Read Fair and Tender Ladies Online

Authors: Lee Smith

Tags: #Historical, #Adult

Fair and Tender Ladies (6 page)

BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
So they put him in a corncrib and then they taken him out in the dead of nigt and set him up in the bresh by the high road, and direckly a rich man come along, and some highway robbers come up and shot at him until they had cotched him and took all his money, and then they let him go. This rich mans name was Old Moneybags Macintosh, and he run off crying to beat the band.
Then it got full ligt, and them highway robbers seed Old Dry Fry setting up there dead in the bresh by the side of the road, and they said, Law me! its Old Dry Fry dead as a post, we will be hung for murder! For everbody knowed Old Dry Fry.
So they taken Old Fry down to the riverbank and propped him up by a willer tree, and he stayed rigt there until a little old fiesty boy come along and said Ho there, Old Dry Fry! For everbody knowed Old Dry Fry. And when Old Dry Fry didn't say nothing, this little fiesty boy said, I reckon you think you are too good to talk, Old Dry Fry, and when Old Dry Fry didnt say nothing
then
, why this little fiesty boy just poked him in the river with a willer stick and run off down the road. Now there was a old woman down there fishing for bass-fish and Lord, she cotched Old Dry Fry. And she said, Law me! Hit is Old Dry Fry as dead as a stone, I will be hung for murder! For everbody knowed Old Dry Fry.
And the sisters passed the story around, back and forth between them, and by and by we was all laghing and laghing, even serios Ethel and glummy little old Garnie and even Momma, well she was not laghing but she had set down ther by Daddy and she had left off clutching her skirt. They is something very funny about saying Old Dry Fry over and over. So the story goes on, it goes back and forth betwixt Gaynelle and Virgie Cline until at the end of it, we was dubbled up laghing and Old Dry Fry had ben put in a poke and tyed onto a horse and the last anybody knowed, the horse was galloping off for Kentucky under the ligt of the moon.
And then they toled a bunch more including Mutsmag wich Silvaney asked for, now you see how good she can recollect. So the sisters toled Mutsmag wich is about a old woman that had three gals, Poll, Betts and Mutsmag, but they all treated Mutsmag mean, she had to do all the work while theyd lay in bed of a morning and not give her nothing to eat but leftovers and old sour milk. Then the old woman up and died, and the girls had to go in the world to seek ther fortune and they said Mutsmag, you come too, but she had to carry all ther plunder and they wuldnt give her no journey cakes. But after many adventures a giant comes along, and he eats up Poll and Betts, and then he turns into a handsome Prince and tuck Mutsmag off to a faraway country where she was the Queen.
I loved that one. But now it was late and the littluns had fell asleep and even Ethel was fixing to fall asleep, you culd tell by her eyes drooping down. The Cline sisters stirred and rustled as if they was fixing to go. Me and Silvaney was the onliest ones still up and listening. And I recollected how, if Daddy had not been so sick, he wuld of been telling too, he loved the old storys so, and I recollected what all he used to say about Old Christmas Eve, how alder buds will bust and leaf out, and bees will roar in a beegum like ther fixing to swarm, and briars will blossom and animals will speak, and if you go up on a real high hill, you migt see a big star rise.
Daddy allus said Old Christmas was a time to stay home and think on what will last.
And what will last?
I said to myself rigt then, and I looked over at Daddy ther fixing to die, and the fire was dying too. It was real late but I wasnt one bit sleepy. Nothing lasts, I said to myself, nothing not nary a thing.
And then the sisters, who had been stirring to go, sat back and said, Well now Ivy, this one is for you.
And they toled it then in a whisper so low it was like it was toled in my very own head.
There was a man with three daghters who was fixing to go to town, and he axed, What do you want me to bring you girls? for he loved them very much. The eldest one axed for a new silk dress the color of evry bird in the sky, and the second eldest axed for a new silk dress the color of evry color in the rainbow, and the youngest, who was the fathers faverite, axed for white roses.
Well the onliest white roses in the whole town was on a rosybush in the churchyard and when the father comenced to brake these roses, he heerd a voice that said, You brake them and I will brake you. And then he comenced to brake them agin, and then he heerd it agin, and then he thoght about his youngest daghter and how bad she wanted them white roses. But then finely he heerd the voice say, Give me what meets you first at the gate, you can brake all you want till your basket is full. And he thoght of his old hound dog that allus run out to the gate, and said that wuld be all rigt.
But when he rode up carrying his roses, who shuld run out but his youngest girl, she said,
Daddy Daddy!
Get back sugar, he hollered, but she come on anyways and give him a big kiss and tuck the roses. So the father was truble, but he didnt say nothing, nor tell it, and then as soon as dark come, they heerd a big voice say,
Send out my pay.
So the father he tryed to send out the old hound dog, but the voice come agin,
Send out my pay.
So the father he went out there hisself, and then the eldest girl she went, but the voice come agin,
Send out my pay!
and finely the youngest girl she give them all a kiss and gotten her bonnet and coat and gone out the door where she was suprised to find the biggest white bear she had ever seed, who said Get up on my back, and she done it, but she was crying so hard that her nose bled, and three drops of blood fell on the white bears back.
But he kept running on and on.
And finely he come to a nice cabin, and lit the lamp, and lo and behold he was a good-looking young feller and as soon as she seed him, she thoght the world of him.
But now she had to choose. He said his name was Whitebear Whittington and he had been witched so that he culd be a man of a nigt and a bear of a day, or a bear of a nigt and a man of a day, now wich will it be? axed Whitebear Whittington.
She picked a man of a nigt.
So in the daytime hed be a bear and lay around in the woods outside whilst she kept house, and then come nigt and hed be a man, and she was as happy as she culd be. For she loved him with all her hart. She had three babys and time past and she wanted to show them to her daddy, she knowed he was getting old.
Well you can do this said Whitebear Whittington, but dont you never
speak my name
no matter what you do, and she said she wuld never do so. So he tuck them on his back next morning to her fathers gate.
Now I am so happy to see you honey, her father said, but he kept on axing whose was these babys and finely because she loved him so, she said,
Whitebear Whittington.
Well Lord then it lightninged and thunder roled and when she raised up her eyes, she seed her husband going up Pine Mountain and on the back of his shirt was three drops of blood.
Oh how she hollered and cryed then, for she loved him.
So she left her children with her father and set out after him, and she walked the mountains for seven long years and whenever she lost hart, a white bird wuld fly over and drop a fether with a red speck on it, so she wuld keep on going, and sometimes she wuld come to a house wher theyd tell her about a fine young man who had ben ther only the nigt before, with three drops of blood on the back of his shirt. And she kept walking for seven years. She wuld of give up if she had not come upon a old woman who gave her three gold nuts, a walnut and a hickry nut and a chinkypin, and said for her to foller the river and she wuld find her man. So she done so.
But what she found was a bunch of women warshing his shirt, for whoever culd get out the blood culd have him. So she grabbed it away from them women and in a minute it come clean, but then another woman jerked it away, and so this other woman got him and tuck him home, and all this time he never knowed her. He looked her strate in the eye and never knowed her. So the girl gave the woman her gold chinkypin just to sleep with him one nigt, and so she did, and in the nigt the girl said,
Three drops of blood Ive shed for thee, three little babes Ive born for thee, Whitebear Whittington turn to me.
But the old lady had done give him a sleepy dram, and he wuld not wake.
And then the girl give the woman her gold hickry nut so she culd sleep with him the next nigt but the same thing happend, and he slept on, and she culd not rouse him.
Finely she gave the old woman her gold walnut, and it was all she had, and
this
evening her husband spit out his sleepy dram, and did not swaller it. So when the girl said,
Three drops of blood Ive shed for thee, three little babes Ive born for thee, Whitebear Whittington turn to me,
he done so, and when she said his name he waked up, and he knowed her. And the next morning that old woman found the door locked as tigt as a drum, and she culdnt get in no way and she was mad as fire but there wasnt nothing she culd do as the spell was finely broke and they walked back over the mountains together and got ther three children and went on home, and Whitebear Whittington never was a bear again.
I think this is the bestest story I have ever heerd.
By the time the sisters had quit telling it, it was real late and everbody but me and Silvaney was sleeping, so we helped the sisters get ther bonnets and ther coats where we had hanged them up to dry and they said over and over they had to go, they wuld not spend the nigt, which we knowed anyway, they never will stay the nigt but walk in all wethers home. Goodbye then we said, we culd not see ther faces under ther bonnets nor hear what they said, wich sounded like fairy bells in the snow. When they tell a story, you can hear them. Silvaney stood in the door and watched them go, and I come and stood in the door behind her, and Momma raised up and hollered at us for letting out heat. So we went out and closed the door behind us and stood barefoot in the snow, it was not even cold a bit, watching the lady sisters skitter like waterbugs over the snow, moving faster and faster it seemed until they were lost in the shadders of trees as they headed up Hell Mountain so fast it seemed they were flying.
Silvaney and me stood with our arms around each others waists and looked at everthing, the moon on the snow so brite it was almost like day, the snow shining back at the moon.
The sisters dissapeared.
But when I was straining to see them I seed something else and I will sware it, you culd see in that moonligt as plain as day, and what I seed was Whitebear Whittington walking into the dark trees, and them three drops of blood on his back. I grabbed Silvaney hard it made her lagh out loud she thoght I was funning her, and then she culdnt stop laghing, it tuck awhile. I said Silvaney Silvaney, did you see him? and she said, who? But Silvaney dont know what she sees. And I seed him myself I tell you, seed his white shirt and fine gold hair all shining, Whitebear Whittington I seed him as plain as day, but I cant tell it to nobody else so I have writ it down for you cold Hanneke, Hanneke Queen, or for nobody, or may be it is for me as I remane forever always,
 
IVY ROWE.
My dear Mrs. Brown,
 
I thank you kindly for yor letter but to anser yor questin, no I do not pray, nor do I think much of God. It is not rigt what he sends on people. He sends too much to bare.
Listen here.
My daddy died to anser yor questin a week ago Thursday.
And it was a funny thing, it being rigt after that big rain, and little freshets of water was busting out everwhere around here and the sky so blue it was like you culd smell spring in the air and the birds is all coming back now too, they was twittering. I had took off my long undershirt two weeks before, and Silvaney and Ethel and the littluns had done the same, and we had took the asafiddity offen around the littluns necks. Ethel and them was taking on so that morning for I had found three little chicks just hatched and nearabout drowned up on Pilgrim Knob, and I had brung them in the house and put them in a little box up here by the stove and we was all watching them. So wasnt nobody paying much mind to nothing but that, when all of a sudden Silvaney comes busting in the door and screams and falls down on the floor by Daddys pallet. Now I culdnt tell you where Silvaney had been nor what in the world she was up to. She has took to wandering the mountain since the thaw, cant none of usuns keep her in the house, and after all she
is
growed, Silvaney is a big girl now.
And that awful screem she lets out as she falls is like a knifeblade in my hart.
Silvaney lays on the floor crying.
Lord what is it now, Momma says and she turns from the stove where she has been cooking a mess of cabbage. Then she thows down her paddle on the floor and runs over there and flings herself acrost Daddy, laying her ear to his puny chest. John, John Arthur, she says. Then she lays plum still for a minute acrost his pallet, and her hair had come loose now outen its knot, and it splayed black and gray everwhere like a witches hair, covering Daddys face. You culdnt hear a thing in the house but Silvaney crying and the boy-babys banging ther little gourds on a old tin pan Beulah had give them to play with. Then Momma looked up and looked around at all of us.
BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Curse of the Condor by Rose, Elizabeth
The Protector (2003) by David Morrell
Hard As Rock by Olivia Thorne
Kiss of Noir by Clara Nipper
The Ooze by R.L. Stine
Sylvia: A Novel by Leonard Michaels
Grind by Eric Walters