Greenhorns Stop Here

 

Zebras

Mrs. O’Kelley stirred the beans before dishing them out to her husband Sean and C.J. “We don’t have a government contract to trade with the Indians,” she said. “Better for us, too. President Grant will shut down the dishonest agencies. Most of ‘em are corrupt beyond redemption. We was always fair in all our dealings, wasn’t we, Sean?”

Her husband nodded a tumbleweed stock of thick black hair streaked with gray. He kept a rhythm of spooning spicy beans into his mouth from a shallow tin bowl, alternating with a bite of cornbread.

At the other end of the rough table, C.J. reckoned that Sean did a lot of nodding and left the conversation to Aideen—Mrs. O’Kelley. She had started talking before he dismounted. He wanted to know about the Indians, the settlement across the creek, the country in general, but she hadn’t stopped for a breath.

“We’ve been here long enough to raise a son,” she said. He was about your age when he got the itch to go off to war.” Mrs. O’Kelley’s eyes shone wet and bright. “Ain’t heard from him since Antietam. Four years ago.” She turned, dabbing her cheeks and sniffing.

It was his opportunity to pop in a word. Lots of families had lost loved ones in the war and he had a list of sympathies to call on for commiseration.

Mrs. O’Kelley recovered first. “You ain’t told us your name yet, boy, and what you’re doing here.” She grabbed the pot. “Want some more beans? They taste better when eat with them mesquite spoons, don’t they? Gives ‘em a flavor.” She dumped a ladleful into his bowl before he could answer. “Now, what’s your name again, son?”

C.J. took a swig of warm water from his blue enameled cup and checked to see if she was really given him an opportunity to speak. She was.

“I guess I don’t like my front name much,” he said. “It won’t stand me in good stead when I’m a cowboy. I’m thinking of going by my last name—Easterly.”

Next to the table, a pot of beans in one hand, the ladle in the other, Mrs. O’Kelley looked at C.J. long enough that he felt the heat rise in his cheeks. He’d never told anyone that he thought being addressed by his initials identified him as a schoolboy.

Mrs. O’Kelley had her own ideas. “So you’re going to dump the name your mama gave you to impress a range rider you ain’t met yet.” She snorted on the way to the counter. “You got the mentality of a cowboy.” She waved the ladle toward the door. “You two go smoke on the porch while I clean the kitchen.”

Outside, the sun sat on the horizon. The western sky gave way red as a cardinal. A few ruddy clouds were outlined in blazing yellow. C.J. watched spellbound, wondering if he would ever get used to the goodnight kiss the heavens gave to this unsettled land. Red went to purple and the Master Painter was done and gone in a matter of minutes.

Sean used the glowing end of a kindling stick to put a light to his pipe. When he had it puffing to his satisfaction, he pointed the stem at C.J. “So, Easterly. If you want to be a cowboy, you’ve gotta look like one. Get a hat that has a brim all around and a cowboy’s saddle. Both of those things are important. A hat will provide shelter from the sun and rain. You and your horse can drink out of it. You’ll stay in the saddle. That’s where cowboys make their living.” He sucked on his pipe, blowing smoke out of his nose. “Get the right clothes. You’ll need chaps.” Sean seemed to be going over a list in his mind. “Brand new gear will mark you for a dude. We can help you there. We’ve got lots of used stuff.” He smoked and tapped his toe.

Noting the mannerism, C.J. thought of the tune, “Put Your Little Foot,” but the idea of dancing here at the trading post was too foreign to consider.

Sean pulled the pipe out of his mouth and ran his tongue between his teeth and lower lip. Collecting the remains of beans and cornbread, he spat, clearing the porch with the ejecta. He wiped a sleeve across his chin replacing the pipe as he passed the cuff. “A fellow I like named Begay comes around. He can teach you to rope, but you’ll have to get a gun from the general store over yonder.” He pointed at the settlement. “Aideen’s dead set against ‘em. We don’t keep ‘em here.”

C.J. caught his breath. “What do I need a gun for?”

Why would C.J. – Easterly – need a gun? Share your thoughts in the comments.

To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

 Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Happy Birthday, Old Roy (tomorrrow).

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