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Authors: Fay Risner

Tags: #western adventure 1880, #western couple romance, #western oklahoma

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BOOK: Blue Bonnet
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“Oh, sorry about
that. I was just thinkin' about this mornin'. Ya know how ya said I
should check out the single women in town. Morgan Johnson's one of
them.”

“Yes, she sure is,” Billie agreed.
“Go on.”

“Well, Miss Johnson waited on me
when I bought staples at the Mercantile,” Bat said. “It occurred to
me, she has been in that store for a good part of her young life.
This was the first time I ever paid any attention to her. Ya know
what I mean?”

“Yes, I think so. Well, what did
you think of her?” Billie asked, watching him toy with the horse
lines.

“I reckon all the years I've done
business in that store I didn't noticed how reserved that woman is.
She's cool as thick ice on a branch in the winter and all business.
She's not one bit friendly,” Bat declared.

“That describes Morgan to a tee.
That has always been her personality with everyone. She isn't going
to change. She probably will get worse as she ages if that is
possible. I take it you would scratch her off your list if you had
one,” Billie said, grinning.

“That was actually what I thought
the minute I walked away from her,” Bat said
emphatically.

“Well, keep looking. There are
more fish in the creek to catch or should I just say in Dead
Horse?” Billie encouraged.

The next morning before he left
for the ranch, Bat entered the Mercantile and stopped at the Post
Office in the corner of the store.

Trim figured, neatly dressed Mary
Wagaman peered out at him from behind the bars. She'd been the post
master for some time. Funny how all he ever thought about when he
came to the post office was picking up his mail. He was always in a
hurry to get where he was headed. He hadn't paid a bit of attention
to Mrs. Wagaman as a prospective wife before.

Mary was a widower with two small
children. Bat heard somewhere her husband died before she moved to
town. No one knew how the man died. Mrs. Wagaman wasn't forth
coming with information about her past.

In fact, she didn't like to talk
about herself or her husband at all. That kept the rumors flying
about what kind of a man her husband might have been. Maybe he'd
been hung for a horse thief or shot during a stage coach hold
up.

Bat didn't go in for rumors and
gossip. All he knew was once in a while he saw the little Wagaman
children, a boy and girl, playing a game of jacks on the sidewalk
outside the Mercantile like that morning. They were polite, quiet
younguns that nodded at him when he walked by them. Mrs. Wagaman
was bringing them up right.

“How do, Mrs. Wagaman. Any mail
for me?” Bat asked.

“Let me see, Mr. Kayhill,” the
black haired woman, in her mid thirties, said in her gentle voice.
“Why yes. It's your lucky day. Your cubicle is full.” She gave him
a sweet smile as she handed him the mail.

“Much obliged,
Ma'am,” Bat said. “Say, ya have any mail for my sister, Billie. I'm
on my way over to her house. I could take her mail to her.”

Right then, the Wagaman children
ran inside, letting the store door slam behind them. They ran over
to the post office window. Jumping up and down to see their mother
behind the bars, they asked for money to buy candy. “Just a minute,
you two. You can see I'm busy. Be polite and tell Mr. Kayhill
hello, both of you.” She turned to look in Billie's cubicle and
pulled out a letter. “Here you go, Mr. Kayhill. Tell Billie hi for
me.” Bat barely got will do out of his mouth, before she turned her
attention from him and concentrated on her young children's
needs.

It was as plain as the nose on his
face that as young as those two were they would need their mama's
attention for a long time. He reckoned that's why she didn't seem
interested in any of the men in town. She didn't have time for
anyone but those younguns right now until she got them
raised.

Bat took his pocket watch out of
his jeans pocket and checked the time. He had better hurry before
it got any later. He needed to saddle his horse and get over to
Billie's.

Bat led Blaze out of the livery
stable. The loud creak of buggy wheels made him aware he better
check both ways before he crossed the street. He waved at Clyde
Longly, the town undertaker, coming at a good clip in his buggy.
Bat waited for Longly to go past before he led Blaze toward
Billie's house.

After he tied his horse to
Billie's buggy, Bat released the latch to Billie's picket fence
gate. When he pushed on the gate, the rusted hinges gave a loud
groan. That noise jogged his memory that he was going to grease
those hinges some time for his sister. One thing for sure, no
visitor would slip up on Billie when the gate made that kind of
noise.

Bat opened the screen door and
handed Billie her mail. “Ready to go.”

“Sure I am,” Billie said, handing
him the food basket. She glanced at the letter and tossed it on the
lamp table by the door.

When Bat went around his horse, he
stuffed his mail in a saddle bag to read later. He had the buggy
headed toward the ranch when Billie asked, “How's the wife hunting
going?”

“I sort of took a good luck at
Mrs. Wagaman at the post office this morning.”

“And?” Billie urged.

“She isn't so bad as young women
go, but she's a mother through and through,” Bat said, making the
comment sound like a complaint.

“Being a good mother is bad how?”
Billie asked, looking down her nose at him.

“That woman won't have time for a
husband until those younguns are growed. She spends most of her
time worryin' about them, and the rest takin' care of her job at
the post office. She ain't got a lick of time left for a
husband.”

“I see. So in your search for a
wife, you want to make sure not to pick one young enough to have
more children, I guess,” Billie surmised.

“Yip, ya hit the nail on the head.
That's what I'm sayin',” Bat said adamantly. “I'm too old now to be
a daddy for any younguns, mine or any woman's. I like the peace and
quiet that comes from not havin' younguns under foot.”

“Well, it has just been two days
since you started looking for a wife. Give it time. Someone will
come along that will make your heart beat fast and knock your socks
off when you look at her,” Billie said, trying not to
smile.

Bat spared a curious look at his
sister. “Is that how I will know when I find the right
woman?”

“Oh well, the symptoms are not
always the same for each person. You will just have to figure out
yours when the time comes,” Billie said.

“Fine sister ya are. You're sure
not much help,” Bat growled.

Billie looked down her nose
sternly at him. “There's nothing I know of that says a sister has
to be so helpful to her brother that she will pick a wife for him.
I'm cleaning your house, and that's my limit.”

Bat chuckled. That broke Billie
up, too.

“Bat, I think I'll haul Hannah's
clothes over to Ellen Withman this afternoon so I'll be gone for a
spell.”

“Want me to go along with
ya?”

“That won't be necessary if you're
busy. I just wanted you to know where I disappeared to is all,”
Billie said. “Unless you just want to ride along to be
going.”

“Yip, I think I
do,” Bat said.

It was several miles across his
ranch to the Withman place. As bad as he hated helping Billie cart
off Hannah's belongings, he didn't want Billie that far from the
ranch house alone.

That afternoon, Bat helped Billie
load boxes into the back of the buggy. About two hours later, he
drove up by the Withman house and parked. The porch roof leaned on
one end, because the porch post had rotted away. The rusted tin
roof wasn't leak proof anymore if it ever had been. “Sure ain't
much of a house for all them younguns to call home,” Bat
stated.

Ellen came out on the porch,
wiping her hands on her dirty apron. Six children from a year on up
filed out behind her and eyed the strangers. “Howdy, Miss Billie,
Mr. Bat. What kin I do fer ya?”

Billie and Bat climbed out of the
buggy. Billie walked over to the edge of the porch. “My brother is
cleaning his house out. He's looking for a place to go with the
clothes that belonged to his late wife, and I thought of you. Could
you use them, Ellen? We sure hate to see nice clothes go to
waste.”

Tears came to Ellen's eyes. “My
lands, I never expected such a gift. I'd be right honored to cept
Miss Hannah's clothes. Much obliged, Mr. Bat.”

Bat and Billie picked up a box and
brought them to the porch. Ellen said, “Seth, you and Oscar go
fetch the other boxes. Don't make our company do all the
work.”

Two tow headed boys, around twelve
and thirteen, sprinted off the porch and retrieved the
boxes.

Bat turned to see what the ruckus
was beside the house. Two spotted mongrels, growling at each other,
pulled a red and white cowhide into sight. The dogs quarreled at
each other to protect their share of the hide.

While the younguns carried the
boxes in the house for Ellen, Seth raced off the porch and picked
up a large stick. He got close enough to strike the closest dog on
the back and swiped at the other as they raced back out of sight.
He took off after them, switching his stick in the air like a
whip.

Out of curiosity, Bat toed the cow
hide until he had the rump rolled up. The brand was Bar BK. He
walked back to the buggy to stand by Billie and waited for Ellen to
come out to say good bye.

Once they were on their way back
to the ranch, Billie asked, “You didn't look too happy about that
cowhide. What was the brand?”

“Mine,” Bat snapped.

“Figured as much from the look on
your face,” Billie said, studying her hands in her lap. “What are
you going to do about it?”

“I cain't take food out of the
mouth of all them younguns,” he growled. “Besides, I won't miss one
beef now and then.”

“That's why I love you, brother,”
Billie said, patting his arm.

“Ya wouldn't
feel that way about me if ya knew what I was thinkin' when I saw my
beef hide shucked out and layin' on the ground back there,” Bat
said, trying not to grin.

On Sunday morning as with most
other Sunday mornings, Bat walked over to Billie's house so they
could walk to church together.

The Sunday routine usually gave
them a chance to talk, but there wasn't much new to discuss that
morning since they had seen each other every day that
week.

“Good day, isn't it?” Bat
mentioned.

“Fine day to give thanks to the
Lord,” Billie agreed.

As they walked by Mrs. Petermier's
house two doors away from Billie's, her large black dog rose from
his resting place in the shadows. He growled at them.

“Mercy, I am always glad that
woman has her yard fenced in when that dog acts up,” Billie said,
patting her chest.

“He sure sounds as if he means
business,” Bat agreed.

Bat and Billie always sat in a pew
middle ways of the church and right behind Sarah Tilly. Bat's two
daughters sat on the other side of Billie.

Billie caught Bat's eyes and
wavered a finger at Sarah Tilly's back.

Bat mostly got his best look at
that young woman from behind at church on Sundays. Her golden hair
was always in a tight knot on the back of her neck, resting on the
lacy collar of her prim and proper checkered dress.

Miss Tilly was the schoolmarm in
Dead Horse. She had been for the last two years and was well liked
by the students and their parents. If he was marking younger women
off his imaginary list, Sarah Tilly would be marked off in a hurry.
As well as she liked her teaching job, it wasn't likely she'd move
to the ranch with an old man, such as him, to become a rancher's
wife.

At his age, he knew he shouldn’t
be so particular, but most of the available women in Dead Horse
didn’t strike him as wife material. Not to his liking for settling
down with at any rate. They might do quite well for some other man.
When he compared the prospective females in town to his late wife,
he just couldn’t see being happy with any of the
choices.

After church, Bat walked Billie
home like always. He sat at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of
warmed over coffee while she fixed dinner.

“With a little suggesting from me,
you checked out Sarah Tilly this morning in church. Any notions
about her?” Billie asked as she stirred fried potatoes in a
sizzling cast iron skillet.

“None at all. I'm not goin' to try
to strike up a conversation with her. As pretty as she is, Miss
Tilly is way too young for me and bound to have half the young men
in the county after her already. I ain't no match for that kind of
competition.”

“Oh, that's right. You weren't
going to choose a woman young enough to bare children,” Billie said
as she grinned to herself.

Bat shifted uncomfortably in the
chair as he joked, “Especially with one as young as the schoolmarm.
She has a lot more energy right now than I've got left in me. I'd
rather not have a heart attack right after I took me a bride
home.”

BOOK: Blue Bonnet
2.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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