Chapter Three—Robin Forgets to Duck

     Robin’s life went on, of course, and she was beginning to make friends. And, as noted earlier, some of her old friends were still in Whitewater, though they were all married now and nearly all of them had children. Still, she knew a lot of people, though there were many more she didn’t. Because of the mining company now operating in town, Whitewater had almost twice the population it had had when she had left several years before, so there were lots of new faces.
     The night Cameron came by with the news of Rob’s death, an ice cream supper was scheduled at Whitewater Park, on the river just beyond the bridge that spanned it. It was an informal thing, and one of the local music groups was going to be playing for entertainment. Robin didn’t especially feel like going, but she had promised Allie Kirk, one of her best friends of many years ago, that she would, so after a light supper around 5, she mounted Roberta and rode the short distance to the park. Aunt Martha didn’t have an ice cream maker, but Robin had made a couple of batches of chocolate chip cookies, so she put them in a basket and brought them with her. Aunt Martha begged off, pleading a headache. Too bad, she would have been the life of the party... But, just to indicate that her good ol’ aunt hadn’t lost her touch, she admonished Robin before the party, “You be home by 10 o’clock.” Robin rolled her eyes, but knew she meant it. Aunt Martha’s niece would never grow up as far as she was concerned, and Robin tried to roll with the punches and be understanding. Who knows? I might be like that with my kids when I get to be her age. But she hoped not.
     Robin was surprised to see a goodly number of people there at a lovely park by the river. A huge area, at least three acres, had been graded flat and planted with grass, and there were still many nice shade trees in the park. There was a canopied picnic area, large enough to accommodate about 12 long picnic tables with benches, and several of them held refreshments. A number of residents had also brought card tables and folding chairs and there were already a number of domino games going on. An impromptu stand had been set up and the band, which included a fiddler, guitar player, banjo, and mandolin, were tuning up, getting ready to play. The western part of the park sloped gradually down to the river itself, and even though the weather hadn’t turned real hot yet, there were a number of children splashing, laughing, and playing under the watchful eye of their mothers.
     Allie, whose maiden name had been Childers—she married Greg Kirk?? Allie, I thought you had more sense than that—saw Robin as she rode up. Her friend waved and\Robin smiled and waved back. The horses and wagons were all hitched across the road from the park, so Robin found a convenient place to tie down Roberta, picked up her basket of cookies, and headed across the road.
     “I’m so glad you came,” Allie said, giving Robin a hug. “And we are all so glad you’re back. It just wasn’t the same without you.”
     Robin had her doubts about that, but the sentiment was nice. Greg, whom she had known before, came over and said hi—he was a short fellow, shorter than Allie who was shorter than Robin by an inch or two (Robin was 5’6”), and he was sort of round with a round face and round glasses and a round…everything. But he had always been a sweet guy, just kind of a bumbling nerd. Intellectual, might be a better word. And he was a Vice-President of the bank now, not even 30 years old yet, so he had something on the ball. They had two children, Ricky and Veronica, and they would be in Robin’s class when school started in the fall. She saw them running around being bratty and figured that’s what she had to look forward to in the fall.
     Robin saw a few other people she knew, but frankly, not very many. Susan Markum, her best friend, wasn’t there. The ones she did know were a few of her friends from days of old, plus a few people she had met at church or who Aunt Martha had introduced her to in passing. Several times Robin was asked, “Did your Aunt come?”, and when she explained about Aunt Martha’s headache, Robin could have sworn that, more often than not, she saw expressions of relief pass over the faces of the ones who had asked. Of course, that might have been a simple matter of transference—what gave Robin gratification she thought she saw in the faces of others. But she really hasn’t been that bad since I got back…And that was the truth. I just have a lot of bad memories, I suppose…. Or, more than that, she compared Aunt Martha with Uncle Ben, whom she had simply adored.
     The band started playing, and Robin listened to them for a couple of tunes, amazed at how good they were. She noticed that a few people were dancing, not many, but when Rory Langston asked her to dance, she accepted, though she didn’t really feel like dancing at the moment. She had known Rory before and was pretty sure he had had a crush on her years ago, but then she vanished and he ended up marrying Sue Palmer. Rory was a nice guy, but Robin had never considered him her type. Long, lanky, with black hair that he absolutely could not keep in place, he and Sue made a perfect couple—she was short, a little dumpy, and fastidious. And just to confirm her suspicions, Rory said while they were dancing, “I had a crush on you back when we were in the fifth grade.”
     Robin remembered the crush being a little later than that, but smiled and responded, “You did? I never knew.”
     “Yeah, but don’t tell Sue or she won’t speak to me for a week. She’s the jealous type.” That was a hoot, Robin thought. Sue didn’t have much to worry about. Robin couldn’t imagine too many females wanting to steal Rory away from her.

     Not too surprisingly, as Robin mingled and chatted the rest of the evening, she heard a lot of talk about the recent happenings up in Dry Gulch. That kind of stuff didn’t happen a lot—well, as noted, shootings and stabbings were fairly common among the rowdy miner bunch in northwest Whitewater, but that wasn’t news any more. A good, old-fashioned fast draw shootout, a stage robbery and killing, a posse hunting the varmint and gunning him down—now that was worth yakking about.
     “Conners beatin’ Slade to the draw musta gone to his head…”
     “What a real sidewinder, gunnin’ down a woman like that. Wished they’da caught ‘im and stretched his neck…”
     “Yeah, but he got what he deserved. Buzzard bait…”
     “Glad he got rid of Slade, though…”
     “Two snakes goin’ at each other…that woulda been a sight to see…”
     “Them outlaws have a way of getting’ rid o’ each other, then fallin’ by the wayside. Conners buries ol’ Wil Brant, a polecat if’n there ever was one, then drops Slade, an’ gets his the next day…”
     “Yeah, unfortunately, like that lady Conners kilt, the innocent git in the way sometimes…”
     “Good riddance to the scumbag, is all I can say…”
     Robin was getting a little angry at some of this talk, and when she heard somebody say, “I met Conners once. One of the meanest, orneriest, low-down, son of a side-windin’ buzzards I ever met in my life. Would cheat his own mother outta her last penny. No account feller if there ever was one…,” she had to speak up.
     “Well, I met Rob Conners once, and I found him to be one of the nicest, sweetest, most gentlemanly men I have ever met in my life. Perhaps he was only a low-down son of a side-winding buzzard when he was talking to one.”
     That stopped the fellow cold. “Well, I…I’m just…tellin’ what I saw…”
     “You never met Rob Conners in your life and you know it. And if you did, you were trying to cheat him out of something and he unloaded on you and made you look like a fool.”
     Now the fellow was getting a little hot under the collar. This man didn’t recognize Robin. “I don’t rightly care to be called a liar, ma’am, or a fool.”
     Robin was mad now. “Well, you’re one or the other. You’re either a liar or a fool. Or maybe both. Which is it?”
     The man’s name was Burt, and the friend he was talking to attempted to be diplomatic talking to a lady. “You’ve got to admit, ma’am, that a fellow who would shoot a lady down in cold blood ain’t one of the most upstandin’ men around.”
     Robin snapped at him. “I wasn’t talking to you, so mind your own business. This fellow cast aspersion on a man who isn’t here to defend himself, a man who I knew to be the exact opposite of the way he described him.” She looked back at Burt, getting madder by the moment. “So, yes, you are either a liar or the very thing you accused Rob Conners of being.”
     Burt had a very short temper. And he wasn’t too bright. He was losing a war of words, mainly because he had been lying—he had never met Rob Conners—so he reacted the only way he knew how. “Why, you whorin’ little…” And he slapped Robin, hard, on the left side of her face, hard enough to snap her head back.
     Everybody within 20 feet heard the sound of the slap; it was almost like the crack of a whip. All eyes now were on Robin and Burt. Robin cried out softly when the blow struck, then reached up to her cheek. Before she could react, the other man with Burt said angrily, “Now, Burt, that was totally uncalled for. Maybe she wasn’t being too nice to you, but that’s no cause to hit a woman.”
     Burt then turned on his friend. “Well, you heard what she called me! A man can’t take that from nobody, not even a woman.”
     But Burt was being ostracized now. People were looking at him with extreme disgust. Hitting a woman, regardless of what she said to you or about you, was simply not done in the American West. Robin might have been out of line, but Burt went waaaayyy over the line in his response.
     “Git on home, Burt, and sleep it off,” his friend said.
     Burt growled, but as he looked around, he saw he didn’t have any friends to support him. So he just gave Robin another dirty look, then turned and stomped off.
     Burt’s friend, sighed, shook his head, and looked back at Robin. “I apologize for Burt. He’s a little short-tempered sometimes, but he’s a good fellow overall. I’ll get him to apologize to you in person soon. Are you ok?”
     Robin was still rubbing her stinging cheek. “Yes, thank you.” She noticed that people were still listening. “Maybe I was a little hard on him, but I met Rob Conners not long ago and he was as sweet as he could be. And I’ve heard nothing but bad about him tonight.”
     The man’s eyes narrowed. “I’m Tom Stewart. Aren’t you Martha Morrow’s niece?”
     “Yes, I’m Robin Morrow.”
     Tom scratched his chin. “Please don’t think I’m trying to impugn you here or doubt you, but…aren’t you the one who Conners kidnapped a few weeks ago? It’s kinda hard for me to figure you saying nice things about a fellow who…well, I’m sure he had less than honorable intentions….”
     Robin shook her head. “He didn’t hurt me at all. I think he was just lonely. You know the story, don’t you? How Wilson Brant killed his wife and baby, after his men had raped her?”
     Tom nodded. “Yeah. Believe me, Conners got a lot of sympathy when he buried Brant.”
     “Well, how would you feel if that had been your wife and baby? You might get a little lonely, too, wouldn’t you?”
     “Yeah, but I don’t think it’s right to take somebody against her will.”
     “I didn’t think it was, either, and I don’t think so now. But all I can tell you is how he treated me when he did. He didn’t hurt me, or abuse me, in any way at all, and when I told him about Uncle Ben dying and Aunt Martha being here alone, he bought me a $400 horse the very next morning and rode with me to Whitewater so I could go to Aunt Martha.”
     Tom was chewing on his lip, an expression of indecision on his face.
     Robin shook her head. “I don’t know what happened up north yesterday, why he killed that woman. Maybe he finally snapped after the shootout with Rip Slade. I don’t know. But I do know that wasn’t the man I met. And what that fellow”—motioning towards where Burt had disappeared—“was saying wasn’t the Rob Conners I knew.”
     A man spoke up from behind Robin. “Tell you the truth, I think Burt was a-lyin’, too. I did business with Conners onct. Bought five horses from him, gave me a fair deal. One of ‘em died o’ some kinda illness ‘bout a week later, and I went down to see ‘im, ready to peel his hide off, thinkin’ he knowingly sold me bad stock. All he said was, ‘Wayne, I’ll give ye yore money back, or ye can take yore pick of whatever horses I got left.’ Low-down sidewinders don’t do business that way.”
     “Maybe he was scared of you, Wayne,” somebody else shouted out, and that got a big laugh because Wayne was barely 5 feet tall and 100 pounds and was crippled.
     Wayne grinned. “Mebbe.” He looked at Robin. “I ‘pologize fer Burt, too, Miss Morrow. He was way outta line, and you was right to stick up fer a feller who ain’t here to defend hisself, though I don’t cotton to no woman-killer. But that don’t sound like the Rob Conners I met, neither.”
     Tom said, “I think you’re probably right, Miss Morrow. Conners probably finally snapped. His wife and baby getting killed, he defends himself like any decent man would, the law won’t help him, now chases him, threatening him with a noose. He has to make a living on the run. He’s sees something pretty—you—gets to spend an evening with her, then sees her ride off, probably reminds of him of his wife—having her for a short time, then losing her. Then the shootout with Slade—that’s a stressful situation for any man…yeah, better men than Rob Conners have gone loco over a lot less.”
     Robin fought back tears again. “Thank you, Tom. I don’t guess it really matters any more.” She turned away.
     She started to head for her horse to go home; the night was over for her. But a young man came up to her. “Hi. My name is Chris Draeger. I’ve…been wanting to meet you all night long, I just haven’t had an opportunity. I heard…saw…what just happened, and I’m sure you’re a little upset right now. But, would you like to dance? Just once. Maybe take your mind off…” He let it fade.
     Robin looked at him. He seemed to be about her age, maybe a little older. Taller, over six feet, with a thick brace of auburn hair that could have done with a trimming. He had blue eyes, regular features, but a nice smile. He wasn’t especially handsome, but he wasn’t an ogre. He did seem a little unsure of himself, and it probably didn’t help that what he saw in Robin’s face as she looked at him wasn’t giving him much encouragement.
     She didn’t really feel like dancing. But she didn’t really feel like going home yet, either. She was still very uptight, so maybe Chris was right, a dance might help. She smiled at him softly, and said, “Yes, thank you for asking. That would be nice.”
     Most fiddle and banjo tunes aren’t exactly designed for slow, eye-gazing dancing, but there is the occasional exception. The tune that had just started wasn’t going to put anybody to sleep, but it wasn’t a barn burner, either. It was slow enough for Chris and Robin to at least get one arm around each other.
     As they started dancing, Chris gave her an embarrassed smile. “I wanted to get you over here in a dance before you found out who I am, or you might never have spoken to me.”
     “Oh? And who are you?”
     “That fellow you were having the…discussion…with? Burt?”
     “He’s my father.” Chris actually had an amused expression on his face.
     “Oh.” Robin was a bit nonplussed. “Oh,” she repeated. “I…” She didn’t really know what to say.
     Chris laughed. “It’s ok. My dad can be like that sometimes. He likes to name drop, and you ought to listen to him tell about some of the fish he’s caught.”
     Robin laughed at that, and it felt good. “Well, I know I was a little rough on him.”
     “Well, maybe, but he deserved it. I can almost guarantee you that you were right, he never met Rob Conners in his life. But that was the big story of the day and dad wanted to be a BMOC, I guess.” Chris shook his head. “I’m really, really sorry that he hit you. That was totally uncalled for.”
     Robin gave him a pixie smile. “What would you have done? Like father, like son?”
     “Hmmm,” Chris murmured. His expression was thoughtful, but his eyes were playful. “Welllll…hopefully, I wouldn’t have lied in the first place, but if I had, and you called my hand on it….” He grinned. “To shut you up, I might have grabbed you and kissed you. Or if you were really being a brat, I would have put you over my knee.”
     “I see,” Robin replied. “Then you might have gotten what your dad gave me.”
     He laughed softly. “And deservedly so, I suppose.”
     Robin was feeling a little better. This bantering with Chris was helping. She asked him what he did for a living. “Dad and I own the feed store in town. We do ok.”
     Robin nodded. “Your mother?”
     “Lost her a few years ago.”
     “I’m sorry.”
     “Well, I’m sorry about your Uncle Ben, too.”
     Robin was feeling either naughty or mischievous, she couldn’t quite decide which, but either way, she said, “Maybe we ought to get your dad and my aunt together and watch the fur fly.”
     Chris got a real big laugh out of that one. “How many rounds do you think they would go?”
     Robin giggled. “Don’t know, but believe me, if your dad did to my aunt what he did to me, she’d slap him back so hard that his head would spin around three or four times.” And they both laughed.
     And then Robin’s eyes got huge. “Oh, no! What time is it?” Chris had a pocket watch and told her it was 9:50. She grimaced. “Oh, Chris, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go home right now. Aunt Martha said I had to be home by 10, and when she says 10, she doesn’t mean 10:01.”
     The music had just stopped anyway, but Chris made a face. “10’s a little early, isn’t it.”
     Robin sighed. “I know, but Aunt Martha still thinks I’m seven years old or something. All I can hope is that she’ll be asleep now and won’t hear me come in.”
     Chris chuckled. “I’ll walk you to your horse.”
     It didn’t take but about a minute to get to where Robin had left Roberta. She untied the reins, then turned and looked at Chris. She smiled. “Thanks. The dance did help. I feel much better now.”
     He smiled. “I’m glad. And again, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what happened.”
     “It’s all right, I’m ok.” She mounted and looked down at him. “I’m sure I’ll see you again sometime.”
     “I hope so,” he said, and stepped back so she could turn Roberta. “Bye.”
     It was a short ride back to the house, and she made it right before 10. She stuck her head in the door and yelled, “Aunt Martha, I’m home. I need to take care of my horse.”
     “All right, dear, but hurry it up. It’s late.”
     Robin just shook her head. 10 o’clock is NOT late, Aunt Martha, but then, Robin had never been over 60, so maybe it was late to somebody that old. Still…anyway, she got Roberta stabled, rubbed down, watered, and fed, and by then it was almost 10:30.
     When she got inside the house, it was obvious that Aunt Martha had already gone to bed. I guess she just wanted to make sure I was ok…I AM all she has left. Robin thought about it as she got cleaned up and ready for bed. Maybe I just have selective memory. I remember all the strappings she gave me, but not the times she was patient with me…She made a face. Yeah, I don’t remember any of those. I WAS pretty stubborn and rebellious...
     And Robin decided right then that she was going to try to get along with her aunt as best as possible and make Aunt Martha’s last years as pleasant as possible. She grinned ruefully when she thought, That probably won’t be too easy. I’m still pretty stubborn and rebellious. I’ll try, but I need a little space, too…

     The next morning, Robin simply had to get this curfew thing straightened out with her aunt.
     “Aunt Martha, can we talk about how late I can stay out? I mean, 10 PM… even at the school back east, we had a curfew of 11 PM on weekdays, and midnight on Friday and Saturday, and sometimes even 1 AM if it was a school function.” And I sure had a lot of fun THOSE nights…”I am 25 years old now.”
     “Well, honey, I know you’re old enough, but your Aunt Martha does worry about you. You’re all I have any more and I don’t know what I’d do without you. So I just want to make sure you’re safe.”
     Robin recognized that there was some basis for that. She did come back to Whitewater to live with and help take care of her aunt in her old age and she didn’t want to worry her. But Robin wanted a life of her own, too. “Can I at least have the curfew hours I had at school—11 PM on weekdays, midnight on weekends?” She wasn’t about to ask for the “all hours of the night” curfew she “restricted” herself to once she finished school and got out on her own. New York was…well, New York, not Whitewater…
     Aunt Martha acquiesced. “Well, I suppose so. As long as you let me know where you’re going to be and who you are going to be with. And if you need to be out later, just come by and tell me so I won’t worry.”
     Robin was satisfied with that. It was the 19th century, the Victorian Age, where boundaries were tighter--everywhere except in New York, she thought with a giggle—and Robin knew and accepted that. And it wasn’t like she was out partying till all hours of the night anyway. In fact, except for the ice cream social, she hadn’t been out past 9 PM yet any night she had been in Whitewater, and Aunt Martha had been with her on the two occasions she been out till 9. So it really shouldn’t be much of a problem, or a problem at all. But she didn’t want to have to be clock-watching every moment of the day, either.
     On Tuesday, Robin ran into Len Kramer. They exchanged greetings, talked for a few minutes and then Len said, “Oh, can you come by my office tomorrow morning? I’ve got a proposition I want to discuss with you.”
     Robin thought a moment. “I don’t see why not. You aren’t going to tell me what it’s about?”
     He shook his head. “I’d rather wait and discuss it with you there, if you don’t mind.”
     “No, I don’t mind a bit. I’ll be there.”
     “Great. See you then.”
     Hmm, Robin thought as she walked home. I wonder what it’s about. A job? I kinda hope so. I’d like to have some more income coming in this summer…that would really help…

     She was right, it was about a job. She arrived about five minutes early and was ushered into Len’s office. It wasn’t plush, but it was nice, with pictures on the wall of various mining operations of the Kilmer Mining Company, of which, as noted, Len was a Vice-President.
     “We’ve only been her in Whitewater less than two years, but the mines are proving to be fruitful so there is a good chance we’ll be here permanently. Or at least for the long-range foreseeable future.”
     “What are you mining mostly here?” Robin asked him.
     “Mostly copper, but we’ve found some tin and iron ore, and there’s been a hint of silver which we hope will pan out to bigger things. No gold yet, though.”
     “Well, I’m sure you’re busy. What is the ‘proposition’ you have for me? I’m dying to know. And if it’s marriage, then I’ll have to think about that for awhile.”
     Len laughed. “No, not marriage. A job. Part-time, summer.”
     “I’m interested, but doing what? I refuse to go down into one of those mines.”
     He smiled. “Well, if I remember correctly, your Aunt told me that you did a little bit of accounting back east.”
     Her job as executive secretary required a little of that, though the bank had experts to handle bigger matters. “A little bit, yes. I’m not a professional accountant or anything, though.”
     Len shook his head. “Not what I want. I have a professional accountant and he handles the major monthly chores. What I need, for a few months, is somebody to handle just day-to-day things. Recording outlays, purchases, income that we might receive, that sort of thing. No serious debit or credit stuff, no payroll, maybe write a few checks, things like that. You’d handle the daily books, and then, at the end of the month, turn everything over to Thomas Bering, our main lawyer/accountant. He’ll tie it all together, and he handles all the legal stuff as well. You may only have to work about three days a week, and probably not even all day long.”
     “Well, that does sound interesting. But you know that I have the job teaching school starting in September.”
     “Yes, I know, and hopefully I can find a replacement by then. I had a fellow, but he just recently quit and moved back to Texas. He wanted full-time wages, and it’s just not a full-time job at the moment, and I didn’t have enough other work for him to do. The job pays…” and Len named a figure, which was almost as much as Robin’s full-time salary teaching school.
     “Well, it sounds good. I’ll take it,” Robin said, pleased. “When do you want me to start?”
     "When can you?”
     “Anytime, I suppose.”
     Len looked thoughtful for a moment. “Let me talk to Thomas today so he can sort of get things ready. Then how about showing up at 8 AM tomorrow morning?”
     “I’ll be here.”
     Robin was excited about the new job. Accounting wasn’t the most thrilling thing in the world, but she liked working with numbers and felt like she’d enjoy the job. Maybe not for 8 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, but part-time, 3 days a week should be fine. She went to bed early that night in anticipation of starting the next day.
     And it was an interesting day.