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Authors: Tell Cotten

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BOOK: They Rode Together
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Chapter twenty

 

 

Yancy paused in the doorway of the kitchen.

Jessica and Josie had their backs to him as they washed the dishes in a washtub. He cleared his throat, and they turned around and spotted him.

A stubborn look crossed Jessica’s face.

“Yes?”

“Wanted to say thanks,” he said stiffly.

“For what?”

“Supper.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

Yancy nodded hesitantly. A few seconds passed, and the silence was awkward.

Josie glanced at Jessica. She smiled knowingly, and without a word she eased by Yancy and left the room.

Jessica looked at Yancy and crossed her arms. It was a direct look, and Yancy felt his face turning red. 

“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said. “I get grumpy sometimes.”

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No, course not.”

“Then what was it? Please tell me. I’d like to know.”

Yancy stood there and squirmed as he thought on it.

“I’ve already made a fool of myself tonight,” he finally said. “We should discuss this another time.”

“Will there be another time?”

“I hope so.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Jessica said earnestly.

“Me too.”

“You know, we all do foolish things,” Jessica said as she dried her hands on a dishrag.

“I bet you haven’t.”

Jessica laughed.

“I was foolish enough to put all the money from my father’s plantation in a carpetbag and get on a stagecoach. You know what happened after that.”

“You couldn’t help that.”

“No, but I shouldn’t have attempted to transport all that money on a stagecoach,” Jessica’s eyes twinkled, but then her face got dark as a thought occurred to her. “And you don’t even know the latest foolish thing I’ve done.”

“Oh?”

Jessica hesitated, but then decided to explain.

“I got involved in an ill advised business deal and lost nearly everything.”

Yancy was startled.

“You lost all that money?”

“Almost. I still have a little, but not much. Please don’t tell my Uncle.”

Yancy tried to hide his pleased look.

“I won’t tell,” he promised, and added, “I’m sure it wasn’t all your fault.”

“It wasn’t,” an irritated look crossed her face. “Lee Mattingly had a lot to do with it.”

“Lee Mattingly!” Yancy’s face darkened. “How is he involved?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’d sure like to hear it.”

“Maybe some other time,” Jessica said, and her face suddenly lit up. “Right now, I’d like to discuss something else.”

“Like what?”

“Us,” Jessica smiled.

Chapter twenty-one

 

 

Josie returned from the kitchen as Cooper stepped into the dining room.

Tussle was seated across from Wyatt. They were playing a game of chess, and they were both tense as they studied the board.

Although he would never admit it, Tussle had grown quite fond of Wyatt. He had given him a summer job, and Wyatt did odd jobs around headquarters. He still lived with Cooper and Josie, but he rode out to the ranch every chance he had.

“You wanted to see me?” Cooper asked.

“I did,” Tussle nodded.

They halted their game. Tussle stood, walked over to the window, and looked out.

“How old is Wyatt?” He asked.

Josie and Cooper glanced at each other.

“Thirteen, we think,” he said.

Tussle grunted his approval and turned from the window.

“I went on my first cattle drive when I was eleven,” he declared.

Cooper and Josie didn’t know what to say to that, so they just nodded.

“It was a good experience for me,” Tussle continued. “I left a boy, but came back a man.”

“At eleven years of age?” Cooper narrowed his eyes.

“You know what I mean,” Tussle scowled.

“Actually, I’m not sure I do.”

“I’d like for Wyatt to go along on the cattle drive,” Tussle announced.

Wyatt looked up sharply. He didn’t say anything, but his face was flushed with excitement. He looked at Cooper and held his breath as he waited for an answer.

Cooper frowned thoughtfully and looked at Josie. As usual, her face showed no expression.

“I don’t know, Tussle,” Cooper reasoned. “It might be too soon.”

“You know I’d look after him,” Tussle reassured, and added, “I think it’d be good for him.”

“Yes,” Josie spoke softly, and Cooper almost jumped in surprise.

“Are you sure?” He looked at her.

“It is time,” Josie nodded. “Let him go.”

Cooper glanced at Wyatt. He already knew the answer, but he asked it anyway.

“Is this what you want, Wyatt?”

Wyatt’s eyes shone with eagerness as he nodded.

“All right then,” Cooper looked back at Tussle. “It’s settled.”

“Good!” Tussle looked pleased, and Wyatt grinned.

Chapter twenty-two  

 

 

Butch Nelson walked his horse towards Tussle’s ranch headquarters.

His rifle was loaded and ready in his scabbard, as was the Colt on his hip. He felt calm and steady.

Nine of his men followed behind him in single file. Nobody talked, and the mood was somber.

Except for Sim, the rest of the men were with Rock. They were well hidden in some nearby trees, waiting to ambush the herd.

Sim had been selected to stay with the mules and extra horses. He was several miles to the north, staying at their camp.

The sun was just setting as they reached the corner of the corrals.

An entertaining bronc ride was going on, and they watched in quiet admiration. Some of the ranch hands nodded at them, and they returned the nods.

Butch noticed that the ranch hands were unarmed. He looked around and spotted their gun belts hanging on the pole corrals.

A tall man was standing on the porch, smoking a cigar while he waited for them.

Butch glanced once more at his men, and they walked their horses past the corrals and towards the house.

Butch pulled up in front of the porch steps. His men came up beside him, and they formed a semi-circle around the porch.

It was silent for several seconds.

The tall man took a puff on his cigar as he looked them over, and their faces were emotionless as they looked back.

“You Tussle?” Butch broke the silence.

“No. I’m James Watt, the ranch foreman.”

“Where’s Tussle?”

“Busy,” James replied, and asked, “Is there something I can do for you boys?”

Butch ignored him as he peered through the window behind James.

“Is Tussle in there?”

“He is. But, like I said; he’s busy.”

Butch smiled at that.

“Too busy to see the likes of us, eh?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” James said in a definite tone.

Butch grunted. He took a long, slow look around before returning to the ranch foreman.

“We heard you was hiring,” he said in an almost mocking tone.

It was obvious that James didn’t like the look of these men, and he had already dismissed the idea of hiring them.

“Was, but not now.”

“You have enough hands for the drive?” Butch asked, and he tried to look hurt.

“Close enough.”

“Where are they? Place looks almost deserted.”

“They’re around,” James said patently, and added, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“There is,” Butch smiled wolfishly at him. “We rode a long way to get here. Seems to me we could at least have a word with Mr. Tussle.”

“I do the hiring and firing,” James said firmly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me-.”

“You want us to leave?”

“Yes. We have nothing more to discuss.”

“I think you’re right,” Butch agreed.

Soon as he said that, Butch palmed his Colt in one, quick, easy motion.

James didn’t have any time to react. Butch’s six-shooter roared, and the bullet hit James in the chest. The impact threw his body backwards, and he went through the open doorway and hit the floor on his back.

“Half of you take care of them!” Butch gestured at the corrals.

Some of the men wheeled their horses around and charged the corrals. Meanwhile, Butch dove off his horse and fired through the window at a running form.

Chapter twenty-three

 

 

Rondo, Lee, and Brian had been on Tussle’s range for two days now, riding in from the south.

The country was mainly open with small, rolling hills and some mesquite bushes spread about. It had rained more than usual during spring, and the native grass was tall and green.

The sun was just beginning to go down when they spotted Tussle’s ranch headquarters. It was in the far distance, and the corrals and houses merged together into one form.

“There it is,” Rondo pointed.

“Hope we didn’t miss supper,” Lee added wistfully.

“We’ll know soon enough.”

“Look,” Brian pointed.

Way to the west, they could see a huge herd of cattle.

“Good. They haven’t left yet,” Rondo looked pleased. “Now I can talk to Tussle about that job.”

Lee nodded as they trotted on.

To their surprise, the past few weeks had been peaceful.

Several times they had stopped on higher ground and watched behind them. Once Rondo even slipped out and rode in a big circle, looking for tracks, but there were none to be found.

They were still wary. Rock had a reputation to live up to, and they knew they hadn’t seen the last of him.

“Looks like Tussle has a big herd this year,” Brian commented.

“Sure does,” Rondo agreed, and he turned his horse towards the west. “Let’s have a look.”

“What about supper?” Lee objected.

“It can wait.”

Lee mumbled his displeasure as he followed after Rondo. Brian was leading No-see-ums, and he brought up the rear.

They rode in silence as they climbed a gentle slope. When they reached the top, Lee narrowed his eyes and gestured to the south.

“Tussle has company,” he announced.

A group of riders were huddled together underneath some tall cottonwoods. It was obvious that they didn’t want to be seen.

They pulled up.

Lee turned in his saddle, rummaged through his saddlebags, and pulled out his eyeglass. He turned back around and looked through it.

“I count nineteen,” he finally said, and he jumped in the saddle. “Rock is down there! Looks like he’s leading them.”

“You’re sure?” Rondo asked, startled.

“It’s him.”

“What is he doing here?” Rondo wondered.

“Probably looking for us.”

Before Rondo could reply, six of the riders left out in a trot, going towards the herd. The others stayed put underneath the trees.

Lee looked through the eyeglass again, and when he spoke his voice was grim.

“They just pulled their rifles out,” he said. “Looks like they’re expecting trouble.”

“Or about to make some,” Rondo added.

“Think they’re going to hit the herd?” Brian asked.

“I’d say so,” Rondo said.

“But why would Rock do that? I thought he was after us.”

“Looks like he’s moved on to bigger things,” Rondo mused.

“What are we gonna do?” Lee asked as he returned his eyeglass to his saddlebags.

“Stop it, if we can,” Rondo replied.

Lee looked at Rondo as if he’d gone crazy.

“There’s nineteen of them,” he objected.

“I heard you.”

“Nineteen against three ain’t exactly in our favor.”

“Better than twenty.”

Lee snorted, but didn’t reply.

“You can stay here, if’n you want,” Rondo offered.

“You’re going, no matter what?” Lee looked at him.

“I reckon I am.”

“And you?” Lee looked at Brian.

Brian nodded, and Lee sighed.

“All right then,” he grumbled, and added, “We all gotta be crazy to attempt this.”

“Don’t have to be, but it would certainly help,” Rondo agreed.

It was silent as they pulled out their weapons and checked them.

Lee and Rondo returned their rifles to their scabbards, but Brian kept ahold of his.

“We’ll have to leave him,” Rondo nodded at No-see-ums.

Brian dismounted and hobbled No-see-ums so that he wouldn’t drift too far, and he climbed back into the saddle and nodded at Rondo.

Rondo nodded back and looked at Lee.

“You ready?”

“Not really.”

“Let’s go then.”

They kicked up their horses to a slow trot and rode down the slope.

“This is going to end in a nasty gunfight,” Lee figured.

“Looking that way in a hurry,” Rondo agreed.

“As usual, you’re dragging me and Brian right into the middle of it.”

“You got a problem with that?” Rondo looked sideways at him.

“If I get a problem, you’ll be the first to know.”

“I usually am.”

“Am what?” Lee frowned.

“The first to know.”

Lee grunted, and they didn’t say anything else as they trotted on.

BOOK: They Rode Together
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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