Billy Graham was not a very bright boy. His teacher, Miss Granville, who taught at the little bayou village school and loathed every minute of it, described him as “an ugly warty hog of a child”.
Certainly, Billy Graham was no beauty by any standards. He was big - in a sense oafish - but also he had a very weak condition that made the few boys there were to play with bully and shun him. But even this was not the prime reason that he was always left alone whenever a game of football was on (with dusty rags for football and only two pins to mark the location of the goals). It was his stupidity. Billy Graham was the dumbest child Miss Granville (who, like her mother, died from fever in the bayou; she also died a "Miss") ever had the misfortune to teach. He did not commence to comprehend reading till the age of nine and writing was an impossibility until he turned fourteen, though his skills were limited to sign his name in big, childish letters and composing as few words as possible. When he left school the following year, he was still a novice in mathematics, geometry and national history, though he proved a capable enough workman.
Billy’s father, Joseph Graham, was largely ashamed of him, but he could not deny he was a steady help on the farm, whenever he could be made to comprehend what one desired of him. And yet always in his eyes, there seemed to be a spark, as of intelligence trying to emanate from the young lad’s brain, but his dull, uninspiring surroundings had always drowned out any bit of that spark and had dumbed him down to his original condition .
Many feared what was going to happen to the farm after old Joseph would die, Billy being his only son and no other next of kin in sight. His long dead wife’s family, the Axsleys , had vainly tried to persuade him to transfer his inheritance to their youngest, Joshua, under the condition that they should set apart some of the money for Billy’s care and to look after him, after Joseph died .
But old Joseph refused, saying that the land was Graham land, as it had been under his father and his father before, and that until the very last of the line went under without an heir, it was to stay that way.
Billy didn’t understand any of this, but he saw his Pa getting older and more worried by the day, so he set his back and helped him as far as could be done with his mental capacities. The old man was then proud of his son, for the first time in his life – and the last, for he died within two weeks, on account of weakness of the heart, said the doctor.
There was some nasty talk about how Billy got into a fit and slew his father, but anybody who knew Billy knew that was not the case ; and the Axsleys, who spread the rumour hoping to get Billy locked up in some asylum forty miles inland and never to have to bother with him again, had to recognise defeat.
Billy, in the meantime, had strained his small mind to grasp his new duties as head of the household. He faintly remembered things about the crops and what to do with them, but he was unsure when and where, and he did not particularly know anybody to ask. Still, he tried his best and with the help of his neighbour, Al Summers, who had been at Graham‘s house when he was born, and who was also his godfather, he managed to get a grip on things fairly enough to go on his own and so the Graham farm continued to be moderately successful, and Billy was sure that he would have food to eat and a bed to sleep in and that, even he understood, was what really mattered.
Many times he had gone to the fields to sow, then to collect and to sell , and back to his house, to spend the lonely winter months all by himself in the big hall where he used to be taught scripture by father Mallahy and where Pa had taken the pains to beat into him the knowledge of the alphabet, after the croaky miss Granville had come to their front door to protest. He many times wondered if he should not go and see Miss Granville at school and to chuckle in her face and tell her how he was all grown up now, and he thought of coming to the playfield during the break and show Johnny Tess and Malcolm Dunquerque and Joshua Axsley how big a man he was too .
Needless to say , Miss Granville was long dead long before this came about, and the respective boys spent their days as men on the fields of their own farms, or had gone to the city and never came back.
So passed many a season till Billy, when once again going off to the water to fish , looked into the water’s surface and found that he was old! His golden hairs, never quite clean and always full of pests, had assumed a snow white colour, dwindling considerably in number , his skin was all wrinkled up and his breath now came much slower then it used to .
For a long time, he sat there, trying to comprehend what this meant, while he let the boat he was in drift on without any consideration , barely clutching the rod whose line he had cast into the water. It was during this sulky time that he suddenly felt a bite at the other end of his rod. Slowly he realised and slowly he began to pull ; but, as he soon found out, his strength was insufficient, and the rod would soon break no comma if he did not let it go. But a tremor suddenly passed through his whole frame and in one defiant gesture, he summoned whatever remained of his once considerable strength and jerked the thing aboard
He was lying on the bottom of the boat exhausted , and it took some time for him to muster the strength to rise [o observe his trophy. But the moment he did so, his weariness abated.
Before him in the boat lay what he could call, thanks to his lack of reading or imagination, a mermaid : dark blue, scaly and with a lengthy fish tail, though shapely enough to resemble a woman. He surveyed her for a time and , because he was not so intelligent to recognise the uncanny from the everyday, he bent closer and shook it by the shoulder . It opened its eyes and looked at him, with an expression he was at a loss to interpret. He turned his gaze away and had suddenly noticed his rod stuck in „her ‘hair’. It must have been quite painful, he thought to himself and he began to mutter some apologies. But the creature did not seem to take note of the words, and he really couldn’t remember if mermaids were supposed to speak or not. But as he traced the shapeliness of ‘her’ features, he thought suddenly how good it would be to have children. Yes, Pa always spoke of the Graham line with honour and it would be a shame to end that line that he knew. But he had never succeeded in finding a woman to marry ; in fact, he had never attempted to, nor thought of it till now, when he realised how old he was, and how his time was running short. Another idea followed suit and he observed the ‘mermaid’‘s features once more. Could she......?
Moving closer, he touched her hair and finding no opposition, tried to find a hold to lift her out of the boat, for they were close by land. "She”made no effort to oppose him, but only eyed him vacantly, blinking from time to time. He raised her out of the boat and carried her into his home.
Billy Graham had married that night.
Father Clodagh was not a man much disturbed by late night calls, having attended many death beads ; so when a sudden rap resounded on his front door, just a few metres from the study in which he was just sitting, he was not surprised but merely bade farewell to sleep for some further hours to come and resolutely said:
Billy Graham came into his house, with hat in hand, shaky and very excitable. When the father came to meet him, he noticed the lack of colour in his face and wondered what this village idiot could want from a priest at this time of night.
„F-father “began Billy, hardly being able to speak intelligibly , “Father, I must confess, I’ve sinned. “
„Yes, go on Billy. “
„I sir, have.....have been married for two years without telling anybody, not even church. “
At this, the Father’s eyes narrowed into slits. What folly was this, Billy, the old, overweight, simple minded village idiot who had never even attempted to court a woman in all his days -- as far as the father knew -- was married? What strange idea was set into his head this time?
Billy was silent; evidently embarrassed by his confession and so the Father bade him go on.
„W-well, sir, seeing as it is, I was hoping‘if you could come and..... make it right? „
„Make what right, Billy? “
„My marriage. “
The Father hesitated, then he put his coat on, determined to lead the man home and get to the bottom of this. He finally said: “Very well, Billy, I suppose you want me to come over ?"; an unnecessary question , seeing as how he was wholly dressed and ready to go by this time .
„Yes sir. I think she wants it , too. “
„My wife. “
This was rather strange. Getting outside, he bade Billy walk as fast as he could, while he further questioned him.
„A wife, Billy? You have a wife? “
„Yes sir, I take it all married people have one. “
„And this lady ; is she a person Billy? A real person you can touch and talk to? “
„Yes sir, I reckon she is, though I don‘t think you would get much talking out of her. “
This made the Father’s heart skip a heartbeat. Could it be.....? The next question he asked in a tone as calm and commonplace as possible.
„Billy is she....alive? “
„Oh yes sir, alive as the day I found her. Sure, she may get a little murky when there’s heat, but she‘s always about. “
„Found her.....? Billy, are you sure about this? “
„Oh yes sir, I never would bother a preacher when he’s a talking to god at supper, but I thought this be urgent. “
The Father sank deeper and deeper into perplexity. He resolved to ask no more questions before they got to Billy’s house; at least, that was where he believed himself to be taken..
In five minutes time, during which neither of them spoke, they passed the old abandoned school building, with the window panes hanging loose and glass everywhere about. Billy wondered how Miss Granville could have let the boys do such a thing; she was always picky about everything.
In another five minutes they came in sight of Billy’s house and in ten minutes the priest and the idiot were passing through Billy’s somewhat neglected garden. The priest did not wait for Billy to unlock the front door and , finding it open, went right in. Looking about, he suddenly found a very strange odour assailing his nostrils. He sniffed about for a while no comma and then, remembering Billy, who stood at the threshold no comma still as anxious as when he came into the priest’s own house, the Father assumed a more business–like manner and asked: „ Now, where is this lady of yours Billy?”
„Upstairs. „ Was the answer. Father Clodagh began to ascend the stairs by twos and threes, neglecting to wait for Billy, who hurried after him as fast as his old joints allowed him.
There was only one room upstairs, aside from a closet and a storage room, and Clodagh found his way there easily enough. The odour he found was much stronger here. He covered his nose with a handkerchief and called: „ Hello! Anybody here?! Don‘t be afraid, I didn’t come to hurt you. “
His gaze fell suddenly on the bed in the left corner of the room. He saw a blanket heave there, and he came closer, checking his progress to make sure no boards creaked under his weight. In the bed, he could discern little but the blanket, rising and falling rhythmically, and so, taking the role of a man of action, he removed the blanket with one swift motion.
Billy heard a thud as soon as he had finally managed to ascend the stairs. He found the priest in his bed, wrestling with something therein and shrieking like mad, quoting passages from Exodus and Revelations and Genesis and anything else he happened to remember. Billy looked about and , finding a broken stool, yanked off the broken leg and rushed to the bed and hit the priest over the head with it. The Father went out cold.
It was a long time before he awoke ; and , as the darkness gradually dispersed, he could see Billy standing before him, stick in hand and a candlestick lit on a nearby window. Billy‘s face was distorted with rage.
The Father, mercifully forgetting for the time being the line of events which brought him into his current position only mumbled: „Billy, what are you....? “
It was a space while before Billy spoke, his eyes shining all the time with that glare that had never surfaced fully before. Before, there was naught for him to truly care for, but now, his innermost and dearest possession was, he thought, in danger. His intellect, free after a whole life’s rest , leaped up, far too high for his malformed cranium to hold. When he finally spoke, his words were clear ; commonplace though touched with certain coldness.
„Father Clodagh, I have come to you as a practising Christian goes to his shepherd to seek council and yet you have turned away from me in time of need and done something most foul, undeserving the title of priest. You hit a woman and by God I’m not letting this pass unpunished, whatever your position. “
Slowly, remembrance dawned upon Clodagh and the horror once again seized his mind and he could only shriek out: „ Woman?! That thing you call woman?! Why, that thing is......! “
Billy had not waited for the priest to finish; instead he took out his belt quickly and slashed him across the left cheek with it.
„And insults her too , in my own house! I demand you apologize!" “
"Apologize?" the priest could only gasp.
„You will either go and apologise to her or, by god, I’ll throw you into the bayou! “
Father Clodagh sat there, dumbfounded. To apologise....to „her”?! To that thing, to even look once more upon it! No, he couldn’t.
„Billy, please, have some sense and by God, you’ll see it’s best to shoot the thing before.....”
At this, Billy rushed at him once again and began to grasp at his throat. The father tried to defend himself, but his reaction to the thing had commanded too much energy, and he could do nothing to stop the man slowly squeezing the life from him.
Billy threw the Father into the bayou and then silently walked home, musing. His intellect was dulled once more, but that much he knew that he was right to do as he did ; that man, be he priest or no, had attacked his wife and insulted her ; threatened her , even . It was his duty!
When he arrived back at his wife’s room, she looked at him for a long time. He realised he had been too hasty. They still had time to get lawfully wedded; the child wouldn’t come for at least another month.
He took her hand and kissed it as he lay beside her, she not ceasing to stare at him all through the night. "