I feels a bit concerned over my pal Charlie. One day, I sees him driving by in the buckboard and all, with Mrs. Charlie sitting beside him, looking crabby as ever. There was some oddments stacked behind ‘em, but I couldn’t clearly see what they was totin’, the road being a fair stretch away from my front porch.
I says to the Missus, “Missus, you reckon there’s trouble over to Charlie’s? They’s ridin’ to town, and his missus is all gussied up, wearin’ her church hat and all, you know the one with the gaudy bow?”
The Missus don’t ever talk much. She just clobbers the bread dough a little harder, like she were hammerin’ away on a fencepost. Fractious she is sometimes, so I tries not to get her riled up, jus’ let her keep tendin’ her tasks without no interference on my part. Stickin’ yer oar in where it don’t belong, especially when it comes to a woman’s delicate nature, jus’ ain’t right.
P’raps Charlie should learn about not meddlin’ like I did. His gal probably got peevish when he fiddled with her pots and crockery and whatnot, and he probably sent her off to her mother’s till she cooled off.
She’s been gone a good spell now, nigh on a couple months. I says to the Missus, “Missus, do you think she’s not comin’ back? D’you think she’s stayin’ on with her mother?”
The Missus mumbled something about a sani . . . sanitor . . . or some such, but I ain’t heard nothing about Mrs. Charlie being tetched in the head. She’s sane as anyone, jus’ a might prickly at times. I do get about town, not like the Missus, who’s a homebody if there ever was one, and so I manages to get in on a few chinwags, like havin’ my ear on the pulse of the town, so to speak.
Back to Charlie. A few days after he takes his gal away, I sees a big cloud of smoke over his way. I hitches up ol’ Mike and I drive right over, to see if I could help. Right neighbourly of me, I reckon.
I keep behind the trees til I can take stock of the situation, and right aways, I sees what the ruckus is. Charlie’s haulin’ out quilts and straw mattresses and goose down pillows, and he’s burnin’ them. He throws a heap of Mrs. Charlie’s frocks and a bonnet or two into the flames.
It’s worse than I thought. Charlie was in a lather, clearin’ out all his gal’s trinkets and whatnot. Blottin’ out her memory, like. Like a wasp headin’ for a mushy apple, the thought smites me, mebbe she’s dead.
Mebbe, he done her in.
I high-tails it home, coaxing Mike into a jog. I wasn’t goin’ to witness no more criminal activity, hidin’ evidence, as it were.
I says to the Missus, “Missus, do you think he done ‘er in hisself?”
She looks at me with pure orneriness, so I says to myself, “Be easy, ol’ man, or you’ll find yerself at the end of yer rope, too, jus’ like poor Charlie, and you might do something unlawful yerself.”
So I jus’ settles down and tries not to think about the ghastly scene playin’ like a hurdy-gurdy song in my mind. I was feelin’ fractious myself, livin’ so close to a murderous criminal and all.
It weren’t too long after that I sees Charlie ridin’ by with a purty young gal ridin’ high on the buckboard next to him. Had a filly waitin’ in the wings, did he? In no time, there were new curtains flutterin’ at the windows. Settin’ up housekeepin’ already, is she?
I says to the Missus, “Missus, seems we got a killer and a strumpet as neighbours.”
The Missus sashays past me, totin’ a peach pie and murmuring something about lice and Mrs. Charlie’s niece comin’ to lend a hand till Mrs. Charlie comes home again.
I figures I heard wrong, on account of my broodin’ over much on the tragic situation. I’d go have a jaw with the men in town, soothe my spirit, so to speak. I could stop by Pastor Smith’s and notify him of the shameless sin thrivin’ so close to hand.
I hadn’t got a single word out of my mouth with the fellas when I sees Charlie’s buckboard rollin’ by.
And, who’s sittin’ beside him, smilin’ and lookin’ right as rain, but Mrs. Charlie herself.
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