A River Goes With Heaven: Part Three


A DAY or two passed, and in the morning one of the memorable things of the summer happened. Upon rising, I walked to my little porch. There I stooped. This time I stooped for a katydid wing. It was a tiny thing, I know, but it was one of the little things of the summer which meant so much. I pulled my chair to the porch, propped my feet high against a pine and the hickory, and looked at the wing. My world informed by the Warriors was partly in that wing.

I opened my small black trunk and put the wing in the book with the turtledove wing feathers. It would probably be given to Halma, and we would look at it together, summers to come. The passion for Halma and the creative passion profited by a thing like this.

It set me to thinking how dusk wrapped with earth all along the Warriors; and how, after this was over, the night and earth wrapped for hours at a time. And the katydid song was the best voice of all this. With this voice closing with my imagination, I often walked as one hunting a golden cow horn or a golden cow hoof. The best thing I could do in such predicaments was to walk to the river.

That afternoon I drove, with Halma, from Hueytown to the river.

After touching and gazing at the great beeches, poplars, and white oaks I had the other day decided for her to see and touch with me, we walked the old wagon-road way to the top of the great bluff of Land’s End, our future home place.

We sat on a rock under the oaks and elms.

Two redbirds flew over us and darted the Big Warrior into a wildness of willows on the other side.

Halma was wearing a beautiful dress the color of the female redbird with tinges of black and white. Her lips that day held a natural stain the color of the rooster redbird. When she pressed them with her teeth or when I pressed them, they changed to myrtle-red, then pink — and back again.

I said: ‘Grandpa says he thinks of us and this place every time he sees or hears a redbird, a bluebird, a turtledove, and sometimes when he sees a catbird, a brown thrush, — or thrasher, as he says, — or a mocking bird. He says he thinks of us and this bluff whenever one of these birds crosses his mind. He says that I want to lead their kind of life with you and that I think this place will be the best in the world for it. He further says he hopes we’ll be that happy here a long time, and that we’re so much alike, according to all he’s heard, that we ought to satisfy each other just like two of these birds. He knows what he’s talking about.’

‘And your kisses are as masterful and wonderful as the redbird and its dart. They are in taste and feeling, as you say about mine, just like the redbird in looks and movements. Yes, that’s it. When we kiss, the redbird’s song is made flesh. How do you like that? Do I love you well enough? Ah, Hal, I want to live like that here with you. I would love it a thousand years, and then on and on. The rivers there never grow tired of fusing, of forking. That’s the way I want my being to always join yours, though you did teach me the notion,’

The fine river boat Demopolis swung into the Big River, coming down the Little River from Birmingport, and headed downstream for Mobile, four hundred and eighteen miles away, and perhaps on to New Orleans, maybe to Galveston or Houston.

I said, ‘ Now, why do I stay alone in a cabin on the river? Of course I like it of itself. But really, why do I do it?’

She combed my hair with her right hand and fingers, held to an elm with her left hand, and smiled into my face.

‘I know,’ she said.

‘Why, besides for your sake and my love for you, did I prefer the Warrior country to all England this summer? Why do I want to live where I can see the rivers any day?’

She pressed her lips to my forehead, and the cool of the day had come. She nursled me to her breasts.

‘Do you think I don’t know what you are doing?’ she asked, as she shook my shoulders as one shakes a young fruit tree.

‘Well, what?’

‘You’re writing.’ She held me and shook my body as I have held and shaken slender young poplars, and she added, ‘Now tell me how you’re getting along.’

’Yes. But I’m only writing notes. I’m getting along well at that. . . .



‘Some few among the many have in them a something that is an impulse, an urge, an inspiration, a passion, to go farther than the negative state of being, the impermanent state, that is the average human state in this Here and Now. This world is worth something, it’s hard to say how much, or no one would want to go beyond the impermanence and the negative. And that little swallow of life Grandpa talks about, and we’ve talked about, is as sweet as the taste of a turtledove to Grandma, else no one would try to get to the source of the bubble that is a human being and its life. And it’s those who have a superb taste for it, or at least an abnormal thirst for it, as I have a taste for figs and an abnormal thirst for spring water when I am sick, who try to get to the source and follow the course and destiny of the bubble that is their being and its life.

‘I’m on fire with that passion, urge, impulse, inspiration, or whatever it is, and that fire will last my being throughout all the days of its impermanence Here and Now. It’s mere fancy, I think, that talks of writing in heaven. And I have been that way all the time. I think I have the trace and the course of the bubble of my being, and of another being — I mean yours. And in searching existence and being and nature along the ranges of our beings I will naturally encounter much other human substance and all necessary stuff and substance of earth, of nature, of the general fund of life. In the permanence of the other and even less nebulous world of the two, or three, Warriors that we talked about here the other day, there will be no need or call for me to write. But here it is different. Now and Here the only way I can answer that pull in me is to write. And write I must, else I’d rather die. And, my being ordered and made up as it is, I am a lost soul if I am not a genius, from the way it has always been with me, a major genius.

‘Now you can see why I need the right one of the other sex in such a complete and permanent way. With our beings and their ranges going together, I can realize double. And I need you that much. And I’m that proud I have you. And this territory of my being — and I here count yours mine, too — comes entirely from the Warrior world, is informed by these rivers. That’s why I need to be where I can look at or go to the Warriors most any time. I must create a world of my own from the place informed by the Warriors.’

‘I suspected this of you the second time I ever saw you and heard you talk, and the next time I knew it on you. And you’ve been this way a long time, and I ’m the only one who knows now.’

‘Of course you did, just as I realized what I had found in you at those early encounters. You’re the only one who knows, though there are a few others who may suspect in a small way. But I’ve never opened my mouth definitely to anybody before this. I’ve been wanting something, waiting for something. I’ve been as hopeless and forlorn without the right girl-being as one of those birds that remind Grandpa of us would be in the same fix. Of course I’ve needed more maturity than I’ve had for prose. But that something I lacked, a girl-being I could match in my human and creative way, as the turtledoves I’m always scaring up on the roads match each other in their way. And you are the girl-being — my woman, as Grandpa calls you. Halma, you’re good to me. As for teaching — well, it’s not too good to talk about, as Grandpa often says about things; it is, rather, not worth talking about as long as I can keep from it. And I never studied anything in college but some literature courses that was worth a cent.’

In a low voice she talked over me and leaned toward the river. And, though her words were, to me, somewhat muffled, I heard them distinctly: ‘You do love for me to nursle your head in my lap! And there’s nothing else like it on earth for me. I’m sorry for any girl who does not know such a joy with the right man. I’m now searching and getting as close to the source and knowing the range of my being, the drift of things that touch me, as, I believe, anybody can,

‘ I ’m glad you waited no longer to tell me about this, though I did n’t want to press you. It’s just such an unheard-of thing in these parts, this seriousness of yours, that you’re bashful. And you believe in the importance of your own genius so much that you are timid over it, being young and not having really started yet. Yet you started when your life began. Now we’ll make the other start together. I want to help you more than anything else in the world. I shall give you all my strength and all that’s me all the days of my life.

‘ There, now. You ’ ve missed the redbirds. They ’re down on the side of the bluff. But you don’t have to see them unless you want to. I never in the world thought that you’d refuse to look at redbirds. But that refusal tells me something of how you love me. I knew at first that it was no ordinary human being I had met. I don’t want to do anything or be anything but to live with you and be that girl-being you’re glad you’ve found. I’ll be glad when you can live as you wish, when you can quit teaching, — for you don’t like it, — when you can do what you want to do. Now, with one eye, you can see the river, and you can talk to me.’

‘Halma, my territory, my country, was once Grandpa’s domain. It is his old realm, still a large part his. He was not merely its king, but its god. He did n’t send the rain and the dew, the frost and the snow, the thunder and the lightning and the rainbow, but lots of his people thought he had something to do with it, or did n’t know but what he did. He did n’t run the rivers, change the seasons, bring on dusk and night, or produce the sunset and the sunrise, but some of them did n’t know but what he did. Some of them did n’t know but what he controlled solitary or nesting birds seen in the fields and woods. You know how it was, for I’ve told you lots.’

‘What a background! What a setting! And we’re going to live in your pick of this old realm. I understand what you mean when you say you want to give the place and its life and at the same time something more than that, something more than the place and its life and at the same time the place and its life. There’s no other scene in your mind than your grandfather’s old realm and its environs. And the rivers actually inform it in your mind as we see they do everywhere we go. The place is yours in your way as much as it has been your grandpa’s in his way. And, from all accounts, it really has been his.

‘I realize a little about what you owe to that tremendous old man. But he does n’t know; and I hope — and I know you do more than I do — that he lives to realize it. I want your writing to be as wonderful and great as his talk, and I think it will; your books to be alive as he is alive, as beautiful and mysterious as his woods world, and informed by the Warriors he’s loved a long time. I know you’re going to master this little world in your own way as he did in his way. Hal, the sun is setting in a heavenly garden of morning-glory colors just across the river in the woods. Are you going to miss that too? I like to mean so much to you. I want always to mean as much to you as I do now.’

We walked down the old wagon-road way at the other end of the bluff, the end opposite the coniferous woods and at the spot where I was going to build a cabin to take her to. On one of the foothills of the bluff, in a small green old field part, I said, ‘That chinaberry tree is the sign of an old house place. That was the site of one of Grandpa’s houses and was used by his people.’

Walking up the Cook Hill, we reached the Ford, and then drove the old forsaken main road to the top of the Little River Bluff at Land’s End. There was a katydid intensity about the place when we arrived. When we left, it was getting dark, and the whoo owls were hollering in near-by hollows. Before we reached the main road, we heard a scrootch owl, as my grandfather calls them, and some night bird brushed my face, only to escape instantly into the woods.


Afternoon, and August was ready to go, and I walked with the old man to his horse and mule lot. He wanted to shuck some corn for his brood sows. On the peach-orchard path to the lot he looked toward the Spring Branch Hollow, saw some white oaks, and observed that the acorn crop was a failure.

‘But ain’t there a fine prospect for corn?’ he went on. ‘It’s the best I’ve seed in twenty years. That’ll make up for the scarce mast crop. You don’t know how proud I am to see the folks making good crops of corn. It pleases me, for corn means something to our class of people. Last year when we did n’t make much corn I did n’t mind it myself, for I’ve got enough for the children to squabble over when I die. Yes, I’ve got enough to live on the balance of my days, corn or no corn. But I study a lot about other people. You don’t know how I study about other people. It hurts me all over and through and through to see the other people without corn. And some of them need a milk cow lots of times to keep life going. You don’t know how many poor families I’ve helped out that way. I like to see people well fed in the belly and in the heart. That’s the way I am about it. Yes, that’s what it takes to answer the jumps that go on and on in a human being.’

We entered the lot, looked around and talked before opening the crib door. It looked like rain. The old man’s small graveyard was just outside the fence from the crib, situated in an old field spot. The Lot Hollow headed in two places near by; and in these prongs a man could sink his mind as he passed on my grandfather’s road.

I observed that I had been to the muscadine vines at the large pines in one of these starting places for the Lot Hollow. He let his eyes follow in another direction along the horse path to a watering spring. The Apple Orchard Hollow checked his view, and he talked. ‘Yes, the muscadines seem to have failed as well as the acorns. We had a late spring. And I’m sorry, because my woman loves them so good. I don’t care anything about them myself; but she’s the craziest thing over them. You don’t know how she does like such things. Even now she’ll slip away like a girl and gather muscadines and things. When she leaves that way and I don’t know where she is, I know that she’s in the woods at something like that, or looking for a cow with a young calf, or at the smokehouse, or in the garden or the orchard.’

We leaned our arms against the plank fence. He said, ‘I’m going to tell you something you don’t know. I found her one day under a muscadine vine. She had been looking for one of her mother’s cows that had a young calf. I remember it just as well. The vine was a big one and was right at the head of Black Creek at a spring, where one prong of the creek heads. And the vine got away from the ground in several ways, and was in several trees. I’m seeing the chestnut, and pine, and black gum, and white oak it made black with muscadines now. “Oh, they’re as good as you ever tasted,” she said. I liked them all right then. And them was the sweetest muscadines I ever put my tongue to.

‘Right then and there at that spring way off in the woods we fixed up the wedding. I’d been marking wild hogs in the woods. I was getting my start in things all I could before I ever left home for my own home. Now was n’t that some way to fix up a wedding? Her mother did n’t want her orphan child of Valley Creek, Rock Creek, and Black Creek to see the bad boy from the river. I was a cutter.’ His eyes glittered. ‘Yes, I’ll tell you the truth, I did kiss her a few times as we eat muscadines. But we did n’t do much of that before we married. We did n’t have the chance. Young folks married in a hurry in them days when they got to hugging and kissing. God A’mighty! She was sweeter than any stalk of ribbon cane a boy ever stole; and I was raving distracted till I got her off down here at the Indian Spring to our own house and our own bed and quilts and blankets.

‘Ah, hush. Let’s not talk any more about them days now. They’re gone and they’re too good to talk about. We can think of them just before we go to sleep. If I’ll ask you for the truth, will you tell me?’

‘Yes, I’ll try to.’

‘Do you ever have a last thought right before you go to sleep when that girl’s not in it?’

‘No, I never do.’

‘Thank you for the compliment. Thank you, sir, thank you, for telling the truth. Thank you again, my young gobbler. Thank you for speaking that word. I’m mighty proud you’re going to marry that girl. I’m not afraid of my breed with you and her together.’

We shucked corn and it rained, and I was kept busy with seeing how the great woods down the river way looked in the rain. I sat in the door, and there were cheer and meditation in that hard rain. ’I’ll just be dogged,’ he said. ’You’re letting as old a man as I am shuck it all while you look at the water run in the sand bed and fall on the woods. Yes, of course it makes you have good thoughts. And a corn crib does, too. Ain’t the woods fine? I live on high land, if you did n’t but know it; but it’s such a fine sloping of little hills from the mail box on the big road to the river at Raymond’s that a man will let some of that slip him if he don’t notice.

‘I own the greatest heaven the Indians had. All in there where you are going to take your woman for the good life is where the Indians had a musseleating and fishing town. I love fish as well as they did. There’s something wrong with a man who lives in these woods if he’s not crazy about fish from our rivers and squirrels from our woods. The Indians kept the woods cleaned out all around where I live. They did n’t want the small trees and undergrowth, for they had to live on deer meat. They could shoot deer better with nothing but large trees in the way.

‘You can’t see an acre of earth in all this green you see from here and at the house, and at the Old Indian Spring where my niggers live, and up at the Old School House Place, and all along this road, that I did n’t use to own — lock, stock, and barrel. And it was that way on the big bluffs you go to so much, on that one where you ’re going to take your woman. Back then nobody else owned a foot anywhere near Glaze Creek, from the big spring where it starts to the river. That’s just a sample. You remember a lot about it, and I still own a plenty to call it the “Old Man Lat” part of the world. Yes, you know that’s what it is as well as I do. But not like it used to be, not the tenth part.’

We sat and loafed at our corn shucking, and looked through the crib door, and it continued to rain.

I said,’Yes, the answer to a thousand questions I want to know gets away from me and passes on just about as a red bird does when it darts the road ahead of my Ford. But all the answers are in my range just as the red bird is for a little while.’

‘It does beat all, the way everything is. Your whole body’s heart and feeling, my young gobbler. I was always like that. It’s good and it’s bad. I used to think so hard over the mystery of it all that I’d fall down over logs as I walked through the woods and along the rivers. I butted a big beech that way one time. And I actually like to have pondered myself to death one time on old Robin. It was one night at midnight when I crossed the river at the Double Branch Ford, and the river was full and swimming. But swimming the river was like stepping in the stable at night to my horses. They did n’t mind it a bit more. I used to love to cross the river at night at any of the fords or ferries on a dozen or more of my famous saddle horses. I believe the Lord got to me that way more than any other way. I got on to the secrets of the Supreme Being at times that way, or it seemed that I did catch some of them. Well, that night I almost solved it all. But it would drop from me and leave me just as I was ready to catch it and hold it the rest of my life. I thought it might come to me and stay with me sometime at midnight out in the middle of the river on my good saddle horse. That was one reason along with others why I’d cross the river every night about midnight going from one cropper’s house to another.

‘I never did tell anybody about one night at the Cook Ford there close to where you’re going to live with that girl. But, for that matter, I never did breathe it to anybody else about the time at the Double Branch Ford, not even to your grannie. But you’ve got a little sense, and you’ll understand. Well, the river was up and I was on old Prince. As I let him have his way across the river that dark night, I thought I had the answer to all things. I had a thousand thoughts and they all seemed to get together like a covey of partridges. If they’d have stayed together, I’d have had the answer to everything all these years. Everything was clear as a calf’s eye. I snapped my fingers all the way across the river and held it with me. I believe that if the river had been a little wider, or if I had switched the horse and made the way longer, I could have held the great thing in my mind and fixed it there root and all for good. But the river was full and that would n’t have been safe, though I’ve wished ever since that I had done it. I ought to have done it, the way everything was.

‘It was one of these things that just happen, the way I let it get away from me. I let my horse leave the swift and swimming Little River just a little way from where it got to the Big River. Then, with a few bobs and a dart like a rooster redbird’s dart, everything left me and I was just ordinary. No, I was n’t ordinary, for I always did live my life in such a way that all such things was forever and eternally bobbing around me like a big bass bobbing a cork or a fly, or like a rooster red bird darting around his mate when he’s tending to her. I always did believe that I could have held it if old Prince had been swimming the Big River that night instead of the Little River. That has never quit worrying me.

‘Now, son, that’s some samples of how the rivers have always handled me. There’s something in them that way.’

‘Maybe I can,’ I said, ‘catch it and hold it when I live with Halma and the redbirds down there on the Big Bluff you’re going to let me have when I build and take her there. That’s about where it struck up with you.’

‘You may do it. I always did believe it would come to some man on the Warrior River. And you’re the best bet I know of or ever heard of. You’ ve got more stuff like that that I’ve got than anybody else. And you’ll be right there over both rivers and three river ways. You ’ll need to make this whole world in here yours in some strange way. It was actually mine. The way everything is now I would n’t expect you to own it and run it as I did. But in some strange, mysterious way I believe you’re going to do it. I’m mighty proud my girl had you. I’m so glad I don’t know what to do. And I’m proud you’ve got that girl, for you’ll need her, and I know you are. And I know she is, for she’ll always need you. Her old granddaddy was one of my best friends — older than I was, you know, and as foolish about me as I was him. I got lots of land from him when I first started to rise, one of my tracts across the river that you look out over when you’re on that Big Bluff at Land’s End.’

We walked the watery peach-orchard path towards the house, and it had ceased raining. The late cold snap had killed the peaches, and I had heard that while I was in Texas. Under the walnut trees against the yard palings we had more talk as he looked to a chicken he had up to kill. As the chicken ate the corn, he went on.

‘Ah, just hush, for horseback riding on the horses I had is too good to talk about. When I was in my prime, if I had had to start out in some direction and in some way find heaven, and knowed I could do it, I’d have had one of my hands catch out and saddle my horse. And I’d have started out from the front gate on old Grover, old Prince, old Governor, old Bob, old King, old Russell, old Robin, old Blackbird, or old Redbird. Them was, I reckon, my best saddle horses over the forty years or more I completely run things in here.

‘Then I’d just have made the horse swim or ford the Little River at every ford. My round might not have ended till I crossed the Big River at Snow’s Ferry, Taylor’s Ferry, Richardson’s Ferry, and Franklin’s Ferry. There I’d have talked with the ferrymen and have had a drink of good whiskey or brandy with them from my saddle jug. I’d have lost my mind to the good of it all and have let drop the bad of it all on my horse and at the river. Then I’d have felt like and thought for a little while that I was riding a horse in heaven and fording and ferrying its two rivers. That was always my best relief when I had trouble or got bothered. I’d just get on my horse and head for the river. Then I’d ford it somewhere.’


The last Sunday, and post-oak leaves were getting brown and falling, and we drove down the Big River way. It was in the afternoon and warm, and Halma wore a myrtle-colored dress. In the time of the trip we saw the Big River at a place where early in the summer we had seen it with Berta. We saw the homes of numerous woodlanders, and several old deserted home places. At practically all of these house places of the past and the present our eyes were held by myrtle bushes in full bloom. Myrtle bushes we had associated with our summer together, noticing them often on about every trip, whether traveling a main road or a shaded forsaken road.

Once on this trip of the last Sunday we stopped at an old house place and gathered myrtle blooms sparingly. Three old myrtle bushes, two piles of chimney rocks, and anold dug well were left to tell a story of human beings who had lived on that spot. This place, I knew, had been sold to the Steel Corporation— ‘to the Company,’ as the natives always say. I fixed up a bunch of the pink kind for Halma, and they matched her dress at her breasts almost to exactness. I broke a few of the red kind from the broken smaller bush, and they matched her mouth splendidly. I shall never forget the way she looked with her right-sized slenderness, the lively lavender of her face, neck, and throat, her subtle hands, her dark hair, and her deep, great blue eyes — as she stood on that red chert road and held the flowers in her hands, against her dress, against the rare color of her body.

I had never broken myrtle limbs before. Somehow the human hands of the native woodlander leave these blossoms alone. It was, she said, the first bunch she had, that she remembered, held in her hands. The myrtle bloom is left to its stock much after the fashion that I let turtledoves fly away unharmed. I might, though, kill a turtledove from a gang for Halma and not mind it. In this mood I broke the small flowered limbs that day; in the same way she received them.

At this old home place one of my mother’s brothers had, I knew, courted and almost married, in turn, three sisters, three of the famous beauties of the Warrior country for all time, it is said. I talked to Halma of this, and spoke of how my grandfather’s famous buggy mares and saddle horses — not the old man’s private saddle horse, but the best besides — had been hitched time and again at this place. Afterwardson the main road to Hueytown we passed the present homes of these three girls, all married to native woodlanders and raising normal families. Myrtles bloomed gorgeously in the three front yards of these three women, the slender, dark-haired beauties of a period earlier than mine. When they were at Halma’s stage in age my grandfather was still the actual god of a green woods world. And then, as now, a myrtle bush went with old home places.

Not many, if any, courtships have taken place in these river parts without the myrtle being in them ahead of all yard flowers, as the honeysuckle, the dogwood, and the redbud were in them ahead of other wild flowers. The myrtle blooms when all other flowers have finished. When the others play out, there is the pink or red crêpe-like glory of this bush. Almost every girl in the land, four out of five of them darkhaired, has been near a myrtle bush as she gave her heart away to a lover of the green world. One of my grandmothers links the myrtle, along with her old-fashioned lily bushes, with the walnut, and together they signify her home place. The other grandmother holds them in mind with her oaks and her famous old rose bushes, and these growths together mean her home on earth. The mother or the father, or both, of any native of these necks of the woods, these shaded, retired, seemingly deserted necks of the world, may be gone and the home place may have passed into other hands, but the myrtle will not be lacking. The old dug well and the cellar may be filled up, the old fruit trees may have died and disappeared, and even the chimney rocks may have been hauled away, but the myrtle, though perhaps a mere stub fast rooted in the earth, will not be missing. . . .

In the morning I carried Halma to Birmingham, carried her to a college campus where hundreds of young men and women were registering. She enrolled and paid her fees, and would be a senior. I was, some said, helping start my little girl out. She spoke of how I drove to her school at Pleasant Grove for her the last day she taught, of how I was now helping her get started to be, not my school-teacher girl, but my college girl. She had been teaching, attending classes, and doing summer work much of the time since finishing high school at fifteen, — all this at the other Birmingham college, — and now she registered as my college senior.

That day I had a chance to see her among hundreds of other girls. I thought more of her than ever as compared writh other girls, and placed her even higher above girls in general than I had done before. A casual glance was enough to cause me to do this. That day I noticed many blondes from the city. I could not then recall a single light-haired native girl of the Warrior country that I had seen or spoken to during the summer. Mabel, my aunt by marriage, was the only one I could place. Halma was changing colleges because this one was on the Hueytown side of the city and very near Fairfield, a suburban city contiguous to Hueytown. She would stay at home and ride to classes with another girl in the other girl’s new Ford sedan. . . .

The next day, and poplar leaves were turning yellow, and I cleared the cabin of my things. I left some with Mabel, hauled the chair to my grandfather’s house, and carried the other things to Hueytown. I even folded my calendar and did not leave it, for I had things marked down on it, and, too, I would use it in Texas. My sign which said ‘Private’ would be needed again. I went so far as to write down the number of my Ford license and the engine number, for I was distracted with pain and scringed from what I was having to do. My father did not need the Ford, and it would be sold. I was about to leave the rivers and my grandfather, and Halma, about to leave many good things and turn my being out as to starve during the severe months ahead in a far-away, dead, flat, monotonous country — in the heart of a great city, it is true. What I was about to do was comparable somehow to stripping the two Warriors from their long warped sinks and from between their great bent whelks. And I was forcing desolation up to Halma’s mouth and under her feet. The old man’s words went through me one by one, and I felt them all for all they were worth.

When I reached home, Aunt Sallie, our nigger washwoman, said she would be ready to wash that girl’s dresses for me next summer. She would, too, be just as good as she had been this summer about cleaning my white shirts. Under the oaks and the silver poplar she talked to Berta of her ‘baby brother,’ though I was the oldest child of our parents. That is what Aunt Sallie called me to Berta or Verda.

That night, as nearly every night at this period, I saw Halma. When I drove from the red oaks and the Spanish oaks, her mother’s roosters, and roosters all around, were crowing as they do at midnight and after. Before I left her they had started. When I walked under the oaks and the silver poplar at home my mother’s roosters, and others around, were prolonging their midnight crowing. But many nights during the summer it had been that way. . . .

The next day I was sick, sick in bed. Only my mother was at the house with me. Verda was able to start light leaching at the high school at Oak Grove, and Berta was a senior in the Hueytown High School. My brotherin-law was driving my Ford, for he was teaching and coaching at Pleasant Hill High School. Verda was driving their new Ford coupé, and was not yet normal in strength. In a week’s time they would be together,probably at Pleasant Hill; if not, at Oak Grove. Halma was attending classes, and she thought that I was at Raymond’s and my grandfather’s.

From the way I felt, I was afraid that a spell of sickness was upon me. I thought more intently than ever before how much loneliness it would turn from my being’s range if I would only marry Halma as my grandfather had advised, and let her be a senior with me in Texas. All that day I felt her hands brushing my hair and her fingers combing it, and I did not know how I could wait until next summer to make her my wife. It. would be a long time before the Christmas holidays, and a longer time still until the end of May. Along with this I saw the two Warriors and the earth near them, and felt the presence of my grandfather.

But what, I thought, if a spell of sickness has caught me? That would mean delay in starting out to make my grandfather’s old realm my realm. That is what I wanted when I began as Halma’s husband. And if the old man only understood my situation, and knew what was in me pawing to get out as his saddle horses used to paw at the stable doors until he had them caught out for a ride to one of his places! But the only thing to do was to write the book in exile and spring it on him. I could, when I wrote my first novel, return and feel better under native trees, in the early or the late cool of the day, everywhere in my realm and all the time, than I had felt before. . . .

I drove my brother-in-law’s new Ford coupé and we drove to the Old School House Place and spent a while under the great red oak where we had paused for a long time on our first trip late in May before my cabin was built. Then we drove the Taylor’s Ferry road toward the Big River, sidling off on to the old Taylor’s Ferry road which took us towards Land’s End over the road substantially what it was when the whole realm was owned and run by my grandfather. We did not try to go to the Bluffs this time.

We paused for a long time, sitting in the new coupé, under some old apple trees at an old house place of my grandfather’s old domain. In the distance the sunset colors along the Big River line faded into dusk, and presently late dusk took over the great wooded hills and hollows below us along the Little River. Less distinct became the river itself as it took one of its great swings at the notable bend I seemed to be riding into when driving to my cabin. We were almost directly above that bend. A covey of partridges whirred the thick dusk from below the apple trees to the Little River Bluff of Land’s End. A whoo owl hollered somewhere near the top of the Big River Bluff of Land’s End.

Never had we meant so much to one another before. She told me that she was realizing more and more how great it would be to be my wife when I made the whole Warrior world my world in a special way, as my grandfather had made the world about him his in his way. And she went on to say that I could, with what I had in me, make my grandfather’s old realm and its environs my own with all the completeness that the Indian Chief, Tuscaloosa, the great Black Warrior, for whom the river system was named, once made it his. It would be, she said, in a way taking over my grandfather’s old territory and making it mine in my peculiar and original way. ‘Two very great beings have in their way run things in these parts before you. What a background! What a setting! What a place!

‘When I was in English class today,’ she went on, ‘and listened to a talk on the Wordsworth country, I thought of the great history and beauty of these rivers, of your grandfather, of the Indian Chief, Tuscaloosa, the Black Warrior, and, most of all, of you. I remembered all you had told me about your grandpa and his kingdom, what you had told me of how Tuscaloosa gave De Soto so much trouble and of how his feet touched the ground when he rode a horse, and of the monument to him at Tuscaloosa. But all these things are only points in my thoughts of you. While the professor was talking about Wordsworth and the country he contemplated and walked and made his own, I leaned over my notebook and wrote secret things and close things about you and the Warriors and the earth about them.'

‘They have female qualities,’I said. ‘A mere look at them is that helpful. I feel all this more intently than the others —that is the first difference. But you go with them. Without you there would have been no realization on my part, I’m afraid. But I don’t have to be afraid now as long as we both live. It may be that it all comes from a deep well like Grandpa’s or a fine spring like his Old Indian Spring that’s in me, whereas with other lovers of the river it is from trickles all around and at times within. Certain it is that the rivers control and steady this, equally certain that in my case you even qualify the rivers.

‘When a man once gets them in his being he can never be satisfied if he can’t go to them and have something to do with them. Doing this gives a lot of peace. It may be no more than a look; but that look, more than anything outside of the right woman, and, indeed, in with her, and much more than any wrong woman, brings consolation, brings comfort. They, I know, have given more peace and inspiration to many white men than anything else. The Indians simply had a happy hunting and fishing ground near and on these rivers. And my ancestors and yours followed on the heels of the Indians, even closer than on their heels. As for the women in these parts, they have never had any imagery of a heaven without one or both of these rivers flowing right through it. Why, these rivers have been going with every thought of heaven and all the good thoughts of earth of thousands of woodlanders, of my people and of yours. It’s necessary that they inform the one and only scene in my imagination.

‘Ah, Halma, I’ll quit you when the Warriors are stripped from their place and this scene is left uninformed by them. I don’t think that will ever be, and I don’t think I’ll ever be permanently stripped from you.’

‘You know what I told you at the ferry up the Little River the other day. I say again that, now that I know you and your love, I would without you be as this place had it never been glorified by the rivers. You must not expect me to equal you at being in with the rivers. No one could, much less a woman. But they suit me, and I’m glad to be mixed up in this affair with you and the rivers.’

It was night, and we took our time driving to Hueytown, for the Ford coupé was new and it would not do to drive it fast. That suited us. . . .

A day passed, and it was Saturday. In two hours I should have to leave for Bessemer and catch the train for New Orleans. Halma wore her finest black dress, and we sat on the davenport. We did not talk much that night. We were too full. She was, I saw, ready to cry at the least thing or at any moment. A few words on the summer just over and others on the one next ahead and the Christmas interlude. She was as beautiful as a girl can be to a lover. There would be two fine home places in Hueytown for us to visit next summer. It would be good to come to see our folks and to go to see my grandparents from our cabin on the Big Bluff.

I walked to the Ford ahead of time to see that all was in order. One of the fronts was flat and I should have to go home on it that way. This was no time to change, and it was not far.

When it was just about time to go, she stood by her library table, slender and beautiful to see. She had been halfway crying before this. Now she leaned her side against the table and cried silently. She could not say a word and had not for half an hour, and I said scarcely any myself. All of the lavender in her face was wet with tears. I kissed her time and again and she did not speak. She combed my hair with her fingers and brushed it back with her hands, and she kissed my lips over and over. The katydids, I told her, would be singing again next summer — singing their song of the two Warriors, and singing it to us.

My father drove me to the station, and another chapter in my life, and Halma’s, had opened. And the place of that chapter was a deep hollow full of all the attar of loneliness. There no katydids sang, no rivers flowed, and no birds tended to one another. And there was no smile like the sunup and no face like the sundown, and no touch like the redbird’s song and dart made flesh. Nor was there wisdom of earth and its poetry nor the heavenly that touches earth there. There was to the letter all that my grandfather had said there would be.

(The End)