This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 785 words.
As Wichita continued to grow, it wasn’t long before other men arrived who offered to build shops and houses. We now had competition, but daddy weren’t bothered. He had good connections right from the time we had arrived, and the list of jobs outstanding was always more than we could manage. It felt strange to ride into town now, and see a main street had taken shape. The barber, another saloon, and even a ladies’ dress shop. Nobody was yet trying to sell the same goods as Chisholm and Mead, but there was a barrel maker and a second livery stable.
By the end of sixty-seven I was fifteen years old, tall and strong. I rode around on Lizzie doing jobs, and people knew me by name.
The Ryan house was finished early the next year, though not as grand as Mr Ryan’s early plans. Seemed most of his hogs had got sick, and he didn’t have as much money as he had expected. It had a parlour, and a kitchen of sorts at the back. Three other rooms served as bedrooms, and he had daddy make a covered porch out front. Mrs Ryan and Maggie made a kitchen garden for vegetables, which they tended when he was at work doing his clerking.
When I was up that way, Maggie would wave to me as I rode by. But I didn’t stop.
The main thing making the town so prosperous was that the cattlemen used it as a stopover on the drives. The stock would be fed and watered in big pens at the edge of town, and those men would come into the main street looking for fun, whiskey, and women. That meant most of them headed over to Delano, but not all of them. There started to be a fair amount of trouble in town, with the cowboys roistering and cavorting. It got so everyone knew to avoid the place after dark when the drives arrived. The cattle also attracted rustlers, and we heard tell of gunfights around the herds.
Mr Mead was now the big man in town, and I found out that Chisholm had been working for him all along. In fact, he had sent Chisholm off to start up new trading posts with the injuns further west along the old pioneer trail. But we carried on as normal, making a good living, and friendly with most. If anyone asked, daddy carried on with the story that we were from Maryland, and he hadn’t joined up on either side. But he was edgy with all the new arrivals in town, checking the faces of any men to see who might recognise him. There was still a lot of bad feeling after the war, so he came up with a plan. It was right clever, and I have to say it surprised me.
One night, he sat me down and told me, after Henry had gone to sleep.
He had a notion to drive up to Topeka with Henry, and register our claim in his name. Then he would get a lawyer up there to write that Henry owned the property, but I would be his next of kin. That way, when Henry died, it would transfer to me, and still be in our family. He was sure that Henry would agree, as he wouldn’t understand it anyway, and would do anything daddy said. Although he was slow in the head, Henry could make his mark, and daddy said I should teach him how to write his name as best as he could.
So I set to that task in the evenings, and also got Henry to tell me as much about his life as he could recall. By the end of the month, daddy had prepared him for the trip to Topeka, making him repeat everything they were going to do there. I was to stay behind and look after things until they got back.
They had only been gone two days, when two riders came to the house at first light. I put the forty-four in the pocket of my coat, and walked out to see what they wanted. They said that Ben the Portugee was hurt bad, and he was down by the riverbank, close to where the rowboats crossed over to Delano. He had told them to ask daddy for help, and money to pay a doctor. I didn’t tell the men that daddy wasn’t home, just said I would sort things. After they left, I saddled up Lizzie, and got some money from the metal container daddy hid under the seat box in the outhouse.
With the pistol still in my coat pocket, I set off for town.