If you ask the barber on the corner of 42nd and Oak about the trouble in Asheville on the night of the Acorn Festival, he’ll insist that Horace Bannock didn’t have anything to do with it. If you ask Asheville’s gossips, they’ll insist that of course Horace Bannock had something to do with it.
Now, I would take the barber’s word over the gossips, but I’m just about the only one in town that does. The sheriff comes down on the gossips’ side, but, the night of the festival, I saw Mr. Bannock come into the barbershop to get his haircut from Mr. Appleton.
But who’s going to believe the girl that polishes the mirrors in the barbershop? I do know to wash all that glass just how Mr. Appleton likes it, with his grandmother’s solution that doesn’t leave a spot. I know which records to play on the old Victrola while Mr. Appleton cleans his razors, and I know how to dust the antique bottles of shaver’s cream without breaking them. But I don't know if anyone would believe me.
Mr. Appleton would, because he gave Mr. Bannock his haircut. But Mr. Appleton also likes to stay out of trouble, and he wouldn’t go to the sheriff about it. “Mary Jeanne,” he said to me, a night or two after it all happened, “There’s many a man in Asheville who would pay me to take my razor to Horace Bannock and—”
“Oh, Mr. Appleton,” I said, as shocked as I could, “please don’t.”
Mr. Appleton looked ashamed. “I’m sorry, my girl, but that’s gospel truth. Why, I only do business for Horace Bannock because he pays me a bit extra. More for me, and more for you, too.”
Now, Mr. Appleton’s been doing right for me, ever since the government sent back news about my father and the war. They were friends, and my father was probably the only friend Mr. Appleton had. So I keep the shop neat for him and manage his appointment book, and he gives me enough to get along with. Horace Bannock’s money was a help to us both, so I had to speak careful.
“Even if Mr. Bannock is that kind of man,” I said, “he didn’t ruin the Acorn Festival.”
“I never said he did, and I’ll say so to anyone that asks,” Mr. Appleton said back, looking sharp at me.
“Well, no one’s asked you yet, have they?” I folded my dusting cloths neatly so I wouldn’t have to look at Mr. Appleton. “And they won’t ask you, because they’re sure Mr. Bannock is the man.”
“Mary Jeanne, you’re not going to defend the man, are you?” Mr. Appleton asked me.
I almost dropped the dust cloth. “Oh, no, sir! Me, go to the sheriff? I couldn’t.”
Mr. Appleton didn’t have anything to say to that, except for telling me to go home and get some rest. I didn’t sleep much, and the next day I went down to the sheriff’s office. I was only a step or two away from the door when I went all shivery inside, and I couldn’t make my feet go in. When I turned around and tried to walk away, those feet marched themselves right back to the barbershop.
“Where have you been all morning, Mary Jeanne?” Mr. Appleton asked me. I could tell from the way opened the door for me that he knew I hadn’t rested much, and I didn’t want him to send me home.
So I said, as bright as I could, “Just into town for some fresh air. But now those bottles in the back need a good dusting before Mr. Beech comes in. You know he likes the chair at the back, and he can’t have the sneezes while you’re shaving him, can he?”
Mr. Appleton chuckled a little. “The sneezes wouldn’t help him, that’s for sure,” he said, and I went in.
I had my apron on, and I was just getting to the farthest back bottle on the shelf with my old duster, when I heard the bell ting over the door. I thought it was Mr. Beech, and I hurried so much with that last bottle, I almost broke it. But when I turned around, Horace Bannock was standing in the doorway.
“Morning, Miss Mary Jeanne,” he said, fumbling with his cap a little. He didn’t sound rough at all, and he almost looked scared.
“You won’t be wanting another haircut, will you, Mr. Bannock?” I said. “You were just here, and Mr. Appleton did a fine job on you.”
He shook his head. His boots were all muddy, but the way he was staring at them, I don’t think he could tell. “Is Mr. Appleton hereabouts?” he asked. “I could use a shave.”
He didn’t look like he needed one, but it wasn’t my business to tell him. I left the duster on the shelf and hurried into the back room for Mr. Appleton, who came out right quick when I told him who was at the door.
“Morning, Mr. Bannock,” he said, slow and careful. “What would you like?”
Mr. Bannock sat down in one of the chairs. “A shave and a word with you while you’re at it.” When Mr. Appleton hesitated, he added, “I’ll pay you double, Appleton.”
So Mr. Appleton got out the cream and razors and started to work on Mr. Bannock. I was tidying up the shop, giving things a quick clean, and soon I was close to Mr. Bannock’s chair. He had his head back a little, because Mr. Appleton was working on a hard place. There was no one else in the shop, and I heard Mr. Bannock’s whisper.
“You’ve got to help me, Appleton,” he said, all hoarse, like he was sick. “You saw me that night. You know I didn’t do it, the night of the Festival. I was right here in your chair.”
Mr. Appleton finished up the hard place. He looked at Mr. Bannock’s face, half covered with cream, in the mirror. “Well, Mr. Bannock,” he said, so softly I almost didn’t hear him, “what about the house on Maple and 11th? The Sands place? The old library?”
Mr. Bannock turned the chair so sharp he almost knocked Mr. Appleton over. “You saw me that night,” he said again. “What if I was at the house, the Sands, the library? I wasn’t at the Festival, and you know it.”
“Well, I don’t have to tell the sheriff, do I?” Mr. Appleton said.
Mr. Bannock stood up. The cream went all over the floor, but I didn’t move.
“I thought you were an honest man, Appleton,” he said. He didn’t shout, but his words shook like he was angry. Mr. Appleton didn’t answer him, and all suddenly he turned round and pointed at me. “You did right for Miss Mary Jeanne, why not do right for me?”
Mr. Appleton took a step closer to Mr. Bannock. “And when did you do right for Miss Mary Jeanne? The word about her father came, and where were you? The Sands place?”
Mr. Bannock looked ready to hit Mr. Appleton, but I must have tried to say something, because he looked at me and stopped. The bell tinged above the door, and the frame shook when he left.
I tried to say something again, and this time I could. “Did Mr. Bannock know my father?”
Mr. Appleton got the mop himself and swept up the spots of cream still on the floor. He gave the mop to me and put away his razor, and then he said, “Yes, he did. We promised your father, if anything happened to him, that we would see after you.”
I swept over the floor again, even though it was clean. “And Mr. Bannock didn’t?”
Mr. Appleton looked at me in the mirror. “Plenty of men came back from the war broken in their minds, Mary Jeanne. Horace Bannock was one of them.”
“But the house on Maple and 11th? And all those places?”
“It doesn’t mean he never did wrong, Mary Jeanne,” Mr. Appleton said, as he wiped his hands on his apron. “But I think he couldn’t see after you.”
“I’m glad you did, sir,” I said, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
All the rest of that day, my thoughts were all mixed up in my head. I did fair enough work in the shop, but Mr. Appleton sent me home early. I was walking along to the boardinghouse, and I had just reached the corner of 7th and Hickory when I heard someone call out to me, but quiet.
“Miss Mary Jeanne! Miss Mary Jeanne, please.”
I turned, and there was Mr. Bannock, his cap all creased in his hand. “Evening, Mr. Bannock,” I said, and went right on. My boardinghouse was right past the corner, and Mr. Bannock didn’t come after me. I got in and shut the door, feeling like I’d been for a cold dip in January.
“You know what he wants, Mary Jeanne,” I said to myself. “He wants you to go to the sheriff and say where he was, the Festival night.”
“But will your feet go in the door?” myself said back to me. “No, they won’t, and you won’t either.”
That night I fell asleep in spite of myself—I suppose I was just worn to pieces. The morning woke me up early, before I had to go to the barbershop, so early that most of Asheville was still sleepy. I spent a long time doing myself up, every button on my boots. Then I thought I would go by the bakery to get breakfast, so off I went.
Of course, I had to go by the sheriff’s office to the bakery. I almost walked past it, but the sheriff was unlocking the door. I stopped a minute, and then I said, “Morning to you, sir.”
The sheriff looked up. “Morning, Miss Mary Jeanne,” he said, tipping his hat a little. “Can I do anything for you?”
And it came out in a rush, so easy I was surprised at myself.
“Well, well,” said the sheriff, slow and thoughtful. “Would you mind coming in a minute or two, so I can take this down?”
“Not at all, sir,” I said, surprising myself again. “Mr. Appleton saw him too, sir. He’d tell you, sir, if you asked him.”
“I’m sure he would,” said the sheriff, still thoughtful. I guess he did believe me, because he put it all neat in a statement. Then I swept on on to the bakery and the barbershop like a society lady, not remembering what time it was at all.
“Have you been round and round Asheville twice this morning?” Mr. Appleton asked me.
I forgot my society lady feeling at once, he looked so worried. “I’m sorry, Mr. Appleton,” I said. “I’m really all right.” I went in and tied on my apron, and then I sat down at the appointment book.
Mr. Appleton shut the door. “I don’t want you worrying about Horace Bannock, Mary Jeanne. Next time he comes, I’ll let him keep his money.”
“Oh, don’t worry, sir,” I said. “I’m not going to let him worry me.” I shut the book and looked up at Mr. Appleton. “Suppose that money was his way of doing right for me?”
Mr. Appleton frowned his thinking frown, so I added, “And I went to the sheriff this morning, to tell him about the night of the Festival.”
He didn’t say anything for a minute, but I saw his smile starting. “Well, well, Miss Mary Jeanne. You have a sight more pluck than I do, my girl.”
“No, sir,” I said, slow and steady, “I just wanted to do right for Mr. Bannock.”