Western Short Story
His heels hurt, all the way up, and the sun burned on the back of his neck as he wandered horseless in the dry prairie, his favored horse, a gift from his grandfather and almost as old s the old man himself, falling down dead itself without a sound, hours earlier going down and dead before hitting the ground.
The loss had bothered him in another matter of hours, via old pains brought back, from his heels up to his neck, a walker now instead of a rider, and a hurting one at that, as he looked about the dry prairie around him, level and crisp as toast from a fire, as though it might crack in pieces, dry pieces
He wondered, as he had for days on end, how big Texas was in the first place, how much of it he’d have to walk in these conditions belaboring him before he’d hear a voice of a rugged cowboy, the soft murmur of a young lady in a shady spot, the cries of an infant, a gunshot attesting to life or death.
Forever pushed itself forward as the answer.
The water issue seemed to be waiting to get realized, a few mouthfuls left in the canteen, bolstering him for few moments at a time, but the starchy gumminess had been in his throat for hours, Grit trying not to be aware of the eventual threat, down, dry, at the prey of creatures lurking for food and liquid in an unseen world.
He remembered his father, way back in youthful Oklahoma, saying, “The tough get going when the tough gets toughest.” For years that hung in his mind, only now it being as true as it was back then, when he found his father dead at the foot of the dry well, the three-day panic having grabbed his heart on the run, taking it hither, Grit Higsbey hitting the long trails thereafter, now here in a Texas, as dry as the centuries let it be
Now, like a prayer answered, he saw a lone tree with an umbrella shade sticking up in the distance, and a clutch of shade beneath it, like the Heavens upside down. In that shade, by a miracle, he found some unknown rider’s horse, a noble Appaloosa resting in the lonely shade, the lone shade for miles on end, and in every direction.
Grit approached the gift animal slowly, whispering to it, hoping its owner had taken good care of him, not liable to break away from the lone shade in miles atop miles; and he opened the canteen to let loose whatever vapor scent the horse might detect.
The horse, in a sense, welcomed the new visitor, accepted a cupped hand with a small catch of water in it, knew the hand-rub on his neck, the comfortable adjustment of the saddle and its trappings, which most likely had caused some aggravation for him.
Soon, giving up much of his water to the horse, saving a few sips for later, Grit Higsbey had a horse under him, primed for whatever might come their way. Hours later, an old prospector with a pair of mules, had some water to spare and plenty of directions on what to find where, pointing off in all directions and supplying points of information; “There’s women out that way, a whole passel of them, of all cuts and kinds, and this way, due north about 30 miles a place to get your horse re-shoed and get stabled in a barn to cool him down, and a string of cabins toward that there mountain where miners spend their lives seeing nothing but dirt for most of the time until one of them throws a party on a big nit. You can find that kind of work there. But if you want to run with cattle, go a little westerly where ranches cut the land in pieces with poles and fences and barbed wire, or whatever, all having an doing their own thing. And there ain’t much better than doing yow own thing as long as it lasts, or you last, being the truth of God as I speak.”
In addition, he said he was known to be dead in a dozen towns that hadn’t seen him in years. “If they don’t see me for a year or so, they think I died out here and got eaten up, but I got some surprises coming their way.”
He studied Grit a bit longer, and said, “You look like you had a chunk of it yourself, son. Is that so?”
The old buck nodded as though he was seeing whole scenes out on the arid prairie.
“Enough to make me settle down yonder, in some nice little town with no shooting, no sheriff or marshal to mess up the scene, and lots of pretty women of all kinds.”
“They call that Heaven down here, and difficult to find on this trail. I got no idea what way to point you ‘cause I ain’t ever been there myself, and no chance of getting there now, less I drop down dead on this here spot and have a mere chance getting past the gate.”
“Good luck to you, sir,” said Higsbey, to which the old man replied, “It’s you who needs the good luck wishes, son. You got some living and some dying to do. All I got is the dying part, and it’s on the hurry-up.”
The old one paused, looked at the horse again with a studied eye and offered, “What you best ought to do is introduce yourself to a big ranch owner name of Pallatin in that there direction,” pointing off straight west, “’Cause that’s his son’s horse, or least his saddle ‘cause his markings are all over it, no mistaking them. So, walk up on ‘em real careful and real quick and tell ‘em your story how you found him before the shooting starts.”.
Forewarned, with full intentions to follow directions, Grit Higsbey started off. A few days later, the land breaking down into more green than he’d seen since Oklahoma, he saw a young lady driving a spirited horse on a small wagon, as if she was getting out of control, if not there already,
He raced to catch up to the light carriage, grabbed the horse’s reigns, and slowed him to a walk, and then a stop, rubbing the back of the animal’s neck until he quieted down, and the young woman said, in an angry voice, “What do you want now?”
Grit didn’t know what to say, in explanation, but said, “I Found a horse out on the prairie back many days and many miles and an old prospector said he recognized the animal and I better get a swift explanation to some rancher named Pallatin.”
“Oh, no!” cried out the young lady. “I’m Rita Pallatin and that’s my brother Rex’s horse. My father will faint with fear and worry. Rex always liked going off by himself, for whatever reason, but never explained it. He’d just go, like that.” And she flicked her fingers, and said, “I’m glad you saw me before any of the ranch crew. That might have been troubling, Best to tie the horse to the back end and climb up here with me.”
His explanation to the ranch owner, Howard Pallatin brought back an explanation. “Domething always bothered Rex. I never knew what it was, but he needed to go off by himself to do whatever needed be done. I can only giess it happened. I’m damned glad you happened along, son. Do you need a job?”
Rita looked at him, with a broad smile even her father could measure.
“Yes, I do,” Grit said.
“You got one, son,” replied Howard Pallatin, and your first day’s pay is his horse. It’s now yours. I know you’ll take good care of him. He brought you and most likely the final word home to us.”
An immediate sensation of good nature and acceptance filled those in the room, or two of them for sure.