by J. R. Lindermuth
Throughout this week leading up to Mother’s Day we will be publishing several mother related mystery short stories and one non-mystery one–2 are already up. Dangerous To Mess With was originally published in Mysterical E. JR said when he sent it to us that the mother in this one isn’t very nice–but perhaps it will encourage everyone to better appreciate their mothers 🙂 Be sure and come back this week to check out the rest of the stories! You can also find all of them after they are posted, and many others, along with other short stories by JR, in our Terrific Tales section!
“Woman has no virtue,” Simon Kemble said.
Can’t rightly say I disagreed with him, but a sheriff’s got to take things at face value. Can’t go making accusations without proof or contributing to speculation on the nature of a person. I looked from Kemble to the girl seated beside him at his kitchen table. She sure matched the description of Mary Ann Hewitt.
Aged about 17 years, about 5 feet 3 or 4 inches high, brown hair, shows dimples in both cheeks when laughing; wearing blue skirt, light coat and brown hat.
But it wasn’t her. Despite the resemblance, Lucy Prime had proven her identity to my satisfaction. How could I argue with a birth certificate? It was Kemble’s idea she use an alias when she came to work as a domestic for him. It was also his idea she stay hidden the first time I came looking for her. Might add it irked me having to drive twelve miles through January mud twice before learning the truth, but I knew now it wasn’t them sent me on this wild goose chase.
Mary Ann Hewitt had run off with the collection box from a church in a neighboring county several months earlier. Her description had been telegraphed far and wide and a substantial reward offered for her capture. When a letter arrived saying she was at the Kemble farm I had to investigate. Not that I was interested in the reward. Just doing what I get paid for.
“Girl has a legacy coming once she’s of age,” Kemble told me. “Lucy’s mother abandoned her to her grandmother when she was just a babe. Now she smells money and wants to get her hands on it. Caused so much trouble for the poor girl she had no choice but to take on a new name and flee. Told me the whole truth when I hired her.”
“How’d you know she wasn’t lyin’ to you?”
“’Cause I’m a good judge of character. People don’t lie to me.”
I don’t know about character, but Kemble isn’t one I’d want to deceive. Man has a reputation as a hexerei. I haint superstitious, but I don’t take chances with possibilities either; been some reports of strange things happening to people who messed with the man. Can’t say I believe all the talk. Can’t disprove it either.
“Would you like another cup of coffee, sheriff?” Lucy asked.
“Don’t mind if I do.” It was nice and warm there by the stove, the coffee was good and I was in no hurry to get back to my office.
She brought the coffee and a plate of fresh molasses cookies and we sat there together sipping and nibbling awhile in silence. The wind blew fresh snow against the house. The fire crackled in the stove and a clock ticked in another room. Then I asked, “How’d her mother come to know she was at your place?”
“I don’t know how she found out,” Lucy said, “but now I’m going to have to run again.” Her eyes brimmed with tears and she wiped them away with her sleeve.
Kemble laid an affectionate hand on her arm. “You’ll do no such thing, girl. She’s got no right to your money. You just stay here with me and I’ll protect you. Damned if I won’t.”
The girl’s distress moved me. “I don’t know what good it will do,” I told her before I left, “but you tell me where I can find her and I’ll talk to your mother. See if she won’t let you alone.”
It was a few days before I tracked down Della Prime. Seems she’d gone through a couple more names and men before reverting to the original and coming back to the shack near Arahpot, where she’d abandoned Lucy years before. Kemble was right about one thing. The woman had no virtue.
“Money’s mine by right,” she said, screwing up her narrow, nasty face. “Me and him never divorced,” she said, referring to her late husband, Lucy’s father, “so I’m entitled.”
“Money came from her grandmother–Mister Prime’s mother.”
“Same thing, haint it? What’s his is mine by law.”
“You abandoned her–your own daughter.”
She shrugged. “Had no choice at the time. Now I’m back. I get the money I’ll take care on her. You can tell her that.”
I left then; couldn’t take another minute in the woman’s company. Didn’t see nothing I could do by law neither, though I felt truly sorry on Lucy’s account.
It wasn’t until sometime after the spring thaw I came across Kemble and Lucy again, in Arahpot for market, newly married the two of them and looking as happy as two pigs in a trough.
“How’ve you been?” I asked and then, after the usual round of news and gossip, brought up the subject of Lucy’s mother.
“Oh, she won’t be botherin’ us no more,” Kemble said, a big grin on his homely face as he threw an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
“Why, didn’t you hear? Snake-bit in early spring when she went to get some kindling for her stove. She was all by her self out there at her house and was too far gone for help by the time she walked into town.”
My suspicious mind set to speculating. He has a reputation, you know. Still, they looked so happy and I was truly glad for the girl. And, like I said, I’m not one to take chances with possibilities.
Besides, Kemble was right about one thing–a woman who’d take advantage of her own daughter has no virtue.