That fall morning, when the old woman looked up from the sink and out the window, she saw them coming maybe
two hundred yards away. The sun was up three full hours and bright behind them, outlining the riders like
actors on an outdoor stage. She couldn't quite make out faces but she knew one had to be the sheriff. There
were four of them now, stopped under the trees at the side of the road. One got off his horse and was looking
around at the edge of the road. He bent down to examine something, then stood up and pointed toward her place.
He mounted and all four started through the thin stand of red maples rich with color. In the still air the
leaves floated slowly down.
She called over her shoulder: "It's them. Hurry it up. And, Lily, you take that pistol. There's not going to
be any shooting in my house."
Behind her were scuffling sounds, something being slid across the board floor, then the flap of a carpet. She
glanced back to see Lily straightening the carpet and putting the rocker back on it. Lily turned to her, the
Colt in her hand.
"Hide that under the pillow in my room. Be quick, girl."
Lily, young and pretty, was quick. When she returned the dogs had just greeted the visitors.
The old woman went to the door and waited a moment as she took several deep breaths. She opened the door and stepped out.
They were now passing by the barn and the dogs were yelping and snapping at the horses' legs. The chickens rushed
back into the barn and the rooster clawed the earth and complained.
The woman called: "Rascal! Beauregard! Hey! Quiet! I mean it!" She picked up a stone and slung it at the nearest dog.
The stone skipped under its feet and it stopped yelping. The other dog barked twice more before stopping. The two
dogs backed off but still watched, still ready.
The four rode up to a few feet from her and the tall man with the mustache, the one wearing the sheriff's star,
dismounted. "Granny Selden, I suppose you know why we're here."
"Nope. Murray, I have no idea why you're out this way unless you just felt like visiting a lonely old woman."
"No, Granny, we're looking for your sister's grandson, Mason."
"Well, why ain't you at her place?"
"Because his trail leads here."
"Well, common sense says he came here."
"Common sense could be wrong too."
"You wouldn't mind if we look around, would you?"
"I don't mind—but don't scare my chickens or disturb Bess. She gets upset she won't give milk for a day
or two. And you watch out for my dogs. You get bit it's your own fault. Don't bother Chestnut neither. He's in
the far pasture trying to find good grass. He's two years but still skittish."
One of the men asked, "Sheriff, we gonna sit here listenin' to her or get on with it?"
The sheriff turned around and snapped: "Watch your mouth, Rhodes. Don't you have enough sense to be polite? We
come on her place. This is her land." He faced Granny now and said, "I'm right sorry about that. We'll be
careful about your stock and such."
"Dog bite me and it'll be a dead dog," Rhodes said.
The old woman said, "You kill one of my dogs and I'll get my shotgun and blow a hole in you big enough for a dog to jump through."
"All right," the sheriff said. "Now you three search the barn and all around. Don't forget to poke any piles of hay."
"I suppose," the old woman said, "you want to look in the house. C'mon then."
The sheriff followed the old woman into the house. Lily had the oven door open and was looking in. She held a fork
and only glanced at him. She reached in and then stood up and showed the fork to the old woman.
"Granny, it's clean. Nothing stuck."
"It's done then, girl. Take it out and put it on the counter."
Lily took a thick towel to cover her hands and pulled out a pie pan full of a deep-orange colored pie. She set
the pan on a wood plate on the counter by the sink.
"Smells good, Granny. Looks like sweet potato pie."
"That's what it is."
The sheriff said, "Long time since I had any sweet potato pie. They don't seem to know how to make it around here."
"It's my James' mama's recipe but I don't have any bourbon. He was from down by Helena but his folks come from
Clarksdale. I'm a Coldwater girl and natural for me to use bourbon, but vanilla'll do in a pinch. Search the
place if you want then sit yourself down and Lily will cut you a slice . . . even though you
go 'gainst your own kind."
The sheriff went through the few rooms: the parlor, the small bedroom, and the old woman's bedroom. He looked in
closets and under the beds. He came into the kitchen and looked in the pantry. He stopped by the rocking chair.
"I see you got a carpet here."
"Yep. The rockers mark up the floor."
He nodded. "You worried about somebody getting you at night?"
"Why you ask?"
"I noticed you sleep with a forty-four under your pillow."
"An old woman can't be too careful out here alone."
"I see. But you have your shotgun in the pantry and the girl here."
"Lily just come for a visit and I might not be able to get to the pantry."
He went over to the table and sat down and Lily brought him a slice of pie on a good plate. She
gave him a fork and filled a cup with fresh coffee.
The old woman sat down at the table. She watched him eat. He took a few bites and smiled and said,
"I near forgot how good this is. It's worth comin' all the way out here just for one bite."
"You're welcome to it, Murray. You were a good man before you became sheriff."
He smiled and kept eating.
"I knew you when you were no bigger'n a pup. You was a little ornery but your Mary settled you down."
He finished the pie and leaned back as he drank the coffee.
He said, "Granny, I know Mason came here. Don't pretend otherwise."
"Why you after him?"
"He shot a man."
"What sort of man?"
"One of those detectives."
"Well, I didn't know it was a crime to kill a snake. Was it a fair fight?"
"The detective never pulled a gun."
"That don't mean nothin'."
"Well, Granny, it's not for me to decide. My job is to bring him in."
"Well, he ain't here, but you're welcome to tear the place down if you have to."
"I tell you I know he came here. Probably late last night or this morning before dawn."
"Nobody come by. The dogs would've barked and raised a fuss."
"Not if they knew him."
She didn't answer that.
Someone knocked on the door and the old woman motioned to Lily.
It was one of the riders. He said, "Sheriff, we found tracks leading out of the barn
going straight west. Same horse with the bent nail shoe."
"All right. I'll be right with you."
The sheriff stood up and shook his head. "Granny, he did come here."
"I won't lie to you, Murray. He did. He was tuckered out and I let him rest a bit and gave him water. You gonna
arrest me for that?"
The sheriff went by her to go outside. He looked around. "Say, I ain't seen your hired hand about."
"Clarence? He's visiting that widow has a farm outside Palmyra. He helps her with the work . . . and what else she needs."
The sheriff went over to his horse and mounted. "Thanks for the pie, Granny. I'll come back for more some day
when I'm not in such a hurry."
"You're welcome if you bring Mary and forget that star there on your chest."
He smiled and tipped his hat and turned his horse and led the others around the side of the house and set out
across a field of white grass.
Lily watched them from the bedroom window. They went straight a ways, stopped to look at the ground, then
turned to the southwest. They went through a stand of short-leaf pines that James had tried to transplant for
a wind-break, but only a few survived. Beyond that were the maples bright red now with the sun full on them.
The old woman stood behind her. "Wait. They might turn back."
Lily said, "I could let him have some air."
"There's air enough. Wait."
The old woman went into the kitchen and put the sheriff's plate, fork, and cup in the sink. She poured herself
a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. She looked at the wood stained and scarred from all those years. She
rubbed the dark charred spot where James used to set his pipe. She let her mind float for a while before she
called: "Girl, c'mon, let the poor critter out."
Lily came back to move the rocking chair and the carpet. She knocked on the two planks in the floor and someone
pushed them up. Mason, a little stiff, emerged from his hiding place. He ran his hands through his hair and
brushed off some dirt from his clothes. He replaced the planks, covered them with the carpet, and set the rocking chair back.
"That's a good spot, Granny. Nobody'd think of looking there."
"James'd put contraband there and whatever coin we had. It come in handy during the War."
"I been smelling that sweet potato pie and my belly is growling."
"Lily, cut him a slice. Then get his pistol."
Mason ate quickly. When he was ready he took his revolver from Lily and stuck it behind his belt. He kissed
her good and hard on the mouth, and then hugged the old woman.
"Lily, give him that poke. It's got corn cakes, apple snips, and sassafras root. Take the canteen and fill it
at the well. You'll have to ride Chestnut easy at first, let him get used to you. There's an old saddle and
bridle in the barn."
Mason took the poke and canteen.
"Listen good: Clarence will ride your horse all around the county until he gets it re-shod. They'll be chasin'
their tails, but you got to go straight south maybe fifty miles before you turn west. You got that, boy?"
"I do, Granny."
"Your uncle Vernon's there in that Las Vegas, New Mexico. You go there. You get word back and I'll send Lily to
you. But only once you got a job or a place of your own. I won't hold with anything else. I mean it, Mase. I'm
dead serious. I don't know why you killed that detective. I don't care. I guess him being a Pinkerton is excuse
enough. But you better not be an outlaw or thief. So help me God, I'll hunt you down myself. You understand, boy?"
"I sure as hell do."
"No need to cuss. Either you do or you don't. Now get going while the going's good. Wait. Lily fetch him James'
coat from that hook. Mase, you take it. It's a mite big for you—my James was a good size. The nights will
get sore cold and that'll keep you warm."
Mason put the coat on but didn't button it. He hugged and kissed Lily and went to the barn. In a matter of minutes
he was out in the pasture getting the horse Chestnut. In no time he came riding by the house and waved to the old
woman and Lily standing in the doorway.
They watched him for a long time until he and the horse disappeared into the far woods.
Lily said, "He got away."
"How far is it to New Mexico?"
"No idea. A far piece I'd say."
"I sure love Mase."
The old woman turned and went back into the kitchen. She went over and straightened the carpet under the
rocking chair. She smiled and sat down in the chair.
Lily came in and said, "Well, we sure fooled that sheriff, Granny."
The old woman rocked a few times and then she said, "No, Murray warn't fooled. He warn't fooled at all."