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

Authors: James J. Griffin

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Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) (9 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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“All right. I’ll remember that, Jeb.”

They turned off the trail. When they reached
the spot where the buzzards had landed the ugly black birds
scattered, squawking in protest as they rose into the sky, their
wings flapping.

“Well, that’s not a man anyway, Nate,” Jeb
said. “It’s a wild boar. You don’t want to tangle with one of
those. They’ve got bad eyesight, a nasty temper, and those tusks
are razor sharp. They’ll tear you to shreds. A wild boar ain’t
afraid of anythin’, either. They’ll charge a horse as quick as
they’ll charge a man. Sometimes you can empty your gun into one and
it’ll still keep a-comin’. Looks like this one ain’t been dead all
that long, so the meat ain’t spoiled. I reckon it’s time for
dinner. You hungry?”

“My belly’s been rumblin’ for the past hour.
But are you certain that pig’s safe to eat?”

“Nate, think of that hog as manna from
Heaven,” Jeb answered. “Out here we’ve gotta rely on game for most
of our meat, except for the bacon we carry. Least we didn’t have to
hunt for this meal. Tell you what. There’s a small spring just over
there. Why don’t you take care of the horses while I cut some pork
chops from that boar? Loosen their cinches so they’re more
comfortable, let ’em drink, then tie ’em to that mesquite. Leave
’em enough rope so they can reach the grass. Fill our canteens
while you’re there. I’ll show you how to tie a horse so he can’t
break loose, but you can get him untied right quick.”

“All right.”

They dismounted. Jed unwrapped the end of
Dudley‘s lead rope from his saddlehorn. Like most cowboys, he rode
with a halter always on his horse’s head, rope attached, in
addition to the bridle. That made securing a horse much faster and
easier, and the bridle could easily be slipped off for the horse’s
comfort.

“You take your rope like this,” he said.
“Loop it around the hitch rail, tree, fence, whatever you’re tyin’
your horse to. Then, you make a knot, like so.” Jeb looped the rope
around again. “It’s almost like tyin’ your cinch, only you bring
the rope up and through, leavin’ a loop in it. Now, if your horse
decides to try’n break free, he can’t. Pullin’ back won’t get him
anywhere. But if you need to untie him in a hurry, you just tug on
the end of the rope and it’s untied. See?”

Jeb jerked the free end of the rope and the
knot fell open.

 

“Sure. But what if your horse figures out by
pullin’ on the rope he can get loose?” Nate asked.

“Then you’ve got a mighty smart cayuse,” Jeb
answered, with a laugh. “And I’ve seen more’n one who’s figured
that out. In fact, my Dudley’s one of ’em. In that case you can’t
use the slip knot. You just have to tie a good tight knot, or wrap
the reins around whatever you’re tyin’ him to a couple of times.
Think you’ve got the idea?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty easy.”

“Good. Take ’em for a drink.”

Nate led the horses to the waterhole. By the
time he finished letting them drink and tying them, Jeb had cut
several chops from the boar, as well as a half dozen long strips
from its belly.

“This here belly meat’s where bacon comes
from,” he explained. “Now, this ain’t been cured, so it’s not
exactly bacon, but it’ll still be mighty tasty. Help me gather some
wood and we’ll start a fire.”

There were plenty of dead mesquite twigs and
branches lying around, so it didn’t take long to gather enough for
a fire. Once the wood was stacked, Jeb took a bundle of lucifers
from his vest pocket, broke one off, and scratched it to life on
his belt. He touched the match to some shavings, which quickly
caught.

“I’m gonna show you how to start a fire with
just a flint, Nate, but not today,” he said. Soon the meat was
sizzling in the pan, with coffee boiling in the pot alongside.

“Smells good, don’t it, Nate?”

“My mouth’s waterin’ already. Sure hope it
tastes as good as it smells.”

“It will.”

Once the meat was done, Jeb piled it high on
the tin plates, and filled the tin mugs with thick, black coffee.
He passed a plate and mug to Nate.

“Eat up, kid.”

“Thanks, Jeb.”

Nate dug into his food with relish. He
downed two pork chops and tossed away the bones before he stopped.
He started laughing.

“What’s so funny, Nate?” Jeb asked. “Sure
hope it ain’t my cookin’.”

“No, it’s not that at all. I was just
thinkin’ what my ma would say if she saw me sittin’ here eatin’
with my fingers. She never allowed that. Said it was uncivilized,
and we weren’t barbarians, so we always had to use a knife and
fork. I think the food tastes even better, eatin’ it like
this.”

“It probably does,” Jeb agreed. “I’ve always
thought food tastes better out in the wide open. Eat up so we can
hit the trail.”

The meal was finished, the plates, mugs,
frying pan and coffee pot washed out in the spring and tucked back
into Jeb’s saddlebags. When they remounted and started off once
again, Jeb pointed out a disturbed patch in the wall of vegetation
lining the sides of the trail.

“Nate, remember what I said about a Ranger
needs to observe everything? See those broken branches over
there?”

“Yeah.”

“Take a closer look. Tell me what you
see.”

Nate studied the opening carefully.

“There’s some long black hairs hangin’ from
one of the branches. Also a small scrap of red cloth.”

“You’ve got good eyes,” Jake praised. “Those
hairs are from a bay or black horse’s tail, or mebbe a blue roan or
dark gray, even a buckskin or dun. And the cloth was torn from a
shirt. A man rode outta the brush here. You can tell he came out
rather’n went in by the direction the branches are bent and
broken.”

“A rustler?”

“Possibly, but more likely a brush-poppin’
cowboy chasin’ a stray longhorn or some mavericks.”

“Brush-poppin’?”

“It’s an expression that comes from the
sound a horse makes when it crashes through the scrub chasin’ a
cow. Kind of a poppin’ sound. Anyway, it don’t make no nevermind to
us. Those broken branches are already wilted, so whoever was here
is long gone.”

Jeb spurred Dudley into motion.

***

Jeb and Nate rode until just before sunset,
when Jeb called a halt alongside a shallow creek which fed into the
San Saba.

“We’ll stop here for the night,” he said.
“Plenty of grass and water for the horses, and sundown’s not that
far off. It’ll be dark soon.”

They dismounted.

“Now I’m gonna show you how to care for your
horse the right way,” Jeb said. “Get your brushes and the hoof pick
out of your saddlebags. And remember, you always care for your
horse before yourself. Always.”

“Okay, Jeb.”

Nate dug the currycomb, dandy brush, and
hoof pick out of his saddlebags.

“Put those down for now and unsaddle your
horse.”

“Okay.”

Nate took the saddle and blanket from Big
Red’s back.

“You stand your saddle on end, like so, so
it’ll dry out underneath,” Jeb explained. “Hang the blanket from a
branch of that oak. If there wasn’t a tree handy, you’d spread it
on the ground, damp side up, to dry. A wet saddle blanket’ll
irritate your horse’s back and make him unfit to ride. And you want
the saddle to dry out so the leather and linin’ won’t mold or rot.
Besides, you’ll be usin’ it for your pillow. Then, take his bridle
off.”

Nate did as told, while Jeb stripped the
gear from Dudley.

“Good. Now, take your currycomb and get as
much sweat and dirt out of your horse’s hide as possible. Use it in
a circular motion, but not on his legs. Then take the brush and
brush him out, includin’ his legs. Long smooth strokes with that.
Get him as dry as you can.”

Jeb groomed his own horse and watched with
approval while Nate rubbed down Red.

“You did just fine,” he said. “Now I’m gonna
show you how to clean out his feet. I don’t need to tell you how
important that is.”

“I reckon not.”

“Good. Stand alongside his leg, like so.
Stay in close so even if he does kick you it won’t hurt all that
much.”

Nate stood alongside Red’s left fore hoof,
holding the pick.

“Pick up his foot. If he won’t lift it,
pinch the back of his leg, just above the fetlock. There’s nerves
and tendons there. That’ll make him pick it up.”

Nate bent down to pick up Red’s foot. The
horse gave it to him readily.

“Good. You’re doin’ fine, Nate. Now dig all
the dirt out of his hoof. Work from the heel to toe. Make certain
you get any grit or pebbles out of the grooves between the frog and
sole.”

“The frog?” Nate said. “You mean Red’s hoof
is gonna croak?”

“That’s as bad of one of
my
jokes.
No, the frog is the wedge of soft tissue that runs down the middle
of the hoof, from the heel almost to the toe. It absorbs a lot of
pressure, so you don’t want it bruised.”

Nate finished cleaning out Red’s feet, then,
while Jeb started a fire, led the horses to the creek for a drink,
then picketed them to graze. He and Jeb ate a quick supper of
bacon, beans, and biscuits, then rolled in their blankets. Jeb was
quickly asleep, snoring softly, while Nate, head pillowed on his
saddle, lay on his back, gazing up at the myriad stars pinpricking
the inky black of the night sky.

“Sure wish you were here with me, Jonathan,”
he whispered. “You’d really love it out here. And I know you’d’ve
been a great Texas Ranger. I miss you somethin’ fierce, big
brother, even more than I miss mom and dad. Well, there’s nothin’ I
can do except try and be a man to make all of you proud. And I’ll
do my best to make that happen, I promise you.”

With that vow in his heart and a prayer on
his lips, Nate drifted off to sleep.

***

Sometime later, Nate was awakened by a soft
sound, the sound of Big Red nickering uneasily. He started to sit
up.

“Shh, Nate. Don’t make a move,” Jeb hissed.
He slid his Colt from under his blankets.

Big Red nickered again, more loudly, as did
Dudley. Both horses were standing stock-still, their ears pricked
sharply forward as they gazed into the dark. A figure emerged from
the brush, edging toward the horses.

“Hold it right there, mister!” Jeb’s voice
cut through the night like the crack of a whip. The intruder
turned, and smoke and flame blasted from his gun. His bullet
thudded into the dirt between Jeb and Nate. Jeb’s gun blazed in
return, and the man screamed, staggered for a few feet, then
pitched to his face.

“Stay still a few minutes, Nate, in case he
had a pardner,” Jeb ordered. “You all right?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. That bullet came close, but
I’m fine.”

“Good. Keep down until I say so.”

They waited several minutes, until Jeb was
fairly certain the man had been alone.

“All right. Let’s check on that hombre, but
be careful,” Jeb said. “And keep your gun handy.”

Nate tossed off his blankets and stood up,
his Smith and Wesson in his hand. He hadn’t even realized he’d
picked up the gun. He and Jeb headed over to the downed man.

“Looks like he’s done for,” Jeb said. A
large hole in the man’s shirt, surrounded by blood, showed where
Jeb’s bullet had exited his back. Jeb rolled him onto his back. The
man’s eyes were wide open in the unblinking stare of death.

“You got him in the stomach, Jeb,” Nate
said. “Your bullet went clean through him. Think he was tryin’ to
rob us?”

“It’s more likely he was after our horses.”
Jeb muttered a curse. “I hate killin’ a man like that, but he gave
me no choice. Let’s see if we can get an idea who he was.”

Jeb went through the man’s pockets, finding
nothing which would reveal his identity. Their entire contents were
a few yellowbacks, some coins, a sack of Bull Durham tobacco and
packet of cigarette papers, and some matches.

“Nothin’ here to help,” he said. “This
hombre must have a horse around here somewhere. Mebbe we can find
somethin’ in his saddlebags.”

They headed in the direction from which the
would-be horse thief had come. In a thicket of scrub they found his
horse, an emaciated chestnut mare, tied to a stunted juniper. There
was a bandanna knotted tightly around her muzzle so she couldn’t
call out to their horses. Her hide was salt and sweat encrusted.
Bloody spur gouges, still damp, marred her sides. When Jeb pulled
the bandanna off her nose, she whickered pitifully. Jeb cursed.

“Can’t tolerate a man who’d treat a horse
like this. There’s no call for it. Now I don’t feel so bad about
pluggin’ him.” He stroked the mare’s nose. “Easy, girl. It’s all
right now.”

“I’m sure glad he didn’t get our horses,”
Nate said. “I can’t stand the thought of Red bein’ treated like
that.”

“You’re right. I can’t either,” Jeb agreed.
“Plus if he had gotten our horses that means you’n I’d most likely
be dead right now, shot fulla lead. And some of those buzzards that
were feedin’ on that hog this mornin’ would be chowin’ down on us
instead.”

Jeb went through the saddlebags and gear,
again finding no clue as to the man’s identity.

“Nothin’ here we can use, Nate,” he said.
“Reckon we’ll haul this hombre to camp with us. We’ll be there
tomorrow just before sundown. Mebbe one of the boys’ll recognize
him. Why don’t you take care of his horse while I wrap and tie his
body in some blankets? Then picket her with our broncs.”

“All right.”

Nate untied the mare, then he and Jeb took
her back to where her rider lay dead. The horse shied at the smell
of blood, but Jeb soothed her with his soft voice. He pulled the
saddle off her and while Nate groomed and then picketed her to
graze, Jeb wrapped the body in the dead man’s blankets. Those
chores done, and with it still several hours to sunrise, both lay
back down to get back to sleep.

Despite the excitement and danger of the
brief gunfight, Nate slept soundly, until Jeb roused him just
before dawn. By the time the sun was just topping the eastern
horizon, they were already back on the trail.

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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