Published on Sunday, January 12, 2014
The Bicycle Ride
By John Laneri
Sheriff Matt Carson first noticed the bicycle while he was walking his morning rounds. Curious, he watched it roll past the town square then skirt freely in and out between two wagons -- somehow managing not to startle either horse into breaking stride.
It was the first bicycle he had seen in Neverton, a small community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.
Once it had disappeared toward the church, he looked away and spotted Roscoe Sayers, the local newspaper editor, standing in front of his office.
"Reverend Armsworth could use some help. I suspect that tending to the wants of the community and riding the preaching circuit can tire a fellow out."
"An extra voice might do him some good," Roscoe agreed. "Speaking of bicycles, there's something disconcerting about new fangled contraptions. Most of 'em tend to keep me off balance... makes me think the world is movin' too fast."
"It does seem to move a bit too fast, but I doubt we'll see things slow down long enough to catch a good breath."
Several blocks away, Jillie Marbley looked up from tending her flowerbed when she noticed the bicycle move past her house and continue toward the Brazos. Once there, she watched it linger for a few minutes near the edge of the water before returning in her direction.
Curious, she came to her feet and waved a hand. "Howdy mister... That's a fancy lookin' bicycle."
The rider, a young fellow with freckles on his nose coasted her way and stopped, his shoes skidding in the dirt.
Smiling brightly, she said, "I've been hearin' about these things, but I never thought I'd see one in our town."
"Bicycles are common where I come from."
"And where might that be?" she asked, noting his sandy hair and boyish appearance.
"I come from Boston... got me a position with the Reverend Armsworth. He's planning to guide me toward becoming a full-fledged minister in the church."
"A preacher, you say... that's a mighty powerful ambition."
"I had my calling when I was only a child."
"You should be proud. Folks call me Jillie. What name do you go by?"
"Jasper Cornberry is my given name, but I suspect most people will be calling me Brother Cornberry."
Unknown to Jasper, the friendly Jillie Marbley was known throughout much of North Texas as 'Aunt Jillie' — a name synonymous with the proprietress of the finest establishment west of Fort Worth.
"Do you care to take a break from your bicycle riding? My lemonade is always fresh."
The young Reverend parked his bicycle against her front fence and followed her into the house. Once seated in the parlor, he looked about, amazed. Across from him, he noticed lace curtains covering the windows, and about the room, he saw couches and chairs arranged in a relaxed, friendly manner.
"You live in a nice house," he commented, as his fingers touched a doily. "I've never been in a home with such pleasant surroundings, especially with everything covered in red."
Jillie settled beside him on the couch. "Red is my favorite color. It tends to excite fellows and allow their dreams to come true."
"I have dreams too."
"What kind of dreams do you have?"
He paused to consider her question, his fingers touching the fuzz on his chin. "I dream about all kinds of things. But mostly, I dream about being a preacher in the far west. Maybe, if the Good Lord's willing, I can convert some of the sinners that roam the territories."
"One of my daughters takes a fancy to the far West."
"I'd like to meet her."
"She'd be happy to meet you too."
Soon, his attention settled on Jillie's red hair and soft, powered skin. Clearing his throat, he went on to say, "You look too young to have older daughters."
"Actually, the girl I'm referring too lives under my supervision while she matures her finer qualities. I like to think of her as a daughter." She touched his arm. "But, she does have pretty blue eyes and a powerful hankering for the West."
"Would she be interested in studying the Bible?"
Chuckling, Jillie replied, "I know she looks at magazines. You should ask her."
Shifting about, wondering about Jillie and the house, he noticed a young girl walk into the room and pause near the doorway, her blue eyes sparkling playfully.
On looking closer, he realized that she was wearing a man's shirt with long tails hanging to her knees, a manner of dress that allowed her to expose bare legs and naked feet.
Quickly, he looked away, his ears turning a bright red. "Is she one of your daughters?" he whispered to Jillie.
"She's the one I was telling you about... Frances May, I'd like you to meet this handsome young gentleman. He's a man of the cloth. And, he's interested in the western territories. You two might have something in common... Isn't that true, Brother Cornberry?"
Frances May moved beside him. "I always like meeting new fellows," she said, as she took his hand in hers. "I've never had the pleasure of knowin' a real preacher man."
Not far away, the Sheriff was still walking his morning rounds when he spotted the Reverend Armsworth standing in the churchyard reading from a bible.
"I hear you've got a new fledgling," he said, as he stepped in the preacher's direction.
In appearance, the good Reverend was stately man, wearing a black suit with a starched clerical collar — customary attire for devout Texas ministers.
"You surprised me, Sheriff. I was into reading my morning scriptures." Pausing to adjust his glasses, he continued, "In answer to your question, the boy's a young fellow planning to study under my tutelage until he's ready to serve the world. For now, I'm planning to have him take some of the burden off my circuit riding responsibilities."
"I noticed him on a bicycle a short while ago."
"For some reason, he takes a fancy to that contraption. He's spent hours tinkering with the thing... says it won't stop when it's supposed too. He doesn't know it yet, but I fully expect him to have a similar interest in the Gospel."
Glance about, he went on to say, "I'd like to have you meet him. I saw him peddling by a moment ago." He looked up and down the street, his eyes squinting against the sun. "Just now, I don't know where he is."
The Sheriff looked around and noticed the bicycle directly across the road. Careful not to mention that it was resting against the front fence of Aunt Jillie's Boarding House, he quickly pointed in the opposite direction. "Maybe, the boy is still peddling about the town square, showing off his new apparatus."
"We're due to start bible study in a few minutes," the preacher replied, as he followed the Sheriff's direction. "He probably stopped at the candy store and forgot the time."
The Sheriff agreed. "That's a likely possibility. Most boys like to indulge a piece of candy from time to time."
The preacher studied him a moment, his eyes slowly narrowing.
"Candy you say! Hell fire, the boy's already sinning." He pointed a finger across the road. "His bicycle's parked against her front fence."
The Sheriff turned to look saying, "Maybe he's resting it there while he takes a walk. The woods down by the river at the end of the road are a good place for meditating."
"That's good to hear, but if he's in that house with those girls, he'll likely be condemned to hell fire and damnation. I promised his mother that I'd look after him."
"Maybe he's converting the girls over to religion," the Sheriff added cautiously.
The Reverend relaxed a bit to consider the situation. "He's a mite too young to convert Jillie and her girls over to much of anything. But then again, he's not too young to be taught the wild side of living."
Hesitantly, the Sheriff asked, "What can I do?"
The Reverend walked to the edge of the churchyard where he remained for some time quietly studying the house, his bible tucked under an arm. "I don't see much activity. All of the window curtains are drawn closed."
"They're closed most of the time, especially on the second floor where the girls work. Maybe, he's sitting in the kitchen, preaching the good book and having a bite to eat. Jillie keeps plenty of food in her pantry when she's not serving meals — helps fellows keep their energy up."
The Reverend cocked his head inquisitively saying, "I've heard her apple pie is mighty good."
"The best I ever tasted."
"I'd like to try some, but still... you need to do something to get him out of her fold."
"He probably won't leave without puttin' up a big commotion. Most fellows his age can get lathered up mighty fast."
"That's what worries me," the Reverend replied, as he returned his attention toward the house. "But, I did promise his mother to keep him pure.
Back at Jillie's house in Frances May's room, the young preacher took a seat on her bed and looked about, his eyes mostly seeing bare legs and naked feet.
"You have a comfortable sleeping bed, " he said, as he set his glass of lemonade aside and bounced up and down on the mattress before asking, "Would you like to study the bible together?"
She settled on the bed beside him. "I've never read the bible. But, I'm always interested in learning new things."
"The bible isn't new," he went on. "It goes back to the genesis of life and tells about Adam and Eve getting acquainted."
"I saw pictures Adam and Eve in a magazine," she replied, as she laid her foot across his leg.
Looking at the leg, he asked cautiously, "Why do you wear a rawhide bracelet on your ankle?"
"It brings me good luck. You can touch it, if you like."
Running his fingers over the leather, he went on to say, "Sitting here with you reminds me of when Adam and Eve took a big liking to each other."
She smiled softly, her features sparkling in pleasure.
Soon, his fingers reached to touch a strand of her blond hair, his attention turning to blue eyes and softly parted lips. "Did you know that Adam and Eve only wore fig leaves when they were together?"
"Frances May!" Jillie's voice suddenly sounded from downstairs. "Is that preacher boy still with you?"
Frances May jumped to her feet and hurried to the door. "Yes he is. We were talkin' about reading the Bible."
"Get him down here this minute. The Sheriff wants to talk to him."
Hurrying back to Jasper, Frances May whispered, "I'd like to see you again and learn more about Adam and Eve."
Blushing, he said, "Maybe, you'll teach me something about the West."
She threw her arms about his neck and kissed his cheek. "I can show you everything you'll ever need to know. But, you have to get going before Aunt Jillie starts screaming. Sometimes, she acts like my mother."
Once downstairs, Jasper saw the Sheriff waiting in the parlor.
"Am I in trouble with the law?' he asked cautiously.
"Nothing like that," the Sheriff replied, "But... the Reverend Armsworth is waitin' for you on the porch. Says it's time for your bible study hour."
"I don't understand... we talked about reading together later in the afternoon."
"He's changed his mind. I think he has another kind of education planned for you before your bible study class."
Jasper craned his neck and looked out the door in the direction of the Reverend, noticing the man pacing back and forth across the porch, wringing his hands. "I wonder what kind of schooling he intends. Being from the east, I've been plenty educated."
Jillie took his arm and began easing him toward the door saying, "He's planning to discuss some of the finer things in life. You can always come back when you're thirsty for more lemonade."
"And, don't forget me," Frances May said quickly as she hurried to him. "I'd like to learn more about Adam and Eve."
The Sheriff glanced her way, his brow furrowing. "I think the boy needs to be going. The Reverend can be an impatient person. And, dress yourself in some real clothes. You might get us all in trouble before the day is over."
Once Jasper reached the porch, the Reverend Armsworth turned to him sternly, his eyes narrowed to slits. "What's that lip color doing on your cheek, boy?"
Jasper rubbed a hand about his face and studied his fingers. "Frances May gave me a kiss. We're plannin' to study the bible together, especially the part when Adam and Eve start making friends with each other."
Reaching for Jasper's ear, the Reverend started toward the Church. "You come with me young man. You're not ready for Adam and Eve. Your mama would have a fit if she knew what you were up too."
"What about my bicycle? I can't leave it against the fence," Jasper pleaded, as he stumbled along side the preacher. "It needs more fixing."
"Don't worry about the bicycle," the Sheriff called out. "I'll see that it gets back to the church."
With Jasper and the Reverend on their way, the Sheriff pulled the bicycle away from the fence and swung a leg over the seat. "I've never seen one of these contraptions up close. Looks to me like an interestin' way to go places."
Jillie moved beside him. "Let's go for a ride. It might be fun rolling through town, waving to everyone."
"Then, get on top. Let's see if bicycle riding is worth the peddling effort."
Jillie pulled her dress above her knees and settled easily on the handlebars, her eyes aglow with anticipation. Soon, they were moving along the road, feeling a breeze blow in their faces.
Once at an easy speed, she asked, "Where're we going?"
"I was thinkin' of peddlin' toward the river, It's mostly downhill," he replied, as they rumbled over a stretch of wagon tracks.
She glanced his way. "Don't jostle me too much. I' d hate to fall off and break a leg while I was having fun."
"Don't worry yourself. Bicycle ridin' is easier than I figured," he replied, as he increased the speed, his boots pumping against the pedals.
At the end of the road, they started into the woods, bouncing along a narrow footpath.
"I hope you know how to control this thing."
"Just keep your eyes on the trail and, tell me what's ahead. I know what I'm doing."
"But, we're startin' to go too fast.
"I have everything under control, so relax yourself," he said, as he brushed her hair from his eyes.
She pointed to the side, her hand moving wildly. "Follow that path to the right. It goes away from the river."
"I'm trying, but this thing won't turn. You're too heavy."
"Then you need to stop before we hit a tree!"
"Stop... How do I stop?"
Moments later, he was spitting out a mouthful of river water and looking around for his hat, "That darn bicycle is just like the world. It doesn't know when to stop and take a rest."
With her dress covered in mud, Jillie started wading toward the bank. "One thing for sure, you don't know much about entertaining a lady. You've ruined a perfectly good dress."
"I do the best I can, under the circumstances," he said as he watched her fall again.
He reached for her hand. "Be careful. The mud's a bit slippery."
Struggling, she came to her feet. "You don't even know how to help a lady out of the water. Now, I'll have to wash my hair again."
Taking her in his arms, he carried her to shore, his boots sloshing through the muck.
"I hope you're happy now," he said, as he eased her to the ground in the tall grass and settled quietly beside her, unsure of what to say next.
She looked away, trying to ignore him, so he laid back and reclined in the weeds, letting the warmth of the sun cover him like a friend. By then, he was laughing to himself, enjoying the moment.
Finally, he turned to her. "I know one thing."
"And what's that?" she asked, her voice on edge.
"I know you, and that's plenty important."
She remained quiet for some time. Finally, she turned to him. "You always say the sweetest things at the most trying moments. Maybe, that's why I love you so much."
"When I'm with you, I always speak from the heart."
Rolling beside him, she settled her head against his chest. "I'm not mad any more, so you can snuggle closer if you want."
"Are you sure? A few minutes ago, you were hot enough to bring a kettle to boil."
"I'm so sure," she replied sweetly, "I expect you to quit talking and kiss me like you mean it."
John is a native born Texan living near Houston. His writing focuses on short stories and flash. Publications to his credit have appeared in several scientific journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.