Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
If I’d gone left instead of right, none of this would have happened. The easy looking trail to the left was well worn from game, cattle, and riders, so being my father’s son, I took the faint trail to the right. Pa always said a man who takes the easy way will never amount to much, although looking back on it, I’m not sure he was talking about trails.
My big gray liked to see new country, but he wasn’t all that happy about the trail to the right because it was rocky and sloped upward. He had seen the long green valley the trail to the left promised, so he snorted his displeasure at my curiosity. I ignored him, and he reluctantly gave in. It was early morning.
I was three days out of Show Low by way of Globe and headed for Tucson where I’d heard tell that the Lazy H would be looking for hands to drive a herd to the rail yards in Phoenix. But since the drive wasn’t scheduled to commence for another month, I figured to see myself some new country on the way. I nudged my gray on up the slope and he shook his head in disgust.
The big pines of the Mogollon Rim had yielded to the scrub of the high plains and finally to the lush growth of the Sonoran desert. Stands of cholla and prickly pear worshipped silently at the feet of giant saguaros with their massive, swooping arms reaching to the heavens. The rocky debris of long dead volcanoes littered the hard packed desert floor, making for treacherous footing. Now and again, a cottontail bounced out of its hiding spot, and ran a few feet, foolishly pausing to look back at the danger.
That green stretch back there was probably the Verde River Valley and I could see the west face of the Superstitions rising abruptly off the desert floor over my left shoulder. I was riding south by west which meant that the Gila River was somewhere in front of me, and I planned to camp there that night. I urged the gray up the far side of a dry wash and there she was.
The first thing I did was look all around for signs of danger, not yet realizing that the real threat was sitting up there on the seat of that buckboard. She had that curly sort of golden hair you see in tintype pictures, with eyes just as green as that valley back yonder, and they were calmly looking me over. She was pretty enough, no disputing that, but the hair suddenly stood up on the back of my neck, just like that time I heard a rattler buzzing at my feet.
“Are you going to sit there gawking or are you going to fetch up my horse?’
I was so surprised to find a female way out there that I plumb failed to notice that the buckboard poles were on the ground and the horse was missing.
“What happened to your horse?’
“Those Apaches took him, and the longer you ask fool questions, the farther you’ll have to ride to get him back, so you’d best be after them.”
“Apaches? You’d better climb down off that wagon and we’ll ride double till I get you home.”
“I’ll do no such thing! This wagon belongs to my father and I will not abandon it, nor the goods I bought at the Corners! Now you get after those Apaches at once and retrieve my horse.”
I grew up with three sisters, all contrary but none of them had anything on this young woman. I didn’t even know her name and she’d already sized me up and cast my mold.
“How many Apaches, Miss?”
“Just two.” She pointed with her whip to the east. “They left about an hour ago, and they were on foot, leading Charlie. What's your name?”
“I’m Dave Kingston. Apaches don’t ride horses much. They’ll probably kill him and eat him.” At the stricken look on her face, I instantly regretted my words. Apparently she was attached to Charlie.
“One man chasing down two Apaches is a fool’s game, Miss. They’ll be watching their back trail and set up an ambush soon as they spot me. They’re the best guerilla fighters the world has ever seen.”
“Maybe, maybe not. They also took that fresh jug of whiskey I got for Pa.”
Well now that gave me pause. Two Apaches with a full jug of whiskey more than evened the odds. By now, they were either drunk or busy getting that way. I looked off to the east and after a moment, I made up my mind.
“All right Miss, I’ll head that way and see if I can fetch your horse.”
“Don’t you think you’d best quit talking about it and be on your way?”
I could feel my jaw muscles working as I reined my horse around. I was beginning to appreciate my sisters, and they were all mean as snakes.
Those Apaches didn’t get far. I found them less than two miles off, dead drunk and passed out cold under a mesquite. They had her horse snubbed off to another mesquite. I tied them hand by foot with some spare piggin’ strings while they snored away. I took all their weapons and gathered up her horse. As an afterthought, I dragged them out in the full sun. Hangovers and a bad sunburn might convince them not to give chase when they woke up.
“Took you long enough.”
My jaws were working again. I got old Charlie back in harness and mounted up.
“How far is your home?”
“The road is just over the brow of that hill. I was on my way home when those Apaches jumped me. They led Charlie this far off the road and then left with him.”
She didn't explain why they left her behind, and after an hour of my being around her, she didn't need to.
She pointed again with her whip. “The Lazy H is about three miles down the road.’
“You live on the Lazy H ?” I was stunned. Bad news sometimes comes all at once.
“Well of course I live there! The Lazy H belongs to my father!”
Just like that, my plans changed. Someone had told me wrong on the location of the ranch, but there was no way I was going to work around this little spitfire.
“Well Miss, I reckon I’ll be on my way as soon as I get you back on that road.”
“You’ll escort me home like a gentleman! What if those Apaches come back and find me?”
“Well, I suppose that’d be their hard luck.’
Now she was mad through and through.
“That’s no sort of talk to use on a lady!”
“And I would never talk like that to a lady !”
The ride to the Lazy H was silent, and there was a sudden chill in the summer desert air. An older looking man ambled down the steps of the big house and walked toward us as I tied up the horses. He eyed me and walked up to the buckboard.
“You had me worried Bonny Sue. You’re two hours late.’
That put a name to her face and she explained to her father what had happened, leaving out our exchange of words. Then she lifted the sack of goods out of the bed of the buckboard and out of habit, I reached for her burden.
“I can carry this. You put the horses up. Give Charlie a good rub down while you’re at it.” With that, she stalked off to the big house.
Her father watched her walk away and shook his head slowly.
“I reckon I’m to blame for the way she is. By the way, I’m Jim Anderson and the Lazy H is mine.”
He offered his hand and I took it.
“Her mother died when she was born, and a sweeter woman never lived. I gave Bonny her mother’s name…Bonny Sue Anderson. But that’s all they have in common.”
He dug a pipe out of his pocket and filled it. I pulled a match out of my shirt, struck it on the wheel rim, and offered it. He puffed the pipe into life and glanced at the house.
“She never had a woman around growing up, so she watched me. She was on a horse before she could walk, and she was already barking orders like she saw me do. The hands thought it quite the joke, especially since she seemed to know what needed to be done, so they got used to it.”
“I appreciate what you done for her son, and I’m apologizing for her rough manners. She don’t mean nothing by it, but that ain’t no excuse for being rude.”
The door to the big house slammed and Bonny stalked back our way.
“Dinner will be ready soon Pa.” She turned and looked at me “Wash up, and don’t forget your face.”
She turned and walked away a couple of steps and then hesitated. After a moment, she turned around and slowly walked back. She stood in front of me and lifted her face.
“I was some scared out there today. I thought maybe they would come back, and then you rode up. I knew right away just by looking at you that I would be all right. I’m sorry for my harsh ways. I apologize. Now go wash up for dinner.”
With that, she turned toward the house.
“Bonny Sue Anderson.”
At hearing me use her full name, she turned slowly and stared first at her father and then turned her gaze to me, her mouth slightly open in surprise.
“Your father and I are having a conversation. When we’re done, then, and only then, we’ll wash up and come to dinner.”
She paled and her jaw dropped. For a long moment, she stared at me, her head tilted slightly to one side. Then her mouth slowly closed, and the fleeting shadow of a smile danced on her lips.
“All right then David. You come to dinner whenever you’re ready. It will be waiting.”
She turned and walked toward the house, and this time, there was a slight feminine sway that wasn’t there before.
Her father watched her for a long moment, pulling off his hat and scratching the top of his head. Then he glanced at me with a new interest in his eyes.
“Well I’ll be damned.” He turned and watched Bonny Sue enter the house, closing the door softly behind her. “Well I’ll be damned,” he repeated.
saddled up early next morning and took a long, last look at the Lazy
H. Then I turned that gray’s nose west, and we wandered away with
the sun at our backs. It wouldn’t do to stay on after I spoke that
way to the owner’s daughter, so I decided to see what was over the
next mountain. I never made it.
I heard the pounding of hooves at a full gallop coming on hard behind us, so I swung my horse around and peeled my Winchester out of its scabbard. I figured maybe those sunburned Apaches were out for revenge, but it was far worse than that. It was Bonny Sue Anderson, and she was riding bareback astride Charlie. I put my rifle away and awaited my fate.
She reined in and skidded to a stop beside me, our horses nose to tail. At first her jaws were clenched, but they suddenly softened and to my horror, those big green eyes welled with sudden tears and her lower lip began to quiver.
“Were you about to leave without even saying goodbye, David Kingston? Do I mean so little to you, especially after you as good as promised yourself to me?”
I guess I looked plumb bewildered, so she put her small, soft hand on my big rough hand and looked me square in the eye.
“I told myself long ago that I would know my man when I first laid eyes on him , and when you came riding up out of that wash with me sitting there scared on that buckboard, I knew I’d found you. Then, when you quietly stood up to my awful manners and laid down the law to me right in front of my Pa, I was already planning our wedding.”
patted my hand softly.
“I know this is supposed to be done the other way around, but here you are riding out of my life, so I’ll say it myself…will you please make me your wife, David Kingston? I’ll make sure you never have cause for regrets.”
Well folks, there she was, with those big green eyes, the dawning sun behind her lighting up those golden curls almost like a halo, and a desperate plea on her face, so I just naturally bent over and kissed those sweet lips.
Those lips are still sweet today, five children later, and like she said, I don’t regret a minute of it.
Bonny Sue Kingston and I will have been married 50 years, come July the Fourth.