Western Short Story
A Garden of Plenty
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Monroe Boxler and Madeleine Solari were married in Independence, Missouri on the last day of May, 1870, Boxler separated from the army and Madeleine free of a despotic family to which she was more slave than daughter. All she ever wanted was her own garden and Boxler, on their first late night meeting when she slipped out of the house, promised her that she’d have her own garden if she married him and they’d go west, to a new opportunity for both of them.

That was the night of May 27th. On Monday, May 30th, she slipped out of the house for the last time. During the first week of June, they were west-bound in a wagon train. Neither one knew where they’d end up. During the whole trip, she dreamed about her first garden.

It was planted a year later in April, 1871 in north Texas, on a piece of land Boxler bought from a neighbor. A Confederate Army veteran, Boxler had become friends with another Confederate veteran, Morgan Drexel, who sold him 50 acres of land near the mountains. The couple built a small cabin on a special corner near a small stream; Madeleine thought it was idyllic, her husband thought it would be easier to protect in case of trouble, for trouble still moved on the land. There was free grazing land and there was the growing amount of land fenced in with barbed wire.

Madeleine did not like the “bob” wire that would hurt animals, but when cattle and other animals came into the early growths in her garden, she agreed to have it fenced in by her husband who adored her.

Boxler bought his wire from the general store in the nearest town. He went into the saloon to have a drink, and pause long enough to say hello to any friend who might drop in. He was nearly accosted by a couple of young toughs who had seen the wire in his wagon.

“You fixin’ to wire off your spread, mister?” one of them asked.

Boxler, surprised by the question, but fully alert to the source, said, “It’s for my wife’s garden. She has some nice vegetables coming along and the animals have been getting into the garden. I’ve heard her some nights get out of bed and stand guard ready to move them off.”

“Yah,” replied the tough cowpoke weighed down by two side arms sitting like monsters on his hips, “that’s what they all say.”

Boxler, unarmed, used to young braggarts and their offensive introductions to an otherwise sane and calm situation, said, “Are you calling me a liar?”

The affronted young cowpoke spun about before his companion said, “He ain’t carryin’, Bobby. See that, don’t you?”

Boxler, reading the young men again, said, “Are you saying that the deer don’t get into my wife’s garden and eat her crops?” He was still leaning against the bar, and in a corner of the room, smiling to himself, sat the owner of the general store where Boxler bought his wire, and a few other things. His smile broadened the more he looked at Boxler, the more he thought of purchased items that had landed in the Boxler wagon on other visits. His name was Griffin Attenborough.

The testy young cowpoke said, “Hell, yes. We ain’t seen a deer all year when we hunted. The damned wolfs might have got them all.” He laughed loud and added, “Yuh, I’m sayin’ no deer get in that garden of yours in the next two days.”

“If I bring in a deer in the next two of days and drop him at the door, will you keep quiet about the garden and the wire?”

Attenborough smiled again, a full and broad grin, and stood up and spoke to the whole room. His voice carried well in the room. “Morgan, that’s one hell of a claim you’re making. I’d like to see that myself. I’ve been out there myself and didn’t get off a shot. No, siree, not a shot.”

Attenborough’s stature in the town just about carried anything he might say, even if casually, for everybody traded and did business with him … clothes, guns, ammunition, food of the strangest sort that ordinarily did not get to a chuck wagon but were reserved for the women of the area and their meal preparations. And he reflected again on the supplies Boxler had bought from his store.

Boxler, out of the “situation” with the young cowpoke, finished his drink, waved to Attenborough and then said to the young cowpoke and his pal, “See you gents in a couple of days … at the most.”

At his arrival at home, Madeleine said, “How was your day in town? Did you get everything? My peas are up. Supper is baked potatoes and venison any way you like it.” She hugged him a second time. Life was good.

After a delicious meal, Boxler thanked his wife with a kiss and taking his rifle off the wall rack, said, “I am going to get another deer.”

“Oh, we have enough for almost a whole week,” Madeleine said. There was a quizzical look on her face.

“Well, I made a promise in town, so if I get one I’ll have to go back to town with it.”

She laughed and said, “You hardly ever fail. You must be the best hunter in the whole west.”

Boxler walked away from the house as evening shadows started to fall across the grass and climb the small rise their cabin was built on. The sun had disappeared behind western peaks earlier, there came night noises from the hills and out on the grass, and in the evening sky there soared a large bird he could not identify.

Boxler, too, thought life was good.

He sat behind a small frame of cast-off wood that was propped on both sides by branches off a tree, tested the wind direction, took a breath, and prepared to wait. Not an hour went by, the shadows in a full onslaught but on another mound the crest of the mound was clearly visible. He had planned all this almost a whole year earlier.

A shadow moved on the mound, and was familiar to Boxler who had placed his rifle over the top of the wooden frame in a homemade cradle. He eyed the shadow, squeezed the trigger and saw the shadow leap in the air, make a second jump and disappear into deeper shadows.

He walked back to the barn, tied his horse up to a small cart and rode out to where he had last seen the shadow disappear.

The deer was dead on the grass about 50 or 60 yards from where he hit it. With a sharp knife he carried in a sheath, he dressed the deer, carried the gutted remains in a large container and dumped them in the stream. The carcass of the deer was set on the back of the cart and he hung it well off the ground from a large branch of a tree near the cabin. It would be safe until morning.

The next day, after chores were done, he set out for town in his wagon, the deer in the back of the wagon. He went into the saloon, to the great surprise of everybody in the room, except for Griffin Attenborough who still carried the know-it-all smile on his face.

The two young cowpokes were amazed to see Boxler.

“Well, where’s the deer?” the noisy one said.

“It’s in the wagon out front. I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do with it. I can deliver it if you tell me where to go, who to see.”

Half the saloon customers rushed out to get a look and there in the back of Boxler’s wagon was the dressed down deer almost as big as life. It was a good-sized buck with many points on its antlers.

Quick amazement and congratulations ran through the crowd and the noisy cowpoke said, “Oh, you can have it. I don’t like venison, and that one looks awful tough with all them points on it.”

“Not too tough to shoot,” said a voice from the crowd.

Inside, still at his evening drink, Attenborough saw the vision that had been in his mind much of the night. In it he saw Boxler, from a large sack of salt he had bought at his store, mix much of it in the dirt around an old stump and put some of the salt on the stump, making it the first salt lick Attenborough had ever seen put up in such a manner.

But it worked, as did the “bobbed” wire around Madeleine’s garden.