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Best of Intentions

by Charles Langley

 

Chrissy was rolling out pie crusts on the kitchen worktable when Wilce came in the door. A flounced, frilly apron covered the front of the dark skirt that nearly reached the floor. The smile that usually lit up her pretty face was missing. There was a patch of flour on her cheek and although a scarf held her hair in a bun, a strand managed to fall across one eye. She blew it back with a puff of air from the corner of her mouth.

Wilce had seldom seen her in such a serious mood. He hesitated to tell her the bad news, wondering if he should let it wait for a better moment. As usual, he tossed his sombrero toward the peg on the wall, and, as usual, it missed and fell behind the box that held wood for the black iron kitchen stove.

"I'm really concerned about that order for mounts from the army," she said. "That Major promised to be back with the money a month ago. I borrowed most of the money to buy them, and I'll be in serious trouble if the deal falls through. Keeping them penned up eating the food I have for the regular herd will have me broke if it goes on too long."

"I stopped in to see the bank officer who arranged the deal," Wilce told her, realizing there would be no right time to tell her. "He says the army notified him they were taking advantage of the fine print to void the contract. Claims you overcharged them. Rancher in the next county gave them a better deal. The officer says you could probably win if you took it to court, but it would take so long and cost so much that you'd be broke before it was settled."

Chrissy stopped her work and just stood there, stunned by the news. Then she fitted and trimmed the crusts, crimped them, and slid the pies into the oven.

"Maybe you could break up the order and sell it off in small lots, before they eat you out of ranch and home." Wilce offered.

"In the Spring, maybe, but not now. No one would want to feed them through the Winter. They think because they're dealing with a woman they can get away with anything. Figure a man would get drunk and come hollering and shooting, but a woman has too much sense for that."

"Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Have too much sense to go hollering and shooting? I sure as hell wouldn't want to be on the receiving end if you did. They don't know how well you handle a six-gun."

"I'm great with a piece when aiming at targets, or coins tossed in the air. Only time I ever aimed at a man I was forced into it, and I'll never get it off my mind. He deserved what he got, but I still wish it hadn't happened."

"You figure you'd make out better with a better half helping to run the place?"

"I'm not out hunting a man, if that's what you mean. And I'm not sure he'd be the better half if I found him. Give me someone to blame except myself, is what I probably mean."

"How come you never got hitched? Good cook, purty as a picture, most common sense of any gal I ever knew."

"You noticed all that? Never commented about it before."

"Man's afraid of ruining a good friendship by trying to take it where it doesn't want to go."

"You're a pretty good catch yourself. You never came across anyone you wanted to marry?"

"Just one, and she didn't show any interest."

"Must have been some tough lady not to go for a handsome galoot like you. Just how would you expect her to act if she was to show interest?"

"Handsome? No way. I don't scare little children when they see me, but I don't claim to be a pretty boy. Think a man should be judged by what he does, not how he looks. If she wanted to get on his good side, she'd bake him pies, invite him to dinner. Maybe offer to sew on a button once in a while."

"I'm in the middle of baking green tomato pies. Been having three meals a day with a man for some time. You got any loose buttons on your duds?"

Wilce stood agape. He was looking at Chrissy in a new light.

"I'll be damned."

"Now what's the matter?"

"Would there be even a little bit of a chance you're interested in a former Sheriff who's been working with the horses this last while?"

"Be afraid to say, seein' how he hasn't given any sign of intention."

"Dammit, woman, I followed you half way across the country. Don't you think that shows intention?"

"You interested in marrying me?"

"Any time you say."

"This is serious business. Can't just rush into something. How about Saturday?"

"Friday might be better." He picked her up in his brawny arms and kissed her lips.

"I'll see if the preacher is free on Thursday." he told her.

"Double damn," she exploded. "I bet I let the pies get too brown."

The little church was filled with people who hadn't been in it since their own nuptials. Chrissy wore a plain but pretty white dress she had hidden in her hope chest since Wilce first come to California. Wilce was in a blue serge suit he had borrowed from the mayor, the only man in town who was near his size. He seemed to be restraining himself to keep from splitting the seams.

Preacher Jones went through the ritual with great care. He and Wilce sometimes shared memories and he wanted everything to be just right. When he came to the part where he asked if anyone had any reason why

 

the rites should not be blessed, a voice came from the back of the church.

"I do".

He looked out over the crowd to when Cole Jenson had risen to his feet.

"An what is that?"

"Wilce Gilley has got the best pair of matched pistols in the County. His sorrel can outrun any horse around. He's had nothing but good luck since he came to California. It jest ain't fair that he marries the best cook and prettiest gal in the whole territory." He had a broad grin from ear to ear."

The Preacher didn't appreciate the interruption.

"You set down, Cole Jenson," he said, "and shut up your foolishness, before I whomp you side of the head with a Hiram's Hymnal. There was any justice in the world I'd be standing there with that purty little lady and Wilce would just be best man. And you would still have a lovin' wife and four young 'uns to keep you out of the running. Now with the funning over, let's git back to the business of hitching.

There were no further interruptions to mar the wedding.

The to-do in the back room of the Longhorn Saloon was a loud affair. Slim Strothers and his fellow pickers made up in volume for what they lacked in finesse. Chrissy was pleased to find that Wilce could hold his own with the best of the dosie doe crowd and was whirled and twirled herself by every able man in the crowd. A table along one wall held vittles and bottles of spiritus frumenti cleverly hidden behind jugs of hard cider. Bob Willis carved a half side of beef to order, while guests selected accompaniments farther down the table. It was only with an effort that the bride and groom could pull themselves away from the celebration just before midnight and head for home.

As they approached the ranch house, Chrissy and Wilce saw a horse tied up to the hitching rail and a uniformed man sitting, half asleep, on the porch. He rose as they approached and touched his finger to the brim of his cap in greeting.

"Evening, Miss Wilkes, I have a few things for you..."

"Missus Gilley," she corrected, "I was married today."

"Congratulations. As I said, Missus Gilley, I have a few things for you. First, an abject apology for the way our Quartermaster treated your contract. Second, a new contract without the fine print, and third, a bank draft for payment for the horses, if you'll accept this deal. The horses that other dealer had were spavined misfits. Never would meet cavalry standards."

Chrissy's face beamed. Her greatest fear was being erased.

"We'll be pleased to renew the contract," she said, "but there'll be a two percent surcharge for the month's food they went through."

"Five percent," he said. "It's figured in the bank draft."

He touched his hat again, mounted and was on his way.

Wilce opened the door, picked up his new bride and carried her over the threshold to the frilly bedroom. He put her down and stepped back to admire his new treasure. Through the open window they could be hear the tinkle of bells.

"Looks like we have a shivaree crew outside. I better go greet them."

Chrissy pushed a stool over to the armoire, stepped up on it and retrieved her six-gun. "You take one step outside that door and I'll shoot you where it hurts most."

Wilce approached and took the gun from her hand, flipping out the cylinder. "No cartridges in it. How you going to shoot me?"

"Wasn't really going to shoot. Just wanted to keep you in here where you belong. Turn your back and look at the door."

He obeyed. She carefully pulled the white dress over her head and stepped out of her underclothes.

"You can look now."

Wilce turned to see her standing completely bare just before she slipped between the sheets. He hurriedly stripped, leaving the Mayor's suit in a pile on the floor , then put his hand behind the lamp chimney and blew

out the light. In bed he pulled her soft body to him.

"In case you haven't been listening to what I've tried to say, I love you more than anything I've ever known. I'm going to spend the rest of my life proving that to you."

She gave a slight gasp, then whispered, "I know. I know."

The sound of the shivaree crew could be heard fading away in the distance, on their way, empty handed, back to town.

Since returning to writing three years ago after a fifty-nine year hiatus, Charles Langley has written over one hundred short stories, poems, articles and columns for ezines, print magazines and anthologies. Gannett Newspapers recently carried a nationwide story about his reporting of the 1935 Hauptman kidnapping trial in Flemington, NJ.

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