The Miller Place - a short story

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The Miller Place



“Well now, ain’t that the prettiest sight you ever seen?”

The speaker was a big blond man who went by the name of Jud Hatfield, and they were on a rise overlooking a long green valley with a wooded hillside across the way, A silver stream ran down the middle, and there was a small but neat house, a large barn, and several outbuildings on the top of the northern slope. A few cattle were visible, grazing placidly on the lush grass.

Dave Fair nodded. “Let’s see if we can work out a meal. Maybe he needs some wood cut for winter.”

Jud Hatfield snorted his disdain at the suggestion of work. Dave said nothing and nudged his horse forward. He and Hatfield met yesterday on the road and were headed the same way, so they rode together. Dave had already taken a dislike for the man and was ready to part ways.

The barnyard was neat and trim, for the most part, which was what gave Dave the first inkling that something was not right. There was a fenced hog house with an open gate on the side of the hill, and the hogs were now rooting up around the yard and making a mess. He sat his horse and hailed the house. When there was no answer, he dismounted and took the steps to the porch. When no one answered his knock, he tried the door. It was unlocked and opened into the kitchen. Jud Hatfield stepped up behind him, and they entered the house.

The kitchen and parlor were one room and they were neat and clean. The curtains on the windows spoke of a woman’s influence. There was a bed in the loft and another bedroom opening off the parlor. There was no one around, but there was a folded paper on the kitchen table with a coffee mug holding it down. Dave called out one more time, and when no one answered, crossed to the table, picked up the paper, and began to read it aloud:

“My name is Harold Miller.

The laudanum don’t work no more, and the pain is more than a body can bear. The doc said it’s a cancer. I held out as long as I could, but now, I have to end it.

You’ll find me in the old tool shed on account of I don’t want to foul the house or the other good buildings. I dug a grave beside of Ellie’s up on the knoll by the big oak. I’d take it kindly if you would carry me up there and put me in it. There’s a blanket in the tool shed to cover my face. I don’t care about no casket box, but I just can’t abide the thought of dirt in my face. Or, if you don’t want to tend to me, someone will come along who’s willing.

My sons will be along soon to take possession of the ranch. Help yourself to any food you find. I turned the critters loose to fend for their ownselves.”

They found him in the tool shed.

“He ain’t been dead long. That blood ain’t even dried up yet.”

Dave nodded and bent down to retrieve the revolver. Harold Miller’s body lay on a stone boat, and there was a hole in his temple. A neatly folded blanket lay at his feet.

“Well, I’ll hitch up a horse to the stone boat, and we’ll take him up the hill.” Dave stepped out the door, followed by Jud Hatfield.

“Hell, there ain’t nothin’ in it for us.” Jud spat on the ground. “Leave him be, and let’s see what we can find in the house. Maybe he cached some cash in there somewhere. Let somebody else bury him.”

“He said you could have some food. He never said you could loot his house, so just get some food and ride on out of here.” Dave watched as Jud halted and slowly turned around, his eyes narrowed.

“You’ll find that I don’t take orders from nobody, especially from the likes of you.” Jud’s hand swept down to his revolver, but he froze when he heard the crisp, double click of a hammer being drawn back to full cock, and he found himself looking into the cold, black eye of a Colt .44. For a moment, nothing moved, and then Jud swallowed hard and allowed his half drawn gun to slip back into its holster. He moved his hand slowly away from his weapon and stared at Dave, who calmly watched him over the barrel of his revolver.

“I never seen no one get a gun out that fast. Who the hell are you?”

“I’m a man who does not tolerate a damn thief. Now get on your horse and get out.”

Jud grinned disarmingly. “I’ll just grab me some food and be on my way.”

“You had that chance, but now you’ll leave empty handed. Any man who pulls a gun on me is lucky to be alive, so count yourself that way and head on out. And if I ever see you again, I’ll kill you without hesitation, so you had better stay far away from me.”

Dave watched as Jud rode away. Then he walked to his own horse and retrieved his Winchester, just in case. Sure enough, when he knew he was out of pistol range, Jud drew his own Winchester from its scabbard, and wheeled his horse, looking back at the barnyard. Dave put a round in a rock under the horse’s belly, which began to buck viciously as the chips hit him. Jud dropped his rifle and hung on desperately as his horse spun around and ran off. He was still trying to control him as they disappeared over the brow of the hill. Dave chuckled and walked out to pick up Jud’s rifle.

It took Dave a couple of hours to hitch a horse to the stone boat, haul the body to the knoll, and lower it gently into the grave. He placed the blanket over Harold Miller’s face, and spoke a few words from a Bible he carried. He began to fill in the grave from the pile stacked beside it and was almost done when his shovel struck something metallic.

It was a thin, brass box. Inside was a sheet of paper and a sealed envelope. He read the paper:

“The man what finds this is a decent sort, because he buried me for no reason other than it was the right thing to do. I thank you for that and since you must also be an honest man, I ask one more thing from you. Deliver the envelope you found to Hiram Walters in town. He’s a lawyer and an honest one. I want him to settle up my final affairs.”

The townsfolk were friendly, and directed him to Hiram Walters’ upstairs law office over the Emporium. Walters was an older man with mutton chop sideburns and an easy smile. His office smelled of cigar smoke and aftershave.

Walters listened intently as Dave Fair related the events of yesterday, handing him the letter from the kitchen table. Then Dave stood and walked out the door as Walters slit open the envelope with a pocketknife. He was halfway down the stairs when the door flew open and Walters ran out.

“Sir? Would you kindly step back into my office? This letter concerns you.”

Dave stared up at him. “You must be mistaken. I never met the man.”

“Nonetheless, this letter concerns you and only you.” He gestured to the door with a wave of his arm. “Please?”

Dave seated himself facing the lawyer and waited, as the lawyer reread the letter. Satisfied that he had it right, he smiled at Dave, stood and held out his hand. “Will you shake it sir? I’d be honored!”

Bewildered, Dave shook his hand and they both took their seats. The lawyer cleared his throat and began to read the letter:

“Hiram,

If this letter is delivered still sealed, as I expect it will be, the bearer will probably walk out of your office after he delivers it. Please go stop him, as this concerns him.

First, let me confess to a falsehood. The letter I left on the table said I have sons coming to take over the ranch. As you know, Ellie and I never had any children or any other heirs. I said that because I wanted a man who would do the right thing, thinking there was nothing in it for him. Then I hid the brass box under the grave’s dirt pile knowing that only the man who buried me would find it. I knew that if he brought the letter to you unopened, he was both decent and honest.

Now there are lots of good, decent folks around, and it might be a neighbor, but I figure it will probably be a wandering stranger, and that’s what I wanted. Whoever it is, the bearer of this letter is now my sole heir, and he owns the H bar M, lock, stock, and barrel, including bank accounts, livestock, equipment, deeded lands, and range. You see to it, Hiram, and there’s a right smart fee that’s waiting for you when you are done.

Harold Miller, Esquire.”

Hiram Walters gazed over his spectacles at the young man seated across from him.

“Harold Miller shipped most of his cattle last month, so his bank account is fat. You, sir, are a wealthy man, and you own one of the finest ranches around, all because you did the right thing. We have work to do, transferring everything to you, so we had best get at it. May I ask your name?”

The paperwork took the better part of the morning, and then Hiram introduced Dave to some of the townsfolk’s leading citizens. There were some raised eyebrows, but no one seemed inclined to protest his ownership. Dave mentioned it to Hiram.

“The Miller place has a bit of a reputation, Dave. It’s just superstition if you ask me.” He took a sip of his beer. “Harold Miller was the Indian agent in these parts for years, and he treated them fair, which riled some of the folks who hated Indians. They burned Harold’s barn once and shot his dog. Then the Indians sent a shaman and some braves over one night, and they performed some sort of ceremony. After that, it seemed that anyone who bothered Harold ran on hard times. Several got sick, and one died. Then one man tried to torch the barn again and damn near cut his head off when he rode under Ellie’s wire clothesline in the dark. After he got killed, the raids stopped, and so did the misfortunes to Harold’s enemies. But folks still fight shy of the H bar M, just in case.”

Dave nodded. “Well, I don’t cotton to that sort of thing, so it won’t bother me any.”

For the next month, Dave made himself familiar with the layout of the ranch. The hogs were back in their pen, and the yard was cleaned up. He made several trips into town, and bought some young stock. Two or three of the town’s eligible young ladies were batting their eyes at him, and one mentioned a barn dance coming up.

He made himself a supper of bacon and fresh eggs from the henhouse. He could hear the first drops of rain on the roof, and the mutter of distant thunder from the late summer thunderstorm. He lit a lantern and ate.

After washing the dishes, he stepped out on the front porch, enjoying the coolness brought by the storm. It was raining in earnest now, and the lightning was putting on quite a show. Then a particularly brilliant stroke revealed a grinning figure in the yard with a rifle aimed at him. It was Jud Hatfield, and there was madness in his eyes.

“Nobody bucks Jud Hatfield and lives a long life! This time you ain’t even armed!”

There was another brilliant flash, and an instant clap of thunder. Jud Hatfield seemed frozen in place, and Dave ducked inside the house. He grabbed his revolver and blew out the lantern, but no shot was fired. Another flash of lightning revealed Hatfield sprawled in the barnyard on his back, his unseeing eyes wide open in shock. The barrel of his rifle was smoking where the wood touched the hot metal.

The morning dawned clear, and Dave hitched up a wagon to take the body to town. Jud’s hands were badly burned, and one boot was split wide open. Death from the stroke of lightning had been instant. His rifle was also ruined.

He delivered the body to the undertaker, with instructions to place him in an unmarked grave. Then he went to see Hiram Walters.

“There will be an inquest, but it is obvious how he died. You are in the clear, Dave. No one will blame you.”

Dave pursed his lips. “There’s one more thing, Hiram.”

The older man studied Dave for a moment. “Let me guess. You found some strange foot prints?”

Dave looked up in surprise and nodded.

“Were they moccasin prints?”

Dave nodded again. Then he stood and walked to the door. He paused and looked back. “Maybe it isn’t just a story after all, Hiram. Maybe not.”


More by this Author


Comments 84 comments

weestro profile image

weestro 4 years ago from Virginia

Great story Willstar, love the moral of it as well as the writing! Clever and original, I liked the Indian twist as well. Voted up and awesome...


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you! I enjoyed your Marine story!


Specialist5 profile image

Specialist5 4 years ago from Norwich, CT USA

Great story; well written; love the moral. I love it when justice wins the day! Thumbs up.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

This is a really cool story. I loved it. Morals and decency prevail and idiots don't.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Great story Will. I'll second Becky's observation.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Another great one, Will -- I especially liked the Indian twist -- you know, strange things really do happen (at least us old Indians believe they do). Wonderful story and I was totally into it from beginning to end. Best/Sis


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, Specialist5, and thanks for both the read and your service!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Becky Katz!

You're right! The happiest people also have good moral standards. That's not a coincidence.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Don! Your latest was great!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Angela! I'm looking forward to your next offering!


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

Will, I sure enjoyed this story. But it is getting harder to tell which of your tales are my favorites!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

You did it again, Will!

Do you have a reservation around your way?

Bob


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Beth, and thank you for the nice compliment!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Bob!

We have all sorts of tribes and reservations in Arizona, and I've known quite a few Indians in my time.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas

I enjoyed this one as much as all the others I have read. I love westerns and watch them on TV often, so I thoroughly enjoy your stories. Keep them coming!


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 4 years ago

Hey you, this ole Arizona gal loved it and how you brought in the natural morals of the Indians. I went to Indian school for a short time---seems we can teach morals but we don't always abide by them.

"You will get what you give"


Wizzie Crone profile image

Wizzie Crone 4 years ago from wizziecrone@yahoo.com

This is a great story. If if were in a book, it would be a real page-turner. I am looking forward to reading everything you've written here. I'm always happy to find a kindred spirit.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is really good Will. Justice prevails. I especially love stories about Indians. I see a sequel, he needs a good woman to make the home complete...


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Cindy!

I grew up on Roy Rogers, and now I live in the West. I guess it's my passion.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ginn,

I am fascinated by the spirit world of the Indians.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Wizzie!

Heatwave was a great story! I'll be reading more of you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ruby!

Hm. A sequel? Maybe you have a point.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Another great short story, Will, with that Will Starr twist at the end. Well done, my Western friend.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

What a great short story - loved it. Voted up. I'd love to know how he got on later. Any chance of a sequel?


SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 4 years ago from eastern North Dakota

Will, I always leave your stories till I'm good and relaxed and can read with no disturbances, and I'm never disappointed. You are a great story teller.

James W. Nelson


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

Loved this story so much. When the good guy wins it feels like a rebirth of hope. You are, as always, amazing. Up and awesome.


Teylina profile image

Teylina 4 years ago

I, too, love this story. One of those that ranks w/the top two I fell in love with and how I began following your work. The imagery, the reminders of good v evil, legends and superstitions, and, of course, always the characters who are so alive (until they're dead - lol). A Gem! Thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi drbj , and thank you as always!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi BlossomSB (what a great name!)

I'll have to take a peek at your work.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi James W. Nelson, and what a fine compliment!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Pop, and I'm sorry for having skipped a few breakfasts due to problems!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Teylina,

I learned to read at a very early age and I was fascinated where words alone could take me. Old radio dramas had the same effect, because the images were in the mind's eye of the listener.

I prefer real books, because they will never have their batteries go dead!


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 4 years ago

I Love it when the good guys win! I also love a story with cowboys and horses! Awesome story, Willstar!


The Frog Prince profile image

The Frog Prince 4 years ago from Arlington, TX

Will - Great writing as usual. You can write an awesome western yarn.

The Frog


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

This one kept me so absorbed. Great writing, WillStarr.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, ImKarn23!

Your Hub on birth control is very good and interesting.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Jim!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Suzie!

Looking forward to your next Hub!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

Will - I'm actually working on a short story. I don't know why.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

You certainly set a high standard for yourself with "For her own good"!

Can't wait to read your new one!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Brother Will I was a fly on the tool shed with this one; smooth and fancy writin', guaranteed to please. Yes sir, those moccasin prints will get 'em every time.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Great story Will, just goes to show that being good is the best way to be, I loved the twist at the end too, so much for superstition! great story, voted up!


Ghaelach 4 years ago

Morning Will.

Another great story from the library of your mind. You have this wonderful gift of bringing everything forward and making the reader feel they are part of the story. Well done.

LOL Ghaelach


Ghost32 4 years ago

Right on track, Will--and, as often happens when I read your work, it inspired three or four scenes to start chasing each other's tails around in my own head.

Voted Up and Over.


Teylina profile image

Teylina 4 years ago

Finally getting back on hp, and can't help but respond to your comments about liking a "real book" and having learned to read at a early age. I think that's an awful lot of the problem w/students in any grade these days. They don't get the exposure to "real books" except thru the library, yet they can master anything related to e-techs, and it interferes w/their imagination - personal opinion, but ----


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Alastar Packer,

We slept in the back of our van once when we went camping. We left the side doors open because it was hot and humid, with periodic rain. In the morning, we found bear tracks on the ground and on the roof of the van. I'll never know why that bear did not come in the van where the food was!

Tracks can really tell a tale.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Nell,

Nobody looks to reward bad behavior, do they?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thanks, Ghaelach! I appreciate your superb comments!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hey, Fred! Maybe we'll have to do another collaboration!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Teylina!

I have a Kindle, and I like it, but when it fails (and it will!), I will still have my personal library!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Wow Will, that's something to wake up and see; bet there was a moccasin track or two around as well.


resspenser profile image

resspenser 4 years ago from South Carolina

I saved this one (by accident!) for this morning and had my first cup of coffee while I read it. Seems like a great combination, how about another for in the morning?

Excellent job!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

It was a real eye-opener, Alastar Packer!

LOL!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ronnie! I'm working on a new one.


Diane Reece 4 years ago

Up and way up Will! One of your best! What comes around, goes around and if only humans would treat others better, who knows what kind deeds lies ahead!

God bless!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Diane!

Doing the right thing just because it is right is a sign of maturity.

Thank you, as always.


cenarius27 profile image

cenarius27 4 years ago from New Delhi

Couldn't have been better then this. Today with aa cup of tea when I was getting anxious with lack of inspiration this story came just at the right time in my sight. well written...thank you for sharing.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi, cenarius27!

Thanks for reading, and the nice comment. Good luck with your inspiration!


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Voted up for interesting and awesome, Will Starr. So far I've read this and the story about Deputy Chen Barlow, and I must say you have a real talent for the.... what shall I call it... the Western spook story -- though that is not the right phrase. Perhaps Western (psychological) suspense?

Well, whatever it is, here's to karma! Again, well done.


thelyricwriter profile image

thelyricwriter 4 years ago from West Virginia

Will, voted up and all the way across. It has always been great reading your stories. You are a very talented writer. Morals, twist, and great endings, what's not to love. You go in great detail Will, very easy to picture everything as I am reading. For myself, I always have enjoyed writers that are able to capture that detail in their writing. Karma is a bad mother. It will find you sooner or later. Always treat those like you want to be treated. Such a great story. Well done Will. Best wishes.


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

I too am voting this up across the board. I love your stories and enjoyed reading this one. Good over evil.

A fantastic story with a good message.

Take care and thank you for writing such a pleasurable read


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi wingedcentaur,

E. A. Poe meets John Wayne?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, lyric writer!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Rosemay50, and thanks for reading!


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

Hi Will,

I don't know how I missed this one, but it took me two weeks to find it....and boy was I ready for anther WillStar classic!!

up and awesome!

Chris


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC

I have been away and almost missed this great story-glad I didn't. Thanks Will.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Chris!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Welcome back, Marsha!


bill 4 years ago

just couldn't get into your story this time. You're a great writer and I think you'll go far.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Bill.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

The bigezine has this story only. I searched for the others. It is at http://education.bigezine.com/the-miller-place-a-s...

They took two of mine. The one about you and the one about mckbirdbks.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I found it. The 'writer' was listed as a Kevin Morris. I left two messages that it was plagiarized, and told them to remove it.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

That won't do any good. Go to the forum and read on who to file them with. Those writers are fictitious and the site won't take them down. I have already been through that.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

What forum? Ours?


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/95608

Good luck Will. A whole bunch of us are fighting them so maybe we can get that site taken down.


Kebennett1 profile image

Kebennett1 4 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

You are an awesome story teller! Keep it up.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Kebennett1!


femmeflashpoint 4 years ago

Will,

You never disappoint me. :)

Great read!

femme


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, femme!


Shihab Mahmud profile image

Shihab Mahmud 4 years ago from Dhaka

nice story


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Shihab Mahmud!


Shihab Mahmud profile image

Shihab Mahmud 4 years ago from Dhaka

welcome.........


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Compellingly written with a satisfyingly moral ending.

Voted UP & ABI. Wonderful read, Maria


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Maria!

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