Through night mists Davy ran, sure he could still hear Stasney’s stomping behind him. He turned one corner and then another to try to elude him, but he could still hear the captain’s muffled obscenities. Looking around, Davy sensed familiar surroundings. A brick row house with ivy around the door sparked a particular memory, especially the scent of gardenias.
“Well, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
Davy turned his head to see Lula, her rouged cheeks rounded into a smile. She wore the same crimson coat with a fur collar.
“He’s after me,” he said out of breath.
“Oh,” Lula said with a knowing smile. “I knew you looked like a cabin boy he’d take to, but you didn’t seem to be that kind of cabin boy.” They both turned their heads toward an animal’s bellowing. Lula pushed Davy toward the door. “Get inside.”
Davy looked around, startled to see so much red in a room, carpeting, furniture and curtains. A large, older woman dressed only in a pink flowing nightgown came forward.
“Hide ‘em,” Lula said.
The older woman nodded and pushed him under a long sofa and sat in front of him. Stasney appeared in their doorway.
“That little hooligan cut me.”
“He cut me!” he said at the top of his voice and with difficulty.
“What boy?” Lula turned to hang up her coat.
“Oh. Him.” She looked at Stasney with no expression. “Why did he do that?”
“None of your damn business!”
“Then why are you here?”
“’Cause he’s the type of jackass that would come back sniffin’ around a place like this!”
“I like you better when you don’t use so many words.”
“So?” Lula asked.
“If you see him,” he said, “tell ‘im he’s a dead man!”
“Why would I see ‘im?”
Davy liked Lula. She knew how to lie almost as good as he did.
“You already said that.”
Stasney stormed from the house, slamming the door behind him.
Sliding from under the sofa, Davy stood in apprehension.
“You better wait an hour before you go out,” Lula said, walking toward him.
His eyes widened, and his heart beat faster while he nodded.
“Don’t be afraid of me.” Lula touched his red handkerchief. “I better take this off you. The folks back home won’t understand.”
An hour later Lula kissed Davy’s cheek, and he quickly wiped her lipstick off and disappeared in the night, not knowing where to go. He reached one street which he recognized as the road to Jonesboro. Stopping, he considered the consequences of returning to Adam Myers and without any doubt another wallop up side his head. His gaze went toward to Fell’s Point, and Davy decided anything would be better than being Captain Stasney’s cabin boy. He headed down the black path to Jonesboro. Back at the boardinghouse, he walked up the steps, stopping every time he heard a creak. By the time he reached the top of the landing Davy heard stirring behind the door. His breath stuck in his throat as he heard Meyers call out, “Who’s there?”
Davy could not respond.
“Master Crockett?” Meyers said with hope in his voice.
Throwing open the door, Meyers, wearing a long night shirt, smiled as he focused on the boy.
“I heard you coming from afar,” he said in a mellifluous tone as he hugged Davy. “And I ran from my bed to kiss you about the neck.”
His hug was not scary like Stasney’s presence but was almost comforting and prompted tears from him. Meyers pulled away and looked at him from arms’ length, smiling. His arm around the boy’s shoulders he led him into the room and sat him down on the bed.
“Now, what happened?” He sat next to him. “I would never forgive myself if my actions drove you away.”
Davy’s vision shifted up to Meyers’ sanctimonious face, and he decided to feed into the man’s ego. “Sir, I have sinned.” He looked back at the floor. “I admit I didn’t want to follow your leadership, so I slipped out in the middle of the night and made my way to Baltimore harbor. This captain was lookin’ for a new cabin boy. So today I compete against other boys for the job.” He looked up. “You would’ve been proud of me. I ran fast. I climbed the master staff. I loaded baskets of oranges. All better than the other boys.”
“Very good.” Meyers nodded.
“He chose me by the end of the day. I was goin’ to sail the world with him, but tonight, the captain showed his true colors by takin’ me to this house.” He paused to gain the proper dramatic emphasis. “There was women with red cheeks.”
“So I ran away.” His eyes went down again. “I knew it was sinful. I remembered what you said. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Of course I can.”
Before he knew it, Davy felt Meyers’ open palm hard against his temple. Looking up he saw the man’s narrowing eyes.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
David rode his horse down the hill following the butterfly as it flitted along the gently sloping hill. When it left the trodden path along a stretch of milkweed, David dismounted to watch the monarch. Butterflies always drew David; perhaps, they represented happiness to him, tantalizing, just out of reach. After he and Elizabeth moved to Lawrence County in east Tennessee, David bought land near Shoal Creek headspring and built a water-powered gristmill, gunpowder factory, distillery and iron-ore mine. He thought he was passing from a lower economic class to a higher one. He had won his first political post, justice of the peace, followed by election to the state legislature in Murfreesboro.
The floods destroyed the mill, factory and mine. Since the mill no longer ground corn, the distillery closed which effectively erased the Crockett fortune. They had to sell their land to pay their debts. They looked for cheaper land in West Tennessee around the Obion River valley. The New Madrid earthquake earlier in the century decimated trees and created other-worldly swamps, but David liked it. Turkey, elk, deer and black bear were abundant, which fed his urge to hunt. Maybe that was why he never seemed to be able to make money. The scents and sounds of wild animals drew his attention away every time he was on the verge of a profitable scheme. Once he tried to make Obion Lake navigable to the Mississippi so he could transport lumber, but the lure of black bear drew him away. While his hired men wallowed in muck David bagged more than a hundred bears. In the end he had enough bear meat, oil and pelts to sell to everyone along Rutherford Fork, but the navigation of Obion Lake was never completed.
When the Crocketts moved to upper west Tennessee Elizabeth chose to buy her own land and build her own house ten miles away from David’s cabin on the Rutherford Fork. He often spent time at her house with the children but she never spent more than a night or two at his place. She came to visit his parents and siblings who moved west to be near David. The Pattons also came west, but they tended to settle near Elizabeth, across the line in Weakly County.
Sometimes he did not mind they were not in the same house all the time. She tended to be harsh on his inability to concentrate on business. Instead of lunging into the wilderness during the winter to hunt he should have stayed to help with their farm, Elizabeth often told him. Instead of politicking, which she perceived as one drunken gathering after another, David should have made a second attempt at building and operating a mill.
But he did build another gristmill, David argued with Elizabeth. A shack, she replied, and powered by a single horse. How much money could that make, she asked. Next to none, she answered before he could reply. Anyway, she added, he sold it along with his farm to finance another congressional campaign. Now he had no land and no seat in Congress. The cabin he shared with his mother the last year of her life was leased, with an option to buy. Now David surrendered that option to move to Texas because he could never be elected any office again in Tennessee.
He stood immobile and like a ghost as he gazed at the monarch butterfly alighting on a milkweed stalk next to him. A knot tightened in his stomach as he became conscious of how much he was similar to the black and orange delicate creature. Imagine, he told himself, a man with only four days of schooling occupying the highest office in the land, able to lend a hand to people like him, without property or without the ability to control their own destiny. For three terms in the House of Representatives he failed to push into law his legislation to permit federal lands in western Tennessee to be sold at discount prices so common folks could afford to buy a few acres. All that was a dream which was so easily destroyed.
David’s hands engulfed the butterfly. He smiled with kindness at it. “I’ll be careful li’l fellow. I ain’t goin’ to hurt you.”
For some reason David was compelled to take the monarch down the road to show to Elizabeth and his children. Perhaps, he thought, if they saw the butterfly they would smile more kindly on him as he stopped to say good-bye before leaving for Texas. Perhaps, he hoped, they would hold him with gentleness before letting him fly away.
“All right, boys,” Lonnie’s voice boomed out. “Breakfast is about ready.”
Dave’s eyes twitched as he came out of a deep sleep. He dreamed about how Vince used to tell him he was a worthless scuzzy little worm. As he awoke he became aware that his knuckles ached. Looking down he saw the skin was red and the joints swollen. Then Dave remembered hitting Vince, something he had always wanted to do but now regretted. He had lowered himself to the level of a drunken animal. Quickly he slipped on his shirt and jeans and was about to open the door when he hear Vince moan.
“Gawd, I wish pop’d shut up,” he said as he rolled over.
“Boys, the eggs are going to get cold,” Lonnie yelled from the kitchen.
“He’s not going to let you sleep.”
“Damn.” Vince sat up.
Dave examined the bruises on his brother’s face. “Does that hurt?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Vince stood and slipped on a pair of jeans.
“I ain’t mad about it, okay? A lot of shit hit the fan, that’s all.”
“Yeah.” Dave opened the door.
“Puppy,” Vince whispered. “I never did thank you for bailing me out of jail that time.” He paused. “Thank you.”
Dave walked out. Vince followed him down the hall into the living room, and they sat at the dining table as Lonnie placed a platter of fried eggs, toast and bacon in front of them. He stopped short as he saw Vince’s face.
“What happened to you?”
“We had a fight.” Dave looked down.
“Nothing,” Vince mumbled.
“Looks like a whole lot of nothing to me.” Lonnie laughed deep from his belly.
“Drop it,” Vince said tersely.
“I can’t say nothing,” Lonnie muttered, turning back to the kitchen for the coffee. After bring two cups to the table he poured a third for himself and sat.
“Puppy told me you wanted him to take care of you.”
“Don’t get nervous about it,” Lonnie said, stuffing fried eggs in his mouth.
“Pop, why don’t you trust me?”
Dave could not eat. He felt the urge to leave the room. After all, he had to take a bath and dress for the funeral. He did not want to hear this conversation.
“Vince, you was the one I thought I’d always depend on. Allan was a sexomaniac. Puppy was always so nervous all the time. Then you started that drinking.”
“Don’t worry about it. They say drunks can’t help it.” He paused to swallow his food and drink his coffee. “I ain’t never had to depend on nobody.”
“I know, Pop, but—“
“I can’t trust you, son.” Lonnie looked across the table at Vince. “You can’t manage your life so how can you manage mine?”
“I can manage myself.” Vince’s voice intensified with anger.
“That’s why I didn’t want Puppy to tell you.” Lonnie pursed his lips. “You get madder faster than anybody I ever knew.”
“No, no, Pop,” Vince said. “That’s okay. I understand—I mean, I don’t really understand, but I’m trying to.”
Lonnie shook his head and stuffed a piece of bacon in his mouth. “I ain’t going to talk about it no more.”
Vince stood and walked around the room with a little hippity-hop which Dave recognized as Vince’s way of trying to control his anger. Vince stopped by the painting of their mother.
“This is good. Of course, the hair color is all wrong.”
“What?” Lonnie asked, looking up with a piece of toast to his lips.
“The hair color is all wrong.”
“Naw, it ain’t. That’s the color of your mother’s hair when we first got married.” Lonnie stood and walked to the painting, light touching his wife’s lips in the portrait. “There’s some nights when I get a Charlie horse and have to walk it out—well, I come out and jest stare at it. What it was like to be young and have a pretty thing like that on my arm.” He patted Vince on the back. “You done a good thing when you had that done.”
“But it wasn’t me.”
“I thought you spent your newspaper route money to get it.”
“It was Puppy when he was the church janitor.”
“Didn’t you have a paper route?”
“Yeah, but that was before mom died.”
“How did you know about the hair color?” Lonnie turned to Dave who was finishing his coffee.
“I told the painter it was my hair color.”
“You know, that’s right.” Lonnie looked back at the painting. “You do have her color. Well, what do you know about that?”
“You see, Puppy,” Vince said, “I was wrong.”
“Dad, you better get dressed,” Dave said.
“Yeah, we have to leave soon.” Lonnie looked at Vince. “You still ain’t going, right?”
“Right,” Vince replied.
“Good.” Lonnie walked down the hall to his bedroom. “Ain’t no need in it.”