Racer, the big roan gelding picked his way down the ravine that passed for a trail toward the weathered shotgun house in the distance. Smoke curled from the chimney.
A cloudless sky encouraged the sun to warm the invigorating spring morning. Dillon Lister, the tall, rangy rider who sat atop the splendid beast, made no effort to guide the horse, but allowed him to choose his own path. A bouquet of wild flowers clutched in Lister’s hand provided the only incongruous facet of this picture.
To the west, the outline of a Comanche warrior gradually unfolded against a mammoth, shaded rock. Lister made no outward sign of noticing, but nudged Racer toward the Indian.
When he came within ten yards of the silent sentinel, Lister signaled his horse to stop. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. Then, he spoke in the plain’s guttural language. “Are you well, Coyote?”
The stocky warrior dropped the rawhide reins and gazed at the white man. “I am well, Snowman. How is the man who owns my life?”
“My blood runs cool. I ride to the Porter farm to visit the woman who may become my wife. I see my blood brother keeps watch over this tipi as he promised.”
“No Comanche will send an arrow against the future wife of Snowman. None of my cousins want to deal with Coyote. Will you take your squaw this day?”
Lister spat. “The whites have strange ways. The woman must decide if she wants the man. Not the other way around as it was in our tipi. She will decide this day.”
“That is good, brother. A man needs the presence of a woman to cool his brow.” Without another word, the Comanche wheeled his paint horse and galloped away.
Approaching the house, Lister waved at Pansy Porter, the wife of Orville Porter who farmed the nearby land. She returned the wave and continued sweeping the yard with a broom made from young dogwood branches. When he drew closer, Mrs. Porter stopped her work and gazed in his direction.
“Good morning, Mizz Porter. Looks like you got that new porch finished.”
She rearranged her bonnet and smiled at the rider. “Yes Sir, Mr. Porter promised me a porch two or three years ago, but working this dirt just about wore him out. Anyways, he sold that old milk cow and bought the lumber. Didn’t take him more than a month to get it done.”
“I know you folks take pleasure in sitting out here and enjoying the evenings. Yes’m, it must be nice.” Lister fidgeted in his saddle. “I was wondering if Miss Jean might be to home.”
“Course she is, Mr. Lister. I’ll go right in and tell her you’re here. Excuse me.” Mrs. Porter ambled toward the porch steps, propped her broom against it, and pushed her ample body up the steps. As she strode across the porch, she said in a loud voice, “Jean. Mr. Lister has come acallin’.”
Lister slid from the saddle, tied the gelding to the hitching rail, and removed his hat. He ran his fingers through his coal-colored mop attempting to smooth some of the natural curl.
Jean Porter, a fair-skinned young woman with strawberry blond hair, came out the door and ushered her mother into the house. “Why, Mr. Lister. What a surprise?”
Lister did not mention that he had told Jean Porter at church last Sunday he would visit this day. “Miss Jean. The only thing prettier than this day is that fine calico dress. Is it new?”
“Now, Mr. Lister, you know this dress is as old as the hills, but I appreciate the compliment. Would you like to sit a spell in the swing? It’s new.”
“Why I surely would, Miss Jean.” Lister went through the motions of scraping his boots before mounting the steps. When he reached the top, he offered the bunch of flowers to Jean who accepted them as if she had never set eyes on them before.
“How thoughtful, Mr. Lister. I’ll go put some water in a fruit jar. They should stay nice for days. Would you care for a cup of coffee? It’s fresh.”
“That would be fine, Miss Jean. I’ll just go give old Racer a drink of water while you get the coffee.”
“I’ll be right back, Mr. Lister.”
Lister went to the well, drew water, and poured it into the stock bucket. He carried it to the thirsty horse, and then he headed back to the porch just as Jean Porter came out the door with two baked clay coffee mugs.
Lister took a seat and sampled the brew. “Fine coffee, Miss Jean. This must be from down South.”
“I ‘spect it is, Mr. Lister.”
They sipped for a few moments, then Jean Porter commented, “I seen that Comanche up on the hill talking to you. He’s been around here several times. I wonder if that is the reason we ain’t had no trouble with the tribes.”
“Miss Jean, that man is my brother of sorts. You knowed that I was raised by the Comanche until I was twelve. I got sick and my father, Prairie Dog, brought me to the Coker place to get strong medicine.”
“Mr. Lister, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you don’t look like no redskin.”
“Prairie Dog stole me when I was a baby. I grew up on his hearth with Coyote who is his natural son. When we were young, a cougar had him dead to rights. I put a couple of arrows in it, and then I finished it off with my knife. According to Comanche law, I own Coyote’s life.”
Lister gazed out over the prairie for a moment, and then he moved his piercing blue eyes to those of Jean Porter. “Miss Jean. I ‘spect I have come courtin’ you five or six times already. Is that about right?”
“I believe that six is the exact number, but who’s counting,” said Jean with a grin.
“Well, Miss Jean, you know that I work as foreman of the Double S spread. Mr. Coker says I have a good future working on his ranch.”
Jean Porter smoothed her apron, and said, “You have a mighty good reputation in this part of the country, Mr. Lister. Papa says you will do well.”
Lister cleared his throat. “Miss Jean. Have you ever given any thought to settling down and raising a family?”
“Truth be known, Mr. Lister, I am not getting any younger. I am already over seventeen. Papa says it is time for me to find a good man with an excellent future and make him a dependable wife.”
Lister squirmed and said, “Miss Jean, I thank a lot of you. I figure you will make a grand wife considering your mama and daddy. You come from good quality stock.”
“Well, Mr. Lister. I hope I’m not just stock, but I get your point,” said Jean Porter with a giggle.
“Aw shucks, Miss Jean. You know I didn’t mean it that way. I want us to marry, and I need to know what you think about that.”
“Well, Mr. Lister, I feel like that would be a wonderful idea. I would be more than happy to spend my remaining years with you as your wife.”
“Good gracious! I hardly know what to say, Miss Jean. I couldn’t be more tickled,” said Dillon Lister, a bright smile creasing his face. “When do you believe would be a good time for the ceremony?”
Jean paused as if to give the matter serious consideration and said, “The circuit preacher is due on the first of November. Papa could arrange for us to marry then.”
“Let’s see, that’s three weeks off. Maybe I can get my feet back on the ground by that time. I hope I don’t make a fool of myself when I get back to the bunkhouse.”
“That brings up another little point, Mr. Lister. I don’t suppose we will live in the bunkhouse …will we?” Jean asked with a winsome smile.
Lister reddened a bit, and said, “No’me, I neglected to mention that Mr. Coker done said that he would put us up in a cabin at the ranch. He said it wouldn’t cost us nothing allowing that I would do most of my work around the big house and barn.”
“My, my, you seem to have everything under control. Why don’t you go wash up, and I will go tell Mama the good news. I ‘spect she has a good dinner almost ready. Papa is out in the field. I will ring the dinner bell.”
“I’ll bet she didn’t make one of those sweet potato pies. I couldn’t be that lucky,” said Lister.
“You never can tell, Mr. Lister. The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Jean Porter tossed her long tresses as she moved toward the door.