Jesse Stuart (1907— ) was the son of an illiterate tenant farmer from eastern Kentucky. Jesse Stuart had little formal education as a child. When he finally managed to attend high school, and then college, he discovered that he had a talent for writing. He has pursued a successful career as a writer, at the same time serving as a teacher and administrator in southern schools. In addition to short stories, Stuart has written poetry, novels, an autobiography (The Thread that Runs So True, 1958) and a biography of his father (God’s Oddling, 1960).
It was from his father, that the author gained his great love of nature and appreciation individuality. LOVE Yesterday when the bright sun blazed down on the wilted corn my father and I walked around the edge of the new ground to plan a fence. The cows kept coming through the chestnut oaks on the cliff and running over the young corn. They bit off the tips of the corn and trampled down the stubble. My father walked in the cornbalk. Bob, our Collie, walked in front of my father. We heard a ground squirrel whistle down over the bluff among the dead treetops at the clearing’s edge. “Whoop, take him, Bob,” said my father.
He lifted up a young stalk of corn, with wilted dried roots, where the ground squirrel had dug it up for the sweet grain of corn left on its tender roots. This has been a dry spring and the corn has kept well in the earth where the grain has sprouted. The ground squirrels love this corn. They dig up rows of it and eat the sweet grains. The young corn stalks are killed and we have to replant the corn. I can see my father keep sicking Bob after the ground squirrel. He jumped over the corn rows. He started to run toward the ground squirrel. I, too, started running toward the clearing’s edge where Bob was jumping and barking.
The dust flew in tiny swirls behind our feet. There was a cloud of dust behind us. “It’s a big bull blacksnake,” said my father. “Kill him, Bob! Kill him, Bob! ” Bob was jumping and snapping at the snake so as to make it strike and throw itself off guard. Bob had killed twenty-eight copperheads this spring. He knows how to kill a snake. He doesn’t rush to do it. He takes his time and does the job well. “Let’s don’t kill the snake,” I said. “A blacksnake is a harmless snake. It kills poison snakes. It kills the copperhead. It catches more mice from the fields than a cat. ” I could see the snake didn’t want to fight the dog.
The snake wanted to get away. Bob wouldn’t let it. I wondered why it was crawling toward a heap of black loamy earth at the bench of the hill. I wondered why it had come from the chestnut oak sprouts and the matted greenbriars on the cliff. I looked as the snake lifted its pretty head in response to one of Bob’s jumps. “It’s not a bull blacksnake,” I said. “It’s a she-snake. Look at the white on her throat. ” “A snake is an enemy to me,” my father snapped. “I hate a snake. Kill it, Bob. Go in there and get that snake and quit playing with it! ” Bob obeyed my father. I hated to see him take this snake by the throat.
She was so beautifully poised in the sunlight. Bob grabbed the white patch on her throat. He cracked her long body like an ox whip in the wind. He cracked it against the wind only. The blood spurted from her fine-curved throat. Something hit against my legs like pellets. Bob threw the snake down. I looked to see what had struck my legs. It was snake eggs. Bob had slung them from her body. She was going to the sand heap to lay her eggs, where the sun is the setting-hen that warms them and hatches them. Bob grabbed her body there on the earth where the red blood was running down on the gray-piled loam. Her body was still writhing in pain.
She acted like a greenweed held over a new-ground fire. Bob slung her viciously many times. He cracked her limp body against the wind. She was now limber as a shoestring in the wind. Bob threw her riddled body back on the sand. She quivered like a leaf in the lazy wind, then her riddled body lay perfectly still. The blood colored the loamy earth around the snake. “Look at the eggs, won’t you? ” said my father. We counted thirty-seven eggs. I picked an egg up and held it in my hand. Only a minute ago there was life in it. It was an immature seed. It would not hatch. Mother sun could not incubate it on the warm earth.
The egg I held in my hand was almost the size of a quail’s egg. The shell on it was thin and tough and the egg appeared under the surface to be a watery egg. “Well, Bob, I guess you see now why this snake couldn’t fight,” I said, “It is life. Stronger devour the weaker even among human beings. Dog kills snake. Snake kills birds. Birds kill the butterflies. Man conquers all. Man, too, kills for sport. ” Bob was panting. He walked ahead of us back to the house. His tongue was out of his mouth. He was tired. He was hot under his shaggy coat of hair. His tongue nearly touched the dry dirt and white flecks of foam dripped from it.
We walked toward the house. Neither my father nor I spoke. I still thought about the dead snake. The sun was going down over the chestnut ridge. A lark was singing. It was late for a lark to sing. The red evening clouds floated above the pine trees on our pasture hill. My father stood beside the path. His black hair was moved by the wind. His face was red in the blue wind of day. His eyes looked toward the sinking sun. “And my father hates a snake,” I thought. I thought about the agony women know of giving birth. I thought about how they will fight to save their children. Then, I thought of the snake.
I thought it was silly for me to think such thoughts. This morning my father and I got up with the chickens. He says one has to get up with the chickens to do a day’s work. We got the posthole digger, ax, spud, measuring pole and the mattock. We started for the clearing’s edge. Bob didn’t go along. The dew was on the corn. My father walked behind with the posthole digger across his shoulder. I walked in front. The wind was blowing. It was a good morning wind to breathe and a wind that makes one feel like he can get under the edge of a hill and heave the whole hill upside down.
I walked out the corn row where we had come yesterday afternoon. I looked in front of me. I saw something. I saw it move. It was moving like a huge black rope winds around a windlass. “Steady,” I says to my father. “Here is the bull blacksnake. ” He took one step up beside me and stood. His eyes grew wide apart. “What do you know about this,” he said. “You have seen the bull blacksnake now,” I said. “Take a good look at him! He is lying beside his dead mate. He has come to her. He, perhaps, was on her trail yesterday. ” The male snake had trailed her to her doom.
He had come in the night, under the roof of stars, as the moon shed rays of light on the quivering clouds of green. He had found his lover dead. He was coiled beside her, and she was dead. The bull blacksnake lifted his head and followed us as we walked around the dead snake. He would have fought us to his death. He would have fought Bob to his death. “Take a stick,” said my father, “and throw him over the hill so Bob won’t find him. Did you ever see anything to beat that? I’ve heard they’d do that. But this is my first time to see it. ” I took a stick and threw him over the bank into the dewy sprouts on the cliff.