The Meanest Man in Washington County

A Houston lawyer and a native Texan who served with distinction under Secretary of War Stimson, DILLON ANDERSON has returned to Washington to succeed Robert Cutler as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. On trains and on Sundays he amuses himself by writing a series of salty Texas narratives about two wanderers, Clint and Claudie, who fortunately do not take themselves or their victims too seriously. The stories have been collected in two volumes: I and Claudie (1951) and Claudie’s Kinfolks (1954).

JOB in the Bible had boils, Isaac had spots before his eyes, and Lazarus had running sores; but one thing they didn’t have to put up with in those days was flat tires.

I was explaining a few things like this to Claudie that fall morning as we topped one of the easy green hills on the Brenham-Navasota road; also how with four old tires on the hoopie and four on the trailer house, the law of averages was against us in making Navasota without some kind of tire trouble.

“I believe a slow leak is worse’n a blowout, Clint,” he said, “unless—" Then, before he’d finished, our left rear tire on the trailer blew out.

Claudie pulled off the hard surface and came to a stop on the shoulder alongside a Texas highway marker — sorta slow and steady so as not to strain the trailer coupling.

“Unless what? I asked him.

“ Unless we’re out a bio wo ul patches.”

“Are we;”

“We shore are,” Claudie answered, almost like saying I-told-you-so.

By this time I was already studying the farmhouse we were stopped in front of — an old twostoried red brick job, set back from the road some in a clump of live oak trees. Then, before I’d figured out what we had to trade for a blowout patch, these two kids came walking along the road, carrying their schoolbooks in straps and their lunch kits.

“Who lives there in the red brick house, sonny?” I asked one of them—a little sandy-haired boy, nine or ten, wearing duckins and no shoes.

“Crusoe Dalyrumple,” he said, almost in a whimper, I thought.

“He’s the meanest man in Washington County,” the other kid said, a little girl with a peaked face nearly solid with ginger-colored freckles.

“And he’s the ugliest man in the world,” the little boy chimed in.

Well, t hese kids were really full of dope on Crusoe Dalyrumple, it turned out. They went on to tell us how he beat his wife, his stock, and even the hired girl; how he’d poisoned the neighbors’ dogs and kicked his own pack around something awful, “He cusses before ladies, Mama says, and he won’t go to church or give his heart to Jesus or do anything nice. He’s an awful man, Crusoe Dalyrumple,” the little boy said. The most he hated anybody, though, the boy added, was little children— except, of course, Yankees and strangers.

“Claudie,” I told him after the kids had gone, “I was about to send you up there for help, but it looks more like this one is for me.”

So, with Claudie walking a little ways behind me, I stepped up to the picket fence in front of the Dalyrumple house and called out, “Hello.”A pack of brindle hounds that came barking and snarling out from under the house sent the guineas, turkeys, and chickens cackling and complaining in all directions. The dogs — six or eight of them— gathered inside the fence there, barking, slobbering, and showing their yellow teeth at us.

The screen door slammed, and the biggest woman I vow I over saw walked out onto the front gallery, wiping her hands on a red checked apron. I don’t mean she was overly fat; she. was just big all over, and as soon as I said “Ma’am — I learned she

had a sizable voice to go with all the rest of her.

“Shet up and git,” she yelled. The air everywhere around, the crape myrtle bushes, the chinaberry trees, and the big live oaks seemed all to stir with the sound of her voice. Claudie wheeled and lit out for the car, but when I saw that all the hounds had quit barking and slunk under the house, I called him back. “It was only the dogs she was talking to, Claudie.”

Dead right as I often am, I’ve never been righter than I was about the lady that turned out to be Mrs. Dalyrumple herself. It was only the dogs she’d scolded. I told her we’d had a little car trouble, and she said, “Come on in, men. Get out of the hot sun; them dogs won’t bother you.”

“Warm day for September,” I spoke as we walked up to the porch where she stood, still rubbing her big damp hands with her apron. Closer up, that way, I could see she had a square, kindly face with wide-apart blue eyes and a scraggly little bay mustache.

“It’s been a hot fall,” she said. “Could I give you men a drink of water, or maybe some cold clabber? My husband’s fencin’ down in the pasture, and he’ll be along in a few minutes. He’s bound to’ve heard the dogs. He might can holp you some with your car.”

I and Claudie had not had any breakfast at all, so we agreed on the clabber as fast as it was polite to.

“Nora,” Mrs. Dalyrumple cried out, and being up closer this way I found myself admiring her fine voice more than ever. It was a clear, full soprano that cut through the air like a passenger train whistle late at night, and before the echo came back from across a little cedar draw there, the one that was Nora stuck her head out of an upstairs window. “Yessum,” she answered.

“Go to the cistern and fetch a bucket of clabber out here. And bring some cups too, Nora.”

Nora’s head popped back inside fast, but not before I’d caught a good look at her. She was pretty, with black hair, light-blue eyes, and pink cheeks. I turned to see whether Claudie’d noticed Nora, and he had. There he stood, his mouth hanging open in a happy grin and his eyes still frozen on the window where Nora had been. He didn’t limber up until Mrs. Dalyrumple explained, “Nora’s the hired girl — a orphan.”

Before Nora came with the clabber and cups, matters took a fast turn for the worse. I mean trouble came around the corner of the house. The first I knew of it was when Mrs. Dalyrumple blanched in the face, seemed to wilt all over her heavy frame, and said, “Crusoe, these men—”

“What do they want here?” he asked as he walked up to the porch. His voice put me in mind of a band saw that has struck a knot. But he seemed the wrong size to be as mean as the kids had said. He was a little, frying-size guy with no meat on his bones at all. His hands were made along the line of hawk’s claws, and the leaders in his wrists moved like baling wire. Also, he was ugly enough to make little children cry. His chin was set a little to the left of center when his mouth was closed, and his nose was off center the other way all the time. He had a sharp Adam’s apple that looked ready to cut right through his leathery skin when he talked, and he had only the lower half of one ear.

The time, I saw, had come for a move to be made, so I said, “Hightower is the name — Clint Hightower—and this is my associate, Claudie Hughes. We’ve had a little car trouble and —

Manual labor is strictly not in my line, nor even Claudie’s, for that matter, if it has to be done on an empty stomach; but in no time at all I and Claudie found ourselves fencing with Crusoe Dalyrumple down between the house and the barn. It all happened before Nora got back from the spring with the clabber. The way Crusoe Dalyrumple put it was that there was plenty of work to be done there on the place; we’d delayed him already, since he’d lost the time it took to come up to the house; there were some calves due to drop any time; and before that happened the fence had to be finished to pen up Old Bully Boy. “He’s a Brahma bull that kills young calves,” Crusoe Dalyrumple told us as he put Claudie on a wire stretcher and me on a posthole digger. “After we get this fence up I might see if I can’t holp you with your car, but first things come first.”

Claudie, that barely understands a barbed-wire fence well enough to crawl through one, couldn’t figure out how the wire stretcher worked. Right off he got badly tangled up in it and a new roll of barbed wire, and I had to undo him — without any help from Crusoe Dalyrumple either. The ground there in the pasture was so dry and hard I couldn’t even raise a little puff of dust with the posthole digger.

After a while I could see it was aggravating to Crusoe Dalyrumple that we hadn’t made any more headway. “I and Claudie should swap tools,” I told him. “He’s got more weight for the posthole digger, and I’ve got that wire stretcher all figured out.”

“You might as well,” Crusoe said. “Up to now I’d have been further along without you.”

About this time I noticed Nora coming down from the house with a bucket of clabber and three cups. In her little pale-blue calico dress and a red sunbonnet she looked as pretty as two dozen fresh dewy roses. When Claudie saw her he froze like a bird dog there on the posthole digger, and his mouth flew open again. But just before she came up real close Crusoe sent her back to the house. “Git on back,” he said; “these men are busy now. But set two extra places for them at dinner. They might earn some vittles by noon.”

We knocked off when we heard a gin whistle blow, but dinner wasn’t quite ready; and Crusoe bawled his wife and Nora out over this, right there before me and Claudie. He even seemed to put extra heart in it for our benefit.

We drew water from the well and washed up while the women inside set the table and put more wood in the stove; then we sat on the front gallery to wait, while Crusoe told us how poor he was and how poor the whole community had been kept by the Yankees. “Goddamn ‘em,”he said, “they still keep our nose to the grindstone. They dreen our money off, fast as we can make it. Tea and spices, put up in Ohio; patent medicine for man and beast, made in St. Louis and all over the north; lightnin’ rods, well buckets, bolts, washers, alarm clocks, doorknobs, fruit jars, furniture, stovepipe, stoves, lanterns, winder shades, wire stretchers, and all kinds of farm tools made by them damn monopolies up north — that’s where our money goes. And if they’s any left, the women spend it for patentleather shoes, clothespins, sewin’ machines, fancy petticoats, broaches, sweet-smellin’ soap, toilet water, and enlarged pictures in fancy frames. I tell you, them Yankees is ruining us.”

He put a close look on Claudie, then on me, while his eyes narrowed as much as there was room for, and he asked, “By the way, where are you men from?”

“The southern part of Alabama,”I told him.

“That’s mighty pore country,”he went on, seeming a little less bitter, I thought; “worse’ll this, and the Lord knows this is pore enough.” Then he spoke about what sorry crops he’d been having.

The screen door opened and Mrs. Dalyrumple came out, wiping her hands on her apron. “ Crusoe,’ she said, her big voice tuned down low to soothe him, “we’ve had a fine crop this year. Big harvest of grain, and the cotton made nearly a bale to the acre.”

“I know that, dammit,”he said. “Put a awful strain on the land too. Took a mighty lot of stren’th out of the soil.”

“Dinner’s ready,”she told us.

“About time,”Crusoe said.

2

A LONG about the middle of the afternoon we were nearly through with the fence when I got my first chance to speak with Claudie alone. Crusoe was stapling the barbed wire about two posts away, while 1 held it stretched against a corner post, and Claudie was finishing the last posthole.

“Claudie,”I said, “I’m afraid Crusoe will not like the overly friendly way you’ve been looking at Nora — even if she’s only the hired girl. Also it scares her. While we ate today you had her shying in and out of the dining room like a shadow when the lamplight flickers.”

“She shore is purty,” he said, looking up toward the house as he twisted the posthole digger into the dry ground. I looked too and saw we weren’t far at all from where Nora’d come to hang out the wash. The clothesline was high, and she was reaching as far up as she could to pin the clothes on it. Nora’s dimpled knees showed a little more than they should have, that’s true; also, the same wind that flapped the clothes on the line was blowing Nora’s dress hard against her own personal self thereon a bright sunny day and all, but it needn’t have paralyzed Claudie like it did.

I’ll admit that my mind wandered some, and I didn’t see the bull in time to do Claudie any good, but Claudie never did come to and see him until the whole thing was over.

It was an old dirty-gray Brahma with long horns and a wobbly hump above his shoulders. He was about ten feet away, and he was headed for Claudie with his head lowered when I first saw him. I was on the other side of the new fence, it turned out, but Claudie and t he bull were both on the same side. You can see how with so much going on I hadn’t noticed where Crusoe Dalyrumple was, but just before the bull hit Claudie, Crusoe stepped up close with an old hame in one hand. He clobbered the big bull with a lick in the nose that stopped him cold, while Claudie just stood there, still in love and still leaning on the corner post.

As the old Brahma ran off, bawling, it began to dawn on Claudie what had taken place. His eyes looked like a night owl’s that had been flushed out of his dark roost into broad open daylight.

“Mr. Dalyrumple,” I yelled as I rushed over to him, “you have saved Claudie’s life. You are almost like a hero. In fact, you are a hero.” I shook his hand, and he looked sort of sheepish — almost ashamed — without saying a word. Claudio was grinning at him by now, so I said, “Claudie, can’t you say something nice? Mr. Dalyrumple has just saved your life from a bad bull. Shake his hand, dammit. This is something pretty big.”

“Oh hell, men; it wasn’t nothin’,” Crusoe said, looking down at the ground. “Old Bully Boy can’t hit very hard. Trouble is, he jest don’t like strangers.”

“What do you mean, it wasn’t nothing?” I asked. “I saw it all happen. I was a witness. You have too saved Claudie’s life. Hasn’t he, Claudie?”

“He has, and I’m shore glad” was the most. Claudie could think up to say, but he did shake hands with Crusoe. At this I’d have sworn Crusoe nearly smiled a little, but he was plainly using a strange set of face muscles, and it seemed almost to hurt him.

I rushed up to the house so I could tell Mrs. Dalyrumple and Nora about Crusoe and how he’d been a big hero right there before my eyes and evervthing. Also, I borrowed the family Kodak.

When the women came running, they both shook Crusoe’s hand and told him how proud they were. All he said was “Aw shucks; it wasn’t nothing — much.”

“It was too,” I told him again. “Crusoe’s a hero. Ain’t he, Claudie?”

Claudie didn’t seem to hear me, but Mrs. Dalyrumple nodded her head and so did Nora; then when Nora saw the way Claudie was looking at her, she sort of slunk in behind a little huisache bush there close by.

“The Carnegie people give medals for things like this,” I told Crusoe, seeing I had nothing but a downhill pull from there on — I mean I was coasting. “Now stand up there by Claudie and hold that hame you hit the bull with in one hand. Come on, Claudie; shake his other hand while I take the picture.”

Bully Boy was grazing not far away, so we went over and took some pictures of him standing behind Claudie, but he didn’t look very fractious around Crusoe, who was still holding on to the hame of course. Then I got another roll of film and took some pictures of Mrs. Dalyrumple and even one of Nora behind the huisache bush.

“Reckon he’ll be wrote up for saving my life, Clint?” Claudie wanted to know, and I said, loud enough for Crusoe to hear it good, “Certainly he will. Big, too, in the newspapers and all, for being such a hero. And maybe a band concert too, with a public speaking about Crusoe afterwards.”

I was in a big lather to give the Navasola newspaper a report on everything, so I lold Crusoe that he and Claudie could finish the fence while I made the telephone call.

“Aw, you oughtn’t to do that,” Crusoe argued, but it was said about the same way women sometimes say the same thing, and Crusoe didn’t try to stop me either. He only said, “The phone’s in the hall, there by the stair.” Then he grabbed the hammer, stapled the last three wires on the corner post singlehanded, and led the way to the house.

Mrs. Dalyrumple dug a batch of nice crisp cookies out of a crock jar, and Nora got a big pitcher of lemonade out of the icebox for us to drink — but she ran upstairs to hide as soon as Claudie went inside. Crusoe drank three glasses, smacked his lips, and said it was about the best lemonade he’d ever tasted. “Now, men,” he said, “let me help you fix up your car. You done me a mighty fine job on that fence.”

“Oh, no, not now,” I said. “First things first. Remember, I’m gonna call the newspaper and give them the big news.”

Crusoe didn’t say a word; he only looked at Mrs. Dalyrumple and grinned.

The party line was busy, of course, but it was nice and cool there in the hall, so I sat and listened to some women talk themselves out on the phone about a rummage sale, the missionary society, the new school principal, and watermelon rind preserves. Finally I got the editor of the Navasota paper on the line, and, believe me, I let him have it about Crusoe and Claudie and the wild Brahma bull. I just gave him the plain facts; all about how Claudie would be laying out there in the pasture, flat on his back and dead as a doornail, if Crusoe hadn’t risked his own life, personally, just to save him — and Claudie practically a complete stranger, too. I gave it to him so hot and heavy that he got it into his head somehow that Crusoe had been hurt some in being this hero, and, of course, I wasn’t in any frame of mind — besides, I didn’t have time — to argue this out with any newspaper fellow myself.

“We’d like some pictures to run with the story,” the editor said, and I told him that was every bit taken care of right on the spot. All he’d have to do was send for the roll of film with Crusoe, Claudie, and the bull on it. Also, would he send along ten dollars, since I’d taken some chance myself in getting the pictures while things were so scary and all. He agreed. Then I got the Brenham paper on the phone, and since I was really in the groove by now, I sold them the film with Nora and Mrs. Dalyrumple on it for five more dollars.

W hen I went back outside I saw our car and trailer had been pulled from the road into the shady yard. Crusoe and Claudie were fixing the trailer house tire and the left front one on the car that had gone flat during the day. Mrs. Dalyrumple was standing alongside holding the pitcher filled again with lemonade, and Nora was watching from the same upstairs window.

“The newspapers want the pictures, all right,” I told them. “It’s going to be a big story.” Crusoe didn’t say a word; he just pressed down harder on the cold patch he was fixing our inner tube with, but Mrs. Dalyrumple seemed to show an acre or so of happy smile all across her big damp face.

3

IT WAS about an hour by sun; both our tires were fixed and Crusoe had pumped them back up; then we saw a car turn in at the gate.

“Must be the newspaperman for the pictures,” I said. “Let me deal with him.”

“No, it’s the Clardys,” Mrs. Dalyrumple said. “I declare; they haven’t crossed our cattle guard in twenty years. Wonder if somebody’s bad sick at. their house.”

They drove up and piled out of the car and went straight over to Crusoe — Mr. and Mrs. Clardy, three girls, and a lean, limber-looking son-in-law. “We heard it on the party line,” they were saying to Crusoe. Mrs. Clardy cried some, she was so damn proud to know a real-life hero. Crusoe hung his head and said it wasn’t much he’d done, but he let them all shake his hand and told them to shake ours too. Then, before the Clardys left, the Crutchers came — neighbors Crusoe hadn’t spoken to, we learned, since one of their cows broke through a fence and ate his garden nearly eight years before.

So many things, happening so one-right-on-topof-the-other like this, brought tears to Mrs. Dalyrumple’s eyes too. Another car was coming in the gate by this time, and it kept up like this until everybody on the party line had come by before the sun went down. They all wanted to shake Crusoe’s hand. Then they’d all study Claudie — nobody but the one that nearly got killed — and it soon got to where he was putting on a few airs himself.

After the newspapermen left — and left me fifteen bucks for taking the pictures — Crusoe Dalyrumple asked about the carburetor on our car; also, the gaskets, the brakes, and the spark plugs. “I’d be glad, men,” he said, “to holp you fix it up tonight before you leave.” Mrs. Dalyrumple kept standing close by, smiling at us real motherly, and from the way the upstairs window curtain fluttered,

I knew Nora was with us in her own way.

“But we don’t mean to leave, Crusoe,” I told him. “We are so thankful to you for saving Claudie’s life we want to stay on for a while and see if you can’t maybe use some more help. You can’t tell what might come up.”

“I do have a right smart rounding up to do around here,” Crusoe allowed, “but you men don’t owe me nothing.”

“It’s not like owing,” I said, “it’s that we’re so thankful, ain’t it, Claudie?”

“Uh-huh.”

“We mean we just wouldn’t ever feel right if we went off and left the very day you saved Claudio’s life.”

We talked on like this a while, and finally Crusoe said, “I can see how you feel, men. Won’t you have supper with us?”

“Sure we will,” I said, and Claudie agreed easy, looking all the time at Nora’s upstairs window.

4

THE Navasota newspaper was a weekly, and the one in Brenham was, too; so, naturally, I and Claudie stayed with the Dalyrumples to wait until they both came out with Crusoe’s write-up. We found there were a few other piddling little things that needed to be done around the place, but Crusoe wouldn’t let us help much with any of them. He said he hated to impose on friends like that. Also, everything he’d let us do he’d thank us for. Fact is, he worked more on our car than we did on the farm; and before the week was up, that old hoopie of ours was in t he finest state of repair it’d ever been — by a damn sight, too, I mean.

Then, when the newspapers came out with the pictures and everything, people really did start visiting the Dalyrumples in a big way. People from all over Washington County came just to visit and be neighborly with Crusoe. And kinsfolks, too, started coming in droves from all over Texas and Oklahoma as soon as they got the news — even some on Mrs. Dalyrumple’s side of the house that we learned Crusoe had run away years before and warned never to darken his door again.

It soon got to where Crusoe would dress up in his Sunday clothes every morning after breakfast was over and the chores ware done; he’d sit on the front porch just to be ready for visitors that wanted to come and shake his hand.

Later on that fall — it was the week after Crusoe got converted and joined the church, to be exact — I and Claudie moved from the trailer house. There’d been this spare bedroom upstairs all the time — an awful temptation for visiting kin I’d pointed out to Crusoe — and this was the very one he asked us if we’d move into. He spoke, when he did, about loving the Lord so all-fired much he wanted to do something nice; he said he’d been counting his many blessings, like it says in the song, and he didn’t want to be hoggish about all the Lord had blessed him with. So, before Mrs. Dalyrumple came home from the missionary society that night, we moved right in.

We hadn’t been living in the house but a few days until I began to miss Claudie in the mornings when I’d wake up. At first I figured he’d just decided to eat breakfast with the Dalyrumples—a thing I’d never done since they always got up and ate a lot too early for me. Then I learned that it was only so he could go along and help Nora with the morning milking. And at first, so Mrs. Dalyrumple said, they’d been back with foaming pails full before daylight. Well, this was all right, since Claudie always was a fast milker, but the morning I learned about it all they didn’t come back with the milk until the sun was an hour or so high, and I was halfway through my own breakfast. Claudie wouldn’t even look at me when he came in from the back porch where Nora stayed to strain the milk, and I noticed she kept her back to me all the time.

“Claudie,” I said—oh, I had him dead to rights — “it took you a mighty long time to finish up with that milking.”

“Nora le’me milk ‘em all this time,” he said, still looking down at the linoleum on the floor.

Next, he took to helping Nora milk the cows every night too, and as the days got shorter, they sometimes didn’t get back from the cow lot until after dark.

Crusoe was so busy every morning getting dressed for the company and so busy seeing the visitors these days that he didn’t seem to notice as much about Claudie’s help with the milking as I did. But one person that didn’t miss it was Mrs. Dalyrumple. The way I could tell that for sure was from what she said to me and Claudie one night when Nora was doing the dishes and Crusoe was away in Navasota joining another lodge. We were rocking in the parlor before the fireplace, and I was studying the Dalyrumple marriage certificate framed there above the mantel, when she spoke up and said in her fine full voice: “Crusoe’s company is slackin’ up some, I guess you’ve noticed.”

“Some,” I said, “but a lot of the same people keep coming back.”

“And most of ‘em have done seen Claudie, that’s life was saved by Crusoe.”

“You’re right there,” I had to admit.

“I expect Crusoe’s about caught up with all the jobs he might could use much holp on around the place.”

“It’s true,” I told her, wanting to be fair; “he hasn’t been asking us to do much lately.”

“And with winter coming on now, bad weather will soon be set tin’ in. From now on, there won’t be too much outside work.”

I found I didn’t have the heart to make much of an argument about it. With Claudie mooning around the way he’d been, so lovesick he was milking six cows twice a day and liking it; with Nora letting him, too, milk all the cows, even when it took him until way after dark to finish; and with Nora blushing bright red when Claudie was around and dropping things in the kitchen and sometimes in the dining room, I began to figure just about anything could happen. What was in the making could cost them Nora, or me Claudie, and whichever way it went, I was the odd man out.

So I was nodding my head, making it easy for Mrs. Dalyrumple to go right ahead and spell it out plain, even to Claudie, when he spoke up, almost hurt like, it seemed, and said, “You don’t mean we should leave, do you, Miz Dalyrumple?”

“Oh, no; not exactly. Leastways, not tonight.”

“It don’t hardly seem right to leave,” he half argued, “after Mr. Dalyrumple went and saved my life and all that.” But somehow this was beginning to sound pretty empty and hollow to me by now.

That was on a Saturday night, I remember, because before bedtime Mrs. Dalyrumple went ahead to tell us how the next day Brother Bradshaw was coming to eat with them after the Sunday services; also how nice that would be, since he’d been the parson that had converted Crusoe to the gospel. That was the night, I’ll never forget, when it struck me like forked lightning strikes, what a preacher around the house would put in Claudie’s mind. I rolled and tossed all night long.

5

BROTHER BRADSHAW, when he came next day after church, turned out to be a big sad-eyed fellow with bushy hair and such an accusing way of speaking that he made me want to go off somewhere and repent without even knowing what it was I’d done wrong. Also his frail sallow-complected wife might as well have been saying, “Thou shall not,” whatever the words were she spoke.

There was a sort of a clash that came up, it seemed, between Claudie and Brother Bradshaw there at the dinner table. First there was the blessing. Brother Bradshaw didn’t start to return thanks until Claudie’d buttered his first biscuit and was halfway through with it. All he could do was stop and wait while the preacher prayed, mostly for Crusoe, and recommended him to the Lord for saving a stranger’s life — never even mentioning Claudie’s name, mind you. Next it was about the fried chicken. There was either something wrong with the way those pullets were made inside or with Claudie’s reach, that Sunday, for no white meat was ever on the plate when it got to Claudie — only necks and feet, I noticed, but I wasn’t sure he did with the way his eyes hung on to Nora when she was serving the food, and when she wasn’t, on the kitchen door she’d be about to come back out of.

Pretty early in the meal Brother Bradshaw started to speak in very solemn tones about how he might have to take his good wife and move away from Washington County. If he did, they’d both go back up north to Ohio where they’d been born and raised, he allowed. I looked at Crusoe, and when he didn’t even bat an eye over feeding this Yankee preacher and his Yankee wife, I knew the sinful element in Washington County had really lost them a man. Crusoe even spoke up and said, “Brother Bradshaw, we’d shore hate to see you go. They ain’t nothing wrong with the congregation here, I hope?”

It wasn’t that he did not feel devoted to his fine flock there or anything like that, Brother Bradshaw went ahead to say in the big middle of a fat chicken breast. He particularly liked to be pastor to people like Crusoe, that had so many friends all over the country; and like Sister Dalyrumple, too, that had been a worker in the vineyard all her life. Also, he pointed out, he’d married some of the finest couples in Washington County, a part of the service he enjoyed most. At this Nora’s face lit up like a church on Sunday night and she dropped a plate full of hot biscuits. “But,” the preacher said, “I fear the housework at the parsonage is too great a. burden to Sister Bradshaw. She hasn’t been feeling at all well lately.”

Everybody looked at the preacher’s wife, lifting the last tender slabs of white meat off of a wishbone. Then Mrs. Dalyrumple spoke up, and her heavy handsome tone of voice loaded up the air around the table. “Crusoe,” she said, “we’ve got a spare bedroom. We did, I mean, until —”

But she got no further. Crusoe gave her that barbed-wire look of his I hadn’t seen since our first day t here.

Aly mouth flew open to say something, but before it came out Crusoe turned this same look on me, and I had that old feeling I’d often had before that things were really about to get out of hand.

Everything I could think to say from then until the end of the meal seemed wicked or sinful, and if you want to know the truth my conscience was about to cut me to pieces inside for still being there at the Dalyrumples’. So I never spoke any more, and hardly anybody else did either. When we’d finished, Crusoe stood up, stretched, and said he believed he’d walk down to the lot and see how the stock were. Brother Bradshaw said he’d like to go along too; he’d always loved livestock up north where he’d come from. So they walked off, down by Old Bully Boy’s pen and on toward the barn. Claudio started helping Nora clear the dishes while Sister Bradshaw went off to the Dalyrumple bedroom to freshen herself up some. In the parlor there I looked at Mrs. Dalyrumple, with her big pink kindly face, and she looked at me. Win, lose, or draw, we both knew that we wore on the same side.

After Sister Bradshaw got herself freshened up, she came out on the front gallery, picked herself an easy rocker, and settled down. Mrs. Dalyrumple took the porch swing, and I sat on the front steps close by to smoke and watch a swarm of gnats there by the cedar tree. It got awful quiet and stayed that way until we heard the commotion out back that stirred up the dogs, the chickens, and the guineas until they sounded the way they had that first day. Except this time the preacher’s voice was all mixed up in the racket.

Then we saw Brother Bradshaw come running around the corner of the house, his eyes showing a lot of white and his hair bushing off in all direct ions. He seemed to be leading Crusoe by one hand, but in Crusoe’s other hand was that same old ha me I’d seen before.

“The Lord be praised,” Brother Bradshaw called out, almost in his regular praying voice, but stepped up some. “I have been delivered.”

Crusoe was looking down, sort of abashed, but happy as a goose, while Brother Bradshaw panted on: “That big bull — that same big ferocious Brahma bull — charged me. And Brother Dalyrumple—may the Lord shower him with blessings — Brother Dalyrumple has saved my life.”

Even Claudie, that came a running, could see we were done for at the Dalyrumples’; I and Claudie had plainly been succeeded, and Nora, after she’d taken it all in, went off crying to her room above the kitchen.

That night, before sundown, Brother Bradshaw and his wife had moved into our room, and I and Claudie were on our way again. We were out on the Brenham-Navasota road, and there wasn’t anything left of the day but a rosy glow in the sky behind us before Claudie said a word. The one thing, he allowed, he couldn’t figure out was how Old Bully Boy ever got out of his pen to make a run at Brother Bradshaw. I had to let him wonder, of course. The last thing I could do, and be fair about it, was to tell him what had gone on while Sister Bradshaw was freshening herself up — I mean how Mrs. Dalyrumple had fetched the wirecutters and I’d cut a gap in Bully Boy’s pen.

My conscience was clear by this time about everything but poor Claudie. So you can see how much it helped my feeling when he went ahead and said, “Nora was pretty but she shore hated work. She had me doing near about all her chores. Lord deliver me from a lazy woman.”