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A Good Man Is Hard To Find

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennes- see and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the o!rnal. "#ow loo$ here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The %isfit is aloose from the Federal &en and headed toward Florida and yo! read here what it says he did to these people. !st yo! read it. ' wo!ldn't ta$e my children in any direction with a criminal li$e that aloose in it. ' co!ldn't answer to my conscience if ' did." Bailey didn't loo$ !p from his reading so she wheeled aro!nd then and faced the children's mother, a yo!ng woman in slac$s, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied aro!nd with a green head-$erchief that had two points on the top li$e rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots o!t of a (ar. "The children have been to Florida before," the old lady said. ")o! all o!ght to ta$e them somewhere else for a change so they wo!ld see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee." The children's mother didn't seem to hear her b!t the eight-year-old boy, ohn *esley, a stoc$y child with glasses, said, "'f yo! don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home+" He and the little girl, !ne Star, were reading the f!nny papers on the floor. "She wo!ldn't stay at home to be ,!een for a day," !ne Star said witho!t raising her yellow head. ")es and what wo!ld yo! do if this fellow, The %isfit, ca!ght yo!+" the grandmother as$ed. "''d smac$ his face," ohn *esley said. "She wo!ldn't stay at home for a million b!c$s," !ne Star said. "-fraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go." "-ll right, %iss," the grandmother said. " !st re- member that the ne.t time yo! want me to c!rl yo!r hair." !ne Star said her hair was nat!rally c!rly. The ne.t morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big blac$ valise that loo$ed li$e the head of a hippopotam!s in one corner, and !nderneath it she was hiding a bas$et with &itty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the ho!se for three days beca!se he wo!ld miss her too m!ch and she was afraid he might br!sh against one of her gas b!rners and accidentally asphy.iate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't li$e to arrive at a motel with a cat. She sat in the middle of the bac$ seat with ohn *esley and !ne Star on either side of her. Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in front and they left -tlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at //012. The grandmother wrote this down beca!se she tho!ght it wo!ld be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got bac$. 't too$ them twenty min!tes to reach the o!ts$irts of the city.

The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and p!tting them !p with her p!rse on the shelf in front of the bac$ window. The children's mother still had on slac$s and still had her head tied !p in a green $erchief, b!t the grandmother had on a navy bl!e straw sailor hat with a b!nch of white violets on the brim and a navy bl!e dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and c!ffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her nec$line she had pinned a p!rple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. 'n case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway wo!ld $now at once that she was a lady. She said she tho!ght it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too cold, and she ca!tioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an ho!r and that the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small cl!mps of trees and sped o!t after yo! before yo! had a chance to slow down. She pointed o!t interesting details of the scenery3 Stone %o!ntain4 the bl!e granite that in some places came !p to both sides of the highway4 the brilliant red clay ban$s slightly strea$ed with p!rple4 and the vario!s crops that made rows of green lace-wor$ on the gro!nd. The trees were f!ll of silverwhite s!nlight and the meanest of them spar$led. The children were reading comic magazines and their mother and gone bac$ to sleep. "5et's go thro!gh 6eorgia fast so we won't have to loo$ at it m!ch," ohn *esley said. "'f ' were a little boy," said the grandmother, "' wo!ldn't tal$ abo!t my native state that way. Tennessee has the mo!ntains and 6eorgia has the hills." "Tennessee is (!st a hillbilly d!mping gro!nd," ohn *esley said, "and 6eorgia is a lo!sy state too." ")o! said it," !ne Star said. "'n my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, "children were more respectf!l of their native states and their parents and everything else. &eople did right then. 7h loo$ at the c!te little pic$aninny8" she said and pointed to a #egro child standing in the door of a shac$. "*o!ldn't that ma$e a pict!re, now+" she as$ed and they all t!rned and loo$ed at the little #egro o!t of the bac$ window. He waved "He didn't have any britches on," !ne Star said. "He probably didn't have any," the grandmother e.plained. "5ittle riggers in the co!ntry don't have things li$e we do. 'f ' co!ld paint, ''d paint that pict!re," she said. The children e.changed comic boo$s. The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children's mother passed him over the front seat to her. She set him on her $nee and bo!nced him and told him abo!t the things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed !p her mo!th and st!c$ her leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. 7ccasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large cotton field with five or fi. graves fenced in the middle of it, li$e a small island. "5oo$ at the graveyard8" the grandmother said, pointing it o!t. "That was the old family b!rying gro!nd. That belonged to the plantation." "*here's the plantation+" ohn *esley as$ed. "6one *ith the *ind" said the grandmother. "Ha. Ha." *hen the children finished all the comic boo$s they had bro!ght, they opened the l!nch

and ate it. The grandmother ate a pean!t b!tter sandwich and an olive and wo!ld not let the children throw the bo. and the paper nap$ins o!t the window. *hen there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a clo!d and ma$ing the other two g!ess what shape it s!ggested. ohn *esley too$ one the shape of a cow and !ne Star g!essed a cow and ohn *esley said, no, an a!tomobile, and !ne Star said he didn't play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother. The grandmother said she wo!ld tell them a story if they wo!ld $eep ,!iet. *hen she told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she was a maiden lady she had been co!rted by a %r. 9dgar -t$ins Teagarden from asper, 6eorgia. She said he was a very good-loo$ing man and a gentleman and that he bro!ght her a watermelon every Sat!rday afternoon with his initials c!t in it, 9. -. T. *ell, one Sat!rday, she said, %r. Teagarden bro!ght the watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and ret!rned in his b!ggy to asper, b!t she never got the watermelon, she said, beca!se a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, 9. -. T. 8 This story tic$led ohn *esley's f!nny bone and he giggled and giggled b!t !ne Star didn't thin$ it was any good. She said she wo!ldn't marry a man that (!st bro!ght her a watermelon on Sat!rday. The grandmother said she wo!ld have done well to marry %r. Teagarden beca!se he was a gentle man and had bo!ght :oca-:ola stoc$ when it first came o!t and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man. They stopped at The Tower for barbec!ed sand- wiches. The Tower was a part st!cco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing o!tside of Timothy. - fat man named ;ed Sammy B!tts ran it and there were signs st!c$ here and there on the b!ilding and for miles !p and down the highway saying, T;) ;9< S-%%)'S F-%7=S B-;B9:=9. #7#9 5'>9 F-%7=S ;9< S-%%)'S8 ;9< S-%8 TH9 F-T B7) *'TH TH9 H-&&) 5-=6H. - ?9T9;-#8 ;9< S-%%)'S )7=; %-#8 ;ed Sammy was lying on the bare gro!nd o!tside The Tower with his head !nder a tr!c$ while a gray mon$ey abo!t a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The mon$ey sprang bac$ into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw the children (!mp o!t of the car and r!n toward him. 'nside, The Tower was a long dar$ room with a co!nter at one end and tables at the other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table ne.t to the nic$elodeon and ;ed Sam's wife, a tall b!rnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her s$in, came and too$ their order. The children's mother p!t a dime in the machine and played "The Tennessee *altz," and the grandmother said that t!ne always made her want to dance. She as$ed Bailey if he wo!ld li$e to dance b!t he only glared at her. He didn't have a nat!rally s!nny disposition li$e she did and trips made him nervo!s. The grandmother's brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her chair. !ne Star said play something she co!ld tap to so the children's mother p!t in another dime and played a fast n!mber and !ne Star stepped o!t onto the dance floor and did her tap ro!tine. "-in't she c!te+" ;ed Sam's wife said, leaning over the co!nter. "*o!ld yo! li$e to come be my little girl+" "#o ' certainly wo!ldn't," !ne Star said. "' wo!ldn't live in a bro$en-down place li$e this for a million b!c$s8" and she ran bac$ to the table.

"-in't she c!te+" the woman repeated, stretching her mo!th politely. "-rn't yo! ashamed+" hissed the grandmother. ;ed Sam came in and told his wife to ,!it lo!nging on the co!nter and h!rry !p with these people's order. His $ha$i tro!sers reached (!st to his hip bones and his stomach h!ng over them li$e a sac$ of meal swaying !nder his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table nearby and let o!t a combination sigh and yodel. ")o! can't win," he said. ")o! can't win," and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray hand$erchief. "These days yo! don't $now who to tr!st," he said. "-in't that the tr!th+" "&eople are certainly not nice li$e they !sed to be," said the grandmother. "Two fellers come in here last wee$," ;ed Sammy said, "driving a :hrysler. 't was a old beat-!p car b!t it was a good one and these boys loo$ed all right to me. Said they wor$ed at the mill and yo! $now ' let them fellers charge the gas they bo!ght+ #ow why did ' do that+" "Beca!se yo!'re a good man8" the grandmother said at once. ")es'm, ' s!ppose so," ;ed Sam said as if he were str!c$ with this answer. His wife bro!ght the orders, carrying the five plates all at once witho!t a tray, two in each hand and one balanced on her arm. "'t isn't a so!l in this green world of 6od's that yo! can tr!st," she said. "-nd ' don't co!nt nobody o!t of that, not nobody," she repeated, loo$ing at ;ed Sammy. "<id yo! read abo!t that criminal, The %isfit, that's escaped+" as$ed the grandmother. "' wo!ldn't be a bit s!rprised if he didn't attac$ this place right here," said the woman. "'f he hears abo!t it being here, ' wo!ldn't be none s!rprised to see him. 'f he hears it's two cent in the cash register, ' wo!ldn't be a tall s!rprised if he . . ." "That'll do," ;ed Sam said. "6o bring these people their :o'-:olas," and the woman went off to get the rest of the order. "- good man is hard to find," ;ed Sammy said. "9verything is getting terrible. ' remember the day yo! co!ld go off and leave yo!r screen door !nlatched. #ot no more." He and the grandmother disc!ssed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion 9!rope was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way 9!rope acted yo! wo!ld thin$ we were made of money and ;ed Sam said it was no !se tal$ing abo!t it, she was e.actly right. The children ran o!tside into the white s!nlight and loo$ed at the mon$ey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was b!sy catching fleas on himself and biting each one caref!lly between his teeth as if it were a delicacy. They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother too$ cat naps and wo$e !p every few min!tes with her own snoring. 7!tside of Toombsboro she wo$e !p and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a yo!ng lady. She said the ho!se had si. white col!mns across the front and that there was an aven!e of oa$s leading !p to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where yo! sat down with yo!r s!itor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled e.actly which road to t!rn off to get to it. She $new that Bailey wo!ld not be willing to lose any time loo$ing at an old ho!se, b!t the more she tal$ed abo!t it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find o!t if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret3-

panel in this ho!se," she said craftily, not telling the tr!th b!t wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came thro!gh b!t it was never fo!nd . . ." "Hey8" ohn *esley said. "5et's go see it8 *e'll find it8 *e'll po$e all the woodwor$ and find it8 *ho lives there+ *here do yo! t!rn off at+ Hey &op, can't we t!rn off there+" "*e never have seen a ho!se with a secret panel8" !ne Star shrie$ed. "5et's go to the ho!se with the secret panel8 Hey &op, can't we go see the ho!se with the secret panel8" "'t's not far from here, ' $now," the grandmother said. "'t wo!ldn't ta$e over twenty min!tes." Bailey was loo$ing straight ahead. His (aw was as rigid as a horseshoe. "#o," he said. The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the ho!se with the secret panel. ohn *esley $ic$ed the bac$ of the front seat and !ne Star h!ng over her mother's sho!lder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any f!n even on their vacation, that they co!ld never do what TH9) wanted to do. The baby began to scream and ohn *esley $ic$ed the bac$ of the seat so hard that his father co!ld feel the blows in his $idney. "-ll right8" he sho!ted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. "*ill yo! all sh!t !p+ *ill yo! all (!st sh!t !p for one second+ 'f yo! don't sh!t !p, we won't go anywhere." "'t wo!ld be very ed!cational for them," the grandmother m!rm!red. "-ll right," Bailey said, "b!t get this3 this is the only time we're going to stop for anything li$e this. This is the one and only time." "The dirt road that yo! have to t!rn down is abo!t a mile bac$," the grandmother directed. "' mar$ed it when we passed." "- dirt road," Bailey groaned. -fter they had t!rned aro!nd and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother recalled other points abo!t the ho!se, the bea!tif!l glass over the front doorway and the candle-lamp in the hall. ohn *esley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace. ")o! can't go inside this ho!se," Bailey said. ")o! don't $now who lives there." "*hile yo! all tal$ to the people in front, ''ll r!n aro!nd behind and get in a window," ohn *esley s!ggested. "*e'll all stay in the car," his mother said. They t!rned onto the dirt road and the car raced ro!ghly along in a swirl of pin$ d!st. The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day's (o!rney. The dirt road was hilly and there were s!dden washes in it and sharp c!rves on dangero!s emban$ments. -ll at once they wo!ld be on a hill, loo$ing down over the bl!e tops of trees for miles aro!nd, then the ne.t min!te, they wo!ld be in a red depression with the d!st-coated trees loo$ing down on them. "This place had better t!rn !p in a min!te," Bailey said, "or ''m going to t!rn aro!nd."

The road loo$ed as if no one had traveled on it in months. "'t's not m!ch farther," the grandmother said and (!st as she said it, a horrible tho!ght came to her. The tho!ght was so embarrassing that she t!rned red in the face and her eyes dilated and her feet (!mped !p, !psetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the bas$et !nder it rose with a snarl and &itty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey's sho!lder. The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, cl!tching the baby, was thrown o!t the door onto the gro!nd4 the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car t!rned over once and landed right-side-!p in a g!lch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the driver's seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose clinging to his nec$ li$e a caterpillar. -s soon as the children saw they co!ld move their arms and legs, they scrambled o!t of the car, sho!ting, "*e've had an -::'<9#T8" The grandmother was c!rled !p !nder the dashboard, hoping she was in(!red so that Bailey's wrath wo!ld not come down on her all at once. The horrible tho!ght she had had before the accident was that the ho!se she had remembered so vividly was not in 6eorgia b!t in Tennessee. Bailey removed the cat from his nec$ with both hands and fl!ng it o!t the window against the side of a pine tree. Then he got o!t of the car and started loo$ing for the children's mother. She was sitting against the side of the red g!tted ditch, holding the screaming baby, b!t she only had a c!t down her face and a bro$en sho!lder. "*e've had an -::'<9#T8" the children screamed in a frenzy of delight. "B!t nobody's $illed," !ne Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped o!t of the car, her hat still pinned to her head b!t the bro$en front brim standing !p at a (a!nty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, e.cept the children, to recover from the shoc$. They were all sha$ing. "%aybe a car will come along," said the children's mother hoarsely. "' believe ' have in(!red an organ," said the grandmother, pressing her side, b!t no one answered her. Bailey's teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright bl!e parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she wo!ld not mention that the ho!se was in Tennessee. The road was abo!t ten feet above and they co!ld see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dar$ and deep. 'n a few min!tes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occ!pants were watching them. The grandmother stood !p and waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car contin!ed to come on slowly, disappeared aro!nd a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. 't was a big blac$ battered hearseli$e a!tomobile. There were three men in it. 't came to a stop (!st over them and for some min!tes, the driver loo$ed down with a steady e.pressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn't spea$. Then he t!rned his head and m!ttered something to the other two and they got o!t. 7ne was a fat boy in blac$ tro!sers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved aro!nd on the right side of them and stood staring, his mo!th partly open in a $ind

of loose grin. The other had on $ha$i pants and a bl!e striped coat and a gray hat p!lled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came aro!nd slowly on the left side. #either spo$e. The driver got o!t of the car and stood by the side of it, loo$ing down at them. He was an older man than the other two. His hair was (!st beginning to gray and he wore silverrimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly loo$. He had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or !ndershirt. He had on bl!e (eans that were too tight for him and was holding a blac$ hat and a g!n. The two boys also had g!ns. "*e've had an -::'<9#T8" the children screamed. The grandmother had the pec!liar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she $new. His face was as familiar to her as if she had $nown him all her life b!t she co!ld not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the emban$ment, placing his feet caref!lly so that he wo!ldn't slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no soc$s, and his an$les were red and thin. "6ood afternoon," he said. "' see yo! all had yo! a little spill." "*e t!rned over twice8" said the grandmother. "7nce", he corrected. "*e seen it happen. Try their car and see will it r!n, Hiram," he said ,!ietly to the boy with the gray hat. "*hat yo! got that g!n for+" ohn *esley as$ed. "*hatcha gonna do with that g!n+" "5ady," the man said to the children's mother, "wo!ld yo! mind calling them children to sit down by yo!+ :hildren ma$e me nervo!s. ' want all yo! all to sit down right together there where yo!'re at." "*hat are yo! telling =S what to do for+" !ne Star as$ed. Behind them the line of woods gaped li$e a dar$ open mo!th. ":ome here," said their mother. "5oo$ here now," Bailey began s!ddenly, "we're in a predicament8 *e're in . . ." The grandmother shrie$ed. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. ")o!'re The %isfit8" she said. "' recognized yo! at once8" ")es'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be $nown, "b!t it wo!ld have been better for all of yo!, lady, if yo! hadn't of rec$ernized me." Bailey t!rned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shoc$ed even the children. The old lady began to cry and The %isfit reddened. "5ady," he said, "don't yo! get !pset. Sometimes a man says things he don't mean. ' don't rec$on he meant to tal$ to yo! thataway." ")o! wo!ldn't shoot a lady, wo!ld yo!+" the grandmother said and removed a clean hand$erchief from her c!ff and began to slap at her eyes with it. The %isfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the gro!nd and made a little hole and then covered it !p again. "' wo!ld hate to have to," he said. "5isten," the grandmother almost screamed, "' $now yo!'re a good man. )o! don't loo$ a

bit li$e yo! have common blood. ' $now yo! m!st come from nice people8" ")es mam," he said, "finest people in the world." *hen he smiled he showed a row of strong white teeth. "6od never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy's heart was p!re gold," he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come aro!nd behind them and was standing with his g!n at his hip. The %isfit s,!atted down on the gro!nd. "*atch them children, Bobby 5ee," he said. ")o! $now they ma$e me nervo!s." He loo$ed at the si. of them h!ddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he co!ldn't thin$ of anything to say. "-in't a clo!d in the s$y," he remar$ed, loo$ing !p at it. "<on't see no s!n b!t don't see no clo!d neither." ")es, it's a bea!tif!l day," said the grandmother. "5isten," she said, "yo! sho!ldn't call yo!rself The %isfit beca!se ' $now yo!'re a good man at heart. ' can (!st loo$ at yo! and tell." "H!sh8" Bailey yelled. "H!sh8 9verybody sh!t !p and let me handle this8" He was s,!atting in the position of a r!nner abo!t to sprint forward b!t he didn't move. "' pre-chate that, lady," The %isfit said and drew a little circle in the gro!nd with the b!tt of his g!n. "'t'll ta$e a half a ho!r to fi. this here car," Hiram called, loo$ing over the raised hood of it. "*ell, first yo! and Bobby 5ee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with yo!," The %isfit said, pointing to Bailey and ohn *esley. "The boys want to ast yo! something," he said to Bailey. "*o!ld yo! mind stepping bac$ in them woods there with them+" "5isten," Bailey began, "we're in a terrible predicament8 #obody realizes what this is," and his voice crac$ed. His eyes were as bl!e and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still. The grandmother reached !p to ad(!st her hat brim as if she were going to the woods with him b!t it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it fall on the gro!nd. Hiram p!lled Bailey !p by the arm as if he were assisting an old man. ohn *esley ca!ght hold of his father's hand and Bobby ',ee followed. They went off toward the woods and (!st as they reached the dar$ edge, Bailey t!rned and s!pporting himself against a gray na$ed pine tr!n$, he sho!ted, "''ll be bac$ in a min!te, %amma, wait on me8" ":ome bac$ this instant8" his mother shrilled b!t they all disappeared into the woods. "Bailey Boy8" the grandmother called in a tragic voice b!t she fo!nd she was loo$ing at The %isfit s,!atting on the gro!nd in front of her. "' (!st $now yo!'re a good man," she said desperately. ")o!'re not a bit common8" "#ome, ' ain't a good man," The %isfit said after a second ah if he had considered her statement caref!lly, "b!t ' ain't the worst in the world neither. %y daddy said ' was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. ')o! $now,' <addy said, 'it's some that can live their whole life o!t witho!t as$ing abo!t it and it's others has to $now why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He's going to be into everything8"' He p!t on his blac$ hat and loo$ed !p s!ddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were

embarrassed again. "''m sorry ' don't have on a shirt before yo! ladies," he said, h!nching his sho!lders slightly. "*e b!ried o!r clothes that we had on when we escaped and we're (!st ma$ing do !ntil we can get better. *e borrowed these from some fol$s we met," he e.plained. "That's perfectly all right," the grandmother said. "%aybe Bailey has an e.tra shirt in his s!itcase." "''ll loo$ and see terrectly," The %isfit said. "*here are they ta$ing him+" the children's mother screamed. "<addy was a card himself," The %isfit said. ")o! co!ldn't p!t anything over on him. He never got in tro!ble with the -!thorities tho!gh. !st had the $nac$ of handling them." ")o! co!ld be honest too if yo!'d only try," said the grandmother. "Thin$ how wonderf!l it wo!ld be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to thin$ abo!t somebody chasing yo! all the time." The %isfit $ept scratching in the gro!nd with the b!tt of his g!n as if he were thin$ing abo!t it. ")estm, somebody is always after yo!," he m!rm!red. The grandmother noticed how thin his sho!lder blades were (!st behind his hat beca!se she was standing !p loo$ing down on him. "<o yo! every pray+" she as$ed. He shoo$ his head. -ll she saw was the blac$ hat wiggle between his sho!lder blades. "#ome," he said. There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The old lady's head (er$ed aro!nd. She co!ld hear the wind move thro!gh the tree tops li$e a long satisfied ins!c$ of breath. "Bailey Boy8" she called. "' was a gospel singer for a while," The %isfit said. "' been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an !nderta$er, been with the railroads, plowed %other 9arth, been in a tornado, seen a man b!rnt alive oncet," and he loo$ed !p at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy4 "' even seen a woman flogged," he said. "&ray, pray," the grandmother began, "pray, pray . . ." ' never was a bad boy that ' remember of," The %isfit said in an almost dreamy voice, "b!t somewheres along the line ' done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. ' was b!ried alive," and he loo$ed !p and held her attention to him by a steady stare. "That's when yo! sho!ld have started to pray," she said. "*hat did yo! do to get sent to the penitentiary that first time+" "T!rn to the right, it was a wall," The %isfit said, loo$ing !p again at the clo!dless s$y. "T!rn to the left, it was a wall. 5oo$ !p it was a ceiling, loo$ down it was a floor. ' forget what ' done, lady. ' set there and set there, trying to remember what it was ' done and ' ain't recalled it to this day. 7ncet in a while, ' wo!ld thin$ it was coming to me, b!t it never come." "%aybe they p!t yo! in by mista$e," the old lady said vag!ely. "#ome," he said. "'t wasn't no mista$e. They had the papers on me."

")o! m!st have stolen something," she said. The %isfit sneered slightly. "#obody had nothing ' wanted," he said. "'t was a headdoctor at the penitentiary said what ' had done was $ill my daddy b!t ' $nown that for a lie. %y daddy died in nineteen o!ght nineteen of the epidemic fl! and ' never had a thing to do with it. He was b!ried in the %o!nt Hopewell Baptist ch!rchyard and yo! can go there and see for yo!rself." "'f yo! wo!ld pray," the old lady said, " es!s wo!ld help yo!." "That's right," The %isfit said. "*ell then, why don't yo! pray+" she as$ed trembling with delight s!ddenly. "' don't want no hep," he said. "''m doing all right by myself." Bobby 5ee and Hiram came ambling bac$ from the woods. Bobby 5ee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright bl!e parrots in it. "Thow me that shirt, Bobby 5ee," The %isfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his sho!lder and he p!t it on. The grandmother co!ldn't name what the shirt reminded her of. "#o, lady," The %isfit said while he was b!ttoning it !p, "' fo!nd o!t the crime don't matter. )o! can do one thing or yo! can do another, $ill a man or ta$e a tire off his car, beca!se sooner or later yo!'re going to forget what it was yo! done and (!st be p!nished for it." The children's mother had beg!n to ma$e heaving noises as if she co!ldn't get her breath. "5ady," he as$ed, "wo!ld yo! and that little girl li$e to step off yonder with Bobby 5ee and Hiram and (oin yo!r h!sband+" ")es, than$ yo!," the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. "Hep that lady !p, Hiram," The %isfit said as she str!ggled to climb o!t of the ditch, "and Bobby 5ee, yo! hold onto that little girl's hand." "' don't want to hold hands with him," !ne Star said. "He reminds me of a pig." The fat boy bl!shed and la!ghed and ca!ght her by the arm and p!lled her off into the woods after Hiram and her mother. -lone with The %isfit, the grandmother fo!nd that she had lost her voice. There was not a clo!d in the s$y nor any s!n. There was nothing aro!nd her b!t woods. She wanted to tell him that he m!st pray. She opened and closed her mo!th several times before anything came o!t. Finally she fo!nd herself saying, " es!s. es!s," meaning, es!s will help yo!, b!t the way she was saying it, it so!nded as if she might be c!rsing. ")es'm, The %isfit said as if he agreed. " es!s shown everything off balance. 't was the same case with Him as with me e.cept He hadn't committed any crime and they co!ld prove ' had committed one beca!se they had the papers on me. 7f co!rse," he said, "they never shown me my papers. That's why ' sign myself now. ' said long ago, yo! get yo! a signat!re and sign everything yo! do and $eep a copy of it. Then yo!'ll $now what yo! done and yo! can hold !p the crime to the p!nishment and see do they match and in the end yo!'ll have something to prove yo! ain't been treated right. ' call myself The %isfit," he said, "beca!se ' can't ma$e what all ' done wrong fit what all ' gone thro!gh in p!nishment."

There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. "<oes it seem right to yo!, lady, that one is p!nished a heap and another ain't p!nished at all+" " es!s8" the old lady cried. ")o!'ve got good blood8 ' $now yo! wo!ldn't shoot a lady8 ' $now yo! come from nice people8 &ray8 es!s, yo! o!ght not to shoot a lady. ''ll give yo! all the money ''ve got8" "5ady," The %isfit said, loo$ing beyond her far into the woods, "there never was a body that give the !nderta$er a tip." There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head li$e a parched old t!r$ey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy8" as if her heart wo!ld brea$. " es!s was the only 7ne that ever raised the dead," The %isfit contin!ed, "and He sho!ldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. 'f He did what He said, then it's nothing for yo! to do b!t thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for yo! to do b!t en(oy the few min!tes yo! got left the best way yo! can by $illing somebody or b!rning down his ho!se or doing some other meanness to him. #o pleas!re b!t meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl. "%aybe He didn't raise the dead," the old lady m!mbled, not $nowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she san$ down in the ditch with her legs twisted !nder her. "' wasn't there so ' can't say He didn't," The %isfit said. "' wisht ' had of been there," he said, hitting the gro!nd with his fist. "'t ain't right ' wasn't there beca!se if ' had of been there ' wo!ld of $nown. 5isten lady," he said in a high voice, "if ' had of been there ' wo!ld of $nown and ' wo!ldn't be li$e ' am now." His voice seemed abo!t to crac$ and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she m!rm!red, "*hy yo!'re one of my babies. )o!'re one of my own children 8" She reached o!t and to!ched him on the sho!lder. The %isfit sprang bac$ as if a sna$e had bitten him and shot her three times thro!gh the chest. Then he p!t his g!n down on the gro!nd and too$ off his glasses and began to clean them. Hiram and Bobby 5ee ret!rned from the woods and stood over the ditch, loo$ing down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a p!ddle of blood with her legs crossed !nder her li$e a child's and her face smiling !p at the clo!dless s$y. *itho!t his glasses, The %isfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-loo$ing. "Ta$e her off and thow her where yo! thown the others," he said, pic$ing !p the cat that was r!bbing itself against his leg. "She was a tal$er, wasn't she+" Bobby 5ee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel. "She wo!ld of been a good woman," The %isfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every min!te of her life." "Some f!n8" Bobby 5ee said. "Sh!t !p, Bobby 5ee," The %isfit said. "'t's no real pleas!re in life."

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