Western Short Story
The old grizzly stared up at the bee's nest. He rose on back feet and leaned against the tree, pushing his weight against the slender trunk and shaking the tree back and forth. Gradually the link between the bee's nest and tree was shaken loose and the hive tumbled to the ground, splitting into three pieces. The grizzly nuzzled at the largest piece, savouring the honey and in the process swallowing a number of the bees that hovered around him buzzing angrily. If their stings hurt him he did not show it as he moved to the second piece of the hive.
Better to wait till dark when the bees would be dormant, Sam Torrance said to himself from where he squatted on a bluff above the forest. But he understood the lack of patience. It was one of the reasons he was travelling on the road to nowhere. He had held a good job, a really good job and he had thrown it away through similar impatience. He did not like the foreman on the ranch and he did not want to wait to be fired for standing up to him, which he would surely do. So he quit the job, took his pay, saddled the big bay horse and headed west. Utah, he thought, maybe back to Utah.
He had stopped for a time in Moville to stock up on supplies and then hit the trail, deciding to travel through the tall forests of southwestern Colorado to the Utah border. He knew he could find work on one of the large cattle ranches there and he had friends he could rely on. Or he could return to work for his uncle Jeremy on his ranch. But he was going to take his time. He was already twenty-eight years old, old for a pay-by-the-month cowboy by western standards but he was in no hurry to get anywhere and would simply enjoy the journey.
He left the bear to its sweet meal, mounted the bay and continued on his way, finding the wide paths through the forest to be, for the most part, pretty easy to navigate. He checked his compass from time to time to keep on a northwestern track toward the Utah territories, his eventual destination.
It was late afternoon on the third day when he felt a familiar tension creeping up his back. He was sure that he was being watched. He stopped in the shade of a large tree and, without moving much, studied his back trail and the way ahead, first with his eyes and then with his telescope. He could see nothing, but the feeling of being watched would not go away. He had learned over time to trust such feelings when they occurred.
He made a sheltered camp before dark, finding a spot out of the way and easy to defend if he was attacked. He still had no evidence that anyone else was around, but he had learned through life's lessons to trust his instincts and they were telling him that he needed to be alert. He did a walk around the perimeter of the camp before he settled down.
He crawled into his blankets and, despite the tension in his body, he was asleep almost immediately. He trusted that the big bay, a mountain-raised horse, would let him know if anyone or anything approached the camp.
Then he was awake. He opened his eyes slowly, scanning the area. The fire had not died down, though it had less than a half-hour of life left before it became glowing coals, so only a couple of hours could have passed. He sensed rather than saw movement on the far side of the fire some yards back. Without getting up he tossed a couple of medium-sized sticks onto the fire and watched as the flames rose, his hand on his gun. He slipped out of his blankets, gun in hand and added a couple of even larger pieces. As the light spread out from the growing fire a twin pair of greenish-yellow lights appeared at the edge of the trees. At first Sam did not know what they were, then suddenly he did, and he put his gun down and carefully reached for the rifle lying beside his saddle.
As the glow of the fire increased he saw that a large cougar lay with its head resting on its paws some twenty feet from the fire. It did not move or appear threatening and it made no sound. It just lay there, quietly watching him. Sam's movement had caused the cougar no concern and that caused Sam considerable concern. It should be afraid or at least wary of human contact. In fact, it should never have come this close to a human's campsite. But it had.
There it was, big as life, and a little bit bigger. He crawled back into his blankets with the rifle at his side and knew he was not going to get any more sleep that night. He was right.
As the first yellow fingers of daylight crawled over the forest the cougar rose onto its feet, gave Sam a final look, stretched, turned and sauntered back into the darker forest. It looked back toward Sam once and in another moment was gone, invisible among the trees and bushes.
"Well, that was something," Sam said to the bay as, breakfast done, he packed his things into large saddlebags. He mounted and continued on his way, looking back a couple of times before turning a bend and riding out of sight. He was still confused by what he had seen that night.
The going was a little tougher that day and Sam angled toward the edge of the forest where the going would be easier. Still, even with the plains in sight he stayed a little inside the forest's edge where there was shade and where he was less visible. He was not one to invite trouble and despite seeing the cougar he was not certain that no one else was watching him.
He made camp early that day and was in his blankets and asleep before it was completely dark, leaving a large fire burning this time.
Then, suddenly, he was awake again. The fire was low but still with some life to it. Sam sat up and looked across the small clearing and once again two tiny green orbs winked at him from the darkness. The same cougar was back, lying under a tree twenty feet away, watching. Once again it showed no aggressiveness and in fact seemed little more than mildly interested in this man-creature. Sam looked toward the bay and was surprised to see that it did not seem concerned. How very strange, he thought.
Sam did not sleep well that night either, dozing in his blankets near the fire, his back to a tree and holding onto the rifle in case there was any danger from the cougar. But it never moved from where it lay, just stared across at him and from time to time closed its eyes and slept.
As daylight crept over the forest the cougar rose, stretched and then stood and stared at Sam a long time. Again, there seemed no aggressiveness to the animal's actions, merely curiosity. It looked to be healthy and well fed and as it turned and moved with familiar graceful movements that did not suggest any apparent illness or injury.
Sam was about to clean up the campsite when something sparkled at him from the spot where the cougar had been lying. Sam walked over and squatted in the spot, then picked the object up.
It was a large, round and ornate gold pocket-watch on a long and heavy gold chain. It was perfectly clean and shiny. He snapped open the cover and saw an ornate watch on one side and a photograph of a man, woman and two children inserted inside the cover.
"This watch has not been out in the elements very long," Sam said aloud, though there was no one to listen. "That is strange."
Where had it come from, he wondered? He knew it had not been there when he set up camp because he had walked over that area several times gathering kindling and firewood from the forest floor. There was no way he could have missed the bright gold watch.
The cougar? Was that possible? Had the cougar carried it here? It seemed impossible but there did not seem to be any other explanation and, as he had read, when you eliminate the impossible, everything else is possible.
Now what? The logical thing was to back track the cougar to see if he could determine where it had picked up the watch. It could not have been long ago, given the condition of the timepiece. He hesitated to stray from his path but figured with these strange events he might as well check it out.
He cleaned the camp and then, walking and leading the bay, he began to track the cougar's trail, watching always that it was not some kind of trap. He had walked for almost two hours when the trail began to peter out. He was beginning to think he was crazy and turn back when he heard a low growl ahead of him. His head snapped up and his hand went to his gun, and then he saw the cougar. It was about a hundred feet ahead of him, standing on a low outcropping of rock. When the cougar saw that it had been seen it stepped down from the rock and headed west, walking at a moderate pace. Still wondering what was happening, Sam led the bay and followed the disappearing animal.
A half-hour later, the cougar stopped, its front paws on a large log, staring to its left. Sam approached as near as he could without coming too close and at that point the cougar turned, looked him up and down and walked away into the deeper part of the forest, disappearing into the dense woods.
Sam walked over to where the cougar had been standing and looked down. He saw a man's body lying underneath a large tree about thirty feet below him. He left the bay, wrapping the reins around the saddle pommel so the bay was free to move if needed and worked his way down to the body, expecting and finding that the man was dead.
Sam checked the man and determined he had a broken leg and a badly dislocated shoulder. The bone had come through the leg and though a tourniquet and bandage were still wrapped around it, Sam had no doubt it had simply bled out over time. The man seemed to be in his early to mid-fifties by Sam's estimate. He had a round face and a brown beard that wrapped around the edge of his face. He wore spectacles and a cap rather than a hat.
There was a half-full canteen of water and a good-sized packsack lying beside the man. Inside the packsack Sam found a leather-bound notebook. It had a lot of mathematics in it as well as several line drawings, but on the last page with anything written on it was a short note.
'To whoever finds this if anyone ever does. My name is Thomas Morrison and I am a surveyor for the railroad. I have been surveying a route into the forest for a lumber company who will be cutting timber for us. Three days ago, while taking sightings, I got lost in the woods and could not find my way back to camp where the others were staying. I am not much of a woodsman. I stumbled around in the dark for a while and fell over this rock cut and ended up down here. My leg is badly broken and I cannot move one shoulder so I crawled over here under the tree and I am just waiting to be found or die. I expect the latter as I am bleeding quite badly and have done all I can to stop the bleeding from my leg. Hard to do with only the one good arm. I expect this is it for me and I guess at least I have a beautiful place to die, if something of a lonely one. I do not expect my work mates will find me out here. I am not afraid to die but I wish I could see my wife and family one last time. If someone finds this note and it is still legible I would implore you to please let my wife and daughters know that I truly love them and will miss them. They are at our home in Washington and the address is in this book. I only hope that they will learn of my fate and have closure.'
It was signed 'Tom Morrison, husband, father and surveyor.' The date was three days earlier in the week.
Sam walked away from the body, scouting the area for the best way out and thinking about how he might get the body out, but he knew it was a fruitless task and one that would in the end not matter to Tom Morrison. He found a soft spot, a curved piece of hard wood and began to dig a grave, making it deep and wide. Once that was done, he emptied Tom Morrison's pockets, put all that they contained in an outer pouch of the man's packsack and then lifted the body and deposited it in the grave. He covered the body with dirt and stones and made a crude cross to stick at one end. He had nothing with which to leave a marker that would endure and so he could not leave anything to identify the body. But, he thought to himself, that did not really matter anymore.
He stood over the grave, not praying, as he was not the praying type, but mindful of the beauty and loneliness of the site and mindful of the precariousness and fragility of life for someone who travelled alone in the wilderness as he was doing. It took nothing more than a moment of carelessness or an accident to end a life. As with Tom Morrison, it might end it in a way that might not have been discovered if not for the unusual behaviour of the cougar.
This grim work done, Sam climbed to the top of the cliff and found the bay, hanging the canteen and packsack onto the horse. A movement on his periphery caught his eye and he saw the cougar lying along a thick branch ten feet up in a nearby tree watching him
He touched his hat. "Don't really understand what you did, big old cat, but thanks for it. I am sure the Morrisons will be just as thankful for knowing what happened to their man. Hope you have a long and healthy life."
He turned the bay away from the area and headed off, noting that the sky was darkening above him and wanting to be in a dry and warm campsite before dark in case the rains came.
No cougar visited his camp that night.
Three days later he arrived in the growing town of Morgan Wells. He put the bay up in a livery stable, asking that it be brushed, fed oats and hay and that the shoes be checked. He found his way to the office of the town marshal. He reported Tom Morrison's death and asked about shipping Morrison's things back to his family living in Washington. The marshal took down the information and directed Sam to the temporary office of the Utah railroad.
Sam found a busy office with people lined up at a desk. He took his place and patiently waited until he could speak to a man at the desk.
"Are you in charge of this office?"
The man nodded. "James Whitmore," he said, extending his hand.
"I'm afraid I have bad news for you, Mr. Whitmore," Sam said. He explained about finding Tom Morrison's body in the woods and how the man had died.
Whitmore looked both shocked and saddened. "The other surveyors on his team have not yet reported back in," he said, "So we'd have had no way of knowing about Tom until they returned. Then we'd have put together a party to look for him. You've saved us that worry and I want to thank you for what you've done for Tom. I'll make certain his things get to his family in Washington."
Sam turned toward the door to leave. "His wife may wish to communicate with you, Mr. Torrance," Whitmore said. "Where might she contact you if she wants to express her thanks to you or has any questions?"
"I'm heading to Utah," Sam said, then decided about his final destination. "If she wishes she can write me care of Jeremy Randall at the Circle M ranch outside Monticello. I'll be stopping there for a few weeks when I get to Utah, probably in the next week or two."
Sam left the railroad office and headed to a diner up the street for the first non-trail meal in the past week. He picked up a few essential items at the general store, careful about his spending, then returned to the livery barn and retrieved his big bay. Two shoes had needed attention and he paid and thanked the livery man. Then he mounted the bay and headed toward Utah.
Other than one tricky river crossing in the rain when he and the bay had to outrun a sudden flash flood, the rest of the trip was uneventful. He stopped to meet different folks along the way whether in several small towns, isolated trading posts or travelling wagon trains, always enjoying the company and the break from the endless days of riding. Eleven days later, he rode down the long road toward the wide gate to his Uncle Jeremy's Circle M ranch. He had not seen his uncle and aunt for four years and this was the nearest thing to home he knew, his parents having died when he was in his early teens. He had been raised by Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Katherine until he left the ranch to see more of the world.
After the greetings were done and over a wonderful dinner they brought each other up to date. Sam outlined his wandering and work of the past years and his aunt and uncle talked about the ranch and how well they were doing.
"By the way," Jeremy Randall said, "A small package came for you a couple of days ago, all the way from Washington, DC. It's in my office." He rose from his seat and retrieved the package and handed it to Sam. "I happened to be in town a couple of days ago and that was waiting at the express office. That's how we knew you were on your way."
Sam could see from the label that it was from Mrs. Laura Morrison, and that would be Tom Morrison's widow. There was a note and a smaller box inside the larger package. Sam opened the note first and read it aloud.
'Dear Mr. Torrance. I want to thank you so much for your kindness in finding and burying my dear husband Thomas. While this is a profoundly sad and difficult time for us, to know what happened is so much better than the wondering that we would have endured had you not discovered him and informed us of his passing. That is a relief that you cannot imagine. I hesitate to presume more upon you, sir, but I ask of you a favour as you are in the state of Utah. I have enclosed in a separate package my husband's watch, the one you found with him. I would ask that if you are travelling to or near Monument Valley that you might deliver it to my sister-in-law, Amity Morrison-Thompson, Thomas' youngest sister. We last heard that she was living and teaching in or near Moab and the watch is a gift to her son Paul who would be about ten years old. I hesitate to send it directly to Moab as she may have moved on and it might be taken by someone as a find. If this is asking too much of you or if you cannot deliver this to her then please be so kind as to return it to me at your convenience and I thank you in advance. Cordially and thankfully, Laura Morgan Morrison.'
"She writes very well," Aunt Katherine commented. "Can you do this for her? I don't think it's asking too much."
Sam nodded. "I can try," he said, "I guess I'll be Moab-bound in the morning. It'd be best to take care of this right away. Then I'll be back to stay for a while and help out around here. That is if you have the room?"
They laughed. They had wanted nothing more than to see Sam return to the ranch and begin the process of taking over the daily planning and work. They had considered him a son, and the ranch was to be his on their retirement or death. They were both in their late sixties and finding the day to day demands beginning to tax their strength. It would be good to have Sam back.
He stayed an extra day, as his uncle wanted to give him a tour of the ranch he had not seen for four years, showing him new buildings and hay fields and introducing him to ranch hands he had not met. Rusty Dobbs was still the foreman, a reliable man in his fifties who had helped to raise Sam into the man he had become. He and Rusty chatted, bringing each other up to date.
Four long days later Sam rode into Moab, a growing, thriving, noisy and busy town that was at least five times larger than the last time he was there five years earlier. It was astonishing how quickly the towns on the frontier seemed to grow, especially those on rail lines or cattle trails.
He sought out the sheriff's office and asked about Amity Thompson, hoping as the local sheriff he might know of her.
"Sure I know her," Sheriff Tad Walker said, brightening immediately at the lady's name, "Right nice lady, too, I must say. Bit of a troublemaker for a husband, but thankfully she ran him off a year or so ago. I helped him on his way and told him not to show his face around these parts again if he knew what was good for him. Shame, because a boy needs a father. Mrs. Thompson teaches in the school and lives on a small farm an hour out of town, west of here. If you take that west road for about a half-hour you'll see a sign on your left for the Thompson farm. Then it's another half-hour in on the road to the farm itself."
Sam thanked the sheriff and headed for the livery barn. He saddled and immediately headed west, pleased that finding the woman had been so easy and that he could take care of this errand and be on his way back to the Circle M ranch so quickly. He found the road sign as promised a half-hour west of Moab and turned north, following a dim and narrow wagon trail. He figured the woman must travel back and forth to her teaching job in a horse-drawn buckboard. The slim wheel ruts were evident as were some fresh horse tracks, the latter heading toward rather than away from the farm. There were two riders who he thought were only a little ahead of him on the trail.
The land he was riding on was flat and once he topped a sheltered rise he could see the farmhouse long before he reached it. It was a small house with an equally small barn behind it, a chicken coop built against the wall of the barn. A corral linked the house and the barn, a common practice on smaller farms and western ranches. Between him and the farmhouse two riders rode toward it, about ten minutes ahead of him, riding at a slow pace. For reasons he could not fathom, Sam pushed the bay to a trot and checked his gun. Perhaps it was nothing, perhaps it was just caution, but he had these feelings before and paid attention to them. He sensed the two were trouble and hoped he was wrong.
As he got closer to the farmhouse he could see that one man sat on his horse, hands on the pommel, while the other had climbed the three steps to the house and was pounding on the door and yelling at those inside.
"Amity Thompson, you open this goddam door right now or I'll bust it down, I swear!" the man was yelling. The noise he was making masked Sam's approach and he kept himself directly behind the man on the horse.
A voice, a high-pitched woman's voice, called something from inside but Sam could not make out any words. Twenty feet from the other rider, Sam stepped down from the bay and, drawing his rifle from its boot, positioned himself where he could see both men clearly. Neither had seen him.
The man on the stoop put his shoulder firmly to the door but it did not budge, not even a little. "Alright then!" he yelled at the door, "I'll get my shotgun off my horse and blow the hinges off that dang door! Ain't nothing gonna keep me from talking to you! You know what I want!"
The man turned to go down the stairs to his horse for his shotgun and for the first time noticed Sam standing there. He shaded his eyes for a better look at this stranger but did not seem to notice the rifle along Sam's leg.
"What the hell do you want?" he snarled. The other man, the one still sitting on his horse, turned to look Sam up and down. He was at first surprised then his look became a bit more appraising.
Sam smiled. "Just came to drop off a package to Mrs. Thompson," he said innocently enough. "Doing a favour for her brother Thomas who passed away some time back. Said I would see she received it."
"Well then, give it to me and get the hell out of here!" the man said. "There ain't nothing for you here and we got business with Amity!"
Sam was still smiling but then the smile faded and he shook his head. "Can't do that. I promised I'd deliver it to her myself. Gave my word to her brother's wife, you understand. Having given my word, that's exactly what I intend to do. But I can wait right here until you leave."
The man stared at Sam, not sure what to do. The other man, having twice looked Sam up and down, did not like what he saw.
"Jason," he said, keeping his voice even to calm the other man. "Mebbe we should just let him deliver his package to Amity and then he can just skedaddle his way back into town. We can wait a few minutes to carry out our business. Ain't no reason for more trouble than we need."
"No!" Jasonsaid and turned back toward Sam. "Gimme the goddam package you brung and be on your way before I beat you to a pulp and chase you the hell out of here! Is that clear, mister?"
Before they knew what he was doing, Sam raised the rifle, cocked it and pointed it directly at the man called Jason. The two men were taken by surprise. The one on the horse raised his hands.
"It's clear," Sam said, not once raising his voice. "Now let me be clear. You two are going to get out of here, and I mean now. If you're in range of this rifle in five minutes I'll shoot you. Is that clear enough? You're trespassing, and I heard you threatening a woman. Either of those reasons is plenty enough for me to put a bullet into each of you without another thought. Besides, you're loud and obnoxious and I don't like you." Though he had not raised his voice, he emphasized his point by ratcheting a shell into the chamber of the rifle.
The man on the horse turned it from the house and let it take two quick steps, staring at his brother. "Jason, I know the look of him. He'll do it, brother. Now let's go. This business can wait for another day."
Jason was furious but the words of his brother finally got through. He pulled himself onto his horse and turned it to go. "You'll pay for this," he snarled, pulling his horse's head around and leaving at a run.
The other man waited a moment and Sam, resting the rifle on his shoulder now that the danger had passed, looked at him questioningly.
"He's all piss and vinegar when he's riled up or he's been at the bottle," the man said morosely. "But I'd appreciate you not shooting him. He's the only brother I have and while he's surely more than a bit of a doorknob, I'd really hate to see him shot. Then I'd have to do all the work on our place."
"Then keep him away from me. And stop him bullying this woman."
"I'd have made sure she wasn't hurt, mister," the man said. "You planning to be around these parts long?"
"Long as it takes," Sam said. "I'm going to make sure he can't do anything to threaten this family again. If that means shooting him, you can believe I won't hesitate. Most often these loudmouths get others killed rather than themselves. You might want to watch out for that."
"Fair enough. Well, I better trail along," the man said. "He's likely headed right for town and the saloon. I'll do my best to keep him away from here." The man smiled and touched his hat brim, then turned and rode away, leaving Sam standing there with his rifle until they were out of sight.
At that point he heard the bolt on the cabin door click and the door slowly opened. A woman, younger than he would have expected, and pretty in that almost plain way of so many western women who avoided undue makeup, stepped out onto the wide wooden stoop. There was a small boy standing behind her and they both stared at Sam.
"Who are you?" The voice was quiet and modulated.
"My name is Sam Torrance, ma'am" he said, smiling to relax them. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Mrs. Thompson." He explained about Tom Morrison's death and how his widow had asked Sam to deliver the pocket-watch to Paul. Sam went back to his horse, rummaged in the saddle bags for a minute and then walked back and handed the package to her.
Amity Thompson opened the package slowly and held the watch in her open hands. "It's a beautiful piece of work," she said. "I remember it well. It was passed down from our great-grandfather to his son and then to our father and then on to Thomas," she said. "He didn't have a son, just the two girls, so I can understand why he wanted my boy Paul to have it. It's to be handed down to the eldest male in the family each generation as a birthright."
She turned to the boy. "Paul, this watch is a gift from your uncle Tom. You never knew him but he was a special man and wanted you to have this. Hopefully you'll care for it and some day pass it down to your son."
Paul, who looked to be about ten years old, took the watch into his small hands and studied it with growing interest, turning each dial slowly and carefully and watching the hands move around in circles.
Amity Thompson turned back to Sam. "Thank you for sending them away," she said, nodding toward the road the two riders had taken. "I'd hate to have to shoot Jason but I was certainly getting ready to do it. Most often his brother can keep him in line, but lately he's become more bothersome."
"Who is he?" Sam asked, though he had an idea about what was going on. "Why is he bothering you? What's behind it?"
"He's a neighbour to the south," she said. "His name is Jason Butler and his brother is Caleb, a kinder and more reasonable man. Jason wants this farm to add to his land as we have some of the best and most reliable water in the area. With my husband gone, and Paul being so young, Jason felt he could bully me into selling for a low price. Perhaps he's right, though I hesitate to accede to the pressure. The farm is more than Paul and I can handle. In truth I wouldn't mind living in town closer to the school, especially in stormy weather."
"Have you talked with the sheriff about this? He seemed to be the kind that would not put up with such behaviour."
"Tad, I mean Sheriff Walker, has been most helpful," she said, the affection in her voice obvious, "but I can't presume upon him. Though I love Moab and my teaching job, this farm holds nothing for me. I'm not from farm stock." She smiled. It was a nice smile. "I guess I'm more like my eastern relatives than I care to admit, though I have no urge to return there."
"Then why not just sell the farm to the Butlers and be done with it and them?" Sam asked. "Seems you will not miss it much."
"The price Jason Butler is offering is far below its current market value," she said. "He is adamant that he'll offer no more than that. In truth, he need not as there are none others who want the land or at least none who have indicated any interest in buying it. Even if any others did I'm sure he would find a way to frighten them away from bidding on it."
"What if he offered you a fair market price?"
"I'd sell it to him immediately and move into town."
He thought about this for a moment and then had an idea.
"Ma'am, I'm going to ride back into Moab to take care of something. If it works out as I plan I'll not be back, but your life will be easier, and you'll receive a fair offer from the Butlers. If not, then I'll come back and we can work out a way to handle Butler before I head back home. I promise you that."
"Thank you so much, Sam. You'd be welcome to come back and to stay here if need be," she said. "We have lots of room and we rarely have visitors."
"Thanks," Sam said. "I might just do that."
He mounted the bay and headed back to Moab, considering all the way there how to approach what he planned to do and then deciding on a simple and direct plan of action. The hour's ride passed by quickly and before he knew it he was riding down the main street.
He tied the bay in front of the saloon where he saw the two brothers' horses hitched and walked in, stepping out of the light of the doorway to study the large, smoky, crowded and noisy room. After a moment he spotted Jason Butler and his brother Caleb standing near the centre of the bar nursing beers. He also noticed Tad Walker sitting at a corner table.
Well, he thought to himself, might as well get the ball rolling. He walked to the centre of the room, took out his pistol, and fired a single shot into the ceiling. It was remarkable how quickly everything in the saloon stopped at the sound. All heads turned and all eyes were on him as he holstered his gun.
"Gentlemen," he began. "Now that I have your undivided attention I have something to say. My name is Sam Torrance and I'm from Monticello. I've just come from Mrs. Amity Thompson's farm west of here where I had to run this fellow named Jason Butler and his brother off of it because this Butler was harassing Mrs. Thompson and threatening to bust down her door and chase her off her own farm so he could have it. Now Jason, that's him near the centre of the bar, the slow looking ugly one, he's not very smart, and I'm guessing most of you already know that. But he's loud, ornery and I guess he can sometimes seem scary to folks who don't really know him that well. But to me loud is just loud and dumb is just dumb and I've found the best way to shut up a dumb loudmouth is to call him out on it. I chased Mr. Butler and his brother away from the farm and, as you might imagine, he heads directly for a saloon for a glass or two of courage. It's what cowards and bullies often do, you see."
Butler started to say something but Sam pointed an arm in his direction, one finger raised, and the man remained quiet, his face reddening more by the minute, death glaring from his eyes.
"Mrs. Thompson tells me that this Jason Butler fellow wants to buy her farm but that he offered her far less than it's worth, believing he could scare her into selling to him cheap or scare off anyone else who was interested. I was wondering as I rode back in here from the Thompson farm if the men who live in this town will allow that kind of thing to happen or if any of you have anything you'd like to say to Mr. Butler about his behaviour toward Mrs. Thompson.
Now as I've already said, I'm not from these parts, but where I come from the men don't allow this kind of thing to go on in their towns. I expect most of you are the same. I'm counting on you to educate Mr. Butler on appropriate behaviour toward women. You might also suggest to him that Mrs. Thompson is prepared to sell the farm to him for a fair market price if he were to offer it and offer it rather soon. If he does that, then things can proceed accordingly and Mrs. Thompson can move into town and continue to teach your children. If not, then I'm prepared to stay on the farm with them until such time as it's sold just to make sure that Mr. Butler behaves himself. Finally, if anything that I've said is not true and Mr. Butler would like to dispute it, he has a gun and I'll make certain his name is spelled right on the marker. Thank you, one and all for listening. That is all."
Sam touched his hat brim, walked to the far end of the bar and ordered a beer. He felt someone come up beside him and turned to find Sheriff Tad Walker standing there smiling at him.
"You owe Aaron a dollar for the damage to his ceiling," he said, smiling at Sam. "But otherwise that was a nice speech. Think you'll find that these men will be having serious words with Butler. If they don't, I will and I'll see to it that he stops bothering Amity, Mrs. Thompson, and that he offers a fair price for the farm if she wants to sell it. She never told me what was going on or I'd have dealt with it by now. It's like her, though, not to bother folks."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd ride out there and let her know," Sam said. "I have a feeling she likes you more than a little and I'm thinking you like her too, also more than a little. You should do something about that, especially if she's moving to town. That boy needs a man around. Me, think I'll be heading home."
And he did just that.