34 Take a Horse, Hide a Cowboy

Take a Horse, Hide a Cowboy

Part 34 of the Ranch Days series
By Maz McCoy

“I’m gonna go…Well, you know.” Bobby Cavender stood up and headed through the trees to the river as Hannibal Heyes added more wood to the campfire.
Kneeling on his bed roll, on the other side of the flames, Jed Curry searched in his bag.
“Whatcha lost?” Heyes asked.
“My plate.”
“You had it this morning.”
“I know.” Rummage. Grumble.
“How can you lose a plate?”
“I don’t know!”
“You can share mine.”
“Thanks, but I know it’s…” Rummage.
Heyes placed the coffee pot on the fire and stirred the contents of the cooking pot. He inhaled the aroma of beans. Coffee and beans, real cowboy food. He smiled and continued stirring as Jed emptied the contents of his saddle bags onto his bedroll.
“Ah ha!” Triumphant, Jed held up his plate.

***

Bobby crouched beside the river washing his hands. A splash caught his eye as a fish leapt from the water. He smiled, remembering the conversation he’d had with his brother the other morning.
“I need you to do something for me,” Jeff said as they leaned side-by-side on the corral fence.
“What?” Bobby removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair.
“Take the boys off for a while.”
“Off where?” He replaced his hat, settling it just so.
“I don’t know.”
The bull rider turned to face his brother. “What are you up to?”
“Do you remember when your Pa took us fishing?”
“He was your Pa too.”
“No, he was never that.” A moment of silence hung between them. This wasn’t the time to go over that old argument.
“Which fishing trip?” Bobby asked.
“We’d had a fight.”
“Which one?”
“The big one.”
“Still no clearer.”
“I gave you a black eye and you broke my nose.”
“Oh, that one.”
“Yeah.”
“So…”
“So your Pa took us fishing and left us out there, alone, all night.”
“’Kill or cure’ I think he called it.”
“Exactly.”
“So you want me to take the boys out and leave them there?”
“No.”
“But you’re hoping they’ll become friends again?”
“Or kill each other once and for good.”
Bobby studied his brother. “You’re serious.”
“I am. Look, it’s quiet around here at the moment. Nathan’s just back so I sure as heck ain’t gonna send him away again, Annabelle’d kill me. I still can’t sit a horse so…”
“So it’s time to earn my keep.”
“You said it.”
“Why you so concerned about the boys? Ain’t like you to mother the men.”
“They remind me of us. They need each other just like we did, but they’re too damn stubborn to see it.” He looked at his brother. “Just like we were.” Jeff turned away before things got mushy. “Besides their darn bickering annoys me.”
“You really are going soft now you got a woman in your life, you know that?”
“Just get your horse saddled.”

Bobby smiled. He had to admit it had been a nice trip and the boys were getting along again. They’d hunted, eaten what they shot and Jed could sure shoot! They’d swapped stories around the campfire. Some pretty rude ones too, not that the boys were sure which of his tall tales were true. In fact most had a little poetic licence to ‘em. Well, maybe not the one about Francine. She really had taken a knife to his…
A movement in the distant trees caught his eye. A breeze blew the branches but that was all. He shook his hands and, standing up, dried them on his seat of his pants. A whooshing sound made him turn and the arrow hit him in the left shoulder. Bobby staggered backwards and a second arrow caught him in the waist. He dropped to his knees, shock and pain sending adrenaline rushing through his body. He crumpled sideways and lay on his back staring up at the swaying branches and blue sky overhead.
“Heyes. Jed. Indians. INDIANS!”

***

The boy’s heads snapped up at the sound of their names. Dropping his bag, Jed grabbed his gun belt and Colt, Heyes picked up the rifle beside his saddle and they headed for the river. Pushing their way through the undergrowth they burst out onto the riverbank. They spotted Bobby laying on his back, boots in the water.
“Bobby?” Heyes dropped to his side, exchanging a shocked look with Jed when they saw the arrows sticking out of his body. The blond boy scanned the trees around them but saw no one. Bobby grabbed the front of Heyes’ shirt. “Indians. Protect the horses.”
“The horses?” Jed looked at Heyes. “The horses!” He was up and running before Heyes could reply.
“JED! Come back!” Unsure whether to go with his friend or stay with Bobby, Heyes’ brain worked overtime. A groan from the injured man decided for him. Heyes looked from one arrow wound to the next. “What can I do?”
There was shooting from the campsite.
“Go,” Bobby moaned. “Go on, help him!”
Heyes was running before Bobby finished his sentence. Rifle in hand he held it ready to fire. What was happening? Was Jed okay? Had he been killed by Indians? How many were there? What would he find? Why hadn’t he gone with him? He should have gone with him! It had gone quiet. Too damn quiet! He should have gone with him!
Breathing fast, heart pounding Heyes forced his way through the bushes to see…Jed standing in the middle of the campsite watching their horses disappear over a distant hill. The boy spun at the sound behind him aiming his gun directly at Heyes. For a moment his finger hovered over the trigger and their eyes met. Heyes froze all too aware that Jed just might shoot him.
The blond boy twirled the gun and dropped it into his holster. He blew out a long breath. “They took the horses.”
“Yeah.”
They watched the Indians disappear reassuring themselves that they were not coming back.

***

“They took the horses,” Heyes informed Bobby when they returned to his side.
His shirt was covered in blood and it was taking all his concentration not to pass out. “Get our stuff together. They might come back.”
“Once we’ve seen to you.” Kid held his hands out near the arrow sticking out of Bobby’s shoulder. He looked at Heyes. “What do we do? Pull it out?”
“No.” Heyes looked at Bobby. “That’s right. Isn’t it?”
“How the heck should I know…I’ve never been…shot with an…arrow before?”
“The one in your shoulder looks deep,” Jed observed. “We should see if it’s gone right through.”
The man attempted to raise his body. Heyes and Jed helped. The arrowhead, dripping with Bobby’s blood, stuck out of the back of his shoulder.
“Well?” Bobby asked.
“It went through,” Jed informed him as he looked at Heyes.
“I guess we could break off the flight and push it the rest of the way through.” Heyes suggested.
“Sounds like something to look forward to.” Bobby muttered as he eased back down. “What about the one in my side?”
They looked.
“It’s stuck in your belt.” Heyes moved the leather and Bobby yelped in pain. “It’s not gone deep; just the point; we can pull it out easy I reckon. Won’t do any more harm.”
“You sure?” Jed’s worried eyes met Heyes’.
“Yeah.” He looked down at the injured man. “Bobby?”
“All right, do it.”
“We need something to stop the bleeding.”
“Here.” Jed pulled off his bandana and Heyes gripped the hilt of the arrow.
“Ready?”
Bobby nodded and Heyes pulled. Jed placed his bandana over the wound and pressed down. Bobby’s eyes were closed; his jaw clamped tight, his face looked white.
“You okay?” Jed asked.
“No.”
“Keep the pressure on the wound,” Heyes advised, pulling off his own bandana and handing it to Jed. “I think we should leave this in.” He indicated the other arrow. “If we do get it out whole, how we gonna stop the bleeding? We can’t get back to the ranch either. Not without horses.” He appeared to be thinking out loud. “If the Indians come back we need to be somewhere we can defend. This is too open.” He looked up to see Bobby smiling weakly at him. “What?”
“I’m glad you’re here, Heyes.” He turned to Jed. “Put the bandanas under my belt, and then pull it as tight as you can.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah.”
Jed arranged the cloths beneath the belt and over the wound. Then he undid Bobby’s belt buckle and pulled.
“Tighter.” Jed pulled and Bobby groaned. “Okay.” Jed secured the belt and Bobby took several deep breaths. “Help me up.”
“Bob…”
“You said it yourself, Heyes, we hafta find a place we can defend. Now help me up.”

***

With his right arm draped over Heyes’ shoulder and his left held close to his body, they helped Bobby back to the campsite. A quick inventory revealed that as well as their horses the Indians had also robbed them of their saddle bags.
Bobby smiled as they settled him down against a tree stump, trying to move the arrow as little as possible.
“What you smiling at?” Jed asked as he peered at the items left on his bedroll.
“Not even the Indians took Heyes’ coffee.”
The boy grinned and Heyes gave them both a look of distain. “We need to get away from here. They could sneak up on us from all sides.”
Bobby shivered and Heyes placed his blanket over him. “Thanks.”
“We’d have water but no more food.”
“I’ll get us something,” Jed stated confidently, and then noticed Heyes scowling. “What?”
“I think they’ll come back.”
Bobby nodded his agreement.
“So what can we do? We can’t out run ‘em.” Jed’s exasperation was clear. “And he can’t walk far!” He waved a hand in Bobby’s direction.
“I’ll make it,” the bull rider assured them but no one knew if that was true.

***

“Reckon they’ve killed each other yet?” Marty pondered as he rocked back on two legs of the porch chair.
“I hope not, that wasn’t the plan.” Jeff sat back in his chair and watched Bill riding a newly broken horse around the corral.
“You mean sending Bobby out with them was actually planned?”
“Well, I’d have preferred it be you or Nathan but he’s…otherwise engaged.”
Marty smiled. “Yeah, I bet he is.”
Jeff smiled too. They hadn’t seen their friend since he’d ridden back from the herd, caught up on the news of Jeff’s operation, assured himself his friend was recovering, then taken his wife by the hand and disappeared into their cabin. “I haven’t actually given him any time off.”
“Neither has Annabelle.”
The men chuckled. “Ah, it sure was good to be married.”
“You set a date yet?”
“Nope.”
“Rosalind happy with that?”
“Nope.”
“You gonna set one?”
“Yes.”
“Any idea when?”
“Nope.”
“Sheesh, that woman must be a saint to put up with you.”
Before Jeff could come back with a snappy retort something in the distance caught his eye. “Riders.”
Marty’s gaze narrowed. “Just one.”
“Moving pretty fast.”
“Yeah.” Marty stood up, put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. In the corral Bill pulled the horse to a halt and looked up at the bunkhouse. Marty gestured with his hands and Bill watched as the lone rider galloped in fast. He soon recognised him as Oscar Pent, one of the men he’d left out with the herd.
Pent pulled his horse to a halt in a cloud of dust in front of the bunkhouse. He was breathing hard. “The cavalry out of Fort Elliot found us. A band of renegades have left the reservation. He wanted me to warn you. Reckons they’re after horses and ammunition.”
“We’ll get some more men out to you,” Jeff said. “Go grab some grub then get a fresh horse.”
“Okay Boss.”
Bill came jogging towards them. “Trouble?”
“Renegades off the reservation.”
“Want me to go out to the herd?”
“Yeah, take a few more men. Marty go up and tell the Culvers.” As Marty headed down the steps Jeff, groaned. “Oh, no.”
“Boss?” Bill and Marty turned concerned eyes on their friend.
“We gotta get the boys and Bobby.”

***
“I’ll go,” Jed said.
“It’s too dangerous,” Heyes insisted.
“Someone has to. You said yourself Bobby can’t walk back. We can’t wait here in the hope that someone will come and find us. He needs help now!”
“There are Indians out there!”
“I do know that, Heyes.”
“You’ll be on your own.”
“I have a gun.”
“Yeah, and so do they.”
“D’you have any better ideas?”
“No, and I hate it.”
Jed cast a glance at the injured man. They had moved a little way along the river where boulders offered protection from three sides and the river from the fourth. Depending on your point of view it was either a good place to defend or a death trap. Bobby had struggled to make just that short trip. He’d lost consciousness and was now leaning back against the rocks his head slumped forward on his chest.
“I’ll run,” Jed offered.
“What, to dodge the bullets?”
“They have arrows.”
“It wasn’t meant to be a joke.”
“I know.” Jed met his friend’s gaze. “I’ll be as quick as I can. Come back with a buckboard.”
Heyes looked from Jed to Bobby. “I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I but we don’t have a choice, Heyes.” He held out his hand. “You keep out of sight and take care of him.”
Heyes grabbed hold of Jed’s hand and shook it. “You be careful too. Don’t stop for nothin’.”
“I won’t.” Jed looked Heyes in the eye. “If you have to, shoot to kill.”
“Jed…”
“Just do it, Han!” He turned and ran back along the river.
Heyes wondered if that would be the last time he saw his friend.

***

“Any idea where they went?” Nathan shoved his rifle into the scabbard on his saddle.
“No.” Jeff ran a hand through his already ruffled hair. “I mean, maybe…”
“Well, it’s gotta be one or the other, Jeff, which is it?”
“We’d been talking about when his Pa took us fishing. I think that’s what he was gonna do.”
“All right, I’ll head out to the river. Work my way from there.” They both cast a glance at Annabelle who stood on the cabin porch, leaning against the post, chewing on her thumb nail with worry. Nathan drew the Colt from his holster and flipped open the chamber, reassuring himself that it was loaded.
“Nathan…” Annabelle walked towards him.
“I’ll be fine.” He gave her a reassuring smile.
“I just want you to come back safe.”
“So do I.”
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
“You know I can never guarantee that.” He smiled and finally she did too.
“If this is the bit where you kiss her goodbye,” Jeff muttered. “I’ll head back to the bunkhouse and get Marty.”
“Good idea, Boss.” Nathan moved closer to his wife.

***

“Where’s Jed?” Bobby looked around their hiding place through half open eyes.
“He’s gone to get help.” Heyes picked up his canteen.
“On his own?”
“No, I went with him.”
“Huh?” Bobby shivered, giving Heyes a confused look.
“Here.” Heyes held out a cup filled with water. Bobby fumbled as he tried to grip it and Heyes took it back holding it to the man’s lips. Bobby swallowed desperately.
“Any sign of the Indians?”
“No.” Heyes removed the blood stained shirt he had pressed against the arrow wound and replaced it with another one of Jed’s. His friend’s things were all that remained after their saddle bags were stolen.
Bobby flinched as Heyes applied pressure to both sides of the wound. He licked his lips. “Got any more water?”
“Yeah. Let me fix this first.” Heyes secured the shirt as best he could, using the sleeves to tie it in place, then picked up the cup and held it to Bobby’s lips.
“Thank you.” Bobby leaned his head back against the rocks shaking his head. “I ain’t gonna make it, Heyes.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Isss true.”
“We’ll be back home before dark.”
“I thought you told me…you had a silver tongue?” Bobby’s eyes narrowed on Heyes. “You don’t lie very well.”
“Must be havin’ an off day.”
Bobby smiled. “Will you do somethin’ for me?”
“Sure.”
“Tell, Jeff…”
“Bobby…”
“Tell him…I’m glad he…was my brother.” Heyes looked away, embarrassed. “And tell him…” Bobby smiled weakly. “I told him I could ride that damn bull.”
“Yeah, you sure did.”
“I thought a…bull’d get me. Figured I’d…get crushed or…Sure didn’t expect an…Indian.” Bobby closed his eyes and slowly his head dropped to one side.
“Bobby?”
When there was no reply Heyes put down the cup and sat back next to the wounded man. He picked up the rifle and rested it nervously across his legs as his eyes scanned the undergrowth beyond the river. What if the Indians came back? Shoot to kill, Jed had said but could he? Could he look a man in the eyes and pull the trigger? He didn’t know what he’d do if faced with the choice. Maybe Jed would get help before he found out the answer.

***

Breathing heavily, Jed Curry crouched in the trees beside a stream. His heart hammered in his chest, his throat was dry and his feet hurt. Boots sure weren’t meant for running. Blue eyes scanned the water’s edge. He had to cross it but waited to be certain no one was watching. Twice he’d heard the whoops of an Indian. Twice he’d dived for cover in the bushes. Twice he’d escaped to run again. Maybe they could see him now; maybe they were laughing at him; waiting for him to run out into the open so they could fill him full of arrows. Jed rested his hand on the butt of his gun. He’d use it if he had to. It was now or never. The ranch was on the other side of the stream and Bobby and Heyes were depending on him. Jed stood up and ran.

***

Nathan pulled his horse to a halt and stood up in the saddle.
“Whatcha seen?” Marty squinted.
“Something’s on the ground up ahead.” He spurred his horse forward then stopped beside a saddlebag. Nathan dropped from his horse, picked up the bag and undid the buckles. He peered inside. A pair of pretty disgusting smelling socks festered in the bottom. Although the aroma could have been anyone’s the way the socks were balled pointed to only one person he knew. “Heyes.”
“What?”
“I think this belongs to Heyes.” They exchanged a glance not wanting to voice the ominous conclusion.

***
A horse! Heyes was sure he heard a horse approaching. Gripping the rifle tighter he edged along the rocks and peered cautiously over the top. INDIANS! Or more precisely, one Indian rode slowly along the river bank. Heyes’ blood pounded in his ears and he shot a look at Bobby but the man was still unconscious and unlikely to make a sound.
The Indian wore tan coloured pants and a blue soldier’s jacket. A bandana was tied around his head and his long black hair, which was grey at the temples, was tied back. A necklace of beads and feathers lay on his chest. A rifle sat in a scabbard on the saddle but there was no sign of a bow and arrow. The man pulled his horse to a halt not twenty feet away and climbed casually from the saddle. His moccasined feet made no sound as he moved to the water’s edge. Heyes fought to control his breathing, his palms growing sweaty as he watched the Indian crouch and scoop up a handful of water. He sipped slowly. Heyes swallowed.
“If you’re gonna shoot me, now would be a good time.” The Indian took another drink and for a moment Heyes wasn’t sure he’d actually heard him say anything. “Unless you have a problem with shooting a man in the back?” The Indian stood up, and then turned slowly to face Heyes who ducked down below the rocks.
The Indian remained perfectly still. Waiting. Heyes looked over the rock.
“I’m still here.”
Heyes stepped into view, holding the rifle at waist height and pointed at the man. “Who are you?”
He spoke slowly and clearly. “My name is Runs at Midnight but for some reason the soldiers insist on calling me George.”
“That’s a cavalry jacket.”
“I am a scout for the cavalry at Fort Elliot.”
“You alone?”
“Yes.”
“Why are you here?”
“Renegades have left the reservation. Some have been captured. I am chasing the ones who have not been caught.” Heyes contemplated what to do. Runs at Midnight decided for him. “Want me to take a look at your friend?” Heyes appeared unsure. “I know a thing or two about arrow wounds.”
“All right, but I got my eye on you.”
“I will remember that.” The Indian walked over to Bobby and placed a hand on his forehead before moving the bloody shirt aside to examine the wound. “You left the arrow in.”
“Wasn’t I supposed to?”
“It is good that you did. I can help him.” He stood up and Heyes took a step back, the rife still aimed at the Indian. “I would prefer it if you did not point that at me. You look nervous and I do not want to be shot when you trip over your own feet.”
“I won’t trip.”
“Hmm.”
“How did you know we were here?”
“You make a lot of noise.”
“We were quiet!”
“No, you were not.” He walked back to his horse and Heyes followed. “But, if I had not heard you, you left me a lot of signs.” He pointed to the muddy river bank which was covered in footprints left by Heyes, Jed and Bobby. “Next time use a branch to hide your tracks.” He rummaged in his saddle bags and retrieved a small leather pouch.
“Is that medicine?”
“No, my lunch.” He took out a piece of jerky and bit off a chunk. “You need to build a fire.”
“I don’t want to attract attention.”
“You already did that.”
“But what if the Indians…” He shot a look at the man.
“Indians do not need smoke to find a man.” He pointed to Bobby. “I need a fire to help him. Build one while I get medicine.”
“You’re going back to the Fort?”
“Indian medicine grows in the forest.” He looked at the boy out of the corner of his eye. “What is your name?”
“Heyes. Hannibal Heyes.”
“I will help your friend but you must help me, Hannibal Heyes. Build the fire.”

***
Gasping for air Jed ran. He had cramp in his left side, his ribs hurt, his feet were killing him and his whole body ached. He couldn’t go on much longer but then he did. He took another step which meant he could keep going. There, he’d taken another step so he could certainly do it one more time. Gasp. Gasp. One more, then one more, that’s all he had to do. Bobby and Heyes were relying on him. He stopped and rested his hands on his knees as his lungs fought for oxygen. He was going to be sick. His vision blurred and he threw up in the long grass. Oh, that was disgusting! He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before standing up to get his bearings. If that was east then…He had to go that way. No wait…maybe the other way?
Movement! There was something or someone on the horizon. Riders! Jed looked frantically around. There were bushes about fifty feet away but nothing between him and them but grass. Maybe they hadn’t seen him. If he kept low…He threw himself on the ground and began to crawl.

***

“You see something?” Nathan asked as Marty pulled his horse to a halt.
“Movement up head.” He raised his chin and Nathan scanned the long grass.
“I don’t see nothin’.”
Marty removed the safety on his gun and looked at Nathan. “Ready?”
“Yeah.”
They spurred their horses.

***

Horses approaching fast! Keeping his head down Jed tried to blend into the ground. He’d never make it to the bushes but if he stayed perfectly still… He closed his eyes and thought like a worm.

***

Guns drawn they pulled their horses to a halt. Someone crouched low in the grass.
“Come on out,” Nathan ordered. No movement. “Show yourself or we start shootin’.”
“Nathan?”
“Jed? That you, boy?” Marty queried.
Jed’s head shot up out of the grass. His dirt covered face was a picture of relief when he saw his friends.
“What are you doing here?” Marty edged his horse closer.
Nathan looked around. “Where are Heyes and Bobby?”

“Indians shot Bobby.”
“What?”
“Where are they?”
“River.” Jed bent over, resting his hands on his knees. “Got any water?”
Nathan grabbed the canteen from his saddle and tossed it to Jed. The boy took two gulps then turned on his side and threw up again.
“You hurt?” Marty asked.
“Just exhausted from runnin’.” Jed took another gulp from the canteen.
“What happened?”
“Bobby took an arrow in the shoulder. Heyes stayed with him so I could go for help.”
“Where are they?” Marty prompted.
“Fishing hole.”
“Where I took you boys?”
Jed nodded. “Yeah. I gotta get help. Bobby’s hurt bad. We need a buckboard and the doctor.”
Nathan turned to Marty. “You know where this fishing hole is?”
“Yeah.”
“All right. You go get the buckboard. Jed can show me where they are and I’ll do what I can. We’ll wait for you there.”
Marty nodded then turned his horse.

***
Runs at Midnight had removed the arrow from Bobby’s shoulder. There had been a lot of yelling and blood. Heyes had helped hold Bobby down as the Indian broke off the flight and shoved the arrow through Bobby’s shoulder. Heyes didn’t think he’d ever forget the squelching sound it made as it penetrated the flesh and muscle. He stood fascinated as he watched the man place spider’s web into the open wound before covering it with a paste made from plant leaves. Other leaves he’d made into a tea that he forced Bobby to drink before he worked on the wound. The bull rider was alive but unconscious.
Heyes felt weak at the knees. He didn’t want to have to do that ever again.
“You all right?” Runs at Midnight asked.
“Sure.” Heyes stared into the flames.
“You do not look all right.” The Indian held out a cup. “Here. Drink this.”
“Is that some of your tea?”
“No.”
Heyes eyed it suspiciously. “What is it?”
“Coffee.”
Heyes smiled and took the cup. “Thank you. Thank you for helping him.” He looked at Bobby. “Will he be all right?”
“Too soon to tell.”
“My friend went for help.”
“Blond boy?”
“You saw him?”
“I saw him. He also makes a lot of noise.” Before Heyes could ask another question Runs at Midnight stood up, looking along the river. “Rider.”
Heyes scrambled to his feet and picked up the rifle. He stood beside the Indian waiting for someone to appear.

***

Jed sat behind Nathan as he walked his horse along the river bed. He pulled the animal to a halt when Jed pointed up ahead.
“That’s where we found Bobby.” Nathan edged the horse on. “We got him to the other side of those rocks.” As if on cue Heyes strode into view. “Heyes!”
“You all right?” Nathan called, and an Indian appeared behind Heyes. Nathan drew his Colt but Heyes stepped in front of the man.
“No, Nathan it’s okay.”
“What’s going on?” Nathan eyed the Indian suspiciously.
“This is Runs at Midnight. He helped Bobby.”
“That so?” Nathan didn’t take his eyes off the man or lower his gun as he edged the horse closer.
“It is so,” the Indian stated.
“Who is he?” Nathan asked Heyes, waving his gun in the Indian’s direction.
“He’s a scout from Fort Elliot. There are renegades on the loose.”
“I know. I came to getcha back.” Nathan risked a quick look at the boss’s brother lying still beside the fire. “Can Bobby be moved?”
The boy deferred to the Indian. “Not on a horse,” Runs at Midnight said.
“Marty’s gone to get a buckboard.” Nathan said something to Jed and the boy slid down from the horse. The two men eyed each other.
“He’s a friend, Nathan!” Heyes insisted.
“He ain’t mine.” Nathan holstered his gun, climbed down, and then led his horse over to a tree where he tied it. He shot a glance at the Indian before crouching beside Bobby. He took in the bloody shirt and arrow lying nearby then placed a hand on the bull rider’s forehead.
“He used spider’s web and plants to treat the wound.” Heyes informed him. “Says it’ll help stop infection. I’ve never seen that done before have you?”
“No, but I’ve heard of it.” Nathan stood up and looked at the Indian. “D’you know these renegades?”
“They are not of my tribe.”
“That’s not what I asked you.”
Runs at Midnight met Nathan’s stern gaze. “I do not know them.”
“Reckon they’ll be back?”
“I think they would have done so by now.”
“What do you think are his chances?” The Indian looked from Heyes to Jed. Clearly he did not want to say in front of them. Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “Take a walk with me.”
“Nathan…”
“If you got any more of your coffee, Heyes, how ‘bout making us a fresh pot.”
“They took…” But the men had already walked away.

***
“What d’you think they’re talking about?” Jed asked as he watched Nathan and the Indian walk along the river bank.
“Trying to decide if Bobby’s gonna die or not.”
“Heyes!”
“Well, it’s true. You saw ‘em. Let’s take a walk so the kids don’t hear.”
“We’re not kids!”
“They don’t believe that. If they knew what we’d seen…They’re too late if they think they’re protecting us from bad news.”
Jed crouched beside their injured friend. “What do you think?”
Heyes sat down on a rock. “I think he’s got one heck of a fight on his hands.”

***
Jeff Collins sat on the porch outside the bunkhouse, elbows resting on his knees as he turned Bobby’s hat around in his hand. The sun had disappeared below the horizon hours ago. A myriad of stars filled the night sky and a gentle breeze blew, but Jeff saw none of the beauty of nature only the cruel twist of fate. Bobby’s injuries were serious. The one at his waist would heal but his arm… For a man determined to go back to riding bulls that arrow had been a career ending blow. No one knew how much movement Bobby would regain in his shoulder; assuming he survived. Despite Runs at Midnight’s ministrations there was still the threat of infection; Doctor Hale had been very clear about that.
Jeff turned his brother’s hat, studying the band then looked up at the sky as he said a silent prayer. His eyes narrowed. Was that…? There it was again…a shooting star.

***

Annabelle felt a cold draught as Nathan lifted the sheets. The bed dipped as he climbed in then spooned himself against her back, wrapping his arms around her. He closed his eyes breathing her in as he sighed in contentment.
“Is Bobby okay?”
“Yeah.” He yawned and snuggled against her.
“What did the doctor say?”
“Reckons the Indian saved his life.”
“That’s good.”
“Mmmm.”
“You tired?”
“Hmmm.”
“Nathan.”
“Mmmm.”
“You love it here don’t you?”
He wiggled his hips against her. “Can’t you tell?”
She giggled. “That’s not what I meant and I thought you said you were tired!”
“Some parts take longer to go to sleep.”
“I meant you love it here on the ranch, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Eyes still closed he yawned.
“Do you see us staying here?”
“If we can.” She was quiet. He yawned again. He knew she was thinking but he was too dang tired. “Whatever it is you want to talk about can it wait until the morning?”
“I guess.”
“Good.” He settled himself against her.
“Just one more thing.”
“Hmmm.”
“Would you want to raise a family here? Like the Culver’s have?”
“I…I don’t know…I guess.”
“Why here?”
He sighed. She was going to talk no matter what; might as well answer her and be done with it. “It’s good…” He yawned again. “Good country….”
“Nathan.”
“Mmmm.”
“I think I’m pregnant.”
His eyes shot open.

End of Part 34

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4 thoughts on “34 Take a Horse, Hide a Cowboy

  1. You have such a sure hand with characters, and now there’s Runs At Midnight, who is a very smart man. You show the strong characteristics of the boys so clearly here; Heyes thinking out loud, figuring out what to do, and Jed, courageous, determined, and stubborn. Is there any significance to Jeff seeing the shooting star? Thanks again, Maz, for another terrific chapter in the story of how our boys become men.

  2. Great dialog, Maz, and a good plan to get the boys on better terms. Sounds like Bobby is going to survive, thanks to Runs At Midnight. Interesting how Heyes thought and Jed reacted to the attack – very much in character when they’re adults. And a baby is on its way! I’m curious, too, about the significance, if any, about the falling star Jeff saw.

  3. I just found your site, I have no idea what took me so long. I can’t get enough of the “Ranch Days” series, each small story is like found gold added to the chest.

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