A/N: Though this history of the Strate and Duke families won't be found anywhere in the series, I've tried my best to stay true to what we do know about the two of them. I'm a stickler for details and keeping things in canon so you'll see many people and events that are familiar along the way. My goal for this history is a seamless transition into the series.
This series is also the backstory for the novellas "Beneath a Hazzard Moon" and "Halls of Stone and Iron"
*The character of Otis Strate is lovingly dedicated to my father, RWT, who passed away suddenly many years ago. Miss you, daddy.
"Out on the road, there are fireflies circling -
deep in the woods, where the lost souls hide.
Over the hill, there are men returning -
trying to find some peace of mind..."
Life in the Blue Ridge mountains had changed little since the Scotch-Irish had settled in over a hundred and fifty years before, bringing with them their customs and traditions, along with a close knit sense of community with a distaste for outside interference. The soil in the foothills was rocky and unsuited to crops, so like their ancestors from the old world, the residents of northwestern Hazzard County made do with what they'd been given. Making moonshine was more than a tradition, it was a way of survival, and the hills and ridges were dotted with stills, well hidden from the tax collectors that had come calling ever since 1933 when Prohibition had ended and the tax on whiskey had begun.
Being a ridge-runner wasn't an occupation Otis Strate was especially proud of, being in all other respects a fine, law-abiding citizen, but it put food on the table and in these parts it wasn't fit to quibble over the legality of something his family had done since before they'd come to the New World. His moonshine was some of the best, too, and he still made it like it was supposed to be, without all the shortcuts most of the kids were trying – the one's that made you blind or set you one foot in the grave with the first swig. He himself didn't drink, not anymore. Age, wisdom, and seeing one too many bootleggers flip their cars over the ridge had scared him off of it except for medicinal purposes.
Today they'd had company; Otis' sister-in-law, Mary, had come by, but things had quickly escalated between the two sisters and Otis and his son, Enos, had escaped to the relative peace of the porch.
"Pa', what's Momma an' aunt Mary fussin' about?" For ten year old Enos, hearing his ma' yelling at someone was a regular occurrence, though like as not it usually tended to be himself or his pa'.
"It ain't your business, son. 'Sides, you're too young to understand if I told ya'."
Enos looked up from the stick he was trying unsuccessfully to whittle into anything recognizable. "I ain't a baby no more, Pa'," he complained, sourly.
Otis Strate just laughed and ruffled the boy's hair. "Don't try to grow up too fast, Enos. It ain't as much fun as you think it is. Your ma's just gratin' over the fact that your aunt's sparkin' a revenuer."
"John Mayfield's courtin' your aunt."
Mr. Mayfield was the youngest revenuer they'd had up here in a while, Enos had heard his pa' talking to Moses Davenport about it just a few weeks before. His parents had even had him up for supper, a fact which confused him to no end. While he seemed like a nice enough guy, everybody knew his daddy ran shine, and having the local revenuer over at their house just seemed to him like offering the foxes a couple chickens for their trouble of getting locked out of the hen house. He'd told his pa' that, to which he'd merely answered that you caught more flies with honey than with vinegar, and it was always best to be on good terms with your enemies than not.
The debate inside took on a new pitch and less than a minute later, the screen door slammed open, whacking the side of the house with a resounding 'smack' as Mary Tribble, his mother's younger sister, stormed out of the house, across the porch, and down the steps where Enos and his father sat.
She turned around, her face flushed in anger. "You just stay out of it, Agnes! You think everything an' ever'one's your business, well I'm not – not anymore! I love him and he loves me, and I don't care what his job is. Maybe he'll get me outta these God-forsaken hills!"
Ages Strate wasn't moved. "Don't you come callin' on us when he turns you in, Mary. All he's after's your virtue and findin' out when Otis is runnin' again. Mark my words, sister."
"If momma heard you talkin' like that, she'd let you have it!"
"Momma ain't nothin' but bones and worm food fifteen years come next spring, and I reckon her spirit don't need to be bothered with th' likes of you," she said. "Now get outta here."
Mary turned and left and Agnes Strate's eyes settled on Enos. "Enos, can't you do nothin' without makin' a mess? Get them shavin's off the steps right now!"
"Yes, ma'am," he sighed, brushing them from the step into the grass, relieved to see her turn inside once more, closing the screen door behind her.
Otis watched his wife as she disappeared back into the house, feeling for the boy who seemed to find more of her ire than he deserved. "There's a 'shine-moon' tonight," he told Enos, who's eyes immediately brightened. A Shine-moon was his pa's word for a full-moon and it meant he'd be going on a long run overnight.
"You're takin' me with ya', right Pa'? To Aunt Lavinia's? Please Pa', I swear I'll stay outta trouble."
His father laughed. "How is it that two kids can find more scrapes to get into? Tell me again why you dyed Lavinia's best table cloth black?"
"We didn't aim to dye it black," muttered Enos. "Daisy said she had a recipe fer invisible ink and we needed somethin' to try it on."
"How in heaven's name would you think that motor oil, kerosene, and tar could make any kind of ink, let alone invisible?"
Enos shrugged. "It was her idea."
"That ain't no excuse, Enos," he said, sternly. "She's two years younger'n you, and you oughta know better. Cost me a run payin' Lavinia for it, and you've still got extra chores to get done to pay me for it. Which, if you're wantin' to go tonight, you'd best be doin'."
"Yes, sir." He scrambled off the porch and headed around back. Enos' parents were as different as night and day, and just the thought of letting his father down was enough to make him sorry enough to never do it again. Besides that, if he was on bad terms with his father, he'd make him stay at home with his ma' when he had a run instead of dropping him off at the Duke farm, and that was just about the worst punishment he could imagine.
Uncle Jesse and Aunt Lavinia weren't blood related to the Strates, but Jesse and his pa' ran shine together, along with Moses Davenport. The couple had no children of their own, but a round of unfortunate circumstances had brought them three cousins to raise; Luke who was a few months older than Enos, Daisy who was eight, and Bo who'd just turned three. Lavinia, after noticing Agnes Strate's temper and harshness with her son, had taken Enos under her wing as though he were one of the family, and the happiest times of his young life had been spent gathered around the Duke's kitchen table.
Though Luke was closer to his age, most of Enos' time was spent with Daisy, either fishing at Hazzard pond or getting into some sort of trouble. As an only child living in the middle of moonshine territory, Enos had few friends, and Daisy was like a sister to him. He thought the sun rose and set on the girl and, unlike her cousins, he was usually game for any idea she might come up with.
The sun was already beginning to set when Enos climbed into his father's 1951 Hornet and they made their way south and then east, down the dusty dirt roads of Hazzard towards the Duke farm. It was a good twenty minute drive at the speed limit. Enos' pa' never sped with him in the car, much to the boy's chagrin, nor was he allowed in the car when he was hauling 'shine. Otis Strate had bigger dreams for his son than being a back-woods moonshiner.
John Mayfield was no stranger to the Blue Ridge Mountains. His mother had died when he was too little to remember, and his father had been a violent man who'd drank himself to death at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, when Johnny was only six. It had relegated him an orphaned ward of Macon County, North Carolina, just across the Georgia border.
He'd dreamt of being a cop since he was little and he'd graduated from the Police Academy two years ago in 1960. Times were tough in the area, though, and without the pull of family influence, no one had wanted to hire him except for the Internal Revenue Service, which was always putting out calls for new recruits.
He'd been naïve when he'd taken the job, not not fully understanding what it meant to be a revenuer, but he soon found out just how deep the split between the mountain folk and the IRS really was. It hadn't even been easy working with the local law. Hazzard County's Sheriff "Butch" Harris didn't like to rile people who he didn't see breaking the law and had even gone so far as to clue in some of the ridge-runners as to when he would be passing through.
Johnny wouldn't have minded so much if the IRS hadn't set a quota on his head, but like as not, they had. The kids who ran moonshine were an easy catch - inexperienced and looking to make a quick buck, but the big hauls were done by the older folks – the ones with mouths to feed and reputations to uphold. The thing was, the men he really needed to catch were about some of the nicest people he'd ever met in his life. Otis Strate and Jesse Duke, and Moses Davenport to a lesser degree, were the biggest and best bootleggers around. They had more tricks up their sleeves than a rodeo clown, and their cars could outrun his with their foot only halfway to the floor.
The only thing good that had ever come of going after them had been meeting Mary. She'd been running interference, cutting his car off in mid-chase with the old 'pickup-dying-in-the-road' trick. He'd gone to move her out of the way, but two hours later had still found them sitting in the middle of the road talking, and he'd completely forgotten what he was doing there in the first place.
If he thought being a revenuer was bad, he was completely unprepared for the fallout of courting a moonshiner's daughter. Several times he'd come home to his apartment at the boarding house in town to find nasty letters slid under his door letting him know just what some of the folks thought about it. Unbeknownst to her family, he and Mary had already made plans to leave at the end of the summer. He'd asked her to marry him and she'd said 'yes' on the condition that they leave the Blue Ridge Mountains forever and never look back. She'd saved back enough from her family's 'shine business for them to move west, out where there would be work for him besides being a revenuer. He couldn't wait for the summer to end.
The warm glow of the kitchen light shone through the farmhouse windows as Otis Strate pulled the car up in front. Luke and Daisy sat on the steps along with their Aunt Lavinia who was holding Bo on her lap. Enos barely had time to climb out of the car before Daisy hopped up and bounded over to him.
"Hey, come on, Enos," she said, grabbing his hand, "you gotta come see what I found!"
"Daisy," her aunt called, "don't go runnin' off too far. It's getting' dark and it'll be high time for you kids to be in bed before long."
"Yes ma'am," said Daisy, pulling Enos after her around the side of the house. She knelt down beside the wall and picked up a burlap bag, tied at the top.
"What'cha got?" he asked.
She just giggled and untied the bag. "Stick your hand in," she told him.
"Daisy, if you think I'm gonna trust t' stick my hand in somethin' you tell me to, you're plum crazy."
"Fine, here..." she stuck her hand into the bag and pulled out the largest bull-frog Enos had ever seen. "Pretty cool, huh? Found him over by th' fence on the south 40."
Enos took the frog from her and held it up, looking it over. "He's a nice lookin' one. What'cha gonna do with him? You know Aunt Lavinia ain't gonna let you keep him."
"I thought Luke might wanna see him," she said, innocently.
Enos grinned. "In the bag or his pillow?"
They shared a look and ran back around the house and past her aunt and Luke, nearly knocking him over.
"Hey! You two cut it out," he yelled, as the screen door slammed behind them. "And stay outta my stuff!"
"Here! Here, stick him in!" giggled Daisy, holding open Luke's pillowcase.
"Not like that. Here, lay it down, I don't wanna squish 'im." She lay the pillow back down on the bed and Enos stuck the frog at the far end, past the pillow. "Hand me the string." He tied up the end with the string from the burlap bag to keep the frog from escaping.
Laughing, they made their way back through the house and out to the porch where Aunt Lavinia eyed them suspiciously.
"What are you two up to?"
Daisy threw her arms around her aunt and hugged her. "Aunt Lavinia, don't ya' trust us?"
Lavinia laughed. "You, yes. Enos, yes. You and him together...no, not so much, Sweetie." She kissed her niece on the cheek and stood up. "Come on y'all, it's getting' bed time. Luke, would you help Bo?"
"Yes'm," he said, taking the little boy's hand. "Come on, champ."
"Enos, I reckon you can take the guest room since we moved Bo into Luke's room, but mind you make th' bed in the mornin', dear."
"Yes ma'am," he replied.
They'd all settled down for the night when they heard a 'yelp' from the boys' room. "Aunt Lavinia...!"
Lavinia came back down the hallway and peeked her head in the door. "What's wrong, Luke?"
"They put a frog in my pillow!" Giggling could be heard coming from Daisy's room off the other side of the house. Enos had enough sense to keep quiet.
"Daisy! Enos!" called Aunt Lavinia. "You two best get out here right now on the double-quick!"
The two mischief makers slowly straggled out of their respective rooms to stand before the woman. "Daisy Duke, you wipe that smile off your face right this minute. Enos Strate, you're about a short stick away from stayin' with your ma' next run. Both of y'all are grounded tomorrow to the kitchen. I'm sure I can find somethin' for you to put your talents to other than puttin' frogs in people's beds."
"Yes, Aunt Lavinia."
"Alright, now back to bed with ya'."
She watched the two children go back into their rooms before laughing quietly to herself. "Luke go and throw the poor thing outside, please."
"Huh uh! I ain't pickin' that up!"
"Oh for goodness sakes, Luke, it's just a frog." Lavinia came over to Luke's bed, picked it up, and left the room. "Poor thing," she told it, "you are a handsome bugger, though." She let it go by the barn and went back inside.
The rest of the week passed as any other for Enos. He'd do his chores as fast as he could in the morning so he'd be free the rest of the day. Unlike most kids, he hated summers – there was no school to take him away from home, and his pa' was cookin' up at their still. He wasn't allowed to go with him – cooking moonshine was dangerous business and every family knew someone who'd been killed doing it. All it took was a tiny crack or leak around one of the rivets on the thump keg or any one of a hundred other problems and there'd be a hole in the ground instead of a still and another marker in the graveyard.
Today was a little different. It was raining. Enos sat on the porch, drinking in the smell of the wet earth as the heavy drops drenched the parched, dry grass. His fishing pole and tackle sat next to him, and as soon as the rain tapered off he planned to go down to the river and see if he could catch anything. The fish should be biting good after the rain, and if he had to eat another supper of salt pork...
Eventually the downpour ceased and he ran inside to find his father. He sat at the table, checking his books and orders using some sort of math that made Enos' head swim.
"Hey pa', the rain stopped. Can I go fishin' now?"
Otis looked up from his papers and eyed his son warily. "I suppose, but you stay away from the river. It's libel to be flooded after the rains last night and this mornin'. I'd like to keep you around for awhile instead of fishin' your carcass outta the Chattahoochee."
"Yes sir," said Enos, grudgingly.
"Sorry son. I'm sure the fishin's just fine in Miller's pond."
Enos wasn't as confident. "Alright." He trudged back out to the porch, grabbed his pole and gear, and started off down the road towards the pond.
Enos was right...three hours later he had nothing to show for his time at the pond but a case of poison ivy when his lure got caught in a snag and he fell into a patch when the line snapped. It was a shame to have to waste such a prime fishing day on muddy ol' Miller's Pond. Maybe if he just took a peek at the river, he thought. If it looked fine, his pa' wouldn't have anything to worry about. 'Sides, hadn't he said to stay away from the Chattahoochee? This river was just an offshoot...the real Chattahoochee didn't start for another 50 miles to the south. Convinced his father would never know the difference anyway, Enos left the pond and started back towards the trail that would lead down to the river.
He could hear it before he could see it - a low, thundering, roar that seemed to resonate through the air. He came over the hill and saw that his father had been right. The river had crested far above it's normal banks and the water that usually flowed steadily under the old L&N Railroad bridge now crashed and beat against the trestle like a living, breathing, monster. But...if he strung his line out long, he wouldn't have to get close to the bank. He took off his lure and rigged a fly, pulled out his line, and flung it expertly into the midst of the swirling muddy waters by the bridge.
It wasn't ten minutes before he'd gotten a decent sized trout. He'd reeled it in and hooked it on his stringer before he noticed he wasn't alone. Startled, he took a step back from the man who approached him because, even though he recognized him as the revenuer, John Mayfield, something seemed...off. In fact, he looked like he just might of taken a swim in th' river. His clothes were muddy and disheveled, and as the man staggered toward Enos, he realized he was drunk.
"Hey!" said the man. "I know you...you're O..Oditis St...trates' son, ain't ya', boy?"
"Y...yes, sir," said Enos, taking another step back.
"Y'ain't seen Mary, have ya'? I can't find her anywhere's..."
"N..no, s...sir. I ain't seen her." Enos had had enough of the freakish man with vacant eyes. Grabbing his pole, he took off running as fast as he could, all the way back home.
Otis was still sitting at the table when Enos slammed the door open and shut it behind him. His father was about to remind him not to bang the door, but when he turned around and saw the expression on the boy's face, he thought something more important than slamming doors must be going on. Enos's eyes were wide with fright, his skin pale and ashen.
"Son? What's wrong?"
Enos found himself in a tight spot. If he told his pa' about Mr. Mayfield wandering around drunk at the river, his dad would know where he'd been. He took a deep breath and tried to convince himself he was home and safe and had nothing to worry about. "Huh? Oh...nothin', Pa'. I just got spooked comin' down the trail."
Otis looked unconvinced, but let the explanation pass for the time being. "You catch that in the pond?" He motioned to the trout Enos had completely forgotten about catching.
"Oh...yeah...in the pond." Enos felt his face burn, adding another lie onto the one he'd already told.
"Well, you best go and clean it 'fore your ma' sees it."
Despite his appetite for fish earlier that day, the procuring of it had put him off the idea and Enos merely picked at his portion of trout at supper.
"Thought you were in th' mood for fish, Enos," said his pa'.
Enos shrugged. "I dunno, pa', guess I'm just not real hungry."
A frantic beating at the front door cut short whatever his father was about to say. His parents shared an apprehensive look across the table before Otis put his napkin down on the table and went to answer it.
"Enos," said his ma', "get in the cellar."
"Don't you talk back to me! Now git!"
Enos scooted his chair back from the table and opened up the trap door in the floor of the kitchen that led down into the basement of the house, shutting it behind him. He made his way down the rickety ladder and ran over to the spot underneath the living room. Pulling an old chair over, he climbed on top and peered through the floorboards.
The knocking didn't cease until his pa' opened the door, and a woman ran in. Enos recognized her as Swamp Molly. She was one of the few female bootleggers in the county, taking over where her deceased husband had left off, even bringing her toddler with her on occasion to put off the law.
"Lord a-mercy, Molly!" said Otis, "What in tarnation's the matter?"
The woman ignored him and went straight to his mother, catching her breath a moment before speaking. "Agnes...Agnes, have you seen yer sister today?"
"I ain't seen Minnie in a while, Molly. She's got her hands full with the twins, I reckon."
"No, girl...yer other sister! Have ya' seen Mary?" Her voice took on a hectic edge that sent chills down Enos' spine. "Oh Lord...please tell me you've seen Mary!"
"Not for a couple days," Agnes answered. "Why...what's happened?"
"I...I's up at her house. Just a while ago," the woman cried. "She ain't there, and it...it..."
"Molly, slow down," said Otis, "what's wrong?"
"There's blood ever'where, and she ain't there!"
For a second, there was a horrible silence as her words settled into the minds of his parents.
His ma' took Molly's arm. "Will you take me there, Molly?"
"I reckon." The women moved to leave.
"Molly, wait, did you call th' Sheriff?" asked Otis.
"I didn't, but I s'pose I will. Don't like the idea of him pokin' his nose round up here, but I guess it can't be helped. We'll stop by my place first and make the call."
"I'm mighty obliged, Molly. And if you would, call Jesse. A few cooler heads'll be a good thing."
Enos felt like the world was closing in on him as he thought back to his strange encounter with Mr. Mayfield at the river.
Two hours later, Sheriff 'Butch' Harris stood in the living room of the Strate's house, talking to Enos' pa'. Word traveled like wildfire in these parts, and it hadn't been anytime before search parties were organized and sent on their way. Nothing had turned up so far. Enos's conscience was screaming at him louder than a brass band. Time and again, men would come back, having found nothing, and all he could think was - the river...they oughta be searching the river.
His pa' had always taught him to do the right thing, but the right thing meant he was gonna get his hide tanned for sure, and likely wouldn't be going anywhere's again 'till the cows came home. But he thought of his aunt Mary, of her pretty smile and funny stories, and of the sweets she always seemed to have stashed away just for his visits...surely she deserved th' truth from him. Heart pounding, Enos crossed the living room to stand by his pa' and the Sheriff.
"Uh... Mr. Harris...sir..."
The Sheriff turned and looked down at him and smiled sadly. "Hey there, Enos. Sorry 'bout th' ruckus today. What's on your mind?"
"I...I...got somethin' to say." He turned to his pa' who was watching him curiously. "Pa', I'm right sorry, and I know I'm in trouble, but I...I..."
"Take it easy, son. Why don't youjust say what's important first, and we'll talk about the rest later."
"Yes, sir." He turned back to the Sheriff. "I saw Mr. Mayfield down by the river today. He looked plum awful, and he was askin' me if I'd seen Mary...an...and he'd been drinkin', sir."
Butch knelt down in front of Enos. "That's a mighty brave thing you did, son, tellin' me about it. Thank you." He stood back up and looked at Otis. "We got no one checkin' that close, I'll go out and have a look."
Otis nodded at him and the Sheriff turned and left. "Enos," his pa' began, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder, "I'm proud of you for bein' brave enough to tell th' truth. You did the right thing, but you know there's consequences for disobeyin' me and lying about it."
Enos hung his head. "I know, pa'. I'm sorry."
"Go and get your fishin' pole and put it on my bed."
"Yes, sir." He grabbed his pole dismally from beside the front door.
He turned back to his father. "Yeah, pa'?"
"Son, there ain't no trout in Miller's pond."
It was nearly dark when the Sheriff returned, followed by one of his two deputies, Rosco Coltrane. Otis met them on the steps, while Enos pressed his nose to the screen door.
"Rosco," greeted Otis to the deputy. "Butch, you got your help, I s'pect that means I ain't gonna like what you found."
Butch gave him a long look. "I reckon not," he said. "We found her, Otis. Washed up down th' river, and that's all I'm gonna say with your boy around."
His pa' turned towards the door. "Enos, go out and make sure th' cow's put up."
Enos knew better than to argue. When he came back, Sheriff Harris was gone. Deputy Coltrane and Uncle Jesse were on the porch talking to his pa'. Enos ducked around the side of the porch to hear what was going on.
"Deputy Ledbetter's down with th' body, along with J.D. Hogg, tryin' to hold everyone back," Rosco was telling them. "I'm gonna go on back and help 'em get her back to town. State Police are comin' in the morning." He walked down the steps, off of the porch.
"Rosco," his pa' called after him, "you be careful. Folks 'round here are libel to be on a short fuse."
"Yes sir, I understand."
Jesse waited until the deputy had gone before speaking. "So what's Butch say?"
Otis shook his head. "He's gonna go ahead and pick up John Mayfield. Mostly for protection tonight, but Enos saw him down at th' river and said he'd been drinkin'. Knew somethin' had scared the tar outta the boy when he came home today."
"They'd best h..." Jesse stopped. He peered off into the night. "What in tarnation!?"
Over the hill, a myriad of lights blazed in the darkness. As they came closer, it became apparent it was a large group of people carrying torches, escorting a car moving slowly up the road. More than a little alarmed, Enos ran up onto the porch to stand by his pa' and Uncle Jesse as the car pulled up and stopped in front of the farmhouse. A man Enos had seen before, but didn't know, got out of the passenger's side as the rest of the people gathered around him.
"Where's that Sheriff and those other buffoons that work for him?" the man shouted.
"He ain't here, Charlie. What d' ya' need?"
"We got the man who did it! Got him right here!"
Shouts of 'That's right!" and "String him up!" filtered through the angry crowd.
He pulled open the back door of the car and someone inside kicked a man out - bound, gagged, and bloodied, with a rope around his neck. Enos moved behind his father, horrified, as John Mayfield struggled to escape.
"Lord Almighty..." whispered Uncle Jesse.
"What are y'all thinkin'?" Otis yelled at the mob. "This ain't how things're done around here! Bring him on up here and we'll watch him 'till the Sheriff gets back."
"They ain't gonna do nothin' to him!" another man shouted. "He's a damn revenuer! He's one a-theirs!"
"He ain't worth th' bullet I'd give a sick dog!" called another.
"Now you just wait one cotton pickin' minute!" started Jesse, walking towards the edge of the porch. "I ain't gonna stand by and let you people act like you ain't got no sense in your heads..." He stopped as several shotguns were lowered in his direction. Otis tugged him back.
"Ever'body knows you and Otis have been hobnobbin' with this mongrel," the man said, delivering John Mayfield a kick to the gut. "We ain't interested in hearing 'bout what some stiff-shirted judge in th' city calls legal or not. Now, either you're with us or you're not, but we aim to set things right!"
There was nothing Jesse or Otis could do. Enos stared, terrified, as the mob descended on the man, kicking him as he lay curled, helpless on the ground.
His father grabbed him and pulled him around into his arms to hide his face. "Son, don't you ever forget," he whispered fiercely in his ear. "This ain't justice."
Enos nodded, and Otis looked over at Uncle Jesse. "Jesse, please - get my boy outta here."
"Come on, Enos, let's go." Uncle Jesse took his hand and pulled him quickly into the house and through the kitchen to the back door and into his pick up. "You hold on, son. We ain't goin' the road."
Jesse Duke swung the truck around and headed off through the back acre and down the old railroad bed that headed east towards Chalk Hills. The branches struck and scratched at the truck as it whipped by them, and Enos was deathly afraid one would break the windshield. He stared straight ahead as the headlamps guided them slowly through the woods, startling deer whose eyes shone like jewels in the dark, reflected by the light.
Eventually they came out at Sand Creek Road and turned right, towards Mill Road and the Duke farm. Uncle Jesse pulled the truck over to the side and turned to Enos.
"I'm awful sorry you had to see that back there."
Enos shook his head, tears burning in his eyes. "Uncle Jesse, it's all my fault those people were mad at him. I told the Sheriff I'd seen him drunk at the river an..."
"You listen to me," Jesse told him sternly, but kindly, "all you did is said what ya' saw. There ain't never wrong in tellin' the truth. Them people, Enos, they ain't doing right. Justice is about givin' every man – guilty or innocent, his full measure, not taking revenge." He looked over at the boy who seemed only half paying attention and sighed. "Let's get you on to the farm. You look like you need a good night's rest."
Uncle Jesse was wrong though, Enos had been listening. And unbeknownst to him, his words about justice had started the path down which Enos Strate would travel the rest of his life.
Aunt Lavinia came out to meet them as they pulled up, already having put the kids into bed early tonight with the goings on. She tucked her arm lovingly around the boy when he got out, and looked back in through the window. Jesse motioned her around to the driver's side and whispered what had happened in her ear.
"I'm gonna go on back, see what I can do," he said.
She nodded, tears in her eyes. "You be careful, Jess," she told him. "The kids are gonna need you."
The two shared a long look before Jesse nodded sadly. As he drove off, Lavinia steered Enos up the stairs.
"Come on, dear, I'll make ya' some warm milk before you go to bed."
As tired as he was, Enos found himself tossing and turning. The image of John Mayfield lying there in front of his porch, bloody and beaten, wouldn't leave him, and in his mind the man's eyes focused on himself, watching him as he hid . He nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the light knock on the door and the creak of it opening.
"Enos," whispered Daisy, "Enos, are you asleep?"
It was pitch black in the room, but he heard the floorboards as she moved over towards the bed. "I'm scared, Enos," she said. "Can I stay in here with you?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he told her, grateful for the little girl's company. He scooted over to the other side of the bed to make room as she settled in.
"I heard Uncle Jesse talkin' to Aunt Lavinia about somethin' happened to your aunt. What happened, Enos? Nobody'll tell me nothin'."
"Can I tell you about it tomorrow, Daisy? I'm awful tired."
"Alright," she sighed, disappointed. "'Night, Enos."
It was spring again in the Georgian hills, but for everyone who had known and loved Lavinia Duke, the sun seemed duller and the flowers not half as fair the day they lowered her into the cold ground of Pine Ridge Cemetery. Four children, whose lives had been touched by her, stood together – joined forever in the loss of the woman who'd been more of a mother to each than their own. And a man who had watched his wife slowly fade away with the passing of the old year, found himself with a broken heart and three young children looking to him to raise them. Jesse Duke had never been so scared in all his life.