Makepeace

Stephen_Venard2Makepeace is a novel set in the gas-lamp fantasy world of William Prenderghast. It is the story of John Makepeace, the cowboy and marksman, told in his own worlds. I have attempted to write the novel in the sort of vernacular which he might have used; apologies to any American who might think that I am mocking them, that is not the intent.

I have attempted to use American spellings. And Makepeace has a habit of not pronouncing the G at the ends of words (which plays hell with my spellchecker, it really does not like a whole novel like that).

This novel covers the life of Makepeace from his childhood right until he heads off for Africa.

Extract from Makepeace

I carried on at the ranch, the old Easy 8. The three who had laughed at me were called Clem, Red and Slim Jim. Clem was, I reckon, short for Clement, not the kind of name that I would have given to any child of mine. But this Clem deserved it. He was not the smartest cowboy that there’s ever been, in a profession where you don’t exactly have to be some Yale or Princeton genius. But I guess that he thought that he was smart enough, after having pulled that trick across me.

Red was called Red because of his hair. Lots of the cowboys had nicknames like that, based on some physical appearance. Well, I guess that it was actually ginger, like that ale that some city folks drink. I tried it once. But once was enough. All fizz and no whistle. He warn’t much cleverer than Clem, to tell you the truth. But, like I said, cowboys have never needed much brains.

The third of them who had tricked me was Slim Jim. He might have been slim, once, when he had earned that name. But he warn’t any more, but they all still called him Slim Jim, like it was funny or something.

I was not goin’ to let those three trick me again. And I was goin’ to be more careful about who I trusted in the future. So I found one cowboy who didn’t hang around with the others; a guy who didn’t quite fit in, on account of him bein’ supposed to have Mexican blood in him. Back then, the Mexicans weren’t that popular, on occasion of the war that had been fought. Well, I don’t know if Samuel was part Mexican or not, but his skin was a fair few shades darker than mine, even takin’ into account the fact that he had been workin’ in the sun for his entire life.

It was Samuel who taught me how to ride a horse well enough to sit in the saddle, although I was never goin’ to be breakin’ any bucking broncos. And I was still fallin’ off often enough, in the rest of my time there. Samuel, in the months followin’ the trick those three cowboys played on me, taught me most things he knew, I guess. Lookin’ back, I don’t rightly know why he spent so much trouble teachin’ a kid like me. Maybe he too pity on me. Or maybe he saw me as another outsider, like himself. Anyway, he taught me how to ride a horse, and how to use a lariat. And he taught me how to shoot.

Shootin’ was one thing I was naturally good at. It wouldn’t have become my career, otherwise. Samuel asked me if I had ever fired a gun before. No, sir, I replied to him, I hadn’t ever fired one. But I knew that I was goin’ to be firin’ one a lot more. The gun felt right in my hand, like it was a part of me which I had been missin’ up to that point. There was no other way of describin’ it – or, if there is, then I guess I don’t have the words. I always let bullets do the talkin’. Always have done, always will.

But I didn’t know then the way that my life was goin’ to go. Well, maybe a part of me did, but it was a part I didn’t listen to, because of my good, Christian upbringin’ at the orphanage. Sister Margaret would sure not have approved of one of her former charges firin’ guns, and thinkin’ about revenge against those cowboys who had played me false. Revenge is mine, sayeth the Lord. Yep, even know I can remember the words from the Good Book which Sister Margaret had drummed into us. She tattooed it into our minds with a clip around our ears if we got the Bible wrong, or tried to make fun of it. Religion was a serious business. God was no laughin’ matter, certainly not the God of the Old Testament.

That guy was a vicious God. He did worse stuff than I’ve ever done, but I guess it doesn’t matter, because a Creator has the right to destroy his Creation, hasn’t he? Sister Margaret would tell us how God got Moses to kill the Midianites, and then later told him to wipe out the Canaanites, as well. I’ve killed plenty of people in my life, but I’ve never wiped out a whole race – I leave that to the Almighty. Considering what God got up to in his youth, I’m hopin’ that when I peg it, he’ll find it in his heart to forgive my indiscretions.

Well, the first of those indiscretions was comin’ up. See, Slim Jim, him who was no longer slim, he’d seen me goin’ off with Samuel, not knowin’ that it was me doin’ the shootin’. Slim Jim wanted to know what Samuel had been shootin’ at; well, I wasn’t rightly about to tell Slim Jim nothin’ least of all that it had been me who had been practicin’ his aim, the gun still under my jacket. I could feel its warmth through my shirt, the barrel hot against my belly, like a live thing. I guess that Slim Jim must have been pretty stupid not to see the bulge. But Red, and Clem, and slim Jim, as I said, weren’t the brightest sorts. But the idea that Clem had it comin’ to him would no defense, I knew.

Slim Jim wouldn’t take my no for an answer. He had a bullwhip on his belt, and said that I’d be getting’ a whippin’ if I didn’t tell him what I had been up to. Now, years later, lookin’ back, maybe a lot of the threat was nothin’ more than bluster: but the kid I was then wasn’t takin’ no chances. I believed him. And I had already had enough beatings in the past, courtesy of Sister Margaret. Now, her being a nun and all, I reckon that maybe she had some right to drum religion into kids. But not Slim Jim, nor any of his friends. I was not gonna let him lay one finger on me, nor a single lick of that vicious lookin’ whip. So, without much thought, I pulled the gun out and shot him, just like that.

I shot him in his right upper thigh. I remember the look of idiot surprise on his face, like he could not believe what had just occurred. I remember the blood staining his jeans, and him fallin’ to the ground, holdin’ his leg where the bullet had gone in. I remember it to this day, every single damn detail (pardon my French). I remember the sun burnin’ high in the sky. And the flies buzzin’ around my face, and the look of fear, followed by anger, that ran across the fat features of Slim Jim. I remember it as well as though I was still standin’ there today, in the Lazy 8. But mostly I remember the way he hollered like a girl.

As soon as he started his hollerin’ I ran. I ran and ran until I was out of breath, and out of town, leavin’ the Lazy 8 ranch far behind. There was no way that I could go back there now. And I reckon that might be when my career as a gunman began.

Makepeace is available as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle store.

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