Then I'll Come Back to You

Language: English
Published: 5 days ago
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That year no rain had fallen for a score of days in the hill country. The valley road that wound upward and still upward from the town of Morrison ran a ribbon of puffy yellow dust between sun-baked, brown-sodded dunes; ran north and north, a tortuous series of loops on loops, to lose itself at last in the cooler promise of the first bulwark of the mountains. They looked cooler, the distant wooded hills; for all the shimmering heat waves that danced and eddied in the gaps and glanced, shaft-like, from the brittle needles of the pines which sentineled the ridges, they hinted at depths to which the sun's rays could not penetrate; they hinted at chasms padded with moss, shadowed and dim beneath chapel arches of spruce and hemlock, even chilly with the spray of spring-fed brooks that brawled in miniature rocky canyons. And they made the gasping heat of the valley a little more unendurable by very contrast.

Since early afternoon Caleb Hunter had been sitting almost immobile in the shade of the trellis which flanked the deep verandas of his huge white, thick-pillared house on the hill above the river. It was reminiscent of another locality—the old Hunter place on the valley road. When Caleb Hunter's father had come north, back when his loyalty to a flag and his pity for a gaunt and lonely figure in the White House had been stronger than bonds of blood, he had left its counterpart down on the Tennessee. Afterward, with one empty sleeve pinned across his breast, he had directed with the other hand the placing of the columns. And finally, when he had had to leave this home in turn, along with its high, white painted walls and glossy green shutters, he had passed down to his son his inborn love of the warmth, his innocent delight in indolence—and an unsurpassed judgment of mint. The mint bed still lay where he had located it, to the west of the house, moist and fragrant in the shadow.

Caleb Hunter had been drowsing contentedly since early afternoon, his chin on his chest and the bowl of his pipe drooping down over his comfortably bulging, unbuttoned waistcoat. The lazy day was in his blood and even the whine of the sawmills on the river-bank, a mile or more to the south, tempered as it was by the distance to the drone of a surly bumble-bee, still vaguely annoyed him. Tiny dots of men in flannel shirts of brilliant hue, flashing from time to time out across the log-choked space between the booms, caught his eye whenever he lifted his head, during the passage of a green-sprayed glass from the veranda rail to his lips, and almost reminded him of the unnatural altitude of the mercury. He, without being analytical about it, would have preferred it without the industry and the noise, even softened as both were by the distance.

Morrison had changed since Caleb Hunter's father topped with the white-columned house that hill above the river. In those days it had been little more than a sleepy, if conservatively prosperous and self-sufficient, community, without industry of any sort, or, it might be added, ambition or seeming need of one....