the other woman, and then when they’d wore themselves out with arguing, Charlie lay down on a pallet beside the fire to go to sleep. And he held the little baby Nancy in his arms.”
Spencer Arrowood opened his mouth to speak, remembered that he had promised not to interrupt, and closed it again.
“Frankie saw him sleeping there by the fireplace, and she picked up an ax. Some say her daddy was there a-visiting in the cabin with them, and that he told her to do it. He might even have threatened to kill her if she didn’t murder Charlie. Family honor, I suppose. Like it says in the song, He was her man, and he was doing her wrong .”
With an almost imperceptible shake of his head, the sheriff stopped Alton Banner from interrupting.
“Anyhow, Frankie Silvers snuck up on Charlie, brandishing that ax, but he was holding the baby, and he rolled over and smiled the sweetest smile in his sleep. And she looked down at her handsome young husband, sleeping there so peaceful-like with their little daughter snuggled against him, and she just couldn’t do it. She backed away. Three times Frankie crept up close to him, and three times he smiled like an angel and caused her to put down the ax and back away again, but the fourth time, he was sleeping sound, and the baby crawled out of her father’s arms, and Frankie brought the ax down—whop!—and she near ’bout cut his head off. Charlie opened his eyes, and he said, ‘God bless the child!’ And then he was gone.”
The first page of Spencer’s notepad was full. He flipped to a new page and scribbled on.
Martha Ayers looked at the expression on his face and wished she’d waited for a book.
Helen Honeycutt smiled at the sheriff’s diligence, pleased at being given such rapt attention. She picked up the tale again with more enthusiasm in her voice. “So Charlie Silvers was dead, laying there by the fireplace in their little cabin. Then Frankie had to figure out what to do with that body. So she cut him up like a deer, and she put his body into the fire, but she didn’t have enough firewood to finish the job, so she took the pieces that were left over and she hid them out in the woods. Her daddy took the ax and threw it in the river on his way home, so they never did find it.
“Well, the next morning Frankie went over to her in-laws’ house, and she told them she was worried about Charlie. She said he had gone hunting, and he hadn’t come home last night. Every day for three days she went to Charlie’s parents’ house and said, ‘No, he’s not back yet.’ And his folks were getting frantic with worry, because it was winter and all. They rounded up most of the neighbors and started hunting the woods, looking for tracks or some sign of Charlie. They didn’t find him.
“Then one of Charlie’s old hunting buddies got suspicious, and he went into the cabin after Frankie left, and he found ax marks on the log walls, and blood all over the floor. Then they started hunting the woods up close around the cabin, and they found Charlie’s body parts scattered around, some in tree stumps and over by the creek. So they arrested Frankie and took her on horseback down to the jail in Morganton.” She paused for breath, smiling expectantly at her audience.
Spencer reminded himself that he wasn’t interrogating a suspect. He managed a polite smile. “Can I ask questions now?”
“Yes, if you’d like.”
Spencer glanced down at the scrawled notes. “I appreciate your coming and telling me this story,” he said gently. “And I know that folktales are supposed to be heard and not dissected, but this is a true story, which is why I’m interested in it. You see, I have the mind of a policeman, even when I’m not on duty, and so I’m going to ask you some questions about what you told me, just as if I were the investigating officer.”
Mrs. Honeycutt looked wary. “Well, I can’t promise I’ll know the answers, but you can try.”
“All right. First of all,