V O L U M E
I I I
C H R O N I C L E
F I F T Y - N I N E
A N N O
S T E L L A E
1 0, 2 7 2
The Blind Man Who Could See
Almost three centuries into the eleventh millenium, twin worlds, once separated, somehow remain parallel in much of their subsequent development. That mystery has never been explained, and it is true for Earth I and II, that there isn’t much difference between what they are and what they have become. Earth II maybe arrives at its terminus in a somewhat more convoluted and circular way than Earth I, but the terminus is going to be the same for both in the end. Aleph will be concluded by Tau, Alpha by Omega, and A by Z. The destiny of the two twin Universes will be fulfilled, just as a thaumatropes will produce one image from two illustrated disks when they are spun around.
The royal star that once guided the second King Herod’s most amazing rise to world-class greatness on a very puny powerbase (just the platform for the Temple he built contained more ashlar stonework than Mizraim’s greatest pyramids), the same that led the magi of the East to him so that he might gain their knowledge of the precise time and birthplace of the Messiah II and slay the Child just like old Herod I had done previously, was the first of its kind to be fought. Many akin to it in malice and destructiveness followed its path to Earth, and each produced its own shade of darkness and a world-wide crisis for humankind.
The Topaz, Emerald, and Carbuncle now remain in the cannon’s mouth. Singly, they are superpowers, and together they are nothing but total annihilation.
We know it cannot be long now, for Earth II’s dread magisterial angel of the Last Trump--is he
Azmon the last of the Black Watchers?--has stepped to his station in heaven. Soon he will raise the trumpet to his lips. All observers and participants can expect to see the final campaigns of the War of Heaven and Earth that will conclude the question of just who was going to take all on gameboard of Earth-and-Universe II. These, indeed, are the Last Days--yet what is the meaning of these events, and what will be accomplished? To know those things the wise magi--whoever they are--must regroup and seek the natal place of God-Made-Man, and who is so desirous of beholding burning, all-consuming revelation that he can stomach such a long, hard journey in the dead of winter, with robbers and murderers lying in wait to ambush wayfarers all along the route? Mystery it was, and but for a few brief years of blazing revelation, Mystery it remains. Perhaps, to fathom the meaning of the second, it is first necessary to grasp the meaning of the first? But who is able? In Science, Gravity found its Sir Isaac Newton and Relativity could claim Albert Einstein. Music--J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Brahms, Mendelsohn, Mozart, and Beethoven, on to Bartok, Stravinsky. Philosophy--Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Pascal, Kant, and Whitehead. Art--Michangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Hieronymous Bosch, Van Gogh, Matisse, Chagall, Monet, Manet, Picasso. Literature--Homer, Virgil, Cervantes, Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, Blake, Shakespeare, Milton,
Hopkins. Space exploration--Wernher von Braun and the NASA Apollo Moon Mission astronauts, the Mars Group members, the Chillingsworth-world government era Outer Planetary Group Consortium (really a smokescreen for the poverty-challenged Marquis of Gothenburg’s gold mining operations), and so on. Yet the INCARNATION--the turning point of all the ages, conditions, and developments of the Universe--has yet to find its interpreter (unless that role may only be played by the Holy Ghost). Even the star that heralded His Birth remained unexplained--a Mystery shedding light on a Mystery!
Then, compounding the glorious, double enigma of the First Incarnation (which in turn was pressaged by an even greater humbling of the Supreme Being by Pre-Incarnate Christ condescending to be man’s creator and fellowship with him!), Christ II was born on the second Earth! Didn’t anyone ever inform Him a second nativity was arch heresy? With no Papacy at that time extant and able to issue a bull on the matter, an impressive French quote is in order here, something expressing a breach of taste to some eminent arbiter of culture, but everything French had vanished from the world scene!
Something was said, it is true, by learned Jewish authorities on the Torah concerning the first appearance of Yeshua, and that wasn’t complimentary, but it is certainly more revealing that, intellectual and religious misgivings aside, His first Birth proved troubling enough to the seething, deeply wounded and guilt-ridden Jewish psyche to raise the reasonable question, in any thinking Gentile mind, why they didn’t deal with Yeshua more consciously and honestly, and now, without the first event settled, His people were forced to endure a second! It is quite possible, as has been suggested by commentors on this curious lucana in Jewish philosophy, that Christian persecution of Jews forced rabbinical writers to expunge any reference to Yeshua in fear of retaliation.
Accepting that, what was
expunged. Was the discussion extensive? Who recalls? Apparently, if it had been extensive, somebody might have remembered, but nothing of the like has ever been suggested in areas and times when a more candid Jewish community could have spoken out with impunity on the subject. Some important things will never be known. But, back to the problem in theology, was He born twice because they had somehow missed the point of the First Incarnation? Clearly, they suffered hideously for the “ first oversight,” victimized by the Crusades, countless medieval pogroms, and hundreds of fiendishly efficient Nazi death camps that, if truth be told, drove them farther from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob rather than closer.
Considering the odds, the most amazing thing in the world is that a single Jew survived the bloodbaths and persecution with sanity intact! Except for pockets of diehard orthodoxy, Jewish faith did not survive--that is a given--though several million Jews eluded Shickelgruber’s grasp over in Britain and America and in various enclaves in South America. How could a thinking person ever believe again in an Almighty God that permitted such horrors, much less believe in Yeshua as His Son whom Christians persecuting them claimed was their long-awaited Messiah? Being thinking people, most Jews decided they could not believe any more in a Supreme Being. They had seen so much that they had become blinded, and everything that happened to them afterwards just reinforced the blindness. Jews, after all, were only human, subject to all the limitations of that condition. The Messiah, the possibility of a loving, delivering God was just too painful a subject to entertain. Oh, they still honored the champions of their traditional faith, but that only served to preserve their identity as a people.
The great Jewish heart--the vital, throbing center, full of vision, expectancy, life--lay blackened, twisted, stone dead like a still-born child in the Jewish breast. All the mind could do was mourn the glory of what had been--and try to survive and flourish in the camp of the enemy. Except for a painfully brief period of time, it had always been that way for the Jews. Involuntary wanderers, exiled strangers in the earth, forced to wrest a living by cultivating the good graces of mostly hostile Gentile neighbors, the Jews hung on to their identity and the trappings of the old faith in God despite all the opposition of succeeding ages. From Christ I to Christ II, not much changed for them in that respect.
By the time of the eleventh millenium, after passing over Christ II, they still hadn’t succeeded in regaining lost ground. Together with the West and East Bear and Turtle Indian tribes, as a race they were pushed and cordoned off along the margins of world society by triumphant majorities, even while providing those majorities countless outstanding individuals in education, finance, the arts, government, and science. Yet nothing really changed their tragic plight--that they forever faced an impassible Oostershelde, with no break-through yet in sight!
Speaking of champions, Wally the Magnificent Morpho, the battle-scarred and fame-decorated veteran butterfly both the macro- and microscopic worlds, has been deservably retired to a cruise ship in a virtual world. He has well earned the change of scene, having been the agency most accountable for preserving Indian, Rom, and Jewish peoples for the Re-Located Earth (no large numbers, it is true, of either Jews or Gypsies were saved, but their respective percentages of the world population were always very small, in the hundredths of a percent, with the largest fraction found in some of the world’s chief cities). Unfortunately, Wally’s retirement comes at a time when players with experience are badly needed to get the alphabetic DUBESOR trainees in line. Who will mentor them now? And--and there is a sense of something missing, a lonely feeling adrift in the world, unaccountable except for there being no Wally anymore, even if he was reduced to pretty much just hanging around and observing from the sidelines.
Poor Mink, having fouled up, has like the ill-fated Jewish race met his own impassible Oostershelde for 1,540 years, held in a petrified state by the hand of the Almighty for some unspecified reason and purpose. Though the figure in the stone weeps, drawing incredulous pilgrims from many lands, the stone remains stone.
The Earth itself, despite the many sacrifices and sometimes phenomenal successes of the
Dubesor deliverers that have turned the clock of progress forward once again, remains the enemy’s. Has anything really changed, then, since the Birth of the Christ? The cruel,sick old world that staggered toward the mystery of His nativity in Bethlehem was, no doubt, reborn and revitalized in its spirit. First the old world order had to die. That accomplished, a new world burst into being, the beauty of unlimited possibilities raised from a heap of bones and ashes where mighty Rome had once stood, but what did people do with their opportunity? They continued the ruinous old ways, as everybody knows, repeating the crimes and excesses of previous, benighted generations before Christ. Awarded ten thousand years of grace, what did Earth have to show for the time? Who is the foe ten thousand years after the Incarnation of Christ? Was that Birth of the only genuine Novus Ordo Seclorum for nothing, considering the events that followed? Was nothing learned? Whatever the first generation of Christ knew, it must not have been passed on to very many, for the Light soon faded, and the darkness quickly returned to dominate society. Just as in the natural order, there can be no vacuum in human affairs--either the Light of Christ, or Apollyon’s red smelter glare. Ten thousand years! Why hasn’t there been a break-through in all that time?
For one thing, there can never be an answer without including all men. As long as the Jews were left out, there could be no answer for the Gentiles. As long as enmity and unforgiveness flourished in relations between the two, there could be no unfolding of the radiant and harmonious New World Order. In fact, as long as there grew any rank weed of unforgiveness in the soil of humanity anywhere on the globe, there could be no New Earth and New Heaven. Earth II, failing three times to pick and eat from the Tree of Life, was doomed to endure the harrowing of the full complement of star-stones. What a horrible fate! Yet it cannot be avoided.
The latest is like the first, overflowing with malevolence and fire, powerful enough to destroy any world, leastwise this small a planet. Unlike its predecessors, it has not put on the dog at its appearance. Rather, it has gone directly to a nice hiding place where it can stir the pot of poison without chance of detection. As if it had decided not to steal thunder from the long-time resident Topaz, the great, smouldering Agrabh, the guiding genius of the Huascars and Atahualpas of the world which has risen briefly to squelch several letterman but been somehow stood down each time, the Emerald lies low, preferring to exercise the clandestine half of its split personality. Throwing aside ages of caution, inflamed by rebuffs from such mighty Hebrews as Mosheh, Gideon, and Elhanan, the Topaz, feeling its powers sufficient to overcome all opposition, has opted again for the overt, entering public life in order to exert full control of planetary destiny from the very top as King of the World. One active, the other avoiding public exposure, the star-stones have set dangerous counter-forces in motion against the progress mankind has made in the last thousand years. The Earth is once again the unsuspecting prey of remorseless, cunning saber-toothed predators just when humanity has finally struggled out of the depths of alien-induced Dark Ages and achieved a measure of general prosperity.
Who now will be raised up to fight the juggernaut of paired star-stones? Against the level of technology and social organization of A..S. 10,272, another champion of the likes of Molu and especially Chiron would look very strange, indeed. The first five lettermen, “D” ,” U,” “ B,” “ E,” and “S “--five being the sacred number of Amazing Grace and its letter held so special to the Almighty that He restored the barred spiral galaxy of NGC-4535 to emblazon “S” upon the heavens--served to push back the Dire Night so that light might break through on the gameboard--and light did break through. But will “O” be anything like them? Will he fly through the air like a human butterfly, shooting forth lightning like bolts for his knight’s lances as he jousts with star-stones and armies of aliens?
As the letters indicate, mankind is three-fifths through the icy Besor, which has stopped everyone else but the Dubesor. “You will recover all,” was a promise the Almighty gave mankind far near the start of the Wargame. But mankind has yet to reach the other side safely. The torrent is full of ice and moving boulders as it rushed nearly headlong down a mountain slope from a glacier field. Humanity advanced at a bitter cost, thanks to the Dubesor, but the most difficult two-quarters of the deadly freshet remain to be forded. Numbed to the bone, torn by vicious currents, pounded by ice and stumbling over rocks, the way across is not only treacherous but seemingly impossible. The rocks on the other side appear more steep and smooth, with no places to catch hold with one’s hand. It’s enough to bring panic and sudden flight back to the nearer shore while there’s still a chance of saving one’s life. In a panic, “You will recover all” falls on ears deafened by the thunder of the Besor in its deep-cut channel.
But in the raging current, to stop is lunacy. Forward! is the watchword for anyone who aims to ford the Besor. Those who entertain second thoughts will be swept downstream, beaten senseless against rocks, and drowned. What ground and momentum Daniyel, Pea, Molu, Brun, Chiron, Mink, and Wally have achieved must be maintained by pushing on without a moment’s hesitation.
The “O”--whoever and wherever--will have to understand that fatal fact, or face certain destruction.
At the rate the Topaz is moving, however, will the “O” find understanding in time to meet the foe before it places a checkmate on the board? If the Topaz and its hidden co-conspirator the Emerald were not enough, there is always the Saggitarian Black Hole, an insatiable “stellophagus” which is steadly gaining on the Earth and its star. No leash can possibly restrain it, since it has grown too huge for that. Ignorant of Black Holes, Astronomy will have to labor for atleast two decades more before their existence again becomes known. They will not have any idea, of course, that the Saggitarian is headed Earth’s way--a moveable Ragnarok, the doom of the world and all its lesser gods. Judging from previous eras when Astronomy was ascendant, in the time it will take for Astronomy to advance to tracking Black Holes, there may not be an Earth to save anyway. And what could be done even if the Saggitarian’s trajectory was discovered? Earth and its star were well on their way to becoming forelorn images pasted on an ever-expanding event horizon, and who could turn the beast away from the helpless prey?
Even if a Black Hole of the magnitude of the Saggitarian could be repulsed, leaving “only” the once royal star-stones to be fought, who will mentor and train this letterman? Chiron is gone. Daniyel is retired. Wally the long-lived Cray turned pedometer and then virus-enzyme has flown away to parts unknown. Mink? He is still frozen in stone and cannot even help himself! It appears, alas, that “O” will have to find his own way and train himself for battle in a many-fronted war he couldn’t possibly imagine. Will he even know he has such a complex role to play? Won’t he just stumble blindly about?
Palmoni was a powerful assistant at critical times in the Dire Night. Perhaps, he could step in once again to rescue or guide a wayward champion to the goal. But can he be counted on? He is but a messenger, and does nothing except what the Almighty directs him to do. Times have changed. The Wonderful Numberer would be just as foreign in the modern world of ANNO 10, 272 as a Chim or a Blue Centaur. A thousand years have passed since Palmoni last stepped on the earth, and any recollection of him has long since expired. There were five warrior angels gathered round the undaunted figure of Palmoni at one point--and three--dazzling white Albion, tri-colored Eben, and Azmon of the blood-red robes-- remain to play a part in the game that was winding up toward Teilhard’s Pleroma, the End-Time denouement and culmination of all previous events, whether for everlasting good or everlasting ill, it remains to be seen.. But it seems too late now for the involvement of real angels. The modern science-driven world has trouble with supernatural miracles and has made light of angels--they’ve long been relegated to stain glass windows and statuary! If there was an angel about, likely he would grace a tombstone in the town cemetery or even...
A delivery truck with WHITE ANGEL OVEN FRESH BREADS, DINNER ROLLS AND PASTRIES emblazoned on both sides and back, and the trademark angel with gold wings flying on top the hood pulled up in front of Bean’s Trading Post and Outfitters.
As well as providing outfitting and licensing services, Bean’s carried most everything, since it provisioned fishermen, trappers, hunters, even catered to the big city monied class with society boating parties and occasional scientific teams from the University of Baton Roo, and some of these preferred real bread and pastries in their packs, despite added bulk and weight. Bean’s lake barge the “Song of Dixie,” converted into a dance floor and dining room, was also popular with society people, who came often came all the way from Alantah and Baton Roo to throw parties, giving them the pleasure of being in “wilderness” but not actually having to endure its inconveniences, hazards, economic woes, and--worst of all--the Great Black Wolf of the winter season.
It had been Missus Bean’s idea, since she thought this would be the only way she could lure real society and the news she craved into such a backwater as Makon--and it worked. Bakeries, however, had all folded up and left the area along with many other businesses, so at added expense Bean’s paid for delivery from the nearest “big city,” Georgia’s capital Alantah sixty miles away.
Swinging open the back of the truck, the deliveryman pulled out a week’s order of bread, rolls, cookies, and pastries and hand-trucked them along with the last month’s mail and a bundle of Alantah
and Baton Roo newspapers to the counter. Hearing all the telltale sounds made by the truck and the deliveryman out front and the sound a new set of feet made on the wood floor boards, the store manager greeted him with, “So you’re filling in for J.J., eh? What’s wrong with him now?.” While the deliveryman dropped the mail sack and some back issue newspapers and explained, the old man with bad eyes that were virtually blind, signed by holding the paper right under his face, and then a boy checked it for the old man, who then let the boy go and follow the deliveryman out of the store.
Not surprisingly, the deliveryman had something for the boy. J.J. often had a red hot sucker or jawbreaker or maybe a fancy pastry reserved for rich folk. This time the boy was awarded a nice company White Angel sticker for his bike, the deliveryman applying it himself.
“Now win yourself a treat!” the man said as he finished. “If you’re over ten, you’re too old to play, but any boy ten or under can.”
“I can play, for I just turned ten two weeks ago,” said the boy, who was small for his age and didn’t look but seven or maybe eight. “Okay, what’s the game and what’s the prize?”
“It’s just a game of knowing who you are. Everybody knows, or should know, who they are. Wouldn’t you say dogs, cats, birds, bears, wolves, and such all know who they are? How could they know what to do if they weren’t completely certain of what they were? What a strange world it would be if all the animals went about confused, wondering who or what they were!”
The boy, thinking of his dog wondering if he were a cat or a rabbit, trying to meow and even hop and eat lettuce, nodded. His mind kept running on the possibilities. “What if a mouse thought he were a cat, and a cat thought he were a mouse? Cool! What a neat mixup of a place the world would be!”
“Well, then, who are you?” the man prodded him after waiting a moment after watching the boy’s face which showed his thoughts to the deliveryman like a movie screen.
Surprised that it was so simple, the boy peered at the deliveryman like he thought he was being put on. “Everybody in town but you knows that!” the boy replied with a child’s candor.
“But do YOU really know?” the deliveryman replied. “Others might just be mistaken. Can you prove you are who you think you are?”
The boy nodded vigorously.
The deliveryman handed the boy a maple bar, an extra one from a big order going to Korinth, a town up the road.
“Thanks, abi,” the lad said. “Was that the prize for winning the game? I won, didn’t I?”
“No, sorry, you didn’t. But the maple bar goes to whoever plays the game, a kind of consolation prize.”
The boy was confused a moment, then thought of home. “Just don’t tell them you gave me this treat, for it spoils my supper, Grandma always says. I don’t want her mad at me. She says I’m too thin for my age because I don’t eat enough.”
The deliveryman laughed, then watched the boy pedal off, using one hand on the handlebar while he continued eating the pastry. “Say, what’s your name, the one you’re so certain is yours?” he called after him, grinning.
“HOMER BEAN!” the boy yelled back with double emphasis just as he turned the corner heading to his grandmother’s street.
The deliveryman stood looking after the boy, the one he knew was really O the Star Tracker and Letterman, who had just been now commissioned by the Almighty with an official sticker-seal of his authority. Green clouds thundering heavenwards on the edges of his vision, and beyond them a candle glowing at both ends and speeding into the face of a star, his gaze turned very solemn. “Can a circle be squared?” he wondered, again totally amazed by the seemingly impossible choices of color and pattern evidenced by Eternity’s Great Weaver.
Then he remembered his other job and got busy with shutting up the truck and getting back to business. A few moments later the truck had moved on to other stops, the two taverns, Mom and Pop
Swithin’s grocery round to the left of the main street business block, and a final, leisurely stop at the only gas pump in town.
Since this was J.J’s “bread and mail” route--the so-called “golden triangle” of prime White Pine logging country that started at Alantah, then took in Makon, Athens, Sparta, Korinth, and Rome--and nobody recognized Alb, he had to introduce himself to most everyone he serviced.
“Al, Al Bion’s my name,’ he said, and people immediately wanted to know what had happened to J.J. “Sick in bed with a bad cough, so I was called in,’ Al explained. “I’ll probably only make this run today, and then he’ll be back on next week. That’s what they said at the office when I was called in.”
People all nodded their heads, signed for the delivery, and Al was allowed to go on his way. Some stood looking at him, however, wondering if he weren’t “a tetch” Indian, his color was so pale and his hair white as a very old man’s. But would WHITE ANGEL mills of Alantah dare hire savages and send one to a respectable, clean-living town like Makon? Not likely. Indians were considered incorrigible savages and ran the risk of being lynched in town for daring to set foot on Main Street. Gypsies too, thought to be only a notch above Indians, were sometimes run out at gunpoint if chickens were thought to be vanishing in the town limits. It was one thing for them to come in working for a carnival or circus; they were then patronized for whatever entertainment or fortunetelling they had to offer. But as plain Gypsies? Totally unwanted. So, taking in the situation, this young man had to be a furriner, somebody from outside the good, old CSA and her long-time rival, the powerful, bellicose Publicatexa across the Turtle Straits, or from as far down as Poseidonia, Ratna, Heruka, and other such strange countries where few if any Makons cared to go even though they were still revered as the Holy Land. Oh, there were rumors “Makon General Hospital”--Doc Marshall’s clinic occupying part of the old hospital beyond the edge of town that had long been closed--had hired an Indian girl who had somehow gotten nurses training in Baton Roo, but the doctor wouldn’t allow anyone in on his hiring practices and so nobody knew for sure about her parentage. Yes, she was pale, mighty pale in face, but, then again, she might have come up from deep south to find work. More such were appearing all the time, the ones with money to burn drawn to Bean’s, which did business with furriners, and had made a good living of it too, judging from the present owner, old Mrs. Bean, who was formerly a judge’s wife and though he was gone now maintained “a tetch” of true gentility at her place of residence on Holy Brigitte Avenue just off Main Street. Besides taking in a good view of the lake, her location was fortunate in another way. The pillared house set upwind from the town’s main surviving industry, a rambling, four-storey chicken hatchery. Winters weren’t bad at all for smell. But come warm weather most everyone except Missus Bean was reminded daily who was and who wasn’t downwind.
Stopping at the oil station, Al stood waiting for service as the attendant Hans Quittquit remarked about the weather and the lake fishing. Exhausting the two most important topics for the moment Hans hand-pumped gas in the truck for the long journey north to Korinth, Spartah, Athens, and Argos--one-time wealthy and powerful city-states with their own governments and armies ruling over considerable territories, now reduced to villages of a hundred souls or less, and still declining. Since it was Indian country in those parts, where he was a tempting target for roving bands, the regular deliveryman carried a loaded shotgun in the gunrack at all times in case of roadblock or ambush.
But town was still safe enough, with a citizenry as well armed for an uprising of "squirrels" as Makon’s. In minutes, the same force of fifty or so volunteers that served as a fire department could also muster a posse for the sherriff in an emergency, after blowing the old fire department horn to alert everybody. After all, it was this same well-armed vigilante group that had brought Rainy Lake Logging Company, with 20 camps and 700 lumberjacks, to its knees and forced out the company’s army of rotgut whiskey makers, painted women
in limos, and hit men who put “troublemakers”--anyone who opposed them--down under at in the slime bog on the north shore of the lake. Unable to deal with an aroused town that could shoot, the company pulled out the lucrative rotgut manufacturing and distribution, and Lame Horse and Dog House taverns immediately revived after a long slump.
Without a thought for the deliveryman, who was even then on his way northeastly toward Athens and Sparta, Homer turned in at his home and, tucking the last of the maple bar under the chin of a dozing old collie on the back porch, went in at the kitchen.
Higgins the cook was just taking out an Angel’s Food cake. She could hear who it was coming in without looking, and she went immediately to the table and set the cake and pan to cool on the neck of a bottle.
“Now don’t bump the table and knock that cake over!” she told Homer, as he pulled up for his usual snack.
But she hadn’t any beef sandwich prepared. The cake had taken the time, and glacier-berry compote was just now heating up on the stove. Covered in whipped cream, with the compote spooned out on top and in the hollow middle, it would provide a nice dinner dessert after the main courses of lake trout and a big piece of steak for Master Homer.
Dinner, which was always served formally in the big dining room, lay a hour away at the earliest, and a boy home from school needs something, so she pulled out a bowl from the refridgerator and a copper bottomed pan from the wall and had soup heating quickly where the compote had been.
“I don’t want soup!” the spoiled boy said. “That’s for dinner.”
Higgins rubbed her hand on her apron and eyed him. “Well, maybe it is, but you need something, and I’m not going to fix a sandwich now when I got this soup all ready for you. Besides, where’s the bread from the delivery today? Forgot it again at the tradin’ post? “We’re gettin’ mighty low, and I’ll don’t wanna bake again because of you! And I don’t plan on walkin’ over there tonight, so you better come with it tomorra sure!”
Homer’s face screwed up in sheepish surprise. His job was to help himself to a couple fresh
loaves at the trading post, and cart it home, but the deliveryman had upset his thinking a bit with the sticker and asking him strange questions about his name and such.
“Thought so!” said the cook, looking stern. She took a closer look at his face. “Hey, you ain’t been eating something sweet again, boy? Not after what the Missus tells you not to since you ain’t growin’ like you should?”
“All right, where’s the soup?” Homer replied resignedly. He felt he had to prove he was hungry, or she might get truly angry on him.
Shaking her head, the cook took a ladle and filled his bowl and then set it down before him. “Maple bar, wasn’t it. I can smell it on you! Tell the truth now!”
“Yeah, and real good too!” Homer shot back, as he took a first spoonful, sipping it before letting it drop. “Beans! What is this?”
“Oh, just my own Mawmaw’s special. Not good enough for Master Homer, is it? Well, I think you’re working up for a good switchin’ with the biggest spoon we got in this kitchen, if I have to do it myself. Now eat!”
Forewarned, knowing that a ten year old isn’t quite a match for a large-bodied cook when she meant business, Homer paid more attention to his soup. He found it wasn’t quite so bad as he first thought.
“Pretty good. What's it called?”
Relenting a bit with his complement, the cook’s eyes grew distant as if she were seeing a lone homestead and herself as a little girl again with her mawmaw out back stirring the big pot where she did all her real cooking and stewing of things.
“Nine Bean Soup,” she mused. “ Real homecooked soul food! My old-time favorite my mama used to make me when I was a yong girl. I got to hankering for a taste again of it after all these years--and I thought Missus might like it to, so I looked and--glory be--I done found all the beans in the dry goods pantry we needed and--”
Stirring the bowl with his spoon, Homer seemed to be thinking of something beyond the high ceilinged, light-flooded kitchen too. “What kind of beans, Minny?”
“Oh, it’s not all beans, child. Some peas too. Takes many things to make God’s sweet child go right in this world!”
The "sweet child" still in training pushed his bowl away. Surprising himself and the cook, for his appetite wasn’t quite what it should be for a growing boy, what with all the treats J.J. passed his way at the store, he had finished the bowl.
“Some nice, fresh Jamaikan butter cookies and milk to wash ‘em down, child?” Cook was inclined to forget dinner and be generous after receiving the boy’s complement of eating everything set before him.
“No thanks, gotta save room for dinner, remember?”
Homer pushed up from the table, then paused. “Why all those beans and peas and stuff in it--why not just one kind of bean?”
Higgins pushed back hair under her black and white cap. She shrugged. “‘Twouldn’t be Nine-Bean Soup without the var’ous kinds. An’ the ‘gredients all mean something particular nourishin’ to the
Homer rolled his eyes the way she often did. “Like what?” he challenged her.
Higgins laughed. “Let me remember first! It’s been a long time, I tell you! Ever since Mawmaw died.”
Her eyes seemed to sink far back in her head as she thought about it. Never would she forget the “Old Place,” one like many of the tribe of “Fightin’ Irish” down from the Old Country of Minnpaul in the north, who came south to Dixie in the Long Ago and lived to themselves on forty acres or so of mostly rock outside town. And she would especially remember--though the picture pained her--how her mother came in the house from cutting wood, a splinter lodged under her fingernail, smiling and saying it weren’t nothing to worry about. She removed the splinter with a pin, ran her finger under some water and went back to work. But her finger bothered her and swelled up and looked poisoned. A black line snaked up her arm toward her heart. Girls couldn’t go alone to town for help, and they couldn’t afford a town doctor, so she lay down in the bed one day and didn’t get again.
A tear started, and Higgins was quick with her apron, and turned away for a moment. When she turned round, she was surprised to find Homer still waiting patiently.
“Well?” he said.
Clearing her throat, she started as best she could. “Well, it’s been a terrible, long patch of time, but first the pearl barley meant--no, I gotta sing the song for it, that’s the best way to get the recipe out.”
Her voice, quavering at first, grew quickly to her full contralto, and it was a good voice, holding the boy’s attention as, less and less halting as she went recovered the words and went on, she sang the old Nine Bean Fruits of the Spirit Song.
Pearl, lil’ Pearl is Love’s barley grain,
wed in white to Mistah Joy’s split-a-pea;
Tho’ black as night, and full of pain,
Black Bean brings Peace as sweet can be;
Practice long on laygoom of Red,
lest ol’ Impatience rears up his head;
Kindness of the Pinto, seek,
else Navy’s Goodness will turn weak;
Lentils, child, for Gentleness,
and Self-control? Black-eyes peas dey confess
you’re on your way to Beulah Land,
An’ Vanilla Bean ‘tis Joshua’s hand!
Nine-Beans’s food for spirit’s gain,
Nine-Beans’s cure for every pain;
Oh, Nine-Beans’s gonna lift you up,
Jist let ol’ Mawmaw fill your cup!
There was a lovely country jig that went with the song too, but she wasn’t about to make a fool of Minny Higgins in front of non-Irish!
Her moist eyes dropped as her song ended with the refrain, and she found she was alone. But she wasn’t upset any, and took the broom and swept up, even though the floor didn’t really need it. Having worked years in the Bean household, she knew any ten year old couldn’t stand still for that many verses, even if he had treated her nice with a compliment.
She took the bowl and put it under soapy water in the sink for washing. Her eyes gazed at the lake through the window, but she was seeing things far away in time and location. “Get those blessed beans two feet down in your soul, child, and you won’t go far wrong in life!” her mawmaw had told her. Could she say that to Master Homer? Would he listen to that? she wondered. He wasn’t much for standing around listening, not at his age, she considered. Poor boy! No proper mother! No proper father! What Homer made of the situation at his grandmother’s, she couldn’t tell since he didn’t talk about it. It made no Irish sense to her either. But--
Scrubbing at the sink, she had the dishes done in a moment and rinsed and put in the dish rack for drying with a towel.
She paused, however, to turn to the door where he must have gone out, leaving it partly ajar like he usually did. She was thinking, not the first time, that the boy needed an explanation sooner or later, and better sooner. He would be growing up before long, and then it might run bad for the Missus if he then found out things best told him while he could be still be managed like a child. That was her best view of the matter. But who asked a cook’s opinion, particularly an Irish one’s? Leastwise, Missus Bean, a proud lady who knew her place and standing as a Sognstad were a hundred times as good as a hired servant’s anyday. No doubt she’d look small in her eyes if she turned to “ignorant country Irish folk” for advice on how to manage her grandson’s affairs!
Shaking her head, Higgins glanced once toward the ceiling, above which she heard footfalls crossing to the window, probably the Missus trying to see what society on the barge might be dancing tonight. Having been a party-loving debutante in Louisia in her younger days, she couldn’t help looking now, Higgins reflected. Who could blame the old lady? Coming down out of Dixie’s upper crust to live in a little, dirty, smelly place like Makon was quite a step for the belle of Baton Roo, which no doubt she once was in her day. So why did she up and leave the bright lights and fancy balls and paved streets and statues and foutains and cafes and grand opree houses for living in the back stretches of Georgia, where even the capital, Alantah, was filled with more hen coops than houses and more farmers’ horse rigs than cars?
Shaking her head, Higgins listened, and the feet in the expensive Baton Roo shoes stayed at the window for a few moments, then retraced their path to the chair by the reading lamp where Missus Bean did all her finest stitchery.
“No doubt pushin’ twenty twice and not one suitor up to snuff!” That had to be it, Higgins reasoned. Miss Selena Sognstad knew she would never find a mate with temperate habits in Baton Roo, where the drinkin’ was so heavy that she’d be forced to marry some drunkard like the other girls and then watch her husband run after other women and do the fancy saloons night after night. No, that wasn’t for her! She had too high an opinion of her blue blood line! Minnepaulian explorers and captains on the rivers from way back, setting up various river principalities in old Dixie or serving as commanders under various would-be “Kings of Dixie,” finally rising to high positions as envoys and ambassadors after the C.S.A. took over the whole East Bear and Turtle country! Her people had been mostly “genteel,”--not lowly farmers or tradesmen but soldiers-of-fortune, city builders, rulers--indeed, , never fallin’ into poor farmin’ and fishin’ and trappin’ for a living like so many other folk. So, once the bloom was off, winter had come and yellowed the leaves. Cutting her losses, she retired to the country with her plain-faced sister Filora and the youngest--who was perhaps too pretty for the size of her wits--looking for dignity rather than the daily disgrace of going about in society an aging beauty with no more chances of marrying--surely a fate worse than backcountry living! It was her luck to find the man who became Judge Bean--a man of wealth and influence, whom every girl in Baton Roo would have fought each other in the public street to get. Was Miss Selena as smart as all that? She knew just where to look, or where her path would cross his? Evidently!
Having figured out her employer, Higgins sighed and turned back to her chores, cooking, washing up, wiping and dusting the beautiful things all over the house--dusting alone was something she had to do everyday to keep things looking the way Missus Bean expected. With a sigh or two as she feathered
the Judge’s marble bust and then did several especially renowned Baton Roo sea-kings, she thought how she had her own lost chances too--this man and that. But none would hang around long enough to count. They all turned out to be a flash in the pan. Nothing but a flash in the pan. And now she was too old
to marry decently. But at least she had a good job, she thought after a moment. She had Missus Bean and the boy to care for. That was enough! It was work, but she couldn’t claim it was awful hard work, like her mawmaw had done all her days. Living out in the sticks, doing wash for folks in town when she could make the trip, then lugging it back in a big barrow she pushed herself! Plowing the garden without a mule. No wonder she died a young woman, not even reachin’ twoscore.
Higgins paused, taking a glance out the tall glass doors opening on the terrace, with its Baton Roo
courtyard and tall marble fountain with the statute of some Baton Roo sea-divinity, half-woman, half-fish.
The gardener, she saw, had heaped up the fallen leaves in piles, and was taking them out the back gate with his glacier-cherry red wheelbarrow even now as the rain fell on him.
The sight made Higgins shiver. She remembered how nice it was in the house--as fine a place as Georgia could boast. With renewed vigor, she made her feather duster fly across the gold-embossed ranks of the books in the library. She was doing such a good job, several of the books lost their crumbling
Just then the Missus Bean, glancing in, looked sharply, went to where Higgins had just dusted, rubbed her finger on a book, and frowned.
“These old commentaries are falling apart!” she commented. “I must get someone in here right off to work on them, or they’ll fall apart any day now on these shelves. It’s this wretched country damp! You can’t have fine things here like these and expect them to last more than a few years!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” agreed the cook-housekeeper as she continued dusting. “That damp’l get you ev’ry time! It’s in my knees already, at my age! No man would take me now, in my condition!”
Selena looked her cook over, and shook her head. “Well, that’s nothing to mourn over. Now were did I put that woman’s name?”
“What woman’s?” Higgins wanted to know, though it wasn’t her place.
Missus Bean went to a secretary and sat down. She pulled out first one drawer, then another, and then found an address book. “Ah! This is the one.”
She copied out the address on an envelope, wrote a note, then sealed the envelope and handed it to her cook. “See that this goes on the next White Angel, which can probably take her as a fare if she doesn’t come by private car. I want this woman to come and restore these books. My friends all swore by her, and it is high time I did something about the Judge’s collections. It’s my duty to keep them up as he would have wanted.”
Her time to sigh, she stood slowly, gazing up with faded but still impressive eyes at the Judge’s formal portrait, showing him in his stern, black magisterial robes of office, while at his feet several savage Indian chieftains, their buck naked white skins decorated with beads and feathers, knelt, hands outstretched, at his feet.
Finishing the day out at the counter of Bean’s, without another piece of business after the deliveryman, the old man heard the grandfather clock toll the hour, and he put away the ledgers and a few papers in his office, then watched the two day clerks sweep up, and only then turned off the lights when they left, looking around for any stray customer out of old habit though he couldn’t have seen one two feet away.
Out on the public street he felt just as assured of his location in the Universe as he did anywhere in the store. To the left was the unpainted, disreputable Funky Dawg Tavern, popular hang-out of muskrat, ferret, and beaver trappers and loggers and such “funky trade” who favored plenty of the local brew and a former logging camp belly dancer who could perform on the bar counter while the jukebox shook out song after song of lost love accompanied by recorders and bagpipes.
If bumping and grinding and the music didn’t satisfy, for anyone wanting a jolly fight and maybe later an exchange of buckshot from behind trees on the way home, it was the place to go. How many times it had been closed down nobody could say, but when the smoke cleared it always somehow got up, changed its name slightly from Funky Dawg to Dawg House or Hound Heaven or some such, and got running again just like before. Tape, nails, wire, a slap or two of paint, whatever was on hand was used to fix the honky tonk and open it for business as usual.
Further on, beyond the big, pillared, and marble-fronted brick Palace of Multan Building Judge Bean had built and that Bean’s Trading Post, Makon’s business district could claim a barbershop, sheriff, bank, and an occasional salesman with amazing bargains in Baton Roo fashions no longer seen there but the latest thing in the country. Next, a watering hole for higher grade citizens, Lame Horse Tavern with a blinking red neon sign out front, the rearing stallion holding up its unlighted hoof--followed by a couple abandoned shops and rooming houses, ending the block with the St. Michaelmas Hotel and its cigar store White Indian standing sentry in the ornate green-tiled entrance, the stalagtite decorations and sacred Kuffik-inscriptions (Mustapha, the Ku, or Court Calligrapher, of the Grand Porte when it was located at the military strong-hold of Al -Fik on the southern marches of Kolumbia) extolling the Shaliim the only surviving sign the hotel had once been Makon’s Orthodox church.
Locking up Bean’s main entrance while leaving the door to the mail boxes unlocked, he went a few steps toward Lame Horse, but the camaraderie and hard liquor and other brews inside weren’t appealing at his age, then turned to a stairway that took him up above the store where he had his quarters, fitted out from what had been the Dixieland Ballroom.
Besides, after she had made every effort to reform the hard-drinking Judge and failed, Missus Bean wouldn’t have tolerated any manager of hers drinking. A straight-living woman she always was, president many times of the local ladies’ anti-saloon club (which had fought and won many hard battles to keep out additional saloons), charity quilting club, and the most exclusive sisterhod of the altar guild.
So, aside from being the town’s chief businesswoman, she held claim of being with her sister the cream of the town’s church-supporting gentility, who saw themselves as upholding the standards of civilized townlife in what was fast becoming, again, a howling wilderness with real wolves. Not that the old Minnepaulian pirate’s cove and town on the inland fresh-water sea of Rainy Lake, with the vast forest and swampland of the Ogeechee, Oconee, Ocmulgee, Satilla, and Okefenokee rivers at back, hadn’t seen much better times.
The Palace Building, for instance, had been a showplace in its time, since Judge Bean had brought his taste for big city architecture from having lived in fancy places like Kingston and Baton Roo before moving to the country for his health in his sunset years, taking a a lifetime appointment as county judge for a little something to do. Weary of the bachelor life and a long succession of poor cooks and housekeepers, he had married an aging Sognstad belle with a reputation for setting a fine table when he was approaching sixty and his bride was a still attractive forty, but of course aged beyond hope of marrying so well until he came along since no one else had the social standing to win her hand. Even Alantah and Baton Roo could not claim anything much finer than the Palace, which saw such grand events as the marrying of the Judge and Miss Selena Sognstad, but now all the glory was gone, including the Palace’s monied clientele that kept up party after party going while the boom from logging and mining lasted.
Suddenly, bust hit the town! Big Kal’s main mine had done well in the beginning, following veins of lead and silver and something he called “orichalc,” a strange element only he valued that some shooting star or other had brought to earth, splattering it here and there randomly.
No one thought it was worth a dang thing but him--but they dug it for him anyway, as they were paid to do it, same as with payin' dirt of other recognized ores. With the payroll from forty local men he employed round the clock in the mine, added to the drovers and cowboys he needed for the ranch, Kal had brought more than his share of money to the town economy. Yet, solid as it seemed, he closed both the ranch and ranch down without warning. He boarded up everything and left town. The timber company -also sent its workers home and located south. It was the death blow for Makon and all the struggling townships round about, with only a few small sawmills left and trappers and fishing left to sustain the inhabitants. Well, that was ten years ago! Despite the chicken hatchery setting up business and making a little money for Makon, it might have been a hundred, from the looks of the town and all the empty, weed-filled lots from pulled-down and carted-off buildings.
Just the same, a touch or two of better times lingered. Some of the old crystal and gilt and velvet-trimmed ballroom’s Baton-Roo-esque furnishings, what wasn’t removed to furnish the barge on the lake, were left in place when his rooms were put in, which left a fancy chandelier and gilded wall lamp fixtures. Working for Bean’s as long as he had, he enjoyed a nice flowered carpet and handy little kitchen of his own too, but had given up cooking at his age, since he was forgetting to turn off appliances. The wood stove was all he wanted to tend, at any rate, and he was snug enough with that. Also, Mrs. Bean always sent him dinner from Makon Cafe across the street and halfway down the block that her hard-working spinster sister, Miss Filora Sognstad, owned and managed for many a year though she might have lived with her sister and had servants wait on her. That and a pastry or two, plus store coffee, was all he required to keep life stirring his bones.
Going to his chair, he sank down gratefully, then dozed in the gloom until the light suddenly flicked on. He didn’t see the light, of course, being so blind, but he could hear things well enough, and Homer Bean’s boots made a terrific thumping on the stairs even before he bounded into the old man’s apartment with his dinner.
“Dinner time, Gramps!” Homer had to shout, though “Gramps” always knew who and what was coming.
It wasn’t his ears that were failing so much, nor even his eyes--his heart was bothering him more and more these days. Taking care not to show the pain that came with shortness of breath, he turned to the boy. Suddenly, as he reached for the tray he felt an acute stab in his chest. It made him think twice.
Should he? Or shouldn’t he? Was now the time? Maybe there wouldn’t be another time to get it out clean and square to the boy, since it was clear his “granny” hadn’t done right by him as yet.
“Now don’t run off while I eat this!” he admonished the boy. “I got something to tell you your ears need to hear, I reckon!”
His patience having been put to the test already once that day by adults, Homer sighed, then sank down on the sofa with its back to the window with its view of run-down, abandoned buildings.
The old man took a few bites of the steak, but his appetite failed him, and he had the boy take the tray. “I’ll try it maybe later.”
His eye, which could see really nothing, fixed on the waiting Homer and pierced through him, it seemed to the boy who shifted uncomfortably.
“Turn me toward the window, Homer, so I can get my memory of it.”
Bewildered, Homer did as the old man told him.
“Now sit down, my boy,” spoke a gentler voice than the usual gravel-voiced, gruff old man by the name Nails Jensen--”Nails” for his past, hard-driving manner when there still was business to be driving for. “You need to sit down to hear what I gotta tell you. You’re old enough, and I can tell you don’t know a thing--not a thing! That needs be fixed, while it still can be fixed! Sorry, I gotta do it for your grandmother. Real sorry!
Though Homer made no move to sit, the old man seemed to think he had, for he said nothing more about it.
Instead, startling the boy, he reached for him. "Lemme touch you face, boy. I gotta see who I am telling this impertant bit of chronologgy to!"
"What do you mean?" Homer protested. "I let nobody feel my face!"
"Aw, come now boy, don't you knows anything--how else can I sees ya in my state!"
Suddenly, the boy understood he was hurting the old man, and, sighing, he submitted.
The old man's hands, rough and grizzled, were surprisingly gentle, as he
ran his fingers over the boy's forehead, nose, and cheeks, stopping at his chin."
The old man sat back. "Okay! NOW I kin sees ya fine in my mind, boy. Shall we proseeds?"
With that little preface, the old manager began with Homer’s being an orphan. Yes, Homer knew he was an orphan, but his grandmother was almost the same as a mother,with Minny Higgins to help some too. Kids still made comments, it is true, but it had been the situation with him all his life, and it was scarcely ever brought up in his hearing anymore, that he had no father or mother that anyone could point to.
“Spose you wondered ‘bout that, eh?” the old man prodded him. “If you ain’t wondered, then high time you did! Well, let’s go back to the beginning. That’s the place--the place we best begin.”
The old man shifted to the end of the sofa and turned so his sightless eyes now faced the window and looked out on the town, or what it had been before the Bust. It had been a busy place then, not at all like Homer knew it. How changed! How changed! He could see it so clearly too--not like the dimming, dark world he now faced day after day!
“Now as I was sayin’... Kal was real tall even with his boots off. Had to stoop under every doorway in Makon City, not to mention had to duck under all those trees he growed on his own territory, stretchin least one hunnerd and thirty-two mile, far as Korinthy, that is, far as he ever gone huntin’ quail, deer, or anything trespassin on his spread. Came here out of nowhere, then set up as a bigtime rancher with a logging and mining operation and done real well. He was the talk of town, you bet, what with his light-colored hair and all the money he was making off this country and everybody working for him ‘cept money people like the old Judge who could afford to plow his own furrow. As I was sayin’ he wasn’t quality folk maybe but he acted like he was higher than the stars to even the Judge, who liked or hated a man the first time he looked him in the eye, and when he eyed Kal must seen something close to a polecat he didn’t like from the start, for he wouldn’t shake hands and Kal was proud and wasn’t goin’ to press him for it either! So, that being the case betwixt ‘em, we didn’t see much of him, since the Judge didn’t like seeing him in town and made a noise that he’d slap a restraining order on Kal’s operation and fine him or something for something he might not be doing legal. If ever he did come into town for a drink, he’d go to the Funky Dawg, never Lame Horse where’d they wouldn’t serve him, no matter how much money he had wadded up in his hand! I know! Why, Homer boy, as I was saying, there’s nothing then and nothing much important now that I can’t see. Why, that screen door they got for the restaurant don’t keep out a fly--busted like it is. Don’t know why Miss Filora who’s got plenty money don’t fix it all these years. Don’t get me wrong. Miss Filora’s grub and her smorgasbord every month is fixed well enough. It’s good of her and Missus Bean too to have it sent up to me like this by you, boy.
“Listen, I was telling you about Kal, right? Of course he weren’t called ‘Kal’ to his face. He was too high-ridin’ for a little nick-name like that, lookin down on all us hoomanity like he was some kind of king of the mountain. That name of his was more like “Kalvert” or “Kalwallader,” something citified like that you can’t pronounce unless you have more teeth than I have got to my name. Listen, as I said he didn’t show in town much ‘cuz of the Judge and most folks resentin his making so much money offa them and his havin Indian-colored hair and all. And with that hunting cap he always wore in and out of deer season, well, and that feather too, he sorta took the eye, maybe in the wrong way. Like some kind of Gypsy, really. But no one ‘cept the Judge dared say about it to his face, naturally, since Kal was a tall man, toted a rifle, and was something of a boxer and could knock anyone he didn’t like the other side of town.
“Now where was I? It was, yes, a day I remember, last day he was ever in town, in fact. He had something gone wrong with his digestion and poisoned him, from eating our greasey country food so long, he let out, and Doc Marshall had him for a spell, and then when he felt better he let himself out without asking the doc know and walked into town, just like he owned the place, I might say. It was good the Judge was gone to Korinthee or Spartah on some kind of real estate business, for he was always buyin’ this property and that and sellin’ out to buy something better, just to spend the time, I expect, since he had his fortune an’ could just sit on it if he liked and still get richer.
“Well, Kal was walking right down Main Street. He was in a fightin’ attitude, I could tell. Someone had poached a number head of his prize cows, I heard later--which, funny thing, he didn’t ever milk ‘em for the milk,, but always threw that away like rubbish, saying they mighta et some poison weed that grewed everywhere round on his spread, though I done never seen any such weed in these parts. Now where was I? Oh, yes. Well, he had started to go toward the Lame Horse, then paused, changing his mind since he didn’t see the Judge’s car out front. Then he felt a little faint because he leaned against the Palace. Then he must have felt better, and he went in the Dawg House. Later, he came out, feeling even better, I suspect. He looked for the Judge’s car. Still no Judge! He staggered on, and I saw him go round the block. Now I can see around this whole block like the owl up in the tree can see the whole dang country! And so I know, dark as it was getting, that he was up to no good, that Kal. I don’t know why he thought her pretty, but she was in a way, I guess. But here she comes steppin’ fancy down the backstairs, Selena’s and Filora’s younger sis Agatha--everyone called her Aggie--in a pink, fizzed up, ruffled sort of thing girls wore to parties back then. She wasn’t much to speak of in the upper storey, that poor girl, though a real looker. Down the stairs she came, all pink soda fizz, and round toward her came Kal the best he could in his delicate condition.
"Thar was ne’er enough light back behind the Palace. I don’t know why Aggie came down those stairs, mighty slippery when it was wet. But there she came, and...well, boy, they took a liking to each other all of a sudden. Grown-ups can do that, you know, and that girl became your mother mighty quick--maybe a tad too quick for most people in the town. So that’s who your real ma is--” He paused. “Are you listening good, son?”
Nails Jensen’s eyes were so fixed on the past he couldn’t possibly see the expression of bewilderment on the boy’s face when he turned his head to him. Satisfied even without seeing, though Homer’s face was showing acute distress, the old man turned back to his reminiscing.
“Well, things went pretty fast in after that. Next thing I heard was Kal’s whole enterprise closed up for good, the Judge after his tail like a hound dawg on a coon, and Kallaway or Kalvert or Kallwallader, whatever he was, took off for parts unknown, leaving the poor girl, who must have let out what happened to her behind the Palace. It was hush-hush from then on, let me tell you! But I know they put her way off someplace in an institution, for ‘bout a year later the Judge and Missus came from a trip out of town with a nurse and a two-pint whelp they let out was an orphan they saw down in Baton Roo and just couldn’t let starve in starve in the streets outside their hotel, so they adopted it--that is, you. They made you a proper Bean, and there was considerable talk, of course, but him being Judge there was nothing said in the paper we still had back then. As for po’ Miss Aggie, she was just blown away like a leaf, and Missus Bean let us all know that she was too gone in the head to ever return to proper Makon society. What could we say to that? We knew that just by looking at the po’ , sweet thing . Well, not long after they came back with you, boy, the Judge kicked off, crashed down at the seacoast in that plane of his, authorities said, and left the Missus with rearing you. You know the rest! I jist told you how it came to be, an’ you have a right to know it. Now what does you think about it? It’s some sorry business, ain’t it? Real sorry!”
He turned again, but Homer had fled away so quietly that even Nails Jensen was impressed.
But he wasn’t sorry. It just might cost him his job when Missus Bean found out how much he told the boy. But he had his retirement saved up, and he could always go to live as far as he could get, Korinthy on the end of the mail line. No he wasn’t sorry even at the thought of being turned out of comfortable situation for him. Somebody had to tell the boy. Somebody! He felt he owed it to the boy, who had brought him his meals and done many an errand for him, and yet was facing life with no real claim to
anything despite his boarding in a fancy house with a so-called granny. What could be more sorry business than that? Unless there was some truth to the rumor about Kal--just a rumor it was--
Presently, he heard familiar boots on the stairs, only they were dragging.
The door was pushed open. “Sorry, Mr. Jensen, I had to go see Grandma. I really wasn’t running off. Now can I go home? It’s dinner time. And I got to study some for school tomorrow.”
“Shure, shure, I unnerstand,” grunted the achingly lonely man, knowing that Missus Bean always had dinner set promptly at 8:00, a full two hours before most everyone in town had read the latest back issue of the Alantah Times, et and gone to bed."
The old man shifted on the sofa, turning his face up to where he seemed to think his listener was hovering above him.
“Now did I tell you who your mother is and how it came to be? I--I think I did. Now turn off the light and save Missus Bean the cost of the juice. I can see right tolerable without it shinin’ in my eyes. I can still count the stars, let me tell you, and how many constellations there be, and give you the names too! By saintgeorge, I ain’t blind! Nosir! I see plenty more than folks think I can at my age. Why, there be shinin’ that Fat Man, ain’t he? Got his big lunch basket out too. Ha! I’m right, ain’t I? And over there to the side of ‘im is the black Coal Sack, and, yes, I do believe I see tonight the Reaper’s Scythe gleamin’ just over the horryzon, so sainted Blasius and his first Big Blow and freezin’ of the lake can’t be too long comin’--”
The next morning, just before daybreak Homer was still fast asleep sucking his thumb like a baby when he was pulled roughly out of bed by Higgins. She yelled when he wouldn't shake a leg fast enough for her. "You quit playing, boy, I mean business!"
Homer groaned, then obeyed and started for his usual clothes in his closet. "No, you don't!" Higgins said, holding out a robe. "Don't you know what day this is? You wear your best for Second Pillar of Wisdom graduation! But first I got to whiten your hair real good with bleached corn flour!"
Homer groaned even louder. How he hated the required costume and especially the "see-through" cap that was supposed to show whether he was a sinner or not, which he only wore to church school graduations or to special occasions on holy days. Since dark hair was visible under the cap, it had to be made white, any way a person could do it--or the boy was not allowed in the ceremonies! Black hair was a sign of sin and impurity--all because of that cap Homer hated so much, understandably.
As she put the finishing touches on his hair and outfit, Homer could hardly keep from showing her how much he hated the whole thing of dressing up and coloring his hair. But what could he do against these grownups who ruled over him and even decided what he had to wear each day? He couldn't have felt more frustrated and outraged. As long as people could do this to him, he felt like he was their slave, even worse off than a White Indian living on berries and possum in the wilderness!
How he would have loved to change places with any White savage at that moment! He certainly looked like one at the mment! But of course, that was impossible. He'd be spotted in a moment as an outsider the moment they saw his skin color! No, there was no use running away. Nobody in the woods would accept him as one of them, and here at home, with the likes of Higgins manhandling him as she liked...he could hardly keep back the tears.
(c) 2007, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved