"Did I tell you the story about young John Stokerson, the kid who caught Rusty Dunan, the Sargo County cattle rustler?"
Old Mr. Smith looked at the boy sitting next to him, and offered a piece of candy. Michael thanked Mr. Smith, and took a piece from the bag. Michael looked forward to Mr. Smith coming into town for supplies, because he always had an exciting story.
His father, the store owner, tolerated Michael's idle time, under the condition that Michael would remember the story and use it to entertain his younger sisters after dinner.
"No, I suppose you haven't heard this one," Mr. Smith paused, looking at the dusty main street on the hot July afternoon. "Well. Young John worried his parents - John didn't talk at all until he was four, and even when he did start to talk, it wasn't much. But he could teach animals tricks. Story is that he trained the family chickens to line up outside the chicken coop when they heard a whistle, just like a squad of soldiers.
John taught the cows to push straw out of their stalls when they heard "Sailor's Hornpipe". Imagine the cowbarn, John's younger Sister fiddling like she was at a barn dance, and the cows mooing and shuffling, pushing the straw into the center-walk like a bunch of trained circus-horses."
Old Mr. Smith and his stories were a special event, and word traveled fast. A small crowd of regulars appeared on the step, and even a passing cowboy and his dog took time to sit on the boardwalk and enjoy the story.
"But John's biggest accomplishment was Patches, the family Border Collie. Now granted, Border Collies are born with a third-grade education, and could write letters to their mamas if they had opposable thumbs. But John was no average kid, and Patches was no average dog. Between the two of them, they had a secret language. John could tug on his ear, and Patches would roll over and play dead.
Anyone else in the family could tug on their ear, and Patches would just sit, tilting his head with that puzzled look dogs have. And that was only the start of it. Patches and John spent a lot of time on chores, and that dog could pretty much do anything John could do, short of chopping wood or milking a cow."
Old Mr. Smith pulled out another piece of hard candy, and passed the bag to Michael. Michael was feeling a bit guilty for consuming Mr. Smith's candy, as well as his story, so passed it on to the other members of the rapt audience.
"It was that special language between John and Patches that wound up saving John's bacon, and led to the capture of the Sargo County cattle rustler. In particular, John had taught that smart dog to do chores by number. All John had to do was raise one, two, three or four fingers, and the dog would run to do a job."
"The adventure happened after dinner one night, when a family friend galloped up to the porch, asking if John's Dad and Mom could help with birthing a calf. Just like now, a distressed cow was a pretty big deal. John's Dad and Mom left John in charge of his sister and headed out to the neighbor's ranch."
"What they didn't know was that Rusty Dunan was hiding behind their barn, trying to evade the local sheriff. His last rustle hadn't gone as planned and the Sheriff had captured the rest of his gang. Rusty had managed to get away, but knew he needed a place to hide out, and possibly some hostages if he was going to avoid dangling from the business end of a rope. Rusty watched the commotion at the house, saw John's Dad and Mom ride off with the neighbor, and hatched his plan.
Sneaking up to the porch, he tied his horse, sneaked a look in the window, and burst into the cabin waving his six-shooters."
Old Mr. Smith paused, then loudly hollered "REACH FOR THE SKY!"
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