Written by guest writer Abby Kenyon, this is a retelling of a Bible story set in Western lore. See if you can figure out which story she is retelling!
Dark and thick, night fell around the men and cattle. Dwindling campfires dotted the ground and a ring of similar glowing embers surrounded the valley along the foot of the mountains. Two rugged men with stubble across their jaws squatted, tin mugs of coffee in hand. One stoked the small, crackling fire; the other gazed uneasily in front of him at the foothills.
“They’re still there,” the second offered.
“The way I see it, so long as they don’t bother us, there be no reason to bother them or be bothered,” the first responded placidly and took another jab at the coals.
“Still, makes me jittery. Like someone could be standin’ behind me at any moment without me knowin’,” he muttered, peering into the darkness behind him.
“Now maybe they is behind there. Way I see it, maybe they got our back,” he countered, sending his companion a sideways glance as he slurped coffee from the tin mug.
The second man mumbled indistinctly and spat out the tobacco he’d been jawin’.
“It’s my suspicion,” the first continued, “that those men up there—enough fer a small army—are none other than the same we heard tell of Fort Callaway—the ones who deserted with that Captain what’s-‘is-name.”
“Yeah? His portrait’s plastered all ’round town—and not a bad one at that—along with the hefty price out fer ‘is head.” he seemed unfazed by the revelation, still flitting his eyes from side to side: it was a popular opinion among the men.
“Yeeuup,” the first went on, “the way I figur, he ain’t all that bad of a fella—none o’ that direct disobeyin’ o’ orders—I rather side with the women folk on this one,” he chuckled wryly, “The General’s nasty in those rages of his. The way I see it, the old miser just can’t stand lyin’ in this young fella’s shadow. So, he’s out fer ‘is head. This—this—”
“What’s-‘is-name,” his companion interjected.
“Right. Though he’s no outlaw, my guess is he’s gotta feed all those men who follered him—he ain’t gonna steal, but he might jus’ ask people to return a favor,” he concluded slyly.
The other snorted, ” Good luck gettin’ Mister Nab to return the favor fer keepin’ an eye on ‘is herd.”
“Yeeuup, there might be trouble,” the first nodded.
“Looks like it’s about time for the others to take over. Douse out the fire so we can git some sleep,” and the second man drained his tin mug.
The first poured the remaining coffee from the tin pitcher onto the fire, watching the flames fizzle into wisps of smoke.
“Jesson—that’s ‘is name,” he murmured to himself, “—David Jesson.”
* * * * *
The sun glared down mercilessly as the grimy men prodded the cattle into makeshift pens; with a glowing hot iron, they seared a bold N on their hide. A burly man with snakelike eyes surveyed the scene atop his black mount. In the distance, five figures on horseback approached. The fire stoker from a couple nights ago nudged his nervous companion and jerked his head in the direction of the two approaching men: they wore tattered blue uniforms with faded yellow stripes running down their pant legs.
“Well, what do we have here?” the burly man with snakelike eyes queried.
“We come on behalf of Captain David Jesson, sir,” one of the blue-coated riders responded and rode forward. “Are we addressing Mr. Nabal, sir?”
He leaned forward on his saddle and grated out, “Just why do you want to know?”
“Best wishes for you and yourn: we noticed your cowhands bringing the new cattle in. We did them no harm but made a wall around them to keep the rustlers and thieves out for the long journey. You can ask your men, sir—we took nothing for our own. Now, sir, we request that you return one good turn for another and provide the Captain and us, his men, with provisions,” curtly concluded the one who had previously responded.
Mr. Nab stared at the blue coated rider, his eyes cold and dry like Nevada winters. He spat at the messenger’s feet.
“Who is Captain David Jesson?” he hissed from between his mustard teeth. “There’re so many yellow-bellied deserters scouring the country now-a-days. Why should I give my food to a bunch of good-fer-nothin’ bastards? You tell that yer high chieftain,” he scoffed.
The four tattered soldiers reached for their pistols, but the messenger raised his hand, and the men backed down. Without a word he spun around, and the five riders galloped off leaving a cloud of red dust in their wake.
Jaws clenched, the cowhands shuffled their feet, an uneasy shadow in their eyes. Mr. Nab snorted and licked his lips. With a painful jerk, he turned his mare’s head and rode off, as well. The nervous man from a couple nights ago jumped onto his horse and sped away towards the ranch house.
* * * * *
Reaching the house, he swung off the bay and strode towards the front door.
“Missus Abigail!” he shouted and rapped on the door as though he were about to knock it down. “Missus Abigail!”
“Yes?” A young woman with dark eyes stepped out of the barn, carrying a baby bottle in one hand and a feeble little lamb in her arm. The cowhand swiveled around on his heel.
“Ma’am,” he gulped as he ran over, “Mr. Nab will kill us all.” He recounted all that had happened between Captain Jesson’s men and his employer.
The woman’s features tensed, and a flame of anger flickered for a moment in her eyes before disappearing.
“Hitch up the three wagons—get Joe and Nate to help you—and drive ‘em ‘round to the smoke house. I’ll meet you there in ten minutes,” she ordered.
He scurried over to the shed.
Kissing the little lamb, she laid him down in his special hay-strewn pen, her expression soft and warm. She turned to the house—a look of determination etched on her face.
* * * * *
Clouds of sweltering air and choking dust billowed around the wagons. Abigail felt her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth—as dry as a desert breeze; her white hands clutched the seat. Down the road a small army of tattered, blue-uniformed riders charged towards her, and she towards them. Within a couple seconds, they would crash. She gazed steadily ahead.
The horses skidded and reared to a halt before them. Abigail climbed down from the wagon.
“Captain David Jesson,” she called out through the dust.
A large sorrel stepped forward to her side. She looked up and for a split second the Captain’s hazel eyes locked with hers.
“I am Nabal’s wife.” She eyed the shoes peeking out from under her skirt.
“Forgive me—please, Captain—for I did not hear your men’s message. Do—do—not mind the words of my husband, I beg you,” she swallowed; wisps of chestnut hair clung to her forehead and neck. “He—he is foolish—at times.” She steadied her voice and continued, “Pray, do not sin against him, and God, in harming us. You have done no wrong—I know: do not begin today.”
She looked up at those piercing hazel eyes. They seemed to ask a question.
“Forgive us for hasty, unwise words, and, please, accept the food and provisions we bring,” she concluded.
He swung down from the sorrel’s back and whipped off his hat.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he spoke, “God surely sent you to stop me from doing something I would later regret—and for that, may God bless you.”
His eyes still held a question—and they still did when she left. She did not look back.
* * * * *
Nabal’s raucous voice boomed across the house. Two other, boisterous male voices joined his along with the dink-dink of gambling chips.
“And I told him,” Nabal’s voice rolled, “‘Go to —!’”
Abigail heard more riotous laughter followed by the thud of a glass bottle on the card table. She climbed the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door.
The next morning, when Nabal had sobered up, his wife told him what she had done.
“You thievin’, unfaithful woman!” he shouted followed by a volley of profanity and swearing.
He lunged towards Abigail, but, in that instant, froze, shaking convulsively. Reaching out, he grasped the table for support and clenched his chest. His face turned ashen grey; his eyes widened into pits of fear. Abigail helped him to the couch and sent for the doctor.
“Seems like it’s the old ticker, Abigail,” the doctor stated after checking him.
He died a few days later.
* * * * *
Three months passed. Abigail sold the ranch. She kissed her now-strong lamb goodbye and wiped a tear from her cheek before stepping onto the eastward heading stage. She would miss the free, open country with its valleys, forests, snow-capped peaks…But there was no reason to stay, was there? No, she couldn’t find any. Yet, as the stage coach jostled down the road, she felt a cord within her heart grow taut, and any time now as she moved further away she knew it would snap and limply hang there—broken—forever.
The sound of pounding hooves and shouting came to her ears.
“Stop!” two riders, enveloped in dust, called out. The stage slowed to a halt. The dust cleared revealing tattered, blue-uniformed men.
“Mrs. Abigail,” one of them addressed her and handed a letter through the coach window. She ran through its contents, her hands shaking. Doubtfully, she looked up at the messengers, a question in her dark eyes.
“The Captain’s waiting with the preacher and the justice of the peace, ma’am,” the one who handed her the letter said.
She hesitated. Then, she climbed down the coach steps and asked the driver to throw down her luggage. The messenger helped her jump on behind him and they rode off towards the mountains.
Abigail gazed ahead steadily, a smile playing on her lips, every shadow of a doubt erased from her eyes.
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