The other day, I woke up from a nap with a song in my head and was reminded of how I came across it and its story lying on the Road. It was told to me by an old woman in a dead mill town one late autumn afternoon over glasses of homemade lemonade, after I asked her about the song I’d heard her singing while I stopped to stretch my legs.
* * * * *
“Hey ho, hie away home
Bread nor bones nor drippings has she none
Molly comes a-huntin’
Hie, hie away home
Poor lost lamb,
Hide from all the sorrow
On this dark day.”
(Obscure folk round to the tune of “Hey Ho Nobody Home/Ah Poor Bird”)
A long while back a trapper, a particularly bad-tempered man, lived up in the mountains with his wife, Molly, and their several children. One autumn, he got injured and was unable to leave his bed, leaving Molly to tend to him, the house, the children, and all the other things that needed doing. The winter storms came early that year and, what with everything, the food got low too soon. The trapper complained at her day in and day out for the house being too cold, and the soup being too thin, and how the children never stopped making noise while he was trying to sleep.
Well, one day poor Molly looked at her starving children, and at her ill-tempered husband, and made a decision. She told her eldest to take the little ones out and see if they could find a bit more wood for the fire to warm their father’s bones, and when they were gone out of the house, she took a pillow and stopped her husband’s yelling once and for all. When the children came back, she told them their poor father had gone to his great reward, and only the littlest ones cried. Later, she had her eldest help her bring the body out to the old root cellar, and said that they’d bury him in the springtime.
The next morning, she told the children she was going hunting to see if she could catch a rabbit for them to eat, and she’d be back soon. Well, old Molly, she went out and circled back out of sight of the house to that root cellar, took out a hunting knife, and brought some meat back home. That night, the children went to bed with a bellyful of good, hot soup, and Molly breathed a sigh of relief.
The trapper hadn’t been a particularly large man, however, and the winter and being bedridden had made him thinner. It wasn’t long before the soup pot grew light on meat again, and the children’s faces grew pale. One snowy evening, a lost stranger showed up on the doorstep, having seen the smoke from her chimney, and hoped to find a warm place to stay for the night. Molly looked at her starving children, and at the stranger, and made another decision.
In the morning, the stranger was gone, and Molly told her children that when he’d moved on, he had left them some venison as a thank you for letting him in, and that night, the children went to bed with bellies full of good, hot soup again.
Meat doesn’t last forever, though, not with growing children in the house, and once more the soup grew thin and her children’s faces grew pale. Molly looked at her starving children, and made another decision.
She pulled on her boots and her coat, and told the children she was going out hunting to see if she could find something for them to eat. There were other folks living in the mountains, isolated from each other by the snow, and over that winter, more folks went missing, but Molly’s children didn’t get hungry again.
Eventually spring came, and the snow melted, and rumors went around about a wild animal or a demon hunting folks out in the mountains. Some folks went round to all the cabins, checking on the families out on their own to see how bad things were. When they turned up at Molly’s house, they found her fat-cheeked children and they found the root cellar and a pile of bones that didn’t come from any rabbit or deer, but they never did find Molly. Someone found a relative to take the children in, and they all made sure that they never found out how she’d been feeding those kids all winter long.
Years after, when folks would go missing in the winter, it was said it was Molly that got them, and parents would keep their own children from wandering off into the mountains by telling them that if they strayed too far, Mad Molly would catch them to make her soup.
As far as I know, they still tell it, too.
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