Highland Annals. V: Evvie: Somewhat Married
THE Kanes were a deserving family, tainted with inarticulate ambition. I was glad to have them as rather distant neighbors instead of ‘share-croppers.’ Evvie, the oldest child, possessed beauty of the appealing sort that stirs even the hurried passer-by with a feeling of responsibility. As a tenant’s daughter she would have troubled my sleep. Her mother was a Merlin and usually stopped to see me when on her way to visit some member of the clan. ‘Hypnotic,’ though an intolerably cheapened word, must be used in describing the effect that my typewriter seemed to have on Mrs. Kane. I did not understand this until the day that she brought Evvie with her.
‘She hain’t strong, Evvie. I kain’t git her to stay with a hoe long ‘nough fer me to go in an’ git the dinner. I say to her, “Evvie, you take my place an’ let me go in,” an’ she’ll try fer a bit, but her poppie ‘ll see her drappin’ back an’ gittin’ her breath hard, an’ he’ll say, “You run ‘long now, Evvie, an’ he’p yer mother,” an’ in she’ll come. So I ‘ve got in the way o’ lettin’ her git the dinner by herse’f an’ I stay with the hoe.’
‘But she can’t be more than ten,’ I said.
‘She’s twelve, an’ that’s nigh to a woman. Cleve Saunders kain’t pass our place now ‘thout peekin’ fer Evvie.’
I expected Evvie to drop her head or wriggle behind a chair; but her chiseled chin was high, and her eyes darkened as easily as twilight water. She was the traditional woman accepting her rôle.
Mrs. Kane’s glance swerved again to the typewriter, and her heart tumbled out as she said, ‘I been thinkin’ maybe you could learn Evvie to write on that.’
‘If she is so much help to you,’ I answered, snatching at the first defense, ‘why not keep her at home until she is married?’
‘That’s jest the trouble— her marryin’. She’ll disapp’int any boy ‘round here. They all expect a woman to take a hand in makin’ the livin’, through crap time anyway. An’ Evvie kain’t hold out. If she could learn to work on that, an’ git a job in town, like as not some boy out there ‘ud take a notion to her, an’ town boys don’t want their wives to work. ‘T ain’t expected of ‘em to do more ‘n the cookin’ an’ housework an’ sewin’, an’ that ‘ud be easy fer Evvie.’
Evvie had stepped into the yard. It was a habit with her, I found, to vanish as if for charming asides with herself and to reappear with no sign of absence upon her. I reminded her mother that there might be children to care for in addition to the occupations mentioned.
‘Course there would, but she’d have them anywheres, an’ she’d better have ‘em where life’s easier ‘n it is here.'
‘No doubt. What is her school grade?’
‘She’s got to the fourth reader. But she ain’t peart in her books, though she’s so smart-lookin’.’
Three years glowed in respite, and my voice warmed in reply.
‘Bring her to me when she finishes the seventh grade, and I’ll see.'
The mother’s face grew long. ‘She ain’t fitten’ fer school,’ she said. ‘She’s had to quit, ‘count o’ that wheezin’ ‘at ketches her when she climbs up the mountain. Her poppie had to meet her halfway down ever’ day an’ carry her up on his back. She’s too big fer that now, an’ he says he reckons she knows enough. He’s awful proud o’ Evvie. An’ she’s as smart as Annie Dills who learned to write on one o’ them things an’s makin’ twelve dollars a week in Asheville.’
I held out that skill on the machine would be useless without a little schooling behind it. Evvie, who had shown no interest in her future, revealed no disappointment. She was a flower and had implicit faith in the sun. But there was a touch of desperation in Mrs. Kane’s voice as she took her leave. I tried to believe with Evvie in the reliability of sunshine.
A year later Evvie was ‘talkin’ to’ Cleve Saunders. He was a good boy who had here and there learned the carpenter’s trade. Occasionally he would go to Asheville to work on a job, and then a weekly letter would come to Evvie. I approved of Cleve, but Evvie was only thirteen, and though vividly and perfectly moulded as a woman, she was small for her years. I protested to Mrs. Kane.
‘I ain’t goin’ to let her git married ‘fore she’s fifteen,’ the mother assured me. ‘Not if I can he’p it. Ef she had some work to keep her mind on — ‘
‘I’ve a friend,’ I said, as I stepped between Mrs. Kane and my typewriter, ‘who would like a helper with her children. It would be a good home for Evvie and she would have nothing to do but play.’
‘You mean anybody’d pay her jest fer playin’?’
‘With children. And Evvie is fine with her little brothers and sisters.’ (I’ll make Sue Waters take her, said I.)
‘Where’d the place be?’
‘It’s on a big farm near Knoxville.’
‘It’ll cost a heap to go, an’ we ain’t got nary calf we can sell now.’
‘My friend will send the money for her fare, and Evvie can pay it back if she stays.’
Mrs. Kane, thin and worn, threw up her head with almost as fine an air as Evvie herself.
‘Ef she don’t stay, I’ll pay it back ef it takes ever’ egg fer a year,’ she said.
We thought it settled; but before I could sufficiently browbeat Sue Waters, Evvie’s mother came to me with a face grayer and more pinched than ever.
‘I reckon,’ she said, ‘Evvie kain’t go till next year. I shore thought I was through with babies, but there’s another a-comin’, an’ Evvie’s all the he’p I ‘ve got.’
Now, during preparations for Evvie’s setting forth, I had seen more of her than usual, and had detected signs of a quick temper that gave me uneasy visions of her amid the Waters brood. Also I feared that her ideas of fraternité et égalité, which were as natural to her as the ground under her feet, might give some trouble. If little Margaret Waters should receive a piano for her birthday, Evvie would expect the same or ‘just as good.’ Sue Waters, having taken her degree in the right subjects, would of course comprehend, but could hardly supply the piano. My relief was almost as deep as my concern when Mrs. Kane made her joyless announcement. ‘Perhaps it is better to wait,’ said I. ‘Evvie will be older and larger by a year.’
‘I dunno as that’s better,’ said the mother. ‘She’s a woman to the bone, an’ a year’ll seem a long time.’
Before the year was half out I left the mountains and was gone for several months. As soon as conditions in the Kane home permitted, I arranged by correspondence for Evvie’s going away. She was to write to Mrs. Waters when she was ready, and the money for her fare would be sent to her. As the train taking me home pulled into the village, I thought of Evvie, supposing her to be with Mrs. Waters, and I felt that I had helped to rob the hills of a flower that should belong to them utterly.
A woman sharing my seat had been giving me the news. I did not hear much of it, but finally caught the words, ‘An’ Evvie got married.’
I jumped unmannerly, as if I would snatch the child to dry land. Then I made my conscience comfortable.
‘Cleve will take good care of her,’ I said.
‘’T ain’t Cleve,’ replied the woman. ‘It’s that young feller from Mossy Creek — Judd Mason.’
I had heard of him: a mountain buck; very big, very good-looking. He never worked except to make a little corn that he could turn into whiskey. As soon as I saw Evvie I asked her how she had happened to marry Judd.
‘I was goin’ to the post office,’ she said, ‘with a letter to Mis’ Waters, tellin’ her to send the money an’ I’d come right on, when I met Judd an’ he walked along the road with me an’ begged me not to send the letter. He said I’d find it hard out there with strange folks who would n’t keer nothin’ fer me, an’ I’d better let him look after me right. I was kinder afraid to go so fur from home, an’ Judd — he talked good.’
‘Where was Cleve?’ I asked.
‘He was over in Asheville workin’. He was goin’ to meet me an’ put me on the Knoxville train. He lost his job, goin’ to the train fer a week. I wrote to tell him I was n’t comin’, but Judd lost the letter an’ forgot to tell me about it. Cleve got another job though. Anybody ‘ll give Cleve work.’
‘And Judd has been as good as his talk, I suppose?’
Evvie swung her head to one side as if she forbade it to droop.
‘It’ll be all right soon as we git to ourse’vs. We’re livin’ with poppie an’ mommie now, an’ they’s so many young-uns at home Judd gits pouty sometimes. I kain’t fix good things to eat where they’s so many, an’Judd’ll leave the table when he don’t like what’s on it.’
Notwithstanding Evvie’s hopes, it was nearly a year before they got to ‘therse’vs.’ Her parents, with a home already overflowing with small, unprofitable humanity, would have sheltered the young pair and t heir expected baby indefinitely and without a murmur, preferring to break their already bowed backs than breach the highland custom of welcome for all; but Judd was growing restless for his old occupation, and Evvie wanted her baby to be born in her own home.
So she said; but I knew that she was frightened, and would have chosen to stay with her mother if she could have given up the hopes she had built on getting Judd to herself.
Mrs. Kane, with her heart breaking over Evvie, took what relief she could from the exodus.
‘I could stand Judd,’ she told me, ‘ef it was n’t fer his poutin’. The Merlins don’t pout. We git mad and blow off, and that’s all of it. Judd’ll hang on an’ pout till my bones git sore. I was gittin’ so edgy it’s jest as well they’re gone.’
I went once to see Evvie after she had moved. There was a trail down the western side of the ridge on which I lived that would bring me to Judd’s cabin at the end of four miles; and there was a wagon road down the eastern side which would take me eleven miles around the foot of the ridge. I chose the trail and went down alone.
On the ridge top the sun had seemed to be of eternal brightness; but I descended strangely into an unlit world. The intervale below me was much narrower than the usual valley where a settlement lies; and it was almost cut in halves by a huge spur that, at its foot, was bounded on either side by a stream of water. The two streams, Nighthawk Branch and Mossy Creek, united at the toe of the spur. I took the trail up Mossy Creek, as I had been told to do, and walked along in sound of the water, but getting no glimpse of it through the smothering laurel. It was the first time that water running behind green leaves had left me untouched by a mysterious joy; the first time that I had ever thought of the laurel as sombre. Its dark radiance seemed like a challenge from Nature ready to spring and regain an inimical kingdom. I was half in sympathy with the Highlander who regarded it merely as a thing to fight or let contemptuously alone. My old admiration for the Greeks came rushing back. What a redoubtable imagination it was that, in the credulous youth and fear-time of the world, could draw all terror from the forest and people it with creatures of play and light!
The trail led me into a cove, away from the quavering incantation of the water, but the laurel went darkly with me, heavily mingled with kalmia that choked the trees and wrenched at their life with its curling arms.
‘The shack’s on northy land,’ Mrs. Kane had said to me, ‘an’ the la’r’l is so blustery it ‘ud tangle a wild hog.’
I knew why the original settler had chosen such a spot, in spite of his aversion to ‘thickety patches.’ In the stifling coves it would take a most resolute official to find a hidden‘still.’ This made the place equally desirable in the eyes of the latest tenant, Judd. I had known Evvie only on sunny hilltops, and I wondered what ‘living under the mountain,’ as the natives put it, had done to her spirit. I recalled Mrs. Kane’s remark after a first visit to Evvie. ‘Seemed like I had to keep wipin’ at the shadders all the time I’s there.’ Evvie must be very tired, I thought, of wiping at the shadows.
The trees rose more freely and I came to a clearing. On a hill opposite me, which faced the east, was a cornfield, two or three acres in size. This, thanks to a low gap in the near-by ridge, received a few hours of morning sunlight. In the hollow below stood the shack where Evvie lived. I found her in bed with one of Judd’s sisters in sullen attendance.
‘She’s in bed ‘bout ever’ other day,’ the sister said, ‘an’ Judd’s always havin’ to come over the branch fer one of us to wait on her.’
‘I can git up to-morr’ sure,’ said Evvie, but the faint remark only sent her attendant’s nose a little higher.
Evvie was strange to see. Her eyes, dark and burning, clung devouringly to a face that had already lost all flesh.
‘Where is Judd?’ I asked.
The sister was silent, but Evvie flushed and said he had gone to try to kill her a squirrel. ‘I ain’t eat nothin’ all day,’ she said. ‘I been thinkin’ ‘bout the Devil tryin’ to ketch Amos Britton one night last week.’
I thought her delirious, but her companion gloatingly explained that the Devil had indeed made an effort to capture Amos alive.
‘It’s ‘cause he killed Wes Baxter in a fight a year ago, an’ ain’t never said he was sorry. He went huntin’ with Jim Webster Thursday night, an’ something took after ‘em, they could n’t tell what. Jim got away an’ run home, but Amos got behind a tree to shoot it, an’ it knocked his gun down an’ run him round an’ round the tree fer hours. Then all at onct daylight was comin’ in, an’ the thing wa’n’t there. Amos says it run on two feet, near as he could make out, an’ kep’ flappin’ a tail. He’s so skeered he ain’t been out of his house sence he got home.’
‘Do you reckon it ‘uz the Devil, Mis’ Dolly?’ asked Evvie, as if sanity hung on my answer.
‘Not at all, Evvie. The man was drunk probably.’
‘No, he wa’n’t drunk,’ interposed the sister. ‘It run him round an’ round the tree, an’ he could feel its breath on his neck, hot as fire.’
I moved toward the water-bucket, and courtesy demanded that she should go to the spring for fresh water. With her disappearance the room lost its spirit of combat. With swimming head and drowning struggle — how far were we from the Greeks and the bright gods of the woods? — I did what I could to reassure Evvie.
‘I ain’t afeard when Judd’s here,’ she said. ‘Judd ain’t afeard of anything. He’ll stay at home more when the baby’s here. Don’t men always think a lot o’ their babies, Mis’ Dolly?’
I lied vigorously, and Evvie was smiling when the sister-in-law returned. And she was smiling when I left, for I had promised that her mother would come next day to stay for a week.
I reached home about dark, saddled a mule and rode to the Kane farm.
From there I went to see Jane Drake. Yes, Jane would take care of the Kane household — but ‘not more’n till Saturday ‘count o’ meetin’ at Stecoa’ — and let Mrs. Kane go to Evvie.
This done, I returned to nursing my canteloupe patch on the ridge, which that one year was a delicious success. But even under the spell of so rare a triumph, life was hardly tolerable on my peaks, with Evvie awaiting her fate in the shadows below. So I ordered the telescope that I had wanted for a decade. Though treated later on with wondering scorn by my astronomer friends, it did serve as a transport to regions where nothing mattered. And when I resumed earthly relationships Evvie’s boy was two weeks old.
In the more remote hollows of the mountains birth goes the indifferent way of nature: gliding as the seasons for the most part, but too often ruthless, confounding as storm. Evvie, so fragile and so young, barely lived. I went once more to the shack, going down the mountain with Mrs. Kane and little Tommie, taking old Bill, the mule, to help us climb back. Mrs. Mason, senior, met us at the door. When the customary greetings were over, — greetings that never, under any circumstances, are hurried in the mountains, — the mother-in-law put in her very just complaint.
‘Law, I’m glad ye got here! I kain’t spen’ my time waitin’ on a girl ‘at won’t try to set up, an’ her baby two weeks old. Won’t eat nothin’ nuther, makes no difference what I fix. I baked her some light bread, an’ put ‘lasses on it, an’ some butter I brought from home, an’ she won’t tech it. She’ll not git well till she tries to, an’ I kain’t wait round fer her to make up her mind. All my own work’s to do, an’ I got to be at it. You know how it is, Mis’ Kane. You kain’t stay here all the time no more’n I can.’
As on my first visit, I asked ‘Where is Judd?’ and I received the same information. ‘He’s gone out to kill a squirrel.’
Evvie, who was lying with her eyes shut, said with startling vigor, ‘He’s been gone since yisterday.’
Judd’s mother looked toward the bed, and her eyes snapped. ‘You kain’t expect a man to lay round home ferever waitin’ fer a woman to git up. I’ve had ten young-uns an’ I never stayed in bed more’n nine days with ary one of ‘em. In two weeks I was out in the crap, if it was crap time, doin’ my part.’
There was a big crack in the cabin near Evvie’s bed. Her eyes sought the opening in a manner that told me she often found mental escape that way. It was obvious that her last hope was crushed. The baby had come, but had wrought no miracle. She knew, and all present there knew, that Judd was out on a bootlegging adventure; but it was not to be admitted in look or speech.
Evvie gazed through the crack, seeing nothing but the face of a hill that seemed about to fall on to the cabin. She stared as if her eves would tunnel through it, and a delirious flare came over her face.
‘Take that hill away, mommie,’ she said, in a fret.
Mrs. Kane surprised me. ‘I kain’t take hit away, Evvie — but I can take you over hit,’ she said, making aspirates in her clear determination.
‘Can you set up on ol’ Bill? Tommie ‘ll ride behind you an’ hold you on. I’ll tote the baby, Mis’ Dolly’ll lead Bill, an’ eve’ll get you home.’
Evvie hardly knew there was a baby, but she caught at the word home — ‘O mommie, I can set up!’
‘Set up an’ ride a mule!’ cried Mrs. Mason. ‘An’ me here niggerin’ fer ye, an ye makin’ out ye could n’t move!’
I made no protest; for I recalled an incident of the days before Evvie’s marriage. She was ill, and her mother had sent hurriedly for me. I went, accompanied by a friend from the region of grand opera and fever-thermometers, who happened to be in the highlands. She applied her thermometer and found that Evvie’s fever was running high. We fumbled about with improvised ministrations until Evvie asked for a ‘flitter.’ Mrs. Kane was mainly worried because the child had eaten nothing since the day before, and when I saw her face light up at Evvie’s request, I hastily withdrew with my friend.
‘Why did you leave?’ she asked. ‘The child may be killed. Her mother may be ignorant enough to give her that fritter, or whatever she calls it.’
‘Yes, she is going to get the flitter, and that is why I left. I had to take your disruptive civilized mind off the current. I want Evvie to live.’
The next day my friend returned to the patient, expecting, I am sure, to find a house in mourning. Evvie was sitting on the porch stringing beans. Mrs. Kane’s face was luminous.
‘Evvie got better right away,’ she explained, ‘soon as she et the three flitters I give her.’
Remembering that result, and seeing the glaze of resolution on her mother’s face, I meekly became a party to the process of getting Evvie out of the hollow. We formed under Mrs. Kane’s direction: I first, leading the mule, and Evvie in the saddle, leaning back on Tommie’s shoulder, quite safe with his strong little arms about her waist. Mrs. Kane followed, carrying the baby. And so Evvie came home.
Evvie did not lie in bed long after returning to her mother’s house. She sat in shadowy corners, unseeing, uncaring. Milk sometimes would be swallowed when brought to her; but eating required impossible effort.
‘She don’t hardly know me,’ said her mother. ‘Sometimes I’m ‘most afeard of her. She might turn an’ claw me with them hands like chicken feet. She’s jest yeller skin an’ bones, like a quare little old woman.’
Judd did not come near her, and we heard of no inquiries on his part. But Cleve came out from Asheville and walked under my apple trees.
‘I can’t fight Judd,’ he said. ‘He’s a heavyweight and I’m not. And I won’t gun him. But I know where his blockade still is.’
‘Oh, Cleve, would you tell?’
‘No, but it’s hard not to. He’d go to jail, an’ she could get her divorce.’
‘And he would be out again in six months, to go gunning for you. He would n’t have your scruples. Besides, Cleve, if Evvie were free, you could n’t take on a burden like that.’
‘Burden! Mis’ Dolly, I’d be willin’ to carry Evvie with one arm and do my work with the other. You don’t know how a man feels when there ain’t but one woman fer him an’ another man’s got her — a man ‘at would n’t pull her out o’ the fire! But I’m goin’ back to Asheville, an’ I won’t try to see her. Here’s my pocketbook. I want you to lend her father some money, and pay yerse’f out o’ this.’
He dropped the pocketbook and went, with his face oddly reddened after being so white. Evvie’s doctor from Carson was paid; the parcel post brought oranges, lettuce, and such to the Kanes’ scant winter table. Gradually Evvie began to eat the food that interested her because it was unusual. Her eyes grew gentler and her glance rested intelligently on people and things. She would smile as her father told some pitiful joke ignoring the fact that she was n’t ‘jest right.’
The growing baby exhibited Merlin traits which made him a favorite. One day Evvie’s wandering eyes fell upon him as he lay in my lap. Her glance stopped and became uneasy.
‘Is that mommie’s baby?’ she said.
‘No, he’s your very own, Evvie, and as fine as they are made. Look! He has your big eyes, and just see how heavy! Let him lie on your lap a minute and you’ll find out.’
I started to lift him to her, but her look turned to swift terror and she shrank away. It was the beginning of health, however. A day or two afterward she asked me how long it would be before she died, and I knew she had begun to think about living.
‘That depends on yourself, Evvie.’
‘Could I live if I wanted to?’ she asked, with incredulous hope.
‘You could be well in two months.’
‘Every single thing.’
‘Mommie don’t want me home with a baby.’
‘Your mother would n’t give up Bennie if Judd came with ten sheriffs to take him.’
‘Could Judd take him?’ she asked, with vehemence that was full of promise.
‘You left Judd, you know, and the law might let the father have the child.’
‘When he was so mean to me?’
‘Oh! You think he was mean?’
‘He’d leave me in that holler by myse’f an’ stay out all night huntin’.’
‘The law might think a wife ought to have the courage to put up with that.’
‘He knocked me inter the briars when I tried to foller him.’
‘M-m-m! How long was that,’ said I, touching the baby, ‘before your young man got here?’
‘’Bout a month. I told him I’s afeard to stay in the shack, an’ he said I wanted to foller him ‘cause I thought he was goin’ to Lizzie Bowles.’
It was joy to me to see her eyes flood burningly with temper.
‘That’s where he was goin’ too! He used to talk to her ‘fore we’s married, an’ she’d jest come back from the cotton mills in South C’lina with two silk dresses. They’d got up a big dance an’ I knowed Judd was a-goin’. An’ he knocked me inter the briars by the trail round the corn patch.’
‘The law might consider that,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry about losing your baby. But first make sure that you want him.’
‘I b’lieve I could hold him a bit now if you’ll set him here.’
I laid the baby in her lap and slipped out to tell Mrs. Kane. In six weeks Evvie was helping her mother with the housework. Spring came, and I bribed her to work in the garden by supplying the preposterously growing Bennie with clothes. By June she was again entrenched in her loveliness; not quite so plump, but round enough, and with her old wild-rose color. By and by she was duly divorced. Judd, in South Carolina, made no protest. Evvie’s perilous excursion seemed over, with no obvious reminder save the incredible baby.
She wore the fashionable knee dress, and with her hair in unfashionable braids down her back seemed to be the child-sister of the youngster that scrambled about her.
‘Your little brother will soon be big enough to go to school with you,’ said the new County Commissioner on his rounds, hoping to be pleasant.
Evvie stood mute and fiery red. ‘Don’t tell him the baby’s mine, mommie,’ she whispered later to her mother. It must have seemed strange to her, — that bubbling other existence around her feet, — and a little embarrassment was, I thought, quite proper.
With autumn and corn-gathering Judd returned. It was a good season in the woods for the blockaders, and Judd had probably made arrangements in the ‘South’ for profitable sales. He announced that he was buying calves for the winter and wanted to lay in a supply of feed for them. I never heard of his purchasing any calves, but he went about getting a little corn here and there at the cheap harvest price. Perhaps someone told him that his boy was a lad to be proud of, for he came one day to see him. I had walked over to the Kanes with Cleve, and we were about to take our leave. Evvie shook hands with Judd quite prettily.
‘Golly, Evvie, you’ve come back hard! ‘ he said. ‘ Let’s set on the porch.’
He had forgotten his son, but Evvie brought him out, and Judd had difficulty in maintaining indifference. He looked about and saw Cleve.
‘Hello, Cleve! This chap kinder takes my eye.’
‘I reckon,’ said Cleve, ‘he ain’t so fine as Lizzie Bowles’s boy.’
‘That kid ain’t none o’ mine,’ said Judd, too quickly.
‘Lizzie’ll give you a chance to swear to that, anyhow.’
‘What yer warmin’ chair-bottoms round here fer, Cleve Saunders?’
‘He’s here,’ said Evvie, her cheeks pink-spotted, ‘’cause he’s the best friend the baby’s got.’
‘I’m the kid’s father, don’t you fergit, an’ I’ve got some rights. That divorce judge did n’t put no paper ‘twixt me an’ the kid.’
‘You can see him whenever you want to,’ said Evvie, ‘so long as you don’t make trouble fer anybody that’s been as good to us as Cleve.’
Their eyes met and battled — no doubt reminiscently — and Judd capitulated. ‘All right,’ he said.
From that time Evvie was sorely troubled by his visits. ‘I would n’t mind his comin’,’ she said, ‘if he did n’t keep aggervatin’ me to live with him.’
‘Why don’t you take Cleve, Evvie, and end the bother?’
‘I don’t want to marry,’ she said, with a shudder that was a broadside of confession. I was cheered. At least she would never be reconquered by Judd.
But the situation was pressing to a change; and finally it came. Judd was captured by Federal deputies. I went to Sam for particulars.
‘They took him red-handed, stirrin’ the mash,’ said Sam. ‘He fit like a bear, an’ kicked the officer in the mouth. It’ll mean the Pen, shore, an’ Evvie’ll be shet of him fer a while.’
‘Won’t somebody bond him out?’
‘His own folks don’t think ‘nough of him fer that. I hearn his own father say he wa’n’t wuth a June bug with a catbird after it. Nobody’s goin’ to risk losin’ a farm fer that thing.’
I went home reassured. If Cleve would only pick up and woo furiously, instead of wistfully accepting mere smiles from Evvie, he could win, I felt, long before Judd’s reappearance.
The sight of Evvie hurrying toward me gave me no uneasiness. She was lugging the baby, in too much haste to let him toddle.
‘Mis’ Dolly,’ she began, ‘Judd’s the baby’s poppie, an’ he’s took. Nobody ‘ll go on his bond, an’ ever’body’s talkin’ hard against him, an’ him Bennie’s poppie. I been thinkin’ of that trouble ‘way back, an’ it was n’t all his fault.’
‘You fell into the briars, I suppose?’
‘No, but I was aggervatin’ him. I hated Lizzie Bowles an’ her silk dresses, an’ when he swore an’ told me to go back, I picked up a rock an’ if he had n’t jumped I’d a broke his head with it. I was ashamed to tell you then. I was wild mad, an’ he ought to ‘a’ throwed me inter the briars. I was n’t any he’p to him in the field, an’ when I got sick I was n’t any he’p in the house, like his mother said. I did n’t do my part at all.’
‘You did all you could, Evvie,’ I said, with no effect on the tide pouring from her heart.
‘An’ way back, when we’s livin’ with mommie, I was aggervatin’. At first when he’d pout an’ would n’t come to the table, I’d slip out with something fer him to eat, an’ beg till he’d take it, but once when we had company an’ he’d made me ashamed ‘cause he went to the barn an’ would n’t come to breakfast, I got me a bundle o’ bladefodder an’ took it to him. I told him if he wanted to live with the steers he could eat with ‘em too. I was shore mean. An’, Mis’ Dolly, I want you to go to Carson jail an’ see Judd, an’ tell him when he comes back from the Pen I’ll be ready an’ we’ll begin all over. He’ll know I’ll keep my word.’
It was useless to remind her of pain that she could not recall; but I spoke of her father and mother. Would she break their hearts again?
‘ But look at Bennie! ‘ she cried. ‘ He’s gettin’ more like his father ever’ day. If I’m hard on Judd now, how can I look at my baby? Ever’body’s against him. You’re hard as the others. Won’t you go, Mis’ Dolly?’
‘No, I won’t. You don’t know what you are doing.’
‘Then I’ll have to git somebody else to go.’
Her message went to Judd by some busybody, and I wired to Asheville for Cleve. When he arrived on the next train I was at the station. ‘The thing to do, Cleve,’ I said, ‘is to bail him out and let him come home.’
Cleve, knowing so well the Evvie that eluded him, saw the point at once. He also saw that neither he nor I should figure as bondsman.
‘It’ll be hard work,’ he said, ‘but I’ll find somebody.’
And over the country he went, picking out men whom he knew to be secret abetters of Judd, and working on their fear of his turning informer. The amount of bail was made up, and Judd was free. Evvie thought that he would come directly to her, but first he went to Mossy Creek to see ‘the boys.’ They got up a dance, and it would have seemed ungrateful of Judd not to remain for it. When he reached Evvie his face was still slightly swollen from drink and revelry, but his spirits were riding high. Friends had gathered at the Kanes’ for the evening, and Judd began to recount his triumphs in jail.
‘They made me president o’ their club soon’s I got there, an’ kicked the other feller out. We had some reg’lations, you bet! Ever’ feller that come into jail had to pay fifty cents fer terbacker; if he did n’t we flogged him. They would n’t let us have whiskey, an’ that was tough, you bet! We’d have court, an’ try the fellers, an’ it was a purty good life if we’d had more to eat. They’s all sorry to see me go, an’ I promised to smuggle in some hot stuff to ‘em if there was any way. Mebbe I can work it with a mulatter girl ‘at cooks fer ‘em — right purty — color of a hick’ry leaf ‘fore frost—she’ll he’p me, you bet! I’ll try it to-morr’ when me an’ Evvie go to Carson to hitch up. Some quare, ain’t it, marryin’ yer own wife? An’ what about yer kid goin’ on two at yer weddin’?’
Choking and helpless, I slipped away from the sound of his voice. Sam, walking home by my road, began to talk.
‘Reckon you noticed Evvie in that corner while Judd was talkin’. Ef you ‘d a cut off her head at the neck it would n’t ‘a’ bled a drap.’
I could not answer, and hurried on, finding Cleve on my doorstep. I took him into the house, my tears of rage and failure dropping; but when the full light of the lamp fell upon his face I thought no more of my own misery.
‘There’s twelve hours yet, Cleve,’ I said. ‘Evvie is not an utter fool.’
But he would n’t speak. For over an hour he sat by my fire, a humped reproach. I exhausted every consolation, even to telling him that she was n’t worth it. Then he lifted his eyes, full of such mourning scorn that I became as silent as himself. There was a tap at the door, slight enough to be Evvie’s. I asked Cleve to go upstairs, saying that I would call him if he was wanted. When he was gone I opened the door and heard Evvie’s voice.
‘They’s so many at our house to-night. Ever’ bed’s full. I thought I’d come here to sleep. You don’t keer, do you?’
‘I’m glad to see you, Evvie. Come, warm a little, and jump into bed. You’ve been running.’
‘Yes, I was afraid — but—I had to come.’
Her little body was quivering. I sat her down, but did not dare to give a sign of sympathy that might plunge her into hysteria. I took up a book and sat reading until she became very still. We were in the kitchen, which was large and possessed a big, ugly fireplace. At the right of the fireplace, in the corner, ran a short flight of stairs, and under the stairs was a closet with an opening for a half-door. This opening was simply curtained.
I had held my book for ten minutes or more, when we heard sounds of talk and laughter from the road. I recognized Judd’s voice, and a loud knock followed. Instantly Evvie rose, stooped, and, darting like a bee, vanished behind the little curtain of the closet. There was hardly room for her among the pans and old ovens, but she scuttled her way, and there was silence. Then I opened the outer door and saw Judd with several companions.
‘Me an’ the boys are lookin’ fer Evvie. We started to have a reel at bedtime an’ found she’d gone. I ‘lowed right away she ‘d skipped over here, bein’ she’s crazy ‘bout you. Reckon I skeered her a little talkin’ so much ‘bout them jail fellers; but I’ll make it all right. I’m goin’ to be square with Evvie this time.’
He began to peek around me.
‘Why—ain’t she here? She gone to bed?’
‘No, Judd. Did you stop at Len’s?’
‘We hollered, an’ she was n’t there.’
‘You’d better go on to Sam’s then,’ I urged, following, or rather leading him away. ‘Take the short trail by the hemlocks.’
When they were certainly gone I went in. Cleve and Evvie were sitting by the fire. Her arms were around his neck and she was crying steadily. Clove’s arms were determinedly in the right place. The next day they took the early train for Carson, and by noon were safely married.
Yesterday Evvie’s mother said to me: ‘ You ought to go over to Asheville, Mis’ Dolly, jest to see how Evvie keeps that little house primped up. They’s water in it, hot an’ cold, an’ ever’thing, like I always wanted her to have. I reckon she’s ‘bout fergot that shack In the holler.’
I tell myself that it is as well with Evvie as life permits it to be with the most of us; but she is now only eighteen, chiseled in beauty and colored with youth; and I try not to wonder what would happen if she should ever fall in love.