Western Short Story
“The man at the livery told me you were hiring, I need a job.”
The unexpected voice broke Duncan Wells out of his thoughts. He turned around expecting to be looking at eye level with a man; instead he had to look down at the boy standing in front of him. He took in the cut of the boy; he was big for his age with a wild tangle of black hair matching his steady black eyes. He was impressed that the boy would look him in the eye, but he needed men – not boys.
“Sorry son, I need a couple of men who know cattle.”
“I ain’t afraid to work; I can handle any job you give me.”
Duncan picked up on the strong Irish in the boy’s voice, probably straight from the Old Country, he thought. “You can can you?”
“That’s right, I’m a strong one.”
“How old are you son, twelve?”
“Yes sir, twelve.”
“Where’s your pa?”
“Dead sir, killed in a mine explosion.”
“At home with my four brothers and sisters, I’m the oldest, the man of the house. I need a job.”
Duncan Wells studied the boy noting that he was still in knee pants. His brogans were run down and torn. He felt for the young man, but he had no place in his outfit for a boy. “Sorry son, no job, but I can give you a dollar or two to help you out.”
The boy stiffened, “I don’t want your charity! I ain’t a beggar.”
A chuckle escaped Duncan Wells’ lips, “You’re a tough one alright. Go see Hank over at the General Store; he might need a boy to do some chores.”
Still bristling over the insult he held his tongue, “Thank you sir, I will.”
As the boy turned to walk away Duncan stopped him, “What’s your name son?”
“Brandon McClary, sir.”
“Well, Mister McClary, when you grow up some you look me up and I might have something for you.”
Brandon attempted to hide his disappointment, but his frown was evidence against it. “Yes sir, thank you.”
As Brandon walked toward the store Duncan watched him. There was something about the boy that appealed to him. If he had a son he’d be like that, but his wife had died young leaving him without any children. He was about to walk away when the sound of young voices drifted to him. He looked back at the store to see the Jordon brothers standing in front of Brandon.
Both boys were older and bigger than Brandon, but he stood his ground and looked up at them. The Jordon’s had just emerged from the store with each of them holding a striped candy stick in his mouth. Their old man was a bully and he raised his boys to be every bit as worthless and mean as he was, and they were proving it now.
He was curious to see how this smaller Irish lad handled himself in this situation, he decided to move closer. The taunting tones of the Jordon boys drifted to him as they drew on every aspect of Brandon McClary’s life and heritage to throw their insults at him. The oldest boy had the candy stick in his mouth, like a pole frozen in a hole, as he reached out and pushed the smaller boy.
Without a word Brandon put all his might into a punch to the Jordon boy’s stomach, shooting the candy stick out of his mouth like an arrow. Duncan burst out laughing at the sight. Both boys then jumped on Brandon and began to pummel him with their fists, but to their surprise he came right back at them giving as good as he got.
Duncan felt a pride in the boy swell up inside him. He was quite a lad, but he knew it was time to break up this lop-sided fight. Before he reached the boys old man Jordon came out of the store with a bellering shout. He began roaring at Brandon about picking on his boys and beating them up.
Jordon grabbed the boy by the arm just as Duncan stepped up on the boardwalk. “Leave off of the boy, Jordon.”
Old man Jordon let Brandon’s arm drop as he stepped back blinking at Duncan. “What business is this of yours, Wells?”
“What’s it of yours, what were you planning to do? Your two hellions here were beating up on a smaller boy and you’re going to help them? I think it’s time you took your get and went home.”
Jordon squared around to face Duncan, “And if I don’t?”
Duncan slipped the loop off his Colt, “Then they’ll be burying you out back.”
For a long moment the two men held a lock on each other’s eyes. Jordon was a bully, Duncan Wells a hard-nosed fighting man with no backup in him.”
Slapping his boys on the side of their heads Jordon shouted at them, “Let’s get out of here.”
Duncan rested his thumb over the Colt’s butt as he watched them ride away, then he turned his attention to Brandon. He looked down at the boy and studied him. His face was cut and his nose bleeding. Pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket he handed it to Brandon. “Here son, wipe your nose.”
The boy took the offered cloth and wiped his nose, pulling it away he looked at the blood on it. He never flinched, just looked at it and then held it back under his bleeding nose.
“You put up a pretty good fight son, you’ve got some sand.” He admired the boy for a moment and then added, “You know this is all part of the right of passage?”
Moving his eyes up to Duncan’s face he spoke through the handkerchief, “Right of passage? What’s that, sir?”
“It’s where a boy earns the right to be a man, like handling himself in a fight. Only a bully or a fool starts a fight and generally they’re one-in-the-same. A man stands up to them and finishes the fight they start – like you just did.”
Brandon continued to stare up at the man without a word.
“You just passed one right of passage.” Then he cocked his head to the side and looked the boy over. “There’s another right of passage for boys around these parts. When a boy becomes a man he sheds them short pants and puts on long pants and boots.”
“I don’t have long pants, or money to buy any with.”
Jerking his head toward the General Store’s door, “It’s time you did.”
“I said I can’t buy any.”
“You’re not going to, I am. Like I said, it’s a right of passage that you just proved you’re ready for.”
“I don’t want any charity.”
Duncan put his hands on his hips and grinned down at the boy. “It’s not charity Brandon McClary, any man rides for me wears long pants and range rider boots.”
Lowering the cloth from his nose Brandon’s eyes opened wide. “Rides for you?”
“You bet. I said I was hiring men, and if you’re still interested I’ve got a job for you.”
Brandon’s whole face broke into a smile, “I’ve never had long pants before.”
“You’ve never been a man before today.”
Reaching out his hand to Duncan, Brandon straightened to his full height. “You won’t be sorry sir.”
“I don’t figure I will.” Shaking the young man’s hand he added, “You can call me Duncan, now lets get you out of them durn boy’s britches.”