This is about an old cowboy who comes across a boy and agrees to share a secret with him.
His clothes and face are weather beaten. His joints and leather boots creak with the cadence of his mount. Its hooves sound softly against the beaten earth with every step as he nears his final stop. There is a tall cottonwood up ahead, alone amongst the scrub brush. Its outstretched boughs welcome him to the shade underneath its crown. A stream flows by that tree and on its bank; a boy is fishing with a homemade rod. The horse slows as it nears the stream. Neither he nor his rider can go any farther. The man swings an aged leg over the horse and steps down. He looks at the boy, and the boy looks at him. For the moment they say nothing. The boy is scared of that weather beaten face and, more importantly, the two six-guns slung low on his hips. They catch the early morning light and shine fiercely. They are the only things about his appearance that have managed to defy the passage of time. He decides he will speak if and when he is spoken to.
Now the man is taking care of his horse. He slings the saddlebags off the horse, and follows with the saddle. He tethers it to a low hanging bough and lets the horse drink from the stream. Then he slowly sets himself in the shade of the cottonwood. He rummages through one of the saddlebags and pulls out a leather pouch. It is old but well oiled. He pulls out some loose-leaf tobacco and begins to roll a cigarette. “Are the fish biting?” He says in a quiet voice. The boy is surprised; it is the only thing soft about the stranger.
“No sir,” the boy says. “But I reckon they will soon.”
The old man smiles despite himself. “You could be here all day then.”
“Yessir, I reckon I could”
“I hope you don’t mind the company, I think I might be here all day myself, maybe longer. My horse and I could sure use the rest.”
“You come from very far?”
The man smiles once more. But there is no happiness in that smile. The boy can tell it is not something that he is used to doing, yet he has already caught him at it twice.
“I’ve come a long way, a very long way. And I think I’ve gone far enough.”
“But you can’t just stay here ‘till you die, that might be awhile.”
“I’ll bet you my guns and their holsters that I’m dead where I lie before you catch a fish in that stream.” The boy was very puzzled now. But nothing seemed right about this stranger. He simply chose not to respond to the old man’s wager.
“I bet you saw a lot of great things if you traveled as far as you say you did.”
“Aye, many things. It’s a fine story if you’ve got the time. If you’ll hear it, ye’d be the first. ‘Cause it’s a story I promised I wouldn’t share until my dying day.”