Western Short Story
Lonesome cowboys on the Texas Frontier often married mail-order brides.
"I have decided," said Buckshot Jones, "that I need a wife.”
“What?" sputtered Shorty Hightower, raising a shaggy eyebrow.
"A wife," repeated the lanky Buckshot. He grinned and stuffed his boyish face with morning eggs and biscuits in the Running Iron’s cookhouse.
"Like One-Eyed Mollie at the saloon?" whispered Shorty.
"Nope, a real wife.” Buckshot lowered his empty tin coffee cup and wiped his chin with his sleeve.
The other cowhands stopped eating: a first at the
remote Texas cattle ranch.
“A wife?" they questioned in unison.
"This outfit ain't gonna be the same.” Shorty sighed and wiped his chin with his sleeve, too. It was a social thing.
"This mean I gotta take a bath?" asked Bedroll Barns.
"Couldn’t hurt.” Shorty sniffed and shifted upwind.
Limpy, the cook, poured more coffee. "Women is trouble!" He shook his gray head, and then shivered like a man in cold water. But it was a warm 1892 morning.
Everyone nodded. Buckshot sat dreamy-eyed.
"A woman will have ya wearin’ clean drawers, pickin’ out baby clothes, and goin’ to church," grunted Limpy.
"Won’t let ya spit in the house," added Shorty.
Limpy stared into space. "Almost got snared by a
silky-haired woman onct," he said. "It was eatin’ with her folks, and prayer meetings every Sunday." He took a deep breath. "That can kill a man!"
He hobbled back to the stove on 60-year-old arthritic legs. "Never met a woman that didn't carry a geldin’ knife," he said.
"Came to Texas in ‘79 to hide from mine," added Shorty. "Her naggin’ tongue was hinged in the middle and wagged at both ends.”
Buckshot dropped a catalog on the table. It flopped open to a dog-eared page, revealing a picture of a lovely young woman.
Shorty’s mouth flopped open, too, an additional target for flies buzzing breakfast.
"She’s...she’s a looker.” He adjusted his thick glasses, sputtered and choked on a big horsefly.
The cowboys moved closer.
Bedroll Barns leaned forward and declared: "By doggies, it's a catalog of women lookin’ for husbands!”
Limpy read over Bedroll’s shoulder:
females seek husbands.
'Eager-to-please’? My eye!" He muttered and returned to stirring something.
Bedroll read from where Limpy left off:
"'Only honest, hard workin’,
financially-secure men need apply.’"
Buckshot got up from the breakfast table. "Well, I'm making twenty dollars a month, get three squares a day, Sundays off, and own my own horse and saddle."
"You call ‘Shotgun’ a horse?"
Buckshot glared at Bedroll. Shotgun was the horse Buckshot had owned for years. It was also his best friend.
"The last time I saw a horse that old it was a can of glue!” Bedroll’s small belly shook.
"Wish I could read.” Shorty stared at another picture in the catalog. Sweat beaded his hairless head.
"She's as purdy as a day-old colt on a spring morn.”
Gorgeous eyes under long curls stared back.
"Golly," muttered Shorty. "She's beautiful."
Limpy shook his head. "Women," he grumbled. "They'll trap ya. Before you know they’ll have you married, and herdin' sheep!"
"SHEEP!" they all exclaimed.
"Women is crafty.” Limpy shook a dripping ladle in Buckshot’s direction.
"But they's soft with voices like honey--ain't they?" asked Buckshot.
"Honey also draws flies and gets gritty with age.” Limpy huffed and poured more coffee.
Buckshot turned to the back of the catalog. He pointed with pride at a picture, "I’m sending for this one," he said. "Clementine Bellows."
A slim young woman with long red hair, innocent eyes, and a million freckles smiled back.
Bedroll Barns read the caption: "’Loves children,
horses, cooking and cleaning.’"
"Sure wish I could read," repeated Shorty.
"Should we order women, too?" asked Bedroll.
Limpy huffed again: "No one orders a woman, they order you!”
"No wife of mine’s gonna sleep in a bunkhouse," stated Buckshot.
"There's the lean-to by the manure pile," suggested Shorty.
Even Bedroll Barns thought that was a bad idea.
"What about the old soddy?" exclaimed Shorty. "Good fireplace; old bed frame."
"Down-wind privy," said someone.
“Wildflowers would be nice in there,” suggested Bedroll.
"And...and...and..." stammered Shorty.
"What?" asked Buckshot.
"A baby crib by the bed," snickered Shorty.
"One- and two-o’clock feedings," warned Limpy.
“Changing diapers at all hours!” cautioned Bedroll.
Shorty wrinkled his nose, again. "Buckshot, you ain’t gonna get much sleep.”
Buckshot mailed his marriage application to Boston, and $100 to cover Clementine's shipping and handling.
The Running Iron cowboys rebuilt the soddy’s roof and walls, tossed out the rattlesnakes, stomped down the dirt floor, added grease-paper windows, feed-sack curtains, and stretched canvas under the ceiling to keep bugs from falling into their food and bedding.
"Got her a new water bucket," grinned Shorty. “Even tied a yellow ribbon on the handle."
Shorty cleaned his glasses and squinted toward the creek. "A mighty lucky woman,” he said, “cuz if’n the well runs dry, the creek’s only a mile away, and it looks downhill both ways.”
As a finishing touch, they hung a "Home Sweet Home" sign above the soddy's entrance.
A month later a stagecoach lurched into the nearby cow town of Lonesome, kicked up afternoon dust, and disturbed a million flies dining on horse dumplings. Its six lathered horses staggered to a stop in front of the Red Dog Saloon.
The Running Iron cowboys had waited an hour. Buckshot clutched a bouquet of wild flowers.
A short passenger in a dusty suit and derby opened the stagecoach door, and prepared to descend. Suddenly a white-gloved hand darted from the interior, seized the man by the seat of his pants, and jerked him back inside.
"Stand back, honey,” commanded a loud female voice from inside. “Let a lady go first!"
The coach groaned, and sagged to one side like a
bar-room beer belly. It stopped inches above the rutted street.
Then a broad-hipped, red-haired woman squeezed through the coach’s doorway.
Buckshot’s mouth flopped open. "Suffering snakes! Shorty, that couldn’t be Clementine...could it?”
“If it is, she don’t look like her pitcher.”
The brides’ catalog had shown a young, slender Clementine. The new arrival wasn't either. And when she smiled, several teeth were missing.
"She's bigger than a stud bull!” gulped Limpy.
Bedroll Barnes exclaimed: "She's got a mustache!”
“A big one!” added Limpy.
"Help me down, boys," demanded the woman of two cowboys staggering from the Red Dog. "Cuz Clementine Bellows...the future bride of Buckshot Clarence Jones...is HERE!”
"Oh, my God!" choked Buckshot. “It’s her!”
Bedroll Barns giggled.
The coach sighed and bounced back into place after Clementine’s big feet touched the ground, helped down by the two Red Dog inebriates, now facing backaches.
"Now...where's my future husband?" Clementine’s beady eyes searched the crowd of gawking cowboys. "Where's Buckshot Jones?" she demanded. Her booming voice carried through the one-block cattle town.
Buckshot didn't move. His face was snake-belly white.
"She's all yours, Casanova,” chuckled Limpy. He and Shorty snickered and pushed Buckshot forward. It took three more shoves before the potential bridegroom stood in front of his mail-order bride.
He removed his hat. "Miss Clementine...?" he asked cautiously.
"Yes'm." He handed her the bouquet.
"Well, honey, your Turtledove love is here.” She wiggled her hips and ample chest, and gave a war whoop. Then she beckoned with her gloved right index finger, and spread her tree-trunk arms.
"Come here,” she said, “and give your bride a big kiss!”
Buckshot couldn’t move. But, after Limpy and Shorty shoved him again, Clementine grabbed him and gave him a big sloppy kiss.
Clementine removed her right glove and tickled the red-faced cowboy under his peach-fuzz chin. "You’re cute,” she said.
Buckshot blushed some more. “Ah, shucks, ma’am.”
“You can call me Clementine, or ‘Turtledove,’ or Mrs. Buckshot Clarence Jones.” She giggled. “I especially like being called Mrs. Buckshot Clarence Jones.”
Shorty elbowed Limpy and whispered: "She's a ton bigger than her catalog pitcher.”
"And about thirty years older," added Limpy. "Looks more like her own grandma.”
“Or grandpa,” breathed Shorty. “Especially with that mustache.”
Buckshot didn't have the courage to back out of the wedding, or the money to return Clementine to Boston. Mistake or not, he'd made a marriage proposal, and would honor it, he said. “My word’s my bond!” He thought about saying, “It’s the code of the West,” but didn’t.
Clementine scheduled the wedding for the next day in the Red Dog.
Buckshot wore polished boots, string tie, a new cowboy hat, store-bought Jeans and shirt, Shorty's fancy vest, and Limpy's gold watch and chain.
Shorty, as best man, stood next to the tall bridegroom.
Limpy stayed close. “To guard my gold watch,” he said. “Don’t trust that Clementine.”
The bride wore a frilly off the shoulder full-length white wedding gown that was barely able to contain her bulging hips and bosom. The gown’s seams were near bursting.
"Think she's been hitched before?" questioned Limpy.
Shorty nodded. He said he’d seen Clementine shake rice from her dress before the ceremony, “enough to make a rice pudding for eight.”
The ceremony began with One-Eyed Mollie singing, "Oh, Promise Me.” Then she pounded out the Wedding March--in parade tempo--on the drink-stained piano.
Shotgun stood outside and watched through an open window. Buckshot wanted the horse as ring bearer, but Clementine objected.
As the nuptials began, Clementine shouted into the metal ear trumpet of the aging circuit-riding preacher, who came with a beanpole body, and nose-mounted glasses.
"Hurry it up, parson! Buckshot's got chores!"
Embarrassed, Buckshot grinned.
The minister muttered something, and mopped his face with a red bandana. He wore a moth-eaten frock coat, high collar and string tie. The crowded saloon was hot and stuffy.
He cleared his throat: "Do you...uh...Clementine Bellows, take...this here Buckshot Clarence Jones to be your lawfully wedded--"
"I do!" interrupted Clementine.
"What...?" The Minister pointed his long ear trumpet toward the bride.
"I said, 'I do!'" shouted Clementine into the hearing device.
Startled, the reverend tripped over a spittoon and dropped the ear trumpet.
"But, Turtledove," said Buckshot, "he wasn't
finished asking if--"
"SHUSH!" ordered Clementine.
The Reverend crawled after his ear contraption on the sawdust-strewn floor. Clementine nudged him with her foot. The minister struggled back to his makeshift pulpit, the trumpet back in his right ear.
"Uh...do you...uh...Buckshot take this woman
"He does!" Interrupted Clementine.
"But Turtledove, I'm suppose to say, 'I do,’" whined Buckshot. He didn’t know what to do, but fleeing the wedding ceremony suddenly crossed his mind.
"Don't stop, Preacher!” ordered the bride.
The perspiring parson continued: "And...and...do you Clementine promise to love...honor...and obey, Buckshot?"
Clementine tilted her head to one side, and was silent for a long time.
“Well?” asked the preacher.
“I’m thinking,” she said.
“Well?” repeated the minister.
“My answers,” replied Clementine, “are Yes! Yes! And no!”
"B-But Turtledove," sputtered Buckshot.
The minister hesitated, a quizzical expression on his weathered face. He shrugged, looked at the bride, bridegroom, and witnesses, and readjusted his ear trumpet.
That’s when Clementine kicked him!
The parson yelled.
Clementine roared, "Finish it!"
The preacher, hopping on one leg, accidentally stomped Shorty’s toes. Then, through clinched teeth, said——
"I...I...pronounce you...you...husband and wife.
Buckshot, you...you may kiss the bride."
Clementine shoved a wedding band on Buckshot's hand, and snatched her wedding band from Shorty as he danced by in pain. Then she planted another big wet kiss on Buckshot that sounded like someone pulling a boot from a mud bank.
* * *
Clementine and Buckshot honeymooned two nights on the prairie in the back of a mule-pulled hay wagon.
"Sweet thing. Could we...?" Buckshot snuggled next to Clementine on their straw bed.
"Not tonight, Turtledove.” Clementine turned away. "You'll wake the mules."
The next morning Clementine began complaining and never stopped. She said Buckshot's horse, Shotgun, was old and ugly.
Buckshot was hurt. Then mystified by an unrecognizable breakfast she plopped in his bowl.
"Turtledove, I thought you could cook.”
"Only oatmeal,” she replied. “I only cook oatmeal.”
“I hate oatmeal!” Buckshot refused to eat it. And he thought her coffee tasted like boiled cow chips.
* * *
Buckshot gladly returned to their soddy.
"Buckshot, ain't you gonna carry me over the threshold?" Clementine batted her short eyelashes.
Buckshot could lift most anything, from hay to heifers. But he wasn’t sure about Clementine. He circled her twice, seeking handholds.
He grunted and strained. On the fourth try he got her aloft for half a second. Then something snapped. They sprawled in the doorway, Buckshot under the fleshy pile, gasping for air, finally blurting:
That's when the magic left their short marriage, and Clementine booted him from their home for the night.
"Is the honeymoon over?" asked Shorty.
"It never started," replied Buckshot.
When the well went dry, Clementine didn't carry water from the creek, Buckshot did.
Clementine didn’t do the laundry, Buckshot did.
Clementine didn’t wash dishes, Buckshot did.
Clementine never chopped wood, Buckshot did.
Clementine never cleaned their soddy, Buckshot did.
Clementine slept in their bed, and made Buckshot sleep on their dirt floor.
He worked, she kept his money. “Is that all you earn?” she demanded.
“That’s it.” Buckshot turned his pockets inside out.
“I thought you cattlemen was wealthy?”
“I don’t own the Running Iron, buttercup,” sighed Buckshot. “I just work here.”
She cooked oatmeal morning, noon, and night.
"Oats is for horses," protested Buckshot.
"Eat it!" Clementine shoved another lumpy bowlful under his nose.
He returned to Limpy’s cooking.
"Can she make biscuits?" asked Shorty.
Buckshot shook his head.
"Flapjacks?" questioned Bedroll Barns.
"Fry a steak, or chicken, or make gravy?" asked Limpy.
"Don't do nothin' except complain, eat and complain, and cook oatmeal and complain," said Buckshot. “And sometimes she just complains, complains, complains!”
Bedroll Barns cleared this throat, and cautiously asked:
"Buckshot, what about...uh...uh...you know?"
"It?" whispered Bedroll. "You know. It? Uh...uh ...sex!"
"Ohhhhh." Buckshot's face reddened. He leaned forward. "It ain’t happened."
"Tarnation!" declared Shorty.
"Ain’t it why men marry? That and home cookin’?" asked Bedroll.
Buckshot’s answer was interrupted by Clementine bellowing his name from their nearby soddy.
His eyes rolled. "She gets mighty angry if I don't
That night the "Home Sweet Home" sign on the soddy fell and broke.
* * *
Within days Clementine was arrested. Between her
yelling, cursing, biting and kicking, it took a marshal and three deputies to wrestle her to the ground, handcuff her, and stuff her into their horse-drawn jail.
Hearing the ruckus, Buckshot and Shorty rushed from the barn where they were clearing stalls.
"What did she do, marshal?" asked Buckshot.
The big lawman dusted off his clothes. “Did Clementine ever say anything about having four wealthy husbands?”
Buckshot's jaw dropped. "Well, no... But, being married before ain’t a crime, is it, marshal?"
"No. But if they all died from eating poisoned oatmeal it is!" He handed Buckshot a WANTED FOR MURDER poster showing Clementine stirring a pot of oatmeal.
“Why’d she marry me? I ain’t got no money.”
“She figured you owned the Running Iron,” replied the marshal. "I thought she looked familiar when she came to Lonesome. Clementine's going to jail for a long, long time.”
Buckshot didn’t know if he should laugh or cry.
"But, she's still my wife, ain't she?"
"Not really," explained the marshal. Seems that after the wedding, Shorty, who couldn’t read, got drunk and, as best man, signed the marriage certificate where Buckshot should have--and Buckshot, equally inebriated, signed where Shorty should have as the witness.
"What does that mean, Marshal?"
"Well, Shorty, it means Buckshot isn't married to Clementine...but you are!"
Everyone laughed, except Shorty.
* * *
Clementine went to prison for life.
Buckshot returned to bachelorhood, abandoned the soddy to rattlesnakes, and moved back into the bunkhouse.
He was happy riding Shotgun, his old horse, and roping and branding alongside Shorty and Bedroll Barns, and eating Limpy’s cooking.
But there were two things he never did again: order anything from a mail-order catalog, or get near a bowl of oatmeal.