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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| June 20, 2019 Views: 188|
Chapter 15 of the book Gun For Hire
The young Apache leaves Jeb for his home.
"Runs With The Wind"
by Catherin Elizabet Belle
Travel is slow, a breeze assuaging the heat as Horace and the kids walk beside the wagon; Runs with the Wind and I walk leading Lancer. A rabbit scampers across the land leaving paw prints in the soft wet ground. The sun is high in the sky when I say to Horace, "We'll be scouting a head, will meet up with you before sundown." Horace waves his hand in acknowledgement as we ride away. With Runs with the Wind behind me we move ahead.
An hour after we left, I see prints of unshod ponies in the drying soil moving west. Reining up Runs with the Wind drops beside Lancer examining the prints then looks at me says, "Apache."
Looking at the horizon searching for any sign I ask, "How long ago?"
Climbing up behind the saddle he says, "Two day."
Sitting gazing through the trees I ask, "Your tribe?" Not expecting an answer.
Runs with the Wind responds, "Brazos three-day ride, we go?"
Looking overhead at the hawk soaring in the blue sky thinking what he had asked, I say, "Padre taught you well, son."
Pounding his chest as warrior he says, "Me learn good!"
With reins in hand, Lancer moves out across the land, off in the distance I see a grove of oak and hickory. A rabbit scurries through the grass as we ride toward the stand of trees. As I approach the site with caution, we ride into the opening upon a campsite. Runs with the Wind hops off Lancer checking the ashes he says, "A day old, white man."
Stepping from the saddle I hand him a piece of jerky and the canteen. He takes a sip and passes it back. We sit in the shade of the trees my rifle across my knees, I say, "Runs with the Wind, my name is Jeb."
As I glance at him, his face is unreadable as most warriors are, he says, "You white eyes why you called Jeb?"
"You injun, why you called Runs with the Wind." That garnishes a nod of the head from my young warrior.
From his squatting he says, "Two-hour sunset, we go, Jeb?"
Standing I smile, "We go."
The sky was turning gray with the coming of night when we arrived back at the wagon which had stopped in a small stand of trees for the night. As we approach, Jimmy calls out. Horace stands in the shadow of an oak rifle in hand he steps forward, "Howdy, Jeb."
Jimmy takes the reins of the horse as we dismount walking off to the edge of the clearing, he hollers, "Jeb, you wanta unsaddle Lancer?"
I shake my head in a negative response moving to stand beside Horace. "We ran across the trail of Apache heading west, two days old. I suggest moving out at dawn."
Horace rubbed his bearded face saying, "Reckon you be right, Jeb." Turning he says to Ms. Clettus, "Maw, feed these boys."
'With a smile as big as the sun she replies, "Comin' right up, boys."
Sitting back with a giant sigh, "Ma am, that was right good eatin'". Rollin' a cigarette I smoke while Clettus chows on 'baccie.
Jimmy and Runs with the Wind sit quiet listening to our palavering about the war when I hear Ms. Clettus say, "Boys' bedtime." Jimmy crawls under the wagon as Runs with the Wind moves toward my horse unsaddling him, he lays down near the saddle.
Standing I say, "Night Ma'am" and stroll to the edge of the clearing. Settle down with the saddle under my head and the rifle across my middle. As I place my hat over my eyes, I hear Runs with the Wind say, "you, good white eyes." I don't reply as none's necessary. He is stating what he sees.
Before the sun rises over the horizon, the wagon is ready. Jimmy, Carrie Sue, and Ms. Clettus in the wagon, Horace sits on the seat holding the reins when he calls to Runs with the Wind, "Climb aboard son, ride with me a spell."
The boy looks at me when I nod, he climbs up beside Horace who slaps leather calling to his horses and the wagon rolls. Lancer and I ride out ahead looking for trouble. Mid-morning, there's a dust trail off to the north. Watching it move further north with no alarm, I return to the wagon.
Pulling up beside Horace, he asks, "See anything, Jeb?"
Shaking the dust off my hat I reply, "Trail of dust moving north." I drop to the back of the wagon calling out, "Jimmy, Carrie Sue, walk a spell." They hop out the back and as I ride forward, Runs with the Wind has dropped to the ground. Watching his eyes meet mine I nod my approval and keep riding.
Day after day our journey making twelve and fifteen miles a day is uneventful. We were nearing the Brazos when I see a large cloud of dust rising across the prairie. As the dust nears where we sit in the saddle, I recognize a cavalry patrol. Spotting us, they continue in our direction. Pulling rein near the wagon I say, "Horace hold up; Runs with the Wind get in the wagon; no matter what happens don't leave it."
Continuing I watch the cavalry officer ride ahead of the column. As we near where he sits, I say, "Horace pull up, I'll see what the officer wants." Riding to where he sits astride his mount I ask, "Captain, what can I do fer you?"
"Howdy, where you headed?"
Tipping my hat back I reply, "Fort Concho, the folks are to meet up with a wagon train headed west."
The captain asks, "What's your name, son?"
Nodding I reply, "Jeb Smith"
"Jeb, how many in your party?"
Replying, "Mr. Clettus, his missus and two chillin'"
Looking me over he asks, "Well Jeb we're lookin' for renegade comanch. You seen any injuns?"
I take my time in answering before saying, "Well, now, Captain, back near the Trinity seen a few off in the distance heading north. Now let me see, that would have been two week ago. I can't say we see'd any injuns since then." I pause looking off west then continue, "Why you askin'"
"Jeb, we're out of Fort Griffin, renegades killed and burned out four families near Weatherford. We been trailin' after them for fourteen days, lost their trail awhile back." Turning to his troops he calls, "Jeb be on the lookout for them devils are on a killin' spree."
Tipping my hat, I reply, "Will do, Captain." I watch them turn north with a sigh of relief I return to the wagon.
Horace asks, "Jeb everything all right?"
Grinning, "Yep, they're after the Comanche that raided those farms up near Weatherford. Keep Runs with the Wind in the wagon. Let's keep a watch on them Yankee boys."
Turning Lancer west, I yell, "Move out." With us just a couple days from the Brazos I am anxious to cross.
A day's ride after we palavered with them Yankee boys, we ran across a sod hut about sundown. There were arrows strickin' all over the place. As Horace pulls the wagon to a halt and steps down, I say, "Stay put, keep the missus and the kids in the wagon. Runs with the Wind, step down." He alights from the wagon, "I continue, Let's have a look see son."
Runs with the Wind picks up an arrow, saying, "Comanch." I nod moving to the sod hut, pushing the door open to have a look, a sod buster lying in the middle of the mess. He was scalped. Looking around, I find a doll showing there was a small girl child here at one time. I didn't like to think about her fate.
Closing the door, I call to Horace, "There's burying to be done, a man scalped."
As Horace approaches Runs with the Wind motions for me to follow him over the slight rise. What I see makes me gag. Lying in the grass what once was a woman but now is unrecognizable; her breast sliced off, gutted from her pelvic to her throat then scalped.
Turning back toward the wagon where Ms. Clettus is getting off the seat I say, "Stay there and keep the kids in the wagon."
Behind the cabin Horace was diggin' a grave, "We'll be needin' two." Taking his hat from his head he wipes his brow asking, "Bad son?"
Meetin' his gray eyes glaring from the whiskered weathered face I nod. Approaching the wagon, I ask, "Ms. Clettus could you spare a quilt." She said not a word, reaching in the back pulls one out handing it to me. I nod saying, "Thank ya ma'am."
Runs with the Wind meets me a few yards from the wagon says, "Ten maybe fifteen unshod ponies moving north; two day 'go."
Noddin, I keep walking over the hill where I wrap the woman in the quilt, carrying her to the graves Horace is digging. He rests on the shovel as I approach. Laying my burden down beside the grave I say, "Horace, I'll finish up here, take the wagon a fair piece down the road. Find a good place to camp for the night. I'll catch up with you."
He asks, "Son, how far to the Brazos?"
Runs with the Wind answers, "A long day."
Horace nods, climbs on the wagon slaps reins and the horses move out pulling their load across wind sweep terrain.
Leaning on the shovel I watch the wagon pull out across the prairie. Shaking my head, I return to my work. As the sun makes its descent to the western horizon, I pause to say about the only prayer I can remember, "Our father which art in heaven...for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever." Slapping my hat on I say to Runs with the Wind, "Let's ride son." With the young warrior behind me we move out.
The sky is gray with the sun hid behind the western horizon and dark shadows hover among the mesquite, scrub oak and pine. The glow of a fire in the distance garners my attention; as we approach the groove of mesquite Runs with the Wind slips off the horse moving with stealth staying low and, in the shadows, he moves into the darkness. It isn't long till I hear his soft moccasin tread moving in from the other direction. As he reaches me, he says in disgust, "white man build big fire, little one do well."
With a big grin I ask, "The Clettus's wagon?" as I reach to pull him up behind me.
Without a word he nods, asking, "We go?"
Nudging my horse with my knees I say, "We go."
Sitting straight like the warrior he is we ride toward the camp. As we approach, I call out, "Hello in the camp."
I hear Horace cock that old rifle of his as he calls, "Ride in." Moving into the firelight where he can see us, he says, "Boy, I about give up on you. You run into any trouble, son?"
Dismounting, I reply, "Naw! That coffee sure smells good."
Tommy runs up grabbing the reins saying, "Jeb, I'll take care of your horse." Trotting off to a nearby oak he tethers him removing the saddle laying it by a tree a little way from camp. He's smart, he's seen me move back into the shadows to bed down.
As I squat by the fire Mrs. Clettus pours me a cup of hot coffee and a plate of beans and biscuits, "Thank you ma'am." She hands Runs with the Wind a plate filled with food; he takes it off a little way sitting in the shadows of a pecan tree.
I sit by the fire eating. As the shadows turn to ebony with millions of stars overhead handing my plate back to Maw Clettus, I say, "Mighty tasty ma'am."
As she walks toward the wagon she calls, "Tommy, bedtime."
"Ah, Maw, Do I have too?"
Hearing his lament Horace says, "Son, listen to your maw. We'll be on the trail by sunup."
Turning back to the fire, he asks, "Runs with the Wind, how far to the Brazos?"
The young warrior moves to the dying fire squats between us, "Sundown tomorrow." Then nods and moves into the trees opposite where my bedroll lays.
Sitting my cup down standing I say, "Horace, I'll be beddin' off in the trees thar, you sleep under the wagon. Runs with the Wind and I will keep watch."
The night passes quiet with no sound other than the flap of an owl's wings searching for a rodent in his nocturnal hunt. There was no fire when I approached the wagon, Horace had the horses hitched and Runs with the Wind was helping Tommy saddle my horse. Maw Clettus handed me hardtack climbing up on the wagon seat.
Mounting my steed, Runs with the Wind sits behind me; Horace slaps reins and the wagon moves out with us riding next to it. We'd been on the trail a couple of hours when I hailed Horace, "Gonna ride ahead a bit."
Turning to Rides with the Wind, "Son, you ride with the Clettus's."
He leaps down and climbs aboard getting in the back to stay out of sight.
Clettus removes his hat wiping his brow, "Be careful, son."
Putting my heels to Lancer, I move out trailing west. I'd been watching a dust cloud drifting across the horizon. Swirls of heat rising from the surface of the earth. Could be a Yankee Calvary from Fort Concho or Comanch; shor' hope they keep moving west.
Been riding for over an hour not seeing much other a few jackrabbits darting through the broom weeds skittish as all get out. Guess they don't wanna be et. Watching the horizon with dust swirls near where I spec the Fort be, I turn my old cayuse back toward the trail I come over.
Reckon Horace should be comin' not far behind. Put my cayuse in a gallop putting distance behind as the sun scorches the earth from high overhead. When I catch up with the Clettus's he had pulled the wagon under the shade of a snarled pecan tree. He's standing beside the wagon with the young'uns under the cool shade.
"Howdy, Jeb, what's up ahead?"
Dismounting, I reply, "Mostly jackrabbits. A dust swirl off to the west could be at the fort or there bouts." Turning to see Runs with the Wind coming from the grove I ask, "Son, you cotton to go to Fort Concho?"
He motioned he would go far away then said, "Not good go Fort, they no like injun."
I wasn't looking forward to parting with the young warrior, but I asked, "When you go?"
Without saying a word, he took his knife from its sheaf slicing his thumb handing me the knife showing I should do the same. Following his instructions, I hand his knife back. He takes it pressing his thumb to mine and says, "Blood brother, Jeb and Runs with the Wind."
A big old grin breaks across my face as I say, "Blood Brothers." He sheaves his knife leaves running across the prairie without a backward glance. As I watch him disappear, I wonder if our paths will ever cross again, my little Apache warrior.
True to Runs with the Wind we reached the Brazos just as the sun was sinking behind the western horizon. Them Texas sunsets are shor somethin' to see, be right glad to head on south to home.
Horace called out as he pulled the team into the shade of a cottonwood saying, "Jeb, will cross in the morning, son."
Dismounting I reply, "First light I'll find us a place to cross." Unsaddling I move back a ways from the camp. Could be them thar comanch still out around here. Jist as I was setting down, I heard running feet, stepping into the shadows I pulled my six-shooter and waited. It wasn't long until Tommy burst out of the trees tripping over my saddle. "Boy, what's your hurry?" His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets as he looks up into the barrel of my pistol. When he rights himself, I grab him by the shoulder and pull him to his feet saying, "Son you don't run up on a man like that. Ye'll get yourself kilt."
He drops his head and mumbles, "Sorry Jeb."
Releasing my hold on him I ask, "Whattcha want son?"
"Maw says come eat."
Holstering my pistol, I answer, "Let's get to yor mom's fine cookin'." He walks ahead of me through the small mesquite toward the cottonwood where the wagon sits. His walk is slow and his shoulders sagging.
As we reached the glow of the fire Horace pulls Tommy to him sitting him down beside him and asks, "Son, you learn anything about running up on a fellow in the dark?"
Tommy downs his head and in a shaky voice says, "Paw Jeb had a gun aimin' at me."
Horace glanced across the blaze of the fire weighing' his words, "Son, Jeb been five years in the war, we done see'd killin done by them thar Comanch, Apache been around, or we wouldn't run across Runs with the Wind. Son, I reckon as how Jeb jist didn't know who was a chargin' at him." He pauses asking me, "Jeb, you got anything to add."
Tilting my hat back off my face I nod at Horace as I say, "Tommy, if you wanta go on a livin' don't go charging into any camp. It's 'Hello in the camp' son; only move in when invited."
Horace smiles, "Good advice son." Turning to Ms. Clettus he says, "Maw, them vittles ready?"
Finishing the fine meal, I say, "Thank you ma am!" Standing near the fire turning to Horace I say, "Come morning I'll look for a place to cross the Brazos." As He nods, I move back in the trees where my bedroll and horse are waiting. Off in the distance the howl of a lone coyote rents the air while overheard the flap of wings as the owl searches for food. Sleep is slow in coming as I listen to the night when toward midnight the sound of horses awakens me. Without moving a muscle, I listen the sound fading as they move north across the prairie. My hand rests easy on the handle of my pistol I doze.
As the sky lightens to gray in the early dawn my horse is saddle ready to ride out. We need a shallow crossing, reckon I'll try it up stream; moving along the edge of the river tracks of a deer are visible in the soft mud. Noticing tracks of unshod ponies at the water's edge about three miles from camp I ride alert. Stepping down to examine them they appear to be two or three days old and move across the river at a slight angle. Riding across the bottom is passable and it's three feet at the deepest spot. Heading back to the wagon arriving just as the Missus is cleaning up.
As I ride in, she calls out, "Jeb, saved a plate for you son."
Dismounting, "Might nice of ya ma'am."
Sitting by the fire Horace asks, "Find a crossing son?"
Gazing in the campfire I glance across at him saying "Yep, three miles upstream, good bottom, shallow. Might be we should move out as soon as you're ready Horace."
Through a mouth full of grub, he asks, "Trouble son?"
Sipping hot coffee, I reply, "Don't think so. Injun sign three four day old. We'll be cautious jist the same."
When the Clettus' wagon is ready to roll I ride out in front staying close to the river as possible. The sun is high in the clear blue sky as we approach the crossing. As Horace pulls the wagon to the river I call out, "Jimmy, hop on behind me, we'll lead out." Riding to the front of the wagon I say, "Horace follow me across I've checked this part of the riverbed."
Tipping his hat putting the team in motion he yells, "Sure thing, son."
I notice the missus crawl in the back with Carrie Sue, good idea Horace had thar. We move across the Brazos without incident. I shor breathed a lot easier when that thar wagon pulled up on dry land.
Dismounting, I say, "Clettus be a good time to fill the water barrel and water the horses, we gotta a long haul to the Colorado and on to Fort Concho."
Horace pulls the wagon back from the river into a grove of trees, mesquite, oak and a scrawny old cedar. As he climbs down from the wagon seat he says, "Maw, fix some biscuits and beans."
Turning to Jeb he says, "Son, let's eat, then we'll travel til sundown."
With my hat tilted back, nodding, I dismount tying Lancer in the shade of a pecan tree where there's grass for him. Off in the distance I hear the caw of a crow. If he's squawking, thar ain't no miscreant near the camp. As the missus puts coffee to boil, I amble through the trees toward the north. Gone might near a mile when I stop behind a large pecan seeing a wagon overturned, I move with caution toward the wreck. Leaving the cover of the trees with pistol drawn I creep forward reaching the overturned wagon. With caution I open the back flap where a woman's body sprawled out an arrow piercing her gut, legs pushed up her dress covering her face blood everywhere. Letting the flap drop searching the area, a short distance from the wagon a man lay with arrows through his body missing his scalp. The markings on the arrows were not that of the Apache could be Comanch. Scattered among the debris a rag doll lay a hundred yards from the wreck. I widened my search but found no child.
As I return to the Clettus wagon, I nod for Horace. As he starts toward me Tommy runs to follow. Horace notices the dark shadow of my eyes and says, "Tommy stay at the wagon."
With a solemn face he asks, "What's up, son?"
When he is standing in front of me, I say, "Horace, get a shovel and come with me; there's burring to be done." As he starts toward the wagon I continue, "Don't let the youngin's or the missus come!"
Without turning he calls, "Tommy bring the shovel, then help your maw."
As we move through the woods I say, "it's a fur piece best we walk, Horace." His reply is a nod of the head. We travel in silence till we reach the rise leading to the slaughter.
Shaking his head in disgust he asks, "How many bodies, Jeb?"
"Two, a man and a woman," I reply. Taking the shovel, I move to the shade of a snarled pecan tree to dig. With each shovel full I feel the shadowy darkness of death. I'd had enough death during the war, lost the best friends I ever had. I shore feel old beyond my years. Shaking my head, I continue the digging.
Horace walks up to the grave asking, "Jeb you see a little girl." He was holding the rag doll in his hand a darkness clouding his eyes.
"No, shor didn't. Be it comanch, they took her to raise as one of their own."
"Son, there's a couple quilts I'll wrap the lady in it for burial." Shaking his head, he continues "Seems like the decent thing to do."
With the burring done, we fashion two crude crosses. Looking through the debris found a family bible with the name Jennie Collier married to John Canton. "Jeb what should we do with this here Good Book?"
"Guess, we outta take it to Fort Concho. Somebody might be a wondering what happened to these folks."
Horace says, "That's a right smart idee, son."
We set out toward the Clettus wagon I say, "We be gettin' a late start, Horace; reckon we best move on down the trail though."
"Yep, Jeb, we can travel till sundown. Best we do that." Arriving back at the camp, Horace says to the missus, "Maw, pack up we'll eat on the trail; young'uns get in the wagon." Mrs. Clettus never said a word she packed up and was sitting on the seat in a short time.
Saddled and ready to ride, Horace nods and slaps leather as I approach the wagon. As the horses move out the creaks and groans of the old wagon breaks the silence. Off in the distance scavengers circling. The trail rutted from other wagons made for rough going. As I ride north, I see no Indian sign; jist where a snake slithered through the dirt and found him hiding in the shade of a scrub oak.
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