The Lady Wore Pants
By Denise M. Clark
It didn’t look as if the mob cared they were hanging the wrong person. As a matter of fact, they seemed completely oblivious to everything but the rope being thrown over the rafter of the ancient, dilapidated barn. Men, women and children crowded into every available space, elbowing neighbors, stomping on feet, unmindful of voiced protests or dirty looks. They stared at her face, obviously unaware that she was indeed a she, soiled black hair plastered to her head resulting from a combination of dirt, dried blood and sweat… sweat caused by a gut-wrenching fear of hanging, not the oppressive heat that permeated every inch of the place.
“Come on’, Angus!” one impatient bystander complained, “Hurry up, will ya? I got work ta do in here!”
“Aw, hang onto your hat, Sikes,” Sheriff Angus McGee replied with a grin, “We all know you ain’t that interested in your chores—“
Guffaws broke through the massed crowd, but Sandy was not amused in the least. The so-called sheriff, and she used the term lightly, approached the chair upon which she stood, the rope still swinging back and forth in front of her eyes like the pendulum of the grandfather clock in the lobby of Sutter’s Hotel, where she had been drug from less than fifteen minutes ago. Having just set foot on the top stair of the second floor on her way to a much anticipated breakfast of fried steak and eggs, no one had been more surprised than she when the sheriff and three deputies had climbed the stairs and abruptly informed her she was under arrest for horse stealing.
Garbed in dungarees, flannel shirt and large leather vest that hung nearly to her thighs, she knew instantly that she had been mistaken for a boy, and a thieving one at that. When she opened her mouth to protest, one of the deputies had closed it for her with a blunt, hard-knuckled fist. Enraged at the treatment, Sandy had retaliated by kicking the nearest deputy in the shins with a steel-tipped boot, for which she was rewarded with a rough shove that propelled her down the stairs the hard way, her head striking the bottom step with a resounding thud that caused even the hotel manager to cringe.
Lord, she prayed, if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll try to act more like a lady! I’ll even wear… she swallowed hard, then hardened her resolve. … yes, I’ll even wear a dress… at least one day a week…and I’ll bathe, too! At least… twice a month!
“Come on, Angus!” came another shout. “Get it over with! What ‘cha lolly gaggin’ around for?”
The sheriff stepped onto a keg of gunpowder beside the chair and grabbed the swinging noose.
“Wait!” she croaked. Eyes wide with horror, she watched the noose drop over her head and settle heavily onto her shoulders before it was tightened snug against her throat, the hemp scratching her tender though dirty skin. “I didn’t—“
She was ignored. The sheriff adjusted the rope so the knot fit more tightly against the back of her neck. Okay, so maybe her husband’s demands weren’t so unreasonable after all! Twice a week, Lord, she silently pleaded; I’ll wear a dress twice a week! Oh, why hadn’t she listened when she had the chance? Why did she always go off half-cocked, why did she never learn that her temper would some day get the best of her?
“Got any last words?” the sheriff demanded, eyes on a level with hers.
“Yes!” she gasped. “I didn’t steal any horse—“
“I got a witness that says you did,” he replied.
Okay Lord, once a week! I’ll bathe once a week! Where’s Jarrod? Where is he? He’s always around when I don’t need him, and now that I do, he’s nowhere to be found!
“Let me see him!” she demanded. “My name’s Sandy—“
“I don’t really care what your name is, boy, I gotta—“
“I ain’t—I’m not a boy!” she cried.
The crowd grew silent. Eyes narrowed and frowns appeared. A nervous cough broke through the silence.
“I guess you’re just gonna have to verify that, Sheriff,” came a voice from the mob.
“I can—“ Sandy started, but a wordless glare from the sheriff stopped her.
Hands bound behind her back, she was unable to prevent the man from reaching out and placing his hands around her chest. Her face flamed with heat, but the man just grinned and shook his head. “Ain’t no gal,” he declared.
Angry voices rose over shocked gasps. Sandy’s eyes widened, and though her face felt like a furnace, she spoke up. “I swear! I—I got binding—“
The sheriff spun toward her again, expression angry and impatient. “You want ta get hung naked, it makes no nevermind to me.”
He reached for her shirtfront, and despite her mortification, she thought perhaps this was the only way to save herself.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” came another voice from the crowd.
Sandy’s knees weakened with relief when she recognized Jarrod’s voice, harsh and angry though it was. “Jarrod! Tell ‘em I ain’t—I’m not—“
Her husband pushed his way through the crowd, his tall, lanky form coated with a fine coat of dust from a night of obviously hard riding. He glanced up at her, smirked and shook his head, then turned toward the sheriff. He jerked his thumb in her direction. “Her name’s Sandy Grey… she’s my wife.”
The crowd released a collective gasp as the sheriff suspiciously eyed the both of them. “Can you prove that?” he demanded.
Jarrod removed his hat and brushed dust from his hair, revealing a thin streak of gray running from his forehead to his right ear. He gestured to it. “See that?” He glanced around as the crowd wordlessly nodded, then again pointed in her direction. “She done that. In five months, three weeks, two days and,” he shrugged, “a number of hours.”
The sheriff scowled. “That ain’t no proof.”
Jarrod smiled. “Oh, I got more…untie her.”
The sheriff seemed loath to acquiesce at first, but apparent curiosity got the best of him. He warily pulled a jackknife from his front pocket, opened it, and began to tug on the rope binding Sandy’s hands together. Her fingers tingled after the ropes were sliced and she brought them gingerly in front of her, gently rubbing circulation back into them before Jarrod stopped the motion by grabbing her left hand.
“See that ring on her finger?” he asked the crowd at large. Again silent nods. “I put it there. All by myself.” He shook his head ruefully. “It seemed a good idea at the time,” he sighed, “but now….”
Sandy tried hard to keep her mouth shut, but as usual, failed. “Don’t act so—“
Jarrod dropped her hand and jabbed his finger toward her face. “Not a word!”
With a mutinous frown, she clamped her mouth shut. What was he all upset about? She was the one with a rope around her neck!
Despite his obvious anger, which was more than apparent to her by his tightly clenched fist, Sandy nevertheless noticed his calm features and for the first time regretted her rash actions of the previous evening. Jarrod really did try to be patient and understanding, and perhaps she did occasionally push him to his limit, but he really had no right to demand she dress or act a certain way now that they were married, especially since he had not seemed to mind the way she dressed or acted before that volatile event.
The sheriff glanced from one to the other. “I have a witness that claims he saw her steal a horse last night—“
“I already have a horse—“ she began.
“Hush,” Jarrod growled. Shaking his head, he glanced at his wife. “She may be a hellion and a thorn in my side, but she didn’t steal no horse. Like she said, she’s already got one, stabled over at Druther’s Corral. Go check if you want, the brand is mine, a Rocking G. There’s two there now, hers an’ mine.”
“That’s true, sheriff,” another voice piped up, “I stabled her horse last night just before nine… her mare’s got a Rocking G brand.”
The sheriff groaned and the crowd seemed to realize at that moment that there would be no hanging. They began to disperse, some grumbling low under their breath as the sheriff loosened the noose around Sandy’s neck and pulled it over her head. She watched silently, though her knees trembled with relief and the corner of her lip began to twitch suspiciously.
“Sorry ‘bout the mistake, lady,” the sheriff mumbled with a lazy shrug.
Sandy stared at him. He was sorry? She instantly erupted. “You almost hanged me!” she sputtered.
The sheriff didn’t even blink.
“Get down off of that chair,” Jarrod ordered.
For once, she instantly obeyed, her entire body limp with an odd sensation. Relief, she supposed. What would have happened if Jarrod hadn’t arrived when he had? Her heart pounded as she glanced up at her husband with a wan smile, causing him to shake his head, grin, then pull her into his warm embrace. She heard the steady thump of his heartbeat, inhaled the familiar scent of horse, sweat and mesquite, and smiled with content until she recalled her rash promises. She sighed deeply and then muttered into his shirtfront. “Would you mind if we stopped at the Mercantile on our way out of town? I need … I need some dress material.”
“Sure thing,” Jarrod agreed, amusement evident in his tone. “Whatever you want, darlin’, whatever you want.”
Fortunately, Sandy never saw the wink and nod her husband gave the sheriff, nor did she notice the gold coin that passed from one hand to the other behind her back. Lucky Jarrod.