Western Short Story
The Green Horn
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

It was a new rendition of “Reveille” coming from Bud Daley’s newly painted bugle. dubbed The Green Horn by him because he had painted it as green as he could, like new grass coming out on the Plains after a long, dry spell. The spur and the motive on its first morning wake-up call caught on quickly among the other ranch hands on Gil Farley’s spread, The Eagle’s Nest, soon to hold enough cattle to make a profitable drive to market, probably taking about three weeks on the trail, give or take a month by rustlers, Indians, or other interests among the cattle profession.

Daley fit the mold of men that worked for Farley. They were tough in the saddle, quick with a gun when needed, not afraid of protecting Farley’s interests, human or otherwise, and had a flair for thought and creativity within each one of them; like “fun to be around” when the occasion welcomed it, a spark to be appreciated, big or little, but showing the true innards of all hands, one-by-one, every individual on the payroll.

With his new horn, quite visible in itself, but moreso when Daley cut loose with any rendition he might have in his musical arsenal, while wearing a pair of guns on his belt. He had an ear for music, kept a tune always to its lyrical standards, a note always in the correct place, hummers keeping up with each note.

The paint was a left-over, mostly-empty can of bright but light green paint that Farley’s daughter, Ellie, had used in one of her art pieces, an expression of her as a Texas gal almost in the flesh in a bevy of green shrubbery, which tickled her father no end, him loving creativity from his own spirit as a guitar player on odd days, a gift his whole crew enjoyed to the last man.

Daley used, in painting certain places on the horn, a thin, pointed artist’s brush for delicate spots, keeping the instrument as trim and s neat as possible, meaning all the little curves and some of the hidden spots, notes kept apace, in demanded order.

Somehow, during hiring spells, Farley detected a like nature in men he eventually hired on. Happiness, and usefulness, can comfort one another, was a kind of motto with him, and the way he laid himself on the line for those seeking work. Those hired were bound to say, sometime later when they became a part of the team, “He doesn’t just hire anybody off the trail and looking for work, no matter how earnest they are, but they have to fit some mold we can’t put a name on from our end of things, as if we really wanted to know what went on.

But the Green Horn, in all its applications by Daley, became a signal of what Farley looked for in his crew, no matter what a new hire looked like or how he presented himself; and that was transmitted to all the Texas territory, and beyond, too, as some hires admitted they had heard about the place and made their way there to take a shot at it; but not all were accepted, Farley detecting an odd sensation from some applicants as though it was written across their forehead, ”Don’t dare hire me, or I’ll screw up the works to a fare-thee-well.”

Bud Daley had fit the mold as though he was born to the family, and to expectations. When he found the old bugle in the extras and odd ends of junk in the window of the local general store, it leaped at him, seeing a picture a boy in a blue uniform waking the very dawn in earlier days of the territory.

He felt the patriotic surge run through him, without a doubt.

“It softens my soul,” he might have said to a close pal, an understanding pal.

When Lorne Bisbee was not hired, after a long, miserable ride from Oklahoma, he nearly went berserk, but held himself back by the very thoughts of why he had wanted to work for Farley in the first place. It boiled over in him, kind of proof of what Farley had detected from him, a loose cannon if let go on his own merits.

He began to hang around the local saloon and to single out Farley hands as good souls to bait with a constant harangue and sometimes indecent comments, all just trying to get them to respond, start an argument, face-off in a draw-down, dead drama in the offing.

It was talked about, too, all over town, at Farley’s ranch, in the saloon itself, that topic generally ignored by Farley ranch hands, until the night Big Ben Berwick, a string-bean of a giant at 6’ 3”, yet a man as big as a house, heard at one end of the bar from the other end, him being referred to as “that big sack of beans down the other end of the bar, who thinks he’s king of men and all the times he’s just a common bag of wind posing as a man.”

It did the trick, both ways.

Big Ben said, “Hey, you with the big mouth, step outside and say it again,” He was standing ready to draw his pistol, not knowing what Lorne Bisbee would do, but had visions of him shooting anybody who spoke ill of him, at anytime and face-up or not.

From the far corner of the saloon, half in shadows hanging around on a Saturday night, Bud Daley blew “Reveille” on his green bugle, the reverberations shaking the candles and lamps in the saloon as if a wind had hurried through the saloon, into corners and shadows, too, shaking with the wind, the sound of warning afoot, the sweet notes adding some inconceivable warning in their tones, and adding to the situation; all hands at attention.

Bisbee, mildly surprised, leaped at the retort, said in a loud and demanding voice, “Okay, windbag, meet you out front right now,” his hand on his weapon.

“What?” said Big Ben, “so you could shoot me in the dark? Not this bigmouth. I’ll meet you out there in the morning, after coffee at Mary Lou’s Place, and me ready for a day’s work.”

His nonchalance irked Bisbee no end, but he could not back away from the dare, the challenge from a ranch-hand, of all things possible.

Nobody knows what happened to Big Ben and Bisbee, who might have ridden off as a pair of buddies forever, or what, Fate often in the hands of a pure accident.

And when Bud Daley went south, deep south, it was hoped his green horn ended up in some forgotten place, and was found by a young man in a blue shirt, blue eyes, quick to the trigger himself, and a creative type, too, who learned its uses and blew “Reveille” on it to welcome the day out on the wide prairie and “Last Call” in the shadows on some evening at a Boot Hill burial of an old-timer or the son of an old-timer, all of them hearing the endless tune coming from the local burial site “not far out of town” and “Forever,” in its reach.