Western Short Story
The man was puzzled. He knew it was concern, worry, a problem rearing its hind legs. He’d meet it head on, he was sure, as trouble had followed the muscular gent in his Scottish past in the braes or lowland hills of Scotland.
His name, in those Scottish hills back home, was Montgomery MacBain, but here in the states he was newly called Monty or Mac, at your pleasure, transplanted by a restless father for new opportunities, new adventures in a new country. His father was called Mr. B., respect at a distance of years. They had been hired to work for Judge Jed Collins’ huge Texas spread, The Lady G, named for the judge’s wife Ginger.
Things at hand, as they might say, “Aye, looks bound to the rosy side.”
The pair had ended up in Texas and earned wages as cattle drivers for the largest local outfit, named for a lady, a wonder of needs or deeds.
On this particular day, Monty came over the rise riding the dawn as well as his horse, and propped on his head, never seen earlier in or anywhere around Binfield, Texas, at least before this day, was the strangest hat for a cowboy to be caught wearing. It was a flat bonnet, and knitted if you will, from wool thick as a bootlace, had a stringed edge, and would hold off rain which most cowboys would not worry about as a daily concern in the dry southwest, but could serve a wearer in cold weather the way it could be pulled down tighter on the head.
It said the wearer was a Scot but only Scots knew that, and there were not many Scots around Binfield.
They were new to the herd crew and had not yet been to that nearest town.
The experience came first to Monty, on an errand for the judge, and Monty completed the errand with the help of a female clerk in the general store. Her eyes had flashed an interest at him and at his hat, which she wouldn’t call a sombrero even on a dare.
Then he headed for The Highness Saloon (judged-owned too) for a taste; a wee bit wake-up he considered it. With his Tam o’ Shanter cap in place, blue as the sky, flat as a bread piece, round as a skillet with points fore and aft on his head, as silly looking as a comic. The saloon flared into laughter at Monty’s entrance, chairs slithering on the floor as dozens of cowboys turned to see the visitor that some had heard about but never seen, not until this moment.
Someone therein was bound to make the first comment detrimental to the Scot in the pretty cap.
“What’s that silly lookin’ gig on your head, fella? Looks like a lady’s bonnet.”
“‘Tis very observant of you, friend. It is indeed a bonnet, a blue bonnet, a Tam o’ Shanter ‘tis called back where I hied from in my early years until I came here.”
“You ought to hide out here wearin’ that gig or rig.” The sarcasm was edging into his voice.
“Not hiding out, as you use it, but hieing out, or hurrying as we use it.”
“I can just hear such palaver,” came the reply, the sarcasm thicker, more noticeable., some folks might think you could hear a pistol leaving its holster, the talk a mere preamble to a street scene.
“Where are you from?” Monty said. “Where did your people come from? (heavy on the your) How did they sound back there wherever? Did they speak American or English?”
“You pokin’ fun at me, fella in the hat?” The sarcasm was up and at ‘em as he stood beside his chair. “You’re not even wearin’ a gun to start a fight in the first place, like aimin’ to stir up some trouble.”
Monty, calm and undisturbed, added, “I don’t like guns.” He let it sound as it was said.
“You don’t wear a gun but you wear a lady’s hat. That says somethin’ to me.”
“Say it, don’t hide it, mister, I’m still listening. I haven’t been at fisticuffs since bouncing about the bonnie braes in the old country.”
“Hack,” said one of the table partners of the nosy poke, “he works for Judge Collins. I heard about him. Nobody messes with anybody on Collins’ payroll and that means this gent too. I heard about the Scot in his bonnie hat and the biggest fists on the judge’s crew.”
It was sage advice for a mouthy man, but quick to his senses as well as his gun.
Monty had circumvented a face-off on his first visit to town.
But he knew it wouldn’t be his last.
Sure as shootin’, it came on the second visit, as the following has been told numberless times by many of the regulars of The Highness Saloon, so I guess I can tell it right to its end, starting right here, my words for all of us at the saloon:
A new-to-us gent walked in the door one day and we all knew he was different in some ways, cocky, mug- or pug-faced, king of the hill stuff slidin’ right off’n his shoulders easy as a cow’s aim, but steady, you know, and his boots beltin’ the floor as he headed for a crowded space at the bar, on purpose, you know, wearin’ a pair of silver pistols on his hips like they was won in a shootin’ contest or a duel in the dust of some town down the line.
He didn’t have to elbow his way up to the bar, it just parted company for him as he said in rock-hard voice, ‘A double whiskey for me and where’s the dude with the funny hat who’s so tough folks all over say he’s the king of the hills, and we got no hills here and I want to meet him face to face if he dares right out front here.’
He pointed over his shoulder, and pointed then at the barkeep already noddin’ at a skinny gent in one corner who slipped out of the saloon and we all heard silence until hoofbeats said the skinny gent was on his way to The Lady G.
Mr. New Guy asked the barkeep, ‘That skinny gent doin’ your bidden’ quick like that? So, you can tell me the name of the gent that wears a lady’s hat, can’t you? The one who won’t wear his guns but wears a lady’s bonnet.’
The barkeep, on the judge’s payroll of course, and who knew just about everythin’ the judge played with, said, kind of tearin’ like, ‘Montgomery MacBain, lettin’ it sit awhile on tough guy’s ears, like he was waitin’ for it to hit home, which it didn’t, and followed up with a warnin’ in his voice by sayin’, like a surprise of all surprises, ‘The others in the crew call him Monty or Mac.’
There was a change in the very air of The Highness Saloon and all the cowpokes sittin’ in there watching the play the barkeep was at and the sudden, lightnin’-like change in Mr. Big Mouth as though good old Mother Earth had opened up a giant hole and was goin’ to swaller him right then and there.’
That tough gent, so to speak as we kind of suddenly realized, dropped his head, turned about at the bar, and walked, a tiny bit of scurry in his pace, toward the saloon door and the way out of there and the way to the main drag in Binfield, Texas and, obviously, a quick way out of town.
Some of us saw it from the door and a couple of big saloon windows, but there in the middle of Binfield, in the flattened dust of the times, a statue set for the ages, stood holdin’ his rifle in one huge hand feather-like was Montgomery MacBain, here known also as Monty or Mac accordin’ to how close to him you could get on your best day.
Bigmouth stopped in his tracks, grew rigid so quick we could see his whole body go stiff on him.
I didn’t know it was you, Monty. I swear I heard you was in Canada or Chicago and someone might have been takin’ your place, else I wouldn’t have called you out.
Monty swung that feather of a rifle about and said, “Take off your weapons, Beau, and drop them in the road, get on your horse and get out of town and I sure don’t ever want to see you again.
Beau whatever didn’t move, frozen into place until dead-shot MacBain, a new name, put a single round between his frozen ankles.
The shiny contest-winner weapons hit the dust, his butt hit the saddle, and not me or us or Monty ever saw him again, not in all of Texas or the Southwest no matter where you might go in those early days of ours.