Allegory 1: Unwritten laws

In a dusty corner of my memory lie a few short stories from my grade school days. Most of them were read aloud by my teacher, although the one below was in a textbook. Hackneyed though they may be, for some reason these stuck with me. Here is the first as I remember it:

A group of cowboys were in line at the chuckwagon, getting their supper, when a stranger rode up. He dismounted, wordlessly greeted everyone with a nod, and joined the food line. He sat down alone and ate quickly. When he finished, he walked to the chuckwagon and prepared to wash the dishes, because one of the unwritten laws of the West was that a stranger pays for his meal by washing up. As he worked, the stranger often glanced back in the direction from whence he came. An older cowboy recognized his look, and began to prepare the stranger’s horse for a hard ride. Soon a dust cloud could be seen in the distance — someone else was approaching. The stranger became visibly more nervous but kept working. The moment the last dish was washed and dried, the stranger gave a nod in farewell, ran to his horse and galloped off.

The cowboys never learned what deeds the stranger was escaping from, but he had obeyed the unwritten laws of the West, and so could not have been all bad.

Recently I found this list of unwritten laws of the west, although it didn’t include one about washing up.

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