|The view of the roads, one early Chicago morning, December 2015|
It feels good to get back to work after a long break. Also, I'm looking forward to getting back to writing and finishing my next book, Williamsburg Hill...it was coming along nicely until a little thing called "moving" happened.
January 2016 is an anniversary of sorts for me. Four years ago, I started this blog and thought it wouldn't last. But I'm still around and posting stuff. Thanks for reading my stories and musings. I hope you enjoy Cowboy Ridge and Honor and, as always, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson)
Cowboy Ridge and Honor
By Veronica Randolph Batterson
(©Veronica Randolph Batterson)
His horse pawed the earth, scraping away snow and foraging for grass to eat. Spring thaws were starting and bits of green, suddenly awake after a long winter’s sleep, sprouted through the slush. Soon the ground would be a muddy mess and he’d be digging muck out of hooves, boots and from more things than he cared to consider.
“Not much to eat here, old boy,” he said, patting the neck of the gelding that had been his companion for over a decade. The horse looked up at the sound of his voice, its ears swiveling.
It wasn’t far now. The old schoolhouse was just around the bend; he imagined smoke billowing from its chimney, and the bell ringing through the hollow signaling the start of a school day in what was now an abandoned structure. He guessed Honor had remembered it that way, too, as it had been the man’s history.
It had taken him nearly a week to complete this final trip with his friend. “Six days, thirteen hours and roughly twenty minutes,” he muttered, glancing at the pocket watch Honor had given him. It was almost over. Soon he would be home in the arms of his wife and sitting by a warm fire.
He’d been rough around the edges all those years ago when he first met Honor; he had plucked himself straight from the Chicago streets and landed in a hellish Montana winter without knowing a soul or understanding why he’d done it. Smiling, he recalled his attempts at fitting in. His new, brand-named outerwear didn’t fool anyone, nor did the shiny, leather cowboy boots that were in dire need of breaking in. His feet had hurt so badly. He recalled his first meeting with the man who would become his mentor.
“You ain’t from these parts, are you?” came the raspy drawl. The man was leaning against the checkout counter of the only grocery store within a fifty-mile radius.
“So it’s that obvious,” he had replied.
“Well, I know most folks from around here, and I don’t know you. So the odds of you being a stranger are pretty good,” the man smiled, lines deepening around his eyes and the tips of his full mustache lifting with his grin.
“And I thought the way I was dressed was the giveaway,” he’d said.
“To some it would be. To me, it looks like you’re trying too hard,” came the reply.
“Trying too hard at what?”
“Only you know that answer. Maybe to blend in, maybe to get a fresh start at something new. Nothing’s wrong with either one.”
“Guess I’d like to do both.”
“Well, let me give you a bit of advice. You really going to eat that?” the man had nodded toward the food he held in his hand.
“Why else would I be buying it?”
“Maybe to kill a stray cat. Look, old Sally runs a good store here, and she can generally cook a decent meal, but I wouldn’t say sushi is her specialty. That ain’t exactly something that flies off the shelves. Some might get a good laugh out of the city slicker who got sick off of old Sally’s concoctions.”
He’d looked down at the wrapped package and thought it appeared less appetizing than before. A wave of homesickness washed over him at that moment and he wondered what had made him think he could ever make it out west. Setting the food back on the shelf, he turned to the stranger.
“Thanks,” he’d said.
“My pleasure. Name’s Honor, by the way,” the man had replied, extending his hand.
He remembered shaking Honor’s hand and thought how that one gesture could sum up a person as a human being. Honor’s handshake was an indication of just who the man was. Genuine, strong, dependable and devoted. He’d known his friend for many years and Honor never swayed from being anything other than decent and good. The name had defined him.
“How’d you end up with the name Honor anyway?” he recalled asking the man once.
“Left on the doorstep as a babe with the word pinned to my blanket. I was raised by some good folks who simply used the name out of respect for whoever left me,” Honor had replied.
“You never wanted to find out who that was? Where you came from?”
“Why? I am who I am.”
And that was Honor. From the old buckskin coat with the torn fringe, to the weathered cowboy hat he wore, you knew what you were getting. And when his old friend, who never asked for any favors, drew his last breath, he knew what was needed. To honor a request that had come from the heart.
“The woman I loved told me that I was as mule-headed of a man she ever met, but she loved me in spite of it,” Honor revealed once, and had laughed at the memory.
“Didn’t know you were ever married.”
“Didn’t say I was. She and I never made it legal, but we lived together as man and wife up near a place we called Cowboy Ridge.”
“That far from here?”
“Pretty far. You can only make it by horse. Hard as heck building that little cabin, but we did it. Just the two of us.”
“Where is she now?”
“She’s buried up there. Should’ve made it legal.” Honor had hung his head at the regret.
His mind came back to the present as he and the horse crossed into the valley. There stood the remote and dilapidated schoolhouse that Honor had attended, standing stubbornly against time and the elements. It had survived all who had crossed its threshold and served as one final visual of his friend. He would probably never pass this way again.
“Promise me something,” Honor’s voice gasped, as he had struggled to form the words at the end.
“Spread my ashes at Cowboy Ridge. I need to rest with her.”
He carried out his friend’s wishes in a manner he thought best. Two days to make Cowboy Ridge, a couple more tending to the property and cabin, two additional days to get back. The ashes were scattered without fuss near the gravesite of the woman Honor had loved, as rushing water from a nearby stream provided the only sound. He was certain Honor would have been pleased.
“Time to go home now,” he said to the horse, as he gently nudged the animal onward. “Bet there’ll be some nice mash waiting. Beats mud and weeds, don’t you think?” The horse nickered in response, nodding its head as if understanding.
The schoolhouse behind them, he didn’t look back. He’d done the right thing by Honor, who never regretted anything other than not marrying the woman he had loved. A sense of urgency filled him, as if time were limited. Soon his cabin appeared in sight, the warm glow of lights through the windows illuminating the twilight and warming his soul. His wife was waiting for him.
©Veronica Randolph Batterson