Saturday, April 2, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 14: Rattlesnake man starts courting a widow with many children and I have to do something even if it is wrong!

After Bill quit working for Daddy I did not pay attention to what he was doing until I was eight years old and Mother or somebody else told me that he was 'courting' the widow Baker. I was horrified, but it was true as I saw his old vehicle parked to the Widow Baker's shortly after when I was riding the school bus home to Salt Gulch. Maggie lived just down from the rocks coming into Boulder, on what people called 'Sandy Ranch', as the widow did not have enough water rights to keep her fields green. 
Rattlesnake Bill had somehow got into her good graces enough to be allowed in her house among her whole flock of tasty children, three little girls, under ten, and three boys who were older. If he should get a chance I thought he would mess with either girls or boys, but who I figured attracted him the most was not Maggie, with her long stringy hair and her careworn face, but Cleo, her curly haired ten year old daughter who looked exactly like a brunette Shirley Temple!
I had not warned a single soul about what a bad character Bill was. If anything happened to one of those children it would surely be partly my fault. Cleo was best friends at school with Marilyn, who lived in Salt Gulch. Marilyn even stayed to the Bakers' occasionally when there was some reason she wanted to stay all night in Boulder. 
Since I had also made friends with Marilyn and even gone to visit her a time or two, I decided I would try to talk to Marilyn and tell her what danger was lurking with Cleo's mother allowing Bill close to her children.
I got Marilyn's attention at school at recess and then realized I would need to her tell what Bill had done to me in order to get her to believe she must warn Cleo. I started to tell her about the molesting but at the last minute I could not bring myself to tell her that Bill had done these things to me. It was just too risky a thing for me to bring myself to do, too full of the possibilities of dire consequences. So instead I found myself telling Marilyn that Bill had already molested Cleo! She looked at me startled while I described everything Bill had done to me, only I said he had done it to Cleo! Marilyn never uttered a word of protest. She just nodded and left.
I was horrified at myself for telling such lies. As if Marilyn was going to believe me. She knew very well that Cleo would never have told me anything. She was picky about her friends and I was not one of them. While I was pondering the possible consequences of the ghastly falsehood I had told, Marilyn must have gotten a chance to tell Cleo what I said about Bill having molested her.
Very soon Mother and Dad went to Boulder for the mail and some other business. They left us older girls home in Salt Gulch doing chores. Cleo must have seen them pass the Baker place and she got on the phone and kept ringing until I answered. When she got me on the phone she started screaming at me that she would tell my mother and dad and have me arrested for slander if I did not stop telling these horrible lies about her. I humbly apologized and said meekly, “I am sorry. I will never do it again.”
After she hung up, I wondered how I would ever face her again in school. I just did not know what to do next. I was still thinking about what to do to protect the Baker children days later when I realized that Bill was no longer stopping to Maggie's place, in fact he did not even seem to be still in town. Bill had disappeared as though off the face of the earth two months after I set out to save the Baker children from him!
Naturally I had to conclude his leaving town had something to do with what I told Marilyn he had done to Cleo. I waited for Mother and Dad to say something to me, but they did not act like they knew anything about my horrible lies. 
I thought and thought and decided Cleo in her great indignation had surely said something to her family, possibly to her oldest brother Hayward who was around 20 or so and I believe worked for Grandpa King. I figured he might have put two and two together and decided if I was talking about Bill and molesting, something was not right. Hayward could have been the one who said something to the people who caused Bill to high tail it out of town. Either that or somebody had caused him to disappear by killing him and throwing him down a canyon somewhere.  I just hoped that somebody had not been my dad after I had tried so hard to keep him from being the one to murder Bill.   
I never heard another thing about Bill until I was a lot older. Probably sixty years later a man told one of my sisters that shortly before Bill disappeared he tried to come into a drinking party one of his relatives was throwing and somebody took a shot at him! I thought for sure that person must have heard about the lies I was telling. Who shot him? I do not know. I heard from someone else Bill was shot in the leg but was helped by another old rancher to recover enough to leave town for good. 

I could not worry any more about what punishment Bill had really merited for his acts of sexual aggression with a five year old. I just felt relieved that I did not have to worry about him catching me alone any more or about what he was doing to some other child in Boulder.

Not too many months after the Widow Maggie felt galvanized to move to Richfield, a larger town that fit her family and their talents much better than Boulder did. They fared better in Richfield. Sometimes Margie would ask Mother to take her to see a younger Baker girl, May, who was her age. She kept contact with May for years, but naturally Cleo never spoke to me again.

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