In the Woods – Part Four

Mariah quickly marched through the woods, racing to find solitude in her own home.  The girls had a hard time keeping up with their mother.  Although the two girls had many questions about their great-grandmother, they also knew that now wasn’t the proper time to question their mother, for they could observe their mother’s inner turmoil.  Once their home came into view, Mariah raced to her home to find the necessary seclusion of her bedroom.  Esther and Sally watched their mother as she sprinted across the field.  They never witnessed their mother in such a state, and it frightened them.

“Wonder, what’s in that envelope?”  Esther ventured.  “And why has Mama kept Miss Ella a secret?”

Esther decided she would talk to her father; he would answer her many questions.  Reaching the house, they could not spot Pa anywhere, so the two girls decided to finish the household chores.  In her haste to find the girls, Mama had left their breakfast on the stove.  Esther scraped the scrambled eggs into the slop pail and began the task of cleaning the kitchen. Sally went outside with Bug and started weeding the garden.

Before long, the two girls heard Pa’s old truck rumbling down the road, and the two raced to meet their father.  From the looks of his girls, Jimmy instantly knew something was wrong.  The night before, a neighbor had requested Jimmy’s help, for his cow was in labor, and it was a difficult delivery.  The father was unaware that his girls had slipped out in the middle of the night.

“What in the devil have you to two done?”  Their father bellowed after the girls explained their late-night excursion to visit Miss Ella.

Jimmy went into the house looking for Mariah.  He found her lying on their bed with documents scattered across the quilt that Mariah had sewn right after their wedding.  She looked up as he walked into their room.  Her eyes were red, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“He lied to me.  All those years, I thought Grammy didn’t want me. Oh, Jimmy, she fought for me, and lost,” Mariah sobbed.  Jimmy held his wife until her tears subsided.  He carefully tucked his wife under the comforter that she had lovingly made and sat by her side until she fell asleep. Picking up the strewn papers, Jimmy settled into the rocking chair next to their bed and slowly began reading court records for a trial from 1939 when his wife was just seven years old.

 

“Please state your full name for the record,” her lawyer, Marcus Winters, questioned.

“Ella Marie Hogue,” the plaintiff replied.

“And please state why you are here today,” the lawyer continued.

“I have come here today to fight for custody of my granddaughter, Mariah Ann Stevens.”

“And why do you find it necessary to garner custody of this child?

“It is vital that I gain custody of my granddaughter.  Since my daughter passed, Mr. Stevens has become a mean and abusive drunk who often mistreats…”

“Objection, the witness is misleading.  Her testimony lacks foundation.  Mr. Stevens has never been cited for drunk and disorderly conduct,” Mr. Stevens’ lawyer countered.

“Sustained.  Mr. Winters remind your client to stick to documented facts,” Judge Sawyer warned the attorney.

“Yes, your honor,” Mr. Winters replied.  “Now, have you ever witnessed such harsh actions between William Stevens and his daughter?”

“Yes.”

“And what did you witness?

“Well, it was last year on Mariah’s birthday.  I had bought her a present, and I went to deliver it to their home.  Once I arrived, I could hear William screaming and uttering unkind words to Mariah.  He told her that she was ugly and useless and didn’t deserve to have a birthday.  I rushed into the house.  William was drunk.  He was slurring his words and staggering around the living room.  Mariah was huddled in a corner, and she was sobbing.”

“Objection, inflammatory.”

“Overruled.  Continue,” the judge ordered.

“I confronted William and told him that I would take the child home with me.  He told me to ‘take the brat because he never wanted to see her again.’”

“Then what did you do?” Winters quizzed.

“I took her home and cared for her.  Three days later, he showed up at my door, demanding that I hand over his daughter.  I refused.  He tried to enter my home, but the door was barred.  He tried to kick in the door, but I warned him that I had a shotgun.  Before he left, he warned me that he would return with the sheriff.  True to his word, he later returned with Sheriff Taylor.  Once inside, the sheriff told me that I had no right to keep Mariah, and I could be charged with kidnapping.  Although Mariah begged the sheriff to let her stay, Taylor sided with William.”

“If you thought Mr. Stevens was abusing the child, then why didn’t you file a complaint?  Winters countered.

“After our confrontation, when he declared that he didn’t want her, I thought that was the end of it.  I was also trying to think of a way to hire a lawyer to make it permanent.”

“No further questions at this time,” Winters stated.

Turning to Steven’s attorney, Thomas Burns, Judge Sawyer asked, “Do you have any questions for this witness?”

“Oh yes sir, I do,” Mr. Burns commented.  “Please state your relationship with the child in question?”

“I am her maternal grandmother.”

“And what happened to your daughter?”

“She died during childbirth when Mariah was three years old.”

“And didn’t you blame Mr. Stevens for your daughter’s death?”

Ella stared at the man but said nothing.

“Please answer the question, and let me remind you that you are still under oath, to tell the truth.”

Ella hung her head, and the judge ordered her to answer the question. Looking up, she stared at the lawyer, and replied, “I still do.  He forced my daughter to continue with the farming chores even while she was pregnant  and when she should have been on bed rest.”

“Do you have proof of this?  Was there doctor’s orders or concerns from a midwife?”

“He wouldn’t pay for a doctor, and I was her midwife.”

“Well if you were the midwife and had concerns, did you consult with the local doctor?”

“No, I did not.  Abigail promised that she would rest.”

“Do you have proof that Mr. Stevens forced his wife to work?”

“No,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry, but can you please speak up.  I do not believe the court heard your answer.’

“No.”

“Now, Miss Hogue.  It is Miss Hogue; am I correct?”

“Yes,” Ella replied.

“So, it would be safe to say that we have a conflict of communal differences in regards to certain marital affairs?”

“Objection!”  Winters bellowed.

 

 

 

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