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Authors: Tell Cotten

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Chapter twenty-eight

 

 

Butch was furious.

He rode to their camp, and he was surprised to find Rock and some of the men there.

They were gathered around the campfire, drinking coffee. They looked irritated and annoyed.

“What happened?” Butch asked as he dismounted.

“We ran into a little problem,” Rock said, and then he explained. “What happened at headquarters?” He asked afterwards.

Butch explained, and afterwards it was silent as everybody thought on that.

“How many men did you lose?” Butch asked after a while.

It was silent as Rock counted in his head.

“Nine.”

Butch grunted his displeasure and shook his head.

“We lost nine at headquarters too,” he muttered. “Eighteen men, all dead. That only leaves eleven of us.”

“Tussle lost some men too,” Rock added.

“Not enough,” Butch grumbled. “Those fellers that were shooting at us from the main house were good. Real good.”

“So, are we gonna give up?” Rock asked, and there was a mocking tone in his voice.

Butch snorted.

“You think we should?”

“I ain’t the boss,” Rock shrugged.

“That’s right, and we ain’t leaving until the job’s done,” Butch growled. “I want Tussle dead.”

Rock smiled wryly and nodded.

“I do have a thought,” he suggested.

“Your last thought didn’t work out so well.”

Rock ignored the sarcasm as he nodded at Sim.

“Sim here just told me that he’s punched cows before.”

“So?”

“Tussle’s going to be mighty short handed now,” Rock explained. “He’ll probably hire just about anybody, even ol’ Sim.”

Butch pinched his face in thought but didn’t say anything.

“Sim could make a hand for a few days, bide his time, and kill Tussle when nobody’s looking,” Rock suggested. “With Tussle out of the way, the outfit will probably fold and we can swoop in and get the herd.”

“That could work,” Butch said.

“Sure it will.”

Butch glanced at Sim.

“You’d be willing?”

“Sure, long as the price is right,” Sim said.

“You too?” Butch scowled at him.

“Feller has to look out for himself,” Sim replied defensively.

Butch sighed and nodded.

“Name your price,” he muttered.

 

Chapter twenty-nine

 

 

It was a somber night.

Everybody stayed at the main house, and nobody was in the mood to talk much.

Lee thought about approaching Jessica, but decided that now was not the time.

There was much work to do the next day.

Rondo saddled up and rode out at first light to scout for tracks. As for everybody else, they hitched up the buckboard, gathered all the bodies, and dug graves at the top of the hill in the graveyard. This took half the day, and by the time they got everybody buried it was late afternoon.

They all stood solemnly around the graves. Cooper read from his Bible, and Tussle said a prayer. His voice broke several times, and when he finished he turned towards the house. He looked defeated and lost.

Rondo rode back in at suppertime. He unsaddled, fed his horse, and joined everyone at the main house.

“Find anything?” Tussle asked as they all sat around the dinner table to eat the meal that Jessica and Josie had prepared.

Rondo shook his head.

“Too many tracks scattered out there.”

“But they’re gone?”

“For now,” Rondo replied, and added, “That doesn’t mean they won’t come back.”

“I hope they do,” Tussle grunted.

“I did see several big bunches of yearlings,” Rondo continued. “It shouldn’t take much to get most of them gathered back up.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Tussle asked sourly.

“You can’t hire another crew?”

“Not this late in the year,” Tussle muttered. “Anybody worth having has already hired on with some other outfit.”

“That’s actually why I’m here, was to see about a job,” Rondo said.

“You’re hired,” Tussle declared, and added, “But the two of us can’t take a herd of yearlings to Kansas.”

“Three,” Wyatt spoke up.

Cooper and Josie were startled, and they stared wide-eyed at Wyatt.

Tussle looked at Wyatt and smiled faintly.

“Brian and I could help,” Lee spoke up, and Brian nodded.

“I appreciate that, but five ain’t enough either.”

Lee started to reply, but Jessica spoke before he could.

“No,” she said, her voice cold.

“What?” Tussle scowled at his niece.

“I don’t want him working for us.”

“Why not?” Tussle demanded to know.

“I have my reasons.”

“Jessica,” Lee spoke back up, and his voice was gentle. “I don’t blame you for hating me, but Brian and I rode all this way just to see you. If we could talk in private, you’ll feel different.”

“No,” Yancy entered the conversation, and his voice was firm. “Anything you got to say, you say it here.”

“This is between me, Brian, and Jessica,” Lee shot Yancy a dark look. “Stay out of it.”

“Whatever you have to say, I don’t want to hear it,” Jessica declared.

“You’ll want to hear this,” Lee objected.

“All I want is for you to leave.”

Tussle suddenly slammed the palm of his hand down on the table, and all the glassware and dishes rattled. Everyone was startled, and they looked at Tussle.

“Now is not the time to work out everybody’s relationship problems,” he growled, and added, “I rode with Lee during the war, and you won’t find anybody more loyal. He saved my life more than once. If he wants a job, then he has it, and that’s final.”

Yancy frowned while Jessica crossed her arms.

“Fine,” she said stiffly, and she glared at Lee. “You might work here, but stay away from me.”

“I’m sorry, but we have to talk,” Lee replied. “It’s important.”

Yancy leaned forward in his chair and looked Lee in the eyes.

“You heard her,” he said in a low, somber voice. “Stay away from her, or you’ll have me to answer to.”

Lee was unmoved by Yancy’s warning, and he narrowed his eyes as they looked at each other.

“Next time we face each other,” Lee said softly. “I’ll make sure your brother isn’t backing you up from behind a window.”

The muscles in Yancy’s jaw rippled. He didn’t say anything, and the silence was tense.

Several seconds passed before Cooper cleared his throat and changed the subject.

“What are you going to do, Tussle? About the cattle drive, I mean.”

“What can I do? I reckon I’ll borrow more money and wait until next year.”

“There’s a man named John Lytle in town,” Cooper commented. “He’s a trail driver.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Tussle scowled. “You give him half the herd, and he’ll make the drive to Kansas for you.”

“Not quite half,” Cooper corrected. “I could talk to him, if you wanted.”

It fell silent as Tussle thought on it, and he finally sighed and nodded.

“It wouldn’t hurt to see what he has to say,” he said.

“All right,” Cooper said. “We’ll ride back to town in the morning.”

Tussle nodded and turned to Brian.

“You might as well go with them. Ask around, and see if you can find anybody who’s a decent hand that wants a job.”

“Sure thing,” Brian said.

“Now, if we could,” Tussle said. “Let’s eat supper without anymore bickering, and then we’d best get to bed. We’ve a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

Lee looked at Jessica, but she ignored him. Next, he looked at Yancy, and several seconds passed as they stared at each other.

“I can do that,” Lee said softly.

Yancy took in a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded.

“Me too,” he said.

Chapter thirty 

 

 

Yancy, Cooper, and Brian rode out at daybreak. As for everybody else, they rode out and gathered the remuda back up.

This took most of the morning, and they spent the rest of the day picking out their string of horses. A few of the horses needed shoeing, and there were still a few that needed topping off.

Yancy, Cooper, and Brian rode back in late afternoon, and another man trailed along behind them.

He looked to be in his mid-thirties. He seemed very comfortable in a saddle, and he had stooped shoulders and long legs. He was thin, and his eyes were watchful and sharp.

They pulled up at the corrals, and Cooper introduced him.

“Tussle, this is John T. Lytle.”

Tussle nodded slowly as he looked him over.

“Trail driver, eh?”

John used a thumb to shove his hat brim up, and then he smiled. His face was warm and friendly.

“Yes, sir. That’s what I do.”

“You hoping to cash in on our misfortunes?” Tussle spoke bluntly.

“Not at all. Coop told me what happened, and I thought I could help.”

“How?”

“We’re heading to Kansas in a few weeks,” John explained. “Right now, we’re in the process of pooling several small herds together at Fort Worth. All you’d have to do is get your herd there.”

Tussle looked thoughtful.

“It’s a two week drive to Fort Worth,” he figured.

“Sounds about right,” John agreed.

“If we could leave in the next day or two, we’d make it,” Tussle said, and added, “Course, I’d have to find some help.”

Cooper glanced at Yancy. He nodded, so Cooper cleared his throat.

“We talked it over, Tussle, and you can count us in.”

Tussle was surprised.

“But you’re both Texas Rangers,” he pointed out.

“I never did get to take that furlough a while back,” Cooper replied. “’Bout time I did.”

“I appreciate that,” Tussle said earnestly.

Yancy and Cooper nodded, and it was silent as Tussle counted to himself.

“Including Wyatt, that makes seven,” he said. “We’d be spread thin, but it’s doable.”

“Don’t forget about Josie,” Cooper said. “She can ride good as any man.”

“I’m going too,” Jessica spoke up.

“Absolutely not!” Tussle bellowed, and everyone was startled by his outburst.

“Why not?” Cooper asked.

“I will not have women on my drive,” Tussle declared. “It’s not proper.”

“I understand your concerns, but Josie grew up with the Apaches,” Cooper reminded. “She’s not like most women.”

“Neither am I!” Jessica glared at her Uncle.

Tussle didn’t reply. Instead, he turned back to John.

“How long will this drive of yours to Kansas take?”

“’Bout three months,” John replied. “Long as the grass is good, we don’t get in any hurry. We let ’em graze as they walk.”

His comments pleased Tussle, and he suddenly looked hopeful.

“What’ll it cost me?” He asked.

John named a price. It was more than fair, and Tussle agreed.

“All right. We’ll be there soon as we can.”

“Send word if you run into trouble,” John said. “We’ll wait long as we can.”

“We’ll be along,” Tussle nodded.

“I’d stay and help,” John added, “but I’ve got to get back to Forth Worth.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Tussle replied. “We’ll be fine.”

“Well, good luck,” John said. He said goodbye and kicked up his horse. 

They stood there and watched him leave, and Tussle looked thoughtful.

“I don’t even have a cook,” he commented.

“I can cook,” Josie offered.

“No!” Yancy and Cooper exclaimed.

Josie shot them a dark look, but Tussle spoke again before she could reply.

“I’ll do the cooking,” he decided. “There’s an old chuck wagon in the barn we can take.”

Everybody looked concerned, and Cooper asked, “Can you cook?”

“We’ll find out,” Tussle replied, and he looked at Brian. “Find anybody in town?”

Brian shook his head.

“There was only one fellow wanting a job, but he was green.”

“How green?”

“He thought a saddle horn was a musical instrument.”

Tussle groaned. He glanced at Jessica, and she was still glaring at him, as was Josie.

“Are you two determined to come along?” He asked.

They nodded.

“This ain’t going to be a Sunday picnic,” he warned. “There’ll be no baths or outhouses on this trip.”

Neither one replied, and Tussle sighed.

“Fine,” he murmured. “You can come along.”

Jessica and Josie were pleased, and they smiled.

Tussle muttered as he headed towards the main house.

“Lord, have mercy,” everyone heard him say.

BOOK: They Rode Together
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