Western Short Story
He’d come cross dry and arid country with one canteen of water for his horse and him, Jiggs Foster looking for work, any kind of work, though he was best at pushing herds of cattle on long drives to market points, a scramble now and then with rustlers, hungry Indians and with no one around, shot a cow for a hungry lot of Cherokee hanging by the trail.
Now he spotted some growth ahead of him and a few silhouettes on the move. “Range country,” he said under his breath and. “I hope.”
A mile later he was hailed from a sudden rise in the ground. “Hello, cowboy, you lost out here, looking for a friend, need a job?”
“Hell,” Jiggs said, “I’ll take some of everything you got a hand in. I’m dry, hungry, like my horse, and can sign on a dotted line.” He managed a laugh to ease what he thought were his heavy demands all in one to get on with living.
“What’s your name and where you coming from?” The voice was pleasant, neither suspicious nor demanding, the speaker the regular sort of gent you often met on the cow trail, his horse trained but tired, showing a long time in drive matters, who was boss when mounted.
“Jiggs Foster they call me since I was a kid down in Waco country, though I’ve been all over until the last job was practically over before it started, and every man was cut loose on the spot of takeover. I just headed myself southwest, got lost, ran into dry country, managed to get here.” the JBLBarB ranch, and had to go home to see my mother, let her hold my hand as she went off in her sleep, and buried her beside my pa. I’m heading back to the ranch and can offer you a job, and some water to drop yourself into, a whole tub of it with no ladies around. It’s great stuff!”
On top of his exhilaration, he added, “We got some ride ahead of us, if you’re interested.” He flipped a canteen at Jiggs, who took care of his horse first, showing his flip side to Vertolley, pleased at the horse care of a stranger, marking him as a true horseman., caring for the animal that would get him where he was going.
Vertolley’s words carried the whole picture he was presenting, each word worth its use and merit, and understood the whole way.
Two days later they entered JBLBarB country, and Tony V, as he was called, said, “Here’s the fountain and the tub I told you about. Jump in.”
Jiggs, clothes and all in place except his guns, jumped in, the way he had dreamed about on the way to this very spot. All the ranch hands cheered him at the first dip. And there was not a woman in sight, as though it truly was a man’s country. He showed his dry carcass all the joys of a full tub, splashing water like a kid sneaking a turn in a found river, cupping handfuls of water to his horse’s mouth, patting him on the head, thanking him for delivery, the yard full of herders at rest, enjoying the sight.
And, as he was told, Jiggs saw no women in the ranch yard. In a few moments, he had stripped his duds off and was completely naked in a sudden spur of enjoyment. At that moment, he spotted a woman in ranch attire standing in the open doorway of a huge barn, hands on her hips as though she was watching a stage show. A kind of glee marked her face in the same frame of joy that Jiggs was experiencing, standing in the tub of water, the fountain beside him pouring more water from a windmill rig at its endless task.
Jiggs scrambled into his wet clothes with some difficulty, the woman obviously enjoying the sight, an unheard laughter marking her pleasure.
Jiggs finally managed a nod, which she returned and then she spun about, turned on her heels, and was out of sight.
Nobody else seemed to have noticed the pair of strangers at their first meeting.
The foreman Vertolley said, “Oh, damned sorry about that, Jiggs. She’s the owner’s daughter and I didn’t remember she was coming here on a visit, and with some friends. For your money, all of them could have been in the barn catching the show, the hit of the day, I bet. They’ve all got you pegged now as a stagehand instead of a ranch hand. Quite an introduction. Won’t hurt you socially, I’m sure, on this spread, in a new job, mealtime coming on the table soon as you get ready.”
His agreeable smile was eager and not forced at all, and he led Jiggs to his first meal in days, which he ate with deepest thanks. He also had enjoyed the unexpected introduction to the owner’s daughter and any of her friends who accompanied her, though none of them shared the meal in the bunkhouse. Undoubtedly, that would be on a piece of JBLBarB property for much of their visit, the daughter included.
Vertolley added, “Her name’s Jessica, Jessica Benton, and I have no ide of what names her friends carry.
Jiggs, most hopefully, was anxious to meet her, and any of her friends, on neutral territory, no matter where that might be. He was not a bit nervous of what might be coming his way, worth all the lost and dry travel on the way here, and the coming meetings of new friends. Thus, he hoped at hat instance with active fervor.
That evening, in growing dusk, meals come and gone, one of the ranch cowboys picked up his guitar and sat in front of the bunkhouse. The first sounds brought comrades outside to listen, as he broke into an old favorite cowboy song, Goodbye Old Paint
Goodbye, old Paint, I'm a-leavin' Cheyenne
foot's in the stirrup, my rein in my hand
I'm a-leavin' Cheyenne, I'm off to Montan'
Goodbye, old Paint, I'm a-leavin' Cheyenne
horses ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay.
His melodic voice, loaded with personal loneliness most likely, brought a sadness and loneliness to the gathering as others joined them, including Jessica Benton and her college girlfriends, even all of them hushed into a pleasant silence, brought about by a mystical cowboy sadness working its magic on most listeners, but directly on all of the college girls, alone in the wild and lonely west where drama is truly born and sung about.
Jessica Benton’s hand, after more touching songs, eventually found the hand of Jiggs Foster that evening, the touch already remembered from earlier in the day when her heart began to flutter in place as she came to know, most immediately, the love of her life.
Jiggs Foster, as it can now be said, finally was the lonely cowboy come home again.