The Bargirl and the Cowboy

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  • Allot goes on in life, allot doesn't go on in life, I mean you get caught up in life and all the noise of daily living that you forget to enjoy your surroundings. You mean to do things, say things, spend time with others, only to turn around and their gone. The last couple of years our community lost two longtime members, @William T Brooks and @arthurarnell, two outstanding men that had shared their life with us here on the JWMB.

    Both joined us early in our history sharing their thoughts on all kinds of subjects from football (both American and the "real football" for the ROTW),NASA, homemade chili, and end it with John Wayne stories. Both helped, and became our friends even if we never met in person. They both are missed and will aways have an account here on the John Wayne Message Board!

    Back in 2008, Arthur posted his "The Bargirl and the Cowboy - (A Christmas Tale by Arthur Arnell)" which he sent to Tim Lilley to be included in his annual "Trail Beyond" publication and over the course of several days that December he posted sections of the story. You can read the original thread here where he introduces the story. BTW, you can catch a few posts from Chilibill cheering him on sprinkled in the thread along with others.

    I have pulled together the story posts and included them all below for easier reading. I hope you enjoy the read while we wait for another Christmas to arrive.

    (A Christmas Tale by Arthur Arnell)

    The weak desert sun struggled to overcome the dust as it swirled
    relentlessly around the desert chased by the unremitting wind.
    increasing in it's intesity with the passing of every minute. Hitched
    loosly to a tree, a lone horse stood patiently watching as a huddled
    mass lying on the ground and hidden by a blanket began to stir. Slowly
    the cowboy sheltering under the blanket, opened his eyes. Sitting up he
    put his hands to his eyes to shelter them from the dust and in doing so
    he noticed a small lizard scampering past his feet desperately trying to
    seek shelter from the unforgiving dust and raw wind. Standing up the
    cowboy stretched and kicked the long dead embers of his camp fire.
    Rubbing the stubble around his chin and looking around, he took stock of
    his surroundings and reflected on his life to date. it had been three
    days since he had eaten his last meal, his clothes were old, dirty and
    dust covered. His boots old and worn down at the heels. Feeling in his
    pocket he brought out a coin - ten cents - the sum total of his worldly
    goods. He knew that if things didn't change it would be his destiny to
    roam aimlessly from town to town, jobless and friendless until someone
    took pity on him and ended his life. Buckling on his gun belt he took a
    long look at the solitary cartridge sitting in his belt and ruminated
    that perhaps it might better be sooner than later to use his last bullet
    and end his torment. Shrugging aside the thought, he picked up his
    saddle and blanket, saddled his horse, then mounting he pulled his hat
    low to cover his eyes and tying his neckerchief around his mouth, headed
    into the wind.

    It was Christmas Eve.

    As the cowboy rode he felt the wind easing and with it the swirling
    dust. Taking advantage of the brief lull, he reached for his water
    canteen and unscrewing the cap he took a long pull. The water was warm
    and foul and after swallowing some he spat the rest out. he noticed that
    the afternoon was beginning to dim and looking ahead through the dust
    and gloom, in the distance he could just make out the vague shape of a
    building, setting his horse in motion he moved slowly towards it.
    As he got nearer he saw that the building was the first of a series of
    buildings, all ramshackle with missing doors, window shutters hanging
    haphazardly from empty window frames. On the side of the first building
    that he approached the cowboy could see the remains of a sign,
    originally painted in red, but now faded with the paint peeling badly it
    'Welcome to Red Gulch'.
    The cowboy sat momentarily looking at the sign, digging deeply into his
    memory he struggled to recall where he had heard the name before.
    Suddenly it came to him, Red Gulch like many other old western towns,
    had at one time or another, been a prosperous community but like many of
    its counterparts it had fallen on hard times and had subsequently been
    abandoned by its inhabitants and left to the mercy of the wind and the

    As he sat lost in the memory the cowboy became aware of a sound stirring
    faintly above the noise of the wind and recognised the chords of a
    piano. In the distance through the increasingly gathering gloom he also
    thought he saw a faint flickering light coming from one of the
    ramshackle buildings. With little warning as the weak sun gave way to
    the winter night, darkness fell and as it did so the wind began to
    increase in strength blowing clumps of sagebrush through the narrow

    The cowboy resolved to quickly seek shelter from the wind and cold for
    both himself and his horse. His second objective was quickly
    accomplished, finding an old ruined barn the cowboy dismounted and
    dragging open the creaking door led his horse into a stall. Finding some
    bracken hay, he made his mount, a blaze-faced sorrel with three white
    stockings, as comfortable as possible. He now had to think for himself
    and despite the intensity of the storm, the cowboy made for the building
    where he had imagined the light had come from.

    Walking down the main street he discovered that both the light and sound
    had not been a figment of his imagination as he could plainly hear the
    sound of piano music and could equally see the flickering light shining
    through the dirty dust covered windows of the saloon. As he drew near to
    the saloon listening to the echoing tones of the piano, another memory
    flashed briefly before his eyes when he recalled another piano in
    another saloon, in another town and time. Reaching the building the
    cowboy mounted the sidewalk and pushing open the twin swinging doors
    entered the saloon.

    The interior of the saloon was brightly lit by a large chandlier hanging
    from the rafters. In one corner of the room a man dressed entirely in
    black sat and played solitaire at his table. At the piano across the
    room an old man who had swivelled on his stool to reach for a beer as
    the cowboy came through the doors. He peered at the newcomer over his
    spectacles, raised a crooked index figure, and spun around to the piano
    to play a couple of measures of 'Silent Night'.
    To the cowboys right, the bar stretched almost the entire length of the
    room. Behind it a bartender was standing cleaning a glass. In front and
    leaning on the bar stood a woman dressed in a faded low cut dress
    trimmed with a yellowish lace that might have once been white. She wore
    ankle length boots and was heavily made up with face paint and bright
    red lipstick, her auburn hair, which might have once been radiant, was
    dull and lacklustre.
    The cowboy chose a table by the door. He pulled off his heavy coat and
    wearily sat down. Within seconds the girl who was no longer a girl, left
    the bar and sidled over to where he was sitting.
    "Buy a girl a drink cowboy"?
    The cowboy smiled a rueful smile, putting his hand in his pocket he took out the coin.
    "Sure if this buys anything".
    The girl stood up and walked to the bar, speaking quietly to the
    bartender who handed her a bottle and two glasses. Returning with the
    bottle and glasses to where the cowboy sat she said.
    "It's alright mister. Your credits good here".
    Pouring two drinks the girl said,
    "Alright if I sit down?"
    The cowboy waved his hand airily.
    "Do what you want".
    Sitting the girl picked up her drink.
    "What do they call you?" She asked.
    The cowboy thought for a brief moment before replying
    "I'm known by many names in many states", he hesitated for a second before continuing.
    "But most people call me Duke".
    The girl smiled.
    "Nice to meet you Duke. My name is Maureen but most folks call me Mo."
    Duke grunted.
    Mo looked at Duke's gaunt appearance.
    "When was the last time you ate cowboy?"
    "Three days ago".
    Mo stood up and returned to the bar and spoke to the bartender who left
    the room, only to return within a few moments with a large plate of
    rib-eye steak and potatoes which he put down in front of Duke.
    Mo reassured him.
    "Eat your fill Duke, it's on me".
    Duke didn't need to be told twice and soon made short work of the meal.
    Later with his stomach full and after two or three whiskeys, he began to
    open up to Mo telling her that his life consisted of drifting aimlessly
    around the west achieving and doing nothing. Finally he turned to Mo
    and said.

    "Throughout my life I've done nothing worth while. I'm a failure and it
    might have been better if I'd spared my mother the pain that bore me."
    Mo looked at Duke intently.
    "Are you saying that you wished you'd never been born?"
    Duke's anwer came back almost instantly.
    "That's exactly what I'm saying. if I hadn't been born nobody would give a damn or even know the difference.
    For a brief moment Mo's eyes flashed in anger, and she showed her annoyance with her reply.
    "Just listen to me cowboy, everyone makes a difference even you, and tonight I am going to show you just how important you are".
    Duke looked at Mo.
    "That'll be the day".

    Mo stood up and held out her hand.
    Take hold of my hand Duke and close your eyes.
    Duke stood up and did as he was told, within a short moment he was told
    to open his eyes and when he did the first thing that he saw in front of
    him was Mo, only now she was Maureen, a vision of loveliness
    resplendant in a bright green dress lined with brilliant white silk
    lace, her earlier faded green and yellowish lace dress a bad memory. Her
    face had also lost the heavy make up and garish red lipstick, her
    auburn hair so dull before, now shone brightly. Almost lost for words
    Duke could only say.
    "But .. you're beautiful.
    Maureen smiled, then said
    "Do you know where you are?"
    Duke looked around him, he was back in the desert, but it was not the
    desert he had recently rode through, this was a long remembered desert.
    In the foreground he could see a lone wagon around a ruined waterhole.
    Duke turned to Maureen.
    "I've been here before".
    "A long time ago Duke".

    In the distance three men approached. Holding his Stetson to shield his
    eyes from the suns glare, Duke suddenly recognised the men.
    "Why " Duke hesitated unable to believe his eyes.
    "That's the Abilene kid and Pete"
    Duke hesitated before continuing, he turned to Maureen and said
    "And that's me".
    "If you remember you had just robbed the Welcome bank and were trying to
    get away from the posse. You and your companions came upon this wagon
    and found a dying woman. You promised her that you would take her baby
    to safety".
    Duke looked at the scene quietly remembering the incident.
    "It was her dying wish", he said.
    "What else could we do?"
    "That baby was adopted by Marshal Sweet, he grew up to be a fine young
    man who took on his fathers profession. He became a town marshal and
    made the town a better place to live in".
    Maureen turned to Duke.
    "If you and your friends hadn't been at that place and that time that baby would have died".
    Taking Duke's hand she said
    "Let's return to the present".
    Back in the saloon Duke found that Maureen had returned to Mo and had
    taken on her former dowdy appearance. Turning to Duke Mo said,
    "Do you now accept that your being there made a difference?"
    Duke scowled.
    "All right, just this once I might have helped, but for all my good deeds I still ended up in Yuma prison".
    "Because you robbed the Welcome bank, not because you saved the life of a new born baby".
    Duke shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. Mo stood directly in front of him.
    "You're still not convinced yet are you?"
    Duke remained quiet for a few moments before replying.
    Mo reached out and taking Duke's hand said quietly
    "Close your eyes".
    Duke did as he was bid, when he opened them again he found himself
    standing in the street. Looking at Mo he noticed that she had again
    become the beautiful woman of his last vision. Duke looked down the
    "Where are we? This isn't Red Gulch".
    Maureen shook her head.
    "No this is Shinbone".

    Duke was about to comment when a noise stopped him. Out of the saloon
    staggered a drunken cowboy. He held a six gun in his right hand, a short
    whip in the other. He leaned against a wooden post. Staring down the
    street he laughed and shouted a command.
    "Get out of that shadow Dude!"
    Duke froze.
    "It's Liberty Valence" he said quietly.
    Maureen motioned him to be quiet.
    "Just watch", Maureen said as she raised a finger to her lips.
    Duke stood transfixed as a young man wearing an apron and carrying a
    small revolver walked resolutely from the dark. Like a cat playing with a
    mouse, the drunken lout fired shots in the direction of his adversary.
    One shot struck the young man's right arm, and the revolver dropped into
    the street. Liberty laughed again.
    "You got two hands Hashslinger. Pick it up".
    The man in the apron retrieved the gun with his left hand and moved a step closer.
    "All right Dude", Valance announced.
    "This time right between the eyes".
    Both guns fired at the same time, but Liberty's shot was dead on. His
    challenger crumpled in the street. Immediately a young women let out a
    piercing screen and rushed to the figure now lying pone in the street.
    Duke turned to Maureen.
    "But that didn't happen".
    Maureen turned to him.
    "You have just watched it happen".
    Duke blustered.
    "But it didn't! Sure the pilgrim went out to face Valence but before
    Liberty could fire a fatal shot I plugged him from the alley. I'm the
    man who shot Liberty Valance. The pilgrim is Rance Stoddard. He went on
    to sit in the State Legislature and then the senate, he made this
    territory a state. He he married Hallie ...."
    His voice caught in his throat as the memories flooded over him.
    Maureen turned to Duke.
    "But you told me you wished that you had never been born".
    Seeing the bemused look in the cowboys eyes, Maureen continued.
    "Don't you see. You couldn't have shot Liberty Valance and saved Rance Stoddard if you hadn't been born".
    She paused before continuing.
    "Rance was no match for Valance with a gun. In your absence Ranom
    Stoddard was killed that night. He never went on to sit in the
    legislature, he never became a Congressman. The cowmen made sure that
    the territory never became a state and Shinbone went on to become a
    haven for outlaws like Liberty Valance".
    Duke looked a the woman now weeping in the street over the dead man.
    "And Hallie. What happened to her?"
    "She never got over the death of Rance, she never married and when the
    Petersons died she took over their place. She died a bitter twisted
    woman grown old before her time".
    Slowly a look of realization flickered in Duke'e eyes. The street had become eerily quiet.
    Maureen turned once more to Duke.
    "You have a brother" she asked.

    "I had a brother Aaron. He was killed in a Comanche raid just after the war".
    "And your niece?"
    Duke thought for a moment, a fond realisation coming to him"
    "Yes Debbie their daughter who was carried off by the Indian chief Scar".
    Maureen looked at Duke.
    "What happend to her?"
    Duke thought before replying.
    "Me and Martin Pawley went to find her and bring her back".
    "You searched for five years, travelling all over the west and enduring
    many hardships before you found your niece and returned her to her
    Duke turned to Maureen and said quietly.
    "It was worth it".
    Maureen smiled.
    "Whatever became of Debbie?"
    Duke shook his head.
    "Thats when I began drifting around, I kinda lost touch, never did find out what happened to her".
    Maureen again reached for Duke's hand. Speaking softly she said,
    "Close your eyes Duke, we have one last visit to make before this night is through.

    The sight that met Duke's gaze when he opened his eyes left him
    speechless. They were in the middle of what seemed to be a miltary
    encampment full of young men dressed in uniforms of a colour and style
    that he had never seen before. Though he could see no orchestra, lively
    music that bore a south of the border flavour played in the compound. In
    between the two large tents in front of them stood an older man
    carrying three stripes on his arm, confronted a younger soldier carrying
    a rifle equipped with a large bayonet.
    "En garde!" barked the older soldier as the confused youngster raised his weapon in a defensive stance.
    "Play that thing again" he ordered.
    As the same tune repeated the two men appeared to be dancing to the
    rhythm with the older soldier shouting out orders above the music as the
    bewildered youngster tried to follow.
    "Shift your weight! Left, left!" He yelled.
    "You'll get the knack of it. Practise about half an hour each day".
    Duke watched the scene with interest, enjoying the lesson in footwork being taught by the older more experienced soldier.
    "He reminds me of me", the cowboy said in admiration.
    Maureen smiled.
    "When you rescued Debbie, she was little more than a child like these
    young recruits you see. She grew up to become a beautiful woman and fell
    in love with a storekeeper named Alfred Styker".
    Dukes brow wrinkled in bewilderment.
    Maureen continued.
    Over the next few years Debbie and Alfred were blessed with three sons,
    the youngest of which came along just as Debbie was sure her child
    bearing days were over. This child was John, a son who left the family
    business to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. He is the serjeant
    we have been watching".
    Maureen waved her arm toward the men.
    "I have brought you forward in time into a new century. It is 1942. Our
    country is engaged in a war which involves the whole world. This platoon
    of recruits is training to fight the Japenese on a remote island in the
    Pacific Ocean called Iwo Jima.

    Maureen continued.
    "If these men are led by your great nephew they will survive the bloody assault with very few casualties."
    "What do you mean if the men are led by John?"
    Duke pointed to the serjeant still engaged in the private lessons in footwork.
    "He's there in front of my eyes I can see him....Look".
    Maureen clicked her fingers. Instantly Stryker disappeared. The young
    recruits stood to attention as they were berated by another serjeant.
    "Consider this", said Maureen.
    "Aaron Edwards never had a brother, he was an only child. When the
    Comanches raided his ranch and took Debbie and Lucy everybody assumed
    that they had both been killed by the Indians. No one attempted to find
    her, in fact she was never heard of again. She never met Alfred Stryker,
    they had no sons. John Stryker was never born and couldn't train this
    platoon and as a result....."
    Maureen hesitated before continuing.
    "....Every man in that platoon will be killed in the attack on Iwo Jima".

    Duke looked at his companion and spoke with a quiet conviction.
    "Spirit, for I now know that is what you are, the event as you have described it won't happen, will it?"
    Maureens reply was instant.
    "I came to show you what would have happened if you hadn't been born.
    But you were born. You are the man who shot Liberty Valance, in saving
    Ransom Stoddards life you made it possible for him to pursue his
    political career and marry Hallie. Later when you rescued Debbie you set
    in motion a train of events that once started could not be stopped.
    Your life did make a difference in the lives of so many even long after
    your death. Thanks to you serjeant Stryker will keep so many of his
    young platoon alive on the sands of Iwo Jima. And now do you see?"
    After a reflective pause the cowboy said.
    "I guess I did make a difference after all".
    "It's time to say goodbye", said Maureen as she reached for his hand.
    "My work here is done. Close your eyes, it's almost daylight, we need to go home".
    When Duke opened his eyes he was standing alone in the saloon, the
    bartender, the piano player and the man playing solitaire had
    disappeared as had Maureen. Moving about through layers of dust that
    gave no evidence of recent visitors, he wondered if it had all been a
    dream until his eyes were drawn to a shining object on the bar. Picking
    it up he found it was a brand new ten-dollar gold piece.
    He smiled to himself placed the coin in his pocket and stepped into the
    sunlight. It was Christmas Day. the biting wind had stopped. His
    purposful stride showed a new confidence as he walked to the barn. He
    saddled his horse and monted ready to resume his travels. He eased the
    sorrel into a trot.

    Perhaps the new year might nor be so bad after all.

    The End
    Kevin - Moderator/Administrator
    Official JWMB online store

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