The Hermit King
There was a legend, told over old, dying fires in grates, or maybe swapped back and forth over sandwiches being consumed at noon, of the deer hunts that touched the edge of the swamp, the type of legend that a boy of twelve would never tire of listening to; and afterwards, after the sandwiches, during the long, dripping, slate-gray November afternoon on the stand, listening to the dogs, far off in the otherwise quiet woods, he would peer back into the gloom, into the tangle of vines gray and stiff with winter, as if straining to get a glimpse of the hermit, watching for any movement in the still gloom that might indicate his presence, the old Negro who had been walking along the river bank one spring day when the high wind came up and blew him against a white oak tree so that now his eye, one eye, looked off into space and his cheeks were scarred, and he had his seasons turned around so that he wore a heavy, black overcoat in the summer and went around half naked in the winter, back in the swamp so deep that only a few men had ever seen him since, and they came back saying that he had come up, loomed up, out of the swamp like a huge brown apparition, calling himself Joe Bynymo, and waving his arms around like a madman. That was the legend of the long fall and winter, the legend with which he, with which many in the town grew up.
9781931982665 trade paper,
ISBN: 9781931982658 library binding,
ISBN: 9781931982658 library binding, $26.00 Sale $13.00
His early short story "The Stone Soldier" was named best story of the year by STORY Magazine and it has been widely anthologized, most recently in Philip Beidler's THE ART OF FICTION IN THE HEART OF DIXIE. Cobb's fiction also appears in the anthology ALABAMA BOUND: CONTEMPORARY STORIES OF A STATE. He has published six novels, COMING OF AGE AT THE Y (Portals Press, 1984), THE HERMIT KING (Portals Press,1987), A WALK THROUGH FIRE, (published by William Morrow & Co. in 1992, in mass-market paperback by Avon Books in 1993,and in Trade paperback by Crane Hill Press in 2000), HARRY REUNITED (1995, Black Belt Press), A SPRING OF SOULS,(1999,Crane Hill Publishers) and WINGS OF MORNING (2001, Crane Hill). His collection of short stories, SOMEWHERE IN ALL THIS GREEN: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES, was published by Black Belt Press in early 1999, and his newest novel, THE LAST QUEEN OF THE GYPSIES, was recently published by NewSouth Books. THE HERMIT KING was reissued in the fall of 2005, along with five new short stories and a forward by Bert Hitchcock, Hargis Professor of American Literature at Auburn University.
THE SUN ROSE, hanging suspended in the tops of the cypresses, as the men carried the two twenty-foot johnboats from the plantation shop to the edge of the bluff. Patches of mist lay on the dark water, held between the insect-loud riverbank scrims of trees. A pair of wood ducks approached from the opposite bank and, seeing the men and the boats, swung high and wide, circling back across the river to drop down into the swamp. Once there had been huge cypress swamps along the river and a great longleaf pine forest, the home of panthers and bears and the Chickasaw nation, that stretched all the way to the Gulf. Now most of the stands of cypress were gone, along with the pines, the longleaf trees reduced to a few patches of national forest and the swamps to a narrow band along the river. The Chickasaws had been the first to go.
When he was on the river, Robert liked to imagine he was in the country before the first white man arrived or even the first Indian. He felt he had touched something of the old wilderness, a place where men and animals and the river and the great forest had existed together in measured stately dignity. But the spell was always broken by the sound of a plane passing overhead or a train whistle or the clatter of an outboard motor.
They used ropes to lower the boats. The flat-bottomed boats, which drew only a few inches of water, were necessary on the shallow river, full of shoals and sandbars. Robert and Henry had welded frames for canopies amidships.They installed the two outboards. They stretched canvas over the frames. They loaded gasoline and tents. They brought a tent for each man. The tents, designed for tropical weather, were mostly mosquito netting with a rain fly that could be pulled up if necessary. Robert was looking forward to lying in the tent and looking up at the stars. They brought cooking gear, fishing tackle, guns, two cast nets, rope, lanterns and fuel, plastic water jugs, and water purification filters. By now the sun was well up. It was already hot.
Henry packed cameras and guides for the identification of plants, insects, birds, and fish. He brought field glasses, a magnifyingglass, and sketch pads. Mason wore a white polyester shirt and pants designed for bone fishing in the Florida Keys, and a pith helmet. He said he feared that without protection he would burn so badly he would have to get off the river. He was in charge of the topographic maps, which he had laminated in plastic to protect them from the water. He had packed a jar of his cousin’s homemade barbecue sauce. He said he planned to eat barbecued gator tail before the trip was over. He brought half a case of whiskey. Paul filled a waterproof bag with books. He knew something of engines and had prepared a tool kit with spare sparkplugs and shear pins. He was the only one who was not armed. He had never shot a gun. He had agreed to fish but not to hunt. But he was concerned about how he would feel about being involved in the shooting of game. He and Elizabeth regularly ate venison friends gave them. So it seemed to him that he should feel no differently about the game he ate on the trip.
Robert had made enlarged photocopies of the manuscript,which was still difficult to read, but at least with photocopies he would not have to use a magnifying glass. He packed the manuscript and his dictionaries in a waterproof bag. He carried a .270 Mannlicher, a bow, and a shotgun.