Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
story can begin anywhere; back there, up here, at the site of the
Double-NN ranch, on the dusty roads beyond the ranch, with any one of
the characters caught up by the presence of the colt, by the colt
itself that caused the uproar. But I suppose it comes mostly from the
itinerant peddler Jervis Bracko who moved predominantly east and west
with his wagonload of goods and his special delivery of tales, rumors
and the “latest fact of fiction that spurs my mind to these doors.”
The Double-NN Ranch of Shaun Treacy was one of Bracko’s favorite
stops, and in his lexicon soon became The
Dublin Ranch, a
piece of Ireland at long reach.
The day that Bracko had come away from seeing the new colt at The Dublin, he went in haste, his stories suddenly fortified with the most mythical of his tales. It was something the Little People must have weaved for The Dublin, and he himself had seen the physical proof of it all… a stark, green-all-over colt, born to the mare Cavanish shipped all the way from Shaun Treacy’s birthplace in the old country.
Treacy, big and bony and handsome as an Indian chief, treated solid day-long labor as his inheritance on earth, and brought his family of four boys and two daughters along with the same fervor. Usually friendly to a fault when he was not working, courteous as all-get-out, he was the one who invited Bracko into the barn. “Come, Jervis, and take a glorious little peek for yourself at a mighty small miracle, which may soon change of its own accord, pray the Good Lord. But while you are here, good man, best see for yourself what might damn me as a liar later on.”
“What in the thundering name of heaven is that, Shaun?” Jervis said as he first looked at the colt standing in an immaculate stall of the barn. “Did you paint him yourself, man? Who has seen this sight? There’ll be some strange comments coming your way, if you’ll have it from me. Strange comments indeed, about some unknown but sprightly small creature from the old country itself playing games with your stock. Pity might mount itself, or stark terror that there is a new revolution here from the old land and riding on the back of a green colt. Goodness, my man, a Kelly green colt.” He swung his arms as if beseeching the very heavens above.
Treacy jumped at that. “I did nothing but bring him free of his last hold on the mare, I swear to the Almighty. In dear fact, man, it near bowled me over, for he was Kelly from the first venture into this life. Kelly green, though I think he has darkened a bit since the first day.”
“How old is he now, Shaun?”
“A mere week, with strong legs and ready to run for himself, but I have kept him under covers the while, thinking he’ll go brown or black before he sees the outside of the barn. A strange happening for us here, so far from the dear land of green vales and stout cliffs. My daughter Tess, dear girl born to love the animals, thinks the colt’s a gift to us, to take care of, to sponsor his way in the world, whatever that may be. I swear, man, all red I could handle, or all white, or as blue as the other part of the flag, but green, Kelly green, makes him a spectacle for most people. I fear for the young thing. If he’s blest, it’s one thing, but if he’s pure oddity, it’ll be a damned shame.”
At that point Treacy made his one and only plea to Bracko. “All I’d ask of you, Jervis, is to hold your tongue on this until we see what happens to the colt, what happens to his color. I’d not want all of Meridian City clawing around the place seeing what nature might have done to torture us or, or begorra, to please us. Nor all of the curious from here to Copa Verdi or Big Red or Clay’s Pit. For that matter all of the western part of this glorious land and all the curiosity that roams as wild as the wild horses. Can I have your word on that, Jervis?” Despite all appearances and the gist of the conversation, Treacy held some consideration for the happy peddler, who had his own magic with branding irons, adding a side value of interest such as The Double-NN coming up finally as The Dublin. Treacy knew that part was devised from the onset by Bracko, part of his ingenuity. He also wondered what Bracko held in store for Cavan the Great.
“On my best honor, Shaun, on the honor of my dear departed parents. It’s a mystery I am only too pleased to share with you and the family.” He bowed his head in deep thinking, not sure of how to further endear himself to his usual customers along the length of his route. Or where to start. Then he said to the big Irishman, “How fares the mare, Shaun?”
Treacy shook his head, a look of bewilderment crossing his brow. “Constantly on the look for her newborn, making noise like a mother who’s lost her child. I must bring them together soon, regardless of what looms ahead for us here.” His clasped hands, like joined lumber peaveys, said he was in prayer for the colt.
With that encounter they went their ways, Treacy sure he could trust Jervis Bracko not to say a word about the colt until he was as far away as he could get on his route until he started back, a six month journey. But whatever might happen, he had a witness outside the family who had seen the Kelly green colt. He named him Cavan the Great, not Cavan the Green, but Cavan the Great. A mere half hour later he turned loose into the back pasture the lonely mare and her sprightly colt. Treacy knew the lump in his throat was for real. The real world beginnings for Cavan the Great had begun.
Jervis Bracko was almost two hundred miles away, about to visit the last of his customers on the long route, and his mind filled with weeks of wonder about the Kelly green colt, Cavan. So many times he was about to burst his gut, but business made the best decision for him. If he told his first customer coming away from The Dublin, it would spoil the rest of his trip, the whole long route out and back, and Shaun Treacy would know him for a man not true to his word, or to most of it. Plus, all the fun would fall out of his life.
And his life was full of fun, and a decent amount of hard work, just to keep things level. He had won a Springfield wagon in good condition in a bad poker game that suddenly went right for him. No idea came to mind about what to do with the wagon but, he realized, for the first time ever he was a property owner, and he was elated. As fate happens to some people, whether they are waiting for it or not, an idea started to work in his head, and he began altering the plan of life, as he would refer to it later on.
An old handyman about town helped him to dress up the wagon and at the same time make it more useful. They put a high canvas rigging over it, provided a place for Bracko to sleep while on the road, and enough compartments and small segments to carry anything that came to mind. Hooks and nails and odd projections were added and offered many additional catch-all places to hang supplies or articles, “to temper your burdened brow, ease your troubled mind, set your best face forward for the day coming upon you, ladies.” The wagon, he often said, was a rolling suitcase and he was the rolling drummer. With some insight, he became a deliverer of goods, a seller of sundries that western women would have a need for, things that would brighten their kitchens, ease their days of long labor, please their men. For the men of his route he carried some cigars, a few choice liquors, assorted ammunition, and every now and then a small armory of side arms and rifles.
His long face-to-face with people gave him an edge in thinking and he fully realized that he needed a little more than what he carried in his wagon, an edge the good businessman needed. That, in one bright flare of light, turned out to be gossip, rumor and other like entertainment. It included white lies, bare fabrications, hyperbole to an unknown extent, and a little bit of forgery. He was an actor, elocutionist, and impersonator. And he loved it all, all part of the fun in life.
Bracko realized, as he headed into the mile wide spread of Jocko Doherty’s L-Bar-D ranch, that the stage was set for new efforts. The image of Jocko’s wife Katherine swept him into the typical kitchen magic that generally came his way. The beams came on his face. The smile lighted his way in the gray morning, and Katherine Doherty, that darling lady, would be at her husband with the latest word before the day was out.
“Ah, Mrs. Doherty," Bracko siphoned from his sweet treasury, “how does the day do you? Sparkle seems the answer, the sun having risen with you no doubt, but that all should fall aside when I tell you, woman, what I have seen with my own eyes. With my own eyes, my good woman, with my own eyes. Right from the old sod and seen with my own eyes, the little people having come all this way to share with me the magic of it all. Oh, the magic of it all and all the way from the dear land itself.”
As usual, Katherine Doherty melted at the sweetness of the man and the sudden realization that she would be soon possess a prize story or two from the peddler, a story of her very own.
“Oh, and a cup of tea for you, Mr. Bracko, a cup of tea and some fresh biscuits as new as the dawn and as warm.” She too gleamed and beamed and immediately tasted a day’s worth of talking and swapping of tales with her family and later with any neighbors that would pass by. There were some days she would beg for company, for the rattle of a wagon or the hoof beats of a horse or two. Now and then she would settle for a posse on its rounds and needing food and drink. The audience make-up made no difference.
She swung the door wide and said, “Please to come in, dear man and share your wealth with me.”
And way back down the line from where his trip started, at The Dublin, Tess Treacy, as her father had bidden her, kept the mare Cavanish and her colt Cavan out at the far side of the back pasture. A small shelter had been built, water trough brought in, and a feeding bin as needed. Nobody had seen the colt but ranch hands, and all of them sworn to wait until the Kelly green color might subside or take a turn to a normal hue.
And amid all the surprise, like a gift atop his color, the colt Cavan had the wind with him, and the longest legs and the greatest stretch of ground passing under him faster than any colt 17-year old Tess Treacy had ever seen. She loved the dear animal, right to its green coat and yellow eyes, and fed him and his dam daily with the greatest glee and happiness.
Very early in that first month, her father was moving cattle to the railhead and bent at other tasks. She first caught up to him on a quick trip home, ahead of the remuda and the trail wagon. She was pleased to see him and marveled at the energy that abounded about him.
“Pa, you will not believe how Cavan can run, so young and so fast. He’ll be a champion and when he’s of age I’d race him against anything born under the sun.”
“Now, now, dear girl, no sense to rush at something that may never come to pass. We will keep the dear thing from general view until we know what truly has befallen him and us.” But she did detect the interest and enthusiasm that was trying to find a voice, an expression.
“You do not hold to it being a miracle, Pa? Not an ounce of a miracle in it? You’re from Ireland, Mother’s from Ireland, Cavanish is from Ireland, and by all that’s holy, Cavan is too. Straight out of Ireland. Can you not accept the fact of destiny?
“Miracles come to belief, dear Tess, to belief.” His gaze found the colt at the far end of the pasture and saw that the Kelly green had not faded, had not turned on itself. Lost for a moment in that gaze and decent reflections, he did not see but heard, from a distance, the unmistakable shout of long-time pal, Jocko Doherty. It made him smile, for Jocko Doherty was a man of both countries, the old and the new, just as he himself was… belief shrouded them, love of work and what it could produce, energy to unknown limits, and a sense of joy that life was good to him. And Jervis Bracko had accomplished a proper mission.
The hustling figure came around the corner of the ranch house. “Shaun, Shaun,” came the hearty and deep voice of Jocko Doherty, “what have you done here? Where is that animal I have heard about? Do you keep him for yourself? Are you now an isolationer in your castle, in your own private piece of royal sod? Shake him out, good man, shake him out. Show me that green Irisher.” He leaned forward on his saddle, as if straining for the finish line in a race.
At the pasture fence he came gracefully off the saddle and addressed Tess. “Dear, girl, you light up an old man’s heart. Tell me quick that there is a handsome new young man in your life. You make amends for a life too old to remember.” He hugged her with a grateful tenderness.
“Oh, Uncle Jocko, see what love has come in my life and she whistled with two fingers in her mouth and the colt Cavan, green as an unripe tomato, sprinted across the grass to stand at her side. Promise of strength shouted from his legs, as well as a sense of unmatched speed. And he was Tess’s animal, without a doubt, as he nuzzled close to her, knew her hands on his neck.
Jocko Doherty looked with amazement on the colt shimmering in the sunlight like a piece off a flag at full mast. “Ah, Shaun, let come spring in its full glory and we will have the race of the ages, the Irisher here and my own young black beauty, Bogger, but a few months with me and of like promise. What shall we call it, Shaun, this epic match? Cavan the Great Kelly green colt against Bogger, the black beauty from the hinterlands, descendent of the bogs of Connemara. I can see it now.”
“Bye the bye, Jocko, there’s but one name we can give it. One glorious name. A name for the ages. A name for all time to come so that our children will march forever to its beat, where we can ultimately rest in its good graces. We shall gather people from all over the west, the cowboys and trail hands galore, the trainmen and travelers, the adventurers and new settlers, the wild and wooly and watchful, from the Mississippi to the Rockies, from every cow town and rail head and those oddly named cities spawned by river or water head or mountain, we will pull the crowd our way and we will call the grand affair The Irish Sweepstakes. Is that not a resplendent name, old bucko? A resplendent name, The Irish Sweepstakes. Ah, begorra!” He caught his breath and continued, his eyes afire, his cheeks as red as mountain tops at sunset. “We shall have music and flags and dancing, with a barn dance the night before and the night of the race. And great roasts all around. The best beef and steak this side of the whole long line of the Mississippi. And real potatoes in the mix of the fire, from our own seeds. Fiddlers will come from a hundred miles away, mayhap two hundred miles to play and be part of the celebration. Will that not be a fair assumption of things, my friend, a fair and grand assumption of a fair and grand time? My heart aches for the time to come.”
“Ah, begorra, Shaun, you have done it well. I can feel your smooth practicality at work. You are a pride shining back on the old homesteads, and would you know it, man, not one turnip did I see on my way here. Not one turnip at all. Good lord, how do they live without turnip and the fish the curragh brought home to table? What will become of the young of them, without turnips and the good spuds and the Atlantic’s largesse?”
And it was a year later, the wide spread of the great Dublin ranch ready to host an army of curious and pleasure-seeking people, much of the preliminary arrangements made and agreed upon, that Tess Treacy, in tears, burst into the kitchen. “They’re gone! They’re gone!”
Shaun Treacy and Jocko Doherty, at the breakfast table after a night visit by Doherty, leaped from their chairs.
“Who’s gone, Tess? Who?” yelled her father.
“Cavan and Bogger. Both of them,” she cried. “Gone during the night.”
“How in heaven, good girl?” Doherty said, also rushing to her side.
“The barn door was open, the back door to the pasture, and the gate was down, and that’s not all.” The quizzical look on her face was beset with mystery, her eyes with a look of disbelief.
Shaun Treacy saw that disbelief on her face. “What else, Tess? You look all atwist, not like your good self at all. What else, girl? What else?”
Tess Treacy looked as if she was about to say something that she ought not to say, but it blurted out. “There are tracks all about, little tracks, tracks of little people, little people with little shoes. They’re all around the barn and the gate and they all lead off to the pasture and to the far gate also down on the ground. I tried to trail them, but they withered away, even the tracks of Cavan and Bogger, just disappeared, as if in one stride, as if they had not been there at all.”
She kept shaking her head and sobbing in the swinging change between mystery and sadness, and it was Jocko Doherty who said, “The Little People took them back. We will never see them again. Never again!”
It was the firmest statement Jocko Doherty had ever spoken. And the most believable.
Of course, Jervis Bracko ran with the tale for years on his east-west rounds. He was in hundreds and hundreds of kitchens, at the table, seated before the fireplace or the kitchen stove, on wide summer porches of an evening, talking about the Kelly green colt and the black Bogger that were taken away by the little people. The charm spilled out of Jervis Bracko for long years and his business grew heavy and prospered and at length his children and grandchildren inherited a national merchandising chain that eventually moved on from the western territories to encompass lands on both sides of the wide Mississippi and up through the northern territories.
And Leyland Stanford, with the great horse ranch in California, sent a representative to find out the true story of the Kelly green colt.
And so it came down to a resolution of sorts years later, when one five-year-old great-grandson of Tess Treacy, having heard all his life the stories about the Kelly green colt, was visiting a large fairgrounds in far Oregon. He grasped his father’s hand and tried to pull him away from a hotdog vendor. “I saw my pony!” he yelled, and kept yelling it as his father was trying to complete the hotdog sale, “I saw my pony! I saw my pony!”
father, hands full of hotdogs and change, finally said, “What pony,
Cavan, what pony?” He looked apologetically at the vendor and
shrugged his shoulders, and they both smiled at the boy, still caught
up in exclamations.
“My green pony,” he said. “My green pony that mom and grandma always told me about,” and he pointed off across the fairgrounds to the merry-go-round where, in its circular and continuous path, it showed a Kelly green horse rushing in circles and leaping high and low, and the sun shone on it like a green gem.