ROUNDUP

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: DOWN-HOME


Teenage cowboy is released after Georgia ranch owner discovers his romance with his daughter. Traveling west into Texas, he joins a Wild West show, becomes famous, and prosperous. Years later he
receives a letter that will change his and his old girlfriend's life forever.

Submitted: May 20, 2018

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Submitted: May 20, 2018

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ROUNDUP

Story and Picture by Virgil Dube’ – Copyright 2018

Lonnie Allen pulled on the reins, “Whoa, Flapjack.”

The big two-year-old chestnut pony under him promptly obeyed. After riding in from the north pasture the tall and slim ranch hand dismounted next to the barn. He led his horse Flapjack inside to his stall, his spurs jingling with each step his boots made on the Georgia clay soil. He removed his beige Stetson hat, dusted it against his chaps, and sighed deeply. Unwilling to bed Flapjack, at least for the moment to take a breather, he wiped the sweat from his face with a shirtsleeve. He was content remaining beside Flapjack, inhaling and savoring the fresh ranch smells, plus enjoy the beautiful transition from day to night after a hard day’s work separating cattle for market. Today had been especially laborious when a number of strays ventured into dense pinewoods far out on the pastureland, hazardous to pry stubborn bovine out of dense woodland to rope and finally herd.

A movement alerted him from behind that someone had approached. Turning, seeing who the person was, he smiled broadly.

“You look mighty perty this evening Abigail Stinson.”

The girl wearing a frown initially, smiled nervously, as she moved out of shadow at the barn door and up to the stall to stand several feet away in dusk’s dimming twilight entering the darkening expanse. Instead of responding immediately, and cheerily as she normally would, she remained quiet, her demeanor subdued.

He in contrast, spoke with cheerfulness, her silhouette masking much of her present manner. Nor did he notice or suspect anything wrong during the quiet interlude as she watched him loosen the saddle cinch knowing he was about to rub down and bed Flapjack after a hard day roping and branding Stinson-Brand cattle.

During those moments Abigail’s mind wandered back, and her eyes moistened. Lonnie worked extra hard two years and had grown fond of both her and her parent’s cattle ranch east of Tifton, Georgia. Her father Mathew Brinson operated the huge spread with measured strictness top to bottom. The old man had guardedly taken to him over time. Lonnie appreciated his trust, and the family atmosphere extended him. He had drifted into their lives at age fifteen in August 1890, a stranger from northeast Florida. He had spoken openly of his past to ward off suspicion he was a runaway, or fugitive from law. Born in Fernandina Beach, he had grown up there an orphan after his mother died at childbirth, his true father an angler killed in a shipwreck at sea. Set free by authorities, he was at liberty to wander and do as he pleased, making the best of life with what little he owned. For sure, he had wit and determination, knew after settling on the Brinson spread he would one day be a rancher once he gained experience and earned his own way.

Abigail snapped from her reverie and spoke softly, tremulously, worry evident in her delivery, “Lon, foreman Gallagher told Daddy we were seriously seeing each other, that he saw us kissing in the barn yesterday. He overheard our plans to marry soon. Pop is furious and I fear for us … our plans, especially for your job here.”

Alarm on his angular face newly supporting a mustache, he turned to face her, her form muted in shadow, “How does your mom feel about us?”

“Secretly, I think she’s sympathetic to us as long as I’m happy. Still, she has little choice but side with Daddy … who as you know can be overbearing.”

Lonnie dropped the reins he held prior to removing Flapjack’s bridle. Then he stepped toward her. Stopping short of an embrace, he took her small white hands into his gnarly ones, stepped sideward so he could see her better in the incoming light and gazed glumly down at her pretty face shrouded by curly blonde hair. Searching her blue eyes, he noted sorrow, and hopelessness. Swallowing the consequences hard, he replied, “Don’t you think Matt will put that nosy and jealous Gallagher in his proper place and come to his senses after a couple of days and wish us happiness?”

“No, I don’t. Lonnie, he’s darn bull-headed and too prideful. Besides, he and Gallagher go back to school days as boys, are longtime and trusted friends. Though Daddy admits you’re the best cracker he’s ever hired and champions you over others, he would sacrifice you rather than lose me … especially since I’m just fifteen, and you’re only seventeen.”

Unexpectedly, purposefully, Abigail released his hands. She stepped to one side as if leaving, and said, “Come. Mother has supper almost ready and asked me to fetch you.”

“Give me ten minutes to finish unsaddling, then feed and bed-down Flapjack in his stall.”

*  *  *

It happened after supper that night that young Lonnie met his fate without exchanging harsh words and making a scene. Selfishly guarded against a lover’s unwelcome intrusion and despite his elite cowhand’s exceptional skills as a horseman and cowhand, wizardry with a rope, and an accurate pistol shoot, all due to his keen eyesight and sense of awareness, Mathew Brinson told Lonnie Allen to pack up and leave the next morning. He and Flapjack so attached, he gave Lonnie the horse as a reward for the boy’s steadfast good work.

Dawn barely breaking and with parents politely distant, Lonnie privately bid distressed Abigail farewell. Eyes bearing down on the couple, neither touched the last moments together, though their hearts ached to do so.

As Lonnie swung into the saddle on Flapjack’s back on the ranch house front yard, he looked down at Abigail, and said, “My dear, I’m headed to Austin, Texas, where crackers are called cowboys. However, I could wind up anywhere this side or beyond the Mississippi River. I’ll write to you Abigail Brinson, though I question you receiving my letters.”

“I love you … cowboy, always,” she said teary-eyed. “Please write me  ... I’ll get your letters.”

He tipped his hat, “You’ll always be my sweetheart.” He gently kneed Flapjack, who with the wary cowboy atop him, responded, and cantered away.

*  *  *

Despite the temptation to settle down at various places along the way, Lonnie finally arrived in Texas. He rented a hotel room in Austin and soon got a job on nearby Crooked-River Ranch owned and operated by Coleman Montello.

Several months after he began working as a ranch hand, a steer broke loose from a neighboring rancher’s herd driven by cowboys to the town’s stockyard for rail shipment east. The unruly animal caused havoc up and down the city’s streets, off and on sidewalks, crashing barrels, destroying hitching rails, splitting porch support posts, twisting, butting, and proving difficult for the herd’s cowpunchers to apprehend. Lonnie had arrived in town to purchase personal items and was about to enter Filberts General Mercantile. Hearing the raucous first, then spotting the incensed animal and inept cowboys, he ran to Flapjack and sprang into the saddle. Flapjack tore into a gallop, Lonnie on his back swinging his lariat in wide arches overhead, dodging frantic pedestrians, wagons, and buggies. At a point free of the cowboys, he roped the steer prior to the beast crashing through the Durant’s Hotel lobby door and trampling two screaming women just inside. Lonnie looped the lariat around his saddle horn. Then he nudged Flapjack, who carefully pulled the obnoxious beast back from the half crushed hotel door, allowing Lonnie to gain control and lead him to his appreciative owners at the stockyard.

“Howdy, cowboy,” a stout middle-aged man called out minutes later, as he approached Lonnie tying his horses’ reins to the mercantile hitching post. Lonnie turned. Considering the man friendly, he offered his hand. After the greeting, the man tucked a hand under his vest fringe and said in a deep proud voice, “Young feller, I’m Bob Pendergrass, showman extraordinaire.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Pendergrass … I’m Lonnie Allen.”

“Oh, yes, the young man folks in these parts are callin’ Hawkeye Allen.”

Lonnie chuckled, “Something like that, I suppose.”

“Well, Mr. Allen, I own a traveling rodeo and wild west show. It’s a spectacle that caters to western theatrics and stunts, such as Indians on the warpath, cowgirls eating fire by the campfire, cowboy clowns, knife throwers, and serious cowboy riding, trick and cattle roping, and shooting skills with rifles and pistols. According to your reputation and what I witnessed just moments ago, you would fit dandy into my show.”

“What does this fitting-in and cowboy theatric stuff mean to a plain cowpoke like me?”

“My friend, your rising legend matches what I just witnessed, a dazzling display of skill and daring. You roped and commandeered that steer without difficulty, and that takes an able body cowboy with natural ability. As I said … you would fit in if you’re interested in a job with my outfit. I sprang off from Buffalo Bill Cody, an old close friend going back to days we hunted buffalo together. He and I still keep in touch. As an older feller, I worked in Bill’s Wild West Show, more a backstage worker and organizer. Those were the Grand Days of Wild Bill Hickok, and later Chief Sitting Bull in 1885, when he was released from the Indian Reservation and made $50 a week riding the arena on the warpath. If you’re interested I’ve got an idea, and it might go over big-time with the spectators.”

*  *  *

Mulling over the proposal several days Lonnie put in his notice to Montello and joined the Pendergrass Rodeo and Wild West Extravaganza.

As Texas Hawkeye Allen, Lonnie began performing a variety of stunts solo. So successful his act, and with Bob’s approval, he independently hired a crew to act as staging hands and support characters with him, roping, branding show cows, trick roping, stunt riding – one standing on the saddle with arms spread as Flapjack circled the arena, and pistol shooting. The latter he demonstrated at the show’s conclusion when a closely examined coin was placed sideways atop a grooved stick. At twenty-five paces, Lonnie fired first one bullet grazing one side of the coin, then the second the opposite side. The coin would appear untouched until someone chosen from the crowd held it and showed the creased seams on each side to fellow awestruck spectators, then he or she would pinch and break the coin in half. From the same distance, he fired a bullet through the neck of a beer bottle, most times barely nicking the mouth rim, then blowing out the bottom.

Lonnie and his crew worked the show several years until Bob Pendergrass died March 1906 after suffering a sudden stroke. The show disbanded. With more than enough to stake him and support his crew, he moved with several fellow showmen willing to follow him back to Austin. There, he bought a ranch of his own, a large spread with ranch house and bunkhouse, which he named Georgia Peach. His crew eagerly joined him as cowhands, Slim Butler a dear friend becoming his foreman.

One morning on the Austin city sidewalk he was approached by the mail courier, Ernest Markham, who said, “Hawkeye, I got a letter fer you.”

Lonnie glared at the postal script dated three weeks prior. He gave Ernest two bits for his effort, then opened and read the letter, then reread it, stunned each time. Eyes watering, heart pounding and about to pop from his chest, he grabbed Ernest and hugged him, “Thanks Ernie … you’re a grand mail courier this amazing day.”

Ernest strolled off happy with himself, happier for the elated cowboy. As Ernest descended from him, Lonnie stood in profound shock on the sidewalk gazing in disbelief at the letter, slowly absorbing its implication. A tad rubber-kneed, he finally sat in an empty rocker along the stores’ outside wall and read it a fourth time:

Dear Lon,

I’ve received your every letter, and I know you have received mine, even though you have traveled across the country doing your Wild West Extravaganza Show. I’m very proud of you - your heroics and accomplishments. This message is urgent, and I’m asking you to answer it hastily. Daddy passed on last week, eighteen months following Mother. As you know, he has depended on me to run his ranch after Mother’s death and in lieu of his subsequent and long-term illness. If you will have me as we had planned and aspired to years ago, I’m prepared to make a calculated decision. I intend to sell the ranch to Gallagher and come to you if you have not found another and settled, or have personal reasons that are understandable. Please reply, for I will be anxious until you do. I’ll get back to you about particulars soon thereafter if our destiny is to be together. I’ve always loved you and always will, your former sweetheart, Abigail.

“Whoopee,” Lonnie long last shouted, startling those nearby, drawing attention from everyone within earshot, some close friends suspecting the reason for his jubilation.

Disregarding his objective in town, he sprang from the chair and raced to the telegraph office to send his reply immediately … ‘Come dearest Abigail. Our destiny is to be together … I can hardly wait. I love you eternally … Lon’.

Dashing to Flapjack and leaping into the saddle over the horse’s rump, he bent low and flipped the loosely tied reins from the hitch rail and tore from the town in a wild gallop. Shouting in elation all the way to his ranch, he didn’t slow down to explain his great news to his cowhands. Instead, he uncoiled his saddle lariat and charged madly across the plains in pursuit of first one then another fraught calf for branding.

Slim Butler in the saddle not far away also roping cattle, suspected what had transpired and cheered him onward.

Skirting cactus, sagebrush, rattlesnake, and Gila monster, Lonnie and Flapjack flashed across rocky ground, past Dan Gruber tacking fence line to a post and giving him a thumbs-up, leaving in a dust cloud forming in Flapjack’s wake. The solitary bunkhouse loomed beyond Lonnie and Flapjack on the Texas Plain, mountains lining the southwestern horizon bordering his range and distant ridges rising skyward as a testament to past geological epochs. At a distance, cowhands branded steers that he and Slim constantly brought them during his wild joy ride. Happy, charged as never before, yelling joyfully, Lonnie roped cattle riding fresh horse after yet another exhausted horse the remainder of the day like there was no tomorrow. When he crashed that night in the open range bunkhouse with his men, he fell asleep and immediately dreamed of his beautiful Abigail arriving by train.

Lonnie ‘Hawkeye’ Allen’s personal roundup was finally complete now that his true love would be his partner in life on the open Texas range.

THE END


© Copyright 2018 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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