The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Little Innocent Courting

By M. Kay Miller © 1991

Issue: April, 1991

Two bodies lay huddled behind Jake Haskel's water trough. Russel Combs didn't mind admitting that in his 14 years of life, this was the most afraid he'd ever been.

"He still there?" Jed whispered anxiously from his end of the trough.

"How should I know?" Russell responded irritable, his voice too kept low and private. "This whole thing was your idea. You look. If one of us is going to get hit with a load of buckshot, I figure it ought to be the one that got us into this mess."

Slowly Jed stuck his head around the end of the trough and quickly pulled back. "Yep, he's still there, sitting on the steps same as he was. He's got the lantern beside him and his gun on his knees."

"Well, what we gonna do? I ain't real content with the idea a staying here all night," Russel prodded his friend. "Can't you think a something?"

"I'm trying, ain't I? You want to go so all fired bad, you come up with some great idea."

"Don't talk to me 'bout no great ideas," responded Russel, "not somebody as comes to spout lovesick poetry to a gal and says it to her paw instead!"

"I got the wrong window," Jed admitted lamely.

"And then," Russel exclaimed warming to his grievance, "you send me around the corner of the cabin straight into him."

"You got away," Jed pointed out reasonably.

"Only 'cause I jumped and accidently hit the gun."

"It was pointed up when it went off, wasn't it?" Jed said trying to soothe his friend. "I'd a come for you if he'd laid holt on you."

A twig snapping off to Russel' s right caught his attention. He turned toward it and strained his eyes at that spot. "You see him, Jed?" he asked his friend as he searched the darkness. "He still sitting there?"

"Which he be you referring to?" a strange voice inquired with interest.

Russell whirled over onto his back and looked up at the man he had literally run into earlier in the evening. And the same gun was now pointing casually in Russel's direction.

"Where be your friend?"

Russell looked around wildly. Jed was gone. He'd left Russel there alone without a word. "I don't know," he confessed.

"Suppose you get to your feet and let's take a look at you."

Russel stood up and stared at Jake Haskel who stared back in his turn. "Ain't much to you, is there?"

Russel looked down at himself as if considering the question.

"You'd best get on up to the lamp there so's I can take a better look."

The boy first and then the man, they walked up to the cabin steps. "Now, perhaps you'd explain why you come in the middle of the night saying crazy words in the window at the wife and I."

"Wasn't me," Russel admitted, "and it wasn't supposed to be you. He thought you was your daughter."

"Sounds a mite teched." Jake whistled in surprise. "And just who is the daughter he meant to impress with this nonsense?"


"Bless me!" Jake exclaimed. "Know her well, does he?"

"Seen her in town last week. Been acting kinda funny ever since."

"So he thought to impress her by coming up here and talking strange?"

"That was poetry," Russel assured him out of his superior knowledge.

"Poetry?" Jake wondered. "Maybe I should have let him get on to the good part."

"No," Russel assured him. "I heard the rest of it. You done best."

"Where you come into this?"

"I was lookout."

"Not very good at it, are you?"

"Nope," Russel agreed. "ain't had much practice."

"How come he figured to need a lookout?"

"Well, feller said you... her paw was a mite touchy if boys came to call on Nellimae, said you whupped them good."

"Well, way I see it; I can just whup you now or wait for your friend to come back and whup him."

Russel considered this new development quite seriously for some time. "Said he'd come back for me if you kotched me," he concluded, willing now to give Jed the benefit of any former doubt.

"I recon I can wait a spell. But not long. I'm getting plum tired."

Russel didn't feel at all tired himself and was willing to wait up all night for Jed if necessary, but he could see the man beside him was indeed sleepy. In fact his head soon drooped onto his chest. Hopefully Russel watched him fall asleep until he felt it safe to ease off the steps where they were sitting and make for the woods.

Just as he entered them he heard the blasts of the shotgun behind him. His pace never slowed.

Good heavens, what was all that shooting?" Amelia Haskel asked her husband as he crawled back into the warmth of his bed. "And where you been so long?"

"Been protecting the honor of our daughter," Jake grinned.

"Jake Haskel, you lost your mind? You know you never did give me nothing but boys and them all grown and gone."

"Well, as a matter of fact, one of these here fellers did mention the name of Nellimae."

"Nellimae? Well, for evermore, why didn't you just tell them they had the wrong house?"

"Aw, you know how Ed is now that Nellimae has begun to blossom. He takes these poor lovesick puppies too serious. I figured these boys would learn a lot gentler lesson from me than Ed. No sense anybody getting hurt over a little innocent courting."