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Rated: E · Fiction · Western · #2288873
1886 British colony in the American old west. Honor vs a reputation for good judgement.
Twenty intoxicated young Englishmen laughed uproariously around the House of Lords Saloon when the storyteller, Jack Wakefield delivered his conclusion. He was delighted the story of his daring do had impressed and entertained his fellow countrymen so well.

To Jack’s right, one of the five men at his gaming table, Lord Walter Townsend, still chuckled. Shaking his head, the young man said, “Jack, your stories can make a stuffed bird laugh.”

Jack stopped dealing poker cards and frowned at Walter. The phrase insinuated Jack's story was preposterous. “Are you saying I didn’t ride my horse into the great hall?”

“See here, Jack. There is no need to be so prickly. It is a bang up good story. But surely you don’t expect us to believe it?”

“Indeed, I do.”

Albert Nelson sitting across the table from Jack pleaded, “Please, Walter, tell him you believe him, so we can get back to the game. I very much need to win back some of my losses.”

“Regrettably, Albert, I can’t do that. You see, I don’t believe him,” insisted Walter. Turning to Jack he said, “It was an amusing story. Everyone enjoyed it. Just leave it at that.”

Jack shot to his feet tossing the card deck onto the table. His chair scrapped loudly across the polished wood floor. A few heads turned towards Jack’s table.

Albert begged, “Jack, please. Don’t do anything rash.”

“I’m not lying!” Jack insisted loudly. A quick glance around him revealed he had the eye of everyone in the saloon. He cursed himself. Not only did people think him a liar, but once again he’d managed to make a scene. The humiliation was too much.

Jack stormed out the door leaving its bat wing doors swinging wildly. In less than a minute, horse hoofs stomped on the wooden sidewalk and a horse head appeared over the doors. It disappeared, neighing and stomping its fearful protest just out of sight. Suddenly, the whole animal charged into the saloon with Jack riding it.

Young men yelled and rushed to hug the walls. Coming out from behind the bar, the bartender held a broom like a club. The horse tried to rear up on its hind legs but the ceiling was too low. Jack was nearly knocked from the saddle. Struggling with the reins, he finally assumed enough control to yell out, “Do you believe me now?”

The bartender shouted, “Wakefield, get that bloody horse out of here!”

Jack ignored the bartender’s menacing protest. He had his eyes squarely on Walter Townsend who was pushing his back into the saloon wall.

“You’re a lunatic, Jack. Have you no care for your animal or concern for your fellows?” Walter took a step away from the wall. “Fine, I swear before all present that I believe you actually rode your horse into your manor’s great hall.” Walter waved his arm to include all the men present. “Has your honor been preserved to your satisfaction? If so, then tell me, sir, how fares your reputation?”

He felt the horse trembling under him. Poor girl. Jack’s face redden. His temper had excluded any thought for her. “My honor holds fast.”

The horse’s eyes looked about in crazed terror while Jack attempted to turn it toward the door. She flinched one way, and then shied another. Walter dashed to grab the horse’s halter. Albert tied his bandanna over its eyes. Together the two men led the horse outside.

Jack dismounted and tied the animal to the saloon’s hitch. His two friends stood quietly waiting. Eventually Jack said, “I suppose there’s no way to keep Captain Morton from hearing about this?”

Albert snorted and Walter barked a laugh.

“A sobering thought,” said Jack which had all three drunken noblemen laughing.

“Come on,” urged Albert, “back to our game.”

As they entered and approached their table, the bartender’s hired man ran in from the back door. “Fire! Fire!”

As patrons grabbed up their cash, one said, “Not again!”

“This is unbelievable,” said another.

Everyone headed out the back door.

Flames danced up the exterior walls of a small shed off to the left of the rear saloon door.

“My coal shed,” shouted the bartender with alarm.

“Here,” yelled a young man running up holding the handles of six buckets.

The bartender shouted, “Bless you, Mr. Dacres. Come lads. Form a line to my well.”

Jack opened the coal shed door and stepped out of the way. The assembling bucket brigade tossed pails of water on both the interior and exterior walls. Within minutes, the fire was out.

Charles Dacres approached the House of Lords saloon keeper. “Your shed’s a ruin, but we managed to save your coal.”

“Better than I’d hoped when I first saw it,” replied the bartender. “I count myself lucky.”

“And that you are,” said Mr. Dacres. “I’ll write something up for tomorrow’s Globe.” With that the British newspaper editor tipped his bowler hat and left the area.

Exhausted Englishmen stood about the yard. One commented, “Maybe Mr. Wakefield and his horse won’t be on the front page after all.”

Laughter filled the air. Another man called out, “Hey, Jack. You set this fire?” More laughter ensued.

“Bah,” said another, “whoever is setting these fires is a busy man. Couldn’t be Mr. Wakefield.”

Jack said, “Very funny. The accumulated labor of the lot of you doesn’t measure up to half of mine.”

“I’ll drink to that,” announced one of the Englishmen.

“Not anymore you won’t. Time you all got yourselves back to Dromore Farm or wherever. Sun’s setting soon.”

Jack stood silently by the burnt shed watching as the men filed back into the saloon to gather their belongings. He was proud of his countrymen. Back breaking labor went into growing this colony in the American west. Now some firebug was burning it down. They'd had 31 fires in the last two months. A particular person seemed to show up every time according to the town gossip. Time to investigate and end it.

Word count: 999
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