The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Temperance Tango

By Jennifer Perkins © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

"Drat that man," said Maggie McCall gazing out her kitchen window. "His cows are getting into my corn patch. Again."

Maggie hurried outside to deal with the cows in her garden. If she didn't hurry they'd be munching away on her flowers. One cow braver than the rest ambled toward her prize roses. "Shoo, bossy. Away with you."

She herded the cows in the general direction of the fence line of her neighbor, Joseph Bailey. the five brown Jersey milk cows paused to chew their cuds as they eyed the tumbled down fence rails. Maggie's sharp tongue hastened them across the rails into their own pasture where she replaced the boards into a semblance of a fence.

"Bet ol' man Bailey is gambling and drinking with his cronies in the hunting house." Maggie viewed the dilapidated green hunting house on the bed of the rusting truck parked away from the house. Sure enough, a lazy curl of smoke drifted from the smoke pipe. She tromped over to the truck, stomped up the makeshift steps and pounded on the pealing paint of the door.

"Joe Bailey, you in there?" Through the thin door, she heard a few whispered words and the scrape of a chair being pushed back. Before the door opened a crack, she heard someone tiptoeing around then abrupt silence.

Joseph Bailey stuck his head outside and viewed Maggie. He carefully stepped outside, edging the door of the hunting house closed so Maggie couldn't peak inside. "You wanted something, ma'am," he said with exaggerated courtesy while he took off his sweat-stained gray felt hat with a curled brim. He paused to spit out a chaw of tobacco through his yellow-stained teeth. The red rooster dodged it and clucked past the chicken yard gate hanging loosely on rusted hinges.

Maggie stood ram-rod straight and gave him the once over with her eyes. The dagger-look she sent him would cower most men, but then Joe Bailey wasn't most men. "Your pasture fence is down. Again." Her patience was wearing thin, but she kept a civil tongue. "Found your cows in my garden. If you'd spend a little time fixing your fences..."

"Now don't take on, ma'am. I'll fix it, er.. tomorrow," he said eyeing the fading afternoon light. "Yep, tomorrow," he stated while stroking the stubble on his unshaven chin.

"See that you do a proper job. If your cows get in my roses, there'll be hell to pay." Maggie gestured toward the sky.

"Sure thing ma'am. Sure thing." He nodded agreeably while twisting his hat brim with gnarled fingers. He glanced toward the sky as if expecting lightening bolts to appear at her command.

Later in the day, Maggie asked, "Where've you've been, Jamie McCall?" while she set the table for dinner. "Joe Bailey's cows got in my garden."

"Now Maggie, don't take on. I was just jawing with the boys."

"You weren't over at Bailey's a-drinkin' and a-gamblin' were you?" She edged closer, but he neatly sidestepped her. "Gotta wash for dinner," he said with a sheepish grin.

"That was a mighty fine dinner tonight, Maggie," said Jamie. He rumbled his full tummy and pushed his chair away from the table. "Yer peach cobbler tis the best in the county."

"No flattery from you, Jamie McCall."

"Suppose you got all het up over Bailey and his cows. He's a decent feller, just can't keep his fences fixed. He means no harm."

"No harm, huh." Maggie said. "He's a shiner, a gambler and the laziest farmer in Boone County."

"Now the sheriff has never caught him a shinin'. You're just overly suspicious."

"Mind my words, I'm going to catch him with his 'shine. Then the sheriff will have to haul him away to the pokey for a spell."

Jamie McCall nodded in agreement. Why Maggie had it in for Joe Bailey was a mystery to him. Bailey was an agreeable fellow with the best recipe in the county. He was available for a friendly game of poker when the fellas took a notion. They'd sit around the wood stove re-telling hunting stories, sipping a little of Joe's sour mash and smoking cigars.

The next morning Maggie kept an eye out her kitchen window as she washed her dishes. No sign of Bailey fixing his fence. If his cows nudged the rails, they'd be down in no time. She'd be the one tending his cows once more.

After washing the breakfast dishes, she took her favorite tramp up to Skunk Holler to check on the wildlife in the glen. She paused to watch a bright eyed raccoon wash his captured crawdad in the creek. Maggie spotted the skunk family as it trotted off on an unknown errand. She smiled remembering the burnt offerings of stew and biscuits the skunk family of the holler declined when she was a young bride. "Ye best avoid Bailey's property," she warned them. "Bailey has no respect for wild creatures visiting."

On her way back home, she paused by Bailey's neglected fence rails. "Okay, 'tis time to tackle that dratted man, once more."

She climbed across the fence and walked briskly toward Bailey's house. Maggie spotted a jug carelessly resting near the door of the run down hen house, as she rounded the corner of its fenced yard. She noted several holes of varying sizes underneath the coop's foundation. "Maybe that's where he's been a hiding his nasty stuff," she said aloud.

A quick glance around showed no sign of Bailey. She picked up the jug. Empty. It reeked of sour mash. Next she stooped down and peeked into the holes. "Nothing 'cept a set trap."

Before she had time to unset the trap, she heard Bailey come outside and whistle for his dog. "Just like Bailey to set traps for unfortunate creatures instead of patching and fixing," she said to herself.

Maggie had noticed the dog sleeping on the raggedy over-stuffed sofa. The clever dog managed to avoid the assorted springs poking through the tattered dirty fabric.

"All I need is for Bailey to catch me snooping," Maggie said aloud. She'd slipped around to the back of the hen house out of sight. The rooster crowed then flew to a nearby fence post to rule the chicken yard after being disturbed.

Bailey glanced toward the chicken yard startled by the rooster's crow. Seeing nothing amiss, he picked a jug in each hand and began walking away from the house.

"A-ha! Bet he fixing to get some more of his brew," said Maggie watching Joe Bailey wander away. She followed him at a discreet distance, pausing each time he did. "He's a-heading' for his folk's old homeplace," she said after a few minutes. "Tain't nothing there except the chimney and foundation."

Maggie had a hard time keeping out of sight, but she wasn't about to let her quarry pull a fast one. Not this time. She scrunched down behind a few scraggly bushes of rhododendrons near the ruins of the foundation.

Bailey glanced around after he reached the old root cellar in the small weed-choked hillside. Its door hung loosely on rusted hinges, like all the doors on Bailey's place. the door was minus its paint and there was no lock. Bailey figured he'd found a safe place for his equipment and stash.

Maggie let out the breath she had been holding and stretched her cramped muscles after Bailey disappeared inside. Bailey's dog flopped down outside the door content to let his master carry out his errand. After a couple of minutes Bailey returned. He began walking back home with a jug in each hand.

Maggie slipped out of her hiding place as soon as Bailey was out of sight. "Wait til I tell the Sheriff," she said. Not about to be tricked, she opened the door of the root cellar. It smelled of dank earth and a few wispy cobwebs decorated the walls. At last she sighted the oaken cask and uncorked a single jug of moonshine." "Evidence," she said as she placed it back beside the cask.

Maggie left everything in the root cellar un- disturbed. She'd hurry home across the log foot bridge on Bailey's Branch. Now she'd see Bailey behind bars where he belonged. Justice would be served.

At home once again, she washed her hands and put on her best hat before driving into Kent's Gap to tell the sheriff. She resisted the temptation to speed. Maggie was a law abiding citizen.

Jamie McCall scratched his head as he watched Maggie crank up the Model-T and drive toward town. "What's Maggie up to? She's got a bee in her bonnet 'bout something, mark my words." He could almost see hellfire in her eyes as she drove past the field where he was hoeing weeds.

Maggie scrambled out of the car and slammed the door shut with a decisive bang. She flung open the door to the sheriff's office. "Might be knowin' you'd be playing checkers with the prisoner, instead of doing your sheriffin' properly."

Sheriff Wilson was cheerfully beating Moses Green, the town drunk who spent more nights sleeping in the county jail than home alone. Maggie secretly believed Moses preferred jail's cooking to his own.

"Now Maggie McCall, tell me what's got you all riled up," he said. The sheriff dusted off a straight-backed chair with his red bandanna for her, but Maggie declined.

"Joe Bailey's making his brew up to his folk's old homeplace. I found the shine myself. Now you can catch that dratted man red-handed."

"Yer sure 'bout that. Remember last time you said, John Green had some and not a drop of shine was found on the place. I searched high and low." Sheriff Wilson never discovered the moonshine hidden beneath the fence posts in john Green's barn yard.

'Okie-Dokie. Moses we'll finish this game later."

"You was beatin' me anyway, sheriff."

"Might as well let you go home. Yer time is up."

Maggie followed the sheriff and Moses out of the jail, then headed home behind the sheriff's car. As she drove down the lane she said, "I'd sure like to see Sheriff Wilson catch old Bailey with his hootch." She smiled imagining Bailey behind bars in the county jail. Maggie waited in vain for the sight of Bailey being hauled away in the sheriff's car.

Sheriff Wilson stopped to see Maggie McCall before driving back to town. "Now Maggie, you just got to put a stop on all these infernal notions of folks and their shine. There was no shine, kettles or casks up at Bailey's old homeplace."

"You searched the root cellar, good and proper."

"Yes'm, but no shine. Found some long dead embers in the old fireplace ruins. Probably used by some vagrant to warm hisself. I found nothing illegal."

"I saw it with my own eyes, sheriff. Twas there. I picked up and uncorked a full jug myself, just to be sure."

"Ma'm I know you mean well, but ya got to quit pickin' on innocent fellars like Joe Bailey and John Green."

"Innocent fellar, huh." Maggie said to herself after the sheriff drove away. "I'll just bide my time and make a citizen's arrest. I'll be a-helpin' the sheriff and a doing God's work, too."

'Ye best be minding your P's and Q's, Joe Bailey," she shook her fist toward Bailey's property. She could see the fence was still lacking in the necessary repairs.

The next afternoon Maggie sat on the wooden lawn swing Jamie hung for her under the apple tree. She'd been industriously mending three-cornered tears in Jamie's shirts and darning numerous holes in his socks. Every time she jabbed the needle into the sock, she wished she as jabbing old Bailey with the pitchfork. Maggie laughed at the thought. Her last laugh hung in the air as she sighted one of Bailey's cows headed toward her garden.

She dropped her mending and gave chase to the cow. there were three milk cows in her garden and two more hesitated near the downed fence rails. Maggie decided it was time to settle with Bailey. She looked toward the field where Jamie had been hoeing, but he was missing. "I'll deal with him later."

Maggie herded cows through the downed fence once more. She hastily laid the fence rails back into place and hurried toward Bailey's house. as she rounded the chicken yard, Maggie remembered the traps under the chicken coop. Sure 'nough Bailey's trap held an unfortunate creature.

Maggie soothed and freed the frightened animal. "Now Mrs. Skunk, I told you not to come callin' on Bailey." She started to turn the animal loose so it could make its way home.

"Hallelujah. Bless my soul. That's better than the hoosegow for Bailey," she said as a brilliant idea popped into her head.

"Mrs. Skunk, you just come with me."

Maggie sat the skunk on the ground long enough to prop the door of the hunting house closed with a board making nary a sound.

Before giving Mrs. Skunk a gentle push through one of the holes near the floor of the hunting house, she said, "Just pass on a friendly greeting to these ornery critters and then you can be on your way."

Maggie stepped back to watch. After a moment, there was silence inside as the card game came to a screeching halt. She heard 'What the..." followed by hastily pushed back chairs. the next moment she saw the occupants falling all over each other as they scrambled through the narrow windows. All reeked of the skunks odor.

Mrs. Skunk scampered out a hole and scurried away. Maggie did the same after she saw Jamie crawling through one of the windows. The next morning Joe Bailey fixed his fence.