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High up that mighty steep rocky slope with the sun just sunk, I turned as I knelt by my little campfire. Looking down slope and down to where the river crawled like a snake in the valley bottom, I saw her little black figure splash across the shallow place I'd found an hour back. At noontime I'd looked from the mountain yonder cross the valley and I'd seen her then, too, on another height I'd left behind. And I'd thought of a song with my name in it:
On yonder hill there stands a creature,
Who she is I do not know . . .
Oh no, John, no, John, no! . . .
But I knew she was Evadare. I'd fled from before her pretty face as never I'd fled from any living thing, not even evil spell-throwers nor murder-doers, nor either from my country's enemies when I'd soldiered in foreign parts and seen battle as the Bible prophet-book tells it, confused noises and garments rolled in blood. Since dawn I'd run from Evadare like a rabbit from a fox, and still she followed, climbing now along the trail I'd tried not to leave, toward the smoke of the fire I'd built before I knew she was still coming.
No getaway from her now, for night dropped on the world, and to climb higher would be to fall from some steep hidden place. I could wait where I was or I could head down and face her. Wondering which to do, I recollected how first we'd come on each other in Hosea's Hollow.
I'd not rightly known how I'd wandered thereHosea's Hollow. I hadn't meant to, that was certain sure. No good-sensed man or woman would mean to. Folks wished Hosea's Hollow was a lost hollow, tried to stay out of it and not think about it.
Not even the old Indians relished to go there. When the white folks ran the Indians off, the Indians grinned over their shoulders as they went, calling out how Kalu would give white men the same hard times he'd given Indians.
Kalu. The Indian word means a bone. Why Kalu was named that nobody could rightly say, for nobody who saw him lived to tell what he looked to be. He came from his place when he was mad or just hungry. Who he met he snatched away, to eat or worse than eat. The folks who'd stolen the Indians' country near about loaded their wagons to go the way they'd come. Thenand this was before the time of the oldest man I'd heard tell of ityoung Hosea Palmer said he'd take Kalu's curse away.
Folks hadn't wanted Hosea to try such. Hosea's father was a preacherhe begged him. So did Hosea's mother and so did a girl who'd dreamed to marry Hosea. They said if Hosea went where Kalu denned,
he'd not come back, but Hosea allowed Kalu was the downright evil and couldn't prevail against a pure heart. He went in the hollow, and true he didn't come out, but no more did Kalu, from that day on. Both vanished from folks' sight and knowledge, and folks named the place Hosea's Hollow, and nary path led there.
How I myself had come to the hollow, the first soul in long years as I reckoned, it wondered me. What outside had been the broad open light of the day was cloudy gray light here among funny-growing trees. Somewhere I heard an owl hoot, not waiting for night. Likewise I half-heard music, and it came to me that was why I'd walked there without meaning to.
Later, while I watched Evadare climb up trail to me, I recollected how, in Hosea's Hollow, I'd recollected hearing the sure enough music, two days before and forty-fifty miles off.
At Haynie's Fork, hunters had shot a hog that belonged to nobody, and butchered it up while the lady-folks baked pones of corn bread and sliced up coleslaw, and from here and yonder came folks carrying jugs of beady white liquor and music instruments. I was there, too, I enjoy to aid at such doings. We ate and drank and had dancing, and the most skilled men gave us music. Obray Ramsey picked his banjo and sang O where is pretty Polly, O yonder she stands, with rings on the fingers of her lily-white hands, on to the last line that's near about the frighteningest last line ary song had. Then they devilled me to play my silver-strung guitar and give them Vandy, Vandy and The Little Black Train. That led to tale-tellings, and one tale was of Hosea's Hollow and fifty different notions of what might could have gone with Hosea and whatever bore the name of Kalu. Then more music, with Byard Ray fiddling his possible best, the way we never thought to hear better.
But a tall thin stranger was there, with a chin like a skinny fist and sooty-colored hair. When Byard Ray had done, the stranger took from a bag a shiny black fiddle. I offered to pick guitar to harmony with him, but he said sharp, "No, I thank you." Alone he fiddled, and, gentlemen, he purely fiddled better than Byard Ray. When he'd done, I inquired him his name.
"Shull Cobart," he replied me. "You're John, is that right? We'll meet again, it's possible, John."
His smile was no way likeable as he walked off, while folks swore no living soul could fiddle Byard Ray down without some special fiddle-secret. That had been two days before, and here I was in Hosea's Hollow, seeming to hear music that was some way like the music of Shull Cobart's black fiddle.
The gray air shimmered, but not the least hot or bright, there where owls hooted by day. I looked at a funny-growing tree, and such flowers as it had I'd not seen before. Might be they grew from the tree, might be from a vine scrabbled up. They were cup-shape, shiny black like new shoesor like Shull Cobart's shiny-black fiddle, and I felt I could hear him still play, could see him still grin.
Was that why I half-heard the ghost of his music, why I'd come to these black-flowered trees in the shimmery gray air? Anyway, there was a trail, showing that something moved in Hosea's Hollow, between the trees so close-grown on each side you wondered could you put a knife blade among them. I headed along the trail, and the gray dancing shimmer seemed to slow me as I walked.
That tune in my head; I swung my guitar around from where it hung with my soogin sack and blanket roll, and tweaked the music from the silver strings. The shimmer dulled off, or at least I moved faster, picking up my feet to my own playing, around a curve bunched with more black flowers. And there, under the trees to one side, was a grave.
Years old it had to be, for vines and scrub grew on it. A wooden cross showed it was sure enough a grave. The straight stick was as tall as my chin and as big around as my both hands could grab, and the crosspiece wasn't nailed or tied on, it grew on. I stopped.
You've seen branches grown to each other like that. Two sorts of wood, the straight-up piece darker than the crosspiece. But both pieces looked alive, though the ends had been cut or broken so long back the raw was gone and the splinters rubbed off. Little-bitty twigs sprouted, with broad light-green leaves on the cross-piece and narrow dark laurel-looking ones on the straight pole. Roots reached into the grave, to sprout the cross. And letters were carved on, shaky and deep-dug and different sizes:
So here was where Hosea Palmer had lain down the last time, and some friend had buried him with the word to pray for him. Standing alone in the unchanciness, I did what the cross bade. In my heart I prayed, Let the good man rest as he's earned the right and when it's my time, O Lord, let me rest as I've earned the right; and bless the kind soul who made and marked a long home for Hosea Palmer, amen.
While always my hands moved to pick that inner-heard tune, slow and quiet like a hymn. Still picking, I strolled around another curve, and there before me was a cabin.
I reckoned one main room with clay chinking, with a split-plank door on leather hinges and a window curtained inside with tanned hide. A shed-roofed leanto was tacked to the left, and it and the main cabin had shake shingles pegged on.
The door opened, and I popped behind a tree as a girl came out.
Small-made; yet you saw she was grown and you saw she was proud, though the color was faded from her cotton dress till it was gray as a dove. Her bright, sun-colored hair was tied behind her neck with a blue ribbon. She brought a rusty old axe with her, walking proud toward a skimpy woodpile, and on her feet were flat, homemade shoes with the hair still on the cow-hide. The axe was wobble-handled, but there was strength in her little round arms. She made the axe chew the wood into pieces enough for an armful, carried the wood back into the cabin, and came out again with an old hoe on her shoulder.
From the dug well she drew the bucketit was old, too, with a couple of silver trickles leaking from it. She dipped a drink with a gourd dipper and lowered the bucket again. Then she went to the cleared patch past the cabin, and leaned on the hoe to look at the plants growing.
There was shin-high corn, and what looked like cabbages. She studied them, and her face was lovely. I saw that she yearned for her little crop to grow into food for her. She began to chop the ground up along a row, and I slid off down trail again, past the grave to where I heard water talking to itself.
I found a way through the trees to the waterside. Lay flat and took a big drink, and washed my face and hands. I dropped my gear on a flat rock, then unlaced my shoes and let the water wash my feet. Finally I cut a pole, tied on a string and hook and baited it with a scrap of smoke meat.
Fishing was good. Gentlemen, fresh fish are pretty things, they show you the reason for the names they've earnedshiner, sunfish, rainbow trout. Not that I caught any such, but what I caught was all right. When I had six I opened my knife to clean them, and built a fire and propped a stone beside it to fry meat on and then a couple of fish for supper. They ate good, just as the sun went down across the funny trees, and I wondered about the bright-haired girl, if she had a plenty to eat.
Finally, in the last dim light, I took my handaxe and chopped as much dry wood as I could tote. I wrapped the four other fish in leaves. I slung on my guitar, for I never walk off from that. Back I went along the trail to the cabin. Firelight danced in the window as I sneaked through the door-yard, and bent to stack the wood by the threshold log and lay the fish on it.
"What are you doing?"
She'd ripped the door open, and she had the axe in her hand. I took a long jump away before she could swing that rusty blade.
She stood with feet apart and elbows square, to fill the door as much as her small self could. Her hair was down around her shoulders, and shone like gold fire in the light from inside.
"Oh," she said, and let the axe sink. "You're not"
"Whom am I not?" I inquired her, trying hard to sound laughy.
She leaned tired on the axe. "Not Shull Cobart," she said.
"No, ma'am," I said. "You can say for me that I'm not Shull Cobart, nor I wouldn't be. I saw him once, and I'm honest to tell you he doesn't suit me." I pointed at what I'd brought. "I'm camped by the branch yonder. Had more fish and wood than I needed, and figured you might like them." I bowed to her. "Good night."
"Wait." There was a plea in that, and I waited. "What brought you here, Mr."
"I'm named John. And I just roamed in here, without thought of why."
"I'm wondered, Mr.'
"John," I named myself again.
"I'm wondered if you're the man I've heard tell of, named John, with a silver-strung guitar."
"Why," I said, "I'd not be amazed if I had the only silver-strung guitar there is. Nobody these days strings with silver but me."
"Then I've heard you called a good man." She looked down at the wood and the fish. "You've had your supper?" she asked, soft.
"Yes, ma'am, I've had my supper."
She picked up a fish. "I've not eaten. If youmaybe you'd like some coffee"
"Coffee," I repeated her. "I'd mightily relish a cup."
She picked up the rest of the fish. "Come in, John," she bade me, and I gathered the wood in my arms and walked in after her.
"My name's Evadare," she told me.
The inside of the cabin was what I might expect from the outside. Chinked walls, a stone fire-place with wood burning in it, a table home-pegged together, two stools made of split chunks with tough branches for legs. In a corner was a pallet bed, made up on the floor with two old patch quilts. A mirror was stuck to the wall chinkinga woman purely has to have a mirror. Evadare took a fire-splinter from the hearth and lighted a candle stuck on the table in its own tallow. I saw by the glow how pinky-soft her skin was, how young and pretty; and bigger, bluer eyes than Evadare's you couldn't call for. At last she smiled, just a little hopeful smile.
I laid more wood to the fire, found a skillet and a chunk of fat meat. I rolled two fish in cornmeal and commenced frying them. She poured coffee from a tin pot into two tin cups. Watching, I had it in mind that the bottom of the pot was as sooty black as Shull Cobart's hair.
Finally I forked the fish on to an old cracked white plate for her. She ate, and I saw she was hungry. Again she smiled that little small smile, and filled my cup again.
"I'd not expected ary soul to come into Hosea's Hollow," she finally said.
"You expected Shull Cobart," I told her to recollect. "You said so."
"He'd come if anybody would, John."
"He didn't," I said. "And I did. Do you care to talk about it?"
She acted glad to talk about it, once she started. She'd worked at weaving for Shull Cobart, with maybe nine-ten others, in a little town off in the hills. He took the cloth to places like Asheville and sold at a high mark to the touristers that came there. Once or twice he made to court Evadare, but she paid him no mind. But one day he went on a trip, and came again with the black fiddle.
"And he was different," she said. "He'd been scared and polite to folks before that. But the fiddle made him somebody else. He played at dances and folks danced their highest and fastest, but they were scared by his music, even when they flocked to it. He won prizes at fiddle-playing. He'd stand by the shop door and play to us girls, and the cloth we wove was more cloth and better clothbut it was strange. Funny feel and funny look to it."
"Did the touristers still buy it?" I inquired her.
"Yes, and payed more for it, but they seemed scared while they were buying it. So I've heard tell from folks who saw."
"And Shull Cobart made you run off."
"It was when he said he wanted me to light his darkness."
I saw what those words meant. An evil man speaking them to a good girl, because his evil was hungry for good. "What did you reply him?"
"I said I wanted to be quiet and good, he wanted to be showy and scary. And he said that was just his reason, he wanted me for my goodness to his scariness." She shivered, the way folks shiver when ice falls outside the window. "I swore to go where he'd not follow. Then he played his fiddle, it somehow made to bind me hand and foot. I felt he'd tole me off with him then and there, but I pretended"
She looked sad and ashamed of pretending, even in peril.
"I said I'd go with him next day. He was ready to wait. That night I ran off."
"And you came to Hosea's Hollow," I said. "How did you make yourself able?"
"I feared Kalu another sight less than I fear Shull Cobart," Evadare replied me. "And I've not seen KaluI've seen nothing. I heard a couple of things, though. Once something knocked at the door at night."
"What was it knocked, Evadare?"
"I wasn't so foolish for the lack of sense that I went to see." She shivered again, from her little toes up to her bright hair. "I dragged up the quilt and spoke the strongest prayer I remember, the old-timey one about God gives His angels charge over us by day and by night." Her blue eyes fluttered, remembering. "Whatever knocked gave one knock more and never again, that night or ary night since."
I was purely ready to talk of something else. "Who made this cabin for you?" I asked, looking around.
"It was here when I cameempty. But I knew good folks had made it, by the cross."
I saw where her eyes went, to the inside of the half-shut door. A cross was cut there, putting me in mind of the grave by the trail.
"It must have been Hosea Palmer's cabin. He's dead and buried now. Who buried him?"
She shook her head. "That wonders me, too. All I know is, a good friend did it years ago. Sometimes, when I reckon maybe it's a Sunday, I say a prayer by the grave and sing a hymn. It seems brighter when I sing, looking up to the sky."
"Maybe I can guess the song you sing, Evadare." And I touched the guitar again, and both of us sang it:
Lights in the valley outshine the sun
Look away beyond the blue!
As we sang I kept thinking in my hearthow pretty her voice, and how sweet the words in Evadare's mouth.
She went on to tell me how she hoped to live. She'd fetched in meal and salt and not much else, and she'd stretched it by picking wild greens, and there were some nuts here and there around the old cabin, poked away in little handfuls like the work of squirrels; though neither of us had seen a squirrel in Hosea's Hollow. She had planted cabbages and seed corn, and reckoned these would be worth eating by deep summer. She was made up in her mind to stay in Hosea's Hollow till she had some notion that Shull Cobart didn't lie in wait for her coming back.
"He's waiting," she felt sure. "He laughed when I spoke of running off. Said he'd know all I meant to do, all he needed was to wonder a thing while he played his fiddle and the answer was in his mind." Her pink tongue wet her lips. "He had a song he played, said it had power"
"Was it maybe this one?" I asked, trying to jolly her; and again I touched the strings. I sang old words to the music I heard inside:
My pretty little pink, I once did think
That you and I would marry,
But now I've lost all hope of you,
And I've no time to tarry.
I'll take my sack upon my back,
My rifle on my shoulder,
And I'll be off to the Western States
To view the country over . . .
"That's the tune," she said, "but not the words." Again she shivered. "They were like something in a dream, while he played and sang along, and I felt I was trapped and tangled and webbed."
"Like something in a dream," I repeated her, and made up words like another thing I'd heard once, to fit the same music:
I dreamed last night of my true love,
All in my arm I had her,
And her locks of hair, all long and fair,
Hung round me like a shadow . . .
"That's not his song, either," said Evadare.
"No, it isn't," a voice I'd heard before came to agree her.
In through that half-open door stepped Shull Cobart, with his sooty hair and his grin, and his shiny black fiddle in his hand.
"Why don't you say me a welcome?" he asked Evadare, and cut his eyes across at me. "John, I counted on you being here, too."
Quick I leaned my guitar to the wall and got up. "Then you counted on trouble with me," I said. "Lay aside that fiddle so I won't break it when I break you."
But it was to his chin, and the bow across. "Hark before we fight," he said, and gentlemen, hush! how Shull Cobart could play.
It was the same tune, fiddled beyond my tongue's power to tell how wild and lovely. And the cabin that had had red-gold light from the fire and soft-gold light from Evadare's hair, it looked that quick to glow silver-pale, in jumping, throbbing sweeps as he played. Once, a cold clear dry winter night, I saw in the sky the Northern Lights; and the air in that cabin beat and throbbed and quivered the same way, but pale silver, I say, not warm red. And it came to my mind, harking helpless, that the air turned colder all at once than that winter night when I'd watched the Northern Lights in the sky.
I couldn't come at Shull Cobart. Somehow, to move at him was like moving neck-deep against a flooding river. I couldn't wear my way a foot closer. I sat on the stool again, and he stripped his teeth at me, grinning like a dog above a trapped rabbit.
"I wish the best for you, John," he said through the music. "Look how I make you welcome and at rest here."
I knew what way he wanted me to rest, the same way Hosea Palmer rested out yonder. I knew it wouldn't help to get up again, so I took back my guitar and sat quiet. I looked him up and down. He wore a suit of dark cloth with a red stripe, a suit that looked worth money, and his shoes were as shiny as his fiddle, ready to make manners before rich city folks. His mean dark eyes, close together above that singing, spell-casting fiddle, read my thoughts inside me.
"Yes, John, it's good cloth," he said. "My own weaving."
"I know how it was woven," Evadare barely whispered, the first words she'd spoken since Shull came in.
She'd moved halfway into a corner. Scared whitebut she was a prettier thing than I'd ever seen in my life.
"Like me to weave for you?" he inquired me, mocking; and then he sang a trifly few words to his tune:
I wove this suit and I cut this suit,
And I put this suit right on,
And I'll weave nine yards of other cloth
To make a suit for John . . .
"Nine yards," I repeated after him.
"Would that be enough fine cloth for your suit?" he grinned across the droning fiddle strings. "You're long and tall, a right much of a man, but"
"Nobody needs nine yards but for one kind of suit," I kept on figuring. "And that's no suit at all."
"A shroud," said Evadare, barely making herself heard, and how Shull Cobart laughed at her wide eyes and the fright in her voice!
"You reckon there'll be a grave for him here in Kalu's own place, Evadare?" he gobbled at her. "Would Kalu leave enough of John to be worth burying? I know about old Barebones Kalu."
"He's not hereabouts," Evadare half-begged to be believed. "Never once he bothered me."
"Maybe he's just spared you, hoping for something better," said Shull. "But he won't be of a mind to spare all of us that came here making a fuss in his home place. That's why I toled John here."
"You toled me?" I asked, and again he nodded.
"I played a little tune so you'd come alone, John. I reckoned Kalu would relish finding you here. Being he's the sort he is, and I'm the sort I am, it's you he'd make way with instead of me. That lets me free to take Evadare away."
"I'll not go with you," Evadare said, sharper and louder than I thought possible for her.
"Won't you, though?" Shull laughed. His fiddle-music came up, and Evadare drew herself tight and strong, as if she leaned back against ropes on her. The music took on wild-sounding notes to fit into itself Evadare's hands made fists, her teeth bit together, her eyes shut tight. She took a step, or maybe she was dragged. Another step she took, another, toward Shull.
I tried to get up, too, but I couldn't move as she was moving. I had to sit and watch, and I had the thought of that saying about how a snake draws a bird to his coil. I'd never believed such a thing till I saw Evadare move, step by step she didn't want to take, toward Shull Cobart.
Suddenly he stopped playing, and breathed hard, like a man who's been working in the fields. Evadare stood still and rocked on her feet. I took up my muscles to make a jump, but Shull pointed his fiddle-bow at me, like a gun.
"Have sense!" he slung out. "You've both learned I can make you go or stay, whichever I want, when I fiddle as I know how. Sit down, Evadare, and I'll silence my playing for the time. But make a foolish move, John, and I might play a note that would have the bones out of your body without ary bit of help from Kalu."
Bad man as he was, he told the truth, and both of us knew it. Evadare sat on the other stool, and I put my guitar across my knees. Shull Cobart leaned against the door jamb, his fiddle low against his chest, and looked sure of himself. At that instant I was dead sure I'd never seen a wickeder face, not among all the wicked faces of the wide world.
"Know where I got this fiddle, you two?" he asked.
"I can guess," I said, "and it spoils my notion of how good a trader a certain old somebody is. He didn't make much of a swap, that fiddle for your soul; for the soul was lost before you bargained."
"It wasn't a trade, John." He plucked a fiddle-string with his thumbnail. "Just a sort of little present between friends."
"I've heard the fiddle called the devil's instrument," said Evadare, back to her soft whisper; and once again Shull Cobart laughed at her, and then at me.
"Folks have got a sight to learn about fiddles. This fiddle will make you and me rich, Evadare. We'll go to the land's great cities, and I'll play the dollars out of folks' pockets and the hearts out of folks' bodies. They'll honor me, and they'll bow their faces in the dirt before your feet."
"I'll not go with you," she told him again.
"No? Want me to play you right into my arms this minute? The only reason I don't, Evadareand my arms want you, and that's a factI'd have to put down my fiddle to hold you right."
"And I'd be on you and twist your neck around like the stem on a watch," I added onto that. "You know I can do it, and so do I. Any moment it's liable to happen."
As he'd picked his fiddle-string, I touched a silver string of my guitar, and it sang like a honey-bee. "Don't do that any more, John," he snapped. "Your guitar and my fiddle don't tune together. I'm a lone player."
To his chin went that shiny black thing, and the music he made lay heavy on me. He sang:
I'll weave nine yards of other cloth
For John to have and keep,
He'll need it where he's going to lie,
To warm him in his sleep . . . .
"What are we waiting for?" I broke in. "You might kill me somehow with your fiddling, but you won't scare me."
"Kalu will do the scaring," he said as he stopped again. "Scare you purely to death. We're just a-waiting for him to come."
"How will we know" began Evadare.
"We'll know," said Shull, the way he'd promise a baby child something. "We'll hear him. Then I'll play John out of here to stand face to face with Kalu, if it's really a face Kalu has."
I laughed myself, and heaven pardon me the lie I put into my laugh, trying to sound as if naught pestered me. Shull frowned; he didn't like how my laugh hit his ear.
"Just for argument's sake," I said to him, "How do you explain what you say your music can do?"
"I don't do any explaining. I just do the playing."
"I've heard tell how a fiddler can be skilled to where he plays a note and breaks a glass window," I recollected. "I've heard tell he might possibly even make a house fall down."
"Dogs howl when fiddles play," said Evadare. "From pain it makes."
Shull nodded at us both. "You folks are right. There's been power-music long before this. Ever hear of a man named Orpheus?"
"He was an old-timey Greek," I said.
"He played his harp, and trees danced for him. He played his way down to the floor of hell, and back out again. Maybe I've got some of that power. A fiddle can sing extra sharp or extra sweet, and its sound's solidlike a knife or club or rope, if you can work it."
I remembered in my mind that sound goes in waves like light, and can be measured; and a wave is power, whether of sound or light. Waves can wash, like the waves of the sea that strike down tall walls and strong men. Too bad, I decided, that educated folks couldn't use that black fiddle, to make its power good and useful. In devil-taught hands, it was the devil's instrument. Not like my silver-strung guitar, the way harps, certain harps in a certain high place, are said to be strung with gold . . .
Shull listened. You could almost see his ears stick up, like the ears of an animal. "Something's out there," he said.
I heard it, too. Not a step or a scramble, but a movement.
"Kalu," said Evadare, her eyes the widest yet in the firelight.
"Yes, it's Kalu," said Shull. "John, wouldn't it be kindlier to the lady if you met him outside?"
"Much kindlier," I agreed him, and got up.
"You know this isn't personal, John," Shull said, fiddle at his chin. "But Kalu's bound to have somebody. It won't be Evadare, because some way he's let her be. And it won't be me, with you here. You've got a reputation, John, for doing things against what Kalu stands to represent. I figure he wants something good, because he's got plenty of the strong evil."
"The way you think you've got to have Evadare," I said.
"That's it. You're in the line of what he wants to devour." He began to play again. "Come on, John."
I was coming. I'd made up my mind. The weight of the music was on me, but not quite as deadening and binding as before. Shull Cobart walked out, fiddling. I just winked at Evadare, as if I figured it would be all right. Then I walked out, too.
The light was greeny-pale, though I saw no moon. Maybe the trees hid it, or the haze in the sky.
"Where will you face him?" asked Shull, almost polite above his soft playing.
"There's a grave down yonder" I began to say.
"Yes, just the place. Come on."
I followed after him on the trail. My left hand chorded my guitar at the neck, my right-handed fingers found the strings. What was it Evadare had told me? . . . I say a prayer by the grave and sing a hymn. It seems brighter when I sing . . .
Then there could be two kinds of power-music.
I began to pick the tune along with Shull, softer even than Evadare's whisper. He didn't hear; and, because I followed him like a calf to the slaughter-pen, he didn't guess.
Around the bend was the grave, the green light paler around it. Shull stopped. All of a quick, I knew Kalu was in the trees over us. Somewhere up there, he made a heaviness in the branches.
"Stand where you want to, John. I vow, you've played the man so far."
I moved past him, close to the cross, though there wasn't light enough to see the name or the prayer.
"Drop that guitar!" Shull howled at me.
For I began to play loud, and I sang to his tune, changing the rhythm for my own quick-made-up words:
I came to where the pilgrim lay,
Though he was dead and gone,
And I could hear his comrade say,
He rests in peace alone
"Hush up with that!"
Shull Cobart stopped playing and ran at me. I clucked away and around the cross, and quick I sang the second verse:
Winds may come and thunders roll
And stormy tempests rise,
But here he sleeps with a restful soul
And the tears wiped from his eyes
"Come for him, Kalu!" Shull screamed.
Kalu drop-leaped out of the branches between us.
Gentlemen, don't ask me to say too much what Kalu was. Bones, yessomething like man-bones, but bigger and thicker, also something like bear-bones, or big ape-bones from a foreign land. And a rotten light to them, so I saw for a moment that the bones weren't empty. Inside the ribs were caged puffy things, like guts and lungs and maybe a heart that skipped and wiggled. The skull had a snout like I can't say what, and in its eye-holes burned blue-green fire. Out came the arm-bones, and the finger-bones were on Shull Cobart.
I heard Shull Cobart scream one more time, and then Kalu had him, like a bullfrog with a minnow. And Kalu was back up in the branches. Standing by the grave, still tweaking my strings, I heard the branches rustle, and no more sounds after that from Shull Cobart.
After while, I walked to where the black fiddle lay. I stomped with my foot, heard it smash, and kicked the pieces away.
Walking back to the cabin seemed to take an hour. I stopped at the door.
"No!" moaned Evadare, and then she just looked at me. "Johnbut"
"That's twice you thought I was Shull Cobart," I said.
"Kalu took him, not me."
"But" she stopped again.
"I figured the truth about Kalu and Hosea Palmer, walking out with Shull," I began to explain. "All at once I knew why Kalu never pestered you. You'll wonder why you didn't know it, too."
"But" she tried once more.
"Think," I bade her. "Who buried Hosea Palmer, with a cross and a prayer? What dear friend could he have, when he came in here alone? Who was left alive here when it was Hosea Palmer's time to die?"
She just shook her head from side to side.
"It was Kalu," I said. "Remember the story, all of it. Hosea Palmer said he knew how to stop Kalu's wickedness. Folks think Hosea destroyed Kalu some way. But what he did was teach him the good part of things. They weren't enemies. They were friends."
"Oh," she said. "Then"
"Kalu buried Hosea Palmer," I finished for her, "and cut his name and the prayer. Hosea must have taught him his letters. But how could Shull Cobart understand that? It wasn't for us to know, even, till the last minute. And Kalu took the evil man, to punish him."
I sat on the door-log, my arms around my guitar. "You can go home now, Evadare," I said. "Shull Cobart won't vex you again, by word of mouth or by sight of his face."
She'd been sitting all drawn up, as small as she could make herself. Now she managed to stand.
"Where will you go, John?"
"There's all the world for me to go through. I'll view the country over. Think me a kind thought once in a while when we're parted."
"Parted?" she said after me, and took a step, but not as if a web of music dragged her. "John. Let me come with you."
I jumped up. "With me? You don't want to go with me, Evadare."
"Let me come." Her hand touched my arm, trembling like a bird.
"How could I do that, take you with me? I live hard."
"I've not lived soft, John." But she said it soft and lovely, and it made my heart ache with what I hadn't had time before to feel for her.
"I don't have a home," I said.
"Folks make you welcome everywhere. You're happy. You have enough of what you need. There's music wherever you go. John, I want to hear the music and help the song."
I wanted to try to laugh that thought away, but I couldn't laugh. "You don't know what you say. Listen, I'll go now. Back to my camp, and I'll be out of here before sunup. Evadare, God bless you wherever you go."
"Don't you want me to go with you, John?" I couldn't dare reply her the truth of that. Make her a wanderer of the earth, like me? I ran off. She called my name once, but I didn't stop. At my camp again, I sat by my died-out fire, wondering, then wishing, then driving the wish from me.
In the black hour before dawn, I got my stuff together and started out of Hosea's Hollow. I came clear of it as the light rose, and mounted up a trail to a ridge above. Something made me look back.
Far down the trail I'd come, I saw her. She leaned on a stick, and she carried some kind of bundlemaybe her quilts, and what little food she had. She was following.
"That fool-headed girl," I said, all alone to myself, and I up and ran down the far side. It was hours until I crossed the bottom below and mounted another ridge beyond. On the ridge I'd left behind I saw Evadare still moving after me, her little shape barely bigger than a fly. Then I thought of that song I've told you before:
On yonder hill there stands a creature,
Who she is I do not know,
I will ask her if she'll marry . . .
Oh, no, John, no, John, no!
But she didn't stand, she came on. And I knew who she was. And if I asked her to marry she wouldn't answer no.
The rest of that day I fled from her, not stopping to eat, only to grab mouthfuls of water from streams. And in the dusky last end of the day I sat quiet and watched her still coming, leaning on her stick for weariness, and knew I must go down trail to meet her.
She was at the moment when she'd drop. She'd lost her ribbon, and the locks of her hair fell round her like a shadow. Her dress was torn, her face was white-tired, and the rocks had cut her shoes to pieces and the blood seeped out of her torn feet.
She couldn't even speak. She just sagged into my arms when I held them out to her.
I carried her to my camp. The spring trickled enough so I could wash her poor cut feet. I put down her quilt and my blanket for her to sit on, with her back to a big rock. I mixed a pone of cornmeal to bake on a flat stone, and strung a few pieces of meat on a green twig. I brought her water in my cupped hand.
"John," she managed at last to speak my name.
"Evadare," I said, and we both smiled at each other, and I sat down beside her.
"I'll cease from wandering," I vowed to her. "I'll get a piece of land and put up a cabin. I'll plant and hoe a crop for us"
"No such thing, John! I'm tired nowso tiredbut I'll get over that. Let's justview the country over."
I pulled my guitar to me, and remembered another verse to the old song that fitted Shull Cobart's tune:
And don't you think she's a pretty little pink,
And don't you think she's clever,
And don't you think that she and I
Could make a match forever?
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