Western Short Story
Burt Knowles, 18, full of energy and old time stories about the old, old West, was a new hire at the Wishing Well Ranch, and the first thing he checked out was the morning exercises at The Well situated on the lowest piece of land on the ranch, and away from the barn big as a Hallelujah in the morning.
He had heard about the Wishing Well and had to see for himself. Every so often, one of the ranch hands would walk or ride by and flip a coin into the well, and outside visitors as well at their wishing best. In the first week, he saw at least ten to a dozen men a day flip a coin for luck into the well, probably a penny every time, but he was not positive, never having a clear view, even momentary, of the coin, or its value or size.
What he did know were the stories galore about good luck coming to depositors to the well; they lucked out a hundred ways; on a date, a fall that escaped pain and injury, like a bull getting loose or a horse crushing a rail and dismounting the rider, or Ben Smithy getting a raise for saving the boss’s daughter from a trampling, and so many lucky escapades, as donors would spread the good words on their good luck deeds or daring..
Then there was Albie Redstone coming up on a stage robbery and driving the robber off with a hail of bullets from his rifle at a distance too long to get directly to the site in time for anything else protective. Albie even got a kiss from a new young teacher coming into the territory; Katy Stevens was a startling beauty who stirred all men from that moment, and who knows how many coins were tossed into the well for her best side or an extended approach finding attention.
In a month on the new job, Burt Knowles couldn’t count the times that coins were flipped into the well, but he began to think about it; in six months, he got serious about that thinking, the range of it, what a total recuperation of coins would buy. It took over a healthy chunk of his imagination; which became more serious as he worked like s devil to get things done, spark the boss, the ranch owner, the now-and-then thoughts of Katy Stevens tending to a roomful of kids in the only school in Chillham, the nearby town.
The word on good luck turns and shifts moved, as they abounded, into town and all around the local territory. Several times, Burt was asked, as he left the saloon in Chillham, to drop a coin for someone in the saloon. He always obliged, being a hail-and-well-met cheery fellow who continued to carry stories wherever he went.
He was faithful to every request, which fostered a series of ideas in his mind, all of them loose and giddy with new riches seemingly tossed away om chance itself.
At length, after all kinds of ideas came and went, different maneuvers developed, or at least appreciated for the time being, when Burt decided on the paint cans, which had recently been developed and had gained wide usage. Burt Knowles began collecting empty paint cans, from everywhere possible, mostly one at a time and secreted them on the ranch, where, one by one, and always in the dark of night, he lowered them into the well with a line looped on the pan handle banged into an upright position. He’d extract the rope line, and get the next one down in place as soon as he could, always at nightfall, unseen, silent as a sleeping bee.
It did not take him more than a month to practically cover the well bottom; he could count the extra pennies, now and then a bigger wish in place with a nickel or dime, or who knows what else; a gold coin for a superb dream, a Mexican gold piece, some long held souvenir let go for a wish..
Burt’s dreams got bigger, patience sat upon him with a long collection of time; he was nine years on the ranch, and facing more time in place. His patience was extraordinary, his dreams continual, Katy Stevens still teaching school, still beautiful, still attainable in dreams and in reality. His eyes were always on her good favor, her good luck, her presence in Chillham.
The nine years, at length, became unbearable, and his whole system began to seek the results of long patience, long dreams, a mark on Katy’s chin saying age was at work, the way only Time can leave its own shadow in places to be noted, though the light continued in her eyes.
Once, and only once, he was challenged by another ranch hand as he loitered near the well. “I seen you here a couple of times, Burt, and you sure must have a heavy ache for something you ain’t got yet. I sure hope you get what you want, but penny by penny takes a long time to make the luck come around. Just ask me, I’ve been at it longer than you and I bet I’ve flung a dollar’s worth of pennies down the well. Once it was my last dime, and I was hard into hurtin’ then. I hope you get what you want. Me, too! Though it’s another long run we both got in front of us. A long run!”
A slope settled his shoulders, made him look thinner, his face carrying the same way, nail-thin, like he’d been squeezed out of all his hopes, like a whole ache was working for free.
“It’s nice thinking about it, Rick, and keeping quiet about it too. I don’t know anybody’s wishes and nobody knows mine, and that’s fine for all of us, all pulling for something nobody else knows. I suppose, if we shared our wishes, we’d all start laughing like Hell at each other. Could be a lot of fun someday, but I ain’t about to rush it that way. Let what’s coming, come, long as it takes, but come along when we least expect it and need it most, and that’s what we’re all shootin’ for, ain’t it?”
One night, after the whole ranch crew was sound asleep, buried in dreams and wishes and flung coins, Burt Knowles began to draw up from the well bottom, the old paint cans he had carefully put in place years ago.
He tried to smother the first giggle at his mouth when he counted out the first recalled paint can, extracted with a long pole set with a hook for lifting a can at a time: the first try yielded ninety dollars and thirty cents. He immediately forgot how many paint cans he had spread on the bottom of the well, but the joy and surprise were overwhelming; 20 such cans could get him his own spread, and that was with a quick guess, and with the continued best of luck.
He felt like the miners who told how they felt when they hit a solid strike; all Kingdom Com was theirs, lock, stock and both barrels loaded to the brim. He let the first result color up his night with unseen flares, the sky, the night sky, lit up for one man in the midst of a black darkness.
On the sly, it took Burt ten nights to retrieve all the paint cans, palm his money in bags, salt them away for safekeeping, bury the empty cans out on the prairie so they’d never be found, no deduction of their use ever to be known, not even the simplest clue as to their usage.
After all the cans were retrieved with the long pole, after all the coins were counted, foreign coins figured at their basic value, he had amassed $1500, which bought him 1250 acres.
It was enough to build a cabin, a barn, and railed-in pastures to hold a small herd of beef, the beginning of a gallant remuda, and entice Katy Stevens to give up school teaching, to marry him, and to start the BKS Ranch on a continual growth.
It’s still in place, a statement of luck, good cheer, hard work, and small beliefs in the sense of chance and choice, no matter how big or small.