Between the Flowers

Overview

Between the Flowers is Harriette Simpson Arnow's second novel. Written in the late 1930s, but unpublished until 1997, this early work shows the development of social and cultural themes that would continue in Arnow's later work: the appeal of wandering and of modern life, the countervailing desire to stay within a traditional community, and the difficulties of communication between men and women in such a community.
    Between the Flowers goes far beyond ...

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Between the Flowers: A Novel

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Overview

Between the Flowers is Harriette Simpson Arnow's second novel. Written in the late 1930s, but unpublished until 1997, this early work shows the development of social and cultural themes that would continue in Arnow's later work: the appeal of wandering and of modern life, the countervailing desire to stay within a traditional community, and the difficulties of communication between men and women in such a community.
    Between the Flowers goes far beyond categories of "local color," literary regionalism, or the agrarian novel, to the heart of human relationships in a modernized world. Arnow, who went on to write Hunter's Horn (1949) and The Dollmaker (1952)—her two most famous works—has continually been overlooked by critics as a regional writer. Ironically, it is her stinging realism that is seen as evidence of her realism, evidence that she is of the Cumberland—an area somehow more "regional" than others.
    Beginning with an edition of critical essays on her work in 1991 and a complete original edition of Hunter's Horn in 1997, the Michigan State University Press is pleased to continue its effort to make available the timeless insight of Arnow's work with the posthumous publication of Between the Flowers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Renowned in her time for her novels The Dollmaker and Hunter's Horn, Arnow (1908-1986) is largely unknown to contemporary readers. This early novel, Arnow's second work, was written in the 1930s, but not published in her lifetime. It carries some of the detailed heft of Dreiserian naturalism and more than a whiff of Steinbeck's dust bowl atmosphere and social awareness. Set in the locale Arnow knew well, the Cumberland region of Kentucky, the narrative describes the life and marriage of gifted, inquisitive Delph Costello and Marsh Gregory, a loner and daredevil who refocuses his energy on subsistence farming in hopes of providing the kind of security he believes Delph wants. Delph, however, yearns to know what lies beyond the hills and hollows, and she watches her contemporaries go off to Akron, Cincinnati and New York. Marsh is threatened by his feisty wife's independence, but his attempts to maintain authority breed frustration, for there is no end to the hardships of farming in Appalachia. With authoritative ease, Arnow realistically depicts the cycles of flood and drought, ravaging diseases and debilitating bitterness--and the help that comes only from neighbors. Pressured and confused, Marsh reacts violently when a pregnant Delph defies him. Delph tries to reconcile her wanderlust with her yen for stability, but the marriage is ruined. She is a character Arnow wrote about again, doomed because of her imagination and her dreams to remain an outsider. The narrative does meander, however, and in this ironic age, a reader may not know what to make of this patchwork of hardscrabble details and triumphant sincerity. (Nov.) FYI: Michigan State Univ. Press reissued Arnow's The Dollmaker in March 1999. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870137594
  • Publisher: Michigan State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2005
  • Pages: 426
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Harriette Simpson Arnow (1908-1986) was born in Kentucky and later moved to Detroit. Arnow is among the foremost chroniclers of Appalachian life and the great postwar migration north.

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Read an Excerpt

Between the Flowers


By Harriette Simpson Arnow

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2005 Marcella Arnow and Thomas Arnow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87013-759-4


CHAPTER 1

MRS. CROUCH stood on the porch under the weather-beaten sign, Costello's Valley, Ky. U.S. Post Office, and looked up the steep stretch of narrow hill road where August heat waves trembled above the sheep-skull rocks and uneven chunks of blue-white limestone. The sun glare hurt her eyes, and she rested them with a slow glance over Costello's Valley—the sloping sides of wooded hills leading down to a gently moving creek bordered with willows and sycamores, the wooden bridge across the creek, and the great beech trees that grew on the bit of level land on either side of the road. The trees, the road, the creek, and the white painted, high-porched building in which she lived and tended the mail and a general store, with plenty of time left to care for a plot of vegetables and flowers, made up Costello's Valley.

She heard from somewhere down the creek the soft clinking thuds of pitched horse shoes and low easy murmur of hill men's voices, and now and then from the heavy shade of the beech grove a squirrel's bark or a trinkle of bird song; but still there seemed less sound than silence. The heavy breathing of Old Willie Copenhaver on the other end of the porch came so loud that she turned to look at him. He sat as he had been setting for the last hour, his bark bottomed chair tilted against the house wall, his head dropped forward with his bushy gray beard spread over his chest; one knobby, blue-veined hand on the Bible in his lap, the other on a hickory sapling cane.

His son, Young Willie, a tall, stoop-shouldered bachelor in his late fifties, sat a few feet away. Mostly he watched the other occupant of the porch—a little old man with thin white hair and bright blue eyes—carve a hazel nut basket, though sometimes he glanced concernedly toward his father. Mrs. Crouch, when she had studied the old sleeping man for a time, said to Young Willie, "It's a mighty hot day for a man old as your paw to be ridin' around."

Young Willie shifted his tobacco and spat into the yard, then smiled on his father. "Nothin' 'ud do him but he must come. He's not missed a Memorial Day up at Big Cane Brake in more'n fifty years. I wisht I could ha' gone with him but I've got that mail carryin' job. I'm hopin' though that Juber here'ull kind a look out for him."

The little man twisted about on his nail keg seat, and looked down through the beech trees to a slender legged bay mare tethered to the low boughs of one. "Pshaw, he'll be safe as a baby in its cradle a ridin' his Maude, an' anyhow I'll be gittin' on back to church pretty soon, Delph or no Delph. Today's th' day fer her magazine, an' nothin' ud do her but she must have it. I'll ride along with yer paw an' look out fer him."

The postmistress waited until Juber had finished his talk, then turned to search the road again. She was a big hill woman of middle age, wide faced and blue eyed with a twist of sand colored hair and a generous sifting of freckles across her nose and along her muscular forearms. She stood a moment and fanned herself with slow flaps of her gingham apron, then turned wearily to look at the flowers she had cut from her garden. She touched a drooping ladyfinger, and felt the coldness of the water in the pail that held snow-on-the-mountain and dahlias. She sighed and turned back to the road. "I wanted to have 'em fresh like an' pretty," she said, "but Lord that mail'll never get here so I can lock up an' go. Th' mornin' service it'll be over an' I'll hear none a th' singin'."

"It must be th' catalogues a keepin' him," Juber said, and added cheerfully, "Permelie, you've been tendin' th' mail long enough to know that Memorial Service or election day, rain or shine, it's all th' same to Sears Roebuck catalogues. They come an' a body cain't help it."

"An' while he's stoppin' at ever fence an' holler to hand 'em out, my flowers 'ull wilt an' die."

Juber smiled on a pale yellow gladiola. "Lord, it makes no difference to th' flowers when you put 'em on your graves. They'll be wilted dead by sundown anyhow."

Mrs. Crouch walked restlessly away to the end of the porch where she stood on tip toe and watched the road. But the road remained empty as ever; a hound dog trotted down from the poplar trees on the hill side, while one of the postmistress's hens led a bevy of half fledged chickens in a search for grain some waggoner had spilled among the stones. She watched the hound dog with narrowed mistrustful eyes, but when he paused to nose inquisitively at a small chicken strayed a bit from the others, the dominecker mother hen came at him with such a clucking and clacking and lifting of her feathers that he hurried on. "Here comes one a Old Willie's hounds a huntin' him," she said to no one in particular.

Juber cocked his head to one side and studied the dog. "That's no hound a Old Willie's. He'd never let a hound dog get so fat. Must belong to one a them strange oil men over on th' Long North Branch."

"I never heared of a oil man stayin' in one place long enough to keep a dog," Mrs. Crouch answered.

The hound settled the argument by coming up to Old Willie and sniffing his feet. The old man opened his eyes, patted the hound, then seemed to fall asleep again. "It's paw's all right," Young Willie said, "but it's hardly ever about th' place anymore. Took up with that nitroglycerine carryin' man that batches up on th' ridge above our place—an' he's feedin' it to death."

"Must be a funny oil man," Mrs. Crouch said, and after failing in an attempt to count her chickens, turned and watched Juber as he bent to the painstaking carving. "Always whittlin' things for them Costello youngens or growin' flowers for Delph," she said, and added, half teasingly, half sadly, "You ought to a had some a your own, Juber, an' not be tied hand an' foot to John Costello an' his breed all your days."

Juber straightened his back and studied the postmistress. "You're in a bad humor today, Permelie. If I'd a had children they'd a been dead or gone like yours an' ever'body else's in this Little South Fork Country. An' th' Costellos are better to work for than most. Not many like 'em left that foller th' old ways."

"Foller th' old ways is right. John's bringin' up Delph tighter than they raised girls in my day."

"Don't be too hard on him, Permelie. He's done what he could. He wants to raise Delph right. Look, how hard he worked to git 'em to put this high school out here. Mostly on Delph's account he got it done, I know."

Mrs. Crouch sniffed. "An' that was all a mess of foolishness. Th' pore girl went through th' eighth grade three times while she waited fer th' school, an' anyhow what good'll this three year high school do her if he won't let her go to th' one in town to graduate?"

"Now, Permelie, don't be too certain about things you don't know. Lord, they've had it up one side an' down th' other this summer, her on one side, an' John an' Fronie on th' other. 'Pears like they'll have to give in." He sighed and bent again to the carving. "I wisht they would. T'other day I found her a cryin' in th' hay loft. Delph was never one to let a body see her cry."

Mrs. Crouch gave her apron an indignant flap. "That Fronie's so wrapped up with th' angels she can't have any heart for her man's own blood kin he took by force to raise. Th' other day when I saw her up at Hedricks', I says to her, "Well, I reckin you're aimin' to send Delph away to Town to th' County High School this fall."

"An' she rung in Jake Barnes's oldest girl, I reckin," Juber said.

"Jake Barnes is right. Soon's I mentioned Delph why Fronie started rollin' down her eyes an' actin' pious. 'Look what happened to Jake Barnes's oldest girl when she went off to Cincinnati,' she whispers to me. 'I've tried hard to raise Delph right, an' get her to join th' church an' give her heart to God,' she says. 'But sometimes I think my pains'ull be fer nothin,' she says, an' whispers on, a noddin' that red head a her'n so broken hearted like. 'You recollect Delph's paw, an' you know th' stripe her maw was cut frum, marryin' agin an' leavin' th' country when her man was hardly two years in his grave.'"

Old Willie rattled his cane and opened his eyes. "A better man never lived than Reuf Costello. He was a man, if n he did shoot up th' country, an' git hisself killed before he died," he said in a loud argumentative voice.

"'Delph's a good girl,' I says," Mrs. Crouch began, but stopped abruptly with her mouth open and her head tilted in an attitude of listening. "Ain't that wheels comin' up on th' other side a th' hill?—No wonder th' mail's late if he's tryin' to make it in a wagin."

Juber listened, too, with his knife suspended above the hazel nut basket. "It's wheels all right, but sounds uncommon light fer a wagin."

Young Willie cupped a hand to one ear, and the hound dog lifted his head, looked up the road, then got up and trotted toward the sound. "Must be that well shooter an' his cart, frum th' way Colonel Lee's actin'," Young Willie decided.

Mrs. Crouch looked both frightened and curious. "He shorely wouldn't come down this way with a load a nitroglycerin, when th' nearest wells are better'n four mile away."

Young Willie quieted her fears. He believed the cart to be empty and reckoned the nitroglycerin man was just driving by, maybe going to the Memorial Service at Big Cane Brake three miles on the other side of the creek.

"He's got no dead in this country. What business would he have a goin' up there?" Mrs. Crouch wondered, while Juber reckoned aloud that any man who did such dangerous work must be an awful fool.

"They's good money in it," Young Willie said, and added, "He's dropped by our place three, four times, an' a body can tell he's got plenty a sober sense by th' looks a him."

"He looks too damned sober to suit me," Old Willie called. "Reminds me uv a mule a holdin' itself in. An' gittin' a word out a him is like pullin' a penniwinkle out a its shell—less'n he's swearin' an' then it's pure sin to hear him."

"Well, sensible or foolish I cain't see th' good a money when a man's blowed to Kingdom Come, an' as long as he does that kind a work he cain't ever marry an' settle down like a man ought. I've heared say they won't let married men haul nitroglycerin," Mrs. Crouch said.

Juber smiled at the postmistress's foolish ideas on oil men. "Who ever heared uv a oil man a settlin' any place long. They ain't built that way, else they wouldn't be oil men," he argued, and got up to get a better view of the light nitroglycerin cart with its driver, and drawn by two big-bodied horses, just clearing the crest of the hill.

The outfit was coming on at a smart pace, when Mrs. Crouch gave a troubled cry of, "Lord, Lord, look at that fool hen. Leadin' th' chickens right in th' middle a th' road. That Logan Ragan flyin' around in his car just missed killin' one this mornin.'"

"It 'ud be just like a oil man to come smashin' right down over 'em," Juber said, and all were silent as they watched the oil man and the badly flustered mother hen dispute for supremacy of the road. He pulled his team to a slow walk, and when the hen continued to go clucking straight ahead with her chickens scattering on each side, he halted and sat a time and looked at them.

Mrs. Crouch sighed with relief. "He's got a heart in him," she said, and when at last the hen and her sunburned chickens were safely out of the road, and the cart was coming on again, the post mistress picked up the zinc water bucket by the door, emptied it of its stale water and hurried in back for water fresh from the well.

From his seat in the cart the driver appeared to be a youngish man of medium build and medium height, straight-backed and square-shouldered with a body sparsely covered with flesh as that of a hill man. His gray eyes, however, and the little of his bright pale hair that could be seen from under the battered black felt hat he wore, marked him as a stranger to the Little South Fork Country. "He's a quair mix up, but he's got a pretty team," Juber said in a low voice, and wondered why he had come this way and where he was going. Certainly not to church, for he wore an old blue cotton shirt, thread bare at the elbows, faded with sun and sweat across the shoulders. His dark brown corduroy trousers were little better than his shirt, and a few days growth of whiskers, the same bright color as his hair, made the hill men fresh from Saturday shaves and in clean overalls seem well dressed by contrast.

His team was sleek and well fed in oiled and polished harness, and the plaiting of the horses' tails and smoothness of their manes showed signs of unusual care. He turned from the road and drove down among the beech trees where the saddled mules and Maude were tethered, and selected a well-shaded spot for the cart. The men on the porch continued to watch him as he unhitched and led his horses to the creek for a drink. They drank slowly, pausing at times to lift their heads from the water and blow windy sighs through their nostrils, while he stood patiently in the hot sun with their bridles over his arm. When they were finished at last and he had hitched them in the shade, he did not come immediately to the post office, but stopped to examine his lead horse's left hock, that showed a slight thread of red like a scratch from a nail or sharp bit of limestone.

He came on then, but stopped uncertainly at the edge of the porch with his hat in his hand. The sunshine on his hair made it bright like red tinged silver, but the light seemed not to touch his eyes. They were gray with something of the sheen of a slate rock in the rain, dark and quiet under stiff short black eyelashes, and contrasting sharply with the brightness of his hair and whiskers. He was a square faced, straight-mouthed man, with a jaw that, though not unduly large, hinted that it was made of bone.

Young Willie and Old Willie nodded in greeting, while Mrs. Crouch pointed to the sweating water bucket and invited, "Come have a drink."

"Thanks," he said, and Young Willie, watching him, asked when he had finished three dippers full, "Your lead horse get a scratch?"

He flung drops of water from the dipper, and answered in a low quiet voice that matched his jaw and his eyes, "That damned fool of a Logan Ragan scrouged me out a th' road comin' up. If it hadn't a been that my horses will stand up to anything I'd a had a runaway.—He was gone 'fore I could get at him."

Old Willie came to sudden life, sputtered and pounded his Bible then cried, "Since that one of th' Ragans got that fine job with th' Standard Oil in town where he can keep hissef clean an' tell other folks what to do, he goes larrapin' around like a addled somethin'—scarin' hosses."

"Somebody ought to take him down a peg," the oil man said, and went to sit on the edge of the porch near Juber.

Mrs. Crouch studied him with kind, concerned eyes, "He mebbe meant no harm, jist hurryin' to see Delph Costello. Nearly killed one a my chickens—but well—if I was you I'd jist forget it."

Juber and Young Willie nodded. "He's one a th' Little South Fork Ragans, a triggery breed like th' old Costellos—got three brothers," Juber said, and gave the oil man a sidling speculative glance.

The stranger eased his back against a porch post and glanced toward his lead horse with darkened, narrowed eyes. "I can use my fists," he said.

"Boy, they'd never give you a chance to use your fists," Young Willie warned, and added soothingly, "That looks like a little scratch, an' to my mind won't make a scar."

The front legs of Old Willie's chair came down with abrupt violence, and the iron shod tip of his cane rang on the floor. "Pretty soon nobody in this country'ul keep horses any more. My Maude an' John Costello's Silver are about all th' good ones left, an' then they run us out a th' road. Th' ones that git any money from oil or timber they go away, or else they buy 'em cars an' go fistin' around where th' roads are good like that Logan Ragan."

Young Willie pulled his father's coat sleeve. "Now, Paw, you'll have a coughin' spell, gittin' so excited like."

And the oil man turned to Old Willie and comforted, "There'll always be horses in th' Bluegrass country." His eyes glowed as if he smiled, though his mouth did not change. "Th' thoroughbreds around Lexington, they're pretty things," he said.

"We've never had that kind in th' Little South Fork Country," Juber answered, "but I'd jist as soon or ruther have a good hunter of a five gaited saddle mare that 'ud take blue ribbons at th' fair.—Delph, she's th' niece a th' people where I live, she had one like that about two yer back, but her Uncle John sold her. Delph rode her so wild, a jumpin' fences like a heathen an' a lopin' down hills. We was afraid she'd break her neck."

"I'll bet th' girl hated it when they sold her mare."

"Aye, she was mad a plenty an' give 'em a piece uv her mind, but I don't think it was th' mare she loved so much as th' runnin' an' jumpin' uv her."

Mrs. Crouch turned from her business of watching for the mail. "That's always been Delph's trouble. If she'd cry an' beg to John 'stead a talkin' up to him she'd mebbe git more a what she wants."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Between the Flowers by Harriette Simpson Arnow. Copyright © 2005 Marcella Arnow and Thomas Arnow. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

Chapter One MRS. CROUCH stood on the porch under the weather beaten sign, Costello's Valley, Ky. U.S. Post Office, and looked up the steep stretch of narrow hill road where August heat waves trembled above the sheep-skull rocks and uneven chunks of blue-white limestone. The sun glare hurt her eyes, and she rested them with a slow glance over Costello's Valley-the sloping sides of wooded hills leading down to a gently moving creek bordered with willows and sycamores, the wooden bridge across the creek, and the great beech trees that grew on the bit of level land on either side of the road. The trees, the road, the creek, and the white painted, high-porched building in which she lived and tended the mail and a general store, with plenty of time left to care for a plot of vegetables and flowers, made up Costello's Valley. She heard from somewhere down the creek the soft clinking thuds of pitched horse shoes and low easy murmur of hill men's voices, and now and then from the heavy shade of the beech grove a squirrel's bark or a trinkle of bird song; but still there seemed less sound than silence. The heavy breathing of Old Willie Copenhaver on the other end of the porch came so loud that she turned to look at him. He sat as he had been setting for the last hour, his bark bottomed chair tilted against the house wall, his head dropped forward with his bushy gray beard spread over his chest; one knobby, blue-veined hand on the Bible in his lap, the other on a hickory sapling cane. His son, Young Willie, a tall, stoop-shouldered bachelor in his late fifties, sat a few feet away. Mostly he watched the other occupant of the porch-a little old man with thin white hair and bright blue eyes-carve a hazel nut basket, though sometimes he glanced concernedly toward his father. Mrs. Crouch, when she had studied the old sleeping man for a time, said to Young Willie, "It's a mighty hot day for a man old as your paw to be ridin' around." Young Willie shifted his tobacco and spat into the yard, then smiled on his father. "Nothin' 'ud do him but he must come. He's not missed a Memorial Day up at Big Cane Brake in more'n fifty years. I wisht I could ha' gone with him but I've got that mail carryin' job. I'm hopin' though that Juber here'ull kind a look out for him." The little man twisted about on his nail keg seat, and looked down through the beech trees to a slender legged bay mare tethered to the low boughs of one. "Pshaw, he'll be safe as a baby in its cradle a ridin' his Maude, an' anyhow I'll be gittin' on back to church pretty soon, Delph or no Delph. Today's th' day fer her magazine, an' nothin' ud do her but she must have it. I'll ride along with yer paw an' look out fer him." The postmistress waited until Juber had finished his talk, then turned to search the road again. She was a big hill woman of middle age, wide faced and blue eyed with a twist of sand colored hair and a generous sifting of freckles across her nose and along her muscular forearms. She stood a moment and fanned herself with slow flaps of her gingham apron, then turned wearily to look at the flowers she had cut from her garden. She touched a drooping ladyfinger, and felt the coldness of the water in the pail that held snow-on-the-mountain and dahlias. She sighed and turned back to the road. "I wanted to have 'em fresh like an' pretty," she said, "but Lord that mail'll never get here so I can lock up an' go. Th' mornin' service it'll be over an' I'll hear none a th' singin'." "It must be th' catalogues a keepin' him," Juber said, and added cheerfully, "Permelie, you've been tendin' th' mail long enough to know that Memorial Service or election day, rain or shine, it's all th' same to Sears Roebuck catalogues. They come an' a body cain't help it." "An' while he's stoppin' at ever fence an' holler to hand 'em out, my flowers 'ull wilt an' die." Juber smiled on a pale yellow gladiola. "Lord, it makes no difference to th' flowers when you put 'em on your graves. They'll be wilted dead by sundown anyhow." Mrs. Crouch walked restlessly away to the end of the porch where she stood on tip toe and watched the road. But the road remained empty as ever; a hound dog trotted down from the poplar trees on the hill side, while one of the postmistress's hens led a bevy of half fledged chickens in a search for grain some waggoner had spilled among the stones. She watched the hound dog with narrowed mistrustful eyes, but when he paused to nose inquisitively at a small chicken strayed a bit from the others, the dominecker mother hen came at him with such a clucking and clacking and lifting of her feathers that he hurried on. "Here comes one a Old Willie's hounds a huntin' him," she said to no one in particular. Juber cocked his head to one side and studied the dog. "That's no hound a Old Willie's. He'd never let a hound dog get so fat. Must belong to one a them strange oil men over on th' Long North Branch." "I never heared of a oil man stayin' in one place long enough to keep a dog," Mrs. Crouch answered. The hound settled the argument by coming up to Old Willie and sniffing his feet. The old man opened his eyes, patted the hound, then seemed to fall asleep again. "It's paw's all right," Young Willie said, "but it's hardly ever about th' place anymore. Took up with that nitroglycerine carryin' man that batches up on th' ridge above our place-an' he's feedin' it to death." "Must be a funny oil man," Mrs. Crouch said, and after failing in an attempt to count her chickens, turned and watched Juber as he bent to the painstaking carving. "Always whittlin' things for them Costello youngens or growin' flowers for Delph," she said, and added, half teasingly, half sadly, "You ought to a had some a your own, Juber, an' not be tied hand an' foot to John Costello an' his breed all your days." Juber straightened his back and studied the postmistress, "You're in a bad humor today, Permelie. If I'd a had children they'd a been dead or gone like yours an' ever'body else's in this Little South Fork Country. An' th' Costellos are better to work for than most. Not many like 'em left that foller th' old ways." "Foller th' old ways is right. John's bringin' up Delph tighter than they raised girls in my day." "Don't be too hard on him, Permelie. He's done what he could. He wants to raise Delph right. Look, how hard he worked to git 'em to put this high school out here. Mostly on Delph's account he got it done, I know." Mrs. Crouch sniffed. "An' that was all a mess of foolishness. Th' pore girl went through th' eighth grade three times while she waited fer th' school, an' anyhow what good'll this three year high school do her if he won't let her go to th' one in town to graduate." "Now, Permelie, don't be too certain about things you don't know. Lord, they've had it up one side an' down th' other this summer, her on one side, an' John an' Fronie on th' other. 'Pears like they'll have to give in." He sighed and bent again to the carving. "I wisht they would. T'other day I found her a cryin' in th' hay loft. Delph was never one to let a body see her cry." Mrs. Crouch gave her apron an indignant flap. "That Fronie's so wrapped up with th' angels she can't have any heart for her man's own blood kin he took by force to raise. Th' other day when I saw her up at Hedricks', I says to her, "Well, I reckin you're aimin' to send Delph away to Town to th' County High School this fall." "An' she rung in Jake Barnes's oldest girl, I reckin," Juber said. "Jake Barnes is right. Soon's I mentioned Delph why Fronie started rollin' down her eyes an' actin' pious. 'Look what happened to Jake Barnes's oldest girl when she went off to Cincinnati,' she whispers to me. 'I've tried hard to raise Delph right, an' get her to join th' church an' give her heart to God,' she says. 'But sometimes I think my pains'ull be fer nothin,' she says, an' whispers on, a noddin' that red head a her'n so broken hearted like. 'You recollect Delph's paw, an' you know th' stripe her maw was cut frum, marryin' agin an' leavin' th' country when her man was hardly two years in his grave.'" Old Willie rattled his cane and opened his eyes. "A better man never lived than Reuf Costello. He was a man, if'n he did shoot up th' country, an' git hisself killed before he died," he said in a loud argumentative voice. "'Delph's a good girl,' I says," Mrs. Crouch began, but stopped abruptly with her mouth open and her head tilted in an attitude of listening. "Ain't that wheels comin' up on th' other side a th' hill?-No wonder th' mail's late if he's tryin' to make it in a wagin." Juber listened, too, with his knife suspended above the hazel nut basket, "It's wheels all right, but sounds uncommon light fer a wagin." Young Willie cupped a hand to one ear, and the hound dog lifted his head, looked up the road, then got up and trotted toward the sound. "Must be that well shooter an' his cart, frum th' way Colonel Lee's actin'," Young Willie decided. Mrs. Crouch looked both frightened and curious, "He shorely wouldn't come down this way with a load a nitroglycerin, when th' nearest wells are better'n four mile away." Young Willie quieted her fears. He believed the cart to be empty and reckoned the nitroglycerin man was just driving by, maybe going to the Memorial Service at Big Cane Brake three miles on the other side of the creek. "He's got no dead in this country. What business would he have a goin' up there?" Mrs. Crouch wondered, while Juber reckoned aloud that any man who did such dangerous work must be an awful fool. "They's good money in it," Young Willie said, and added, "He's dropped by our place three, four times, an' a body can tell he's got plenty a sober sense by th' looks a him." "He looks too damned sober to suit me," Old Willie called. "Reminds me uv a mule a holdin' itself in. An' gittin' a word out a him is like pullin' a penniwinkle out a its shell-less'n he's swearin' an' then it's pure sin to hear him." "Well, sensible or foolish I cain't see th' good a money when a man's blowed to Kingdom Come, an' as long as he does that kind a work he cain't ever marry an' settle down like a man ought. I've heared say they won't let married men haul nitroglycerin," Mrs. Crouch said. Juber smiled at the postmistress's foolish ideas on oil men. "Who ever heared uv a oil man a settlin' any place long. They ain't built that way, else they wouldn't be oil men," he argued, and got up to get a better view of the light nitroglycerin cart with its driver, and drawn by two big-bodied horses, just clearing the crest of the hill. The outfit was coming on at a smart pace, when Mrs. Crouch gave a troubled cry of, "Lord, Lord, look at that fool hen. Leadin' th' chickens right in th' middle a th' road. That Logan Ragan flyin' around in his car just missed killin' one this mornin.'" "It 'ud be just like a oil man to come smashin' right down over 'em," Juber said, and all were silent as they watched the oil man and the badly flustered mother hen dispute for supremacy of the road. He pulled his team to a slow walk, and when the hen continued to go clucking straight ahead with her chickens scattering on each side, he halted and sat a time and looked at them. Mrs. Crouch sighed with relief. "He's got a heart in him," she said, and when at last the hen and her sunburned chickens were safely out of the road, and the cart was coming on again, the post mistress picked up the zinc water bucket by the door, emptied it of its stale water and hurried in back for water fresh from the well. From his seat in the cart the driver appeared to be a youngish man of medium build and medium height, straight-backed and square-shouldered with a body sparsely covered with flesh as that of a hill man. His gray eyes, however, and the little of his bright pale hair that could be seen from under the battered black felt hat he wore, marked him as a stranger to the Little South Fork Country. "He's a quair mix up, but he's got a pretty team," Juber said in a low voice, and wondered why he had come this way and where he was going. Certainly not to church, for he wore an old blue cotton shirt, thread bare at the elbows, faded with sun and sweat across the shoulders. His dark brown corduroy trousers were little better than his shirt, and a few days growth of whiskers, the same bright color as his hair, made the hill men fresh from Saturday shaves and in clean overalls seem well dressed by contrast. His team was sleek and well fed in oiled and polished harness, and the plaiting of the horses' tails and smoothness of their manes showed signs of unusual care. He turned from the road and drove down among the beech trees where the saddled mules and Maude were tethered, and selected a well-shaded spot for the cart. The men on the porch continued to watch him as he unhitched and led his horses to the creek for a drink. They drank slowly, pausing at times to lift their heads from the water and blow windy sighs through their nostrils, while he stood patiently in the hot sun with their bridles over his arm. When they were finished at last and he had hitched them in the shade, he did not come immediately to the post office, but stopped to examine his lead horse's left hock, that showed a slight thread of red like a scratch from a nail or sharp bit of limestone. He came on then, but stopped uncertainly at the edge of the porch with his hat in his hand. The sunshine on his hair made it bright like red tinged silver, but the light seemed not to touch his eyes. They were gray with something of the sheen of a slate rock in the rain, dark and quiet under stiff short black eyelashes, and contrasting sharply with the brightness of his hair and whiskers. He was a square faced, straight-mouthed man, with a jaw that, though not unduly large, hinted that it was made of bone. Young Willie and Old Willie nodded in greeting, while Mrs. Crouch pointed to the sweating water bucket and invited, "Come have a drink." "Thanks," he said, and Young Willie, watching him, asked when he had finished three dippers full, "Your lead horse get a scratch?" He flung drops of water from the dipper, and answered in a low quiet voice that matched his jaw and his eyes, "That damned fool of a Logan Ragan scrouged me out a th' road comin' up. If it hadn't a been that my horses will stand up to anything I'd a had a runaway.-He was gone 'fore I could get at him." Old Willie came to sudden life, sputtered and pounded his Bible then cried, "Since that one of th' Ragans got that fine job with th' Standard Oil in town where he can keep hissef clean an' tell other folks what to do, he goes larrapin' around like a addled somethin'-scarin' hosses." "Somebody ought to take him down a peg," the oil man said, and went to sit on the edge of the porch near Juber. Mrs. Crouch studied him with kind, concerned eyes, "He mebbe meant no harm, jist hurryin' to see Delph Costello. Nearly killed one a my chickens-but well-if I was you I'd jist forget it." Juber and Young Willie nodded. "He's one a th' Little South Fork Ragans, a triggery breed like th' old Costellos-got three brothers," Juber said, and gave the oil man a sidling speculative glance. The stranger eased his back against a porch post and glanced toward his lead horse with darkened, narrowed eyes. "I can use my fists," he said. "Boy, they'd never give you a chance to use your fists," Young Willie warned, and added soothingly, "That looks like a little scratch, an' to my mind won't make a scar." The front legs of Old Willie's chair came down with abrupt violence, and the iron shod tip of his cane rang on the floor. "Pretty soon nobody in this country'ul keep horses any more. My Maude an' John Costello's Silver are about all th' good ones left, an' then they run us out a th' road. Th' ones that git any money from oil or timber they go away, or else they buy 'em cars an' go fistin' around where th' roads are good like that Logan Ragan." Young Willie pulled his father's coat sleeve. "Now, Paw, you'll have a coughin' spell, gittin' so excited like." And the oil man turned to Old Willie and comforted, "There'll always be horses in th' Bluegrass country." His eyes glowed as if he smiled, though his mouth did not change. "Th' thoroughbreds around Lexington, they're pretty things," he said. "We've never had that kind in th' Little South Fork Country," Juber answered, "but I'd jist as soon or ruther have a good hunter of a five gaited saddle mare that 'ud take blue ribbons at th' fair.-Delph, she's th' niece a th' people where I live, she had one like that about two yer back, but her Uncle John sold her. Delph rode her so wild, a jumpin' fences like a heathen an' a lopin' down hills. We was afraid she'd break her neck." "I'll bet th' girl hated it when they sold her mare." "Aye, she was mad a plenty an' give 'em a piece uv her mind, but I don't think it was th' mare she loved so much as th' runnin' an' jumpin' uv her." Mrs. Crouch turned from her business of watching for the mail. "That's always been Delph's trouble. If she'd cry an' beg to John 'stead a talkin' up to him she'd mebbe git more a what she wants." Juber polished the hazel nut basket with slow strokes against his knee. "Th' ones that naiver let on, them's th' ones th' world cuts deepest," he said, and added sorrowfully, "so many times she says to me, 'Juber, I wisht they'd let me go away an' learn things like singin' an' such.'" Mrs. Crouch smiled as over the foolish whim of a well-beloved child, "Pshaw, like as if she needed to learn to sing, when she's th' best soprano they've got up at Big Cane Brake. I've heared Preacher Dodson say many a time he'd taught her about 'bout all he could, an' he's one a th' best singin' teachers in th' county." "She don't want to sing jist church songs. She wants-." But Juber stopped abruptly, and seemed like a child caught in the crime of giving a secret away. "What does she want to learn? Dance tunes?" Young Willie asked with a note of condemnation in his voice. "An' supposin' she does want to learn dance tunes?" Mrs. Crouch demanded with a belligerent out thrusting of her chin toward Young Willie. "I square danced when I was a girl-an' turned out decent-but thank God I was never raised by a Fronie Butler Costello. But if Juber, here, don't quit fiddlin' dance tunes for her when John an' Fronie's not around, he'll be puttin' notions in her head." "But she likes th' lively music so," Juber answered, and stared out through the grove of heart and initial scarred beech trees. The oil man followed his glance and studied the trees. The initials and hearts cut into the smooth gray bark were grown high into the limbs and so enlarged and distorted by the swelling growth of the trunk that they seemed to have sprung from the ground with the tree. He twisted his head in an effort to read the initials, but stopped when Young Willie said, "Aye, you'll never make 'em out. No stranger ever could. Lots a people frum away off, th' ones that have gone away, they come a lookin' in th' beech trees same as they go a lookin' in th' graveyard. Th' last time Dorie Dodson Fairchild was down this way she stopped an' walked all through them trees a tryin' to see where her man, he's dead fer more'n a dozen years-died uv drink an' goin' wild-had cut his name an' hers up in a heart on a beech tree mor'n forty years ago when they was young like an' he was visitin' here." The oil man smiled, a slow bright smile that touched his eyes, "I'd like to see Old Dorie. Not many can beat her at farmin'." "She's never fergot her raisin'," Juber said with pride. "Them thirty or forty miles 'tween here an' Burdine never keeps her away from Big Cane Brake Memorial Day. You know her? You ought to go on up to th' church an' have a bite a dinner an' speak a word with her. If she liked ye onct she'll allus recollect ye. She's a Dodson through an' through." "I saw her not long back on my way up here to work. Sometime in th' spring it was. I recollect th' black locust bloom in her back yard. I don't know her so well, not th' way you do. I stayed with her a time six or seven years back when I was drillin' down by Burdine." "Better come an' go along with us," Juber advised, and got up and squinted at the sun above the beech trees. The oil man thought he'd wait until the mail came, but after much advice from Young Willie to Old Willie concerning such matters as keeping out of the sun and over eating, the two older men rode away, but at the bridge Juber must turn back to call, "Permelie, if'n anybody comes up this way recollect to send Delph's mail, less'n you want to be bothered with it." "I'll take it," the stranger suggested to Mrs. Crouch. "I know her.-I mean I've seen her a few times in town." The post mistress studied him, then asked with a sly pleased smile, "I wonder now is that what could be takin' you up to Big Cane Brake?" "Hell, no," he said, and asked abruptly, "I wonder is there any mail for me. I-I've sort of been expectin' some. Marshal Gregory is my name." Mrs. Crouch shook her head. "There's not been a strange letter in this post office for weeks." "It wouldn't a been a letter." "Well, soon's th' mail comes-if it ever does-I'll unlock an' have a look through th' stuff I ain't handed out. Mostly advertisin' stuff or old election candidate trash. I don't generally hand that out, till th' election's over. Th' August primaries always cause too much trouble anyhow, an' men like John Costello go around for weeks with nothin' in their heads but politics. You interested in politics?" He shrugged uncomfortably. "I hardly ever stayed in one place long enough to vote." "You a native born Kentuckian?" He nodded. "I was born up in th' Bluegrass." "Your people still live there I reckin?" "They left when I was little like, an' mostly they live all over.-I think I'll go down an' look at my horse's hock again," he said, and got up and walked quickly away. Not long after the mail came; a battered Ford truck loaded down with boxes of empty fruit jars, sacks of sugar, and sacks of mail fattened by catalogues. The driver, a thin, sun-burned young man with a rakish tilt to his hat was heard to be delivering his opinion of the Little South Fork Country women who ordered goods from Sears to come by mail, and so received catalogues as a further burden on the mail. His most pungent remarks, however, were reserved for Fronie Costello who, because the summer's fruit harvest was an abundant one was apparently not content to can for a winter only, but from the dozens of fruit jars and hundreds of pounds of sugar he had hauled and was hauling out for her, she was evidently canning for the next dozen or so years to come. The oil man came and helped the horse shoe pitchers and Young Willie in the unloading of the mail. That finished, he went inside to stand by the wicket gate that separated the post office from the store, where several other men had gathered for the sorting of the mail. Mrs. Crouch finished the letters quickly, for the bundle was thin, then glanced about the room and said, "None a you all got any letters, 'ceptin' Mrs. Willie Burnett, an'," she turned to a slender rabbity eyed young man with flax colored hair who had stepped expectantly forward, "No, Willie you're not takin' it. Ruthie told me she didn't want you bringin' any more a your mail. You're liable to lose it like you done that last.-Wait, don't none a th' rest a you be leavin' either. I want to get rid a these catalogues." The stranger stepped from between a stack of meal and a case of shoes and edged nearer the window. "Recollect, I'm Marsh Gregory," he said in a low voice. "What about my mail?" "I know there's nothin' for you else I'd a remembered that strange name," Mrs. Crouch said, and added without looking up from the catalogues she sorted, "Now, don't go runnin' away. There's Costello's mail." "My mail wouldn't a been a letter or a catalogue, either," he insisted. "I'll have to sort out all this mess a catalogues," she said, and began calling in brisk tones, "Armstrong, Barnes, Burnett, Costello-here you are, oil man, a catalogue, an'-don't go runnin' away. I think one a these magazines is Delph's, an' Fronie's Bible Quarterly ought to be in today. Most generally I look it over to see what sort a doctrine she's up to, but I won't bother today. Wait. I'll look." She handed him soon a Bible Quarterly and a tightly rolled brown parcel that looked to be a woman's magazine. He hesitated by the window until she glanced at him and said, "That's all th' Costello mail." "But mine?" he asked. She rummaged through the papers scattered on the mail shelf and on the floor, squinted over this and that until she found a small stampless envelope that might have held a bulletin of less than twenty pages. "Here's somethin', but it's nothin' but gover'ment foolishness-some bulletin from Washington tellin' a man how to farm like as if they knowed in Washington. Farmin' with their mouths, I call it," she went on, and Marsh felt rather than saw the smiles of the hill men. He took the bulletin, shoved it hastily into his pocket, and turned toward the door in time to see the boys lounging by it make way for Logan Ragan, the man who had forced him out of the road. He was a tall, slender young man with black hair and blue-gray eyes, handsome as the hill men were sometimes handsome when they lived in town a time and learned to wear good clothes with the same careless grace they wore their overalls. He glanced at Marsh in cool-eyed appraisal, then turned to Mrs. Crouch and smiled and said, "Miss Costello sent me down for her mail. She's expectin' some, I think." Marsh heard the sudden silence of the room, but Logan noticed nothing. He came and leaned by the mail window and waited. The postmistress turned a catalogue end over end and seemed unable to find the address. "I give it to this oil man here," she explained after what seemed an uncomfortably long time. "He was goin' up that way." Logan turned quickly and held out his hand to Marsh. "I'll take it an' save you th' trip." "I'm makin' it anyhow," Marsh answered, and studied him with narrowed eyes.
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