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Part One Chapter 14

At dawn my bus was zooming across the Arizona desert--Indio, Ely the Salome (where she danced); the great dry stretches leading to Mex- ican  mountains in the south. Then we swung north to the Arizona mountains,  Flagstaff, clifftowns. I had a book with me I stole from a Hollywood stall,  "iLe Grand Meaulnesi" by Alain-Fournier, but I preferred reading the  American landscape as we went along. Every bump, rise, and stretch in it  mystified my longing. In inky night we crossed New Mexico; at gray dawn it was Dalhart, Texas; in the bleak Sunday  afternoon  we  rode  through  one  Oklahoma  flat-town  after another; at nightfall it was Kansas. The bus  roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.
We arrived in St. Louis at noon. I took a walk down by the Mississippi River and watched the logs that came floating from Montana in  the  north--grand  Odyssean  logs  of  our continental  dream.  Old steamboats   with  their  scrollwork  more  scrolled  and  withered  by weathers sat in the  mud inhabited by rats. Great clouds of afternoon overtopped the  Mississippi  Valley. The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. I  made the acquaintance of a girl and we necked all the way to Indianapolis. She was nearsighted. When we got off to eat I had to lead her by the hand to the lunch counter. She bought my meals; my sandwiches were all gone. In exchange I told her long stories. She was coming from Washington State, where she had spent the summer picking apples. Her home was on an  upstate New York farm. She invited me to come there. We made a date to meet at a New York hotel anyway. She got off at Columbus, Ohio, and I slept all the way to Pittsburgh. I was wearier than I'd been for years and years. I had three hundred and sixty-five miles yet to hitchhike to New York,and a dime in my pocket. I walked five miles to get out of Pittsburgh, and two rides, an apple truck and a big trailer truck, took me to Har- risburg  in  the  soft  Indian-summer  rainy  night.  I  cut  right  along.  I wanted to get home.
It was the night of the Ghost of the Susquehanna. The Ghost was a shriveled little old man with a paper satchel who claimed he was headed for "Canady." He walked very fast, commanding me to follow, and said there was a bridge up ahead we could cross. He was about sixty years old; he  talked incessantly of the meals he had, how much butter they gave him for  pancakes, how many extra slices of bread, how the old men had called him  from a porch of a charity home in Maryland and invited him to stay for the weekend, how he took a nice warm bath before he left; how he found a brand-new hat by the side of the road in Virginia and that was it on his head; how he hit every Red Cross in town and showed them his World War I credentials; how the Harrisburg Red Cross was not worthy of the name; how he managed in  this  hard  world.  But  as  far  as  I  could  see  he  was  just  a  semi- respectable walking hobo of some kind who covered the entire Eastern Wilderness on foot, hitting Red Cross offices and sometimes bumming on Main Street corners for a dime. We were bums together. We walked seven miles along the mournful Susquehanna. It is a terrifying river. It has bushy cliffs on both sides that lean like hairy ghosts over the un- known waters. Inky night covers all. Sometimes from the railyards across  the river rises a great red locomotive flare that illuminates the horrid cliffs. The little man said he had a fine belt in his satchel and we stopped for him to fish it out. "I got me a fine belt here somewheres-- got it in Frederick, Maryland. Damn, now did I leave that thing on the counter at Fredericksburg?"
"You mean Frederick."
"No, no, Fredericksburg, iVirginiai!" He was always talking about  Frederick, Maryland, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. He walked right in the  road in the teeth of advancing traffic and almost got hit several times. I plodded along in the ditch. Any minute I expected the poor little madman to go flying in the night, dead. We never found that bridge. I left him at a railroad underpass and, because I was so sweaty from the hike, I changed shirts and put on two sweaters; a roadhouse illuminated my sad  endeavors. A whole family came walking down the dark road and wondered what I was doing. Strangest thing of all, a tenorman was blowing very fine blues in this Pennsylvania hick house; I listened and moaned. It  began to rain hard. A man gave me a ride back to Harrisburg and told me I was on the wrong road. I suddenly saw the little hobo standing under a  sad streetlamp with his thumb stuck  out--poor  forlorn  man,  poor  lost  sometime  boy,  now  broken ghost of the penniless wilds. I told my driver the story and he stopped to tell the old man.
"Look here, fella, you're on your way west, not east."
"Heh?" said the little ghost. "Can't tell me I don't know my way around here. Been walkin this country for years. I'm headed for Canady."
"But this ain't the road to Canada, this is the road to Pittsburgh and Chicago." The little man got disgusted with us and walked off. The last I saw  of him was his bobbing little white bag dissolving in the darkness of the mournful Alleghenies.
I thought all the wilderness of America was in the West till theGhost of the Susquehanna s............

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