Western Short Story
“Dang it, horses, just keep going,” Weaverlake yelled at his wagon horses in the middle of the afternoon, the sun beating down on them like a steamy iron, sweat running on his arms and chest, and the back of his neck like he was doing the hauling himself. He looked around to see if anybody else was listening to him or apt to listen. They were all too busy in the heat to pay him any mind.
“What in God’s creation brought me way out here to swear I’m coming apart at the seams?” For all practical purposes, he realized they had gone no further than Ohio with a thousand miles, more or less, to many of the other wagon drivers heading west., some of them, indeed, on the way to California itself, the end of the world, possibly. Two women were widowed already, their husbands, maybe hounded into the trip, had plain fallen down dead mere days apart, the two widows, joining forces, moved into one wagon and sold the other off, horses and all.
Weaverlake, a widower for three years, his Sarah drowning in the Atlantic, had kept his gaze westward since that loss. Now his eyes began to move around at women in the caravan, and especially at the newer widows. He had sobering reflections that none would measure, ever, up to Sarah, a different caste of woman. Whenever he paused in the journey, let his mind roam, he could hear her laugh from that long distance as if she was still treating him with her full joy. Her laugh, secretive, strong, swinging with a sense of music in it, and as sexy as Hell could be in a skirt already in a swirl of dance.
He managed to argue with himself, for the hundredth time, that the longer he kept himself alive, the longer he could prolong her seeming existence, even at a forlorn distance of sound. Her laugh came back again and again.
“Laughter counts, too,” he muttered, in deep appreciation. And closed his eyes for a private sight of laughter on the hoof, as he imagined a cowboy might say it. The few he had known, even before this trip was planned, had set firm ideas in his mind of what they were like, what the west was like, as well, a piece of pure adventure, like going off to Africa to study cavemen from the beginning of man.
The wagon master traded with a few Indians for some fresh meat, not realizing the Indians were a search party of sorts checking on the strengths of the wagon men, how many there were, what kind of foe they would be, only imaginable Weaverlake advising the wagon master of his suspicions.
During darkness, the wagon master circled his wagons, had obstacles of protection placed under or beside wagons, and armed men ready to repulse any attack. When the attack came, the wagon gunners beat it off with few injuries on their part, and Weaverlake committing several deeds as seen as heroic. He was a one-man tour de force, as it was put. One man among them, on his second trip into western lands, Indians lands, acclaimed Weaverlake “is one man ready to make his mark in the western clime; he has the goods, without a doubt.”
Priscilla Wilkens, one of the widows, was heard to say, “He’s one man here that I’d be glad to spend precious time with,” without batting a single eyelash, Weaverlake, of course, ready for the draw, was alert to her full intent, and committed himself for her favor. It was a rather rapid entry into true romance, no guile in his approach but a whirlwind, spinning technique that spun Priscilla into his arms. Wagon folks had acclaimed Weaverlake on innumerable occasions and now did it again, as one woman said, “That boy is truly a wonder,” and half wondered in a half-stated, “Oh, I wonder if-,” which was held back for personal joy.
His worries, seemingly reduced by speedy reactions on his part, had to stand up to another obstacle when a gunman slipped into the night camp of the wagons looking for food, money, and a woman, in whatever quick appraisal made its evident selections behind gunpoint. The gunman said, I am Thorne Tester, known hereabouts as the quickest gunhand of all, and they all call me the fastest draw in the west by saying ‘Don’t Test Tester.’ And you better know what that means to any man here who wants to draw my ire.”
Justin Weaverlake, at that split moment, was standing with a rifle in his hands, the rifle at dead-straight-point aimed at Thorne Tester from the furthest spot inside the circle of wagons, his intent clear to all people of the wagon train, but had not clearly lodged as yet in the mind of the quick gunman.
“Whoa,” said Thorne Tester from the other end of the circle, “you don’t mean that you’re going to try to use that old blunderbuss on me while I stand clearly ready to blow off your head with half a dozen rounds plumb center in your forehead and without a miss before you hit the dust.”
He stomped on the dust under his feet to cause a momentary distraction to the rifleman, going for both his pistols at the same time, and suddenly and emphatically knew the brute force of the old blunderbuss as it tore into his chest with the most horrid example of departure that any of the wagon folks had ever seen, especially from one of their eastern seekers of the western climes.
True to an original promise all had pledged to at the beginning of their trip, Thorne Tester was buried with full ceremony and prayers of commitment on the wide-open plains outside of the circled wagons. His name and date of death was scratched into a simple wooden cross that the wind and the weather would take into the hereafter with all songs sung, all curses spent, all promises at a standstill.
Otherwise, you all know the eventual story of Justin Weaverlake, who worried about his western sojourn at first, but who became a notoriously famous sheriff in Weaver, Texas, built where Justin Weaverlake caught and bound-up his first deadly killer, the original cross gone with the weather and replaced by a stone marker with appropriate information engraved in place.