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Authors: Fay Risner

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

Blue Bonnet (8 page)

BOOK: Blue Bonnet
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Leta grinned. “She has nothing to
do with what I was thinking. I've seen you escort your sister to
services for some time now. She might feel left out if you took me
instead. She's one of my best customers. I certainly don't want to
lose her business because of hard feelings.”

“Oh, Billie isn't like that. She
won't mind. She is the most independent soul I ever saw. She was
goin' to church by herself long before I started walkin' with her.
She wouldn't mind goin' alone as long as I tell her ahead of time.”
The thought suddenly occurred to Bat that Leta might feel uneasy
about being seen alone with him. Maybe she would like it better if
Billie was with them sort of like a chaperone. “But if it would
make ya feel any easier about goin' with me to church, we can pick
up Billie and go together.”

“I think that would be a good
idea,” Leta agreed. “Your sister is a good customer. She's a really
nice person. I admire her a lot, and I'd enjoy visiting with her
outside of here for a change.”

“I feel the same way about her
myself,” Bat said.

“In fact, if that bonnet is for
Mrs. Sommers, I wouldn't say a word to let the cat out of the bag.
I'd understand if you're trying to surprise her or someone else,”
Leta suggested, fishing for the name of the woman the bonnet was a
gift for.

“That's right kind of ya to keep
the bonnet a secret. That's the way I want it,” Bat evaded,
touching the brim of his hat as he backed to the door. “I best be
goin' now, Leta. See ya Sunday mornin'.”


Chapter Eight


Sunday went almost like any other
Sunday with his sister, Billie. Only this time he had a woman on
each arm. After church, Billie insisted on Leta coming home with
them for Sunday dinner. He had kind of thought she might invite
Leta for dinner, but if she hadn't, he would have taken Leta to the
hotel again for the Sunday meal.

That afternoon, Bat spent most of
his time listening to the women talk. They had a lot in common once
he thought about it. Billie was a business woman, too. As such, she
had made it clear she wasn't interested in finding a husband any
time soon. Reckon that must be the way Leta felt. She sure seemed
to be the same sort of independent woman his sister was.

On Monday Bat headed for the ranch
to spend the week, helping round up and sort cattle with his
cowboys. Some of the hands had been branding the calves.

The steers were sorted and drove
to the west pasture by the creek, and the heifers grazed along the
mountain range in the south pasture with the spring fed

That first evening when Bat
stopped work, he was glad he'd brought a bag of groceries with him.
He fried potatoes and threw in some eggs. After supper, he sat on
the porch in the cool evening air by himself, trying to relax away
the aches and pains. It was very clear he wasn't used to hard

He believed this to be the
quietest night he had ever known. It wasn't a bad thing, being
alone with his thoughts. He was just about too tired to talk if
someone had stopped to visit.

When darkness moved in, Bat went
inside and hunted the match box off the shelf by the cookstove. He
took the shade off the lamp in the parlor and rub the match head
fast against his jeans. The match whispered, and a flame flashed.
Once the wick caught, Bat turned the flame down and put the shade
back on.

In the lamp light, his shadow
shimmered on the dark wall behind him as he sat down in his rocking
chair. It was an automatic reflex for him to glance up to smile a
greeting at Hannah. The smile dried up on his face when he
remembered Hannah wasn't looking down on him anymore.

Billie had left a stack of Penny
Dreadfuls on the lamp table. He was surprised she didn't throw them
out with all the rest of the clutter when she was cleaning up. It
must have been because she knew the books belonged to him and not

He picked up the book on top.
Beadle's Dime Novels stuck out in big letters. The title was The
Seminole Chief. Bat chuckled. He remembered Hannah telling him the
Indian chief on the cover, waving his hands at three white men,
reminded her of the Indian she had the fight with all those years

The next one was Ted Strong's
Vigilantes. A good looking, well dressed cowboy in a red shirt was
in the top of a tree. Bat decided he'd have to read that book over
to find out why the man had to climb the tree. He'd forgot how the
story went.

Seth Jones, a frontier man in
buckskins, was the cover of another one of the books. Bat always
liked reading the wildly fantasized stories about the west. Even
though he knew he'd read the whole stack, a bit of time had passed.
Rereading the books would be like reading them for the first

Bat started with The Seminole
Chief and read until his eyes grew heavy. He realized he was going
to have to give up reading for the night. He turned the corner of
the page down to bookmark his place, figuring on starting where he
left off the next night.

The next evening, Bat had just
barely sat down in his rocker and opened the book when there was a
knock on the door.

He found Hunker standing on the

“Come on in, Hunker. What can I do
fer ya?” Bat asked.

Hunker shoved his hands into his
jeans pockets. “Ya got anythin' important you're doin' tonight,

“Nope, I'm just readin' one of the
Penny Dreadfuls I started a few years back is all. Why ya

“The boys and me were wonderin' if
ya would like to come over to the bunkhouse and play a game of
cards or checkers with us?”

“Much obliged for askin'. I
believe I'd enjoy bein' with ya boys a lot better than sittin' here
by myself. Let me get my hat.”

The two men walked into the
bunkhouse. An average sized, young man with rusty red hair, Jughead
Smith pointed to an empty chair next to him. “Want in on a poker
game, Boss?”

“Depends on how high the stakes

“If ya can afford to lose some
match sticks not high at all,” Hunker joked.

“I didn't bring a box of matches
with me,” Bat said.

“No problem, Boss,” Windy Grant, a
stout, muscle bound man, said. “We'll all spare ya a few of

A couple hours went by. First one
then the other of the cowhands yawned. Bat said, “Believe I better
hit the hay before I go to sleep on this table. What ya boys got
planned for tomorrow, Hunker?”

Mick and Baldy are going to cut
fire wood. The rest will be in the north range, finishin' up the
branding. A couple more days should about do it.”

“I reckon I can help with the
brandin'. I'll be ready to leave with ya boys in the mornin',” Bat

The next morning, Bat helped the
men round up the cow and calf pairs they needed to pen up in the
log corral. The men sorted the cows out of the corral and drove
them over the hill to graze. The protesting cows would get in the
way when the calves bawled if they weren't driven out of

Jughead had a fire going and the
branding irons heated up by the time Hunker had a calf roped by the
hind legs. Hunker dragged the calf out of the corral. A cowhand
shut the gate and waited.

Bat offered to hold the calf down
while Jughead branded its rump. He hunkered down over the calf with
a knee in its shoulder. Jughead touched the rump with the red hot
iron. The calf struggled, bucked and threw Bat off. He landed hard
on his back. Jughead put the iron back into the fire and helped Bat

“Are ya all right,

“Sure, Jughead. I'll be more
prepared for the next one,” Bat said sheepishly.

Jughead shrugged with a look that
said he questioned the wisdom of having an old man like Bat help

Bat figured he better do a heck of
a lot better if he wanted to keep his men's respect. For the
duration of the morning, he used all the brawn and determination he
could muster to hold down the struggling calves.

After the noon meal, Hunker told
Bat it was customary to change off with the hard jobs. Jake could
hold the calves and Bat could open and shut the corral

When the day's work was over
because the corral was empty, the cowhands quit for the day. Bat
rode close to his porch steps and dismounted.

Windy said, “I'll put yer horse
up, Boss. I'm goin' that way any how.”

“Much obliged,” Bat said.
Stiffness settled into his aching muscles. He stepped down from his
horse, tired enough to go right to bed.

“See ya in the mornin',” Windy
said, leading Blaze away.

Morning came too soon. Bat had
trouble getting out of bed, but after he moved around for awhile,
he limbered up some. When he stepped out on the porch, Blaze was
tied to the hitch rack in front of the house. Bat mounted and
joined the crew gathering at the barn.

When the cowboys started off they
headed west. Bat caught up with Hunker. “Why we goin' to the west

“We got some late born steers left
over from last summer we need to brand,” Hunker

The men gathered the herd up and
penned them in a makeshift log corral. Bat eyed the steers with a
grim determination. They were larger, stronger and twice as ornery
as the small calves he'd held down the day before. Not that he was
going to back away from his turn at throwing the steers

Windy roped a steer's back legs
and dragged him out of the corral over by the fire. As the steer
danced one way then the other with his front feet, Bat made a grab
and twisted the steer's neck. The steer shook Bat off, sending him
sailing a few feet away.

Bat got up, wiped the sweat off
his forehead with his shirt sleeve and headed back for more. Windy
nodded at Jughead then toward Bat. Not that Bat minded the help. If
he had that sucker down on the ground, he'd keep the big bruiser

Jughead dropped the iron back in
the fire. “Let me help ya, Boss.”

The young cowboy made it look so
easy when he grabbed the steer around the neck and twisted the calf
off its feet. Jughead held him down long enough for Bat to get his
knees in place on the calf's shoulders.

“Got him now, Boss?” Jughead
asked, picking up the red hot running iron.

“Sure I do.” Bat grinned as he
bragged, “He won't get away from me now.”

Jughead touched the steer's rump
with the running iron. The steer roared a protest as he buckled
back on himself, throwing Bat back with him. Bat's right leg
stretched out over the steer's rump and under the hot branding

Bat smelled burning cloth as hot
pain seared through his lower leg. The steer bucked again. He
scrambled to get off the steer and out of the way. He wasn't fast
enough. The steer rolled over on Bat, penning his legs to the
ground. Bat let out a howl. Windy backed his horse up and pulled
the steer away from Bat.

Next thing, Bat knew he woke up in
his house. He was stretched out on the settee in his parlor with
Hunker and Jughead leaning over him. Hunker's face looked worried
as he laid a wet compress on Bat's brand burn and pulled the cover
over him.

Jughead felt Bat's forehead with a
shaky hand. “Boss, ya awake?”

“Yip, but I wish I wasn't,” Bat

“I'd say he has a fever,” Jughead

“Boss, I sent Baldy for the
doctor,” Hunker said. “Ya need some tendin' to for that burn and
both yer legs are swelled up to yer knees. We need to know fer sure
ya don't have broken bones.”

“All right,” Bat said. “That mean
I have to stay put?”

Hunker didn't feel like smiling.
“I'm afraid ya don't have any choice.”

Bat doze off as Hunker was
speaking to him. When he woke, the house was dark except for the
low flamed lamp on the reading table. He swore he heard Billie's
voice in the kitchen. He figured he was dreaming and dozed back

The next time, Bat woke up Doc
Martin and Billie were staring down at him. Doc was shaking him on
the shoulder.

“What are ya two doin'

“Baldy stopped to tell me I might
be needed out here to help you,” Billie said. “He said you got in
to a fight with a steer, and you lost.”

“Funny,” Bat said, licking his
hot, cracked lips.

“You've been hurt,” Doc said. He
took his gold rim glasses off, folded them and stuffed them in his
suit coat pocket. “Hunker sent for me to check you out.”

“Well, how am I?” Bat

“You will live,” the doc cracked.
“Your fever is going down. You need to drink some water to keep
from dehydrating. Your legs are going to be stiff and sore for a
few days. Keep them elevated as much as possible until the swelling
goes down. I'm sending out a crutch from town for you to use for
support when you get up. I'll leave some sulfur for Billie to put
on the burn.” Doc, a gray haired distinguished man, winked at
Billie. “Bat, when you run a cattle ranch, you really should do a
better job of teaching your young cowhands what to brand. Let me
clue you in. It ain't the boss.”

BOOK: Blue Bonnet
13.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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