A Traditional Western
Santa Fe was still and hot in the afternoon sun. Summer had come early again. The stage lumbered into the town square and pulled up in front of an old adobe building. The trees that lined the plaza offered their shade as a cool refuge.
The sheriff was standing there waiting. I had come too far to let him stop me. The trouble was he had me dead to rights I had one chance and it was a slim one. It had been a long time.
I climbed down and reached back to help the young lady who had been traveling with me from El Paso. She went up onto the boardwalk to meet her family. The sheriff stared hard at me. I stepped up on the wooden sidewalk and walked right up to him. I might as well find out if my gamble would pay off right away.
“Can I help you with something sheriff”
“I’m looking for the Yuma Kid. He’s supposed to be on this stage. Have you seen him?”
“ Well I am the only man on this one and you can see I ain’t exactly no kid.”
He eyed me up and down real good. I guess me being almost fifty years old kind of threw him a bit. Standing there in a dusty suit, I hardly looked the part of a kid gun fighter. I think I rather looked more like a banker or perhaps a lawyer. I had changed with the years but how much?
He held up an old flier with WANTED written across the top of it. The drawing of the Yuma Kid was not the best I had seen. The reward was for 500 dollars and the charge was murder.
“You see this man get on the stage?”
“No. It has been just the young lady and me since El Paso. You can check with the driver if you like.”
My luck held. The sheriff did just that. He walked around to the side of the stage and talked with the driver for some time. I retrieved my tired old suitcase and walked across the plaza to the hotel.
Santa Fe had changed little in the twenty-five years I had been gone.The same adobe buildings lined the Plaza. The old mission looked just as weathered. There were a few more houses and possibly a new store or two. Santa Fe seemed to be one of those timeless places that ages slowly and gracefully.
I wasn’t sure why I had come back. I knew there was something there for me. I just did not know what.
That night I sat out on the balcony and watched the town slow down and finally turn in for the night. Sleep did not come easy for me. I kept thinking back to the day I left. It had all happened right there in the plaza.
It was a beautiful spring day. We had come to town that Saturday, as was our custom. We had been on the way to the sutlers store. Lucia had wanted to get some cloth. Her clothes were getting tight and she wanted to make a maternity dress.
“I want to go down to the sutlers and pick out some cloth. If I don’t get a new dress made soon I will have to wear a flower sack.” Lucinda said.
“ That might not be so bad.” I said with a smile.
“ You are a naughty man Joseph Mortimer!” she replied with mock anger and a smile of her own.
She patted her tummy. She was just beginning to show. I never thought she looked better. Some women just seem to glow when they are expecting a baby and she is one of them.
The memory floated through my mind like a warm breeze. How I miss her, my beautiful Lucia. I had met her down in Arizona. I was riding for a rawhide outfit then. I was a top hand but as often as not I was selling my gun as well.
She changed my whole life. She was the one that convinced me that we could make a new start. We moved to Santa Fe and bought a ranch. Things were so good that year. Right up to the end it was heaven on earth. Then it happened. Then the Hughes brothers happened
I had helped her down form the wagon. She stepped up on the porch. Lee Hughes stepped out of the door, half staggering. He almost fell over Lucinda. I was up on the porch in a flash. Hughes grabbed at her.
“Well, well. What do we have here? How about a little kiss? Hugh girlie?”
I hit him. He spun around and landed in the street. His older brother, Jasper, came out as this was happening. He reached for his pistol. He was too slow. Lee saw what Jasper had done and started to draw his pistol. He never made it.
The Hughes boys were the nephews of the sheriff at the time. They pretty much did as they pleased when they came to town. We had heard about them but never actually run into them.
I got her out of town quick. We went home and I had her pack a few things. We had decided that she would stay with her sister until things settled down. In the meantime I would find us a safe place and she would follow. Her sister, Rachel, was a pinched-faced bitter little woman I had never heard her say a kind word about any one.
I went east and south down into Texas. The letter caught up to me in Galveston. My world had ended. Lucia had died in childbirth. Both she and my daughter were gone. Rachel told me of the warrants and of the reward. She told of how they had uncovered my past and warned me not to return.
The years that followed now seemed to blur into one long memory. I had shipped out on the first ship I could find. Then there had been the wars. I had served with the British army in Afghanistan. I moved on to China and joined Francis Townsend Ward’s army. After Soochow was captured in 63 I came back to America. Eventually I owned a business in Charleston. Now I was back and I didn’t know why.
The next morning found me still in my chair on the balcony. Sleep had crept up on me in the night. I got up and changed into my western clothes. I hardly felt my suit would look right on the dusty streets of a western town. I had brought jeans and a few shirts. I even found my old vest fit well enough to wear. The only thing new I wore was a gun belt. In Charleston I had had no need of one but this was still the west. Had anyone looked a bit more closely they would have seen that my pistol was well worn and not new at all.
I rented a horse at the livery stable and rode out of town. I just wanted to take in the desert again. I wanted to smell the mesquite. I wanted to see the Joshua trees reaching for the clouds. I found myself on a hill overlooking the ranch I had started so long ago. I guess I had expected it to be deserted. Instead I could see cattle grazing. There was smoke coming from the chimney and clothes hung on a line. There was a small garden growing to the side of the house. Another family lived there now.
I sat there for a long time before I realized I was happy someone had moved in. I had no right to land I had deserted so long ago. I said a silent prayer that they would be as happy as I was when I lived there and rode back to town.
That night, at supper, the sheriff walked up to my table. It was a busy restaurant full of people. He was not looking very happy.
“Sit down sheriff. Have a cup of coffee”
“ I hear you been out to the Mortimer spread. Why?”
“ I was just out for a ride. By the way, do they still call it that?”
“ Just what do you know about the Mortimers?”
“ I know they had some trouble a long time ago. I know Lucia died in childbirth. That is about it. What ever happened to her husband, Joseph wasn’t it? You know, with a name like that, you can hardly blame him for going by Yuma Kid.”
The sheriff stood so quickly he knocked over the chair he had been sitting in. All eyes were suddenly on him. He realized the scene he was making and leaned in closer to me.
“ I don’t know what you’re up to mister but it’s about time I found out. Lucy is just fine. She and the boy are at home right now. I think you better come with me.”
He stood up and motioned for me to come with him. I followed him down to the old jail. We talked until late into the night. I convinced him I was Joseph’s older brother James. I had come west to see what my brother had been so fascinated with about Santa Fe. I told him what had happened that day as if it came from letters from Joseph. Then I asked him a few things.
It seems Rachel was not only a liar but a conniving old woman as well. My Lucia had indeed died in childbirth but my daughter had lived. Rachel and her husband Fred had moved onto my ranch. They ran it in Lucy’s name and had raised her like their own. Fred had left them when Lucy was twelve. Rachel died when Lucy was nineteen. She married a local man and started a family of her own.
That night lasted forever. A million thoughts raced through my mind. A dozen questions begged to be answered all at the same time. Could it be? What was she like? How had she been raised? What was Rachel like as a mother? What had she told Lucy about me? What would Lucy think of me? All this and so much more ran through my mind all night.
Now in the west a man does not just walk up to a young lady and start talking to her. One especially does not discuss personal things like this without a proper introduction. I sent a rider out to her place with a letter early the next morning. I told her I had information about her family and asked her to meet with me in town. I knew I could not be a part of her life now as her father. Not with that flier still floating around. I was taking a big chance just being there. However I might be able to convince her I was her uncle from back east.
Time does funny things to a man’s mind. That morning it seemed to me that the minutes lasted for at least a week. I had arranged to use a room off the hotel lobby for our meeting. I checked in on it a dozen or more times. I walked for miles on the porch in front of the hotel. I must have been a sight. Here I was a man who had killed nine men in gunfights, fought in two wars, traveled around the world, and I was scared to death of meeting a young lady.
People went on with their daily lives all around me. They did not know what was going on. They had their own lives to live. I walked out onto the porch again. I saw three men ride by but paid them no mind. I was only looking for her.
She pulled up in front of the hotel in her own good time. I was walking through the lobby when I heard her wagon stop. She was outside telling a boy she called Joseph not to go far. I stopped in mid step. Could she have named him for me? My heart stopped when she walked into the room. She was my Lucia all over again Her hair, her eyes, even the way she walked was just like her mother She must have thought me foolish as I just stood there. I finally recovered enough of myself to speak.
“ You are the spitting image of your mother.”
“ Thank you sir. Your note said you have some news of my father.”
“Yes, please come in and sit down. I am sorry. It is just your appearance took me aback. What do you know of your father?”
She told me what Rachel had said about her mother and I. She told her I was a sailor and had been lost at sea. Her mother had invited her to come to the ranch to help with her delivery. After Lucia had died they stayed on and kept the place going for her. I mentally apologized for a great deal of bad thoughts about Rachel. It seems she had wanted Lucy to grow up without a scandal hanging over her.
When I told her what had actually happened she looked relived. She sat and listened to my story. I think she believed me but I could not tell. I never could with her mother either. We talked for about an hour or so. I promised to ride out to the ranch. We walked out onto the porch. That’s when I saw it.
I stopped short. Down the street and in front of the bank was one of the men I had seen earlier. He was standing by the horses with all of the reins in his hands. He had a pistol out and was looking around all over the street. Unless I missed my mark this was the lookout for a bank robbery.
“ Get back inside quick. Send the clerk down to get the sheriff. I think they’re robbing the bank.”
“ But Joe is…”
“I’ll get him. You get back inside”
The sound of gunfire rang out across the plaza. The men were dashing for their mounts. I sprang off the porch and ran to a boy playing near the side of the road. They were charging down towards us. I had to move quickly. I scooped the boy up and tossed him into a horse trough. When I spun around they were less than thirty feet away and closing fast. All of a sudden my pistol was out and firing. Like a dozen times before I was firing as if from reflex. The closest one took a bullet in the center of his chest. The middle one was almost abreast of me when I fired. The slug broke his arm as it entered his side. He died before he hit the ground. I took careful aim at the last one. I was easing the trigger back when I hear a rifle fire behind me. The last man slumped over his horse and fell. Then as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over.
The sheriff walked up beside me. His rifle was in his hands. Joe was sitting there all wet and scared. Lucy was running over to me. I felt weak and my legs didn’t want to hold me up anymore. I sat down hard. I smiled and the deep rich darkness closed in around me.
I awoke in a room I had not been in for twenty-five years. I tried to sit up and pain surged through me. Lucy was there.
“You need to rest. The doctor said you would be all right but only with rest and proper care. You were shot in the back. I think it was when you were saving little Joseph.”
The sheriff walked into the room. My heart sank. I lay there looking at the only photograph I had ever been in. On the wall behind the sheriff hung Lucia’s and I wedding picture. How long would it take him to figure it out?
Joe came running into the room. He stopped by the sheriff. He was looking at me.
“ Is he awake yet? Can I talk to him?”
“You run on in yonder Joe. This man is hurt and needs to rest.”
“ Yes sir. Can I talk to him later pa?”
“ We’ll see. Now scoot.”
When Joe had left the room the sheriff turned back to me.
“ I only know of one man around theses parts that can shoot like that. That is too bad. It looks like you could give this Yuma Kid a run for his money. You will let me know if you see him. Won’t you Joseph?”
“ That kid is dead and gone. I only see a tired old man that wants to come home.”
Lucy leaned over me. She kissed my forehead and hugged me tight. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“ Welcome home Poppa. Welcome home.”