Read Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) Online

Authors: James J. Griffin

Tags: #coming of age, #series, #texas ranger, #ya fiction, #western adventure, #western action, #western classic, #painted pony books, #lone star ranger

Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) (4 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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“I’m sure he did,” Bob said. “Nate, do you
recollect how you got in the root cellar?”

“No, I surely don’t.” Nathaniel shook his
head. “All I remember is firin’ Jonathan’s gun, then everything
went black. I guess I must have come to, then crawled into the
cellar. I figure I was lucky those men didn’t see I was still

“You sure were, son,” Jeb agreed. “Dang
lucky. Nate, we didn’t find any six-gun near you, nor your brother.
My guess is one of those hombres must’ve picked up the gun while
you were still unconscious. Can you tell us how many there

“I’m not sure. Nine or ten, maybe a couple

“Can you tell us what any of them looked
like?” Bob asked.

Again, Nathaniel shook his head. “I wish I
could, but I can’t. Everything happened so fast.”

“It’s all right,” Bob reassured him.

“Nate, you don’t happen to know what kind of
pistol your brother wore, do you?” Jeb asked.

“I sure do. It was a Smith and Wesson
American cartridge revolver. Jonathan was real proud of that gun.
He even had his initials carved into the handle. He liked to talk
about how much better his cartridge gun was than the old-fashioned
cap and ball Colts.”

Bob and Jeb exchanged glances. Jeb

“That’s a mighty rare gun in these parts,”
he said. “If we find the man carryin’ that Smith and Wesson, it’s
more’n likely he’ll be one of the men who killed your folks.”

“What about any horses?” Bob continued. “We
didn’t find any around the place, so those raiders must’ve stolen
them along with the cattle. What’s your horse look like?”

“I didn’t have one,” Nathaniel said. “Never
much liked horses. My brother had one, though. A sorrel he called
Big Red. Red had a star on his forehead and one white foot.”

“Which foot?”

“The left front.”

“So if we find your brother’s horse that
will also help identify the raiders,” Bob said. “What about brands?
What was your dad’s brand?”

“My dad wouldn’t brand his cattle,”
Nathaniel said. “He thought it was cruel. Jonathan’s horse wasn’t
branded either. Neither was Buck, our plow horse.”

“Just like Sam Maverick,” Jeb said. “Well,
there goes any chance of provin’ the stolen cattle came from this
place. Bob, I reckon it’s time we let Nate try’n get a little rest.
He might want some time with his folks, too.”

“That’s a good idea, Jeb. You go with him.
Nate, it’s not gonna be easy for you, but you should probably take
Jeb’s suggestion. Take as much time as you need with your family.
Say some prayers for ’em and tell ’em you love ’em. Cry over ’em if
you need to. There’s no shame in that. Jeb’ll stay with you long as
you need. By the time you’re set, supper should be ready. We need
to get settled what you’re gonna do next. We can talk about that
while we eat.”

Jeb put his arm around Nathaniel’s

“C’mon, Nate. It’s time you said goodbye to
your folks.”

He took Nathaniel to where his parents and
brother lay side by side, covered with blankets.

“Nate, you want me to stay with you, or
would you rather be by yourself for a few minutes?”

“I think I’d like the company,” Nate said.
His voice quivered and his chin trembled as he struggled to keep
him emotions in check.

“All right. I’ll be here long as you need.
Do you want to see their faces again, or just remember ’em the way
you last saw ’em?”

“I… I don’t rightly know.”

Tears began streaming down Nathaniel’s
cheeks, and he broke into sobs. He stood crying for a few moments,
then uncovered his mother, father and brother. Luckily, none of
their faces bore any wounds. They looked peaceful in death.

“Jonathan,” Nathaniel said. “I’m sure gonna
miss you, big brother. I guess you’ll never get the chance to teach
me how to cowboy. Maybe that’s for the best. I’d probably just have
made a fool of myself, or fallen off Big Red and broken my neck. I
don’t have the knack for cowboyin’ that you did.”

A sob wracked his body before he could

“Pa, I know making a go of it in Texas was
your dream. If you can hear me, even though you might not believe
this, I wanted it to come true for you. Yeah, I wanted to go back
home, but I sure would never have left you and Ma. I hope God has a
ranch for you up in Heaven.”

“Ma, I love you so much. I don’t know what
else to say, except that I’ll always try and make you proud of me.
You’re the best mother anyone could ask for. I wish I could’ve done
something to stop you from dying. There’s some Texas Rangers here
who are after the men who did this. Once they catch them, they’ll
take care of them. They promised me that. Guess there’s not much
else to say, except I’ll pray to God for you every day, that you’re
all with Him.”

Nathaniel knelt alongside his mother and
father and bent down to kiss them goodbye, then tousled Jonathan’s
hair one last time. He pulled the blankets back over their

“I’m ready, Jeb.”

His head bent in sorrow, Nathaniel started
back for where the Rangers were gathering for supper, with Jeb at
his side. They had gone perhaps a hundred feet when Nathaniel
turned back to gaze at the bodies of his parents and brother. The
sorrow in his eyes now changed to a look of anger.

“Pa, Ma, Jonathan,” he shouted. “I’m goin’
to make sure those men pay for what they did to you. I don’t know
when, or how, but no matter how long it takes, I’ll make them

“Now’s not the time to worry about that,
son,” Jeb said. “Right now, you need food and sleep. Let’s go

Out of respect for Nathaniel, supper was a
mostly silent affair, without the usual joking and kidding that
ordinarily was part of the evening meal, a way for the hard-riding
Rangers, who faced danger and death almost every day, to release
tension and let off steam. Instead of the ordinary meal of beans,
bacon, and biscuits, there were thick beefsteaks. Nathaniel,
despite his loss, was hungrier than he realized, and downed a
plateful of steak, beans, and half a dozen biscuits. However, he
winced at his first taste of the strong black coffee the Rangers
drank. It was a much more bitter brew than what his mother had

“Coffee a little strong for you, Nate?” Bob

“No. No, not at all,” Nathaniel said, still
choking. “Just a bit more bite to it than what my ma made.”

“Coffee like this keeps a man goin’,” Dan
said. “That, and good grub. Tim, you did a fine job cookin’ up
these steaks. Sure were a welcome change from bacon. You put that
cow to good use.”

“Quiet, Dan,” Bob warned. “Watch your

Nathaniel had stabbed another piece of meat
with his fork. He stopped with it halfway to his mouth and looked
at it.

“Where… where’d you get this meat?”

“Just some ol’ cow me’n Tom found lyin’ dead
in the scrub,” Tim said.

Nathaniel looked at the burned remains of
the cowshed and enclosure which had held Bess, the milk cow. She
was nowhere in sight.

“Tell me the truth, Tim. This here meat’s
from Bess, our cow, ain’t it? Ain’t it?”

“Yeah, I reckon it is,” Tim answered, not
quite able to meet Nathaniel’s gaze. “Sorry, Nate.”

“Nate, those raiders killed your cow,” Jeb
tried to explain. “We hardly ever see fresh meat, unless one of us
downs a pronghorn or mebbe a javelina, so it just didn’t seem right
to let that meat go to waste. If we hadn’t taken it, the coyotes
and buzzards would have ripped her apart, then whatever they left
the flies would have gone after. At least this way your cow filled
the bellies of some mighty tired and hungry men, rather than the
scavengers. Try’n understand, son.”

Nathaniel dropped his plate to the dirt.

“I’m not hungry, all of a sudden. I guess
I’ll try and get some sleep now.”

He went over to where the Rangers had made
him a bed out of their spare blankets, pulled off his boots, and
slid under the covers. His soft sobs drifted on the night air.

“I’m sorry, fellers,” Dan said. “Didn’t mean
to upset the boy like that.”

“It’s not your fault, Dan,” Bob assured him.
“He would’ve figured it out sooner or later anyway. He’s had a big
loss today, and this is just one more thing that’s gone from his
life. Right now, cryin’ to get the hurt out of him’s probably the
best thing for him. That, and sleep. Speaking of which, we’ve got a
lot of hard ridin’ ahead of us tomorrow. It’s time we turn in. Dan,
you and Ed take the first watch. Jim and Hoot will relieve you. Jeb
and I will take third. Tim and Tom, you’ll have the last watch.
Now, let’s clean up and get to bed.”



The Rangers wanted to resume their pursuit
of the outlaws as soon as possible, but first they had to attend to
the somber task of burying Nathaniel’s parents and brother, so Bob
roused them an hour before sunrise. He let Nathaniel sleep a bit
later than his men.

“Nate, time to get up,” he said, gently
shaking the boy’s shoulders. “We’ve got a long day ahead of

“Huh?” Nathaniel lay there for a moment,
confused, then the memories of the day previous came flooding back.
He sat up, blearily, and rubbed sleep from his eyes.

“How’d you sleep, son? And how’s your

“All right, I guess. My head’s still sore,
but doesn’t hurt all that bad.” Despite everything that had
happened, exhaustion had finally overtaken Nathaniel, so he slept
soundly once he drifted off.

“Good. Breakfast’ll be ready soon. By the
time we eat, the sun’ll be just comin’ up. We’ll bury your folks
then. Meantime, take care of what needs doin’. Tom’s got a bucket
of water for washin’ up.”

Nathaniel tossed back the blankets and stood
up, looking around in confusion for a moment. He knew what the
lieutenant meant by taking care of what needed doin’, but where to
do it? The outhouse had burned along with the rest of the
buildings. He decided on a large clump of four-foot-high prickly
pear a few yards off. He headed behind that, relieved himself, then
joined the Rangers, who were already gathered around a fire,
eating. They greeted him warmly, their eyes friendly. All of those
men had lost friends or loved ones to outlaws, so they understood
exactly what Nathaniel was going through. He splashed water from
the bucket on his face and neck, then Tom handed him a tin plate
containing biscuits and beans, and a tin mug of coffee.

“It ain’t the fanciest grub, Nate, but it’s
tasty, and it’ll stick to your ribs.”

“Thanks, Tom.” Nathaniel took a fork and
knife, then began digging into his food.

“Nate, we have to decide what to do with
you,” Bob said while they ate. “You can’t stay here by yourself,
that’s for certain. Do you have any kin who might take you in?”

“I’ve got an aunt and uncle back in
Delaware, but I don’t know about livin’ with ’em.”

“Why not?”

“They’ve got eight kids of their own. Takin’
in another mouth to feed would be mighty hard on ’em. Besides, my
Aunt Ida’s all right, but my Uncle Henry don’t like me all that
much. Me’n him don’t see eye to eye.”

“I see. And you have no relatives in

“No. My pa decided to move down here. My
folks and Jonathan were my only family, besides Aunt Ida and Uncle

“How about any friends? Do you think there’s
someone in San Saba you could stay with, at least until you decide
for certain what you want to do?”

“No, not anyone. We didn’t get into town all
that often. I don’t know anybody there, except maybe to say

“Nate, I hate to keep askin’ these
questions, but they are important,” Bob said. “Did your father have
any money about the place, or perhaps in the San Saba bank?”

“He had an account at the bank, now that you
mention it. I’m not sure how much money was left, though. I think
he took a lot of it to spend fixin’ up the ranch.”

Bob sighed.

“Well, we have a real problem here. Nate, we
have to get back on the trail of those renegades. You surely can’t
come with us.”

“Why not, Bob?” Hoot asked.

“Well, for one thing, Nate’s too young. He’s
also admitted he’s not much of a rider. He wouldn’t be able to keep
up with us. For that matter, he’s got no horse. Nate, I think the
best thing for you to do would be go into San Saba and see if your
dad had any money left in the bank. If he did, it’s yours now. Take
that out, buy some new clothes, then use the rest to get home to
Delaware. I also think you should have a doctor check that head
wound. Jim’s real good, as far as it goes, but you really need to
have a real physician check you over.”

“But I don’t want to leave my folks behind,”
Nathaniel answered. His eyes welled with tears.

“I know you don’t, son. But think this
through. You’ve got no living family here and no friends. Where
would you live? What would you do for money? At least back in
Delaware you have an aunt who will take care of you. And perhaps
you can patch things up with your uncle. I don’t see where there’s
a choice here. Jeb.”

“Yeah, Bob?”

“You’ve got some leave coming. I want you to
take that. You’ll bring Nate to San Saba. Find him a doctor first
off, then see to what else needs tending. Stay with him until his
affairs are settled and he’s on a stage heading back north, to get
a train back home. You needn’t worry about catching up with us once
Nate is on his way. Just head back to where the rest of the
company’s camped. We should be back there by the time you

“Sure. Nate, like the lieutenant says, goin’
home would be the best thing for you. Right now you’re at loose
ends. A lot of bad things have happened to you. You need to go home
and be with your kinfolks. Trust me and Bob, it’s for the

“I guess maybe you’re right,” Nate

“You’ll see we are,” Bob said. “Now, we’ve
got to tend to the buryin’, so we can get back on the trail.”

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
2.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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