by J D Webb
Cowhand is wounded and loses his life savings when ambushed. He vows revenge.
| Chapter Two
Sunlight reached Ben’s eyes coaxing him to consciousness. He hurt. Everything hurt. He felt as though he had been underneath a stampede. At first he thought his tongue was extended and in the dirt, but it was just extreme dryness. With much effort he wet his lips gratefully tasting no dirt. He had no idea how much time passed before he tried to move. He dreaded moving. If it hurt so much just being still, the pain would be intense when he moved. He had to move. He could not just lie there and die. Gingerly he tested his legs. They seemed to work properly. His right shoulder was another matter. When he tried to move his arm he remembered the bullet he had taken. With considerable effort he raised up to a sitting position. The bleeding began again when he sat up so he stuffed his bandana against the wound. He slowly looked around and discovered the second man’s body where it had fallen and involuntarily shuddered. Ben had never killed a man before. He would never forget the look of that dead man. It was not so much remorse he felt but regret that it could not have been avoided.
Numerous attempts to stand met with little success. His head pounded so much he had to close his eyes for several minutes. Finally able to get to his feet he staggered over to the corpse. A quick search of the body revealed nothing. The fire had been put out and the campsite deserted. Sketchy scenes of the robbery kept flashing through his mind. Always it ended with Harley groping over his body hunting for treasure. Ben touched his waist where his life savings had rested, confirming its loss. Anger engulfed him as memory of the reflection from the fire returned to haunt him. The rattler on the belt buckle became a symbol of the destruction of his hope for the future.
Ben retrieved his gun belt from the thick brush and with effort pulled his knife from the dead man’s chest. Now he needed to find some water, then some food. Remembering that he had not seen any horses or even bedrolls at the camp he wondered where Harley’s horse had been. It had not been on the trail in front of the camp. Heading into the dense stand of trees next to the cliff, Ben realized he wouldn’t be able to make it very far. Every few steps he stopped to rest. His head throbbed and he was sure his shoulder was still bleeding. He was afraid to take out the handkerchief for fear of making things worse. Blood had caked on the side of his head and thankfully it wasn’t bleeding. He was also thankful for all the trees that helped keep him on his feet. Ahead he heard running water. At least he thought so but he couldn’t be sure because of the constant ringing in his ears.
About a quarter of a mile farther Ben came to a river. The cool water was just the refresher he needed. He bathed his head feeling a furrow where the bullet had gouged his scalp. Only a quarter inch more and he would still be lying back there next to the other body. The bullet in his shoulder had passed clear through and he didn’t think anything was broken. Both wounds had bled enough to convince Harley they were fatal. Washing out the handkerchief Ben applied a generous pack of river mud to draw out the soreness and protect from infection. All this sapped what little strength he had. Propping himself against a tree as comfortably as he could, he rested. Each subsequent movement interrupted his nap bringing an onslaught of pain.
Sometime later Ben awakened. By the position of the sun he reckoned it to be between one and two in the afternoon. He then spotted what had disturbed his sleep. The sun was glinted off metal or glass in front of him across the river. He moved as fast as he could with his wounds. If it was a reflection off a rifle or gun his location was too open. Moving behind a large tree he tried to determine what it was. What if Harley had doubled back and found him gone? After checking his gun making sure it was fully loaded, he decided to see if someone was aiming to shoot him. He used the thongs from his holster to tie three small branches together to form a triangle about three feet high. Setting that beside the tree, he gingerly removed his coat and placed it around the triangle and topped it with his hat. He moved it out in the open and waited. Nothing happened. He stayed there about ten minutes occasionally weaving his makeshift dummy. Still nothing. Putting his coat back on, he began to carefully work his way toward the spot the reflection had come from. His head was feeling better but he knew he desperately needed someplace he could rest and tend to his.
He didn’t see the glint again until he was almost on top of it. Nestled in among the trees backed up to the cliffs that ringed this area was an old cabin. The glint was the sun reflecting off a piece of mirror hanging beside the door. Ben debated hollering a hello or bursting in. In his condition he decided to holler.
“Hello in the cabin.” No answer. He approached with his gun drawn just in case. The cabin was empty, but someone lived here. Probably an old mountain man or hermit. Dishes were on the table as if someone had left after a meal expecting to return to clean up. The fireplace had a buildup of ashes that needed to be removed. Outside Ben found a treasure. A woodpile filled with enough wood to last a month even in the coldest weather. He followed a path to a branch of the river with easy access to water. Here was a perfect place to recover from his wounds. It was hidden from anyone traveling the trail Ben had been following. This cabin could be discovered only by accident as Ben had done. Food was his next worry. A quick search turned up two cans of peaches, some moldy flour, a little bacon grease, as well as an old rifle, some oil for cleaning and fortunately some bullets since it was a different caliber than his revolver. He could get some small game and maybe even a deer with luck.
That night after a meal of rabbit stew, some peaches and sassafras tea Ben began to feel that he might make it after all. The fireplace made the cabin cozy especially with the severe drop in outside temperature. Winter had arrived. The cot, despite appearances, was comfortable. Ben slept better than he had in some time in spite of his wounds.
Morning came and Ben was barely able to get out of bed. Stiffness almost incapacitated him. Where he wasn’t stiff, he hurt. After wrestling his boots on with one hand he finally struggled to his feet and headed down the path to the stream. He washed and redressed his wounds with the remainder of his shirt.
The cold water revived him enough to survey his situation. The cabin was solid and provided adequate shelter. Off to one side was a stable and a meadow beyond the stable supplied a good stand of grass for a horse. Ben wondered again about Compadre. There was no cause for concern. That horse was half wild to begin with, a pure buffalo runner. Local Indians and cowboys alike prized the Buffalo runners. They were bred to run faster than the buffalo so that a brave could chase down three or four buffalo at one time obtaining enough meat in a day to feed his family for months. These horses were long-winded and intelligent. Having a buffalo runner was a sign of wealth and power with the plains tribes. Compadre could survive on his own quite well, but it sure would be comforting to have his horse nearby while recuperating. Ben didn’t want to think about having to walk out of there when he got well.