sweetheart in Alaska-well, it was fun for an old man sitting alone listening
to  the noise  of a  clock. Later on she  wrote she'd fallen in  love with a
fellow she knew, and  I felt a real  pang of  jealousy, the way  a youngster
would; but we have remained  friends: two  years  ago, when I told her I was
getting  ready  for law school, she sent me a  gold nugget-it would bring me
luck, she said." He took it from his pocket and held  it  out for us to see:
it made her come so close. Heather Palls, as though the gently  bright  gift
balanced in his palm was part of her heart.
     "And that's  what they think is shameful?" said Dolly, more piqued than
indignant. "Because  you've helped  keep  company a  lonely little child  in
Alaska? It snows there so much."
     Judge Cool closed his hand over the nugget. "Not that they've mentioned
it  to me.  But  I've heard them talking  at night, my sons and their wives:
wanting to know what to do about me. Of course they'd spied out the letters.
I don't  believe in locking drawers-seems  strange a man can't live  without
keys in  what  was  at least once his  own house. They think it  all  a sign
of..." He tapped his head.
     "I had a  letter once. Collin, sugar, pour me a taste," said Catherine,
indicating  the wine.  "Sure  enough, I  had  a  letter once,  still  got it
somewhere, kept it twenty  years  wondering who  was  wrote  it  Said  Hello
Catherine, come on to Miami and marry with me, love Bill."
     "Catherine. A man asked you to marry him-and you never told one word of
it to me?"
     Catherine  lifted a  shoulder. "Well,  Dollyheart, what  was (he  Judge
saying? You don't tell  anybody  everything. Besides,  I've known a  peck of
Bills-wouldn't study marrying any of  them. What worries  my mind is,  which
one of the Bills was  it wrote that letter? I'd like to know, seeing as it's
the only letter I ever  got. It could be the  Bill  that put the  roof on my
house; course, by the time the roof was up-my goodness, I have got old, been
a long day since  I've  given it  two thoughts. There was Bill  that came to
plow the garden, spring of 1913 it was; that man sure could plow  a straight
row. And Bill that built the chicken-coop: went away on a Pullman job; might
have been him wrote me that letter. Or Bill-uh uh, his name was Fred-Collin,
sugar, this wine  is  mighty good."  ^ "I may have a drop more myself," said
Dolly. "I mean, Catherine has given me such a..."
     "Hmn," said Catherine.
     "If  you  spoke  more  slowly,  or  chewed  less..." The  Judge thought
Catherine's cotton was tobacco.
     Riley  had  withdrawn a little from  us; slumped over, he stared stilly
into the inhabited dark: I, I, I, a bird cried, "I- you're wrong. Judge," he
     "How so, son?"
     The caught-up uneasiness that I associated with Riley swamped his face.
'I'm not in  trouble: I'm nothing-or would you call  that my trouble?  I lie
awake thinking what do I know how to do? hunt, drive a car, fool around; and
I get  scared  when I think  maybe that's all  it will ever come to. Another
thing,  I've got no feelings-except for my sisters, which is different. Take
for instance, I've been going with this girl from  Rock City nearly a  year,
the longest time I've  stayed with one girl. I guess  it was a week  ago she
flared up  and  said  where's your heart? said if I didn't love her she'd as
soon die.
     So I stopped the car on the railroad track; well, I said, lets just sit
here, the Crescent's due in  about twenty  minutes. We didn't take our  eyes
off each  other, and I thought isn't it  mean (hat I'm looking at you and  I
don't feel anything except..."
     "Except vanity?" said the Judge.
     Riley did not deny it. "And if my sisters were old enough  to take care
of themselves,  I'd have been willing to wait for (he  Crescent to come down
on us,"
     It made my  stomach hurt to hear  him talk like that; I longed  to tell
him he was all I wanted to be.
     "You said  before about  the  one  person  in the world. Why couldn't I
think of her like that? Ifs what I want, I'm  no good by myself. Maybe, if I
could care for somebody that way,  I'd make plans and  carry  them out:  buy
that stretch of land past Parson's Place  and build houses on it-I  could do
it if I got quiet."
     Wind surprised, pealed  the  leaves,  parted night  clouds;  showers of
starlight  were  let  loose:  our  candle,  as  though  intimidated  by  the
incandescence of the opening,  star-stabbed sky, toppled,  and we could see,
unwrapped  above  us, a  late wayaway wintery moon: it  was  like a slice of
snow,  near and far  creatures  called  to it,  hunched  moon-eyed frogs,  a
claw-voiced  wildcat.  Catherine  hauled out the  rose scrapquilt, insisting
Dolly  wrap  it  around herself;  then  she tucked  her arms around  me  and
scratched my head until I let it relax on  her bosom-You cold? she said, and
I wiggled closer: she was good and warm as the old kitchen.
     "Son, I'd say  you were  going at it the  wrong  end first,"  said  the
Judge, turning up his coat-collar.  "How could you care about one girl? Have
you ever cared about one leaf?"
     Riley,  listening to the wildcat with an itchy hunter's look,  snatched
at the  leaves blowing about us like midnight butterflies; alive, fluttering
as  though to escape  and fly, one stayed  trapped between  his fingers. The
Judge, too: he  caught a  leaf; and it  was  worth more  in his hand than in
Riley's.  Pressing  ft mildly against his cheek, he  distantly said, "We are
speaking of love. A leaf, a handful of seed-begin with these, learn a little
what it is to  love. First, a leaf, a fall  of rain, then someone to receive
what  a leaf  has  taught  you, what a fall of  rain  has  ripened. No  easy
process, understand; it could  take a lifetime, it has mine, and still  I've
never mastered it-I only know how  true it is: that love is a chain of love,
as nature is a chain of life."
     "Then," said  Dolly with an intake of breath, "I've been in love afl my
life." She sank down into the  quilt. "Well, no," and her voice fell off, "I
guess  not.  I've  never  loved  a,"  while she searched  for  the word wind
frolicked  her veil,  "gentleman. You  might  say  that  I've  never had the
opportunity. Except  Papa," she  paused, as though  she'd  said too  much. A
gauze of starlight wrapped her closely as the quilt; something, the reciting
frogs,  the string  of voices  stretching  from the field  of grass,  lured,
impelled her: "But I have loved everything else. Like the color pink; when I
was a  child I  had one colored crayon, and it was pink;  I drew  pink cats,
pink trees-for thirty-four years I lived in a pink room. And the box I kept,
it's somewhere in the attic now, I must ask Verena please to give  it to me,
it  would  be  nice to see  my first loves again:  what  is  there? a  dried
honeycomb, an empty hornet's  nest, other  things,  or an  orange stuck with
cloves and  a jaybird's egg-when  I loved those love  collected inside me so
that it went flying  about like a bird  in a  sunflower field. But it's best
not to show such things, it burdens people and makes them, I don't know why,
unhappy. Verena scolds at me  for  what she calls hiding in comers,  but I'm
afraid of scaring people if I show that I care for them.  Like Paul Jimson's
wife; after he got sick and couldn't  deliver the papers  any more, remember
she took over his roulte? poor  thin little thing just dragging herself with
that sack of papers. It was one cold afternoon, she came up on the porch her
nose running and  tears of cold hanging in her eyes-she  put down the paper,
and I  said  wait, hold  on, and took my handkerchief to  wipe  her  eyes: I
wanted to say,  if I could,  that  I was sorry and that I  loved her-my hand
grazed her  face, she turned with the smallest shout and ran down the steps.
Then on, she always tossed the papers from the  street, and whenever I heard
them hit the porch it sounded in my bones."
     "Paul  Jimson's  wife: worrying yourself over  trash  like  that!" said
Catherine, rinsing her mouth with the last of  the wine. "I've got a bowl of
goldfish,  just 'cause I like them don't  make me love the world. Love a lot
of mess,  my foot. You can talk what you want, not going to do anything  but
harm, bringing up what's  best forgot. People ought to  keep  more things to
themselves. The deepdown ownself  part of you, that's the good part:  what's
left of a  human being that goes around speaking his privates? The Judge, he
say  we all  up here  'cause of  trouble some kind.  Shoot! We here for very
plain reasons. One is,  this our tree-house, and two, That One and the Jew's
trying to  steal what  belongs to us. Three:  you  here,  every one of  you,
'cause you want  to be: the deepdown part  of  you  tells you  so. This last
don't apply  to me. I like a roof  over my  own head.  Dollyheart, give  the
Judge a  portion of that  quilt: man's shivering like was Halloween."  Shyly
Dolly lifted a wing of  the quilt and nodded  to him; the Judge,  not at all
shy,  slipped under it. The  branches  of the China tree swayed like immense
oars  dipping  into  a sea rolling and  chilled  by the  far far stars. Left
alone, Riley sat hunched up in himself like  a pitiful  orphan. "Snuggle up,
hard  head: you  cold like anybody else," said  Catherine, offering him  the
position on her  right that I occupied on her left.  He didn't seem  to want
to; maybe he noticed that she smelled like  bitter-weed, or maybe he thought
it was  sissy; but I said come on, Riley, Catherine's  good and warm, better
than a quilt. After a while Riley moved over to us. It was quiet for so long
I  thought everyone  had gone to sleep. Then I felt Catherine stiffen. "It's
just come  to  me  who it was sent my letter:  Bill Nobody. That One, that's
who. Sure as  my name's Catherine Creek she got some nigger in Miami to mail
me  a  letter, thinking I'd scoot off  there never to be heard  from again."
Dolly sleepily said hush now hush, shut your eyes: "Nothing to be afraid of;
we've men here to  watch out for us." A branch swung back, moonlight ignited
the tree: I saw the Judge take Dolly's hand. It was the last thing I saw.

     Riley was the first to wake, and  he wakened  me. On the skyline  three
morning stars  swooned in the  flush of  an  arriving sun;  dew tinseled the
leaves,  a  jet chain  of blackbirds swung out  to meet the  mounting light.
Riley beckoned for me to come with  him;  we slid silently  down through the
tree. Catherine, snoring with abandon, did not hear us go; nor did Dolly and
the Judge who, like  two children lost in a witch-ruled  forest, were asleep
with their cheeks together.
     We headed  toward the river, Riley leading  the  way. The legs  of  his
canvas trousers whispered against each  other.  Every little bit  he stopped
and stretched himself, as  though he'd been riding on a  train. Somewhere we
came to a hill  of already about and busy red ants. Riley unbuttoned his fly
and began to flood them; I  don't know that  it was funny, but I  laughed to
keep him company. Naturally I  was insulted when he switched around and peed
on my shoe. I thought it meant he had no respect for  me. I said to him  why
would he want to  do a thing like  that? Don't you know a joke? he said, and
threw a hugging arm around my shoulder.
     If  such  events  can be dated, this  I  would say was the moment Riley
Henderson and I became  friends,  the  moment, at least, when there began in
him an affectionate feeling  for  me that supported my  own for him. Through
brown briars  under  brown trees we walked deep  in the  woods  down  to the
     Leaves like scarlet hands floated on the green slow water. A poking end
of a drowned log seemed the peering head of some river-beast. We moved on to
the old houseboat, where the water was clearer. The  houseboat  was slightly
tipped over; drifts of waterbay sheddings were like a rich rust on its  roof
and  declining  deck.  The inside  cabin  had  a mystifying tended-to  look.
Scattered around were issues of an adventure magazine, there was  a kerosene
lamp  and  a line  of beer  empties  ranged on a table;  the bunk  sported a
blanket,  a  pillow,  and  the  pillow was  colored  with pink  markings  of
lipstick. In  a rush I realized the houseboat  was someone's hide-out; then,
from the grin taking over Riley's homely face, I knew  whose it was. "What's
more," he said, "you can get in a little fishing on the side. Don't you tell
anybody." I crossed an admiring heart.
     While we were undressing I had a kind of dream. I dreamed the houseboat
had been  launched  on  the river  with the  five of  us aboard: our laundry
flapped  like sails, in the  pantry a coconut  cake  was cooking, a geranium
bloomed on  the windowsill -together  we  floated over  changing rivers past
varying views.
     The last of summer  warmed the  climbing sun, but the water,  at  first
plunge,  sent me  chattering and  chicken-skinned back to  the deck where  I
stood watching  Riley unconcernedly propel  himself  to and  fro between the
banks. An island of bamboo reeds, standing like the legs of cranes, shivered
in a  shallow patch, and Riley waded out among  them with  lowered,  hunting
eyes. He signaled to me. Though it  hurt, I eased down  into the cold  river
and swam to join him. The water  bending  the  bamboo was clear and  divided
into knee-deep basins-Riley hovered above one: in the thin pool a coal-black
catfish lay doz-ingly  trapped. We closed in  upon it with fingers tense  as
fork-prongs: thrashing backwards, it  flung itself  straight  into my hands.
The flailing razory whiskers  made a gash across  my palm,  still I  had the
sense to hold on-thank goodness, for it's the only fish  I ever caught. Most
people  don't believe it when I tell about catching a  catfish barehanded; I
say well ask Riley Henderson. We drove a spike of  bamboo through its  gills
and swam  back to the  houseboat holding it  aloft. Riley said it was one of
the fattest catfish  he'd ever seen: we would take  it back to the tree and,
since he'd bragged what  a great hand he was  at frying a catfish,  let  the
Judge fix it for breakfast As it turned out, that fish never got eaten.
     All this time  at the tree-house there was a terrible situation. During
our absence Sheriff Candle had returned backed  by deputies and a warrant of
arrest.  Meanwhile, unaware of what was  in store,  Riley and  I lazed along
kicking over toadstools, sometimes stopping to skip rocks on the water.
     We still were  some distance away when rioting  voices reached us; they
rang in the trees like axe-blows. I heard Catherine scream: roar, rather. It
made such soup of my legs I couldn't keep up with Riley, who grabbed a stick
and  began to run. I zigged one  way, zagged  another,  then,  having made a
wrong turn, came out on the grass-field's rim. And there waa Catherine.
     Her dress was ripped down the front: she was good as naked. Ray Oliver,
Jack Mill, and Big Eddie  Stover, three  grown men, cronies of the  Sheriff,
were dragging and slapping her through the grass. I wanted to kill them; and
Catherine was trying to: but  she didn't  stand a chance-though  she  butted
them  with her head,  bounced  them  with her elbows.  Big Eddie Stover  was
legally born  a bastard; the  other two made the  grade on their own. It was
Big  Eddie that went  for me,  and  I slammed my catfish  flat in  his face.
Catherine said,  "You leave my baby be, he's an orphan";  and,  when she saw
that  he had ms  around  the  waist: "In  the booboos, Collin, kick  his old
boo-boos." So I did.  Big Eddie's face curdled like clabber. Jack Mill (he's
the one who a  year later  got locked in the ice-plant and froze  to  death:
served him right) snatched at me, but I bolted across the field and crouched
down in the tallest grass. I don't think they bothered to look for me,  they
had their hands so full with Catherine; she fought them the whole way, and I
watched her, sick with knowing there was no help  to give, until they passed
out of sight over the ridge into the cemetery.
     Overhead  two  squawking crows crossed, recrossed, as though making  an
evil sign.  I crept  toward the  woods-near me,  then, I heard boots cutting
through the grass.  It  was the Sheriff; with  him was  a  man  called  Will
Harris.  Tall  as a door, buffalo-shouldered,  Will Harris had  once had his
throat  eaten out by a mad  dog; the scars were bad  enough, but his damaged
voice was worse: it sounded giddy and babyfied, like a midget's. They passed
so close I could have untied Will's shoes. His  tiny voice, shrilling at the
Sheriff, jumped with  Morris Ritz's name and  Verena's:  I couldn't make out
exactly, except something had happened about Morris Ritz and Verena had sent
Will to $ bring back the Sheriff.  The  Sheriff said: "What in hell does the
woman want,  an  army?"  When  they were gone I sprang up and  ran into  the
     In sight of the China tree I hid behind a fan of fern: I thought one of
the  Sheriff's  men  might  still be hanging around. But there was  nothing,
simply a lonely singing bird. And no one in the tree-house: smoky as ghosts,
streamers of  sunlight illuminated its emptiness.  Numbly  I moved into view
and  leaned my  head against the tree's  trunk;  at this, the vision of  the
houseboat returned: our laundry flapped, the geranium bloomed, the  carrying
river carried us out to sea into the world.
     "Collin." My name fell out  of the sky. "Is  that you I  hear?  are you
     It was Dolly, calling from  somewhere I could not see-  until, climbing
to the tree's heart, I saw in  the above distance Dolly's  dangling childish
shoe. "Careful  boy," said  the Judge, who was beside  her, "you'll shake us
out of here." Indeed, like gulls resting on a ship's mast, they were sitting
in  the absolute tower of the tree; afterwards. Dolly was to remark that the
view afforded was so  enthralling  she  regretted not  having  visited there
before.  The Judge, it developed, had seen the approach of  the Sheriff  and
his  men in  time for  them to  take refuge in  those heights.  "Wait, we're
coming," she said; and, with one arm steadied  by the  Judge,  she descended
like a fine lady sweeping down a flight of stairs.
     We kissed  each other; she continued  to hold me. "She went to look for
you-Catherine; we didn't know where you were, and I was so afraid, I..." Her
fear tingled my hands: 'she felt like  a shaking small animal, a rabbit just
taken from the trap. The  Judge looked on with humbled eyes, fumbling hands;
he seemed to feel in the way, perhaps because he thought  he'd failed  us in
not  preventing what had happened to Catherine. But then, what could he have
done?  Had he gone to her  aid he would only  have got  himself caught: they
weren't fooling, the Sheriff, Big Eddie Stover and the others. I was the one
to feel guilty. If Catherine hadn't gone to look for  me they probably never
would have caught her. I told of what had taken place in the field of grass.
     But Dolly really wanted not to hear. As thought scattering a dream  she
brushed back her veil. "I want to believe Catherine is gone; and I can't. If
I could I would run to find her. I want to believe Verena has done this: and
I can't. Collin,  what do you think; is it that after all the world is a bad
place? Last night I saw it so differently."
     The Judge focused his eyes on mine: he was  trying, I think, to tell me
how to answer. But I knew myself. No matter  what passions compose them, all
private worlds are good, they are never vulgar  places: Dolly had been  made
too civilized by her  own, the one she shared with Catherine and me, to feel
the winds of wickedness that  circulate  elsewhere:  No, Dolly, the world is
not a bad place. She passed a hand across her forehead: "If  you are  right,
then in  a moment Catherine will  be walking under the  tree- she won't have
found you or Riley, but she will have come back."
     "By the way," said the Judge, "where is Riley?"
     He'd  run ahead of me, that  was the  last I'd  seen  of him;  with  an
anxiety that struck  us simultaneously, the Judge and I stood up and started
yelling his name. Our voices, curving slowly around the woods,  again, again
swung  back on silence. I knew what  had happened: he'd  fallen  into an old
Indian well.-many's the case  I could tell you  of. I was  about  to suggest
this when abruptly the Judge put a finger to his Ups. The man must  have had
ears like  a  dog:  I  couldn't  hear a  sound. But he was right,  there was
someone on  the path. It  turned out to be  Maude  Riordan and Riley's older
sister, the smart one, Elizabeth. They were very dear friends and wore white
matching sweaters, Elizabeth was carrying a violin case.
     "Look here, Elizabeth," said the Judge, startling the girls, for as yet
they had not discovered us. "Look here, child, have you seen your brother?"
     Maude recovered first, and it was she who answered. "We sure have," she
said emphatically. "I  was walking Elizabeth home from her lesson when Riley
came along doing ninety miles an hour; nearly  ran us over. You should speak
to him, Elizabeth. Anyway, he asked us to come down here and tell you not to
worry, said he'd explain everything later. Whatever that means."
     Both Maude and Elizabeth had been in my class at school; they'd  jumped
a grade  and  graduated the  previous  June.  I knew Maude  especially  well
because  for a summer I'd taken piano lessons  from  her mother; her  father
taught violin, and Elizabeth Henderson was one of  his pupils. Maude herself
played the violin beautifully; just a week before I'd read in the town paper
where  she'd been  invited to play  on a  radio program in Birmingham: I was
glad to hear it. The Riordans were nice people, considerate and cheerful. It
was  not because I wanted to  leam  piano that  I  took  lessons  with  Mrs.
Riordan- lather, I  liked her blond  largeness,  the sympathetic,  educated
talk that went on while we sat before the  splendid  upright that smelled of
polish  and attention; and  what I particularly liked  was  afterwards, when
Maude would ask  me to  have a lemonade  on  the cool back  porch.  She  was
snub-nosed and  elfin-eared, a skinny excitable girl who from her father had
inherited  Irish  black  eyes  and  from her  mother platinum  hair  pale as
morning-not the  least  like  her  best  friend,  the  soulful  and  shadowy
Elizabeth. I don't know what those two  talked about, books and music maybe.
But  with  me Maude's subjects were boys, dates, drugstore slander: didn't I
think it  was terrible, the  awful girls Riley Henderson chased around with?
she felt  so sorry for Elizabeth, and thought it wonderful how, despite all,
Elizabeth held up her head.  It  didn't take a genius to see that  Maude was
heartset on Riley; nevertheless,  I imagined for a while that I was in  love
with her. At  home I  kept mentioning  her until  finally Catherine said  Oh
Maude Riordan, she's too scrawny-nothing on her to pinch,  a man's crazy  to
give her the time of  day. Once  I showed Maude a  big evening, made for her
with my own hands a sweet-pea corsage, then took her to Phil's Cafe where we
had Kansas  City steaks; afterwards,  there  was a dance  at the Lola Hotel.
Still she behaved as though she hadn't expected to be kissed  good night. "I
don't think that's  necessary, Collin-though it was cute  of you to  take me
out." I was let down, you can see why; but as I didn't allow myself to brood
over it our  friendship  went on  little  changed. One day, at the end of  a
lesson, Mrs. Riordan omitted the usual new piece for home practice; instead,
she kindly informed  me that she preferred not  to continue with my lessons:
"We're very fond of you, Collin, I don't have to  say that you're welcome in
this  house  at any time. But dear,  (he  truth is  you have no ability  for
music; it happens  that way occasionally, and I  don't  think it's  fair  on
either of us to pretend otherwise." She was right, all the same my pride was
hurt, I  couldn't help feeling pushed-out, it made me miserable to think  of
the  Riordans,  and  gradually,  in about the time it took to forget  my few
hard-learned tunes, I drew a curtain on them. At first Maude used to stop me
after school  and ask me over to her  house; one way or another I always got
out of it; furthermore,  it  was  winter then  and  I liked to stay  in  the
kitchen  with Dolly  and Catherine. Catherine  wanted to  know: How come you
don't talk any more about Maude Riordan? I said because I don't, that's all.
But  while  I  didn't talk, I must have been thinking;  at least, seeing her
there  under the tree, old feelings squeezed  my chest For the  first time I
considered the circumstances self-consciously: did we. Dolly, the Judge  and
I,  strike Maude and  Elizabeth as a ludicrous sight?  I could be  judged by
them, they were my own age. But from their manner we might  just have met on
the street or at the drugstore.
     The Judge said,  "Maude, how's your daddy? Heard he hasn't been feeling
too good."
     "He can't  complain.  You  know  how  men are, always  looking  for  an
ailment. And yourself, sir?"
     "That's a  pity,"  said the  Judge, his mind wandering. "You  give your
daddy my regards, and tell him I hope he feels better."
     Maude  submitted  agreeably:  "I will,  sir, thank  you.  I  know  hell
appreciate  your  concern." Draping her skirt, she  dropped on the  moss and
settled  beside  her  an  unwilling Elizabeth.  For  Elizabeth no one used a
nickname; you might begin by calling her  Betty,  but in  a week it would be
Elizabeth  again: that  was  her effect  Languid, banana-boned, she had dour
black  hair and an  apathetic, at  moments saintly  face-in an enamel locket
worn around her  lily-stalk neck she preserved a miniature of her missionary
father. "Look, Elizabeth,  isn't  that a  becoming hat  Miss  Dolly has  on?
Velvet, with a veil."
     Dolly roused  herself;  she patted  her head. "I  don't  generally wear
hats-we intended to travel."
     "We  heard you'd left home," said Maude; and, proceeding more  frankly;
"In  fact  that's all anyone  talks about,  isnt  it, Elizabeth?"  Elizabeth
nodded without  enthusiasm. "Gracious, there are some peculiar stories going
around. I  mean, on  the way here  we met  Gus Ham and he  said that colored
woman Catherine Crook (is that her name?) had been arrested for hitting Mrs.
Buster with a mason jar."
     In sloping tones. Dolly said, "Catherine-had nothing to do with it."
     "I  guess  someone did,"  said Maude. "We saw Mrs.  Buster in  the post
office  this morning; she was showing everybody  a  bump  on her head, quite
large. It looked genuine  to us, didn't it Elizabeth?" Elizabeth yawned. "To
be sure, I don't care who hit her, I think they ought to get a medal"
     "No,"  sighed  Dolly, "it isn't  proper, it shouldn't have happened. We
all will have a lot to be sorry for."
     At  last  Maude took account  of me. "I've  been  wanting to  see  you,
Collin," she said  hurrying as though to hide  an embarrassment:  mine,  not
hers. "Elizabeth and I are planning a Halloween party, a real scary one, and
we thought it would be grand  to dress you in a skeleton suit and sit you in
a dark room to tell people's fortunes: because you're so good at..."
     "Fibbing," said Elizabeth disinterestedly.
     "Which is what fortune-telling is," Maude elaborated.
     I don't know what gave  them the idea I was  such a storyteller, unless
it  was at school I'd shown a superior talent  for alibis. I said it sounded
fine, the  party. "But you better not count  on me.  We might be in  jail by
     "Oh well, in  that case," said Maude, as if accepting one of my old and
usual excuses for not coming to her house.
     "Say, Maude," said the Judge, helping us out of  the  silence that  had
fallen, "you're getting to be  a celebrity: I saw in the  paper where you're
going to play on the radio."
     As though dreaming aloud, she explained the broadcast was the finals of
a state competition; if she won,  the prize was a musical scholarship at the
University: even second prize meant a half-scholarship. "I'm going to play a
piece  of daddy's, a serenade: he wrote it for me the  day  I was  born. But
it's a surprise, I don't want him to know."
     "Make her play it for you," said Elizabeth, unclasping her violin case.
     Maude  was generous,  she did not  have to be begged.  The wine-colored
violin, coddled under her chin, trilled as she tuned it; a brazen butterfly,
lighting on the bow, was spiraled away as the  bow swept across  the strings
singing a music that seemed a blizzard of  butterflies flying,  a sky-rocket
of spring sweet to hear  in the gnarled fall woods. It slowed, saddened, her
silver hair  drooped  across  the  violin. We applauded; after we'd  stopped
there went on sounding a mysterious extra pair of hands.  Riley stepped from
behind a  bank of fem, and  when she saw  him Maude's cheeks pinked. I don't
think she would have played so well if she'd known he was listening.
     Riley sent the girls home; they seemed  reluctant  to go, but Elizabeth
was not used to  disobeying her brother. "Lock the doors," he told her, "and
Maude, I'd  appreciate it if you'd spend the  night  at  our place:  anybody
comes by asking for me, say you don't know where I am."
     I had  to  help him into the tree,  for he'd brought back his gun and a
knapsack  heavy with  provisions-a bottle of rose and raisin  wine, oranges,
sardines,  wieners,  rolls  from the  Katydid Bakery, a jumbo  box of animal
crackers: each item appearing stepped up our spirits, and Dolly, overcome by
the animal crackers, said Riley ought to have a kiss.
     But it was with grave face that we listened to his report.
     When we'd separated in  the woods it was toward  the sound of Catherine
that he'd run. This  had brought him to the grass: he'd been watching when I
had my encounter with  Big Eddie Stover. I said well why didn't you help me?
"You were doing all right; I  don't figure Big Eddie's liable to forget  you
too soon: poor fellow limped along  doubled over." Besides,  it occurred  to
him  that no one knew he was one of us, that he'd Joined us in the  tree: he
was  right to  have  stayed hidden, it made  it possible for  him  to follow
Catherine  and   the  deputies  into  town.  They'd  stuffed  her  into  the
rumble-seat of Big  Eddie's  old  coupe  and  driven straight to jail: Riley
trailed them in his car. "By the time we reached the jail she seemed to have
got quieted  down; there  was a little crowd  hanging around, lads, some old
farmers-you  would  have  been proud of Catherine, she  walked through  them
holding her dress together and her head like  this." He tilted his head at a
royal angle. How  often I'd seen Catherine do that,  especially  when anyone
criticized  her  (for  hiding puzzle  pieces, spreading misinformation,  not
having  her teeth fixed);  and Dolly, recognizing  it too,  had to  blow her
nose. "But," said Riley, "as soon as she  was inside the  jail she kicked up
another fuss." In the jail there  are only four cells,  two  for colored and
two for  white.  Catherine had objected to being  put  in a colored people's
     The Judge stroked his chin, waved his head. "You didn't get a chance to
speak to  her? She ought to have  had the comfort of knowing  one of us  was
     'I stood around hoping  she'd  come to the window. But then I heard the
other news."
     Thinking back, I don't see how  Riley could  have waited so bug to tell
us. Because, my God: our friend from  Chicago, that hateful Dr. Morris Ritz,
had skipped town  after rifling Verena's safe of twelve thousand  dollars in
negotiable  bonds and more than seven hundred dollars  in cash: that, as  we
later learned, was not half his loot. But wouldn't you know? I realized this
was  what  baby-voiced Will Harris  had  been recounting to the Sheriff:  no
wonder Verena had  sent a hurry call: her troubles with us must have  become
quite a  side issue. Riley had a few  details:  he  knew  that  Verena, upon
discovering the safe door swung open  (this happened in the  office she kept
above her drygoods  store) had whirled  around the  comer to the Lola Hotel,
there  to find that  Morris Ritz  had checked out  the previous evening: she
fainted: when they-revived her she fainted all over again.
     Dolly's soft face  hollowed; an urge to go to Verena was rising, at the
same  moment  some sense of self, a deeper  will, held  her. Regretfully she
gazed at  me. "It's  better you know  it now,  Collin; you shouldn't have to
wait until you're as old as I am: the world is a bad place."
     A change, like a shift of  wind, overcame  the Judge: he looked at once
his  age, autumnal, bare,  as though  he  believed  that Dolly, by accepting
wickedness,  had forsaken  him. But I  knew  she  had not: he'd called her a
spirit, she  was  really  a woman. Uncorking the rose and raisin wine, Riley
spilled its topaz color into four glasses; after a moment he filled a fifth,
Catherine's. The Judge, raising the wine to his lips, proposed  a toast: "To
Catherine,  give her trust."  We  lifted our glasses, and "Oh Collin,"  said
Dolly,  a sudden stark thought widening her eyes, "you and I, we're the only
ones that can understand a word she says!"

     The following day, which was the first of October,  a Wednesday, is one
day I won't forget.
     First off, Riley  woke me by  stepping on my  fingers.  Dolly,  already
awake, insisted I  apologize for cursing  him.  Courtesy,  she said, is more
important  in the morning than  at any other time:  particularly when one is
living in such close quarters.  The  Judge's  watch, still bending  the twig
like a heavy gold apple, gave the time as six after  six. I don't know whose
idea  it was, but  we breakfasted on oranges  and animal crackers  and  cold
hotdogs. The  Judge grouched that a body didn't feel  human till  he'd had a
pot of  hot coffee. We agreed that coffee was what we all most missed. Riley
volunteered to drive into town and get some; also, he would have a chance to
scout  around, find out  what was going  on. He  suggested I come with  him:
"Nobody's going to  see him, not if he stays down in the seat." Although the
Judge objected, saying he thought it foolhardy. Dolly could tell I wanted to
go: I'd yearned so much  for a ride in Riley's car that  now the opportunity
presented itself nothing, even  the prospect that no one might see me, could
have thinned my excitement. Dolly said, "I can't  see there's  any harm. But
you ought to have a clean shirt: I could plant turnips in the collar of that
     The  field  of grass was  without  voice,  no pheasant  rustle, furtive
flurry; the  pointed leaves were sharp and blood-red as the aftermath arrows
of  a massacre; their brittieness  broke beneath our feet as we waded up the
hill  into the cemetery. The view  from  there is very  fine: the  limitless
trembling  surface  of  River  Woods,  fifty  unfolding miles  of  ploughed,
wind-milled farmland, far-off the spired courthouse tower, smoking  chimneys
of town. I stopped by  the graves of my mother  and father. I had not  often
visited  them,  it  depressed me,  the  tomb-cold  stone-so  unlike  what  I
remembered of them, their  aliveness, how she'd  cried when he went  away to
sell his frigid-aires,  how he'd run naked into the street. I wanted flowers
for  the terracotta jars sitting empty on the streaked  and muddied  marble.
Riley helped me; he tore beginning buds off a japonica tree, and watching me
arrange them, said: "I'm glad your ma  was nice.  Bitches, by and large."  I
wondered if he meant his  own mother, poor Rose  Henderson, who used to make
him hop around (he yard reciting the  multiplication  table. It did  seem to
me, though, that he'd  made up for those hard days. After all, he  had a car
that was supposed  to  have  cost  three thousand dollars. Second-hand, mind
you. It  was a foreign  car,  an Alfa-Romeo roadster (Romeo's Alfa, the joke
was)  he'd  bought   in  New   Orleans  from  a  politician  bound  for  the
     As  we  purred along the unpaved road toward town I kept hoping  for  a
witness: there were certain persons it would have done my heart good to have
seen me sailing by in Riley  Hen-derson's  car.  But  it  was  too early for
anyone much to be  about; breakfast was still on the stove, and smoke soared
out the chimneys of passing houses. We turned the comer by the church, drove
around  the  square and parked  in the dirt lane  that runs between Cooper's
Livery and the Katydid Bakery. There Riley left me  with orders to stay put:
he wouldn't be more than an hour. So, stretching out on the seat, I listened
to the chicanery  of  thieving  sparrows in the livery  stable's  haystacks,
breathed the fresh bread, tart  as currant odors escaping  from the  bakery.
The couple who owned this bakery, County was their name,  Mr. and Mrs. C. C.
County, had  to begin  their  day at  three in the morning to  be  ready  by
opening time, eight o'clock. It  was a clean prosperous place.  Mrs.  County
could afford the most expensive clothes at Verena's drygoods store. While  I
lay  there smelling  the good things, the back door of the bakery opened and
Mr. County,  broom in  hand, swept flour dust into the lane. I guess he  was
surprised to see Riley's car, and surprised to find me in it.
     "What you up to. Coffin?"
     "Up to nothing, Mr. County," I said,  and asked myself if he knew about
our trouble.
     "Sure  am  happy October's here,"  he  said, rubbing the  air with  his
fingers as though the  chill woven into it was a material he could feel. "We
have a terrible time in the summer: ovens and  all make it  too hot to live.
See  here, son, there's a gingerbread man waiting for you-come on in and run
him down."
     Now he was not the  kind of man  to  get  me in there and then call the
     His wife welcomed  me into the spiced  heat of the  oven room as though
she could think of nothing pleasanter than my being there. Most anyone would
have  liked  Mrs.  County.  A chunky woman with no fuss about her,  she  had
elephant  ankles,  developed arms, a muscular face permanently fire-flushed;
her eyes were  like  blue cake-icing, her hair looked as if she'd mopped  it
around in a  flour barrel, and she wore an apron that trailed to the tips of
her toes. Her husband also wore one; sometimes, with the fulsome apron still
tied around him,  I'd seen him crossing  the street to have a  time-off beer
with the men that lean around the comer at Phil's  Cafe: he seemed a painted
clown, flopping, powdered, elegantly angular.
     Clearing a place on her work table, Mrs. County set me down to a cup of
coffee  and  a warm  tray of  cinnamon  rolls, the kind Dolly relished.  Mr.
County suggested I might prefer  something else: "I promised him, what did I
promise? a gingerbread man." His wife socked a lump of dough: "Those are for
kids. He's a grown man; or nearly. Collin, just how old are you?"
     "Same as Samuel," she said, meaning  her son, whom  we all called Mule:
inasmuch as he was not much brighter than one. I asked what was  their  news
of him? because  the  previous autumn,  after having  been left back in  the
eighth grade three years running. Mule had  gone to Pensacola and joined the
Navy. "He's in Panama, last we heard," she said, flattening the dough into a
piecrust.  "We don't hear often.  I wrote him once,  I  said  Samuel  you do
better about writing home or  I'm going to write the President  exactly  how
old  you are.  Because you  know he joined  up under false  pretenses. I was
darned  mad  at the time-blamed Mr. Hand up at  the schoolhouse: that's  why
Samuel  did  it, he just couldn't  tolerate always being left behind in  the
eighth grade, him getting so tall and  the other children so little. But now
I can see Mr. Hand was right: it wouldn't be fair to the rest of you boys if
they promoted Samuel when he didn't do his  work proper. So  maybe it turned
out for the best. C. C., show Collin the picture."
     Photographed against a background of palms and  real sea, four smirking
sailors  stood with  their arms linked together; underneath was written. God
Bless Mom and Pop, Samuel. It rankled me. Mule, off seeing the world,  while
I, well, maybe  I deserved a gingerbread man. As I returned the picture, Mr.
County said: "I'm all for a boy serving his country. But the  bad part of it
is, Samuel was  just getting  where he  could give us a hand around  here. I
sure hate to depend on nigger help. Lying and stealing, never know where you
     "It beats me why C.C.  carries on like that," said his  wife,  knotting
her lips.  "He knows it irks  me.  Colored people  are  no worse  than white
people: in some cases, better. I've had occasion to say  so to other  people
in this town. Like this business about old Catherine Creek.  Makes me  sick.
Cranky she may be, and peculiar, but there's as good a woman as you'll find.
Which reminds me, I mean to send her a dinner-tray up to the jail,  for I'll
wager the Sheriff doesn't set much of a table."
     So little, once it has  changed, changes back:  the world  knew us:  we
would never be warm again: I let go,  saw winter  coming toward a cold tree,
cried, cried, came apart like a rain-rotted rag. I'd wanted to since we left
the house.  Mrs. County begged pardon if  she'd said  anything to upset  me;
with her kitchen-slopped apron she wiped my face, and we laughed, had to, at
the mess it made, the paste of flour and  tears,  and I felt, as they say, a
lot better,  kind of lighthearted. For manly reasons I understood, but which
made me  feel no shame, Mr.  County had been mortified  by the outburst:  he
retired to the front of the shop.
     Mrs. County poured coffee for herself and sat down. "I don't pretend to
follow  what's  going on," she said. "The way I hear it. Miss Dolly broke up
housekeeping because of some disagreement with Verena?"  I wanted to say the
situation  was more complicated than that, but wondered, as I tried to array
events, if really  it was. "Now," she continued thoughtfully,  "it may sound
as though I'm  talking against  Dolly: I'm  not  But this is what I feel-you
people should  go home.  Dolly  ought  to make her peace with Verena: that's
what she's always done, and you can't turn around at her time of life. Also,
it sets a poor example for the town, two  sisters  quarreling,  one  of them
sitting in a  tree; and Judge  Charlie Cool, for the first time in my life I
feel  sorry  for  those  sons  of  his.  Leading  citizens  have  to  behave
themselves;  otherwise  the  entire place goes to pieces. For instance, have
you  seen that wagon in  the  square?  Well then, you better go have a look.
Family of cowboys,  they  are. Evangelists, C.C. says-all I know  is there's
been a  great racket over them and something to do  with Dolly." Angrily she
puffed up a paper  sack. "I want you to  tell her what I said: go home.  And
here, Collin, take  along some cinnamon rolls.  I  know  how  Dolly dotes on
     As I  left the bakery the  bells of the  courthouse clock  were tinging
eight,  which  meant that it was seven-thirty. This  clock has always run  a
half-hour fast.  Once an  expert was imported  to  repair it; at  the end of
almost  a week's tinkering he  recommended,  as the only remedy,  a stick of
dynamite; the town council voted he be paid in full, for there was a general
feeling  of pride  that  the clock had proved  so  incorrigible.  Around the
square a  few store-keepers were preparing to open;  broom-sweepings  fogged
doorways, rolled trashbarrels berated  the cool  cat-quiet  streets. At  the
Early Bird, a better grocery store  than Verena's Jitney Jungle, two colored
boys were fancying the window with cans  of Hawaiian pineapple. On the south
side of  the  square,  beyond the cane benches where  in all seasons sit the
peaceful, perishing old men, I saw  the wagon  Mrs. County had spoken  of-in
reality  an  old truck  contrived with tarpaulin covering  to  resemble  the
western  wagons of history. It looked forlorn and  foolish standing alone in
the empty square. A homemade sign,  perhaps four feet high,  crested the cab
like  a shark's fin. Let Little Homer  Honey Lasso  Your  Soul For The Lord.
Painted  on the other  side there was  a  blistered  greenish  grinning head
topped  by a ten-gallon  hat.  I would not  have thought it  a  portrait  of
anything human, but, according to a  notice, this was: Child  Wonder  Little
Homer  Honey.  With  nothing more to  see, for  there was no one  around the
truck, I  took myself toward the jail, which  is a box-shaped brick building
next door to the  Ford  Motor Company. I'd  been inside  it once.  Big Eddie
Stover had  taken me  there, along  with a  dozen  other boys and men;  he'd
walked into the drugstore and said  come over to the jail if you want to see
something.  The attraction was a thin handsome gipsy boy they'd taken off  a
freight train; Big  Eddie gave  him  a quarter and  told him to let down his
pants;  nobody could believe the size of  it, and one of the men said, "Boy,
how  come they  keep  you locked up when  you got  a crowbar like that?" For
weeks you could tell girls who had heard  that joke: they giggled every time
they passed the jaiL
     There is an unusual emblem decorating a side wall of the  jail. I asked
Dolly,  and  she  said  that  in her  youth  she remembers  it  as  a  candy
advertisement.  If so, the  lettering has vanished; what remains is a chalky
tapestry:  two flamingo-pink trumpeting  angels  swinging,  swooping above a
huge horn filled with  fruit like a Christmas  stocking; embroidered  on the
brick, it seems  a  faded mural, a faint  tattoo,  and sunshine flutters the
imprisoned angels as though  they were the  spirits of thieves.  I  knew the
risk I  was taking, parading around  in plain sight;  but I walked past  the
jail, then back, and  whistled, later whispered Catherine, Catherine, hoping
this would bring her to the window. I realized which was her window:  on the
sill, reflecting beyond the bars,  I saw a bowl  of goldfish, the one thing,
as  subsequently we  learned,  she'd  asked  to  have  brought  her.  Orange
flickerings of the fish fanned around the coral castle, and I thought of the
morning I'd helped Dolly find it, the castle, the pearl pebbles. It had been
the beginning and, chilled suddenly by a thought of what the  end  could be,
Catherine coldly shadowed and peering downward, I prayed she would  not come
to the window: she would have seen no one, for I turned and ran.
     Riley kept me waiting in the car more  than two hours. By the  time  he
showed up he was himself  in such a temper I didn't dare show any of my own.
It seems he'd gone home and found his sisters, Anne and Elizabeth, and Maude
Riordan,  who  had spent the  night, still lolling abed: not  just that, but
Coca-Cola bottles  and  cigarette butts all over the parlor. Maude  took the
blame: she confessed to having invited some boys over to listen to the radio
and dance; but it was the sisters who got punished. He'd dragged them out of
bed  and whipped  them. I asked what  did he mean, whipped them? Turned them
over my knee, he  said,  and whipped  them with a  tennis  shoe.  I couldn't
picture this; it conflicted with my sense of Elizabeth's dignity. You're too
hard on those girls, I said, adding vindictively: Maude, now there's the bad
one.  He  took me  seriously, said  yes he'd  intended  to whip her if  only
because she'd called him the kind of names he wouldn't take off anybody; but
before he could  catch  her  she'd bolted out the back  door.  I thought  to
myself maybe at last Maude's had her bait of you.
     Riley's ragged  hair was glued down with  brilliantine;  he smelled  of
lilac water and talcum. He didn't have to tell me he'd been to the barber's;
or why.
     Though he  has since retired, there was  in  those days  an exceptional
fellow running the barbershop. Amos  Legrand. Men like the Sheriff, for that
matter  Riley Henderson, oh everybody come  to think of  it, said: that  old
sis. But they didn't mean  any  harm;  most  people enjoyed  Amos and really
wished him  well. A little monkeyman who  had to stand on  a box to cut your
hair, he  was agitated and chattery  as a pair of  castanets. All his steady
customers  he called honey, men and women  alike, it made no  difference  to
him. "Honey," he'd say, "it's about time you got this hair cut: was about to
buy you  a package  of  bobby-pins."  Amos had one tremendous gift: he could
tattle  along  on  matters  of  true interest  to businessmen  and  girls of
ten-everything  from  what  price  Ben Jones got for his  peanut crop to who
would be invited to Mary Simpson's birthday party.
     It  was natural that Riley should have gone to  him to get the news. Of
course he repeated it straightforwardly;  but I could imagine Amos, hear his
hummingbird whirr: "There you are, honey, that's  how  it turns out when you
leave money lying  around. And of all people,  Verena Talbo: here we thought
she trotted to the bank with every dime came  her way. Twelve thousand seven
hundred dollars. But don't think it stops there.  Seems Verena and this  Dr.
Ritz  were  going  into  business together, that's why  she bought  the  old
canning  factory. Well get this:  she gave Ritz  over ten  thousand  to  buy
machinery,  mercy knows  what, and  now it  turns  out  he  never bought one
blessed penny's worth. Pocketed the whole thing. As for him, they've located
not hide nor hair; South America, that's where they'll find him when and if.
I never was somebody to insinuate any monkeyshines went  on between him  and
her;  I said  Verena Talbo's too particular: honey,  that Jew had  the worst
case of dandruff I've ever seen on a human head. But a smart woman like her,
maybe she was  stuck on him. Then all this to-do with her sister, the uproar
over that. I  don't wonder Doc Carter's giving her shots. But Charlie Cool's
the one kills me: what do you make of him out there catching his death?"
     We  cleared town  on  two wheels; pop, pulp,  insects  spit against the
windshield.  The dry starched blue day whistled round us,  there  was  not a
cloud. And yet  I swear storms foretell themselves  in my bones.  This is  a
nuisance  common to  old people, but fairly rare with anyone young. It's  as
though a damp rumble of thunder had sounded in your joints. The  way I hurt,
I felt nothing less than a hurricane could be headed our way, and said so to
Riley, who said go on, you're crazy, look  at the sky.  We were making a bet
about it when, rounding that bad curve so convenient to the  cemetery, Riley
winced and froze his brakes; we skidded long enough for a detailed review of
our lives.
     It was not Riley's fault: square in  the road and struggling along like
a lame cow was the Little  Homer Honey  wagon. With a clatter  of collapsing
machinery it came  to  a  dead  halt In a  moment the driver climbed  out, a
     She was not young, but there was a merriness in the seesaw of her hips,
and her breasts rubbed and nudged against her peach-colored blouse in such a
coaxing  way. She wore a fringed  chamois skirt  and knee-high cowboy boots,
which  was a  mistake, for you felt that her legs,  if fully exposed,  would
have  been the best part. She leaned on the car door. Her eyelids drooped as
though  the lashes  weighed  intolerably; with  the tip  of her  tongue  she
wettened her very red lips. "Good morning, fellows," she said, and  it was a
dragging slow-fuse voice. "I'd appreciate a few directions."
     "What the hell's  wrong with you?" said Riley, asserting  himself. "You
nearly made us turn over."
     "I'm  surprised you mention it," said  the  woman, amiably  tossing her
large  head; her hair, an  invented  apricot color, was meticulously curled,
and the curb, shaken out, were like bells with no  music in them.  "You were
speeding,  dear," she reproved  him  complacently. "I imagine there's  a law
against it; there are laws against everything, especially here."
     Riley said, "There  should be a  law against that truck. A  broken-down
pile like that, it oughtn't to be allowed."
     "I  know,  dear," the woman laughed. 'Trade with you. Though I'm afraid
we couldn't all  fit  into this car; we're even a bit squeezed in the wagon.
Could you help me with a cigarette?  That's  a doll, thanks." As she lighted
the cigarette I  noticed  how gaunt her hands  were,  rough; the nails  were
un-painted and one of them  was black as  though she'd crushed it in a door.
"I was told that out this way we'd find a Miss Talbo. Dolly Talbo. She seems
to be living in a tree. I wish you'd kindly show us where..."
     Back  of her there appeared to be an  entire orphanage emptying out  of
the truck. Babies  barely able to toddle on their rickety bowlegs,  towheads
dribbling ropes  of snot, girls old enough to wear brassieres, and a  ladder
of  boys, man-sized some of them. I  counted up to ten, this including a set
of crosseyed twins and a diapered baby being lugged by a child not more than
five. Still, like a magician's rabbits, they  kept coming, multiplied  until
the road was thickly populated.
     "These all yours?" I said, really anxious; in another count I'd made  a
total  of fifteen. One boy,  he  was about twelve and had  tiny steel-rimmed
glasses, flopped around in a ten-gallon hat like a walking mushroom. Most of
them wore a few cowboy items, boots, at least a rodeo scarf. But they were a
dis-couraged-looking lot,  and sickly too, as  though they'd lived years off
boiled  potatoes and  onions.  They pressed  around the  car, ghostly  quiet
except for  the youngest  who  thumped the  headlights  and  bounced  on the
     "Sure  enough, dear:  all  mine," she answered, swatting at a mite of a
girl playing maypole on  her leg. "Sometimes I figure we've picked up one or
two that don't belong," she added with a  shrug, and several of the children
smiled.  They seemed to adore her. "Some of their daddies  are dead; I guess
the rest  are living-one  way  and another:  either case it's  no concern of
ours.  I take it  you  weren't at our  meeting  last  night. I'm Sister Ida,
Little Homer Honey's mother." I wanted to know  which  one was Little Homer.
She blinked around and singled out the spectacled boy who, wobbling up under
his hat,  saluted  us:  "Praise  Jesus.  Want a  whistle?" and, swelling his
cheeks, blasted a tin whistle.
     "With  one of those," explained his  mother, tucking up her back hairs,
"you can give the devil a scare. They have a  number of  practical  uses  as
     "Two bits," the child bargained. He had  a worried little face white as
cold cream. The hat came down to his eyebrows.
     I would have bought one if I'd had the  money. You could see  they were
hungry. Riley felt  the same, at any rate he produced fifty cents  and  took
two of  the  whistles. "Bless you," said  Little Homer,  slipping  the  coin
between his teeth and biting hard. "There's so much counterfeit going around
these days,"  his mother confided apologetically. "In our branch of endeavor
you wouldn't expect that kind of  trouble," she  said, sighing. "But  if you
kindly would show us-we can't go on much more, just haven't got the gas."
     Riley told  her  she  was wasting her time. "Nobody there any more," he
said, racing the motor. Another driver, blockaded behind us, was honking his
     "Not in the tree?" Her voice was  plaintive above the motor's impatient
roar. "But where will we find her then?" Her hands were trying to  hold back
the car. "We've important business, we..."
     Riley  jumped the car forward. Looking back, I saw  them watching after
us  in  the raised and drifting road  dust. I said to Riley, and  was sullen
about it, that we ought to have found out what they wanted.
     And he said: "Maybe I know."
     He did know a great deal,  Amos Legrand having informed  him thoroughly
on  the subject  of Sister  Ida. Although she'd  not previously been to  our
town, Amos, who does a little traveling  now and then,  claimed to have seen
her once at a fair in Bottle, which is a county town not far from here. Nor,
apparently,  was  she a stranger to the Reverend Buster who, the instant she
arrived, had hunted out the Sh&riff and der  manded an injunction to prevent
the Little  Homer  Honey troupe from holding  any  meetings.  Racketeers, he
called them; and argued that the so-called  Sister  Ida was known throughout
six states as an infamous trollop: think of it, fifteen children and no sign
of  a husband! Amos,  too, was pretty sure  she'd never been married; but in
his opinion a woman so industrious was entitled to respect. The Sheriff said
didn't he have enough problems? and  said: Maybe those  fools have the right
idea, sit in  a tree and mind  your own  business-for five cents he'd go out
there and  join them. Old  Buster told him in that case he wasn't fit to  be
Sheriff and ought  to hand in his badge.  Meanwhile, Sister Ida had, without
legal  interference, called an  evening of prayers and shenanigans under the
oak  trees  in  the square. Revivalists are popular  in this town; it's  the
music, the chance to sing and congregate in the open air. Sister Ida and her
family made  a particular  hit; even Amos,  usually so critical,  told Riley
he'd missed something: those kids really could shout,  and that Little Homer
Honey, he was cute  as a button dancing and twirling a rope. Everybody had a
grand time  except the Reverend and Mrs.  Buster,  who had  come to start  a
fuss.  What got their goat was when the  children started hauling  in  God's
Washline, a rope with clothespins  to which you could attach a contribution.
People who never dropped a dime in Buster's collection plate were hanging up
dollar bills.  It was  more than he could  stand. So he'd skipped off to the
house on Talbo  Lane and had a small shrewd talk with Verena, whose support,
he  realized, was  necessary  if he were going to  get action. According  to
Amos,  he'd  incited  Verena  by telling  her some hussy of a revivalist was
describing Dolly  as an infidel, an enemy of Jesus, and  that Verena owed it
to the Talbo name to  see  this woman  was run  out of town. It was unlikely
that at the  time Sister Ida had ever heard the name Talbo.  But sick as she
was, Verena  went right to work; she  rang up the Sheriff  and said now look
here  Junius, I  want  these tramps run clear  across the county line. Those
were orders; and old  Buster made it his duty to see they  were carried out.
He accompanied the Sheriff to the square where Sister Ida and her brood were
cleaning  up  after  the meeting.  It had  ended  in a real  scuffle, mainly
because  Buster,  charging  illegal gain, had  insisted  on confiscating the
money  gathered  off  God's  Wash-line. He  got  it,  too-along  with  a few
scratches. It made no difference that many bystanders had taken Sister Ida's
side: the  Sheriff told them they'd better be out of town  by noon  the next
day. Now after I'd heard all this I said to Riley why, when these people had
been wrongly treated, hadn't he wanted to be more helpful? You'd never guess
the answer  he gave me. In dead earnest he said a loose woman  like that was
no one to associate with Dolly.
     A twig fire fizzed under the tree; Riley collected leaves for it, while
the  Judge, his eyes  smarting  with  smoke, set about the business  of  our
midday meal. We were the indolent ones, Dolly and I. "I'm afraid," she said,
dealing a game of Rook, "really afraid Verena's seen the last of that money.
And you know, Collin, I doubt  if it's losing the money that hurts her most.
For whatever reason, she trusted him: Dr. Ritz, I mean.  I  keep remembering
Maudie Laura Murphy. The girl who worked in the post office. She and  Verena
were  very close. Lord, it was a  great blow  when Maudie Laura took up with
that  whiskey  salesman, married him. I  couldn't criticize her; 'twas  only
fitting if she loved the  man. Just  the same,  Maudie  Laura  and Dr. Ritz,
maybe those are the  only two Verena ever trusted, and both of them-well, it
could take  the  heart out  of  anyone."  She  thumbed  the Rook  cards with
wandering attention. "You said something before-about Catherine."
     "About her goldfish. I saw them in the window."
     "But not Catherine?"
     "No, the goldfish, that's  all. Mrs. County was awfully nice:  she said
she was going to send some dinner around to the jail."
     She broke  one of Mrs.  County's  cinnamon  rolls  and  picked out  the
raisins. "Collin,  suppose we let  them  have  their way, gave up,  that is:
they'd have to  let Catherine go, wouldn't they?" Her eyes tilted toward the
heights  of  the tree, searching, it  seemed, a  passage through the braided
leaves. "Should I-let myself lose?"
     "Mrs. County thinks so: that we should go home."
     "Did she say why?"
     "Because-she did  run  on.  Because you  always have. Always  made your
peace, she said."
     Dolly smiled, smoothed her long skirt; sifting rays placed rings of sun
upon her  fingers. "Was  there ever a choice? It's what I want, a choice. To
know I could've had another  life, all made of my own  decisions. That would
be making  my  peace,  and truly."  She  rested her eyes on the scene below,
Riley cracking twigs, the Judge hunched over a steaming pot. "And the Judge,
Charlie, if we gave up it would let him down so badly. Yes," she tangled her
fingers  with mine, "he  is  very  dear  to  me," and an  immeasurable pause
lengthened  the  moment,  my  heart  reeled, the  tree closed inward  like a
folding umbrella.
     "This morning, while you were away, he asked me to marry him."
     As  if he'd heard  her,  the Judge straightened  up,  a  schoolboy grin
reviving  the youthfulness  of  his countrified face. He waved:  and  it was
difficult to disregard the charm of Dolly's expression as she waved back. It
was as though a familiar  portrait  had been cleaned and, turning to it, one
discovered  a  fleshy  luster, clearer,  till then unknown  colors: whatever
else, she could never again be a shadow in the comer.
     "And now-don't be unhappy,  Collin," she said,  scolding me, I thought,
for what she must have recognized as my resentment.
     "But are you...?"
     "I've never earned the privilege  of making up my own mind; when  I do.
God  willing, I'll know  what  is right. Who else," she said, putting me off
further, "did you see in town?"
     I would have invented someone, a  story to retrieve her, for she seemed
to  be moving  forward into the future, while I, unable to  follow, was left
with my sameness. But as I described  Sister Ida, the  wagon,  the children,
told  the wherefores of their run-in with  the Sheriff and how we'd met them
on  the  road inquiring after the lady in the tree, we flowed together again
like a  stream that for an  instant an island had separated. Though it would
have been too bad if  Riley had heard me  betraying him, I went so far as to
repeat  what  he'd said  about a woman  of Sister Ida's  sort not being  fit
company  for  Dolly.  She had  a proper laugh over  this; then,  with sudden
soberness: "But it's wicked-taking the bread  out  of  children's mouths and
using  my  name  to  do  it.  Shame  on  them!"  She  straightened  her  hat
determinedly. "Collin, lift yourself; you and I are going for a little walk.
I'll bet those people are right where you left them. Leastways, we'll see."
     The Judge tried to prevent us, or at any  rate maintained that if Dolly
wanted  a stroll he would have to  accompany us. It went  a long way  toward
mollifying  my  jealous rancor when Dolly  told him he'd best  tend  to  his
chores: with Collin along she'd  be safe  enough-it was just  to stretch our
legs a bit.
     As usual. Dolly could not be hurried. It was  her  habit, even  when it
rained,  to loiter  along an ordinary path  as though she were dallying in a
garden, her  eyes primed for the  sight of  precious  medicine flavorings, a
sprig  of penny-royal, sweet-mary and mint,  useful herbs whose odor scented
her clothes. She  saw everything first,  and it was her  one real  vanity to
prefer that she, rather than you, point out certain discoveries: a birdtrack
bracelet, an eave  of icicles-she was always calling come see the cat-shaped
cloud, the ship in the  stars, the  face of  frost. In this slow  manner  we
crossed  the grass.  Dolly  amassing  a pocketful of  withered dandelions, a
pheasant's quill: I thought it would be sundown before we reached the road.
     Fortunately we had not that far to  go: entering the cemetery, we found
Sister Ida and  all  her  family  encamped among the graves. It  was like  a
lugubrious playground. The  crosseyed  twins  were  having their hair cut by
older  sisters, and Little Homer was shining his boots with spit and leaves;
a  nearly grown boy,  sprawled with  his back against  a  tombstone,  picked
melancholy notes  on  a guitar.  Sister Ida  was suckling the baby;  it  lay
curled  against  her  breasts like a pink ear.  She did  not rise  when  she
realized  our presence, and  Dolly said, "I do believe you're  sitting on my
     For a fact  it was Mr.  Talbo's  grave, and Sister Ida,  addressing the
headstone (Uriah  Fenwick  Talbo,  1844-1922,  Good Soldier,  Dear  Husband,
Loving  Father) said, "Sorry, soldier." Buttoning her blouse, which made the
baby wail, she started to her feet.
     "Please don't; I only meant-to introduce myself."
     Sister Ida  shrugged, "He was beginning to hurt me  anyway," and rubbed
herself  appropriately. "You  again," she  said, eyeing  me with  amusement.
"Where's your friend?"
     "I understand..." Dolly stopped, disconcerted  by  the maze of children
drawing in around her; "Did you," she went on, attempting to ignore a boy no
bigger than a jackrabbit who, having raised her skirt, was sternly examining
her shanks, "wish to see me? I'm Dolly Talbo."
     Shifting  the  baby.  Sister Ida  threw an  arm  around Dolly's  waist,
embraced her, actually, and said, as though they were the oldest friends, "I
knew I could count on you. Dolly. Kids,"  she lifted  the baby like a baton,
"tell Dolly we never said a word against her!"
     The children shook their heads, mumbled, and  Dolly seemed touched. "We
can't leave town, I  kept telling them," said Sister Ida, and launched  into
the tale of her predicament.  I wished that I  could  have a picture of them
together. Dolly, formal,  as out of fashion as her old face-veil, and Sister
Ida with  her  fruity lips, fun-loving figure. "It's a  matter of cash; they
took  it all.  I ought  to have  them arrested, that  puke-faced  Buster and
what's-his-name, the Sheriff: thinks he's King Kong." She caught her breath;
her cheeks were like a raspberry patch. "The plain truth is, we're stranded.
Even if we'd  ever heard of you, it's not our policy to speak ill of anyone.
Oh I know that was just  the excuse; but I figured  you could straighten  it
out and..."
     I'm hardly the person-dear me," said Dolly.
     "But what would you do?  with a  half gallon of gas,  maybe  not  that,
fifteen mouths and a dollar ten? We'd be better off in jail."
     Then,  "I have a friend," Dolly announced proudly,  "a  brilliant  man,
he'll  know an  answer," and I could tell by  the pleased  conviction of her
voice that she believed this one  hundred per cent. "Collin, you scoot ahead
and let the Judge know to expect company for dinner."
     Licketysplit across the field with the grass whipping my legs: couldn't
wait  to  see the Judge's face. It  was not a disappointment. "Lordylaw!" he
said,  raring  back, rocking  forward; "Sixteen people," and,  observing the
meager stew simmering on  the fire,  struck his head. For Riley's  benefit I
tried to make out it  was none of my doing,  Dolly's meeting Sister Ida; but
he just stood  there skinning me with his eyes: it  could have led to bitter
words if the  Judge hadn't  sent us scurrying. He fanned  up his fire, Riley
fetched  more water, and into the  stew we tossed sardines,  hotdogs,  green
bay-leaves,  in  fact  whatever  lay  at  hand,  including an  entire box of
Saltines which the  Judge claimed  would  help thicken it: a  few stuffs got
mixed  in  by  mistake-coffee  grounds, for instance.  Having  reached  that
overwrought hilarious state achieved by cooks at family reunions, we had the
gall to stand back  and congratulate ourselves: Riley gave  me  a forgiving,
comradely punch, and as the first of the children appeared the  Judge scared
them with the vigor of his welcome.
     None  of  them  would  advance  until  the whole  herd  had  assembled.
Whereupon Dolly,  apprehensive  as a woman  exhibiting  the  results  of  an
afternoon at an auction, brought them forward to be introduced. The children
made a rollcall of  their names: Beth, Laurel, Sam, Lillie, Ida, Cleo, Kate,
Homer, Harry-here  the melody  broke  because one small girl refused to give
her name. She said it was a secret Sister  Ida agreed that if she thought it
a secret, then so it should remain.
     "They're all so fretful," she said, favorably affecting the  Judge with
her smoky voice and  grasslike  eyelashes. He prolonged  their handshake and
overdid  his smile, which  struck me as  peculiar conduct in a man  who, not
three  hours before,  had asked a woman to  marry him,  and  I hoped that if
Dolly noticed it would  give her  pause.  But  she was  saying, "Why certain
they're fretful: hungry as they  can be," and the Judge, with a hearty  clap
and a  boastful nod towards the stew, promised he'd fix that soon enough. In
the meantime, he thought it would be a good idea if the children went to the
creek  and washed their hands.  Sister Ida vowed they'd wash more than that.
They needed to, I'll tell you.
     There was  trouble  with the little girl  who wanted her name a secret;
she wouldn't  go,  not unless her papa rode her piggyback. "You  are  too my
papa," she told Riley,  who did not contradict her.  He  lifted her onto his
shoulders, and she was tickled to  death. All the way to the creek she acted
the cut-up, and when, with her hands  thrust  over  his eyes, Riley stumbled
blindly into a bullis vine, she  ripped the air  with in-heaven  shrieks. He
said he'd had enough of that  and down you go. "Please:  I'll whisper you my
name." Later on  I remembered to  ask  him what  the name  had been.  It was
Texaco Gasoline; because those were such pretty words.
     The creek is nowhere more than knee-deep; glossy beds of moss green the
banks, and in the spring  snowy dew-drops and dwarf  violets flourish  there
like  floral crumbs for  the new bees  whose hives  hang in  the  waterbays.
Sister  Ida  chose a place  on the bank  from which she could supervise  the
bathing.  "No  cheating  now-I  want  to see a lot  of  commotion."  We did.
Suddenly  girls old  enough  to be married were  trotting  around and not  a
stitch  on; boys,  too,  big  and  little  all  in there together  naked  as
jaybirds. It was as  well that Dolly had stayed behind with the Judge; and I
wished  Riley  had  not  come  either,  for  he   was  embarrassing  in  his
embarrassment.  Seriously, though, it's only  now, seeing the kind of man he
turned out to be, that  I understand the paradox of his primness: he  wanted
so to be respectable  that the defections  of others  somehow  seemed to him
backsliding on his own part.
     Those famous landscapes of youth and woodland water- in after years how
often, trailing through  the cold rooms of museums,  I stopped before such a
picture, stood long haunted moments having it recall that gone scene, not as
it was, a band of goose-fleshed children dabbling in an autumn creek, but as
the painting presented  it,  husky youths  and wading water-diamonded girls;
and I've wondered then, wonder  now, how they fared, where they went in this
world, that extraordinary family.
     "Beth, give your hair a douse. Stop splashing Laurel,  I mean you Buck,
you quit  that. All you kids  get behind  your ears, mercy knows when you'll
have the  chance again." But pros'  enfly  Sister Ida  relaxed  and left the
children  at  liberty. "On such a day as this..." she sank against the moss;
with the full light of  her eyes she looked  at  Riley, "There is something:
the mouth, the same jug  ears-cigarette, dear?" she said,  impervious to his
distaste for her. A smoothing expression suggested for a moment the girl she
had been. "On such a day as this..."
     "...but  in  a  sorrier place,  no  trees to  speak  of, a  house  in a
wheatfield and  all alone like a scarecrow.  I'm not complaining: there  was
mama and papa and my sister Geraldine, and we were sufficient, had plenty of
pets and a piano and good voices every one of us. Not that it was easy, what
with all the heavy work and only the one man to do it. Papa was a sickly man
besides. Hired hands were hard to come by, nobody liked it way out there for
long:  one old fellow we thought a heap of, but then he got drunk  and tried
to burn down the house.  Geraldine  was going on sixteen,  a year older than
me, and nice to look at, both of us were that, when she got it into her head
to marry a man who'd run the place with papa. But where we were there wasn't
much to  choose from. Mama gave us our schooling, what of it we had, and the
closest  town was  ten miles. That  was  the town of  Youfry, called after a
family; the slogan was You Won't Fry In Youfry: because it was up a mountain
and well-to-do people went there in the  summer.  So the summer I'm thinking
of  Geraldine got waitress work at  the Lookout Hotel in  Youfry. I  used to
hitch a ride in on Saturdays and stay the night with her. This was the first
either of us had ever been away from home. Geraldine didn't  care  about  it
particular,  town life, but as for me I looked toward those  Saturdays  like
each  of them was Christmas and  my birthday  rolled  into  one. There was a
dancing pavilion, it didn't cost a cent, the music was  free and the colored
lights. I'd help  Geraldine  with her  work  so we could go  there  all  the
sooner; we'd  run hand in hand  down the street, and I used to start dancing
before I got my breath-never had to wait for a partner, there were five boys
to every  girl,  and we were the prettiest girls anyway.  I wasn't boy-crazy
especially, it was the dancing-sometimes everyone would stand still to watch
me waltz, and  I never got more than a glimpse of my partners, they  changed
so fast. Boys would follow us to the hotel, then call under our  window Come
out! Come out!  and sing, so silly they were-Geraldine  almost lost her job.
Well we'd lie awake considering the night in  a practical way.  She was  not
romantic, my sister; what concerned her was which of our beaux was surest to
make things easier out home.  It was Dan Rainey she decided on. He was older
than the others,  twenty-five, a  man, not handsome in the face, he had  jug
ears and freckles and not much chin, but Dan Rainey, oh he was smart in  his
own steady way and  strong enough to lift a keg of nails.  End  of summer he
came out home and helped  bring in the wheat. Papa liked him from the first,
and though mama  said Geraldine was too young,  she didn't make  any  ruckus
about it. I cried at the wedding, and thought it  was because the  nights at
the dancing pavilion were over, and because Geraldine and I would  never lie
cozy in the same bed again. But  as soon as Dan  Rainey took over everything
seemed  to go right; he brought out the best in the  land and maybe the best
in  us.  Except  when  winter came on,  and  we'd be sitting round the fire,
sometimes the heat, something made me feel just faint. I'd  go  stand in the
yard with only my dress on, it was like I couldn't feel the cold because I'd
become a  piece of it, and I'd close my eyes, waltz round and round, and one
night, I didn't  hear him sneaking up, Dan Rainey caught me in his arms  and
danced me for  a joke. Only it wasn't such  a joke. He had feelings for  me;
way back in my head I'd known it from the start. But he didn't say it, and I
never asked him to; and it wouldn't have come to anything provided Geraldine
hadn't  lost her  baby.  That was in the spring. She was mortally  afraid of
snakes, Geraldine, and it  was seeing one that  did  it; she  was collecting
eggs, it was only a chicken snake, but  it scared her so bad she dropped her
baby four months too soon. I don't  know what happened to  her-got cross and
mean, got where she'd fly out  about anything. Dan Rainey took the  worst of
it;  he  kept out of her way as much as he could; used  to roll himself in a
blanket and sleep down in the wheatfield. I knew if I stayed there-so I went
to Youfry and got Geraldine's old job at the hotel. The dancing pavilion, it
was the same as the summer  before, and I  was even prettier: one boy nearly
killed another over who was going  to  buy me  an orangeade. I  can't  say I
didn't enjoy myself, but my mind wasn't on it; at the hotel they asked where
was my mind-always filling the sugar bowl with salt, giving people spoons to
cut  their  meat. I never went home the whole summer. When  the time came-it
was such a day as this, a fall day blue as eternity-I didn't let them know I
was coming,  just  got out of the coach  and walked  three miles through the
wheat stacks  till I found Dan Rainey. He didn't speak  a word, only plopped
down and cried like a baby.  I was that  sorry for him,  and loved him  more
than tongue can tell."
     Her cigarette had gone out. She seemed to have lost track of the story;
or worse, thought better of finishing it. I wanted to stamp and whistle, the
way rowdies do  at the picture-show when the screen goes unexpectedly blank;
and Riley, though less bald about  it, was impatient too.  He struck a match
for  her cigarette:  starting at the sound,  she remembered her voice again,
but it was as if, in the interval, she'd traveled far ahead.
     "So  papa swore he'd shoot him. A  hundred times Geraldine said tell us
who  it was  and Dan here'll take  a gun after him. I  laughed till I cried;
sometimes the other way round. I said well I had no idea; there were five or
six boys in Youfry could be the one, and how was I to know? Mama slapped  my
face when I said that. But they believed it;  even after a while I think Dan
Rainey believed it-wanted to anyway, poor unhappy  fellow.  All those months
not  stirring  out of  the house; and in  the middle  of it papa died.  They
wouldn't let me go to  the funeral, they were so ashamed for anyone  to see.
It happened this day, with them  off at the burial and me alone in the house
and a sandy wind blowing rough as an elephant, that I got in touch with God.
I didn't by any means deserve to be Chosen: up till then, mama'd had to coax
me to leam my Bible verses; afterwards, I memorized over  a thousand in less
than three months. Well I was practicing a tune on the piano, and suddenly a
window broke, the  whole room turned topsy-turvy, then fell together  again,
and  someone was with  me,  papa's spirit I thought; but the wind died  down
peaceful  as spring-He  was there,  and standing as He made me, straight,  I
opened my arms to welcome Him. That was twenty-six  years  ago last February
the third; I was sixteen, I'm forty-two now, and I've never wavered. When  I
had my baby I didn't call Geraldine or Dan Rainey or anybody, only lay there
whispering my verses one  after the other and not a soul knew Danny was born
till  they heard him holler. It was Geraldine named him  that. He  was hers,
everyone thought so, and people round the  countryside rode over to see  her
new baby, brought presents,  some of them, and the men hit Dan Rainey on the
back and told him what  a fine son he had. Soon as I was able I moved thirty
miles away to Stoneville, that's a town double the  size of Youfry and where
they  have  a big mining camp. Another girl and I, we started a laundry, and
did a good business on account of in a mining town there's mostly bachelors.
About twice a month  I went  home to see Danny; I was seven years going back
and  forth; it was  the only pleasure I  had, and a strange one, considering
how it tore me  up  every time: such a beautiful boy, there's no describing.
But Geraldine died for me to touch  him: if I kissed him she'd come  near to
jumping out  of her skin; Dan Rainey wasn't much different, he was so scared
I wouldn't leave well enough alone. The last  time I ever was  home I  asked
him would he meet me in Youfry.  Because  for a crazy  long while I'd had an
idea, which  was: if I  could live it  again,  if I could  bear a child that
would  be  a  twin to Danny. But I was wrong to think it could have the same
father. It would've been a dead child, bom dead:  I looked at Dan Rainey (it
was the coldest day, we sat by  the empty  dancing  pavilion, I remember  he
never took  his  hands out of his pockets) and sent him  away without saying
why it was  I'd asked him to come.  Then years spent hunting the likeness of
him. One of the miners in Stoneville, he had the same freckles, yellow eyes;
a  goodhearted  boy, he obliged me with Sam, my  oldest. As  best  I recall,
Beth's father  was  a  dead ringer  for Dan  Rainey; but being a girl,  Beth
didn't favor Danny.  I  forget  to tell you  that I'd  sold my share of  the
laundry and gone to Texas-had restaurant work in Amarillo and Dallas. But it
wasn't until I met Mr.  Honey that I saw why the Lord had chosen me and what
my  task was to be.  Mr.  Honey possessed the True Word;  after I heard  him
preach  that first  time  I went round to see  him:  we hadn't talked twenty
minutes than he said I'm  going  to marry you  provided  you're  not married
a'ready. I said no I'm not married, but I've got some family? fact is, there
was  five by then.  Didn't faze  him a  bit We got  married a week later  on
Valentine's Day. He wasn't  a young man,  and he didn't look a particle like
Dan  Rainey; stripped of his boots  he couldn't make it to my  shoulder; but
when the  Lord brought us together He knew certain what He was doing: we had
Roy,  then Pearl and Kate  and Cleo and Little  Homer -most of them  born in
that  wagon you saw  up there. We traveled all over the country carrying His
Word to folks who'd never heard it before, not the way my man could tell it.
Now  I  must mention  a sad  circumstance,  which  is: I lost Mr. Honey. One
morning, this was in a queer part of  Louisiana, Cajun parts,  he walked off
down  the road to buy some  groceries: you know we never saw  him  again. He
disappeared right into thin air. I don't give a hoot what the police say; he
wasn't the kind to run out on his family; no sir it was foul play."
     "Or amnesia," I said. "You forget everything, even your own name."
     "A man with the whole Bible on the tip of his  tongue- would you say he
was  liable to  forget something like his  name? One of them Cajuns murdered
him for his  amethyst ring. Naturally I've  known  men since then;  but  not
love. Lillie Ida, Laurel,  the other kids, they happened like. Seems somehow
I can't get on without another life kicking under my heart: feel so sluggish
     When the children were dressed, some with their clothes  inside out, we
returned to the tree where the older girls, bending over the fire, dried and
combed their hair. In  our absence Dolly had cared  for the baby; she seemed
now not to want to give it back: "I wish one of us had had a baby, my sister
or  Catherine,"  and  Sister  Ida  said  yes,  it  was  entertaining  and  a
satisfaction too. We sat finally in a  circle around the fire. The  stew was
too hot to taste, which perhaps  accounted for its thorough success, and the
Judge, who had to serve it in rotation, for there  were only three cups, was
full  of  gay stunts  and  nonsense that  exhilarated the  children:  Texaco
Gasoline decided  she'd made a mistake-the Judge, not Riley, was  her  papa,
and the Judge rewarded her with a trip to the moon, swung her, that is, high
over his head:  Some flocked south,  Some flocked west. You go flying  after
the rest. Away! Awheel Sister Ida said say  you're pretty strong.  Of course
he lapped it up, all but asked her to feel his muscles. Every quarter-minute
he peeked to see if Dolly were admiring him. She was.
     The  croonings  of a  ringdove wavered among  the long last  lances  of
sunlight. Chill green, blues  filtered through the  air as though a  rainbow
had dissolved around us. Dolly  shivered: "There's a  storm nearby. I've had
the notion all day." I looked at Riley triumphantly: hadn't I told him?
     "And it's  getting late," said Sister Ida. "Buck, Homer- you boys chase
up to the  wagon.  Gracious knows  who's come along  and  helped themselves.
Not,"  she  added,  watching her sons  vanish on the darkening  path,  "that
there's a whole  lot  to take, nothing much except my  sewing  machine.  So,
Dolly? Have you..."
     "We've discussed it," said Dolly turning to the Judge for confirmation.
     "You'd  win  your case in  court,  no question of  it,"  he  said, very
professional. "For once  the  law  would be  on  the right ride.  As matters
stand, however..."
     Dolly  said, "As matters stand," and pressed into Sister Ida's hand the
forty-seven dollars which constituted our cash asset; in  addition, she gave
her the Judge's big gold  watch. Contemplating these gifts. Sister Ida shook
her head as though she should refuse them. "It's wrong. But I thank you."
     A light thunder  rolled through the woods, and in the perilous quiet of
its  wake Buck and Little Homer burst upon the  path like  charging cavalry.
"They're coming! They're coming!" both got  out at  once,  and Little Homer,
pushing back his hat, gasped: "We ran all the way."
     "Make sense, boy: who?"
     Little Homer swallowed. "Those  fellows. The Sheriff  one, and  r don't
know how many more. Coming down through the grass. With guns, too."
     Thunder rumbled again; tricks of wind rustled our fire.
     "All  right  now," said  the Judge, assuming command.  "Everybody  keep
their heads." It was  as though he'd planned for this moment, and he rose to
it, I do concede, gloriously. "The women,  you  little kids, get  up  in the
treehouse.  Riley, see that  the rest  of you  scatter  out, shinny up those
other trees and take a load of  rocks." When we'd followed these directions,
he  alone remained on  the ground; firm-jawed, he stayed there  guarding the
tense twilighted  silence  like a  captain who will not abandon bis drowning

     Five of us roosted in the sycamore tree that overhung the  path. Little
Homer was  there, and his brother Buck, a scowling boy with  rocks in either
hand. Across the  way, straddling the limbs of a  second sycamore, we  could
see Riley surrounded by  the older  girls: in  (he deepening burnished light
their  white  faces glimmered like candle-lanterns. I  thought I felt a rain
drop: it was a bead of sweat slipping along my  cheek; still, and though the
thunder  lulled,  a  smell  of rain  intensified  the  odor  of  leaves  and
woodsmoke. The  overloaded  tree-house gave an  evil creak;  from my vantage
point, its tenants seemed a single creature, a many-legged, many-eyed spider
upon whose head Dolly's hat sat perched like a velvet crown.
     In  our tree everybody pulled out  the  kind of  tin whistles Riley had
bought from  Little Homer: good to give the devil  a  scare. Sister Ida  had
said. Then Little Homer took off  his huge hat and,  removing from  its vast
interior what was perhaps  God's  Washline,  a thick long rope, at any rate,
proceeded to  make  a sliding noose. As  he tested its efficiency, stretched
and tightened the knot, his steely miniature spectacles cast such a menacing
sparkle that, edging away,  I put the distance of another branch between us.
The Judge, patrolling below, hissed to stop  moving  around up there; it was
his last order before the invasion began.
     The  invaders themselves made no  pretense  at  stealth. Swinging their
rifles against the undergrowth like canecutters, they swaggered up the path,
nine, twelve,  twenty  strong.  First,  Junius  Candle,  his  Sheriff's star
winking in the  dusk; and  after  him,  Big Eddie  Stover, whose squint-eyed
search of  our hiding places reminded me of those newspaper picture puzzles;
find  five boys  and  an owl in this drawing of a  tree. It requires someone
cleverer than Big Eddie Stover. He looked straight at me,  and  through  me.
Not many  of that gang would have  troubled you with their braininess:  good
for nothing but  a lick of salt and swallow of beer most  of them. Except  I
recognized Mr. Hand, the  principal at school, a decent enough  fellow taken
all  around, no one, you  would  have  thought, to involve  himself  in such
shabby company on so  shameful an errand. Curiosity explained the attendance
of Amos Legrand; he was there, and  silent for once: no wonder: as though he
were a walking-stick, Verena was leaning a hand on his head,  which came not
quite  to her hip. A  grim Reverend Buster ceremoniously supported her other
arm. When  I  saw Verena I felt a  numbed  reliving of the terror  I'd known
when, after my mother's death, she'd come to our house to claim me.  Despite
what  seemed a  lameness, she  moved with her customary tall authority  and,
accompanied by her escorts, stopped under our sycamore.
     The Judge didn't give  an inch;  toe to toe with the Sheriff, he  stood
his ground as if there were a drawn line he dared the other to cross.
     It was at this crucial moment that I noticed Little Homer. He gradually
was  lowering his lasso.  It  crawled,  dangled like a snake, the wide noose
open as a  pair of jaws, then fell, with an expert snap, around the neck  of
the Reverend Buster, whose strangling outcry  Little Homer stifled by giving
the rope a mighty tug.
     His  friends hadn't long  to  consider  old  Buster's predicament,  his
blood-gorged face  and flailing arms; for Little Homer's success inspired an
all-out attack: rocks flew, whistles shrilled like the shriekings  of savage
birds, and the  men,  pummeling each other in the general rout,  took refuge
where they could, principally under the bodies of  comrades already  fallen.
Verena had to box Amos Legrand's ears: he tried to sneak up under her skirt.
She alone,  you might say, behaved like a real  man: shook her  fists at the
trees and cursed us blue.
     At the height of the din, a shot slammed like an iron  door. It quelled
us  all, the serious  endless echo of  it; but in the hush that  followed we
heard a weight come crashing through the opposite sycamore.
     It was  Riley, falling; and falling:  slowly, relaxed as a  killed cat.
Covering their eyes, the girls screamed as he struck a branch and splintered
it,  hovered, like the  torn leaves, then in a bleeding heap hit the ground.
No one moved toward him.
     Until  at last the Judge said, "Boy, my boy," and  in a trance  sank to
his  knees; he  caressed Riley's limp hands.  "Have mercy. Have mercy,  son:
answer."  Other  men, sheepish and frightened,  closed  round;  some offered
advice  which the Judge seemed unable  to  comprehend. One by one we dropped
down from  the trees, and the children's gathering whisper is he dead? is he
dead?  was like the moan, the delicate roar of a  sea-trumpet  Doffing their
hats respectfully, the men made  an aisle for Dolly; she  was too stunned to
take account of them, or of Verena, whom she passed without seeing.
     "I want  to  know,"  said Verena,  in  tones that  summoned  attention,
"...which of you fools fired that gun?"
     The men guardedly looked each other over: too many of them fixed on Big
Eddie Stover. His jowls trembled, he licked  his lips: "Hell,  I never meant
to shoot nobody; was doing my duty, that's all."
     "Not all,"  Verena severely  replied.  "I  hold  you  responsible,  Mr.
     At this Dolly turned round; her  eyes, vague beyond the veiling, seemed
to frame Verena in a gaze that excluded  everyone else. "Responsible? No one
is that; except ourselves."
     Sister  Ida  had  replaced the  Judge at  Riley's side; she  completely
stripped off his shirt. "Thank your stars, it's his shoulder," she said, and
the relieved sighs.  Big Eddie's alone, would  have  floated a  kite.  "He's
fairly knocked out, though. Some of you fellows better get him to a doctor."
She  stopped Riley's bleeding with a bandage torn off his shirt. The Sheriff
and three of his men locked  arms, making a litter on which to carry him. He
was not  the  only  one who had to be carried; the Reverend Buster had  also
come to considerable grief: loose-limbed as a  puppet, and too weak to  know
the noose still hung around his neck, he needed several assistants to get up
the path. Little Homer chased after him: "Hey, hand me back my rope!"
     Amos Legrand waited to accompany Verena; she told him to go without her
as she  had no intention of leaving unless Dolty-hesitating,  she  looked at
the rest  of us, Sister  Ida  in  particular; "I would like to speak with my
sister alone."
     With  a wave of her hand that quite dismissed  Verena, Sister Ida said,
"Never  mind, lady. We're on our way." She hugged Dolly. "Bless us,  we love
you.  Don't we, kids?" Little Homer said,  "Come with us.  Dolly. We'll have
such good times. I'll give you my sparkle belt." And  Texaco  Gasoline threw
herself upon the Judge, pleading for him to go with them, too. Nobody seemed
to want me.
     "I'll always remember that you asked me," said Dolly, her eyes hurrying
as though to memorize the children's faces. "Good luck. Good-bye.  Run now,"
she raised her voice above new and nearer thunder, "run, it's raining."
     It was  a tickling feathery rain  fine as a gauze curtain, and as  they
faded into the folds of it. Sister Ida and  her family, Verena said:  "Do  I
understand  you've been conniving with that-woman? After she made  a mockery
of our name?"
     "I  don't think you can  accuse me  of  conniving  with  anyone," Dolly
answered serenely. "Especially  not  with bullies who,"  she  a little  lost
control, "steal from children and drag old women into jail. I can't set much
store by a name that endorses such methods. It ought to be a mockery."
     Verena received  this  without flinching. "You're  not  yourself,"  she
said, as if it were a clinical opinion.
     "You'd  best  look  again:  I  am  myself."  Dolly seemed  to  pose for
inspection. She was as tall  as  Verena, as assured;  nothing about  her was
incomplete or blurred. "I've taken  your advice: stopped hanging my head,  I
mean. You told me it made you dizzy. And not many days  ago," she continued,
"you told me that you were ashamed of me. Of Catherine. So much of our lives
had been  lived for you; it was painful to  realize the waste that had been.
Can you know what it is, such a feeling of waste?"
     Scarcely audible, Verena said, "I do know," and it was  as if her  eyes
crossed,  peered inward  upon a  stony vista. It was the expression I'd seen
when, spying from the attic, I'd watched her late at night brooding over the
Kodak  pictures of Maudie Laura Murphy, Maudie Laura's husband and children.
She swayed, she put a  hand on  my  shoulder;  except for that,  I think she
might have fallen.
     "I imagined I would  go to  my dying day with the hurt of it.  I won't.
But it's no satisfaction, Verena, to say that I'm ashamed of you, too."
     It  was  night now; frogs, sawing  infects celebrated the  slow-falling
rain. We dimmed  as though  the wetness had snuffed the light of our  faces.
Verena sagged against me. "I'm not well," she said in a skeleton voice. "I'm
a sick woman, I am. Dolly."
     Somewhat unconvinced. Dolly  approached  Verena, presently touched her,
as  though  her fingers could sense the truth.  "Collin," she said,  "Judge,
please help me with her into  the tree." Verena  protested that she couldn't
go climbing  trees; but  once she got  used to the idea  she  went up easily
enough. The raftlike tree-house seemed to be floating over shrouded Vaporish
waters; it was dry there, however,  for the mild rain had not penetrated the
parasol of leaves. We drifted in a current of  silence until Verena said, "I
have something to say, Dolly. I could say it more easily if we were alone."
     The Judge crossed his arms. "I'm afraid you'll have to put up  with me.
Miss Verena." He was emphatic, though not belligerent "I have an interest in
the outcome of what you might have to say."
     "I doubt  that:  how so?" she said, recovering to  a degree her exalted
     He  lighted  a stub  of candle, and our sudden shadows stooped over  us
like four eavesdroppers. "I don't like talking in the dark,"  he said. There
was a purpose in  the proud  erectness of his posture: it was, I thought, to
let Verena know  she  was  dealing with  a man,  a fact too few  men  in her
experience had  enough  believed to assert. She found  it unforgivable. "You
don't remember,  do you, Charlie Cool? Fifty  years ago, more maybe. Some of
you boys came  blackberry stealing out at our place. My  father  caught your
cousin Seth, and I caught you. It was quite a licking you got that day."
     The  Judge did  remember; he  blushed, smiled,  said: "You didn't fight
fair, Verena."
     "I fought fair," she told him drily. "But you're right-since neither of
us  like it, let's not  talk  in the dark. Frankly, Charlie,  you're  not  a
welcome sight to  me. My sister couldn't have gone  through such tommyrot if
you hadn't been goading her on. So I'll thank you to leave us; it can  be no
further affair of yours."
     "But it is," said Dolly. "Because Judge Cool, Charlie..." she dwindled,
appeared for the first time to question her boldness.
     "Dolly means that I have asked her to marry me."
     "That," Verena managed after some  suspenseful seconds, "is," she said,
regarding  her  gloved hands, "remarkable.  Very.  I wouldn't have  credited
either of you with so much imagination. Or is it that I  am imagining? Quite
likely  I'm dreaming of  myself in a wet tree on a thundery night. Except  I
never have dreams, or perhaps I only forget them. This  one I suggest we all
     "I'll own up: I think it is a dream. Miss Verena. But a man who doesn't
dream is like a man who doesn't sweat: he stores up a lot of poison."
     She ignored him; her attention was with  Dolly, Dolly's with her:  they
might have been alone  together, two  persons at far  ends of a bleak  room,
mutes communicating in  an  eccentric sign-language,  subtle shifting of the
eye; and it was as  though, then.  Dolly gave an answer, one that sapped all
color from Verena's face. "I see. You've accepted him, have you?"
     The rain had thickened, fish could have  swum through  the  air; like a
deepening  scale  of piano notes, it  struck its blackest chord, and drummed
into  a downpour  that,  though it  threatened, did  not at once  reach  us:
drippings leaked through the leaves, but the tree-house stayed a dry seed in
a soaking plant.  The Judge put a protective hand over the candle; he waited
as anxiously as Verena for Dolly's reply. My impatience  equaled theirs, yet
I felt  exiled from the scene,  again a spy peering from the  attic,  and my
sympathies, curiously, were nowhere; or rather, everywhere: a tenderness for
all three  ran together  like raindrops, I  could  not  separate  them, they
expanded into a human oneness.
     Dolly,  too. She  could not separate  the  Judge from Verena. At  last,
excruciatingly, "I can't,"  she cried, implying failures beyond calculation.
"I said I would know  what was right. But it hasn't  happened; I don't know:
do other people? A choice,  I thought: to have  had a  life made of  my  own
     "But we have had our lives," said Verena.  "Yours  has been nothing  to
despise, I don't think you've required more than you've had; I've envied you
always. Come  home. Dolly. Leave decisions to me: that, you see, has been my
     "Is it  true, Charlie?"  Dolly  asked,  as a  child might ask where  do
falling stars fall? and: "Have we had our lives?"
     "We're not dead," he told her;  but it  was  as if, to the  questioning
child, he'd said stars fall into space: an irrefutable, still unsatisfactory
answer. Dolly could not accept it: "You don't  have to  be dead. At home, in
the kitchen,  there is a geranium that blooms  over and  over.  Some plants,
though, they bloom just  the once, if  at  all,  and nothing more happens to
them. They live, but they've had their life."
     "Not you,"  he  said,  and  brought his face nearer hers,  as though he
meant  their  lips to touch, yet wavered,  not daring  it. Rain had tunneled
through  the  branches,  it  fell full weight; rivulets of it  streamed  off
Dolly's  hat,  the  veiling clung  to her cheeks; with a  flutter the candle
failed. "Not me."
     Successive  strokes  of lightning  throbbed  like  veins  of  fire, and
Verena, illuminated in that sustained glare, was not anyone I knew; but some
woman woebegone, wasted-with eyes once  more drawn toward  each other, their
stare  settled on an  inner territory, a  withered country; as the lightning
lessened, as the hum  of rain sealed us  in  its multiple sounds, she spoke,
and her voice came so weakly from  so very far, not expecting, it seemed, to
be heard at all. "Envied  you. Dolly. Your pink room. I've  only knocked  at
the doors of such rooms, not often -enough to know that now there is no one
but  you to let me in. Because little Morris, little Morris-help me, I loved
him, I  did. Not in  a womanly way; it  was,  oh  I  admit it, that  we were
kindred  spirits. We looked each other in the eye, we saw the same devil, we
weren't afraid; it was-merry. But he outsmarted me; I'd known he  could, and
hoped he  wouldn't,  and he  did,  and  now:  it's too long  to  be alone, a
lifetime. I  walk through the  house, nothing is  mine: your pink room, your
kitchen, the house is  yours, and Catherine's too, I think. Only don't leave
me, let me live with you. I'm feeling old, I want my sister."
     The rain, adding its voice to Verena's, was between them, Dolly and the
Judge, a transparent wall through which he could watch her losing substance,
recede  before him as earlier she had  seemed to recede before me. More than
that,  it  was as  if  the  tree-house  were dissolving.  Lunging  wind cast
overboard the soggy wreckage of our Rook cards,  our wrapping papers; animal
crackers crumbled,  the rain-filled mason jars spilled  over like fountains;
and  Catherine's  beautiful scrapquilt was ruined, a  puddle.  It was going:
like the doomed houses rivers in flood float away;  and it was as though the
Judge  were trapped  there-waving to us as we, the survivors,  stood ashore.
For Dolly had said, "Forgive me; I want my sister, too," and the Judge could
not reach her, not with his arms, not with his heart: Verena's claim was too
     Somewhere near midnight the rain slackened, halted; wind barreled about
wringing out  the trees. Singly, like  delayed  guests  arriving at a dance,
appearing stars pierced the sky. It  was time to leave. We took nothing with
us: left the quilt to rot, spoons to  rust; and the tree-house, the woods we
left to winter.

     For  quite a while it was  Catherine's custom to date events  as having
occurred before  or  after her incarceration. "Prior," she  would begin, "to
the time That One made a  jailbird of me." As for the  rest  of us, we could
have divided history along similar  lines;  that is, in terms  of before and
after the tree-house. Those few autumn days were a monument and a signpost.
     Except to  collect his belongings,  the  Judge  never again entered the
house  he'd shared with his sons and their  wives, a circumstance  that must
have  suited them, at least they made no protest when he took a room at Miss
Bell's boarding  house. This was a brown solemn establishment  which  lately
has been turned into  a funeral home by an undertaker who saw that to effect
the  correct  atmosphere  a  minimum  of renovation  would  be necessary.  I
disliked  going  past  it,  for Miss Bell's guests,  ladies  thorny  as  the
blighted rosebushes littering the yard, occupied the porch in a dawn-to-dark
marathon  of vigilance.  One  of  them,  the  twice-widowed  Mamie Canfield,
specialized in  spotting  pregnancies (some legendary fellow  is supposed to
have told his wife Why waste money on a doctor? just trot yourself past Miss
Bell's: Mamie Canfield,  shell let the world know soon enough whether you is
or ain't). Until  the  Judge moved there,  Amos Legrand was the  only man in
residence at Miss Bell's. He was a godsend to the other tenants: the moments
most  sacred to them were when, after supper, Amos  swung in  the seat-swing
with his little legs not touching the floor and his tongue trilling  like an
alarm-clock. They  vied with each  other in knitting him socks and sweaters,
tending to his diet:  at table all the best things were saved for his plate-
Miss Bell had  trouble keeping a cook because the ladies were forever poking
around in the kitchen wanting to make a delicacy that would tempt their pet.
Probably they would  have done the same for the Judge, but he had no use for
them, never, so they complained, stopped to pass the time of day.
     The last drenching night in the tree-house had left me with a bad cold,
Verena  with a  worse  one; and we had  a  sneezing  nurse. Dolly. Catherine
wouldn't help:  "Dollyheart,  you can  do like  you please-tote  That  One's
slopjar  till you drop in  your tracks.  Only don't count  on me  to lift  a
finger. I've put down the load."
     Rising at all hours of the night. Dolly brought  the  syrups that eased
our throats, stoked the fires that kept us warm. Verena did not, as in other
days, accept such attention simply as her due. "In the spring," she promised
Dolly, "we'll make a trip together. We might go to the Grand Canyon and call
on Maudie Laura.  Or Florida:  you've  never seen the ocean."  But Dolly was
where she wanted to  be, she had  no  wish to  travel: "I wouldn't enjoy it,
seeing the things I've known shamed by nobler sights."
     Doctor Carter called regularly to see us,  and one morning  Dolly asked
would he mind taking  her temperature;  she felt  so flushed and weak in the
legs. He put her straight to bed, and she thought  it was very humorous when
he told  her she had walking pneumonia. "Walking pneumonia," she said to the
Judge, who  had  come  to  visit her,  "it must be something new, I've never
heard of it. But I do feel as  though I were skylarking  along on a  pair of
stilts. Lovely," she said and fell asleep.
     For  three, nearly four days she never really woke up. Catherine stayed
with her, dozing upright in a wicker  chair and growling low whenever Verena
or I tiptoed into the room. She persisted in fanning Dolly with a picture of
Jesus, as though it were summertime;  and it was  a disgrace how she ignored
Doctor Carter's  instructions:  "I  wouldn't feed  that  to  a  hog,"  she'd
declare, pointing to some medicine he'd  sent around.  Finally Doctor Carter
said  he wouldn't  be  responsible  unless  the  patient were  removed  to a
hospital. The nearest hospital was in Brewton, sixty miles away. Verena sent
over  there for  an ambulance.  She  could have  saved herself the  expense,
because Catherine locked Dolly's door from the inside and said the first one
to rattle the knob  would need  an ambulance themselves. Dolly did not  know
where they wanted to take her; wherever it was, she begged not to go: "Don't
wake me," she said, "I don't want to see the ocean."
     Toward the end of the week she  could sit up in bed; a  few days  later
she  was  strong  enough  to  resume  correspondence  with  her  dropsy-cure
customers.  She was worried by the unfilled  orders that  had  piled up; but
Catherine, who  took the credit for Dolly's  improvement, said, "Shoot, it's
no time we'll be out there boiling a brew."
     Every  afternoon, promptly at four, the Judge  presented himself at the
garden gate  and  whistled for me to  let him in; by using the garden  gate,
rather  than  the  front  door,  he  lessened  the  chance  of  encountering
Verena-not that  she objected to his coming: indeed, she wisely supplied for
his visits a bottle  of sherry and a box of cigars. Usually he brought Dolly
a gift,  cakes  from  the  Katydid Bakery  or  flowers,  bronze bal-loonlike
chrysanthemums which Catherine swiftly confiscated  on  the theory that they
ate up all the nourishment  in  the  air.  Catherine  never  learned  he had
proposed to Dolly; still, intuiting a situation not quite to her liking, she
sharply chaperoned the Judge's visits and, while swigging at the sherry that
had been  put  out for him, did most  of  the talking as well. But I suspect
that neither he nor Dolly had much to say of a private nature; they accepted
each  other  without excitement,  as  people  do who  are settled  in  their
affections. If in  other ways  he was a disappointed man, it was not because
of Dolly, for  I believe she became what he'd wanted, the one  person in the
world-to  whom, as  he'd described  it,  everything can be  said.  But  when
everything can be said perhaps there is  nothing more to  say. He sat beside
her bed, content to be there  and  not  expecting to be entertained.  Often,
drowsy with fever, she went to sleep, and if, while she slept, she whimpered
or frowned, he wakened her, welcoming her back with a daylight smile.
     In the past Verena had not allowed us  to have a radio; cheap melodies,
she  contended,  disordered  the mind;  moreover, there was the  expense  to
consider.  It  was Doctor Carter who persuaded  her that Dolly should have a
radio;  he thought it would help  reconcile her to what he foresaw as a long
convalescence. Verena bought one, and paid a good price, I don't  doubt; but
it was an ugly hood-shaped box crudely varnished. I took  it out in the yard
and painted it pink. Even so Dolly wasn't certain she wanted it in her room;
later  on,  you couldn't have pried it away from her. That  radio was always
hot enough to hatch a chicken, she  and Catherine  played it  so  much. They
favored broadcasts of football games.  "Please  don't," Dolly admonished the
Judge  when he  attempted  to explain  the rules of  this  game.  "I  like a
mystery. Everybody shouting, having such a fine time: it might not sound  so
large and  happy if I knew why." Primarily the Judge was peeved  because  he
couldn't  get Dolly to root for  any one team. She thought both sides should
win: "They're all nice boys, I'm sure."
     Because of the radio  Catherine and I had words one afternoon.  It  was
the afternoon Maude Riordan was playing in a  broadcast of the state musical
competition. Naturally I  wanted to  hear her,  Catherine knew that, but she
was  tuned  in on a  Tulane-Georgia  Tech game and  wouldn't let me near the
radio. I  said, "What's  come  over you,  Catherine?  Selfish, dissatisfied,
always got to have your own way, why  you're worse than Verena ever was." It
was as though, in lieu of prestige lost through  her encounter with the law,
she'd had to double her power in the Talbo house: we at least would  have to
respect  her  Indian blood,  accept  her tyranny. Dolly  was willing; in the
matter of Maude Riordan, however, she sided with  me: "Let  Collin find  his
station. It wouldn't be Christian not to listen to Maude. She's a  friend of
     Everyone who heard Maude agreed that she should've won first prize. She
placed second, which pleased her family, for  it meant a half-scholarship in
music  at the  University.  Still  it  wasn't  fair, because  she  performed
beautifully, much better than the boy who  won  the larger prize. She played
her father's serenade, and  it seemed to me  as pretty as it had that day in
the  woods.  Since that day I'd wasted hours scribbling her name, describing
in my head her charms,  her hair the  color of  vanilla ice cream. The Judge
arrived in time to  hear the broadcast, and I know Dolly was glad because it
was as if we were reunited again in the leaves with music  like  butterflies
     Some days afterwards  I met Elizabeth Henderson  on the  street.  She'd
been  at the beauty parlor, for her hair was finger-waved, her nails tinted,
she did look grown-up and  I  complimented her. "It's for the  party. I hope
your costume is ready." Then I remembered: the Halloween party to which  she
and  Maude had asked me to contribute  my  services as a fortuneteller. "You
can't have forgotten?  Oh, Collin," she said,  "we've worked like dogs! Mrs.
Riordan  is  making a  wine  punch.  I  shouldn't  be  surprised  if there's
drunkenness and everything.  And after all it's  a  celebration  for  Maude,
because she won the prize, and because," Elizabeth glanced along the street,
a glum  perspective of silent houses  and telephone poles, "she'll be  going
away-to the  University, you know." A  loneliness fell around us, we did not
want to go our separate ways: I offered to walk her home.
     On our way we stopped by the Katydid where  Elizabeth  placed an  order
for a Halloween cake, and Mrs. C. C. County, her apron glittering with sugar
crystals, appeared from the oven room  to  inquire  after Dolly's condition.
"Doing  well as  can be  expected  I  suppose," she  lamented.  "Imagine it,
walking  pneumonia. My sister,  now she  had the  ordinary lying-down  kind.
Well, we can be thankful Dolly's in  her  own bed; it eases  my mind to know
you  people  are  home  again.  Ha  ha, guess  we  can laugh about  all that
foolishness  now.  Look here, I've Just pulled out a pan  of doughnuts;  you
take them to Dolly with my blessings."  Elizabeth  and  I ate most of  those
doughnuts before we  reached her house. She invited me in to have a glass of
milk and finish them off.
     Today there is  a filling station where the Henderson house used to be.
It was some fifteen draughty rooms  casually  nailed together, a place stray
animals would have  claimed if Riley had not been a gifted carpenter. He had
an outdoor shed, a combination of workshop and sanctuary, where he spent his
mornings sawing  lumber, shaving shingles. Its wall-shelves  sagged with the
relics of  outgrown bobbies: snakes, bees,  spiders preserved in alcohol,  a
bat  decaying in a bottle; ship  models. A boyhood enthusiasm  for taxidermy
had resulted in a pitiful zoo of nasty-odored beasts: an eyeless rabbit with
maggot-green fur and  ears  that drooped like a bloodhound's -objects better
off buried, I'd been lately to see Riley several times;  Big Eddie  Stover's
bullet had shattered his shoulder, and the curse of it was he had to wear an
itching plaster cast  which  weighed, he  said,  a  hundred pounds. Since he
couldn't drive his car, or hammer a  proper nail, there wasn't  much for him
to do except loaf around and brood.
     "If you want to see Riley," said Elizabeth, "you'll find him out in the
shed. I expect Maude's with him."
     "Maude Riordan?" I had reason to be surprised, because on the occasions
I'd visited Riley  he'd made a point of our sitting in the shed;  the  girls
wouldn't bother us there,  for it was, he'd boasted, one threshold no female
was permitted to cross.
     "Reading to him.  Poetry, plays. Maude's been  absolutely adorable. And
it's  not  as  though  my brother had  ever  treated her  with  common human
decency. But she's let bygones be bygones.  I guess coming so near  to being
killed the way  he was,  I guess that would  change a  person-make them more
receptive to the finer things. He lets her read to him by the hour."
     The shed,  shaded by fig trees, was in the back yard. Matronly Plymouth
hens waddled about its doorstep picking at the seeds of last summer's fallen
sunflowers. On the  door a  childhood word in faded  whitewash feebly warned
Bewarel  It aroused  a shyness in me. Beyond the door  I  could hear Maude's
voice-her poetry voice, a swooning chant certain  louts in school had dearly
loved to mimic. Anyone who'd  been told Riley Henderson had  come  to  this,
they'd have said that fall from the sycamore had affected his head. Stealing
over to  the shed's window, I  got a look at him: he was absorbed in sorting
the  insides  of  a  clock  and,  to judge  from his  face,  might have been
listening  to nothing  more  uplifting than the  hum of a  fly; he jiggled a
finger in his ear,  as though to relieve an  irritation. Then, at the moment
I'd decided  to  startle them by rapping on the  window, he  put  aside  his
clockworks and,  coming  round behind Maude,  reached down and shut the book
from which she was  reading.  With a grin he gathered in his hand  twists of
her hair-she rose like  a  kitten lifted by  the nape of its neck. It was as
though they were edged with light, some brilliance that smarted my eyes. You
could see it wasn't the first time they'd kissed.
     Not one week before, because  of  his  experience in such  matters, I'd
taken Riley  into my confidence,  confessed  to  him my feelings for  Maude:
please look.  I wished I were a giant so that I could grab hold of that shed
and shake  it to  a splinter; knock  down  the door and denounce them  both.
Yet-of what could I accuse Maude? Regardless  of how  bad she'd talked about
him I'd always known she was heartset on  Riley. It wasn't  as  if there had
ever been an understanding between the two of us; at the most we'd been good
friends: for the last few years, not even that. As I walked back through the
yard the pompous Plymouth hens cackled after me tauntingly.
     Elizabeth said, "You didn't stay long. Or weren't they there?"
     I told her it hadn't seemed right to interrupt.  "They were  getting on
so well with the finer things."
     But  sarcasm  never touched Elizabeth: she was, despite  the subtleties
her  soulful appearance  promised, too literal a person.  "Wonderful,  isn't
     "Collin-for heaven's sake: what are you sniveling about?"
     "Nothing. I mean, I've got & cold."
     "Well  I  hope it doesn't keep you  away from the  party. Only you must
have a costume. Riley's coming as the devil."
     "That's appropriate."
     "Of course we want you  in a skeleton suit. I know  there's  only a day
     I  had no intention of going to the party. As  soon as I got home I sat
down to write Riley a letter. Dear Riley...  Dear  Henderson. I crossed  out
the  dear; plain Henderson would  do. Henderson, your treachery has not gone
unobserved. Pages were filled  with recording the origins of our friendship,
its  honorable history; and  gradually a  feeling grew that there  must be a
mistake: such a splendid friend would not have wronged me. Until, toward the
end, I  found  myself  deliriously  telling  him he was my  best  friend, my
brother. So I threw these ravings in  a fireplace and five minutes later was
in Dolly's room asking what  were the  chances of my having  a skeleton suit
made by the following night.
     Dolly was not much of a seamstress, she had  her difficulties lifting a
hemline. This was also  true  of  Catherine;  it was  in Catherine's makeup,
however, to pretend professional status in all fields, particularly those in
which  she  was least competent. She sent me to  Verena's drygoods store for
seven yards of their choicest  black satin. "With seven yards there ought to
be some bits left over: me and Dolly can trim our petticoats." Then she made
a show of tape-measuring my  lengths  and widths, which  was sound procedure
except that she had no idea of how to apply such information to scissors and
cloth.  "This little  piece,"  she  said,  hacking off  a  yard,  "it'd make
somebody lovely  bloomers.  And this here,"  snip, snip, "...a  black  satin
collar would dress up my old print  considerable." You couldn't have covered
a midget's shame with the amount of material allotted me.
     "Catherine, now  dear, we mustn't think of our own needs," Dolly warned
     They worked without recess through the afternoon. The Judge, during his
usual visit, was forced to thread needles,  a job Catherine despised; "Makes
my flesh crawl, like stuffing worms on a fishhook." At suppertime she called
quits and went home to her house among the butterbean stalks.
     But a desire to finish had seized  Dolly; and a talkative exhilaration.
Her needle soared in  and  out of  the  satin; like the seams  it made,  her
sentences linked in  a wiggling line. "Do you think," she said, "that Verena
would let me give a party? Now that  I have so  many friends? There's Riley,
there's  Charlie,  couldn't we ask Mrs. County, Maude and  Elizabeth? In the
spring; a garden  party-with a few fireworks. My father was a great hand for
sewing. A pity  I didn't inherit it from  him. So many men sewed  in the old
days; there was one friend of Papa's that won I  don't know  how many prizes
for his scrap-quilts. Papa said  it relaxed him after the heavy  rough  work
around a  farm. Collin. Will you promise me  something?  I  was against your
coming here, I've never believed  it was right, raising  a boy in a houseful
of women. Old women and their prejudices. But it was done;  and  somehow I'm
not worried about  it now: you'll make your mark, you'll get  on. It's  this
that I want you to promise me: don't be unkind to Catherine, try not to grow
too far  away from her. Some nights it keeps me wide awake to  think of  her
forsaken. There," she held up my suit, "let's see if it fits."
     It pinched in the crotch  and  in the  rear  drooped  like an old man's
B.V.D.'s;  the legs were wide  as sailor  pants, one sleeve stopped above my
wrist, the other shot past my fingertips. It wasn't, as Dolly admitted, very
stylish. "But when we've painted on  the bones..." she said. "Silver  paint.
Verena bought some once  to dress up  a flagpole-before she took against the
government. It should be somewhere in the attic, that little can. Look under
the bed and see if you can locate my slippers."
     She was forbidden to get up, not even Catherine would permit that.  "It
won't be any fun if you scold," she said and found the slippers herself. The
courthouse clock had chimed eleven,  which meant  it was ten-thirty, a  dark
hour  in a town where respectable doors are locked at nine; it  seemed later
still because  in the next room Verena  had closed her  ledgers  and gone to
bed. We  took  an  oil lamp from the linen closet and by its tottering light
tiptoed up the ladder into the attic. It was cold up  there; we set the lamp
on a barrel  and lingered near it as though it  were a hearth. Sawdust heads
that once had helped sell St. Louis hats watched while we searched; wherever
we put our hands it caused a huffy scuttling of  fragile feet. Overturned, a
carton  of  mothballs clattered on  the floor. "Oh,  dear,  oh, dear," cried
Dolly, giggling, "if Verena hears that she'll call the Sheriff."
     We unearthed numberless brushes; the paint, discovered beneath a welter
of dried holiday  wreaths, proved  not to be  silver  but  gold.  "Of course
that's better, isn't it?  Gold, like a  king's ransom. Only do see what else
I've found." It was a shoebox secured with  twine. "My valuables," she said,
opening it under the lamp. A hollowed honeycomb was demonstrated against the
light, a hornet's nest and a clove-stuck orange that age  had  robbed of its
aroma. She showed me a blue perfect jaybird's egg cradled in cotton.
     "I  was  too principled. So Catherine stole the egg for me, it was  her
Christmas  present."  She smiled; to  me her face  seemed  a moth  suspended
beside  the lamp's chimney,  as daring, as  destructible. "Charlie said that
love  is a  chain of  love.  I hope you listened and understood him. Because
when you can  love one thing,"  she  held the  blue egg as preciously as the
Judge had held a  leaf, "you can love  another, and that is owning, that  is
something to live with.  You  can  forgive  everything.  Well,"  she sighed,
"we're not getting you  painted.  I want  to amaze Catherine; we'll tell her
that while we slept  the  little  people finished  your suit. She'll have  a
     Again  the courthouse clock was floating  its message, each note like a
banner stirring  above  the chilled  and sleeping town. "I know it tickles,"
she said, drawing a branch of ribs across my chest, "but I'll make a mess if
you don't hold still." She dipped the brush and skated it along the sleeves,
the  trousers, designing  golden  bones  for my arms  and  legs.  "You  must
remember all  the  compliments: there  should  be  many,"  she said  as  she
immodestly observed  her work. "Oh dear, oh dear..." She hugged herself, her
laughter rollicked in the rafters. "Don't you see..."
     For I was not unlike the man who painted himself into a  comer. Freshly
gilded front and back, I was trapped inside the suit: a fine fix for which I
blamed her with a pointing finger.
     "You  have  to  whirl,"  she  teased.  "Whirling  will  dry  you."  She
blissfully extended her arms  and turned in slow ungainly circles across the
shadows of the  attic floor, her plain  kimono  billowing and her thin  feet
wobbling in their slippers. It was  as though she had collided with  another
dancer: she stumbled, a hand on her forehead, a hand on her heart.
     Far on the horizon of sound a train  whistle howled, and it  wakened me
to the  bewilderment puckering her eyes, the  contractions shaking her face.
With my arms around her, and the paint bleeding its pattern against  her,  I
called Verena; somebody help me!
     Dolly whispered, "Hush now, hush."
     Houses at night announce catastrophe by their sudden pitiable radiance.
Catherine dragged from  room to room switching on lights unused  for  years.
Shivering inside my wrecked costume I sat in  the glare of the entrance hall
sharing a bench with the Judge. He had come at once, wearing only a raincoat
slung  over a flannel nightshirt. Whenever Verena approached  he brought his
naked legs  together primly,  like a young girl. Neighbors, summoned by  our
bright windows,  came softly inquiring.  Verena spoke  to them on the porch:
her sister. Miss Dolly,  she'd suffered a stroke. Doctor  Carter would allow
none of us in her room, and we accepted this, even Catherine who, when she'd
set ablaze the last light, stood leaning her head against Dolly's door.
     There  was  in the  hall a  hat-tree with  many antlers  and a  mirror.
Dolly's velvet  hat hung there, and at sunrise, as  breezes trickled through
the house, the mirror reflected its quivering veil.
     Then I  knew as  good as anything that Dolly had  left us. Some moments
past she'd  gone by unseen;  and in my imagination I followed  her. She  had
crossed the square, had come to the church, now she'd reached the  hill. The
Indian grass gleamed below her, she had that far to go.
     It was a journey I made with  Judge Cool the next September. During the
intervening months  we  had not often encountered each other-once we met  on
the square  and he said to come see him any time I felt like it. I meant to,
yet whenever I passed Miss Bell's boarding house I looked the other way.
     I've  read that past and future are a spiral,  one  coil containing the
next and  predicting its theme.  Perhaps this is  so; but  my  own  life has
seemed to me more a series of closed  circles, rings that do not evolve with
the freedom  of a  spiral:  for me to get  from one to the other has meant a
leap,  not a glide. What weakens me is the lull  between, the wait before  I
know where to jump. After Dolly died I was a long while dangling.
     My own idea was to have a good time.
     I hung around  Phil's Cafe winning free beers on the pin-ball  machine;
it was illegal to serve me beer, but Phil had it on his mind that someday  I
would  inherit Verena's money and  maybe set him up in the hotel business. I
slicked my hair  with brilliantine and  chased off to dances in other towns,
shined flashlights and threw pebbles at girls' windows  late at night I knew
a Negro  in the  country who sold a brand of  gin  called  Yellow  Devil.  I
courted anyone who owned a car.
     Because I didn't want to spend a waking moment in  the Talbo  house. It
was too thick with air that didn't move. Some stranger occupied the kitchen,
a pigeon-toed colored girl who  sang all day, the wavery  singing of a child
bolstering its spirit in an ominous place. She was a sorry cook. She let the
kitchen's geranium plant  perish. I  had approved of Verena  hiring  her.  I
thought it would bring Catherine back to work.
     On the contrary, Catherine showed no interest  in routing the new girl.
For  she'd retired to her  house in the vegetable garden. She had taken  the
radio with her and was very  comfortable. "I've  put down the load, and it's
down to stay. I'm  after my  leisure," she said.  Leisure  fattened her, her
feet swelled,  she  had to cut slits in her shoes. She developed exaggerated
versions of Dolly's  habits, such as a craving for sweet  foods; she had her
suppers  delivered  from  the  drugstore,  two  quarts  of  ice cream. Candy
wrappers rustled in  her lap. Until she became  too gross,  she contrived to
squeeze herself into clothes  that had belonged  to Dolly; it was as though,
in this way, she kept her friend with her.
     Our  visits  together  were  an  ordeal,  and I made  them  grudgingly,
resenting  it that  she  depended  on  me  for company. I let a day  slip by
without seeing  her, then three, a whole week once. When I returned after an
absence I  imagined the  silences in which  we sat, her offhand manner, were
meant reproachfully; I was too conscience-ridden to realize the truth, which
was that she didn't care whether or not I came. One afternoon she proved it.
Simply, she  removed the cotton  wads  that jacked  up her jaws. Without the
cotton  her  speech was  as  unintelligible to me  as it  ordinarily  was to
others. It happened  while I was  making an excuse to  shorten my call.  She
lifted the lid of a pot-bellied stove and spit the cotton into the fire; and
her cheeks caved in, she looked starved. I think now this was not a vengeful
gesture:  it was intended to let me know that I was under no obligation: the
future was something she preferred not to share.
     Occasionally Riley rode  me around-but I  couldn't count on him  or his
car; neither were much available since he'd become a man  of affairs. He had
a  team  of  tractors  clearing  ninety  acres of land  he'd bought  on  the
outskirts  of  town; he planned  to  build  houses  there.  Several  locally
important persons were impressed by  another scheme  of  his: he thought the
town should put up a silkmill in which every citizen would be a stockholder;
aside  from  the possible profits, having  an  industry would  increase  our
population. There  was  an enthusiastic  editorial  in the paper  about this
proposal; it went on to say that the town should be proud of having produced
a man of  young Henderson's enterprise.  He grew  a mustache; he  rented  an
office  and his sister Elizabeth worked as his  secretary. Maude Riordan was
installed at  the State University, and almost  every  week-end he drove his
sisters over there; it was supposed to be because the girls were so lonesome
for Maude.  The engagement of Miss Maude Riordan to Mr.  Riley Henderson was
announced in the Courier on April Fool's Day.
     They were married the middle of June in a double-ring ceremony. I acted
as an  usher, and the Judge was Riley's best man. Except for  the  Henderson
sisters,  all the bridesmaids were  society  girls  Maude had  known at  the
University;  the  Courier  called  them  beautiful debutantes, a  chivalrous
description.  The bride carried  a  bouquet of jasmine and lilac;  the groom
wore spats and stroked his mustache. They received a sumptuous table-load of
gifts. I gave them six cakes of scented soap and an ashtray.
     After  the  wedding I walked home  with Verena  under the shade  of her
black  umbrella.  It  was  a  blistering  day,  heatwaves  jiggled   like  a
sound-graph  of  the celebrating Baptist bells,  and the  rest of summer,  a
vista  rigid  as  the  noon  street,  lengthened before me.  Summer, another
autumn, winter again: not a  spiral, but a circle confined as the umbrella's
shadow.  If  I ever were  to  make the  leap-with a  heartskip,  I  made it.
"Verena, I want to go away."
     We  were at the garden gate; "I know.  I  do myself," she said, closing
her umbrella. "I'd hoped to make a trip with Dolly. I wanted to show her the
ocean."  Verena  had  seemed  a  tall  woman  because  of  her authoritative
carriage; now she stooped slightly, her head nodded. I wondered that I  ever
could have been  so afraid  of  her, for she'd grown  feminine, fearful, she
spoke  of  prowlers, she burdened the doors with  bolts and  spiked the roof
with lightning rods.  It  had been  her custom the  first  of every month to
stalk  around  collecting in person  the  various rents  owed her;  when she
stopped doing this it caused an uneasiness  in the town, people  felt  wrong
without their rainy  day. The  women said  she's got no  family,  she's lost
without her  sister; their husbands blamed Dr. Morris Rite: he  knocked  the
gumption out of her, they said; and, much as they had quarreled with Verena,
held it against him. Three years ago, when I returned to this town, my first
task was to sort the papers of the Talbo estate, and among Verena's  private
possessions,  her  keys,  her pictures  of  Maudie Laura  Murphy,  I found a
postcard. It was dated two months after Dolly died, at Christmas, and it was
from Paraguay: As we say down here,  Feliz  Navidad. Do you miss me? Morris.
And I thought, reading it, of how her  eyes had come  permanently to have an
uneven  cast, an inward and agonized  gaze, and I remembered  how her  eyes,
watering  in  the brassy sunshine of Riley's wedding  day, had  straightened
with momentary hope: "It could  be a  long trip.  I've considered  selling a
few-a few properties. We might take a boat; you've never seen  the ocean." I
picked  a sprig  of honeysuckle from the vine flowering on the garden fence,
and she  watched  me shred  it as if I  were pulling apart  her vision,  the
voyage she saw  for us. "Oh," she brushed at the mole that spotted her cheek
like  a  tear,  "well,"  she said  in  a  practical voice,  "what  are  your
     So it was not until September that I called upon the Judge, and then it
was to tell him good-bye. The suitcases were packed, Amos Legrand had cut my
hair ("Honey, don't you come back here  baldheaded. What I  mean is, they'll
try to scalp you up there, cheat you every way they can."); I had a new suit
and  new  shoes, gray  fedora  ("Aren't  you  the  cafs  pajamas, Mr. Collin
Fenwick?" Mrs. County exclaimed. "A  lawyer you're going to be? And  already
dressed like one.  No, child, I won't  kiss you. I'd be  mortified to  dirty
your finery with my bakery mess. You write us, hear?"): that very evening  a
train would rock me northward, parade me through the land to a city where in
my honor pennants flurried.
     At  Miss Bell's they told me the Judge had gone out I found him on  the
square, and it  gave me a twinge to see  him, a  spruce sturdy figure with a
Cherokee rose sprouting in his  buttonhole,  encamped  among the old men who
talk and spit and wait. He took my arm and led  me away from them; and while
he amiably advised me of his own days as a law student, we strolled past the
church and out  along the River Woods road. This road or this tree; I closed
my  eyes  to fix their image, for I did not believe I  would return, did not
foresee that I would travel the road and dream the tree until they had drawn
me back.
     It was as though neither of us had known where we were  headed. Quietly
astonished,  we  surveyed the view from the  cemetery hill,  and  arm in arm
descended to  the summer-burned, September-burnished field.  A  waterfall of
color flowed across the dry and strumming leaves;  and I wanted then for the
Judge to hear  what Dolly had told me: that it was a grass harp,  gathering,
telling, a harp of voices remembering a story. We listened.

Last-modified: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 23:06:45 GMT