Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Pistol Packin' Preacher" by Anonymous

Pistol Packin' Preacher

Young Reverend Mark Grafton stood in the lamplight, with his black coat and flat hat with the broad brim highlighted against the deep shadows of the room. He met the gaze of Champ Hawkins steadily and repeated the sentence.

"Yes, sir. I'm asking you for your daughter's hand in marriage, Mr. Hawkins. Not, of course, without having Cynthia's permission to ask."

Rancher Champ Hawkins cleared his throat. "Shucks," he said, "I never had no mind fer Cynthia tuh be hitchin' with no sky pilot. This here is mighty hard country. Yuh got nary house nor single head o' steer. Jest a-roamin', nor settlin' nohow. It don't seem tuh be no way tuh take a wife, especially Cynthia.

"I aim to establish a parish here in Dry Gulch," said Reverend Grafton.

Champ Hawkins rose, drew himself taut, so that his stature seemed to fill the room.

"Let's not git het up, sir," he said. "But I always reckoned on a he-man gittin' Cynthia. I'm a God-fearin' man, but I knows there's a heap o' fightin' tuh be done in these parts. And I know the strong man here is the one lives tuh tell his chillun. An' I'm telling yuh here an' now, the man marryin' Cynthia is goin' tuh be strong! He ain't gonna be a-dreamin' o' plantin' a heaven in this here den o' Satan's. He's a-goin' tuh meet men an' master 'em! Yuh kin spread yore good word a thousand years around Dry Gulch an' all yuh'll git is maybe a slug in yore gizzard when they git sick o' yore talk. Meanwhile it'll be me what keeps yore body an' soul tuhgether!"

"Reckon I said things I shouldn't," he said. "Reckon it's best yuh leave, Reverend. It's how I feel."

Reverend Mark Grafton stood with his head erect, his jaw tight. Beyond the curtain that separated the room from Cynthia's bedroom, a flare of yellow gingham showed in a flicker of the lamplight. Beyond the curtain Mark Grafton heard the quiet kind of breathing that only tears could bring. He walked slowly, resolutely in the direction of the door, where already Champ Hawkins was lifting the latch.

But as the door opened, he stopped short. From the depths of the outer blackness stuck the barrel of a six-gun, held in a hand that showed sinews of nervous muscle twitching the trigger finger. A masked man followed the gun inside. He was followed by two others, masked likewise.

"Git 'em up," said the bandit. "An' tell us where tuh find yore strong box. Us three has no truck about pullin' a trigger when necessary. Don't stall, account we knows yuh got yore payroll here."

Champ Hawkins and Mark Grafton both reached upward and stepped back as the bandits advanced.

"It's in the desk," growled Hawkins.

"Thou shalt not steal," said Grafton evenly. His voice was strong and firm, cutting the stillness of the air like the boom of a cannon.

"None of your lip!" bellowed the bandit.

But they had not noticed that the Reverend Mark Grafton was backing to the curtain between the rooms. They had not seen the swift sweep of his hand beyond the curtain. Only now they realized they were facing, off guard, a determined man with a six-gun held menacingly in his right hand.

"Drop your guns and raise your hands before I lose my patience." The Reverend Mark Grafton rasped the words and the gunmen obeyed.

Only the leader of the bandits faltered, held his gun downward in the tips of his fingers.

The reverend sprang across the room, raised his foot, kicked the weapon out of the bandit's hand. But as he did so his foot slipped. He lost his balance and before he could gain it the three were upon him. Grafton groaned audibly as the bandit leader's fist smashed his teeth. Grafton caught him, threw him headlong into the path of the other two rushing at him. They piled up in a groaning, seething mass on the floor before him. Champ Hawkins came forward with one of the guns.

"All right, men," he said. "Take off yore masks."

The bandits, grinning, revealed themselves. "Reckon I won't tangle none with yuh, Reverend. Yuh pack a fast gun an' a quick tongue."

Hawkins laughed. "I hope yuh'll pardon me, Reverend. I heard tell yuh was okay. But I had tuh prove it. Yuh had me scared when yuh quick pulled a gun on my men!"

Reverend Grafton laughed, reached through the curtain and pulled Cynthia Hawkins into the room. She was blushing and she buried her head on Mark's shoulder.

"Don't worry, sir," said the Reverend. "The gun was not loaded. I convinced Cynthia long ago, that she should not carry a loaded gun. If one goes prepared for trouble, one will always find it."