In which Our Millie learns a lesson about loyalty. There is a very itchy situation. We meet Mr. Wells and hear about his unfortunate accident.
Our Millie used to say that life is like a poison ivy itch. You don't dare scratch it, you can get a little relief from it, you start to accept it and you get up one morning and it is gone except for the scars. Of course it is better than losing a toe.
Idy Clare lived down the road from Our Millie. She moved in when the girls were near the end of the third grade and they soon were walking to school together. Idy Clare was a tall skinny kid with blue eyes, freckles and brassy red hair hanging down her back in two long braids. Idy Clare came from somewhere away from the mountains and had some strange ideas. She held herself apart from most of the kids but decided she liked Our Millie well enough that they should become blood cousins. Our Millie had never heard of that before and didn't think she liked the idea much but Idy Clare made it sound real mysterious and kept talking about how special it was. She even wrote out a Loyalty Oath for both of them to sign. Then they would tear it in two and each would keep their piece and if they were apart and met years later they would join the two pieces together to renew their oath. That was alright but Our Millie wasn't sure when Idy Clare said it had to be sealed with their mixed blood to make it real.
So one day they snuck into Big Mil's kitchen and took a paring knife out of the drawer and made their way back behind the barn to complete the blood oath. Idy Clare tried to act like this was no big deal but as it turned out it didn't bother Our Millie half as much and Idy Clare fainted dead away. Our Millie started slappin' her on the face like you read about in books and she finally came around when her cheeks were as red as her hair and she was real mad about bein' hit and said it was all Our Millie's fault 'cause she didn't hold the knife right. Anyway, the blood was finally mixed and two thumb prints were pressed into the paper. Idy Clare tore it it two and gave Our Millie her print and kept the one with Our Millie's print and put it in her pocket.
Right away Our Millie began to decide this loyalty stuff wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Her thumb still hurt, although she would never tell Idy Clare that. Then they got caught trying to return the paring knife and while she had to face Big Mil's wrath Idy Clare turned tale at the door and ran down the hill like she was being chased by a pit bull. Our Millie decided to forgive her because even grown men who fought bravely in wars had been known to do the same when confronted by Big Mil.
A few days later though there was another adventure for the girls. Our Millie learned that what was an adventure to Idy Clare was usually a disaster for her. They were sitting behind the school building talking about school starting in a few days and how they had to get crayons and pencils and what their new teacher would be like. They heard it was a man named Mr. Wells, from the City. They had never had a man teacher before and entering fourth grade with this new teacher was exciting and important. Our Millie wanted to make a good impression and get started off right.
It was about that time that Idy Clare saw a bunch of poison ivy growing on a tree and after some thought she told Our Millie that her Uncle Ray was going to be a doctor someplace over East and that he told her that if she ever ran into poision ivy, if she rubbed it over her arms and face she would be immune for life. It didn't sound right to Our Millie but she was half dreaming about this new man teacher and wondering what his first name was so she just sort of nodded and said OK.
When Our Millie broke out with the worst case of poision ivy ever heard of in those parts since Uncle Jesse fell into a bunch on his way home from his Still and slept the night there, Big Mil asked how she could have done such a stupid thing. When she cried that Idy Clare told her to do it and said she would be immune for life if she did, Big Mil gently tried to soothe her blisters with calamine and not so gently told her she would be a fool for life if she kept listening to that girl…Our Millie still couldn't understand why Idy Clare only got one little blister and seemed to be fine.
So that is how she started the new school year. She didn't walk to school with Idy Clare and they sat on opposite sides of the classroom. A part of her missed the adventures but there was too much else to think about. She was still itchy and had a scar on her arm from where she had scratched and shouldn't have. She felt mad and ugly and sad because Mr Wells was standing in front of the class and she didn't even feel like smiling when he called her name. All she could do was mumble "here."
When she went home after the first day in fourth grade she took out her half of the blood oath to look at, and unfortunately she lost it while she was readin' it in her grandma's outhouse. She felt better after that.
Mr Wells came from the City and didn't know much about mountain living and everything that mountain men know from the time they are on their mother's knee. He decided that to be part of the area he needed to learn to hung. So he got a gun and practiced a lot but never went out to shoot anything. Idy Clare's family had a big field and some of the men would go out there just to shoot. Idy Clare was always trying to get Mr. Wells' attention and when Our Millie had gotten Big Mil to ask him to dinner and he came and they had chicken and dumplings and he liked it, she found out the best thing of all. His first name was Gilbert. Could you believe it? Idy Clare couldn't take it any longer and she badgered her daddy to ask Mr Wells — Gilbert — to come out and shoot one Saturday. Our Millie never really knew how it happened but that Monday when she went to school there was a lot of excitement in the air. Idy Clare was standing in the middle of the room all red hair and red face tellin' everybody that Mr. Wells had shot off his big toe.
He didn't come back to the classroom for weeks and they had Miss Rickles who was old as the hills and grouchy as a bear who woke up early out of hibernation, because there was no one else for the schoolboard to call.
Mr. Wells left for the city at the end of the school year and no one heard of him again.
Our Millie got a letter from Idy Clare the other day. She had moved away at the end of eight grade and though they had exchanged some letters through the years they hadn't seen each other for a long time. She sounded real excited and said she was coming for a visit and bringing her half of the Blood Oath. She just knew the two pieces would still fit together.