“I think the branch on that big oak at the corner of the square looks dead,” Roman the builder remarked one bright spring morning, as brilliant sunshine flooded into the Café. The oaks in the square – the oaks which gave an air of nobility and something of the atmosphere of a green forest glade to Town Square – were covered in the green of new foliage and dusty springs of blossoms, which shed a kind of bright yellow dust the length and breadth of the heart of Luna City. All but a single barren branch; a branch the thickness of a man’s body, and which stretched out some twenty feet above the paved promenade opposite the front window of the Café. Roman continued. “I better tell the Mayor, get the work crew out to take out that branch, before it falls and kills somebody.”

“Do, please,” Miss Letty agreed. “I have noted several woodpeckers in that tree, and they prefer dead wood, of course. If the oak wood can be salvaged, and sawn into planks …” she added, thoughtfully. “It’s a historic tree, you know. They called it the ‘Hanging Tree,’ back in the day.”

“Was it, indeed, Miss Letty?” Richard was fascinated. He hovered around the stammtisch now that the morning rush was winding down, attending on his most valued regular customers. “I never knew that …”

“Well, the historical marker is around on the other side of the tree,” Miss Letty added sugar to her second coffee, sounding especially acerbic. “You cannot see it from here, I suppose. But that is the tree from which Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched in 1926.”

“I knew that,” Clovis Walcott gestured for the hovering Araceli to add a refill to his own coffee cup. “Local history, of course. But I’ve never really heard the full tale. I suppose that you know of it, Miss Letty – as president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Society.”

“Better than that,” Miss Letty took a dainty bite from her just-from-the-oven cinnamon roll. “I was there and witnessed what happened, although much of the aftermath was kept from me. I was only a child of six or so,” she added hastily. “Shopping with my dear mother on that morning. You know – the Wild West Emporium next door used to be a dry goods store. Mother wanted to purchase a length of calico for a new apron, and a spool of thread. And a quantity of fine linen for a dress for me. For my seventh birthday, you know. She had a nice pattern from the Simplicity Company. Mother had ordered it from Sears. We were going to pick out some nice fabric there, and then go shopping for the weekly groceries at Dunsmores’ Grocery. That grocery is the real estate office now is, next to Abernathy Hardware. In my young days, it was the general store. Luna City had one, you know. Then we didn’t need to travel all the way to Karnesville to buy groceries. Mr. Dunsmore was a fine-looking man, who always gave me a piece of peppermint candy. I liked him. His wife was much younger than he was. She came from the East – she was the first woman in Luna City to have her hair bobbed, and wear skirts above her knee. Mother thought she was fast – and wore too much lipstick and powder for a properly married woman,” Miss Letty added, in mildly-arctic disapproval. “Mrs. Dunsmore was even said to have rouged her knees.”

“The scandal of it all,” Richard commented, privately thinking that the senior Mrs. McAllister sounded like a perfectly dismal, po-faced old trout.

“It was a small town,” Miss Letty didn’t disdain the obvious. “Mother was raised with the understanding that it was unsuitable for a lady to improve upon nature with anything more drastic than papier poudre. She thought Mrs. Dunsmore’s free and easy ways made it most difficult for the Dunsmore’s daughter, Caroline. Caroline was, I think – eleven, that year. She helped her parents in the store, after school. We were not close enough in age to be friends, and by the time I was older, Caroline Dunsmore had been sent back east to her mothers’ kinfolk – because of the scandal. The Governor, Mrs. Ferguson, issued him a pardon after he was put in prison for running an illicit saloon … but the scandal when it all came out! Memories are long in small towns…” Miss Letty added apologetically. “Especially when it comes to … affairs of the romantic sort.”

Clovis Walcott snorted. “Not long enough, Miss Letty – I’ve never heard of this, and I’ve read Dr. McAllister’s history so often the pages in my copy are ragged.”

“My brother did hit the relevant points,” Mis Letty agreed. “That Charley Mills was nearly hanged by a mob, from the Hanging Tree in Town Square, after being accused of molesting Caroline Dunsmore in her bedroom at two in the morning. He was such a disgraceful character that practically anything might be believed of him. But it was a complicated matter, and some of it didn’t come out until after my brother had written his history. And Douglas was more nearly Caroline’s age, you see. They were friends, of a sort, and my brother was always sentimental about his friends. And it may have been the one time in history,” Miss Letty added thoughtfully, “That Charley Mills was actually quite … well, not innocent, exactly. But blameless. Blameless in the matter of which he was accused on that particular occasion. It was all made clear when Phillip Vaughn found his father-in-law’s unpublished memoir and donated it to the Historical Society. That would have been in 1990, or so – some years after the centenary. Alistair Bratten was the chief of police in Luna City for many years. He had …” Miss Letty reflected, while Roman, Richard and Clovis attended breathlessly, “The most imposing mustache. It really was a monument, that mustache; Chief Bratten being a notable monument in himself. He was a Scot, originally – from Fife, I believe. On Founders’ Day, he wore a kilt and played the bagpipes as part of the observations. My father respected him enormously. For Douglas and I, there could have been no higher testament to his worth. His only daughter married Frank Vaughn, who had a small property near Beeville, which was foreclosed in the first year of the Great Depression – that is how the Vaughn family came to Luna City and inherited a kind of traditional role in law enforcement …”

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City.        

2 Comments

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  2. Celia

    Oh, yes – there will be more.