My Weddin' Day
By Thomas A. Rice
Had I known Carolina was Henry Kaufman’s girl I never, ever would have asked her to marry me. I mean, that is just not done – some might even call it a shooting matter. Especially when you consider that Henry is a little on the hot side, and a gunslinger to boot.
The bearer of this tragic news, Tad Johnson, seemed to be taking great care in reminding me of Henry’s exploits. “You know,” he continued, “They found that new feller, Darby somethin’, out in the desert by a waterin’ hole gutshot and bled to death. Folks say Henry had showed up again the day before with all sorts of money - as usual.” He looked at me all apologetically, kind of like how I imagined a buzzard would look at dinner halfway through, then went on. “Now, I ain’t sayin he was responsible - nobody’s willin to say that out loud - but it always seems that when someone dies mysterious-like around here, Henry shows up with money. Am I wrong?”
He glanced at me, looking, I guess to see if he had gotten to me yet.
My mouth was dry, I felt a sudden need to relieve myself, and my hair was just dying to get itched, but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing just how nervous I was, so I determined to roll a smoke like nothing was bothering me. Unfortunately, my left hand twitched and I spilled the tobacco all over my chest and boardwalk.
Tad guffawed and slapped my back.
“Don’t worry partner,” he laughed. "I'll back ya up. From about a hunnert feet, but I’ll be there by golly!
He stood up and swaggered around the corner of the building talking to himself, heading, I supposed, back to the saloon. Tad was a good man, you understand, but he liked to gulp his lunch, If you know what I mean, and it kind of spoiled his brains. In a word, he was nuts. It was nice of him to take time out from his swallowin’ to come tell me about Henry but I wasn’t sure what I could do about it.
And here I was, dressed like a galoot in my wedding day rig.
I didn’t fancy Henry putting a couple of holes in my outfit, especially with me in it. Brushing the tobacco off my chest, I eased myself up out of my chair and stepped to the edge of the walk. Looking south down main street to the Baptist church, which was planted squarely in the middle of the road at the end of the street, I could see Carolina’s family purtying up the church and I imagined her in there already, primping and pleating herself, just about ready for the ceremony. It made me wish my folks were alive to see this. My pocket watch read nine after two, one hour to go to the wedding. I only hoped I would live that long.
Of course, real life usually doesn’t care what you wish for.
“John Kenny!” A mangy voice called out from off down the street. “Step out here you woman-stealer!” Henry stalked out into the street, halfway between me and the church. “I see you, ya old-” and I won’t dignify the rest of his sentence with immortality. Suffice it to say, he started cussin’ me up and down like I was some tinhorn stepped on his shoe, and he waved me out onto the street so’s he could start shooting at me.
I thought about that for a minute, before I replied.
“Hold on a moment, Henry. I’m not wearing my gun! I’ll be out in five minutes. Then we can finish this discussion in a proper manner. No one, and I do mean no one, Henry, is going to talk to me like that!”
Pretty good, I thought, turning back into my hardware store. My voice didn’t waver one bit. Henry may not even know I'm about ready to wet my britches. I started rummaging through my shop looking for my gun; I hadn’t used it for a year or so.
In fact, I got to thinking, the last time I had even worn the thing was in the fall, when ten of us went out on a posse looking for a cow thief. We did not find him, but the stealing came to a halt, which was good.
I found my gun stuck down in the barrel where I keep my shotgun and I loaded it up from a fresh carton of bullets off the shelf: no misfires for me! If I died, there was no use worrying about the store now, was there, so I just opened that new box right up and shoveled the bullets into my pocket. I carefully strapped the holster on.
I removed my coat then, because I didn't want anything obstructing the gun. Not that it would do much good. I had never drawn on a man before, you see. And he had. Lots of times. Gathering up my courage as best I could, I strolled out the door, across the walk and down into the street.
I will never forget the sun shining down on me, the heat striking me, a gentle breeze slipping through my shirt. My coat draping magically over a hitching post. Did I put that there? Maybe some people's life flashes before them near death, but for me, I just saw the moment. It was engraved upon my memory in detail. People appearing from nowhere to stand in alleys and doorways. A dog barking, a boy grabbing the dog and dragging him back. A horse snorting. And Henry, standing there like the devil himself, legs spread, both hands hanging low over his two six-guns, glaring at me.
Even from this distance I could see the hate in his eyes. And I knew. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew I was dead. There was just no way out for me. So I walked towards him, closing the gap,
praying to God for a miracle, that Henry would miss or let me draw first. My prayer worked, but not in the way that I intended.
I saw her first, just over his shoulder, riding hard down on him. Her wedding dress was flying out behind her, giving her the look of an angel of death. Such was his hate, such was his concentratin' that Henry didn't even hear the horse's hooves beating down that street, leastways not until she was upon him. He turned just in time to get shouldered full in the chest by Carolina's horse. Her pa's horse, rather. A big old gray stallion, and it was rearin' for action.
The jarring impact had flung Henry almost a dozen feet through the air before landing in a crumpled heap off to one side and about twenty feet from me. Carolina reined in hard as the dust settled about the three of us. Henry tried gamely to stand but his body wasn't cooperating none. So he just sat there for a moment, gasping, spitting blood and dust, before he looked up at her and said, "But, Carolina, yer my girl!"
It sounded so remorseful, so pathetic, I almost felt sorry for the guy before I remembered that Henry was about to shoot me full'o more holes than a pound of fancy cheese.
Carolina didn't say a word, just drew her daddy's double-barreled scatter-gun from it's scabbard, pointed it near Henry's feet and blew a hole in the street.
Henry jumped a mile and I must say I was right up there with him, but she just sat there for a moment, contemplatin'. Finally, she replied to him, "Henry, for the last time, I'm not your girl. I kissed you once, yes, but that was a mistake and I told you so. Several times. You don't seem to be getting the point. Now, I'm trying to decide whether or not to shoot you down, right here, right now. But it's my wedding day, and I don't really want to kill a man on this holy occasion. If I were to think you were never going to bother us again, I'd be tempted to let you walk. But I don't think you can leave us alone, can you, Henry?" And she aimed the scattergun at his chest.
"No! Wait! I'll leave ya alone! Really! No problem, Carolina." Amazingly, he was standing up now, backing away - well, limping away - his guns lying ignored in the dirt.
The shotgun followed him resolutely as he half limped, half staggered down the street, all fight gone out of him like a newborn calf. As he disappeared the gun shifted, surprisingly, to me.
"What do you think you're doing, fighting on our wedding day?" She demanded.
"Sweetheart," I drawled, in my best Colorado courtin’ voice, "I have always said you were a beautiful woman. But never ever, and I do mean ever, have you looked purtier to me than you do right now."
"Well," she said, "git up to the church as fast as you can, we got ourselves a wedding to attend."
She turned Old Gray to ride back but that was when Tad let out a wild "Yeeehhaaaaaahh!" and stood up from his hiding place atop my roof, waving his rifle and jumping all around like a crazed bandido.
"You know," she continued, as she leaned down and whispered in my ear, "That fellow's a little bit off, don't you think?"
I just slapped Old Gray's flank and walked over to my jacket.
That was my weddin' day, well most of it, anyway, and as exciting as it was, it doesn't hold a candle to our honeymoon. But that is another story, and it's one you'll not be hearing from me!