Why, Lizzie Beth, how good it is to see you. I was just lamenting that you and me couldn't go up to the grave yard this year. I've made that trip every Halloween fer I don't know how long and it seems hard to miss it. But 'pears I'm gonna be stuck here a while yet.
Well, what about it! If you ain't brought me some spice cake. I fancied I was smelling spice cake but then I thought it was just my imaginer working overtime 'cause of I was thinking about the graveyard on this day when I usually carry spice cake up there.
Oh, my, Lizzie Beth -- it's still warm. Law that's good! I thank you kindly.
Yes, I was laying here just naming them over, all my friends and family up there. Luther and Cletus and my angels, along with Little Loy and Ester and all them I told you of. . .
And I was thinking of the smell and sound of the fallen leaves and the way the colors stands bold against the sky. . .
Look there out my window -- there above the roof. See how the pines dance against the sky. Them trees and that sky is keeping me where I need to be when this room starts to close in on me and the everlasting sound of the TVs fills up my ears and that poor old woman down the hall cries out -- she ain't right in her head, the aide told me, and thinks folks are trying to kill her.
The aides and nurses here is a good bunch and today there was a new one with the reddest hair you ever saw come in to bring me my breakfast and that red hair set me to thinking about Amory Wills and his wild girl. I ain't told you of Amory yet, have I?
Push that commode aside and set in the wheelchair, why don't you?
Luther it was who told me this story and he had it from Amory's nearest neighbor Gid Cutshall.
Now Amory was the last of his family and lived up 'Simmon Cove, in the old house where he was born. One by one his sisters had married and his brothers had gone off to Detroit, leaving Amory to care for his mama -- his daddy had died right young. And his mama was a sour sort, dragged down by the hard times she'd seen but when she took sick and couldn't hardly go, Amory cared for her better'n any daughter might have. It was one of those wasting sicknesses and she lingered on for several years, getting littler and meaner every day till she plumb swivvled up to just a little piece of hatefulness.
Neighbors come by to try to lend a hand but she run 'em off one by one, saying Amory could do for her. And Amory would just shake his head and say she weren't no trouble and he didn't mind.
Finally the old woman passed away and all the neighbors began to hope that Amory, who weren't yet forty, might have a chance to make him some kind of a life. He was a fine-looking feller and more than one young woman made sure to take a pie or some such up to him, by way of being neighborly after his mama passed.
But seemed like Amory weren't looking to make a match with no one. Oh, he ate them pies and the girls would find the pie tins in their mailboxes, washed clean. Some of 'em kept trying but when they got no more encouragement than a clean pie tin, at last they give it up, figgering he just weren't the marrying kind.
Now it fell out that a fox or some varmint was particular bold that fall after Amory's mama passed and was about to eat up every chicken in the holler. Amory had lost several young hens -- taken right from the chicken house -- and he determined to set a trap and make an end of the slaughter. "Or I'll have no eggs for breakfast nor fried chicken on Sundays," said he.
So he set him a trap right where the varmint had broke in before. And come morning, when he hurried out to see had he done any good, he'd caught something, all right -- he could see the red fox color there against the fallen leaves. But as he got closer, lo and behold, it weren't no fox, but a young woman, her tangled red hair blazing in the rising sun.
She was skinny and ragged and scared to death. The trap had closed on her ankle and she hadn't been able to work it loose though her white skin was bloody with the struggle.
Now this was back in the Thirties when there was all manner of tramps and hobos and wanderers -- folks whose farms had been foreclosed on and who'd taken to the road in search of someway to make a living. Amory figgered she was likely one of these and, tender-hearted as he was, he set down beside her, talking gentle as he eased the trap from her slender ankle.
"If you're hungry," says he, "come up to the house and share my breakfast, Eggs is better cooked with streaky meat and I've got cornbread a-bakin'."
She looked up at him for the longest time with her strange pale yellow-brown eyes and at last she nodded. And when he got the jaws of the trap loose and helped her to stand, she followed him like a puppy to the house. At first she balked at entering the door but Amory left it wide as he went to fixing some breakfast and by and by, in she crept. And when he set two plates on the table and took his seat, by golly, down she sat in the other chair and lit into that food like she was a starving thing.
She was still eating while he filled a zinc washtub with water he'd heated on the stove, laid out soap and towels along with some of his mama's clean clothes, and went out to do his chores, leaving the wild girl mopping the egg yolks from her plate with a piece of corn bread.
"You'd feel better, was you clean," says he and off he went with never a thought for his few valuables. And when he come back, there she sat on her chair, scrubbed clean, hair shining like a sunrise, and wearing a pale green dress that his mama had sewed before she got so sick. And then the girl smiled at him.
Amory's heart turned over in his bosom. But he knew he must go easy and slow and he asked her did she want to stay on a while and help with the farm. "I can give you my mama's room and plenty to eat but cash is scarce just now," says he. And her eyes got wide and she looked toward the open door but then she looked back at him and smiled that smile again.
From what I heard, Amory treated her like a wild thing he was trying to gentle -- fed her and talked soft to her, and left the door half open so's she could leave ever when she wanted.
Word got round that Amory had a woman living there with him. Of course, all them pie makers got their noses out of joint and had to traipse up there to see who it was had won over the bachelor they'd all tried for.
"They's something uncanny about her," said one, after trying to talk Amory and the wild girl into coming to church. "She don't say a word, just sets there squnched up close to Amory and him stroking that ugly red hair of hern like she was a cat. He says her name is Ruby but he don't appear to have no notion of what her last name is nor where she come from."
"I don't believe she does a lick of work around the place," said another. "Did you ever see such pale skin? And those eyes. They just ain't natural."
Well, the tale of Amory's wild girl was a nine day's wonder but by and by folks stopped talking about her. Times was hard and everyone had to tend to getting their own living without worrying about this stranger up 'Simmon Cove. And Amory had always been a solitary somebody anyway.
It weren't till sometime the next summer that Amory appeared at Granny Cutshall's house, wild-eyed and weeping. "Come quick," says he. "I believe Ruby's near her time."
Granny packed her midwife's bag and got up on the mule behind Amory and they set off at a pace she said like to have been the end of her. As they drew near the cabin, a vixen with something in her mouth dashed under the mule's nose and up into the woods but Amory didn't pay it no mind, just hauled Granny Cutshall offen that mule and towed her into the house.
The bed in Ruby's room was empty but the covers was thrown back and the sheets was all streaked with blood. Amory stood gaping then let out a cry and ran out of the cabin, calling for Ruby.
Him and Granny Cutshall searched and searched but not a sign of the wild girl did they find. Granny managed to make Amory understand that the stains on the linens was just what come with birthing -- and that sometimes women got took quare after childbirth.
"Women," says Amory. "Women sometimes do."
And he cast a terrible look all around the slopes of 'Simmon Cove afore putting Granny back on the mule and carrying her back home.
He never was the same after that. Let the house fall down around him and let his garden grow up. He tended a big patch of field corn though to feed the mule and the great flock of chickens that he kept. Folks said that every night he'd let one of those chickens loose and set there near the edge of the woods, waiting to see did a fox come for it.
It was a few years later, folks begun to fear something had happened to Amory for his mule had come down the road, without its halter on. A few men went up to check on him but he weren't in the cabin nor the barn.
What few chickens was left was all up in the trees, like something was after them and the men began to study the ground, looking for tracks.
"Over here," says one. "There's boot prints leading off into the woods. Maybe he's gone after whatever has the chickens so stirred up.
They found him, dead as a hammer, and curled up by a big old rock, the size of a Chevrolet truck, Gid said. Something had dug out a den under that rock -- foxes, by the rank smell of it, they said.
There weren't a mark on Amory -- he looked to have died peaceful and happy. There was a kind of a smile on his face and wrapped around his hand was a long hank of the purtiest bright red hair you ever saw.
You what? You got to leave now so you can take some ginger cake to my folks up in the graveyard? Now if you ain't a good somebody. Just tell Luther and Cletus and all the others that I'm holding my own and I'll be along to visit with them before the year is out.
And, Lizzie Beth? When you go sharing out that cake amongst the stones, when you come to where Amory lies there on the edge of the woods, you put some on his stone then fling another piece out amongst the trees -- just in case the wild girl's nigh.