bother him very much, however, for he had sufficiently withdrawn year by year from the harshness of reality until he had come to live in a dreamy and forever hopeful world of his own. There was nothing vicious about him, and the money he had received over all this period of time from the piecemeal sale of his land and farming equipment had not been thrown away on liquor or gambling or any other active vice, but had disappeared down the bottomless rat holes of shiftlessness and bad management and a perennially wistful fondness for secondhand automobiles. And now the deteriorating carcasses of seven of the defunct cars squatted about the sandy yard around the house wherever they had wheezed their last, giving it the appearance of a junk yard.

He leaned against the plow handles now and waited for the other man. Mitch Neely was several rows up the hill, coming in the same direction and making his mule step along fast. Just like a hawg going to war, Cass thought. God didn’t make the days long enough for him and he walks his mule to death, and I reckon he’d work his own daddy into the grave if I was crazy enough to try to keep up with him.

When Mitch came out to the end and turned his mule around, Cass left his plow and walked across the intervening rows. Mitch watched him with impatience. He was twenty-three, with a thin, bony face and deep-set, rather small eyes like chips of flint, and the face was burned dark by the sun except at the temples, where he had recently had a close haircut. There was a tall, very spare angularity about him, with long thin legs and no great width anywhere, but he had a kind of whiplike toughness and repressed fury of movement that spoke of more power than the lank frame would indicate.

“It ain’t no use sweeping out these here middles, Mitch,” Cass said querulously. “The ground’s too wet, like I been telling you all the morning. We ain’t doing nothing but just moving that there crap grass from one place to another. It’ll take root again before we go to dinner.”

Mitch kicked at a bunch of grass to shake the moist soil from its roots. “Some of it’ll die if it don’t rain again tonight,” he said stubbornly. “And we got to do something. It sure as hell ain’t going to commit suicide.”

Cass waved toward the west. “Just going to rain some more. And it ain’t more’n a few hours away.”

Mitch glared in the direction of the thunderheads. “Well, can I stop it?”

“Ain’t nobody can stop it but the Almighty,” Cass said. “But just the same, ain’t no sense tearing around the fields like a high-lifed shoat, plowing up grass that’s just going to take holt again as soon as it rains.”

“Well, I ain’t going to tell the Almighty how to run His business,” Mitch said bleakly. “But I’m going to keep turning this crap grass over till I wear it out, if I cant kill it no other way.”

He turned back between the plow handles and slapped the mule with a line. The mule, expecting to be unhitched, was slow in starting, and Mitch swung the rein harder this time and cursed. They went off up the row with long, loose-legged strides.

Ain’t no sense arguing with him, Cass thought. He’s mule-headed enough to keep right on working if it was to come a regular gully-washer, and if it floated him and the mule away he’d still be plowing when they went down the river. I never seen a man cared less for the Almighty’s will.

He went slowly back to his own mule and turned him around, sighing at the foolishness of it. Removing his hat, he ran a forefinger across his forehead to throw off the sweat, and looked at the sun to gauge the time. It was eleven-thirty, anyway. They ought to unhitch and start back to the house. Jessie would have dinner on the table by the time they got there—that is, if she didn’t get to listening to Joy and forget about dinner altogether. He sighed again and shook his head. Sometimes a man just felt like giving up.

He was still standing there when Mitch returned. Milch looked at him and then at the sun and whirled his mule about to unhitch. We might as well quit for dinner, he thought. He’ll stand there till he takes root if we don’t.

They uncoupled the trace chains and looped them over the hames. Cass climbed on the gray mule to ride back to the house, while Mitch walked ahead, leading his.

“If it rains this evening and we can’t work, I might go over to the Jimersons’ and see if they heard any more about Sewell over the radio,” Cass said, raising his voice above the rattle of trace chains. He rode sidewise, with both legs hanging off the same side of the mule. When Mitch made no reply, he went on, “It’s kind of sad when a man’s got to go to the neighbors to hear word about his own kin.”

He’s thinking about the radio again, Mitch thought. He’s got that damned radio in his mind and nothing’ll get it out. Next spring he’ll be wanting to know if maybe Mr. Sam won’t let us get one on credit at the store. Keeps on raining like this and the crap grass choking you to death, and there ain’t going to be enough credit at the store to buy a can of Prince Albert, but maybe Mr. Sam’ll let us buy a radio. Maybe Sam’ll buy us all some blue serge pants and yellow shoes so we can go parading up the road while the crap grass gets so rank you could hunt bears in it.

Things wasn’t bad enough before, but them long-nosed Jimerson boys got to come over every other day and tell him how there was some more about Sewell on the radio. God knows that what they was saying about Sewell wasn’t nothing you’d think he’d want to listen to, but maybe he looks at it different. Maybe if they call you Mad Dog Neely and go on and on over the radio and write about you in the papers it’s the same as if you was some big gun in the gov’ment and he ought to hear all about it so he can tell everybody around the courthouse on Saturday evening.

Well, it’s all over now, and you wouldn’t hear no more about Sewell if you had a dozen radios. Once they get you in there in the pen, there ain’t no long-nosed bastards writing about you and talking about you on the radio. Not till maybe thirty years from now, when they might let you out if you behave yourself, or till someday they kill you if you don’t.


It was sweltering in the kitchen, and outside the air was dead. Out over the bottom they could hear the rumble of thunder, like wagons rolling across a bridge. They were at the table, with Cass at the head and Mitch and Joy seated across from each other. Jessie was filling their plates from the pot of butter beans on the stove.

Cass held his knife and fork upright, one in each hand, and looked at Joy. “Didn’t see none of them Jimerson boys this morning, I reckon?”

“No,” she said. “They haven’t been around.”

Cass sighed. “Guess there’s nothing new about Sewell, then. Sure wish we could hear something.”

“He’ll write us when he can, Papa,” Jessie said. “I know he will.”

Cass dismissed this with a wave of the fork. “Wasn’t thinking about letters. Mail takes a long time. And he wouldn’t write, nohow. Now, if we just had a radio, like the Jimersons . . .”

Joy had been watching Mitch, who was eating bent over his plate and seemingly paying no attention to any of them, but now she brightened and smiled at Cass.

“You know, I was thinking the very same thing, just this morning. I mean, how nice it’d be if we had a radio. If you had a radio, that is. I’m just a kind of visitor and I don’t really count. But a radio is so much fun. I just wouldn’t be without one, ever since that first one I had. The one they gave me in the beauty contest. I told you about that, didn’t I? About winning the beauty contest in New Iberia when I was just sixteen, and they gave me all those prizes and a radio was one of them. I sold some of the prizes, but I kept the radio because it was the cutest thing. Of course, I was a lot prettier then.” She paused and laughed deprecatingly. “I’d hate to have to enter one now.”

Mitch did not even look up. For a woman whose husband is going to the pen for life, she’s sure got a hell of a lot to worry about, he thought.

Cass was thinking about the radio and was not to be distracted by trifling side issues like beauty contests. He said nothing.

Well, she thought. Well! Of all the stupid.

“Joy, you could win any beauty contest in the world,” Jessie said loyally behind her at the stove. “Couldn’t she, Papa?”

“Oh, sure,” Cass said vaguely. “Ain’t no doubt about it.” Come to think of it, she did say she won a radio that way. Maybe they could enter her in a contest now and win another one. Didn’t recollect hearing about any coming

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