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Authors: Tell Cotten

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BOOK: They Rode Together
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Part Three

“The Attack”

A few weeks later

 

Chapter seventeen

 

 

Today was J.T. Tussle’s birthday. Unawares to him, his niece Jessica had planned a celebration supper.

It would be a small gathering. The only folks invited besides the ranch foreman were the Landons.

Yancy and Cooper trotted their horses across Tussle’s range towards headquarters. Cooper’s wife Josie and their adopted son Wyatt trailed along behind them.

Yancy was a very somber man. He never talked unless he had to, and when he did it was always clear, certain, and to the point. He was also painfully honest, no matter the cost.

He was also well respected for his skills with his Colt six-shooter. However, Cooper was just as dangerous. 

Tall and wide shouldered, Cooper wasn’t nearly as good with a Colt. Instead, his specialty was with his Henry rifle. He was real accurate with it, and mighty quick too. He had a special way of swinging it up, and it was almost as fast as Yancy’s draw. 

Cooper was also a very good tracker.

Both brothers were newly appointed Texas Rangers, and their first assignment was to crush the corrupt empire that Ike Nash had created. Ike was now dead, thanks to Lee Mattingly, but there was still work to do.

As for Josie, she had a sharp, young-looking face with long, brown hair. And, underneath her appearance was an undeniable strength.

Wyatt was tall and thin. His face was covered with sandy looking freckles, and he had dark hair.

Yancy and Cooper had recently rescued Wyatt from the Apaches. He had nowhere to go, so Cooper and Josie took him in.

Despite Josie’s efforts, he still wouldn’t talk much. Josie and Cooper were worried about that, but Yancy didn’t mind so much.  

Yancy’s freshly shaved face itched as they neared headquarters. He scratched his neck and shifted nervously in the saddle.

Cooper glanced sideways at his younger brother and raised an eyebrow.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing much.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing. Your face is red as a tomato.”

Yancy didn’t reply, and Cooper waited patiently. A few seconds passed, and Yancy took in a deep breath and sighed.

“If you must know, I’m trying to think of something to say.”

“To Jessica?”

Yancy nodded.

“This is the third time you’ve had supper with her,” Cooper pointed out, and asked, “You still can’t carry on a decent conversation with her?”

Yancy nodded, more solemnly this time.

“Try not to be a blabber mouth,” Cooper encouraged.

Yancy shot Cooper a dark look, and it was silent as he searched for the right words.

“Whenever I’m around her, I just run out of things to say,” he finally admitted. “Mostly, we just sit there.”

“That sounds painful.”

“It is.”

“When you do talk, what do you talk about?”

“Mostly about the weather,” he replied, and his face lightened as a thought occurred to him. “I did tell her about me killing Rocca. I think she liked that.”

Cooper groaned and shook his head.

“This is worse than I thought.”

“How’s that?” Yancy looked offended.

“Women don’t care about the weather or killing people,” Cooper explained patently. “You need to compliment her. Tell her she looks nice. She’d like that.”

Yancy nodded as he made a mental note.

“Anything else?”

“I ain’t the one courting her.”

Yancy frowned and looked frustrated.

“She doesn’t talk much either,” he complained.

“That’s probably ’cause she’s just as nervous as you.”

“Mebbe it’s hopeless,” Yancy sounded tired.

“Not quite, but it’s close.”

“You know who Jessica reminds me of?” Yancy asked suddenly.

“Who?” Cooper looked curious.

“Me.”

Cooper glanced sideways and studied Yancy thoughtfully.

“Yes,” Cooper wisecracked. “The physical resemblance is quite striking.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Yancy scowled. “We both seem to struggle with the same things.”

Cooper grinned, and his white teeth shone at his brother.

“Just relax,” he instructed. “Try to have fun.”

“Fun?”

“Yes, fun. I’m sure you’ve seen others experiencing it.”

Yancy scowled again, and Cooper chuckled as they trotted on.

Chapter eighteen

 

 

The headquarters at Tussle’s ranch was impressive.

The main house was huge, multi-roomed, and had numerous windows that opened up to the spacious front porch.

Across from the main house was the cookhouse and a large bunkhouse, and beyond that was a barn, a set of corrals, a saddle house, and some storage sheds.  

It was an eventful time. The cattle drive to Kansas was fast approaching, and the ranch hands were busy getting prepared.

All of Tussle’s stock had already been gathered. The yearlings that were to be sold had been sorted out, and the mother cows had been scattered back over the range. The herd of yearlings was being held beside a spring about a mile from headquarters.

Tussle had hired a few extra hands for the drive, and they were staying out with the herd. Their job was to keep the herd together, and every day they would move the herd so they could graze.

Meanwhile, the remuda had also been gathered, and the horses were being held in a huge pen, called a dry lot, at headquarters.

Most of the horses hadn’t been ridden in months, and a half dozen cowpunchers were topping off the horses as the Landons rode in.

There were some impressive bronc rides going on, and the Landons pulled up at the corrals and watched.

“I never could ride a bucking horse,” Yancy commented.

“Nor a bucking mule,” Cooper reminded with a wry smile.

“Jug-head bucked you off too,” Yancy frowned.

“He did,” Cooper admitted.

“I’d sell that mule, if’n I was you,” Yancy said as they kicked up their horses and headed for the main house.

“I have, but he keeps coming back.”

Yancy snorted. They dismounted, tied their horses to the hitching rail, and stepped up onto the front porch.

Cooper knocked, and the sound carried loudly. They heard footsteps, and the door opened.

Tussle stood there, and he frowned curiously. 

“What are you doing here?”

Yancy was silent, so Cooper smiled and cleared his throat.

“We were invited,” he explained. “Something about a birthday.”

“I declare,” Tussle scowled. “Nobody tells me anything around here anymore.”

He mumbled some more as he stepped back and allowed them in.

Tussle was an ex rebel, and proud of it. He respected the Landons, but he also never forgot that they had fought on different sides.

He was a tall man with a wide frame. He had a weathered face that was trenched with deep lines, and those lines changed shape when he smiled or frowned.

“You probably want to see Jessica,” he told Yancy, and he nodded towards the kitchen. “She’s back there.”

“Thanks,” Yancy said stiffly.

Everyone else went into the dining room while Yancy breathed deeply and walked towards the back.

He spotted Jessica in the kitchen, and he stopped in the dark hallway and watched her for a moment.

Jessica was in her early twenties. She had a good figure, long blond hair, and light blue eyes. And, as Yancy had already found out, she also had a very feisty side.

At the moment, her face was flushed and hot as she worked over the stove.

She finally turned and spotted him. Their eyes met, and several seconds passed.

“Hello,” she finally said.

“Jessica,” Yancy said stiffly. “Looks good.”

“Me, or the meal?” Jessica said coyly, and Yancy’s heart thumped.

“Both,” Yancy managed.

Jessica smiled, pleased. They looked at each other some more, and then she asked, “Coffee?”

“Sure.”

She poured him a cup, and she also handed him the sugar bowl. He put three spoonfuls in, stirred, and took a swig.

The coffee had a burnt taste.

Yancy forced himself to swallow, and he coughed to cover his dislike.

“Do you like it?” Jessica asked hopefully.

Yancy was not one to lie, and several seconds passed as he thought on how to reply.

“No,” he finally said. “But, I sure like your sugar.” 

Chapter nineteen

 

 

Supper was pleasant.

Yancy, Josie, and Jessica made small talk. Tussle mostly just sat there, irritated because everybody knew it was his birthday. James Watts, the ranch foreman, didn’t talk much either, nor did Wyatt. As for Cooper, he only talked whenever the conversation started to die.

After supper, Jessica stood and got everyone’s attention.

“My Uncle is not keen on birthdays,” she said, and added,” But, I still got him a present.”

Tussle scowled as she hurried from the room. She returned moments later, carrying a fancy looking rifle.

“You said you wanted one of those new Winchester ’73 rifles, so I got you one,” Jessica announced.

Tussle was obviously surprised and humbled.

“You shouldn’t have,” he chided softly.

“I can afford it,” Jessica smiled. She handed him the rifle, gave him a hug, and said, “Happy birthday.”

Tussle was embarrassed by all the attention, and he nodded meekly.

“That’s a handsome looking rifle,” Cooper spoke up.

“It is,” Tussle agreed.

He offered it to Cooper, and his eyes lit up in admiration as he handled it.

The Winchester had an oil-finished walnut stock, a blued steel crescent butt plate, and a twenty-inch round barrel. 

“It’s a mite longer than my Henry,” Cooper observed.

“I hear they shoot farther too,” Tussle added.

Cooper nodded and turned towards Yancy.

“Want to look at it?” He offered.

Yancy shook his head, and Cooper suddenly noticed that his younger brother looked slightly irritated.

“No thanks,” Yancy said, and added, “Think I’ll get some fresh air.”

He grabbed his hat and walked out abruptly.

Cooper frowned curiously and glanced at Jessica.

She was just standing there beside the table, and she looked just as confused as he was.

She recovered quickly. She stacked several dishes and picked them up.

“Well, the dishes need washing,” she said.

“I’ll help,” Josie offered, and she started clearing the table.

Jessica nodded. She turned to leave, but something caught her eye. She walked over to the window and looked out.

“Riders are coming,” she announced.

“How many?” Tussle asked.

“Ten, I think.”

Tussle grunted in approval and turned to his foreman.

“Have a talk with them, James. If you like the looks of them, put them on. We could use some more help for the drive.”

“Yes, sir,” James replied.

Tussle and James talked some more about the upcoming cattle drive while Jessica and Josie finished clearing the table.

Cooper gave the rifle back to Tussle. He smiled at Wyatt and went outside.

He found Yancy sitting in a chair on the porch, looking sulky.

“What’s the matter with you?” Cooper scowled.

“That rifle,” Yancy muttered.

“What about it?”

“You heard her. She just went out and bought it. Probably didn’t even ask how much it cost.”

“So?”

“I can barely afford to buy a sack of sugar each month.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Cooper asked, confused.

“I can’t support her,” Yancy said glumly, and added, “Least not the way she’s used to living. She lives in a big, fancy house. Anything she wants, she gets. She doesn’t need me.”

Cooper sighed.

“We’ve already discussed this,” he said patently. “Money ain’t everything. In fact, I’ve heard too much wealth can bring misery and unhappiness.”

“Mebbe so, but I wouldn’t mind just a
little
unhappiness in my life.”

“There are more important things you can offer her.”

“Such as?”

“Companionship for one thing,” Cooper said, and added, “She’s in the kitchen. I want you to go in there and tell her you’re sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just tell her you’re sorry, and then tell her how you feel.”

Yancy didn’t like the idea, and he scowled.

“If you don’t do this, then I’m through helping you,” Cooper warned.

It fell silent as Yancy thought on it, and he nodded slowly.

“All right,” he decided. “I’ll talk to her.”

“It’s about time,” Cooper declared.

Yancy stood, adjusted his gun belt, and walked back inside.

Cooper chuckled softly and shook his head as he lingered on the porch.

He watched the men at the corrals as they saddled another bronc, and then he glanced at the oncoming riders.

They were in a long, single line, and they had slowed their horses to a walk. The sun was setting directly behind them, and that made it hard to make out much.

Cooper heard a noise at the door, and he turned as James walked out. He was trimming a cigar, and after he lit it he glanced at Cooper and grinned.

“They ain’t in any hurry,” he nodded at the riders.

“Don’t appear to be,” Cooper agreed.

“Slow as they’re riding, it’ll be dark before they get here.”

“Almost,” Cooper smiled.

“Tussle wants to see you,” James said. “Something to do with Wyatt.”

Cooper nodded. He glanced at the riders once more and walked inside.  

BOOK: They Rode Together
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