Henry - A Western Short Story

Henry


Spitting and sputtering, she pushed herself up out of the mud. She was covered in muck from her face to her toes, while the offending pig was warily watching her with its beady eyes from the corner of the pen and the expression on its long, snout-face looked for all the world like a smile. She wiped her face with a grimy hand, and spat out some more mud. Behind her, she heard a low chuckle.

He was tall and thin, but in a wiry way. He carried a sack on his back, secured by a rope over his shoulder. He leaned on the top rail, grinning at her.

“Well I don’t see what’s so funny. That pig has a jowl boil, and I need to catch him up and put salve on it. If you was any sort of gentleman, you’d catch him up for me.”

He looked around and found an old gate leaning on the side of the barn. A few moments later, the pig was trapped in a corner of the pen and she was applying salve to the open sore while he held the gate in place. She suddenly realized how awful she looked and blushed fiercely, but he couldn’t see it for the mud.

“Who are you and why are you here?” She finished smearing the salve as she spoke, not looking up.

“Name’s Henry. Henry McCarty. I smelled cookin’ and thought I’d see if I could work for a meal. I ain’t et since yesterday, and I could use some food.”

“That your horse?”

He grinned again. “Well, there ain’t nobody else around, so I reckon he must be mine!”

“She stood up and stared at him, unsmiling. “Put him in the corral. There’s hay in the box and water in the tank. When you’re done, wash up by the back door and we’ll eat.”

When he opened the corral gate, it almost twisted out of his hand. The lower hinge was broken, and badly in need of repair. He stripped his gear off his horse and rubbed it down with an old feed sack he found, thoughtfully looking all around.

He name was Ruby Jackson, and she lived here with her mother. She was seventeen.

“Pa died after being kicked by a horse. It didn’t look so bad, but about a week later, he just took sick and died. He’s been gone some three months now.”

The food was good, and he enjoyed it. Ruby’s mother poured him another cup of coffee and offered him the last of the fried chicken, but he shook his head. “I’m full as a tick, ma’am, and purely satisfied. You sure are some cook.” She smiled and began to gather the plates.

“I noticed that there are things around that need mending, so if it suits you, I’ll stay a few days and tend to it. I promise not to eat like that every time.” He grinned at Ruby, who pointedly turned away.

For the next two weeks, he mended fence, chopped wood, fixed the roof on the henhouse, and sharpened tools. He mowed the barnyard with a hand scythe, and put new leathers in the well pump. Ruby secretly watched him from the windows, and her heart soared. He slept in the barn, and she shocked herself with wanton thoughts of sneaking out to meet him in the dark. She found herself dressing differently, and daringly stole a dab of her mother’s perfume to put behind her ears. Her mother knew it of course, and smiled.

He wasn’t handsome, because his ears were too big and stuck out. His front teeth were prominent, and his shoulders were sloped, but there was something about him, and Ruby was deeply in love, although she thought she was hiding it well. She loved his easy, self assured ways, and his quick sense of humor, even if she was often the reason for his laughter.

Saturday morning, Henry hitched up the team, and they took the wagon to town. They were low on supplies, and Henry needed a barber. Her mother also wanted two dozen chicks and feed, while Ruby wanted her first bottle of lilac water

“Looks like everybody had the same notion as me.” Henry pointed at the full bench waiting in front of the barbershop. “Where will I find you?”

Mrs. Jackson accepted his hand and stepped down from the wagon. “I’ll put my order in at Murphy’s general store, and then I have business with the bank.” When he offered his hand to Ruby, he suddenly realized that she had changed somehow. There was a new blush to her cheeks, and her hair was different. The change was subtle but dramatic, and she was stunningly beautiful. He lifted her off the wagon by her narrow waist and gently placed her on the ground in front of him. For a long moment, they gazed at one another, and there was an unspoken understanding. Henry turned and stumbled down the street, his heart pounding. Ruby watched him go, and smiled to herself. The day seemed suddenly brighter and more cheerful.

Lovely Lillian Frey, the banker’s daughter, stepped off the boardwalk and started across the street. Henry halted, and waited for her to pass in front of him, doffing his hat. Ruby felt a strange pang of jealousy, until Henry turned and looked back at her, grinning, He then doffed his hat to her too, bending far over at the waist, and she laughed in spite of herself. Lillian Frey sniffed, and spun her parasol as she stalked away.

Their order was in the back of the wagon when Mrs. Jackson and Ruby left the bank and stepped into the street, raising their skirts to avoid the dust. Suddenly their way was blocked by big Dan Butler, who stood there grinning. He had heavy black mustaches, and wore a bowler hat. In his mouth was a heavily chewed cigar, and he reeked of the smoke. He had held the mortgage on the farm until Ruby’s father inherited some money last year and finally paid it off. He was thoroughly disliked by most people, and the Jackson ladies were no exception.

“Would you kindly allow us the road sir?”

“I’ll need a word with you, Mrs. Jackson.” He pulled a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, and the grin was still on his face. “Your husband borrowed five hundred dollars from me shortly before he died, and he put up the farm to secure the loan.”

Mrs. Jackson abruptly grabbed the paper from the startled Butler and turned her back when he tried to grab it back.

“Keep your hands to yourself, Mister Butler or I shall scream and you will have the town’s men come down on you.”

Butler looked around nervously. Manhandling a woman was cause for a lynching in the west and he knew it. Mrs. Jackson read the note and turned back. “You are a liar sir. This is not my husband’s signature, and he had no need of a loan. He received half of his inheritance when he paid you off, and there was a substantial amount left over. The other half was delivered to the bank shortly after. Now go away before I have you horsewhipped.”

Butler angrily spun on his heel and had started to leave when Ruby spoke up. “I would not dirty a horsewhip on such a man.”

It was too much for a brute like Butler, who spun around and threw the cigar on the ground. “I have a good mind to slap some manners into you, girl. In fact, that’s just what I will do!”

He was reaching for Ruby when he heard the double click of a hammer being drawn back to full cock. He glanced to his left, and saw a freshly groomed young man standing nonchalantly with a revolver, and it was pointed straight at him.

“Hell, you ain’t nothin’ but a boy. You put that gun up before I take it away from you!”

Ruby stared at Henry in fascination. She wondered where he had kept the gun because she had never seen it. And why was he so calm? He seemed different somehow.

“You’d best get on with it, mister.” Henry’s voice was quiet and measured, like he was discussing the weather.

“Get on with what? What are you talking about, boy?”

“Let that be the last time you call me ‘boy’, and you need to get on your knees and apologize to these ladies for your insults and crass ways.”

Dan Butler stared at Henry and snorted. “You talk big with a gun in your hand!”

Henry regarded Butler for a long moment. Then he let down the hammer on his Colt and put in his waistband.

“You also have a gun, mister.”

Onlookers quickly scurried out of the way, and the Jackson ladies backed up a step. Butler turned slightly to face Henry and was startled by what he saw.

Henry stood with his arms crossed, and his eyes were bland. His smooth young face was calm, and he was clearly not afraid. Suddenly, Dan Butler knew that he was just seconds away from death, because this young man was perfectly willing to die, if need be. There was now only one way out, so Dan Butler slowly went to his knees in the dust of the street.

“Ma’am and Ruby, I apologize for my misdeeds and my impertinence.” He glanced up at Henry. “Will that be satisfactory?”

Henry nodded silently, and Butler stood, beating the dust off his knees with his hat. The crowd chuckled, and his neck grew cherry red around his collar as he stalked off, humiliated.

Henry sat on the porch smoking his pipe, and listening to the quail calling one another to bed in the mesquite trees. The glow of the sun was almost gone and the first stars were appearing in the east when Ruby came out. Instead of sitting across from him as usual, she drew up a chair close beside him and sat silently. After some time, she quietly placed her hand on his arm, and he put his hand on top of hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. He could smell her new perfume.

“Did you think Lillian Frey was pretty?”

“I sure did. But would she still be pretty if she fell flat on her face in a muddy pig pen? My girl did that once and still looked as pretty as a spring wildflower.”

There was a long silence. “Am I really as pretty as a wildflower Henry?”

“You’re as pretty as a whole field of wildflowers, Ruby.”

“Am I your girl, Henry?”

“I don’t know. Are you?”

She answered by putting her head on his shoulder.

“I’m like anyone else, Ruby. I got things that need fixin’ so I’m going to get about it, and if I can, I’ll be back.”

He had been on the Jackson place for six weeks, and now, he was packed up and ready to ride. He looked all around, and then down at her from where he sat his horse. “I’ve taken quite a liking to this place, Ruby and to you and your ma. I want to come back. I surely do.”

“You have never even kissed me, Henry. Aren’t you going to at least kiss me?” Her eyes pleaded with him, and the tears were brimming.

“It would be better if I don’t. It would be like a promise that I might not be able to keep.” He looked down again and smiled. “I do love you Ruby Jackson, and I’ve never loved anyone before. Does that make a difference?”

She nodded, and he wheeled his horse, riding away as the tears streamed down her face. Her mother came out on the porch and put her arm around her shoulders. They both watched until he finally disappeared over a distant rise.

“Not much to tell, really. When Dan Butler learned that this Henry McCarty feller was back in town, he went looking for him with a scattergun. He was alone, because no one wanted to be around him after the way he took water from McCarty. What he didn’t know was that McCarty was behind him the whole time. When he found out, he turned to fire, but McCarty put two bullets in his heart, just as pretty as you please, and Butler missed McCarty entirely.”

The town marshal took another drink from the dipper. “A county sheriff come by the next day, asking after McCarty, since that was the name he was using.”

“You mean his name wasn’t really Henry McCarty?” Ruby’s face was pale.

“Oh no, ma'am. That's his given name, far as we can tell. He was truthful about that. But he also uses other names. Here, take a look.”

Ruby’s hands were trembling as she took the circular from the marshal. That the face was Henry was not in doubt. But he had never mentioned that he was also called William Bonney, and commonly called Billy.

The kid.

More by this Author


Comments 62 comments

LABrashear profile image

LABrashear 4 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

AWESOME! Loved it and I agree about screenplays.


Cosmic Bus profile image

Cosmic Bus 4 years ago from Maryland

Well written! Voted up.


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

Ah loved this one, a nice romance. Gotta love that Billy the Kid aye :-)

Up and awesome


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Poor Ruby, she fell in love with a badman. Awesome story Will.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I didn't know who he was till the last lines.Good story.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I always enjoy your stories so much and this one is no exception. Girls and gunfighters make great entertainment.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

I just knew he was somebody but I couldn't imagine who. Great story - loved Ruby. Rated up and shared!


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 4 years ago from Tucson, Az

oh Wil, you gone done and broke it, my heart, all laid out in splinters upon the desert ground....

I so loved this one/so much :)


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

You had me smiling all the way to the end!


VendettaVixen profile image

VendettaVixen 4 years ago from Ireland

Didn't have to look to know that this was one of yours, Will. Excellent as usual.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Loved this story...Billy The Kid was always a colorful character and often misunderstood. Perfect ending, Will.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Well, Will...was Billy the Kid a fairy? Not even a kiss from that pretty young gal. At least it seems true that girls like naughty boys.

Good tale with great ending as ever

Bob


Ghaelach 4 years ago

Hi Will.

You have a natural talent for this style of writing. A super niche, you have it all to yourself.

I look forward to each and every one. We are trapped in your stories from beginning to end.

Thanks Will.

LOL Ghaelach


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Hi, Will. I could read book after book of your short stories! They are so engaging and just pull me into that place and time. What a treat!


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

AWESOME.....I knew better too, I have read about the "Kid Antrim", and that name Henry McCarty sounded all too familiar.........but, it didn't hit me until the very last sentence!

I love it!

Chris


writer20 profile image

writer20 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

It's been a while Will and sure worth waiting for. Great awesome story.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

Awesome tale. I had no idea that this was about Billy until the end. Up, up, up!!


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 4 years ago from Malaga, Spain

That was a wonderful story to read as I go to bed, I have to agree, you really do have the gift for these stories.


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 4 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

no wonder you have won so many awards...love'n it...God Bless...:O) Hugs G-Ma


poetvix profile image

poetvix 4 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

Another western classic and this time with one heck of a twist! Your stories pull me in like no others. The characters are so believable. I never saw the ending coming. I feel sorry for Ruby but I still enjoyed the story. I think you are going to be the next great western writer on the horizon. I'm surprised Hollywood has not come calling yet.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 4 years ago from Jamaica

Hi Will, another hit! I had a feeling there was something amiss with this Henry feller but he is my kinda feller...lol


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Another naturally told and believable Western tale, Will. With a kicker at the end. You do have the knack, my friend. Voted up.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Best I can do is Texanese, Will: Just waaaaay tooooo damn good! Loved it -- your expertise with the hook never fails to amaze me and gettin' to it's a treat. Best, Sis


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

With it being one of your stories Will, I knew they couldn't live happy ever after....

Loved it and voted up!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 4 years ago

Very good, Will. I figured he was a gunfighter, but I would have never guessed which one! Voted up!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

My computer is giving me fits, so just let me thank you all while I can!


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

This is what I was Missing...A Good Western Yarn as only you can Spin it WillStarr. Loved that Ending! I'm back for a little while... I had to stop by, before it's time to work on the Condo again.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is such a great story with that special twist ending. I enjoy your stories so much Will. You have a romantic style, yet you can get 'dowm rite mean'..HaHa..Thank you again..Cheers


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I seem to be back up and running for now, so thank you b.Malin!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi always exploring!

Good to see you, and thanks!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

Fantastic story! I loved it.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Pamela!


SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 4 years ago from eastern North Dakota

A little behind in my reading hubs, Will. Just finished about the 13th edit on "Les Paul's" novel and got it sent to Createspace this morning. I enjoyed your story, as usual, Will, but now I'm wondering. Billy The Kid has been portrayed so many ways: Really good and "really" "bad" both...just wondering where your story falls, or is it completely fiction, which is how all writers of Billy The Kid have probably done it, as, of course, we really don't know.

Just sayin' and just wondering...? Regardless, thanks for a good story! By the way, over the next few days I'll be putting out one more excerpt from my novel.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi James!

It's strictly fiction. He was a fascinating character, and was well liked by many, especially the young ladies, so he probably would have charmed our Ruby, and he did have dreams of living a lawful and peaceful life. Thus, the story!

I'll be looking forward to your excerpt!


Cosmic Bus profile image

Cosmic Bus 4 years ago from Maryland

Just thinking from reading your Bio, thank God for great teachers like Mrs. Greene, who recognize and encourage their students talents!


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Will, yet another great Will Starr tale, told with a flare uniquely your own.


Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Will,

I hope you are well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I could definitely see it on the big screen.

Voted up and away!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Cosmic Bus,

Funny how I still remembered that from all those years ago. I started writing seriously about three years ago.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi mckbirdbks, and thank you, my friend!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Sueswan!

Big screen? Whoa!


Diane 4 years ago

Thanks for another good ole western story Will. Never saw the twist coming on this one!

That's what sets you apart from other writers!

I love the old west!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Diane, and thank you!


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 4 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

Oh, Will, I wish I could climb into one of your stories, and that is the mark of a great storyteller... ! love, lil


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Lily!


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

COOL story, Will!!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Beth, and thank you!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

love your stories, Will. Always looking forward to your twists... and great use of dialogue in this one. Voted up and shared.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

You tell a story like no one else I know--You have the knack for it--(PS--love the end)


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Will...

Excellent job as always my friend! I would also like to agree with PDX above...awesome use of dialogue!

Thanks,

Thomas


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, another great story, Will, I had a feeling Henry was going to be somebody, but it was still a surprise to see it was good old Billy! fantastic story, nell


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, PDXKaraokeGuy!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi AudreyHowitt!

I appreciate your kind words!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, ThoughtSandwiches,

I'm following your Wizard story!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Nell!

That was his real name, but he was known better as The Kid.


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

UH-oh...Are you liking it??

Thomas


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

It's very entertaining and fun to read!


freelanceauthor profile image

freelanceauthor 4 years ago

Nice story, voted up


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, freelanceauthor!


alinamassy profile image

alinamassy 4 years ago from India

Beautiful Story and well writing, Voted up


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, alinamassy!


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

Very good, I love a good western. Voted up.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Diana!

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