Sherman, Texas, 1918


            The white haired old man limped back from the barn. His leg had been paining him more than

usual lately. The arrival of the cooler fall nights always made it worse, but it had never been this bad

before. He shuffled up the steps and sat down heavily in his favorite chair and loaded his pipe and

tamped and stoked it. When he had a good draw going, he leaned back out of the fragrant smoke and

stretched his bum leg out in front of him. He had sat in this chair almost every evening of his life for the

past twenty years gazing out on his pastures gleaming green and gold. He could see the new colts

frolicking in the distance, their proud and vigilant mothers silhouetted against the golden rays of the

setting sun. This was by far his favorite time of day, when everything stands perfectly still, suspended

between past and future in a timeless calm as if Mother Nature were pausing to say a little prayer and

take a deep breath before continuing - a contemplative hour of peace when thought links hands with

feeling. He was just about to slide down deeper into his own daydreams when he saw way off in the

distance the dust of an approaching car.

               " Damn, “ He muttered, “now who the hell could that be? Somebody’s comin’, Nola. “ 

His wife appeared at the screen door. She was still an attractive woman with a slim body and

tight flesh despite her sixty-five years. She fussed with her thick white hair pinned up into snowy billows

atop her head. “ It better be family, this close to suppertime, “ she said.

             “ If it’s another salesman ignorin’ my signs, I swear I’ll get the shotgun out. “

             They had a while to discuss the approaching vehicle because it could be seen from miles away.

The road was deliberately kept in horseback condition so the car was creeping along. Automobiles were

still a novelty to the Bradford’s. Though they owned a Model “T” truck, they rarely used it except to haul

hay or on monthly trips to town for supplies and then they drove it at wagon speed. Twenty minutes

later the car turned into the shade of the huge weeping willows that lined the main driveway.

            The old man put on his spectacles and squinted. “ It looks like a city slicker of some

sort. Get my gun, Mama. “

           “ Now just hold your horses, “ she said. “ We have plenty of relatives who’re city slickers. “

             He refilled his pipe, tamped it sloppily, and lit it and pulled hard on it. It went out

and he tossed it in the ashtray beside the chair. When the car came to a stop fifty yards away across

the green expanse of lawn, the old man stood and puffed out his chest defiantly.

             A young man got out of the car and waved. He slammed the door and the door swung back

open and he slammed it again. He sauntered up the walkway between the rows of flowers with a spring

in his step that the old man envied. When he was fifteen feet away he removed his hat and a mop of

thick blonde hair exploded into view. “Howdy, “ he said with a guileless smile. “ Is this the Bradford

residence, sir? “

            “ Maybe, “ the old man said, “ who wants to know? “

            The young man placed one foot up on the bottom step and the old man looked down at it like it

was a rattlesnake. The fellow put both feet back on the ground and said, “ My name’s Ben Light. Luke

Light was my grandfather. “

            The old man’s mouth dropped open. “ Well I’ll be damned. You know, you kinda favor Luke a

little. “ The old man limped down the stairs with his hand extended “ Bill Bradford, “ he said.

             They shook hands and the boy turned to the woman. “ And you must be Nola. “

            “ None other, “ she said with a bright smile. “ My, you do look like Luke. It’s almost…

spooky, the resemblance. “

             “ And you’re as beautiful as Grandaddy described, ma’am. “

             Nola waved away the compliment with an appreciative smile and blushed and poked at her hair.

            Bill chuckled. “ Looks like you inherited more from Luke than just your looks. “

            Ben laughed. “ I was really close to Granddaddy…’specially toward the end. “

            Bill’s lips tightened and he sighed. “ Wish I coulda been there. It happened so sudden, though, 

you know…”

            Nola changed the subject. “ Well, I was just makin’ supper, and there’s plenty for everybody, so

you men just sit down and palaver while I go finish up. How ‘bout some ice tea, Ben? “

            “ Yes ma’am. That would be great, thank you. “

            Bill sat down in his chair and motioned to one of the other chairs. “ Pull up one of

those chairs a little closer, Ben. My hearing’s not what it used to be. “

            Ben screeched a heavy, iron lawn chair across the porch and sat down. He hung

his hat on the chair arm and said, “ beautiful place you got, Mister Bradford. “

            “ Thanks. It’s gettin’ to be a little more than I can handle, but I wouldn’t give it up for

anything. And just call me Bill, ok? “

            The boy smiled and looked down at his hands, then looked up and said, “ Granddaddy always

called you Weed. “

             Bill chuckled and sniffed. “ Well, that was a long time ago, when I was a rollin’ tumbleweed.

Nobody calls me that now. Hardly even Nola. “

            “ Granddaddy always spoke the name with respect…reverence almost. Mind if I call you Weed, sir? “

             Bill considered this for a few seconds and said, “ Naw. I guess not. That would be fine, son. “

He stoked his pipe again and fired it up and then said with a distant cast to his eye, “ Luke was one of a

kind. Like a father and brother and best friend all rolled up into one. Best friend a man could ever hope

for. I could tell you stories that…well, you wouldn’t believe. “

            “ I know, “ Ben said. “ In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. “

            Bill tamped his pipe and lit it again, exhaled a wreathe of blue smoke and said, “ To

Listen to me tell unbelievable stories? I don’t talk about the past much, anymore. I know too many old

fools who live in the past to the detriment of the present. Quickest way I know of to dig an early grave. “

            “ Well, there’s one story I am particularly interested in. “

            “ Really. And what might that be? “

             Ben’s visage grew serious, his eyes inquisitive. “ Duncan Canyon, sir. “

            Bill grew silent and stared at the floor for the longest time. He picked the pipe up and fiddled

with it and then dropped it back in the ashtray with a clink and looked over at the young man. “ Your

Grandaddy told you about that? “

             “ Yes, sir. Just before he died. “

             Bill stared vacantly at the sky for moment then looked over at the young man and said,

“ Well, I don’t rightly know what to say. You see, Ben, we all vowed never to tell a soul. I’m surprised

Luke broke his promise. Not that I really give a shit. Don't matter much now. “

             " Technically, he kept his promise, “ Ben said. “ I was at his bedside one night when he was 

raging with fever from pneumonia. He was delirious and he blurted out bits and pieces of the story. I

thought it was just wild hallucinations until I dug into the history books and checked out a few of the

details. It seems there once was a place called Duncan Canyon and then suddenly there wasn’t. It was

like it disappeared from the pages of time. I even found a map and went there and talked to the old

timers but there was nothing left but a jumble of rock and a few old Indian myths. He said some things

that…well, it’s been a mystery that I can’t get off my mind. It’s been ten years since Granddaddy died

and I still can’t shake it. I was wondering if you could help me clear all this up a little. “

             Bill expelled another long-winded sigh and shook his head. “ Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt

anything after all these years. Nola and I are the only ones still living that made that promise, so it won’t

reflect on anyone but us and we don’t give a damn what people think anyway. Never did. “

             Ben smiled. “ I sure would appreciate it, sir. It would help me to better understand some

things about Granddaddy, too. “

             Bill nodded thoughtfully. “ All right, I’ll tell you the story. On two conditions. “ He leaned

forward and looked the young man squarely in the eye. “ You promise not to interrupt me with a lot of

fool questions and to never repeat it to another livin’ soul. “

             Ben thought it over for a moment. “ Not even my own son? “

             “ Nobody. I got my friends’ reputations to protect. I don’t want anybody thinkin’ they were

crazy. That’s the way everybody wanted it and far be it from me to go against their wishes, especially

since they’ve all passed on. I never even told my own sons. Frankly, the only reason I’m gonna relate it

to you is ‘cause Luke let the cat out of the bag accidentally. “

            “ All right, Weed. It’s a deal. “ Ben smiled and offered his hand and they shook on it.

            Nola opened the screen door and placed a tray containing two tall, frosty glasses of iced tea, a

few slices of lemon and a bowl of sugar.

             Bill stirred some lemon and sugar into his tea, leaned back in the chair, stared out at the amber

clouds accumulating around the setting sun and began his narration.

            “ William Butler Bradford was quite a fancy name for such a footloose, drifter. Folks

knew me as Tumbleweed, or just plain Weed. What I owned was on my body (of which I considered my

hoss an extension), or on my mind. I had a six-shooter, a Colt's 45 to be exact, a Winchester rifle, a

large skinnin’ knife sharp enough to shave with, two dollars in coin and one change o’ clothes. I owned

the hoss but he didn’t have much respect for a bill o’ sale. My boots were down at heel and I had on a

blood splattered shirt and a battered, sweat-stained hat that sported two fresh bullet holes. The fact that

the bullets that caused those holes missed my head made me feel extremely fortunate despite my financial

poverty, ‘cause I was still breathin’ and wearin’ my own hair - two attributes I considered essential to

comfort and well bein’. “