Davy could not endure Jesse Cheek any longer. For sure, he was a good man—he paid four dollars for the trip from Morristown—but his weary eyes penetrated Davy’s soul. When Cheek asked if Davy wanted to wait around Front Royal for a few weeks and then accompany him on the trip back to Tennessee he flashed a broad smile and said yes. He did not mean it. That night Davy pretended to sleep under the wagon while Cheek slumbered above him. He slipped away, taking the trail south. Davy walked until he could not hold his eyes open any longer. He settled under a large spruce tree, listened to cricket song and worried about what to do next. Confusion numbed his brain. The heavy scent of evergreen was everywhere. All he knew for sure as deep sleep overcame him was that he was on the move.
Morning light came through spruce bough and awakened Davy who sat up rubbing his eyes and realized how hungry he was. In a while he heard clomping cattle hooves and gentle lowing. Speeding his step Davy soon saw a small group of cows ambling along and a man riding the horse pulled a small wagon. Davy trotted up beside the man, a short, stocky fellow maybe in his early twenties.
“Hello, sir,” Davy said with a big smile.
“Fine mornin’, ain’t it?”
“That calf there is wanderin’.”
Davy ran over to slap the calf on the rump, causing it to lope back to its mother. “I know all about herdin’.”
“You don’t say.”
“Ma and pa need the money,” he said with purpose, hanging his head. “Times are tough, sir, and I git hired out all the time.”
“I ain’t got no money to hire nobody.”
“Oh, I’m on my way home. I don’t want to git stuck on another drive right now.”
“Where you goin’?”
“That’s the way I’m headed. Morristown.” Davy walked a while without talking. “I hope ma is all right. She was coughin’ real bad when I left.” Nothing more was said for the next few miles. When a cow strayed, Davy prodded it back in line. His stomach growled. “I guess you ate before you broke camp this mornin’.”
“That’s good.” Another mile in silence went by as Davy continued to show his skills in moving cattle with efficiency down a trail Struggling not to sigh out loud, he was about to give up and move on down the road by himself.
“Johnnycake’s in the back of the wagon. Go git it.”
The next days passed with few words, many miles and plain, sturdy food. They continued through the Shenandoah Valley. Soon Davy realized the man stayed on his horse all the time while he had to walk to herd the cattle. As he looked at it, he was doing all the work. This fellow, this man with a paunch and a smug look on his round face, just sat there the entire time and didn’t do a thing to keep the calves in line. A feeling in his gut told Davy this was not fair.
“These rocks git mighty hard on the feet.”
His companion did not answer but kept his eyes on the path ahead.
“I reckon your backside must be gittin’ mighty sore from all that ridin’.” Silence met Davy’s observations. He decided he was not going to abide this. At the next river crossing, the Rappahannock, they passed another wagon going north. Davy right away liked the appearance of the man. He was older than his current companion, and he walked beside his team of oxen, flicking their hindquarters with a leather whip. A black trimmed beard covered his pale face, and small lines surrounded his light gray eyes.
“Good day to you, gentlemen,” the man called out.
“Hello, sir,” Davy replied with a ready grin.
“God bless,” he said nodding with a smile.
The man on the horse ignored the greetings. Davy glanced at him and then back at the man with the black beard.
“Don’t pay him no mind, sir. He’s a good man, but don’t talk much.”
“God gives us voices to keep our fellow men company,” he said as he passed the wagon and cattle.
Davy’s head whipped back and forth a few times, and then he turned on his heal, splashing across the river to the wagon rolling north. “Hello, sir. You need some help?”
David walked into the Gibson County Chancery court with Abner at his side. In front of him were two sets of unfriendly faces—the Patton relatives contesting the will of patriarch Robert Patton and his own family, Elizabeth and their three children. The court clerk John Wesley Crockett, his eldest son from his first marriage, strode into the room. David thought his son looked none too pleased with the proceedings. John Wesley was not a large man, but like his father had a demeanor that demanded attention.
Unlike almost forty years earlier, David could not switch midstream to run away from unpleasant companions. He had to stay and listen to all they had to say.
In eighteen thirty-one David and Elizabeth traveled to visit her father Robert Patton in Buncombe County, North Carolina, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Robert Patton was nearly ninety years old and growing week in body and mind. The Pattons were good people. They donated land for the first Presbyterian Church in the county. Soft of voice and kind of eye, the old man had a special place in David’s heart. He was not a drunk and did not beat his children, So David did not mind when Elizabeth wanted to bring him back to their home in West Tennessee.
“We object to this will,” William Edmondson said, “because it was obviously a connivance of David Crockett and his wife Elizabeth to keep Robert Patton drunk while living in their home the last year of his life and making him write a will favoring them.”
Edmondson was the brother of the man who questioned David’s motives at the Democratic Party meeting. If William Edmondson had not been married to his wife’s sister, David would have beaten the tar out of him.
“That’s a lie!” William Patton yelled from the corner.
David liked his nephew. It was a shame the boy’s father recently died of the pox. A fine young man like that should not have to grow up without a father, he thought.
“They took good care of grandpa, which was more than you did!” William continued.
“Your father would take a switch to you for talkin’ to us like that!” Edmondson retorted.
“My pa’s dead,” William said in a bad temper. “Leave him out of this. Besides, I can’t git my inheritance from grandpa while you’re stirrin’ up all this fuss.”
“William Patton makes a valid point,” John Wesley said. “What evidence do you have to establish your claim that the original will had been changed after Mr. Patton moved to West Tennessee?”
He sure talked good, David thought about his son. John Wesley got his gift of gab from him. John Wesley married well. His wife’s father was a judge in Memphis and taught him to be a lawyer.
“I’m not sayin’ my wife’s sister did anythin’ wrong,” Edmondson replied, looking down. “She’s a good, carin’ woman who deserves better that she’s got in life.”
That was a slap in the face, David decided. He had always done right by his wife and his children, at least he thought he had done the best he could. Whether they thought so, well, that was another matter. He looked across the room at Elizabeth and his three children, Robert, Sissy and Matilda. David stared into her eyes to figure out what she was thinking or how she felt. Elizabeth was mighty good at keeping her feelings to herself. When he built his cabin at the Rutherford Fork of the Obion River in Weakley County she chose to take her children to be near her family in Gibson County, the same family who was now contesting the will. He never understood why she did not move with him and he did not have the courage to ask.
A chair scraped the floor, bringing David’s thoughts back to the court proceeding. He saw Hance McWhorter lift his massive body and lean forward.
“My wife’s father only left us ten dollars,” he said in a raspy voice. “And the Edmondsons only got ten dollars.”
“Didn’t you borrow three thousand dollars a few years ago from the old man?” Abner asked. “And you didn’t pay it back?”
“Well, we needed the money.” Edmondson looked down and shuffled his feet. “And, durn it, Sarah deserved it.”
“Of course, she did,” Abner said, nodding in agreement. He then turned to McWhorter. “And you, Hance, did you and Ann git an extra three hundred acres back when Robert Patton divided up some land between the children?”
“That was a court mistake,” McWhorter said in a huff. “I don’t see why we should git hurt ‘cause the court made a mistake.” He sniffed. “Besides, Ann deserves her share jest like the rest of ‘em.”
“Jest like Elizabeth and Margaret deserve it, too. And their brother George.”
“By the way,” John Wesley interjected, “where is George Patton?”
“He’s in North Carolina,” McWhorter answered with a rasp.
“Does he object to the will?” John Wesley asked.
“We don’t know,” Edmonson said. “He ain’t got back to us yet.”
“I wouldn’t think he would,” Abner said with a smile. “He got an equal portion to the Burgins and the Crocketts.”
“Is that so?” John Wesley looked at Edmondson.
“I reckon,” he replied.
“Well, the court is not going to make another mistake.” John Wesley leaned back in his chair. “I’m not making any decision until I hear from George Patton.”
“But he ain’t here,”Edmondson said in protest.
“How are we supposed to git ‘im here?” McWhorter asked.
“That’s your problem.” John Wesley rapped his gavel and stood. “I am done.” He looked at his father and gave him a diffident nod and walked out.
The Edmondsons and McWhorters grumbled among themselves as they left the room. David shook hands with William.
“Thanks for standin’ up for us, William.”
“Aw, that’s the least I could do,” he replied with a shy smile.
“And you done won the day, Abner,” David said and slapped him on the back.
After Abner and his wife Margaret and William left, decided he needed to walk across the room to his family, but he found his legs unwilling to move. Then he realized the decision was longer his to make, because they were coming toward him. Following the habits developed when he was a boy in Morristown, he had an intense desire to run away.
Dave took the California Street exit off Interstate 35 and drove into Gainesville. At the first traffic light, he looked over at an old, run-down ice cream shop. When he was eighteen Dave brought Allan home from the Wichita Falls state mental hospital after the first of many commitments. Dave remembered how he bravely thought his brother was better. Perhaps Allan would be able to hold a job. Maybe life would work out for him, maybe. Allan told him to stop at the ice cream shop. Air went out of Dave’s lungs when Allan ordered two double scoop cones and started licking them both at the same time.
“I’ve got to put some weight on. They don’t feed you anything at the mental hospital.”
Dave remembered a group of guys from his high school that sat in the corner and sniggered and pointed at Allan. Maybe Allan would never be any better, he admitted to himself. He ushered his brother out of the shop as quickly as possible and opened the car door for him.
“Daddy isn’t home yet, is he?”
“I dread—oh, he’s such a sweet old man. At least Vince isn’t here.” Ice cream dripped down on his hands, and Allan hungrily licked it up. “Always thought he was so tough. Big tough Vince had to join the Marines. I hope the Viet Cong kills him.”
Dave shook his head to forget that day as the light turned green and he continued down California Street toward downtown. As he passed the courthouse he glanced down a side street at the county jail.
“Vince,” he mumbled, thinking of another day. It was two years after bringing Allan home from the mental hospital. He had to drive Vince home from jail. Dave was finishing two years at the junior college and saving his money to go to East Texas State University. Vince called him and told him to go to the bank, withdraw five hundred dollars and bring it to the jail. He waited in the lobby for his brother to come through a large thick door accompanied by a deputy.
“Did you bring the money?”
“Yeah.” Dave felt the same embarrassment as he had at the ice cream shop, although this time no one was in the room sniggering.
“Okay. Give it to the cashier, and let’s get out of here.”
This was not the first time Vince had been in jail for drunk driving, but this was the first time Vince had called him instead of their father to bail him out.
“Are you sure dad will give me the money?” Dave asked, stammering. “I mean, five hundred dollars is a lot of money.”
“Just give the cashier the damn money and let’s get the hell out of here.”
After his day in court, Vince came home with a big grin on his face.
“”I talked the judge into reducing the fine from the five hundred dollar bail to three hundred and fifty because it had come from my brother who needed it for college.” Vince handed over one hundred. “I kept fifty for doing you such a good favor.”
Not out of jail a week and Vince was drunk again. Part of the fifty went, to buy beer. Dave never held any illusions about Vince. He knew he was a drunk and would always be a drunk.
Finally he pulled into the driveway of his father’s house with dark brown siding and white roof shingles. The bushes were overgrown and the overall look of the house was shabby. With a heavy sigh, he got out of his car and pulled out his suitcase.
“Puppy Crockett? Is that you?” an old woman called out.
Dave walked a few steps toward the neighbor’s white clapboard house where a fat gray-haired woman leaned forward in a rocking chair on her front porch.
“Yes, Mrs. Burch, how are you?”
“Moving back home?”
“No, Mrs. Burch, I’m in for the funeral.”
“I heard about it on the radio. I didn’t even know they’d let him out of the mental hospital that last time.”
“I didn’t either.”
“The last time I saw him he looked awful. Half of his teeth rotted out. And his hair had turned white.”
“I hadn’t seen him the last few years.”
“You look good, Puppy.”
“Oh.” Dave smiled. “I try to take care of myself.”
“Well, it was nice talking to you, Puppy.” She leaned back in her chair and began rocking.
Dave took his bad and walked across the lawn of uncut weeds to the porch. Stepping with care around a rotted plank, he reached the open front door and heard a baseball game blasting from the television. Suddenly a primeval urge wrenched his gut, an old feeling, even older than his own life, to run away.