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Western Short Story
Of Scabbards and Quivers and Sheaths and the Like
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

The argument began at the Folly Legend Saloon in Porter Hill, Arizona between riders from two local ranches on a Saturday evening of August, 1884, half the consumption already in the tanks, and Harry Ghenter, barkeep, knowing it would all blast off on some silly and unimportant point of discussion. He was usually right about such things, this being the third saloon he’d worker at, and this one for seven years already in a most sociable position, judge, jury and often on trial himself, if he’d admit it for once.

One ripe customer, out of respect, one might say, asked the blind question of the evening, “Ain’t that right, Harry?” Of course, Harry didn’t have a smidgeon of an idea what he was talking about when the question was proposed, and by a drunken hand, no less. The dry sea around him was loaded with them.

One only half-drunk customer kicked in the topic; “He says we carry our rifles in a quiver and I say a quiver is for Injun arrows and not for rifles, and I wouldn’t use one no-how if my life depended on it. Them Apaches and Kiowas do things their way and we do them our way, and there ain’t any doubts about that.”

Harry replied, “It all answers its own questions if you really think about it; sheaths hold swords, knives, cutlasses, and a scabbard goes a step further and houses a weapon like a rifle for the long ride and the easy reach.”

“See,” said the first cowboy, the Governor has brought the argument to a close. It’s all buttoned up as far as he’s concerned and right on the button, as I said.”

“Hey, Harry, ain’t that so? Least you can do is answer me, old fella.” The speaker was less than half of Harry’s age, still wet behind the ears about women, Indians, caretakers, land owners, politics and law high on the list, and numerous other talents the long-saddled don’t always get too highly mixed into, lives broad but hardly decisive on many things, ignorance of social laws and normal rules being high on the list.

Oh, he’d admit they could ride like the wind when they had to, turn around a runaway herd, relocate and control a huge steer on the mad loose, find shelter when they themselves needed sleep. To a man, most of them were loyal to the brand they worked for, even in the face of gunfire or the deep threat of air full of gunfire.

And this night proved that silly stands on silly arguments held sway on their minds, the way the drink has a rip-snorting grasp on dinky problems and questions, as if something has to be the topic of discussion, or there’d be nothing at all to say.

“Harry, the same voice said again, “will you tell them what you know so we all can get a grip on it.”

“Indian arrows belong in a quiver, a cutlass is a sword or sharp-edged cutting thing like a knife and belongs in a sheath, a rifle, to be carried on your mount, belongs in a scabbard so it doesn’t fall loose and useless for the rider, and any other container has got to be a pan or tool for cooking your next meal, out on the trail, or at the home ranch. There’s nothing else in the argument that matters.”

“What about the shiv Conway carries inside his pant leg?”

“Well,” responded Harry, “he better take good care of it and leave it where it is, ‘cause once it’s pulled loose, he’s got lots of answering to do why it’s in his hand. Me and you would take a serious stand we ever see that thing come loose, excepting when it falls loose and takes off one of his toes clean to the bone and right there in the stirrups. Just think about all of you toting a shiv under your pant’s leg and you all pulled them free at once, why, there’d be a holy Hell right here in front of us.”

Harry was almost standing on the bar when he said that, dominating the scene, afraid of things getting loose if more than one man than Conway carried one and yanked it loose, like right at this moment.

Nobody moved in the whole saloon, including Conway, who suddenly eyed everybody around him, imagining them all with a sharp, sheer-edged knife in shaky hands, why there’d be Hell to pay, Lord be merciful.

“How long you been preachin’ this stuff, Harry; f’ever and ever?” The youngster was suddenly serious.

“It’s always on my mind always, ‘cause every Saturday crow I’ve ever met, tired from the whole week of working their tails off and needing some relief, have been near a boil every time out. I’m hoping this crew has learned a little of what I been teachin’ for years. You come to get drunk and wear the week off your backs and it turns into near a powder keg over something you never thought of before and will mostly not bring up again once you heard my explanation of sorts.

Harry paused to let the words he spoke settle into some of the crowd, some of them at last with a grip on history, causes, outlooks, resurrections of a kind in their untested minds. Revelation can do that in a snap of a whip, like lightning struck right there at their feet, and them all the wiser for the moment because of a bartender doing a step more in his life.

The same young man full of questions, spoke again; “You do this on every job, Harry, I never heard it before. How come now?”

“You gents were at the very edge of nothing, and that’s when the top comes off the bottle, and it pours pure Hell. There is nothing worth less and does more harm than an argument that has no solution and no application, but threatens every one of my customers, as I’ve learned over the years, I’m always hoping for the most out of all of you, You deserve it, believe me.”

The silence sat as still as a mouse in the Folly Legend Saloon in Porter Hill, Arizona, back in 1884.



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