Now on Amazon! Bekke’s Law

A two part story combined into one book… at a single book price!

Bekke’s Law is a different kind of Western. You will find yourself cheering for her as she struggles to survive in a western world pitted against her, yet in the end, she wins.

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first man at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

Excerpt from Belle’s Law, page 1.

WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

Moose Cholack was a big baby, so big the Christian name Benjamin was soon replaced with the more fitting one of Moose.

At three years old he needed his own bed, the type a healthy twelve year old growing boy needs. His teacher gave him the use of her own chair and desk until they too became too small. It was then that Moose began using the floor as his seat. A large carnival pencil was his writing instrument. Still, Moose was an adaptive and creative child who held no grudge against for those around him for making him the butt of many jokes.

 In fact Moose seemed to enjoy his size. It sure made life easier on the family farm in Missouri to have a massive reserve of energy to call on when needed. Once when the farms mule came down lame he dragged the plow around while his older brother Whitey guided it.

Whitey was born of normal girth three years before Moose and as older brothers are, was very protective of his large but good natured brother. The relationship was tight but not so much that when at the age of sixteen and Whitey became antsy pants about seeing the world, Moose encouraged him to do so.

It was no secret that farming held no appeal for Whitey, so when his Uncle, also named Whitey, asked if he wanted to try his hand at Cowboying on the same working ranch in Montana as he did, Whitey jumped at it. Satisfied where he was, Moose stayed behind, being content as a hard working Missouri farmer.

When the rush to the west occurred, change came quickly to his community. The wagon trains brought innocent folk wanting a better life but they also brought with them thieves and scoundrels of various types. After numerous close calls, Moose decided to visit the local gunsmith searching for a proper firearm. It was during this visit that he discovered his huge fingers would not fit into a single trigger guarded pistol.

Stepping up to the challenge, the gunsmith colluded with his friend the black smith to outfit Moose with a custom made piece. Since no cartridge made was big enough to fit the new gun, they resorted back to the age old black powder cap and ball design. In this case, the ball weighed a little over a pound!

The first time the three men gathered to test the huge pistol, they fired a ball into a black locust fence post the thickness of a man’s thigh, the post was blown cleanly in half. Only Moose had the strength to withstand the recoil.

So it was that more than a few no goods backed down when seeing what was being aimed at them. In fact, one terrified man offered to pay Moose in gold coin if he would be allowed to go his way unharmed.

Six years passed since Whitey parted ways for the western life when Moose received a post from him. It was an urgent plea for help. In the letter Whitey explained that he had purchased an abandoned ranch outside the town of Crab Tree with good water but was having problems with the bully neighbor.

The neighbor, an Englishman, held no regard in handshakes or promises. The steam known as Red Rock Creek, meandered between the two properties and acted as the dividing line between the two. As most springs tend to, over a few years it wandered more towards the Englishman’s property, leaving Whiteys behind. Rather than holding to the gentleman’s agreement of sharing the water, Whitey one day found barbed wire fencing his cattle out.

Water is more precious than gold to a cattleman. A cow doesn’t give two hoots how shiny a colored rock is but will run for miles when they smell a stream of cool water.

Whitey found his herd bellowing along the barbed wire fence crying for the water they could not get to. Time after time Whitey cut the wire but it was always repaired the next day.

It all came to a head when the Sheriff arrived one day and handed Whitey a summons to appear in court. The charge was trespassing, infringing on water rights and theft of water.

Whitey knew the charges wouldn’t hold up in a honest court but as courts went, this one was pretty far from being called honest. The neighbor, Percival James, had been busy spreading cash and favors around the political circles for some time. It seemed now he was calling in some of the owed favors.

Throwing the papers back in the face of the spineless Sheriff, Whitey once again took the fence’s demise to task.

Sheriff Ted Dickens grappled with his holster shouting, “Stop right there Whitey or I’ll arrest you here and now for destruction of private property.” In the clumsy attempt at pulling his pistol, it ended up being juggled from hand to hand before it fell onto the muddy riverbank.

“Now see what you made me do? Damn you Whitey, now I’ll have to take it all apart to clean it!”

Whitey picked up the thrown away summons from where it lay on the ground and shoved it towards the furious Sheriff of Crab Tree, “Here,” Whitey told him, “clean that piece of iron horse shit with this!”

“You’ll be sorry Whitey Cholack,” Sheriff Dickens warned, “you’ll be sorry. Just wait till Mister James and Judge Cooperman find out how you treated me, you’ll wish you never messed with that wire!”

Whitey continued to cut the wire away, post by post. Whitey’s bone dry cattle shoved and bullied their way through the openings and plunged into the creeks cool water en mass. As the cattle gratefully slacked their thirst, Whitey knew troubled waters were brewing. The James spread, ironically named the ‘Placid Acres Ranch’, had way more cowhands working on it than Whitey’s ranch had. Whitey knew his place was outgunned and out lawyer’d so the worry weighed heavy on him.

Making his way back towards the ranch house he regretted that his dream of settling in the beautiful valley was beginning to leave a foul taste in his mouth and all because of some greedy Englishman who bucked the Western way.

 

Chapter 2

Two days passed and Whitey rode to the fence line where he had had earlier cut and removed the wire. The wire had not been replaced and Whitey wondered if James had come to his senses and decided to give up trying to keep his cattle from the once common creek.

Dismounting, made his way to where the now soggy court summons lay on the creeks muddy bank. As he stooped to retrieve it the zinging sound similar to an angry hornet passed just over his head. The angry hornet thwacked itself into a nearby willow tree’s trunk and a heartbeat later he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot.

Throwing himself upon the riverbank for protection he was inches away from the second shot which plowed up the mud if front of him. Rolling further down the bank he was completely hidden now from the shooter. Drawing his pistol was useless at this range and he wished he had taken the rifle from its saddle scabbard when he dismounted. He felt naked, vulnerable and dismayed that someone would go as far as trying to kill him over a fence.

Belly crawling along the length of the creeks bank he tried staying hidden to the eyes that had fired the two shots. He wondered if the shooter may have thought him hit since his rolling down the bank may have looked that way from such a distance away.

The bay seemed unconcerned over Whiteys dilemma and continued to casually crop the lush grass growing along the creek.

After a half hour of belly creeping, he reached his horse. Slowly he made his way to the lee side of it and gathering the reigns, guided the bay further into the tall brush where he could safely mount it unseen.

Once safely back at the Ranch, Whitey gathered his hands warn them of the recent attempt on his life.

“I know you weren’t hired as shootist but if you’re out on the spread, keep an eye peeled for trouble. I’d rather you run off than get into a shooting war so if you see anything that raises your concern, head back here to the ranch.”

One of the cowhands looked up sheepishly and replied. Whitey, you been a good boss ‘an all but fifty dollars a month ain’t enough to keep me ‘an my pard Leroy here on. We didn’t sign up but for workin’ cattle. I’m sorry, I don’t want it held agin’ us none but we’s taking to the trail away from all this.”

Whitey nodded his resignation, “I understand and won’t hold it against any of you if you leave. As I said, I didn’t hire you as shootist.”

That evening it was decided that with only eight men left, two twelve hour shifts would be needed consisting of three range riders and one scout with a long gun keeping the three safe from sharp shooters.

It was then that Whitey decided to write his brother for help.

In his letter he explained the situation and laid out a plan that not only would get the law off his tail but put the fear of God into the Englishman and his riders.

He wrote that if the first plan was not able to be implemented that Moose would then have to just go ahead and bust him out of jail. The second plan would be no problem for the younger but huge brother, seeing as no iron bar made could stand up to his huge hands. Still, when Moose read the letter he truly hoped the first plan was going to be the one chosen.

By the time Moose had left his farm in Missouri pot shots taken at Whitey’s men was a near daily occurrence. At the rate of attacks it would only be a matter of time before one or more of Whitey’s men was hit.

Moose drove his mammoth mule with little rest onward towards Montana. Most folk view a mule as a stubborn creature that plods away at their own leisurely pace. Those mules born and bred in Missouri though were known for their power and fleetness of foot. Mules were known to outrace and able to run a good horse into the ground. Crossing the mountains the mule once again has the advantage, having bigger hooves for a surer grip on rocky terrain. Across sand those large hooves act as a camel’s would by keeping the beast from sinking into the sand. They can eat nearly anything growing and can go without water for long spells. In Moose’s case, the big advantage was that it was the only animal capable of carrying his weight.

Making his way over prairie, desert mountains and rock strewn soil, Moose and his mule gobbled up the miles between Missouri and Montana.

It was no surprise then that Moose showed up sooner than his brother anticipated.

 

  The coming of dawn brought the coming of Moose. Riding up to the ranch house, Moose was met by one of the men who’s duty it was to keep an eye out for trouble. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he ran and got Whitey to come see the stranger on a mule.

Whitey broke out in a big grin when he saw the huge man riding in on the over sized beast. Loping along faster than a horse could gallop, the two soon rode into the Ranches corral  where the Giant dismounted.

Seeing what had arrived, the men backed away in fear from the corral. Not only had they never even heard of a Mammoth Mule, but they weren’t even sure it’s rider was strictly human.

“Boy’s! I’d like you all to meet my baby brother, Moose. Moose, these here are what’s left of my hired hands.”

In a deep rumble that sounded as if it had its beginnings somewhere near the nation of China, Moose cleared his throat and holding out his hand in friendship, greeted them.

After each had shaken the mighty man’s hand they  wandered towards the house. Snodgrass, as the mule was called by, was led to a hay pile outside the barn first by Moose where he dove into eating to his heart’s content. “Don’t tie him up,” Moose warned,” it just pisses him off doing that. He won’t wander off nowhere, he likes me too much. Besides, I’m bigger than he is. Har, har, har.”

Resting on the homes large front porch, the cook came out with coffee and nearly dropped the pot in fright upon seeing Moose. That seemed to lighten the mood as the men had a hardy laugh.

“We need to go over the plan I have in mind,” Whitey told them. “what we need to do is get the law off of me so I can have the time to notify the Governor of what all is going on here. The last thing a politician wants is a range war over water rights. What I’m figuring is he’ll most likely send some troops over here Crab Tree to stalemate things until the courts can have a fair look at things. To have the freedom to do that though I need it to look like I was either run off or killed because if I stick my neck out in the open, I’ll be tried and sentenced before an honest court gets the chance to hear my case. Then there’s the folks here that are too scared of the James outfit to stand up and push back against the corruption going on. What we need to do is make them afraid of something even worse than Mister Englishman James. They’ll have to choice between the two to see who they obey and who they side against. I’m  thinking Moose here could just about frighten the dickens, no pun intended to our good Sheriff, out of most folk. If we can strike the fear of God into the town’s people, it will make it much harder for the Sheriff and the Judge to be buddy buddy in their ways.

Since both are elected officials, both will have the worry in the back of their minds of losing the next election if they can’t frighten the folk into voting for ‘em. So, gather round and I’ll tell what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter 3

The creaky wooden batwing doors of the Cactus saloon of banged open as if a dust devil was behind the thrust. Darkness replaced light as a Giant form stood blocking the entrance. All heads turned and lifted drinks were put back down as the crowd squinted in the saloons dim light to see just what or who could have plugged up the entire doorway.

What the patrons saw first was a pair of huge boots, too large to be real yet they caused the floorboards to sag downward in a protesting squeal. As their vision drifted up ward, a single holster could be seen hanging low down from the Giant’s hips. From the holsters no strap leather top protruded a pistol grip handle the size of most wooden legs. A vest made from a single spotted cowhide covered a double stitched sail canvas collared shirt sporting buttons the size of silver dollars. No head was visible.

Slowly the massive form began bending at the knees giving room enough so the door jams lintel wouldn’t be fractured from the barrel sized head trying to enter the saloons interior.

Every patron to a man backed away from the form in the doorway leaving drinks, gambling money and winning poker hands to lie untouched. Suddenly the rumble started.

In harmony with the sound of the saloon floors failing wooden support beams was the sound like a steam locomotives boiler ready to blow itself apart. It was no hot iron pressure vessel but the voice of the statue sized man wasn’t wearing a Texas ten gallon hat, no such luck, it held at least thirty gallons if it held a quart.

As large as cue balls, the Giants eye’s scanned each patron as it spoke. “I’m lookin’ for a man that goes by the name Whitey” the rolling thunder questioned, “Is he in here?”

Silence.

“Well? Is he here!” The large mirror behind the bar shook precariously on its anchors. Glasses moved themselves away on tables and more than a few pants became wet from sheepish bladders.

An average sized looking frightened cowpoke rose slowly on unsteady legs from one of the furthest placed gambling tables. Holding his hat between both hands up against his belly, the aghast cattleman nodded in stark fear.

“I, uh, I’m called Whitey by some Sir. Is it me you’s looking for?

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

“Y-yes Sir. Whitey Cholack Sir, that’s the name my Mama gave me… after her brother Whitey. I own the Ranch just north of town”

“Are you ready to leave this world mister ranch owner?” The bull Giant’s voice rumbled.

Slowly the massive right hand edged itself lower towards the holster carrying the custom made over sized pistol on his hip. The man called Whitey Cholack tried to back away from his certain demise but the rear wooden wall stopped his escape. The terrified looking cowpunchers arms extended forward as if he could fend off the blast that was sure to come with only his bare hands.

Removing what looked like an over sized model of a Colt 45 such as the type used as a hanging sign above a Gunsmith’s door, the Giant tilted the massive barrel and leveled it at the quaking man before him.

The big man spun the gleaming cylinder with his huge paw. Round and round the cylinder spun as the meager light from the doorway reflected off each of the loaded chambers like a strobe light. Mesmerized, the crowd stared as if the spinning silver cylinder were a roulette wheel with someone’s fortune or misfortune being held in the balance. It did not click, rather it clacked. As dissimilar as a click of a pen knife closing is to a rail cars wheel clacking on each rail joint, the cylinder spun testing the nerves of each watcher. When it finally came to a halt, all breathing stopped. One man’s nerve broke and he ran screaming for the door holding his head as if in pain. 

Later accounts by some told of a muzzle opening that was so big a normal man’s hand could have reached inside it to fondle the Giant lead ball within.

The jaw dropped patrons began to slowly edge themselves away from the line of fire, leaving a part down the center of the crowd like a church’s isle. No more than thirty feet away from each other, the huge gun and shaking cowpoke faced each other off.

The Giants sausage sized finger slid easily into the Mason jar sized trigger guard and began wrapping itself around the gleaming thick steel trigger. With a quick tug, the cannon sized gun came to life.

The explosion that ensued from that gaping muzzle reminded those who were gold miners of being trapped inside a mine during a blast. A ball of fire the size of a whiskey keg tore itself across the room catching men’s hats and clothing on fire as it passed by. Like thunder following the blinding flash of a lightning bolt, the concussion of the blast bowled even the soberest man off his feet. A Military cannon could not have produced the cloud of smoke as the fired pistol did. Not a soul within the place had the magical vision to see through the explosions cloud of acrid, eye burning white fog. Deafened, the crowd stood motionless as if fearing any movement would draw the ire of the Giant their way.

When finally the cloud began to lift, it was with the help of a fresh breeze blowing from where the rear wall once stood. Bright sunlight streamed through the barn door sized hole. For the first time in the saloons history, patrons could clearly see the filth and shoddy workmanship that for years had been hidden by the gloomy darkness. Looking back and forth as they hesitantly rose from their fallen position, the crowd stared in stunned silence as they searched for the body of the man called Whitey.

“M-my God! Whitey done got blowed to smithereens!” One man gasped. Still, no one inside dared to move except to slap out the fires of their burnt clothing.

Finished with the job he had come for, the Giant smiled then turned and with footsteps longer than a grown man could jump, the beast of a man thudded loudly out of the saloon. Once again, he stooped to pass under the doors frame.

Once outside, Moose, turned and quickly ran with unusual swiftness and dexterity to the rear of the saloon. Rounding the corner he came to a halt in front of the man he had just ‘Blown away’.

The blasted cowpoke also known as his brother Whitey, stood there slapping at his smoldering cloths with his hands laughing.

“My Gosh Moose. How much powder did you charge that monster with? I figured on having that cannon of yours make a lot of smoke, enough for me to walk out of there unseen but Good Lord,  I never thought I’d be able to step outside through the hole it made!”

“Better to error on the side of caution brother, to tell the truth it did give my hand a good slap!”

Moose removed the large western brimmed hat and peaked around the corner to make sure no one followed him. He looked back at Whitey and pointed to where he had tied up Whitey’s horse and his mule in the alleyway. “C’mon brother, daylights burnin’ away and we got to get you safely hid in the mountains.”

After sneaking out of town by riding behind the clustered buildings, they headed south toward Medicine Lodge Creek in Idaho along an old rarely used Indian trail.

Setting up camp along the mountain top ridge that divided Montana from Idaho, the two ate a meal of freshly killed mountain goat and biscuits they had carried inside of their pack.

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

“What we need to do now is build on the recent fright you gave those inside the saloon. We need to get the towns folks in the same mindset as those in the saloon. Once we get the whole town in jitters, Sheriff Dickens and Judge Cooperman will be too busy trying to calm their fears to worry about Mister James.” Moose nodded in agreement and Whitey continued.

“As it stands, having that fence line up gives James the right to take shots at our men if he can prove our hands were on his side of the land. Right now, he’s claiming both sides of the creek are on his land. If our men can keep tearing down his fence line during the night, our cattle can get watered. It ain’t a permanent solution but between you terrorizing the town and me missing and being hunted for, it should hold off any legal action from those two until my letter reaches the Governor and he sends help.”

“I guess I’d better head back to Crab Tree and stir the pot then. Are you staying up here or are you going to head down to Medicine Lodge Creek where it’s warmer.”

“I’ll head south some more to the creek. Tomorrow morning we’ll part ways.” Then stopping as if he just remembered something, Whitey told his brother, “When you go back, stop at the Ranch first and make sure all’s OK there. Tell the men what’s going on but don’t tell any of them what direction I headed off to just in case one of them gets caught and is forced to spill the beans. The less they know, the better they’ll be off.”

Peering at the Ranch house from the tree line, Percival James and one of his rougher men scouted the place out. “I don’t see no sign of Whitey nor that Giant, whoever he is, around the place Boss. Maybe Whitey did get blowed away for real.”

Sneering over at the big man, James shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous. No one gets killed so badly that he leaves no sign. There wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen from the spot he stood. No, somehow he escaped the deadly assault that was surely meant for him.”

“Then who was this Giant fella? I saw him with my own eyes Mister James. He had vengeance written all over his face as he pulled that trigger. He must’a had it in for Whitey for sure. He had to come from somewhere’s we don’t know about, maybe he and Whitey had a grudge going from years back before Whitey settled here.”

Lifting his eyes to the heavens James responded more to himself than the man who had just spoken, “Astute thinking for a lumbering ox. Though in truth, each of us has a past life now don’t we?”

“Yes we..”

“I wasn’t looking for an answer you great lummox! Now let’s get on back to my ranch. I’m starving half to death and missed tea hours ago!”

Not knowing if being termed a ‘great lumox’ was an insult or a compliment the hand decided to remain quiet and went on to retrieve their horses.

 

Chapter 4

What the two trespassers on Whitey’s land didn’t know was that the Giant in question sat perched listening to their conversation on the lowest and sturdiest limb in the tree they stood under.

Landing on his feet with a resounding thud, Moose ran back to where he had tied up his mule and continued on to the ranch house where he would meet up with the hands. Typical of a non wilderness wise person, James had given away his presence over a mile away by wearing a bright red hunting overcoat. It was this coat that James wore that let Moose follow James and his cohort as they tried their best to travel towards Whitey’s ranch house unseen. Moose had already determined where the best place to observe the house from and there he climbed the tree hoping neither would look skyward and discover him when they arrived.

“So Whitey is safe and hidden away till I send for him” Moose told the gathered men. “I also overheard Mister James say they have no idea who I am. They believe it was a grudge killing resulting from a past dispute. James is convinced Whitey escaped in the cloud of smoke but can’t prove it and neither man knew whatever became of me after the shooting.” Smiling wickedly, Moose told them, “Come tomorrow, I’m going to let the town know I haven’t left yet.”

Before the men parted to their rounds, Moose made sure each man still rode for the brand.

“We ain’t goin’ no place Mister Moose, as a matter of fact, I’m itchen’ to see what that there Englishman is made of. Bring him on I say!”

 

Chapter 5

Fred Johnstone was sleeping soundly in his room above his dry goods store, when awoke to a sudden crash outside. Lifting the window he peered out into the morning darkness to see what had made the infernal sound. The sound of splintering wood and a second crash made him lean out further in order to see. What he saw terrified him. There below and heading his way was the largest beast he had ever dreamed. Not even a nightmare could compete.

As Moose made his way down the street, he stopped time and time again to tear off the wooden roof overhanging each store’s walkway. Grabbing a post, he yanked mightily at it until it and the supported roof came tumbling down. Windows broke and storefront signs tumbled into the street adding to the noise.

Lanterns were lit and windows thrown open to the sound of screaming women and crying children. Plodding beside the man looking Giant, walked the biggest mule eyes had ever seen. Even non Catholics crossed themselves and called on Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save them.

No one had the sand to step out front to confront the Giant, instead most men skedaddled out the rear doors to the dry arroyo behind the buildings. Some relented and returned to save their wives and children before quickly returning to the wash.

By dawn the place had the looks of a tornado hit town. Few front windows remained intact and every walkway roof hung either at crooked angles or upon the ground in a heap.

Word reached The James ranch and having ownership of many of the buildings, Percival James came running. What he saw made his guts churn and bubble until he rushed to the nearest outhouse.

Meanwhile back at Whitey’s ranch, Moose was taking a bath trying to clean off the dirt and splinters the roofs had poured down on him. Using a cattle trough as a tub, he enjoyed replaying the recent event in his head and laughed from time to time to the amusement of the men.

The man Whitey had hired as Foreman, Tom Jeffers, approached Moose saying he and another hand should go into town to see what the towns folk were saying about the ruin of their town. Acting as innocent cowpokes, he told Moose they could not only hear what folks was saying but could spread the rumor that what had just occurred was nothing compared to what they had heard the Giant was about to do in the next few days to Crab Tree.

Sheriff Dickens stood upon the ruined jailhouse porch trying to calm the crowd. Lifting his hands into the air he pleaded for quiet. When the crowd eventually tired of it, a hush fell and Dickens finally gained control of the angry mob. “I’m telling you! I have no idea what or who this Giant is.” He shouted. “But, as you all know, I’m dedicating myself to finding out, even if it kills me!”

“It will!” someone shouted while others murmured in agreement.

“Enough of that! I’m sayin’ that I’m sending a post to the Governor declaring an emergency here. Only the Army can take this Giant on!”

Another anonymous voice shouted, “How long will that take? By the time troops get here there ain’t gonna be no town left. I heard that he’s comin’ back here soon to finish the job!”

“Well, given the time it takes to deliver the request and the Governor makes a decision and arrives with the troops, I’d say no more than a month or two!”

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

The judge, seeing that Sheriff Dickens was in over his head sidled up next to him an the makeshift podium that until yesterday was a well made wooden walkway. Leaning into the Sheriffs ear he smiled broadly but his whispered words burnt like pouring acid onto skin.

“Dickens, you better get your ass on the trail of the scoundrel that did this!  You know damn well the Governor will never send troops all this way to capture a single man that you can’t even pin a capital crime on. We have an election in less than six months! You better believe it that if we lose then whoever takes our places will eventually find how we squandered the money folks paid in taxes. That silver saddle you ride so proudly on will be used  to sit your ass upon as they kick out your horse and dangle you from the rope!”

Poking Dickens in the chest with his pudgy finger, Judge Cooperman snarled, “Now you gather up some men like a posse and promise them high pay for riding with you, ten dollars a day now, you hear? I want that man or creature found by tonight!”

Whitey’s man. Tom Jeffers, kept an open eye and ear to all that was being said and done. He noted with interest that Mister James had earlier spent time with the judge. It was shortly afterward that the Judge confronted Dickens about capturing the Giant.

Moose sat upon the porch stoop having found out earlier that it was strong enough to hold him without collapsing. As Foreman Jeffers relayed the information to him, it confirmed that Whitey’s plan was working out as planned.

The Sheriff was now too caught up with the issue of the Giant to worry about enforcing the Court summons given to Whitey. The Judge also had too much on his mind to consider such a menial task as convicting and sending off to jail a man he knew to be innocent.

“This damn Giant has ruined everything!” He cried.

Three nights later it was the other side of the street that became the focus of the Giants wrath.  Along with some torn off porch overhangs, the Court house was broken into and trashed. It would take weeks to re file all the thrown about documents properly, save one, the original complaint to the court James had filed against Whitey Cholack. That was tucked away safely in Moose’s only pants pocket.

The Sheriff would never get the chance to send for help, not would it have helped anyway.

A gathering of the townsfolk that afternoon called for heads to roll. The Judge decided it was a good time to retire from office and was seen headed out of town in his black coach. Sheriff Dickens locked himself inside his own jail to prevent the mob from stringing him up like a ham in smoke house. During the night he fled on foot into the prairie and was never heard of agin. Mister James, the belligerent Englishman was another matter though.  He would require a special talking to in order to see things in a different light.

That night he had his own special meeting with the Giant.

As the evening meal was finishing, Percival James requested his smoking pipe and his nightcap, a glass of sherry. Boswell, the longtime James household man servant was deftly carrying both in on an ornately carved platter made from the very rare Chinese tree, the huanghuali when the house shook on its foundation. Thinking a bomb had exploded, Boswell forgot his place as the staid and unshakable servant and threw the platter ceiling ward.  The great rooms window where Percival had been reclining in his polished leather hobbed nail chair,  exploded into pieces as frame and all, burst inward with a loud splintering crash. There in the blank space which had moments before held the multi paned plate glass window, stood Moose.

Before Percival could respond, either to the crashing window or the expensive and age old Meerschaum smoking pipe that bounced off his head, a massive claw of a hand reached out and wrapped it’s sausage thick fingers around the neck of Percival James. 

The poor English cattleman’s eyes bulged in terror as he was lifted bodily by his neck and tossed like a child’s doll onto the floor, Boswell shat his pants.  A Giant leg, the size of a fallen log, then entered the room through the gaping hole. It was soon followed by the contorted body of the Giant as Moose tried his best to fit through the four foot wide by six foot tall opening. Once inside Moose stood to his full height and with his index finger pointed it at the terrified Percival James and then with the ‘come hither’ sign, demanded James to rise and step forward.

In the account later told by Boswell to the Captain in charge of the troops that arrived shortly after the James’s household invasion, Boswell detailed the following conversation between the Giant and Mister James.

“Who are you and why are you terrifying my house?”

“I am seeking justice for your sins!” The Giant bellowed.

“Sins? I have no sins Sir, none at all.”

Without saying a word, the Giant produced a sheet of paper and placed it on the lap of the shaking Percival. Looking downward at the placed paper, James realized it was the falsified complaint he had lodged against Whitey.

“Oh…That? I-I w-was going to ask for its dismissal in the morning. Yes Sir, I was going to do just that. I misjudged my dear neighbor terribly and when I saw that I had made an error in calculating our property lines I immediately decided that by tomorrow afternoon every fence and post would be removed.”

With a deep rumble in his depths, the Giant chuckled saying, “They are already down and gone. Now I will deal with you!” Moose’s right hand slowly crept downward until his massive fingers touched the carved pistol grip protruding from the holster.

James covered his head and screamed, “Please, Don’t shoot me! I heard what that cannon did to Whitey. Let me go and I promise to return to the small village back in England where I came from. I had only wanted to become rich!”

“Your greed has ruined you. I will return in three days. If you are still here I will stone by stone and board by board dismantle this house and then turn my wrath upon you! Do you understand Mister Englishman!”

‘Yes, yes, a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

 

Chapter 6

Moose made his way swiftly back to the place where Whitey waited for word on what had come about. After explaining the events and outcome, Moose patted Whitey’s bay on the rump and said, “Better pack up brother, the problem is solved. We gotta’ get back.”

“What about the troops I sent for, how will I explain the trip they made was for naught?”

“Oh them? They’re not coming. The Army told the Governor  that they have their hands full with some Indian problem going on and can’t spare even a man. The Governor wrote you back and said he had decided to remove Judge Cooperman from the bench and that he is sending out his replacement. The new Judge should arrive shortly. He might even be here by now, I didn’t check.”

Upon their return to Crab Tree, the two brothers rode over to the James’s Ranch to see if James had held up his end of the bargain and returned to England. Upon arriving, they found the entire staff and cowhands had abandoned the place… all except one, Boswell.

When asked by Whitey why he had never left, Boswell explained why he had stayed behind.

“Well Sir, the truth being told, though I soiled myself in terror from the event, I discovered why the West is such an enigma to those not living here. I clearly saw what a thief and a man of low character Mister James was. What is acceptable behavior elsewhere is considered taboo here in the West. I could not in all good conscience, return to work for the scoundrel Percival anymore for fear of being painted with the same brush as him. Therefore, I had decided to wait until your return to ask if you might consider taking me on as your man. You will find me a handy person to have as I am quite capable of balancing the books and running a household. What do you say?”

“Well, I thought maybe my kid brother here could do most of that.”

Before Boswell could answer, The deep rumbling voice of Moose broke in.

“Sorry brother, as much as I enjoyed playing Jack and the Beanstalk with you, I really want to return home to my farm. Besides, harvest time is just around the corner and I need to be there for that.”

Whitey kicked the dirt with his toe and shrugged his shoulders. Looking up at Boswell he asked, “Can you ride a horse?”

“Not in the least but I am willing to learn Sir.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need to know that stuff anyway if you’re in the house all day. Alright, I’ll give you a shot Boswell. But do me a favor, Stop calling me Sir, my men will never let me here the end of it if you go around calling me that!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

The new judge determined after an extensive investigation into the James / Cholack affair, that Percival James had filed false complaints, had colluded with the Sheriff to illegally drive Whitey from his property and ruin his cattle business by denying his cattle water. He determined the damages done to Mister Cholack’s business and was rewarded the abandoned ranch that Mister James had once owned as compensation.

The town recovered and to this day no one knows who the big Giant was, where he came from or where he disappeared to.

The Giant, Moose returned to Missouri with his mule and harvested the crops that were in the ground at the time that his brother had called on him for help. He has fired his pistol three more times since leaving Montana then but those are for another story.

Boswell was a blessing to the ranch as Whitey saw his profits increase due to the brilliance of the man in charge of the books. Boswell learned to ride a horse but admittedly had a great fear of them. In horror, he shat his pants upon his first ride.

                                                                       The End

 

 

 

The Industrialist Rancher

cow_sniff_calf

Chapter 1

The morning sun worked its way across the room until it landed squarely on the body lying contorted on the bed. Two flies played tag in the sunlight then landing momentarily on the body’s nose.

Suddenly the body snorted and a hand swept the air in front of the unshaven face trying to chase away the buzzing irritants. One bleary eye cracked open and immediately squinted shut in pain. A few more snorts and a long sonorous clearing of his dry throat brought open the other eye. With both eyes staring unfocused into the hotel room, the hung over cowboy began his attempt to sit up.

“Oh God, if I ever drink again let me get plugged with lead before I wake. “ With great effort, the young man with a pounding headache finally made it into a sitting position on the edge of the soft horsetail mattress. Placing a hand on the bed he felt its rich softness with the likes that he’d never experienced in a bed before. Looking around, his gaze caught site of the silk window drapes and imported woven floor rug. “Dang, How’d I end up in a place like this?” Reaching out to the bedpost, he removed the pants hanging over the post and checked his money belt. Relieved, he found it still contained twenty two of the forty dollars out of his monthly pay. Satisfied at the remaining amount, he rose and stumbled towards the water bowl  atop the ornate French vanity.  As he Splashed water on his face he noticed someone had placed a straight razor set up next to the bowl, probably the hotel. Taking advantage of the situation, he shaved and washed his hair afterward in the bowl. Opening the window he shoved aside the ornate drapes and tossed out the bowl of fouled water onto the street below and commenced  dressing himself.  Thankfully,  he began to feel halfway human by the time he slid his pants back on.

A light knock on the rooms door startled him. A rush of panic momentarily gripped him as he suddenly realized someone had to pay for this room and it sure couldn’t be him, not on his earnings!

Swallowing hard, he regained his composure and boldly faced the door “Yeah? Who’s there?”

In an unusually deep voice he heard, “It’s the Sheriff! I’m haulin’ ya’ in fer abandonment mister!”

“Wha??? Abandonment?” Suddenly he realized the so called Sheriff’s voice while deep in tone was way too feminine to be a man and then he heard giggling from the other side of the door. Reaching for the door, he slid the latch aside and partway opened the door on its chain. Poking one eye through the crack, he spied on the visitor. At first he looked straight out and saw nothing but when he lowered his sights a bit more he took in the small feminine figure smiling broadly up at him.

“Uh… may I help you Ma’am?”

The deep voice was replaced with that of a young woman with a slight Eastern accent.“Ma’am? Is that what you’re going to end up calling me Jethro?” She chuckled.

Scratching his head in confusion he replied, “I, uh… shoot Ma’am, I’m at a disadvantage here see’n as you know my name an’ all and I don’t recall yours. Heck, in all honesty, I don’t believe we’ve ever even met.”

A dark and serious look crossed the pretty young blond girls face but then she quickly recovered her happy go lucky smile and replied. “Alright Jethro, I know you had quite a spell of drinking and funning last night so I won’t hold it against you for being a bit woozy this morning but pretending you don’t know me and that we were married last night is something altogether different. You know perfectly well what you did, after all you jumped at the chance! Now, finish getting dressed, we have to go back over to the courthouse to pick up our marriage certificate. ”

“Wha??? Marriage certificate? Ma’am I’m gonna’ be mite beyond woozy if I just heard you right that we was married last night!”

This time the serious look returned to her face but did not leave. “Jethro, please don’t tell me you’ve got regrets and want out. I asked you twice and your friends asked you even more than that if this is what you wanted to do before Judge Pendergrass married us.  You vowed up and down I’d stolen your heart at first glance and would have it no other way than for us to be married. For reasons I had explained yesterday, I needed to be married right away… for legal purposes. After we were married, your friends carted you back off to the Gold Eagle to celebrate. They said they’d drop you back off at my hotel room within an hour. Well, I waited for hours in our room here for your return. When you did, it was past two o’clock in the morning and I might add, with the help of your trail friends.  They carried you in dead drunk and plopped you in our bed and stumbled out guffawing. Seeing you were dead to the world, I undressed you and set up your morning toilet on the vanity. You were so sprawled out on the bed that there was no room for me to climb in next to you. I ended up sleeping on the divan until dawn.  I gave up trying to wake you so I went downstairs by myself. I was down getting breakfast when you must have woke up.

Suddenly Jethro became suspicious that a joke being played on him.

“Well, well, well. I bet the rest of the fellers are knee slappin’ watching me squirm. They all know I’m not the marryin’ kind a guy and are usin’ my drunk last night to play a trick on me. By the way, if we was really married, where’s the proof of it?

The slender well dressed girl slid her left hand forward from her shawl and wiggled her fingers at him. A thin gold band adorned her marriage finger. “Yes, married… and signed papers from Judge Pendergrass   attesting to it are waiting down at the courthouse for us to pick up. By the time we were actually married, it was too late in the day and the clerk went on home.”

With a heavy sigh, the girl sat gently on the soft bed and asked. “ You do remember getting married last night don’t you Jethro?”

It was time to put an end to the confusion. Hurt her he may but he still had inkling it was all a joke being played on him by his pards.

“To be honest, no.”

Tears welled in her eyes and a lone tear made its way down her smooth cheek. “I feared as much. Please, finish dressing and come with me to the court house. There I’m sure the judge will confirm everything I’ve said and more.”

“Good morning Miss Van de Bunt, Oh, excuse me, I mean Mrs.  Avery. I’ve got to get used to that from now on.” Judge Pendergrass said sticking his hand out to congratulate the young Jethro Avery.  “I take it you’ll be wanting your certificate this morning. The clerk brought it in just a few minutes ago. I signed it but it but the ink may be a bit wet yet.”

Gently retrieving the document he blew on his signature one final time.  He handed the paper to Jethro telling the couple, “There, she’s dry as a bone now.”

The girl reached out and carefully held it against her breast after reading it and said, “Thank you Judge. But there seems to be some confusion and I need your assistance on this matter. ”

“Why sure. What seems to be the problem?”

By now Jethro had given up all hope that in fact a joke was being played on him. He also realized that the paper his wife now held was solid and legal. Everyone in the State of Texas knew Judge Pendergrass had a minimal sense of humor and would definitely not use his official title to promote a prank. He’d had too many men hung for their ill deeds to have a sense of humor anymore.

“ I will cut right to the chase your Honor. My husband has no recollection of yesterday as he now claims he must have been drunk.”

“Drunk?” Looking now at Jethro through narrowed eyes, the judge exclaimed in disbelief, ”Drunk? Yesterday you both swore you had no drink in either of you when I married you. Why it’s not legal for me to marry a couple if they have been over imbibing in spirits. Knowing so and still joining the two of you together would have been a serious crime and I’m not in the habit of committing crimes. Please, explain why you think he was drunk Mrs. Avery.”

“Well, he came in last night very drunk, that much I know. He seemed alright when we married but as the time wore on he did act a mite strange. I just assumed it was nerves. Now he says he has no memory of even meeting me. Why the way he’s acting, I bet if I asked him now, he wouldn’t even know my name!”

“I don’t, sorry Ma’am.”

“It’s Alessandra Van de Bundt . My family and friends call me Alessa. Now I’m not so sure what you should call me!”

To prevent any further outburst, the judge waved the couple into a set of vacant chairs as he lowered himself into a large cushioned leather high back chair on rollers. “Son, you’ve a problem on your hands. A big problem. Did you lie to me about drinking yesterday when you asked me to marry the two of you?”

“No Sir, not willingly. I’m not in the habit of lying, especially to a Judge your Honor”

“Then why are you saying you were too drunk to remember getting married?”

“I never said nothing about getting drunk, she did. I don’t know what happened yesterday, I can’t remember a thing, cept getting my tooth pulled early on in the morning.”

“Well a tooth sure won’t wipe out a memory, what’s the last thing you do remember?”

Scrunching his brows together he ran a hand across his forehead. “I seem to recall walking to the diner up the road for a bite to eat after leavin’ the Barber where he pulled my tooth. I had been weeks on the trail and hadn’t had a chewy meal in ages ‘cause of my toothache. All I’d had for weeks was what Biscuit, our camp cook could pound or grind up soft enough for me to swallow whole like.”

Judge Pendergrass’s eyebrows  suddenly arched skyward. “Jenny?” He called out to a young woman outside of his office filing papers.  “Will you run over to Max  Leadlow’s barber shop and ask him to come over here right away please?”

The three sat quietly waiting. Jethro began to ask question but the Judge hushed him quiet.

“Just wait, I have a suspicion about something”

Within a few minutes, Max, the barber and Dentist knocked on the office doors frame. “You wanted to see me your Honor?”

“Yes, Thank you for coming so quickly Max, I hope this isn’t an inopportune time for you to leave your business but I need to ask you a few questions about yesterday morning.”

The Barber glanced at Jethro then at Alessa and back to the Judge. “No your honor, I’m not real busy, I only got Jim Stevens snoring in the chair as is usual when he comes in for a haircut ‘n shave, that’s all. Am I in some sort of trouble here your Honor?”

The judge harrumphed and placed both hands on his large belly. “No, not in the least Max. Did Jethro here come to you yesterday to get a tooth pulled?”

“Yes your Honor, and it was a time yankin’ it too. We in the profession call it an impacted tooth, ones that all pussy and swollen. It takes a skilled Dentist to pull ‘em too.”

“Was he in a lot of pain?”

“Yes Sir! Especially when I first began yankin’ on it.”

“Did you give him anything for the pain? Liquor and such?”

“No, not liquor your Honor but I did give him laudanum to ease the pain when he first come in and then a second healthy dose when he left.”

“That was all you gave him then, laudanum?”

“Well, when he first arrived he was so jittery I feared I wouldn’t be able to pull it so I gave him some tincture of heroin to calm his nerves before I give him the laudanum.”

Judge Pendergrass leaned back in his chair and nodded knowingly. “I understand, That will be all Max, you can get on back to your shop now. Thank you for your time.”

Max started for the door then turned asking, “You still on for this afternoon for your haircut Judge?”

“Yes, I’ll be by around two.”

With that the barber left leaving the couple to sit silently waiting for the Judge to speak.

“Well, as far as I’m concerned, the two of you are legally married. There’s nothing in the law about marrying under the influence of either laudanum or heroin as both are a legal medicine.”

“Is that why he can’t remember yesterday your Honor? Because of the two drugs?”

“That would be my guess. I had a similar situation years ago when I had my own tooth pulled. My wife, bless her departed soul, said she found me out back planting the garden when I got back home.”

“What’s so bad about that your Honor?” She asked.

“It was February.”

Chapter 2

Slowly the couple made their way from the Court house and headed for the diner for lunch. The earlier mention of food reminded Jethro that he was still ravenous. “So Alessa,” He calmly asked, “you mind fillin’ me in on all the details on how I ended up agreeing to marryin’ you? Back there  in the hotel room you said something about having to be legally married, what did you mean by that? ”

“ I guess if you didn’t  even remember my name then you most likely wouldn’t remember why you agreed to marry me either. Maybe I should just start at the same place I did yesterday when you approached me.”

“That would be a good place to start, at the beginning.”

“You won’t like it.”

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I must’a liked it yesterday since I agreed to marry you.”

“Yes, but you were drugged.”

“I see your point. But, go ahead, what’s done is done…for now anyway.”

They made their way inside the diner and sat down. Much to the chagrin of Jethro, his mouth was still too tender to chew the steak he ordered. Instead, he had to satisfy himself with the sides of peas and mashed potatoes. Still, he managed to down three helpings of apple pie for dessert.

Alessa continued her story during the meal.  “MY father is Jules Van de Bunt, he and the rest of my family live back east in New York City. He’s a very wealthy man.”

“Never heard of him, but then out here in Texas we don’t care much about things back east.”

“I can see why. Anyway, I have always been considered a bit too rough around the edges for the social scene back East. I even wore men’s pants once when we went on a family outing in the Adirondack Mountains one summer. I thought my cousin Clarice was going to faint! Afterward, she kept her distance.  I have always been enthralled by stories of the West and wanted to see places like Texas for myself. Twice I snuck off by train but each time the  Pinkerton men my father had hired found and returned me. My father was livid and would have disowned me if it weren’t for my grandfather.  You see, it was my grandfather who filled my head as a child with his tales of the West. When my grandfather arrived from Europe, he traveled to the west and discovered first silver then copper ore in what is now Arizona. He later married and moved to the East where he raised his two sons. My father and Uncle both attended colleges back East and with the money loaned to them by my grandfather, they started very successful businesses.”

“What sorta’ business?”

“My father built a shipyard in Connecticut.”

“Whewww! He must be rollin’ in dough but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you had to marry.”

“There was a situation at a charity ball given by my family. A young wealthy gentleman from a very politically connected family made it known that he desired to marry me. It was during the ball and he had been drinking heavily when he stood atop a table and announced to the world his desires. He then jumped down and tried to kiss me in front of the entire gathering. I was horrified and without thinking punched him square in the nose! It seems he and my father had planned our marriage all out.  You see Jethro, in a family like mine, a woman has little say in her marriage. She is to marry not for love but to keep money, property and power secured within a small circle of families. “

“That sounds like slavery!”

“In a way it is. My mother was one of those women. Father knew she loved another but kept a blind eye towards her indiscretions with the man. As long as it was discreet, no one seemed to care. It was my grandfather who bemoaned all this. He bore a heavy guilt for having raised his family in such a manner. I was his only salvation. It was he who gave me the money run off, it was he who wanted me to marry a western man, a rancher or even a cowboy rather than a socialite from back East. It was his dream that I would break the mold and be the matriarch of a Western family.”

“So far I understand all this, I mean as a Texan I understand. What part won’t I like?”

“My reason for having to marry I guess.”

“What reason is that? You said you wanted to marry for love…Oh, I think I see. There ain’t  no way you could have truly fallen in love with me enough to ask me to marry you in the few moments we knew each other yesterday, was there?”

“That’s the part I said you won’t like, and neither do I. You see, I ran away a third and final time. It was the day after my grandfather’s funeral. I took what money I had squirreled away and left during the night.  My grandfather had also secretly put some in an account for me that my parents were unaware of. This time I did not take a train directly to the West. I circumvented the route by heading to Chicago, then to Missouri. I figured the Pinkerton’s would first look for me along the route I took the first two times. I joined a minister and his family in Missouri and traveled by wagon to western Kansas then down into Texas. I thought I had lost them but recently I found out that a couple of Pinkerton men had been seen in Amarillo asking questions about me a couple of weeks ago.”

“Why Amarillo’s just a week’s ride from Sweet Water here! Why they could be just a couple days away by now!”

“ I know, that’s the reason I needed to marry. If I were married, there would be nothing my father could do to force me to return to New York. If it weren’t for Mr. Belleview at the bank I would never have known of the Pinkerton’s progress. He owns the bank up in Amarillo too and it was him who heard the men asking about me when he was there.  ”

“I hear them Pinkerton men is one hard outfit. More badger than man! No wonder you were scared of ‘em!”

‘That’s why I looked for a Texan, a real Texan. Brave, strong, willing to stand up for his woman or die doing it…well, I really wouldn’t want my husband  to die I guess. But you get the idea don’t you?”

“Sure, I guess. But if you were lookin’ for all that in a man what made you think I’d fit the bill?”

“ Because, the first moment I saw you confidently swaggering down the street I knew you were the one.”

“Uh, Miss Alessa, I wasn’t confidently swaggerin’ if you recall, I was cross eyed drugged!”

Alessa began to chuckle, “Oh, I know that now, but yesterday I thought you were the bravest man I’d ever met. Why I heard you tell your  friends that there wasn’t a man alive who could out draw you, out fight you or out rope you! “

“Well, That was mostly just Texas cowboy braggin’  but in truth I am a pretty darn good shot an’ not many can outdraw me. I guess if it came to it even though I quake at the thought of bein’ married, I’d stand up an’ take a bullet for my wife…that would be you I reckon.”

“See? I was right after all. You really are my Texas cowboy!”

Chapter 3

That night the two returned to their room.

“OK, so I understand why you needed to get married an’ all but why pick a man who has all but twenty dollars to his name? I mean there ain’t no way I had a savings of any sort. In fact, when you knocked on the door this morning I feared it was the hotel manager wanting his money. I was ready to plow out’a the window head first! Now I gotta’ conjure up some sorta’ steady income for us.”

“Let’s just deal with the Pinkerton men first, then we’ll figure out what to do after that.  I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I was just panic stricken when I heard they were so close to finding me. I knew it was only a matter of days before they’d end up here. I had no one to protect me. If you find you really can’t stand being married, I’m willing to let you go your own way once my father forgets about me.”

“I may not be the marrying type but since I am I ain’t gonna’ shirk my duties as a husband. No, I ain’t gonna’ b;lame it on drugs either. I musta’ been aware enough to decide it was the right thing to do…and I feel it was. I’m just glad you ain’t hard on the eyes! Haw haw!”

“She reached out and gently squeezed his arm saying, “Well if it’s any consolation, I think you’re the handsomest cowboy around, drugged or no.” Then, dropping her hand she placed both hands on her hips and asked, “ My last question for you tonight is where do you want me to sleep?”

“I been thinkin’ about that. I know we’re married and all and sleepin’ together is what married folks are privileged to do with each other but I feel kind’a awkward like about doin’ it. I mean we ain’t had time to spark or nothin’ if you get my meanin’.”

“Then let’s not rush it. I know eventually you’ll want a woman, all men do at one time or another. I’d rather you not look for it outside the home. So when you feel the burn, please tell me and I’ll make love to you as a good wife would.”

“Fair enough.” Pointing to the bed he said chuckling, “Until we get kicked out’a here or I’m plugged by the Pinkertons, you sleep in the bed, after all, you’re paying the bill here so you got special privileges! “

Jethro made his bed upon the divine and lay awake pondering his future. How strange it all seemed to look over at the sleeping girl and realize she was his wife. She was far more beautiful than any girl he’d ever been with but there was more to her than just her beauty. He found her laugh addicting. The same smile that she had plastered on her face when they first met at the door came frequently and with ease. Now that he had a moment to think about it, he remembered how it felt when she squeezed his arm. “Huh,” he thought, “Maybe I’m fallin’ for her after all.”

It was five days later in the dark of night when two strangers riding silently in a buggy made their way into town.  Wearing bowler hats and black suits, the two looked like a pair of twin bankers. If it were not for the .45 caliber colts hanging low on their hips, they would have looked like any other businessmen. Both wore large mustache’s which was the style and both had a Pinkerton badge pinned to their vest.

The only life still awake was at Gertrude’s Saloon at the far end of town.  It was known as a rough and tumble sort of place who’s soiled doves plied watered down whiskey down the throats of the low life patrons  before dragging them upstairs and relieving them of their last fifty cents.

It was here that the Pinkerton men stopped at.  Inside was foul. Upon entering, the smell of unwashed bodies, vomit, cigarette smoke and cheap liquor assailed the nose.  It was nearly three in the morning and the whores were still hustling their wares. Seeing the two well dressed gentlemen enter, they made a desperate beeline to them.

“Well hello my scrumptious darlings!” An elderly woman of some girth, much of it protruding from her stained top, was nearest and quickly approached the two men in hopes of a last stand before calling it a night.  “Can I interest either or both of you in spending an hour with me in heaven?”

The taller of the two stopped as they made their way to the bar. Turning to look at the poor excuse of even a used up soiled dove he sneered. “Lady, spending an hour between your layers of blubber would be hell, not heaven. Now get away from me before I catch what foulness is ailing you.”

She was about to make a snide reply when she saw the eyes of the man narrow and the look of pure hate transform his once pleasant looks into a snarl. Frightened, she turned and quickly made her way up to her room and called it a night.

The bar tender, an ornery red faced powerfully built Irishman stood staring hard at the two as they approached the bar. What’d ya’ scare me whore off for? Ye just cost me fifty cents I have you to know.”

“Sorry about that, Here’s a dollar for your troubles.”

“Well now, amends are made gentlemen, what can I be doin’ for ya’”

The shorter of the two now spoke up, “Were looking for a girl going by the name Alessandra. Some call her Alessa others Miss Van de Bunt, whatever name she goes by were from the Pinkerton’s and have been hired to find her. Have you seen or heard of her?”

“Sure, I never spoke to in me person but everyone knows Miss Van de Bunt. She’s the sweetest lookin’ lass that graced this town.”

“Can you tell me where she’s staying?”

Suspicious that the men might cause the young girl to come to harm, he asked them, “And whatever for would a couple Pinkerton men be doing searching for such an innocent lass as Miss Van de Bunt?”

The men glanced at each other. They had two choices, either physically attempt to draw what information they wanted from the man or lie. Seeing the girth and obvious muscles tensing in the bartenders arms convinced them they would have a bad time of it if they tried to get physical.

“We’re only trying to find her to deliver a message from her family” They lied. “Her father has passed away and she’s come into a large inheritance and she needs to return home as soon as possible to claim it.”

“Oh, well that’s different then!” Turning to the few patrons left awake he bellowed,  “Does anyone know where Miss van de Bunt is stayin’ at?  These gentlemen need her to come home right away to claim a large inheritance!”

A skinny man with a mouthful of missing teeth spoke up.“ She’s at the Chinaberry Hotel, second floor facing the street on the right.”

The taller of the two Pinkerton’s asked, “How do you know this?”

“’Cause I clean the chamber pots at the Chinaberry and at the Morrison hotel, that’s how!”

The tall Pinkerton flipped a silver coin toward the skinny chamber pot cleaner and walked out.

“That was easy!” he said.

By Four thirty the door had been silently jimmied and the two Pinkerton’s silently stepped inside the hotel room. Once inside they let their eyes become accustomed to the dark before moving any further. It was then that they saw a man sleeping on the divine and the girl curled up in the bed. No one had been awake downstairs to note their arrival or their passage upstairs. It was the touch of a cold, hard pistol barrel to each of their heads that awakened the couple.

“Don’t either of you make a move or make a sound.”

The taller of the Pinkerton’s turned his pistol around backwards and brought  the butt smashing down on Jethro’s head.

Alessa began to cry out but the shorter Pinkerton halted her before she could raise an alarm. “Uh, Uh Miss Van de Bunt.” He said quietly.”  No noise or I’ll do the same to you!”

“You can’t do this!” She snarled, “I’m a married woman now and that is my husband!”

“Tell it to the mountain lady. We’re paid to bring you back to your Daddy… just like the other times.

Before she could cry out in protest, the two had bound and gagged her. Silently carrying her downstairs they made their way outside to the buggy and quickly rode off.

Chapter 4

For the second time in less than a week Jethro awoke in the same hotel room with a splitting headache. This time though the bump on his head said his headache was from a blow and not a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Sliding off the divine onto the floor, he sat there until his aching head and nauseous stomach calmed down a bit more. Suddenly, as if remembering something important he quickly looked over at the empty bed. It was then that he remembered the last words before the blow was given.

Wobbling, he stood up and made his way to the door. It was left open.

“Oh my God, they got her!”

Needing to clear his head for thought, he made his way over to the water pitcher and poured the cool contents over his head.  Grabbing a towel, he dried himself off and took a quick inventory of his belongings. Nothing seemed to be missing and his gun still hung from the bedpost where he had placed it the night before. Kneeling down, he saw Alessa’s purse still tucked safely beneath the bed.  Opening it, he removed a large roll of money she had placed inside of it and returned it to its hiding spot.

Taking two steps at a time, he rushed down the steps to the hotel desk.

“Excuse me,” He asked the clerk,” Has there been any sign of Miss Van de Bunt er..my wife this morning?”

The answer came back, “No.”

He left but not before paying a month’s advance rent on the room. It cost more than two months of his wages but considering the roll of money his wife was carrying and the importance of finding her, it mattered little.

Stepping out into the harsh Texas sun Jethro squinted in pain. His head still ached but he had to put the pain aside and keep a clear head. His first thought was which direction had the pair gone after kidnapping Alessa. They would waste little time so he assumed it would be by rail car. The closest passenger depot was  the T&P line in Abilene,  nearly fifty miles east.  The kidnappers could make that in two days easy.

Taking his horse from the stable, he headed off towards Abilene at a gallop. It was a good thing he’d been able to rest up and get some weight back on his horse after the last drive. She was antsy and ready to charge ahead.  By that night he figured the Kidnappers were within sight somewhere so he decided to put his faith in his scouting skills. Making his way up onto a small mount he scanned the darkness for a campfire. He hoped to see only one but in fact he saw three.  Somehow he had to rule two of them out. Talking to himself he went through what he knew of the people traveling through the wild and the men that had Alessa. They were city men, not used to roughing it. Travelers and cowboys were used to the Texas wilderness sounds and night spooks like coyote and such.

 “I bet two to one that the last campfire to go out is the one I want. If I see the campfire brighten when the coyotes start singing, then I’ll know for sure”

True to form, around eleven O’clock, the coyotes started their yipping and howls. To the unfamiliar ear, they sounded like possessed demons rather than an earthly animal. Watching the three campfires only one brightened. “There they are, scared of the coyotes!”

Saddling his horse, he let the rising moon be the light he needed to travel by. He figured the group was five to six miles distant. Not much of a travel in the daytime but precarious at night. A missed gopher hole, a crack between rocks to slip into, anything could lame up his horse if he wasn’t careful. It was the longest five miles he’d ever traveled. He stopped his mount a half mile away for fear the men’s horses pulling the cart would whinny or make a noise that his own mount would respond to.  Unpacking his fully loaded Yellow Boy rifle he slowly made his way eastward towards the campfire through the brush and cactus plants. When he was within a hundred yards, he started to crawl on his belly for fear the campfire light would reflect off of him and give him away. Silently parting the brush with gloved hands, he peered not directly at the campfire but off to its sides. He didn’t want to risk becoming night blinded if for some reason the campfire would unexpectedly flare up. And just then it did.

Fortunately, his precaution prevented his eyes from losing their night vision. At the same time he was able to use his peripheral vision and observe the two men gathering up more firewood. He was now close enough to hear them speaking to one another.

“Stupid! Why didn’t we just put the man in the hotel out of his misery when we had the chance? We could have then taken our time getting out of town and wouldn’t be traipsing around in the desert with those damn things howling at us!”

“Ah keep quiet, it’s only coyotes!”

“Easy enough for you to say, how do you know they aren’t Indians? Answer me that big man!”

‘Geez, you get testy when you’re scared.” Pointing to their captive, he continued railing his partner. “Even she looks more at ease than you. How you ever become a Pinkerton is beyond me!”

“I became one same as you big brother! We joined together after killing the Chief of police in Cambridge for the Irish Four Corners gang, or did you forget?”

“No, I never forgot and neither will our boss. He does jobs for the gang. That’s why we were hired. When he found out that we had methodically tortured the man without so much as blinking an eye, he said he had a use for men like us. Of course if we had turned down his offer, we’d have been swinging from a rope for murder.”

“Still, I hate things that live in the dark, like them damn coyotes! They should all be killed and done away with if you ask me.”

The older and taller brother stepped up to the campfire.  “I wonder if she’s telling the truth, that the fella in her room really was her husband? Naw, couldn’t be, he’s just some dirt bag cowboy she most likely hired as a body guard.”

“Well, she is wearing a ring and a cheap one at that. You’d think if she bought a ring to give us a ruse, she’d have bought an expensive one. Naw, he ain’t her husband. She’s lying.”

Jethro had asked Alessa how she got the ring and when she told him it belonged to his trail pard Lester and that he won it in a game of Five Card Monty the day earlier. At the time he laughed but had no memory of it because of the drugs.  She was there though as were the rest of his friends. Jethro had come fresh from the barber and met up with his pards in the street outside the diner for lunch. It was then that they saw the young girl in tears sitting on the bench in front of the diner. After hearing her story, Jethro had jumped up claiming he loved her deeply and needed to buy her a ring. Lester produced the ring from his pocket and handed it to Jethro telling him he better not look a gifted horse in the mouth and that he had better waste no time getting a Judge or preacher to marry them. It should have dawned on everyone that Jethro was not himself but then they figured love was a strange thing and it’s better left unquestioned.

Of course Alessa was able to clearly hear the two Pinkerton’s conversation. She found herself getting angry and upset when they described Jethro is such derogatory terms.

“You two wait until my husband gets on your trail, you’ll be sorry!”

“Missy,” The younger brother said to her, “your husband is nothing compared to us trained Pinkerton men. Why we are trained by the best in every aspect of police work. Even if your so called husband showed up with a bunch of cowpokes for a posse, why he and his fellows wouldn’t last five minutes against us. “

“You are so wrong you make me laugh!”

“Oh, excuse me but just what was that lump of sleeping trash in your room, your body guard? Haw, Haw haw!”

“No, he’s not my body guard he’s more cunning and dangerous than that, he’s a born and bred Texan!”

The younger brother, the short one, walked rapidly towards Alessa. Wanting to do her harm to shut her up, he pulled back his foot to kick her as hard as he could as she lay helplessly tied up on the ground.

To his older brother’s dismay, his younger brother, rather than following through with his kick, stopped and stood stock still. All three had heard a sound similar to that of  a mourning dove taking flight. In mid kick, he turned his head slowly away from the girl and took a step sideways. Then another step but this time it turned into a stumble. He collapsed onto all fours in front of the girl. To his brother’s horror, a pulsating red stream was squirting from his brother’s neck. It was when he collapsed face forward in a dead heap that Jethro’s long knife was first clearly seen protruding from it.

“My God!” he screamed in shock. Turning to face his unknown enemy the brother reached for his gun. “I’ll kill you son of a bitch!” he yelled but still had no target at which to shoot. It was at that moment that a coyote bounded from its hiding spot in the brush. In the dark the Pinkerton man could not see what or who disturbed the brush so he began firing indiscriminately towards the sound. By this time Jethro had crawled to within twenty feet from the campfires ring of light and was nowhere near where the bullets were aimed. A night bird was slightly winged and flew off screeching in anger at being disturbed so rudely. Unloading his gun proved to be a mistake for the lone Pinkerton. Having an older pistol that had to have its cylinder removed to be re loaded, the Pinkerton realized now how vulnerable he was.

“Alright you out there, I give up ya’ hear?” Now let’s make a deal. I’ll let the girl go if you and her walk away from here and let me be.”

A sharp rifle report was the answer. The Pinkerton’s derby flew backward off his head displaying a fresh round vent hole in it.

“No!  Stop that, we can make a deal you and I. When I get back to New York, I’ll tell her father that she died or something so he won’t go looking for her anymore, alright?”

Another shot rang out in answer and one of his shoes suddenly lost its heel.

“Yeow! Please mister, let me go. Here, I’ll even untie the girl, how’s that?”

Pulling a knife from out of his pants pocket, he jumped back when a third rifle crack made it disappear.

Tucking his bleeding hand inside his vest he looked toward where the shot had come from.“What’s wrong with you, I said I gave up! Now let me be and I’ll leave the girl here for you.”

A strong voice answered from somewhere in the brush outside of the fire rings light. “And then what? You’ll only go back to New York, gather up more of your cohorts and come back to re hunt us down. No Sir, this ends here in Texas!”

“It won’t end I tell you!” The Pinkerton yelled back, ”He’s on his way to meet us in Abilene.”

“How’d he know to meet you there?”

“We sent a telegram from Amarillo to him saying that we had evidence she was holed up in Sweet Water and it would only be a matter of a few days and she’d be in our custody. He wired back to meet him in Abilene with the girl.”

With his rifle raised hip high, Jethro stepped into the light of the fire saying, “Untie my wife then lie on your belly with your hands behind your back.”

As the Pinkerton proceeded with his chore of freeing Alessa he talked. “That was my brother you killed. I knew someday our number would be pulled. I guess if he had to die anywhere this place is about as good as any. I tell you what cowboy. If you’re really setting me free, I’m calling it quits.

 Between my brother here and I we have quite a stash built up in the bank. I think I’d like to retire alongside a fishing lake in upstate New York. Yes Sir, that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m gonna get me a skiff and fish!”

Waiting for the Pinkerton to complete his task, Jethro made his way next to his wife.  Kneeling down next to her he asked, “Are you alright honey? Did they hurt you?”

Making her way up to a sitting position she looked up wide eyed at her hero . “No, no I’m alright.”

Finding his hands in the dim firelight she grabbed them tightly and pressed the up to her face. After a moment in which he felt wet tears on his hands, she again looked up smiling broadly saying, “I’m so proud of you Dear, you really are my cowboy!”

After burying the Pinkerton’s brother in the Texas desert, the three found the rail line’s tracks crossing the desert and made their way on horseback to Abilene, which didn’t take but a half a day.  Alessa rode behind Jethro in the saddle which thrilled her as she was able to lean her head against her husband hero’s back. Every now and then Jethro felt her arms tighten around him in a hug. Each time he felt it, his heart fluttered and skipped a beat.  Eventually he found a single hand and held it against him until they reached Abilene.

They had abandoned the buggy in favor of making the Pinkerton ride bareback.  The other horse followed the others being afraid to be left behind. Within a short time, the Pinkerton’s wool pants rubbing against the damp horsehide began to act as grit paper on his tender backside. Jethro smiled as he watched the man try and control his painful facial expressions in his pretense of normalcy.

Reaching the passenger depot in Abilene, the three dismounted. The Pinkerton’s raw backside forced him to ask for help in getting down. Once standing, the man waddled over to Alessa telling her. “Ma’am, I offer my sincere apologies to you. All these years I’ve done jobs for your father I never took into account the harm and hurt I’ve caused others, especially you. The ride here gave me time to reflect on things. If you’ll forgive me for all I’ve put you through then I’ll know a man really can have a second chance to make things right. I only wish I had learned that before my brother was killed.”

Alessa looked the man squarely in the eyes and replied, “I know you were following orders from my father, orders one does not defy without severe consequences. I’m living proof of that. If you truly intend to change, then I forgive you.”

Jethro put his arm around his wife adding, “I’m sorry too for your brother but he has to hold his own actions to blame. Why he ever thought kicking on a woman, especially here in Texas was something he would end up not paying for is beyond reason. We aren’t the East. Women are a bit scarce out this way and a woman, any woman, is to be treated with the same respect we give our Mama’s and our wives. Your brother unknowingly signed his own death warrant.”

The Pinkerton nodded in agreement then looking at the three horses said. “Do what you want with the horses, our original plan was to abandon along with the buggy here at the depot anyway. I’d shake your hand but I expect you wouldn’t take it, not that I blame you any. I’ll be going now. I truly hope things work out for the two of you.”

“Wait!” Jethro extended his hand and in surprise gripped the Pinkerton’s gunshot injured hand. “A man does a lot of things in life that he ain’t proud of. You asked for forgiveness. The other half a that is being forgiven.”

Turning once again to face Alessa the Pinkerton told her, “I was mistaken Ma’am, your husband is no dirt bag cowboy. In all my days I’ve yet to see a man as big as him.”

The two watched the Pinkerton man enter the depot to purchase a ticket and exit their lives. Jethro turned to Alessa and stated, “You know something? We never knew them two Pinkerton’s names.”

Alessa looked up lovingly up to her husband’s face and replied. “Oh, that’s not true. I know them, I have for years but I think it’s best they stay anonymous to you. I heard as a young girl if you kill a man and don’t know his name, his ghost can’t haunt you in your dreams.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“From, the man who just left us.”

Chapter 5

On the second day of waiting, the train carrying her father arrived at three in the afternoon. Jethro knew immediately by the entourage around him that this must be Alessa’s father.

Four Negro porters carried his and the others in his group’s belongings off the train and piled them onto the depot’s trunk cart. The man looked every bit a wealthy Easterner to Jethro. Tall but overweight, a white pointed beard, a fat cigar jutting from the side of his mouth, giving orders  while pointing with his silver tipped walking cane. Jethro had an instant dislike for the man.

The entourage started walking towards a waiting line of buggies that would transport them to the hotel. It was then that Alessa’s father glanced up and realized the girl standing nearby staring at him was his daughter. He quickly looked for the Pinkerton men that he had hired but instead only saw only a lone, trail dusted cowboy wearing worn chaps, tall heeled boots, a large sombrero type Stetson hat and sporting a low hung Colt .45 around his hips.

Alessa stepped up before her father could react. “Father? I want you to meet my husband Jethro Avery.  Jethro? This is my father  Auburn Van de Bunt.”

The two men stared at each other. Jethro in disgust, her father in disbelief.

“Husband? I heard nothing about you being married!”

Sticking out her wedding banded hand, Alessa smiled, “Just because those men were Pinkerton’s doesn’t mean they know everything. You wasted a trip out here if you think you can take me back to New York father.”

“Where are the investigators I hired?”

“You mean the two thugs you’ve had time and time again chase me down? Well, one is by now a dried up shell in a shallow grave west of here in the desert with a slit throat from my husband’s knife and his brother came to his senses and is out buying a fishing pole somewhere back East.”

The entourage, made up of yes men and parasites, gasped at the daughter’s crude description of the Pinkerton’s death. Her father’s eyes narrowed and a smugness began forming on his lips. “And besides a ring, which by the way looks as if it were purchased from a Roebucks catalog, what proof do you have that this filthy cowboy is actually your husband.”

“Be careful with your words father, the last man who called my husband a filthy cowboy paid dearly for those words.”

Pulling out a folded piece of paper, she held it tightly in front of her father to view.  The couple watched as her father’s eyes slowly scrolled down as he read the sheet of parchment paper. They both knew when his eyes reached the name of the Judge at the bottom.

“Damn!” Her father exclaimed loudly, “This is signed by a Judge named Pendergrass. Is this the same Judge Pendergrass that turned down the Supreme Court bench and left Washington  for Texas?”

“The very one.”

Two of the entourage were lawyers from her father’s shipbuilding firm. When they heard the Judges name, they both sighed, lowered  and shook their heads. Her father hoping to hear even a sliver of hope in nullifying the marriage looked to the Lawyers.

The boldest one, a large well fed man in his late fifties spoke up first. “I’m sorry sir, I’m a Maritime Attorney and not familiar with contract law outside of ship building. But, seeing that Judge Pendergrass performed the marriage and signed the marriage certificate, I would venture to say this wedding is iron clad in nature. I’ve never known the Judge to leave a loop hole open when he puts his signature on something. Maybe my esteemed fellow attorney here from a different Firm could give you a better insight. As I said, my specialty is in Maritime law. If it were up to me though, I would offer the cowboy a tidy sum of say… fifty thousand dollars to divorce your daughter. It’s a common practice in New York and should work here in this backwards State.  Money speaks Sir.”

Jethro’s head reeled. In his life he would never see fifty thousand dollars nor would he now. “Forget it Mr. lawyer. Tell him to keep his money, I’m keeping my wife!”

The look on the other Attorneys face offered no better hope.  He was younger and not so confident in his conviction. In a subdued voice he cleared his throat then addressed the situation.

 “Ahem, Yes Mr. Van de Bunt, I am quite familiar in domestic and contract law so I believe I am able to offer my services to all parties if I may speak freely.”

“What do you mean by all parties?” Then realizing he could be spending the next hour listening to the thin balding Attorney bloviate on a single definition of all Parties, he forged ahead, “Alright, speak already dammed it!

“As you are aware Sir, Your father left a tidy sum in his Last Will and Testament to his granddaughter Alessandra who is now standing here amongst us. There were two stipulations in his last Will and Testament for her to be eligible to receive this large sum. First was that she was to at least attain the age of twenty one and second that she be married. I believe your only hope in stalling this dispersion of funds lies in her age. I believe she is still only twenty years old. We can send a wire to the Firm that employees me and they could file an order of Stay and have the Last Will and Testament stalled indefinitely in court through appeals and what not.  During which time my employer could gather a legal team together and dissect this marriage certificate against all laws both New York State and Texas to see if a loop hole can be found to nullify the marriage. To your fortune, she was not married in a church where we would have to go up against a church hierarchy to obtain an annulment. A civil marriage is much easier to annul.”

“Well, well, well! It seems we have hope of keeping the family fortune within the family after all. Go ahead, immediately wire your office and file suite with the Clerk of Courts and begin the process.”

The lawyer left to send the emergency wire to the Judge after copying down all pertinent information on the wedding certificate.

Jethro knew he’d never voluntarily give up his wife for any amount of money or through News York legal wrangling.  He had discovered he truly did fall in love with her. She too had come to the same conclusion and was adamant in keeping Jethro as her husband.

In a shorter time than assumed it would take, the young Attorney returned from the telegrapher’s office.

“Uh, Sir? We have a problem.”

“Good grief! Now what?”

“The Clerk of Courts office is closed.”

“What? Impossible!” Her father cried pulling out his pocket watch, “It’s only 3:15 and it’s open until 5 o’clock!”

Alessa’s father was fuming now. “What do you mean by standing here like an insolent mule! Get back and send that telegram before it’s too late. We still have an hour and forty five minutes yet to file.”

The distressed Attorney spoke up again. “Sir, your watch is set for Texas time, I saw you reset it on the train when the Steward came and announced our arrival into this State. Back in New York it’s 5:15pm. The Clerk of Courts office closes promptly at 5pm. It closed fifteen minutes ago.”

Turning to Alessa the Attorney asked, “Ma’am, exactly what date is your date of birth?

Without thinking she replied, “July 15, 1886. Why do you ask?”

Her father suddenly looked as if he had received an electric shock. Quickly looking once more at his pocket time piece he blurted out, it’s July 13th, we have a full day after today before she’s twenty one! She’s not twenty none until the 15th of this month and it’s only the 13th now!”

The Attorney made no move to the telegrapher’s office; instead he stood staring down at his feet.

“Now what’s the problem?” Her father fumed

“Even if I send a telegram this instant to my office and they draw up the stay, your daughter will still be twenty one before we get the stay is filed with the Courts.”

“How is that possible? We have a full day tomorrow to file the paperwork with the Court. Tell me why they won’t accept the paperwork until after she’s twenty one which by the way, is two days away yet?

“Because Sir, today is Friday and the Clerk of Courts office will not reopen until Monday the 16th. There is no exceptions in the matter. Even the President of the United States must bow to the rules of the Court.”

Suddenly the big man visibly paled and looked weak in the knees. Seeing a bench nearby he heavily sat down on it and lowering his head between his knees groaned.

The Attorney then turned to Alessa offering his hand, “Congratulations on your inheritance and marriage Ma’am. If you should ever need an Attorney, I am always available.”

Alessa thought for a moment then asked him. “Sir, do you work exclusively for my father?”

“I am assuming that the firm I work for will be terminating my employment with them for failing to procure not only your inheritance for their client but when they find that I congratulated you, I’m sure they will ask that I clean out my office.”

“You mentioned my inheritance in terms that is was a tidy sum. Tell me, would I have enough of an inheritance for my husband and I to start a cattle operation here in Texas? “

“More than enough Ma’am, more than enough.”

“Great, then it’s settled. Would you be willing to come back with us to Sweet Water and help us to set this all up legal like? It may take a while, maybe years even.”

Smiling shyly, the Attorney  spoke, “I have always wanted a horse Ma’am, since I was a child. If you permit me one and have one of your cowboys teach me to ride it, I believe yes, I can return with you to Sweet Water if these requirements are met.”

Sticking out her hand, Alessa said, “Done!”

Alessa then stepped over to where her father gloomily sat. Sitting beside him, she took one of his large hands into her own.  “Father? I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to happen this way. I was foolish and it was a matter of fortune that the man I married to circumvent your scheme ended up being the true love of my life. He’s a good man father, one your own father would be proud to call family. Is money that important to you that you would force misery upon your own blood in order to hold onto something as fleeting as money? Could you even spend what you have in the lifetime you have left? No! When yo lie upon your death bed will it be your financial councilors holding your hand or will it be family. The choice is yours father. As for me, I am not returning to live in New York but am starting my own life here in Texas with a wonderful man who could care less about the monetary worth of a man. He judges a man by a different scale than one of financial wealth. That’s the type of man I have always wanted father, it’s the type of man I always wished you were. “

Slowly Alessa rose and putting her arm around Jethro’s waist she leaned into him asking him if they could go now.

Chapter 6

Within six months the ranch was in operation. With the amazing help of Andrew, the young Attorney and their hired hands, the couple carved out a ranch in the Texas wilderness. Keeping her promise, Alessa had hired a man to teach Andrew the Attorney to ride, and ride he did. No longer did he dress for the office. Wearing cut jeans boots and a western hat, he became the heart throb to many young girls in town.

It was in late April when in the distance an automobile was seen making its way up the long dusty road towards the ranch. With steaming radiator the large touring automobile braked to a screeching halt in front of the house.  Doors opened and a group of men were expelled from its interior. One of them, a large man dressed in cowboy boots, jeans and a fancy Spanish embroidered shirt stepped out and placing a new Stetson upon his head spun in a slow circle taking in the view of the ranch.

It was the cook who heard the commotion outside first and running to the window see what was making that awful hissing and chugging noise, she yelled for her Mistress to come quickly.

Taking one look at the group of men through the front porches screened door, she chuckled and clapped her hands and flew out onto the porch.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” She shouted laughingly. “I love the hat!”

“ When in Rome do as the Roman’s do! Hello daughter!”

Riding in from the herd Jethro dismounted near the front porch and tied his mount to the rail. Seeing Alessa already hugging her father beside the automobile, he walked over to them.  Seeing his son in law approaching, he stuck out his hand toward Jethro while his daughter still remained clinging to him.

“Howdy Dad, welcome to the Double A!  We got your letter; it sure is great seeing you here.”

“The pleasure is all mine son!”

“How was he trip? I can’t believe you all rode in this thing all the way from New York. Here, let me call a couple hands to help with your luggage.”

Jethro walked out towards the coral and whistled a shrill ear piercing whistle which drew the attention of several hands. “Hey! Get on over here an’ give a hand!” He shouted to them. One of the Hands turned out to be their Attorney Andrew.

Seeing who had arrived by automobile, Andrew held back until he and Jethro were alone.

“Uh, are you sure he should see me? I mean the last time we were together was at the depot and I fear it might upset him seeing me here. I mean after all, it was I who crushed him with the bad news and then I go off and get hired on by you folks. I know I did nothing wrong, it’s just that we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

Jethro placed his hand on Andrews shoulder telling him, “When we received his letter, he specifically asked that you be here. He mentioned something about tossing some business your way. What he meant by that, I have no idea. He never did say why he was coming just that he was.”

What Jethro held back was that in his father in laws long hand written letter was not only an apology to the young couple but all the thoughts that he had pondered on over the months after leaving Texas. In it, he explained how he was raised and where he had gone wrong in raising ho9s own family. After he returned to New York with the words of his daughter still ringing in his head, he began to see his friends in a different light, shallow and concerned only with their financial gain. He wrote that he decided to step back from his ship building industry, even to entertain the idea of selling it.

The two men lagged behind the other hands letting them gather the luggage and cart it into the house. The others that had made the drive with her father were invited inside for refreshments. Finally it was just her father, Jethro, Alessa and Andrew standing outside by the automobile.

Alessa commented again on her fathers attire. “Dad, you look wonderful in Western gear, it suits you well. It gives you an aura of ruggedness that a suit can never give.”

He chuckled, “You should have seen my friends in there when I stopped to buy these duds. They thought I had lost my mind!  By the way, I sold off all of my company stock, I no longer own it.”

“Dad, why did you do that? You loved building ships.”

“That’s the point dear, I loved building them. I haven’t seen the shipyard in two years, did you know that? I was too busy running the day to day operations. I missed the smell of the riveters forge, the sound of them being hammered into the plates. To be honest, I missed having fun!”

Alessa moved up to face her father, placing her hands on his chest she asked him, “What will you do now? Surely you’re not the type to sit in a rocking chair reminiscing on the past. I know you better than that.”

Jethro jokingly told his wife, “Well, we could always use him on the ranch, good hands are always hard to find!”

All four chuckled at the thought.

“Honestly though” Her father said, “That’s not for from why I came out here. You see after I sold off the company, they held a big going away celebration in my honor. At the dinner portion of the celebration the place served the most delicious steak I had ever eaten. Tender, juicy, perfectly marbled. I asked the Chef how come these steaks were so different from all the others. Do you know what he told me? He told me these steaks come from a special breed of cow called and Angus cow and that they are raised in the country of Argentina.  Well that got my brain churning. Knowing you raise cattle and all. I began to research this breed and have come up with an idea and a proposal for all of you. Yes, Andrew, you fit in the scheme of things too. “

“I do? How”

“I’ll explain. First off though, I want to do this for enjoyment, I’m not interested in making money off of it. Oh, I want the operation to be able to support itself but as far as wealth goes, Alessa said it best when she asked me how much wealth do I really need.  I want an operation raising these cattle, but not here in Texas but in Argentina where the grass is lush and different from here. The climate too suits these cattle better than the climate here. To what I understand though starting a ranch down there is difficult. The local ranchers guard the sale of breeding stock tightly in order to eliminate competition and keep prices high.  I went ahead and purchased twenty thousand acres of prime grazing land. I let it out that I intended to use it as an investment and sell off smaller portions to make money, kind of what a land speculator does. What I realy intend to do, with all your help, is to third party purchase some of the breeding stock and a couple of bulls and ship them here to your ranch. I want a solid thriving herd built up that I can ship by sea down to Argentina when the time is right. I’m not interested in how the cattle taste being raised here, I’m not selling any off. I know once the herd is moved back to Argentina their calves will be no different than if their parents had always been from there. “

Jethro smiled knowingly and said, “So what you’re asking us to do is raise a separate herd from our own, never mixing the breeds and when the herd is ready, ship the whole bunch on down to your land there. ”

“Exactly! I don’t want to give a heads up to anyone down in Argentina as I don’t want any monkey business preventing my operation from taking off. I’m hiring Spanish and Argentine cowboys and once my herd is in place on my land there’s not much anybody can say or do against it. I’ve already hired a ranch foreman to start the ball quietly rolling down there and he’s aware he’s to keep everything hush hush.”

Andrew asked, “Sir what would my role be in all this if you have a Foreman and all?”

I need a legal eagle watching over my enterprise down there, one that I respect and trust even if you did piss me off . Oh don’t get me wrong I was mighty sore at you back there in Abilene when you sided with my daughter, but in the end because you showed the grit to do what was right in the eyes of man and God, I respected you for it. I can see how you used your skills to get this ranch on its feet too. One thing I know is that my daughter has little patience with figures and legal issues. I figured she had you handling all these. Jethro, I’m not casting a disparaging word against you but knowing now what makes up a good cowboy, I’m sure you used Andrew to set up your accountant and will be instrumental in your sales when the time comes to drive them to market, am I right?”

Jethro laughed openly, “You hit the nail on the head Sir. I can rope any cow, shoot a rustler square in the behind at a thousand feet and drive cattle as straight as an arrow, but please don’t ask me to haggle prices with a buyer!, No Sir! That’s Andrew’s job!”

Jules Van de Bundt smiled at the young group in front of him. “I’ll only keep him down there long enough to get started, a month or two at best.” Looking at the three sets of approving faces he said, ” So it’s settled then, You’ll do this with me?”

Alessa answered for them all. “Dad, all four of us would be thrilled to be part of this exciting new venture, of course we will!”

With a wide smile of satisfaction plastering his face, Alessa’s father leaned against the automobile. Then suddenly he looked around in confusion. “Did you say the four of you? There’s only three as far as I can see. Who’s the fourth?”

Alessa placed both hands gently against her stomach. “Here’s number four grandpa!”

Bekke’s Law by JW Edwards

Bekke's law

Chapter 1

I stood there  listening spellbound to the young Lady. She had run from the Diner here to that freight wagon parked by the Mexican leather fella across the road. She soon returned carrying a rifle to where I stood watchin’ it all. As she stood there jackin’ shell’s into it, she began telling me her story. Why? I have no idea except maybe she had a premonition she was about to die. Maybe she wanted someone to know she had once lived and breathed on this here celestial ball. I was a nobody, a bystander  that’s all. Maybe it was because I was a nobody that she felt compelled to spill her tale, I don’t know. She sure was pretty though, except’n she spoke kind’a funny like.

“My name is Bekke Hillstrand and in a few minutes I’m gonna’ go back inside an’ plug the last of the men I hate. My father.  I killed my first one at age seven, pushed him off a cliff as he was makin’ water. He never uttered a word, just made ‘Uh, Uh’ sounds as he went down. I never felt so good, I felt I finally had some control of my life.  It took another nine years before number two got it. Him I run over with a freight wagon up in Yavapai County Arizona an’ made it look like a tragic accident. It was hard not to cheer an’ clap as his body tumbled over and over under the wagon bed. He broke four hundred of the two hundred and six bones in his body by the time the wagon passed over him. I’ll tell you about the other four I kilt but first I need to start at the beginning so’s you don’t think I’m a murderess or vile woman. Men do what I’m doin’ all the time out here in the West an’ they simply call it justice served. So why should it be any different just ‘cause I’m a girl?”

 

One thousand souls, five thousand mix of mules, oxen and horses and almost two hundred wagons left Independence Missouri on a sultry morning in May of 1846. “Wagon’s HO!” was heard up front and the wagon train made up mostly large Conestoga style wagons turned out onto the Santa Fe Trail. It was the second to last train out of Independence that year. The last train was later known as the Donner Party but their fate lay north upon the Oregon trail.  

As the wagons forged ahead towards the Big Blue River west into Kansas, hopes were high and folks got along well with each other. Meeting and greeting was the norm at the end of each day. Light hearted Social dances and musicians that had brought along their instruments were the evening’s entertainment. Friendships were formed, help freely given and the spirit of community reigned. It all gave promise to a pleasant if not exciting adventure.

One family in particular had good reason to be hopeful, the Hillstrands. Johan and Uda Hilstrand had been farming outside the small Ohio town of Athens. As children, their families had emigrated from Sweden looking for the American promise of forging one’s own destiny. Sadly, continual disagreements with their neighbors brought misery to their home until Uda put her foot down. Either Johan move the family or she would leave on her own.  During this time, Uda’s brother in law had been trying to convince Johan that Texas was where the real future lay. A year later the two families found themselves crossing the Big Blue River in Kansas along with rest of the wagon train heading southwest to Texas.

Although the Hillstrands were a good church going family and pleasant to be acquainted with, Uda was prone to her moods. Even as a young bride in Ohio and in love, Uda began showing signs of dark moments. Johan hoped that in starting a family Uda would be lifted from these depressing moods. The birth of their first born, a son they named Sven, convinced Johan that the days of Uda’s moodiness had passed. She doted on the child and loved him as much as any mother could.

Two years later and the year they would leave for the west, a baby girl was born to the Hillstrand household. In memory of her grandmother, Uda named the child Bekke and she remained happy and free of her disturbing past moodiness.

The family of four rolled and bumped their way southwestward along with the other wagons through the tall prairie grasses bound for New Mexico and Texas.  The Hillstrand wagon followed behind that of their in-laws with Uda’s sister Hulda and her eldest son Jesper tending to the two families six cows being driven along with them. All in all, the families were the typical of the immigrant pioneers that settled the West.

One evening at supper, about a hundred or so miles northeast of Fort Smith in New Mexico, they received a visitor to their camp. Johan had seen the man hanging around different camps before  but paid little attention to him, other than an aknowledged ‘Hello’.

“Howdy good folks!” Making himself known, the visitor instead of introducing himself, made his way over to the cook fire and leaned over in order to smell the hanging cook pot of victuals.

“Ah, deer meat!” He exclaimed, Then with narrowed eyes asked, “When did you come across a deer?”

Johan was taken back at the familiarity the man displayed since he had not formally introduced himself but Johan still returned an answered in a kind way. “Friend, this is not fresh meat, we preserve our meat as we did back in the old country. You are welcome to take a plate of this stew if you wish”

“Like ‘an Injun does then Huh? I hear they pound berries into their meat before drying so’s they don’t get the scurvy. Uhuh, that might be alright for some but for my taste it has to be fresh kilt.”

 Still attempting to be neighborly, Uda came over and handed the man an empty but clean tin plate and cup saying, “There is also coffee that will be up in a minute if you wish for some.”

The man stood looking Uda over as a starved man would stare at a juicy flank of meat. “Uhuh, I’s told from other folks around here that you all hail from Sweden.  I also hear tell they grow some beautiful women there. That ain’t no lie as I’m see’in it with my own eyes.  Makes a man think he shoulda’ brought himself a blond whore to keep his own urges pleased. Haw haw“

Uda blushed and turned red and so did Johan, but not from any embarrassment but in anger. Putting his plate down Johan rose to face the thin, wiry built man. “I’m forgiving you only once for your language Mister. Seeing as we all come from different parts we all have our own ways. We Hillstrands have our ways also and those include being gracious guest and when we speak of our women it is with honor and dignity. I’d ask that you apologize to my wife for such base talk. Then afterward, if you wish, you’re still welcome to partake your supper with us.

Tossing the unfilled plate and coffee cup onto the ground beside him, the uninvited guest stood glaring at Johan with hands placed firmly on his hips. “Well la tee da!” He sneared, “A bunch of filthy do gooding firiners raisin’ their noses at a born American. Thanks, but no thanks!”

Turning to Uda the man then winked evilly telling her, “Honey, if ever you need a real man to warm your bed, you just look me up.” With that he turned on his heel and strode out chuckling to himself.

“What is wrong with that vile man?” Uda asked.

“I don’t know but don’t ever let yourself get alone with him.  I feel he’s more than just an uncouth braggart but is dangerous. The way he was looking at you upset me. I almost wish I had purchased that revolver the wagon master advised us to buy.  We will need to keep our eyes open to ones like him and maybe it would behoove us to give warning to some of the other young women you encounter.”

The next two weeks passed uneventfully. Nearing the turnoff to the Upper Road that led into Texas, Johan and Uda were relieved that no further sighting of the man had been noted.

Having traveled well past Fort Smith now, the train camped for the night along a small but clean flowing creek.  The next day the train would divide, some going on to Arizona along the Gila trail while others headed into Texas. This evening, watering the livestock was important since fresh water would be scarce for the next couple of days. The rule for watering any livestock on the trail was strictly enforced; one was to take their stock downstream to keep the water upstream clean for drinking and cooking. This ensured no water born diseases and parasites were transferred from stock to man. Water holes presented their own problems.

This evening was no different than any when camped near a stream. Johan, along with his nephew Jesper led their oxen and cows downstream for water. It was on the way back that the two heard a commotion further up the train. A woman was screaming. Immediately Johan told Jesper to keep the livestock moving back to the grassy area near the wagon and hobble the animals to prevent their wandering too far off.  As Johan ran toward the sound of the screaming woman a gunshot was heard. “Oh Lord,” He prayed, “What is going on up there?”

Out of breath, he made it to his wagon. Throwing open the rear tarp he saw it vacant inside. Thinking Uda may be assisting the screaming woman, he jumped off the rear of the wagon and ran to where a crowd was gathering. Breaking through the circle of onlookers Johan nearly fainted at what he saw lying on the ground. Uda. Her simple dress had been torn off from around her waist thus exposing her nakedness. Her face was quickly swelling with large black and blue areas. She had been beaten and raped.

Grabbing Uda around her shoulders he lifted her fetal form to his lap. Looking up to the gathering crowd he shouted. “Who did this? Who did this to my Uda!”

One man moved forward through the crowd saying excitedly, “I saw a skinny bearded man jump from the rear of your wagon and then heard a woman  screamin’ bloody murder. It was then your lady here appeared an’ fell straight out’a the wagon.  I knew right off by the looks of her that the man had been beatin’ her something fierce.  My pardon Mister, but I deemed that no woman would tear off her dress volunteer like, so I guessed right off what the man had done. Seein’ as me an’ my boy here was about to go hunt up some rabbit or prairie chicken, I had my gun along with me. I took a quick shot at the man as he run off and he jerked upright like he was hard hit but then he continued to run into them woods where the creek flows. I tried to give chase Mister, I really did but he took to his heels faster than I could. He’s hit bad though an’ won’t git far. I give him a mile or two before he bleeds out.”

It was at that moment in time that the Hillstrand family unit began to unravel.

 

Chapter 2

It was decided after the train divided, that a new wagon Master be elected for the train heading into Texas.  The new Wagon Master, a kind but firm man from Illinois named Johnston was elected. Since the train was only weeks away from their destination he ordered a rest of five days. This allowed the animals to recover, water and fatten up for the continued journey into the desert of western Texas. Johnston also worried about Uda Hillstrand and her mind. Meanwhile a party of men formed and went searching for the man who had perpetrated such vileness upon Uda. True to the shooters estimate, he was found not two miles distant, having bled out from a bullet that struck him in the neck. Already the critters of the plains had found him so it was unanimously decided that no burial would be given.

It was on the third day after the attack that Wagon Master Johnston stopped by the Hillstrand wagon to inquire of Uda’s well being.

 

“Well, to be truthful, I fear for her mind.” Johan told him, “She’s always been to prone toher  dark moods. She’s always recovered but this time she’s different, not saying a word, barely eats and has no interest in the babies. Her sister’s been caring for them when she can but she’s got her own brood to tend to. Once we get to Fort Stockton, if she’s no better, I’ll hunt up a Doctor to examine her.“

Wagon Master Johnston nodded regretfully saying, “ What happened  to her is sure a pity. A similar thing happened to my niece years back, she born a child from it then drowned it in the creek. She won’t come near no man no more cuz of it.”

“Well, whatever happens I am not leaving her. She was a good woman, a good mother to our children. If she bears a child from this then we’ll deal with it then. I just pray that it’s true that a woman who’s time it is for bleeding has a lesser chance of getting with child.”

“I ain’t no expert in woman’s particulars but let’s hope” Johnston tipped his hat and walked on.

It was outside Sonora, east of Fort Stockton that the second of two evils occurred.

Johan was half asleep on the driver’s seat. The plodding of the oxen was like a rhythmic lullaby. The babies were inside the wagon with Uda when a man came running up from the rear screaming and waving his arms violently. “Stop! Stop your wagon! Your baby fell out!”

Abruptly Johan jerked backward on the reigns. He had yanked so hard one of them snapped from the strain.   Leaping from the driver’s seat, Johan rounded the rear of the wagon fearing the worst. It was worse than he imagined. There, lying on the ground fifteen feet behind the wagon lay his infant daughter Bekke… with a long leather strap tied around her neck. She had been hung and dragged.  The man who had given shout was already using his knife to cut the infant free of its leather tourniquet.  In his rush to rid her neck of the strap, he deeply cut the child’s throat, but it was either that or the baby would continue to suffocate to death.

Wrapping a torn piece of his shirt around his child’s bleeding neck Johan glanced into the rear of the wagon. Without word he thrust Bekke into the hands of a stranger and leaped into the rear of the wagon.

“Noooooo!” came the cry from within.

By now others had assembled including his in-laws who had been driving their wagon in front of the Hillstrands and had been unaware of the commotion until now. Leaping through the driver’s seat, his brother in law discovered the reason for Johan’s scream. There lay the Hillstrands four year old son Sven. His mother had used a large knife to stab the child’s heart.

Uda sat unmoving still holding the large knife. When Johan began shaking and shouting at her, Uda’s only response was to rock back and forth as if in a rocking chair.

The infant boy Sven was buried near where the train had been halted. A crude cross was placed as his parents were Christian. Uda did not come from out of the wagon nor did she seem to understand the goings on about her. Her only response was to begin rocking when approached.

Thankfully, the neck wound of Bekke had stopped bleeding and was determined not to be a fatal  wound.  A deep raw abrasion ringed her neck from the leather strap but no other physical harm looked in evidence. The child’s hoarse crying continued through most of the night. As each hour passed Johan noticed the child’s voice growing raspier and raspier, by morning she cried as frog croaks. Whether a result from the hanging or the accidental throat wound no one could say.

Reaching Fort Stockton should have been a joyous affair, but it wasn’t.  Uda showed no signs of getting better and now Johan seemed steeped in regrets and misery for leaving his Ohio farm. He decided to let the rest of the train continue on to its final destination without he and his wife. Bekke was taken in by his sister and brother in laws. He would meet up with them later after Uda was either back to her old self or at least able to cope with the world around her once again.

“We decided to head south to Austin instead of San Antonio like we all planned.” Said his brother in law, “Well meet up down there. I’ll write to you here and give you more information once we settle in.” 

The plans were pretty basic for meeting up but no one really cared about firming up further details like exactly where in Austin they would settle. They all just figured that finding each other may be a matter of a few days search. Never in his life would he have thought that as the wagon rolled away towards Austin that it was the last he’d ever see of his in-laws.

 

Chapter 3

Uda wasted away even under a Doctor’s care. It turned she had not conceived a child, that at least was a small blessing. She refused to go out outside of the small rental house in town. She rarely spoke and when she did it was in a single word at best. A mixture of heroin and Laudanum kept her from further rash outburst.

Uda grew weary soon after rising and ended up spending the rest of her day once again sleeping or lying in bed looking at the ceiling. She was a shell, a ghost, there was no one home anymore within her. Her mind had snapped and the medicine just seemed to add to her inactivity.

When Uda finally passed it was a mixed blessing. It had been nearly six months to the day upon their arrival at Fort Stockton. The gloom that had settled over Johan was as thick as rain clouds over the Ohio Valley farm they once had. Johan would shake his head in remorse remembering when their only concern was a disagreeable neighbor. At Uda’s funeral he spoke not so much about Uda as he did about how she and he had perceived life. “Sometimes we have no idea how good we had it until the future unfolds to even a worse life. We should be grateful for what the Lord gives us and not go yearning for what others got. If Uda and I had followed this, she’d be here today as well as our children.”

He never received a letter from his in-laws nor sent one himself. He had little desire to look upon the face of his daughter for all it would do is remind him of how much he missed Uda and little Sven. Delay after delay occurred until months turned into years. By the time he did try to contact his in-laws, they were nowhere to be found in Austin, the string that connected them was snipped. He could only assume child Bekke was still with them.

Bekke was lovingly raised within her Aunt and Uncles household until she reached the age of six. The family had moved on to Abilene, some two hundred plus miles north. Word of their move was left with the Sheriff of Austin in case Johan looked for them. It was then that Uda’s sister Hulda came down with the influenza and passed. Her husband Jorn had been recently injured when a mule kicked him in the leg as he was putting on the mule team’s harness. The freighter he worked for had enough sympathy to find temporary shelter for all the children until he recovered. Jorn lay lame in bed for almost a year and even after that needed a crutch due to his crooked leg. He took his own children and returned to Ohio, leaving Bekke behind.

 Bekke had been given to a family that desired to move soon after they accepted her under their care. They promised to keep her Uncle Jorn informed as to their whereabouts but months later there still was no word where they had gone off to. Bekke’s Uncle shrugged his shoulders and figured the girl at least was under a roof and was eating so why worry when the child wasn’t his anyway.

What the Uncle never knew nor would he, was that the family that had taken Bekke in had been waylaid by robbers on their journey. A gunfight ensued and the father was killed. His surviving wife immediately sold the young girl to a man for twenty dollars who promised to take real good care of her. “I’ll treat her as my own flesh an’ blood Ma’am, even though the kid don’t talk right”.  He took her from Texas and moved into the Mogollon Rim area of Arizona where he worked as a sheep herder.

Unfortunately for the young Bekke, the man was more interested in her as a man would be to a woman than a father.  By the age of seven Bekke had had enough of his foul fondling ways and made up her mind to end his night time shenanigans.

The two had been living in a small sheep herders cabin part way up the slopes of the Rim where the pines trees grow tightly together and disguised the steep cliffs they cling to. It was then that Bekke saw her chance to settle the issue of her abuse.

As the man stepped up to an overhang which was part of the Rims bench, he looked down and whistled when he realized just how steep the cliff was he was perched on.“Wee-ooo, Ya’ll wait back there while I take a leak child…unless you all wanna’ watch ‘Ol Uncle Lester’s stove pipe in action! Haw haw!”

“Yes, let me watch and see” she responded eagerly in her hoarse voice.

Her positive response was the last thing “Ol Uncle Lester” expected and found it excited his loins. “Then come on over here and take a look see at what a prize I was blessed with.”

As she approached him from behind he began to relieve himself. The thin yellow stream disappeared into a spray of droplets part way down the steep cliff.

All it took was a small shove to dislodge him but it was no small shove she gave. Bent nearly backward from the force of her hands applied upon his backside he went over the edge in the shape of a back bent banana. All he could utter was a “Uh, Uh” as he disappeared silently over the edge.  

She waited and figured on hearing a thud or some other sound saying he had hit bottom but none came. Crawling up to the edge of the cliff on her belly she peeped over the edge and discovered the reason. For nearly two hundred feet the drop was straight down then slowly it began to curve outward nearing the bottom. She could see very faintly a small feature spread out on the slope far below. She mistook it for a small animal or even an ant until she realized the vastness of the cliff’s size and that of  the Rim.

Bekke sat there until the sun started lowering to the westward mountain tops. She knew she had just killed a man but needed to place it within her mind that there was no wrong in it. When she finally stood up to leave, she had left behind the seven year old child and walked away as a young girl very much in charge of herself.

She returned to the cabin, gathered up her belongings and what money she found hidden in the man’s belongings and left.

At age nine she was once again faced with a dilemma when the Sheriff of Payson saw her wandering through town and by her looks knew she was a vagrant and homeless child. The Sheriff handed the girl over to his sister to care for until he could locate the child’s parents. The Sheriff was taken back when he heard the hoarse voice coming from such a beautiful face when asked of her parents. “They was kilt dead” she hoarsely told him but he didn’t believe her saying, “Somewhere you got a Mama and a Pa who’s lookin’ for ya’. It’s gonna be my job to locate and return ya’ to ‘em.”

Weeks passed and every inquiring telegram returned with the same reply. Negative. Little did the Sheriff realize he was looking in the wrong State.

Her stay with the Sheriffs sister was prolonged but after a year the woman finally faced the Sheriff. “Look Howard, you either get me some funds to help raise the child proper or I’m gonna’ have to ask that you take her back. I ain’t wealthy and getting’ no younger either. She’s a little hellion of a child. Seems way too grown up for a child that young.” 

Leaning close and to a near whisper she confided, “A few days back I caught her and little Tommy Dolan playin’ Doctor…well Tommy was playin’ anyway. Little Tommy stood there with his drawers to his feet and she went an’ pointed at his peter an’ began laughing in that hoarse laugh she has!  Do you know what she then told him? She said, “You bess close up them drawers boy or than tiny noodle you gots gonna catch a cold ‘an sneeze itself right off, then how’s you gonna make love to your woman when you’s a man?!” Now I ask you Howard, what normal child talks like that?”

The Sheriffs eyebrows rose in surprise to what was just told him and replied, “Ok, OK. I’ll find a place for her somewhere. She does seem a bit too precocious even for a self learned child. Give me a few weeks an’ I promise she’ll be gone.”

A week later Bekke found herself at the front steps of the Yavapai Indian children’s home holding a small satchel of belongings. Though she was not Yavapai nor of any other Indian tribe, they accepted her right off. To not accept her might be getting themselves on the wrong side of the Sheriff.  Little known to the Sheriff however was that the children’s home was a clearing house for child field labor…and ‘other things’ as they grew older. By now Bekke spoke with a distinct rasp but somehow there was a musical chime somewhere hidden in the rasp. A number of male visitors to the home commented on how charming this made the girl.

Bekke stayed until the age of sixteen. It was at that age that the ‘other things’ forced onto the older children became evident. The cute light skinned, blond haired child with sky blue eyes was told by the overseer of the Home that her time to become a ‘lady’ was soon going to be upon her.. Bekke had actually relished the hard work she had been forced to do. She had been made a teamster hauling freight for the Homes side business. Being outdoors again was a blessing to her and the hard work gave her the self worth she had lacked earlier. She grew strong loading and unloading freight and became resilient in her ways and took no guff from any of the other children. 

When she was informed that soon she either become the nightly pleasure for ‘gentlemen callers’ or be sold off into ‘marriage’, she left… but not before she ‘accidentally’ drove a runaway freight wagon over the  overseer of the Children’s home.

Bekke traveled south towards Globe on foot. In Globe she befriended a boy named Jethro Clemens a few years her senior. He worked at the copper mine there and was making himself a good living doing so. Bekke was impressed, not with his money but with his work ethic. Truth be told, she fell head over heels for the young man. Wide of shoulders, strong chin, clear complexion and the most wonderful brown eyes she’d ever looked into. She was hooked.

 The man boy had strong feelings toward Bekke from the beginning. They had met when Bekke had entered a prosperous looking mercantile in town which had posted a ‘Help Wanted’ sign on its door. She entered and inquired about the job. She was told it was a freighters job that traveled daily between Globe and the town of Phoenix. “Well young lady,” the owner replied, “If you was a man I’d say yes right off but seein’ as you’re a little lady, you couldn’t possibly do the job.”

“Why not? Bekke asked. “I can drive a team of mules better’n any man can! I drove a wagon all over Yavapai county for the last three years! I’m more than capable.”

The owner laughingly guffawed at her claim. It was then that a handsome young man spoke up from near the shelves displaying boots. Looking at the blue eyed wonder, the young man winked at her and told the older man, “Hey Pops, why not see if she’s pullin’ your leg? Let her hitch the team if she can!”

Bekke knew what the boy was up to, it wasn’t to humiliate her by seeing her fail the test, it was to help show the man she was what she claimed to be.

“Ha ha! Sure son, we need a good chuckle, let’s go out back. I gotta get the team hitched presently see’n as I’ll most likely end up haulin’ this load to Phoenix myself.”

Bekke was led around back where the man and boy opened the doors to the carriage house revealing inside a large freight wagon and stalls housing four mules. The owner stood looking proudly at the powerful beast and turning to Bekke told her, “Let’s see you work your magic on these here four Missouri Mules sweetheart!”

Without saying a word, Bekke inspected each mule as careful as if she were to purchase them. Using her own skill, she determined which were lead and which were the wheelers, right side and left. Then she inspected the harnesses, yokes, rings, hames, collar and traces. When finished, she went over the wagons gear. Satisfied they were in good condition, she quickly had all four beast harnessed and ready to haul.

The owner and the boy stood there silently watching her. Finally the man stepped up to the mules and exclaimed, “Well I’ll be danged if you didn’t choose the right mule for the exact position they belong in. Let’s see how you can handle these four honey’s of mine.”

Bekke first backed the mules then turned the rig in a complete circle. She then lined up the wagon and backed the wagons tail gate flush to the building without bumping it.

“Sweetheart,” the man exclaimed, “if you was serious about wantin’ the job then they’s all yours to drive! C’mon back inside and let’s talk.”

“The young man walked up to Bekke and whispered to her, “I knew you could do it!” he then turned and once again winked at her as he strode away.

Bekke stepped back inside the mercantile and asked the owner, “That young man who was with us, is he your son?”

“I wish! Nope, he’s a loner now. Parents passed last year with the influenza. Best folks you’d ever meet. I kinda took a liking to him. He’s a good boy an’ see’n as he has no parents no more, I keep a close eye on him for ‘em.”

Bekke looked at the man with sympathy. I understand, My Aunt who helped raise me passed from the same.

 The owner sat Bekke down at a small table used for cutting strips of leather and asked, “It’s none of my business, maybe it is since I’m hiring you on, No matter but do you have a story I need to know about? Any crimes committed that might draw the law on you? That sort of thing.”

“None that I’m aware of. Truth be told, I ran away from the children’s home over in Yavapai County ‘cause they wanted me to start whorin’ for them.”

Stifling a gasp, he declared “Don’t tell! The Indian home up by the rim?”

“The very one. I guess they get away with it ‘cause for the most part it’s only Indian children and the Sheriff and other white folk don’t care what goes on there.”

“Dang me! Sweetheart, you got a place to stay? If’n you don’t, we can make up a bed here in the back room. It’s cool as anything possible here in the summer. Oh, by the way, my names Billy Irons, an this here is my business free an’ clear!”

“Much obliged, thank you Mister Billy Irons. My names Bekke, Bekke Hillstrand, that’s all I’ve been told of me. No one cares anything for me as I’m probably an orphan anyway. I was too young to know how I got the way I did with this scar around my neck an’ all but I was told my Daddy had a lot to do with it. I was told he was a no good and had no use for me so he sold me off. At least that’s what I was told by a sheep herder that bought me from some lady who’s husband was shot an kilt. ”

“Bought you? What do you mean bought you? Like a slave is bought?”

“I guess you could say that. He fed me but handled me too. He was an evil man an’ I was only a child.”

The owner sat staring wide eyed. “You mean by ‘handled’ he touched you?”

“Uhuh, an’ woulda been a lot more if I didn’t fight him off every time he come back to the cabin drunk.”

Irons face turned beet red. “Why if that no good ever shows his face around here, you come ‘an get me understand? He’ll rue the day he ever touched you. There’s bullets made in hell just for men like him”

“There’s no need Mister Irons”

“Why’s that child?”

“I killed him. I pushed him off’ a cliff at the Rim up north of here when he stopped to take a pi…” Sorry, I mean when he went to relieve himself.”

Billy Irons eyes widened even further, “What? You did what girl?”

“I kilt him. I ain’t sorry none about it neither.” She rasped, “ He deserved all he got. I hope every bone in his body broke as he hit bottom too!”

“Well dang my hide child! Keep that information under your hat an’ to yourself from now on. That could be a hangin’ offense… but between you an’ me, you done good alright!”

The weeks passed and Bekke learned each and every twist and turn through the mountain trail into Phoenix and back.  Folks began to know her up and down the trail. Sometimes she was asked to haul freight to some of the local general stores along the way. Billy Irons took advantage of having the only large freight wagon in the area. If a trip could be made more profitable by throwing on someone else’s freight to drop off, then all the better.

One late October day on her return trip to Globe, Bekke noticed she had been being followed for the last couple of hours. Making sure her rifle was within easy reach she continued as if unawares. The keenness of her eyesight and with the use of a small mirror she kept tabs on the lone rider behind her. Something seemed familiar about the rider, the way he sat in the saddle, straight and tall. It suddenly dawned on her who the rider was… her new friend, the young man named Jethro Clemens. 

Pulling her rig over to the side of the trail she searched and found a good hiding spot for it in a nearby small box canyon. Less than a half hour later she heard the clippity clop of Jethro’s horse. Suddenly he stopped. Looking over the top of the boulder she had hidden behind she watched as he looked down the road to where she should be. Jethro removed his hat and scratched his head. “Where the dickens’s did she go to?” She heard him say. ”She should be plain in view right now.”

Meanwhile Bekke had found a small stone the size of a birds egg. As Jethro turned away from her, she rose and threw it, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Ow! What in the heck!” At that moment Bekke showed herself and began laughing.

“Come over here Jethro, “she shouted, I got some jerky an’ water if you wish for some.”

Laughing, Jethro swung his horse off the trail and dismounting, led the horse to the small box canyon where the wagon was stashed. Bekke meanwhile had lowered the tail gate and reaching inside for her grub bag sat upon it.

“I guess I couldn’t fool you no way huh?” He asked her.  “I tried to be sneaky like an’ follow you unseen but I make a terrible Indian. When did you notice I was behind you?”

“A couple hours ago, back by the turn off leading to the Superstitions.”

As Jethro sat next to Bekke on the wagons tail gate he exclaimed, “That far back? Darn, you must be part Injun yourself!”

“Truthfully, I didn’t know it was you until just a bit ago. All I could make out was a lone rider was trying his best to stay hidden from me.“

“Yeah, I did real good huh? All I did was make a fool of myself in front of the girl I got the sweets for.”

Bekke looked sharply at him. “Did I just hear you right? You got the sweets for me?”

“Oh darn! I’m sorry, I shoulda just kept my mouth shut.  Forget I ever said that!”

“Why? I think that’s sweet of you to say that. No one ever told me they had feelings for me before. I got feelings too, I just don’t know what to do with ‘em.”

“Has a boy never loved you then?”

“None that I knowed of. Truth be told Jethro, I’m a hussy. I’ve been handled by evil men. I doubt I’ll ever be loved the way you is thinkin’ of. No man deserves a used woman like me when they can find a girl raised proper like.”

Jethro moved closer to Bekke. “Bekke, I had my share of times, both good n bad. I got to know what makes folks do things. I know you better than you think I do. You liked me right off, I could see it in your eyes when you looked my way the day we first met. Then I heard your story. Not meaning to, I overheard your tellin’ Old Bill your story.”

Saying that, Jethro gently took Bekke’s hands in his. “Bekke, see how clean your hands are? I know in the past they got dirtied up a mite an not on your own account. But you went an’ washed ‘em clean after they was dirtied. Life is like that too Bekke. We get dirty sometimes but we wash ourselves clean an’ go on. I hold nothin’ against you for what you done in the past. If you call yourself a hussy it’s only cuz you want to be one an’ I know that ain’t what you is or want to be known as. So no matter what happened in your past, you’re as clean as a newborn babe to me. Can you understand that?”

A tear rolled down Bekke’s cheek. “You make everything sound so right. Is it really?”

“Yes, it is for sure.”

With Jethro still holding her hands she leaned into his chest. “I’m glad I met you Jethro.”

He replied softly. “So am I Bekke, real glad.”

 There the two sat unspeaking for the longest time. Bekke knew the day was getting on and daylight was needed to traverse the twisting roads safely back to Globe. Looking up at Jethro she quickly kissed his cheek. Telling him, “I’ll be right back, that water I drank is beggin’ to see daylight!”

“Oh, you gotta p.., relieve yourself? OK, I’ll stay here with the wagon an’ you can head into the mesquite trees over there where I can’t see ya. Oh, take your rifle with ya, never know when a rattler will slither out.”

Grabbing the rifle, Bekke headed off to the thickest part of the mesquite cover.

It was while Bekke was busy that Jethro heard the sound of horses approaching.  A group of three hard looking men rode up to face him. “What’s this all about boy? You find an abandoned wagon here? Maybe someone left it for us to go through, Haw haw.”

Two men dismounted and threw back the canvas of the wagon. “Jackpot boys! Look at what we got here!”

Jethro regained his composure and shouted angrily, “Hey, get your hands off of that wagon Mister!”

 Without warning the mounted man pulled and raised his revolver from its holster. Just as Jethro realized what was about to happen he went for his own gun. The advantage was to the no good and he fired striking Jethro. Jethro fell to the ground and cried out loudly in pain.  Once again the man raised his revolver and began lowering its barrel towards Jethro.

 Before he could pull the trigger a second time, Bekke’s rifle bucked from its deadly duty. The top of the riders head exploded in a red mist. He slowly teetered back and forth as if unsure what to do, he then tumbled sideways off of his saddle which ended in a sickening thud in the dust. Faster than the two others could pull iron and return fire, Bekke had sent into each of the men a deadly heart piercing slug of lead. Round after round she sent forth into the expired trio of no goods until her re-cocking of the rifle produced no further live rounds.

As sudden as it started it was finished. The sound of her last shots still echoed through the distant canyons then all was silent.

“Bekke, Help me!” Jethro moaned painfully.  I’m shot in the chest somewhere’s.  Bekke ran to him and dropping the empty rifle, laid him on the ground to examine the wound.   

“Oh it hurts bad. I never been shot before Bekke, I’m sorry if I’m bein’ like a child.”

“No, hush now Jethro, let me get your shirt open. You’re bleedin’ all over the place”

With shaking hands Bekke undid Jethro’s shirt exposing a long deep bleeding gash across his chest. “No wonder it hurts so bad. It plowed a deep crease along the entire front of your chest. A straight in shot woulda’ been a lot less painful for sure!”

 

Bekke ran to the wagon and tore away a piece of cloth from one of the bolts she was to deliver. “Here, this will help with the bleeding but you’re gonna be in some mighty powerful pain. You better lay inside the wagon whiles I tie your horse to the back of it. We need you to get to a Doctor right quick Jethro.”

“Am I gonna make it? I mean am I dyin’?”

“Not yet anyway, I think we’ll be celebrating your next birthday without too much worry. You may pass out though on the ride back, it’s not a smooth one and you’ll get bumped around a lot.”

 “Bekke? You kissed me?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Thank you, that was real nice of you.”

Helping him into the wagon nearly cost him his consciousness but after a moment his eyes cleared again.

Bekke wrapped the tarp around him snuggly and for a moment rested her head on his arm. She then climbed up into the wagon and carefully placed his head between her palms. She then lowered herself to him and kissed him with a gentle but passion filled kiss. “If you pass out,” she told him, “I want the last thing you remember is this kiss.”

“Oh Bekke, I could never forget it even if I was to die.”

The way back seemed to take ages. Finally the mercantile in Globe came into view just as the sun set over the mountains. As she pulled up, Bekke screamed to Bill for help and he came out running like an old buffalo.

“What’s going on Bekke? What…Oh my God, it’s Jethro! Is he dead?”

 “Not yet, he’s been shot but I thought by the time we got here he might die of old age!”

Inspecting the dressing and wound Bill glanced up at her.

“Uhuh, says the girl with a sense of humor.  Glad you kept your cool. He seems a mite torn up but he’ll live as long as infection don’t set in.”

The two unloaded Jethro into the bed Bekke had made for herself inside the back room of the mercantile. She ran up front to the customer counter, grabbed Bills chair and retured with it. Placing it next to the bed she reached over and placed Jethro’s hand in hers. Bill Irons stared down at the sight of her holding Jethro’s hand and smiled knowingly to himself.

 

Chapter 4

Jethro’s recovery took a turn for the worse the next day when fever struck him. For three days he tossed and turned and talked out of his head. When Bekke had finally turned in to sleep, Irons took over watching him. Suddenly Jethro awoke with a start. Bill could tell the boy was still talking out of his head but the pleas for another of Bekke’s kisses was not from any fever dream, the boy was in love with Bekke. Bill Irons kept a cool cloth on the boys head and soon the young man drifted back to sleep.

On the third day of Jethro’s fever it broke. Jethro awoke shaky but hungry, a good sign. Bekke was excited and continually had to admonish Jethro for trying to leave his bed.

“C’mon Bekke, I’m fine! Why I feel better every hour.”

“Now listen Jethro, I need to get back to work drivin’ Bills freight. He’s startin to get short on supplies an’ they need to be gotten.  Plus there’s a few general stores along the way that I drop other supplies off to. I’m needed an’ I like the feeling. Besides, every time you try to crawl outa bed you start oozing blood again.”

Jethro rolled slowly onto his side and looked longingly at her, “I need you Bekke, be safe, OK?”

Bekke leaned over him and tenderly kissed him on the mouth. In her musically raspy voice she told him, “I’m glad you need me Jethro. This is hard for me to say all that’s spinnin’ in my mind but I want you to know this before I leave. I don’t know how it happened or even why but I’ve fallen in love with you.”

As she turned to leave Jethro called out to her.  “I love you too.”

The months passed and Bekke continued to drive the freight wagon for Bill Irons. Jethro recovered enough to return to work but the mine declined to take him back as work had slowed and layoffs were imminent so Irons took him on.

 “I was hoping you’d join up with me here at the mercantile long ago,” Bill told him, “but, I figured you’d think I was given’ you a hand out an’ I know you wouldn’t cotton up to that. But truth be told, I ain’t getting’ any younger and am really lookin’ forward to someday takin’ some time to go east an visit my daughter an’ grandkids back in Virginia. I’d consider it my good fortune if you’d step in my place for a spell an’ run the place while I’m gone. What d’ya say son?”

Without saying a word Jethro stuck out a man’s hand and grasped Bills in it. A quick shake and the deal was done.

 “I’ll draw up the paperwork given’ ya’ access to the bank and all rights to operate the place as you see fit. I’ll make sure it’s done all legal like so’s to avoid any trouble.”

 

In Phoenix, Bekke’s last stop was at a small leather workers shop owned by an elderly Mexican and his plump happy wife. There Bekke was to pick up some bridles, halters and leather britchens for mules and two beautiful hand tooled saddles. While waiting for the old Mexican craftsman to load the goods onto the wagon, Bekke ran across the road to a small café to grab a mid day meal. Inside, the cafe was dark and cool. No sooner had she entered than a girl named Lois who was busy waiting on tables looked up and waved to her. “Hiya’ Miss Hillstrand! I see you finally returned. What’s been keeping you away?”

Bekke found an empty table and pulling up a chair to it sat down. “Oh, too much to tell in one sitting Lois.” She raspingly laughed.

“Well Bekke, I’m all ears as soon as dinner is over, will you be around then?”

“Afraid not, I gotta get back to Globe before dark.”

While the two friends chatted gaily, an elderly looking man rose slowly from the table he had been sitting at and approached the girls on teetering legs. To any patron in the cafe, the old man appeared aged not so much from years but from the burdens of life that had taken their tolls. Where most men seem to grow old gracefully, this fella missed the stage by months.

Reaching them, the old man bowed his head in apology.  “Excuse me for interrupting the two of you.” He said.

 Looking at Bekke his moist blue eyes softened and he quietly asked, “Did I hear right that you are called Bekke Hillstrand?”

“Yes, who wants to know?”

“May I see your neck please?”

“Why?”

“Please, it’s important to me. May I see under your kerchief?”

“Suite yourself,” she chuckled, “but I’ll charge you for a second look.”

Bekke removed the red kerchief she had tied around her neck. Underneath the old scar from being hung and dragged by a leather strap was plainly in evidence.

The old man began to shake visibly. “And your voice, it changed when you received that scar?”

“Mister, I have no idea, I was only a few months old at best.”

The old man’s lips began to quiver, subtly at first but in trying to speak his lips took on a noticeable tremble. “B-Bekke?”

“Mister, I’m not sure what the problem is or what you want but please, I have only a short time to eat before I drive my freight wagon back to Globe. It get’s dark early this time of year and I don’t particularly desire to drive my team blind. What is it you want from me?”

“I want nothing, I just wanted to introduce myself, that is all.”

“Well why didn’t you say so, I’m Bekke Hillstrand and you are?”

The old man looked sheepishly down at the girl and quietly said, “Johan, Johan Hillstrand, I’m your father.”

Bekke stood as if made of stone. Suddenly she spun on her heel and made for the door. Behind her the old man cried out, “Bekke!”

Slamming the cafe diners screened door, she stomped outside where the customers could hear her raspy voice scream the word “NO!”

 Chapter 5

“So this is it Mister. End of story I guess. I promised myself if ever I ran across the dirty dog I’d kill him. It’s gonna be for a different reason than all the others I kilt dead. They all wanted somethin’ from me an’ for that they paid for it. I’ll go in an’ face him, let him know what he did to me, then I’ll punch a hole clean through his liver and watch him bleed out! It’ll for sure be cold blooded murder but justice needs to be served an’ if I’m hung for it fine, I’ve been hung once already.”

She turned to the café and I followed her inside hoping she wouldn’t do what she said she would. She seemed such a nice girl.

“OK old man, out with it. I promised myself I’d let you speak your piece before blasting you. I got too much of my life missin’ an’ out of plain ol’ curiosity I want to hear what you gotta say to me. Of course most all you tell me will be lies, but I’m keen enough to see through them. Still, I might get a few nuggets of truth and for that your still standin’ here breathin’.”

I noticed the man kind of wobble back n forth dizzy like as if he was unbelieving on what he was hearing.

“Daughter Bekke, what is wrong? This should be the happiest day of our lives, yours and mine. I don’t understand why such hate for me is within you. Please, first tell me what grieves you then I’ll answer any question you have with truth. I am old and ill of health, I have no reason to speak falsely.

“OK, first off. In truth, I know only what’s been told to me. I have no memories of you, my mother, nobody! I’ve been told bit’s an’ pieces over the years by different folks. How they knew anything about my past is beyond me but I had no choice but to add their stories together and decide for myself what occurred when I was a babe.”

I saw the girl step up face to face with the old man, then she laid into him with all her grievances.

“I’m beholding to what I come up with. I knowed we arrived safe and sound as a family off a wagon train from the East somewhere’s. I figure Missouri. Then for some unexplained reason you got it in your head that you could do better without a family draggin’ behind you all the time. So first off, I was told, you refused to seek a Doctor or any medicine when my brother fell ill with the grip. He died to your pleasure. Then later you decided I was too much a bother too an’ you ended up hangin’ me in a horse stable by my neck. You thought I was dead but I lived because I weighed so little my neck didn’t snap! When my mama found me hangin’ there gasping for life and faced you for what you did, you kilt her with arsenic pisin you got from your friend the druggist. Before it kilt her though it ad you drove her insane! Ya then left me abandoned on a strangers door stoop. From then on I been handed down from one vile no good to another with few moments of happiness in between. I was forced to be a play thing for men as a child. Now, let me hear your lie’s an’ if I can’t stand them no more I’ll drop you where you stand old man!”

I saw the old man’s tears tumbling down his horrified face as the girl laid into him. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how she could watch his pain an’ yet be so unfeelin’ but I guess when you been through what she’d been through you get a mighty hard heart. When the old man finally spoke all the ears in the café diner was wide open, not a clink of a plate was to be heard.

“M-My heart lies heavy in my chest Daughter,” He sobbed.”What you have been told are lies, all lies. Why someone would say what they did confounds me. Kill me if you wish when I am finished speaking, it will be a blessing to me. To hear what you have endured because of my naivety and dereliction will be added to my sins in hell.”

At this point the old man stopped to wipe his tears with an old kerchief he pulled from his vest pocket.

“Your mother, Uda was her name, was the love of my life. We were both emigrants to America from nearby villages in Sweden. We met one day at a church social in the small town of Athens back in Ohio. it was as they say, love at first sight. We became inseparable friends and soon lovers. Though we had more than two decades separating our ages, no one thought it improper, least of all your mother’s family. Their love for me was overwhelming. We married in the same church that we had first seen each other. Your beautiful brother Sven was soon born and he lit up our lives as the sun lights the day. In truth, your mother had suffered previously to a spell of dark moods. Upon your brothers birth though these moods fell by the wayside. We had been having problems with our neighbor so we decided with the encouragement of your Aunt and Uncle to start over and move to Texas. That is when you were born. How could we not have been the happiest family? Two beautiful children, a new future ahead of us and loving relatives to travel with.

 You were partially correct though, we left by wagon from Missouri but we were not from Missouri. Part way to our destination an evil and vile man brutally attacked and had his way with your mother while I was away tending the livestock. The man was shot and killed by a fellow traveler when he took flight. We found him a short distance away expired, we left the man unburied for the animals to feed on! What your mother went through no one can explain. I believe she lost her mind at that moment and wanted nothing more than to no longer exist. She was the one who killed your brother Sven. He was never  prone to illness but was a healthy strapping boy. Driven by her delusions, she ended his life unknowingly to me as I drove the wagon. Mercifully it was a quick death. He is buried alongside the trail where a cross marks his grave. It is still be standing, it was m-m-made of h-heavy wood and over the years I’ve revisited his little grave n-n-numerous times.”

Again tears flowed freely but this time I noticed moistness in the girl’s eyes. I also noticed the tip of the rifle barrel had drooped towards the floor a mite. Wiping his eyes clear once more, the old man cleared his throat and continued speaking.

“And you… my dream come true, my precious little Bekke. We can only assume what happened as no one saw the act. A man in the  wagon behind us saw you dumped from the rear of the wagon. A leather harness strap had been tightly twisted around your neck. You were dragged with your tiny limbs flaying about as you fought for your life. A stranger arrived in response to our yells and lifted your blue body from the earth. Using his large hunting knife he cut away the noose from around your neck. In his rush to free you though he cut deeply into your throat but not so much that your wound did not eventually heal. To all of us present, we praised God when you sucked in your breath and began crying. Such a strange cry you gave, it was as a frog croaking but it mattered little to me for you were alive. When we reached Fort Stockton your mother’s delusions worsened. A Doctor began to treat her but his experience was with the body, not the mind. In giving their support, your Aunt and Uncle promised to care for you until we all met up in Austin. I found out years later that sometime after they had left, your Aunt passed from the influenza and you were given to another family to be cared for. Your Uncle left with his children to return to Ohio but apparently never made it. No one knows whether they came to an early demise or stopped to settle elsewhere along the way. Our family in Ohio knew nothing of his return. At the time, I knew nothing of all of this and assumed y-you were s-s-still s-s-safe with family.

By now most of the folks in the café diner were in or near tears. I think at that point the pendulum swung from believin’ the girl to believin’ her Dad. I truly believed that if she had pulled the trigger then and there that the entire group of diners would’ve jumped atop her.

“When I realized you and my family were not to be found, I spent the next seventeen years traveling throughout Texas trying to find you and that is the honest to God’s truth. It is by pure coincidence that we meet here today for I had come across a story of a young girl found wandering the desert years ago by a Mormon missionary. I was on my way to Utah to find this missionary to see if it was you he had rescued when in my travels I stopped into this cafe for a meal. My joy would be complete and all of my years of prayers answered except that my precious daughter is pointing a gun at me and wishes my death. I am finished, I can add no more. If you still disbelieve me then I can only say that those who have harmed you are having the last laugh in your killing of the father who truly loves you. What can an old man say to prove he is telling the truth? Nothing. If you feel must kill me to rid yourself of the demons that have tormented you all these years, then you have my blessing to pull your trigger.”

 

It was then I saw the old man stand tall and erect as he waited for the inevitable punch of the bullet. Tears were streaming like a spring thunderstorm down his face but I knew the tears were not from any fear of his death but the from irony of finally findin’ his baby girl, only to lose her in the end. He slowly closed his eyes an’ then spoke to her one last time.

“I love you my precious Bekke…”

The girl stood misty eyed an’ unmoving for a solid minute. What was transpirin’ in her head only the Good Lord knowed. She slowly bowed her head. Closing her own eyes her tears dropped to the floor as did the rifle. Then stepping forward and putting her arms around the old man, sobbing, she hugged him.

“I love you too Dad.”

The place went bizerk in cheerin’! As she and the old man passed by me goin’ out the door to the thunder of congratulating applause, she reached out an’ gave my arm a good squeeze and whispered, “Thank you.”

I stood lookin’ out after ‘em as they headed across the road to the Mexican leather place hand in hand. If I heard correct like, I believe I heard her tellin’ the old man about a young man who had asked her to marry him. Then like two old friends they chattered their way till I could no longer make out what they was sayin’.

Well, I best be getting back home. The wife sent me out to pick up some staples an’ I’ve yet to get ‘em. It’ll be a dickens tryin’ to explain all the happenings here an’ why I was so late in getting’ on back home. I believe the easiest out is to just tell her I stopped in at the saloon and downed a few cold ones an’ lost track of time. Yup, I do believe she’d go for that. Besides, it won’t be no lie, for I sure could go for a cold one right about now!

                                                                 The End

 

 

When the Spirit Grandfathers spoke.

Chapter 1 

Prancing Doe raised her blood stained face to the sky and howled in anguish. Her husband, Coughing Bear, lay scalped and dead at her feet. Her infant female child bounced violently within the basket being carried away by a warrior of a renegade band. As the warrior rode off with the screaming infant, on his side hung the fresh scalp of the child’s father.

Sinking to her knees, Prancing Doe knelt next to her dead warrior husband. Paying no attention to the open gash on her head, she began hoarsely chanting his death song in order to find his way safely to the hunting grounds where the Grandfathers waited for his arrival. When finished, Prancing Doe pulled out one of the sharp flint tipped arrows still protruding from his back and dug the arrows tip deep along the length of her arms to slice open the arteries inside until she lost consciousness.

In the brightness of the hunting grounds, Prancing Doe knelt beside Coughing Bear as he stood tall and spoke. In wonderment, she saw that all of the tribes Grandfathers were present. Many she only knew by songs and legends, others she had loved and cared for in life.

After addressing the Grandfathers in greeting, Coughing Bear honored them by singing each their own song as was taught to him as a child. It may have taken days but no one cared since the sun never set in the hunting grounds of the afterlife. When finished, the pipe was passed. The Grandfathers approved and the Great Spirit breathed his pleasure over the gathering which caused a stirring of their unbraided hair. A Grandfather rose and Coughing Bear was given by him a fine strong ash bow and a quiver full of straight arrows. Another gave him a sharp knife. In appreciation, Coughing Bear held a tightly wrapped bundle of sweet grass out to each Grandfather. He then stood, left Prancing Doe behind and joined the Grandfathers to his rightful place in the hunting grounds.

As one, each Grandfather turned their respectful gaze to Prancing Doe. The grandfather that had presented her husband the bow and quiver, sang to her a song of honor. Prancing Doe was humbled. When she felt brave enough, she looked up and he spoke to her.

“Prancing Doe. You have swept the leaves from the trail so that Coughing Bear would not lose his way here to the hunting grounds. You sang until his feet stood upon the holy ground. He was not waylaid by the trickster on his journey because of you. You honored him afterward by sending your own spirit to him as a guide and helpmeet. We are pleased. We give you honor and gifts.

The aged Grandfather held out his hand and in it hung a necklace of strong medicine charms. Some were of carved beaver teeth others knapped flint or precious blue stone. Prancing Doe was afraid to touch such powerful medicine. “Take this, wear it.” He told her, “By touching each in their own order, the honor of what you have done for Coughing Bear will be transformed into the power the Great Spirit has blessed you with. The power to heal, the power of seeing in the dark, the power of smell and the power to look down upon your enemy as does the Eagle in flight.”

He placed the necklace over Prancing Does head. The power of it was so great Prancing Doe feared it would consume her and said so.

Seeing her eyes flash in fear the aged Grandfather reassured her, “It is because you are humble that you fear its power, that is good.”

“ Grandfather, I understand and am honored beyond my own might. Still, I am confused. Why would I need such power here? Is this not a place of peace where death visits us no more and where no sickness abides? “

“To those like your Coughing Bear and those true warriors that have come before him, yes, that is true. Every Grandfather from every tribe is here. There is room for all. The Great Spirit flies above us all and as one people we give him honor. In return he blesses us with no hunger or death. Those who were evil, liars and boastful in their own mind are not here with us. They are sitting on their hemorrhoids brushing away gnats and spiders and serving Iktomi the trickster in the land of the dead.”

When you arrived, we were of like mind that you should be called a new name. Prancing Doe is a child’s name, a name of innocence and naivety. It is a name with little power to go before the people of the plains, the mountains and the forest. No, to do what needs to be accomplished you must have a powerful name. You are now called Ina Hoka. Even a warrior of great courage turns from a mother badger. Nothing pursues as the badger and nothing has more determination to protect her young than a mother!”

Ina Hoka blinked. “ Gandfathers, Nothing has such power as the Ina Hoka, all fear her. Why do you bestow me with such power?”

“There is one who does us no honor. He is the one who hid during the attack upon you and your family. He hid from harm behind his horse until Coughing Bears back was to him. Only then did he step forward pretending to be brave. He killed from behind as Coughing Bear struggled face to face with another brave warrior. He shamed us all with his cowardice. By taking Coughing Bears scalp he shamed us even further. Many Grandfathers shouted displeasure and demanded his tribe be banished until Maka Cesli pays for his dishonor. You are to return to the living people and claim your female child. You are to return to save the tribe Maka Cesli was birthed from forever being dishonored. And lastly, you are to return to receive the precious gift we have asked the Great Spirit to bless you with.”

“Grandfathers, I will do as you ask. As for further gifts, I am blessed far too much already. But I must ask you this,  is his name truly Maka Cesli? Skunk Feces? If I am to find him, tell me the name he is known to his people by, for I do not want to mistake another for him.”

‘You are wise Ina Hoka. Though we have vowed never to utter that name again, we will this one time say it, then never again will it be uttered here in the hunting ground. Ohinni Lowacin, I am always full of hunger, is a name no people shall ever use again. His name will be forever Maka Cesli. Even the Trickster will despise him.

Now Ina Hoka, Listen to me with all your might!

When you return to the living land, your eyes will be opened and our talk here will remain strong within your memory. Return and find your child. Now go with our blessing.”

Ina Hoka lifted her eyes beyond the grandfathers to gaze once again at the endless grassy plains and purple mountains of the hunting grounds. She had never seen such beauty before. She would miss the affection of the Grandfathers but knew someday they would smile again upon her final return.

Stepping up to a bundle of smoldering sweet grass she wafted the aromatic smoke over her head then fanned it towards the assembled Grandfathers. Once blessed with the sweet smoke, she touched each Grandfathers hand lightly in reverence. She turned and glanced about in search of Coughing Bear. He stood proudly smiling at her with raised palm. She returned his farewell wave and suddenly screamed in pain.

Chapter 2

“Hold on Ma’am, please lay still or you’ll bust open the dressings I put on your arms. I know they must hurt a load but for your own good, please lie still.”

Ina Hoka woke up screaming from the pain in her lacerated arms. She lay on a makeshift outdoor bed of soft grass and covering her was a stiff cloth of some sort. Turning her head she saw she was still in the same killing field as before. Looking frantically about, she noticed fresh graves had been dug and her husband’s body was no longer lying next to her. True to what the Grandfather had told her, she recalled in perfect clarity her visit to the hunting grounds and all that had been spoken.

Speaking in her own tongue to the man squatting beside her, she asked where her husband’s body was.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I don’t speak Indian very well, just some trading phrases and such. I found you lying here almost dead. You’ve lost a lot of blood but I got the best of the bleeding most ways stopped now. ”

When she had turned her head, something shifted slightly on her chest, slowly moving her hand to her throat she discovered the strange feeling was the necklace. As if she had spent a lifetime doing so she skillfully fondled the healing beads and chanted. Within a few breaths time, her eyes cleared and her contorted face relaxed as the agony of the pain began to subside. When the pain became manageable, she asked the young man who was attending to her wounds about her husband.

“My husband?” She asked in English, “Did you bury him?”

Jerking backwards her rescuer jumped back in surprise, “Wha?? I’m sorry, you gave me a start Ma’am that’s all. I did not think you spoke any English”

“Yes, I do. My husband, is he buried?”

“If the young warrior that got himself kilt near you was your husband then yes, I gave him a Christian burial along with them old folks too. I heard you Indians bury a person facing East so I did that for them. Ma’am, to tell you the truth, at first I thought you was dead too.”

“I was about to move you over to that there grave I dug when I noticed you were still breathing. After I patched you up, you woke up and started screaming bloody murder. I’m tellin’ you Ma’am, you sure got a powerful set of lungs!”

Ina Hoka understood most of what the man said except for the odd reference to her lungs. She understood her husband was buried with honor and this man had been used by the Grandfathers to also save her life. She made a mental note to ask the Great Spirit to repay his kindness by blessing him when she was up to it.

“I’m putting up a tent over you so don’t get frightened, alright Ma’am? You won’t be moving for a while yet and I wanted to make sure you’re out of the weather if it begins to rain. By the way Ma’am I go by the name  Thomas, Thomas Payne… like the famous Thomas Payne…only I’m not him. ”

“Why do you stop to help me?” She asked.

“Shucks Ma’am, what did you think I’d do? Leave you here all alone to die?”

“Are you a medicine man To-mas that you knew to care for my wounds?”

“No, I’m no Doctor Ma’am. When I was a boy, my Daddy showed me a trick to closin’ up cuts when I was a kid. See that big ant hill over yonder? What you do is rustle up them folks till the big fighters come pouring out of the hive. Then you grab onto one behind the head. If you take the two sides of the wound and squeeze ‘em together and you place the ant just so, the ant will use his pinchers to bite you. All ya’ do then let him pinch the two sides of the wound tightly together with his bite. Once he’s forced the two sides together you pinch off its body and the head stays there keepin’ the wound closed and you end up with a fine stitch. I poured some whiskey on your wounds and the gash on your head to keep you from getting’ a fever from infection. It took a couple hundred ants to sew up your arms but I think it’ll heal fine like. I’m sorry but I don’t have any willow bark to ease your pain.”

Ina Hoka smiled up at him saying, “I have my own means of making my pain leave me.” She placed her hand over her necklace and told him, ”My name is Ina Hoka, I must avenge my husband and find my daughter that was taken by Maka Cesli.”

“I’m not sure who this Maky Selsa fella is but it’ll be a bit a time a’fore you can go chasin’ after him. I’m thinkin’ that if you can tell me where your tribe is, it’d probably be best if I could get you over to them as soon as possible. I’m thinkin’ they might go on out after that Maky Selsee fellow for ya’.”

“The Grandfathers named him Maka Cesli not Makee Selsee, it means skunk dung! His people still call him Ohinni Lowacin.  He is from a tribe that we have struggled with for many winters now. We have fought them over the right to hunt buffalo on the land. At one time there were many buffalo and we all lived in peace.”

“When the buffalo became few, the young warriors of his tribe would not listen to the elders and made trouble. Since that time, war between us has become more and more. Maka Cesli leads a band of young warriors wanting to make big their name to shame their elders into making the big war with my tribe. They have attacked women and children left alone in their lodges while the men went off hunting. I am saddened for my husband’s parents. All they wanted was to see the buffalo one last time before death from old age claimed them. My husband showed them great love and honor in bringing them here to fulfill their desire. Now they are all dead. When I can stand on my own, I will go find Maka Cesli’s camp and take back my daughter. I am a mother badger. I will chase him until he has no strength left and his legs fail him. Before I kill him I will cut off his man stick and send him to the Trickster choking on it!”

Thomas sat fully down in the long grass and looked at the young Indian girl lying there with bandaged head and arms. “I just bet you will too!”

 

Chapter 3

   The summer days passed quietly on the plains. Ina Hoka grew in strength and Thomas tried his best to learn her tongue. He thought at the least, it would come in handy living in the western plains where tribes still wandered freely about. But if the truth be told he began to find Ina Hoka a fascinating woman and discovered she was pleased at his attempts to speak the tongue of the Sioux. Her smile was a reward he looked forward to. He had seen few women as beautiful. Thomas spent part of the day away from Ina Hoka gathering dried buffalo chips to feed the camp fire and spent time gathering wild plants and any meat he could find. As her wounds healed, Ina was able to take on more and more camp chores. The day eventually came though that she had to tell Thomas he was a terrible cook. She shoo’d him away from the gathered supplies and turned a once bland meal into a delicious stew. From that moment on, each began to take unto themselves the chores expected of a man and a woman.

One evening as they sat next to each other eating, Ina looked over at the man who had so unselfishly cared for her. She was troubled in her heart. She had the task asked by the Grandfathers to find Maka Cesli and her daughter but found she did not want to leave the company of Thomas.  “To-mas, I am near the time I must go and find my daughter and kill Maka Cesli.” She then told him of her near death and all that had occurred during that time she was in the hunting grounds.

“How in heavens name will you, a lone woman, be able to accomplish all this? Don’t get me wrong Ina, I know you got the sand to do it but we don’t even know where they’s at.”

Ina Hoka lifted her necklace to him, “The grandfathers gave me this gift. It has powerful charms.” It comes not from this land but from the hunting grounds. It gives me the power to heal, to see into the night, to smell beyond that of the bear and to see as the flying eagle sees in flight.”

“If it heals, why did you not use it to heal your own wounds?”

“The power to heal is not for me but for someone else. When I lay there in pain, I asked the Grandfathers to heal my wounds but they told me it was not meant for me but because I asked, they would at least grant my pain to subside. That much I know. Who it is meant to heal, I do not know. Maybe it is for another time, not now.”

“Have you tried the other charms?”

“Yes, each time you leave to hunt or gather I follow you as the Eagle because I worry on your safety. Before we sleep, I search the night prairie as the Owl.” Then with a giggle she said, “Once I used the smelling charm to smell the distant mountain flowers.”

“You say that giggling, why?”

“To-mas, forgive me but your cooking smelled so bad that if I had not had the smell of the wildflower to revive me, I would have fainted!”

Saying that, the two of them broke into a howling laughter. “Good Lord Ina, it did have kind of a skunky smell to it now that I think back! It musta’ been them weed lookin’ things I added to the meal”

The evening sky darkened as they sat enjoying each other’s company and soon the only light was cast from the glowing campfire. Seeing Thomas’s handsome face framed in the glowing light, Ina could no longer keep her thoughts from becoming words.

“To-mas,” She said quietly, “I do not want to part from you. My heart is torn, it lays on the ground. My husband enjoys the hunting grounds as an honored warrior now. He will have no need or desire for a wife anymore. I have asked the Grandfathers of this. They told me so. I am happy for him yet I am feel shame that I desire to feel as a woman feels for a man so soon after his parting. Though we come from different peoples, I have come to respect you. More than that even. I want you to share my blanket.”

Thomas scooted himself closer to her and placed his arms over her shoulder.  She leaned into him.

“Ina, all this time I’ve been trying my darndest to get you to notice me as more than just a ramblin’cowboy that wandered into your life. I was sure you would never look at me as a suitor. To tell you the truth, as much as I was happy being around you it made me sad at the same time. In your tribe, can a man like me marry you?”

“I have a secret to tell you To-mas. We have spent almost a full moon together alone on the prairie. Even though we have not slept under the same blanket, my people would assume we did. If we arrived not as husband and wife they would think of me as one who jumps from blanket to blanket. You call this woman a whore. To prevent this, I had planned to leave you here as I went in search of Maka Cesli and my daughter. When I returned to my tribe with her, no one would have known about you. But my heart cried out that it wanted you. I could not gather the courage to leave you.”

“So if we showed up at your village, they’d naturally assume you and I are married. But if we act like we wasn’t married, they’d look upon you as a whore and treat you as a outcast?”

Yes.”

Thomas stood up and knelt before Ina Hoka. Taking her hand in his he spoke to her. “Ina, I know we got some big differences between us. I’ve always figured a woman would come my way someday but not until I saw the world an’ made my fortune.”

“I ain’t no good at this Ina so I’ll just come clean with it. I have fallen head over heels in love with you and I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. I know you said folks would just assume we was married but I’m askin’ you if you’d make it real. Will you marry me? I know there ain’t no one around to say we are but isn’t there something in your tribal way that we don’t need a preacher or judge to be married?”

“By lying together, the Grandfather will know. In their eyes they will see our love and accept our union.”

That night, under a moonlit night under a blanket within the confines of the canvas tent, Ina Hoka became Thomas’s woman and wife. He became the husband to Mother Badger who still had a dangerous task before her. In her dream Ina Hoka spoke to the Grandfather concerning her marriage. “It was not good that you should be alone in life. When we sat face to face last moon, I had told you of one more gift we honored you with. It was the gift of being loved.  Thomas is our gift to you. He is a good man, brave and protective. He has a large heart that now beats for you. Go now, seek your child and destroy Maka Cesli.  Your husband Thomas will be at your side.”

Morning found their camp broken and far off in the distance a man could be seen walking next to a woman who was riding horseback. Together they headed westward where the spirit of a flying Eagle had spotted the band of Maka Cesli many days ahead of them.

Chapter 4

Two weeks later, under a dark evening sky that found the couple within a few miles of where Maka Cesli’s band was camped, Ina spoke to Thomas.  “Listen to me my husband. I have powers that you do not have. I am afraid for you. I will soar once again as an eagle in the night. With my Owl vision I will see all that I need to know. I will descend within the camp and kill Maka Cesli. Then after I have humiliated him, with my talons I will grab up my daughter and return here to you. I must warn you. If they have given honor to the Unkcegila, then the Unkcegila will try to stop me. They are evil spirits that roam the land and hate those that are good. As an Eagle I can fly safely above them but you will be as a mouse to a hawk. I must chant a song of protection over you. Be still and say nothing. Whatever you see, do not let it frighten you. I am singing a song of the giant warrior. He will ride across the sky mocking the Unkcegila and daring them to attack him. They will spit and scream at him as he passes above them. The Giant Warrior will keep the eyes of the Unkcegila upon him and away from you. When I return, the Giant Warrior will become as a mountain and crush the Unkcegila under his weight. He will sit upon them until we are safe and far away.”

Thomas tipped his hat in a sign of affirmation. “I ain’t even gonna’ question any of what you’re tellin’ me Ina. I sure ain’t never heard of such things but it sure ain’t my place to say it can’t be so. Go ahead, sing your song sweetheart, I’ll try not to foul my drawers at what I see goin’ on.”

Ina Hoka told Thomas to sit. Standing over him she began her chant. Thomas was afraid her raised voice would alert someone in Maka Cesli’s band yet after a few minutes he could see no unusual movement by the bands campfire light.

As he watched the firelight miles away, his vision began to play tricks on him. The far away campfire began to waiver. It seemed to move first to the right then to the left. Sometimes it seemed close and other times very far away. Voices could be heard but he could have sworn he did not hear them with his ears. His body took on the weight of stubborn mule causing his arms to dangle uselessly at his side. Across the sky swept a faint blue light as if dawn was about to break. From out of the light in the sky a mountain appeared. As the mountain traveled from east to west it took on the shape of a warrior upon a white horse. The warrior held his coup stick high and screamed insults at an unseen enemy. It was then that he realized he could no longer see Ina Hoka yet her singing was as loud as a nearby drum.

Thomas was about to speak when he remembered her instruction to remain quiet. He realized that if he made even the slightest noise, then whatever evil spirit that was creeping in the prairie grass would hear and attack him. He knew no bullet could protect him from the Unkcegila but that was the duty of the Giant Warrior.

Thomas could now see confusion in the camp. Warriors ran back and forth. With demonic howls the Unkcegila clawed the prairie sky trying to disembowel the Giant Warrior’s horse riding above them. The Giant Warrior laughed and threw insults and humiliation upon the spirits as he rode just out of reach above and past them. The evil land spirits howled and jumped trying to gain enough height to destroy the horse he rode on. Even the horse whinnied back in laughter.

“Aaiiieeeee!” A long horrible scream came from the encampment. It was shameful for a warrior to scream from pain but then Maka Cesli was no warrior. The Giant Warrior paused and pointed his coup stick toward the camp. He threw back his head and laughed. Thomas felt the laughter strike him as close thunder would during a prairie storm. His chest reverberated from it and his head ached from the pressure. Realizing the mountain sized warrior was positioned above the half driven mad Unkcegila demons , he watched as the Giant Warrior settled himself down on top and crushing them.

The pain in Thomas’s head became almost too intense not to shout out. A giant eagle carrying a child in its talons flapped it’s powerful  wings and settled behind him. Just when he felt he could stand it no more, he felt a pair of loving arms wrap themself around him from behind in a hug. Ina Hoka’s calming voice spoke softly into his ear.

“My husband, rise, we must be off. The light of dawn will soon be upon us and we must leave while the Giant Warrior holds down the spirits of the land while it is yet dark. All has been accomplished tonight.”

To Thomas, he felt as if he had suddenly awakened from a dream. No longer could he see the Giant Warrior or the gasping Unkcegila. Wailing sadness could be heard from the camp but no warriors mounted to seek revenge for the humiliating slaughter of their leader.

Holding the child out to Thomas his wife spoke to him, “Rise,  and see our daughter, is she not beautiful?”

Thomas rose and cradled the tiny girl in his arms. “She’s beautiful all right, she looks just like her Mama.”

   The subject of the child’s upbringing and what path she would follow had never been discussed between them. Realizing it must be settled before they entered her tribe’s encampment Ina Hoka asked Thomas who’s culture would they all belong to.

“Well,” Thomas thoughtfully replied, “It seems I’m a bit outnumbered two to one. Ina, I would want what makes you and our daughter happiest. I was always a bit of a drifter after I left home. I would like to plant my roots next to yours if that’s alright with you. Besides, if we lived in a city of white men and I began telling folks all I’ve seen here tonight, they’d lock me up as bein’ crazy. I think it best for all of us if we put our roots down inside a teepee lodge with your people rather than a square house made of wood and stone among strangers.”

“Yes, that makes me happy. I will yet have much explaining to my tribe of all that has happened since my leaving the village. While they will be of sad heart to hear of my husband and his parents deaths, they will sing songs of happiness for our marriage and the return of my child.”

As the three made their way eastward Thomas asked, “Ina, I need to ask you something. Is there some reason why our baby has no name?”

“In our band, a child’s name is given to her by her father. She is yours to name. If you look upon the child your heart will be open to her name. Sometimes if it is an important name the Grandfathers will give you hints other times your Totem will speak to you.”

“I’ve actually just been thinkin’ on that. I would like to give her the name your mother was called. I want to give your Ma some sort of honor seein’ as how she raised such a wonderful daughter herself. What was her name?”

Ina Hoka walked closely beside her husband Thomas as he continued to cradle the child in his arms. “How honored am I?” she thought. “All the gifts that the Grandfathers have given to me and now my husband honors not only me but my own mother. I am complete.”

“Her name is Kimo. It means to be brimming with hope.”

Thomas stopped and lifted the now giggling child to the predawn sky. “Daughter, today you are called Kimo!”

As he handed the baby girl now named brimming with hope back to Ina, a golden shaft of morning sunlight split the dawns clouds. The narrow shaft struck the three where they stood.

Ina Hoka looked up at her husband and smiled widely. She held Kimo closely to her breast and spoke to her husband.

“To-mas, the Grandfathers are pleased you remembered my mother and gave honor to her. Stand quiet as they bless our family with the morning sunlight.”

Thomas looked up into the dawns parting clouds and swore they took the form of an old Indian proudly smiling down upon them. As the clouds continued to be blown clear by the morning breeze, the prairie lit up in the splendor of the sun.

“I love you Ina Hoka, Mother Badger.”

Ina chuckled and wrapped her free arm around his waist, “I love you to To-mas, and like the Badger, you will never escape my love.”

“Why would I ever want to leave you? You’re the best cook I ever met!”

Laughing she squeezed his waist. “So it is true then what the old women of the lodges say of their men? That all a wife is good for is cooking and keeping the Tee Pee clean?”

Chuckling he squeezed her back and replied, “That and uh, you know…”

She quickly tiptoed and kissed him and said smiling back naughtily, “Oh yes, we shall never forget that, will we?”

“Not in my life time we won’t!”

As their laughter drifted over the dew wet prairie, the grandfathers in the sky above looked at each other and smiled. The Grandfather that had blessed them spoke aloud. “Huh, he reminds me of when I myself was young.”

In the distance an elderly female chuckled and was heard to exclaim, “In your dreams my husband, only in your dreams!”

Taking a chance on hope

2011 photo by JW Edwards ‘Cabin near Tazewell VA.’

Chapter 1

Chance Hooper slowly limped his way through the neglected pasture toward the old log cabin he had grown up in.

The limp, a souvenir gift he received at Gettysburg when a Northerner’s ball plowed into his leg, was all he had to show for the two and a half years of fighting for the South… that and a head full of memories, some good, most bad. The war ended but his leg could have cared less. It healed no faster when it was announced the war was over. Still, it was better than being dead like his twin brother Micah.

The twins had joined the Confederate army together believing at the time that the war would be a few rowdy skirmishes at best. Afterward it was assumed, the politicians would resolve the issue with both the North and the South having to give and take on the issues until a deal was made. Sadly it took many thousands of lives to resolve the differences that the politicians could not settle peaceably over a table.

Up ahead on a small rise at the end of the field sat the log home Chance, Micah and his father had built years before the war. Chance and Micah were just boys then but in the 1850’s, a man was judged by other criteria than just his age. Each log was cut, shaved and carefully notched by hand. A small wood fired steam sawmill in one of the open sided sheds had cut the logs into planks to be made into floorboards, window frames and doors. The single stone fireplace at one time supplied the only source of fire for cooking and keeping the winters cold out. Years Later, a steel chimney pipe poked its way through the side of the house and upward past the roof. Inside, the pipe attached itself to a new cast iron cook stove in the large kitchen.

Continuing his walk forward, the peak of the cabins roof slowly exposed itself. The closer he got, the more the cabin exposed itself. Finally fully presented, Chance saw for the first time the full extent of the damage done to his home resulting from his abstinence during the war years.

Stepping up onto the front door stoop, Chance pushed against the weathered door. It swung in on noisy hinges revealing a surprisingly empty house. Making his way slowly throughout, he realized the house had been methodically stripped of all its furnishings. Not a knick knack, pot or curtain remained. Where once the cook stove had stood in the large kitchen now only a gaping stove pipe hole in the wall remained.  Anger was not the first emotion he felt, hopelessness was. Anger came afterward. Stomping from the house he headed directly to where he was sure he’d find the answer to his question of who stole his parent’s and his property. Double checking the Navy Colt pistol he wore on his hip, he made his way painfully to the road that wound its way through the countryside connecting each farm to its neighbor, he limped to the home of his closest neighbor, that of Bo Spivey.

Pounding on the front door, Chance yelled out, “Spivey! Come on out here, I wanna’ talk to you, you piece a thieving crap!”

The upper window jerked open under protest and a bearded pocked face looked out. “You stop your bangin’ Chance Hooper, I got my sisters babies nappin’ inside. Besides, I ain’t got nothin’ a your’s so get your sorry ass offa’ my property!”

Chance refused to lower his voice and hearing Spivey mention his missing property fed his anger even more.

“I been gone all these years and the first thing you tell me is you ain’t got nothing that belongs to me?  That’s a might tellin’ ain’t it Bo? Get down here or I’ll burst down your door and drag your toothless ass outside and kick it raw into the next county! I ain’t playing Bo, get down here or I’m coming in!”

“OK, hold on a minute, an you just stay right there!”

Less than a minute later the door cracked open a few inches and Spivey’s pock marked face peeked through the crack and shouted. “What’s this all about Hooper, I ain’t done nothing wrong. Besides I heard you all got shot an’ died with your brother Micah!”

“Well you heard wrong. We got shot but I sure ain’t dead! Where’s all my stuff now Spivey? There ain’t nobody around here that would have entered my house while I was gone except for your rotted ass!”

“I ain’t took nothin’, now go away!”

Stepping over to the side of the house, Chance looked up at the metal stove pipe haphazardly exiting the side of the house. Pointing to it he yelled, “That there pipe is the pipe from my stove! You got my cook stove inside Spivey? You got your fat assed shit coated undergarments inside my Mama’s missing chest a drawers too?”

“I ain’t took noth..”

Before Bo Spivey could finish his sentence, Chance angrily ran up onto the porch and kicked the door open with his good leg. Spivey was unprepared and the door slammed into the side of his head nearly taking off his right ear.

Grabbing his head, Spivey screamed, “Aiieee! Ma’ ear!”

Spivey fell backwards into the house on the floor while trying to mash his dangling ear back onto his head using his palm of his hand. “Oh my God!”. Spivey cried, “ Damn your soul Hooper, look what you did to my ear!”

Chance paid no attention to the crying man but stepped inside and walked past Spivey as he continued to thrash about on the floor screaming.

Glancing about, he saw many of his parent’s belongings placed about on shelves and even his grandmothers China tea set lay carelessly in an open crate on the floor.

Walking into the kitchen his eyes rested on the wood burning cook stove he and his father had given to his mother on her fortieth birthday.

Seeing his mothers once spotless stove now covered with rancid grease and old food splatters, Chance’s stomach churned. He stomped past Spivey and looking backwards at him shouted.

“I’m getting the Sheriff Spivey, you robbed my place while I went off to war. That’s a hanging offense in this county!”

Chance limped out of the house slamming the door loudly behind him. Partway down the porch walkway, the front door was thrown open and Bo Spivey appeared from in the doorway with an old flintlock rifle that had been hanging over the fireplace mantle.

Turning to face the noise, Chance recognized the Kentucky long rifle as the one his grandfather had given to him years ago before he had passed. Seeing Spivey lift the rifle to his shoulder, he watched in horror as Spivey’s finger began to pull on the trigger.

What Spivey did not know was that the rifle’s barrel had been severely damaged decades before. Chance had been sternly warned that it was never to be charged and fired for the barrel would never hold. It didn’t.

The warning had just begun to leave Chances mouth when Spivey pulled the trigger. A loud boom and a massive white cloud tinged at its edges with a wet red mist exploded where Spivey’s head was just moments before.

Spivey’s headless body stood teetering slightly from side to side, then fell backwards into the room. Chance had seen many men die in battle but it was a scene he never accustomed himself to. Spivey’s death was no different. His bare feet lay at the entrance to the door quivering as if trying to re awaken the headless body. Soon though, the feet gave up trying and came to a stop.

Chance could not believe what he had just witnessed. Not realizing the gun was a relic and never having meant to be used again, Spivey had foolishly loaded it and hung it over his mantle for emergencies.

There was no helping Spivey at this point, he was dead through and through. Chance stood staring at Spivey’s feet when his eyes caught a flicker of light from within the doorway. Shaking himself out of shock, he focused on the flicker of light, it suddenly dawned on Chance that something within the house had been started on fire by the exploding gun.

Running inside the home past Spivey’s body, Chance headed upstairs taking two steps at a time, His leg throbbed terribly but Spivey had said there were babies sleeping and they needed saving.

Throwing open first one door then the other produced no sleeping babies.

“You lying son a bitch! You never had any babies up here.”

It was then Chance realized his only route of escape by using the stairs was now in flames.  Opening a window he let himself out onto the porch roof where he jumped painfully onto the ground. Turning to face the doorway again, he saw the flames beginning to consume Spivey’s clothes.

Backing away, he watched in silence as the home quickly became engulfed in the hungry flames. Sadly he realized that all his and his stolen parent’s belongings inside were being destroyed. The intense flames removed all hope in salvaging anything. All he had now were the clothes on his back, his gun and whatever monies he had saved up in his money belt.

Feeling utterly exhausted from the recent events, Chance found a nearby tree stump to sit down on. He watched somberly as within minutes, the flames consumed the Spivey home in its entirety. In one final pyrotechnic display, the burning frame leaned forward and collapsed in a massive explosion of sparks.

His mind wandered back to the day the two wide eyed brothers went marching so naively off to war. Friends and neighbors waved and cheered as the towns young stepped in time through town smartly adorned in their freshly pressed uniforms. Gettysburg ended any soldier’s hoorah bravado.  Twenty eight thousand Southern souls left their bodies in that battle. Chance knew the North lost almost as much. When you came from a town of three hundred, twenty eight thousand was incomprehensible.

Taken to a makeshift hospital outside Gettysburg for his leg wound, Chance was told his brother had been killed trying to pull his wounded superior to safety. Both the wounded Captain and his brother had been found afterward with multiple killing wounds. In recognition for his brother’s bravery, Chance was permitted to have Micah’s body interned back home in the family cemetery rather than in one of the mass graves many soldiers would call their last place of rest. A walking wounded soldier from the same town as the brothers hailed from, volunteered to travel back with Micah’s body to make sure he was given a Christian burial.

Chance thought, “At least Ma and Pa didn’t have to deal with Micah’s death.”

The parents had already passed ahead of Micah. Shortly after the brothers marched off to war, they were informed by their Commanding officer that their parents had passed away from a local cholera outbreak. His grieving brother was granted leave time to see them laid to rest properly. Chance grieved but thanked God that being busy learning to be a soldier kept his mind from dwelling too much on it.

Resting on the stump, Chance sat watching the house morph into a large pile of glowing coals. He knew there would be no evidence of Spivey’s remains. With his parent’s belongings gone along with Spivey’s in the fire, Chance felt no great rush to inform the Sheriff of what had happened. For all anyone would know, Spivey simply died in a house fire. In fact, no one was even aware yet the Chance had returned home. Spivey’s death was no fault of his and to tell the story as it happened seemed unnecessary. He decided to just let the Sheriff know that he had discovered the Spivey home burnt down with no sign of Bo Spivey being seen.

  Chapter 2

A females voice behind him made him jump.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to startle you. My names Mary Jane Ashley, I live up yonder up the hill from this place.”

Chance quickly stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants. “I was just sitting here. My name is Chance Hooper. I was raised up the road a bit ways. I guess I should explain what happened here.”

“No, There ain’t no need. I saw and heard most everything. You passed nearby me on your way over here. I was over in the elderberry bushes with my pail pickin’ berries when you came by. I didn’t know you so I stayed hid. My Mama told me never to go near here alone but I wanted them berries growin’ alongside the road for a pie. My Mama had an earlier run in with Bo Spivey some time back. I think that’s what did her in.”

“Did her in?”

“ About two months after we moved here from Tazewell, Mama come home one day shakin and I seen she’d been crying. She had some bruising on her face an’ her prime apron was missin’ but she wouldn’t tell me what had happened. We’d just rented the old Haney place up yonder atop that hill over there. She told me she was headin’ to our nearby neighbors to properly introduce herself to ‘em and try an’ sell some of our eggs. Mama would not tell me but I figured it all out. When I said I was going down here to kill him, she begged me to leave things be.”

“What about your Pa? Didn’t he do anything?”

“Pa went off to fight in the war an’ we ain’t never heard back from him. I don’t think he died, just ran off, that’s all. It didn’t grieve Mama much seein’ as all they ever did was fight anyway. Pa wanted a baby boy an’ when I was born he blamed my Ma. They never had no more kids but me.”

“How did you Mama pass?”

“She just died, that’s all. After her meet up with Spivey, she just sat around a lot. She lost all interest in things. Most times, I’d have to scold her even into eatin’. Then one day she just never woke up.”

“So now it’s just you? How do you live being all alone?”

The thin but pretty blond haired girl with sky blue eyes looked shyly downward at her bare feet. “I get along. I hunt and we had us a good garden goin’ from earlier on. I got a coop with some chickens an’ when I gather a basket full of eggs, I go to town an’ sell them. What about you? I saw what happened here, served Bo Spivey right! I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Do you mind if I sit back down? I know it’s impolite to sit in the presence of a woman but my leg is aching something fierce from jumping off the porch roof.”

“For sure! Sit down, I’ll set next to you.”

Before he could answer, she sat down cross legged in front and facing the stump. She motioned for him to sit down.

Chance lowered himself back onto the stump and looking down at her he could not help to notice the blond girls bare knees and legs. A sudden jolt, not unlike a shock one gets off a wool rug while in stockings struck his lions. Embarrassed, he quickly averted his eyes.

Mary Jane Ashley sat staring up at him smiling unaware of what had just occurred. “How did you hurt your leg?”

Chance explained his army service, the death of his twin brother and how he was wounded. He told her the Surgeon wanted to take off the leg but there were so many limbs he had to cut off from other wounded that when Chance begged him not to, the Surgeon just patched it and told him to leave.

“I bled halfway from Gettysburg to here. It’s healing but it’ll be some time yet before I’m back to being whole.”

They spent the entire afternoon talking. Both felt completely at ease sharing the most intimate secrets with each other. It was as if they had known each other for ages.

At one point, Chance drew back his long brown hair from out of his green eyes and smiled down at the girl staring up at him.  “I know this sounds a mite forward Mary Jane, but seein’ your face smiling so pretty and all, I realize there’s more than just sadness in the world. It gives me hope”

Mary Jane beamed wide eyed up at him. “That’s the sweetest thing I ever been told!”

“I think you’re beautiful!”

Shocked at his own forwardness, Chance quickly changed the subject saying, “I suppose it’ll be getting dark before too long. I should be heading home to see if there’s a place to lay my head tonight without the raccoons and snakes investigating me while I sleep. It’s been a heap of time since I spoke to a female, especially one so kind as you. I’ve enjoyed your company immensely and I want to ask if I could stop by your place tomorrow and visit you. I will try to find some fresh meat first though, that is, if you say it’s fine for me to visit you.”

Mary Jane’s face lit up. “I would like that very much Chance but I must ask you, have you eaten anything yet today? We been sittin’ here talkin’ for hours. If you’re hungry I can pick us some vegetables from the garden and make us some soup. Your leg will not heal well unless you eat. Come, let me cook you a meal.”

Saying that, she reached out her hand for him to grab onto after she stood up. “You can lean on me if you are still too sore.” At the touch of her hand he again felt the electric shock he had experienced earlier. Walking side by side back to her place, he put his arm over her shoulder for support as they slowly made their way uphill.

After an hour they neared her house, Mary Jane regretted that their walk would soon end and so would the warm feeling of his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him closer and slipped her arm around his waist. “Chance? Why did your Mama and Dad name you that?”

He looked down at the girl tucked so comfortably under his arm and answered. “My brother’s name was Micah. My Mom said it meant to be “Like God” or Godly like… something along those lines. When she named me I wasn’t doing so well. I wouldn’t suckle at first and I acted like I didn’t want to even taste it.  So she spoke and said, ‘C’mon my little fellow, just try it once, if you never take a chance, you’ll never know how good it is for you’.”

“You must have eventually taken to it, you look mighty healthy to me…other than that leg of yours.”

Chuckling, he answered, “Yeah, I guess you could say I took the chance!”

 Chapter 3 

When the two reached her place, neither felt like letting the other go. Mary Jane dropped her head and quietly said, “I guess I better let you walk up the step by yourself now.”

Reluctantly they parted and Chance followed her into the small log home where they sat down at a rickety wooden table with peeling paint. It was far smaller than his own place but it had the wonderful smell of herbs and drying flowers. He commented on it.

“I like flowers a lot.” She said, “They are so pretty. I think of my Mom when I smell them. She would gather up bunches every day while out walking and place them on the table in a jar. She did that even when I was a child. She’d say that even when you ain’t got nothing, you can always have flowers. It was one thing my Daddy and her never argued about. I think secretly, he enjoyed them too.”

The look on Mary Jane’s face gave Chance the impression that she was a million miles away and in a different time of her life. He let her stay that way until she blinked then looked at him with searching eyes.

“Chance, I’ll make us up some soup right quick, but may I ask what your plans are? I mean are you going to try and salvage your parents place and stay there or are you thinking of moving on?”

“To tell the truth, after Spivey’s house burnt down, I figured there was no reason for me to stay around any longer. The farm is over grown and all the equipment we owned looks like it was took and sold off. I’m sure Spivey and his friends were the culprits. They even managed somehow to remove the steam engine that powered our sawmill. How they did that I’ll never figure out since it was so heavy.  No, there’s nothing left for me here.”

Looking into Mary Jane’s eyes he continued talking. “Until you stepped out of those elderberry bushes, I was figuring on having left here by now. I had the intention of heading west. A friend of mine in the infantry unit I was in told me if ever I was to get out to Wyoming territory that I’d be more than welcome there. We talked of setting up cattle ranches near each other. I know it was just a dream to keep our minds off the war, but somehow that dream kept me sane. I think I’d like to try that though.”

Mary Jane reached over and put her hand in his. A tear rolled down her cheek and with quivering lips she asked, “It sounds wonderful. If you go, would you take me with you? Please?”

Without saying anything, Chance gathered her onto his lap and held her close to him. Tears ran freely down her face and dripped onto Chances shirt. He could feel the hot drops splashing on his chest and knew for certain that he had fallen in love. Slipping is fingers under her chin, he lifted her head to his face and kissed the tears running down her cheek.

“Mary Jane, before today, I hade no hope I’d never know the type of love my parents held for each other. I was too young when I left for the war to seriously court a girl. Before I had a chance to really grow up I saw things in battle that made my world look dark and terrible. I was alive but I had no hope. You’ve changed that. I want nothing more than for you to come with me. But I need to ask you this, “Could you ever love me? The way a wife loves her husband?”

“Chance, that’s the only reason I want to come with you. On our way back to the house, when we were holding onto each other, I didn’t want you to ever leave… not after I just found you. I have nothing here. My Mom’s grave on a rented property? Do you know I buried her myself up on the hill? I marked it with a stone and dug here grave so deep so no plow will ever disturb her rest. No one knew us, we never even met the owner of this place. My Mom set it up with the help of a friend of a friend. They weren’t even sure the person even really owned it! My Mom figured if the day came and someone told us to get out, then we would without any complaint. We only paid two dollars to rent the place an’ they never came back an’ asked for rent ever again. I could leave here this minute without regrets. But if you leave here and decide I ain’t goin’ with you then my heart will close itself off and break in silence ‘cause I’m in love with you.

“Would Wyoming be a place you could be happy at? I know nothing of it but what was told to me. He said it’s got fields so big you could ride horse back for days without coming to the other side. It’s got forest and cold clean rivers and a sky so big that it makes you feel small.”

“It sounds like heaven to me and who would not be happy in heaven. Will you do like your Mama asked when you wouldn’t suckle? Will you take me and give us two a chance?”

“My Mama sure named me right. Yes, let’s take that chance. Will you marry me Mary Jane Ashley?”

Upon making their way into town, Chance told the Sheriff of his finding the Spivey house recently burnt down.  The Sheriff didn’t seem too concerned and he never asked about the whereabouts of Bo Spivey. Instead the Sheriffs only comment was, “Good riddance!” Chance figured Spivey had made no friends and wouldn’t be missed.

Afterward, Chance and Mary Jane stopped at the judges office to take their vows.

Mary Jane Ashley became Mary Jane Hooper and Chance became the husband to the thin but wonderful smiling barefoot girl he met during her berry picking.

They stayed in her small cabin throughout that fall and that winter. When the spring crocuses poked their heads up through the melting Virginia snow, Mary Jane became satisfied that Chances leg was well enough healed to finally travel. A roundness to her tummy foretold that there would be three, not two new emigrants entering Wyoming territory. If it were a boy, he would be named Micah, if a girl… then Hope.