Just for Fun Fiction by Celia Jolley
Eva stood at the sink and pumped more water. She had washed the supper dishes, but now needed to heat more water to boiling to then pour over them for a rinse. As she waited, she could not help but hear the menfolk talking. She was only a little mouse in the room and trembled.
Will looked over at her smiling and stated, “Thank you, Eva, for the fish fry. It was delicious.” But his eyes did not reflect that smile. He seemed nervous. Well, aren’t all grooms nervous the night before their wedding? she thought.
“Will, you can’t go through with this! You need to stop this wedding and just walk away.” Jed spoke urgently shocking Eva completely.
The soon to be bridegroom groaned. “But it’s tomorrow at high noon! It’s too late!”
“Which is worse, to break it off now or be miserable for the rest of your life in a bad marriage?” Her brother Jed was strident.
He was being so blunt that Eva could not believe it. It was true that Sybil was not liked by most people. She was clingy to Will but stand-offish to everyone else. But should Will indeed break it off the night before the wedding?
“It’s not as if you will be leaving her at the altar. She won’t even have to go to the church at all. Her family can do damage control,” their friend Gus encouraged. They all thought about the bride that Gus had indeed left at the altar when he learned about her shenanigans.
Someone else chimed in asking, “Do you truly love her, Will? Didn’t you try to break up with her recently? Why? Is it because you realized she wasn’t the one?”
“I care about her enough that I don’t want to hurt her. I will admit though that her behavior sometimes borders on bizarre. There’s the time a while back when I tried to break up with her. Well, she somehow let herself into my house and would not leave until I said we were still together. It kind of grew from there as she would only talk about a wedding, marriage, kids and all until I felt I should propose.”
“That’s no reason to propose or go through with this sham, Will,” Eva’s brother urged. “You’ll be miserable before you come back from your wedding trip.”
“It’s the manly thing to do,” Will,” Pete pled. “Doing the right thing will take courage, but at this point if you stop the wedding, it’s just flowers and cake anyway. People can keep their ol’ weddin’ gifts. Sure, I know it will be embarrassing, but you can do it.”
“We’re all here for you, Will. You have all of us behind you, supporting you, and we’ll stand up for you if you take this stance,” Jed said. Then he went on, “What do you think, Eva? Do you think Will should marry Sybil?”
My stars and garters, what a thing to ask her! Just then the kettle started its shrill whistle, so Eva used that opportunity to turn her back as all eyes looked her way. She spoke over her shoulder as she carefully poured boiling water over the dishes. “I’m not close enough to Sybil to judge. But if Will has any doubt about this marriage, it is better that he stop it now than to be miserable later. However, it should be Will’s decision.”
The room became silent. That could only mean Will was pondering it.
Eva bit her bottom lip as she began drying still turned away from where the men gathered round the kitchen table. One glance back, she caught Will looking thoughtfully at her. If only she could truly say what she thought! Eva had had a crush on Will since 8th grade when he left school to go help run the family ranch. How could she suggest in good conscience that he should stop his wedding when it was her deepest desire. She knew that even if he did not marry Sybil, it would not mean Will would marry her. Though that was in her thoughts, she hoped what she said was for Will’s good, rather than hers. She looked away from the table and kept drying dishes.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” Will said almost in despair.
“What can’t you do, marry her or break off the wedding?” his brother Jed asked.
“Grr,” the poor man growled and sank his head into his hands grabbing fistfuls of hair.
“Look, here’s some paper and ink. I promise, if you write it, I will deliver it tonight,” Jed declared.
“But you will have to be strong when tornado Sybil comes your way, and she will. I guarantee that she will be more destructive than ever. Remember that time she got mad at you over something stupid or other, and she threw dishes at you? Better hide what you have left.” Pete was only half kidding.
“Maybe I should hide out somewhere,” Will said hesitantly.
“Like a storm shelter?” his brother joked, and the men all broke out in guffaws, more because they were relieved that their friend seemed to be taking their council.
“More like a hide-away, you know, a cabin she doesn’t know about up in the hills.” Will looked up hopefully.
“What about the line shack? Jed offered. “I don’t think she would know to look for you there. Eva can bring you food, and there are cots and blankets already available.” Her brother continued, “But you better take off right away before she finds you here or mud will surely hit the windmill!”
Eva groaned inside. Take him food? Would that be torturous or enjoyable? She didn’t have an answer, just chewed her lip a little more. But when she stole a glance over at the table, Will took her breath away: he was writing his letter. It was over! It was enough to make her knees weak. She couldn’t believe it. Eva had even helped to decorate the church tossing rose petals down the aisle, the aisle Sybil would not now be walking down.
“Got an envelope, Eva?” her brother asked before barking an order, “Go get your horses, men. We are going to ride! But Will’s going to go to the backside of nowhere to the line shack. We only use it in winter, Will, for when it is hard feeding cattle in deep snow, so don’t expect nothing fancy. If you don’t remember how to get there, Eva can tell you. Eva? Did you get that envelope?”
She had stood frozen by the sink, but now hurried to the desk where she stored her special stationary that her aunt had sent her upon Eva’s graduation. Evidently neither Will nor Jed had realized that he was using pink paper with her initials embossed in a flowery design on top. Not only that, but the scent of lavender clung to it from the sachet she had stashed in the drawer just for that purpose. Hopefully, Sybil would not figure it out and think that she stole Will away from her. Jealousy could be an ugly thing.
The fish they had eaten left its odor to saturate the kitchen, but the atmosphere was even heavier. It was serious business. These men were bound and determined to keep Will from getting hitched. As his best friends, they indeed felt it was their combined duty. They presented a unified front.
After they were gone, Will at first sat at the table with his head bent as if praying, so it was quiet. Since she did not want to interrupt him, Eva began gathering some food stuff that would fit in his saddle bags, jerky, leftover corn cakes, some bacon, a few eggs, and coffee. All the while sneaking peeks at the man. When Will looked up, he looked so relieved.
“If you bring your saddle bags in, I can put this in for you. I’ll cushion the eggs with a clean dish towel.” She was determined to help him get away. “But you better get a hurry on if you don’t want to meet up with a jilted bride. She’ll be madder than a hornet,” Eva declared.
Will jumped up and the door banged as he left. Was he leaving without his food? No, she heard his boots returning on the porch. He was coming back with his saddle bags. “Can you tell me where exactly where this place is? I haven’t been there in years since we boys were youngsters having a campout.”
Eva did her best to explain it. All he had to do was follow the fence line heading north. Then quicker than she could load and shoot her pa’s rifle, he was gone. Bang! The door slammed shut. With the moon hidden behind clouds, she could not see his departure, but listened to his horse’s rapid hoofbeats until they could be heard no more.
A few days later, she vacillated about when and whether she should take Will more food, but Jed had no compulsion to hold back. Her brother was forthright as always. “Eva, it’s time for you to take Will some food before the man starves. I cooked extra steaks last night. Your rolls would go well with it too. What’s that I smell though? Did you make sweet rolls for us or for Will?”
“Both,”she grinned and snapped her dish towel at him. But she knew better than to hit him or else he would steal it right out of her hands and give as got and more.
“Now don’t be stinging me like a bee with that there rag,” her brother warned with a dangerous sparkle in his eye.
“I didn’t touch your precious behind, but why don’t you ride up to check on him yourself. I’ll do it next time, I promise.” She got busy wrapping up the food, sweet rolls included.
Jed shrugged and said, “I guess I can check on my cattle in the far pasture today, though I wasn’t planning on it. But you’re right, maybe Will needs somebody to talk to man to man.”
It was very quiet on the ranch. All the cowpokes were busy doing something elsewhere. Eva sat at the kitchen table and read their old Bible. Some pages were torn half off, but she couldn’t imagine using any else. It had been her mother’s. She opened the Bible to I John 4, He sure wrote a lot about love. Eva read a couple of verses out loud, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.”
Eva looked around. She had been born in this house. It was the only home she had ever known, and was thankful for her parents who had filled this home with love. God did indeed abide with them. She hoped someday that she could likewise fill her own home with love by abiding in God.
But a cyclone came out of the blue sky and burst in. Someone stormed in uninvited slamming the door back so hard that it hit the wall with a resounding bang. Eva jerked around and saw trouble. It was Sybil. She was one angry woman. The spurned woman waved a crumpled piece of pink paper in front of Eva’s nose. Eva backed up, but was stopped by the kitchen sink with nowhere to escape. Still Sybil stalked her, creeping closer and closer until she was right in her face, nose to nose.
“How dare you steal my soon-to-be husband!” She hissed.
Then before Eva could blink, the furious woman back-handed Eva. She was in shock and put her hand to her cheek feeling like she had been deeply scratched. When she put it down, there was blood on her hand.
“Why did you do that!” Eva exclaimed. “I didn’t steal your fiancé. My brother unfortunately grabbed my stationary, but it wasn’t because Will had anything to do with me.”
“I’m supposed to believe that when a man sends me a letter smelling of lavender with another woman’s initials on it? I am not stupid!”
She was spitting mad. But Eva saw it coming, and stopped another slap by grabbing Sybil’s wrist. The attacker shook Eva’s grip off and with a growl came at her full-bore. It was enough to nearly catch her by surprise, but no. Eva had enough years rough housing with her brother that she knew some moves and took the jilted bride down and pinned her on the floor. The innocent jerked the screaming woman’s arms back while holding her down with her knee. The question was, how did she let her go without allowing another attack?
“What is going on in here?” Pete bellowed. “Sounds like a wildcat snarling!” Then he looked down at the woman on the floor where Eva was holding her down before he looked up to see the blood dripping down Eva’s cheek.
“Well, if it isn’t Sybil. I just hope this wildcat isn’t rabid ’cause she is foaming at the mouth. Here, sugar, let me take over for you.” Then in one fell swoop, Pete jerked the still screaming woman up and half dragged her out to her buggy. “If you know what’s good for you, Miss Sybil, you will not set foot on this property again, or you will face the wrath of her brother and every cowboy on this ranch, me especially.”
Sybil shook him off, climbed into her buggy and whipped her poor horse. Then she was gone still hollering at the top of her lungs. Eva stood watching holding her had to her cheek. Their best cow dog was barking, and trying to bite her buggy wheels making her horse nervous. Pete whistled ’em off before it spooked the poor thing.
When he came in to check on her, he gently pulled her hand away. “I’m afraid that’s going to leave a scar, honey,” Pete had known her most her born days since he had been first a cow hand, then foreman. He pumped water and handed her a sopping wet kitchen towel. I am so glad we saved Will from marrying that piece of work. If I ever had a doubt, no more. ‘There’s no fury like a woman scorned.'” He shook his head. “Still can’t believe she had the nerve to attack you in your own home. You are innocent!”
“She figured out that the initials on the letter Will wrote were mine, so she assumed, he had developed a tendre for me, I guess.”
“Did she hurt you anywhere else?” Pete asked. “Uh oh. Your brother’s here.”
Jed threw open the door and marched in. “Why did Miss Sybil take off caterwauling like the devil was on her tail? I heard her screaming clear from afar.” Then he saw the bloody rag in Eva’s hand and bellowed “Did she do that to you, sis? How dare she!” Pete blocked him from leaving quite yet.
“He tried to shake his foreman off, but if there was someone stronger than her brother, it was Pete. “Can’t go off half-cocked, now Pete. You can’t afford to run afoul of her father. He’s your banker, and someday you might need to ask for a loan or something
Jed shrugged him off. “Nobody is going to attack my sister without consequences. Tell you what, we’ll both go and you can drag me away if I lose my temper. I’ll go more quietly than that she-devil anyway. Are you okay, Eva. If you need me, I’ll bide a while first.”
“I don’t want you to make this worse than it already is, Jed. So please, please don’t make her problem yours by losing your temper.”
“I can’t let her get away with clawing my sister enough to make her bleed. But I’m beginning to think she is crazy. What was Will thinking proposing to her? I’m sure glad he broke it off just in time.”
“Thanks to you and Pete and the others,” she added trying to smile to show she was alright, but it hurt. “I think she must have had a ring on that sliced me across the cheek when she backhanded me. Maybe she didn’t giver her engagement ring back to Will.”
“You should have seen our Eva, Jed. She had that squalling thing down on the ground, pinned to the floor.”
“Just like you taught me, Jed. It was nice to have the upper hand for once.” Then she tried to smile again, but winced.
“Let’s go, Pete. We can catch up with her and escort her into town to make sure her story jives with the truth.”
Eva had planned to take Will some food today, but figured it wasn’t a good day for it after all. She went to her room and looked into her hand mirror. “My stars and garter, but she got me good! No doubt but it will leave a scar.”
Eva began supper preparations sure that the men would eat lunch in town. If there was anything one could count on, it was the regularity of a man’s stomach growling. But while dicing an onion, someone knocked on the door jam and walked in. She had left it open since the house still smelled like cabbage from the night before.
Oh no! It was Will. It was too soon. She didn’t want him to see her like this.
“What happened to you, sweet stuff? Looks like you tangled with a wild cat.”
“In a manner of speaking,” she said turning her back so he couldn’t see how bad it was.
“No, really, what happened?” Will strode over, turned her around and tipped her chin up so he could look more closely at her injury. Is this why you are crying?
She kept her eyes down, but whispered “No, they are onion tears.” She tried to change the subject and asked, “How’s the line shack? Do you have everything you need? I was hoping to come and bring you some more food, so it’s a good thing you’re here instead.”
“Still he looked at her. “You’re avoiding my question, Eva. Who did this to you?”
She figured he’d find out sooner or later, so after a big sigh, she confessed.
“What!” He threw his hat on the floor, something cowboys never did. It was almost like their hats were sacred property. He spun around biting back the words he wanted to say. “Here I play the coward by running away, while you have to face the fiend, something I wasn’t willing to do. I am so very sorry, Eva.”
He pulled her in a hug, and she might have shed a tear or two that weren’t onion tears. He rubbed her back, then kissed her on the forehead before letting her go.
“Jed and Pete left a little while ago to confront her. I pray Jed can hold back and not make it worse.”
“This is all my fault. If I hadn’t been such a coward, I wouldn’t need others to fight my fight.” He picked up his hat, slammed it on his head, then said, “I’m going to town and face the consequences of making such a mess of things, that is if you are sure you are alright, Eva.”
He stopped in his tracks, turned and looked back at her. “It was the stationary, wasn’t it. Why didn’t I think how that would rile her up? Of course she figured whose initials those were. That was so stupid!” He stomped out.
Somehow that hug made it worse. Now she craved his arms around her. Eva shook the nonsense right out of her head, for at least two seconds.
Will spied Jed and Pete’s horses outside Sybil’s father’s house. He drop reigned his horse and strode into the house without knocking. Mr. Huffington sat there with his napkin still tucked in his collar at the table with Sybil ranting and raving. Finally the man rose out of his chair and threw his napkin down yelling, “Enough!”
Will knew Sybil had not seen him yet. But her father pointed straight at him with a shaky finger saying sternly, “I tried to warn you about her, didn’t I. You are a lucky man to have escaped her noose.”
“I just thought you didn’t think I was good enough for her,” he countered.
“Daddy!” Sybil whined. “How could you take their side?”
“Go to your room until we figure out what to do with you. I’m not a Catholic, but maybe I can find a nunnery anyway. For a little donation, sometimes they take…”
Sybil squealed and stomped out of the room glaring at Will. “It’s all your fault!” They heard a door slam upstairs rattling the whole house.
His friends tipped their hats to him and said, “So you stopped by the ranch and saw Eva?”
His face contorted. “I did indeed. It’s all my fault that she got hurt.”
Mr. Huffington put up his hand to stop him. “No, don’t go blaming yourself for what my gal did. So, Eva truly had her pinned down on the floor, did you say, Pete? She may be my daughter, but I wished I could have seen that.”
“She did?” Will’s voice broke in his astonishment. “I wish I could have seen that myself.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “No offense, sir.”
“None taken. But Jed, if your sister needs to be seen by the doctor, I’ll be happy to pay the bill.”
“I’m more concerned, if you don’t mind me saying, that your daughter might be running around loose. No telling what she’ll do next.” They could all hear her mother weeping in the kitchen where she had run after the first confrontation.
“You can be sure I will deal with it. I give you my word as a gentleman. In fact, in the morning I’ll be buying her a ticket back to my sister’s in Boston. Now there’s a woman tougher than I ever thought of being,” he said chuckling.
“Maybe you should keep Sybil locked up until then,” Pete added.
“Of course,” the man said. “A man doesn’t like to admit his failure in parenting, but I confess, I do.”
“Nah, sir, I knew your son, and he is a good man. She’s an adult now and is responsible for her own behavior.” Pete said. “You can’t take all the blame.”
Will shook the man’s hand. “Thank you, sir, for being understanding. I’m sorry I allowed the whole courtship to drag on for too long.”
“It’s worth it if you decide to grow a backbone now. Nothing like a bad experience to teach a man that,” Pete commented.
As the men rode away, Pete asked Will, “So, does this mean you won’t be going back to the line shack?”
“I shouldn’t have gone there to begin with. It was another bad idea. I have to start making smarter decisions from here on out. The first and foremost will be staying far, far away from all females from here on out!”
Pete and Jed laughed. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
“I swear! I don’t see either of you married,” he grumbled.
“I had a sweetheart once. I was goin’ to marry her too, but she got consumption before we made it to the altar,” Pete confessed surprising both of them.
“I’m sorry, Pete. I never knew,” Jed commiserated.
“Me too,” Will added. “That’s a whole lot worse than what I’ve been through, that’s for sure. It helps to put it in perspective. Nevertheless, I’m done with women.”
“Come over for supper, you two. I’m sure Eva has cooked another fine meal.”
“Don’t mind if I do. It’s better than the slop the cook makes for the hands, unless its steak and cornbread.”
Will felt a little niggling warning him not to go, but he shrugged it off and said, “You can count me in. I don’t turn down an offer like that. I know from previous experience that she is one fine cook.”
“I’m beginning to have to fight the unsuitable suitors off. She’s drawing them like flies to honey,” Pete admitted.
“Really? Who?” Will sputtered realizing he was feeling a bit too protective.”
“Well, there’s Ralph, Joe, Walt, Caleb, Peter, Richard, John, Simon…”
“Is that all? Sheesh, I hope you swatted those pesky fellas away. None of them are worthy enough to touch a hair on her head,” Will exclaimed, but began thinking how pretty the hair on her hair was, beckoning a man to want to run his fingers through it.” He shook himself. “She can do better than the whole bunch.”
“The only one I considered is Robert. I figure he has some manners, says he is a Christian, and is a hard worker,” Jed said.
“But he doesn’t have a sterling reputation with the ladies, you know,” Will warned.
Jed sighed, “I know. That’s why I asked Eva her opinion. Of course she has no desire to encourage any of them. If I didn’t know better, I’d think her heart is attached elsewhere.”
“Really? Who?” Will asked surprised while Pete snorted back a laugh.
“What?” Will asked turning in his saddle to look at the foreman.
“Some things just can’t be explained. If a fella can’t figure it out, then he is stupider than a stump.” Pete laughed some more and was joined by Jed. “But she’s pretty enough to catch any man’s eye, that’s for sure and certain, even if she wants nothing to do with those fellas.”
Will was more confused than ever, but thoughts of the meal to come caused him to salivate already. Picturing Eva in her kitchen was a comfortable thought, that is until he was reminded of the vicious scratch on her cheek. He tensed and almost turned to go down his own road to his ranch in shame for what he caused, but continued to ride silently with his friends. They seemed to be holding back a secret he wasn’t privy too, but oh well. He had enough on his mind as it was.
As they neared the ranch house, the smell of a roast cooking wafted through the air as each man sniffed satisfactorily. Once inside, they could smell yeast rolls as well.
“I’m thinking of not letting my sister ever marry because I would miss her cooking too much,” Jed declared.
“You bet,” Pete added.
“Whoever marries her will have to become my best friend so I can always get an invite to their table,” Will said while the other two chuckled again. He tried to ignore them as Eva opened the door.
“Just in time! I’m ready to put the food on the table, y’all. Come on in and wash up.”
Will cringed when he saw her face. It wouldn’t diminish her good looks, but the remaining scar would always remind him of his bad decisions that allowed it to happen. He washed his face as well as his hands wishing once again that he was a better man.
They sat down in the dining room. Will ate his food hardly daring to glance at Eva. It pained him to see what Sybil had done. Eva was too sweet, too innocent, to lovely to be attacked like that. Then he smiled to himself with satisfaction knowing she had wrestled Sybil and pinned her on the ground.
“What’s so funny? You’re grinning like a toad who gulped a dragonfly?” Jed asked.
Will looked around. Eva had gone back into the kitchen to fetch a pie. “I was just thinking how she got Sybil down.”
Eva walked into the room only to see all the men grinning at her. She didn’t think it was just that she was bringing in a pie either. She couldn’t miss the admiring look Will gave her, which surprised her as well as making her stomach swirl. She bit her lip to keep from asking what they had been talking about. She was sure they’d been talking about her.
“Remind me never to mess with you, Miss Eva. I’m afraid you might wrestle me to the ground too,” Will grinned while the others groaned and shook their heads. He said, “What?”
Eva felt like throwing the pie in his face, but left in a snit going back to the kitchen. “Men! Stupid, stupid men!” she huffed under her breath.
“What did I say?” Will asked his friends.
“If you don’t know, you are too dense for me to explain it to you,” Pete stated then hummed his pleasure at the first bite of the peach pie with cream on it.
“You sure aren’t a smooth ladies’ man, Will. Your tongue gets you in more trouble than a mud-stuck cow. But did you really think that Eva wants you to remember her as the one who was in a cat fight with your spurned woman even if she won the match?”
“I don’t know, I guess. But if either of you was able to pin a man to the floor as the victor of a fight, you’d be proud as punch. So I just thought…” Will tried to explain but saw his friends weren’t buying into it.
“Will, Will, Will. You are a helpless case,” Jed said shaking his head while Pete guffawed some more. “Women aren’t proud as punch like a man to be reminded of a fight they did not invite, whether they won or lost.”
Eva did not appear again, so Will left saying, “Tell Eva how much I enjoyed her meal.” Then he rode towards home glumly. The last thing he wanted was to insult his friend’s sister and face Jed’s wrath.
Before he got too far, a buggy was churning up dust coming from town. Like a reoccurring nightmare, it was Sybil and her father.
“Will, stop right there!”
His horse was jittery, dancing around, much like his own heart. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Everything has changed now that Sybil has told me what you did. So face it like a man, and marry the girl.”
Will gulped and the whites of his eyes showed his fear. He just noticed the preacher in the back seat and the shotgun laid across Sybil’s father’s lap. “We need to go to the Double J Ranch. I won’t talk with you without witnesses.”
He turned his horse back the way he had come. He spurred him to a run leaving the banker’s buggy behind.
“Jed!” he hollered while bursting into the house.
Jed and Pete stepped out of his office frowning. Jed said, “What on earth? You look like you’ve been snake bit.”
“It’s worse than that.” He looked over his shoulder and heard the clatter of the approaching buggy. “It’s Sybil. She’s after me.”
“I thought we already had that out, and her father was sending her away in the morning.”
“I’m not sure what it’s about, but I have an idea that it is not good. He’s got a shotgun and a preacher with him.”
Eva hung back in the shadows from the kitchen where she was doing supper dishes. Her heart sank and her stomach churned as she knotted the dish towel in her hands.
Sybil and her father entered followed by the preacher. “Will, we only need to speak with you. I don’t think you want an audience for what I have to say.”
“These are my friends. Anything you want to say to me, you can say it in front of them.”
“Well, Sybil here has told me how you, umm, you forced yourself upon her. In fact she thinks she might be with child.”
“Well, I can state here and now with certainty that nothing like that ever happened, and if she is with child, the baby isn’t mine. I’ll swear to it on the preacher’s Bible.” Jed and Pete each stepped up to stand on either side of their friend.
Jed said, “Now,…has Sybil ever told you untruths in order to manipulate you into doing something? Seems like I remember the time when she accused the teacher of switching her while she claimed her innocence of pouring ink all over Eva’s hair. Didn’t you come marching to the school and confronting the poor lady while my sister had to go around with black streaks in her hair for months until it grew out. It was hard to believe Sybil was innocent when Eva knew good and well that your daughter had done it to her.”
“Well, this is more serious than a little ink on a girl’s hair.”
“It was a whole bottle. Neither Sybil nor you ever apologized. It was humiliating for my sister to go around like that for months.”
Pete spoke up, “Seems to me like Sybil likewise accused one of my cowboys of forcing unwanted kisses on her at a barn dance. However, I myself had just arrived when I saw her leading the man out of the light of the barn into the shadows behind it. I followed just to make sure nothing happened. And it didn’t because I ended it. Yet, you got all hot under the collar believing her accusations. If I had not been there, my cowboy would have been run out-of-town.”
“When do you say this happened, Sybil?” Will narrowed his eyes in fury challenging her.
“You know,” she replied smugly.
“No I don’t. You need to tell us.”
She seemed surprised that she had to back up her accusations with facts. “Well, I think it was…I remember exactly when it was. It was when you took me for a buggy ride.” She crossed her arms in defiance smiling like a clam.
“I don’t have a buggy, Sybil, as you well know. You always whined about it in fact, but it wasn’t something I felt I needed. And I have never borrowed your father’s or anyone else’s buggy.” He glared at her.
Her father began looking a little nervous. “When exactly did this happen, Sybil and where do you say he took you?”
She looked surprised that her father would question her. “Daddy, I already told you. He took me down by the river.” She looked nervously around. “It was after the Fourth of July’s town dance.”
Jed stepped up and bent over until he was nose to nose with the girl. “Will was with me that night, Miss Sybil. We had sick cows who had gotten into loco weed. Maybe you were eating the same, because all you have said is bogus.”
Sybil tried pouting. “Daddy, they are lying.”
Eva walked into the room. “I was in town that night. I saw you leave the dance and get into a buggy with Tom Fischer. I remember how I thought it strange since you were Will’s girlfriend.”
Will stepped over protectively in front of Eva in case that crazy woman decided to attack her again. He crossed his arms and looked like an impenetrable wall. “Whatever you say happened, Sybil, it wasn’t with me.”
Since everything else failed, Sybil screeched and burst into tears. “Daddy, you have to believe me! I’m pregnant with his child, and he needs to marry me and do right by me! They are all lying.”
The minister looked nervously around, but then gave a disgusted look towards the woman who was still loudly weeping. “Miss Sybil, you need to confess the darkness of your soul and get right with God.” But she only swatted him away knocking the Bible from his hands. It fell with a bang.
Instead, her father walked over to Will and put out his hand. “I find I owe you another apology for these terrible accusations, Will. As for you, Miss Eva, I’m sorry that my daughter has caused you trouble more than once. Indeed, Sybil will go live my sister back in Boston. Time will tell if she is truly with child. Sadly, right now I don’t believe anything my daughter tells me.”
The minister had picked up his Bible and was checking it over for crumpled pages when the banker asked, “Ready to go, preacher?” Sybil’s father grabbed his daughter’s arm while she wailed all the way out to the buggy. Undetoured, the father shoved her into the back seat while she was kicking and screaming. Shaking his head, he sadly waved and left.
Will sank into a chair with a whoosh. “My stars. That woman is crazy!”
“Insane,” Jed added.
“Deeply disturbed,” Pete said emphatically.
“Evil,” Eva stated. “She is a manipulative liar and has been for a long time.”
“I’m ashamed I ever believed her. I was snookered.”
“You let the wool be pulled over your eyes,” Pete nodded.
“She was crafty and malicious,” Jed stated.
“Deceptive,” Eva agreed. The Bible says we should be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. You are a softy, Will, and she used you. I should have told you that she was always bragging how she would marry the man with the largest spread in the county. Sybil was sure that once married, she could convince you to build her a big house in town.”
“I’m such a fool,” Will said with his head in his hands.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” Pete quoted. “Live and learn, Will, and ask God to give you discernment and wisdom.”
Jed glanced at his sister. “Don’t give up on all women just because you bit into a rotten one out of the whole barrel. You might miss a perfectly sweet one.”
“I can’t trust myself to know the difference. Nah, I’m through with women. I’ll never marry.” He never noticed that Eva left the room, but her brother and Pete shared a look.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Jed snarled. “You’re probably right. It’s obvious you can’t see what’s right in front of your face.”
“You have the brains of a gnat, Will,” Pete said disgustedly.
“I don’t know what you mean?” Will looked between his two best friends.
“I refuse to spell it out for you. You’re a good neighbor, a good cowboy, but have the sense of a goat.”
To a cowboy, being referred to as a goat was a low blow. The only thing lower was to be called as dumb as a sheep. “Hey, go easy on me, fellas.” He held his hat over his heart. “I almost got railroaded into a shotgun wedding with that, that unbroken killer bronco. I was sweating bullets for a while there. But if it hadn’t been for you guys, I would be lassoed and branded by now.”
“Actually, if it wasn’t for Eva, you might have been hog-tied and dragged off tonight.”
“Where is she?” Will said standing up and looking around.
“I don’t think she could stand to hear you moaning about your stupidity any more. I think I’ll have to let someone smarter court her, someone on the long list of those who have asked to come calling,” Jed sighed.
“Wait. Who are you talking about?”
“Sorry, but your name’s off the list. So, it doesn’t concern you.” Pete said with scorn.
“Wait, was my name on the list?” Will asked confusedly.
Pete snorted while Jed firmly answered, “On the top of the list, but no more.”
Will sank back down to his chair, arms on his knees and head bent, he ran his hands through his hair leaving it as wild as a wind-blown coyote. “You’re right, Jed. I’m not good enough for her. She needs someone better than me.”
Jed walked to the door and opened it for him. “Get out now before I throw your worthless hide out.”
“What?” Will sat up. “What did I do?”
His friend answered, “I don’t want to listen to any more “woe is me,” talk. Buck up or leave.”
Will stiffened his back and shoved his hat on his head. “I know when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to ask me twice.”
But it was Pete’s parting words that smarted the worst when he said, “You’re not good company until you grow a backbone and quit being spineless. You better open your eyes,cowboy, before it’s too late.” It confused him too. He had no idea what he meant about being too late.
Will rode home with the mully-grumps. He’d rather have the company of his cows than sit around and be insulted by his best friends, that was for sure and certain.
The next day when he rode the line of fence between his ranch and the Double J’s, he saw Eva out riding. She made a fine figure on a horse and would be quite a catch for whoever married her. That man would have to pass Jed’s gauntlet first, no doubt. He’d sure as shooting better hit the bullseye, to suit him as well, Jed pondered with gritted teeth. She deserved the best, he thought, but somehow that left him unsettled.
Sunday, he sat behind Pete and Jed and Eva. Usually he sat with them, but refused to do so, at least not while things were strained. He just plain did not feel comfortable. Will glanced over to see Sybil’s parents sitting together, but without their daughter. Good, he sighed. He hoped it meant Sybil was on her way to Boston.
But as the hymns were sung, he was captured by Eva’s pure voice. Then as the preacher expounded, his eyes kept straying to gaze at her shiny brown locks twisted into braids and rolled into a bun on her lovely neck. He’d seen her hair down once and it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen with its sheen like a waterfall.
Once, she glanced back and caught him staring but quickly turned around frowning. Will looked around him, especially towards the back where most of the single men huddled. He furrowed his eyebrows just thinking about any of them trying to court Miss Eva. Preposterous! You might as well try to hook up a thoroughbred with a mule. It would never work.
Will slumped down in his seat with his arms crossed. He was in no mood to listen. His head was filled with thoughts of punching all those galloots in the back pews right in the nose, every last one of them. They no more had thoughts of Scriptures in their heads, but were staring with cow eyes at Eva. He felt like a downright brawl right here in church would serve them right.
Will still held a grudge against the preacher anyway who had believed Sybil’s accusation against him right along with her father. He had been falsely accused, after all. Shouldn’t the preacher have known his character better than that? Instead he had been judged and found guilty until proven innocent. But that’s not how justice was suppose to work. Even he knew that. He should have been found innocent until proven guilty, for crying out loud!
It did not even register at first that people were standing up because church was over. When Will finally looked up, he saw a smirk on Jed’s face and perplexion on Eva’s. Somehow she looked paler than usual though in contrast her cheeks were stained bright pink. But he didn’t know who she was blushing about. Hopefully, it wasn’t because of one of those yahoos back there. He jumped up to walk behind her for her own protection. Will even put his hand on the small of her back territorily just to make sure they backed off. Several glared at him as he strutted past.
Once outside, he hung back until she angrily accused him of hovering like a horsefly.
“What?” he asked. “I just don’t like the herd of flea bitten cowboys vying for your attention.”
“I thought I already told you it was none of your concern, Will. You need to back off,” Jed drawled. “I can look after my own sister.”
Then he turned and shook Jimmy Johnson’s hand tp shake. Will couldn’t hear what the intruder said, but heard Jed loud and clear. “Sure come on over this afternoon. I’m sure Eva would like to go on a buggy ride.” Eva had turned bright pink all over her face.
Now that stuck in Will’s craw like crazy. Jimmy Johnson was a limp handed, buttoned up fop, good for nothing but standing behind his shop counter. His Eva would never be happy living here in town, would she?
He stomped off, leaped on his horse and galloped away. Jed better smarten up before he marries Eva off to the wrong man! Will wouldn’t stand for that.
Back at the ranch, Will stewed all through lunch. Suddenly he had a bright idea. Riding into town as fast as he could, he went to the livery and asked to rent a buggy.
“Well, Will, I only gots one buggy to rent and it’s already promised to Jimmy Johnson. I’m suspecting him to git here right ta bout now.”
“How about if I pay you double what you are asking? Do we have a deal?”
The old hostler grinned toothlessly, “You got a deal, partner!”
“But I didn’t say I would pay double for the horse, you understand.”
“Nope, same goes for the buggy horse as the buggy. If yours can’t be hitched, then you have to pay up double. No matter. Jimmy Johnson will be here soon enough.”
Since his mount had never pulled anything but a roped calf, Will also hired a buggy-trained nag, even if he did feel like he had been robbed. But Will could not hide a grin thinking it was worth it when he pulled out and saw Jimmy Johnson approaching out of the corner of his eye. He left the poor fellow mouth dropped open eating his dust.
The old nag perked up once out of town like it was remembering its freer days. She trotted right along.
When he pulled up, Eva came out with a timid smile which turned into a frown. “What are you doing here? Whose buggy is that anyway?”
“It doesn’t appear like Jimmy Johnson will make it today, so I thought you might still want to go for a ride.”
Jed came out on the porch and looked the buggy and nag over. “I do believe old man Crenshaw only has one buggy to rent. Looks like you beat Jimmy to it, am I right?”
Will scowled at him. “Maybe, but that doesn’t mean Miss Eva has to sit at home on such a fine day. Will you come with me, Eva? Please?” Will was nervously waiting hoping she would not spurn him outright. He climbed down, walked around the nag and offered her his hand to help her up into the buggy. She swatted it away and got up by herself and sat with her arms crossed staring straight ahead with a glare. He tipped his hat to Jed who was grinning like a guilty dog.
“Bring her back before dark, Will, or else.” Jed called.
Once they left her house, she asked without looking at him, “Why are you doing this, Will?”
Now that was a question he wasn’t sure he could answer since he didn’t quite know himself. He wiped a drip of sweat off his brow and told her truthfully, “I don’t rightly know, Eva. I just, well, I didn’t take it kindly that you’d accept that dandy’s suit. He’s below you, Eva.”
“What about you, Will? Are you trying to court me?”
“There again, I don’t rightly know. It just seemed prudent to nip that fellow’s attention in the bud.”
“Well, turn this buggy around, Will. You might as well take it back to Crenshaw’s stable, because I intend to be courted today. If not you, then let Jimmy Johnson come.”
“Now, Eva. Don’t be like that. You know we’ve always had a good time together.”
“If you mean when I was ten and you were twelve, then that’s a long time ago, Will. You said you’d never taken Sybil on a buggy ride, so why are you taking me? Be careful how you answer, otherwise, I must insist you take me home…” But before she could finish, Will kissed her, a spine tingling kind of kiss that tasted like more. The nag was happy to eat the grass on the side of the rode while they finished their kissing business.
Eva sat back and sighed. Her first kiss was from the man she most wanted it from and was more than she’d dreamed, but still she had to say, “You better not be playing with my affection, Will Comstock. Just remember, Jed’s looking out for me and won’t take kindly to it if you are.”
“I think my heart has always been yours, but I was too dumb a cowboy to know it. Why didn’t you tell me earlier and, I wouldn’t have had to be so jealous.”
“You were quite taken up with Sybil, if you remember.”
“That was the even dumber me. Right now I feel like this is the smartest thing I have ever done,” then he kissed her again.
“It was dusk when he brought her home. They hadn’t even driven the buggy past the line where his property butted up with the Double J’s. But they had sat there while the old nag pulled and chewed the tuffs of grass, as they talked about times past, times present, and even about a time in the future.
When he jumped out to help Eva down, he saw the smirk on Jed’s face.
Will threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest and proudly declared, “Just so you know, I am officially courting your sister, Jed, and there’s nothing you can do about it since she’s of age.”
“I’m just glad you came to your senses finally. I was beginning to wonder about you, but I can tell you are totally twitterpated,”
Pete sauntered out smiling like a frog at mosquito fest leaning up against a post. He added, “He’s smitten alright.”
“Who wouldn’t be,” Will stated while winking at Eva. “She’s the most beautiful and the sweetest gal in the county.” He liked to bring on her blush and was rewarded with one.
“You do know where a suit is heading towards, right ,Will?” Jed asked.
“It won’t be a shotgun wedding, that’s for sure,” he grinned. “I’ll go willingly whenever Eva says it’s time to walk the aisle and will stand proudly before the mourner’s bench and say my vows!”
Even Jed gaped, not to mention Pete as did the one whom he meant the proclamation for.
“Whoa, there buddy. There’s no hurry here.” Jed barked.
“There’s no need to wait either. I once was blind, but now I see, and I like what I see, the one who had been standing there all the time. Besides, it’s not as if Eva and I don’t know each other.”
“Jed looked at his shy sister. “Eva, do you want me to stop his fool lips from professing more…”
But she interrupted him and smiled sweetly at Will. “No thank you, Jed. I think I finally got him pinned and will hold him down until he cries “Marry me! All he has to say are those three little words.”
Will swallowed. He was in for a pinch and in for a pound now. There was no turning back, except for returning a rented buggy. “I’ll tell you right now, in front of your brother and Pete anybody else hanging around the barn so they can hear, “I love you, Eva. Always have and always will. God is love. and He’s just spilling it out all over me!”
Eva ran back down the steps and put her arms around her cowboy’s neck and kissed him good right there in front of God and all the cowboys who were whooping and hollering out by the barn.
Jed and Pete shook hands. “I won that bet,” Pete said.
“Fair and square,” Jed winked. “We knew he’d come around, but the bet was about how long it would take him. I must admit, I was beginning to doubt him there for awhile. But now we’re going to have to find us a cook as good as Eva when Will steals her away. We’re pretty spoiled, you know.”
“I hear you. As much as I will miss her, that was the crowning achievement of my life waking up that cowboy from the dead.”
“Yep, he wasn’t just blind, but acted like he was dead all, right. But I’m glad he came alive even if he took long enough.”