Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Chapter XXX


      Wednesday was a very full day for several reasons.  Canning without sugar and pectin is difficult but not impossible; you just have to know how and what to use.  Mom had thought of it as a necessary life skill – Dad’s side of the family was rife with diabetes and insulin resistance so she was particularly careful for his sake – and most of her canning and pickling recipes actually relied on juice concentrate or honey instead of processed sugar for the sweetening.

      I started off with pickled onions.  I took five cups of the small onions and blanched them in boiling water for 10 minutes.  I strained them out of that water (which I dumped into the compost pile) and then peeled their outer skin off.  I put six tablespoons of salt into a quart of water, dumped the skinned onion in it, and brought it to boil.  As soon as it hit boil I took the pan off the heat and let them sit in that water until after supper … about twelve hours.  While I was fixing supper I combined a quart of vinegar, a quarter cup of concentrated apple juice I had made by boiling down some cider, a tablespoon of lemon juice from a restaurant packet, then one and a half tablespoons each of whole black peppercorns, whole cloves, and whole allspice; and, brought all of it to a simmer for forty-five minutes.  I drained the onions out of the second water and put them in prepared jars and then covered the onions with the boiling vinegar mix.  After putting a lid and ring on the jars I processed them for fifteen minutes.

      And taking advantage of the produce that Jude had brought home along with some of the stuff I had gathered myself I also fixed fancy spiced pears, raisin-apple spread, beet cabbage relish, pickled beet slices, spiced crabapples, and Indian chutney made with honey.  I also gathered a bunch of the herbs out of Mom’s garden and hung them to dry up in the attic, noting there was twice as many boxes to go through up there as there was in the basement plus the accumulation of the generations that had occupied the house before we had. 

      I hung everyone’s dirty clothes on the line hoping to get a big washing done but all I could get to was socks and under clothes.  I wouldn’t even have gotten that much done without finding the big wash tub hanging inside the shed and right beside it the old washer board.  There was a decorative glass washer board hanging on the kitchen wall that Mom had used to wash the super delicates like her fancy nighties that she wore when Dad was here with her.  It will likely be a long time before anyone in this house wears something frilly like that.

      It was well passed dark and the kids had been asleep for an hour before I heard Jude come up.  His wasn’t the only voice I heard but I noted it as weird when he didn’t call out to let me know he was out there.  That’s when I heard some snickering.

      “Heard you got you a slanty eyed gal to keep house for you Jude.  She any good?”

      Jude didn’t reply.

      The same voice got rough and said, “I asked is she any good.”

      Jude snapped, “Back off Caleb.”

      Another voice, this one sounding drunk or high, said, “Think you’re a damn sight too good to share a pipe or a bottle these days?”

      Using a pacifying tone Jude answered, “I just don’t have the money for it Jinx, or the time.  I told you that already.”

      “Don’t have no excuse when we’re the ones offering it to you for free,” Jinx slurred.

      The one called Caleb said, “Now where’s this girl we heard about.”

      When Jude didn’t answer I heard flesh strike flesh.  “You one hard headed …”

      I didn’t hear the rest of it as I’d heard enough.  The noise had roused Paulie who was also a light sleeper.  “Dovie?” he asked fearfully nearly making me jump.

      Rather than snap I told him calmly, “Paulie, take the kids down to the basement by the back stairs but be as quiet as mice.  Get into the crawl space and stay there til either Jude or I call you out.”

      For once he didn’t give me any buts.  I cat footed to the back of the house and got the biggest knife out of the butcher block, the one my brothers had always called the pig sticker, and stepped as silently out of the back door, off the porch and into the night as I could.  The gun was in my pocket but in the dark I was worried that I would hit something – or someone – I didn’t mean to.  I got to the corner of the house and saw that Jude was holding his own but two against one was taking its toll … I decided to even the odds up.

      “Hit him again Caleb, hit him again good this time,” Jinx snickered crazily.  He had Jude’s arms penned while Caleb pummeled him.  The one called Jinx was so high on something it took about twenty seconds for him to register the mean slice I had given him crossways across his back from right shoulder to left hip.  “Ahhhhh!” he squealed releasing Jude.

      I ducked around the trunk of the nearest maple tree, doing my best not to slip on the dew covered leaves beneath it.  Caleb was suddenly on the defensive and losing fast.  Jude’s temper can burn hot and Caleb felt the weight of a load of pure brimstone dumped on him.  While Jinx was crying about a wild cat getting him Jude put Caleb on the ground and was literally kicking the stuffing out of him.

      Some horses rode up … too many to be just our family … and the moonlight chose that moment to peep out and a now sober and scared Jinx spotted me and pulled me from behind the tree before I could get away. 

      A man I didn’t know said, “Let her go Raulson.”

      “I ain’t going back to that work camp!  You’re gonna give me a car … or a horse … and I’ll let this little gal off when I’m done with her.  You’ll get her back but only if …”

      He had his arm around my neck but growing up with brothers I knew a thing or three about fighting off a larger opponent.  I stamped his feet, wiggled and fought him, making him curse a blue streak trying to hold onto me and hold off the men that had told him to give up at the same time.  I finally got my hand that still held the knife up, despite his holding onto it, and put the sharp blade against his forearm; he sliced himself as he tried to jerk my hand back down.

      “Ahhh!!!”

      He involuntarily let me go but not without a backhand and Jude was on him so fast and hard that it took three men to peel him off.

      “Jude!  Jude!  He’s down boy!  Let it go!”

      “Down?!  He’s gonna be buried under down before I’m through with him!  Come here … threaten my family … take a shot at Dad … hit Dovie … he ain’t gonna live to see sunrise!”

      It might not have been the wisest course of action but I got up in close despite all the men holding him back.  “Do I look like I want to see you go to prison?  And what do I tell Paulie and the other kids?”  All that did was slow him down a little.  Then I spotted Clewis.  “Is Uncle Roe all right?!”

      Of course the idiot only made things worse by asking, “You want some help Jude?  I’m in the mood for a deep burying myself.”

      “That didn’t answer my question Clewiston David Killarney!”

      Understanding that I was more than a little peeved as I had resorted to his full name he answered, “He’s fine.  Upset that the front window has been broke and buckshot holes are in the dining room wall but that’s about it.  When he gets a load of your busted lip though he ain’t gonna be happy.”

      I wiped my bleeding lip on my sleeve and winced.  “You’re not helping,” I snarled.

      I had sunk my shoulder into Jude’s chest and was using my presence to get him to stop throwing wild punches at the men that were still holding his arms.  I pushed against him until he was backed against the house.  It wasn’t because I was strong but because Jude would never fight a girl, no matter how angry he got.  I looked up in his face and said, “Please stop Jude.  Uncle Roe is bound to be upset enough as it is.”

      That’s when Butch showed up with his commonsense though he was about as hot as I’d ever seen him as well.  He snapped at Clewis, “Go on back up to the house and tell Dad that Jude ain’t dead, just roughed up.  Go on, you ain’t helping things any stirring Dovie and Jude up.  Besides Crystal is about to pass out.”  That got him moving.

      Butch came over and put his hand on Jude’s shoulder and said, “Dad is fine.  The blood was from the other guy they were forcing Rochelle to doctor on, not him.  Let it go.  You know he wouldn’t want you to get into trouble over him like this.”

      Unwilling to let it go so easily Jude snapped, “That one hit Dovie.”

      “And will pay for that I’m sure but it looks like Dovie has already taken her pound of flesh,” he said looking at the bloody and sticky knife still in my hand.  I had forgotten I was holding it and looked at it distastefully before setting it on the edge of the porch and scrubbing my hand on the old muslin apron I was wearing.

      “I’m fine Jude.  It just wasn’t fair that he was holding your arms like that.”

      I heard one of the strangers snort.  “Did you hear that boys?  She didn’t think it was fair.”

      I looked for the commenter but couldn’t tell who had said it in the dark.  Then I said, “Oh Lord, the kids are going to be scared to death.  I’ll be right back.”  Then I skidded to a halt and asked Jude, “Should I tell them things are OK?”

      Jude jerked moodily away from the two men that had still been holding him and told me, “Tell ‘em to stay in the house and out of all this … and no peeking out the windows.  No need for them to get an eye full of this crap to have nightmares over.”

      I almost told him that this was nothing compared to what we had seen on the road but that was a comment for another time.  I went inside and poked my head down the stairs.  “Paulie …”

      “We heard,” he said from the dark.  We’ll stay down here.  Did Jude beat them good?”

      “Oh glory … not you too,” I huffed.  “Just stay here.  Better yet, see if you can at least get the little ones to sleep on the old futon.  It’s over in the corner.”

      Tiff answered calmly now that she knew everything was over, “I know where it’s at Dovie.”

      On my way back I stopped and washed my hands in the basin in the sink, using lots of soap and a vegetable scrubber to get under my nails.  I must have taken longer than I thought because when I turned around Rochelle had shown up and was towing Jude into the kitchen and he was close to exploding again.

      Quietly I said, “Jude’s one of the good guys Rochelle, remember?  Don’t haul him around by the scruff of his neck like that please.”

      She looked at me and scowled.  “He’s my brother and I’ll treat him how I think he deserves.  I thought he’d outgrown all that brawling but it looks like I was wrong.”

      “He was protecting us and worried about Uncle Roe.”

      “He could have waited for the authorities to arrive.  They were only five minutes behind.”

      So no one else would hear but her and Jude I said, “In five minutes they would have had me on the ground and doing what it was they were set on doing.”

      That had her look at me sharply.  “Did they … manhandle you?”

      “Jude never gave them a chance.  So stop picking on him before I start making a public fuss about it.”

      Jude finally entered the fray and said, “Don’t do that Dovie.  Rochelle just gets worried sometimes.”

      “Worried is one thing.  Sinking her teeth in to drag you down like you’re a disobedient pup is something else.”

      “Well,” Rochelle said ameliorating her tone.  “Jude’s right.  I do worry.  He’s my little brother.  It seems I’ve spent half my life putting him back together after one brawl only to have him go right on to the next one.”

      Knowing that I had won even if no one would admit it I took what I could get and left Rochelle to fuss over Jude in her own weird way … just leaving more skin intact than she had originally meant to.

      I stepped out onto the porch and found several of the men – it was a deputized posse that had been sent to track and bring the gang of three in after they attacked another farm earlier in the afternoon – filling canteens from the hand pump.  Butch was amongst them and asked, “Dovie, this is good drinking water right?”

      “Yes Butch.  Mom had bleach poured down the casing just to be on the safe side.”

      After that I was ignored until Jude came back out of the kitchen while Rochelle demanded that her husband “escort” her back down to the main house.  Jude watched her bustle off then said, “She should have looked at your lip.”

      “What’s to look at?  It’s a fat lip.  It’ll heal.”

      He shook his head.  “Dad’s gonna be fired up; you coulda got hurt bad.”

      “Don’t fuss or I’ll rethink helping next time Rochelle comes at you with her doctoring bag.”

      “It’s not funny Dovie,” he said seriously.

      I sighed.  “Bad things happen and those two idiots aren’t the first to … to make threats and want something they wouldn’t otherwise get except by force.  It didn’t happen.  You didn’t let it.  That’s good enough for me.”

      He didn’t say anything.  His face didn’t even change expression.  But I could sense that he’d let it go unless I brought it up again.  Then I asked, “How long are all of these men gonna stand around like this?”

      “They’re waiting for the Sheriff and traveling circuit judge to arrive.”

      “The who?”

      “The sheriff.”

      “I know what a sheriff is.  What on earth is a traveling judge?”

       “It keeps vigilantism down when people see that justice is swift rather than slow as molasses in winter.  But they still have to follow the law.  Under martial law they created the traveling judges and they’re real law people … men mostly but there’s a few women as well.”

      I heard more horses and that’s when things got interesting.  They actually had someone that was supposed to represent the accused but he didn’t seem all that sympathetic if you ask me.  Then all the facts of the case were presented to the judge in proper order with detailed facts.  The judge even called a couple of the witnesses on “hyperbole” and “assumption” and reminded them that only facts were admissible in these cases or it would be remanded back to the county and state court system which would cause long and involved delays in reaching a verdict.

      Even I was called forward and told to repeat exactly what I did, in the order I did it, and my reasons for doing so.  Uncle Roe had arrived by that point and I couldn’t even look at him.  I thought he would be disappointed or upset but when I was allowed to leave “the stand” he just gathered me up in a hug and told me, “It’ll be ok Sister.”

      It seemed that I needed to comfort him.  I patted his arm and told him, “I know that Uncle Roe.  Jude was here.”

      He nodded and gathered Jude into a one armed hug that made Jude’s eyes nearly bug out of his head in surprise.  Then it was down to the verdict.

      “By the power vested in me by the State of Tennessee … blah, blah, blah … that the three prisoners will be terminated in the most humane method immediately available, in this case hanging.”

      Oh … my … word.  Well I was shocked to say the least but the three men were jumping around and squawking like a bunch of hens with their tail feathers lit yelling things like “You can’t do that!” and “You got it wrong Judge … we were trying to keep Jude from abusing that poor furrin’ girl.” and lots of other lies to confuse the truth to try and have the case remanded to a different court.  Their defense person – don’t know if they were a lawyer or not – addressed “the court” and said, “Judge, these men are known members of a local gang who are suspected of several other heinous acts.  Should my clients present names to the court in order to bring those others to justice would their sentence be commuted?”

      There was some rumbling and muttering by the men in the posse but I thought it was an interesting idea.  Problem was it didn’t seem to be going anywhere with all the back and forth.  They started hustling the men over to the very maple tree I had been hiding behind and a bee stung me in the brain and my mouth fell open and words started pouring out.  “Oh no you don’t, that’s the tree we hang game in for butchering.  If you want to do that then you can just take them down to the gully.  There’s a tree down there that will work perfectly well and any … er … bodily fluids that escape won’t be doing it in my side yard.  Not to mention the fact that I don’t want to have to think about them swinging in the breeze every time I’m out here hanging clothes on the washline.  That rope you have is a little short for the job but I know we’ve got a good stout one in the shed don’t we Jude.”  I headed off to the shed saying over my shoulder, “I don’t know about you folks but I’ve got kids that need to be put to a proper bed and it’s not getting done with them playing the fools.”

      I heard a lot of racket behind me but when I came back from the shed and everyone realized I was serious about the rope the three prisoners just about jumped into each other’s arms and started spewing names left and right, almost faster than the sheriff could even write them down.

      It was over quickly after that and peace finally reigned in the yard once again.  All that was left was Uncle Roe, Butch, and Jude.  They all three just looked at me and shook their heads.  Butch turned to Uncle Roe and asked, “Still think she’s getting to be more and more like Aunt Malissa every day?”

      “Well … mostly so.  But that stunt right there was her daddy all the way through.”  He gave me another hug to let me know that what he’d said wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and then scooted me with a hand towards the porch.  That was his wordless way of saying he still had some talking to do with Jude.


 

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