A River Goes With Heaven: Part Two
JUST to be alive was beautiful. I found this out more and more. A mere look at a growing cornfield, a fast comprehension of a tree, a flitting glimpse of a far-off and half-hidden red apple — it required nothing more than this to bring joy. At four houses in my own part of the world I was a very important and welcome human being. I felt at home when I was at the house of my parents, at my grandfather’s house, at Raymond’s house, and at Halma’s birthplace. Then, too, I had my cabin.
One Monday morning I remember well. I had spent much of the day before on peaceful small roads, shady side roads, with Halma, and it was late in the night when I left her. On this morning a little thing such as I was always encountering helped make my life like the rooster redbird. Protecting my face against the matronly mocking bird, I walked to the cow lot. My mother was milking the cow and playing with the mole-colored calf. She had traded with my grandfather for the cow. The old man’s nigger had driven the cow to Hueytown, and my brother-in-law had hauled the bull calf in the back of my Ford. He was yet unroped and had been full to the mouth of milk every hour of his life when they caught him to haul him away. Now he did, they said, cut capers many and fine.
This morning he was cutting up, pushing with my mother, butting her for pure playfulness. How he did show off his fine calf health, health that made him a brimful creature! His head was a beauty knot, and he amused us with his demonstrations. I joined with my mother in the play. His Jersey hide was soft and his breath smelt of grass and fresh milk. It made me feel closer to the waving, rolling, and billowing earth of my part of the world when he sucked my right forefinger. My mother was a part of such a scene twice daily. Oh, she knew just the kind of milk I liked and was full of pains to see that it was exactly to my taste. The calf afforded generous conversation between us. She loved to play with it much as I loved the mix-ups with the two mocking birds.
It is late at night and I am thirsty. I have listened to the katydids for three hours or more alone at my cabin. I must walk to a well. To draw water at Raymond’s well would disturb the sleepers, and I must have fresh water. I will go to the well near the sycamore shade at the boat landing where I go in swimming.
It was good as gold to drink cold water from good wells in my native land. While I was at my father’s house in Hueytown I averaged drawing a fresh bucket every daylight hour. The best water of my life was that I would drink fresh from the well after my dates with Halma. This was part of my night’s doings. My mother had a large dipper and a small one. When I used the small one, that called for a second dipping; when I used the large one, I had no need for another helping, though I sometimes did dip the second time in order to compare the taste of the two. Then I would throw water on a silver poplar, a water oak, or a chinaberry.
Every time I stayed as long as a few minutes with my grandparents, I had to drink cold water from their cedar bucket. I would stand for minutes at a time looking to the bottom of this bucket through the cold blue-sandstone water. The bored well was deep. My grandmother’s dipper was mediumsized. I would take my first drink and drink only a part of it, and throw the other part at a bird when I could see one near by. Then I would fill again and walk to the edge of the well shelter. There I would drink leisurely, talking to one or both of the old folks. Then I would throw what water I had left as far as I could, or at a butterfly.
Halma would fix ice water in a glass for me. Then we would drink together. Sometimes it was the Birmingham water we had to drink; at other times it was from a bucket of water from her sister’s well across the road. When the well water was there, it was always good and cold with ice.
At the boat landing there was once an old ford. That was before, long before, the government made the two rivers deeper with a great lock. Behind the house was an old spring which was, according to my grandfather, used as a camping site by the Indians. Later on an old settler from North Carolina built a log cabin there. My grandfather’s men and women used the spring for decades when working the river fields around it. Since then it has been used as a place to keep fish in to keep them alive in the summer heat. At such a place as this I had a long drink from the well covering. The chain rattled as I drew the water not far from midnight.
I walked to the boat landing and sat under the sycamores. Sometimes I stood, at other times I walked a few steps. I had had a good swim and wade there at sunset. The above world was then the color of a ripe field pumpkin on the inside, and the river took its color from this. About twenty cows, cows of many colors and sizes, chewed midnight cud and walked around on the small spring branch. What was I doing there? Was I hunting golden cow horns?
The atmosphere that surrounds this world, the stuff that envelops it, and the feeling that created it settled among the sycamores, and I caught it there that night. But only the nearness of the river could bring the feeling I had that hour. I was at the point where I, like my grandfather, wondered why, with such a sufficient place, I should ever lose my body and be put in the sandstone of the Warrior earth. And I wondered why Halma should ever lose hers.
I wandered down the river to a place of elms and ashes. Against the river there were willows. I touched trees and the katydids stopped singing, leaving silent spaces in the earth song, and in the silence my body was tremulous with the two Warriors and with Halma. That day I had seen the huckleberry blue of the Big River, and I was with the Little River. The river sent a stream of calmness down my marrow; the night before, Halma’s sweetness had sent bolts of fervor up and down every bone in my body. I never in all the days and nights of my life felt such fervor. And under the elms I felt a calm such as I had never known before.
I followed every path I could strike, followed them as a water witch searches for water, and the moon made the old fields and the river bank as light as day. There was magic all about me and I knew that only God understood it all, all there was to my walking around that night.. I had been doing all that day what my grandfather had said he would like to do forever, looking at my part of the world, going to the rivers, and feeling the beauty of it all. I was happy, but without the fusion of Halma’s being with my being I should not have been happy. When I discovered her the two Warriors were brought into the great sink-ways of my being.
I am at my cabin, and my watch and clock point long past midnight. My whole body is tremulous with the earth that is mine. The two Warriors are carrying my being along as music sometimes can. My imaginative life and my sensuous life are cast hand in hand with Halma. The rivers have come to mean the proper go of life to me, to symbolize the good life. The katydid song is to me the real earth song — it is the song of the two Warriors. The girl and the two rivers all in my bones and in my heart, and something a mocking bird says in a white oak sapling, bring sleep.
Other nights passed just about that way.
In the morning I received a letter from England. My friend and colleague was enjoying the Wordsworth country and was going to the Hardy country some time during the summer, and I should be there with him. No. I should not be there. For months he had tried to persuade me to pass the summer with him in green England and old London. No use. I had the two Warriors and their woods and Halma on my mind all that time. And, too, I wanted to be with my grandfather. Not one hour has passed but has justified my choice. I thought to myself how I had as a student longed to live in England for a season. Now I did not want to be anywhere in the world except where I could see the two Warriors when I wanted to.
On the outside the little molecolored bull calf is running from the main road with all his might. An automobile has scared him. Oh, there’s no danger of that calf’s being hurt on the road. Lord, how he can run, and how good he looks when he puts his young strength to his feet! It is good to hear him bawl when he runs and kicks up his heels and tosses his head. When he reached the vacant lots near the garage, he calmed down ever so much, switched his tail, and nodded and shook his head over the grass.
The mocking bird nest has been empty for a few days and the path is safe for walking, though an interest is lacking. There is music in all the shade trees in my father’s yards, songs from mocking birds manifestly in love with the green earth. The night before, after a date with Halma, I had heard them, and I knew that they were then in love with one another. That is the difference between their day song and their night song. In the daytime they sing for love of it all, because it is their nature and their genius to sing. Then they tell their joy in varied ways. At night the song lacks so much change, but it has an intensity that is better. Then they are, as my grandfather would say, hard-pressed, and sing a greater song. . . .
At my grandfather’s house, and he said, ‘Why did n’t you bring me some rosenears? Are they all gone? Well. Here, let’s go to the river. I’m in a big way to-day, and I want to ride around some with you.’
I coasted the little hills and the old man sat up straight by my side. He looked very tall in the seat, and he wore his black felt hat.
I said, ‘I want a place where I can be my own boss and tend to my own business. I’m just about as bad as Bert Prescott against being scrouged up. This place of yours, do you think much about how beautiful it is? How does it feel to own hills and hollows and river banks?’
‘You better reckon I think about this land and love it. You know that without asking. But I can talk, if that’s what you want me to do, my young gobbler. And I don’t have to think and study what to say, either. Did you ever know me to have to do that? No, and nobody else ever did.’
He laughed and continued, ‘I’m a high-toned man. I think I am. What are you laughing at, Hal? I try to be. What’s the matter, kid? I could sull down and die. But no. Not this old man. You ought to be proud of me. And I know you are. You ought to marry that girl and live somewhere around me. I’ll give you a home place on the gin lot, or at the cow lot, or here where my niggers live. I might build at either one of these places if I’s to ever build again. You study about this. Anything that I’ve got that you want, you just speak for it. Thank you for the compliment. Thank you. Thank you for the compliment. Yes, me and your grannie used water out of the Old Indian Spring there the first year we’s married. Then we moved up to where we are now. I’m foolish about my niggers, and I ’m glad they’ve got the good spring so handy. If I’s to ever build again I believe I’d build there. Hell, you can have it if you make up your mind for it. When I like anybody, I like them.’
Then we took out across the bumpy old fields. As we rode on he talked.
‘I hold the fort where I stay and always have, my young sport. I once owned many thousands of acres of land on both rivers and several creeks. I own a few thousand acres still. Of course I’ve sold a lot of it, and turned some of it over to the children. Thank you for the compliment. It’s the homebrew that keeps me so healthy. They try to get me to sull down. But no. That’s not my style of living. When I get bothered, I go to my cellar and drink a little whiskey, and then I feel all right. What are you laughing about? Thank you for the compliment.’
By this time we had reached the foot of a small hill. The place looked as it did largely because of haw bushes, thorn bushes, and wild crab trees.
‘ Here! ’ he said. ‘ Stop a minute! ’
He went on, ‘I was a young man then, and a mighty man. I had the strength of a cedar tree or a hickory or I never could have stood what I did. I wish you could know what sort of a man your old granddaddy was when he had all his strength. I’m pretty spry yet, but the prime is not here.’ His eyes and his countenance affirmed his words. ‘ It was right here.
‘She was still young and slim and she said, “I know you’re going to put your hands on me, and I wish you would n’t. Why do you? You know I’ll be helpless if you do.” After a while she said, “I don’t care if you did put your hands on me.” Later on she said, “I’m glad you did.” When I got on old King and rode off towards the river she caught up with me and put her hands on the saddle and said, “I’ve had one time in life as good as I want it to be, if I never have another.” I was always good to that woman, and nobody ever did know. You don’t know her name and you won’t. Why, that woman would hunt a bird nest all day long. She told me that she once found a humming bird’s nest. Son, I was furnishing that woman and her husband a milk cow when she died, and I was their friend.
‘If you can’t enjoy yourself a little and give other people a little enjoyment, what’s the use in living? Now this is one amongst a thousand tales I could tell you and one amongst a thousand places I could take you to, and you’ve got sense enough to know it. What I ever do this way will be with you. You’ve got a little sense. Your other old granddaddy was a Lisper, too, so you’re a Lisper if there ever was one. Yes, I had as good a time, I reckon, as any man that ever lived. But I had hell all the time.
‘It’s all bosh,’he said a while later. “There’s nothing to it, no more than to a ten-year-old bird nest. I’ve thought it all out: and there’s no more hell that burns with fire and brimstone now, and never will be, than there’s a great city in the Range, or in the Drive, or on Glaze Creek right now. He ain’t going to burn me up, and you’ve got sense enough to know it. It’s just ignorance that’s got up all that bosh. I’d burn one of my children up before He’d burn me up. I ’m glad I put that much dependence in Him. Any man that’s got getting-about sense won’t believe in a hell that’s hotter than any fire. Does the Bible speak of but one hell? No, it don’t. Ain’t we got it here? Yes, we’ve got it here. We have if I can see straight. I think we have, if you ask me. We’ve got hell here, though a good time that is a good time may be had in with it. And when a man has a good time, it’s a good time, let me tell you. And the same thing goes about bad times. But we’re all anxious to make an hour’s good time seesaw several hours’ bad time.
‘And as for heaven, if that’s in the way of things,— and it ought to be, whether it is or not, — why not make all along the Warriors into heaven? The situation is mighty good, and the rivers are just right for it. There ought to be lots of little heavens like that. At the Fork of the River and on the Big Bluff, where you’re going to take your woman, would be a good place for one of the good cities. And one of them could be at Tuscaloosa.
‘It ain’t that way. And we’ve got so many people, and they’re all so mixed up in foolish things, that it’s a mess. But it ought to be that way, it seems to me. I’m afraid it ought to be. And I’m not so sure everything is for the best, not by a jugful. If it ain’t all finally for the best, we’re in a hell of a mess — a devil of a mess, I call it. But one thing is certain: if we ever get to a heaven anywhere, it’ll be on some river. A river goes with heaven.
‘I’m studying about what a long, good time we could have. And I’m studying about what a time our young wives would have briling and eating young squirrels, partridges, turkledoves, blackbirds, robins, and field larks. I’d get my woman one or two of these fine birds at a time. Would n’t that be some way to make love for a long time? She could eat a robin briled and let one sing to her at the time. I’m studying about how happy and satisfied a woman could be with just the right man to tend to her on and on. My woman would want a turkledove every day. I think somewhere, sometime, things ought to be like this. We get a swaller of it here and that’s all we do get.
‘ Well, sir, this world and the way we are in it, and what it’s all about, caps anything that anybody ever will hear of or witness. It caps a hundred worlds and all that’s in them. That’s just exactly what it does, if you want my opinion. And if this world ain’t in a mess right now!’ . . .
My grandparents were eating supper. Would I join them? I had had supper with Raymond. The old man said, ’Just wait on the front porch. I’m about done. We’re enjoying our meal pretty well for two old people. I try to get Cindy to let me keep a cook, but she won’t do it. She’s smart-boned.’
Soon he joined me on the front porch, and we sat in two good chairs like the one I had borrowed from him. Our feet were propped on the banisters, and he said, ‘Don’t you hope you can live as long with that girl as I’ve lived with my woman? Yes, of course you do. I hope you can, and I’m glad you’ve found one that suits you.’
The katydids were at it good and proper.
‘Do you like to hear the katydids?’ I said.
‘Yes, I like such as that all right. I like to hear everything like that. I like all sounds in the woods but a scrootch owl’s. When I hear a scrootch owl, it makes me think the world’s coming to an end. At other times I know it ain’t. But when I hear that noise, it sounds like the world is at the jumping-off place. One night. I sparked a girl by a big log fireplace in the winter. And outside in the chimney corner an old scrootch owl hollered all the time I’s there. . . .
‘God A’mighty,’ — he shrugged his shoulders and batted his keen eyes, — ‘when I used to get out early of a morning I’d hear what seemed like a hundred owls, mostly these big old whoo owls. Me and Bill Reed killed five one evening around the house here. Now did n’t the Indians live with them? We killed one at the gin lot. Right after that I killed another one in the same tree.’
The katydids and the old man contested for my first interest.
‘I’d leave Cindy here of a night the first week we was married. I was a hustler, a real hustler, then. Don’t forget but what I was. But when I quit work, I quit. I ain’t hit a tap in fifty-five years, but I’ve run around enough in my river kingdom to have killed a weaker man. Anybody’ll tell you that. But I was using my brain. When we was first married I’d plough till after dark, and then come in so tired I did n’t care about hugging her. Boy, you don’t know the tenth part.’ He worked his lips against each other and made his eyes keener. ‘You don’t know the tenth part — not a thing do you know about how we used to do, sir.’
My grandmother joined us, and I said, ‘ Do you like to hear the katydids? ’
She said, ‘Yes I like to hear them.’ She spoke through a smile. ‘They certainly don’t lose any time. Now it will be ninety days from the time the first one hollered till the first light frost.’
I spoke with admiration for a night - blooming white flower near the gate.
The old man said, ‘I believe I like them better than any flower I ever seed bloom.’
She said, ‘Oh, they are just as pretty as a body could want anything to be. They’re just too beautiful for words. I wish I did know the name of them. Somebody in a car last night stopped, and I heard a woman takin’ on over them.’
It was late dusk. We looked to the Glaze Creek sink in the woods and along the river lines at the point where they fork. I did it consciously that dusk, though I would necessarily do it, consciously or unconsciously, by merely looking out from the old man’s front porch. They, I suppose, did it unconsciously, though they were, when it was done, conscious of it.
I was in love with a girl and two rivers, and held to my grandfather.
I was kept tempered to the go of the two Warriors, the dart of the redbird, the songs of the katydid and the mocking bird, the talk of the old man, and the being of Halma. The slender, dark-haired girl in control of my senses and my spirit shaped my response to the green woods world and its rivers. I met this world and its above world with the mastery of the darting redbird. And, too, I had been brought into a loafing-on-horseback mood. Every time I saw the Warrior it seemed that I had made a great discovery. Sometimes I had to catch my breath, reminding myself that I had not. When I kissed Halma, some particular spot of this Warrior world became alive as a living thing. These spots had passed and were passing over into my imagination and my soul. Her father’s home place had, as my grandfather would say, become too sweet to talk about.
I stopped my Ford under an elm tree, and soon I was on a front porch, surrounded by elms, talking with Lella, a slender, brown-eyed, dark-haired girl.
She said, ‘I’m mighty glad to see you — happy that you stopped. I wanted to see you, and I got out of helping in the garden.’
Did I stay at my cabin much of the time?
Did I fish any?
I had only rowed twice for Davidson, my brother-in-law, to use his fly.
Oh, in a case like mine, she would spend all her time fishing and swimming.
She continued, ‘I heard that you and Halma were really going to marry — that you two were right ready to get off.’
‘We may be,’ I said.
‘I stayed all night with a girl who knows Halma well the other night, and she said you and Halma were ready to marry. We were just talking of people in a general way. Hal, you’d better not marry without telling me. I wish you ’d let me know, for I’d like to show you and Halma how I can appreciate you two. She’s a mighty sweet girl. Bring her around to see me.’ . . .
I said, ‘ I heard you were about ready to get married.’
‘That’s what people say. I seldom have a date. I sometimes think I’ll teach on and not marry at all. . . .
‘I’ve been wanting to see you all summer,’ she went on, ‘and now we’re here alone.’ . . .
Her eyes were brown, wonderful and deep, as they had always been. They dominated her figure and her intelligence, and their brown was the brown of the hazelnuts I gathered all afternoon one Sunday long ago on the banks of a small creek near the Warrior.
‘You know—too well you know, Hal — the one person on earth I could have really loved. I would have given my life for him.’ . . .
Her human substance had always reminded me of the bird substance of the brown thrush—the brown thrasher, as it is locally called. That morning, in the old run-down house among the elms, I thought of the hundreds of times I had seen these brown thrasher birds in the spring when hunting bird nests in the thickets, hunting them in order to visit them daily, or in the early summer when picking blackberries in the old fields and along the branches. For years I had associated the thought of Lella with the thought of these brown birds. She was above all other girls I knew the embodiment of all I had been able to gather from and feel in the world of this particular bird.
I was deeply touched, and I did not speak to her of this association in my mind.
Later, when she had drawn fresh water, we stood together in the hall, she standing against the wall, I drinking.
‘ You know, Hal, I told you once I ’d tell you somebody that would suffer worse than death for you if you wanted to know. But you never would ask me. And I know it’s too late now. And, too, I’m satisfied Halma loves you that way from what I’m able to judge. . . .
‘Hal, why don’t you write poetry or prose, or something? I know you could do it. I think you could be a great novelist or poet or something. In fact, I suspect that you will be.’
I looked into her large deep brown eyes as she said her words.
Lella was not enough of the dusk. She lacked the stuff that I found in the dusk and dark world of the katydids, in the dark and dusk world of the whippoorwills. When she was compounded it was mostly lacking. She had nothing analogous to this spirit and substance that I had rather not live than do without. Nor could I compare the feeling her being cast over me to that thrown through my being by the early dawn. She affected me as the good broad daylight.
In tenderness I did tell her how she brought to me the very attar of the world the brown thrasher alone inhabits. . . .
‘I know,’ she said, and raised her brown eyes to my gray, ‘that you are the sweetest person on earth, even if I ’m not getting you. I ’ve always known that you are the finest. Now I know you are the sweetest. . . .
‘This has been a day for me,’ she went on. ‘Nothing can ever take it from me.’ . . .
I drove to Hueytown.
I would have my words like the Warrior Rivers — like their woods, too. And I would here have them like the whir of a partridge’s wings, the flight of
a turtledove, the dart and the song of a rooster redbird. Then I can tell what a trip to the river with Halma resembled. My grandfather on his horse and in his prime never went about with more contemplation.
We were on our way somewhere, but she did not know where, except that it would be on or very near the river. I had kept her in suspense, saying that it would be one of the main trips of the season, and she of course had been feeling herself seeing the Warrior in some way. She knew that we would stroke and touch the things of calm and peace, of beauty and fervor. We were in the midst of a definite portion of my grandfather’s old realm, and we were traveling through old fields and above great ranges of woods. The earth and over earth began to get grand, an earth with its above ground full of hallelujahs. The Little River swings through the woods out and below on the right-hand side; the Big River line is to our left as far as the eye can follow up and down its course.
At the top of the greatest hill in a road in my grandfather’s old realm, the Cook Hill, I locked the wheel, left the Ford standing in the woods, and we walked down the long, steep hill, holding back all the way, into a hollow of great beeches.
We walked uphill, hand in hand, keeping to an old wagon road of my grandfather’s old domain, a roadway for the most part covered with beautiful shade trees, trees about sixteen years old. She was wearing a splendid summer dress of redbird colors splotched with black, and I was leading her to our future home. Almost on top of the bluff, and in danger of seeing the Big River, I said, ‘Shut your eyes.’
Then, under the elms and oaks, the wild plums and maples and the ashes, and among large, moss-covered rocks, I said, ‘Now open your eyes and look.'
‘Oh, Hal, I like it! I’ve never seen anything like it, to compare with it. There is no one like you for making a girl’s life worth living. How can I ever pay you back for all these things?’
‘Live here with me. That will pay back and give besides. I have the promise of this place from Grandpa. He says not to bother my head, for he’ll treat me so nice and so good about it that it’ll make my head swim. He’s already using remarks about the Land’s End bluff where he used to raise cotton and corn and where I’m going to build a cabin for my woman.’
‘He had this place tended! This place! The trees would n’t indicate that. He must have been, as you say he says he was, trying to tend Jefferson County. Well, the woods are back natural, though near the foot of the hill there is old-field land. I will live here with you. I want to. Does that please you? And this? I could live here a thousand years with you. I knew by the way you talked that it must be a place extraordinary as your grandpa is a person that way. But I had no idea that it was my future home. Why, Hal, this place is like heaven. It’s my idea of heaven, and I’ve never seen another place exactly that way, though I have approached it on other trips with you. There’s no way of knowing this place until you stand here and feel it and see for yourself. The old man must think a world of you.’
She pulled wild plums and held them in her mouth, and she leaned back against a clump of maples.
‘It’s a marvel, Halma, that such a place can be near so many people and so completely unknown. Grandma has never been up here. It’s only known to the special inhabitants of Grandpa’s old domain, and an occasional, straggling person besides, a hunter or a woods wanderer.’
‘But it will be world-famous in time, I think. And I’m thinking that you belong with it. And I’m glad I belong to you.’ . . .
‘Now I’m going to show you where I heard that redbird singing that day I told you about. It was right there in that little elm at the edge of the bluff.’
We walked to the elm. I held the bole of the elm in my hands, and Halma fixed my tie and held my hat. She ran from me.
‘Oh, look what I’ve found! A redbird feather! Look!’
I clasped it in her dark hair with her hair clasp.
She held to a hickory tree, loved its strength and firmness, and occasionally swung herself around my way, and I held to an ash within reach and leaned toward her.
‘You’re in with the rivers, Hal. And you’ve found a place to be in with. And the rivers are in with the place. And I ’m in with you. I want to take my part in the whole affair all I can. No one needs to go to Switzerland with such a place as this. And this place and down there, or up there, yet under us, where the camp is, was an Indian heaven as Tuscaloosa was. Now Tuscaloosa is a beautiful little city and old, and this is only a part of your grandpa’s old realm. What a background for you to work on, for us both to live in! ’
She leaned against a large rock covered with hard, gray moss, and I leaned against the other side of the rock, and we faced the river, sometimes turning our heads towards the Fork.
We walked, and the river, both rivers were clear, and overhead was blue splotched with summer white. At a hundred views we looked, and kissed again and again. And time and again we matched the touch of form against form with the green, the blue, and the purple of the wooded hills, bluffs, and hollows along the great warped Big River line above and under or against our eyes. And by merely turning around we could see a similar sort of green, blue, and purple informed by the Big River in another way. Finally, by sidling further in the other direction, we could follow the Little River the last mile of its way and see a similar yet very different informing of the green, blue, and purple. In truth, according to the maps, we had the bird’s mastery, from a hundred standing or sitting points, of three rivers: above us, the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior; above us and around us, the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior; under the bluff and downstream, the Black Warrior. The Locust Fork is, to the natives, the Little River, the Little Warrior; the Mulberry Fork and the Black Warrior proper are together the Big River, the Big Warrior. The Warrior River means any one or all.
At the lower end of the bluff, among the spruces, the pines, the cedars, the oaks, and mountain laurel, we walked on ground covered with pine knots. They were small, somewhat round, and hard as bone, and Halma did not know what they were.
‘You see,’ I said, ‘I told you I was your woods and river boy.’
‘And you’re making me your woods and river girl. I know plain pine kindling when I see it, but these are like flint rocks.’
‘And they are full of fire and rich as flint,’ I replied.
‘ I ’ll be glad when we can start fires with them.’ . . .
Two redbirds flew from larger elms behind us, and darted into the steep green of the bluff side under us. They paused in a wild cherry tree, and the rooster redbird gave the impulse of his being in song to his mate.
Driving from the rivers, over the old Taylor’s Ferry road toward the big main road, was like meeting the presences of the green woods world going to the Warriors, going there in a berrying or nutting mood. It was good to meet things this way; but it was better to run along to the river with these presences. Going there with them, as we had done time and again, all things of the woods world were ours and belonged to us as a man on a horse belongs to another man on a horse when they are riding slowly the same way on a shady road. This road we especially noted for that. . . .
I entered a small store.
‘Have you got two good cold dopes?’ I asked the old man.
‘Y-y-yes,’ he answered.
‘Well, give me two.’
‘A-a-al-all right,’ he said and fumbled in his ice box.
‘It’s been a fine day, has n’t it?’
‘It sh-sh-sh-shore has.’
Halma said, ‘This coca-cola habit I got from you.’
I said, ‘Mine’s good and cold. Is yours?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘I like these little country stores,’ I said.
‘I have found that out,’ she replied.
I left the bottles on the store porch.
‘ C-c-co-come back a-ag-again, Hal,’ the owner said.
‘I will,’ I replied.
As we rode on, keeping the main river road, she held the redbird wing feather in her mouth.
(To be concluded)