I WOULDN’T HAVE CONSIDERED Harley Burgess as a matrimonial conquest. Not even a slightly remote possibility. You see, Pa hung himself the morning before Harley came around. My brother, Russell, two years my junior, built the casket while I dug the hole. Wished he would a found him, though. Pa’s face was purple hanging there, almost black. The move to the west had been especially cruel on Pa. A gentleman he was, a western farmer, he wasn’t.
I had turned nineteen, in the middle of the prairie, a randy woman in the middle of nowhere. Harley Burgess was pushing thirty, if not over the brink. Russell and I were busy packing up our meager belongings. Meager? After years living out east in near royalty. What we had become. The old farm in the middle of nowhere killed Pa. We decided to get, while the getting was good.
Harley Burgess showed up before we completed the packing. When we brought him up to date, he appraised the situation, offering me his hand in marriage.
Soon as the stunning turn of events grasped my thoughts, I shuddered silently, immediately turning down his offer. I let him down soft as I could, told him I would only marry for love, not practicality, and would be doing him a favor by deferring his request.
He offered me a job in town as his bookkeeper and clerk at his general store. I told him I would certainly consider it.
“But Nettie, where would you go? Who will support you?"
“I’ll support myself, Harley. I am capable and have many talents."
The leer in his eye made me wary of my suggested talents. Did I lead him on?
“It’s a puzzle why fellows keep proposing to you, Nettie."
Russell was angst about Harley’s proposal as we plodded towards town.
“Why wouldn’t they?" I inquired. Not following his inquiry.
“Well, just because. You’re not very nice."
“Well" I certainly could be nice, if I was approached properly. Harley was thinking that I would marry him out of desperation. I am not an old maid, Russell. The problem is, I cannot find a gentleman polished enough to approach me properly."
“Being picky is a good way to end up an old maid."
“Russell, when we get into town, I doubt I can fend off the suitors. Where will you be? Down the street at the brothel? Whenever you can afford it."
The true fact was I’ve never been able to keep my hands off any man with even an ounce of appeal. My susceptibility, which is what it could be called, showed at an early age.
That may have been one reason Father chose to haul me out into the middle of a howling wilderness, to a place where there were very few men for me to seduce.
In sedate Virginia, my conduct with the young males of my acquaintance was a scandal. Yet, I was too well-born to be called a slut.
I accepted Harley’s job offer and went to work in his store. I enjoyed my busy existence and soon forgot my lonely and unfulfilled personal life.
Today it may be that I overdid it with my daring frock. Being the first thing Harley Burgess did when he came into the store was drop his pants.
“Harley, your britches are falling down," I told him, failing to grasp his intent. I thought his trousers were down around his ankles because of a defect in his suspenders. It took but a glance at his privates to convince me my theory was way off.
“I love you," he charged forward as quickly as his dropped trousers would allow. His little tulip glistened purple, and it might have actually been pretty, not in me, but perhaps in a flower garden.
His overweight belly seemed to shade it considerably, perhaps diminishing it even further.
His sti fie did have a serious look about it, and he had obviously crammed behind the counter with copulation on his mind.
“Harley," I said, this time in sterner tones trying to appear shocked.
“Let’s hurry and board the boat of pleasure." Trying to shove himself between my legs.
I’m tall for a girl and, at least a foot taller than Harley. Even if I would have consented to his embrace, he would have had to climb up on a stool to achieve his goal.
“The boat of pleasure here in the desert? You need to be a little more accurate with your language."
In fact, I was hard pressed not to laugh at the poor man. Harley’s prong was about the length of one of his stogies, after he had smoked most of it.
But when a man turns up crazed with lust and points his pecker at you, the first rule is not to laugh. Laughing at a man who has offered you the solace of a stiffie is sure to have bitter consequences.
“Can’t this wait till after business hours? Elmer Crane is coming in for a sizable order. I don’t think we’ll have time to row that boat of pleasure before he arrives."
Charlie, in his rut, had forgotten that he owned a general store, where people shopped daily for his wares.
Alas the fit was on him; mere enterprise was now a bother.
“Why, Elmer that old fool. What could he want?"
“Maybe he’s running low on supplies."
“We have a closed sign we’ll slip in on the door. We’ll only need but a minute."
“Speak for yourself, Harley Burgess. I require more time, if I’m to get where I’m rowing to. You better pull your britches up, I see Elmer coming now."
Harley’s face took on a new look of misery as he looked down to retrieve his pants that were pooled around his ankles. The stogie lost its glow as it shriveled up underneath his belly as dead as doom.