June 25, 1878
Samuel J. Hodgdon, II
The mornin’ skies were pitch black, and like woeful tears, the rain spilled from the clouds, leavin’ behind deep, murky puddles. Others complained, but I loved to splash barefoot in them and did so whenever I could. The constant drippin’ thundered in pots throughout the house, and a new leak was discovered in the great room, where I sat beside a cheerful old woman named Mrs. Taylor. She used to run away, only to get caught beggin’ in front of the feed store, then she’d wind up right back at the Farm.
Before her uncle died, he used to visit her and smuggle gin inside a hollowed-out book right into her room. Mamma said that the poor woman was inconsolable when she drank liquor. It was durin’ those times that she went into lock-up. I s’posed it was to protect her from herself. Mamma said that just like Dolly May, she had lost the will to live. Only Mrs. Taylor didn’t slip away unnoticed, into a silent pond, never to take another breath. Her triumph over Death was because of the curious handiwork of angels and time. In the end, what haunted her in her youth had become what she lived for. She managed to get old and feeble, perhaps forgettin’ about losin’ the will to live.
When she wasn’t talkin’ about her husband, a handsome gambler who left when she was with child, she rocked and sang to a balled-up blanket that she referred to as baby Earline. No one really knew what happened to Earline. When others questioned or tried to reason with her, Mamma stopped them. There’s no sense in pryin’; it’s her truth, and she’s happy with it. I had already brung in the eggs and swept the dinin’ room floor for Miss Noyes. It was a good day because Silas let me add another row of nestin’ boxes to what I previously collected. I had to get a bigger basket, and I met a few new hens that I had only seen peckin’ about in the yard. Mrs. Taylor continued to rock harder and sing louder. But I didn’t mind. I waited patiently for Agnes, who was in the launderin’ room, learnin’ how to turn the stick. With the fever burnin’ its way through the Farm, folks were either struck down or doin’ the tendin’. It was time to give me and Agnes a few more chores.
Everyone was too busy to notice that I mingled with Elam. It was easy. At first, Agnes wasn’t interested in helpin’ him. I tried to explain how if she wasn’t careful, fear would prey on her until there was nothin’ left. She’d end up like the others—a husk of a person, rattlin’ in the wind.
I told her how I had become his protector, the one and only soul who would look out for him. Havin’ one more soul would have helped. Even though the fightin’ and swearin’ had slowed down, many folks still picked on him, and he was scared of everyone, includin’ me. As much as I gave it thought, there was no earthly explanation as to why everybody feared so much. Agnes always believed Elam to be dangerous and wasn’t convinced that Dolly May had taken her own life. Even when I told her that I had seen the letters on the paper with my own eyes, she asked me if I knew each word to be true. I went on to tell her that it was all the more reason for us to learn letters and words and to trust Mamma.
Like everything else with Agnes, it took time for her to agree. She finally gave in and decided to be Elam’s protector too. It wasn’t just about Elam. She worried about what others might think if they saw her makin’ up her own mind. In the beginnin’, I was perplexed by Elam’s fear of me. I was relieved when he finally understood that I just wanted to help. I knew what it was like to have the urge to run. The difference between us was that I found comfort in the heart of a tree while he went deep into a cave. We had a clear sense of our safe places. That’s why I decided to wait for a bit before goin’ out to the cave myself.
Down from the Tree: Book Three Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series