Western Short Story - The Bride
I guess you could say I was little nervous as I combed my hair down one more time. The sun was just peeking over the eastern horizon, and the bedroom smelled of pomade and coal oil.
The chickens were fed, and the cows had been milked, both new chores for me, and chores I didn’t ask the cowhands to do. They hated anything that had to do with farming. The Chinese cook tended the garden, another task that cowboys hated. However, they didn’t complain about having eggs, tomatoes, butter, and cream in their coffee.
When I got that letter accepting my proposal of marriage, she had made it on condition that I buy two milk cows, build a good sized chicken house, stock it with hens and at least two roosters, and then put her in a vegetable garden. I did it all with a smile. She was going to be a real humdinger, that one!
I’d come west when there were no neighbors for fifty miles, and I’d the built R Bar from scratch. I owned two thousand acres outright and claimed two hundred thousand more. I had four barns, twenty waterholes, and close to eight thousand head of cattle, many ready for market. I wasn’t the largest rancher in the territory, but I wasn’t far from it either. I had fought off rustlers, Indians, and lasted through two droughts, but it had all been worthwhile. Now I was ready for wife and family, and my new bride would be in on the noon stage.
She answered the advertisement I’d placed in several papers, as was the custom. The west was just now becoming tame enough for womenfolk, and lonely men were bringing them in sight unseen. I had no notion what my bride looked like nor had I asked. It wasn’t polite, and a man like me had no right to be choosy. After all, I was hardly what you would call handsome myself. In fact, the face looking back at me in the mirror was big, rawboned, and just this side of downright homely.
Frank Russo had brought the spanking new buggy around front and was checking the harness. He looked up and grinned as I stepped down from the porch.
“Hell, boss, I ain’t never seen you all duded up like that!”
I was wearing my new, black broadcloth suit and an eastern style bowler hat. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Red Swiller slap Johnny Quince on the back over by the horse barn, and I heard them both howling with laughter. My face grew red. I guess I did look a little foolish.
I climbed into the carriage and gathered up the reins “I should be back by sundown Frank.” I glanced at the horse barn. “Have Red and Johnny milk those cows later, and feed the chickens.”
Frank’s grin grew ever wider.
“That’ll teach them two to laugh at the boss!”
I flicked the reins and headed for town.
The ‘noon’ stage was just a guess. Usually, it was closer to one o’clock, or later, but today, it was right on time, rattling, jingling, and swaying as the driver halted the team on front of the Emporium. The shotgun messenger, Ted Blackwell, nodded at me, and climbed down, leaving his double barrel shotgun in the boot.
He stepped to the side door and opened it. A drummer stepped out, turned and offered his hand to a tall, slim woman with auburn hair piled on top of her head. She nodded at him and stepped down. Her eyes swept around and settled on me. I guess I looked like I was there for a reason.
“Do I have the honor of addressing Mr. Tom Randall?”
I smiled at her. “At your service ma’am”
She didn’t smile back. Her lips thinned and then pursed as her cool eyes frankly appraised me, sweeping up and down. What she saw was a big man with wide shoulders, and large, work hardened hands. I removed my hat, and she saw a shock of black hair, pomaded and combed straight back.
She looked me in the eyes, her lips still pursed.
“Very well Mister Randall. Will you fetch my belongings then?”
I was just getting ready to ask which were hers, when I heard Charlie Park’s voice booming from across the street.
“Randall! I’ll be having my satisfaction with you!”
Charlie Park was ramrod for the Double T, and he’d been drinking. Two weeks ago, I heard him make a disparaging remark about a local townswoman, and I hit him square in the mouth. When I hit a man, he usually goes down, and big Charlie Park was no exception.
“Excuse me for a moment, ma’am.”
Park had two men with him, as I stepped into the street. I waited as he walked up grinning.
“I owe you one Randall.”
Too late, I saw him glance over my shoulder, as two more men stepped up behind me and grabbed my arms. Charlie Park stepped in and threw a hard, overhand right straight to my jaw, and it shook me to my boots. I felt my knees buckling, and I was wondering if I was going down when a tremendous blast rattled the air behind me.
I turned my head and saw my bride-to-be up on the stagecoach, holding the shotgun messenger’s sawed off weapon, smoke still curling from the right barrel. Coolly, she broke the action and dropped in a fresh shell from several on the seat. She snapped the action closed again and lifted the shotgun to her shoulder just like she’d been doing it all her life, which she probably had.
“Drop that man’s arms, or I’ll cut you down where you stand.”
There was no doubt in any mind that she’d do exactly that, so my arms were released immediately.
“All four of you men step away from the fight. Move to the boardwalk across the street.”
They obeyed, and she spoke again.
“You may finish your fight, gentlemen.”
I guess I was mad about having my arms pinned, so I set out to make Charlie Park woefully sorry for picking a fight with me on this day, of all days. He swung another right that I easily ducked, and I countered with a right of my own that skidded along his left temple and smashed his ear. I followed up with a left hook to the jaw and a hard right to the gut. He grunted and doubled over, so I caught him going down with an uppercut that had all I could muster behind it. He crumpled to the ground and didn’t move.
I looked across the street at the other four, but they had suddenly lost all interest and must have decided that there was work to be done back on the ranch. They mounted up and left town without a word or even a backward glance at their boss lying motionless in the street.
I stepped back to the coach and helped my bride down. She stood there looking at me, and I spoke to her.
I instantly regretted it, for even though that remark was known as high praise in the west, she might have misunderstood. I need not have worried.
“You’ll do too, Tom.”
She cocked her head slightly to one side and regarded me again. For the first time, her face softened, and a small smile danced on her now full lips. Just like that, she went from merely pretty to downright beautiful.
“Now if you’ll fetch my belongings, Tom, we can go look up a preacher.”
I grinned at her.
“Yes ma’am. And which ones belong to you?”
“They’re all labeled with my name, Tom...Maggie May McAllister.”
Note: The idea for this story came from babasanju, and his Hub on arranged marriages.