Western Short Story - The Proposals
“Think about it Nellie. That’s all I ask.’
Nellie Larson had the dual attraction of being not only the most beautiful girl in the territory, but the daughter of Jeb Larson, the owner of the J-L, the territory’s largest ranch. As a result, she was in her parlor listening to the proposal of young Billy Wilson, son of the late Jim Wilson. Billy was now owner of the Lazy W.
“Well, I’m certainly honored Billy, and I will give your offer all due consideration, but, as I’m sure you are aware, I’ve also had a proposal from Todd Bailey.”
Billy’s face darkened. Todd Bailey was an older man and the local banker. He held the notes on almost all the ranches in the area, including the Lazy W, and he was known as a ladies' man.
“I hate to speak ill of any man behind his back Nellie, but Todd Bailey has a bad reputation around women. That’s all I’m going to say.”
“Oh, I’m sure you don’t mean that Billy. Todd is quite a gentleman, and so of course, are you. Please don’t speak that way of Todd. It doesn’t become you.”
Todd Bailey rode down the hill overlooking the J-L in time to see Billy Wilson ride out of the ranch yard to the south and head for the Lazy W. He walked his horse to the rail and dismounted as Nellie Larson watched him from the porch swing. As he watered his horse at the trough, he glanced up at Nellie.
“Was that the Wilson kid?”
“He's hardly a child, Todd. He’s nineteen and the owner of the Lazy W. He's a year older than I. There’s no call to insult him. He’s a fine man.”
He tied his horse off at the rail, and mounted the steps to the porch, seating himself beside Nellie.
“Have you given any additional thought to my proposal?”
“I certainly have, Todd, but surely you don’t expect me to make a decision so fast? It has barely been a week. A girl needs time.”
‘What did Wilson want?”
As Bailey watched her, Nellie pursed her lips, obviously considering her reply.
“Now don’t get angry Todd. Billy was here to propose marriage to me.”
Todd Bailey rose abruptly and faced Nellie, a look of rage on his face.
“Who the hell does he think he is? He knows damn well that I have already spoken for you! He’ll pay for this.”
“Please Todd, watch your language. Have you forgotten that I am a lady? I’ll have no such talk. And Billy Wilson means no harm. Besides, I’ve not given my consent to anyone, including you, so don’t make presumptions.”
Billy Wilson never saw it coming. One minute he was tying off to the rail in front of Hattie’s restaurant and then next minute he was lying in the dust of the street, dazed and shocked from a blow to his jaw. A shadow fell over his face and he was looking up at Todd Bailey.
“That’s what you get. You went sneaking over behind my back to see Nellie, and now I’ve settled up. Stay away from her.”
He spun on his heel and started to walk off. Billy struggled to his feet and used his hat to slap off some of the dust. Two cow hands were grinning at him from a bench in front of Hattie’s. Humiliated, Billy, turned toward Todd Bailey, walking away down the street.
Todd turned slowly and faced Billy.
“I’ll go see Nellie anytime it pleases me, or until she tells me otherwise.”
Todd Bailey’s jaws worked and his hand slid quickly inside his jacket. Instantly, Billy palmed his revolver and shot Bailey twice in the chest. Bailey's face turned white and his eyes went wide. He slumped to his knees and stared at Billy, shaking his head in disbelief. As he sagged into the street, his right hand came out of his jacket clutching a fresh cigar. He was dead.
The trial was the next morning, and the two loafers in front of Hattie’s restaurant testified that Todd Bailey was unarmed and helpless when he was gunned down. The jury was fed up with gunfights in the street and sentenced Billy Wilson to hang the following day. The sentence was carried out at dawn, and both men were buried at opposite ends of the cemetery at noon.
Jeb Larson and Nellie stood on a high knoll under an oak overlooking the cemetery below and watched the burials. Her father had his large arm around her shoulders as tears ran down Nellie’s cheeks.
“Don’t take on too hard Nellie. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I can’t help it father. Two men have just died, fighting over me!”
With trembling hand, she pulled her shawl over her face to hide her smile.