A Moment in The Old West

I'm in a small western town. I think it's the middle of the nineteenth century, as everything has a wild west/pioneering feel to it. The nameless town is centralized around a small park and town square . All of the buildings are two storeys or less, with clapboard sides and painted a variety of colors.

I'm walking near the outskits of town, when a stranger comes riding. He's alone, with only his horse and a small pack. He's young - in his early thirties at most - and quite handsome with shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes and a guarded smile. Naturally my curiosity is piqued.

He asks if I live here - as if there is another township within a hundred miles - and if I know the residents very well. I answer in the affirmative on both counts. He tells me that he is a debt collector performing his rounds and would I be so kind as to act as a guide? Of course, I agree. I'm damned if I'm letting this handsome stranger out of my sight just yet.

As we walk into town, I'm a little worried that this man may be more of a loan-shark than simple debt collector, as his bearing is slightly ominous Lone riders really aren't all that common, despote persistent myths of the period.

I walk him around the town square, taking him to two private houses. Both times, he was received as an expected visitor. His host would willingly pay what was owed and the collector would go on his way It all seems very civilized, much to my relief.

Now, the collector asks me to take him to the general store. I'm a little surprised to hear that the storekeeper - who is usually the most prosperous man in town - is in debt, but it's none of my business.

The general store is a cozy place, crammed with dry goods and smelling of baking bread. There are two women behind the counter, which is piled with bolts of fabric and canvas, and I recognize them as the store owner's wife and his sister. I'm rather surprised that the storeman is nowhere in sight.

The collector introduces himself courteously and asks after the store owner - Daly, I think his name was. The women frown, Daly's wife in particular and tell the collector that Daly can be found at the saloon across the bar. It's still early in the morning, and I'm a little shocked to hear this.

Mrs. Daly asks after the collector's business and he calmly tells her that he's here to collect the forty dollars he's owned. Mrs. Daly's sister-in-law sighs deeply upon hearing this and wishes the stranger luck in collecting. It seems that Mr. Daly just took twenty dollars out of his wife's housekeeping money, and has been drinking at the saloon at breakfast. Then, I remember that Mr. Daly had a problem with booze, but he had supposedly licked it a few years back. For some reason, he's backslid, and I wonder if the imminent arrival of the debt-collector has anything to do with it.

I agree to show the stranger to the saloon, but explain that I won't be going in there with him. A saloon, no matter how early the hour, is no place for a young woman.




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