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
Three graves had been dug by the Rangers the
night before, under the same dying cottonwood where Nathaniel’s
wound had been treated. A fourth, shallow grave, unmarked and five
hundred yards distant, already held the body of the dead outlaw.
Nathaniel’s mother, father, and brother lay alongside the open
graves, their bodies wrapped in blankets.
The Rangers and Nathaniel gathered somberly
around the open graves. Jim and Ed carefully lowered first Marcus,
then Adele, and finally Jonathan into their final resting places.
The Rangers removed their hats and stood while their Lieutenant
gave a short prayer.
“Lord,” he began, “Ain’t none of us here
really church-goin’ men, but we all believe in You, and that
someday we’ll be with You in Heaven. We know not Your ways, but we
are certain that Marcus, Adele, and Jonathan Stewart are with You
right now, in the peace of Your love and mercy. Grant them eternal
rest. We also pray that You keep their son and brother Nathaniel
safe, and help guide him in this time of his trials. Amen.”
“Amen,” the Rangers and Nathaniel
“And Lord, if You could help us bring the
outlaws who murdered these innocent people to justice, we’d sure
appreciate that. Amen.”
“Guess there’s nothing else to say, Lord.
“Nate.” Bob gave Nathaniel several clods of
earth. Nathaniel tossed those on each of the bodies, then the
Rangers filled in the graves. Crude wooden crosses with the names
of the deceased were placed at the head of each. Once that was
done, the Rangers, except for Jeb, saddled their horses, mounted up
and rode off. Jeb placed an arm around Nathaniel’s shoulders.
“C’mon, Nate. It’s time to go.”
He led Nathaniel to where his paint gelding
waited, already saddled and bridled and tied to the sole corral
post which had survived the fire.
“Nate, this here’s Dudley,” he said. “Named
him after a favorite uncle of mine.” He patted the horse’s
shoulder. “Dudley, this here’s Nate. He’s gonna be ridin’ with us
for a spell. He’s just lost his family, so you treat him gentle,
Dudley snorted and nuzzled Jeb’s hand.
“He gonna be able to carry both of us?”
“Dudley’s a tough ol’ bronc. He can carry
double for quite a ways. He’ll be just fine. C’mon, we might as
well get a move on.”
Jeb climbed into the saddle, then held out
his left hand to Nathaniel.
“C’mon, Nate. Just swing your leg over
Dudley’s rump and settle down behind me. Wrap your arms around my
waist to hang on.”
“I dunno,” Nate said.
“You sure don’t want to walk all the way to
San Saba, do you?”
“No, I guess I don’t.”
“Then get up here with me.”
“All right.” Nathaniel took Jeb’s hand, and,
with the Ranger’s help, scrambled onto Dudley’s back, just behind
the saddle. As instructed, he wrapped his arms around Jeb’s waist,
holding on for dear life.
“Hey, take it easy there,” Jeb pleaded. “I
can’t breathe, and you’re squeezin’ my belly so tight my guts are
liable to pop out my backside. You don’t have to hold on so tight,
Nate. Just relax and feel the horse’s motion. You’ll be just
“If you say so. I’ll try.” Nathaniel
loosened his grip just a bit. Jeb took in a deep breath.
“There, that’s better. I can get air in my
lungs again. Dudley, let’s go.”
He heeled the paint into a walk and pointed
his nose east, toward San Saba.
Two hours later, they rode into San Saba. On
the way Nathaniel had resigned himself to being called Nate, the
new, shortened version of his name the Rangers had given him. In
fact, he kind of liked it.
“There’s a doctor just a few blocks up the
street, Nate,” Jeb said. “He’s treated some of us Rangers before.
He’s a good man, so we’ll stop there first and have your head
examined. Wait a minute, that don’t sound quite right. Makes it
seem as if you’re loco. We’ll have him look at the bullet gash on
Despite himself, Nate gave a low chuckle. A
few minutes later, Jeb reined up in front of a small whitewashed
cottage. A sign out front read “Doctor Elijah Mannion”.
“Just slide off Dudley’s rump,” Jeb told
Nate. “Don’t worry, he won’t kick you.”
Nate did as told, but grabbed Dudley’s tail
on the way down. The paint planted a hoof solidly in Nate’s belly,
knocking him halfway across the street. Nate lay there, curled up,
hands clamped to his middle while he struggled for air. His eyes
watered from the effort and pain. Jeb jumped off his horse and
hurried up to him.
“Nate! You all right?”
“I thought… you said… your horse wouldn’t…
kick me,” Nate gasped.
“Well, I never expected you to latch onto
his tail,” Jeb answered. “Any horse’ll kick if you do that, no
matter how mild-mannered he is. C’mon, let’s get you to the doc.
I’ll help you up.”
Jeb took Nate’s hand and pulled him to his
feet. With Nate walking hunched over, short of breath and hands
still pressed to his belly, they headed inside.
“We’re lucky. Nobody else here,” Jeb said.
The waiting room was empty.
“I’ll be right with you,” a voice called
from the back room. A moment later, Dr. Elijah Mannion appeared. He
was middle-aged, with a long salt-and-pepper beard. His eyes were
deep blue and had a kindly appearance.
“Well, well, what have we here?” he
“Mornin’ doc,” Jeb said. “You probably don’t
remember me, but I’m Ranger Jeb Rollins. You dug a bullet out of my
back some months back. Got a boy with me who needs lookin’ at.
Name’s Nate Stewart.”
“I see. Ate too many green apples, did you
son? And fell out of the tree getting them?”
Nate was still hunched over, holding his
“No, doc. Dunno where you’d find an apple
tree within two hundred miles of here anyway,” Jeb answered. “He
got kicked by a horse. That’s not why we’re here, though. He’s got
a bullet crease under those bandages. One of my pards patched him
up, but it needs to be looked at.”
“All right. Come with me and I’ll have a
look at him.”
They followed Mannion into his examination
“Sit on that table, son,” he ordered. Once
Nate was settled, Mannion removed the bandages from his head.
“I’m going to clean this wound up just a
bit. It may sting.”
“It can’t hurt any more than when it was
stitched,” Nate said.
“You’re certainly right about that.” Mannion
took two bottles and some cloths from a shelf.
“How did you get this wound, Nate?” he asked
as he worked on the boy.
Jeb answered instead. “Outlaws attacked his
folks’ ranch a few miles west of here. Killed his ma, pa, and older
brother. Only reason Nate survived is they thought he was
“That’s a real shame. Outlaw bands will be
the ruination of Texas yet. I don’t suppose you Rangers captured
any of those men.”
“The rest of my patrol is on their trail
right now. Might even have caught up with ’em. I stayed behind to
help Nate, here. He’s got no kin left in Texas, so he’s going back
home to Delaware. He’s got an aunt and uncle and a bunch of cousins
there. That head wound ain’t gonna keep him from travelin’, is
“Not at all,” Mannion answered. “Your
partner did as competent a job of treating this wound as most
physicians, and better than many. Nate, I’m merely going to apply a
fresh dressing and new bandages. Before I do that, however, I want
to make certain your brain hasn’t been concussed.” He held up his
“How many fingers do you see?”
“That’s right. Now, I’m going to look at
Mannion examined both of Nate’s eyes
thoroughly, looking for signs of non-responsiveness or dilated or
“You appear not to have suffered any trauma
to your brain. Have you experienced any dizziness? Have you kept
falling asleep, even just dozing off?”
“Good, good. How about nausea, the feeling
that you need to throw up?”
“Not until Jeb’s horse kicked me in the
“Well, that’s enough to make any man sick to
his stomach. As long as you haven’t vomited any blood, I don’t
believe any real harm was done. However, I do want to check your
abdomen, so could you take off your shirt?”
“All right.” Nate peeled off his borrowed
shirt. Already a purple bruise was spreading across his belly where
Jasper’s hoof had struck. Mannion looked at that for just a
“Lie back please, Nate,” he requested.
“All right.” Nate stretched out on the
table. Mannion poked and prodded at his belly, pounding it lightly
with the side of his fist at several points.
“Does that hurt here?”
“How about here? And here? Any sharp
“Good. I’d say you have nothing but a bad
bruise, son. It should clear up in a few days. However, if you feel
any sudden sharp, stabbing pains or begin vomiting blood come back
here immediately. You can sit up and put your shirt back on now,
then I’ll finish up.”
Mannion efficiently finished treating the
wound to Nate’s head.
“There, I’m all done. You’ll need to have
the stitches removed in a few days. Any doctor can do that for you.
Just remember, if you feel any nausea or can’t stay awake, you get
right back here. Understood?”
“Thanks, Doc,” Jeb said. “How much do we owe
“A dollar will cover it, Ranger.”
“That’s more than fair.” Jeb dug in his
pocket, pulled out a silver dollar, and gave it to Mannion.
“Nate, please accept my deepest sympathies
on the loss of your family,” Mannion said. “And I wish you Godspeed
on your journey home. The Rangers are good men. I’m certain they’ll
bring the outlaws who murdered your family to justice.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Nate, we’ve got a lot of things to do
before the day’s over,” Jeb said. “Doc,
“Goodbye to you, Ranger. Nate, make sure to
take care of yourself.”
Jeb and Nate’s next stop was the San Saba
County Bank. A young teller there hesitated about granting Jeb’s
request to meet with the bank president, until Jeb pulled his
silver star in silver circle badge from his pocket and pinned it to
his vest. Five minutes later, they were seated in Homer Funston’s
“Ranger Rollins, it’s a pleasure to meet
you,” he said. “Would you care for a cigar?”
“No, thank you, Mr. Funston. Most of my
pards smoke, but I never got into the habit.”
“Fine, fine. You won’t mind if I do.”
Funston chose a cigar from the jar on his desk, lit it, and drew a
few puffs. He blew a ring of smoke toward the ceiling.
“Now, what can I do for the Texas
“This here’s Nate Stewart. His family had a
ranch a few miles west of here. Outlaws attacked the place,
murdered everyone except Nate, and burned it to the ground. Nate’s
headed back home to Delaware. We’re here to see what money his
father might’ve had deposited in your bank. Since Nate’s the sole
survivor, it’s his now.”
“Of course, of course. Nate, please let me
say how sorry I am for your loss. What was your father’s first
“It was Marcus. My mom’s was Adele, and my
brother’s was Jonathan.”
“Thank you. Miriam.”
Funston called to the woman in the nearest
“Yes, Mr. Funston?”
“Could you bring me the records on the
Marcus Stewart family accounts, please?”
“Right away, Mr. Funston.”
“While we’re waiting, Ranger Rollins, I can
tell Nate that his father owned his ranch free and clear. He was
one of the fortunate persons in that regard. I know it’s a bit soon
to ask, but since it will be your land, son, do you think you’d
want to keep it or sell it? In either case, since you’re a minor,
you’ll need a conservator to take care of the legal aspects. Do you
understand what I’m saying?”
“Not really, sir.”
“He’s sayin’ someone’ll need to handle your
money until you’re of legal age, Nate,” Jeb explained. “You’ll need
someone to make sure the taxes on your land are paid, things like
that, until you decide what to do with it. And would I be correct
in assuming you’re offering to take on that job, Mr. Funston?”
“If Nate is agreeable, yes. Of course, if he
has someone else in mind, or would prefer the court name
“What do you think, Nate?”
“I dunno, Jeb. I never had to think about…
“Enough said for now. Mr. Funston, I reckon
we’ll wait on that decision for a spell.”
“That’s certainly understandable, Ranger.
Ah, here’s Miriam with the accounts now. Thank you, Miriam.”
The secretary handed Funston the Stewart
account records. He looked them over for a moment, then leaned back
in his chair.
“Nate, as I seemed to recollect, your father
had made several withdrawals from his account in the past few
months. He needed to do that to keep the ranch going, until he was
able to sell some of his cattle. Nonetheless, there is still
several hundred dollars in the account. That will all be yours, of
course, once everything works its way through the courts. I will
need an address where to reach you.”
“Mr. Funston, the renegades who murdered
Nate’s family left him with nothing but the clothes on his back,”
Jeb said. “In fact, they didn’t even leave him all those. His shirt
was gone when we found him. That’s a borrowed one he’s wearin’. Any
chance you could bend the rules a bit, and let him have enough
money from the account to buy some new duds? He’s also gonna need
money for stage and train tickets back home, and meal money
“That could be a problem, but I can