A Village With No Name - Chapter 16
A Village With No Name
** 16 **
When they crested the ridge overlooking the Evans’ ranch, Gideon threw up his hand and reined in his horse. The tall out-shed bellowed smoke like a well-stocked chimney stack, blemishing the deep blue sky like the distorted folds of a buckskin blanket, and Gideon bit back the curse that rose to his lips.
A lone rider rode his horse across the lawn in front of the large ranch house, leading an unridden white mare. Gideon turned in his saddle, his face hard and without expression. “Jackson!” he called. “Who is he?”
Jackson steadied his appaloosa as it turned back on itself to the smell of the dried burning sap of the pine planks. “That's Sam down there,” he called back. “The half breed is leading Wes’ horse, but I don’t see him anywhere.”
Evans hadn’t said a word since they had left the village. He sat quietly on his sorrel bay between the two men, and from the troubled expression on his face, it was clear his thoughts were of his family, and it took his entire stack to stop him from charging on ahead. But the sight of the burning barn tore at his heart and numbed and confused his brain, and he let out a loud, throaty screech and heeled his mount hard in the flanks. Startled, it reared up onto its hind legs, and when it leveled again started at a full charge down the slope. Evans rocked in his saddle, one arm outstretched, screaming, “You bastard, Sam! I’ll kill you for this!”
Aware of the danger Evans was placing himself in, Gideon reached for his Winchester rifle and fired into the air. Sam turned instantly to the rifle’s report, then dropping the reins to the white mare, set his mount at a hard run east toward the river.
Allowing his horse a length of free rein Gideon charged after the troubled man. When he reached the front porch, Evans had already dismounted and was disappearing into the house through the front door. “Beth !” he shouted. His voice high pitched, almost girlish. “Where are you?”
Gideon didn’t stop but tugged on the reins, pulling his horse in the direction of the fire. Fifty yards from the burning shed, he brought his horse to a jarring halt as the flaming wood burst apart at the foundations with a loud crackling sound, toppling in on itself, the upward draft of wind racing through the falling timbers screaming like a crippled living thing. Gideon flung his arms over his head, hiding his face from the immense heat that swept over him. “Stay back!” he bellowed as another beam broke free, and he instantly raised his head to the sound, paddling blindly at the air as another wave of heat and burning ash rushed over him.
“Señor —!” shouted one villager as he slid from his mount, his hand raised toward the second barn loft. Smoldering cinders were floating through the open hay-loading-hatch, and now a thin column of gray smoke drifted out through the opening. “Fuego! Up there!” His words broke from Spanish to English.
Jackson didn’t hesitate but sprung from the appaloosa, shouting, “Pedro! Manuel! The buckets!” But before he completed the order, the two villagers were halfway across the gravel racing toward the sand-fire-buckets hanging from a rail attached to the side of the barn, and then fell in line behind Jackson at a wobbled trot, a sand bucket held in each hand.
Minutes later, they appeared in the open loft doors bailing arms of smoking hay, nervously shuffling their boots as they kicked away the bits that fell to their feet. Gideon and his two helpers stood below, stomping the burning storks of straw that fell to the earth. Eventually, the rain of burning hay stopped, and Jackson leaned out through the opening. “The fire’s out, Mister Gideon,” he shouted. However, as he raised his arm to wave a rifle boomed in the distance, and Jackson dropped to his knees as little chips of wood burst into the air, where a bullet bit deep into the framework at the side of his head.
“No!” Gideon rasped. Thinking Jackson shot, he spun on his heels in the direction of the rifle fire, but the smoke blocked his vision. His mouth twisted. “Damn you, Kane!” he let out a deep, prolonged roar, and then raising his right hand, he beckoned the two villages and started for the rear of the barn where Jackson had entered through the back door.
The structure was a two-story building with a loft. Evans’ kept a tidy barn; farming equipment stood in neat rows at the center of the barn, and on the east wall hung the bridles and riggings of the four horses and mule. In front of them, but a few feet away stood a long-poll saddle rack cradling the four saddles. To the right of it, a wooden ladder led up to the first level. Gideon mounted it, clearing two rungs in his stride. When he turned to start the climb to the second level, Jackson appeared in the opening above him.
“Jackson!” Gideon stepped back with surprise, “Are you alright? Are you shot? Where —?”
Jackson grinned down at him, “The half-breed’s a fool,” he said. “He took his shot from the back of his horse and missed.”
The grip on Gideon's chest lessened, and he could smile a small smile of relief as Jackson came down the steps. “You saw him?” he asked.
“Two hundred yards away heading for the south ridge.”
Just then, an anxious voice came from outside the barn. “Gideon!” Evans shouted. “I can’t find my family. Have you seen them?” There was a moment of silence. “For heaven's sake, Gideon, answer me. Where are you?”
** 17 **