What to do with a “whupping stick.”


The Wayfaring Stranger

Chapter  38


On the third day after Joe Moore had disappeared from Ten Mile,  Amos Long and his men were sitting around a campfire, talking, drinking, and laughing  when a boy arrived.

The boy, about ten or eleven, walked up among the men and stood quietly. Finally, one of the men noticed him, saying, “What are you staring at, boy?”  The boy,  pointing at Amos, said, “I’ve got a message for Amos Long.”

Amos stood up and said, “Speak.”

“Joe Moore said for you to meet him alone tomorrow at noon on the other side of Davis Crossing.”

Amos was at his worst when he’d been drinking.  “Jes’ when did Joe Moore decide to tell me what to do?”

Turning to look at the other men,  he continued, “Why, I’m the one that ran him out of here. And now he’s goin’ to tell me where to go and when!   Why, I’ll be . . .  Boy, did he send you?”

The boy stood there impassively. Amos, his anger rising, strode toward the boy. One of his friends grabbed him, “But Amos, Moore’s ‘fraid to cross the river like you told him not to. That’s why he wants to meet you on the other side of the crossing.”

This gave the big man pause for thought. The messenger boy still hadn’t moved a step back, so Amos turned on him, “Boy, who are you—and who sent you? Do you know that Irishman, Joe Moore?”

“Mister, don’t get mad at me, I’m just the messenger. I wouldn’t know no Joe Moore if you threw him on me right now. I was just told to deliver this message. A man paid me a dollar to come over here and deliver it.”

“Who was that man?”

“I didn’t know him either.”

Amos studied the boy carefully, “Well, was there any other part to this message?”

“No, just meet him tomorrow on the far side of the Calcasieu at Davis Crossing—and come alone.”

The boy, his dark eyes still surveying the big man, backed away, turned and walked off.  Amos bellowed, “You tell whoever sent you that I’ll be there and Joe Moore will regret it. He’ll regret it a whole bunch!”

For the rest of that afternoon, that night, and the next morning, Amos Long’s mind was in a tizzy. He discussed it with his men, “Why would he want to meet me? Last time he saw me, I held a knife to the rascal’s throat. I know he’s skeered of me—that’s why he won’t cross the river. He knows the river is his dead line—if he crosses it, he’s dead.”

However, Amos didn’t sleep much that night. By morning he’d made up his mind what to do. His plan would ensure it was the last time Joe Moore ever showed up anywhere—on either side of the river. He thought,  The fool signed his own death warrant when he agreed to meet me alone.

At ten, he saddled up his horse and was met by four of his partners.  He’d insisted they come with him to ensure a fair fight in case there was an ambush. One of them asked, “Didn’t the message say to come alone?”

“When I get there, I will be alone. You guys will stay back in the woods and come only if needed.”  When they came to where the pines thinned out and the land sloped toward the river swamp, Amos gave the men instructions, “Y’all stay back here and ‘bout ten minutes after I’m gone, you slip on down to that cypress grove there.” He pointed at a stand of tall trees about half way to the river. ”Git there and be ready to come if I holler, or you hear trouble.”

”Lester, you come on with me. I’ll have you closer to have my guns ready if I need ‘em.”

The two men rode ahead as the others waited on the edge of the ridge.  As Amos and Lester neared the creek, Amos unhooked his gun belt and handed it to Lester. He pulled his rifle out of the scabbard, and after checking to ensure it was loaded, also handed it over. Lester watched him checking a bulge under his shirt and then feeling for something strapped to his right leg under his trousers. Lester spat a stream of tobacco juice and said admiringly, “Yep, Amos, I’ve never known you not to be ready for trouble!”

“Listen, Lester, you follow slowly behind me, but stay out of sight. If I need you, you come riding across the river makin’ all kinds of noise.”  Amos patted the bulge under his belt and said, “I can shoot until you get there. If you hear gunfire, come riding—you understand?”

“Sure I do.”

With that, Amos Long left Lester behind and rode toward Davis Crossing across the Calcasieu River. He rode his horse through the river and up onto the east bank. He didn’t like to leave the No Man’s Land and had not done it very often in his life. On this side of the river there was law and some order. It wasn’t nearly as wild as the land that he considered his kingdom.

He sat on his horse for several minutes in a clearing as water dripped off them.  He scanned the area carefully.  It was a  clearing often used as a campsite.  Nearby there was a small woodpile and a blackened fire ring. Someone had built a crude bench between two beech trees.  Amos saw no sign of anyone. After sitting there for several minutes, he had just about decided the Irishman wasn’t going to show up, which didn’t surprise him much.

That was just when Joe Moore stepped out from behind the trees beyond the clearing.  Amos looked at this wiry, fair-skinned boy with the sandy hair and ruddy cheeks. It was evident this boy didn’t belong in this part of the world. Amos planned to ensure that this very afternoon.

Moore moved slowly but carefully toward him. Amos watched as the barefooted boy removed his shirt. Quietly in a voice Amos could barely hear, the boy said, “The ancient Irish would fight naked against their enemies. They’d be all painted up and shout and holler as they went into battle.”  Grinning he added, “I’ll spare you the naked part and the hollering.”

Amos Long, who had spent his entire life fighting, had long ago learned the art of studying an opponent.  He was surprised that he saw no fear in the boy’s eyes and heard no shakiness in his voice.

Joe stopped and locked his eyes on the big man. ”Now  Amos, I don’t really want to fight ye, but if that’s what I’ve got to do to stay here, I guess I’ll do it.”  As Joe said, “stay here” he nodded back across the river making it clear he was referring to the Ten Mile area.

“I want you to know I’m through running.  My heart tells me not to run anymore.”

For the first time, Amos noticed the boy’s eyes. His green eyes burned with a determination and fire that was indescribable.  In spite of Amos’ great confidence in the outcome of this fight, those green eyes troubled him.

Amos dismounted, tied his horse, and then warily began to circle around Joe. ”You won’t be running no more, boy, but neither will you be crossing to the other side of that river. You may end up in it, but your feet won’t touch the other side.

“Moore, I’ll give you one last chance to turn and walk ‘way right now—‘way from this river—‘way from Ten Mile—and from Eliza Clark and your silly notions toward her.”

Joe said, “That’s the exact reason I won’t walk away. I’ve run from other things all my life, but I’m not running no more and Eliza is the reason wh—“

At that moment, Amos sprang at Joe.  But the Irishman, who was outweighed by probably fifty or more pounds, was ready. He quickly stepped out of the way of the hard-charging bigger man. As Amos went by, Joe tripped him, sending him sprawling in the leaves and dirt.

However, Joe didn’t take advantage of his opponent being down. He backed away carefully and stood ready for the next charge. Amos got up cussing and rubbing his eyes. He’d gotten dirt in them as he skidded along the ground.

“That’s just about how sorry I figured an Irish dog would fight.”

“I didn’t know fighting was supposed to be fair.”

“Well, I guess it’s not—as you’re about to find out.”

Two things had already infuriated Amos: the humiliating trip that sent him flying and the dirt that was in his eyes from his face-first tumble. As he rubbed his burning eyes, he eyed the boy who stood facing him ten feet away. He charged again, but his eyesight was blurred and he missed when he swung. Moore ducked out of the way just as he got there.

Joe’s strategy infuriated and frustrated Amos. He was accustomed to two men coming right at each other and brute strength prevailing. But this runt wasn’t going to fight fair.

Amos’ next charge was not as aggressive as the first two, as he had realized that the boy planned to use evasion as his defense. It was to his total surprise when Joe didn’t avoid him this time. In fact he took the fight to him. Amos took two punches in the face before he could retaliate with a solid blow of his own. He was so surprised he didn’t even try to grasp Joe when they exchanged blows.

Amos was impressed with how hard the boy had hit him. He felt blood in his mouth and his cheek stung. ”You little booger. You’ve fought before, haven’t you? I thought you was a total coward.”

Joe didn’t say a word. He couldn’t. The one blow from Amos had stunned him. The big man was powerful and Joe knew he could easily be laid out with one well-placed punch.

Sensing this, Amos charged him. Joe couldn’t get his hands up in time but did bring his foot up in a savage kick to the big man’s groin. As the bully wailed in pain, he connected a combination to Joe’s body that sent him to the ground.

Amos Long was in no shape to follow up the body blow. He had fallen to the ground in obvious distress. As bad as Joe’s foot hurt from the kick, he knew a certain part of his opponent’s anatomy was hurting far worse.

Although both men had stunned the other, neither were in any shape to follow up. The wind was knocked out of Joe and he tried desperately to catch his breath.  Across the way, Long was cussing and groaning. As he got to his knees, he threw up and continued moaning.

By now, Joe was catching his breath and realized he still had an opening to inflict more damage before the bigger man recovered. As he prepared to charge the still kneeling man, he saw a sight that made him sick with fright—Amos Long had reached up his pants leg and pulled out a big knife.

His eyes were cold and evil as he slowly stood, “Now, Boy, it’s time to end this. I’m gonna kill you, tie you to that log right there and throw you in the river—won’t nobody ever know what happen’ to you ‘cept me. Eliza Clark will live the rest of her life believin’ you were a coward and deserted her—and the truth will be in the bottom of this muddy river.”

Joe looked at the knife he already knew too well. He had felt its cold steel against his neck. He was facing a killer and he was now at a great disadvantage.

They circled each other like two dogs. Amos was moving the handle of the knife from hand to hand. ”Which hand do you want me to kill you with? I’m pretty good with either. Do you have a preference, dead man?”

Joe couldn’t answer. First of all, he was too scared. Secondly, he was feeling with his foot for something—the Reverend had placed it and told him right where it would be, but he couldn’t find it at this moment he needed it most. He was afraid to take his eyes off Amos for one instant as he was closed in.

Then he felt something against his foot and knew he had found it.  At this exact moment as Joe carefully reached down, a loud shout rang out from the nearby trees, “Unfair. Unfair.” It was the loud deep voice of an older man. It shook both Joe and Amos Long because of its volume and authority.

Amos turned to find the source of the shout. A cold chill ran through him as he saw Father Joseph Willis—Reverend Joseph Willis—standing not twenty feet from he and Moore.  Willis was a massive man and his physical presence was enough to gain the attention of any man, in spite of the fact that he was over eighty years old and leaning on two walking canes. It was the rich voice shouting “Unfair” that stunned Amos.  It was as if a clap of thunder had rumbled—or the very voice of God had spoken! Because to the Redbones of Ten Mile, Reverend Willis was the voice of God! Even to a non-churchgoer like Amos Long, this old man was respected.

Amos looked sheepishly at the knife in his hand and glanced at the boy standing across from him clad in only his trousers. The words as well as the glare of the old preacher—Unfair!  burned into his mind. He turned away from Joe and opened his mouth as if to—

However, no words ever came from the lips of Amos Long—because suddenly everything in his world flashed a white hot, as his head seemed to come off and explode. The white heat centered in the right side of his forehead and seemed to settle down his neck and into his chest. Then he felt or remembered nothing.  .  .

Chapter  39

Joe Moore stood over the collapsed big man, who was out cold. He smiled  sheepishly at the old preacher as he held the pine knot club he had just used to hit Amos up side the head. It was a three-foot long heart of pine stick. On the hitting end, it had a large knot about the size of a man’s fist. It was perfectly shaped and weighted for what it had just been used for.

Joe said, “Reverend, that pine knot club was right where you said it’d be.”

“Well, Son, it looks as if you used it pretty well. That’s why I called it an ‘equalizer.’“ Pointing at the big knife still gripped in Amos’ hand, he added, “Babe, and it looks like you were in need of a good equalizer, too!”

“And I t’ank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome. I wouldn’t have missed what I jest seed for all of the tea in Chiner.”

All at once behind them, splashing was heard in the creek and the sound of a pistol cracked. Joe and Joseph Willis, standing over the fallen and immobile man, saw Lester come charging across the creek, wildly shooting his pistol five more times in the air.

When he came up the bank, he put Amos’ rifle on Joe and shouted, nearly as an echo, “Unfair, unfair. I seed it all. You hit him when he warn’t looking and that’s unfair.”

Joseph Willis stepped in front of the Irishman as the rider reined in his horse at the clearing. ”Lester, you lower that gun.”

Hesitantly, but obediently, Lester lowered the rifle. ”But preacher, it ain’t right what that Irish tater did to the side of Amos’ head. He pert near kilt him.”

Willis kicked at the knife still in Amos’ grip, “And it ain’t real fair to take a knife to an unarmed man in a fist fight, is it?”

Lester admitted, “Well, I reckon not. I guess you do kinda have a point there.” It was clear Lester’s earlier confidence he’d displayed as he crossed the river had faded.

He got off his horse and walked over toward his partner. Looking at Joe, he scolded, “But you didn’t have to hit ‘em that hard. I saw it. That was a death blow. I believe you done kilt him.”

Joe had found it advisable to keep his mouth shut—Reverend Willis was acting as Joe’s defense lawyer, ”Now Lester, when a man’s waving a knife at you, kid gloves aren’t needed. Anyway, I believe your buddy Amos is going to survive his pine knot blow.”

Amos was still definitely out but was beginning to groan lowly. His right eye was swollen shut, and in spite of his dark skin, a large purple bruise was growing over his eye and cheek. Joe couldn’t help but wink at the Reverend when they all  heard the big man muttering weakly, “Unfair—unfair.”  The words were slurred and whispered, but there was no doubt what he was saying.

The Reverend said, “I believe he’ll pull through, Lester. Now come over here. I need to talk to you alone.”

Joe watched the conversation between the preacher and Lester. Being from a Catholic background, it nearly seemed they were having confession.  The  taller Willis stood over Lester who had his head bowed in shame. If this was confession, the preacher was doing all of the talking for Lester was only listening and shaking his head sadly.

Joe tried to pick up on any of the conversation. He could only catch swatches of words but noticed at some point that Lester’s bowed head jerked upright and he loudly said, “Preacher, you wouldn’t tell that, would ye?”

“Only if I have to, Lester: only if you break this agreement.”

“But how’d you even know about that. I didn’t think no one knew. How in Heaven’s name did my preacher know about it?”

“It’s my job to know a lot of things—not all of them pleasant.”

“But that happened four years ago. You’ve known it all that time?”

“Yes, but I haven’t told a soul—yet. Whether it stays with me or not depends on you.”

Lester had dropped the rifle without even realizing it. Reverend Willis put his arm around the man in a fatherly way.  “If you tell what happened today correctly, I’ll go to my grave with your story untold.  We wouldn’t want your wife and mother to know about this, would we?”

“It’d be the end of me, preacher. The literal end!”

“So, it’s a deal?”

“Straight shooting, preacher.”

“Now Lester, after all that pistol firing, that’s kind of a bad way to put it!”

Even Lester, full of emotion—yet relieved, had to laugh.

As they walked back toward the clearing, they both saw Joe Moore do something that alarmed both of them.  He reached down and took the Bowie knife from Amos’ right hand. He held it in front of the unconscious man’s face and addressed him, “Now, I can do this with either of me hands—it doesn’t matter.  One hand is just as good as another.”

Lester couldn’t believe that Joe Moore was going to kill Amos. He reached for his pistol, but knew he was out of shells and the rifle was back where he’d dropped it. When he turned to go get it, Joseph Willis grabbed his arm and said, “Don’t. Stay right here.”

He didn’t show it, but Reverend Willis was just as horrified as Lester. He couldn’t believe this young man was going to, in cold blood, murder Amos Long.

However, for some reason, he did or said nothing. At this point, he had become just a spectator to the events now taking place in the clearing at Davis Crossing.

Joe knelt down and put the knife against the groaning man’s throat. “Amos, the tables are turned from jes’ a few days ago. That knife is in a different hand  now, and against a different throat.”

He whispered a little louder, “T’is can be the left or the right. What do you prefer?”

Then he answered his own question: “I believe the right hand will do.”

With that, Joe Moore quickly stood up and slung the knife in a high arc toward the river. He watched it tumble end over end before making a mighty splash in the middle of the Calcasieu River. Joe walked over to the two startled men and said, “Well, that there knife won’t be causin’ any more trouble.”

Willis, visibly relieved, punched Joe in the middle of the chest, “It surely won’t be causing any ‘moore’ trouble for you.” Neither Joe Moore nor Lester caught the joke, but Reverend Willis laughed loud enough for all of them.

Just then—right across the creek from the spot where the knife had landed—two more horsemen came splashing across with guns drawn. The other two men had finally arrived to see what the shooting was about.

As they crossed the river and rode up, Reverend Willis turned to Lester, “It’s time for you to keep yer promise.”

The men rode up and instantly saw the prone body of Amos on the ground.  Then they saw Joe Moore standing beside him. Next, and most amazingly, they saw Reverend Joseph Willis standing by him. This caused them to holster their guns as they looked in confusion at Lester. One of them said, “Lester, what in the world happened here?”

The eyewitness innocently shrugged his shoulders. ”This here Irishman knocked our friend Amos out cold as a rock. He’s been laying here groaning for ‘bout ten minutes.”

The riders looked from Joe Moore back to the fallen man and then back again. It just didn’t seem to fit, but there it was—plain as day.

Lester was warming to his task. ”He cold cocked him right up side the head. Look at that shiner he’s got. Went down in a heap—I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

“But, I thought you was supposed to stay back away from the fight?”

“Well, I just couldn’t resist seeing for myself and I saw it all.”

One of the men turned respectfully to the preacher. He doffed his cap. “Did you see it too, Reverend?”

“I sure did, men. It’s just like Lester here said. Joe Moore hit him as hard as I’ve ever seen a man hit.  It was somethin’ to see. Your friend Amos went down like a post oak in a tornado.”

The men were staring at the tall thin Irishman and were trying to figure it out.  Even though he had won, Joe’s eye was swollen shut and he sported two  welts on his chest where the big fists had struck.

Joe said to the men, ” I believe tis was a little bit of luck and I got a lick in on him when he wasn’t quite, uh, paying attention.”  Saying this, he looked at Lester, who just shook his head, staring at the pine knot club leaning against a nearby pine.

Suddenly Joseph Willis decided enough had been said on this matter. He took over. ”Boys, y’all need to load your buddy up. I believe I’d wash him down in the river first, that might revive him a little. We’ll load him in my wagon, tie his horse behind, and take him home.”

The men dutifully lifted their friend up and took him to the river.  He was still moaning. One of them said to the other as they toted him, “Is he saying ‘unfair’ or ‘unfit?’” They shrugged their shoulders and unceremoniously dumped him in the edge of the water and began washing his face.

Reverend Willis turned to Joe in the clearing. ”If you’ll go get the wagon, we’ll help get your friend back home.”

Before stepping away from the Reverend, Joe had a question that needed answering, “Father Willis, you know I did turn me cheek just like you said. Even though it was only once.”

The preacher stopped in mid-stride, “When was that? I guess I missed it.”

“At the first I told him I didn’t want to fight him and asked him to call off his order for me to leave. I thought that was pretty much turning the cheek.”

Willis said, “I guess in a way it might have been. However, the only cheek I saw turning was his when you clobbered him with that pine knot!” They both laughed. Willis continued, “Go git that pine knot. I want to take a look at it.”

Joe returned with it. The preacher examined it closely. ”There’s nothin’ harder than the heart of a pine. Look—it didn’t even put a dent in it when it hit that hard head of Amos Long. I heard a crack and thought it was the club, but I believe it was his head instead.”

He handed it back to Joe. ”You better keep this. It’ll make a fine souvenir.”

“I’m not sure I want to keep it. I’d rather let the story of my fist doing the damage keep spreading.”

They came to the wagon and Joe was surprised to see Polk, the Reverend’s grandson, sitting on the driver’s seat.

Willis commented to his grandson, “You sure missed a fine show.”

The younger Willis grinned,  “I didn’t miss a thing. Saw it all with my own two eyes.”

“I thought I told you to stay with the wagon!”

“You did, PawPaw, but you know a real Redbone ain’t gonna miss a fight if he can help it. I’m sure glad I saw it myself.”  He hopped off the wagon, walked over to Joe, and shook his hand. ”That was something I’d pay good money to see.  I’m glad I saw it, even if my grandpa here is sore at me for disobeying.”

When the wagon came down to the river, the other three men loaded Amos Long onto the wagon bed.  Lester turned to Rev. Willis and said, “We’re ridin’ on. We’ll be there to meet you at his cabin when y’all brung him.”  With that the three riders splashed into the river and exited up the west bank heading for Ten Mile.

Polk asked, “Will they be trouble, PawPaw?”

“Nah, they’ll be all right, at least fer now.”

The wagon rode along through the pines. Everyone was quiet except for the periodic moaning of Amos Long. When they’d gone about two miles, a figure stepped out of the woods to await them in the road.

It was the unmistakable posture of Unk Dial. He was standing there with his hands on his hips, impossible not to recognize. Unk walked over to the stopped wagon and looked in the bed.

The Reverend exclaimed, “Unk, now how did you just happen to be along here just when we came along with your buddy? Did you already know about this?”

Unk grinned his lopsided smile, “A little bird tol’ me, Father Willis. A little tiny bird jes’ flew up on my shoulder and tol’ me all ‘bout it.”
Willis, feigning exasperation, turned to Joe. ”Son, if you want to know the defining trait of a real Redbone—and that rascal standing beside the wagon is a twenty-four-carat one—they’ll always know what’s going on. Especially if there’s trouble or gossip! This here fellow always seems to show up no matter what.” The old preacher scoffed, “ A little bird—my behind!

Unk just smiled proudly. Leaning in, he touched Long on the shoulder and inquired, “Amos, what happened to ye?”

Willis, being part of the game Unk was now playing, spoke, “Unk, he’s resting right now.  He’s kind of had a bad day. Fell in a stump hole and hit his head on a pine knot.”

Unk felt of the dark bruise on the man’s temple, ”It must’ve have been a pretty good size pine knot!” Joe noticed how Unk winked at him as he said it. Joe  wondered, Does he know what happened? Was he there, too?

Unk climbed onto the tail gate of the wagon, his feet dragging along the dusty road, as they continued on.

When they came near the trail to Joe’s homestead, he hopped off, thanked the wagon, and wearily walked home.

As the wagon later neared Amos’ cabin, a good group of folks had gathered along the road. Reverend Willis commented to his grandson, “See what I told you. Every settler in Ten Mile has already heard about it. Of course by now, there are thirty or so different stories going around ‘bout what happened. He then spoke a little louder for Unk’s benefit, “I guess a little bird told them, too.”

It took five grown men to unload Amos Long and take him in his house.  The crowd then left.

The next day brought one occurrence that Ten Mile folks would surmise about for years.  That morning, Reverend Willis’ wagon returned to Amos Long’s cabin. On the wagon were the preacher, his grandson, and Unk Dial.

Word had spread that morning that Amos was now conscious and seemed as if he would recover fully over time. However, he was still confused and couldn’t remember what had happened. When asked by his sister if Joe Moore had given him the bad lick on his head, he had puzzlingly replied, “Joe who? I don’t believe I know no Joe Moore!”

When the wagon stopped, Rev. Willis was helped down and accompanied by Unk into the cabin. Several folks who were inside came out. It was now only Willis, Unk Dial, and Amos Long in the cabin.

The crowd’s speculation as to this visit’s purpose was intense and full of speculation:

”Did he have his Bible with him?”

“Why in the world was Unk Dial with him?”

“I bet he’s gonna lead him to the Lord.”

“That’ll be the day when Amos gets religion.”

Another observer commented, “He don’t need religion. He needs Jesus.”

All of this speculation was never answered. After a visit of about thirty minutes, the two men came outside, got onto the wagon, and left without saying a word. No one ever knew what actually transpired inside the cabin. The Reverend, a confidential minister, went to his grave without revealing a word.

Within a week, Amos Long, loaded up his belongings and left Ten Mile. He was never seen again, but word did filter back over the years as to his whereabouts and exploits. Stories varied from how he was killed in a robbery, drowned in the Ouachita River, or was in prison for murder.

However, the most persistent rumor that would periodically be told was that Amos Long was now a Baptist preacher in Arkansas, just as passionate about spreading the gospel as he’d formerly been in causing havoc and grief in Ten Mile.

Concerning the third man who was in the cabin that fateful day—Well, Unk Dial, when asked would just grin and act as if he didn’t even remember what they were talking about. It was the best part of being considered “not quite right.” He  could just smile as if he knew something that they were missing out on. It drove people crazy.


The day after the big fight, Joe Moore looked and felt terrible. His head was swollen, he hurt all over, and he felt weak. However, he got up, washed up, ate a quick breakfast and was gone.

There was only one thing on his mind today. The whole reason he had fought and not left was Eliza Clark. He was going to see her. He’d heard that she was mad at him for seemingly abandoning her and he was ready to find out where he stood.

He rode up to the Clark homestead. Willard Clark walked out and whistled, “Man, that’s some knot you got on your head.”

Joe grinned, “But you shoulda seen the other guy.”

“Oh, I know all about ‘em. I believe you knocked him into next week. We all thought you’d run off and left Eliza when he threatened you.”

“Well, here I am—black eye, knots, and all.”

“I’ll go tell Eliza you’re here.”

Of course, Eliza Clark knew very well that Joe had ridden up. She had been watching for him all yesterday afternoon and now this morning.

Walking out on the porch, she tried to hide her excitement at seeing him, as well as pretending she was mad. However, she failed miserably at both. She was ecstatic to see him and could not hide it, and Joe was just as glad to see her.

”Eliza, I’m sorry if it looked like I ran off and left ye.  I just had to get me head on straight on how to handle t’is problem.”

“I wanted to pinch your head off, but I knew in my heart you hadn’t run off and left me. I just knew it, Joe!”

“Eliza, I’m through running. I been running all me life. But I’m through with it. The only way I’d run off now is if ye run off with me. If ye don’t want to do that,  I’m staying right here. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”

He pulled her close and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and just wouldn’t let him go.

He repeated, “I just ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

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