Read This Rock Online

Authors: Robert Morgan

Tags: #Historical

This Rock

BOOK: This Rock
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a novel by


ILL   2001

To the memory of my father

Clyde R. Morgan, 1905–1991

I would like to thank Shannon Ravenel, Elisabeth Scharlatt, and the staff at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for their unfailing help in bringing this book to completion and publication, and especially Duncan Murrell, whose work from the first has been inspiring, exemplary, invaluable.









buildingest boy you ever saw, from the time he was little. He was different from Moody from the beginning. Moody was always running and playing and chasing chickens or the cat, the way any boy does. But from the time he was five or six Muir was always studying on making something. It seemed to be born in his blood to make things. He cut roads in the dirt of the backyard, and in the sandpile my husband, Tom, hauled up from the river in the wagon. He made bridges over ditches and he hacked out boats with a saw and his pocketknife. He drawed pictures in the dirt, and lines like train tracks. He tied blocks of wood together in trains. He used old tools Pa had left in the shed, and mashed his fingers and cut hisself from time to time.

But Muir's worst enemy from the time he was a youngun was his own lack of patience. The backyard was littered with things he had started and abandoned, wagons with wheels sawed out of a pole, a sled whittled out of sourwood.

“Mama, I'm going to build a house,” he said when he was about ten.

“What kind of house, sugar?” I said.

“A log cabin, like Daniel Boone made,” Muir said. He took the crosscut saw and axe up to the pine woods above the pasture, and I could hear him chopping there for hours. He was already big for his age. On the way to the mailbox I seen where he had chopped down several yellow pines and made a mess with the brush piled above the road.

“Be careful with that axe,” I hollered. I could smell fresh pine rosin and crushed pine needles. It was a good smell.

That night Muir's hands was stained with rosin and his fingers was blistered. A limb had scratched his cheek, just missing his eye. “I've got one layer of logs in place,” he announced.

“Are you going to put windows in?” I said.

“I'll put greased paper windows in like old-timers done,” Muir said.

“Bugs will stick to the grease,” I said.

“Looks to me like you're building a hogpen,” Moody said.

“Wherever you live is a hogpen,” Muir said to Moody. There was a kick under the table.

“Muir can call it his hunting lodge,” I said.

“Be lucky to build a doghouse,” Moody said.

Two days later I stopped by the place in the pines to see what Muir had done. He was hacking like a Trojan at a pine pole to notch the end so it would fit in place. His black hair had fell in his eyes and stuck to his forehead. What he had made was a pen two or three feet high. It was hard to believe a ten-year-old had done so much work. He'd sawed down the trees and cut them into lengths and notched them to fit over each other. There was wide cracks between the poles.

“You'll need to chink between the logs,” I said.

“Won't do that till winter,” Muir said, out of breath from chopping.

“The thing to use is branch clay and straw,” I said. “Put it on wet and let it harden.”

It give me a satisfaction to see what Muir had done. I'd never knowed a youngun with such an inclination to shape things. He had done the work of a man there in the pines. He had the instinct to build the way my brother Locke had the instinct to be a nurse and wait on the sick. And I was proud because it was almost like I was doing it; the work was part of me. And yet Muir was hisself and thought of things to do I never would have. He had his daddy's blue eyes and ruddy complexion. I felt the pleasure of seeing my flesh and blood go forward on his own with such a will and such an idea of shaping and fitting things in place. I had always believed he would do something special.

It wasn't more than three days later that Muir come running into the house, his face white and his hair roughed up by wind. “Where is Moody?” he hollered.

“Ain't seen him,” I said.

Muir stomped on the kitchen floor and turned to run out.

“What is wrong?” I said.

“Moody done it,” Muir hollered.

“What has he done?” I said. I had a sick feeling in my joints, because Moody was always getting into trouble.

But Muir was already out the door. I dried my hands and followed him. I seen Moody on the trail from the barn, and I seen Muir pick up a rock under the hemlock tree and run toward his brother. Moody was three years older, and he was wiry and tough, but Muir was catching up with him in size.

“Stop that!” I yelled.

“I seen what you done,” Muir shouted.

“Ain't done nothing,” Moody said.

I run to Muir and took the rock from his hand. “What has Moody done?” I said.

Muir stomped the ground and his face turned from white to red. “He ruined it,” he yelled.

“Who says?” Moody said.

Muir started running up the hill and I followed, and Moody followed me. I had an ugly feeling about what I was going to see in the pine woods. Muir slung open the pasture gate, and I latched it behind us after Moody had gone through. That's when I smelled the smoke. It was the sticky smoke of pine rosin burning.

“What is that?” I said. “Is the pine woods on fire?”

I started running, and Muir started running. When I got to the clearing Muir had made I seen a pile of brush burning inside the pen. The log walls had been tore apart and the poles piled like for a bonfire.

“Grab a limb,” I shouted. I took a pine bough and started hitting the blaze. It was a good thing the wood was green and there had been a rain the day before. The pine needles on the ground had not caught fire. There was no way to keep the brush from burning, but
we beat out the flames on the logs and kept the blaze from spreading to nearby trees. The fire crackled and hissed as clots of sap busted. I beat the flames with the limb and kicked needles out of the way to make a space of bare ground around the burning brush.

“Who started this?” I said.

“He done it,” Muir said and pointed to Moody.

“Must have been lightning,” Moody said. Moody had high cheekbones from our Cherokee blood way back, and he always looked a little older than he was.

“I ain't seen no lightning,” Muir said.

“Did you do this?” I said to Moody.

“Maybe it was outlaws,” Moody said and turned his face away from me.

I grabbed Moody's arm and pulled him out into the clearing. Just then I seen the matches in his shirt pocket. There must have been twenty matches stuffed into the pocket. “Where did these come from?” I said.

“Toothpicks,” Moody said.

I felt sick in my bones to think that Moody had done it and would try to lie his way out of it.

“Worse than setting the fire is to lie about it,” I said.

“Ain't lying,” Moody said.

“Look me in the eye,” I said. Moody glanced at me, then looked away.

“He done it,” Muir said. Muir had a smear of soot on his cheek. Moody shoved him.

“We will pray about this,” I said. I put my left arm around Moody's neck and pulled him toward me. And I put my right arm on Muir's shoulder. Bitter smoke drifted from the ashes of the burned brush and charred logs. It was a good thing there was no wind or the whole pine woods would have caught fire the way they did before Tom died. I bowed my head and closed my eyes.

“Lord, teach us to love one another,” I said. “For your commandment, your last commandment, was to love one another. In our pride, and in our anger, it's hard to love and hard to forgive, and hard for us to remember your words.

“Teach us to be humble. Teach us even in our moments of anger to look to you for guidance, and not to vanity and resentment. Teach brother not to fight brother and sister not to fight against sister. Teach mothers to love sons, and teach us to live every day so that any hour we will be prepared to face your judgment, and to live in your will.”

When I opened my eyes and raised my head I seen Muir staring at the ruins of his cabin. Logs was scattered at rough angles and partly burned. The whole clearing was a mess. There was tears in his eyes, and I felt tears swelling in my eyes too.

When I looked at Moody he turned away from me. But I thought I seen a tear in his eye too. He wouldn't look at me, and he wouldn't say nothing.

“You will help Muir rebuild his cabin,” I said to Moody.

“I can help him cut new logs,” Moody said, looking at the ground.

“Don't want no new logs,” Muir snapped.

“Moody will help you with the cabin,” I said.

“Don't want no cabin,” Muir said, staring at the smoldering brush.



he would let me preach the Sunday after Homecoming. He was a big heavy feller with droopy jowls, and he said it as a favor to Mama more than anything else, because no preacher likes to share his pulpit, not any that I ever heard of. But Mama was a pillar of the church, and her pa had give the land for the church and built the first church in the valley back when the county was founded. And for some reason Preacher Liner was afraid of Mama, maybe because she'd read more than him and knowed more Scripture. So when I told Preacher Liner I felt I had the call, that I'd been studying up to preach a sermon, he said he'd let me fill the pulpit, soon as there was an opportunity.

I was only sixteen, but I felt the call, and I waited weeks and months for a chance to preach. I studied the Bible every day and prayed for a sign that I was ready. When I went out to the barn to milk I thought about preaching as I pulled down on the cow's tits. And while I hoed corn in the hot June sun I studied on what I'd say when I was give the pulpit.

Mama said I could go to a revival meeting in one of the little valleys near the head of the river and preach, or might be I could preach
in one of the ridge churches like Mount Olivet. But I said I wanted to start in my home church, and then I'd light out to preach in other places, if I was going to preach, if the Lord had really anointed me to preach.

“You don't want to feel too much pride about preaching,” Mama said. She had been a Holiness when she was young, but now she was a steadfast Baptist. If they made women deacons she'd have been a deacon. Mama was tall with long black hair she wore in a knot on top of her head. As her hair got threads of gray in it she looked dignified enough to be a deacon.

“Got to have some pride to want to try preaching,” I said. “Otherwise I couldn't even think of standing up in front of a crowd.”

“I can't see you preaching,” said Fay, my younger sister. “You talk too slow and thoughtful. You're my brother, not a preacher.” Fay was only thirteen, and bony like Moody was.

“I'd rather listen to hound dogs howling after a fox,” my brother, Moody, said. “That's the best kind of preaching I know.” Moody almost never went to church anyway, so it didn't matter what he said.

“If Muir has the call, he will preach,” Mama said. “The Lord will put the words in his mouth and the Spirit in his heart.”

“Only call Muir feels is the call of nature,” Moody said.

“I never thought there'd be a preacher in this family,” Fay said. She was wearing the blue dress Mama had smocked for her.

BOOK: This Rock
8.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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