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) (8 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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“I’d take the job if I were you, Nate,” Carl
said.

“You took the words right out of my mouth.
Carl. But Jeb, are you sure? I don’t even know how to ride that
good. Jonathan was the cowboy, not me.”

“The only way to learn is by doin’,” Jeb
answered. “Which means the best way to learn how to handle a horse
is by ridin’ him. And we’ll sure be doin’ a lot of hard ridin’ the
next two days. You’ll be sore, but I’d bet my hat you’ll learn
fast. You proved yourself today when you took on Hawkins. You’re a
man to ride the river with, Nate.”

“Jim said the same thing too, about me and
my brother. What’s that mean, Jeb?”

“Ride the river with? That means you’re a
man who can be absolutely trusted, no matter how tough the goin’ is
or how dangerous a situation becomes. It comes from the cattle
drives, where fordin’ a herd of cows across a flooded river is
about the most dangerous thing a man can face. If you can count on
your pard, no matter what, he is a man to ride the river with.”

“It’s the highest praise you can get in
Texas, son,” Carl added. “And I wouldn’t worry. You’ll do just
fine.”

“So would you, Carl. You ever think about
joinin’ up with the Rangers?”

“Me? Heck no. I’m too hair-triggered. Also
don’t like bein’ tied down to one outfit. But I appreciate the
offer.”

“Well, if you ever change your mind, just
find the nearest Ranger company and sign on. Give ’em my name.”

“I’ll do that.”

Doctor Mannion emerged from the back
room.

“I’ve done all I can for that man,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of time until he’s gone. Carl, I’ll take you
next.”

“All right.”

Once Carl went in, Jeb turned to Nate.

“Since you’re not goin’ home after all, you
need to write a letter to your aunt and uncle. They need to know
what’s happened. We’ll mail it before we leave in the morning.”

***

It was well after midnight before Jeb and
Nate returned to the livery and settled down in the loft. Jeb
quickly fell asleep, but Nate lay on his back, his mind racing. His
emotions churned, from sadness at the loss of his family, to
excitement at the thought of riding with the Texas Rangers, to fear
deep in his gut. What if Captain Quincy wouldn’t let him work as a
helper? Or worse, what if he couldn’t handle the job? Maybe he
should
just go back to Delaware. That would be the safe,
sensible thing to do. No. He could never go back. Either he’d make
good in Texas, or he’d die trying.

5

 

“What do you mean, you don’t know how to
saddle and bridle a horse?” Jeb asked Nate as they readied to leave
San Saba just after nine the next morning. They had waited for the
Post Office to open so Nate could mail the letter to his Aunt Ida
and Uncle Henry, then stop at the general store for supplies. Now,
they were at the livery stable. Nate had the blanket and saddle on
Big Red’s back, but was standing with the cinch in his hand, unsure
how to fasten it.

“We never owned a horse back in Delaware.
After Jonathan got Big Red he wanted to teach me how, but I never
cared to learn,” Nate explained. “Now I regret bein’ so
stubborn.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to learn, and right
quick. Let me finish saddlin’ up and I’ll help you.”

Jeb finished tightening the saddle on
Dudley’s back and came over to Nate.

“I know I checked Red’s feet for you, so we
won’t worry about those,” he said. “But tonight you’re gonna get a
lesson on how to care for your horse, Nate. Out here a man has to
depend on his horse for his very life. That’s why horse stealin’ is
a hangin’ offense. If you steal a man’s horse and leave him afoot,
you might as well have signed his death warrant. Now here, let me
show you. At least you’ve got the saddle on Red’s back, rather’n
under his belly.” Jeb stopped and chuckled. “And you’ve got the
saddle just about where it belongs. You should move it up a bit
more over your horse’s withers, though. That’s this here high point
above his shoulders.” Jeb moved the saddle forward a couple of
inches. “There, that’s better. See how the saddle fits right over
his withers? That helps keep it in place. You’ve got the cinch
strap in your hand, looped through the cinch’s buckle, and the
cinch is under Red in just about the right spot. You pull up the
strap into the buckle on the saddle, under the buckle then over it,
then slide it to the left. So far so good, right?”

“Right, Jeb.”

“Good. Now you bring the strap back around
and over the front of the buckle, to the right. Bring it back under
the buckle, keep it behind the loop you just made, then pull it
down. That’ll tighten it up. If there’s too much strap left, you
can either run it through the buckles on each end twice before
makin’ the knot, or just make a loop of the extra and tuck it in.
Easy enough, right?”

“Seems to be.”

“And it is, except for one thing you’ve
always gotta watch out for. A lotta horses’ll suck in air to blow
up their belly when you’re tightenin’ the cinch. Then, when they
let it out, the cinch ain’t so tight around their belly. More
comfortable for them. Problem with that is, with a loose cinch, the
saddle’ll slip sideways as soon as you step in the stirrup; or
worse, it’ll slip a bit later, while you’re lopin’ along. Next
thing you know, you’re on the ground, seein’ stars, while your
horse is runnin’ off, kickin’ at the saddle—which is now underneath
him. He’ll probably wreck the saddle, and you’ll be facin’ a long
walk, if you didn’t break your neck. You want your cinch to be
tight, with just enough room so your horse can breathe easy.”

“So, how do I stop him from blowin’ up his
belly?”

“There’s a couple of ways. Lotta men’ll
either give their horse a kick or knee in the belly. That’ll knock
the air outta him, but I feel it’s kinda cruel. When you spend as
much time with your horse as us Rangers do, you want to be friends
with him, not have him scared of you—or worse, fightin’ you all the
time. So what I do is, either circle him around a few times, or
walk him a few steps. He’ll naturally let the air out, then you can
tighten the cinch. Watch.”

Jeb led Red around him in a tight
circle.

“See, now you can tighten the cinch just
fine.” He pulled on the cinch strap to take up the slack.

“Wow. That was really loose,” Nate said.

“Which is why you always check your cinch
twice before mountin’ up. Now, you buckle the breast strap in
place. That keeps the saddle from slidin’ back. Then we have the
back cinch. Some men only use one, but I see your brother used a
double cinch. I prefer that too. Second cinch just keeps the saddle
a little more stable if your horse bucks or you’re ridin’ over
rough terrain. But you don’t want to tighten that one as tight.
It’s not the main cinch keepin’ the saddle in place. Since it’s
right by your horse’s flanks, which are real sensitive, he won’t
tolerate it bein’ too tight. Or if it’s back too far, you pull it
up and it hits his— um—privates, he’s sure gonna take a buckin’
fit. Now, Red’s a gelding, so that’s not quite the problem it would
be if he were still a stud, but that back cinch in the wrong place
could really be painful, as you can imagine.”

Nate winced.

“There, the cinches are all set,” Jeb
continued. “Now, the bridle. That’s real easy. You hold it up so
the headstall is just in front of Red’s ears. That’s a good boy,
Red. Then you slip the bit in his mouth.”

“Won’t he bite me?”

“Not if you do it right. Here, see this gap
between his teeth?”

“Yeah.”

“If he doesn’t open his mouth, you slide
your fingers in there, both sides. He’ll open wide, and you slip
the bit right in. It sits in that gap. Then you slide the headstall
over his ears, buckle the throatlatch in place, and you’re all set.
Think you can do that next time?”

“I’m sure I can.”

“Good. Now get up on Red, and I’ll check the
length of your stirrups.”

Nate put his foot in the stirrup and swung
up on Red’s back. Once he settled in the saddle, his feet barely
reached the top of the stirrups.

“Like I thought, they’re too long for you.
Your brother was taller, right?”

“Yeah, he was,” Nate confirmed.

“You want your stirrups set so your knees
are just slightly bent. Here, I’ll adjust them for you.”

Jeb shortened the left stirrup.

“There. How’s that?”

“That feels fine.”

“Good. I’ll fix the other one, then we’ll
head on out.”

Once Nate’s stirrups were set, Jeb mounted
his own horse. He urged Dudley into a walk.

“You want to keep your horse to a walk for a
half-mile or so until he warms up, Nate,” he explained. “Only time
you make an exception to that is if you’re in a real hurry, like if
you’re after a band of outlaws who’ve just robbed a bank, or say
Comanches have discovered your camp and you need to outrun ’em. In
that case, you get your horse movin’ as fast as you can, right
off.”

Jeb glanced at Nate and pulled his paint to
a stop.

“Hold on a minute.”

“Why? What’s wrong, Jeb?”

“Why’re you holdin’ your reins like
that?”

Nate had a rein in each hand and his elbows
sticking out.

“Isn’t that how?”

“No, it’s not. You take both reins in the
left hand, or right if you happen to be left-handed, which you
ain’t. You can’t fire a gun or toss a rope if both your hands are
busy holdin’ the reins. Make your hand into a fist. Let the reins
lie in your palm. And don’t have your elbows flappin’ all over the
place like a scarecrow.”

Nate took the reins in his left hand,
holding it just over the saddlehorn.

“How’s this?”

“Much better. You might want to loosen up on
the reins just a bit. A loose rein is generally easier on both you
and your horse, unless he’s actin’ up. Now, you take the left rein
and lay it against the left side of his neck if you want him to
turn right, or the right rein against the right if you want him to
turn left. At the same time, press your knee against his side in
the direction you want him to turn… left knee for a left turn,
right for a right. You got that?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I do.”

“You’ll get the hang of it. Easier to keep
your balance if you look toward the horizon. And don’t be admirin’
your shadow while you ride. Shadow-riders only make a fool of
themselves, sooner or later. By the time we reach camp, you’ll
either be a rider or you won’t. Let’s keep movin’.”

Jeb out his paint into a walk once again.
They had only gone a short distance when Nate’s horse stopped. His
tail lifted. Jeb rode on a few yards before he realized Nate was
not keeping up. He turned and called to him.

“What’re you stoppin’ for now, Nate?”

“I didn’t. Red did. He stopped to poop.”

Sure enough, Big Red had just deposited a
large, odiferous mound of manure in the middle of the trail.

“He doesn’t need to stop to poop. Keep him
movin’ when he needs to go. Last thing you need is a horse that
stops to poop when you’re in the middle of a running gun battle.
Only time you let your horse stop is when he needs to pee. In that
case, stand up in your stirrups and lean forward. That takes
pressure off his kidneys and makes it easier for him to go.”

“What if we’re in the middle of a runnin’
gunfight or bein’ chased by Indians when he needs to pee?”

“He’s probably not gonna pee while he’s
runnin’,” Jeb answered, with a chuckle, “But if he does, your legs
are gonna get splashed. Now get him movin’. We’ve got a lot of
ground to cover before nightfall.”

Half a mile later, Jeb put Dudley into a
jogtrot. Nate’s horse matched the pace, then began to buck.

“Jeb!” Nate yelled.

“Stick with him, Nate. He’s just feelin’
good and workin’ the kinks outta his back. Most horses do when
they’re startin’ out and feelin’ good. He’ll stop in a minute.”
Underneath him, Dudley also let out a few well-timed bucks, then
settled into a steady stride.

“See what I mean? You rode him just fine,
pardner.”

“Yeah. I did, didn’t I?” Nate grinned from
ear to ear.

A few minutes later, Jeb increased their
pace to a lope, a gait which would cover a lot of ground quickly,
yet still conserve the horses as much as possible. While they rode
along, Nate’s appreciation for the rugged beauty of Texas, which
had escaped his notice until now, grew. The sky was a deep clear
blue, not fouled by the smoke from the factories and DuPont’s
gunpowder plants like back in Wilmington. The land was level to
gently rolling, sometimes cut by a dry wash or shallow ravine, and
interspersed with an occasional low hill. The vegetation was mostly
scrub brush and cactus, with mesquite that grew in many cases as
large as small trees. Where they rode closer to the San Saba, there
were cottonwoods, pin oaks, and junipers, even an infrequent
cypress.

The further they rode, the more Nate felt as
one with his horse. He had Jonathan’s gunbelt buckled around his
waist. The weight of the heavy Smith and Wesson on his right hip
and the Bowie knife in the sheath on his left felt natural, as if
they’d always belonged there. Jonathan’s Winchester was also in the
saddle boot.

If I ever want to be a Ranger, I’m gonna
have to learn how to shoot that rifle
, Nate thought. His
reverie was interrupted by Jeb’s voice.

“Nate, a man’s gotta be aware of his
surroundings at all times out here,” Jeb said. “That goes double
for a lawman, especially a Ranger, so I’m gonna teach you to read
sign as much as I can while we’re ridin’. See that fella up
there?”

Jeb pointed to a large bird wheeling in the
sky.

“He’s a red-tailed hawk. And see those over
there?”

He indicated several black birds circling
and descending in the distance, off to the right.

“Yep, I see ’em.”

“Those are buzzards. Somethin’s dead in the
brush out there. We’ll ride over and take a looksee, just in case
it’s a human. Just keep in mind, birds can tell you a lot. A jay
screamin’ or flock of crows burstin’ out of the trees means
somethin’s stirred ’em up, and that somethin’ could well be a
drygulcher waitin’ to put a bullet in your back.”

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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