Western Short Story
The whole mess began when Sheriff Joe Goff’s betrothed, Jilly Morse, one powerful knockout of a blonde beauty, in a huff, thinking she had been insulted by the quickly-formed wedding crowd, ran off from him practically at the altar, jumping on a Denver Pacific train from the station down the dusty road of Evans, Colorado, and headed for Cheyenne, mad as a wet hen, that piece of her mind in a virtual blow-up. It was June of 1870, the day a glorious one for the sheriff until that sacred moment came apart at the seams, like a gun blast amidst the gathering.
There is, apparently, no one eviller than a woman in disgrace, or part way there
She had moved so quickly, all the wedding party were stunned, but no more than the sheriff recently basking in delight.
The train was out of sight, the wedding crowd suddenly apologetic, and all of them screaming wildly, “Go get her, Joe, and bring her back!” They kept it up until he leaped on his horse, man and horse racing girl and train across the territory. What a sight that must have been, as he galloped down the road, thinking of different ways of catching up to that train, what routes to take, what obstacles loomed most in his way, what ones he could avoid on his pursuit, how he could gain passage on that giant of the prairies on its circuitous ways at the foot of the mountains.
The image of her was stuck in his mind as he galloped on his way: every once in a while, feeling the pressure as she leaned against him, form and matter at their specific work, his head at times spinning with excitement, deliberation, possession.
As for the moment, he could not see the least puff of smoke from the huge stack of the engine, nor hear the thunder on its rail, nor feel any pounding of the earth other than his own horse as he leaped here and there over smaller obstacles en route.
At a swift bend of the chosen trail, he heard the giant engine as it labored on an incline, that in itself allowing him a measure of gain of holding her once more in his arms, and never letting go of her again. Never! Never! Never!
Several times he heard the toot or whistle cranked off by the engineer, probably to clear the tracks of a deer or stray bull run off from a herd moving to market
At the great curve along the river, he saw the six-car string of the train swing its wide route and knew he had gained some time and mileage in his pursuit. A deep swallow of clearest air filled his lungs as he realized he had gained some ground, some nearness. It all counted, every bit of it along the way, even if he failed to catch up to the black giant on the move.
When he saw a lone cowboy aim his gun at his horse straight out on the ground, he figured the animal had broken its leg and was put out of his misery in a hopeless situation.
He approached the cowpoke gingerly, saying, “You get hurt when he fell? The pistol was smoking in his hand as he wiped his brow, probably a long-time pal gone down the trail.
“Not a scratch on me, but I got a long walk ahead of me.” He pointed in the same direction the train was going, toward Cheyenne,
“Well, sorry for your loss. Looks like we’re pals for a while.” He told him the story of his near-wedding, at last getting off a few laughs, adding, “I lost my girl and you lost your horse. At least I can give you a lift. How far do we have to go?” I’m Sheriff Joe Goff of Evans, back down the line. I was chasing the train.”
“I’m Luke Farrell and was just hired to go to a new job up ahead, at the K-Bar-K,”
“You’ll find Moe Chester a good man to work for. I’ve been there a few times. Caught a bank robber in his sleep there one night,”
They swapped good and entertaining stories for much of their ride to the K-Bar-K. At arrival, Joe Goff said, “Tell Moe I said hello, but I got to run,” and he galloped off again, hoping the train was held up by a rock fall; he’d seen trains held up that way before.
A few hours later, after resting his horse, sharing water with his mount, he swore he heard a train whistle up ahead, likely around another turn in the tracks.
And there, just ahead of him, was the pursued train at a dead stop on the tracks and a crew of men moving the remnants of a rock fall, the pile they were creating beside the tracks was now a significant one. A few male passengers walked up and down the train, but he saw no ladies outside. He hoped that Jilly had not jumped off along the way.
As he started his search on the train, the conductor said, “I don’t know you as a passenger, sir. Are you looking for someone?” He was affable in his approach, serious at his work. “Perhaps a name or a description if you are looking for someone?”
“Sir,” said Joe Goff, “I’ve chased this train since it left Evans, trying to catch up with my betrothed who fled from our wedding thinking people were laughing at her. She’s a knockout blonde that…”
“She is a beauty, sir,” replied the conductor, “but she jumped from this train too, just as soon as we stopped for the crew to clear the new rockfall, I saw her heading down the tracks, heading for Benton, the next stop about five miles further on. If I were you, I’d really worry about that girl, and I’d certainly decide if I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, if need be, or called to serve. Looks aren’t everything, I hope you know, or find out in a peaceful way. Life can often be a bother. Don’t dare feed it more than you can handle.”
He finished up, like a minister ending a sermon, driving his point all the way home. “The kitchen is best for them, You’ll find that out.” He walked off, his duty for the day done for the day, getting someone closer to Heaven than to Hell, if he could do anything about it, life being
loaded with problems, and listeners not always alert to the good word, the best word, even if they were hung right out in front of them on their best day,
Goff thought the man might well have said, under his breath, “God be with you all the way.” The manner of such delivery quite apparent in a lonely car of a train pulled to a halt by a higher hand in such matters. The truth being, Goff remembered each word for the rest of his days, as he set out after his beloved, probably still as angry as that soaked chicken of the lot.