Western Fiction posted November 26, 2010

This work has reached the exceptional level
An orphaned boy meets a widower rancher.


by c_lucas

Arizona Territory-1887
Jim Pearson, owner of the Sweet Pea Ranch, left the hotel and headed for the Golden Slipper. The thirty-three-year-old widower stopped just inside the dim building to let his eyes adjust. He glanced at the young man stacking chairs on the tables and walked to the bar.
"Good morning, Jim. I sent three cowhands out to your place." Slim Dawson took a swipe at the bar top with a dirty towel, set a bottle of beer in front of the rancher and placed a glass mug beside it.
"Thank you, Slim. Only three? I need ten men."  Pearson poured the beer into the mug and took a sip. "I hope Wally has better news."
"Excuse me, sir."
Jim looked at the young man who'd stacked the chairs on the tables. He estimated the kid's age to be about twelve. The ragamuffin's clothes are virtually worn out from the inside. He glanced at the floppy citified shoes. He raised his eyebrow acknowledging the boy.
"If you're looking for help, I'm looking for a job."
"What about the job you have here?"

"Mr. Dawson is paying me to clean the saloon. All I have left to do is to sweep the floor and put down new sawdust." The young man tried to hide his nervousness. "I'll be finished here in about fifteen minutes."
"He carries his weight, Jim. He's been here for about an hour and hasn't slacked off." Slim nodded at the boy.
If Slim Dawson is impressed with him, I should give him a go. "I can use a roustabout to help the cook and the wrangler. Let's go."
"I can't go just yet. I agreed to do a job for Mr. Dawson. My word is my bond." The young man shifted his feet and wiped his hand on his dirty pants' leg.
Pearson stared at the boy. "What's your name?"
"Jerry Reese. Folks just call me 'Tumbleweed' because I drift a lot. Once I take a job I stay with it until it's done, then move on." He stuck out his hand, but Jim ignored it.
The rancher looked at the barkeep and back at Jerry. "You don't even know how much I plan to pay you."
"A cowhand gets thirty a month and found. A wrangler's assistant gets about fifteen and a cook's helper gets about ten. Since I'll be both of the last two, I reckon it will be twelve-fifty." Jerry stood, offering to shake hands.
The two men chuckled. "You better shake the boy's hand, Jim, he's got you cold." Slim winked at Jerry.
"Twelve-fifty it is, son." The rancher reached into his pocket, withdrew a half eagle and offered it to the young man.
"I don't take money until I've earned it." Jerry shook his head.
"Where you're going son, you'll need sturdy clothes. When you finish here, go to the general store and get you some cowboy clothes. Meet me at the livery in an hour." Pearson shook the boy's hand and left the gold coin in it.
"Yes, sir! I'll be there. Thank you." The boy turned, grabbed the broom and started sweeping as fast as he could.
Pearson downed his beer, tipped his hat at Slim and left.  His next stop was at the general store. "Morning, Jake."
"Morning Jim, I have your order ready near the back door." The white-haired storekeeper returned the greeting.
"Anything short?"
"Nope, you got everything you asked for. Of course, you didn't ask for Susan.  The bill came to twenty two – fifty." Jake's face crinkled in laughter.
"Has your daughter promised anyone for the dance?"
"I hear tell she's making a rancher sweat it out before she agrees to go with him. The rancher took her on an evening walk last night and impressed her by behaving. But, you didn't hear that from me."
"My lips are sealed." Pearson grinned and handed the storekeeper two gold eagles. "Hold on to the change. I have a young cowhand coming over to get a cowboy outfit. I gave him a five dollar advance, but I want him outfitted properly without embarrassing him. Do you get my drift?"
"You wouldn't be talking about Tumbleweed, would you?"
"You know him?"
"He came in yesterday afternoon and talked Susan into hiring him to help her stock the shelves. She was impressed with him and paid him fifty cents instead of the quarter they had agreed upon. I'll see he is properly outfitted. Do you want him completely dressed?"
"He's going to be out among snakes and wild animals. Let him choose a used weapon. Shake his hand and decide on what he can handle."
Pearson greeted the liveryman and looked at the five cowhands waiting for him. A saddled horse in the back corral snorted and whinnied. Wally earned extra money by offering a reward of ten dollars to the cowboy who could ride Paint. In return, the cowboy paid Wally a quarter for the chance to ride. Two of the cowboys looked like they've made Wally richer.
"Head out to the Sweet Pea and tell my foreman I've hired you …."
The cowboys' laughter interrupted him.
"I'm here, Mr. Pearson."
The rancher turned around and forced himself not to laugh.
Tumbleweed, dressed in cowboy's clothes a couple of sizes larger than his thin frame, stood before the rancher. The only serious thing about his duds was the tied down .38 strapped around his waist. His ears kept his hat from covering his face. He had a package in his hands.
"The storekeeper told me to give this to you. He said you would understand." Tumbleweed handed the package to Pearson who handed it back to him. Jake added an outfit that would fit him.
"Put this in the wagon. I'll be with you in a few minutes. Is the gun loaded?"
Tumbleweed reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a box of cartridges. "No sir, Mr. Slogan said you would want to do that."
"Put them back in your pocket, for now."
 "You got yourself a real rip-snorter of a cowhand, there. I bet he could ride Paint." A tall, lanky cowboy named Texas laughed.
Pearson glanced at Texas and the rest of the new hands. If I don't nip this in the bud, they'll make life hell for the kid. "Tumbleweed, are you ready to prove to these men you have what it takes to be a cowboy?"
"What do I have to do?"
"You see the black and white Paint back there. No one has ever ridden him. They don't expect you to stay on, but they want to see if you have enough gumption to try."
Pearson looked at the young man. "Have you ever been on a bucking horse?"
"I've never owned one, but I've forked a few."
The liveryman walked over to them. "It's a shame to take the kid's money, but everyone has to pay to ride Paint."
Pearson reached into his pocket, but Tumbleweed beat him to it and paid Wally two quarters.
"Thank you for offering, Mr. Pearson, but like I said before, I pay my own way."
Wally started walking and everyone followed him to the back corral.
"Have you had the horse very long, sir?"
"Not long at all." Wally walked faster, trying to get away from Tumbleweed who stopped, and tugged on Pearson's shirt. They spoke quietly for a couple of minutes and walked out to the corral.
Everyone watched as Wally cinched the saddle tighter. Paint acted up and tried to buck it off. The liveryman grabbed the reins and talked roughly to the horse.
Tumbleweed took the reins from Wally. "I gave you fifty cents. I want to double the bet, my fifty cents against your twenty dollars. Is it a deal?"
Wally glared at the boy. "It's a deal, but one ride only."
"Which one of you boys have a rig?" Pearson asked.
"We all do," Texas answered.
"How about bringing your rig over here?"
Wally went to protest, but Pearson stared him down.
It took a couple of minutes, but Texas smoothed out the saddle blanket before he changed saddles. He rubbed his hands on his pants legs, took a long look at the boy and adjusted the stirrups to Tumbleweed's requirements.
Wally claimed his saddle and tried to carry it away.
Pearson stopped him. "Take your medicine. I think a couple of my boys will want to talk to you about your saddle."
Tumbleweed reached up for the saddle horn and mounted.
Paint almost bucked him off before he gained his seat, but settled down after the first attempt. The horse proved to be spirited. The cowboys cheered as Tumbleweed stayed on Paint until he got it out of his system.
The young man rode over to Wally. "I'll take the horse in place of the twenty, plus all the rigging including saddlebags and bed roll."
"What the hell is going on?" Texas glanced between Tumbleweed and the liveryman.
"I'm surprised Tex, you let him get away with an old Carny trick. Check his saddle." Tumbleweed pointed.
Wally tried to leave, but two of the new cowhands stopped him. Texas grabbed the saddle from Wally and flipped it over on the ground. The underneath had burrs sticking to it.
"Well, I be damned." Texas glared at Wally.
Pearson stepped between them. "You'd be smart to accept Tumbleweed's offer and to be on the safe side, buy the drinks when my boys come back to town."
"I was just having some innocent fun," Wally protested.
"Maybe we should have some innocent fun and drag you to the Sweet Pea," Texas growled. "Then we could hang you by your balls for a good laugh."
Pearson turned toward the cowhand. "Tex, why don't you boys make sure Tumbleweed gets what he needs and Wally will be glad to buy the drinks on your next trip to town."
Pearson walked over to Tumbleweed, who was talking softly to Paint and scratching his ear. "You're one hell of a horse trader." They shook hands.
"Thank you for believing me when I told you about the saddle."
"Where did you learn about the burrs?"
"I worked a carnival in Chicago. I cared for the horses and treated the back of one horse every day. He was the carny's outlaw horse. The old cowboy who owned him told me about the burrs."
"Now that you own your own horse, I guess I should pay you fifteen a month."
"No sir, we made a deal at twelve-fifty. My word is my bond."
"Lynda is going to love meeting you."
"My ten-year-old daughter."
"Oh, you're that rancher."
"What do you mean?" Pearson stared at him.
"Yesterday, when I was helping Miss Susan, all she could talk about was a rancher named Jim with a daughter named Lynda."
(1,813 words)


Thank you, Anne for your beautiful image, "Paint Mustang."
Western slang
barkeep- a tender of the saloon bar aka barkeeper.
found - a calf without a mother, or a brand. The cowhand were rewarded for their find.
completely dress - packing a gun.
forked a few - rode a few horses.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Anne at FanArtReview.com

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