Jake gave the slab-board cabin’s door a solid bump with his muscular shoulder. Shoving it open he fanned the escaping dust and stepped inside. “Why, look at that Will. We got something to read.” The walls were covered with old newspapers, placed there to seal the cracks between the splintery boards and to provide a little insulation.
Will dropped his saddle on the porch. “Let’s get some windows open and air this place out. It ain’t much but it’ll do. I’ve wintered in worse places.”
It was six weeks of up before daylight, back after dark, grab a bite and hit the sack routine before an early snow storm sealed them inside the shack for the day. They had moved the cattle down from the high meadows to the valley and were ready for a break. Will offered to try his hand at making an apple pie and began digging through the sack for the red orbs.
A wind gust rattled a window pane sending an icy breath shivering down Jake’s collar. Tearing a piece-of-rag from an old flour sack he stuffed it into the offending gap in the window sill. “Will, I wonder who papered these walls? These are some really old newspapers here.”
“As ancient as this shack is, I don’t doubt it. This ranch was here before we wuz born and lots of hands have worked out of here.”
A drawing of a wooden box with funny pockets captured Jake’s attention. “Look – here’s a store that’ll sell you an incubator for fifty chicken eggs and ship it to you for fifty cents.”
“I ain’t messing with no chickens but I’d sure like a big bait of fried eggs to go with that slab of bacon we’re whittling on.”
“Looks like them newspapers got a little of everything in them. Here’s something about the Oklahoma land rush – about Oklahoma becoming a state. I guess that was big news at the time.” Jake moved around the corner by the bunks reading while Will was stirring pie ingredients together.
“Here’s the first prayer in Congress, from Thurber’s Military Journal December 1777. That preacher said some words I have no idea what they mean. He overshot my fourth grade education by a whole bunch.”
“That don’t surprise me, none” Will said, chuckling. “But then, I only got through the third grade.”
“This here wall is covered up with obituaries. Some of ‘em are kinda funny. Some are really sad, like this here baby that died. Our Little Angel is how it’s headed up.”
“Jake, if there ain’t no jokes you can read me, why don’t you fetch some fire wood. We’ll need it sooner or later.”
“If there’s a joke here I haven’t found it.” Jake picked up his mackinaw and shrugged into it, still moving down the wall reading. “Listen to this” he said.
“’Gather up my influence and bury it with me’ were the dying words of a young man to the weeping friends at his bedside. What a wish was this. What deep anguish of heart there must have been as the young man reflected over his past life! A life which had not been what it should have been. With what deep regrets must his very soul have been filled as he thought of the young men whom he had influenced for evil; influences which he felt must be eradicated, and which led him, faintly but pleadingly, to breath out such a dying request.
“What about that Will? Sounds like someone I once knew.”
“Could be. But there ain’t nothing for us to influence out here except mule-headed longhorns. I don’t see no murder happening unless you steal more ‘un your share of this here pie that’s about to come out of the oven We’re out of sparkle water. I think we’re doing alright. What do you think?”
“Nuthing out here to get us off the straight-and-narrow. If we read all these papers, why, we might get real educated.”
“When spring comes and we get paid we need to think about changing our ways. Or, we oughta see if we can get on that newspaper reporter’s good side this year. You ain’t seen a clipping about us on the wall, have yuh? When we hoorawed the town last year, I heard we made front page.”
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