Western Short Story
Mary Beth Hamilton was the fairest belle in Clinton County. At just sixteen, with pale and flawless complexion, delicate features, long and golden curls, strong family roots, ample bust and womanly curves beyond her years, it was widely known throughout the entire territory that her hand was the highest prized hand to win.
Long have men, both young and old, from Clinton as well as surrounding counties longed for the luck and opportunity to find favor with Mary Beth. Soldiers who were occasionally granted short leave from battle lines paraded about her, flaunting their valor, bragging of bravado, vying for an instant of her attention and hoping to have the privilege of courting her, if only for a night. After the wire announcing the death of John Samuel, generally understood beau of Mary Beth’s, at the hands of the Yankees arrived, her newfound availability created only more heated competition amongst local men.
Always the lady and never one to be disrespectful, Mary Beth became well acquainted with the ways of welcoming antics from the opposite sex and leading them on when necessary. She happily allowed them all to believe that they had just as much chance of gaining time with her as any. Though she never fully gave in to their advances, a subtle wink, a fluttering of eyelashes, or an exaggerated sway from her hips in their presence was not uncommon.
With both Mr. Hamilton Senior and Junior, as well as the youngsters Cole and Scott Hamilton all off accompanying Rebel battalions, the two Hamilton women were left nearly alone with three generations of men off to war. This is not to say that Mrs. Hamilton and Mary Beth were entirely defenseless. There was not a family in the county who would knowingly allow any harm to come to the Hamilton ladies.
Being amongst the very first homesteaders in Clinton County, the Hamilton clan was always one to be held in high regards in the hearts of their neighbors. A wealthy family, their continuous generosity to the community and those townsfolk in need was never overlooked. The Hamilton plantation was, at one time, one of the largest and most profitable in all the Southern territories. Over years and through generations, the majority of their land had been parceled off and virtually all of their field hands sold away. Now, the Hamilton clan still held onto their elegant home, a few quarter horses, a dozen head of dairy cattle, the lone steer Brutus, now far too old and crippled to breed or be of any harm to a soul, and of course, their money.
Bill Brunson was another staple at the Hamilton house. Bill was the offspring of a female field hand and Mary Beth’s great uncle Hixon. Despite having a white father, Bill Brunson was born with skin as dark as a starless night’s sky. Due to the nature of his conception, the newborn Bill was shunned at birth by the other field hands, and his own mother forbidden to offer the child proper nurturing. A young, kind hearted and motherly Mrs. Hamilton had come across the sickly and undernourished baby wrapped in an old cut of canvass and covered with straw after investigating cries coming from an old barn on the property. She quickly took a liking to the poor child, nursed him back to health, and convinced her husband to permit the baby to remain. Bill had lived on the Hamilton property since.
Some of Mary Beth Hamilton’s earliest memories were of Bill Brunson helping her mother with the wash or to teach young Mary proper table manners. She could recall going against her father’s will and assisting Bill with the milking of the cows, or slipping away after school to pick wild berries with Bill so that her mother would have more for pies.
She would also never forget the time when, as a child, she had become too curious about a small pit of a cave between the rocks in the gorge above her family’s land, and gone in to investigate. Before she recognized the danger, her small frame was inside the pit and her escape blocked by an irritated rattler whose sanctuary had just been disturbed. Luckily, her panicked, high-pitched screams drifted down the shallow valley and caught the attention of Bill, who was feeding a then more vigorous Brutus. In no time at all, Bill was there at the entrance of the pit, stabbing the rattle snake with his fork and flinging the reptile aside. Mary Beth hugged him tightly and cried against his bony chest for a long time before he gently guided her back down toward the house.
Through all Mary Beth’s years of growing, Bill Brunson had been around. There was a time, in Mary Beth’s pre-teen years, when she was being harassed by the Layton boys while walking home from her daily studies. The Layton boys were a rude lot, the sons of an even ruder father who, rumor had it, once made his earnings by way of chasing bounties in the Northern territories. It seems that these boys, three in all and the youngest being seven years the elder of Mary Beth, had taken quite the liking to her and the fancy, fluttering dresses her mother liked to have her wear about town. They would follow her home from her studies, whispering foul remarks to her and attempting to sneak a glance up her dress from behind.
Fed up with the Laytons’ tormenting, Mary Beth eventually broke down and told her mother all about the teasing and the embarrassment brought upon by it. She begged and begged her mother not to report the incidents to her father. Through village rumors alone, Mary Beth knew full well that her beloved father could be short of temper and quick with trigger should anyone ever make an unkindly move directed at his family.
True to her word, Mrs. Hamilton did not key her husband in on the harassment of their daughter. Instead, she pulled her loyal Bill aside and requested that he bring an end to the situation, without anyone else around being wise to it. Mary Beth never did find out the details of what transpired, but she knew that the Layton boys never bothered her again. At least not in those, her adolescent days.
Before the war, and before Mary Beth began to learn more of the ways of the world, her favorite past time was to be escorted into town by her mother on Sunday afternoons after church, when the tradesmen would lead their wagons into town and set up shop along the streets, displaying their goods and bartering for profit.
Mrs. Hamilton would lead Mary Beth around to each of the stands, showing her treasures from exotic, worldly places and spoiling her with gifts of Calcutta dresses, ornamental ribbons for her hair, floral perfumes, real silk shawls and miniature tea sets of smooth porcelain. This was all in a time of peace, a time when one could enjoy such leisurely activities without fear for safety.
Following declaration of war, the tradesmen became few and far between, and those who did come to town only seemed to carry over priced and under quality items of far less interesting origin. The influx of unruly outlaws from out West, angry amputees from the battle fronts, war dodgers and deserters from the East, and banditos from Old Mexico made the roads in town less ideal for women without male companions to roam. Jails filled and local death tolls rose.
Still, with young John Samuel being killed early on while defending the Confederacy and Mary Beth’s coming of age, Mrs. Hamilton knew full well the importance of making her daughter’s presence known to what few gentlemen remained about and the even fewer who did pass through on good terms. So, she did so, boldly, with a .22 revolver concealed in her corset and the courage of motherhood on her side. She never allowed Mary Beth to miss an important homecoming, a big night at any one of the struggling saloons, or a ball at a neighboring plantation, where the community would eat, drink, laugh and dance as if things were still as they once were.
When Mrs. Hamilton fell ill and Doctor Glover had ordered her to bed rest, she did not sentence her beloved daughter to the task of caring for her. Instead, she took the widow Goodrich on as a live-in caregiver and placed Bill Brunson in charge of making the rounds with Mary Beth, and Bill happily obliged and carried out her wishes to the best of his abilities, despite his generally unwelcomed presence amongst those outside of the Hamilton home. Although those on friendly terms with Bill were scarcer than ever in these times, most were willing to tolerate him when they knew that he would be bringing Mary Beth to town.
The Golden Goose was once, in kinder days, the most popular and respected saloon in all of Clinton County. This is the place where only the upper echelon of society would gather to share in beverage and festivities; the men would gamble and talk of expansions and profits, or brag about their strapping young boys and smoke their pipes and drink German beer from oversized mugs while the women would sip Parisian champagne from false crystal glasses and gossip and flirt with the men. The music and cheer could be heard from miles around and the crowd would grow to expand out into the streets and any quarrels aside from minor disagreements were talked away between the quarrelers themselves and put to rest with a firm handshake and another mug of dark beer.
The modern Golden Goose is but a distorted shadow of its old self. Patrons who once would have been well groomed Southern gentlemen and beautiful, charming ladies, were now mangy and lawless, hardened men with rough attitudes and hair triggers. The barmaids who, at one time were polite, upstanding women, were now underkept whores who held no shame in openly peddling their goods before the eyes of all. The beer and champagne had been replaced by either strong whiskey or watered-down gin, both served from mason jars. The card games went on for days and more often than not, ended with dispute and bloodshed.
Probably for more nostalgic reasons than any other, soldiers on leave never failed to find their way into the Golden Goose. These were usually tamer nights at the saloon when everyone seemed to make more of an effort to mind their manners, what little they had remaining, and Sheriff Monroe patrolled the barroom with a keener eye. Although his enlistment into the Rebel forces was denied due to a childhood mishap which left him lacking three digits on his right hand, Sandy Monroe was anything but an incapable coward. He simply learned to become a quicker draw with his left hand and would never back down to any man.
The soldiers’ presence made Mary Bath Hamilton’s appearance a necessary occurrence on such nights and Bill Brunson, never one to shirk his duties, would faithfully bring her to the Golden Goose to meet the men. Not wishing to intrude on white folks’ business and attempting to avoid conflict, Bill would spend the time hiding in the shadows outside of the saloon and observing Mary Beth’s every step from afar, through windows and cracks in the wooden slats.
This is where Bill lurked on the night when wire came that the revered Lieutenant Carson would be passing his battalion through town. Lieutenant Carson was a highly decorated hero who, along with his battalion and under orders from General Joseph E. Johnston, had played a major role in routing Union forces in the Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia. This was the first major victory for the Confederate Army and Lieutenant Carson’s valiant actions in the Battle of Bull Run were already legendary throughout the entire South. Mrs. Hamilton, from her bed and in her medicated state, insisted that Mary Beth be present to greet Carson and his men upon their arrival.
Aside from a few scouts and stragglers, the soldiers of Lieutenant Carson’s battalion had not yet ridden into town when Mary Beth Hamilton entered the Golden Goose. Sheriff Monroe met her at the swinging doors, offered a nod to Bill and then escorted the young lady through the, as of yet, not unruly crowd. Men’s eyes ogled her every step while soldiers removed their caps and lowered their heads at her passing. She offered them all a mischievous smile, and even stopped to curtsy toward a young gray coat whom she found to be particularly attractive. In turn, the young man bowed, gestured for her hand, and gave the top of her knuckles a gentle press with his lips. This display produced a score of whoops and whistles from intoxicated onlookers.
Early on, the hours progressed without any hitch as all waited as patiently as they could in anticipation of the town’s most important visitors. Men laughed and relayed news, both true and false, of the front lines. Most staked their claim on whichever female would give them the courtesy of a few words, and all paid special attention to Mary Beth. It was only until later, as the crowd consumed more drink and grew less patient, that things began to take a turn into uglier directions.
It began with a skirmish between the young soldier whom Mary Beth had taken a liking to earlier and Henry Nettle, the town blacksmith who was known to have difficulty holding his alcohol, even when fused with water. It seems that Henry had made certain remarks that somehow questioned the soldier’s honor and the prideful young man was not about to let it go. Cheers erupted as the two rolled to the wooden floor, kicking and clawing and biting at each other. Sheriff Monroe, along with a few others, was quick to intervene. The two men were torn apart and restrained from one another in a hurry. That’s when Henry Nettle’s apprentice saw fit to take a swing at the head of another gray coat with one of the mason jars from the bar top. The swing missed its intended target and, if not for swift reflexes, would have caught Sandy Monroe across the tip of his chin.
The blow missed for its second time and as Sheriff Monroe came up from his duck, he cracked the apprentice’s forehead with his Colt, sending blood into the air and dropping the young man to a crumbled heap in front of him. Turning on his heel, Monroe then pressed the barrel end of the Colt into the tip of Henry Nettle’s thick nose. Henry, his reddened eyes wide, his teeth bared and his hand on the butt of his own pistol at his hip, froze solidly in his tracks. A short stare down ensued.
“Now, Henry,” Sandy Monroe reasoned, “you and I have been friends a long time and I see no good reason to end that now.”
The crowd became anxiously silent. After some deep breaths, Henry lowered his shoulders a bit, put his teeth away and removed his hand from his gun.
“You go on home, Henry. I’ll have someone walk with you if needed.” Monroe tipped his head down toward the sleeping apprentice. “Your boy here is going to spend the night in a cell. You’re free to come fetch him in the morning, if you want.”
“Yeah, well, I s’pose is ‘bout time fer me ta call ‘er a nigh ‘eh? No hard feelins, Sand?”
“No hard feelings here, Henry,” the Sheriff replied, and then he looked toward the young soldier whom Henry had the scuffle with in the first place. “You good with it, sir?”
“Yeah, Sheriff. I’m good with it.” He shot an evil eye in Henry’s general direction as he spoke.
Henry turned and stumbled through the swinging doors of the Golden Goose without another word. Monroe nodded to a well-known nearby cowpoke who had sat quietly, tending his drink and minding his own business throughout the entire ordeal. “Do me favor, see him home, will ya?” The man swallowed the last of his gin and rose to follow Henry out the door.
“Somebody get this soldier a drink while I drag the young’un over to the jail.” With that, the Sheriff holstered his Colt, grabbed the still unconscious apprentice tightly by the back collar and proceeded to the exit, the younger man’s limp figure sliding easily across the floor, leaving a clean trail behind.
Even with one confrontation diffused, Sheriff Monroe’s absence did not leave much time for continued truce. Finn Layton was at the card table, drinking heavily and losing badly. Finn was the nastiest of all the Layton boys and the only one remaining in town while the other two were stationed in unknown parts, fighting for their lives at war. Though Finn claimed to have been relieved of his military duties as a result of catching shrapnel beneath the knee, the popular opinion and unspoken belief throughout the county was that he, more than likely, had deserted his post.
With Finn Layton getting loud and the heat of the conversation at the card table becoming obvious, and feeling out of her own league without Sheriff Monroe nearby, Mary Beth decided that now may be a proper moment for her to make her retreat, with or without having met the great Lieutenant Carson, or any of his men. The distraction of the card game allowed her to move her way through the room unnoticed and nearly reach the door without any interference.
Bad luck would have it that Mary Beth had to walk directly behind the chair of Finn Layton to make it out of the Golden Goose, a route that Finn was not blind to. Just as she was moving by him, Finn turned and grasped her, her slender wrist trapped firmly in the grip of his large, relentless hand. Startled, she turned to face him with fear in her eyes.
“Leavin’ so soon, pretty? Just where is it you think you’re gettin’ off to?”
Her instincts took over immediately, and she attempted to lay the charm on heavily. She smiled her most innocent of smiles, blinked her shining eyes and gave her voice a playful undertone. “Why, Finn, even a big strong boy like you knows that a woman needs her beauty rest.” She gave him a wink. “If you’re a good lad, I’ll be back here tomorrow, sweetheart.”
Mocking ooh’s and aah’s came from the other card players, which seemed only to add fuel to the fire burning within Finn Layton.
“The Hell you will. You been prancin’ your tail ‘round here all night just a teasin’ me. I got news for ya, whore. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Finn spat on the floor and offered Mary Beth a sinister grin, his eyes creased in amusement as her face turned a scarlet red out of both embarrassment and anger at being referred to in such a grotesque manner.
“Oh, look at that, she gettin’ mad now.” He sent a kiss into the air in her direction. “How ‘bout you come down here and plant that precious rear on ol’ Finn’s lap. I’ll take care of ya, honey. I promise. Treat you real nice like.”
Boiling with fury and disbelief at the realization that none of the other men near the table had any intention of standing up for her, Mary Beth would take no more of these public insults. She reached back with her free hand and swung an open hand slap at the scraggly face of Finn Layton. Being so heavily intoxicated, Finn did not see the hand coming and it struck his cheek with a loud smack, enough to snap his head around.
Being that the brute did not release his grip on Mary Beth’s wrist, she immediately pulled back for another strike. Before her tiny hand could come back around again, Finn was on his feet with his other hand reaching for her neck. Finally, two other patrons were there, making an attempt to hold him back and keep Finn from following through with bad intentions. Although he released her, it did not take him long to shrug these others aside and go after her once more only to be met by Bill Brunson, standing tall in all his scrawniness. The two stood, glaring into one another’s eyes.
“You best l-l-leave that girl alone, Finn. She done nothin’ to you.”
“Get outta my way, boy, or I will put you down,” Finn snarled.
With all the might his small frame could muster, Bill jammed both of his palms into the larger man’s chest and gave him a tremendous shove. Lacking balance and being caught off guard, Finn fell backwards, crushing the card table under his weight and hitting the floor. Cards, coins and drink flew into the air and scattered about. Those who had been having better luck before their game was disturbed quickly dove down to try and scoop up their winnings. Prone on his back, and with unexpected speed, Finn skinned his trusty side arm and leveled it between the eyes of Bill Brunson as onlookers backed themselves out of the way of danger.
Suddenly, a loud, echoing shot rang out and a piece of the plank floor between Finn and Bill peeled up, sending splinters into the lap of Finn. The saloon went quiet.
“Not here, Finn. Not tonight.”
It was Sheriff Monroe, back from delivering the apprentice to his bunk, with his Colt pointed directly at Finn Layton. It only took an instant for Finn to consider his options before he returned his own death dealer to its leather pocket. Still infuriated, he masked his emotions well and made an unsuccessful attempt to bring himself to his feet. Others came and gave him a hand with the task. His eyes never left those of Bill’s.
“Okay then, Sheriff. You have it yer way.” He patted the dust from the back of his legs the best that he could. “It won’t be here. I’m not worried ‘bout this darkie. He’s nothin’.” Now, his eyes scanned the group of people around them, searching for looks of agreement. “He ain’t nothin’. Who in Hell ever heard of a nigger cowpoke anyway? An’ a stutterin’ one at that!”
Finn’s hearty laugh was joined by the hushed snickers of the other men in the crowd, all trying and failing at staying out of the situation.
“Lookit the size of the bottom lip on that boy! Looks just like the tip of my damn boot!”
Now the entire barroom erupted into unashamed laughter, with mouth covering and knee slapping. It was a short-lived laughter, coming to a hush when all realized that the black man was about to speak.
“You say w-w-what you w-w-want ‘bout me, but you leave Miss Mary Beth ‘lone. She done nothin’ to you.”
Finn snorted. “Ah, ain’t that special? Precious lil’ Hamilton hidin’ behind a damn colored. What, you think she’s yers? Well, I got news for ya, boy. I ain’t no kid anymore and I ain’t forgot ‘bout that day when we was kids. I will have the girl one way or ‘nother, and just who ‘round here is gonna stop me?”
Tense moments ticked by as no one was willing to offer up an answer. Then, someone did have the courage to respond. “I will,” said Bill, without stutter or trace of fear behind his words. Gasps could be heard from bystanders.
“That right?” Finn smiled. “Well, let’s do it, then. If the way’s through you, let’s git ‘er done. I will meet you out there,” he pointed at the door and toward the road, “tomorrow, when the sun reach its peak. We will see who gets this pretty lil’ thang.” He flicked his tongue out at Mary Beth, who turned her head in disgust.
“That’s enough then, Finn,” Sheriff Sandy Monroe broke in. “Tomorrow’s another day. Go home and sleep it off and we will see what tomorrow brings.”
“You got it, Sheriff.” Finn stomped out of the saloon, offering Monroe a falsely pleasant smile on his way.
After he left, Monroe waited a short time before putting away his Colt, and then he addressed Bill Brunson. “You get out of here too, Bill. You know as well as I do that you have no business being here. Take the young lady with you and I’ll be sure you get home okay. There’ll be no more trouble here tonight.”
The two walked, side by side, in silence down the main strip and to the edge of town. It was one of those nights where the moon hung low and the steady breeze rolled dust and sand and created random, suspicious sounds over the now distant backdrop of barroom commotion from the Golden Goose.
Finally, Mary Beth came to an abrupt halt in her steps, turned towards and moved close to Bill, throwing her arms around his neck and resting her cheek on his shoulder, trembling and silently sobbing for a moment before she was able to settle herself enough for words. Bill stood stiff and still, reluctant to return her embrace lest someone should be watching from some unseen location.
She pulled herself away from him and stared into the face of Bill Brunson, tears hanging from her cheeks. “Don’t you be going to town tomorrow, Bill. You just stay around the house and stay away from that Layton. You don’t have to answer his call.”
“I ain’t going to m-m-meet that nasty Layton boy,” replied Bill. “Don’t you w-w-worry about Bill, Miss Mary Beth. You just calm yourself n-n-now and forget about that m-m-man.”
“Thank you, Bill,” her eyes watered again, “I don’t know what would’ve happened without you there.”
“Oh, I’m sure you w-w-woulda been just right. Don’t you cry anym-m-more, Miss Mary Beth.” He moved to place his hand on her shoulder and then, quickly retracted it, glancing around. “L-l-let’s get you on home now.”
From somewhere, something seemed to shuffle and quietly crack, the disturbance echoing off the side of a building. The two froze and held their breaths as they looked about, scanning their perimeter with ears straining to catch another sound. After long moments of nothing more, the two turned and proceeded on their short trek back to the Hamilton Plantation.
Home at last, Bill saw Mary Beth to the front door and watched her enter before heading towards the tool shed, which had been refurbished to serve as his private living quarters. He knew that the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach would not allow him proper rest. Through this night, he would remain on guard.
Inside the home and up the stairwell, Mary Beth paused to peer through the slightly opened doorway of her mother’s bedchamber. Mrs. Hamilton was there, sleeping soundly beneath heavy blankets, a lantern burning lazily on her nightstand, the small flame casting dancing shadows over the white bed linen and her pale, peaceful face. In an old chair next to the bed, the widow Goodrich sat, her legs crossed at the ankles and her head leaned back, mouth open and quietly snoring.
Once in the seclusion of her own room, Mary Beth lit a lantern and sat at the bottom edge of her bed awhile, reflecting on the scene at the Golden Goose and questioning why it had to happen at all. She had grown comfortable with her appearance, knew her lineage well and understood herself to be desirable to men. Yet, she had no interest in such affairs. If anyone would have ever taken the time to ask for her own thoughts, they would know that right now, her only concerns lied with the well-being of her dear mother, and the safe return of her father, her brother and his two sons. While all others tried to continue on with every-day life, she lived her days in fear for the safety of her family. Still, she knew her place and would never openly disrupt the routines or procedures of her heritage. So, she allowed herself to be shown off to potential husbands, as was the custom of the region.
Mary Beth stood and went into the on-suite bathroom, closing the door behind her. Having grown up with a curious brother, she closed the bathroom door out of habit alone, and not at all for privacy purposes. Her nightly ritual had her brushing out her golden curls in front of the mirror before changing into the comfort of her nightclothes.
Just four swipes of her hand into the brushing, she jumped at the sound of a random thump coming from beyond the bathroom door. What could very well have been a natural settle, or nothing at all, sent her heart racing. Without hesitation, she placed her brush down beside the sink and took up the sturdy, pointed file that she used for her finger nails. Very carefully, she reached for the knob and slowly turned it until the door unlatched and she could push it open. Believing that she heard movement, she looked to the direction that the original thud had come from.
The place from where she thought she had heard the sound would have been the closet area. Looking toward that corner with the file held ready at her breast, she saw that the sliding door was closed and could not recall if she had closed it herself after preparing for this night’s outing. She was determined to defend her personal space at all costs and she began making soft steps in the direction of her closet. Just as she was beginning to reach out with the intention of throwing the door open and facing any intruder who may be hiding inside, a shadow fell over her from behind.
Startled, Mary Beth quickly turned toward her bedside lantern and the shadow in its path. The unexpected figure before her surprised and scared her enough that she drew a deep breath and dropped the nail file, her only defense. With wide eyes, she stepped back from the threat. There stood Finn Layton, a hulking mass in comparison to her small frame, with a wicked grin and a trace of spittle hanging in his thick beard.
“I told ya’ll that I will have you one way or ‘nother,” he growled as he approached her.
Mary Beth backed away, with no clear path to her bedroom’s exit, and she let out a piercing scream just as the sliding door of her closet exploded off the tracks from within and a loud blast shook the Hamilton home to the core and blood splattered across the velvet, Indian drapes covering the window on the other side of the room. Mary Beth dove to the floor, whimpering, her arms covering her head in a futile attempt to shelter herself.
With all still and her ears ringing, she looked up in expectation of whatever fate had come to meet her on this night. There, Bill Brunson stood just over her with a sawed down, double barreled and still smoking Wellington shotgun at his hip and a determined, lively look in his yellow eyes.
Bill Brunson was hanged no more than three sunrises later; punishment for the murder of Finn Layton.
Mrs. Hamilton succumbed to undiagnosed pneumonia shortly after the hanging of Bill Brunson.
Neither Mr. Hamilton, his junior, Cole, nor Scott Hamilton ever did make it home from the war alive.
It wasn’t until nearly a year later that news came of the great Lieutenant Carson and what remained of his battalion being ambushed by a rogue band of Cherokee on their way to Clinton County.
Mary Beth Hamilton never married. As the only remaining member of the Hamilton bloodline, she took in her brother’s widow and grew old running what remained of her family’s estate with a firm hand, building a profitable dairy business, one of the only successful dairy farms to come from the South in her era, by way of hiring freed slaves who had returned to the Hamilton plantation in search of employment.
Here lies Bootlip Bill Brunson,
The blackest cowhand in all the land.
Call him Layton’s coward,
But not afraid to make a stand.
When given the chance to flee,
He remained in hostile land.
To face the hangman’s noose,
He would protect Mary Beth’s hand.