Hi folks, My name is Gus, a good man-if I have to say so my ownself-but never anything more than a hired hand. I was Mr. Tower’s ramrod. I’m here to tell ya a bit about A Gallows Waited. Larion wrote the story, and she wrote good, being educated more than me, but still she asked me to come tell ya a bit about it, to get ya interested and all.
When that little thing got off the train, I couldn’t feel nothing more than sorry fer her. Elizabeth was plain as a mouse and laced into a drab shapeless dress that looked like her mother should’a been wearing it, not a woman no more than 25. Her hair was so light, pulled back tight the way it was, she looked nearly skinned. Elisabeth looked, well, not scared, more like just nothing. Ya know, that blank look on her face like maybe she was a bit simple minded. Mr. Tower sent me right off to fetch her luggage. Dang if she didn’t bring a dog with her. That didn’t set too well with Mr. Tower, I can tell ya. He told her right off he’d tolerate no animals in the house.
Thought I saw something in her then, like resignation, like the poor little thing just give up on life. She didn’t argue none, just climbed up on the wagon seat for Mr. Tower to take her to the boarding house where she’d stay ‘till they got married. Fool thing for the man to do if you ask me. Friend of her father's, he was old enough to be her father, and it was him that arranged the marriage. Don’t think Elizabeth had much to say about it, or maybe she just didn’t care, coming all the way from back east to marry a man she’d never seen afore. Wasn’t right.
I may be no more than a hired hand, maybe getting on in years, too, but there ought to be love in a marriage. Was in mine. Loved my wife and loved that baby girl she gave to me afore I lost them both to cholera. My little girl would be the same age as Elizabeth. Elizabeth has them same big blue eyes, reminding me of that babe I lost every time she looked up enough to see them eyes. Guess maybe that’s why I wanted to help her so much. That same day her and Mr. Tower got hitched, Tim Bowman rode into the ranch.
Soon as Mr. Tower saw him, he goes ta clawing at his gun, takes crazy wild shots, and Bowman. Bowman? He shot once. Mr. Tower didn't shoot no more, but he lived to do the craziest thing, leave half his ranch to Bowman, only not by that name. He claimed, afore he died, he'd done that fella wrong and made me swear ta see he got clear of the hangman waitin' for him.
Now that Bowman, who claimed he wasn't who Tower thought him ta be. Understandable with a gallows waiting for Trace Collins. Whoever he was, he'd fascinated me from the minute I laid eyes on him. Had me a short time talking to him, me talking mostly, afore Mr. Tower got home from wedding Elizabeth. I knew right off he weren’t no run-of-the-mill grubline rider. Looked poor, but he rode and talked proud, had a voice you could hear yards away without him even raising it, when he bothered to speak that was. Not a talking man and it didn’t take me long to learn he had him a big hate, riding him hard. He was mad, deep down and clear through, at everyone and all the world, but as soon as he opened his eyes—Tower had gotten lucky with one of his wild shots—there was Elizabeth and those big blue eyes he saw.
What with trying to teach Elizabeth she didn’t have to pay no mind to what other folks said and should speak up fer herself and working out the riddle of the wild story Tower told as he was dying, I had my hands full, let me tell ya. Elizabeth had been treated bad by that daddy of hers, but she had a spark in her that just needed lighting. That Bowman, now he did some lighting. She come out fighting when the sheriff thought to hang him fer killing Towers.
Now that’s all Larion wants me to be telling ya. She says telling too much now will spoil the story so’s I’ll just shut my yap. Y’all want ta see how Elizabeth turned out and how Bowman found out there was more in the world than hate, yar just gonna have ta read the book. I don’t reckon you’ll be sorry. I’ll let her tell ya all them other things like whar ya can buy it and such.
“Ma’am,” Gus said, dragging the hat from his head. “I found him.”
She nodded, staring with those huge, dark blue eyes of hers at Bowman’s blood-covered back. She held her hands clasped tightly together in front of her, Gus supposed, to keep them from trembling.
“He’s hurt bad,” he told her, receiving another nod. “He’d bleed to death for sure if I tried to take him into town.” Another nod showed she was listening. “If I could take him inside and see to his wounds, we could move him later in the wagon.”
“Why do you want to save him, Mr. Temple?”
“Huh?” He stared at her, not answering. He looked over at Sweet, who looked blank and offered no help. “Ma’am, Mr. Tower shot at him first. This fella only defended himself,” he said carefully.
“There’s quite a bit I don’t understand, Mr. Temple. I feel very confused at the moment.”
“I can explain most of it.”
“I would greatly appreciate that.”
“Sure, ma’am, only first I need to take care of him.”
“He looks dead.”
“Well, he ain’t, and he won’t be if I can help it. Okay if I take him in?”
“Whatever you think is best, Mr. Temple,” she said, turned away and walked off with the dog at her side.
Gus scratched his head, thinking shock and grief made people act almighty queer at times. Sweet must have felt the same way, because he whispered as they untied the ropes, “She acts kinda odd.”
“Shh,” Gus warned him when Mrs. Tower walked up again.
“Mr. Temple, there is something you perhaps can explain to me while you do that.”
“I can try, ma’am.”
“Why, if you wish to help him, do you have his hands and feet tied that way?”
Gus took a deep breath and let it out slow before he spoke, knowing she wouldn’t understand his answer. “He didn’t want to come back.”
“I don’t blame him.”
“Ma’am,” he asked, setting the basin and cloth on the table near her, “why did you come back?”
She faltered, just slightly, before dropping the spoon into the cup and setting it on the table. “People can be very cruel,” she said, soaking the cloth in the water. “I find the realities here very harsh, Mr. Temple.”
“Yes, ma’am, they can be.”
“But right is right.” She paused, gazing at an invisible spot on the wall. “For the first time in my life, I found myself without someone to tell me what I must do.” She began to sponge Bowman’s face. “Although, there were many willing to press their advice upon me.”
Gus shifted uncomfortably, thinking she meant him. Then he stiffened with alertness.
“I will not mourn Mr. Tower’s death. I did not love him. Mr. Tower has wronged this man, twice over, and I will help him. I will not tolerate interference from those in town who do not or will not understand. They will not punish him or condemn him, even if I have to take up arms in his defense. This shoulder is swollen, Mr. Temple. It should have heat applied.”
She turned to look at him, but Gus could only stare in answer. She had delivered her defiant declarations in the same voice she had asked him to get water or given the dog commands. Her big, deep blue eyes had the same wide-eyed look about them, and her face was as placid as it had always been. However, Mrs. Elizabeth Tower, it seemed, had declared her independence.
“Huh?” he said dumbly, and then shook himself. “Ah, yes, ma’am. Ah, ma’am, what happened in town?”
“The marshal will be here soon.”
“I figured so, but what happened to make you change your mind?”
She hesitated briefly before she said blandly, “They wouldn’t allow me to stay at the hotel with Majesty. I had to return to the boarding house where a woman began ordering me about, telling me I must wear widow weeds for a ridiculously long period of time. A man, who shall remain nameless, offered me discreet solace. The preacher’s wife, an overbearing woman, told me how intolerable it was for the murderer of Mr. Tower to be here, even after Mr. Sweet distinctly told them what happened. I’m afraid I was rude to her. At least I am not a hypocrite.”
“Is that what you told her?” he asked, wondering how the self-righteous lady would have taken been told off.
“No,” she said, standing up and for the first time showing any sign of agitation. “I am tired of being ordered about, Mr. Temple. Why should I return home just to be ordered about and become my father’s servant again? Mr. Tower left me money as well as a place to live. Is there any reason I should again place myself in bondage?”
“Am I a fool, Mr. Temple, to want some independence?”
“Do I have the strength to stand alone?” she asked, showing her self-doubt.
“You ain’t alone, ma’am. There’s me and Sweet to help you out.”
“Would you, Mr. Temple? I would greatly appreciate it.”
“Anything we can do, you just ask, only I don’t think you’re going to need all that much help. Sounds like you’re doing just fine to me.”
“I’m terribly disturbed, Mr. Temple,” she said, her face, voice, and composure belying the statement. “I fear I will lack the courage to stand by my convictions. If I should falter, will you steady me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, wondering who would be steadying whom. She was the one who stood steady in the wind, while he was the one who ranted and raved, getting nowhere.
Since Bowman couldn’t use either arm well, it was left to Gus to dig into the bag Bowman indicated to find a leather poke. He worked his way through Bowman’s spare clothes, consisting of a worn shirt and underwear, and had the poke in his hand when Elizabeth returned with a tray. He was puzzling over the weight of it, wondering why a man who had that much coin would go around looking like a tramp.
“Take out enough to get me a shirt, pants, and boots,” Bowman directed as Elizabeth set the tray on the table next to the bed.
“No, Mr. Temple. We will furnish him with new clothes and boots.”
“You will not,” Bowman said.
“I will replace what I so thoughtlessly discarded. It is not necessary for you to use your savings,” she said as she spread a napkin on his chest.
“You said they were beyond repair.”
“They were sufficient for your needs, Mr. Bowman. I should not have thrown them away without first speaking to you.”
“I owe you those pants and boots,” Gus said to support her, while he still wondered at the weight of that poke. “It was me what cut them up,”
“I will pay for my own. Take—”
“Do not do it, Mr. Temple,” she said, holding a fork full of meat up to Bowman’s mouth.
“You’re not—” Bowman said, to be neatly cut off by finding his mouth full of meat.
“I am responsible for the men in my employ,” Elizabeth told him. “He damaged your clothes. I will replace them.”
Bowman had to swallow without chewing to answer her. “They weren’t working for you then.”
“Chew your food, Mr. Bowman or you will suffer indigestion,” she said absently, then answered him. “Mr. Tower’s responsibilities are now mine. I feel quite strongly in this decision, Mr. Bowman. Please do not argue with me.”
He turned his head to avoid the fork and retorted, his composure slipping again to show his exasperation. “I won’t take anything from him.”
“You won’t. It’s me, and I am paying a debt.”
He looked at Gus. Gus shrugged with a chuckle. “She’s the boss. Guess I got to do like she says or get fired.” He dropped the poke back in the saddlebag. “Good thing you ain’t Collins. I’d have a devil of a time deciding which orders to follow.”
Bowman retreated behind a passive face and neutral tone again to say, “You’d follow whichever pleased you.”
“Reckon,” Gus answered, thinking it was too bad Bowman wasn’t Collins. With them starting out with her at an advantage with him being so weak, her future partner wouldn’t be as likely to bully her.