Chapter Seven—The Worst Day of Missy’s Life

     Sert Oldham rode slowly over to Missy’s wagon. “Hello, you pretty thing. And just where are you headed?”
     Missy was…Missy. “I’m going to widow Walters’ place. It’s about a mile down the road from here. She’s sick, and I made her some soup. I’m going to clean up around her place, too, I’m sure she can’t do anything for herself right now.” The girl brightened. “Would you like to come and help? I know widow Walters would like to meet you.”
     Oldham smiled. As innocent as a lamb…”Are you a good cook?”
     Missy shrugged. “Well, I can do it. I don’t know that I’m especially good. I cook for my grandma and me every day.”
     Mmm, I need a cook…and she’s so…delicious…”Well, you know something’, I’m just sort of passin’ through, on my way to Californy probably, and I could sure use a cook. Why don’t come go with me? I’ll pay you real well.”
     “Oh, I couldn’t do that. My grandmother needs me. She’s not very well herself.”
     Oldham pulled his gun and pointed it at Missy. “Little lady, coming with me is not a option…”

     Missy was a little surprised, but not alarmed, when she saw the man on his horse in the middle of the road. It was a fairly well traveled road, and it was possible that he was just resting his mount. She stopped and the above conversation ensued. When the man pointed his pistol at Missy, her eyes got big.
     “But, sir…I can’t…I just can’t. The widow….my grandma…they are both ill…” Her voice faded as the man cocked the gun. She looked at him, her heart sinking. “Why are you doing this?” she asked him softly.
     “You’re going to go with me. I asked you nicely and you refused. So I’m not going to ask nicely any more. Git off the wagon and git on this other horse.” Sert grinned wickedly. “We’ll have a real good time, you and me. Explorin’ the country and all.”
     Missy was plenty old enough now to know what the man had in mind. “Sir, I beg of you. Don’t do this, I know you are a better man than to do something this evil.”
     The outlaw was becoming a bit peeved. “Listen, little missy, you got five seconds to get outta that seat, or I commence shootin’. My first shot blows your right kneecap off.”
     Missy looked at the man strangely when he said “little missy.” She replied, “How did you know my name? Have we met?”
     Now it was Sert’s turn to be perplexed. “No, I don’t think so. What do you mean?”
     “My name is Missy.”
     Sert chuckled. “Well, how about that? I’m a prophet, I can see things. My name is Sert. But name’s don’t change nuthin’. Five seconds.” He aimed the gun at Missy’s kneecap.
     Missy grimaced and started to say something, but she could tell from the man’s expression that he was serious. Resignedly, she nodded, set the brake on the wagon, and disembarked. Oldham’s second horse was the packhorse, but there was room for Missy to sit on it. There were no stirrups so she struggled to get onto the horse’s back; Oldham chuckled again.
     Missy wasn’t amused.
     When she was finally mounted, Oldham motioned for her to ride a little in front of him. “We’ll go aways and rest,” he said. “I ain’t et no breakfast, so you can cook me somethin’ so I kin see how good you are.”
     “And if I’m a bad cook, will you let me go?”
     Sert chuckled. “No. You got other uses, little missy. You should know that.”
     Missy went silent. And morose. What can I do? I could try to gallop away but this horse is so loaded with stuff, that man—Sert?—would surely catch me…Oh, Grandma will be so worried…I have to get away, I just have to…
     But, for the moment, she saw no way to do it.

     They rode on, mostly in silence. Missy had asked Oldham who he was, and he explained.
     “I robbed a bank 15 years ago; I was pore and needed some money. But they caught me and the judge threw me in the hoosegow. 15 years. That’s a long time, little missy.”
     Missy wished he’d quit calling her that. “If you needed money…didn’t you have any friends? Family? Church?”
     “No friends who had any money, either. Family’s all gone. Ain’t a believer. Church folks is all hypocrites anyway.”
     “No, they aren’t. Someone would have helped you.”
     “Well, they didn’t. So I went to jail. I been out for a little while, took care o’ some business, and now I’m headed for Californy. And yore goin’ with me.”
     Missy grimaced again. “Please, Mr. Sert, my grandmother needs me…”
     “Ever’body needs somebody, little missy. She’ll get by.”
     Missy went silent.

     After about an hour, Oldham said, “There’s a clearin’ just beyond that bend up there. We’ll stop for awhile.” He smiled. An’ have some fun. She’s a looker, that’s fer sure. Wow, Sert, this is really yore lucky day…and it’s been over 15 years…
     The clearing Sert spoke of was a few yards off the road and behind some trees. It was an open area, maybe 50 feet wide by 100 feet long. There were some boulders around the rim. He dismounted and waved for Missy to do the same thing. “How’s about some coffee?”
     “I’m not really thirsty.”
     “Yeah. Lot of trouble anyway.” Oldham eyed Missy, who was standing just a few feet from him in the middle of the clearing. He drank from his canteen. Boy, I can’t wait for this…

     Missy was about to run, but she knew she wouldn’t get far. But she had to try something. The way Sert was looking at her was way too suggestive. And then when he said, “Well, if we ain’t gonna drink, then let’s have some fun. Why don’t you… disrobe…and we’ll commence to havin’ a good time.”
     Missy was trembling. “Please, sir…I know…I know you are a better man than this….”
     “No, I ain’t. So quit stallin’.” Sert’s eyes were gleaming. Gleaming with lust…
     “But, Mr. Sert, please…”
     Oldham’s blood was boiling—with lust, and increasingly with anger at Missy’s pleading. “Listen, woman,” he began, as he walked towards the girl. But before he could say anything else, Missy turned and started to run.
     But he was too close. He reached out and grabbed her, spun her around and hit her. Hard. With his fist. Missy’s head snapped back sharply and she groaned and fell to the ground. She was dazed…what?…why?…
     She felt hands on her blouse and she was yanked to her feet. His voice: “When I tell you to do somethin’, you do it. You hear me?” He shook Missy fiercely, her head rocking back and forth, and then he hit her in the stomach. Missy doubled over with an “oooooof,” and then her tormenter threw an uppercut with his left fist and struck her under the chin…

     I love that left uppercut, Oldham thought with a grin. This one’s got a lovely neck…He had a perfect view of it for perhaps a second when Missy’s head snapped far back, exposing her neck from chin to the top of her blouse…

     He hit Missy so hard that she was jerked upright, her back bent, her head jolted back as far as it would go—giving Oldham the view of her neck that he had so admired. She moaned again, and slammed to the earth. Still conscious, she could hear Oldham screaming at her, but she couldn’t make out his words. She felt herself pulled roughly to her feet again, and she opened her eyes just in time to see his right fist coming at her…it smashed into her left jaw. Again, Missy’s head snapped back...

     Oldham was enjoying himself immensely. If’n a woman won’t do what she’s told, she gets what she deserves…His victim was utterly helpless now and that was just the way Oldham liked his women. A few more good licks and then we’ll get to know each other…like the Bible says to do…he giggled at his own irreverent reference…

     Missy was still conscious, but barely. She felt his fist pound into her jaw again…and again…and again…..
     Everything was getting gray for Missy and slowly turning darker. She knew that her life was slipping away. If he hit her three or four more times…
     She grunted as that hard fist battered her face again…
     He’s going to beat me to death…

     Remember me? Well, I remember me, but I couldn’t remember who I was. You remember that. Anyway, when I exited this tale in an earlier chapter you might…remember… that my horse, Horse, had heard another horse nicker. I had gone to investigate and had come to the edge of a clearing when I was absolutely stunned by what I saw. I could not believe what I saw. Utterly shocked into immobility by what I saw. What I saw was…something I had never seen before. And hoped to never see again.
     I had heard a “smack” and a cry a few moments earlier, but I wasn’t sure what it was, though it did sound like a human fist smashing into human skin. By the time I reached the edge of that clearing, I saw a young woman doubled over, holding her stomach. A man was standing in front of her, and he threw a punch under her chin that lifted her up and dropped her onto her back. The monster then picked her up and pounded her face with his right fist four or five times before I finally came to life.
     I pulled my gun and fired a shot into the air. “That’s enough, you brute. You let her go, right now!” And I pointed the gun at him. I hoped, I really hoped, he would try to hit her again so that I could blow his head off.
     The man released the woman and she dropped to the ground like a limp dishrag. He scowled at me. “Beat it, mister. We don’t need you interferin’. This is a family matter and we don’t need your help.” He pointed down at the young woman. “She’s been a-cheatin’ on me. Four or five diff’ernt men. An’ then she runs off with all our money. I’m gonna beat some sense into that woman and teach her a lesson she’ll never forgit.”
     I kept my arm rock steady with the gun pointed right at him. “Buster, I don’t care if she’s gone to bed with every man in the territory, no woman deserves to be beaten the way you were beating her. I ought to blast you into the middle of eternity right now.” And I might have done it except….
     The woman spoke. “Please…” she said to me. She was lying on the ground, her face bloody, but she was reaching one arm out to me. “Please…don’t…don’t hurt him…he doesn’t…doesn’t know…what he’s…doing…” And she collapsed again with a moan.
     I stared at her. This fiend had almost battered her to death and she was appealing in his behalf. I stared at her so incredulously that it almost cost me my life.
     But, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man go for his gun. I quickly looked back at him and fired. I hit him in the gut. He dropped his gun, grimaced, grabbed his stomach, staggered, and fell back. He lay on the ground, groaning, and holding his stomach. He was in pain—there are few things that hurt more than being gut-shot. I didn’t care. I had every intention of letting him lie there and die—which he would soon, the inevitable result of being shot in the stomach.
     I whistled for Horse, and went over to the woman and rolled her over onto her back. Her eyes fluttered. She was only bleeding from the lips, but blood covered her chin and neck. I stood up, went over to Horse, who was now standing at the edge of the clearing, and took a couple of towels from my saddlebags, plus some ointment. There was a stream close by, so I fully immersed one of the towels, rung it out, and went back to the lady.
     I knelt down beside her and started cleaning her face. She was breathing hard, apparently still trying to catch her breath from the beating she had taken. She moaned softly as I wiped off the blood. I applied some of the liniment, and she winced. Then she opened her eyes.
     “Did…did you kill him?”
     “I hope so,” I replied
     She grimaced and shook her head back and forth. “No, no, no….”
     “Is he your husband?”
     She shook her head. “No.”
     “Who is he?”
     She tried to get up. “Please…help…I need…to help him.”
     “You just lie there. I’ll take care of him.”
     “No…no, please….” She struggled to get up, and sighing, I helped her. She staggered over to where the man was lying, holding her stomach. The man was breathing hard, his face a mask of pain. She held out her hand to me. “The towel…the wet one…” Her hand was trembling.
     I gave it to her.
     She moved his hands and opened his shirt. “What…are you…doing?” the brute asked her.
     “I’m going to clean you up. Take you to town…to a doctor.” The man closed his eyes.
     She was moving better now, which surprised me given what I had seen. She wiped the blood off his stomach and looked at me. “We need to stop the flow of blood. I don’t…know how. Do you?”
     I started to say something, but didn’t. Yes, I do. How I knew, I didn’t know, but I knew. So, I knelt down beside the man and, ripping the towel into shreds, I staunched the flow of blood.
     “Is he going to live?” the lady asked me.
     “I really doubt it,” I said. “That’s about the worst place to get shot. Well, better than the heart or head, but he’s going to lose a lot of blood.”
     “We’ve got to get him to town,” the girl said, seemingly desperate. “There’s a doctor there.” She looked at me pleadingly. “Please help me get him on his horse. I’ll take him if you don’t want to go.”
     I looked at her, puzzled. “Who is he? Who are you?”
     She stood up, too quickly, then groaned. I started to help her, but she stayed on her feet without my assistance. “I’ll tell you on the way. Please hurry. Silver Creek is almost two hours away.”
     “All right,” I said, making a face, not understanding her compassion for a man who had been so merciless to her. But I picked the man up and, with her aid, got him into his saddle. He was virtually dead now, unconscious, so I tied him to the saddle.
     “Hurry,” she said, as she mounted the other horse.
     I climbed onto Horse’s back and said, “Lead the way. I don’t know where the town is. But don’t go too fast or the jarring will start him bleeding badly again and he’ll never make it.”

     As Oldham was beating her, Missy knew that she was almost dead. Sert’s fist smashed into her face one more time and then stopped. She drooped, and then hit the ground. She was aware of voices….she opened her eyes…blurry…then clearing…she saw a man pointing a gun at Sert…no…don’t kill him…she pleaded with the man, then gave out…she heard a shot…
     She passed out, but then awoke, feeling something cool on her face…water…she opened her eyes. Saw him. She tried to smile but couldn’t. She talked to him and found out that Sert was still alive, but barely. The water and medicine revived her enough…I’ve got to help Sert...Her head was throbbing from the beating she had received, but with the man’s help, Sert’s bleeding was stopped.
     Missy looked at the man as he worked on Sert. He’s a nice man. He didn’t have to help me and he doesn’t have to help Sert. He seems to know what he’s doing. I wonder who he is…

     I wondered the same thing. But not at that moment…

     Missy helped the man get Sert into the saddle and on the way to Silver Creek. She started her horse off at a fast trot, but the man said, “Slow down. He’ll start bleeding.”
     “But we’ve got to hurry,” Missy replied anxiously.
     “It’s not going to do any good to hurry if you kill him in the process.”
     Missy grimaced. “Ok. You set the pace.”
     “All right.”
     Missy looked at him. “Do you have experience at this?”
     He had a strange expression on his face…

     I started to answer her question, and then, didn’t know the answer. “Some,” is all I said. Then quickly, to change the subject, I asked, “Who are you? And what hole did you dig that creep out of?”
     The young lady winced. Her face wasn’t in as bad a shape as might be expected, given the beating she had taken. But the left side of her jaw where she had been hit repeatedly, was a nasty shade of purple and red, and her lips were swollen. The ointment I had rubbed on her face had helped the swelling, but she was still puffy. She was leaning forward a little, holding her stomach, and breathing was still a bit of a strain for her. I remember having seen her doubled over so I assumed she had been hit in the stomach as well.
     “I don’t think…he’s that bad. He can’t be,” she responded. “He just…I don’t know…something made him do it…”
     She was in pain, I knew, but when I looked at her again, it seemed that the pain was more than skin deep. Maybe he’s a relative…brother?…lover?…she seems to really care about him…I couldn’t understand it. To me, the man was a monster. Anybody that would do what he did to her ought to be hung upside down by his little toes and have his brains boiled in oil. But I asked her again, “Who are you? And who is he?”
     She explained. “My name is Missy Jacobs. I teach school and live with my grandmother in Silver Creek. I was on my way to the widow Walters’ house—she lives a few miles outside of town. She’s ill. I was taking her some soup and I was going to do some washing and cleaning for her.”

     I looked at her. Now, that’s a sweet thing to do

     She continued. “When I got close to her house, I saw him”—she motioned towards Sert—“sitting on his horse in the middle of the road. He made me…come with him. We went to that clearing. He wanted me to…he was going to…” She stopped, an expression of agony on her face as she looked over at me.
     Now I wanted to kill the guy for sure. “I understand, Missy. Let me guess. You told him ‘no,’ so he thought he’d persuade you a little.”
     She looked dejected. “Yes. I guess so.” Then, agony was on her face again. “If I had done it, then maybe he wouldn’t have gotten shot…”
     I looked at her, incredulous. ”You’d rather have been raped than have him shot??”
     Missy didn’t answer. Her eyes were straight ahead.
     I shook my head in unbelief. “You didn’t know him before?”
     “No,” she said, barely above a whisper.
     'What’s his name?”
     “Sert Oldham, is what he said.”
     That name meant nothing to me. Didn’t even ring a bell in my fog-shrouded mind. Then she asked me the question I knew she would ask but hoped she wouldn’t.
     “Who are you and how did you happen by? Oh, and thank you. I guess you…had to shoot him….”
     “He went for his gun, Missy. I had no choice. I’m sorry.” Man, what am I saying? I’m not sorry I shot that cockroach. I’m sorry I didn’t kill him. But, although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the sort of effect Missy had on everybody. Except maybe her grandmother.
     “It’s ok. I’m sure you did what was right. And thank you for helping him.”
     “You’re welcome,” is all I could think of to say.
     “You didn’t answer my question. Who are you and how did you happen to come by?”
     I had had plenty of time, over the days, to think up a fake name to use until I remembered—if I ever did—my real one. “My name is Thomas Monroe.” Something about that name had jiggled my mind ever since I thought of it, but I just knew it wasn’t the one mama and papa gave me. “I’m just…traveling at the moment and my horse smelled, and then heard, your two horses. I stopped to investigate.” I shrugged.
     “Lucky for me,” she replied. “Not so lucky for Mr. Oldham.”
     “He didn’t need any luck, Missy.” I looked at her. I could tell, even with her face in the condition it was in, that she was a very attractive woman.

     Missy looked at Thomas. He’s a nice looking man…She wanted to find out a little more about him. Personally and character-wise. “You could have…joined him, you know.”
     “And rape you?”
     She gave him a sheepish smile. “A lot of men probably would have.”
     He looked at her like she was insane. Then shook his head. “I don’t play that way, Missy.”
     “Well, I’m glad you don’t.” She paused. “Where are you traveling to? Do you have a job?”
     Now he looked uncomfortable. “I’m just sorta…traveling at the moment. No place in particular.”
     “Are you an outlaw?”
     He glanced at her. “Do you think I am?”
     “No. You aren’t an outlaw…”

     I hope not, but I’m not terribly convinced that she’s a shrewd judge of human character…”Well, thank you.” Then to direct the conversation back at her, I said, “You’re a school teacher, you said?….”
     We talked on, and any answers I gave to her were as vague as possible. She didn’t seem suspicious….

     He’s hiding something…I wonder what it is. He seems so…nice…but…he’s hiding something…I don’t want to push him…He has a nice smile and laughs so easily…I wonder who he really is…

     I continued to wonder about that, too.