John reads about the Old West, lost treasure, lost gold mines, and amateur gold prospecting. He prospects in Arizona and photographs mines.
Jack had just ridden into town for his long-awaited reunion with his betrothed. Her name was Nell, and as his buddies were apt to say, she was easy-on-the-eyes.
Heading across the dirt street, the general store to the right and the saloon on the left, he saw dust in the distance. As he looked down the alley between the two businesses, he saw dust on the crest of the hills of Patagonia, Arizona. It rose like a light brown vapor. Too far to make out the nature of the disturbance, he continued. The hills were sparsely spotted with brush and cholla, the walls and blue sky framed the scene. It was a gorgeous day, and he took note.
Nell's Concord stagecoach with burgeoning rear boot arrived in front of the saloon. Jack was almost to the coach door when it opened. It startled the driver who quickly grabbed the door and completed its motion. Nell was on the coach step when she lifted her head and smiled at Jack. Her poofy hat, adorned with white snowy egret feathers and red spoonbill plumage, was hard to miss. At about a foot in height and 18 inches back, it swayed with the slightest movement. Her jet black wavy hair emanated from the hat revealing her Irish heritage. She was stunning, to say the least.
"On time, J! Hope you didn't have to hurry," she said with a whimsical tone.
An Interrupted Reunion
She was far from wordy. Jack's face brightened. There was no hiding his joy on that sun-toughened skin. His cheeks were tanned washboards, his eyes ice blue mints. The two turned, heading across to the livery stable where his horses were boarded. And as he turned, he peered down the alley and saw two distant riders, one with a white Mexican palm leaf straw hat, the other a black Stetson. Jack quickly recognized the riders approaching and nudged Nell encouragingly at the small of her back as they continued across the street.
The white hat's name was Domingo. The Stetson's was Sly. Jack rode with them for a brief time not far from Nogales. He had mixed feelings when he joined up, but had been frustrated trying to make the money he needed to finally buy a spread of his own. It was 1869, and finding a job was difficult. Work was limited, and everyone was spooked by the recession. Times were tight. People grudgingly held onto what
they had earned and had no need to hire. So Jack teamed up with the devious two. He was willing to risk his future for one questionable payday. That last installment to his savings would get him his ranch.
Inside the stable, Nell was a bit astonished.
"Are those the two you wrote about?" she asked.
Jack put his hand up. He was peering out the cracks in the stable doors watching as Domingo and Sly dismounted and took up residence behind a wagon. Barrels were stacked street-side for loading, unfortunately providing some cover.
Domingo was the type to be brave as long as someone else gave orders. With a couple buddies he felt himself emboldened. Taking his place near the front of the wagon and Sly at the back, they traded hand signals; a portent of things to come.
"Jack! Me and Domingo missed you after Nogales. We was wondering if you owned a ranch now?"
There was no sense engaging in conversation. All those two wanted was whatever Jack had. A shot rang out splintering the big planked doors. Straw dust floated through the stable. Dell fell to the ground behind the beam door frame. Normally a confident soul, her face was very blanched as if she were someone chronically anemic.
"Stay right there! Jack barked.
An hourglass-shaped knot in the door was somewhat displaced due to shrinkage of the surrounding soft wood. Putting his finger on the top of the knot, he pulled down. It toppled out and fell to the floor. The resulting hollow gave a pretty good view of the rear of the wagon.
Meanwhile, each of the two cretins across the street fired two more rounds through the double stable doors. This time splinters and straw dust blew through- the straw bits twisting and tumbling through the air. Nell had taken her hat off and was holding it in her hands. The feathers stuck out pointing toward Jack. It seemed to him a strange time to be concerned about personal appearances.
Placing his Winchester just barely on the ledge of the knot hole he had helped create, he could see the aft end of the wagon. Then he heard Nell. She was crawling across the floor toward a slight parting of the doors jostled by gunfire.
Jack Whispered with guarded force, "Get back!"
Nell paid no attention and pushed her feathery bouffant hat between the doors. Jack readied himself. But there was no violent response. Puzzled, he watched her gently wave the partially protruding hat up and down like a man bobbing a fishing rod. He spied more motion across the street. Aiming his repeater, Jack hoped to get a clear shot.
Holding her hat like a dowsing rod, Nell calmly, but slowly, walked through the door. There was total silence across the street. Once outside, she sauntered, gently fastening her hat and casting her hair back with her hand. Jack knew not what to think and wanted so badly to run outside.
However, when peering along his iron sites he saw a hint of a white forehead peek from behind the wagon. Jack's shot rang out. The forehead dropped from sight and an arm dangled between the crimson-spotted wagon spokes. Domingo scrambled to the alley like a raccoon chasing an insect and leapt upon his horse. He could be seen slapping his horse's hind quarter with his white straw hat.
Trying to put it all together, Jack felt perplexed. Nell's audaciousness and quick-thinking gave him a slight chill. As that passed, he stretched a smile.
She summoned him with her hand like a musician playing the harp. Grabbing his two quarter horses that had been boarded, he carefully walked street side and approached Nell. His Winchester was carried primed for use. Speeding up his pace, Jack wanted to kiss her, but on the verge of meeting her, she put her finger to his lower lip and said, "Let's go home, Jack."
It had been a day of great anticipation for both. The next moment they were both faced with the savage fury of past history and shameless greed. Yet, the day had finished on a positive note. Jack had a premonition - though the love of his life, his partner, had demonstrated her bravery and executed in an amazing way, he felt that it would not be the last time her physical beauty and cleverness would play a part in securing their future.
Nell was not one to skirt possibilities. Now they would cross Apache land and begin their life together.
© 2019 John R Wilsdon