Summary: Jess has brought home a surprise.
Word Count: 2447
“Well, where do you think that no good saddle-tramp has fetched up, Jonesy?” an angry Slim moaned as he looked out of the window again.
“How long does it take to pick up a few supplies? He’s been gone all afternoon. I thought we’d have that fence finished and I wanted that stump shifted; it’s dangerous where it is. Got nothing done again,” the tall rancher went on. As he drew the curtain he almost pulled it down he was so frustrated.
The saddle-tramp in question was his new ranch hand, Jess Harper, and Slim was at his wits ends, trying to get the young gunman to just do as he was told.
“Why don’t you leave off, Slim? He’s made a big difference to this place, and you’ll not find better,” the old retainer said in the young Texan’s defense.
“Yeah, but I don’t know how, and I bet if I went out, I’d find him lying under a tree, hat over his face snoring. He eats us out of house and home, and the bill for coffee is bigger than the one for feed.”
“Well, that may be true, but he works for nothing, he can never afford any new clothes, does his own reloads, and has to share a bunkroom with you. That bunk house has never been repaired, so in with you — has no space to call his own — and never complains. And I’ll tell you another thing: your troubles are his. He watches your back and has taken many a beating for you, so he’s allowed a few hours away. Besides, he’ll have a good reason, you’ll see.”
“I don’t know!” Slim, exasperated, threw the papers down he was trying to work on.
“I bet he’s been away beating that stretch of water after that wily old fish that’s been tormenting him for weeks. I bet he has his pole hidden up there somewhere,” Slim continued to bellyache.
“That will be great if he lands it. At least we’ll have fish tomorrow. You want a coffee? I’m going to make a new pot,” Jonesy said as he turned away and walked towards the kitchen.
“Why? Do you think he is about to walk through the door? I bet you’ve got his dinner saved as well. You spoil him. I can never get him to do anything without an argument, but he’ll do anything for you.”
Jonesy immediately rose to the bait. He turned on Slim and angrily spat out at him, “Now that is not right. Do you ever go hungry? Your vittles are always ready for you; in fact, I feed you so much I wonder how you still have the nickname of Slim.” Old Jonesy then knocked the pots around as he got on with his coffee-making, bored with Slim’s continual moaning.
“Well, I’m going to turn in; I’m not going out to look for him. If anything has happened, we would have heard by now. Goodnight, Jonesy; see you and the bad penny in the morning, that’s if he turns up. He could be sharing someone’s bed — you never know — and he’d never tell us.”
“Get to bed Slim; you are driving yourself crazy now. I’ll wait up a bit as I’ve some mending to do.”
Slim disappeared into the bedroom that he shared with Jess while Jonesy quietly stoked the fire, then went into the kitchen to make sure that the stew was not sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. He had listened to Slim complain, but knew it was mainly worry, as he knew that Slim was always anxious when Jess was adrift. He thought of the two men and how close they were. Although their relationship could be a bit tense at times, he knew how strong their friendship had become.
He didn’t get a chance to get Andy’s pants out to repair as he heard the outside door open and then quietly close. He went into the living room and found the young cowboy hanging up his iron on the back of a chair.
“You sneaked in then. Did you bring a fish with you?” the old man asked.
“What d’ya mean? I’ve been to town. And what makes you think I’ve been fishing? Slim been bitching again?”
“Something like that,” Old Jonesy replied, nodding his head.
“Well, I got you all a surprise! I can’t wait to show you,” Jess spluttered on excitedly.
“Are you gonna tell me?”
“No, Jonesy, we need some daylight; you’ll have to wait. I’ll get to bed. The slave driver will have me up at dawn, I guess. I know I have the fence up on the north range to repair, so I will need my sleep.”
“You not want your supper? I even managed to save you some apple pie,” Jonesy said in a hushed voice.
“You saved something? Great, Jonesy! I didn’t like to ask since I’m so late. My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. Is there any coffee?”
“Of course there is. Had a feeling you’d be back soon, so it’s fresh. Now sit yerself down and I’ll get it for you.”
When Slim woke up, it was still dark; he shivered slightly as it also was cold. The dawn wind held the promise of an early autumn. He squinted towards Jess’s bed and grunted with annoyance to see that it was empty. He slowly pulled his clothes on and went out to the kitchen to find Jonesy busy with breakfast.
“Morning, Jonesy. Have you seen him? Did he get back? Where has he gone this time?” Slim shot questions at the cook as he ran his hand through his hair, finishing off with a quick run over the back of his neck.
“Yeah, he’s been and gone. He’s gone out to the north fence, and he’s taken some vittles with him. He has a surprise for you. Andy will be over the moon when he gets home. I cannot wait to see what happens. You ready for something? I’ve got your favorites.”
“Thanks, I’ll get something and then I’ll get on with that stump. I suppose I’m not allowed to know his big secret. I won’t ask; wouldn’t want to spoil his fun,” Slim said with a shake of his head.
“Well, I’m glad you’ve calmed down; you were in a state last night.”
“Let’s drop it. I get fed up and anxious sometimes, and I just need to stop treating him like a kid. He’s a man growed and can take care of himself and anyone else that is near him,” Slim finally, admitted grudgingly. “I’ll get this stump done and then wait to see what he’s done. I just hope that it is nothing that is gonna cause me any more trouble.”
Slim ate his breakfast and, as the first faltering rays of a pale sun glinted through the trees on the hill, he gathered his hat, gun, and gloves and made his way outside.
Later on that morning, Slim rode back into yard to find his young brother so excited that he could easily have bust a gut. Slim could not get a word of sense out of him as his little brother tried his best to drag him out of his saddle.
“Come on, Slim, you gotta to see what Jess has found. Come on quick, come on, come on,” Andy went on, hardly stopping for breath.
“I’m coming as fast as I can,” Slim said, his heart slowly beginning to beat faster as his head was already full of questions. He followed his young brother around the back of the barn to a small animal enclosure with a three-sided shelter in it. Slim could not believe what he saw. It was a sow, a huge creature which could have been any color as she was covered with mud. Slim could see that she was spotted and was lying on her side grunting contentedly as she suckled what looked like a hundred tiny pink piglets.
“I’m calling her Molly. Gosh, Slim I don’t think I can think of enough names,” Andy gushed on excitedly.
“Well,” old Jonesy smirked hardly able to hide his amusement. “That little one with the long lashes, and very tight curly tail we could call Jess.
“Do you think he looks like him? Do you think so, Slim?” Andy turned and asked his big brother who was, for the first time in his life, struck dumb. Even as he stared at the contented sow, he heard a horse canter into the yard. Jonesy turned away and went to deal with the visitor. It was no visitor; it was Jess.
Jonesy watched and noticed how carefully Jess slid off his horse. “You’re back soon? I thought you were staying out for the day? You’ve hurt yourself. Let’s have a look, son,” the old ranch hand said, at once anxious and concerned as he saw how Jess was favoring his left hand.
“Nothing much; just need you to have a look at my hand. I was trying to move this rock aside and it lurched out of my hold and trapped my hand between the gap and the two of them. I can’t get my glove off it’s so swollen. It’s killing me and it’s knocked me sick. I need a drink,” Jess groaned softly.
Before Jess and Jonesy could reach the ranch house for Jonesy to do his doctoring, Slim stormed round the side of the barn.
“Found your surprise. You must be mad. What in the name of the devil were you thinking of? This ain’t pig country. Come and look at what you’ve done.” Without another word, Slim turned away completely, and ignoring the two, strode back towards the new mother.
Jess looked at Jonesy gave him a little smile and shook his head. “He’s mad, ain’t he?”
“Yeah, and then some,” They both slowly followed their boss.
Jess got to the enclosure and leaned against the rails of the paddock. His eyes slowly widened as he got his first sight of the big sow and her brood. He dared not look at Slim, but he could feel his eyes boring into him and he felt his face begin to turn red.
“Well, Jess, if this is what you were doing yesterday, how much did she cost me?”
“Nothing! I won it.”
“I knew it, but just what were you thinking?”
“I thought that it would make good eating in the winter.”
“Well, your friends will be killing themselves laughing at you after having your curly tailed pulled. Didn’t you notice that it was a sow? And Andy has given it a name, so you know what that will mean — we can’t kill and eat anything you give a name to. And she’s got lord knows how many young ‘uns. What do you expect me to do with them? You’ll have to butcher her. I know nothing about hogs.”
“Yeah, Jess, that goes for me, too.” Jonesy put in his dime’s worth. “I couldn’t kill that great animal. All’s I know about them is when I cleaned me plate me old Da would say, ‘nothing is wasted when you keep a pig.’ You heard that one, Slim? ” Jonesy innocently asked a sly grin on his face wrinkling his face.
“What do you mean you’re going to kill Molly? But what about the little ones?” Andy started to pipe up, his voice beginning to tremble as he realized what his brother and Jess were talking about.
“I’m sorry, Slim,” Jess said his voice full of misery. “I know nothing about hogs; my pa never kept them. We didn’t live in that kinda country and there was never enough food for stock as it was. I’ll have a word with Mose; he might know of someone who’d take her and her brood. I’ll pay him to find her a home. Andy, don’t worry; she’ll be okay,” Jess tried to comfort the young boy who was slowly falling apart at the thought of losing the family of hogs. Andy’s love in life was the rescue and care of any critters he came across, and the sight of the new family had filled him with joy. He was distraught at the thought of them being slaughtered.
“Oh, Slim, you can’t kill them! Please, Slim, you can’t do it!” Andy began to wail and turned to Jonesy for comfort before he turned to Jess, and still crying, said, “We’ve even got one that looks like you, Jess. It has such long eyelashes, I wanted to call it Jess.” The youngster began to cry even harder.
Jess looked at Slim for help and was about to say something when Slim turned away, saying, “Don’t look at me for absolution, Jess. I can’t help you this time; you’ll have to sort this out by yourself. I have enough on my hands without more of your troubles and nonsense.
When Jess found that he was indeed on his own, he decided to have a word with Mose, the old stage coach driver would probably know who’d take the hogs of his hands.
He thought about what might happen now as he’d not be able to work with his hand maybe broken. He had the fence still to repair and he longed to go after that old fish that was lying in the deep indigo pool, calling him and tormenting him. He probably wouldn’t get the chance as he watched Slim stride around the side of the barn, his long legs covering the ground with his usual speed.
Jess’ heart began to race, as he guessed this is where he was going to be given his pay and chased up the trail. Well, he’d never really fitted in. He was not used to taking orders from someone who had become a friend and he was well aware of the troubles he brought down on Slim and the ranch. He stood and waited, but then got the surprise of his life when his pard saw him, stopped and called out.
“You coming in for your food? Jonesy made some of that scouse you like — fried cabbage and potatoes, smoked ham and eggs,” Slim called out.
“Sure am, pard,” Jess shouted back with a smile that split his face in two, but then, as quickly as it had come, his smile faded, as he thought of what Slim had just said.
Wasn’t smoked ham made out of something to do with pig? Or was that hogs, sows or boar? Dadgum, life could be real complicated sometimes.