Chapter 1 – Pointed Views
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We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.
The aspen leaves had just begun to turn before Snakeskin Anderson decided that he had finished enough fencing to get some cattle. The hay had long since been cut and stored in the barns and the haying crew had gone back to Nebraska and their own little farms.
It was a good time to move cattle. The rivers were low enough to make them easy to cross and the heat had left the deserts, but snow had not yet fallen in the high country. There had been many messages coming and going from Snakeskin's ranch. Finally, he announced that he was going over to Beaver in Utah to pick up a herd next week.
When Snakeskin came in from work the next day, there was a note wedged his the door that said, "Come see me." The note was not signed, but he knew who sent it. He was bringing a bucket of water from the well when the cook came in with the stew and biscuits. "Just put it on the table, Coosie," he said, "and thanks."
He sat down for a quick dinner and then quickly undressed, washed up with a sponge and a basin, threw the water out, put on clean riding clothes, saddled up, and rode through the twilight toward the Salt Works Ranch. As he rode up, Annawest stepped out from behind the barn. She was wearing a yellow dress with her hair loose around her shoulders. Snakeskin rode over and tied BettyBea to a hitching post, loosened the cinch, and turned to Annawest. She stepped into his arms for a kiss and led him to a low bench she had brought out from the house. They sat down and she turned to him. "Snakeskin . . . " she said and hesitated.
He picked up a stick from the ground, examined it, and started whittling. After a few strokes, he looked up at her.
"Snakeskin," she said, "There's twice men have tried to shoot you from you bein' a bounty hunter . . . "
"That's don't happen much . . . doesn't," said Snakeskin, "Everybody knows I always tried to make a deal. Get them a lawyer. Split the reward. Git their wife a job. Slip them a lock pick or two if they weren't killers. There aint't . . . aren't that many looking for me. You know."
" I know I've seen two people try to shoot you. Suppose . . . suppose we could leave here and you could find a less dangerous way making a livin'."
Snakeskin stopped whittling. "Like what?"
"Well, if you sold your ranch, we could move back east and start a business of some kind."
Snakeskin dropped his stick, turned and looked at her with an open mouth and an incredulous brow. "Do what now? Do what now? Sell everything I've worked half my life for to go east and be a counter-jumper? You're talking wild."
She held her hands out to him. "But it would be safer. I wouldn't have to worry about you gettin' killed and you wouldn't have to worry about getting so sick when you have to shoot somebody."
He ignored her hands. "When a counter-jumper walks down the street in the kind of clothes he's got to wear, all the waddies call him a yellow dog. They say, 'Here boy, Here boy, Here boy!'. And nobody listens to a thing he's got to say."
She leaned towards him and put one hand on the bench. He stayed sitting straight and kept frowning. "Snakeskin," she said, "businessmen get plenty of respect."
"From other counter-jumpers."
Annawest sighed, "I understand about pride. But risking your life for pride every time you leave the house is plum de trop. It's going too far."
"Oh yeah?" said Snakeskin. "I can't believe you're talking like this. You know how I feel about this kind of life, because you feel the same way. We like horses, we like the country, we like life a little wild. We ain't indoor people and we sure ain't city people. Aren't."
Annawest sat up straight, "I know, but is it worth gittin' shot? Why do you have to be a cowboy?"
Snakeskin jumped up and walked a step away. When Annawest started to follow him, he held up a hand to stop her. He put his knife away and clenched both his fists hard and took a deep breath. He let it out and relaxed his hands. Finally he sat back down and turned to her. "I've never told this to anybody," he said. She folded her hands in her lap and assumed a listening attitude. "I never told you all about Saint Elmo," he began.
"My uncle Crate was a mine owner and rough on the people that worked for him. And those labor troubles that got so bloody were just starting up. And that schoolteacher! She was easy on me because Crate was a mine owner but she let the other kids know they were trash as far as she was concerned. She didn't use the word trash but she might as well have. She'd scream at them, "Bad home influence! That's what's the matter with you. Bad home influence!"
"There were three brothers living next door that were still in school. Miner's sons. Soon as those three brothers left the house every morning, they were looking for somebody to pick on. Especially somebody that wasn't called trash. I remember one time, I was about six and they were eleven at least. They walked up to me and one of them punched me in the face and knocked me down. They grabbed my arms and one of them put his hands on either side of my face and slapped me back and forth a dozen times. I told my Aunt, but she didn't believe me. She grew up in a little farming community in Nebraska where they didn't do that kind of thing. Every time they saw me, they were after me. I tried to fight, but it wasn't any use. They were bigger than I was and there were three of them. They'd grab me and . . . well you get the idea.
Snakeskin paused and half covered his face with one hand and looked away. "I . . . I used to run to school and hide in the boy's outhouse until the teacher rang the bell. They used to call me . . . well, you don't want to know."
"So I swore, I swore a hundred times that when I got old enough, I was going to have respect no matter what it cost me." Snakeskin's hands had curled into fists. He stood, picked up a pine knot, and hurled as hard as he could at a fence post. He missed. He slumped back on the bench. "I've never told anybody about this because there's nothing worse than a man that feels sorry for himself," he said.
Annawest nodded, "I understand but there are other ways of getting' respect than . . . "
Snakeskin interrupted, finally raising his voice, "No you don't understand. I got to have respect for being a Cowboy of the Pecos, I got to have respect for being tough."
"Everybody knows how tough you are," said Annawest, "you git all kinds of respect."
"How long would I keep that respect if everybody knew that a woman pushed me into giving up a ranch I've worked half my life to get?"
"You men and your cultus pride."
"So my pride means nothing to you does it?"
"I didn't say that," snapped Annawest. "And what about your headaches and throwin' up. Do you like them? And someday someone is going to shoot you when you are flat on your back bein' sick because you killed somebody."
Snakeskin jumped up and faced her, hands on hips, "I'll tell you what you said," he snarled, "you said that what I want—what I got to have—don't mean nothing to you compared to what you want. I can't have a wife that's that selfish."
Annawest jumped up, looked down her nose at Snakeskin, and said with perfect diction, "I have not agreed to be your wife."
"A woman like you shouldn't be anybody's wife. Maybe you ought to catch a boat to Egypt and get yourself elected queen of Sheba."
"I'm going." He stomped over to his horse, untied her, turned back to Annawest, and said with forced calm. "I'm going over to Beaver to pick up a herd of cattle. I won't be back for three-four weeks. If ever."
He untied BettyBea, put his foot on a boulder, leapt into the saddle, and started to gallop off. He had forgotten to tighten the cinch, however, so the saddle slipped and ended up on BettyBea's belly. Snakeskin fell off and lost the reins. BettyBea stopped, turned around, and sniffed at him. Snakeskin jumped to his feet spouting the kind of profanity he rarely used and had never before uttered in the presence of a woman.
Annawest leaned forward with clenched fists, "Watch your #*!@, #*!@, #*!@ language!" she shouted.
She turned to march back into the house and saw that the hullabaloo had drawn all the Salt Works cowboys out of their bunkhouse. "What are you lookin' at?" she yelled at them. They all turned and looked away.
As they went, she heard Old Pete say, "Y'know Ah heard of this woman once that tried to train her cat not to catch mice. It didn't work a'course and she got herself all scratched to blazes, too."
"Ahh!" snarled Annawest, "Pete . . . " She stopped herself and strode into the house. Waypatoo, drawn to the door, jumped back just in time to keep from getting run over.
On the day Snakeskin left for Beaver, Annawest saddled her horse, a little buckskin she called Joann, and rode to the top of a small hill a short distance from the station and watched the train go away. She stood there for some time and then took a long ride across the park. She gave her mare her head and let her wander and was surprised when they ended up at Cottonwood Creek, near the spot where Snakeskin had first taken her fishing. The water was low and the stream was quiet. The sand and the rocks under water still had a touch of gold that was echoed in the yellow cottonwood leaves that slowly circled in the current.
She dismounted and looked at the water. Tears came to her eyes. She hugged her horse around its neck, said, "Damn," and wiped her tears away. The horse gave her a puzzled look. "I can not be weak, Joann" she told her horse, "You can not be weak out here. You got to stick to your decisions." She mounted and rode up and out of the canyon and across the flat.
Chapter 2 – Trout Diem
You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.
Annawest looked up at the mountains as she rode. The aspen formed a band of gold above the dark conifers. "That's really pretty," she thought, "Snakeskin is really missing . . . damn." She kicked BettyBea into a gallop for half a mile and then cantered the rest of the way back to the ranch. Once there, she walked her horse cool, brushed her down, and checked her hooves then went down to the house. Once there, Annawest hung her hat on a peg and stood gritting her teeth at it.
Her foster mother, Waypatoo, was sitting at her loom. "Among the Dineh," she said in Navajo, "it is rare that a woman gets to marry a man she loves. First comes duty to families and clan."
"Were you that fortunate?" said Annawest frowning at the mirror and fixing her hair.
"No," said Waypatoo, turning to her weaving. "I loved a man deeply, but we never married. No, I never even got to make love with him. The defeat of our people gave me many, many regrets, but none as keen as that one."
Annawest turned and gave her a straight look. "And I'm throwin' my chance away. Is that what you're sayin'?" she said in English.
"In this," said Waypatoo, "I can give you no advices, Shiheart. There are, maybe, regrets in every choice. In one, I think you know, is some joys."
"You're telling me to marry him and get my heart broken when he gits killed."
"I tell you nothings. You must decide," said Waypatoo. She went on with her weaving for a moment; then she looked up. "I could never love a man who would not kill for me. Could you?"
Annawest fled to her room. She tripped over a fold in the rug and gave it a kick. The rug stayed put because she was standing on it. She kicked a stool that bounced off the wall with a satisfying clatter. "Mi vache, mi vache, mi vache!" she said. "Maybe poetry will calm me down. It used to."
She dragged down her copy of the Rubiyat, flumped down, turned to a random page, and read:
Ah, my Belov'ed fill the Cup that clears
To-day Past Regrets and Future Fears:
To-morrow!--Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n Thousand Years.
"Dang it," she said and opened another page.
Some for the Glories of This World; and some,
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!
"Oh mi vache merde!" Annawest hissed and reached for her Shakespeare. By chance, she picked up 'Twelfth Night' opened it and read:
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
"#*!@, #*!@, #*!@, #*!@!" Annawest said. Then she jumped up and threw the book across the room. Waypatoo looked in, saw Annawest standing with her fists clenched and wisely retreated. Annawest threw her hands to heaven. "I have got to find out," she said.
Next morning saw her wearing her best traveling outfit and supervising the loading of a trunk onto the train to Beaver. She also had a blue handbag decorated with the skins of the red pacific rattlesnake, a present from Snakeskin. It was rather larger than the usual woman's bag, almost ten inches square, because it contained a revolver. She had left a note for her father. The heavens would probably not fall too far, since she took Waypatoo with her as a chaperone. When the train stopped in Leadville, she had just time enough to visit a jewelry store and a drugstore.