I figured him for a preacher man, ‘long of that dark suit and the Bible under his arm. He come walking down our road, where from, I couldn’t say. Nothing up there but fields and woods and the grave yard. Reckon he could of been visiting kin that’s buried up there – folks do come from away and make the climb, just to brush the gravestones clean or say a prayer for one that’s gone. But it seemed queer didn’t none of us see him on his way up the road. At the least, we should of heard a dog bark. Of course, we was at church most of the morning but Inez had stayed home, saying as she felt puny. And puny or not, Inez pays mind to what goes by on the road.
I was taking my Sunday ease, setting on the bank aside the house, there where the road runs through our land. That new black and tan hound I’d just traded for, the one the girls had named Drum, was out there too, laying next to me. After last night’s hunt, I reckon the warm sun felt good to both of us. Drum was stretched out on his side, sleeping deep, but twitching his legs like he thought he was still a-hunting. Down in his throat he made little yipping sounds and I wondered what it was he was chasing through his dreams.
I leaned back against the old tree stump we use for busting stove wood and sucked down big breaths of that dry fall air, so crisp and clean it put me in mind of biting into a good apple. Back in the house I could hear the rattle of knives and forks in the dishpan and Inez and
singing close harmony on “Anchored in Love Divine” – them two get on right good when they’re singing. They was a sight of them old carpenter bees buzzing round the house eaves and I could feel my eyelids getting heavier by the minute. Odessa
I knew that Mama’d be taking her rest – the only time in the week she’ll let them hands be still and consent to set and rock without picking up her mending. Time was, we took our Sunday rest together; time was . . . and my eyes begun to close and my mind to drift into those far off Sunday afternoons.
The words was spoke ‘most in my ear and I jerked awake. The stranger had slipped right up on me, catching me gape-mouthed and nodding, his fancy shoes stepping soft in the dust of the road. I blinked up at him, bumfuzzled with sleep and memory and Sunday dinner.
He stood there in his dark old-fashioned suit, kindly rocking back and forth on them fancy shoes that was still shiny beneath the coat of dust the road had put on them. The sun hit on his little round glasses, dazzling my eyes. Hit put me in an ill temper, the way he’d come up on me unawares and the way he was looking down at me. Makes me right uneasy for a fellow to have the advantage of me that way.
I got to my feet, taking my time and not yet giving him back a howdy of my own. It riled me some to see that dog laying there, still a-sleeping and chasing dreams while this stranger had crept up on us like that, making us both look fools. So I reached out and caught him a good one with my Sunday brogan, right on his hindquarter.
Drum yelped and jumped up, whirling around to see what had got after him and his eyes lit upon the stranger. The hair on his back raised up and he lifted his lip in the beginning of a snarl as he squared off to face the man.
Someways, this aggravated me even more. “Think you’re a watchdog, do you, you worthless pup? What’re you about, all stiff-legged and agitatin’? Lay down, you hear me? Down!”
The stranger didn’t appear overly worried about whether Drum might offer to bite but hunkered down right before him and stuck out his open hand for the dog to smell of. Ol Drum sniffed at the long white fingers then his fur settled back down smooth. He lay down with his head on his paws, not taking his eyes from the stranger.
“Hunter’s the name,” said the stranger, straightening up and sticking out his hand, “Nim Hunter -- Hunter by nature and hunter by name – my folks put the name of Nimrod on me and don’t the Book tell us that Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord?”
I took the offered hand - soft, like it hadn’t never done no hard work and with fingernails longer than I’d ever seen on a man. “Peavey
,” I said. “Pleased to meet you.” Henderson
I looked up the road, the way he’d come from, waiting for him to make mention of what his business was out our way, but he just rocked back on his heels again and looked down at Drum.
“This the hound I heard baying last night – up one holler and down another?” He didn’t wait for me to answer, but went on, “Got a pretty voice on him. The sound woke me up and I just lay there thinking as how I’d like to get me a dog like that again. Yessir, time was, I was a fool for hunting dogs. Sweetest music there is, a good hound with that deep bay like a church bell. I tell you what, after hearing this dog of yourn, I believe I’d like to buy him off of you. Cash money.”
Well, it puzzled me to know what to say. On the one hand, it didn’t set right somehow, this man just walking down the road and offering to buy my dog. I cleared my throat and spat, using the time to consider. I was about to ask where it was he’d stayed last night that he had heard the sounds of the dogs but it went right out of my head when he pulled a gold piece from his pocket and held it up to catch the sunlight,
“Twenty dollar gold piece,” says he. “But I’ll trade it for that dog there -- same one you just kicked and called a worthless pup.”
Well, I’ll not deny I was tempted. Sore tempted. I’d turned in what few gold coins I had back in ’33 when the government put out the call but my fingers fairly longed to hold that double eagle, to feel the soft warm weight of it in my pocket, to rub it betwixt my fingers and thumb. Ever since I was a man, I had carried a gold piece in my pocket for luck but I’d turned it in with the rest, wanting to stay on the right side of the law. But then I kept reaching for it, over and over. Finally I took to carrying a buckeye in the same pocket but it weren’t the same.
Still and all, something in that stranger’s way of speaking didn’t set right with me. It ain’t right, just to try and buy a man’s dog off him without even asking was that dog for sale.
The picture belongs to a friend of mine -- Nancy Meadows -- and shows her grandfather Paul V. Henderson and his dog Drum beside his house in Walnut, NC -- probably in the Thirties.
The photo suggested a story to me -- and the preceding is the way it begins -- I haven't finished it just yet but I can tell you it's a ghost story.
For more Sepia Saturday posts, go to http://sepiasaturday.blogspot.com/