Chapter 7 - - The Apology

Closing the door behind him, Jess walked to the corral. He was surprised to find lush grass and flowers in full bloom growing next to the barn where last night's "green, glowy snake" had come to rest.

"Ah don't know how they came to be here, but that is just what Ah need ta give ta Miss Daisy, along with a very sincere apology... and a considerable amount of groveling," he thought to himself.

He quickly set to the task and shortly had an armful of fragrant blooms collected for Daisy.

Maxwell, watching Jess start to collect the flowers, turned his attention to the dainty housekeeper. He prepared to touch her gentle heart to soften it for Jess and his apology. It was not required.

Jess knocked at the kitchen door and waited. Daisy opened the door to a bouquet of flowers above a pair of jean-clad legs with a pair of cobalt-blue eyes just visible over the top of the double armful of blooms. "Oh my, what beautiful flowers, Jess. Where did you find so many?"

"Daisy, I'm sorry, I... , uh, we woke you last night. I, no, we didn't intend to. I, I mean, we, want ta make it up ta ya. Slim will fix the gouges in the floorboards, I'll make you a new broom and get rid of the mud we tracked in. We'll both do your dishes for ya so's ya can take a little nap today. Please, Daisy, will ya forgive me, uh, us?"

"Please?" he begged, using that velvet graveled voice to full advantage.

Taking the huge bouquet of blossoms, Daisy's stern demeanor promptly crumbled in response to his heartfelt plea. Smiling happily, she agreed to his offer. "Come in, you scalawag. Yes, you are both forgiven. Go collect that mess from Slim and I'll fix something decent for you to eat. It will only take a few minutes."

"And next time you get that drunk, stay in town," she added sternly.

Dropping a quick kiss on her cheek and a soft "Thank ya, Miss Daisy" in her ear, Jess headed for the dining table and Slim.

"Stop eating that stuff, she's going to fix us something decent," he excitedly informed his pard.

Grabbing up his bowl and then Slim's, he paused slightly as Slim spat the wad in his mouth back into his bowl.

"Oh, that's really nice, Mr. Sherman. Did your mother teach you that?" he asked in mock affront.

Slim started to rise, but Jess quickly reminded him they were "getting real food," so don't do anything to mess it up.

"At least I stayed to try and eat it. That's more than you did," Slim asserted in his defense.

"I'm sorry, but we Texas boys have a real delicate palate. I wouldn't have been able ta taste food for a month if I'd a tried ta eat that stuff." Grabbing the rest of the dishes, he made a hasty retreat to the kitchen.

"I'll jest toss this stuff out fer the chickens ta eat," he said as he stepped out of the kitchen and into the yard.

Taking a firm grip on the plate of toast, he flipped the slices into the air. He watched in mild satisfaction as the slices fell 'en-masse' to the ground. His eyebrows shot skyward as every piece disintegrated on contact. The chickens, running toward him in delighted anticipation of this unexpected bounty, stopped short as their prize disappeared.

The entire flock of hens turned and looked at Jess as though he were personally at fault for the disappearance of their food.

"Sorry, girls, it's not my fault," he muttered in self-defense. "Here, try this stuff. It should stick to your ribs." He turned both bowls upside down. For a moment nothing happened, then the gunk in Slim's began a slow release from the bowl, finally landing on the ground with a solid 'thump'!

The chickens stepped back and stared at the gray lump.

Jess was still trying to get the glob of substance out of his own bowl. He turned it upside down. He shook it. Nothing. He thumped the bottom of it. Nothing. He looked at the contents. It remained solidly planted within.

Reaching down to the ground, he picked up a stick and poked it. The contents seemed to latch on to the stick for a moment before Jess pulled it free. Cautiously, he ran the stick around the edges to loosen its grip on the bowl. He again turned it upside down and vigorously thumped the bottom. It made a vile slurping sound, then fell to the ground where it slowly jiggled to a stop. Jess was certain the ground shook slightly when it landed.

The chickens viewed the new offerings with caution and soft, low clucking. Two of the hens advanced slowly, cocking their heads first this way and then that way, trying to size up the best method to taste-test this unknown food group. As Jess watched, the two hens continued their low clucking and circling of the mounds. Finally the large red hen made a tentative peck into Jess's offerings. Immediately she started flapping her wings and trying to squawk. The noise was definitely muffled. In her panic she landed in the water trough and Jess had to rescue her before she perished. As he pulled her out of the water, he saw something stuck on her beak. He reached down and pulled it off. It was a bit of the gelatinous stuff, gluing her beak shut.

She thanked him by giving him three swift pecks on his hand, the last one drawing a few drops of blood. Jess dropped her like a hot rock. Squawking loudly, she flounced angrily away, pausing only long enough to adjust her feathers and kick dirt over the undesirable offerings.

Jess nursed his hand.

Red now looked at him as if he had just killed her favorite chick. Clucking low, the rest of the hens began to gather around her and stared at Jess. One advanced a step, then another and another.

Jess, sensing impending doom, offered an apology and promised to bury his offending gift. Still, they advanced toward him. Grabbing the nearest thing at hand, which was Daisy's wash tub, he tossed it over the mess and tried to beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen door. The hens would have none of it and cut off his path of escape. Clucking low, with heads lowered and wings spread they advanced on the hapless cowboy.

"OK, OK, I'll bury it after breakfast," he bargained. "I promise." Maybe they'll forget by the time we're done eatin', he thought hopefully.

The girls were not to be placated as they continued to surround Jess. Looking quickly around, he spied Daisy's garden spade. Grabbing it, he tossed the tub aside and scooped up the grey globs. Now, where to bury this mess, he thought. Turning, he headed for a large patch of weeds at the back of the house.

The hens followed him.

Jiggling the mess loose from the spade he started digging a hole. When he felt it was deep enough, he nudged the mess in and covered it up. Patting the last of the dirt down into place, he added a couple of rocks for good measure. All the while the hens stood by watching and clucking. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he turned to his feathered audience and asked, "Satisfied, now?"

This offer seemed to pacify the girls, who began to drift back to the yard in search of bugs to eat instead of a Texas cowboy. All save Red, the hen he had rescued from the water trough. She turned and scratched the ground, sending dirt flying toward Jess.

"Hey, I saved you from drownin'. Knock it off."

Satisfied she had made her point, she hustled off to join her sisters in search of bugs in the yard.

"Fried chicken dinner is startin' sound real good, so ya better watch it Red," muttered Jess.

Finally returning to the kitchen and not wishing to slow Daisy in the midst of making their decent breakfast, he began grabbing plates, cups and cutlery and set the table.

Daisy brought in platters of food much like what she had served Maxwell earlier that morning. The boys tucked in with gusto and soon were filled with, as Jess said, REAL food.

As the boys ate, Maxwell set about completing Jess's promises to Daisy. He fixed the floor, created a new broom and, while Daisy was busy talking with the boys, he cleaned the kitchen floor in a flash. He even went so far as to clean the muddy clothes they had worn the previous night, leaving them neatly folded on their respective beds.

Replete with a full stomach, Slim finally asked his pard how he had managed to get Daisy to fix them her usual good cooking. Jess explained the deal adding, "from now on we have to stay in town if we get that drunk."

"That's a rule I can live with. I better get my tools and get started on that floor." To his surprise the floor showed no damage. Without questioning his good fortune, he returned his tools to the barn.

In the barn he found Jess offering Maxwell a few days' work with room and board included. Handing Maxwell a pitchfork, Jess started him cleaning the stalls.

"So, when did you plan on discussing the new hired hand with your partner?" Slim asked.

"Aw, Slim, look at him. He's skinny as a rail, his clothes are threadbare and that coat is full of rips and holes. I bet Daisy has better rags in her ragbag then what he's wearin'. 'Sides, winter's comin' on and he needs warm clothes. We can hire him long enough for him to earn enough to buy a set of warm duds. I'll pay him out of my own wages."

"No, you don't have to do that, Jess. I think the Sherman Ranch can handle one more stray in the fold. Better tell Daisy there will be another place at the table for awhile."

"She already knows," grinned Jess, as he turned and walked toward the corral and the team waiting for the next stage.

Once again, Slim was amazed at the warm, tender and generous spirit of his friend.

He knew few men, if any, who were as tough in a fight with either fists or guns as Jess Harper. Yet his heart was as soft as feather down when he saw someone in need.

Releasing a patient, enduring sigh he headed to the corral to join his pard in preparing the next team for the incoming stage, thinking at least Daisy would have a chance to put a little meat on that skinny frame. A feather drifted past his boots as he walked.

Authors Note:

Yes, "Charlotte the Harlot" really is a drinking song from the early 1860's.