Western Short Story
The Trespassers
Philip McCormac

Western Short Story

The farmer stood staring out at the ruined cornfield. The fence around the field had been broken in several places. The field looked as if a herd of buffalo had stampeded through it. It was not wild buffalo that had wrought the destruction but a herd of longhorns had trampled through the corn.

The longhorns of their own accord may not have breached the fences. There was no reason for them to have come this far. The man who had planted the corn knew the herd had been driven deliberately into the field. This was not the first time it had happened. The corn represented many months of hard work. He turned to the little girl standing with him.

‘I might salvage something from the field,’ he told her.

She was very young and her eyes were cloudy with worry as she stared out at the devastation.

‘Why do they do it, pa?’

‘Who knows what motivates them, Danielle. Some folk are just ornery.’

‘Are you angry?’

‘I guess,’ he said and knelt in the dirt. ‘I will pray for deliverance from my anger.’

The girl knelt beside him and they prayed together.

‘And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.’

‘What does trespass mean?’ she asked.

‘Well, it means a sin – an offence of some kind. It can also mean to go on someone’s land or property without their permission.’ He slowly got to his feet. ‘I’ll ride into town and tell the sheriff. Though I know he won’t do anything about it. This is cattle country he’ll tell me. Longhorns are ornery beasts and cowhands can’t always be watching where they roam.’

He saddled up the horse. Danielle hovered round helping her father.

‘You stay in the house until I get back,’ he told her.

Danielle watched her father ride away before walking back up to the house. She and her father lived alone at the smallholding since Danielle’s mother passed away last fall. She still grieved for her lost parent but was determined to help her father run the farm. Taking the broom she swept the floor of the small cabin. Having tidied the rooms she set about making preparations for the evening meal. Hearing a commotion outside she rushed to the door.

‘Oh no,’ she groaned when she saw the longhorns being driven towards the farm.

Mounted cowboys were whooping gleefully as they hazed the cattle. Danielle imagined the damage the trampling hoofs of the beasts would to the remainder of their meagre crops. Without thinking she rushed outside.

‘Stop!’ she yelled and ran across the yard. ‘Stop this at once. This so wrong.’ And then she was inspired. ‘You’re trespassing.’

As if incensed by her cries the longhorns turned towards this small figure waving and yelling and headed for her. Danielle realized her danger and turned to run back to the safety of the house. She could feel the earth tremble under her feet even as she fled. It seemed she could feel the hot breath of the beasts as they bore down on her.

‘Oh, help me dear Lord,’ she gasped as she closed her eyes and kept running.

And then a shadow loomed across her and a strong arm came down and scooped her high up into the air. She was tossed across the saddle of the cowboy who had plucked her from danger. Winded and frightened she stared up at the face of her rescuer.

‘I forgive you your trespass,’ she gasped, before fainting away.

Danielle floated up from her faint and lay quiet for a moment before slowly opening her eyes. The first thing she saw was a hat. As she was puzzling over this she realized she was lying in bed and the hat was resting on her dresser.

‘I think she’s coming round,’ a man’s voice said.

He was sitting across from her, the wrong way around on a chair with his arms draped over the back rest.

‘Howdy, missy.’

Slowly she raised herself up.

‘Who are you?’

‘I’m Tom Ellroy, miss and this is Joey Christie,’ the stranger said, and pointed to a tow headed youth standing in the doorway.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘You had us worried when you passed out and I reckoned it best to bring you inside.’

She took in the boots with the spurs and the chaps and the gun belts.

‘You’re the cowboys that have been breaking down our fences and driving cattle on our fields,’ she accused. ‘Why are you doing such spiteful things?’

The cowboy looked nonplussed. He put ups his hand and rubbed the stubble on his chin to cover his embarrassment.

‘I guess we do it because our boss told us. I... we didn’t see no harm.’

‘Pa has gone into town to see the sheriff. The sheriff never does anything. Now our crops are ruined and we’ll more than likely starve.’

Suddenly the tears came.

‘I’m sorry, miss; we never gave it no thought. It just seemed like a bit of fun.’

Danielle did not answer; she was too busy wiping her eyes.

‘When I pulled you from the path of those longhorns you said something. You said, ‘I forgive you your trespass.’ What did you mean by that? It sounded familiar.’

‘It is part of the Lord’s Prayer, I think,’ the youngster in the doorway answered. ‘Forgive us our trespasses just as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

‘That’s it,’ the cowboy exclaimed. ‘I knew I’d heard it afore. Ma and pa used to pray that when I was a kid.’

He stood and picked up his hat.

‘I’ll leave you to it, miss. Come on, Joey, we got some work to do.’

They strode from the room. Danielle looked for a handkerchief to wipe away her tears. When she finally looked outside she saw the cowboys rounding up the cattle and herding them away from the fields and the broken fencing and the trampled corn.

‘What am I going to tell pa?’ she said, and felt the tears threatening once more.

She fisted the moisture from her eyes and went back inside to continue her preparations for the evening dinner. When her father returned and come inside Danielle’s heart almost broke when she saw the weary look in his eyes. Not wanting to worry him any further, she thought it better not to tell him about her accident and the cowboys carrying her in the house.

‘I see they came back again.’ He sat down heavily. ‘I saw Sheriff Parkinson, but I might as well have talked to our old mule as complain to him.’

‘I made corn mash and beans,’ Danielle told him. ‘I thought you might be hungry. We’ll be all right, Pa. I’ll help you with the work. Now let’s eat.’ Danielle joined her hands. ‘Thank you Lord this day for our daily bread and forgive them that trespass against us.’

She looked up and the careworn look on her father’s face had been replaced by a rueful smile.

‘You’re a good girl, Danielle. You deserve better than this.’

‘I just want you to be happy, pa.’

They hadn’t quite finished eating when they heard the clatter of a wagon and horses.

‘Who can that be?’

They went to the door and Danielle saw the cowboys riding up accompanied by a wagon.

‘Oh, no,’ she heard her father groan. ‘Not again.’

He squared his shoulders and strode out into the yard with Daniel following. The cowboys dismounted and were unloading the wagon. Fence poles, wire and shovels tumbled out on the dirt.

‘What’s going on, cowboy?’

‘Howdy, I guess you must be the pa of that young gal we met earlier.’

Tom Ellroy caught sight of Danielle, swept off his hat and bowed.

‘Howdy, missy. I hope you recovered from your fright. We’ve come to fix the fences. And we brought some grub to compensate for the damage the cattle done.’

The farmer stood bewildered, as the cowboys set to work.

‘What... what is going on? I don’t understand.’

‘Wahl, sir, that little gal there, she told me she forgave me for trespassing and that just cut me to the heart. After all the damage we done it just stopped me dead in my tracks. When she said those words to me, it made me feel like a low-down cur. Well, we’re here to make amends.’

The cowboy picked up a sack and walked over to Danielle and held it out to her.

‘There’s some coffee, missy. We sure would be obliged if you could find your way to making us fellas a drink while we put these fences to rights.’

Danielle rose up on her toes and kissed the cowboy on the cheek. He was blushing and grinning as he watched the youngster walk back to the house carrying the coffee.

‘Let’s get to work, fellas,’ he called and grabbed up a shovel.