Feels better, don't it, getting out of that wind? My old heater keeps it nice and warm in here and we can set and sup our tea whilst I finish that long-winded story.
Well, as you can imagine, didn't nobody know quite what to think about this young man who said he was Dolly's long lost husband. If he'd lived, Alonzo would have been older than Dolly. Common sense said this feller had to be some kind of flim-flam man. But there weren't no way of convincing Dolly of that and finally the neighbors threw up their hands and went back home.
Weeks passed and the preacher and most everyone else in riding distance had come to see Dolly and take a look at this feller who claimed to be her long-lost Alonzo. The Gentrys in particular hung around, asking him questions about family stories and trying to trip him up someways. But he knew a-plenty about the family and some of it was such that didn't bear talking about.
At last everyone decided that if it made Dolly happy to believe that this was Alonzo and if this young man wanted to take on the care of a woman who could be his grandmother, well, then so be it. Though they all resolved to keep a close eye on things at the little cabin.
And for the next three years, Dolly seemed to live in a happy glow. The young man took hold and plowed and planted and when he wasn't tending the garden, he was fixing the cabin where it needed fixing. And every night, in fine weather, the two of them would sit on the porch holding hands, just a-talking and laughing.
I told you Dolly was right old -- but she lived another three years and passed away right there on the front porch with Alonzo at her side and holding her hand and the near neighbors there too -- which was a mercy or else some might have suspected the young man had gotten tired of caring for the old lady. A sudden stroke, the doctor called it. Or maybe it was a heart attack. I disremember what Luther said
Alonzo stayed on in the cabin. Folks had admired how sweet he treated Dolly and as there weren't no near relative with a claim on the property, didn't no one dispute it. He was still a young and handsome man and many a girl made eyes at him but he told folks that Dolly had been his one true love and once again she was waiting for him somewhere.
She didn't have as long to wait this time. Alonzo died of pneumonia in 19 and 42. I was one of the ones to help tend to him in his last days and he told me the quarest story.
He was laid up in bed, fighting to breathe but the story came out in bits and pieces. He said he'd told Dolly what had happened to him and though she'd believed it, she doubted anyone else would.
"It's been bitter lonesome," he told me, "since Dolly passed, knowing that most think I don't belong here. And I'm glad to be going to join her again. But I need to tell someone what it was that happened to me -- as much as I can remember anyhow. I don't have no notion of the why and the how of it, just that it happened to me."
Law, I can see him now, laying there, his handsome face gray and his hair all whichaways. I'll try to tell you the rest just the way he told me and you can decide it you believe him or not.
"It was 18 and 65 and the war was going bad for our side. Our company was with Johnston -- General Joe we called him -- somewhere east of here, and we was retreating as fast as we could. We had just come out of some woods to the edge of a big field and the sight of it, so pretty and peaceful and not yet touched by war at all, put me in mind of the fields around my own little home and then I began to think of Dolly and that light tht I knew she still lit every night.
"There was a white horse out in the field and I remembered how my granny had always wished on a white horse everwhen she seen one. Granny set great store on wishing, and she always told us that everyone was granted one big wish at sometime in their life -- if they had the sense to make the wish at the right time.
"I looked again. And something about the lay of the land and the way the lines pointed towards the white horse made me think there was a message here for me, that this was my chance for a wish.
"Like I was walking in my sleep, I left my post and the cover of the woods. I started toward that white horse, wishing with al my heart that I would someday get back home to my Dolly.
"The next thing I knew, came a great roar, like a dozen howitzers going off at once, and I was flung high up in the air."
Everything went dark but I kept my eyes fixed on that white horse and my mind fixed on my Dolly."
"Time passed though I didn't have the least notion of how much. I was just hanging there, trapped between forever and the blink of an eye, but when the darkness lifted, I found myself in the same field. With a white horse still grazing. But instead of spring, it was autumn.
"And when I looked around, I seen that more had changed than just the season. Where there'd been a wagon track along the side of the field, was a fine flat road and when I made my way to it, I saw that it was covered in some hard stuff.
"That'll be hard on the horses was my first thought and then I had to jump out of the way as a wagon or coach of some kind came tearing along and like to run me over if I hadn't jumped for the ditch. It was there and gone but I got a good look and seen that it ran by itself without nare horse or mule. And I lay there wondering. "
He went on to tell me how he had traveled by night, heading west towards the mountains and staying in the cover of woods when he could. He'd had some rations in his knapsack -- salt pork and army biscuit and when those ran out, he'd gone hungry till he could find a farmhouse to beg a bite. And at last he'd made his way to the valley and the little cabin where the light was still burning.
"As I'd traveled along and seen all the changes in the land, I'd begun to understand just how much time I'd lost in that explosion or everwhat it was. I'd come across a newspaper someone had used to light a campfire and the part that hadn't burned showed the date 1939 and talked of war in Europe.
"Well, I don't mind telling you, I near about gave up. So many years -- and still there was war. Hadn't folks learned nothing?
But on the chance that my Dolly was still waiting -- and I knew she would be if she weren't dead -- I kept going.
"You know the rest. It was cruel, the difference in our ages -- and all that we'd missed. At first Dolly cried and didn't want me to look at her and then she tried to tell me I should move on and make a life for myself with some young woman. . ."
A fit of coughing took him so fierce that I didn't think to hear him speak again. But then he whispered, "I couldn't leave her -- she was still my Dolly. First I was too old for her, than too young. I have hopes that the next time, we'll get it right. I know she's waiting for me."
And them was the last words he said. He closed his eyes and seemed all but gone. One of the neighbors come in to take her turn setting with him and I went on home, feeling sure I'd not see him again. He died later that day and the one who was there said that just before sunset, Alonzo had opened his eyes wide and looked toward the door, smiling like he saw someone he'd been waiting for. And then he was gone.
Something in your eye? There's a box of Kleenex there. It takes me that way too when I think of them and all that waiting.
No, they were both buried on a little knoll near the cabin. Just the two of them. I used to go out there when I was able, and tidy the little plot and leave some flowers. But the whole place is growed up now -- it'd need a bullnoser to clear the way up to that knoll. There was even a locust and a poplar growing through the rotted porch floorboards last time I went up there.
Still, there was the strangest thing. I was heading back home, having seen I couldn't get up to the graves, when I heard something like whispering from that falling down porch. And a laugh that sounded like silver bells.