She Stopped Talking
Marjolaine, the witch, sighed and rubbed her eyes. “I’ve talked so long my voice is hoarse. Why don’t you children run on along? It’s getting late, I still have chores, and your parents will be looking for you.”
Earlier I’d have give anything to run from her place along the river branch. It was so deep in the bulrushes it looked like a swamp house, although I’d never seen an actual swamp house. After catching sight of where the witch lived, I never figgured on getting out alive—but that changed.
She Was Nice
She gave me, Eli, Warren, and Jessie Beauchamp, the girl all us boys loved, goat’s milk and cookies with dewberry jelly.
And she told a story.
That’s what we’d come for. Old Roy sent us down her river path after we beggared him for another tale following the one he told about Ragtail and Lark. He said if we wanted more, we had to see the witch.
Who’d Go To A Witch On Purpose?
That’s how hungry, bored kids get for distraction in the dusty summer days when ain’t nothing going on but flies buzzing and horsetails swishing.
“Are we gonna do it, Noah?” Warren asked me.
I was the leader of our group, so they all looked to me for answers. Wasn’t any way I was going to offer myself up for a witch’s meal, but then Cora, Eli’s little sister flat said she wouldn’t go. If I balked, that’d put me in the same sissy box as Cora, so I plucked up, thinking I’d start the group out.
Once’t we set to pussy-footin’ it in the reeds, I knew Eli would bolt. Then Warren. I’d take a few more steps then reluctantly follow ’em.
“Sure,” I said. “We wanna hear more stories, don’t we?”
Everybody agreed, so we set out the next morning.
I didn’t reckon on Jessie Beauchamp. Not only so beautiful it hurt my chest to look at her, she was fearless. She took the lead down the dark, murky path straight to the witch’s place.
I had to follow. Eli and Warren didn’t want to be alone, so we all offered up our tender souls at Marjolaine’s porch.
Marjolaine must’ve hexed us up real good because none of us wanted her to stop the story.
“C’mon, Noah. Make her tell the rest of it,” Warren said.
“Please, Marjolaine.” That was Jessie.
Eli forgot his fright that had him watering the trail to the pasture and back when we fetched Francine the milk goat and said, “Pleeease.”
Had To Know – Did They Wed?
I had to come up with something, being the leader and all. “Old Roy said you’d tell us a story,” I said, “and it don’t appear to be finished. Did Esther May hitch up with C.J.?”
Marjolaine had a faraway look in her eye like she could see something amongst the sorrowful willow trees.
“Yes.” Her voice, scratchy from tale tellin’, went soft like dandelion fluff. “They married and had several good years on a ranch in the Tonto Basin under the Mogollon Rim.”
And The Others?
Jessie Beauchamp took the woman’s lick on it. “What about Abuela and Liluye?” she asked. “Did they go with Esther May too?”
“They did.” Marjolaine was still looking at the past only she could see. “Abuela insisted on her own wickiup. Wouldn’t sleep in the house C.J. built. One night a year later, she went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
“Liluye and Esther May gave her an Apache burial. They wrapped the old woman in her favorite blankets and found a crevice among the boulders. They put her there with her belongings and covered the site with rocks.”
Jessie was dry-eyed, but both Eli and Warren wiped their cheeks. I’d got some flower dust from somewhere along the river in mine that required rubbing.
Even though I loved Jessie, sometimes she thumped my sour bone by blurtin’ on ahead of me. Like with the questions.
“Did Esther May and C.J. live happily ever after? Did Liluye stay with them?”
Marjolaine dropped her head and shook it—a slight motion easy to miss.
Going Sour As Milk In The Sun
“After Abuela died, C.J. started talking about children. It went on for a long time, with him getting more vocal and demanding. Esther May reminded him again and again that she couldn’t bear any. He said if she loved him, she would have all the babies he wanted.”
This time it was Marjolaine who got the flower dust in her eyes. “He began to rough hand Esther May with punches and shoves and demanded she give him sons.”
The witch held out her hands in a pleading apology that didn’t require words and froze there for a minute before going on.
“One day, Esther May was in the barn at the milk cow, and C.J. came up behind her yelling that she was making him a laughing stock.”
Marjolaine tucked in her lips and drew a deep breath through her nose. She exhaled and continued. “He walloped her across the back with a shovel and knocked her down.”
All of us kids gasped except Eli, who moaned and hugged his stomach. Even Jessie had bug eyes.
“Up to this point,” Marjolaine said, “Esther May had been able to keep Liluye reined in, but this time the Apache woman was there checking on the cow’s calf. She grabbed a pitchfork and jammed it in C.J.’s stomach. He sank never to rise.”
And That’s The Tale
“Well, then—” Jessie started, but Marjolaine waved her off.
“Esther May insisted Liluye return to the safety of an Apache tribe. That’s it. That’s your story, children, now you really must leave. Come again someday.”
She stood and made a shooing wave at us.
“Thank you for the story, Marjolaine,” Jessie said. We all muttered something along the same line in the way of thanks as we unwound our locked knees from where we’d sat.
Jessie Knows There’s More
Around the first bend in the trail, Jessie stopped us and whispered, “Be quiet.” She motioned for us to follow on tiptoes.
One thing kids are good at is sneaking. We crept back to where we could see Marjolaine’s yard.
“What are we looking for?” Warren whispered.
“Shh.” Jessie made a patting motion in the air.
I wanted to know too, so I kept quiet.
Here They Are
And there he came from around the house. Old Roy, and with him a woman not a lot taller than Jessie and a black dog going gray around the muzzle.
“Yeah!” Jessie said as loud as she could in an undertone. “That’s Anna the goat lady and her dog Yaller Old Roy told us about.” She hissed an intake breath and vibrated in excitement. “That means Old Roy is Ragtail, and Marjolaine is Esther May Cooper.”
Old Roy gave Marjolaine a hug. “You gave the kids the long version,” he said. “Anna and I were getting a little cramped up back there.”
Marjolaine grinned. “I got caught up in the story myself. And, I enjoyed the kid’s company. We don’t get many visitors, you know.”
Anna went into the house and came back to the porch. “Where are the biscuits?”
Marjolaine laughed. “The kids ate them and all the jelly too.”
Anna muttered something in Spanish and headed for the goat pasture.
“Check on Damn Donkey while you’re back there, please,” Old Roy tossed after her before turning back to Marjolaine.
A Final Question
“One thing, Light Of My Life,” Old Roy said. “You told me it was you who stuck your first husband with the pitchfork. Was it?”
Marjolaine hooked her arm in his. “I said it was me for so many years. I guess I got to believing it myself.”
She puckered up and frowned. “No. It was Liluye, but I couldn’t let her take the blame. Can you imagine the trouble that would have caused at the time—an Apache killing a white man? I thought the jury would look at my bruises and call it justifiable, but those twelve honorable men thought it was their right to beat a wife.”
“I’m sorry, Esther May-Marjolaine.”
She kissed his cheek whiskers. “It worked out good for us though, didn’t it, Ragtail-Old Roy?”
Thank you for staying with Old Roy’s Tale until the end. Nothing was asked of you. The story was presented for entertainment – yours and mine. My website at burtonvoss.com will hold the story for a time to be determined and then will be taken down. Perhaps a new tale will take its place.
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