He suddenly straightened his back and looked down at his marshal badge and felt proud. Damn, he was a Jew and a lawman and he didn’t care if someone didn’t like it.
His reverie was interrupted by a little girl who could not have been more than five or six, leaning on the rail next to him. Hobbs could have sworn she was mimicking him, as she stood with one foot resting on the first rung of the rail, just as he had been doing.
“Good morning, mister.”
“Good morning to you, young Miss.” He nodded and would have tipped his hat, had he been wearing one.
“What’s your name, mister?”
“What were you thinking about so hard just now, Mr. Hobbs?”
“I beg your pardon?” If she were not so adorable, Hobbs would have considered her impudent.
“You were thinking real hard. You had a funny look on your face and I was just wondering what you were thinking about.”
“Oh, just, just thinking. Nothing worth talking about.”
“I’m Kate Walsh, eh, Katherine, but everyone calls me Kate.” She reached out to shake his hand and Hobbs complied, taking her small hand gently, engulfing it in his great fist.
He looked about for an adult. A child such as this should not be on her own, and Hobbs suddenly wanted to admonish both the little girl and her guardian.
“Don’t you know that it is not wise to speak to strangers, little girl?”
“Oh, my daddy says it’s all right when it’s a lawman, or when it’s a man of God.” She looked him over. “You’re both, and besides, my mommy is right over there.” She pointed to a pretty, well-dressed woman conducting business with an agent. The woman smiled and waved to the little girl. Her attention had been diverted from the business at hand.
Hobbs felt a sense of relief, and smiled at the precocious child.
“You’re a Jew, aren’t you?” She did not wait for a reply. She held up a hand and her face turned serious as she remembered what her father had taught her. She straightened her back and gave the greeting she’d been taught. “Shalom,” nodding seriously as she said it.
“Shalom, yourself.” Hobbs was pleased and gave her a broad smile.
“Those are our mules,” she pointed to the barge dragging a good distance behind the churning wheel of their craft. “My mommy and daddy and Uncle Bob breed the best mules this side of the Mississippi.”
“I see. They look to be fine beasts.”
“And every one tamed and trained, either for hauling or riding, so as to suit the customer’s requirements.” She sounded like an advertising poster saying that, and it tickled Hobbs to hear it from such a tiny voice.
She looked her stock over as they floated across the river. “I’m going to miss them. I love those mules. Lots a people don’t like mules. Say they’re stubborn and mean, but they’re not, mister. My daddy says that mules are the smartest animals on earth, and he even counts people in that.” She grinned. “My daddy says a mule is smarter than the human trying to get them to do things, and once you know that, you can get a mule to do anything, as long as it fits into the mule’s ideas of what’s right, and not what’s wrong. As long as you only ask the mule to do the things he thinks are right to do, you can get them to do anything for you.”
“Well, Miss Kate, I am certain of that.” Hobbs hid his cynicism. He never did like mules very much.
“We’re from Cochise County, Arizona Territory, soon to be a state, God willing. Our ranch is just north of a town named Tombstone. Do you know Tombstone, mister?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“Where are you from, mister?”
“Oh, I like it there. Mommy takes me there sometimes. Winters are cold up there.”
The child was intriguing; almost unnatural in her maturity and Hobbs found himself drawn to ask her more about herself, which was odd, because Hobbs was not generally good with—or interested in—children of any size.
“What is your business, Miss Kate?” Allingham; Desperate Ride