Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
In Chicago in 1861, before the great war in the states started, before she had a chance to go further west, Maud Wilkesbarn thought things over, including what might be in front of her, and changed her family name, legal or not, from Wilkesbarn to Maverick, keeping the “Maud” in place because she’d swear to the day of her death she could hear her mother announcing her to potential babysitters, strangers, old friends dropping by, or new a man she might be interested in, as “This sweetheart is my Maud.”
She was 21 years old as we start here, svelte, smooth as dreams in her attire, understood men’s glances without knowing the cause in her invaluable attribute of being chaste, though some unknown connection was working within.
To her ultimate surprise, she woke up one morning in love. One man among all men had appeared at the gray edges of her night, the silence about him broken by the soft murmur of a lullaby coming her way from early life, its words gone but the hum of it a near bit of silence, faint but audible, as much magic as not.
His name was Devon Hartnet, about twice as old as her, coming full of energy, his own dreams, and a plan to bring it home, as he put it, knowing she was at ear shot, had looked at him once or twice as he spoke, evoked another mere plan in his mind, of capturing her for good, young as she was, older as he was, time and age not to be quibbled with, not for a second.
His pursuit showed her slow to move away, but moving toward him faster than he did with his great plans, to announce to him outright that she was in love with him from first sight. They, as a result of her fast maneuvers, were married, and he said, as if she had already dreamed of it, “We’re going west to build an empire, a massive one, one we can be proud of, a whole valley of our own that I can see with my eyes closed.”
She closed her eyes and said, “I can see it, too.” He thought he could not love her no more than he did at the moment, but he did.
Each one thought they were the perfect couple at the beginning of a grand life, of goods and gratuities, of grace and grandness.
They ended up in one of the 7 territories that would comprise Montana Territory before it was to become a state much later, in 1889, long after the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes won the huge battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, long after the army forces constituted a new territorial control that guaranteed their valley interests, now huge and cumbersome, were vested in his name.
All seemed well and good until the day a wild horse kicked Devon in the head. Maud had him put down in a favored place, high on a mount looking down on most of his assets. now hers without a doubt, old Chicago still known to her and old visions.
She went to work to increase her gain, driven by desires her mother had known and were being carried through to a sound reality, saying time after time, “If you’re going to want something, make sure it’s big and strong. Maud’s grasp on her chunk of the territory was sure-fisted, and looked always to be getting bigger and stronger.”
The Hartnet spread, called by many as Two Aitches (HHs), employed two dozen men, a big house cook, a kitchen mother, a pair of maids that worked kitchen to bedroom, a foreman, Gil Bentry, who needed no house key, and enough of the hired hands had come as army veterans of combat in the territories.
But Maud Hartnet kept her eyes open for a new mister special to make his appearance, sweep her into another piece of heaven, as she said to one of the maids, Alspeth Stiperd, a 20-year old beauty who could net keep her own door locked, who told Maud one day that her new man, Maud’s new man, had come looking for work. “He looks special all the way,” said with a wink.
As it turned out, Finn McMorrin had been hired by Gil Bentry. McMorrin struck him as rugged, honest, experienced, handsome as a warrior without paint, a young man of 30 bound for good graces about the place. Destiny had already worked for him, but a sure story followed him in his tracks, perhaps on his trail.
When Maud asked Bentry about the new hire, she got the protective speech. “He’s so good looking, Maud, that there has to be a story in his saddlebag. Guys that good looking always have a hunk of garbage somewhere in their immediate past, but I got nothing out of him. Your try at it might be better, but he’s a worker, I can tell you that, and seems dedicated. Would swear to loyalty, earn his keep, keep his eyes open. Know what I mean?”
Maud kept watch on Finn McMorrin, felt the old issues moving inside, had to make a move, and decided a direct one, again, would be best for her, and him.
She corralled him near the largest barn one day, admired again his looks, the handsome looks, the structural strength, the span of shoulders, the slim hips, the light in his eyes that turned on and off at intervals, saying things in his own way.
“I will tell you, Finn McMorrin, if that’s your name, that Maud Hartnet is not legally my name, not from the first minute. I also dropped much of my past coming to where I am now, and I suspect that you, as handsome a dog as I’ve ever seen, has a past and perhaps another name you’re hiding behind, as I am. I, in fact, may still be Maud Wilkesbarn as far as I know, a name that really bothered me when I toted it around. I didn’t even like the sound of it or whatever or wherever it came from or what it might mean.”
She thought she had been opened wide enough and managed a half laugh as appropriate punctuation.
He felt her hand reach out and touch his arm, as if to send along both an excuse and a confirmation of trust for both of them. His comfort zone reacted to the simple touch, which they each recognized, accepted, knew was an overture in the making.
Her unmasking of events, the exposé of her life, continued: “The legal paper trail went astray a long time ago. The fact that we’re dealing with territories and laws and rules of order that may or will raise their ugly heads as development comes with them, does not cause me any fear or desperation. The fact of all matters will one day become history in the books that will legislate our lives, our property rights, our past histories. Like dreams, lies, untruths, will become facts in books, in registers, in history. Those people among us who will manipulate rules and orders for their own good, must also attend to what we as individuals need to make our way out here in the territories.”
She had crossed many thresholds in her openness, thrown light on life itself, caused history to blossom on the spot.
She paused, then asked, “Does that loosen you up, Finn McMorrin?”
Her eyes had lit up, he saw. The old connections were at work, and a sense of comfort and acceptance had been found. His boots were on solid ground, the shadow of the barn had lifted, the sun shone overhead. Good signs for a man. This was no dream. This was really happening. Time of the past seemed to be swallowed up in the new feelings that worked inside his frame. He felt new, relieved, some bridge or span had been crossed in just a matter of minutes. Amazement leaped in the air.
His hand reached out to touch her hand, even before he replied. “It sure does, Ma’am, trusting all that to me, just a trail hand who lucked out on getting a job here. Might be the best thing ever happened to me.” The blue light, she noticed, was in his eyes, too.
“So,” she said, “You can tell me the whole past you’re carrying around, and it will go no further than me, as I have promised.”
“The fact is that I killed two men who killed my mother and my wife. I would have let justice, if it had a fair appearance, do its thing but the two men were from a huge spread with dozens of pals who’d swear by them, tell lies for them, beat the crimes in court. It had happened before with the same group. I couldn’t let it happen again. I’ll admit it was bad enough thinking about my mother, but they messed with my wife before they killed her. That crushed me. I caught up with them and I shot both of them right in the head and left it all behind me and my real name of …”
She shushed him with a finger touch on his lips, to hold back, as if forever, his true name, and said, “They messed with your wife? I’m damned sorry to hear that and happy you got your revenge. We can go up to the house now, if it’d be okay with you, and have a coffee or a tea, whatever pleases you. We should be better acquainted.”
There was no sound, no blast of light, no sky lit up, at the moment, but changes had occurred.
Life, as it was, was in transition for two obviously nameless souls, or two souls who’d have to learn new ways to address each other, which did not present any problem.