Moving from tree to tree, I got to the horses. Actually, it was just horse, Solomon. Diane’s horse was gone and so was her saddle. Why had she left alone? Why was I on the ground? Why was it dark when it should be early?
I had to think hard through the pain to come back to the answer, my concussion. I had blanked out and she did what I told her. She left me. She left me covered with a blanket and Solomon. For both I had to thank her. My Winchester was gone.
I checked the saddle bags, but found nothing there to eat. We hadn’t had anything to eat in a day before I blacked out again, and now I was going to have to look for her tracks, find food, and catch up to her before the Lazy E crowd, specially the fat man. Not a goal I was too sure I could handle at that time.
A sharp noise rattled through the woods. I drew the .44 and stood as silent as the rock next to me. Solomon’s head came up. I grabbed his muzzle to keep him silent. We waited.
Another horse? No.
Must be a person making that much noise. No.
It was a cow, a big ugly fat cow, also referred to as beef steak on the hoof. If I shot the poor dumb critter I might as well send a telegram to the ones following us and tell them where to meet me.
The cow got to live a bit longer. I slowly and carefully saddled Solomon, eased myself into the saddle, and started to go . . . where? I had no idea. I checked the big dipper. A couple of hours left until it would begin to get light. I slowly climbed down and, leaning against a the rock wrapped in my blanket, I waited for enough light to see her tracks.
I woke again with the sun just over the horizon. Solomon was still saddled and not very happy with me. He nudged me and gave out with a couple of grunts as if to say, ‘Let’s go, laggard.’ I really could not blame him.
The tracks of a fast moving horse left that campsite heading east. It was the tracks of Diane’s horse. We took out after them.
In the morning light the tracks were easy to follow. If they were easy for me, I knew they’d be easy for any real hand on a ranch. For a while I drug a bush along behind, but looking back all I’d done is make an easier track to see the trail.
There was about three miles behind me when the sound of a rifle shot came from up ahead. Solomon kicked the speed up a bit and we went running into battle.
The sound of a couple of six guns going off echoed off the steep sides of a valley we were entering. We splashed through a small stream and up the other bank, still on the tracks. The problem became very evident. Two other sets of tracks joined Diane’s. She was in trouble.
The rifle sounded again, followed by a six gun.
I was behind two chasers which were between Diane and I. I couldn’t shoot until I knew the positions of both Diane and the two outlaws, or at least I was assuming they were from the Lazy E. Another pistol shot, this time closer.
I left the saddle and tried to walk, leading Solomon. That didn’t work by head began to swim and I went down.
The sun had moved about two hours’ worth when I woke up. I wasn’t as confused as earlier, but there was still the problem of getting into the saddle. When I finally did, I was seeing double and Solomon was wanting to move. We moved at whatever speed Solomon wanted to go and all I did was hang on.
At least there were no more gun shots.
Not two miles down the path, four more horses joined the three I was tracking. Now there were six on the trail of one young gal that just wanted to see her father buried proper and get her ranch back. The more I thought on that idea, the madder I got. Why? Why was this outlaw rancher so intent on gaining a ranch that he would kill her father and then go after a woman in a time and place where woman were looked upon as more holy than any church. You could burn down every church in the state and just rile folks a bit, but mess with a woman and every man jack of them would be on your trail with a hanging rope over the horn.
At this point, Everson had to kill her and bury her deep. If she made it to a real town, he would be a hunted man and so would all his hands, or gang. I was already on his trail and I intended to be the one who read to him from the Good Book and told him of his sins. God could deal with him when the time came for his final judgment. I didn’t want to be judge, jury, and executioner. I just wanted the girl safe and sound in her own home.
I looked to the heavens and said, calmly, “Is that too much to ask, Lord.”
Thunder rolled through the new canyon Solomon had just taken the two of us into.
I didn’t like the sound of that answer.
Solomon moved on like he knew what he was doing and I just worked at staying in the saddle and making sense of the sights I was seeing double. No more shots rolled through the canyon as the walls got steeper and the steam ran faster.
I heard a shout.
Solomon stopped before I could pull back on the reins. I slowly swung my right foot over Solomon’s rump and eased myself to the ground. Taking my left foot out of the stirrup was no easy task, but Solomon stood for it. I dropped my end of the reins in the dirt just in time to see the dog moving through the boulders on the other side of the stream. Where had he been? I didn’t really care, I was just glad to see him. I whistled softly and he ignored me. I moved parallel to the dog as we moved up the trail alongside the stream.
Another voice said, “Catch up when you can. I ain’t missing the fun when they catch that gal.”
“Some pard you are, Doby.”
I listened to hear Doby ride away followed by the other man grumbling about a busted latigo way out here in the middle of nowhere.
The trail went up steeply alongside a ten foot tall water fall. Kinda pretty it was, but who had time to appreciate the creation around them in times like this. My head came slowly over the top at the edge of the falls to see a man fumbling with his saddle, which laid in the dirt, and trying to piece together two pieces of broken leather.
It looked to me like the mice had gotten to his latigo and done a right smart job of eating a fair sized chunk out of the strap. Only two ways I knew to fix that; rivets or a new strap. He tried to use just the ring end of the latigo only to find it too short to make a tie. He reached in his saddle bag and pulled out a strip of leather a short half-inch wide and thick about three feet long. Using his knife he cut the two chewed ends of the latigo off square and over laid them. The pocket knife he dug out of his ducking trousers had a long, narrow blade which he used to start a hole through the two ends of the latigo.
I could see what he was planning on and filed that idea in the back of my mind should I ever need it. He was going to sew that latigo together with the leather. He tossed the leather strip in a backwater of the stream and as he did caught sight of me. He grabbed for his gun.
I hauled mine out, but before I could get it over the edge of the trail, the dog hit him running and leaping across the stream to land in the middle of one surprised gun hand whose gun went flying and feet went out from under. The dog stood on his chest and growled in his face. I stepped up took his knives away from him. The big one I had to roll him a bit for, but the pocket knife was lying in the dirt next to him.
The dog backed off when I asked him to.
“Stand up and tell me the name of the man I’m gonna bury right here.”
“You ain’t burying me.”
The dog didn’t like the sound of his voice or something, he took the man down again.
The man’s hand flashed into his shirt and came out with a short barreled small caliber pistol which I heard click twice as he thumbed the hammer back. I didn’t think. I just shot the man as he laid there trying to get that barrel lined up with me or the dog.
The dog backed off and wagged his tail. Last I saw of him he was going over the next rise on the trail while I was gathering what I could use of the man’s rig. Two chunks of jerky were a blessing and that little, short barreled pistol, and his gun belt were going to come in handy I was sure.
I rolled him off the trail and set all the rocks I could move over against and over his body while I was quoting the Good Book to him for a service.
No there were only five after Diane.
The double vision was going away. I could move without getting dizzy. Getting on Solomon was not the task it had been just hours ago. “You fixin’ me up, Lord? I will give thanks for that.”
We moved slowly up the trail figuring someone would come back to check on the man left behind, but no one did after a half hour. Solomon slowly picked up the pace until we came to place where someone, Diane probably, had rolled a rock and caused a slide to cover the trail with large rocks and also dam up the stream.
The Lazy E boys had moved enough rock to get their horses over the blockage making a new chunk of trail which I promptly used and kept on at the tail end of the parade.
As I rode I was looking at the tracks. There were three I could identify anywhere due to some weird markings, but the others looked the same to me. I was trying to figure out which one was Diane’s, but had no luck by the time the sun was low in the western sky. With about an hour to find a secure place to camp, the trail split. The tracks of the horses went one way, which was cresting the pass not more than two hundred yards ahead. The creek was down to almost no water in it. I could even see where the trickle began near a pair of rocks not fifty feet ahead.
I filled my canteen and took the other way until I was sure no one was following and began looking for a camp spot. My figuring was that I would set up a camp and walk up to the pass after dark and see what I could see of campfires or even cabins or a town in the distance. We were high enough up that unless the view was blocked, the view should be long and informative.
Maybe a quarter mile up the side path, I found a spot. Just as I was swinging off the back of Solomon, I noticed as single small boot track in the dirt right where I figured to put my bed. It was a flat spot maybe six feet wide and protected on two sides by rocks three feet high. The track looked to have been made by someone going from rock to rock, but there they had to hit the dirt because the jump was too far.
Eyeballing the direction I took out to see if any more tracks showed up. The reason was simple. I was sure this was a track of one of the boots Diane had been wearing. Diane had sent her horse down one trail as she got off and headed down the other going from rock to rock alongside the trail. Those gun dummies would never think of a trick like that. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good horse to walk on top of rocks when and where there was no way they could get back to the horse? And, it was a long way to anything down this new trail.