to come into a narrow place pressed in upon by decrepit buildings and filled by man-smells and man-sounds, No thrush flutings and swallow cries in here. At twilight it is good to come away from the open sky and into a yellow-lit place and sit next to a warm thigh. I almost violate my resolution and ask Sharon if she will have a drink. But I don't. Instead I watch her up into her house. She ascends a new flight of concrete steps which soars like a gangplank into a dim upper region.
Tonight is Kate's supper with the queens and I shall not see her. I drink beer and watch television, but every minute or so thoughts of Sharon, my big beautiful majorette from Alabama, come crowding into my head and my hands begin to sweat. The air is heavy and still. It is a time to be on guard. At such times there is the temptation to behave without prudence, to try to see Sharon tonight, or even park on Esplanade and spy on her and run the risk of ruining everything. Then at last the storm breaks, a real Texas rattler. Gradually the malaise lets up and it becomes possible to sit without perturbation and at heart's ease, hands on knees in my ladderback chair and watch television.
The marshal traps some men in an Indian hogan. The squaw has been killed, leaving a baby. In an unexpected turn of events the killers get the upper hand and hold the marshal in a line shack as a hostage. The marshal reminds them of the baby in the hogan. This is no ordinary marshal He is also a humanist. "It ain't nothing but a stinking Indian," says one of the killers. "You're wrong," says the marshal. "It is a human being."
In the end he prevails upon the killers to spare the baby and even to have it baptized. The killers go out in a gruff manner and fetch the padre, a fellow who looks as much like the late H. B. Warner as it is possible for a man to look.
I go to bed cozy and dry in the storm, snug as a larva in a cocoon, wrapped safe and warm in loving Christian kindness. From chair to bed and from TV to radio for one little nightcap of a program. Being a creature of habit, as regular as a monk, and taking pleasure in the homeliest repetitions, I listen every night at ten to a program called This I Believe. Monks have their compline, I have This I Believe. On the program hundreds of the highest-minded people in our country, thoughtful and intelligent people, people with mature inquiring minds, state their personal credos. The two or three hundred I have heard so far were without exception admirable people. I doubt if any other country or any other time in history has produced such thoughtful and high-minded people, especially the women. And especially the South. I do believe the South has produced more high-minded women, women of universal sentiments, than any other section of the country except possibly New England in the last century. Of my six living aunts, five are women of the loftiest theosophical panBrahman sentiments. The sixth is still a Presbyterian.
If I had to name a single trait that all these people shared, it is their niceness. Their lives are triumphs of niceness. They like everyone with the warmest and most generous feelings. And as for themselves: it would be impossible for even a dour person not to like them.
I believe in people. I believe in tolerance and understanding between people. I believe in the uniqueness and the dignity of the individual—
Everyone on This I Believe believes in the uniqueness and the dignity of the individual. I have noticed, however, that the believers are far from unique themselves, are in fact alike as peas in a pod.
I believe in music. I believe in a child's smile. I believe in love. I also believe in hate.
This is true. I have known a couple of these believers, humanists and lady psychologists who come to my aunt's house. On This I Believe they like everyone. But when it comes down to this or that particular person, I have noticed that they usually hate his guts.
I did not always enjoy This I Believe. While I was living at my aunt's house, I was overtaken by a fit of perversity. But instead of writing a letter to an editor, as was my custom, I recorded a tape which I submitted to Mr. Edward R. Murrow. "Here are the beliefs of John Bickerson Bolling, a moviegoer living in New Orleans," it began, and ended, "I believe in a good kick in the ass. This—I believe." I soon regretted it, however, as what my grandfather would have called "a smart-alecky stunt" and I was relieved when the tape was returned. I have listened faithfully to This I Believe ever since.
I believe in freedom, the sacredness of the individual and the brotherhood of man—
concludes the playwright.
I believe in believing. This—I believe.
All my shakiness over Sharon is gone. I switch off my radio and lie in bed with a pleasant tingling sensation in the groin, a tingling for Sharon and for all my fellow Americans.
Sometime during the night and at the height of the storm the telephone rings, a dreadful summons, and I find myself in the middle of the floor shaking like a leaf and wondering what is amiss. It is my aunt.
"What's that?" The telephone crackles with static. I listen so hard I can't hear.
My aunt tells me that something has happened to Kate. When Uncle Jules and Walter arrived at the hotel from the Iberia ball, Kate was not to be found. Nell Lovell, herself a former queen, told them that Kate had left abruptly sometime before eleven o'clock. That was three hours ago and she had not come home. But Nell wasn't worried. "You know as well as I do what she's doing, Cousin Em," she told my aunt. "You remember my Christmas party at Empire when she took out up the levee and walked all the way to Laplace? That Kate." But my aunt has her doubts. "Listen to this," she says in a peculiar voice—it is the dry litigious way of speaking of closely knit families in times of trouble: one would imagine she was speaking of a stranger. "Here is the last entry in her diary: Tonight will tell the story—will the new freedom work—if not, no more tight ropes for me, thank you. Now you recall her tight rope."
"Yes." "Tight rope" is an expression Kate used when she was sick the first time. When she was a child and her