Western Short Story - The Quest, Chapter Four
It was late afternoon before he reined up in front of the tight, little cabin. The latest blizzard had heaped up new drifts, and the last two miles has been tough going. Time and again, he had to rest the horses, and now, they were both exhausted.
From where he sat, he could see that the builder was a man who loved wood and tools. The logs were fitted tightly, and the chinking lines were narrow and straight. There were two windows he could see, and both had glass panes. Someone had carefully hauled them a long way. The Double D ranch house had glass windows, but the cabin did not.
Out back, he could see a clothesline, stretched tight, and holding a pair of man’s pants, a man’s shirt, and several articles he was not familiar with, but assumed they were women’s things. Astonished, he felt himself blushing.
There was a stable and a small barn with a lean-to. All were well constructed.
A curl of blue smoke came from the stone chimney, so he hailed the house.
“Hello the cabin! Anyone home?”
He saw a face flash in the window, and then the front door opened. A woman with long black hair stood there regarding him, but her right hand was out of sight behind the door jamb. He was sure it was holding a rifle.
“Ma’am” He doffed his hat. “Reckon you would be Bonnie.”
Her jaw dropped. “How do you know my name?”
“Jacob was worried about you. I found him yesterday, and he wanted me to come see about you.”
Her knees sagged and she sat down abruptly. “Jacob’s alive? Oh thank the Lord! I thought he was dead out there somewhere! I thought I had lost him!” She buried her head in her arms and sobbed.
Chancy swung down, and let the reins trail on the ground. He walked over to the weeping woman, bent down, and swept her up in his arms. He pushed the door open with his foot and stepped inside. Looking around, he spotted a bed in the corner and eased her into it, covering her with a blanket.
Stepping back outside, he walked the horses over to the outbuildings, and put them up in the lean-to. The stable held a team of fine looking draft horses, and there was a wagon load of wood in the barn. He forked some hay for all four horses, drew fresh water from the well, and returned to the cabin.
Bonnie was up and around, making coffee and something that smelled delicious. Her eyes were red but dry when she brought Chancy a cup of coffee and sat down across the table from him. He explained that he was half owner of the ranch, and how he had come to find Jacob.
“I must apologize for my behavior, but when a woman believes she has lost her…her husband, I suppose she can be forgiven for her foolishness upon discovering he is alive and well.” Tears welled again in her eyes, but she wiped them away, and raised her chin. She was not going to cry again.
“Well ma’am, I’m not real sure as to his health. Last time I saw him, he was hot with the fever, and not right in the head. But he was still able to fret about you, so I allowed that I would find you and see to your safety.”
“He’s ill? We must go to him at once!” Bonny came to her feet and looked around the cabin frantically, looking for what she would need.
Bonny whirled and stared at him. “What do you mean, “No”? He needs me! We must go at once.”
“No ma’am. The horses are plumb played out, and for all I know, the trail I came by may be closed. There was an avalanche on Hannigan’s Slope last night, and that trail may be buried.”
He paused to let that sink in.
“We’ll leave first light, and we’ll take your team and wagon on down to the Double D. You’ll stay there with my Uncle Charlie, and one of the hands and I will take the short trail up to the cabin to fetch your husband. “
He softened his voice. “I know you want to go to him now, Missus Cross, but that just can’t be. By now, Jacob has either passed on or he’s eating my rabbit stew. I hope he likes the stew.”
She smiled up at him, despite herself, and for the first time, Chancy realized what a beautiful woman she was, and felt a pang of jealousy. Startled at himself, he stood abruptly and left the cabin to go check on the livestock. He stayed away until she called him for supper. It was almost dark.
In the soft glow of the lanterns and candles, her beauty became even more apparent, and he was sure that she had done something to change her appearance. Her hair looked different somehow, and her facial features looked softer and warmer.
He shook away all such thoughts and turned to his supper. It was a roast with fresh bread, and the meat was so tender he could cut it with his fork. It was delicious, and when he glanced up to compliment her cooking, she was watching him eat with obvious approval. His ears reddened, and he mumbled something. She laughed, and it was like music. He vowed to fetch her husband up, and then put many miles between himself and Bonnie Cross. It wasn’t because she was a bad woman because she wasn’t. It was because he did not want to become a bad man.
After supper, Bonnie washed the dishes and sat down across the table. She told him that after Jacob disappeared in the blizzard, she had located the team herself, loaded the wood, and driven the wagon home.
She led him into talking about his life, and he found himself enthusiastically telling her about the Double D, Uncle Charlie, and his dreams of building an empire. She smiled and nodded, and the hours fled by. Chancy abruptly realized that he knew nothing about her and Jacob.
“We had a good farm in Illinois, and Jacob was also a master carpenter, but he had an itch to see this country, so here we are. We know now that farming here was a mistake, so come summer, we’ll be moving on.”
Chancy stifled a yawn.
“Well, now look what I’ve done,” smiled Bonnie. “You’ve had a long, hard day, and I’ve kept you up with all my questions!” She pointed to the loft. “There’s a bed up there for you.”
With that, she rose, picked up a lantern, and went to the bed where Chancy had placed her earlier, pulling the curtain closed behind her. Chancy avoided looking at her shapely silhouette on the thin curtain, and stepped outside. The clouds were gone, and a cold, full moon was high in the clear black sky. Somewhere, a lonely wolf called, and Chancy nodded. “Yeah, me too,” he thought.