Sean couldn’t be telling the truth. Easterly tucked in his lower lip and worried it with his upper teeth. “If there’re so many snakes out here that I need a gun, why don’t you have one?”
“I did for a long time. Now the critters mostly head for the saloon. We don’t have anything they want.”
“Ah. I see.” Since C.J. claimed himself as Easterly, he’d posed as forceful and able. A cowboy. Now he wasn’t sure. A lot of Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs were moving West. They’d have to learn to be a cowboy same as him, but they were veterans with firearms. He was still a schoolboy if western life involved gunplay.
Sean could be reading his thoughts. “It’s not a constant thing. You won’t have it in your hand all the time like the story writers tell it. Keep it in your saddlebag. But it’s true that the law here and over in Arizona Territory sometimes fails to benefit the honest folks. In fact, I’ve heard that since the Apaches aren’t raiding the countryside, rustlers have moved in to take their place.”
Easterly’s heart thumped in his throat. His dreams involved riding along ridges where the horizon was three days away, singing yippee-i-o songs to cooperating cattle, singlehandedly bringing in the most significant herd ever gathered, and bunkhouse card games on payday. His most romantic reverie had him in the saddle at night rescuing strays. There was no contemplation of facing a gang of desperados by himself in a lonely canyon. His stomach lurched up to where his pulse throbbed.
“Excuse me, sir.” Easterly jumped off the porch and ran to the privy. He didn’t reach it before he threw up more beans than he’d eaten with Mrs. O’Kelley’s mesquite spoon.
# # #
Begay, craggy and of indeterminate age, reminded Easterly of a juniper stump. Sean said that Begay was a middle-aged Navajo, but he wore down Easterly long before Mrs. O’Kelley rang the dinner triangle.
Smoking on the porch after the evening meal, Sean observed, “You’ve had Easterly busy for three days. Can he rope yet?”
Begay’s perfect English had come as a surprise to Easterly. “If I hadn’t counted them myself, I wouldn’t believe he’s a five-fingered being. Picture a jackrabbit hopping around swinging a loop.”
Sean laughed hard enough to cause a bent over coughing fit.
Glad it was dusk, Easterly felt his face burn.
Sean expectorated his cleared lungs past the porch edge, as was his style, and resumed smoking. He stroked his chin and addressed Begay. “I’d better tell Aideen to put on more beans. If you ain’t got him easy with a rope yet, I don’t know how long I’ll have to feed you two by the time you teach him to shoot.”
“Don’t worry about it, Sean. He won’t be here long enough for that.”
Easterly perked at that. “What do you mean, Mr. Begay?”
Begay’s silhouette shrugged. “You’re too slow. You can’t stay here long enough to learn what you need to know.”
That was harsh. Easterly wanted to be angry at Begay, but the man was correct. Still, it wasn’t right to embarrass him like that. Before he could think of a response, Sean chimed in.
“I thought you could teach him.”
“Oh, I will. I’ll just have to go along with him.”
Easterly’s pulse pounded in his ears. Already hot from shame it was an easy step to fuming. How dare this man invite himself along on a cowboy’s journey? At the same time, a deep relief crept in. He could resume his quest and have a guide. After a few deep breaths, his emotional swing settled in comfort. He should give his appreciation that he wasn’t abandoned. “Mr. Begay—”
The yellow kerosene light from the window illuminated his new partner raising his hand. “Begay is a name the Anglos gave me. You need to know me if we trail together. My name is Atá Halné. Around other whites, though, you can call me Arthur. I’ve found it causes less trouble than a Diné name.”
“Attay Hallnee, huh? I never knew that,” Sean said.
The Navajo laughed. “It means ‘He interrupts.’”
Atá Halné and Easterly sound completely opposite of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. How will they pair up? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Thank a veteran.