toward the bottom.

The river might be rising with all this rain. There wasn’t too much danger of it, the way the rain had been spaced out, but it couldn’t keep on forever without the river’s starting to come up. Once before, about seven years ago, the river had almost got their bottom cotton, the whole twenty-five acres of it. The levee he and Sewell had built across the upper end of the field had been the only thing that had saved it. He thought about it now, and the picture of that afternoon and night was still vivid in his memory. It had been just a few months before Sewell had fought with Cass and left home.

He padded down the trail on big, calloused bare feet, rain sluicing onto the old hat and making it flop down in front until he could barely see from under it. The trail skirted the fields all the way down the hillside and then cut out through the trees just above the bottom fields, headed for the river. The river swung in close to the field here, coming in a wide bend from the west across the two-mile expanse of timbered bottom and then turning south again a hundred yards or so out from the edge of the cotton and the fence.

The low place that had threatened the fields that year of the high water was a continuation of the river’s eastward bend, probably part of an old channel long since filled in. It came on in and under the upper fence, a swale perhaps a hundred yards wide at the upper end of the field. When the river got up enough for that old channel to start carrying water, it poured right out across the whole bottom field. This happened during the winter floods every two or three years, or had until they had put the dike across the upper end of it, but of course during the winter there was no crop for it to damage.

He went on out and looked at the river. It was somewhat high and roily, with occasional small bits of drift going by, but it was far from high enough to be dangerous.

Driven by a goading restlessness that would not let him be still, he turned and walked down the river, past places he and Sewell had fished together a long time ago before Sewell had gone, remembering some of the big catfish they had taken on their setlines, and the holes where they had caught them. He stopped for several minutes beside the deep hole and the piled log jam where Sewell had stripped one night and gone into the river to free a line fouled below the surface, remembering the guttering light of the pine torch and Sewell following the line down through the black water and the suspense and waiting and then his head coming out and then an arm and then the terrifying big writhing body of the cottonmouth lashing the surface to free itself of the. hook and Sewell holding the line, laughing, and throwing it up on the bank. He thought of it now, hating the waste and saddened by it. Where did a man miss the turn? What poisoned the stream somewhere along its course from youthful recklessness to hot- blooded violence to cold and paid-for violence and professional brutality?

He left the river and walked out to the lower end of the field and went up through it like some lank, soggy- hatted, furiously ambulatory scarecrow, completely oblivious of the rain, looking at the cotton and full of black and helpless anger at the grass in it. He hated grass in a crop. It stank of shiftlessness.


The dike was between two and three feet high and ran across the low ground for a hundred yards or more just inside the upper fence, and whenever he saw it he thought of Sewell and the night they had put it there. He came up along it now with the rain pelting the old coat, remembering the four mules abreast, wet and shining in the night with the lantern light on them, and his driving them, and Sewell filling and dumping the big fresno as another man would handle a garden spade, and all the while Cass puttering around futilely, going out to the river to poke meaningless sticks in the bank to mark its rise and whining endlessly about the Almighty’s will. Sewell was a big man and there was power in him, not awkward or slow-moving or muscle-bound power, but smooth and relaxed and then suddenly explosive, like that of a big cat in its prime. And now, from what they said on the radio, he had the cold deadliness that went with it and was just as dangerous as one.

Mad Dog they called him, illogically, and he knew that was wrong. A rabid dog with its foaming mouth and helpless frenzy was a far different thing from a jungle cat.

Well, he thought, it’s all done now and there ain’t no help for it. The only thing that’s any good about it, now is that the trial is over and they’ll quit making a circus out of it.

He went up through the cotton, going toward the house. We can still save it, he thought, if the damned rain’ll quit in the next day or so. The ground ain’t sour; and it’s growing all right and the color is good even if the grass is choking it. But it can’t wait forever. He stalked through the back yard, across the hard-packed sand, hearing the rain’s tattoo on the metal roof. Mexico looked at him from under the back porch and thumped his tail once against the ground. The Jimerson’s Model A Ford was parked at the side of the house.

When he came around the corner, they were all there on the front porch, talking. Or rather, Joy was talking. Jessie was listening and working on something in the porch swing with a pair of scissors and a needle, and the two Jimerson boys were watching.

“—with your back perfectly straight, like this, and your head up, and don’t slouch. They make you do this for hours, with the book on your head, and then after you’ve learned that they teach you what to do with your arms and hands. But the main thing is walking. You’ll see my toes are pointed and straight ahead, and notice my legs.”

She had on what she called her sun suit, and this admonition was entirely unnecessary as far as the Jimerson boys were concerned. They had been noticing them. Then she turned her head and saw Mitch standing there in the rain like a bleak and hatchet-faced scarecrow under the floppy hat, and the book started to fall.

Jessie looked up from whatever she was doing in the swing and said, “Mitch, for heaven’s sake, get in out of the rain.”

The two Jimerson boys had been sitting on the edge of the “porch, one on each side of the steps, watching Joy walk up and down with the book on her head, and now they turned.

“Howdy, Mitch,” Prentiss said. He was the younger one, about twenty, somewhat plump, with a round moon face and rather shy brown eyes and unruly black hair that came down over his forehead. Cal was two or three years older, and his. eyes were black and there was no shyness in them.

“Howdy,” Cal said. He looked at Mitch with casual insolence and then back to Joy, who was picking up the book.

“Mitch, Joy is showing us how to be a model like she used to be,” Jessie explained, breaking a piece of thread, with her teeth.

“ls that a fact?” Mitch said; looking bleakly at Joy and then at the Jimersons. “Mebbe you boys are figuring on entering a beauty contest?”

“Hadn’t thought none of it,” Cal said easily. “Why?”

“You seemed to be kind of interested.”

“Is that right?” Cal asked, and Prentiss looked at both of them a little uneasily.

Jessie had begun to feel the strange tension in the air and wondered what was wrong. Joy stood with the book in her hand, unnoticed for the moment and furious that Mitch had interrupted. She had been so happy, showing them how a model walked and feeling herself the center of attraction. Of course, she hadn’t really ever been a model or actually attended a school of modeling, but she had intended to for a long time after winning the beauty contest and had read about it and practiced a lot in her room, which was the same thing.

“Mitch! Get in out of that rain,” Jessie ordered again. She stamped a foot on the floor.

“I won’t rust,” Mitch said.

“Well, come and look at the sun suit I’m making,” she said, holding it up.

“The what?”

“Sun suit,” she went on eagerly. “Like Joy’s. Only mine’s just made out of an old pair of overalls. See, I cut off the legs.”

Mitch looked at Joy’s scant garment and her long bare legs and then looked away.

“All right,” he said shortly. We’ll straighten that out later, he thought. We’ll see about that. But not in front of these nosy bastards with their eyes stuck out on limbs.

“I’m glad to see you boys are so interested in being models,” he said thinly. “There ought to be a big future in it for you. But ain’t you afraid you’ll miss something on the radio?”

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