Jeff Campbell, his wife Lucy and her younger brother Jesse were new to town. They'd just gotten married then moved to Indian territory, but just on the border, away from most tribes. It had been a long journey from California, and they had Indians to avoid the whole time. Jesse had already almost lost his scalp. If it weren't for Jesse's fast gun they'd probably all be dead.
Jeff and his brother were at their first town meeting. The man of every house was supposed to come. Jeff had forgotten that some houses were out of men to run it. Mrs. Taylor was a widow, and her only son was eight. Not quite old enough to be the man of the house, though he was here with his mother, learning the trade so it seemed. They had come for their fatherless family. She had six more daughters at home. And her son Samuel was the oldest.
And Jenny Land, she was young, only sixteen. Her father was young too. He and her brothers had gone to fight with the rebels. Word had come around that all three were dead. The girl was left to farm and work the house by herself. She had no blood family here. Her father had only just moved them here when they had to go to war. And Jenny was too busy to make friends.
There was silly folk talk that she never slept. Neighbors saw her working day and night. But tonight she was here, representing her land and her deceased family. Jenny had silver, blonde hair that was braided neatly behind her head. She wore a clean green dress and a yellow bonnet. She had clear green eyes and a small nose and full, red lips.
Talk was that she was the envy of all the young men in town. Jeff felt sorry for her. She couldn't be a pretty girl. She had to work and wouldn't really get the chance to court with other young men. He wondered what it was like for a young girl to have to take care of herself like that.
Everyone knew why the meeting had been called. Word was that soldiers were coming...Yanks. And what their intentions were was unknown. Were they here in peace or in war? The town was afraid that the Yanks were vengeful. War had been hard around these parts. Jeff hoped he wouldn't have to move again.
War was the reason they had to move from California. Even though the war wasn't as strong there, it was still dangerous. It wasn't the war about the states, but about land. A gang was riding and burning houses and claiming the lands for their own. There was rumors that James Carter Mitchell was behind it. He'd been trying to buy the lands for years.
A few men wandered over to Jeff and introduced themselves. Jesse joined them shortly. Jeff introduced his brother and the men grinned.
“Is there a reason you men are all smiling so big?” Jesse asked.
“Yeah, talk is that the pastor likes you.” Mr. Darkens said, the men chuckled at the comment.
“Well I do reckon that is something to grin about. I suppose it is a mighty fine thing that a man of God thinks I'm a good man.” he replied.
“Son, it's more than that. When Jenny was fifteen and her Pops and brothers left, well the pastor done took it on himself to find her a good husband. You're only a few years older, and the pastor only has you and Markey to choose from. Well, let's face it, Markey just ain't a good match fer Jenny cause of his temper.” Mr. Darkens explained.
“Well, Jenny sure is a lovely lady, but I won't be staying long. I'm not lookin' for a wife just yet. I plan to move on to Tennessee once my sister and her faithful husband get settled down.”
“That's just too bad. That girl works so hard. She deserves a man to help her run the farm.”
“Well there ain't no reason you can't help Jenny before you move to Tennessee. Your sister would think mighty high of you for it.” Jeff said.
“I think that's up to Jenny. She probably don't like to be imposed on.” Jesse muttered.
“It's like he already knows her.” Danny Saul teased. “She don't like that the pastor is trying to marry her either. I overheard her talking to Sherry, my wife, saying she didn't have time for a husband because she was too busy at night. My Sherry about fainted.
I was howling with laughter all the way home. Sherry likes to bring her food every once in the while. Something about being a good neighbor and God damning us to hell if she don't.”
Jesse laughed. “Well, I commend her for working so hard. But like I said, I'm not going to be here for long. Besides, I might have to join the war in a year. It would be a shame to put her through what she just went through.”
“Amen.” Mr. Darkens agreed. “But she still needs a man.”
Jesse shook his head.
“Is that right Mister Darkens?” a musical voice asked. It sounded so young. “I think I'd know if I needed a man. Far as I can tell, I'm managing just fine on my own.” Jenny said.
Mr. Darkens put a friendly arm around her shoulders. “I'm just worrying about ya as always.”
“Oh really? I figured you were just looking for more gossip to pass on to Sherry. The whole town would be buzzin' to discover I'm getting married.” she replied. She kissed him on the cheek and smiled. “I tell you what, every man I meet just wants to get me married anymore. Can't a woman work herself to the bone this day and age?”
“It's more than the work, Jenny. You need a man to protect you when those Yanks come around.” Danny said.
“I do have a man for that.” she replied.
“Since when?” Mr. Darkens asked.
“Since I learned how to shoot my Daddy's six gun.” she replied. The men laughed.
Jesse could see how mature the girl was. Though she seemed young and her voice was young, she was a woman beneath. He wondered how much she had to face on her own. He knew a little about womanhood from his sister. He wondered if Jenny had to face those kinds of things by herself. He felt a deep pity for her.
“Well Miss Land,” Jesse said and tipped his hat. “They've only said good things about you as far as I can tell.”
She smiled and nodded her head. “Well Mister Thomas, thank you for easing my worries. I don't think I could bear having folk talk bad about me.” she said then grinned.
“All right folks, let's get settled down and start this meeting.” Doctor James said. He was the one who held the town meetings and called them to order.
The crowd got settled down and Doc took his place at the front of the church. Jesse was suddenly taken with Miss Jenny Land. He'd never met another woman like her. His sister had a similar spirit, but not quite the same. Jenny was used to being the man of her house.
She acted like she was just another cowboy making a hard day's pay. It intrigued Jesse more than he liked. He didn't want to grow attached to anyone, especially not a girl. He was young and not ready to settle down. Yet, he was already falling for the stranger. Jesse shook his head and looked over at Jeff to see him grinning.
“What?” Jesse asked.
“You like her, that's what.” he replied. “Can't wait to tell Lucy. We should invite her over for dinner. We are her new neighbors after all.”
Jesse shook his head. “Brother, I think you're going to fit into this town after all. You're already trying to find her a husband.”
“No, brother, I'm trying to find you a wife.” Jeff replied. “Think how happy your sister would be with me if I did just that.”
“Trying to kick me out, Jeff?”
“Something like that. Your sister and I never did get to go on a honeymoon.” he murmured.
Jesse laughed as the Doc called the meeting to begin. “I think we all know why we're here.” he started. “The Yanks are coming this way and the paper says they're burning houses and raping women.” All eyes flew to Jenny and Mrs. Taylor then flickered back to Doc. “They're killing innocent men and stealing food. They're claiming the third amendment.” he sighed.
“What does the third amendment have to do with burning houses and killing men?” Gregory Smith yelled.
“Nothing.” The Doc replied. “They're grasping at straws, trying to justify what they're doing. It's war, and the Yanks are reminding us of that. Either we pack up and leave or we fight. There's not much choice.” he sighed.
“Then we fight.” Jenny said. “If any of my family is still alive I'm not letting them come home to Yankees. I'm willing to fight. I can kill a man. I can bury him too.” she said.
Jesse looked at her, amazed. That's it, he was in love.
“Jenny, no one expects you to fight.” Doc said.
“My father would. He wouldn't have taught me to shoot otherwise.” she said, her chin up.
“We haven't decided yet, Jenny.” he reminded.
His eyes flew to Jesse and the other eyes followed his. Jesse sighed. He'd already known it was him who was expected to protect Jenny. He was, after all, her new neighbor. He realized somewhere in his mind he'd already decided that for himself. Jenny was his new responsibility. Great.
He wondered if he could teach Jeff how to fast gun. It would come in handy when the Yanks came around, and there would be war in town. He'd do that too.
Maybe even teach Jenny how to fast gun. Though women weren't usually good at that type of thing. Jeff put a hand on his shoulder knowingly. He was reminding him not to worry so much. Jesse was famous for that. He pursed his lips.
“I'm not leaving my land.” Mr. Darkens said. “I'm going to fight, and I'd like to get those Yankees before they have the chance to burn down my home. I say we take them out as soon as they set foot in town.”
“I suppose we don't have much choice. We have about three days to plan for the Yanks. Any man who can fight is welcome to help.” Doc held up a hand before Jenny could open her mouth. “You know what I mean Jenny. You're welcome to help, but you really should stay home.”
“You need all the help you can get. In fact, do you have any idea how many Yanks are coming?” she asked. “How many are we up against?”
“We're not sure. At least seventy.”
“I'll ride out to the Yanks as a spy and find out the numbers. If I ride hard I should be able to make it back in time and give you a good estimate.”
“No.” Jesse said. He stood. “I'll go. If a spy is captured they'll be hanged the next morning. A woman will be raped too. It's too dangerous.”
Jenny stood. “Just because I'm a woman-”
“Because you are a woman no man will take you seriously. We know you, because we're your town. But to soldiers you're just a girl. I'll go.” Jesse said.
“I can do this!” Jenny argued.
He glared at her. “Sit down.” he snapped. God, women tested his nerves.
He and Jenny glared at each other for a moment. Finally, she slowly sat down and crossed her arms.
“I'll go.” he repeated. “And I'll fight when I come back.”
Jeff stood up beside him. “Where we come from Jesse was known as a fast gun. He can draw and fire in under one second.”
The men laughed. “That's impossible.” one of the men sputtered. He was a big, burly man, and looked pretty cocky.
“I'm not here to prove anything. Just know I can shoot and I'll fight.” Jesse said.
“Any man who can stand up to Jenny is a fighter in my book.” Doc said and the men erupted in laughter.
Jesse looked at Jenny and tipped his hat. “I apologize. But maybe you'd better remember you are a woman and that if you're father and brothers return they'd like to find you here alive and unharmed.” he said then sat down. He wasn't in the mood to fight with a woman. A girl too, he reminded himself.