As they carried Perry between them into the house, June stared at the girl walking ahead of them. She held the shotgun in one hand and a lamp in the other. Something in June’s chest did a funny skip and stutter that felt odd, and good at the same time.
The girl turned into the third room they came to.
“Papa. Help get his clothes off. I’m going to get the things I need.”
June noticed her voice. While she was nearly as tall as he was, she was strong-bodied, and her voice was a rich contralto rather than the soprano he expected. Her skin was the color of burnt sugar, dark brown–gold. June and Mr. Bartholomew undressed Perry and placed him on a mat lying face down.
“Violet.” Mr. Bartholomew said.
” Tell me what else you need.”
“Just the basin and hot water by the stove.”
Violet, Perry thought. Her names is Violet.
Violet put on a long apron and tied a wrap around her head made of unbleached muslin. She washed her hands thoroughly, dried them, and began to work on Perry.
Her father helped her as she bathed, then scrubbed his wounds, and then poured a good dose of whisky over them. Perry groaned and writhed. The three of them helped turn him over to repeat the process. When his wounds were tended to and Violet had dosed him with some sort of medicine, they changed the bed and left him to sleep.
Violet picked up pieces of his clothes that could be salvaged and placed them in a tub to soak for washing later. Mr. Bartholomew showed Perry into the kitchen, just next to the room Perry was sleeping in.
“Tell me what happened.” Mr. Bartholomew said.
Perry told him just the facts. The men shooting Perry and leaving him for dead in order to steal his horse.
“This your first shepherding?”
“How old are you boy?”
“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen in December.”
“I’m glad you were with Perry for your sake and his. Yon did good by yourself and all of us.”
Mr. Bartholomew stepped to June with his hand held out.
“I just realized. You must be Emile’s eldest. You look like your father and your grandfather.”
June shook his hand back and said, “Yes sir.”
“This here is my daughter, Violet.”
“Violet, this here is Emile Verrett from over Red Bayou.
“Please to meet you Emile.” Violet said.
June felt strange being called Emile. But he liked the way she said his name. He felt her clear brown eyes and her oddly low voice rake him. He felt a little light headed and foolish looking at her so intensely. But, she was looking at him with curiosity and a small smile twinkling in her eyes.
“Everybody calls me June. For junior. “
“Oh,” was all she said, but it felt to June like she understood something about him. He was not sure what, but he was glad of it.
After Violet showed June where he could wash up, she cleaned up the sick room, placed food on the table in front of June, and sat down to finish the meal they had started before June and Perry had arrived. June watched her move from stove to table, her movements sure and fluid, her hands strong, yet delicate. Every time she passed in front of him, he stared at her mass of tangled hair. He had never seen anything like it. Her hair was curly at the edges of her scalp, like baby hair, but otherwise was an enormous jumble of uncombed wild nappy hair. He wondered if she had ever combed or brushed it. June was entranced and found it hard to not stare at Violet. He did remember his manners that his father, and grandfather had drummed into him on how to treat women, especially girls he liked. June felt for the first time that Violet was a girl he liked. He really-really liked her.
“Well. What do you think, Vi?” Mr. Bartholomew asked when Violet was done and Perry was as comfortable as she could make him.
“The bullet went straight through, but he left a lot of blood on the road. He’s feverish and the edges of both wounds didn’t clean up good. He really needs a healer.”
In answer to the thought of going out to fetch a healer, the wind punched the front door open so hard it sounded like the shotgun had gone off. Mr. Bartholomew and June went to the front of the house to secure the outside shutter and the inside door. When both were closed, the whipping and whistling of the wind, and the slapping and tapping of the rain hushed to a whisper, but the wind constantly shoved and pushed against the house, making it tremble with each gust.
“The storm is coming and there isn’t a way to fetch a healer. June, you can go straight to Mum Del’s when the storm passes to get some help. Until then, we’ll stay hunkered down here.”
As Violet removed her apron and head wrap, she said, “I’ll be staying with Perry. There’s a pallet for you over there.”
Violet pointed to a corner space in their roomy kitchen.
June was still entranced with Violet’s mass of nappy wild curls. He longed to see her hair untangled, unfurled, and tame, although he liked her hair wild almost as much as he wanted to tame it. Violet looked up from untying her hair and apron and saw him looking at her in a way that made her smile shyly and flushed her cheeks.
“Here, let me help you with the cleaning up,” June said and began to clear the table.
Mr. Bartholomew took the only chair with arms. He lit his pipe and after a while took up a battered banjo and picked out songs in the glow of a lamp on the kitchen table.
“Vi, I’d like some coffee since there won’t be much sleeping with this storm beginning to rage.”
“Yes, Papa. What about you June, coffee? We have milk syrup.”
“No thanks, I’ll just have some of that tea we had with supper.”
June and Violet cleaned the kitchen and talked while Mr. Bartholomew plucked and sang..
“This your first shepherding,” Violet said in a matter of fact way.
“Yes,” June answered.
“Mighty hard first,” Violet finished her thought.
“Harder for Perry than me. He saved my life you know. Two white men came up on him and wanted his horse. He told me to get away and bolted away to draw them away from me.”
June felt how quickly it all happened. He felt the worse thinking first, that Perry might be dead, and once he got to him and he was alive, that he could still die.
“But you didn’t go away, and you saved him,” Violet stopped oiling the cast iron pan and looked directly at June.
“Sounds like you saved each other,” Mr. Bartholomew said, “so tell us about it.”
June told them the whole story. He felt the shame of his forgetting his pack, his
not obeying Perry to run, and his desperation to get to the Bartholomew away house.
“I was never so glad to see you on your porch with that gun, Mr. Bartholomew and you with that lantern, Violet. I thank you.”
“You earned your welcome here, son,” Mr. Bartholomew said.
As they finished up cleaning the kitchen, Violet caught him staring at her hair.
“Why you staring at me so hard,” Violet asked.
“Your hair is so… wild and beautiful. Do you ever comb it?”
“No. Haven’t been combed since my Mam died four years ago.”
June looked astonished and entranced.
Violet’s eyes twinkled at the way June looked at her.
After Violet was finished getting ready for sleep, she kissed her father saying, “Good night Papa. I’ll come and get you if I need you.”
“Good night Vi. I’ll be right here.”
“Good night Emile,” she said as she passed into the room where Perry lay sleeping.
“Good night Violet,” June responded.
June settled down on the pallet provided. Exhaustion fell on him like a sack of grain from a height. Even though he felt the aftermath of threat, gunfire, Perry laying in the road, faith struggling with despair that he was not remembering the way to the Bartholomew’s, he was happy he would wake up and see Violet in the morning.