Hill girl


I stopped the Ford on a bench halfway down a long, gentle hill and got out and stretched and felt suddenly warm outside and inside; the morning sun was climbing higher now, and I was almost home. It was October and the colors were running down the hillsides and along the little creek bottoms like a fire that couldn’t make up its mind where it wanted to go.

There had been a light frost and now all that was left of it was where the shadows still lay a little dark and cool behind the old fence posts and in the burrow pit beside the dry red clay and dust of the road. The dewberry vines didn’t have any leaves now and their runners were a dead tangle, white-rimmed with frost in the shade and shiny and black and wet where the sun had struck them.

Part of the big field on the left had been in cotton that year, and I could look down the rows for a long way until they curved around, following the contour of the slope and the terrace rows. The stalks were dead now, and bare, and the sharp bolls empty, and they were all wet with the melted frost. It was the old Eilers place and I wondered idly if Sam Harley were still farming it.

The rest of the field had lain fallow for years and was grown up in weeds and sassafras bushes and there were persimmon sprouts waist-high, and now, as I was watching it, I saw a bird dog casting through it, coming up the hill toward the road. He was still a long way off, but was easy to see, a big black-and-white pointer, and he was beautiful to watch, quartering up the field in long casts with his head high, and the sight of him made me homesick and happy at the same time and I hated the years I had been away.

Soon I saw the man behind him, and then the dog froze into a beautiful point. The man came up,, with the shotgun held ready, and went in, kicking at the weeds, and the birds came boiling up with that sudden roar, as they always did, the sound carrying across the stillness of the morning to me as if they were only fifty yards away. The man’s gun came up and he shot, all with one fluid motion, and I saw one bird collapse and fold up in the air. He shot again and missed. The covey scattered, and almost mechanically I marked a pair of them down in a tangle of vines and sassafras near the road.

The man came on up the slope toward the road and I began to think there was something vaguely familiar in his big figure and the long, slouching walk. He was dressed in a bleached-out blue shirt, the worn, faded coat of an old blue serge suit, and patched overalls that were tucked into knee-high laced boots. Over his shoulder was the strap of one of those little canvas bags we used to carry our books to school in. When he was close enough to me so I could see his face I saw it was Sam Harley, and I walked across the road and climbed through the rusty wire of the fence to meet him. He hadn’t changed much that I could see, and then I grinned suddenly to myself and wondered why I had expected some great change in a period of two years in a man who was past forty. He still had the slightly flat nose and high