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Vandy, Vandy


That valley hadn't any name. Such outside folks as knew about it just said "Back in yonder," and folks inside said, "Here." The mail truck dropped a few letters in a hollow tree next to a ridge where a trail went up and over and down. Three, four times a year bearded men in homemade clothes and shoes fetched out their makings—clay dishes and pots, mostly, for dealers to sell to tourists. They carried back coffee, salt, gunpowder, a few nails. Things like that.

It was a day's scramble on that ridge trail, I vow, even with my long legs and no load but my silver-strung guitar. No lumberman had ever cut the thick, big old trees. I quenched my thirst at a stream and followed it down. Near sunset, I heard music jangling.

Fire shone out through an open cabin door, to where folks sat on a stoop log and frontyard rocks. One had a guitar, another fiddled, and hands slapped so a boy about ten or twelve could jig. Then they all spied me and fell quiet. They looked, and didn't know me.

"That was pretty, ladies and gentlemen," I said, but nobody remarked.

A long-bearded old man with one suspender and no shoes held the fiddle on his knee. I reckoned he was the grandsire. A younger, shorter-bearded man with the guitar might be his son. There was a dry old mother, there was the son's plump wife, there was a younger yellow-haired girl, and there was that dancing little grandboy.

"What can we do for you, young sir?" asked the old man. Not that he sounded like doing anything—mountain folks say that even to the government man who's come hunting a still on their place.

"Why," I said, "I sort of want a place to sleep."

"Right much land to stretch out on yonder," said the guitar man.

I tried again. "I heard you all playing first part of Fire in the Mountains."

"Is they two parts?" That was the boy, before anyone could silence him.

"Sure enough, son," I said. "Let me show you the second part."

The old man opened his beard, likely to say wait till I was asked, but I strummed my own guitar into second part, best I knew how. Then I played first part through, and, "You sure God can pick that," said the short-bearded one. "Do it again."

I did it again. When I reached second part, the old man sawed fiddle along with me. We went around Fire in the Mountains once more, and the ladyfolks clapped hands and the boy jigged. Still nobody smiled, but when we stopped the old man made me a nod.

"Sit on that rock," he said. "What might we call you?"

"My name's John," I told him.

"I'm Tewk Millen. Mother, I reckon John's a-tired, coming from outside. He might relish a gourd of cold water."

"We're just before having a bite the old lady said to me. "Ain't but just smoke meat and beans, but you're welcome."

"I'm sure honored, Mrs. Millen," I said. "But it's a trouble."

"No trouble," said Mr. Tewk Millen. "Let me make you known to my son Heber and his wife Jill, and this here is boy Calder."

"Proud to know you," they all said.

"And my girl Vandy " Mr. Tewk finished.

I looked at her hair like yellow corn silk and her eyes like purple violets. "Vandy?" I said after her father.

Shy, she dimpled at me. "I know it's a scarce name, Mr. John, I never heard it anywhere but among my kinfolks."

"I have," I said, "and it's what brought me here."

Mr. Tewk Millen looked funny above his whiskers. "Thought you said you was a young stranger man."

"I heard the name outside in a song, sir. Somebody allowed the song's known here. I'm a singer. I go far after a good song." I looked around. "Do you all know that Vandy song, folks?"

"Yes, Sir," said little Calder, but the others studied a minute. Mr. Tewk rubbed up a leaf of tobacco into his pipe.

"Calder," he said, "go in and fetch me a chunk of fire to light up with. John, you certain you never met my daughter Vandy?"

"Certain sure," I made reply. "Only I can figure how ary young fellow might come a far piece to meet her."

She stared down at her hands where she sat. "We learnt the song from papa," she half-whispered, "and he learnt it from his papa—"

"And my papa learnt it from his," Mr. Tewk finished for her. "It goes a way back, that song, I figure."

I'd sure enough relish hearing it," I said.

"After you heard it," said Mr. Tewk. "After you learnt it, what would you do?"

"Why," I said, "I reckon I'd go back outside and sing it some,"

I could see that's what he wanted to hear.

"Heber," he told his son, "you pick it out and I'll scrape this fiddle, and Calder and Vandy can sing it for John."

They played the tune once without words. The notes were put together strangely, in what schooled folks call minors. But other folks, better schooled yet, say such tunes sound strange and lonesome because in old times folks had another note scale from our do-re-mi-fa today. And little Calder piped up, high and young but strong:


Vandy, Vandy, I've come to court you,
Be you rich or be you poor,
And if you'll kindly entertain me,
I will love you forever more.

Vandy, Vandy, I've gold and silver,
Vandy, Vandy, I've a house and land,
Vandy, Vandy, I've a world of pleasure,
I would make you a handsome man.  


He got that far, singing for the fellow come courting, and Vandy sang back the reply, sweet as a bird:


I love a man who's in the army,
He's been there for seven long year,
And if he's there for seven year longer,
I won't court no other dear.

What care I for your gold and silver,
What care I for—  


She stopped, and the guitar and fiddle stopped, and was like the death of sound. The leaves didn't rustle in the trees, nor the fire didn't stir on the hearth inside. They all looked with their mouths half open, where somebody stood with his hands crossed on the gold knob of a black cane and grinned all on one side of his toothy mouth.

Maybe he came up the down-valley trail, maybe he'd dropped from a tree like a possum. He was built spry and slim, with a long coat buttoned to his pointed chin, and brown pants tucked into elastic-sided boots, like what your grandsire had. His hands on the cane looked slim and strong. His face, bar its crooked smile, might be handsome. His dark brown hair curled like buffalo wool, and his eyes were the shiny pale gray of a new knife. Their gaze crawled all over the Millens and he laughed a slow, soft laugh.

"I thought I'd stop by," he crooned, "if I haven't worn out my welcome."

"Oh, no sir!" said Mr. Tewk, standing up on his two bare feet, fiddle in hand. "No sir, Mr. Loden, we're proud to have you, mighty proud," he jabber-squawked, like a rooster caught by the leg. "You sit down, sir, make yourself easy."

Mr. Loden sat down on the seat-rock Mr. Tewk had left and Mr. Tewk found a place on the stoop log by his wife, nervous as a boy stealing apples.

"Your servant, Mrs. Millen," said Mr. Loden. "Heber, you look well, and your good wife. Calder, I brought you candy."

His slim hand offered a bright striped stick, red and low. You'd think a country child would snatch it. But Calder took it slow and scared, as he'd take a poison snake. You'd think he'd decline if he dared.

"For you, Mr. Tewk," went on Mr. Loden, "I've fetched some of my tobacco. An excellent weed." He handed Mr. Tewk a pouch of soft brown leather. "Empty your pipe. Enjoy it, Sir."

"Thank you kindly," said Mr. Tewk, and sighed and began to do what he'd been ordered.

"And Miss Vandy." Mr. Loden's croon petted her name. "I wouldn't venture here without hoping you'd receive a trifle at my hands."

He dangled it from a chain, a gold thing the size of his pink thumbnail. In it shone a white jewel, that grabbed the firelight and twinkled red.

"Do me the honor, Miss Vandy, to let it rest on your heart, that I may envy it."

She took the jewel and sat with it between her soft little hands. Mr. Loden turned his eye-knives on me. "Now," he said, "we come around to the stranger within your gates."

"Yes, we come around to me," I agreed, hugging my guitar on my knee. "My name's John, Mr. Loden."

"Where are you from, John?" It was sudden, almost fierce, like a lawyer in a courtroom.

"From nowhere," I said.

"Meaning, from everywhere," he supplied me. "What do you do?"

"I wander," I said. "I sing songs. I mind my own business and watch my manners."

"Touché!" he cried in a foreign tongue, and smiled on that same side of his mouth. "You oblige me to remember how sometimes I err in my speech. My duties and apologies, John. I'm afraid my country ways seem rude at times, to world travellers. No offense."

"None taken," I said, and kept from adding on that real country ways were polite ways.

"Mr. Loden," put in Mr. Tewk again, "I make bold to offer you what poor rations my old woman's made—"

"Sir," Mr. Loden broke him off, "they're good enough for the best man living. I'll help Mrs. Millen prepare them. After you, ma'am."

She walked in, and he followed, What he said there was what happened.

"Miss Vandy," he said next, "you might help us."

She went in, too. Dishes clattered. Through the open door I saw Mr. Loden put a tweak of powder in the skillet on the fire. The menfolks sat outside and said nothing. They might have been nailed down, with stones in their mouths. I studied about what could make a proud, honorable mountain family so scared of a guest and I knew there was only the one thing. And that one thing wouldn't be just a natural thing. It would be a thing beyond nature or the world.

Finally little Calder said, "Maybe we can finish the song after a while," and his voice was a weak young voice now.

"I recollect about another song from here," I said. "About the fair and blooming wife."

Those closed mouths all snapped open, then shut again. Touching the guitar's silver strings, I began:


There was a fair and blooming wife
And of children she had three.
She sent them away to Northern school
To study gramaree.

But the King's men came upon that school,
And when sword and rope had done,
Of the children three she sent away,
Returned to her but one. . . .  


"Supper's made," said Mrs. Millen from inside.

We all went in to where there was a trestle table and a clean homewoven cloth and clay dishes set out. Mr. Loden, by the pots at the fire, waved for Mrs. Millen and Vandy to dish up the food.

It wasn't smoke meat and beans I saw on my plate. Whatever it was, it wasn't that. Everyone looked at their helps of food, but not even Calder took any till Mr. Loden sat down, half-smiling.

"Why," he said, "one would think you feared poison."

Then Mr. Tewk forked up a big bait and put it into his beard. Calder did likewise, and the others. I took a mouthful and it sure enough tasted good.

"Let me honor your cooking, sir," I told Mr. Loden. "It's like witch magic."

His eyes came on me, as I knew they'd come after that word. He laughed, so short and sharp everybody jumped.

"John, you sang a song from this valley," he said. "About the blooming wife with three children who went north to study gramaree. John, do you know what gramaree means?"

"Grammar," spoke up Calder. "The right way to talk."

"Hush," whispered his father and he hushed.

"I've heard, sir," I replied to Mr. Loden; "gramaree is witch stuff, witch knowledge and magic and power. That Northern school could be only one place."

"What place, John?" he almost sang under his breath.

"A Massachusetts Yankee town called Salem, sir. Around 300 years back—"

"Not by so much,' said Mr. Loden. "In 1692, John."

I waited a breath and everybody stared above those steaming plates.

"Sixteen ninety-two," I agreed. "A preacher man named Cotton Mather found them teaching witch stuff to children. I hear tell they killed twenty folks, and mostly the wrong folks, but two, three were sure enough witches."

"George Burroughs," said Mr. Loden, half to himself. "Martha Carrier. And Bridget Bishop. They were real. Others got away safely, and one of the young children of the three. Somebody owed that child the two lost young lives of his brothers, John."

"I call to mind something else I heard," I said. "They scare young folks with the story outside here. The one child lived to be a hundred years old. And his son had a hundred years of life, and his son's son had a hundred years more. Maybe that's why I thought the witch school at Salem was 300 years past."

"Not by so much," he said again. "Even give the child that got away the age of Calder there, it would be only about 270 years."

He was daring any of Mr. Tewk's family to speak up or even breathe heavy, and nobody took the dare.

"From 300, that leaves 30 years," I figured. "A lot can be done in 30 years, Mr. Loden."

"That's the naked truth," he said, his eye-knives on Vandy's young face, and he got up and bowed all around. "I thank you all for your hospitality. I'll come again if I may."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Tewk in a hurry, but Mr. Loden looked at Vandy, waiting.

"Yes, sir," she told him, as if it would choke her.

He took up his gold-headed cane and gazed at me a hard gaze. Then I did a rude thing, but it was all I could think of.

"I don't feel right, not paying for what you all gave me," I allowed, getting up myself. From my dungaree pocket I took a silver quarter and dropped it on the table, almost in front of Mr. Loden.

"Take it away!" he squeaked, almost like a bat, and out of the house he was gone, bat-swift and bat-sudden.

The others sat and gopped after him. The night was thick outside, like black wool around the cabin. Mr. Tewk cleared his throat.

"John, you're better brought up than that," he said. "We don't take money from nobody we bid to eat with us. Pick it up."

"Yes, sir," I said. "I ask pardon, sir."

Putting away the quarter, I felt a trifle better. I'd done that once before with a silver quarter. I'd scared a man named Onselm almost out of his black art. So Mr. Loden was another witch man, and so he could be scared, too. I reckon I was foolish to think it was as easy as that.

I walked outside, leaving Mrs. Millen and Vandy doing up the dishes. The firelight showed me the stoop log to sit on. I touched my silver guitar strings and began to pick out the Vandy, Vandy tune, soft and gentle. After while, Calder came out and sat beside me and sang the words. I liked best the last verse:


Wake up, wake up! The dawn is breaking,
Wake up, wake up! It's almost day.
Open up your doors and your divers windows,
See my true love march away . . . .  


Calder finished, and then he said, "Mr. John, I never made out what divers windows is."

"An old time word," I said. "It means different kinds of windows. Another thing proves it's a mighty old song. A man seven years in the army must have gone to the war with the English, the first one. It lasted longer here in the south than other places, from 1775 to 1782. I figured a moment. "How old are you, Calder?"

"Rising onto ten."

"Big for your age. A boy your years in 1692 would be 90 in 1782 if he lived, what time the English war was near done and somebody or other had served seven years in the army."

"In Washington's army," said Calder, to himself. "King Washington."

"King who?" I asked.

"Mr. Loden calls him King Washington. The man that hell-drove the English soldiers and rules in his own name town."

That's what they must think in that valley. I never said that Washington was no king but a president, and that he'd died and gone to rest when his work was done and his country safe. I kept thinking about somebody 90 years old in 1782, courting a girl with her true love seven years marched away in the army.

"Calder," I said, "don't the Vandy, Vandy song tell about your own folks?"

He looked into the cabin, where nobody listened, then into the black-wool darkness. I struck a chord on the silver strings. Then he said, "Yes, Mr. John, so I've heard tell."

I hushed the strings with my hand and he talked on.

"I reckon you've heard lots of this, or guessed it. About that witch child that lived to a hundred—he came courting a girl named Vandy, but she was a good girl."

"Bad folks sometimes come to court good ones," I said.

"But she wouldn't have him, not with all his money and land. And when he pressed her, her soldier man came home, with his discharge writing in his hand, and on it King Washington's name, he was free from soldiering. He was Hosea Tewk, my grandsire some few times removed. And my own grandsire's mother was Vandy Tewk, and my sister is Vandy Millen."

"How about the hundred-year witch man?"

Calder looked around again. Then he said, "He had to get somebody else, I reckon, to birth him a son before his hundred years was gone and he died. We think that son married at another hundred years, and his son is Mr. Loden the grandson of the first witch man."

"I see. Now, your grandsire's mother, Vandy Tewk. How old would she be, Calder?"

"She's dead and gone, but she was born the first year her pa was off fighting the Yankees."

Eighteen sixty-one, then. In 1882, end of the second hundred years, she'd be ripe for the courting. "And she married a Millen," I said. "Yes, sir. Even when the Mr. Loden that lived then tried to court her. But she married Mr. Washington Millen."

"Washington" I said. "Named after the man who whipped the English."

"He was my great-grandsire and he feared nothing, like King Washington."

I picked a silver string. "No witch man got the first Vandy," I reminded him. "Nor the second Vandy."

"A witch man wants the Vandy that's here now," said Calder. "Mr. John, I'm right sorry you won't steal her away from him."

I got up. "Tell your folks I've gone for a night walk."

"Not to Mr. Loden's." He got up, too. His face was pale beside me. "He won't let you come."

The night was more than black, it was solid. No sound in it and no life. I won't say I couldn't have stepped off into it, but I didn't. I sat down again. Mr. Tewk spoke my name, then Vandy. We all sat in front of the cabin and spoke about weather and crops. Vandy was at my one side, Calder at the other. We sang—Dream True, I recollect, and Rebel Soldier. Vandy sang the sweetest I ever heard, but as I played I couldn't but think somebody listened in the blackness. If it was on Yandro Mountain and not in that valley, I'd have figured the Behinder sneaking close, or the Flat under our feet. But Vandy sounded happy, her violet eyes looked at me, her rose lips smiled.

Finally Vandy and Mrs. Millen said good night and went into a back room. Heber and his wife and Calder laddered up into the loft. Mr. Tewk offered me a pallet bed by the fire.

"I want to sleep at the door," I told him.

He looked at me, at the door, and, "Have it your way," he said.

I pulled off my shoes. I said a prayer and stretched out on the quilt he gave me. But when all others slept, I lay and listened.

Hours afterward, the sound came. The fire was just a coal ember, red light was soft in the cabin when I heard the snicker. Mr. Loden stooped over me at the door sill, and couldn't come closer.

"You can't get in," I said to him.

"Oh, you're awake," he said. "The others are asleep. They'll stay so, by my doing. And you won't move, any more than they will."

I couldn't sit up. It was like being dried into clay, like a frog or a lizard that must wait for the rain.

"Bind," he said to someone over me. "Bind, bind. Unless you can count the stars, or the drops in the ocean, be bound."

It was a spell-saying. "From the Long-Lost Friend?" I asked.

"Albertus Magnus," he answered, "or the book they say he wrote."

"I've seen the book."

You'll stay where you lie till sunrise. Then—"

I tried to get up. It was no use.

"See this?" He held it to my face. It was my picture, drawn true to me. He had the drawing gift. "At sunrise I'll strike it with this."

He laid the picture on the ground. Then he brought forward his gold-headed cane. He twisted the handle, and out of the cane's inside came a blade of pale iron, thin and mean as a snake. There was writing on it, but I couldn't read in that poor light.

"I touch my point to your picture," Mr. Loden said, and you won't bother Vandy or me. I should have done that to Hosea Tewk."

"Hosea Tewk," I said after him, "or Washington Millen."

The tip of his blade wiggled in front of my eyes. "Don't say that name, John."

"Washington Millen," I said it again. "Named after George Washington. Why don't you like George Washington's name? Did you know him?"

He took a long, mean breath, as if cold rain fell on him. "You've guessed what these folks haven't guessed, John."

I've guessed you're not a witch man's grandson, but a witch woman's son," I said. "You got away from that Salem school in 1692. You've lived near 300 years, and when they're over, you know where you'll go."

His blade hung over my throat, like a wasp over a ripe peach. Then he drew it back. "No," he told himself. "The Millens would know I stabbed you. Let them think you died in your sleep."

"You knew Washington," I said over again. "Maybe—"

"Maybe I offered him help, and he was foolish enough to refuse it. Maybe—"

"Maybe Washington scared you away from him," I broke in the way he had, "and maybe he won his war without witch magic. And maybe that was bad for you, because the one who gave you 300 years expected pay—good folks turned into bad folks. Then you tried to win Vandy for yourself. The first Vandy."

"Maybe a little for myself," he half sang, "but mostly for—"

"Mostly for the one who gave you 300 years," I finished another sentence.

Tightening and swelling my muscles, trying to pull loose from what held me down. I might as well have tried to wear my way through solid rock.

"Vandy" Mr. Loden's voice touched her name. "The third Vandy, the sweetest and best. She's like a spring day and like a summer night. When I see her with a bucket at the spring or a basket in the garden, my eyes swim, John. It's as if I see a spirit walking past."

"A good spirit. Your time's short. You want to win her from a good way to a bad way."

"Her voice is like a lark's," he crooned, with the blade low in his hand. "It's like wind over a bank of roses and violets. It's like the light of stars turned into music."

"You want to lead her down to hell," I said.

"Maybe we won't go to hell, or heaven either. Maybe we'll live and live. Why don't you say something about that, John?"

"I'm thinking," I made answer.

And I was. I was trying to remember what I had to remember.

It's in the third part of the Albertus Magnus book Mr. Loden mentioned, the third part full of holy names he sure enough wouldn't read. I'd seen it, as I'd told him. If the words would come back—

Something sent part of them. "The cross in my right hand," I said, too soft for him to hear, "that I may travel the open land. . . ."

"Maybe 300 years more," said Mr. Loden, "without anybody like Hosea Tewk, or Washington Millen, or you, John, coming to stop us. Three hundred years with Vandy, and she'll know the things I know, do the things I do."

I'd been able to twist my right forefinger over my middle one, for the cross in my right hand. I said more words as I remembered:

". . . So must I be loosed and blessed, as the cup and the holy bread. . . ."

Now my left hand could creep along my side as far as my belt. But it couldn't lift up just yet, because I didn't know the rest of the charm.

"The night's black before dawn," Mr. Loden was saying. "I'll make my fire. When I've done what I'll do, I can step over your dead body, and Vandy's mine."

"Don't you fear Washington?" I asked him, and my left fingertips were in my dungaree pocket.

"Will he come from where he is? He's forgotten me."

"Where he is, he remembers you," I allowed.

He was on his knee. His blade point scratched a circle around him on the ground of the dooryard. The circle held him and the paper with my picture. Then he took a sack from his coat pocket, and poured powder into the scratched circle. He stood up, and golden-brown fire jumped around him.

"Now we begin," he told me.

He sketched in the air with his blade. He put his boottoe on my picture. He looked into the golden-brown fire.

"I made my wish before this," he spaced out the words. "I make it now. There was no day when I did not see my wish fulfilled." His eyes shone, paler than the fire. "No son to follow John. No daughter to mourn him."

My fingers in my pocket touched something round and thin. The quarter he'd been scared by, that Mr. Tewk Millen made me take back.

He spoke names I didn't like to hear. "Haade," he said. "Mikaded. Rakeben. Rika. Tasarith. Modeca."

My hand worried out and in it the quarter.

"Tuth," Mr. Loden said. "Tumch. Here with this image I slay—

I lifted my hand, my left hand, three inches and flung the quarter. My heart went rotten with sick despair, for it didn't hit him—it fell into the fire—

And then up shot white smoke in one place, like a steam-puff from an engine, and the fire had died around everywhere else. Mr. Loden stopped his spellspeaking and wavered back. I saw the glow of his goggling eyes and of his teeth in his open mouth.

Where the steamy smoke had puffed, it made a shape, taller than a man. Taller than Mr. Loden or me, anyway. Wide shouldered, long legged, with a dark tail coat and high boots and hair tied back of its head. It turned, and I saw the big, big nose to its face—

"King Washington!" screamed Mr. Loden, and tried to stab.

But a long hand like a tongs caught his wrist, and I heard the bones break like sticks, and Mr. Loden whinnied like a horse that's been hurt. That was the grip of the man who'd been America's strongest, who could jump twenty-four feet broad or throw a dollar across the Rappahannock or wrestle down his biggest soldier.

The other hand came across, flat and stiff, to strike. It sounded like a door slamming in a high wind, and Mr. Loden never needed to be hit the second time. His head sagged over sidewise, and when the grip left his broken wrist he fell at the booted feet.

I sat up, and stood up. The big nose turned to me just a second. The head nodded. Friendly. Then it was gone back into steam, into nothing.

I'd been right. Where George Washington had been, he'd remembered Mr. Loden. And the silver quarter, with his picture on it had struck the fire just when Mr. Loden was conjuring with a picture that he was making real. And there happened what happened.

A pale streak went up the black sky for the first dawn. There was no fire left and no quarter, just a spatter of melted silver. And there was no Mr. Loden, only a mouldy little heap like a rotten stump or a hummock of loam or what might be left of a man that death had caught up with after two hundred years. I picked up his iron blade and broke it on my knee and flung it away into the trees. I picked up the paper with my drawn picture. It wasn't hurt a bit.

I put that picture inside the door on the quilt where I'd lain. Maybe the Millens would keep it to remember me by, after they found I was gone and Mr. Loden didn't come around any more to court Vandy.

I started away, carrying my guitar. I meant to be out of the valley by noontime. As I went, pots started to rattle—somebody was awake in the cabin. And it was hard not to turn back when Vandy sang to herself, not thinking what she sang:


Wake up, wake up! The dawn is breaking,
Wake up, wake up! It's almost day.
Open up your doors and your divers windows,
See my true love march away. . . .   


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