What's In a Name?
It was a dark and stormy night….
Nah, the night was warm and beautiful, with a full moon hanging over the distant hills and stars so close a man might get to thinking he could reach out and touch one.
Pete Nolan sat at the campfire swapping stories with the drovers. Actually, he was doing very little of the swapping, preferring to just sit and listen to the tall tales, white lies and out and out whoppers. It was his considered opinion that Jim Quince was by far the biggest prevaricator, with Clay Forrester running a close second. Rowdy Yates' stories, mostly about women, young ladies, saloon 'entertainers' and matrons, if coming from anyone else would be labeled, if not bald-faced lies, then at least totally improbable due to sheer numbers alone, but coming from the handsome, aw shucks, dyed-in-the-wool ladies' man, such tales just had to be the truth! Since Pete Nolan had actually seen many of the heroines of Yates' yarns, as Rowdy's stories came to be called, he stepped right in to clear up any lingering doubts. What he got for his troubles was a good pelting with chunks of Wishbone's leftover dinner biscuits, biscuits the men had been dunking into their coffee to render them chewable. Pre-dunked, the biscuits remained hard as rocks and when thrown with enthusiasm and great accuracy, raised welts the size of dimes, leaving Nolan muttering to himself about sticking his nose in where it wasn't appreciated.
Sullen, nursing his injuries while picking errant hunks of petrified bread from the oddest places, Pete kept quiet and to himself; listening, head in hand, as the subjects of the drovers' conversation fluctuated wildly. Staring into the fire, Nolan dozed off a time or two until he heard his name mentioned.
"Hey, Pete, what's your real name, huh?" Toothless asked.
Perhaps it was because Nolan had been awakened suddenly that the question seemed a rather stupid one. "Why, it's Pete Nolan. It ain't like I've had reason to change it in the last five minutes!"
Toothless shook his head, exasperated. "I know your name's Pete Nolan, but what's your whole name? Like, is it Peter Nolan, or do you have a middle name, that sort a thing! Geesh!"
Pete was skeptical this line of questioning was on the up and up. "Toothless, you tell me yours and I'll tell you mine!"
The dentally challenged drover grinned, looking like a pudgy Jack-o- Lantern in the flickering orange of the campfire's light. "Toothless is my, my nickname," he said. That pronouncement elicited loud guffaws from the others.
"Tell us somethin' we don't know!" Joe Scarlet said.
The men's laughter put a slight damper on Toothless' previously jovial mood, his grin replaced by a frown.
Scarlet jabbed him good-naturedly in the ribs. "I didn't mean nothin' by what I said, Toothless! You go on now and tell us your Christian name."
Pacified by Joe's apology, Toothless made his confession. "My real name's Thomas Bradley Jackson!"
Jim Quince nodded through the perpetual haze of cigarette smoke which hung about his head like a blue halo. "That's a passable fine name, Thomas Bradley Jackson, a fine name. I think from now on I'll call you Bradley. What 'cha think, huh?" He drew deeply on the quirly which dangled from his lip, the red glow a tiny beacon in the tobacco fog.
"Nah," Toothless replied, "that's too much name for the likes a me. And besides, I ain't been called by my given name in so long, I probably wouldn't know who you was talkin' to and wouldn't even answer, no how!"
Thomas Bradley Jackson turned to Nolan. "Okay, Pete, I told, so now it's your turn."
All eyes focused on the scout and he figured he'd better get on with it. "Name's Peter Ignatius Nolan and before anybody thinks to make fun of the Ignatius," Pete rose slowly to his feet, his right hand lightly patting the gun on his hip, his dark eyes narrowed to mere slits, "I'd think twice," he growled.
A chorus of "No, that's a fine name, a right perfect name, suits you to a t," led Pete to a smile. He sat back down, "Next?"
From a lurker in the shadows near the supply wagon issued a delighted laugh. "Why Mr. Nolan, did you know your initials spell pin? P, I, N, pin!"
Pete sighed. "Yeah, Mushy, I know. I think my pa had a mean streak in him, 'cause all us kids' names spelled out somethin'. I got lucky, mine only spelled pin. My sister Sophie's middle name is Irene so…"
"Sin! Her initials spell out sin!" Mushy hollered, delighted in his acumen. Pete figured the boy must've had a pencil and paper back there to be so quick in figuring things out. Either that or he was a whole lot smarter than folks gave him credit for being!
Pete waited for the men to stop laughing so he could finish. "My other sister didn't have it no better. Her first name's Glenda and her middle name's Isabel…"
Nolan paused to give Mushy his chance; the boy did not disappoint. From out of the darkness boomed an enthusiastic, "Gin!"
When the drovers realized Pete either had no more siblings or at least no more siblings whose initials were laughable, attention focused on some other hapless victim – Gil Favor's second-in-command, Rowdy Yates. Now there seemed to be a fifty-fifty split on those who believed Rowdy to be Yates' given name and those who didn't, and Jim Quince was quick to take bets on the outcome. Pete was one of the non-believers, betting a hefty six bits.
Flustered and unhappy to be singled out as the next victim of the bored drovers' latest pastime, especially since he wasn't allowed to bet on himself one way or the other, Rowdy wasted no time in giving his answer.
"Rowdy's a nickname. My Christian name is the same as my father's, but if any man calls me anything but Rowdy, I'll take him out in the brush and beat the livin' daylights outta him!" Since the statement was accompanied by a black scowl and a pair of clenched fists, there were many nods of agreement. Rowdy waited until every head nodded before taking the next step. "My name's Daniel Owen Patrick Yates… Junior."
Pete quickly took the first letter from each of Rowdy's names and the result was not good. Before he could caution the astute Mushy Mushgrove on the inadvisability of blurting out that word, it was already too late. That kid's sure fast, I'll give him that, Nolan thought. Fast, but not real bright!
"D, O, P, Y! Your name spells out dopy, Mr. Yates! That's better even than Mr. Nolan's sisters!" Mushy's laugh, unfortunately, was highly contagious and the entire camp rocked with the sounds of unrestrained merriment…it didn't last long.
The ensuing free-for-all took an hour to break up, the fight ending when Wishbone threatened to quit on the spot. "You better be told there ain't no way no how I'm gonna fix up twenty broken down, broken up drovers and cook, too! That just ain't gonna happen!"
It took Wishbone and Pete Nolan two hours to locate the cook's louse who had taken to the hills with the enraged Rowdy Yates hot on his trail, breathing fire and spitting nails. Luckily, Wish and Pete managed to locate Mushy before Rowdy, thus averting, if not murder, at least the worst kind of mayhem and all this before the Boss returned from his overnight trip to town.
Gil Favor stepped down from the saddle, handing his reins off to Hey Soos. He was not a happy Boss. Every man in line for breakfast felt Favor's hard, unrelenting gaze upon him. Pete Nolan, for one, felt his appetite shrivel up and die on the spot as he became the object of the Boss's attention. Giving up his place in line, Pete stepped aside, deposited his plate and silverware in the washtub and went to meet his fate. After all, after Rowdy, he was boss in Mr. Favor's absence. And he was older, more mature…wasn't he?
"I take the blame for all this," Pete said, waving expansively at the scattered remnants of a once well-kept, tidy, camp. Nolan's wave included what was left of Mr. Favor's drovers. Not a man had escaped the evening's altercation unmarked, aside from those lucky few on night hawk.
"It wasn't a fight exactly, Boss…it was more like a disagreement that got outta hand is all." Even as the words passed his lips, Pete thought how stupid they sounded.
Gil Favor scowled down at his scout from his intimidating height. Nolan stood up straight, squared his shoulders, swallowed hard once and put things right. "That ain't so. It was a fight and a doozy. I tried to stop it and did, me and Wish, but it took some time and we, well, we got in a few good licks ourselves…."
Favor indicated the dark bruise along Pete's jaw, "And took some," he said.
Nolan gingerly touched the swollen bruise and smiled at the memory. It had been a good fight, after all. Coming quickly to his senses, Pete lost the grin. There wasn't anything funny in losing control of a situation. But if he was expecting a reprimand, it didn't materialize.
Gil sighed, a deep sigh from somewhere way inside. For a moment, Pete thought he noticed a wistful expression flit across the Boss's face, but it disappeared before he could be sure.
"Anyone badly hurt?" Favor asked, his usual, boss-like expression firmly in place.
"Not bad enough to miss any work, Boss," Pete replied honestly. "Clay got a finger broke on his ropin' hand, but since he's a lousy roper anyhow…"
Nolan shrugged and Favor tried not to let a slow grin work its way to his lips.
"Point taken. No one was hurt badly enough for it to affect his work. I get it, Pete."
Favor picked up a plate and some utensils and got into the chow line. Pete did likewise. From the corner of his eye he noticed Rowdy sitting down to breakfast with none other than his nemesis of the night before, Mushy. There appeared to be no hard feelings on either side as Mushy talked and Rowdy listened, grinning once before jabbing a fork into a thick hunk of nicely browned potato.
Favor had one last question for his scout before tucking in to a breakfast of truly monumental proportions. "Pete, what exactly started this fight, anyway?" he asked.
Pete pondered that question a moment. "Name callin', Boss. Just started out with name callin' is all. Somebody ever asks me what's in a name again and I'll tell him – trouble."