Read Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories Online

Authors: Elisabeth Grace Foley

Tags: #western, #old west, #westerns, #western fiction, #gunfighter, #ranch fiction, #western short stories, #western short story collection, #gunfighters in the old west, #historical fiction short stories

Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories

BOOK: Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories
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Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories

by Elisabeth Grace Foley

 

Cover design by
J.
Simmons

Formatting by
Second Sentence Press

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please
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this author.

 

Copyright © 2015 Elisabeth Grace Foley

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Single-Handed

The Rush at Mattie
Arnold’s

A Search For Truth

The Mustanger’s Bride

Room Service

Wanderlust Creek

An excerpt from
Left-Hand Kelly

An excerpt from
Corral Nocturne

About the Author

 

Single-Handed

 

The black horse, dust-stained and
travel-weary, came up the street at a walk, putting one foot slowly
in front of the other. The man on the horse did not turn his eyes
to the side; they looked straight ahead, dark and cool under the
flat-brimmed black hat that shaded his face. Nevertheless he was
aware of the excited pantomime of conversation between the two
ragged old men sitting up on the boardwalk in front of the saloon,
saw them rise and scurry inside. He did not need to look. The same
old men congregated on the porches of every town he rode
into—sometimes two, sometimes three; the faces were different, but
they all belonged to the same gossips’ guild. He knew the
oft-played scene as well as if he were always there to witness it
when they came puffing into the bar to spill the news that Vern
Lennox was in town and something was bound to happen.

Frequently, nothing happened. But it was a
field-day for the gossips in any case, for there were always a few
choice stories from other times to rehash (three-quarters
embroidery by the narrator, likely as not), and these called up the
memory of others, and before long it was dusk and time to go
home.

Vern Lennox turned his horse aside to the
hitching rail and dismounted. He looped the reins about the rail,
letting his left hand do most of the work, and then he stood
straight, putting his shoulders back slightly to stretch muscles
cramped from long hours in the saddle, while his eyes roved over
the street with an expression of satisfaction nearest to that with
which a man regards water after a long and dry journey. A town like
any other, but the only one that could call up this expression on
his face. If a man’s home town is the place where he spends the
greatest percentage of his time, this one qualified. Vern Lennox
had quietly possessed it as his own long since. It was his by
virtue of the fact that he had gone out from it in the days before
anybody paid any attention to him, and that every now and then he
came back to it for no good reason except that he wanted to.

That percentage of time he spent here was
small enough; for more than five years his life had been one of
continuous travel. He had been a Texas Ranger for a short time, a
deputy marshal more briefly still, but he preferred to work
independently. No one dared to call him a bounty-hunter, to his
face or behind his back, but the apprehension of criminals was his
profession. Sometimes it paid and sometimes it did not.

He did not go into the hotel barroom or the
saloon on Main Street, but went, as was his custom, to the dim,
low-roofed adobe around the corner, a sleepy little place that
never saw much business except on Saturday nights. It was at the
bar of this establishment that Judge Macklin, knowing his habits,
found him five minutes later.

“Well, Vern!” he said, waving an informal
salute with the arm over which his cane hung. The Judge, a
character of such long standing in the town that his antecedents
were blurred in typically uncurious memories, was always
immaculately clad in gray and moved with the same brisk,
undisturbed assurance in every situation and setting. “I heard you
were back. Buy you a drink?”

“No thanks, one’s enough for me,” said Vern,
setting down his empty glass and observing the effect of a single
dusty ray of sunlight from the window cast through it.

The Judge promptly returned his purse to the
pocket it had been coming out of, content not to lessen its weight.
He knew Vern of old and there was no possibility of giving or
taking offense between them. “I won’t ask you what you’re here
for,” he said, “because you always say ‘nothing’, but I suppose I
can ask what you’ve been doing since I saw you last.”

Vern grinned slightly, but with seeming
effort. “Nothing.”

“Come, Vern!” said Macklin, laughing. “Don’t
sport with my intelligence.”

“Well, you take me at my word, don’t you?”
said Vern. He spread both hands before him on the counter and
looked at them, and glanced at the Judge. “Would you believe me if
I told you straight that I’d spent the last few months—close to
three months—doing absolutely nothing?”

The Judge was still chuckling. “Sure I’d
believe you. Only some men have different definitions of the word
‘nothing’.”

“Only one in the dictionary last I
looked.”

Macklin nodded, with the air of one who
humors. “Of course. We’ll hear—it won’t be from you, I know,
but—we’ll hear all about it one day.”

“Wouldn’t count on it,” said Vern Lennox
under his breath, looking steadily ahead at nothing in
particular.

Judge Macklin, eyeing the range of bottles
behind the bar, felt in his waistcoat pocket again, then changed
his mind and gathered himself to depart. “Well, I’ll be seeing you.
Look me up at the hotel if you’re around.”

“I’ll do that,” said Lennox rather
absently.

He remained there for a few moments after
the Judge’s departure, leaning against the bar and fingering the
empty glass. Then he nodded farewell to the bartender, a stout,
silent Mexican, and left.

He walked uptown. The afternoon was hot, and
few people were out in the street upon which the sun beat down. The
occasional dry wind drew curtains through open upstairs windows,
tossed them for a moment and allowed them to drift back.

The door that Lennox approached stood open,
so that these gusts could find their way into the small, close
millinery shop and provide some relief from the heat. Only Rosemary
Worth was in the shop at this hour, and when she saw him
approaching the porch she came out from behind the counter and into
the doorway to meet him.

Vern paused with one foot on the step for an
instant at his first sight of her. Always, after every absence, he
experienced the brief bittersweet pang of recognizing a change in
Rosemary. It may only have been subtle, or it may only have been
that he always unconsciously compared her to the memory of Rosemary
as she had been when he first knew her. Always as he set foot on
the steps of the shop there was that wordless, unacknowledged but
undeniable fear that she would have somehow changed beyond his
recognition, or that she would not be there at all. He came back to
see her, always, in precisely the same manner, without ever having
fully explained to himself why. All he knew was that for some
reason, there would be a dreadful blank space in his life if
Rosemary was not there to meet him at the door.

The feeling fled with the dry wind when she
spoke. “Hello, Vern,” she said with the simple ease of voice and
manner that was Rosemary’s alone.

“Hello, Rosemary.”

He leaned against the post that supported
the porch roof and looked at her. Yes, she had changed over five
years, but without really becoming different. She was a little
taller, even, than she had been then, as a fresh-faced girl of
nineteen who was the only woman he knew that could meet his eyes
with her own clear blue ones and give an answer with the same
directness that she asked a question.

“I’d just been thinking about you,” said
Rosemary.

“Were you?” said Vern. “What about me?”

She nodded. “Yes. Wondering where you were,
mostly. It seems practically impertinent, sometimes, to wonder any
more than that.”

“Why?”

“Well, you’re a man who mostly keeps to
himself. Not that you avoid people; you just don’t say any more
than you can help. Is it
because
people seem so eager to ask
you things, Vern, or is that just
you?

“I don’t know,” he said. “Just me to begin
with, I suppose. Most times, when a person gets older they only
become a more noticeable version of what they started out.”

“Older?” said Rosemary. “You don’t seem any
older. Just more noticeably you.” She laughed. “And that’s what I
mean—being the kind of person you are, it seems like an intrusion
to even try and speculate about you, or guess what you’re thinking.
I’ve always got an idea you’d stop people from doing it if you
could.”

“Well, if I were to set about it, you’re the
last person I could picture succeeding with. Your mind is
thoroughly your own.”

“Why, you make me sound positively
dangerous.”

Vern laughed, and she laughed with him.
“Lethal, Rosemary, but only to someone who’s got something to be
scared of.”

He watched as she put a hand up to her hair
with that unconscious grace that was an intrinsic part of her, in
the carriage of her shoulders and the drape of her simple print
dress, in the soft sweep of her dark hair back from her face; a
grace she had never been taught and which so many women vainly try
to learn. Lethal directness, yes, to something within him too small
to be called a hope, always slain too soon after its birth to have
grown far. It was Rosemary’s very frankness that made his position
with her so enigmatic. No other woman had ever shared so much of
herself with him, and yet—perhaps it seemed an impossibility that
one whose mind was shared as freely as Rosemary’s could have any
other thoughts of him that she would feel it best to conceal.

“What do you mean, something to be scared
of?” she said abruptly, coming back from a brief daydream into
which she had fallen.

“Generally it means having something to
hide.” He thought how ironic it was that her thoughts had travelled
round by a different route to nearly the same place as his. “Almost
everyone does.”

“I think,” said Rosemary, “that most people
look at someone who keeps their own counsel and imagine they must
be hiding something terribly important.”

“You’re right, as usual,” said Vern. “But
you’d be surprised, I think, how many of those silent people are
hiding—absolutely nothing.”

 

* * *

 

When Vern led his sweaty black horse into
the livery stable, Lars Holcomb greeted him with a wave of the
scoop he was using to shovel oats from a sagging half-empty sack
into a feed box. “So there you are! There’s an empty stall on the
other side.”

He went on working while Vern led the black
in and loosed the cinches of his saddle; humming a little and
casting occasional shrewd glances at the younger man’s back. Vern
knew it as well as if he had seen him. Lars never acted surprised
to see him, never acted as if he knew what Vern did for a living,
but at their first meeting he was sure to clear his throat and ask,
with what he thought was an air of the utmost innocence, dozens of
little, inconsequential, strategic questions, until bit by bit he
had got the whole story out of him—whatever story there was. Vern
would never have cheated Lars out of the pleasure of extracting
information so cleverly. And he much preferred having Lars relay
the substance of these conversations to other people to talking
about his own activities.

Today he avoided even meeting Lars’ eyes. He
slid the saddle off his horse, letting it drop in a heap against
the wall instead of swinging it over the partition as he usually
did. He could hear Lars clearing his throat in the background,
getting ready for action.

Lars coughed again, and pretended to be very
busy over the feed box. “So,” he said casually, adjusting his
spectacles by wrinkling his nose, “how’s the weather up Norwood
way?”

“I don’t know.”

This meant he had not been in Norwood. Lars
nodded to himself with a satisfied smile.

“How’s old Marshal Beecher getting along?”
he inquired even more innocently from another stall, a moment
later.

“I haven’t seen him.”

Lars looked with some surprise over the tops
of his spectacles at Vern, who was hanging his horse’s bridle on a
nail. What he had imagined to be a very shrewd guess, based on
information gleaned from Vern on his last visit, had fallen flat.
“Hasn’t he caught those two train hold-up men yet?”

BOOK: Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories
9.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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