After winning at the rodeo in Bloomfield Norny’s choices of direction in which to travel was limited to north or south. But sense she was already headed in a northerly direction, she opted to casually keep going and see what comes her way. There were quite a few ranches up north and rodeos ahead of her, and she had nothing better to do for now. So that mapped out her immediate future.
But time kept moving forward. A couple of years later and fifteen hundred miles southeast of her…
There were two men at the bar locked arm and arm wrist wrestling. It was an obvious mismatch sense Roscoe was so much bigger then Hatboy. But after a few beers it always comes around to the same thing. Hatboy was the challenger and Roscoe was the reigning champ. While Hatboy struggled to put his opponent's arm down, Roscoe casually takes a swallow of brew as if he were bored with the whole thing.
"Come on Roscoe, finish him off!" One man yells out.
"Had enough?" Roscoe asks.
Hatboy just grunts and strains to budge Roscoe’s arm but gets nowhere. Suddenly, effortlessly, Roscoe lays Hatboys arm to the counter.
"Seems like you’d know better by now." Pete says to Hatboy.
"Give Jim here a beer on me. His persistence deserves some reward." Roscoe says with a smile.
Usually its the looser that buys the beer, but Roscoe was a good sport, and he would rather replenish the void of lost pride for a friend with a drink, then leave him in humiliation with the agony of defeat.
James Bojack nicknamed Hatboy is the local bull riding champion, and one of the all time best they say. He knew it, and had an attitude to go along with it. He was a wiry, cocky sort of cowboy with a small tough guy attitude.
There was Pete, Roscoe, Hatboy and about a dozen others standing around drinking and jawing. They were all belly up to the bar swapping stories and talking about the big ride Hatboy took on Penelope, one of the meanest Brama bulls ever. Maybe because they gave him a woman’s name they say jokingly.
"Hey Pete, remember when Hatboy’s hand got tangled up in the
rigging down in Texas?" Roscoe asks.
"Sure do, that was quite a site. That bull taught him a new dance step or two. He flung Bojack around like a rag doll." They all laughed at the thought of it.
"Yeah! Well it could have happened to any one of you, and I’d be having a good laugh." Hatboy says.
"Oh come on Jim, we’re just funn’in ya. Besides the only thing you got injured was your pride. Pretty dang lucky I’d say." Roscoe tells him.
"Member that lil’ philly you took a shine to down El Paso way Hatboy?" Roscoe asks.
"Yeah! What about her?" He replies.
"She ain’t there no more. She married up with that dairy farmer and moved up north."
"Well there’s always more were that one came from." Says Bojack.
"In fact when the circuit takes us to Laramie, I know a cute little brunette up there that I may just give the pleasure to, if you know what I mean." They all laughed knowing what he meant.
In the corner of the room sitting quietly and chatting amongst themselves, were three older men dressed in suits. They were sipping on scotch and overhearing all the camaraderie between the riders. No one had even notice them slip into the room.
One of them appeared quite distinguishing in white and had a full head of white hair and a bushy white mustache which made him stand out from the others. He couldn’t help but listen in on all the boastful tales of extraordinary feats of riding skills that was going on at the bar. The three of them were on their way to a publishers convention in New Orleans, and they were held over for a couple of days.
The white haired old man couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the things he heard come out of the cowboys mouths. And especially how full of themselves they were.
He had a mouthful of tales to tell of his own if he had the chance and anyone would listen. But this wasn’t the crowd for his adventures and tall tales of witty scamp. But he did have one tale that might be of particular interest to these cowboys.
It was the tale of an unknown female drifter who had a natural ability for riding horses or bulls. She just came from out of nowhere and traveled to who knows, but she was undeniably a rodeo presence to be reckoned with.
As Hatboy goes on bragging about himself winning every event through out the circuit, the stranger couldn’t help himself and comes forward to intervene, and correct one possible error, "Excuse me men for butting in to your conversation, but I couldn’t help but over hear what you were saying, and I just have to tell you."
He looks straight at Hatboy and asks, "Was it Bojack they called you?"
"Thats right, James Bojack."
"Well Mr. Bojack, I’ve never seen you ride the rodeo, and I’m sure you really know what your doing out there. But I got to tell you that you might almost be the best rider ever."
"Almost nothin! I am the best!" Hatboy exclaims.
"Well not quite. Maybe here in these parts. But there was a rider out west, a woman drifter who just appeared, and no one can seem to beat her. She could out ride anyone."
"Well like you said, you ain’t seen me yet." Hatboy says.
"Just the same, her riding skills are so good... they are almost unnatural. But having not seen you, I’d have put my money on her." Says the old gent.
Immediately Hatboy looks at Pete and Roscoe as if to ask, could this be the woman you’ve been talking about?
Pete and Roscoe look at each other with big grins on their faces and at the same time they say, "NORNY!!"
"That’s her name." The stranger confirms.
"Well I gotta hear this. We’ve heard all about this woman before, so I wanna hear about her from someone else. Go on tell us. What about this legendary superwoman?" Hatboy asks
"Well sir, she’s a shy kinda quiet woman. She keeps to herself, but don’t assume she’s just some delicate female. I followed her from Bloomfield to Ukiah, and I never saw a woman like her before. She has a way with animals that borderlines on the supernatural. And as for her riding ability, no one has come close to out riding her on anything with four legs."
Pete and Roscoe were over joyed. Finally someone neutral to back up their claims of the legendary bull riding queen. The stranger’s words were like receiving a post card from an old friend, "Bartender, give this gentleman and his friends over there a drink on me. The least we can do is keep his whistle wet while he tells us his story." Roscoe says.
The old man goes on, "Well sir,…everywhere she goes she meets the tall gates of doubt. She gets scoffed at and laughed at, but that only seems to make her more determined to win at whatever she does."
Hatboy butts in, "Well, these two guys here rode with her and know her well. They claim she can not only out ride the best, but she can handle herself in a fight and take on as many as three men at a time. And I’ll tell ya partner, I find that hard to believe."
"They’re tellin the truth; I seen her with my own eyes give one cowpoke a good ground 'bouncin, and he wasn’t no little man. If she could put him on the ground, I have no doubt she might handle three at a time."
"Damn! Pete, Roscoe...I guess I owe you an apology. I thought you was yarn’in us all this time."
They just smiled. Pete and Roscoe were so excited to hear about Norny. They thought about and talked about her all the time.
They wondered where she could be and what she might be up to. Was she still out there riding or did something happen to her? They figured they had seen her for the last time, so this was a real treat. They made the stranger tell them everything he could about her.
And the old man was quite a yarn spinner. He had a way about him for telling tales that made anything sound clever and interesting. He was a wise and intelligent man. The men were hanging on his every word as if he were a grandfather reading a bedtime story to his grandkids
They all stood in a circle with the old man in the middle while he rambled on telling them the tale of Norny the female rodeo misfit. He spun a yarn that was Pete and Roscoe’s favorite color………Norny! "The lady was damn good! And such a thrill to watch." Says the old man.
Pete looks over to Roscoe and asks, "How long has it been since we saw her last Roscoe?"
"A little over three years I reckon." He answers.
"Here’s another little story you might like to hear." The old man says.
"After she won the main event in Fort Bragg along the coast, a group of men decided to play a trick on her. I guess because they didn’t like 'bein shown up by a female. Anyway, they tried to get her to climb on a mean 'buckin horse letting her think it was an easy rider."
Pete and Roscoe look at each other and at the same time blurt out with "Just like Sedona!"
"What?" The old man says.
"They did the same thing to her in Sedona." Roscoe answers.
The old man continues on with his story, "Well she musta figured somethin was up, cause she walked over to the horse and took a hold of his head and started talking to him. She was petting his face and patting his neck like they were old friends. Then she did somethin peculiar. She put her face to his ear and whispered somethin to him. No one knows what she said, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t grab his mane and sling herself up on his back and ride him around like a circus pony for a couple of minutes."
Everyone was speachless. I swear flies were landin in their mouths. "When she stopped and dismounted, she held onto the horses face and kissed him right on the nose and said out loud for everyone to hear, 'Thanks for the ride.' Then she just turned and walked away."
"Well immediately the boys all ran over, and one of them climbed on the horses back to ride him thinkin he’d been broke. Well that horse exploded like he was a powder keg tossin the rider clean through the fence and bustin it all to hell."
"When that happened they all looked over confused by the woman walking away. She just turned her head back to them with a big smilin grin on her face she says 'GOTCHA!!' Why all those men were flabbergasted to say the least. But they also noticed that she had the prettiest smilin eyes they had ever seen. They treated her with a new respect from that day on... I can tell you."
All the cowboys in the saloon were listening to the stranger's tale then suddenly burst into laughter over Norny turning the table on the tricksters. Pete and Roscoe knew that only Norny was capable of something like that. You couldn’t make a fool out of Norny the same way twice.
"Damn! Wish we’d a been there to see that." Roscoe says.
"Yeah! Me too!" Replies Pete.
"How’d you come to find her and follow her along the rodeo trail." Roscoe asks.
"An associate of mine from Mountain Valley sent her down to me in Angels Camp back in Calaveras county."
"Mountain Valley? I know that place." Pete says as he interrupts. "Sorry, go on with what you were sayin."
"Well she didn’t know she was delivering a letter telling me all about her, and that I should pay particular attention to her. This woman is worth writing about Mr.Wheeler told me. He said she was 'an extraordinary person,' and I was always looking for something new to write about. Well he was right. She is a one of a kind woman. I thought I would follow her a while and see for myself. But I was knee deep in jumpin frogs at the time and couldn’t leave immediately. So I sort of lost track of her. I don’t know where she went or what happened to her from the time she traveled between Angels Camp and Bloomfield, but I just guessed she would turn up at the rodeo and sure enough she did.
I followed her from town to town and watched her claim the title in each rodeo. Then when we arrived in Ukiah it was different. The day was gray and overcast. There was a smell of moisture in the air and lightening flashes in the far distance. The riders were trying to decide whether to go on with the rodeo or cancel it till another day. We were all expecting a good drenching sooner or later. But they went ahead with the contest anyway. One by one the riders took their turn. Then when it came time for the woman to ride, the storm was moving closer. There were a couple of close lightning strikes until finally one hit a tree less then a hundred yards away. Well, I don’t quite know what to say... its a pity though, there is no way you can match your skill against hers now and see for sure who would have been the best. She was a special lady and would have made an interesting story for my readers."
"Huh! What do ya mean would have?" Pete asks.
And as the old man spun his tale, something was coming unraveled until suddenly there it was, the knot in the yarn. Pete and Roscoe were dumbfounded hearing a stranger tell them that their good friend Norny the bull riding queen had finally been thrown. Not just thrown off, but somehow the weight of the bull landed on her back.
Suddenly Pete and Roscoe felt a hit in their heart and stomach like they never felt before. And for the first time since they were kids they were scared to the core fearing the loss of their dear friend.
"Yep, she was broke up pretty bad. At the least if she is still alive she probably won’t walk again. What a tragic ending to such a unique and special woman. But it was a real privileged to watch a natural talent like her." Says the old man.
Pete and Roscoe were in shock. Their beer lost all taste, while their hearts were pounding with anxiety knowing they couldn’t get to her fast enough or if they could even get to her at all.
Quickly they step in front of the stranger and asked him, "Where did you see her last and when?"
"Well that would be Ukiah about a year ago, but they took her from there to who knows where. But my guess is if she is still alive they took her to the orphanage down in Marin County. " The stranger says.
"Well... that’s where we gotta go Pete." Roscoe says to his pal.
Anxiously Roscoe shouts out, "Hatboy! Tell em we can’t make Tulsa, and we don’t know when we’ll be back."
"You got it boys." James replies.
As Pete and Roscoe turn to run out the stranger says to them, "Look for Father Donny at the church in San Rafael; he might be able to tell you something about her."
Pete and Roscoe were out of there before the ripples in their beer mugs could subside. They had to move now, they were already too late. This was the worst thing anyone could have told them. Whether they would ever see her again or not wasn’t as important as knowing she was still alive and OK somewhere out there.
The old man was feeling bad having delivered the news about their friend, "Well I’m powerful sorry that I had to be the one to tell you the bad news. But I had no idea they knew her when I came in here."
"What makes you think she is in an orphanage?" Bojack asks the old man.
"Well, I’m told she hasn’t got any family or next of kin, so that would be the logical choice. Besides if she is a cripple, the church will care for her." Says the stranger.
"Oh she’s got family. She’s got two big brothers. Pete and Roscoe. " Says the bartender.
"I can see that." Replies the old man.
"Well gentlemen. Thank you for the drink and the conversation. Its been a pleasure." Bojack and the rest of the boys extended their hands in friendship to the old man as he and his companions were leaving.
Then the old man stops for a moment, looks back at Bojack and asks, "Just out of curiosity, how’d you ever get the nickname Hatboy?"
"Oh... well... those were the only words my grandfather ever had to say to me. Whenever he was leaving he would look at me and say in a deep voice, 'hat... boy!'"
"Interesting." The old man says with a chuckle.
And as the three old gents walk towards the door Hatboy had to ask, "Say, we never caught your name?"
"Samuel Clemins." The old man says.
The men in the bar had no idea they were listening to the words of a literary legend. The man who would become known as Mark Twain. To them he was just some nice old guy with a way about him for spinnin yarns and tellin tales.
Outside Pete and Roscoe packed their things, saddled up and headed for the nearest railroad depot. They knew they could get to the west coast much faster if they took themselves and their horses on the train.
Pete and Roscoe had come to her aid before, but this time their frustration was that they didn’t even know if she were alive or not. And they carried with them a sick feeling in their stomachs that they may be too late. This was going to be a hard trail to follow and it could get rough.
But there was only one small part of those tough as nails cowboys, that was soft, and that was the part they reserved for their friend Norny. She added a dimension to their lives that they never knew existed before she came along. But the void that would remain in her absents from this world was a colder place and not acceptable to them. And they now understood they needed her friendship to make their lives complete. They were different men now, better men because of her.
The old gents walk down the wooden planks of the sidewalk towards their hotel, while the men in the saloon bear witness to the furious speed of Pete and Roscoe heading out of town in search of the sweet song of their soul. She was an unexplainable melody of gossamer adrift on the breeze, that left a cowboys heart at piece with life and everything about the old west. And she was..................
their beloved cowgirl pal...
their flower of the wind...
the thorny rose of the westward trail...
and where the wind blows... so Norny goes...
boasts the words of Roscoe Poe.