Chapter Ten—Dancing With The Rabbits

     I wasn’t totally sure what to do for the next few days. I didn’t really want to hang around Silver Creek for a week, waiting for Sert Oldham’s trial. It kept bugging me that I was supposed to be somewhere—or that I might have supposed to have been somewhere—and if somebody was waiting for me…a wife? children? brother? mother and father?…then they were probably getting concerned about what had happened to me. I was getting more and more frustrated, but the more frustrated I got, the less clear I could think. And that meant I remembered nothing. I tried to will myself to relax, but it wasn’t easy.
     I ended up doing basically two things for the next week—riding around the area and working some at the local stock pens. It was a beautiful region with lovely mountains and spring fed valleys…I’d sure like to own a piece of this…but I didn’t have enough money to make a down payment on a tree, much less a piece of land. But it was relaxing; well, as relaxing as I could be relaxed considering the fact that it was impossible for me to relax. Not when I thought I was supposed to be somewhere else, and read the paragraph above for details about that.
     There were a few late roundups going on in the area, so the stock pens were full of cattle about to be shipped to market. There were some repairs that needed to be made on certain of the pens, so I helped with that and found out that I wasn’t too bad with a hammer and a saw. I talked cattle with a couple of the local ranchers and, somehow, knowledge of that subject came free and easy to me. Am I a cattleman? Then what in the world am I doing up here? Did I come up here to buy cattle? The more questions I asked myself…the fewer answers I got. Frustration…read the first paragraph of this chapter again…
     There was one other thing that frustrated me very much. Except for the lynching attempt Tuesday evening, I didn’t see Missy. I guess that was my fault, I knew where she lived and could have gone over to her house. But I was convinced that handsome fellow at church was her boyfriend, and I wasn’t the kind to monkey with another monkey’s monkey. It would be my luck that I’d go over to Missy’s house and Handsome Fellow At Church would be there. That would be very awkward for her and I wasn’t going to do that. Or even worse, I’d arrive just about the time her grandmother decided to play another long tune on Missy’s ear and I sure didn’t want to be there for that. I’ll play my own tunes, thank you very much.
     So, besides Tuesday, I didn’t see Missy. Well, except one more time. Which is why I didn’t see her twice…

     Missy went back to work on Monday. School was from 9 to 3 and she loved being there with the children. It helped her forget—from 9 to 3—about Sert Oldham and Thomas Monroe. Once school was out, she walked home and, each night, Tuesday through Friday, she fixed Sert Oldham something to eat and took it to the jailhouse. More on that in a moment. Monday was the exception and she let school out a little early that afternoon so she could take the widow Walters some soup and medicine.
     She had made that intention known Sunday afternoon to her grandmother, so Sunday night at church, Judy, unbeknownst to Missy, made arrangements with Tillman Slaughter to ride with her granddaughter out to the widow’s house. Tillman was more than happy to do so. He owned a local grocer and was able to take off occasionally for necessities—such as being with Missy Jacobs. When he arrived at the house around 3:30 Monday afternoon, Missy was surprised to see him.
     “Tillman. I didn’t know you were coming over.” She wasn’t unhappy to see him, but she would have preferred someone else. “I’m just getting ready to leave and go to the widow Walters’ house.”
     “I know,” he said. “I’m going with you. Your grandmother didn’t tell you?”
     About that time, Judy walked into the room and heard Tillman’s question. “Oh, Missy, I did forget. I asked Mr. Slaughter to ride with you. I’m just afraid for you, given what happened Saturday.”
     Missy didn’t like her grandmother interfering like that, but what was done was done. She smiled and tried to make the best of it. “Well, that’s nice. I hope it’s not too much trouble, Tillman.” I hope we don’t get attacked by a savage, killer rabbit…
     “Oh, it’s no trouble at all, believe me. I’m glad to do it.” He smiled. “You know that I enjoy being with you, Missy.”
     She smiled again. “Well, thank you. I’m about finished with the soup. Give me just a moment…”
     Missy had to admit that Tillman Slaughter was a nice man, and by far, the most handsome man in Silver Creek. Tall, slender, with dark hair and dazzling light blue eyes, every single woman in town—and most of the married ones—wanted to have his attention. Rumor had it that a lot of the ladies had been successful in gaining that attention, and not all of them unmarried. But gossip was common—and fun—in a small town. A lot of the town’s biddy matchmakers already had Tillman and Missy married, and wondered what the holdup was. Actually, they had been to dinner only twice, and that was all. They talked when she went to the grocer’s, and he usually found a way to visit with her at church, and especially at the occasional church potluck. Town picnics weren’t uncommon in the summer months, and he’d be there if she was. And he usually got at least two dances with her at the monthly shindig. Judy thought he was perfect for Missy in every way. Missy was a little more…cautious. Men just weren’t that important to her at the moment. At least most of them…
     Missy was still sore from the weekend’s activities, but she was rapidly getting better. There was no swelling at all in her face now and the bruises were getting lighter in color as well. She still hated to look at herself in the mirror, though. She hadn’t seen Thomas, and was attempting to put him out of her mind. He’ll leave as soon as the trial is over…in fact, he may already have left. I don’t know anything about him, except his name and that he’s hiding something…he’s probably an outlaw…She was trying to talk herself into not liking him, but not with a lot of success.
     Anyway, on the way home from widow Walters’ place, Tillman asked Missy if he could take her to the monthly dance, which was to be held the next Saturday night. Due to the weather, it would probably be the last monthly dance of the year. It was the first time Tillman had ever asked to take her. It wasn’t really a big deal. He’d come pick her up, get the first dance with her and probably a couple more, then escort her home. And, if he got lucky, he might get to hold her hand. If he got real lucky, he’d get a kiss or two out of it. And if he got real, real lucky, she might make out with him for awhile. And if he got super duper lucky……Well, it’s probably superfluous to say, but I’ll say it anyway. Very few men had gotten lucky with Missy. Very, very few men had gotten real lucky with her. Nobody had even come close to getting real, real lucky with her, and forget about super duper. Tillman had actually cracked into the lucky category one night, but that’s all, and since I’m getting confused and disappointed with all this rotten luck these guys had had with Missy, I’ll move on.
     Back to Tillman’s question: would Missy grace him with the honor of escorting her to the dance Saturday night? And that’s just the way he put it. Missy hesitated, but only for a moment. She was 99.99% certain that the man she wanted to ask her wasn’t going to do it. And besides, how could she turn down such a gracious request? So she said, “yes,” and Tillman immediately began plotting how he could get beyond the “lucky” stage. I’m sure the reader is dying to find out if he did.
     Read on….

     As noted before Tillman interrupted, Missy prepared a meal for Sert Oldham Tuesday through Friday nights. Marshal Dugan wasn’t terribly happy that Missy was doing it, but it was saving the taxpayers some money, so he let her. He allowed her ten minutes with him, and no more; she’d have to pick up the dirty dishes the next day.
     Tuesday night. Oldham was sitting up, but still a little pale. “How are you feeling?” Missy asked him.
     He grinned at her. “Not quite ready to go to Californy yet.”
     Missy smiled softly, but didn’t bother to respond to it.
     But each night, she noticed that Sert was moving better. He obviously wasn’t near up to strength yet, but the combination of rest, the doctor’s medication, and Missy’s cooking was healing him rapidly.
     “You gonna testify agin me?” he asked her Thursday night—about the 10th time he’d asked her over the past three nights.
     Missy agonized a bit. “I guess…I guess I’ll have to, Mr. Sert—“
     “Just ‘Sert’, little Missy.”
     She smiled feebly. She actually didn’t mind him calling her “little Missy” any more, but she couldn’t call him “Sert.” She only said, “Ok.”
     “You don’ really have to testify agin me,” he said. “Just say you don’t know who done it and I’ll ride on outta here. Then in a few days, I’ll come back and getcha and we’ll head to Californy.”
     “I can’t lie, Mis--I can’t lie.”
     Missy didn’t especially like the way he was looking at her. “No, I reckon you cain’t.” She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but Dugan showed up right then and told her it was time to leave.
     Sert tried again on Friday. “You ain’t really gonna testify agin me Tuesday, are you?”
     Missy lowered her head. “Why did you have to do it, Mr. Sert? Why? You’re not a bad man, I know you aren’t.”
     “Yes, I am, little Missy, I’m pure poison, that’s all I am, an’ all I’ll ever be. But I don’t want to go to jail no more, neither.”
     She looked at him, with earnestness in her eyes. “There’s some good in all of us, Sert.” He noticed, but she didn’t, that she called him “Sert.” She continued. “There’s some bad in the best people, and there’s some good in the worst. You’ve just got to find it inside you. And you can. I know you can.”
     He shook his head. “Ain’t no hope for somebody like me, Missy. I’ve been too bad fer too long.”
     “Then how do you expect me to go to California with you?”
     He gave her a half-smile. Missy noticed that he actually wasn’t that bad looking when he tried. “You wouldn’t go anyway.”
     She lowered her head again. “No. I can’t. You know that. I can’t leave my grandmother.”
     Dugan interrupted. “Time’s up, Miss Jacobs.”
     She nodded and stood up. “I’m sorry, Mr. Sert, but I won’t be able to come tomorrow. Maybe Sunday, but I don’t know. I’ll try to bring you something to eat on Monday.”
     He stood up, too, and continued to smile at her. “You don’t need to do that, little Missy. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
     She met his eyes for a few seconds, reached up and touched his cheek, then turned and left the jail cell. She walked past Dugan and out of the jail house. As the marshal was locking the cell door, Sert said, “She really is an angel, ain’t she, marshal.”
     Dugan glanced at him. “That’s a fact, outlaw, probably the only true thing you’ve ever said in your life.”
     Missy walked home thoughtfully—and sadly. There’s nothing I can do for him…nothing…

     I knew there was a town dance on Saturday night. I wasn’t terribly interested in going, but for some reason, I did. Maybe the cookies and punch. Hard to pass that up.
     The festivities were scheduled to start at 7. There was a community “barn,” as it was called, on the western edge of town, and it was plenty big enough for events like this. The weather was chilly, but not unbearable. I had been told things, weather-wise, began to really turn south (north?) about mid-October, so September was usually the last month the dance was held. All of that information didn’t really interest me that much because I figured I’d be leaving after the trial the following week, trying to find that elusive somewhere that I had been headed to in the first place.
     I arrived at the dance about 7:30. I could hear music and laughing inside, and there were people outside mingling around as well. The punch and cookie table was outside, and I browsed and grazed and drank. I saw a couple of people I had met at the stock pens and “howdy’d” but I didn’t talk to anyone. A little before 8 o’clock, I decided to go inside.
     My thoughts, of course, were on Missy, though I had tried to direct them elsewhere. The harder I tried not to think about her, the more I did. Right before I entered the building, I stopped…and didn’t enter…

     Tillman arrived to pick up Missy a little before 7. She had baked some cookies so she was going to take those. She had tried to talk her grandmother into going, but Judy pooh-poohed the idea.
     “The dance is for you young folks,” she said.
     That wasn’t true, at least half of the people at the dance were the senior citizens who loved getting out and having a good time. But Judy wouldn’t go. Ida stayed with her while Missy was gone.
     Tillman, as always, was the perfect gentleman. “You look absolutely lovely tonight. But then, you always do.”
     Missy blushed and thanked him. She did look lovely in a dark brown dress that accented her hair perfectly. Her face was all cleared up now and she was happy about that.
     Tillman looked as handsome as Missy had ever seen him, dressed in a tailor-made black suit, white shirt, and black string tie. She complimented him, as he had her, and he acknowledged it with a smile. Being the gentleman that he was, he helped Missy into and out of the wagon. Missy, as always, was grace personified. The trip to the “barn” took less than five minutes. Missy didn’t sit right up against Tillman, but she didn’t sit at the far edge of the seat, either. She was a little uncomfortable, but she wasn’t sure why. Well, she did know, too. I wonder if Thomas will be there. Surely not. He doesn’t strike me as the type…still…she frowned. I kinda hope he’s not. Then she sighed. I’m with Tillman, I don’t need to be thinking about Thomas…She was determined to put him out of her mind, had had some success doing so the past couple of days, and once Tillman started talking to her, Thomas disappeared from her mind. For a while.
     She had a nice time at the dance; she always did. Missy was a good dancer and she enjoyed it. Her first dance was with Tillman, of course. The two of them had gotten a lot of looks when they had come in together, and the biddy gossip network went into overdrive.
     “Aren’t they an adorable couple together?”
     “Yes, they are. It won’t be long till they are married. I’m sure of that.”
     “He’s just a perfect gentleman and she’s a perfect lady. They were made for each other.”
     “They dance so well together. Everything about the two of them together is perfect.”
     There was almost universal agreement on all of those points.
     And Missy was enchanted, more than usual, by Tillman. His blue eyes were mesmerizing. He made her smile, he made her laugh, and he swung her around the dance floor with a dash and a whirl and a frenzy that took her breath away. A few people even clapped when the song was over. Missy blushed at that. When Tillman asked her if he could have the second dance as well, she agreed, and it was every bit as pleasurable as the first one.
     But others wanted to dance with her, so Tillman graciously backed off for awhile after that second dance. Two other single men got the third and fourth dances, but it wasn’t nearly as electric for Missy. She caught Tillman’s eye a couple of times, and a tinge of jealousy went through her when she saw him dancing with Jeannie Carter, another single girl who rivaled Missy in looks, though not in character. Well, I’m dancing with whomever I wish, I can’t stop him from doing the same…Still…jealousy was an emotion that was foreign to Missy and she didn’t especially like it. But Tillman caught her eye while he was dancing with Jeannie, and he smiled and winked at her. Missy, who was dancing with Billy Yancey, an older, married man, smiled in return. That made her feel a little better.
     The biddy network might know what it was talking about for a change…
     About a quarter to eight, Tillman caught up with her again. He bowed.
     “May I have the honor—and exquisite pleasure—of having the next dance with you, Miss Jacobs?”
     Missy was charmed. She smiled. “The honor would be all mine, kind sir.”
     So they danced. And danced. And danced. And their eyes met. And Missy started floating around the dance floor….
     When it was over, a little before 8 o’clock, Tillman said, “I’d like a little break. Maybe something to drink. Would you like to join me?”
     “Certainly,” Missy said. “I’m thirsty, too.” A man approached her about the next dance, and she promised it to him when she returned. Then she looked at Tillman. “You don’t mind, do you?” It hit her. I don’t have to ask him that…but I did…
     He smiled, all charm and grace. “Well, I can live with it,” he said playfully. “As long as you promise to dance with me again.”
    She smiled back. “I think I can make that promise to you.” He’s so charming and kind
     As they were walking towards the exit, Tillman took her hand and held it. Missy didn’t pull away, but looked up at him and smiled. “Maybe we can go for a walk after we have some punch,” he suggested. “It’s a lovely night.”
     And it was. Not a cloud in the sky and a million stars. Missy’s heart began to thump a little harder. “Yes,” she said, “It is a lovely night. A walk would be nice.”
     “But the night will never be lovelier than you,” Tillman said, with a squeeze of her hand. Missy held on a little tighter.
     They walked outside and Missy froze. Oh, no!…not now…oh, what are you doing here?…you weren’t supposed to come…why don’t you just leave, Leave, LEAVE??
     Of course, she had come face to face with Thomas Monroe.

     I saw her at the same time she saw me. I wasn’t surprised to see her with Handsome Fellow At Church. Holding hands. Well, I guess that answers every question I have…I smiled, but it was strained. Hard to smile when your heart is in your stomach.
     “Hello, Missy,” I said. “You’re looking well.”
     “Thank…you, Thomas. How are you doing?”
     “I’m fine, thank you.” I looked at her date and held out my hand. “I’m Thomas Monroe. You’re a lucky man, you know it?”
     Tillman had been a little suspicious because Missy’s hand almost immediately went cold when she saw this man. But, from all appearances, he didn’t seem terribly interested in her. “I’m Tillman Slaughter. And yes, I consider myself very fortunate that Miss Jacobs was willing to accompany me to the dance tonight.”

     Me: What a snot. Why do the best women always end up with slimeballs like this?

     Missy: He acts like…nothing…normal…But then their eyes met…and Missy’s heart fell into her stomach…

     Me: Tillman Slaughter? What a name. That’s worse than…Abe Ackroyd…How does a woman make love to a man named Tillman Slaughter? Well, love is blind, I guess… “I just arrived a few minutes ago. Is everybody having a nice time?”
     “Yes,” Tillman responded. He was a little stiff. “We are all having a lovely evening.” Then he paused. “You’re the man who…saved Missy from that…beast, aren’t you.”
     Missy started to speak, and I knew what she was going to say…”He’s not a beast, Tillman…” But I caught her eye and silenced her by that look. To Slaughter, I responded, “It was nothing. You would have done the same thing.”

     Missy: Ha. He doesn’t know which end of the gun the bullet comes out of…and then Missy was horrified at what she had just thought. How can I THINK such a thing of Tillman? He’s such a gentleman. Thomas is just a…a…
     Thomas is just a man….all man…
     Missy Jacobs just grew by five years…

     Tillman was answering, “Yes, I certainly would have.” I almost busted out laughing. Somewhere, deep in my brain, I knew that this fellow didn’t know…which end of the gun the bullet comes out of. He continued. “But I’m glad you were there. Thank you for what you did.” Then, rather abruptly, he said to Missy, “Let’s get something to drink, dear.” To me, he said, “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Monroe. I guess we’ll see you at the trial.”
     We, he said…I sighed inwardly…I guess they are farther along than I thought…
     “Nice to meet you, too, Slaughter. You two have a nice night.” I looked at Missy one more time, smiled softly, met her eyes, was curious at what I saw, then turned around and left.
     Did I see pleading in her eyes? I shook my head. No…hope springs eternal…I found Horse, leaned against the saddle for over a minute, my eyes closed, head down and throbbing….Monroe…or whatever your name is…leave town…now!…leave town. Forget about the trial. You aren’t needed. Leave!…
     I thought that was a very good idea. Resolved, I lifted my head, opened my eyes, mounted Horse and rode away from the “barn.”

     The night was over for Missy. Try as she might, there was no way she could recover the excitement she had felt before she saw Thomas. Tillman, of course, noticed.
     They drank a glass of punch and then went walking down a secluded road that led away from the “barn.”
     She still let him hold her hand, but that was all. She had gone mostly silent. After a few moments, Tillman asked, “Is there something wrong? Or perhaps I should ask, is there something between you and Monroe? I won’t stand in the way if there is.”
     “No,” Missy replied, and knew she had done so a little too quickly. “There’s…nothing between him and me. Really.” And that’s the truth. He doesn’t care. Why do I? “I guess…seeing him…brought back all that happened…that day.” She looked up at Tillman and tried to smile. “I’m sorry, Tillman. It was…horrible. He’ll leave town after the trial, along with that terrible man Oldham, so the memory will fade. But at the moment, it’s still…pretty strong. It was just last Saturday.” Seems like three months ago, though…
     “I understand,” Tillman said, and he seemed somewhat mollified. “If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know and I will do so.”
     “Thank you, Tillman.” He’s so nice. Such a gentleman…a gentleman…a gentleman…what’s wrong with a gentleman?…absolutely nothing…that’s what I want…a gentleman…
     But sometimes…I think I want…just a man…
     “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’d like to go home now. The doctor…gave me something to help me sleep. I think I need to take one.” Any excuse to leave…oh, Thomas, why did you have to show up? Why? It was all so perfect…
     “Ok. It was a wonderful evening. I’m sorry that man spoiled it for us…you.”
      “It wasn’t his fault, Tillman. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for him. But seeing him did bring…the whole thing…back to my mind. So I guess, in that sense, he did spoil it. I’m sorry.” I feel horrible for what I’m doing to Tillman…oh, Thomas, why didn’t you leave town??…the thousandth time that thought went through her head. And each time she knew she didn’t mean it…
     Tillman and Missy walked back to his wagon in silence. And they rode home in silence. He walked her to the front door. “You promised me a dance I didn’t get,” he said to her, with a smile.
     She tried to smile back, but it was hard. Thomas ruined my whole night…and it was such a beautiful night…”I promise to make it up to you. This trial…it’s just too close to the surface of my mind.” Too many excuses…She looked up at him and did manage a smile. “It will be over soon.”
     “I hope so,” Tillman responded, but not unkindly. “For your sake.”
     “Thank you,” Missy replied.
     Their eyes met for a few seconds. He moved his head down, obviously intending to kiss her. Missy put her hands on his chest and dropped her head. “No, Tillman… not…not yet…I want it to be right…”
     “It is right, Missy,” he said, taking her hands in his. “You’ll see that very soon.”
     She just nodded. Pulling her hands away, she said, “Thank you. I had a lovely time. Good night.” She just wanted to get into the house, so she opened the front door quickly.
     She heard him say, “Good night,” and then she closed the door. She leaned back against the door, her eyes closed, and sighed deeply, trembling inside.
     Thomas Monroe…who are you?
     And why are you doing this to me?