I knew somethin' was up as soon's I see
The nags and mules hitched round the court house square--
"They'll ride tonight," I says, and I was right.
I'm sixty-two year old come next July
And I been post-mistress for most of 'em
Right here in Epps. (My pap was agin the war,
Agin secession that is, and that's why
I been appointed by the President--
--When he was a Republican--for years)
And I can tell when devilment goes on
In this old town about as quick's it starts.
But Goodness' sakes, I'd no idea they'd come
Right down the valley and next door to me.
Remember when Nat Gillis died last year
They sold his place at auction for his debts--
The shack that's just across the pike from mine--
To that Eyetalian woman from Mobile?
She couldn't talk enough to make a bid
But one of her three kids spoke out for her.
(Joe Denny made 'em pay twice what 'twas worth.)
Well, come last spring, she had the whole place changed.
The shack was painted an outlandish blue
And just outside she had a great big lot
Laid out in rows--all kinds of vegetables--
A-growin' in that red clay soil. Lord knows
Howcome she done it, but she did sure 'nough.
She sold the greens at market in Mobile,
Had her two oldest kids in school there, too.
One day I heard some talk at Searcy's store--
Joe Denny cursin' "them damn dagoes' luck,"
And callin' them a bunch of dirty wops,
Plain heathen who believed the Pope was God.
"We ought to run 'em out of town," he says.
I thought he didn't mean a thing by it
But I was wrong as I'm a-tellin' yuh:
The day I seen their horses I went home
Along toward seven o'clock, real late for me,
The biggest moon I ever see was risin'
Right slow above the east rim of the valley.
And the Eyetalians' lamp was out but they was there,
Out on their porch to see the moon I reckon,
All four of 'em a-settin in a row,
The mother with her three small boys beside.
I'd hardly got unhitched an' fed my mare--
I 'member now of walkin' from the barn--
When I looked up the road and there they come.
They wasn't ridin' fast, they couldn't well,
On them plow horses and fat bellied mules,
Just raisin' lots of yellow dust, they were,
An' through it I could see them old white sheets
That covered 'em from head almost to shoes,
And still it never came into my mind
What they were studyin' to do until
They turned in at the path to the blue house.
As soon as I see that I run across,
All fixed to speak a good piece of my mind
When somethin' happened that I'll not forget.
The riders set in a sort of half a circle
With Berry Greaves in the center facin' her;
(I knew 'twas him. He's over six feet two.)
I 'member now how funny they all looked,
Though I was mad I could a'busted laughin'
At all their shoes a-stickin' out o' those sheets.
For some of 'em was farm boots caked with dirt
And one pair yellow with pearl buttons on 'em
(Tad Burt's, the one that runs the fillin' station)
And I could tell Fred Brandon quick enough
He had those same old Congress gaiters on
That he's been wearin' at the store for years.
The woman had caught on; she was so scared
She hid her face in both her hands and moaned;
The littlest boy was cryin', but the rest,
The two school boys, was standin' by their ma.
Well just as Berry started in to talk
There was a sound from up the side the valley;
Right faint it was, just like a man was callin'
Real loud but from too many miles away.
We all looked up the road where it meets the rim;
The moon was makin' it as light as day,
And we heard the sound again, a-comin' near.
Then on the hill there was a yellow mist--
And a whirl of yellow dust come down the road
So fast that we could scarcely see inside it;
It was a rider in a long white robe
A-settin' straight an' tall on a runnin' horse,
A faster horse than any in these parts,
And a bigger man, bigger than Berry Greaves
He seemed by at least a half and mebbe more;
He rode hell-bent but he didn't seem to try,
Just sat that horse and let it sweep him on
Sort of serene and sure--and awful, too.
He made me think of what my pappy told
When I was mighty small--of men who rode
At night to save folks and not to harm 'em.
While we stood lookin' the rider disappeared
For one short moment in a dip of the road.
The men by now were lookin' mighty scared,
And all of 'em were ready to go home
When somethin' else helped start 'em on their way.
As he come up the rise beyond the dip,
His big white head and shoulders showin' first,
We saw the moon was in a direct line
Behind him. Full in sight and near he came--
When all our hearts stopped beatin' all at once,
For we could see the moon--through robe and all--
Thought it had turned from yellow to deep orange
And it was barred as if by a dead man's bones.
I said those mules and horses couldn't run--
Well, you can bet they done their best that night,
And since that time there hasn't been a ride--
The Eyetalian woman's garden grows in peace.