Western Fiction posted May 19, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
Robbie Cartwright, Part III, the little box

Nellie Jo, Chapter Five

by thaities, Rebecca V.

I am so organized, my plans work, but I still lose to Robbie each time… What's wrong?
Still puzzled and with no cease-fire in sight, I put the situation on the back burner. During breakfast I told Jesse, "Yesterday, Midnight and I found a meadow I'm interested in on the west of town. Hills surround it on three sides."

"I know the spot. It belongs to Old Man Hunter. He bought it from a friend of his and had planned to build on it before he had a heart attack. He might be willing to sell it to ya if ya talk nice."

"Is he the same man who comes in to buy pipe tobacco?"

"The same."

"That old geezer ran his hand down my spine three weeks ago. Nowadays I keep his tobacco brand right under the counter and keep the counter between us. I'm on the lookout for him each day. I don't want to offend a paying customer, but talk nice to him, my foot! Looks like there's no more hope for the meadow and me. Oh, well."

"Hold on now, little gal," Robbie drawled. "If ya talk nice, you're liable to get a marriage proposal, and the meadow thrown in as a weddin' gift."

I almost choked on my grits. I was furious at his joking insult. I couldn't help myself. "Keep ya comments to ya-self! I ain't no glamorous Southern Belle up for the pickin'! Here! Have some of Honeypie's down-home cookin'!" I threw my bowl of grits at him. He got a beard full. Bull's eye!
That sure wiped the gleam out of your teasing eye. Serves ya right. In the sweetest tone I could muster, I added, "Well, at least you caught the bowl, and it didn't break."

Both Jesse and Joanna were stunned at my sudden unexpected outburst. I didn't care. I didn't plan to apologize either, 'cause I wasn't the least bit sorry. Why lie on top of all my faults? So I just sat there, eyebrows raised, batting my eyes, looking innocent.

Robbie held my eyes, then stuck out his tongue, scooped up a tongue full of grits off his mustache, and slowly ate them. Lifting an eyebrow, he drawled, "Tasty."

Lost AGAIN! I hid what I was thinking and calmly buttered my biscuit and spread on blueberry jam. Robbie left to clean up, and Jesse went to get one of his clean shirts for him.

Joanna giggled. "You sure got Robbie!" she whispered. He was a little out of line…

The men returned to the table. Looking at me, Robbie said, "Now, that wasn't a nice thing to do. Ya hurt my jaw." He wiggled this lower jaw to emphasize his point.

I drawled, "Well, bless your po little pea-pickin' heart."

Turning toward Jesse, ignoring Robbie, I asked, "Next time Old Man Hunter comes in, could you see if he is interested in selling the meadow?"

"No problem. Well, speak of the Devil…" He got up to serve Hunter.

Finally Jesse returned. "Well," looking at Nellie Jo, "Hunter said he was watching you in the meadow, and thought how beautiful you were in that perfect spot. You're the only one he'd even consider allowing to be there. He said, 'If she won't marry me, then I'll give it to her when I die.' Looks like he is in love with you, Nellie Jo."

I was speechless, and feeling like I'd been chastised roundly.
My world is in a grand mess. What am I gonna do? I don't want ANY man in my life, young or old. I let out a deep sigh, got up, gathered the dirty dishes, and went to the kitchen without saying a word and not looking at anyone.

That evening under the stars Robbie appeared at my side. "I've a solution for today's trouble if ya wanna hear." He dug in his pocket and brought out a tiny black velvet box. Opening it I saw a beautiful ruby and diamond ring. "Wear my mother's ring and when Old Man Hunter sees it, he'll understand you are spoken for. Then he won't bother you, and you won't have to feel uncomfortable around him." I stopped and searched his face for more insult. I saw nothing. He took my left hand and slid the ring on. It fit perfectly. "Watch the magic tomorrow." Without another word, he turned my hand over, put the tiny box on my palm, turned around, and left.

The moon was bright, and the diamonds glimmered. I raised the ring to my cheek and thanked Robbie's mother.
This was a good solution, but am I committing myself to Robbie? No, I'm not! This is a temporary solution. That's all.

The following morning I kept the box with the ring in my pocket and only put the ring on when Old Man Hunter came in. I didn't have any desire to hear Joanna go haywire and put the cart before the horse. Robbie noticed the missing ring, smiled, but understood. It's so nice to exist in an understanding environment for a change. Hope it is not short lived…

Old Man Hunter came in mid-morning, and Jesse intercepted him. I welcomed Hunter with a few words and a smile. I continued arranging the new bolts of material that had arrived, no longer looking at Hunter. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I had the ring on and made sure it was very visible.

Afterwards Jesse said Old Man Hunter saw the ring, but said nothing.
I'm staying close to home from now on…well, until I get the traveling itch again.

I've had the ring two days, yesterday and today. It has protected me, but I feel it obligates me somehow. I can tell the difference when I take it off at night. When it's on, I feel protected, but when it's off I feel freedom.

Clutching the tiny black velvet box, I dreamed Midnight and I came to a fork in the road…



To be continued next Tuesday...

Characters as they appear or are mentioned:

Nellie Jo, 25
Red, Nellie Jo's oldest brother, 30
Johnny, Nellie Jo's, second oldest brother, 28
Miss Jenny, owns Miss Jenny�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s Boarding House
Old man, owner of the stable, cares for and/or sells horses in Big Timber, Montana
Midnight, black stallion Nellie Jo bought
Mr. Grayson, Big Timber gambler, 60's
Jesse Barns, owns the General Store in Independence, Montana, 34
Joanna Barns, Jesse's wife, 25
Baby Boy Sam, newborn son of Jesse and Joanna
Robbie Cartwright's filly
Robbie Cartwright, gunslinger, 32
Old Man Hunter, wealthy landowner, owns the meadow, 60's

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