By James Hold
[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
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WALK DON’T RUN
“Never!” Old Lady Dewdatt told her granddaughter, emphatically. “Never, I say, as long as your grandfather’s portrait hangs over our fireplace, and a breath remains in my body, will I allow you to marry a stinking Mexican!”
The painting to which the old woman pointed was a large one, 6-foot tall, with a heavy oak frame. It had hung over the fireplace for as long as Elinor could remember, a stern visaged man who looked as if he could at any moment step out of the frame and deliver a blow or two to anyone who offended him.
“But grandma,” she protested, “Miguel is not a ‘stinking Mexican’ as you call him. The Sanchez’s are good people, and Miguel has worked hard to educate himself and build a business of his own.”
“The Sanchez family!” Old Lady Dewdatt spat on the hearth rug. “Do you think after all the trouble and expense your grandfather went to in seizing this land from the Sanchez’s that I would turn around and let them have it back by marrying into the family?”
“Seize the land?” Elinor repeated, her eyes going wide. “But Grandma, you always told me Grandfather built this land with his own hands. Now you say he stole the land from its original owners?”
Old Lady Dewdatt’s bony hand dealt a stinging blow to her grandchild’s face. “Don’t you dare say such a thing about your grandfather!” she shouted. “We had every right to the land by virtue of our heritage and our upbringing, more so than a bunch of filthy squatters. While they were scratching dirt with a few cows and chickens we brought in herds and built the fences. We hired the lawyers, and when necessary, brought in the vigilantes to drive others away. It was our hard work that made this land what it is—“
“But, Grandma,” Elinor interrupted, “the land didn’t belong to you.”
“Maybe not,” the woman granted, “but it does now. And as long as that portrait hangs—“
She stopped abruptly, something outside the window having caught her attention.
“You there!” she shouted, stepping out on the veranda. “You by the water trough, stop it I say! Stop it right now!”
Even though the woman’s voice was loud enough to be heard in the next county, the Yegua Kid took his time looking up from the hollow log trough where he stood watering his horse.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.” He removed his hat, allowing his sandy locks to spill across his forehead. “My horse was thirsty, and seeing as no one was around I didn’t think you’d mind if we helped ourselves.”
“The men are out fixing fence,” the woman told him. “In fact, I don’t see how you got past them. Be that as it may, I don’t cotton to trespassers and I’m ordering you off my property this minute.”
“But grandma,” Elinor, still holding her cheek, came to the woman’s side. “Surely you don’t begrudge the man a sip of water.”
“There’s plenty of water to be had in other places,” the old woman sniffed haughtily. “All he has to do is look for it. We didn’t dig our wells for any old stranger to come up and help himself.”
The Yegua Kid, who had heard the conversation inside, made no protest, knowing exactly what he was dealing with.
To make certain her orders were followed Old Lady Dewdatt called out, “Clay! Clay Stevens! Get your worthless hide out here!” and soon an elderly black man, slightly younger than the old harpy, came shuffling around the corner. “Clay,” she told him, “escort this trespasser off my land. And if he gives you any trouble, shoot him.”
“Yez ma’am,” Clay nodded, giving the Kid a wink. “Ah’ll do jest that.” To the Kid he whispered, “C’mon, son. Ah knows a spot where ya kin git all th’ water ya want.”
“Thank you, sir,” the Yegua Kid addressed the old timer respectfully, “for your kind offer.” Then, donning his hat, he said to the old lady. “And thank you, ma’am. It’s not every day one encounters such hospitality on the trail.”
The Yegua Kid and Clay Stevens followed the road out from the ranch, Clay dispensing the sage wisdom of his years along the way.
“With most people Ah’d say ya hafta fergive ‘em cos that’s just part of gettin’ old, only with Ol’ Lady Dewdatt Ah takes exception. Th’ woman’s been ornery all her life. Truth is, all th’ bad deeds credited to her husband, Mr Wottentaur, sprang from her hateful doin’s.”
“His name was Wottentaur?” the Kid asked.
“Yessur, that wuz his real name. Her’s too. Folks took ta callin’ her ‘Dewdatt’ cos with her it wuz always ‘do dis’ an’ ‘do dat’ till she got her way. Ah worked fer Mr Wottentaur from th’ time Ah wuz a boy an’ a nicer man you could never hope ta meet. It wuz just his wife wuz so forceful he had ta do th’ things he did in order ta get a little peace. Th’ day he died he had th’ biggest smile ya’d ever want ta see; an’ th’ only reason Ol’ Lady Dewdatt’s still around is cos neither th’ Lord nor th’ Devil want anythin’ ta do with ‘er.”
In due time they arrived at the watering hole where horse and rider drank their fill.
“Still, th’ ol’ woman did dream big,” Clay went on. “Planned on buildin’ a dynasty. ‘Wottentaur Nation’ she’d always say. Even ta this day, with everyone gone but a granddaughter, she clings ta her ambitions like a tick ta a cow’s ear, an’ like as not she’ll keep a’clingin’ after she’s gone.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, granddaughter Elinor came to a decision.
“I want to thank you, grandma,” she said, “for opening my eyes. I know now the kind of person you are. I cannot speak of grandfather, as I never knew him, but you have shown me enough. Your spiteful pride has no place in this world, and although I must respect you as the mother of my mother, there is nothing that compels me to love you.
“No, don’t interrupt. Let me finish.
“Twenty years I lived in your house, under your rule, told to walk when I wanted to run. But that has ended. As there is no love to be had in this house or in your presence, I am going away to marry Miguel, tonight if he will have me.
“I leave here with nothing but the clothes on my back, and if you insist you may have those as well, for I want nothing other than what the distance of miles can give me.”
So saying, Elinor walked out the door and up the path that led from the ranch, into a new life where love was real and worthiness was not measured by one’s ability to control things.
“Don’t you dare walk out on me,” Old Lady Dewdatt shouted after her. “I’ll never let you marry that Sanchez boy. My lawyers will see to it. For as sure as your grandfather’s portrait hangs over the fireplace and a single breath remains in my body—“
But the portrait of Mr Wottintaur had been hanging there a long time, unattended for many years, and the heavy weight of the oak frame on the single bolt holding it to the wall had loosened its hold. And as the old woman stood beneath it, her finger pointing and her voice rocking the the room, it finally let go.
No one was around to hear her scream, for the hands were out fixing fence and Clay Stevens had not yet returned, as the weight of the portrait crushed the last breath from her body. After which, it became an argument between the Lord and the Devil as to who would admit her into their abode.
The Yegua Kid and his horse continued up the trail. Some deep feeling told him things would work out for Elinor and she would find comfort in the arms of her lover. At the same time he recalled the words of old Clay Stevens. “Wottintaur Nation,” he chuckled, finally getting the joke. “What in tarnation.”
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The Yegua Kid roams the Texas southwest observing many things as he goes along. Like the lazy river for which he is named, he keeps to himself and lets life unfold as it will.