A Village with No Name
A Village With No Name
** 7 **
Gideon stepped through the main entrance of the Lazy Horse Saloon, where he had spent the night and pulled on the brim of his Stetson, blocking the glare from the morning sun. It was only a little after seven-o’-clock, and already the heat had returned. The light morning breeze that drifted down the main street did little to help his discomfort — except stir up the dust in the village. He knew Hoss wouldn’t be ready to ride, but he wanted to leave the village the moment Jackson had completed the shoeing.
With the saddlebag flung across his shoulder and the Winchester rifle '78 clamped in his right fist, Gideon started down the main street with a purpose. A hot bath and a change of clothing were the first things on his mind when he had woken up, but he wanted to be on the trail before Evans and Watkins changed their minds and wanted their two-thousand-dollars back. They were now desperate men, and Gideon didn't fancy his thoughts of being locked up in the jailhouse until Tom Kane arrived. He decided it would be safer if he followed the river upstream a few miles; find a sheltered place with ample dry wood where he could set up a small camp, bathe in the cool running water and then cook up a little breakfast before starting on his long ride - to where? His thoughts were without hope, but he refused to allow them to dampen his spirit.
The old-timer he had met the day before drew the stem of his corn-pipe from his mouth, and raising it a touch acknowledged Gideon as he walked passed.
Gideon was still a hundred yards from the livery stables when he noticed a crowd gathering outside the main doors, and by the number of people that hurried past him, the crowd was growing quickly.
“I suggest you get on your horse and ride out,” a voice came from behind him. “It’s not your fight, remember.”
Gideon turned to find Watkins trotting behind him. “I guess you’ve come for the money-satchel?” Gideon stated dryly.
“No,” Watkins responded with a crooked grin. “We told you it was yours to keep no matter what your decision.” He looked across Gideon’s shoulder and smoothed out his mustache. “I heard there would be a whipping this morning.”
“I thought those days were behind us,” Gideon grunted. “What did the poor devil do?”
“Scott,” Watkins answered.
Gideon quickened his pace. “You'll stop it, right?”
"There's nothing I can do." Watkins trotted at Gideon's side, trying to match his huge stride. "Without your help, there’s nothing I can do."
Gideon looked up and then down the street. “Where's the mayor?” he asked.
“He'll be along shortly.” Watkins puffed and grunted between strides. “Like me, there's nothing he can do.”
By the time Gideon reached the livery, Watkins had fallen way behind and was now walking at a slow pace. Gideon pushed his way through to the front of the crowd. Scott stood in the center of the clearing holding a short, multi-thong horsehide whip in his left hand. At his side, coward Michael with wide, dark eyes in a frightened face.
At the side of the livery, an overturned, empty molasses barrel lay on top of a set of wooden pallets. Strapped over it with his overalls folded down to his waist, lay Jackson, his shoulders bowed and taught like that of a full-drawn bow. Scott turned from Jackson to look directly at Grandma, who stood at the front of the crowd with her entire family gathered around her.
“You know my Pa's rules concerning your tent-saloon. “No Whites and Mex’!" he reminded her harshly.
As Scott spoke, Watkins stopped at Gideon's side accompanied by Evans. It was evident by the look on their faces that they would not enjoy the whipping either.
Turning back to Michael, Scott took hold of his right arm and shoved the plaited, leather handle of the whip into his hand. “I hope you all take a lesson from this,” his voice was raised to the crowd; however, to Michael, he spoke softly. “You know what to do, boy. Get on with it. I'll tell you when to stop.”
Michael's face turned a soft, bleached gray, and his eyes filled with tears as he dropped to his haunches. “I can't beat him, Mister Scott. Please, don't make me do it. He's my cousin.”
Scott chortled with without empathy and placed his brown ankle boot fiercely into Michael's rib-cage. Michael swung away, landing on his back with a loud cry of agony, his arms folded tightly across his chest. “If you don't, I'll have you strapped alongside your cousin.”
“I don’t care,” Michael, sobbed, raising his back off the ground. “It’s not right. I won’t do it.”
To the sound of Michael's pleads, Jackson turned his head to look back over his shoulder. “Do it, boy,” he called out. “I'm telling you too. If you don't, he'll beat you until you do. Maybe even kill you.”
Grandma broke from her family and raced forward with both arms outstretched and fell to her knees at Michael's side. “Leave him alone,” she begged up at Scott in a beseeching whisper. “He's only a boy.”
Scott only laughed again as he took hold of Grandma by her dress collar and dragged her back to her feet, turned her, and then pushed her forcefully back towards her family.
Gideon shook his head with repugnance. “Do something,” he said to Watkins. “You can’t allow this to go on.” He started forward, but Watkins pulled him back.
“It's not your fight, remember,” Watkins reminded him. “If you start something, you will have to stay around to finish it. You can't just ride away.”
“Then make it your problem,” Gideon barked at him.
“I wish we could,” Watkins said and threw up both his arms.
Michael had climbed back to his feet and now stood at Jackson's side, the multi-hide whip still hanging limply from his hand.
“Make it hard!” Scott was now bellowing, and his chest heaved with excitement. “Beat him until your arm hurts!”
Gideon felt every fiber in his chest burn as his muscles tightened. “I can't take this nonsense anymore,” he said with an angry face. “Now, it's my fight.”
“I thought you might see it our way,” Watkins said, and he reached into the inner pocket of his vest and produced a silver star. “I carried this with me when I saw you headed this way.”
Gideon stepped into the opening with his razor-sharp, seven-and-a-half-inch Bowie hunting knife clamped in the palm of his right hand. Anger flared in him like the white, blue coals of a raging furnace. With one swift slice from a skilled hand, Jackson's right arm swung free. Gideon quickly flipped the Bowie; catching it by the blade, he slid the knife through the air toward Jackson. “Cut your other arm free,” he instructed Jackson. “Then get your family away —”
But before he could finish speaking, Jackson rolled onto his back and flung the knife in Gideon's direction. It came at him with such speed giving him little time to step aside. The steel blade whizzed past his shoulder, and Gideon heard the wind of it swish in his ear.
“Behind you, Mister Gideon!” Jackson shouted, and Gideon dropped to his haunches spinning on his heels. In a flash, his Colt was in his hand. A man stood beside Scott with the Bowie protruding from his chest, his face white and without expression. No sound came from him as he toppled over and dropped to the ground.
Two men standing on the other side of Scott had pulled their pistols and were now bringing them up into the firing line. Gideon squeezed the trigger, and the one closest to Scott went down with blood streaming from a hole in his forehead. Gideon instantly dropped onto his shoulder, rolling through the dirt, breaking the second man's concentration on his stationary form, and then rose back to his haunches and squeezed off another two rapid shots. The first lead hit the man in the chest; the second struck Scott's Smith & Wesson as he pulled it from its holster.
Gideon rose swiftly back to his feet and slipped the Colt back into its bed, dusted the dirt from his clothes, then strode over to Scott, who stood stooped over holding the wrist of his left hand. “There will be no whipping today,” Gideon spoke quietly, but there was a firmness to his voice that held Scott's attention.
“You don’t give the orders around here.” Scott whimpered.
Gideon pulled back the left side of his duster coat, revealing the tin star. “This says I do.”
“Only my pa can hand out those.” Scott swallowed hard, his eyes blinking without control. “I’m warning you, mister. You better leave before my pa gets here.”
“I give the orders now,” Gideon told him with a dry grin. “My first order concerns you, Scott. Get out of the village and don’t come back. And the second is for your Pa. Tell him the same thing.”
“You can't chase us out. My Pa owns the saloon, the hardware store, and a ranch near to here. We also have a gold mine. Where do you think the scum up there among the cottonwoods get their money?”
Michael had helped Jackson to his feet and now stood next to him at Gideon's side. Gideon snatched the whip from Michael's hand and lashed out with it at Scott. The leather thongs of the whip ripping into the front of Scott's shirt tearing through the material, slicing deep into his flesh. Scott let out a loud wail to the pain that gripped his flesh like the sting of many wild honeybees.
“Don't you ever call them that again,” Gideon growled and drew his teeth, “or I'll have you tied down to that barrel, and I'll be doing the whipping.”
Tears of pain filled Scott's eyes as he reached down for his Smith & Wesson lying at his feet. “My Pa will not be happy about this.”
“Leave it,” Gideon warned him. “It's now the property of the village. And tell your pa, if he wants to talk, he better not be packing a gun when he rides into the village.”
Scott sniffed and wiped his nose on his shirtsleeve. “What about my sister?” he asked.
** 8 **