Friday, July 15, 2005

Six Hundred Honest Pounds Part II

Betsy she looked him smack in the eyes and says, "Yore Judgeship, no."

"Well," says he, "you can't sell it, then."

"I can sell hit, yore Judgeship," she tells him. "I've got the authority to. You give hit to me just awhile ago. If you want the world to call you a bare-faced liar, a two-double Injun giver on yore own sweared word --well I can't keep you from hit."

When the judge studied about it and did see how slick he'd been sold, he just laughed and told her to go ahead and sell her likker. "This time," he said, "but never again no more, ever! "

"Thankee kindly, yore Judgeship," says Betsy. "I thankee for me and for them seven husbands of mine that's too busy selling drinks to thankee themselves."

"Seven husbands!" says the judge. "Why, woman, that's strictly bigamy!"

"I thought hit was pretty big of me, too, yore Judgeship, when I taken them seven men on last year. I warn't but only sixteen then. But now I'm turned seventeen and got my full growth I'm a-looking for a few more good husbands. Spread the word around, won't you, yore Judgeship?"

The judge he just set down on the ground and sleeved the sweat off his face and never said another frazzling word. He just sort of muttered to himself and wandered off a-shaking of his head.

From then on that Melungeon-breeded woman begun stirring up a right smart of talk around Hancock County. There was a good tripled-up reason for such talk. First place was you didn't often meet up with three hundred honest pounds of shewoman like Big Betsy Mullins --not in old lean Hancock, noways. You seldom no time never run across moonshine likker as fine as what her and her husbands made back in the briars on Newman's Ridge. It was away the best moonshine in Hancock County and folks that knowed good likker sent all the way from far-gone places to buy it. On top of all that, it got to be where Big Betsy was the most arrestedest party in the whole stretch of the up-country.

Well now, after Betsy had sold her ungovernment - stampedless whiskey right out at public gathering that way and before a judge too, it was right natural that Revenuers would be a-watching to see if she done it again. So when it got to be that folks from the far end of Hancock County and even from over in Grainger and Claiborne would scrabble up to Newman's Ridge to pay seventy-five cents a gallon for Betsy's likker, when they could git all they wanted‹and good stuff, too‹for fifty cents a gallon, why the Revenuers couldn't help but notice. So it warn't a whole year after that barbecue feed before a party of Revenuers scuffled and scrambled, hanging tooth and nail for dear life, up Newman's Ridge. Single file they come up the straight-up-and-leaning-back trail of the cliff to the top where Betsy's cabin set on the very backbone of the Ridge.

Betsy come to the kitchen door. She watched them drag up the last few yards of the way. "Take hit easy, boys! " she yells to them. "Hit's powerful steep and slickery right about there. And you needn't be afeared I'll leave. There ain't no other way down from here."

They finally make it up, all five of them, and stood round the kitchen door a-puffing and a-blowing. Then the head leader agent‹a little spindle-shank of a man he was--catched his breath a little and says, "Betsy Mullins, I arrest you for moonshining in the name of the United States government law." And then he stepped back a step right quick and looked at her watchful.

"Why, shore, boys, shore," says Betsy, a-chawing stiddy. "I been expecting of you boys for a long time now. What kept you so long? "

"Well, Betsy, we been sort of waiting around to catch you down in the lowland," says the number-one debity. "But seems like you don't git down there so much. So we finally seen we'd have to come up and git you."

"Right enough, boys," she says, "and I'm rarely pleased to see all of you. Come in and take a few cheers. Seems to me there's a gourdful or so of some prime ripe likker somewhere about that'd maybe hearten you up a bit after yore hard pull."

"Thank you kindly enough, Betsy," says the head leader agent, "but we really ain't got the time. We aim to git back down this hardsome trail right along before dark catches us. So if you'll just git them gourds for evidence and come along peaceable-like, why we'll be a-gifting on back to Sneedville."

"Don't blame you a bit, boys," says Betsy. "That trail is right worrisome after dark, specially a-going down. And welcome enough to the gourds you are, too. But I'm afeard I can't go long with you this time, boys, much as I'd like to."

"Take care there what you say, Big Betsy," says the head leader agent. "You can be lawfully shot in the name of the law for resisting arrest."

Big Betsy says, not missing a chomp on her chawing, "I know that right well, Mister Agent. And I ain't a-resisting no arrest. You have done legally arrested me and I have freely agreed. All I'm a-telling you is that if you want me to come down this ridge, you'll have to carry me somehow. I done sprained my ankle so bad I can't bear to touch hit to ground, let alone put my full weight on hit."

The agents then taken notice that her right ankle was wrapped in near ten yards of bright home-spinned cloth. They looked at Big Betsy standing there with her right arm propped agin the doorjamb and they looked at each other. Betsy had gained easy fifty pounds during the year and she was nearing four hundred pounds. They looked back at the trail they'd scrambled up by the hardest. How it come straight up single file for eighty or ninety feet, and then leaned back out more than straight up for the last fifteen or eighteen feet. It warn't but barely possible for a man to git up the first eighty or ninety feet and it warn't really possible at all to git up the last fifteen or eighteen feet. How they done it, they didn't know themselves.

Then they looked back at Betsy and thinked about lugging that nigh four hundred pound of she-brute down that trail. The biggest debity of all‹six-foot-six, three-hundred-pound scrapper, he was--groaned out loud.

The number-one debity says, "Oh my God!" and slemped down to the ground, flat on his face. And the lttle spindly head leader agent taken a bad fit of the shuddering jerks.

"Dad fetch it all! " says he, betwixt tooth charters, "must be a whole slew of rabbits playing hopscotch over my grave- place! "

Well, the short of it was, Betsy had them.

There just warn't no way a-tall, possible nor not possible, that they could've taken that big she-brute down that trail. So they smashed up one of Betsy's mash tubs, so's they could say they done it, and drinked a few gourds of Betsy's prime ripe likker to hearten them up a bit and said their prayer- pieces to themselves and started back down the trail. And somehow they all made it back.

After that there warn't a year passed but at least two or more parties of a head leader Revenuer agent and his debities would scramble up that trail to Betsy's cabin on Newman's Ridge But it was always the same. Betsy was arrested freely enough but she always had ailing foot trouble of some sort and couldn't walk. And there warn't no possible way to cart her down.

Betsy had got so she didn't even leave her cabin. She didn't have no need to. She was taking on one or two new husbands every year and sometimes more if one happened to die off on her. So her husbands made the likker and sold it and waited on Betsy hand and foot and she didn't have a frazzling thing to do but set in her special big rocking cheer, that was carved from a solid oak stump, and rock and chew her eating baccy.

When the Revenuers would ask where her still was she would truthfully say she didn't know. Her husbands moved it about from one thicket briar-hell to another.

Time slipped along and went by like this for a long spell. Some says it was six, some eight, some says as much as fifteen or more years. But anyhow, the tale got to be told around and finally leaked back to Washington, D. C., that the Revenuer agents and their debities didn't do a form thing when they went to arrest Betsy Mullins but throw big party drunks and drink up a few gallons of Betsy's prime ripe likker and bust up one measly mash tub. The same one every time. One of Betsy's husbands would put the pieces together again when the agents left and leave it there a-waiting for them to come back and bust it again.

So the big chief head leader United States government Revenuer agent in charge in Washington, D. C., was some peeved about this. He called him a meeting and they jibbered and jawed for a week or two and laid plans to git big Betsy Mullins. They vowed they would bring her down off of that Newman's Ridge and try her.

So, maybe a month later it was, a whole special crew of Revenuer agents and debities and rock quarry men --drillers and blasters and such like scrambled and toiled up the trail to Newman's Ridge. Twenty-two men on the crew there was, and two debities that had been there before to show the way. They taken sledge hammers and rock drills and dynamite and ropes and pulleys and chains and blocks and tackles and a whole slew of such like stuff. They aimed to git Big Betsy Mullins and bring her down off of that ridge and try her.

When they got to the last cliff where the trail went straight up for eighty or ninety feet, the rock-drillers and quarry men went to work. Every three feet they drilled them a hole in the rock and set them a thick iron rod in it, sunk two feet in the solid rock and sticking out a foot and a half. It taken them three full weeks to set them rods up the eighty or ninety feet to where the trail commenced to lean back.

There the rock-drillers and blasters went to work. They drilled holes deep into the rock and charged them with dynamite. Then they crumb down the iron rod steps and got back away from the foot of the cliff and set off the dynamite. They aimed to blow off that overhanging lip-edge and level the trail at least straight-up-and-down all the way if they couldn't do no better.

They blasted away at that overhang for three days and by then it was pretty near gone. It taken them longer than they figgered because on the second day they was a-blasting, Betsy sent a couple of her husbands out to ask them to please make them dynamite charges a little bit littler. She said the blasts was so big they shaken the cabin some and hurted her rheumatics.

So on the fourth day they set off the last blast and browed off the last of the lip-edge of the cliff. Then they started to putting in iron rods the rest of the way up. They rushed the work and finished that up by nightfall. And now the trail was all done.

Next day the whole crew of agents, debities, rock-drillers, blasters and all, crumb up the cliff trail to the top. The head leader agent picked out a spot in the solid rock of the ridge backbone, and two men set to drilling a hole straight down.

Then the head leader agent went over to the wide open door of Betsy's cabin. Betsy set there in her big solid oak rocking cheer, a-rocking and chawing stiddy.

"Hidy-do, mam," says he, a-taking his hat off. "Yore Mrs. Big Betsy Mullins, I take it. I'm a United States Revenuer agent and it's my bounder duty to place you under arrest."
"Why shore, Mister Agent, shore," says Betsy. "Ain't none of you boys called on me in a long time and I been a-kind of missing you. Come in and take you a cheer and tell me what you boys are a-doing. You shore been making a mighty miration around here. You'll excuse me for not gifting up, but the truth is I done got so heavy and my rheumatics is so bad, I can't bear my own weight a-tall. Just find you a cheer some where and one of my husbands will fetch you a gourd of prime ripe likker."

So Betsy puts her hands to her mouth and beliers, "Hooo, pee", pee", pee"!" and in no time at all a whole pack of Melungeon bucks come a-trotting up from somewheres on the ridge. One of them was a plumb young unbeardless boy, but most of them was fairly along in years. And the one that got there first was old and white-whiskered and bent.

"Jeremiah," says Betsy to him, "fetch Mister Agent here a gourdful of our best likker to sup while he tells me about what he's a-doing. And you might ask the debities and rest of the crew out there to have some, too. See that all git what they desire."

But the head leader agent says, "No, thankee kindly, Mrs. Big Betsy, but I can't allow it. We aim to take you back down and try you and it wouldn't be noways right for us to drink this ungovernment stampedless whiskey."

"Just suit yoreself, Mr. Agent," says Betsy. "You're kindly welcome to hit. Now, tell me, just how you aim to git me down from this ridge, when I weight better'n five hundred pounds and can't bear my foot on the ground? Just how do you aim to do hit?"

So the head leader agent told her about how they'd blasted away the lip-edge and set iron posses in the trail. "And now we're a-setting one great big post on the ridge backbone to anchor a block and a tackle to. We aim to let you down off this ridge in a big rope sling and then cart you from cliff bottom in a wagon."

Big Betsy went right along with her rocking and chawing. "Uh-huh," she says, "I see. Well now, that sounds like a right smart notion. Did you think that all up by yoreself?"

"Well, no mam, not quite all by myself," says the head leader agent. "Some of the little details was thinked out by others. But mostly it's my own figgerment." And he rared back in his split- bottom cheer and slicked his thumbs in his vest armholes

And that just shows you, you never can tell how many ducks will hatch from a setting of goose eggs. Next day they finally had every fired thing ready --everything a body could think of, the big iron post set, the block and tackle all rigged up, a harnessed team and wagon a-waiting at the foot of the cliff and even a whopping big pillow and some padded coverlets to make Betsy easy in the rope sling. So now they was ready to git her.
The head leader agent went to the door of the cabin. He taken his hat off and turned it around in his hands.

"Good morning to you, Mrs. Big Betsy," he says. "I'll thank you kindly and take it right well of you if you come along with us without no trouble."

'Shorely enough, Mister Agent," says Big Betsy Mullins. I'd come right along with you in a minute if only I could. But I can't move myself about a-tall now. Hit takes five or six of my strongest husbands and nine of my weakest ones, to move me about from place to place now."

"Just you rest easy about that, Mrs. Big Betsy," says the head leader agent. "I'll call in a dozen of my men to cart you out to the cliff-edge."

"Well," says Big Betsy Mullins, "I reckon I might as well tell you this now and save you the trouble of gifting yore men in here. Fact is, Mr. Agent, I ain't able to leave this cabin a-tall. I ain't noways able to fit through that door frame now."

The head leader agent's mouth fell open till his chin near busted his kneecaps. It was a full ten minutes before he said a word.

"Why, then," he says at last. "Why-er, a-well-er‹I guess I'll have to git my men to bust down one wall of this cabin."

"Don't you do hit, Mister Agent," says Betsy. "Hit wouldn't be noways healthy for you. I done asked a lawyer-man judge about hit, and he says that for what I'm charged with and the warrant you'd have, my house couldn't be noways damaged a- tall. And that is the way I'd have hit, so long as I live. My great- grandpappy built this here house with his own two hands, and I want hit should stay like he left hit."

Well, the head agent hummed and the head agent hawed and he stayed round the place for a week. He sent word and got word and he thinked and he talked, but he knowed from the first that Betsy was right. And he finally had to admit it.

Yes siree, Big Betsy had them again. There just warn't no way they could git her.  But her kinfolks did finally use that big iron post and the other fearsome work them agents and debities and rock- workers done. That was after Big Betsy died, must've been eighteen or twenty years after. They busted out a wall of her cabin then and wrapped her in quilts and blankets and her husbands and kinfolks lowered her down. She had thirty-three husbands and fourteen cousins, and they all agreed that Betsy weighed six hundred honest pounds and maybe then some.

And she keeps a-growing after death, too‹for the last time I did hear her story told, she'd made it up to seven hundred pounds.

James R. Aswell E. E. Miller  

 The above is fiction of course, but bits and pieces bare a good resemblance to the moonshiner Big Haley Mullins.


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