Fall 1988, Volume 5.2
Levi S. Peterson
Levi S. Peterson (Ph.D., U of Utah), a consulting editor for Weber Studies, is a Professor of English at Weber State College. He is the author of a collection of short stories, The Canyons of Grace (1982), a novel, The Backslider (1986), and a biography, Juanita Brooks (1988).
Albert was the town newsboy—a small, sweet-faced, knobbyjointed kid of eleven. One August day he came out of the house wearing a baseball cap and a Deseret News T-shirt. He bridled an old mare and shoved a saddle onto her back. As he cinched up, the mare tried to bite him, and he gave her a punch in the nose. He threw his paperbag over the cantle, stood on an upside-down grain bucket, and climbed aboard. He pulled his belt from the loops of his pants and slapped the mare on the flank. She groaned and ambled into the street.
Down the street roared an open Model A, spewing gravel and stirring a big dust. In it were Ralph Drayton and his rowdy friends, none old enough to have a driver's license. As they careened by, one of them shouted an obscenity at Albert. He shook a fist, and they laughed and shouted more dirty words.
Albert tied the mare at the back of the grocery store on Main Street and carried the paperbag around front. A bus from Salt Lake had dropped off a big bundle of the Deseret News and a small bundle of the Salt Lake Tribune. Only backsliders and gentiles subscribed to the Tribune. Albert knelt, clipped the wires, and counted both bundles. Exactly the expected number. The headlines said the Japanese had surrendered.
Cull Stevens, owner of the store, came out carrying a scoop shovel. The boy said, "Look here. The war's over."
"Everybody knows that," Cull said. "It's been on the radio all day."
"Nobody told me."
"Your dad ought to buy a radio that works," Cull said. "Also, you never cleaned up where your horse dumps like I told you. Take this shovel and go clean up the mess."
Albert carried the shovel around back and scooped up the dried droppings beneath the mare and deposited them in a trash barrel. Luckily there was nothing fresh. When he had finished, he meandered through the store and paused in front of the candy counter. He was out of nickels. For a moment he felt like there wasn't much to live for. He went out and stuffed his papers into the double bag. Then he sat on the bag, opened a paper to the comics, and started to read.
Cull came out again and said, 'It seems like you ought to get your papers delivered before midnight." The boy picked up his bulging bag and staggered around to the mare. Cull followed, saying, "Garth Hazelton got his paper while you were around back. I took mine too." The boy counted the papers again. Three short. No matter how many times he counted, he always came up with a different total. He slapped his forehead two or three times so that he would remember not to deliver extra papers to Cull and Garth.
The mare ambled around a corner into Mill Street, pausing obediently at one gate or another while the boy rolled a paper and crammed it between the pickets. He decided it was time to make up his mind which daydream he was going to entertain himself with. Sometimes he was a Liberator pilot bombing Germany and sometimes a tank commander on Guadalcanal. Sometimes he was a cavalry officer fighting Indians and sometimes an outlaw who kidnapped Paula Ruckhart. Paula was a blond girl who had moved to town last spring. She had sat across the room from him at school and had never said hello.
He decided to kidnap Paula. At first petty distractions got in the way of his daydream. For example, Ben Campole was painting his eaves, and Aunt Mary Goldwin was boiling her clothes the oldfashioned way in a kettle under her elm trees. Before long Albert switched on the movie projector in his mind. He saw the outlaw tether his enormous black horse at the church gate. A hymn came from the open doors of the meetinghouse. When the outlaw entered, every person turned to look. The hymn died abruptly, mouths gaped, bodies froze. The churchgoers knew who he was because the outlaw had harried and pillaged the countryside for months. He stopped before the pew in which the Ruckhart family sat. "Oh, no," Mrs. Ruckhart gasped, "please, not our Paula." Mr. Ruckhart rose half up. The outlaw waved his rifle menacingly and Mr. Ruckhart sank feebly into his seat. Paula emerged from the pew. Her golden hair was fluffed into fine curls; she wore a filmy summer dress. Trembling and weeping, she looked back at her mother. Hardening his heart, the outlaw gave a jerk of his head and turned on his heel. She followed obediently. Outside he mounted the horse and pulled Paula up behind. Although no one inside stirred, he fired a warning shot in the air. The horse wheeled and with clattering hooves bore the outlaw and his clinging prize away through the streets, down a lane, and into the junipers and sage.
On Back Street a fight between Bant and Lois Soderquist interrupted his daydream. Their screen door flew open and Bant dashed out in his stocking feet. Lois chased close behind, waving a stick of firewood. She wore a denim skirt and Wellington boots. After they had circled the house twice, Bant scrambled up a ladder that leaned against the eaves and by sheer momentum went on up the steep roof to the chimney. With a whimper he threw his arms around the chimney and hugged it like a long lost brother.
Lois walked to the gate. The boy rolled a Tribune and handed it to her. "The wails over," he said.
"Like hell it is," she said. "It ain't but begun." She picked up rocks and began chucking them at Bant.
"Goldang you!" Bant roared, easing himself around to the opposite side of the chimney.
She laughed and threw harder. "He's afraid of high places," she said to Albert. Finally she took the paper and went into the house.
The boy gave the mare a lick with his belt and started on. "Hold on there," Bant shouted from the chimney. "You haven't collected yet this month. Come up here and I'll give you a dollar and a quarter."
It was an offer Albert couldn't ignore because, two months out of three, Bant failed to pay. He tied the mare to the fence, went to the door, and stuck in his head. Lois was smoking a cigarette and reading the paper. There was dust on the window sills and eggshells on the floor. "Is it all right if I go up and collect off Bant?" the boy asked.
"Jeez, yes," she said, "take anything you can get off that skinflint."
He found the roof much steeper than it looked from the ground. When he arrived at the chimney, Bant made a grab for him and Albert tumbled half down the roof before the splintering shingles stopped him. "Come on up here, feller," Bant said, again clinging to the chimney with both arms. He was a lank old cowboy who spent weeks at a time on a ranch in Nevada. His face was seamed and covered by grizzled whiskers. "Come on up here," he repeated.
"Naw," the boy said, backing down to the ladder, "I've got to get my newspapers delivered." He could see Bant was so scared that he'd grab him the way a drowning man grabs a swimmer and then: they'd both roll down the roof and fall off.
The boy positioned the mare in a ditch and climbed into the saddle. At the next house he got off, tied her again, and went to the door. Mrs. Hobson, a widow who had once been his schoolteacher, answered his knock. "The war's over," he said, spreading a Deseret News so she could see the headlines.
She took the paper and said, "Albert, that's very thoughtful of you to call the surrender to my attention even though it's been on the radio all day. Thank God our soldiers can come home now. I suppose, of course, you've heard that poor Walt Hampstead was killed last week in training at that California airfield. They've shipped his body home. The funeral will be tomorrow morning."
"No, ma'am, I didn't hear that from anybody," Albert said. "The reason I stopped is Bant Soderquist is on his roof and doesn't know how to get down."
"My goodness," Mrs. Hobson said, coming onto her porch and gazing where he pointed. Beyond her corral and chicken coops they could see Bant on his roof, still hugging the chimney.
"His wife chased him there," the boy went on. "He won't let loose of the chimney. He's afraid of high places."
"That new wife of Bant's! If she isn't a scandal!" Mrs. Hobson exclaimed. "Well, come in and we'll phone somebody to come get him down."
Mrs. Hobson's old father, Simon Summerill, sat in the living room with a blanket over his legs. She had brought him from Arizona to live out his dotage. Across one cheek he had a scar as wide as a finger, which he had got in a fight with Apaches. Mrs. Hobson shouted into Simon's ear, "Father, please tell Albert a pioneer story while I phone the fire department to come get Bant Soderquist off his roof." She spoke to Albert as she left the room. "Father was one of the pioneers. You ask him to tell you a story. Get right up close and talk into his left ear."
Before Albert could say a word, old Simon began to speak, his big Adam's apple working up and down like the pump on a shotgun. "My boy Samuel lives in Salt Lake. The story he tells is that there were some fellows digging a new grave with a bulldozer in the city cemetery and they knocked open a coffin in the next grave. There wasn't anything in the coffin except somebody's temple clothes, which were folded up nice and neat and laid in the bottom. There wasn't a body in the coffin. just those temple clothes folded up nice and neat. Do you know what that means? It means the Resurrection is going on all the time. That body has been resurrected. You'd find hundreds of empty coffins if you'd dig up all the graves in that cemetery."
"Now, Father, tell him how you got your scar," said Mrs. Hobson, who had returned.
"That's okay," the boy said, "I've got to get on delivering my papers."
She followed him onto the porch, and both gazed again at Bant, still huddled in a tight embrace with his chimney. Just then the siren on top of the town hall began to wail, the signal for the members of the volunteer fire department to assemble.
"They'll get him down very shortly now," Mrs. Hobson said with satisfaction. "It was very civic minded of you, Albert, to pause in your busy schedule and seek help for a person in distress."
Albert rode up Back Street, cramming papers between pickets or giving them a toss onto porches and flagstone walks. At one place the paper skidded into irrigation water that had ponded on a lawn, and Albert had to dismount and retrieve the soggy paper. He set a dry paper on the porch and gave the railing a kick because he'd have to carry the ruined paper home, and his brothers and sisters would complain that they always had to take the rejects. About that time Ralph Drayton and his hellraising buddies came roaring and weaving down Back Street in their Model A. As the car raced by, they again shouted obscenities at Albert.
While he rode up Back Street and out Cemetery Lane, Albert resumed his daydream about kidnapping Paula Ruckhart. He imagined himself and Paula in a cave concealed by thick timber. The cavern was deep and spacious and carpeted with bearskin rugs so thick and furry a person could wander around barefooted. A warm, romantic fire flickered and flamed without the slightest breath of smoke. A problem had come up, which the outlaw calmly discussed with Paula. Supplies were low and he would have to ride out to pillage and plunder. The question was whether he would have to leave her tied up. She promised she wouldn't run away. Furthermore, she cried and wrung her hands and wondered why he couldn't take her with him. For days she had wept for her mother and father and brothers and sisters, but now she was weeping for him. He led her to her bed, tucked her under a bearskin, patted her head three or four times, and vowed to return safe and sound. Strapping on his ammunition belt, he turned for a last look, and she pouted her sweet little lips and blew him a kiss.
Down the lane Albert tied the mare at the Sawyers' gate and knocked at the house. Mrs. Sawyer told him her husband was in the cemetery digging a grave for Walt Hampstead. Albert crossed the cattleguard behind the house and chose a path among the graves. Rabbitbrush and tall yellow bunch grass grew thick at the edge of the cemetery. Mr. Sawyer labored shoulder deep in the fresh grave. He was pudgy and bald and heaved his pick with an awkward lurch. He had suffered a collapsed lung at Pearl Harbor and had been discharged from the navy, and the ward had given him a job as janitor of the meetinghouse and sexton of the cemetery.
"The war's over," the boy said, spreading out a Tribune.
"Too bad," the man said. "Now the bottom will drop out of the black market."
"I've come by to collect. I missed you last week."
Mr. Sawyer grasped his shovel and began to throw out gravel. Albert peered into the pit. "Mrs. Hobson's dad says the Resurrection is going on all the time," he said. "Up in Salt Lake somebody was bulldozing in the graveyard and they knocked open a coffin. There wasn't a body in it. Just temple clothes folded up nice and neat. Maybe they ought to open up Walt Hampstead's coffin. Maybe he wouldn't be in it. Maybe he would already be resurrected."
"What about my dead lung?" Mr. Sawyer grunted. "I suppose that's already been resurrected." He pulled a little ladder into the grave and clambered out. He faced Albert. "Look up there," he commanded, pointing to the sky. "Do you see any angels? Look hard! Do you see any? Any at all?"
Albert peered into the silver blue sky. "Hell no you don't see any angels," Mr. Sawyer said, setting off toward the house.
Inside, loaves of bread smoked on the counter, and three Sawyer girls sat at a table eating bread and honey. "Give this boy some of that hot bread while I see if I don't have some cash in my other pants," Mr. Sawyer said to his wife. Albert sat at the table and slathered. a fat slice of bread with butter and honey. He took enormous bites and followed them with gulps of milk. He looked over the Sawyer girls to see if one of them resembled Morris Hancher, because Morris Hancher was the man Mrs. Sawyer had committed adultery with while Mr. Sawyer recuperated in a navy hospital in San Diego. Though Mrs. Sawyer had made a public confession of her sin, she had been excommunicated. The girls were thin and freckled and had pigtails. They didn't look like anybody but themselves.
Mr. Sawyer came from the bedroom and paid double so that Albert wouldn't have to waste his time trying to catch him next month. "You know why there wasn't a body in that coffin Simon Surnmerill told you about?" he asked the boy. "It wasn't because the Resurrection is going on all the time. It was because somebody stole the body and sold it to the university medical school. The Resurrection! My God!"
Mrs. Sawyer followed Albert from the house when he had finished eating. She wore a faded cotton dress and had a sad face. While the boy maneuvered his mare close to an anthill so he could mount, Mrs. Sawyer said, "Don't you let my husband put any ideas into your head. He isn't mean to me or anybody else, but he doesn't believe in anything. You mind your daddy and mamma and you listen to what your Sunday School teacher tells you."
"Yes ma'am," the boy said, giving the mare a thwack. "Thanks for the bread and honey."
He emerged from the lane and delivered along Springer Street. The mare paced briskly because they were for the moment headed toward home, and the boy slipped into his daydream. He saw the outlaw enter the grocery store. The terrified cashier clapped her hands over her mouth. Cull Stevens came from behind the meat counter carrying a cleaver. The outlaw heaved a can of condensed milk, smashing a neon clock on the wall. Cull dropped the cleaver. Turning his back contemptuously, the outlaw picked out his booty: a bottle of red hair oil for himself, a purple lipstick for Paula, a box of canned soup, half a dozen cartons of candybars, and a case of orange soda pop. He forced Cull to carry the plunder outside, roll it in a tarp, and lash it behind his saddle. The outlaw mounted, wheeled the horse about, and urged it back until its rump poised precisely before the door. There the animal obligingly did a mess. "Get a scoop and clean that up," the outlaw ordered, pointing at the stinking green pile. Then he spurred the horse lightly and cantered down the street. Mothers dashed from houses and caught up their children from lawns and sidewalks. Their worry was needless: the outlaw didn't hurt little kids.
Albert turned into Culver Street and heard a violin playing "The Last Rose of Summer." It was Osborne Wallerton, the town musician, practicing on his front porch. Wild bunch grass and yucca grew on his lot instead of lawn, garden, and trees because he lived above the ditch and was too frugal to irrigate with culinary water. When he saw the boy and the mare, the musician tucked the violin under an arm and picked his way barefooted along the gravel path to the gate.
"The war's over," Albert said.
"A solemn hush falls upon the world," Osborne replied, taking his paper.
"They're bringing Walt Hampstead home. Mr. Sawyer is digging his grave."
"So I would expect. I'm rehearsing a few pieces for his funeral."
The mare extended her neck across the sagging barbed wire fence and tried to crop a strand of bunch grass. Osborne tapped her on the nose with the violin bow. As she retreated, he said, "From time to time your horse fouls my gateway."
The boy looked contrite. "She doesn't have any manners at all."
"It is the course of nature," Osborne went on. "In general the horse is a noble animal. The emperor Caligula appointed his favorite horse to be a priest, senator, and consul." Osborne scratched his heel with the point of the bow. "Poor Walt Hampstead," he mused. "He was very gifted with the trombone. Now he is merely manure. But a divine manure! A vintage which the Lord hath trampled in his wrath." The mare made another pass at the bunch grass, and he tapped her again on the nose. "Mmmm," he went on, "the music for the funeral should be grand and heroic. 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' is exactly what we need." He thrust the paper into his waist and positioned the violin under his chin. He turned and picked his way along the path, playing the piece he had named.
Abruptly he turned about, calling to Albert, "You don't intend to be a truck driver when you grow up, do you?"
The confounded boy didn't answer.
"Make something of yourself," the musician commanded, turning again, drawing his bow across his instrument.
The boy turned into West Street. At the gate of Peach Robinson's corral stood a gaunt brindle cow with large moon eyes. She seemed thirsty. Peach Robinson was notorious for neglecting livestock. The next barnyard belonged to Harold Surrey, the government trapper Harold's battered Ford pickup stood just inside the open gate, it! radiator hissing, its door hanging open. Harold stood in the back kicking coyote carcasses out the open tailgate and shouting at his big Airedale dogs, which trotted round and round, whining and barking While the mare pricked her ears suspiciously, the boy gazed at the tawny bodies stacked like cordwood eight or ten deep. The coyote had crushed skulls, Harold having caught them in steel traps an finished them with a blow from a hammer.
"The war's over," Albert said, unfolding a Deseret News.
"By golly!" said Harold, who had been in camp. He took t paper and read. "By gum, it really is! Well, I say hooray. W shouldn't be killing people, not even if they're sons of bitches lit those Germans and Japanese. All that killing isn't natural."
"They're having Walt Hampstead's funeral in the morning Albert said. "He got killed in an airplane crash in California."
"My gosh, is that true?" Harold said in astonishment. "I'm sorry: to hear it. Now isn't that terrible, isn't that just the irony of fat An airplane crash in California!" One of the coyote carcasses which Harold had kicked out was twitching. He got a hammer from the cab and gave the coyote another blow on the skull.
"Peach Robinson's cow looks thirsty," Albert said. "Do you thi it'd be all right if I let her out to the ditch?"
"You bet," Harold said.
Albert tied the mare to a post and opened the gate. The gaunt cow paced across the street, her udder swaying, and thrust her muzzle into the brown water. When she had satisfied her thirst, Albert returned her to the corral and asked Harold for a leg-up into his saddle. Seated, he said, "Mrs. Hobson's dad says the Resurrection is going on all the time. Somebody was digging in the Salt Lake graveyard and they knocked open a coffin. They couldn't find a body in it. There were some temple clothes folded up nice and neat. That means the Resurrection is going on all the time."
"A lot of tumbleweeds blow through old Simon Surnmerill's head!" Harold exclaimed. "He thinks he can remember whether Noah's wife was blond or brunette."
At the next intersection Albert encountered Shirley Kelsey trailing a cow which without question had just paid a visit to Layton Johnson's bull. Astride a pinto pony, Shirley wore dirty jeans and runover cowboy boots. She was very pleased to have Albert's company, telling him, "Me and dad drowned gophers today. You dig into their burrow with a shovel and clean the dirt out of the hole and you stick in the hose and turn it on. Sometimes the gophers make a dash for it and our dog gets them. It's keen!"
As they passed the movie house at the intersection of Center and Main, the midweek matinee adjourned, and a swarm of children and a few adults came blinking out into the late afternoon sun. The cow walked among them, her back humped and her tail extended. The boy wished he was a gopher, not one that Shirley and her father drowned, of course, but another gopher comfortably isolated in a dark tunnel. It was terrible how brazen cattle were about doing the dirty deed.
One day while Albert was eight Shirley had called him into a barn. "Do you want to play buck and doe?" she asked.
"I've got to get home," he said.
"People make babies just like a ram and a ewe," she said.
"That's nothing new. I knew that a long time ago."
"Do you want to climb up in the loft with me?" she asked. "I'll let you look at me if you'll let me look at you."
Later, after they had buckled their belts and climbed down the ladder, she said, "Don't you tell anybody." She didn't need to worry. A person couldn't have pried his mouth open with a crowbar. For two or three months he couldn't say his evening prayers. Night after night, kneeling at his bedside under his mother's watchful eye, he silently counted to a hundred and said amen.
Saying goodbye to Shirley, Albert turned into Webster Street. For a minute or two he struggled to remember the lesson in Sunday School last week. The lesson might have been about Samson smiting the Philistines hip and thigh with a great slaughter or about Jesus resisting temptation to turn stones into bread. The boy believed if he had paid closer attention to his teacher a certain rotten idea wouldn't now be swimming around inside his head like a carp in muddy slough.
As he rode toward the cave with his booty, the outlaw had in mind that after supper he would ask Paula if she wanted to play buck and doe. Even if she didn't, he'd make her. There was no advantage in being an outlaw if he couldn't do immoral, outrageous things. When he arrived, Paula emerged and helped him unpack and carry the stolen goods. She chattered cheerfully, obviously delighted by his safe return. He chopped wood, built up the fire, and prepared an elegant supper of macaroni and cheese and orange soda pop. He believed it was a man's duty to do the cooking in camp. After supper, he and Paula washed the dishes. Outside, darkness had fallen; inside, the fire glintedj and gleamed. The outlaw felt awful. He didn't have the courage to tell Paula she had to take off her panties.
"When do I get to go home?" she asked.
"Aw, heck," the outlaw said, "you don't want to go home yet. We're just starting to have fun."
"I'm not having any fun," she said. "I'm getting bored. Sitting around this cave is worse than practicing piano all day."
"I'll tell you what," he said. "Tomorrow we'll go down to the spring and catch frogs. Then we'll put them in the middle of a circle and make them race. The one that hops to the edge of the circle first wins."
"Gee," she said, "that'd be fun. Will we really do that?"
"All right," Paula said, "you don't have to take me home till next week."
Albert arrived at the gate of Ross McCrimmon, deputy sheriff. Ross pushed a mower across his lawn with his left arm because his right elbow was in a cast. His cousin Butch McCrimmon sat with legs dangling from the porch railing. Behind Butch stood Ross's wife
"The war's over," Albert said, unfurling a Deseret News. Ross stepped close, tilted his head, and stared morosely at the headline through his bifocals. Then he gave the mower another shove.
"I wonder if they'll show us those atomic bombs blowing up them Jap cities in the newsreels," Butch said. "It's too bad the war's over. Pretty soon there won't be anything interesting in the newsreels except train wrecks and hotel fires."
Butch took off a shoe and shook out a pebble. "Isn't it the truth," he went on, "that Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini should have had better sense than to get the United States into the war. They should've known we'd whip them. It's football that makes America strong. You can't whip a nation that plays football. Our soldiers are too fast."
"It was factories that beat them," Mrs. McCrimmon said. "Factories and food, tanks and ships."
"It was high school athletics," Butch insisted. "Our boys dodge too fast. They don't make an easy target."
"You never shot at an American," the deputy said. "If you had, you might think different." Ross gazed again at Albert. His face was long and sad as if he considered it wicked to smile while there were so many unpunished lawbreakers in the world. His eyes were the kind that could peer through concrete slabs. He could probably tell what a kid had been daydreaming about five minutes ago. He7d know that the outlaw had kidnapped Paula Ruckhart and had robbed Cull Stevens's store.
Though Albert hated a tattletale, he had to do something to shift Ross's attention. "Ralph Drayton has been tearing around town in his dad's Model A," he blurted. "Him and his buddies are shouting vulgar things at people."
"That Drayton kid has just barely turned fifteen," Mrs. McCrimmon said. Mrs. McCrimmon kept a census on all the underage drivers in town. Also, if somebody broke into the high school shop and stole some wrenches, she knew whose shed ought to be searched.
She went into the house and came out with a black report book. Ross had begun to mow again in his slow, awkward way. "Are you just going to let that Drayton kid terrorize the town?" she asked.
"We'll go talk to his dad and mom tonight," Ross said.
At the east end of Webster Street, Albert tied the mare to a gate and went around to the back of a tall redbrick house built in pioneer times. Minerva Elverson, the spinster who owned it, rented the front and the upstairs and lived in the back. The path along the side of the house was dark with overhanging lilacs and grapevines. The boy knocked, and without a sound Miss Elverson suddenly appeared in the screen door. Her spine was curved, her cheekbones angular, her eyes haggard.
"The war's over," Albert said.
"I'm grateful," she said, "though it often seemed I had only imagined there was a war."
"I've come to collect," he said.
She opened the door and motioned him in. Unwashed dishes cluttered the kitchen table; the odor of rancid butter hung in the air. He followed her into the dim living room. Beneath a glass dome reposed a bouquet of paper pansies. She gestured him toward a sofa and took the deep chair just opposite. She rummaged in her purse and handed him a dollar and a quarter. He stood and stuffed the money into his pocket.
"Would you like fifty cents extra?" she asked, deliberately laying out two quarters on the side table. "Would you let me hold you for a minute?" she said. He didn't understand. She picked through her purse again and pulled out a bill. "A dollar," she said, "if you will sit on my lap. Just for a moment."
He pursed his lips and shook his head. She said, "Your mother has eight to hold. I don't have any." He fingered the dollar. "I had a little brother who died," she said.
"Just for a minute," he replied at last, pocketing the dollar.
She pulled him onto her lap and pressed his head against her bony chest. She pushed off his baseball cap and tangled her fingers in his hair. "My little one, my poor lost little one," she wept.
"I'm not lost," he insisted.
As he slid off her lap and put on his cap, she gave him the two quarters as a bonus. "Please don't tell anyone," she pleaded.
"No, ma'am, I won't tell anybody in the world," he said.
Delivering along Webster, Albert was depressed. He thought he could still smell rancid butter. His spirits revived when he passed under a giant weeping willow overhanging Jerome Pindale's sidewalk. Jerome had warned the boy a half dozen times that he would take him before the justice of the peace if he caught him breaking branches from his tree. Today the door to the Pindale house was closed and the family automobile was gone. Albert couldn't resist. Standing in the stirrups, he broke off a nice switch.
He continued along Webster until he reached Handley's place on the edge of town. Returning, he took a shortcut across a vacant block where bunch grass and cactus grew. He decided to change his daydream from kidnapping Paula to fighting Indians because the curved willow reminded him of a cavalry saber. He gave the mare a whack. She broke into a gallop, chiefly because the soil was soft and they were headed toward home.
The major threw a glance over his shoulder, satisfying himself that his troop galloped close behind. Their mood was sober, for they understood only too well the desperate odds they faced. Yet they did not slacken or hesitate. They preferred death to retreat. Gold buttons gleamed on blue uniforms; banners snapped in the wind; sabers stood unsheathed. In the valley before them massed a frightful horde of Indians, faces painted, heads bedecked in war bonnets, hands gripping spears and rifles. With a nod of his head the major ordered the bugler to sound the charge. "On 'em, boys!" the major shouted, standing in his stirrups and lashing his frothing stallion. The troop thundered into the line of Indians, sabers slashing, pistols firing, lungs expelling horrendous oaths. As the mare trotted into Simmons Street, Albert felt great satisfaction. The Indians had been routed, and among the freed captives had been Paula, who for a brief moment before the daydream evaporated had ridden behind the major, her arms securely embracing him.
Halting the mare at the intersection of Simmons and Webster, Albert counted newspapers. He could see he would be two short. While he pondered who among his remaining subscribers to deprive of a paper, he squinted into the setting sun and saw Mr. Handley's car pull into Webster. Mr. Handley was nearly blind and drove slowly so that others on the street could take notice and get out of his way. A moment later Albert saw a Model A skid into Simmons and head in his direction; it was Ralph Drayton and his buddies. Albert knew something would happen. He reined the mare around and retreated from the intersection. For a few seconds it was a hill that blocked Ralph's view of Mr. Handley's approach; then it was the setting sun in the far end of the street. The two automobiles collided with a terrific clang. Mr. Handley's car spun about and rammed into a power pole on the corner. Ralph's car careened across Samuel Darthenspogle's lawn, bounced onto his porch, took out three roof supports, and with a great splintering of wood buried its hood in the side of his garage.
Nobody seemed injured. Mr. Handley circled his car and the power pole muttering, "Why did they put that pole in the middle of the street?" Ralph Drayton sat on the running board of his immobilized car, his chin in his hand. "That old codger," he said. "Where in damnation did he come from?" His friends picked themselves off the driveway and fled through Darthenspogle's backyard.
In a few minutes Ross McCrimmon and his wife arrived, and while the deputy asked questions of Mr. Handley, Ralph, and Albert, his wife wrote answers in the black report book. A crowd gathered. One after another, people asked Albert, who had dismounted, to tell what had happened. Among the onlookers were Paula Ruckhart and her big brother. Paula said hello to Albert in the friendliest manner and listened very respectfully while he told his story. She admired the mare and stroked her shoulder and neck. The mare tried to bite Paula, whereupon Albert gave the animal a cuff on the nose.
"Oh, don't hurt the poor thing," Paula said. "She's such a pretty horse. Would you take me for a ride on her some afternoon?"
"Gosh, yes," Albert said.
After it had got dark, he said he had to finish delivering his papers. He led the mare away until he was sure Paula wouldn't see how much trouble he had mounting. As he jumped into the saddle from the fender of a parked truck, it came to him where the missing papers were. He had forgotten that Cull Stevens and Garth Hazelton had picked up papers at the store. Jogging along toward their houses, he made up his mind he'd give the soggy paper to someone beside his own family. Considering-all he had been through this afternoon, he believed he had the right to lie on the rug after supper and enjoy the comics from a dry newspaper. For a little while he daydreamed that he and Paula were married and had some kids and sat respectably together in church every Sunday. It made him cheerful to remember how humble Ralph Drayton had become following the car accident. It also made him cheerful to think that maybe the Resurrection was going on all the time and that maybe, if folks took the trouble the next morning to open Walt Hampstead's coffin, they'd find it empty.