The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Mary Ann

 

 

The Grey Ghost

This AR story can stand alone, but if you are reading my others, this one was sort of the first one in line. It takes place a few months after Scott and Johnny arrived at Lancer.

Thanks to my beta Lori for all her work, I enjoy working with her.
 

 

Chapter 1

“ENOUGH!” roared Murdoch as he walked into the kitchen.

Three mouths slammed shut. Two pairs of blue eyes – one brilliant blue, one blue-grey, opened wide. The third pair, a brownish hazel, blinked in suppressed humor.

“I’ve about had it with you two,” he said, glaring at his wide-eyed sons. He crossed the room and placed his large hands on the table; bending down he looked from one young man to the other and said, “Johnny, you will take Teresa to the Lowe’s tomorrow morning.”

Johnny ducked his head as if someone had hit him.

Turning his gaze to the blond man sitting beside Johnny, he added, “Scott, you will go over the books with me first thing in the morning, then WE will check the far horse pasture.”

Scott also ducked his head and mumbled, “Yes sir.”

Murdoch straightened up, smiled at Teresa, and said, “There, it’s settled. No more arguing about who’s going to take you or not.”

Pinning Johnny again with his stormy light blue gaze he said, “I’ll expect you to catch up with us when you get back. Now, get done with your breakfasts and get saddled up, we have a lot to do.” With that he turned and left the room. Seconds later the front door slammed.

Three breaths were exhaled. The brothers looked at each other; Johnny gave a quirky smile at his older brother, who sent a lopsided grin back to him. Both pairs of blue eyes snapped to the brown haired girl.

“Well, I guess that’s settled for sure,” she said smiling at them as she rose from the table, and started to gather the dishes.

“Yeah, well I still don’t want to go,” Johnny grumbled.

“Me either,” Scott mumbled as he finished his coffee and rose.

Teresa turned back to the brothers, hands on her hips, “Look I told you it’d only be a morning trip, you’d be back well before noon if we leave early. I haven’t gotten a chance to see Millie and Leah for months, and now Millie’s husband’s gone and she is there with a new baby. Leah is not much help; she’s only 6 years old. You drop me off, then, come back for me next Friday. How can that be so hard?”

“It’s a two hour plus drive in the buckboard, one way. Can’t you just ride?” Johnny asked as he picked up his hat.

“No! I have a bunch of things to take for them, and the buckboard is easier to use than a pack horse.”

Scott touched his brother’s arm, “We already did this. Murdoch’s waiting,” he said, “We need to go.”

With a quick grin at Teresa, Johnny stuffed his hat on his dark head and turned to follow Scott out the back door. “Just be ready before sunup.” he told her as they left.

“Don’t worry! I’ll be waiting for you!” she snapped as the door closed behind the brothers.

“Nice day for some hard work,” Scott commented as they headed for the barns; he tucked his rifle under his arm as he put on his hat.

“Yep. And there’s Murdoch waiting for us. I think its going to be a long day,” Johnny replied dryly.

Within minutes they exited the large barn and cantered to Murdoch’s side as he circled around the corrals and headed northeast.

Murdoch had maintained a severe face when he had entered the kitchen, hearing his sons arguing with Teresa, but when he left the room he had been smiling, and by the time he reached the barn he was laughing out loud as he saddled his big sorrel gelding. The looks on his sons’ faces had been priceless. In the almost five months that they had been at the ranch he hadn’t seen anything quite like it.

He had been thrilled when they both came to live at Lancer, after so much time had passed. He didn’t know if they would come when he had summoned them. But they did, and after Pardee and his men had been defeated, they both had stayed. Over the past months he had seen a kind of bond form between the brothers, each one so different from the other. He didn’t understand this bond but they seemed to almost know what the other was thinking or feeling sometimes. Whatever it was, he was happy they got along so well after a rocky start.

He glanced to his right; Johnny rode half slouched in the saddle, his bright blue eyes watching the land around him, never still, even as he easily guided the black horse he rode. He looked comfortable, though Murdoch knew he was totally alert.

Looking to his left, he took in Scott’s erect posture. His riding style was totally different than his brother’s. Balanced lightly, he rode with a military precision. But his eyes too, were never still, always watching, not missing a thing.

They were so different. Scott, the eldest by three years, was a tall, lanky, ash-blond, raised by his grandfather in Boston in a life more or less of luxury. He was an expert rifleman also. Murdoch had learned he had been in the war, but Scott never talked about that period of time in his life. Scott had had a hard time getting used to using the heavy Colt .45 that now rode his lean hip. Not thinking of the hand gun as being on his hip when he was riding, he would reach for his rifle at first, the Colt as an afterthought. It had taken Johnny a while to get Scott to handle the pistol with ease. Still the rifle was his first choice, a good one, already proved several times since he came to Lancer.

Then there was Johnny, his youngest son. In his twenty years he had lived a lifetime. He had been on his own since the tender age of ten, forced into killing the man who had murdered his mother and fully intended to kill him as well. He had changed his name from Lancer to Madrid, and become a well known gunslinger, in order to stay alive. Dark haired and a bit shorter than Scott, he was a man to be reckoned with.

Murdoch was overcome with a sense of shame. He had two sons, but their lives before coming to Lancer was something for which he could never forgive himself. He hadn’t been there for them and it hurt him deeply. He could imagine the hurt Scott and Johnny felt about it, and his heart twisted more.

He had loved Scott’s mother to no end and they were very happy in their love and marriage. But she soon told him she couldn’t live the hard life that was common twenty three years ago, as he tried to build Lancer into a working ranch, although she reluctantly stayed when he asked her. One day cattle thieves attacked the house and a stray bullet almost hit his beautiful blonde wife. He knew that he had to keep her safe, and that if he really loved her, he would have to let her go back to the only other home she’d known. She vowed she would come back as soon as it was safe and the house was finished. He sent her home to Boston to her father, not knowing that she was pregnant with Scott when she left. At that time it had taken over two months to cross the country, Catherine had sent him several letters; the last one he received from her told him that she was having his baby soon. He had been shocked; if he had known, he wouldn’t have let her go on such a strenuous trip. Maybe he would have let her go after the baby came. She had barely reached Boston when the baby came a few weeks early, and she died in childbirth. Despite his frantic letters to Catherine, almost five months passed before he received a curt message from her father, Harlan Garrett. His father-in-law informed him that Catherine had died in childbirth, and that her son, who had barely survived the birth himself, would be staying with him in Boston. He made it clear that Murdoch was not welcome to contact the boy. Devastated by the loss of his beautiful Catherine and the son he had never even seen, and knowing that he couldn’t afford to go after his child at that time, he threw himself into building up the ranch. Those first years were like a dream to him; he worked until he dropped from day to day. It was five years before he could even think of trying to go to Boston to get his son back.

The trip to Boston had been a disaster from the start. He arrived in time for Scott’s fifth birthday, and had been allowed in to the mansion, to meet the slender, blond haired little boy. He had shaken hands with the shy child before Scott’s grandfather had hustled him out of the room. Faster than a striking rattler Garrett had railroaded him away from his son and out of town, with the promise that if he tried to get custody of Scott he would be dragged through every court there was, and in the end Garrett would take the boy out of the country where he could never find him again. Not wanting to cause his little son any trouble he had gone home. Eighteen years passed before Murdoch was able to contact his oldest son again. Over the years he had sent him many letters and gifts, but none of them had been answered. In desperation he had hired the Pinkerton Agency to try to reach his son; he was still amazed that Scott had come as fast as he could when he received the request from the Pinkerton’s.

Johnny on the other hand, had been much harder to find. Over the years he had hired the Pinkerton’s to search for the boy, and at last, after several years of hard work on their part, they had rescued him from a firing squad. They had finally found out that he was going by the name Madrid instead of Lancer, otherwise…

Murdoch had fallen for Johnny’s mother almost the moment he met her. He had never thought it could happen to him a second time, but when the fiery black haired Maria turned her beautiful big brown eyes on him he felt like he was drowning. They were married in less than a month. She took charge of his heart and his life, and worked at making the almost finished hacienda a home for them. To him it seemed that she could handle almost everything that came her way. When Johnny came along almost a year later, Murdoch was thrilled, but she seemed to change. Murdoch was in love with his tiny blue-eyed son and took the little boy along with him everywhere he could. He started thinking that now that they had a home he could bring Scott back to Lancer without Harlan’s interference, and the two boys would grow up together. However, one morning just after Johnny’s second birthday, Murdoch awoke to a silent house. Maria had left and she had taken Johnny with her.

In a rampage Murdoch had ridden out looking for them, but it was as if they had never existed. He couldn’t find a trace of his wife and son. Inconsolable he had returned to the ranch several months later and swore he would find them.

When Johnny had finally been found, Maria had already been dead for ten years, from what the Pinkerton’s had told him. He had grieved for two lost women that he had loved dearly, but it was his past now. He had his sons and he didn’t want to lose either of them ever again.

The day passed quickly, and before long they were back at the hacienda sipping an after dinner drink, talking over the day’s work.

Morning found Johnny leaning against a wagon wheel waiting for Teresa. He had gotten the horses hitched and the wagon in front of the house before he saw her moving past the kitchen window. The buckboard was already packed with the things she was taking to the Lowe’s. She came out the door, a heavy valise in her hand. Johnny stepped forward and took it from her, storing it behind the seat. He helped her up, and as she sat he jumped up beside her. Taking the reins he flipped them across the horses’ backs. With a lurch the buckboard was in motion, the black team fresh and fighting to run.

Johnny held the horses to a fast canter, heading southeast away from the ranch buildings. The sun was just starting to brighten the sky over the mountains to the east.

Once the first several miles were covered, the team settled down into a ground eating trot that they could maintain for hours.

As the horses easily pulled them across the dry brown land, on a barely eight-foot wide trail, they talked off and on. The sun had finally come up over the mountains; feeling warmer, Teresa turned and, with a smile on her lips, asked Johnny what his ideas were for Christmas, which was only a month and a half away.

Johnny looked at her in surprise, “Christmas?”

Teresa laughed, “You know, Christmas, gift exchange with your family; lots of food and a turkey; church, or Mass.”

“Christmas huh,” Johnny flicked the lines; he couldn’t remember ever experiencing the season as she told him all about it. He got quiet trying to think. He did remember once getting a little gift from his mother, and that they went to Mass a few times when it was dark and cold. But now something to celebrate – with his family, he had to think about this new thing.

Teresa smiled and shook her head. Turning a bit she looked at the things in the back and said, “Giving these things to the Lowe’s is kind of like giving them Christmas presents.” From the corner of her eye she caught a movement behind them and looked up. Her blood froze.

She grabbed Johnny’s left arm, and squeaked, “Indians!”

Johnny twisted and looked behind him, “Damn.” Looking forward he flipped the lines on the horses backs and they broke into a canter. His blue eyes swung back and forth across the land as he told Teresa, “Get down in front of the seat and hang on.”

Teresa instantly slipped off the seat and crouched down on the rough floorboards.

Johnny slapped the reins across the horses’ backs again and they broke into a gallop as he braced a foot against the front boards.

Glancing over his shoulder he saw the Indians mill around, then break into a run after them. Turning back, he looked desperately for help, knowing they were still over an hour from the Lowe’s place. Ahead to his right appeared a pile of rocks and trees as they came over a little rise. With both hands on the long reins he turned the buckboard towards them. He slowed the horses a little and prayed they wouldn’t hit anything.

They were almost to the rocks when the Indians came over the rise.

“Come on. Come on boys,” he told the horses. They reached the rocks and he slowed the buckboard, wheeling around the pile. “Teresa. Quick. When I stop get over the side and hide in the rocks. I’ll come back for you.”

Teresa braced herself as the horses swung closer to the rocks. When they were pulled to a walk she launched herself out of her hiding place and over the wheel. She landed heavily but scrambled to her feet and dashed into the rocks and trees.

Johnny’s last sight of her was as she ran towards the rocks ten feet in front of her. He turned back and loosened the reins, yelling as he slapped them down on the horses’ backs.

The horses took off like a shot; Johnny had to brace harder as they flew into a dead run. He was in the open and racing the horses as hard as he could away from the rocks praying the pursuers hadn’t seen Teresa, and trying to get as far away from her hiding place as possible.

As the horses ran on a fairly smooth part of the ground he put both reins into his left hand and drew his pistol.

Twisting around, he fired off several shots at the pursuing Indians, now closing in on him. One fell off his racing horse and another veered away. Screams and whoops erupted behind him. He slapped the reins on the horses again.

Suddenly, the team gathered themselves, and at the last second Johnny saw a three-foot drop off into a small dry creek bed, no wider than eight feet. The horses hurled themselves into the air, dragging the buckboard partly up with them.

For an instant Johnny thought they’d make it. The horses did, but the front wheels smashed into the far bank with such a force that they crumbled. Johnny lurched, then was thrown from the buckboard, hat flying. He landed, going to his knees down in the hard creek bed, his gun still clutched in his hand. He whirled and brought it up, shooting at the nearest brave. ‘Big Brother, you’re supposed to be watching my back,’ he thought.

He didn’t see, just heard, as the buckboard crashed apart behind him, and the next thing he knew something solid smashed into the back of his head, and the gun went off, then fell out of his hand as he collapsed unconscious into the dirt.

Within minutes the Indians had surrounded the unconscious young man. Two of them gathered up the team which had pulled part of the wrecked buckboard another one hundred feet farther before stopping. The others rode their horses around Johnny in circles that got tighter as they got closer to him. A big buckskin pinto horse plowed through the riders and halted next to Johnny. The brave, many years older than the others, snapped out several words to the men. The others stopped their game instantly, and two of the braves leapt off their horses and quickly checked Johnny. More words were spoken, then one of them tied his hands together and threw him over the withers of a horse. One of the braves mounted behind him, while another grabbed his gun and mounted his own horse. Whooping and hollering, they left in a swirl of dust, leading the black team of horses and taking Johnny with them.

Teresa waited for over an hour. She had heard the gunshot and hid deeper in the rocks. Finally she cautiously made her way from the trees and rocks, slowly following the buckboard tracks. In less than ten minutes she saw the wrecked buckboard. Running towards the wreckage, she slid into the creek bed then stopped, spotting Johnny’s hat. With a cry she picked it up, then made her way up the other bank to what was left of the buckboard. There was no sign of Johnny as she looked through the wreckage. Finding the canteen she turned back towards the ranch, knowing she had to get back home as fast as she could, knowing too, it was going to take her a long time. Slinging the canteen strap over her shoulder she headed back the way they had come a short time before.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Murdoch and Scott quickly finished the book work as the sun came up. Within a short time they rode out together to the north pasture where they checked the surrounding fence, then went to look for the horses that were pastured there. Scott dismounted and was opening the gate for them when a blinding headache seemed to crash into the back of his head. He dropped the gate, grabbed his head and staggered back a couple of steps. He was brought to a stop when he bumped into his horse’s shoulder, the pain driving him to his knees.

“Scott, what’s wrong?” Murdoch dismounted quickly when he saw his son drop to his knees.

Scott shook his aching head for a moment, almost sick to his stomach. As fast as the sharp pain came it was gone, leaving a lingering headache that beat thousands of tiny drums in his head. Taking a deep breath, he let his father help him to his feet. He leaned against his horse for several minutes, his father’s concerned eyes on him.

“I’m alright now Sir…Just a bad headache all of a sudden.”

”Are you sure you’re all right? You look pale.”

”I’m fine,” he said as he straightened then bent and picked up his hat, slapped it against his leg, and carefully put it back on his head.

“We better get going, or Johnny will be here and see our Christmas gift to him,” Scott grinned at his father. “I’m fine Sir,” he said again.

With a last look at his son’s pale face Murdoch picked up the fallen gate, motioning to Scott  to go through first.

The morning wore on; they finally located the small herd of pregnant mares and quietly rode through them, looking closely for any that might be having problems. But all looked healthy and happy as they grazed contentedly in the fall pasture.

As they headed back towards the hacienda a few hours later, after checking another pasture, Scott wondered where Johnny was; he hadn’t caught up to them yet, and it was late afternoon. Scott shook his head, the headache still lingered. He was tired of fighting it, and the steady pace of his horse lulled him into a light doze, easing the headache too.

Murdoch kept a close eye on his oldest son; he could tell he still had the headache just by the way he moved. When he fell asleep in the saddle he moved his horse closer to Scott’s horse, to be where he could either wake him or catch him if he fell.

Scott dozed on for several miles. Murdoch was surprised that he could sleep on the moving horse, and then figured it was probably due to his military training; he had probably done it many times during the war. When they were a couple miles from home Murdoch reached over and touched Scott’s arm. He was awake instantly, his eyes flashing around quickly noting the setting sun.

“We’re almost home son, thought you’d like to move a little faster,” Murdoch smiled at him, “Would like you to teach me that little trick you have of sleeping on a moving horse some day too.”

Scott looked quickly at his father then away, “Yes sir. But I think you’d have to join the cavalry to learn it.”

“I think I’m too old, they’d never take me,” laughed Murdoch. “How’s your headache?”

“Okay. It’s gone now,” Scott lied, smiling back at him. He turned away, his eyes looking over the landscape again as they nudged their horses into a canter.

They rode in silence awhile, until suddenly Scott pointed to something on the horizon, “Sir?”

“I see it. Looks like…Teresa!”

The figure in the distance seemed to be staggering, running, then walking, then running again. They kicked the horses into a gallop and in several minutes they were close enough to see that it was a disheveled Teresa, running, something crushed to her chest.

Scott called out her name and she stopped and looked around, finally hearing the horses that were almost upon her. Her knees buckled and she dropped down sobbing.

Murdoch was off his horse before it was completely stopped. He reached her and lifted her to her feet as she threw her arms around him and buried her head in his chest. Tears soon wet his shirt.

Scott was beside them, “Teresa, what happened?” he gently asked placing his hand on the sobbing girl’s shoulder.

“Johnny…Indians…I couldn’t find him…” Scott’s heart froze in his chest.

“Calm down so we can understand you darling,” Murdoch told her softly as he ran his hands over her back gently.

Gulping, Teresa took a deep shaky breath, “Indians attacked us. Johnny dropped me off at that bunch of rocks and trees and led them away. I heard shooting, then nothing. I finally went looking for Johnny…he hadn’t come back. The buckboard was wrecked. The horses are gone, all I could find was…” she started sobbing again, Johnny’s hat crushed to her chest.

Scott turned to his horse and was mounted in an instant. “Scott!” Murdoch’s voice stopped him before he could spur the horse into motion. He stopped looking down at his father and Teresa.

“It’s too late to go. The horses are tired, we’re tired, it’s almost dark. We have to get Teresa home first,” the commanding voice told him.

“Sir, I HAVE to…”

”NO! We go home NOW!”

Hanging his aching head Scott gave up. Reaching a hand down to Teresa he said, “Come on, you can ride with me.”

Murdoch helped Teresa to sit behind Scott, then quickly mounted his horse. Fifteen minutes later they rode into the courtyard. Scott stopped by the front door and let Teresa off, and taking Murdoch’s horse’s reins, he rode to the barn leading the sorrel. One of the vaqueros met him at the barn and took his father’s horse. He dismounted and quickly led his horse into the stall and stripped his tack off. He gave KC a quick brushing, then left the vaquero to feed the horses and headed to the house.

Finding Murdoch in the large front room he walked in.

“I’m riding out first thing in the morning,” he told his father as he poured himself a drink and drank it down in one gulp. “Teresa?”

“She’s cleaning up. Maria will have dinner ready shortly. We will leave at dawn.” Murdoch moved to the doorway, “We will find him.”

Slamming the glass down Scott headed for the kitchen. He wanted a quick bite to eat and then was going to bed; his headache was back with a vengeance and he didn’t want to wait for a big dinner. To Maria’s displeasure, he gulped down a small serving of food that tasted like sawdust to him then went up to his room, and washed up. Stripping out of his shirt and kicking off his boots he lay down. In minutes he was asleep.

Scott woke with a start and lay still for several minutes. His headache seemed to finally be gone. Rolling over he rose out of bed, grabbed his boots and quickly completed his morning ritual. He put on a clean shirt and left the room, surprised to find that his gunbelt was still buckled on him, the heavy gun in the holster. With a shrug he tucked in his shirt and re-adjusted the belt around his lean hips.  

In the kitchen he stoked up the fire and started a pot of coffee. The grandfather clock chimed five o’clock. Going through the living room he lit a lamp and got his rifle out of the gun cabinet, took out several boxes of shells and went back to the kitchen. He grabbed two pairs of saddlebags off a hook near the back door and started stuffing food in them after putting the shells and bandages in one set.

Murdoch entered the room also carrying a rifle. He worked silently, throwing together a quick breakfast for them as Scott finished with the saddlebags.

As they sat and ate silently, Teresa entered the room and poured herself a cup of coffee.

“Are you all right?” Murdoch asked the puffy eyed girl.

“Yes,” she nodded. “I just didn’t sleep well, but I will try later.”

Murdoch patted her hand, “We’ll find him.”

Scott rose, “I’ll get the horses saddled.” He stopped beside Teresa a moment, ruffling her hair. “Don’t worry about Johnny; you know how tough he is.” She smiled up at him as he turned and picked up his rifle and the saddlebags, then went out the door.

Murdoch finished his coffee and kissing her on her forehead he left a minute later.

The sun was just rising when they found the wreckage. The four other riders spread out, looking for any kind of tracks. Murdoch and Scott dismounted and made their way through the mess. The back of the buckboard still dangled part ways over the lip of the creek; all its wheels were off, the front ones looked like kindling, one of the rear wheels was in the creek bed, and the other was buried halfway into the bank. Scott shook his head at the thought of how hard the buckboard had hit. The tongue and front axel lay farther away from the buckboard, pieces of harness still attached where the horses had been cut loose.

They re-mounted and moved to where the other riders sat their horses along the trail made by the Indians. Kicking their horses into a canter they followed the tracks towards the southeast.

Later they stopped by a small stream to eat and let the horses rest a bit then continued on. By nightfall they were in the hills and rode carefully. As total darkness overtook them they stopped for the night. Murdoch set a guard just in case, though he didn’t think there would be any trouble.

Dawn again found the six riders following the tracks that were now getting dim. Now they could see boot tracks occasionally mingled in with the horse tracks. They had to slow down more as they worked their way through a thick stand of trees, but the trail now seemed to be going in a straight line.

Murdoch felt his heart sink; if the tracks kept going east, they’d be into desert country. He had been there before and knew there was no way to track anything through that desert.

The next day dawned grey and windy. The trail was still going due east. By afternoon they could see wastelands ahead of them, stretching as far north and south as the eye could see. Then the rain that had threatened all day let loose. The men made camp and huddled around the campfire trying to get warm. Around midnight the rain stopped and the tired, cold men fell into fitful sleep. One pair of blue-grey eyes stared into the dark, not able to sleep, just thinking. He did not want to lose his little brother after just finding him a few months before. It was like a part of him had been missing, but with Johnny he finally was whole. He was thrilled to have a brother after all the lonely years he had been through; Johnny made his life feel like it was worth something now, and he didn’t want to lose that feeling.

With the dawn, Murdoch looked at his tired son and the hands. Sighing, he looked at Scott, knowing what his next words would do to him, and regretted it.

“Saddle up, we’re going home.” The men moved off while Scott stood frozen in place, not believing he had heard what his father had just said.

”Sir, we have to find Johnny before it’s too late. I’m going on.”

“No Scott. We all are going home. Look ahead. There is no way we can cross that desert like this. The trail is gone. They could be anywhere out there and we’d just kill ourselves trying to find him.”

“We have to find him!” Scott’s eyes flashed.

“How? Where?”

Scott turned away, looking towards the desert, “He’s out there.”

“I know son. But, where? Johnny is young and strong, he did live on his own for many years. If there is a way he could get away he will use it. If he is alive he will come home.” Murdoch placed his hand on his oldest son’s stiff shoulder.

“He is alive. I know it,” Scott murmured.

“Come on, we have to go.” Murdoch squeezed the shoulder gently and half turned Scott towards the horses.

With a last haunted look at the desert wasteland Scott turned to his horse. “Johnny, I will find you,” he promised as he quickly saddled his horse, mounted and followed the other riders. His tired blue-grey eyes were bright with unshed tears. He knew he wouldn’t be able to rest until his brother was found.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 2

With a low moan Johnny became conscious of the pain in his head, and everywhere else. He felt as if his stomach was being crushed. There was jostling movement under him with something painful cutting him in half. He suddenly remembered what had happened and opened his eyes – all he could see was short black and white hair. With a start he realized he was lying across a horse’s withers. As that thought crossed his mind the horse came to a stop and he was shoved backwards. He landed in a heap on his rear end, his legs feeling like lead. ‘At least it wasn’t my head,’ he thought, raising his head slowly, eyes squinting against a bad headache.

Before he could get his bearings or up onto his feet, a brave was beside him, grabbing his arms and tying his wrists together with a piece of rawhide. A long piece of rope was tied to the rawhide. The man looked at him and then dragged him to his feet. Johnny staggered trying to get his feet and legs to work under him. Leaping back on his horse the Indian looped the rope around his horse’s neck and then kicked him into motion.

When the rope tightened between the horse and Johnny he was almost pulled off his feet; he was forced to half run to stay up, instinct making him move on numb legs. He was surrounded by the band of Indians, forcing him onward. He could feel one pair of dark eyes on him constantly, and tried to figure out who was watching him so closely.

Several hours passed as they moved silently through trees and up a hill. When Johnny would trip or fall the brave would drag him several yards before pausing his horse so he could rise again. He was mad; his bright blue eyes were dark with hate. A horse nudged his shoulder and he tried to swing at it but was pulled ahead again. He staggered into a trot that he knew he couldn’t maintain much longer; his legs felt like boulders below his knees, his hands were numb, and his head was still pounding.

It was dark when he fell and felt rocks cutting into him. He was dragged a few yards, then a few more. The horse paused for him to get up, but this time he couldn’t move.

“Drag me, I can’t go on,” he muttered to no one. He was dragged a little farther, then he heard one of the men say something. A brave was beside him, knife in hand. Johnny gulped; ‘Sorry Brother,’ he thought, thinking of Scott. He was sure he was going to die right there, but he was just too worn out to fight.

Instead, the rope that tethered Johnny to the horse was cut, and another brave brought up one of the buckboard horses and he was picked up and thrown onto it. His bound hands were tied to the harness’ collar still around the horse’s neck. Relief washed through him; ‘Still alive,’ he thought, as he slumped forward in exhaustion. They were off before he could form another thought.

Burning heat on his back woke him from his exhausted sleep. He raised his head and looked around. There was nothing but sand and rocks, with a few desert shrub plants struggling to live beside some of the rocks. The desert stretched out ahead of him, with far off mountains a light blue color. Glancing back he could see hills shrinking behind him. His horse stumbled and he looked forward again, trying to lick his dry cracked lips.

“Ague,” he croaked out in Spanish. The rider ahead of him turned and laughed; he said something to his companion and they turned away. Johnny bowed his head and slipped into a half stupor, wishing he had his hat as black spots danced in front of his eyes.

 

He awoke feeling cool, but his mouth and throat felt as if he had been swallowing sand. For a few long minutes he stayed still, until he suddenly realized he was lying on damp ground. He slowly forced his eyes open, feeling as if he was fighting against a sand dune. He saw that it was late night, and that he was lying tied against a scrubby tree. There was a small campfire several yards in front of him and the braves were lying around it, talking quietly or eating.

Johnny’s stomach growled and he realized that it had been almost two days since he had had food or water. As he lay there other aches and pains made themselves known. His hands were numb from the rawhide bindings. He could barely feel his feet over the pain shooting up through his legs clear to his hips. He felt as if he were partly cooked over his back and head.

Again he tried to speak, “Water?” he asked, barely above a whisper. For a long time he lay half awake, but no one approached him. He could feel eyes on him again and his neck hairs were standing up. He opened his eyes. The slice of moon was almost down, the campfire just hot embers; most of the braves were sleeping.

He blinked; there was a pair of legs standing in front of him. A knife reached down and he jerked back several inches, as far as he could. The knife quickly sliced through the rawhide. Johnny looked up at the tall figure silhouetted against the dying fire. A chunk of meat was shoved into his hands, then fell into his lap out of his numb fingers. He shook his hands and rubbed them together for several minutes before reaching for the meat.

“Water?” he croaked in a half whisper.

The man dropped another chunk of something moist into his lap. He quickly picked it up and squeezed some of the moisture against his lips, then bit into it. The taste almost gagged him, but he felt moisture wet his mouth. He chewed the mess then spit it out; the brave nodded his approval and motioned for him to eat/chew more, and he did. It wasn’t much but it was enough to get a little liquid down his parched throat.

He tried to eat some of the meat that had been given to him and managed to swallow a few bites of it before the need for more water rose again.

Again he asked the man in front of him for water. This time the Indian pointed to his right and motioned for him to go. For a moment Johnny thought he’d meant he was free, then he saw the dim figure standing guard about ten feet from him, near some rocks. Suddenly he realized there was grass under him and the ground felt damp. His heated brain kicked in and told him there must be a hidden water source by the rocks, and he struggled to stand up.

Johnny moaned; he couldn’t stand up, his feet and legs were so sore he couldn’t put any pressure on them. He glanced at the man standing near him, then rolled to his stomach and started to crawl to the water, glad it was dark and the brave couldn’t see the flush of embarrassment on his face.

Several Indians broke out in laughter and the man above him snapped out an order. Before Johnny could do anything he was hauled to his feet and half dragged, half carried to the small pool of water. They dropped him in a heap but he didn’t care as he lay down and dunked his head in the cool water. He drank, being careful not to drink too much or too fast, then dunked his head again and again in the water. When no one bothered him he twisted around and slid his legs into the water, allowing the cool liquid to quickly soak through his socks and boots up over his knees. For several minutes he sat that way, enjoying the cool relief on his feet and lower legs.

He pulled his feet from the water and struggled to get his boots off, thinking ‘I am so stupid! I should have done this first.’  A brave squatted down in front of him and grabbed a foot; within seconds he had slit the side of the boot and reached for Johnny’s other foot. Johnny quickly got first one, then the other boot off, and eased his feet back into the water. ‘Why?’ he wondered, and then pushed the thought out of his head as he pulled his feet from the water and drank again, until his thirst was slaked.

Suddenly two braves were beside him and dragged him back to the tree and quickly tied him again.

He found himself facing the man who had given him the meat and what he recognized as cactus pulp. For many minutes the older man sat looking at him as Johnny waited for what he thought would be his last few breaths. He steeled himself for what was coming.

 

The brave finally began to speak to him in guttural Spanish, “I am Chief Running Horse. My people are few; we hide in canyons and take many horses from the brown and white peoples. My son was killed in a fight with your people. He was a great brave. You are brave. You are his age. You carry gun low; I have seen this before on men, shoot fast and straight. My wives mourn White Wolf’s loss. They want son back. You are chosen to be son. If not you will remain here.”

Johnny gulped. His mind was in a whirl as he listened in surprise to what the Chief said. Live or die was what it came down to. He knew he would live; for an instant a secret smile crossed his lips as he wondered what Murdoch would have said to this man, and he slowly nodded his head. He wanted to live, to go back to his new found brother and family. He would plan his escape when he was able to, no matter what happened to him in the future with these people.

The Chief saw the nod and snapped out orders to the braves who were quietly listening to him talk to the prisoner. The camp erupted into noise and confusion. Within minutes Johnny was freed once again, soft moccasins were placed on his feet, more food was pushed into his hands, and the horses were caught up. Johnny was again placed on the black buckboard horse, but this time he wasn’t tied on. He noticed that the moon was gone and figured it was the dark hour before dawn as the Indians filed out into the desert, horses moving into a canter.

By the time the sun was fully up they had reached the edge of the desert and were following an almost invisible trail into the lowlands. By early evening they reached a low wide spreading river, flowing sluggishly south. Camp was quickly made beside it.

All day as Johnny rode he tried to puzzle out the Indians that rode around him. He knew that some tribes, if they had the chance or the need, stole babies to raise as their own, or took women and younger children to keep as slaves; some were absorbed into the tribe, others were traded. He had never heard of a tribe taking an older person, especially a male, and letting them join a family or the tribe. He couldn’t understand anything they said in their language, had never heard it before, and unless they spoke to him in Spanish or English he was at a loss as to what they were saying to each other or to him. The Chief hadn’t spoken to him since their talk during the night. For now Johnny decided, he would watch and plan his escape. Sleep was hard to come by as he made one plan after another.

They were on their way again well before dawn, riding along the river and following it south, then east when it turned. As daylight lit the land around them Johnny saw that the land on each side of the river was rising. In the afternoon, the Indians rode into the river and kept going. Before long the river narrowed to about thirty feet wide and the hills had closed in on it. It was now flowing through what looked like steep canyon walls, and the water deepened to just over the horses’ knees. The braves kicked their horses into a splashing canter and kept going.

The water felt wonderful on Johnny’s aching feet and legs. He wished he could just roll off the horse into the cool river, to ease all of his aches and pains, and again drink his fill.

Just as the sun started to slide into the canyon walls they came around a wide bend in the canyon and the left canyon wall fell away into a large flat area with trees, the opening more than a mile wide along the river. The flat land extended as far as Johnny could see. Back from the river sat a small village of teepees. Johnny quickly counted forty two teepees, with some intermixed among the trees. Behind the village he could see a large herd of horses grazing in a huge flat area. Women and children were running towards the riverbank, yelling and waving at the returning braves. More braves rode in from the horse herd, while another group followed the women slowly.

The group of braves and Johnny, with the Chief riding beside him, left the river and rode through the people lining the bank.

“Come,” he said to him. Johnny tiredly reined the black horse in behind him. Women and children yelled at him, some struck him on his legs. Johnny didn’t respond, keeping his face a frozen mask.

The Chief yelled out over the crowd. Silence fell for several moments, and then the people turned away, converging on the other braves. Johnny suddenly realized that many of the braves had been carrying heavy sacks on their horses; the other buckboard horse had a large bulky pack tied across his back. Johnny wondered if they had been raiding farms and ranches for food when they had run across him and Teresa. He shook his head, ‘Can’t think of home yet,’ he told himself, looking ahead to where Running Horse was leading him.

Running Horse rode to a large teepee surrounded by several trees. Two women stood in front of the teepee, a campfire burning to the side. Johnny could see a couple of pinto horses in a roped off area behind the teepee.

The Chief slid off his big pinto and walked towards the grey-haired woman, speaking to her for several minutes. The other woman stood a few steps behind the older woman; she had grey streaking her long black hair, but was several years younger. The older woman’s hands covered her mouth as she listened to the Chief.

Johnny slid off his horse and leaned heavily against him. His right hand held onto the piece of harness still on the horse. He didn’t think he could walk more than a couple of feet.

The Chief turned to him and he straightened as the man moved to his side.

“Flower Woman,” he pointed to the older woman, then “Runs Fast,” pointing to the younger one. He took Johnny’s arm in an iron grip and led him towards the teepee.

Johnny’s face twisted in pain as he fought to stay on his feet, stumbling as he moved. The older woman rushed into the teepee with the younger almost on her heels.

Running Horse stopped in front of the opening and gave Johnny a small shove towards it. Johnny managed to stay upright as he ducked and entered, then tripped on a deer skin lying on the ground and went down. The women were there instantly, pulling him away from the door and stripping the moccasins off his feet. They gestured for him to take off his pants. When he didn’t move fast enough Runs Fast pulled a dagger from her waist and slit them from ankle to hip, first one side then the other. The pants were gone before Johnny could do anything to stop the two women. He pulled a fur over his lap as they looked over his legs and feet, chattering together.

Flower Woman opened a tightly woven covered basket and spread a thick concoction on his feet and up his legs. Runs Fast bandaged them in soft fur.

Johnny was then led to a pile of furs along one side of the teepee and gently pushed down onto them. As he sat down Flower Woman unbuttoned his shirt and stripped it off of him. He was handed a pair of leggings that he quickly slipped on. He found they covered him like his pants, but felt softer. Flower Woman pantomimed that he lay down and sleep.

Lying down on the soft furs he pulled one over him, surprised that his feet and legs were already feeling better. Watching the two women working around the inside fire, he was soon fast asleep.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 3

“Two more mares are missing. We lost their trail in the hills, they were heading southeast.” Scott wearily hung his wet slicker and gunbelt on the rack by the front door, and followed Murdoch into the large front room. He had been in the saddle since dawn; it was now well past dark and dinner long over. Rain had started just after noon and was still coming down.

Shaking slightly from exhaustion and cold, Scott accepted the glass of whiskey his father handed him as he sank onto the couch.

Teresa heard voices and appeared in the doorway; taking one look at Scott she turned and hurried back to the kitchen.

The whiskey warmed him as he drank it down in two quick swallows. Scott looked at Murdoch, who was sitting across from him in his armchair.

“Tell me,” Murdoch urged him, taking in his son’s dull tired eyes and thin frame.

“Found a tree down over the fence, several wires broken. They went in and out that way. I left Jose and Clay there to repair the fence and Tom and I trailed the horses. Just tracks,” Scott closed his eyes, “then they disappeared.”

“We’ll move the herd closer to the hacienda tomorrow. We can’t afford the loss of any more horses. The haying is all done, so we’ll bring them closer.”

“I’m glad we got the hay done before this rain came, we’d have never gotten the wagons in and out of the fields. It’s coming down in torrents,” Scott’s eyes opened and he handed his glass to Murdoch as his father moved past him. Murdoch filled it part ways and handed it back to him. “I’ll get on to moving the horses tomorrow. At least with this rain they should move easily. I hope,” he continued as he took a sip and shivered.

Teresa entered the room at that moment and crossed to Scott, “Here is a bowl of soup – eat it then get upstairs and get changed. I’ll bring you a sandwich when you’re done. Coffee is coming.”

“I’m not that hungry Teresa, this will do me for now.”

“You need to eat more Scott! You’re just skin and bones. I’ll bet a strong wind would blow you away!” she retorted.

“I’m all right! Just tired.” Scott ate the hearty beef soup, then finished his drink. Handing the frowning girl the bowl and glass he rose and kissed her on the forehead; glancing at Murdoch he said, “I’ll leave at daybreak.”

“Son, you don’t have to leave that early. Tomorrow is Saturday; it’ll only take an hour or two to get them moved. Go later, maybe the rain will let up some.”

“I want to get it done before more mares disappear.”

“Once they’re headed this way let that buckskin mare lead, she’ll bring them home almost by herself,” Murdoch said with a sigh, knowing Scott would go early no matter what he said.

“Thanks. I was going to ask you if there was one who might be a leader. I’ll make sure she is in the lead. Good night, sir.” Scott shivered again and turned to the doorway. As he moved towards the stairs Teresa appeared again and handed him a large cup of hot coffee. He smiled his thanks and tiredly made his way up to his room.

Sipping the hot liquid he set it on his dresser and pulled off his wet clothes. For a minute he thought about taking a hot bath but pushed the thought away; he was so tired he didn’t think he’d be able to stay awake long enough. He quickly dried off, then pulled on a dry pair of long johns, finished his coffee and crawled into his bed. For several minutes he lay curled into a ball trying to get warm and thinking, when all he wanted to do was sleep.

Christmas. It was less than two weeks away and Johnny still hadn’t been found. Every chance he got he rode out looking for him, in the hope Johnny would have escaped, if he was still being held captive. ‘Where are you little brother?’ Scott asked into the darkness. ‘I feel you’re still alive. But where are you?’ Suddenly he heard a light tap on his door. Pulling his blankets tightly around him, he pretended to be asleep when he heard it open quietly.

Murdoch moved into Scott’s room and stood silently beside the bed for a long moment. Reaching down he gently brushed Scott’s hair out of his face, noting how thin it had become since Johnny’s disappearance. He was worried for both of his sons; he thought that right now Scott needed more of his attention, but he didn’t know what to do for him. He knew Scott was agonizing over the loss of his younger brother, as he was too. Scott was driving himself, and Murdoch was afraid that if his older son didn’t settle down he’d be sick before long. With a sigh he turned and, spotting the quilt at the foot of the bed, he flipped it open and carefully laid it over his eldest son. In the darkened room he touched Scott’s shoulder a last time and whispered, “We all miss Johnny and want him home as soon as possible.” He turned and left the room, not seeing Scott’s eyes fill with tears that overflowed and ran down gaunt cheeks.

Saturday was a repeat of the gloomy day before. It was raining and there was no sign of it stopping. Scott made his way to the kitchen while it was still barely light outside. The scant light that was visible was grey with the cold rain coming down hard. He shivered as he poured a large cup of coffee and sat down close to the heat from the stove. He had been surprised to discover that, after his father had left his room, he had fallen into a deep dreamless sleep that lasted all night. He felt refreshed, and wanted to get the day’s chores done so he could relax the rest of this day and the next.

Teresa rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a large frying pan from its hook and placed it on the stove. “I’ll have you some breakfast in a couple of minutes,” she told him.

“You don’t have to. I can get my own.”

“Coffee isn’t breakfast,” she retorted as she tossed several handfuls of bacon into the heating pan. “Besides it’s still raining out there, and it looks like it’s windy too. You need something to stick to your ribs.” She brought a bowl of eggs from the pantry and started breaking eggs into another bowl.

“I guess I could use a good meal, didn’t get enough last night and I am hungry.”

“Well I tried to feed you.”

“I know. But bed sounded better to me.”

“Do you have enough warm clothes today? I don’t want you to come home sick!” She scrambled the eggs and seasoned them; grabbing an onion she quickly chopped some into the frying bacon and stirred them. When the bacon was done to her liking she dumped the eggs in and stirred them. Next she buttered slices of bread and fried them in another pan.

Within minutes she had piled a large helping on a plate with some fried bread and set it in front of Scott.

“Eat.”

While Scott was eating Murdoch walked in and Teresa handed him a plate of food, then took some for herself and sat down with the men.

“Thank you Teresa. That was good,” Scott pushed his plate back and finishing his coffee he rose, “I better get going if we want to be done before noon.”

“Scott, wait I’ll go with you,” Murdoch said as Scott headed out of the kitchen.

Scott stopped, and turned back, “Sir, I know your back is acting up. I can do this, no sense both of us going out in this downpour.” He then smiled, “Just keep the fire going, I think I’m going to need it when I get back.”

“Stubborn kid! All right, I’ll stay here. Just be careful. When you get them to this side of the upper creek leave them there. There’s plenty of grass and when that’s gone, they’ll move closer. They should be safe there.”

“Yes sir. I’ll see you later.” Scott nodded then headed for the front door where he donned his gunbelt, jacket and slicker, and now dry hat. Taking a deep breath he left the house, hurrying across the yard to the barn. He felt that he was soaked by the time he reached the barn. He wasn’t used to being out in the cold rain, but knew this had to be done.

In a matter of minutes he had his horse saddled, and seeing the six other riders in front of the barn he left the dry building and rode with them into the teeth of the storm.

Hours later the herd of mares poured over the last hill and rushed bucking and kicking down towards the creek. With snorts and whinnies they splashed through the belly deep water then spread out over the grassy field, many heading for the shelter of nearby trees.

Seven riders cantered their horses beside the herd of mares as they went down the hill, then slowly eased away from them as they reached the creek. They halted and watched the mares cross the creek, then they followed, all hunched in their wet slickers, hats pouring rainwater first down their backs then, when they tipped their heads forward, down their chests. All seven men were soaked and miserable; a couple had mud splashed into their hair and on their faces where the rain hadn’t been able to reach. The fast flowing creek water washed off the mud that caked the horses’ legs and the men’s’ boots. Some of the horses sank into the muddy creek bottom halfway up their sides, drenching the cold men in the water.

Scott was shivering uncontrollably when his horse stepped into a hole in the creek bed and sank them up to the pommel before he was able to get out of the hole. Trembling he kicked the horse once they reached the bank and they moved into a lope. He waved the other riders on; there was only a mile to go before they could all get out of the wet and cold.

By the time Scott took care of his horse he knew he was sick. He felt hot and cold and couldn’t get the shivering to stop. Sloshing through the muddy yard he made his way to the kitchen door. Under the porch overhang he stripped out of his slicker and pulled off his wet muddy boots. He opened the door and hung his slicker, jacket, gunbelt and hat on a hook; he carried his boots in his hands as he entered the warm kitchen.

Teresa turned from the stove and exclaimed, “Leave your boots there. There’s hot water, go get a bath. I’ve already put clean clothes in there for you. You don’t look too good,” she smiled as she said that. Crossing to his side she took his boots from his cold hands, “I’ll take care of these. Go.” She gave him a slight push towards the bathhouse door.

Scott nodded and turned towards the door, “Coffee?”

Teresa dropped his boots by the stove and grabbed a cup; filling it with hot coffee she placed it in his shaking hands. Nodding again he left the room.

Teresa hurried into the front room and grabbed a handful of old newspapers, telling Murdoch, who was placing a log on the fire, “Scott’s home. He doesn’t look too well. He’s taking a bath trying to get warm.”

Murdoch glanced at the big Grandfather clock again, a worried look on his face. “He’s hours late. I’ll check on him.”

He followed Teresa back to the kitchen, where she started wadding the newspaper up and stuffing it into Scott’s boots. Murdoch knocked on the bathhouse door, then opened it and went in.

Scott had drunk the hot coffee as he filled the tub and stripped. Easing himself into the hot water he sighed as the tremors slowed and the water warmed him. For several minutes he relaxed and let the warmth soak into him.

When Murdoch entered he had started to wash, feeling a bit better. Suddenly he coughed harshly, ‘dang it!’ he thought.

Murdoch watched a moment, then asked, “Are you alright son? That cough doesn’t sound too good.”

“I’m fine. Just cold and tired.”

“It took longer to get the mares here. What happened?”

“They were scattered all over the pasture. Some didn’t want to move. Had a heck of a time getting them going. Once we got out of the pasture they went better, but it took a lot longer than we planned.” Finishing with his bath he rose, shivering, and took the large towel Murdoch held out to him.

As he dried off and dressed, Murdoch told him, “Well they’re closer; we’ll be able to watch them better. Now you just have to rest and get over that cough. There isn’t anything that needs to be done for the next several days, so no more going out in this rain for you.” He smiled at Scott, “Let’s get you something to eat now.”

Scott nodded and followed his father out the door, feeling a bit warmer. As they entered the kitchen Teresa filled his coffee cup and pointed to the table where a plate sat piled with hot meat and potatoes.

“Eat everything or I’m going to feed it to you,” she told him.

“Yes ma’am,” he said as he sat down and started eating.

Both Teresa and Murdoch saw the slight trembling of his hand as he ate. Glancing at Murdoch, Teresa nodded and put water on to make tea.

For several minutes Scott ate in silence, making inroads in the plate of food in front of him. He stopped and put down his fork, as suddenly the thought of finishing made him sick to his stomach and a wave of exhaustion washed over him.

Shakily he rose from the table. “I’m going to lie down,” he mumbled and turned towards the back stairs.

“Scott I’ve got some tea for you, it’ll help that cough,” Teresa said behind him.

“Bring it up,” he replied as he started up the stairs.

Murdoch was suddenly beside him as he stumbled on a step. A firm hand gripped his arm and steadied him as he reached the top and made his way to his bedroom.

“I’m sending for the doctor,” Murdoch told him.

“I’m all right Sir. Just tired,” Scott replied, as he yanked the blankets back and fell into his bed.

“No you’re not.” His father pulled the blankets over him and threw the opened quilt over his now shaking body.

“I’ll be fine. Just need some sleep.” Scott mumbled as his eyes closed.

Murdoch rested his hand on Scott’s forehead; it was hot to the touch. Looking at the gaunt face a moment he told Scott, “I’m not losing you too!” He turned and hurried out the door and downstairs.

Two hours later the doctor’s buggy pulled up in front of the white hacienda and Dr. Sam Jenkins grabbed his bag and ran through the rain to the front door that was thrown open before he reached it.

Murdoch greeted his old friend and quickly told him about Scott as the Doctor shrugged out of his wet coat.

Minutes later Sam and Murdoch were in Scott’s room, Sam checking Scott’s pulse, feeling his forehead, listening to his chest, and taking in the gaunt features. Through it all Scott slept, not aware of the man checking him or seeing the surprised look on Sam’s face at how thin he was.

Stepping back the doctor put his stethoscope in his pocket and again reached for Scott’s wrist. Looking across the bed to a worried Murdoch, he smiled.

“He’s exhausted and too thin, but he doesn’t have pneumonia, just a cough. I’ll give Teresa some medicine for him. He has a slight fever, but I think it is just from being over tired. It should leave as he rests. If not, let me know. Get some cool cloths on his head. I’d like for him to stay in bed for three, four days, doing nothing but sleeping and eating to get over this exhaustion. He needs nourishing meals; if he gets much thinner he won’t be able to fight anything off if he does get really sick.”

Scott stirred then and slowly opened his tired eyes. Dazedly he looked up at the doctor and his father hovering over him. “Doc what’re you doing here?” he asked as his eyes drifted shut again.

“Scott,” Sam said and the eyes opened again, “I want you to stay in bed and get lots of rest, and eat!”

Scott gave him a crooked smile as his eyes closed again, his breathing evening out as sleep overtook him.

Several minutes later, Murdoch and Sam were sitting in the front room savoring a hot cup of coffee laced with whiskey, looking out at the rain that was still coming down.

“Will he be alright?”

“Well, he will be if he starts eating properly and getting more rest then he’s had lately,” Sam replied. “I take it he’s over working himself?”

Murdoch nodded, “Since Johnny was taken, Scott’s been working and riding out looking for him. Teresa’s tried to keep him eating, but half the time he doesn’t, or eats very little. He’s taken Johnny’s disappearance very hard. I’m almost at my wit’s end as to how to help him.”

“Well, as close as I can figure, there seems to be some kind of bond between these two sons of yours. Until Johnny’s safely back, I don’t know how you can help Scott. Maybe this being sick will jolt him into realizing he has to take better care of himself if he’s going to continue to look for his brother. I don’t understand this ‘bond’ but I hope that he isn’t feeling whatever Johnny is going through. Though it could be something like that too. I just don’t know.”

“I hope this will shake him into taking better care of himself. I don’t know about this ‘bond’ either; I think that it is what’s keeping him hunting for Johnny though. He says he knows Johnny is still alive, and I have to believe him….Do you have to get back? You’re welcome to stay the night; its dryer here than in that buggy.”

Sam sighed, “I wish. But Millie Jones’ boy is down with chicken pox and I need to check in on him. Don’t want that to take over all the kids in town.” Regretfully Sam finished his coffee and rose.

Murdoch followed him to the door and held his bag as Sam pulled on his damp coat again. “Just don’t you get sick too!” he told his friend.

“I don’t have time to get sick,” laughed Sam as he reached for the bag. “Keep Scott down as long as you can, he won’t like it but he needs it.” Sam plopped his hat on his head, shook Murdoch’s hand, and dashed out the door to the waiting buggy. Within minutes he had disappeared into the gathering darkness.

‘Easier said than done,’ Murdoch said to himself as he made his way back up the stairs to his son’s room.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 4

Johnny dropped the large armload of firewood beside the teepee. Grabbing a few pieces of the wood he ducked under the flap covering the doorway into the interior. He was shivering and happy to get out of the rain and cold; even in the warm buckskins he was cold, as he was not used to such cold and wet weather. Flower Woman motioned him closer to the fire and handed him a bowl of hot food as he dropped the wood. He didn’t recognize some of the food floating in the thick broth but ate it all anyway. It was warm and filling and soon the shivering stopped. Runs Fast handed him a dry set of clothes; he rose and, turning his back to the women, he quickly stripped and changed into them

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been with the tribe but he thought they called themselves ‘Cahuilla.’  At first he tried to keep track of the days, but he was kept too busy. Once he could walk, he was treated as if he were a slave for the people. He was given menial tasks, always watched over by someone; he was never allowed near any of the horses, those behind the Chief’s teepee or in the large horse herd. Sometimes, if he wasn’t fast enough, his ‘guard’ would hasten him along with a push or shove. He had learned to curb his short temper, holding it tightly in check; he wanted to escape, not fight. As the days passed he watched for his chance, but his guards were just as careful. The only place he wasn’t watched was inside the Chief’s teepee.

After his feet and legs healed to the point that he could walk without pain, he was given clothes and high moccasins to wear. Johnny eventually found out that Flower Woman was the Chief’s real wife, and that Runs Fast had been the Chief’s brother’s wife. The brother, Yells Loud, was killed at the same time as Running Horse’s son White Wolf. Running Horse had taken in his brother’s wife, calling her his wife. Johnny discovered that many men of the tribe had ‘two’ wives; there were more women than men in the village. Children were few, Johnny thought maybe twenty at the most, though he noticed that many of the younger women were pregnant, so more children were on the way. The men seemed to take turns hunting; a third of them would go out for several days and if they were successful, the next third wouldn’t leave for several more days.

As the weather worsened the braves hunted daily, trying to get enough meat to last for several weeks. Fire Keeper, the Medicine Man, had predicted a long cold winter; Johnny had to agree, at least with the cold part. It had rained quite a lot recently and he was always wet and chilled. This morning when he went for water, there was a skim of ice on the edge of the river. He hoped it would be warm soon; he was tired of the rain and cold, and really getting tired of trying to find firewood for the teepees he had to supply. He wished he had an ax; it would be so much easier, but since there seemed to be none available he had to use a large heavy knife that was given to him daily by his guard, and taken back when he was done.

When he wasn’t gathering wood, he had to help the women hang meat to dry. Since the rain had started a tall frame had been built, the top covered heavily with fir and pine boughs. Under that another frame had been made, this one with rows of long sticks tied together so that meat could be hung on it to dry. Smoky fires were kept burning under the frames day and night, until the meat was dried. The meat was then was gathered and placed in covered baskets or hide bags to be eaten that way or cooked with other foods.

As more time passed Johnny watched the ice along the river get thicker. He now had to break the ice, which extended almost two thirds of the way across the river, so that he and the women could reach the water. He contented himself by thinking of the springs and wells on Lancer, wondering if they froze up like this river did. Smiling to himself, he tried to picture his newly found, and now lost, brother breaking ice to get water.

As Johnny approached the teepee with another armload of wood, the quiet village suddenly seemed to stir. Men and women were making their way to the Chief’s teepee, and the people ahead of him cleared a path for him. Puzzled, he slowed his pace, glancing around him, then dropped the wood in its usual location and entered the teepee.

Inside he found Chief Running Horse and the Medicine Man Fire Keeper sitting beside the fire. The two women were seated back against the hide wall, quietly awaiting a summons.

Johnny moved to where his bed furs were, but stopped as the Chief spoke to him. He stepped over to the fire. Running Horse motioned for him to sit, and he dropped into a cross-legged sitting position across the fire from the two older men. He waited in silence as the men talked softly back and forth in their language. Johnny listened closely but their language was difficult to pick up. In the time he had been with the tribe he had only been able to learn a few words. He was happy that several members of the tribe could speak Spanish, so he was able to talk to some.

Finally the Chief looked across at him, his black eyes unreadable. Johnny tensed; he was not sure what was going on so he mentally prepared himself for anything. Thinking of Scott, he knew he would fight to the last, but he wasn’t prepared for what the older man had to say.

“For two moons you have been with my people. You have done everything asked of you. You proved your bravery when you came to us. My people need more braves; we lost many children to the white man’s sickness. You are young. My wives grieve for White Wolf’s loss.” He paused, glancing over his shoulder at Flower Woman and Runs Fast, then back to Johnny. “We have decided. You can become one of our people. If not,” he shrugged, “you will become a non-person and continue to be a woman helper and live wherever you are able.”

Johnny knew what his answer was before the Chief finished talking. To become one of the tribe was the only way he knew he could get to the horses, to escape. He would do anything to get away alive and return home.

“I will join your people,” he told them.

Fire Keeper spoke in halting Spanish, “You will do the manhood test. It will cleanse you and give you your new name. Tomorrow morning.” With that the tall Indian rose; wrapping his soft deer hide robe about him he left the teepee. For several minutes the teepee’s inhabitants could hear the medicine man talking to the gathered people.

Running Horse turned to the women behind him and said something to them. The women smiled at Johnny then they turned the teepee into a hive of activity as Runs Fast rushed out the door and Flower Woman started rummaging through baskets and furs, tossing certain things out onto another fur. The Chief leaned back and let the women work.

Questions were rolling through Johnny’s head. He wanted to know what was going to happen to him the next day, then worried, ‘What if I can’t do it?’

As if sensing the young man’s questions, Running Horse spoke to him, “You must swim the river side to side.”

Johnny looked at the older man and shivered, he knew how cold that water was.

“The name ceremony will start after you have eaten. Out on a cliff.” Running Horse stopped and looked at the young, dark haired man across from him. “White Wolf did this when he was twelve winters old. You are older, it might take you longer.” With that the man rose and left the teepee.

Johnny sat staring into the flames as Runs Fast and several other women came in, all talking quietly and busily working with food and hides. Johnny suddenly noticed it had gotten quiet around him and looked up. Six pairs of dark eyes were looking at him, different expressions on their faces. Flower Woman smiled and pointed to the door. Johnny felt his face flush as he rose and quickly left the teepee. Outside it was almost as busy, as women scurried around. In a large ring of rocks in the center of the village wood and tree limbs were being piled. Many horses were tied throughout the village with braves grooming them, using hands and strong twigs to clean the long winter hair.

Johnny decided he better stay close to the Chief’s home and sat down with his back against the teepee, sheltered from the cold breeze. He watched as a small hut was quickly erected between him and the river. Both men and women worked on it and in a short time it was finished. The men left and the women carried rocks, then small limbs, wood and water into its interior. He wondered what it was to be used for.

As night fell, the people of the tribe continued working. Women were cooking over the campfires and men were cleaning their weapons; the few children had fallen silent and were sitting near their mothers waiting for meals to be finished.

The Chief appeared suddenly in front of Johnny and motioned for him to go inside. Johnny gratefully rose and entered the warm teepee; the wind had changed directions and it had gotten colder. He moved to his bed furs to get out of the women’s way, but Running Horse told him to sit at the fire. As the other women left Flower Woman and Runs Fast handed the men bowls of hot food and water.

Later as Johnny lay down he realized that his fur bed was different. The furs were newer and softer, and felt much warmer too. Burrowing down into the softness he was asleep in minutes.

Johnny was awakened later by a hand on his shoulder. Instantly he grabbed the hand, reaching for his gun. A giggle sounded and he looked up into Run’s Fast’s smiling face. He quickly turned her hand loose and apologized. She just smiled and motioned for him to follow her.

As he rose he pulled his buckskin shirt over his head. Runs Fast stopped him from getting the rest of his clothes on and pushed him towards the opening. Outside it was barely light; a cold damp fog drifted through the trees coating them with hoarfrost. The fog was thick enough that he couldn’t see the river, he wasn’t sure he wanted to see it as he shivered. He could hear noises coming from the Indian village, hidden in the fog just over a hundred feet away. Voices carried eerily to him and Runs Fast as she led him to the small hut he had watched being built the day before. Smoke came from the hole in the roof. Runs Fast gestured for him to take off the shirt but he hesitated; all he wore underneath it was a wrapped breechcloth. She said something and again motioned for him to take off the shirt. Resignedly he pulled the shirt over his head and handed it to her, goose bumps breaking out across his chest. She motioned for him to enter the hut. He ducked inside and found Flower Woman there with hot water and a fire.     

Flower Woman indicated him to sit and when he did, she quickly ran a piece of wet buckskin over him, followed by something that felt like soap. Within minutes she had washed and rinsed him, gathered her cleaning things, and left.

Moments after she left Fire Keeper came in and sat across the fire from him. Taking a dipper he poured some water on the fire causing it to flare up and smoke, then die down to coals. For almost an hour they sat in silence, as water was poured now and then over the hot coals, then a scratching noise was heard at the opening. The older man rose and lifted the hide for a moment, while someone handed him some clothing. Dropping the hide he moved to Johnny’s side and gestured for him to rise.

Fire Keeper carefully dressed Johnny in a fine white deerskin shirt and leggings. Soft moccasins were placed on his feet, while Fire Keeper chanted. Johnny was then taken from the hut and with Fire Keeper still singing and chanting, he was led through the fog-shrouded village.

Men, women and children watched them as Fire Keeper and Johnny walked through the village. Many braves followed on horseback, adding their voices to the chanting. Reaching the end of the village Fire Keeper turned towards the fog hidden river, many villagers following behind them. Johnny knew what was coming next and shivered at the thought of going into that cold water.

People were gathered and waiting at the river’s edge. Four mounted braves waited silently nearby, as the rest of the villagers and braves found places among the crowd of people already at the bank of the river. Male voices were singing with the Medicine Man, making the chanting sound eerie in the early morning fog.  As Fire Keeper and Johnny reached the four silent braves, the men turned their horses towards the river and urged them into it, breaking the almost two inch thick ice along the edge. Two of the braves swam their horses across the river; Johnny could just make them out on the other side, riding through the ice to the opposite bank where they turned and waited.

The Medicine Man quickly stripped Johnny as he chanted a ceremonial song, then looked down at him, his black gaze on Johnny’s vivid blue eyes. With a nod Johnny turned, walked through the broken ice and dove as far as he could out into the river. The cold hit him instantly, almost freezing his breath in his chest. It was all he could do to pull himself through the icy water.

‘This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. I’m freezing to death!’ Johnny thought as he pushed himself on, knowing if he stopped he was lost. He was so cold he could see his arms and hands starting to turn blue. With another mighty kick he reached the far bank. Pulling himself out of the water, he glanced briefly at the two braves watching him from their horses, then turned and dove back into the frigid water, concentrating only on getting back to the other side. ‘Where are you, Boston, when I need you? I’m freezing out here. Damn, I’m so cold.’ Johnny kept swimming; feeling his strength waning from the cold, he thought furiously about Scott and wondered what his brother was doing and if he would have done such a dumb thing. ‘No, he isn’t that stupid,’ he thought as his feet finally touched the riverbed. With his last ounce of strength he pushed through the icy water to where Fire Keeper stood on the bank.

Gasping from the cold, Johnny looked defiantly at Fire Keeper, as several women moved to his side. Within minutes Johnny was dried off and re-dressed in the white deerskin clothes and a warm fur was draped over his shivering body. He was led again through the village to where the large fire in the center had been lit. People were smiling and talking in their language among themselves. Johnny and Fire Keeper were led to a pile of furs and Johnny thankfully sank down onto them, close to the fire. He didn’t see the signal the Medicine Man gave to the others, but suddenly a large bowl and a small eating knife were placed into his hands. Glancing up in surprise, Johnny saw that the Medicine Man and Chief were seated on either side of him and were eating. Women were handing bowls of food to braves as they took their places around the fire. Grateful for the hot food Johnny ate, keeping an eye on the people around him.

As they finished eating there was a stir behind the crowd of people and they moved out of the way. A dozen braves came forward mounted on horses that had been brushed and cleaned; many feathers of different sizes were tied in their manes and tails. Two braves led two riderless horses towards them. Johnny recognized one of them as one of the black buckboard horses; it wore only a white bridle. The other one was a large black and white pinto with markings painted on his shoulders and hips, and several feathers woven into its forelock. He wore only a jaw rope and a buckskin fur as a saddle.

Following the Medicine Man’s lead Johnny rose. The Chief spoke to the gathered people, then turned to Johnny and told him in Spanish, “You go now for the naming ceremony, three or four days. Fire Keeper will guide you. Mount.”

Johnny obediently followed the man to the horses and lithely mounted the black. Fire Keeper led him from the village; many of the braves rode beside and behind them, never passing the Medicine Man.

They rode past the horse herd and out of the open mouth of the canyon, passing several Indians that guarded the opening. For awhile all Johnny could see was canyon opening after canyon opening. He was in awe seeing so many, knowing someone could disappear in them and never be found unless they wanted to be. Suddenly they were working their way up a steep narrow trail, horses scrambling to keep their footing on the fog wet rocks. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the top and moved across what looked like a huge plateau. Another mile passed as they rode across the plateau, towards a pile of rocks ahead. As they got closer the rocks towered higher and higher, looming almost 200 feet above the riders.

At the base of the rocks Fire Keeper stopped and motioned to Johnny to follow, then turned and walked towards the rocks. Johnny slipped quickly off his horse and followed the man; glancing back he saw the other braves quickly erecting a hut. Confused, he looked back at the tall man ahead of him. The Indian was weaving his way through the rocks on an almost invisible trail that zig zagged up higher and higher as Johnny quietly followed him. After a half an hour they walked out onto a ledge about eight by twelve feet wide. Fire Keeper turned to Johnny and motioned for him to strip. Johnny did as he was told, although he gulped as he felt goose bumps breaking out on his skin once again. The Medicine Man left him clothed only in the breechcloth and low moccasins. Taking his clothes, the older man handed him a small covered basket, then left, making his way back down the trail.

Johnny lifted the cover and saw that there was about a cup of water in it. ‘Great. Water, but no food. No clothes. It’s cold. I just hope I don’t get pneumonia,’ he thought. Placing the small basket to the side he looked around his new home. The ledge faced the east, with a sort of wall enclosing the rest of it, too high and smooth to climb. ‘Well might not be too windy. Don’t think about cold or food, just find a warm spot to sit. Yeah, where?’ he muttered to himself as he moved around the small enclosure.

All of a sudden the sun broke free of the fog and Johnny found himself looking down at the braves below him, and out over miles of broken land. Nothing moved anywhere in the vast area, not even a bird; it was totally silent except for the far away noise of the Indians working below.

Pacing around the small space Johnny watched as the braves quickly finished the hut and placed furs and baskets inside of it. A fire was soon burning brightly in front of the hut. Fire Keeper’s horse was staked out nearby and the braves were mounting their horses and leaving. Johnny watched the warriors move away, until they disappeared behind the rock formation behind him. Looking down he saw the Medicine Man wrap his fur around him and sit down by the fire. Johnny shivered and turned away from the edge of the cliff. The sun quickly burned off the last of the fog and Johnny hoped it would heat the rock wall around him soon. Finally he sat down on the rocky shelf close to the east side opening.

The sun warmed him throughout the day; he lay down in a corner and welcomed the warmth. He slept on the hard rock as much as he could, knowing that the night would be a long fight to stay warm. For several hours Johnny slept, then the sun disappeared behind the rocks and he awoke shivering, then looked around. The rocks around him were fast losing the heat they’d soaked up; darkness was throwing its long fingers across the land, shadows stretching longer and longer. Johnny watched from his rock corner, trying to keep the heat there as long as he could.

Full darkness fell and Johnny rose and walked around the ledge. Looking down he could see Fire Keeper’s campfire and made out the figure of the man beside it. ‘Don’t think of him, walk and keep warm, one night at a time. The sun will be up soon.’ Johnny snickered at that thought. ‘Won’t be soon enough,’ he laughed.

Moonlight lit the ledge as Johnny paced trying to keep warm. For several minutes he stood and watched the black and white country below as the weak moonlight turned every small hump, bump and shrub into a black shadow. Cold light flooded across the land as if eating the black shadows and the moon seemed to move through the sky. Johnny shivered and began pacing again, wrapping his arms around himself to try to get warm. After awhile he sank into his corner and wrapped his arms around his knees, pulling himself into a tight knot, head resting on his knees. He let his thoughts linger on his brother. He missed him and wished that he was with him, not stuck on this cold ledge. Scott was the friend he’d never had, but more than that he was his brother; he had found that he loved having a big brother to learn from, tease and just have around. He enjoyed being with Scott; though he didn’t know that much about the slender man, he was learning that he liked what he saw, and appreciated everything that Scott did for and with him. He was the one man that Johnny trusted with his life; he knew that Scott would always be there for him, to watch his back, and that he would be there for Scott as well. Sometimes it seemed that Scott knew what he was thinking before he said it, and sometimes he knew what Scott was thinking too, just by little look or a head movement; occasionally just being close to each other was enough to know what the other was thinking. There was something between them that was deeper than just friendship and brotherhood. He didn’t think he could ever understand it, but it was there. He just hoped that Scott was all right; he had this feeling that wouldn’t go away, that something was wrong with Scott, but right now there was nothing he could do to help him. ‘Be safe Scott, I will be home as soon as I can. I miss you big brother,’ he thought, wishing Scott could hear him.

The night seemed to last forever before the sky started to lighten. Johnny paced, sat, paced, and wished he was home in the warm white hacienda, with food and his bed. It seemed the higher the sun climbed the hungrier he got. When the sun broke over the vista in front of him, Johnny went to the small basket and took several sips. Covering it again he placed it in back in its corner; he turned back to face the sun and laid down on the cold rocks, trying to sleep and ignoring the grumbling coming from his stomach.

By nightfall, Johnny felt weak from hunger. He took another sip of water then felt around the ledge until he found a small pebble and placed it in his mouth, trying to keep moisture in it. His pacing slowed, and he spent more time sitting with his arms wrapped around him, cursing the campfire below him.

He was awakened by the sun shining in his eyes. He was cold and his feet felt like lumps of ice; sometime during the long night his stomach had quieted but his head had started aching, and he felt weak and shaky. He laughed silently at himself, ‘I can see why someone would have strange dreams. You’re so worn out and hungry, you’re having nightmares of food you can’t eat.’ Johnny laughed out loud as he shivered. He moved slowly, trying to get his feet thawed. Glancing over the edge he looked down at the camp; the campfire and hut were still there, and for a minute he swayed, feeling as if something was trying to pull him over the edge. With a start he backed away quickly, realizing that his mind was playing games with him. He vowed to stay away from the edge; it was too dangerous for him in his weakened condition.

Slowly the day passed. Johnny slept fitfully during the warmth of the day. Towards evening he took a couple sips of the water, noting that there was barely enough for one more drink. He put it aside anyway, a drop was better than nothing.

Full dark came fast that night, bringing with it a cold wind out of the north. Shivering uncontrollably Johnny paced along the back of the ledge close to the rock wall, trying to stay out of the wind as much as possible. When he was partially protected from the wind; wrapping his arms around his legs and leaning back against the rock wall he dozed, then dreamed.

It was hot. Scott had roped a big grey ghostly looking stallion and was trying to show him the horse. He took the rope from Scott and started to lead the stallion away, but instead, he said something to the horse. The horse suddenly turned on Scott and trampled him, crushing Scott under his now bloody hooves. Mounting the horse, he rode away leaving his dead brother for the circling pack of coyotes.

With a gasp Johnny woke himself, shaking now from horror over what the horse had done to his brother. ‘It’s a dream, only a dream. Scott is home and is just fine. It’s just a dream.’ Johnny rose and limped around the ledge several times trying to get rid of the horrible dream of the ghostly grey horse and his brother. He paced until he could no longer walk and was shaking with cold. Huddling back into the corner he tried to keep his eyes open, but an hour later fatigue overtook him and he fell asleep and right back into the dream.

With a cry he woke again. ‘Why?’ he asked himself as he got up and started walking again. It was getting lighter, soon it would be daylight and the horror of the dream would leave, he hoped. He wouldn’t let himself sleep again; he leaned against the bitter cold rock wall, though all he really wanted to do was to curl up and sleep. Walk, lean, shiver, walk, lean, and shiver, over and over. The sun finally made an appearance, but its color was wrong. Johnny looked at it and prayed it wouldn’t rain or snow, he was miserable enough.

‘Have to sit down, too tired to walk anymore,’ he thought. The sun was giving off very little heat, but it was better than the coldness of the night. With a sigh Johnny sank down and curled into a ball; within minutes he was asleep, and the dream, with little change, played out again in his head.

Crying out he opened his eyes and saw the Medicine Man sitting near him. Slowly he pushed himself up into a sitting position. The sun had fled, black storm clouds were gathering overhead. For several minutes they eyed each other in silence, then Fire Keeper stated,

“You have dreamed. Tell me.”

“I saw a ghostly grey stallion. Captured and trained by me to kill men,” he told the man, his voice hoarse, leaving out everything about Scott. He shivered when the cold wind hit him and then felt raindrops.

“How many times?”

“Three.”

The man nodded and smiled, “That is good. We go. You have your name now.” He rose and looked down at Johnny.

Shakily Johnny rose to follow, but his body had had enough and wouldn’t respond when he tried to take a step. The last thing he saw was the ledge coming up to meet him head on.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 5

Warmth spread through him as Johnny slowly woke from an exhausted sleep. With a start he looked around and realized he was in the hut at the foot of the rocks. There was a bowl sitting close by and he tentatively picked it up and smelled it. Broth! He sat up and drank thirstily, forcing himself to stop several times so that he wouldn’t get sick from drinking it too fast. It tasted wonderful; he was so hungry anything would have tasted good to him, he thought. Looking around he wondered how he had gotten into the hut, wondering if the older man had packed him down from the ledge. He decided he didn’t care, he was down, warm and eating something.

Outside he could hear Fire Keeper singing, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. For awhile he lay, soaking up the warmth of the fur blankets and enjoying the tasty broth. Finally, with a sigh, he rose and made his way outside, wishing he had his clothes.

Johnny stopped in surprise. Fire Keeper was standing beside a white mare, painting things on her as he sang. Fascinated Johnny watched as he painted a grey horse on her shoulder; he could see one had already been painted on her other shoulder. On one hip the grey horse was striking out with its forelegs; on the other it was standing on a figure of a man covered in red paint. Johnny shuddered; it was as if his dream had come true.

Quietly he watched as the man painted a grey outline of a horse head on the mare’s chest. Fire Keeper turned and washed his hands off in a basket of water then unrolled a thin hide and picked out several different sized feathers. With deft fingers he plaited them into her mane and tail and added a few to her bridle. When he finished he turned and looked at Johnny. “Come. You dress now.” He turned and ducked into the hut with Johnny following.

Johnny hadn’t seen his clothes inside, but the Medicine Man handed them to him when he entered. On the front and back of the buckskin shirt was painted a grey horse head. Quickly dressing, Johnny followed the man back outside and mounted the white mare. Mounting his pinto, Fire Keeper led the way back towards the village. For several minutes Johnny thought hard about riding away, but after glancing around at the countryside he finally changed his mind. It was too open and he had no weapons or food, and the Indian’s probably knew the area like the back of their hands; it wouldn’t take them long to find him. Besides that, he was still weak from the ordeal he had just gone through. He resigned himself to spending more time with the tribe.

At the mouth of the canyon, there were mounted braves waiting for them, many yelling and singing with joy. The white mare started to prance as they got closer to the village and more braves joined them. When they entered the village Johnny had to keep a tight hold on the mare, she was excited and dancing to move faster. They halted when thy reached the center of the village where the large fire was burning brightly. Johnny’s stomach growled from the smells of cooking food; he was starving and wondered how long it would be before he could eat.

He dismounted and was led again to a pile of furs beside the fire, flanked by the Chief and the Medicine Man. Soon food was placed into his hands and he was eating with vigor. Braves started dancing around the fire to the beat of the drums as they ate.

Johnny tiredly sat through all the eating and dancing as a light rain began to fall. After the day light turned into darkness, Fire Keeper rose and began speaking, motioning to him. Johnny rose and stood beside the man with the Chief on his other side. After what seemed like forever the Medicine Man said something and the people listening broke into yells and whoops. Fire Keeper turned to him and said, “You are now ‘Grey Horse Striking’ and all will respect you as our Chief’s named son.” Turning back to the people the Medicine Man again spoke to them at length; finally he turned away and sat down on the furs.

Running Horse smiled and led Johnny back to the fire. “This is good celebration. You are one of the people now. You will receive honor from your people. We accept you as you are. You are welcome in our village.” Turning to a woman standing behind them he nodded. She handed them more food, a smile on her face.

As the night wore on, Johnny couldn’t believe all the food that was made and consumed. And the dancing! He always thought Mexican fiestas were unsurpassed when it came to food and dancing, but he changed his mind. Even though there were only drums to make the music, the people danced enthusiastically and, depending on the drum tone, every dance was done with different steps. Everyone seemed to be totally relaxed and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Off and on Johnny dozed; he kept jerking himself awake, but he was so worn out that all he wanted to do was curl up on the warm furs under him and sleep. He knew he couldn’t though; this ‘party’ was for him, he just wished it would end.

As the sky started to lighten into grey day, the celebration started to die down. Women slowly disappeared to their various teepees. Running Horse rose and told Johnny, “Come.”

Johnny quickly got up, stifling a groan as his tired body protested. He followed the Chief back to his teepee, then about thirty feet past it to one he hadn’t seen before. The Chief stopped and pointed, “Your new home.”

Surprised, Johnny took another look at the new teepee. Above the door opening a grey horse head had been painted; several more horse figures were painted on the sides of the teepee.

The Chief pointed to the opening, so Johnny ducked inside. A small warm fire was burning in the center, around the edges of the hide room were stacked baskets of various sizes filled with food; there were buckskin shirts, leggings and other clothes piled beside them. A pile of furs beckoned him, but he resisted and went back outside.

Johnny halted in front of the Chief, and started to say, “Running Horse, I want to…” He stopped in surprise as he saw Flower Woman and Runs Fast walking towards him.

Both women held onto a lead rope that was hooked onto the head of a beautiful prancing palomino stallion. The women’s faces were wreathed in smiles as they stopped in front of him.

Flower Woman took the rope from Runs Fast and handed it to Johnny. In broken Spanish she said, “Por usted,  Grey Horse Striking. Ensenara Mas. Nuestra regalo para hijo.”

Johnny held the lead ropes in his hands and looked the young horse over. He was a beauty, maybe three years old, with a strong compact body, bright yellow golden coat that shone in the sun, and a snow white mane and tail. There was a narrow crooked blaze running down his face, extending from between his wide-set eyes to just above his nostrils. His forelegs had faint low socks on them and there was a grey horse head painted on the golden chest.

Johnny shook his head in wonder as the horse danced around him in a circle. Running Horse smiled at the look on Johnny’s face and told him, “Ride. Everyone is waiting, but be careful, he isn’t completely trained.” He nodded to the horse, then at the dozen or so braves mounted and waiting a respectful distance away.

Johnny ran his hands over the horse, letting him get his scent and feel, talking to him quietly. He tied the ropes together making them into a rein, then quickly hopped on his back. For several seconds the horse stood listening to Johnny’s murmured words. He turned his beautiful head and looked up at the young man on his back, then with a sigh he responded to the gentle nudge and the rein pressed against his neck. Once he was moved around to face the other horses he suddenly let out a challenging nicker and charged. Johnny skillfully kept him moving but away from the other horses. Soon they were in the open and flying across the ground. As they neared the large horse herd Johnny started to rein him in, talking calmly to him. Finally Johnny slowed him to a canter, just as they reached the edge the herd of grazing horses. Suddenly the golden stallion snaked his head down, first at one of the loose horses, then at another. Johnny tried to turn him away from the herd as the braves caught up to them. The gold threw up his head, almost hitting Johnny in the face, as fast as that happened he ducked his head and started bucking.

Taken by surprise Johnny’s grip loosened and by the third hard buck he sailed over the stallion’s head. He managed to hang onto the rope when he hit the ground. For several moments he lay flat out, looking at the grey dripping sky, feeling the wet cold ground soaking into his back. He rolled to his knees after realizing the ground was almost soft enough not to cause any damage.

The gold stallion stood quietly, head lowered watching him. Large liquid brown eyes regarded him as he slowly rose and moved towards the horse. “Ho Gold, why did you have to do that to me? I was letting you stretch your legs and run away from your friends. I thought we were going to be compadres?” Johnny told him.

Golden ears twitched and the stallion listened as Johnny rubbed his head and scratched behind his ears for several minutes before he mounted again. The braves were around him and several had laughed when he’d been thrown. But when he hopped back onto the horse they just smiled, sure it would happen again.

“Well Gold, are you going to dump me again or are we going to have a nice ride? You know, if I’d of had my saddle that wouldn’t have happened. Your back is slick! Now let’s just finish our ride so I can get some rest. I am tired,” Johnny told the horse as he once more nudged him into moving.

This time the stallion stepped smartly out turning away from the loose horses. As the braves joined them their pace picked up. Soon they were all running easily beside and behind the golden horse as mud splattered behind them. Johnny let the reins loose a bit more and the horse seemed to change gears as he flattened out, closer to the ground, and started to pull away from the others. Not used to riding bareback, Johnny clung to him like a burr, hands twined into the long flowing mane, legs gripping as tight as he could, his face almost buried in the stallion’s mane. Rain hit him in the face as the stallion extended his gait.

As the braves fell further and further back Johnny smiled to himself; he now had a horse that would take him home. He knew he still had to wait awhile, though so he started working the gold into a huge circle. “Come on Gold, we can’t escape yet. I need supplies. We have to go back.” The stallion shook his head as if he understood, but as they circled and came almost face to face with the following braves, he ducked his head and planted his feet.

Johnny found himself on the wet ground again, laid out in front of the horse in an undignified heap. Laughs broke out as the braves halted around him. Slowly Johnny rose to his knees facing the horse; he felt as if he’d jarred every bone in his body.

The gold horse stood looking down at him, an almost puzzled look on his face. He reached out and nuzzled Johnny’s hair, blowing on him as he wiggled his nose in the long dark hair.

Johnny pushed the nose away and carefully rose. His shoulder hurt, but he knew it was just from the hard landing. He glanced at the laughing men around him as he tried to wipe some mud off himself. The horse kept shoving his head into his chest and soon he was smiling crookedly at the horse and men. With a last wipe of his face on his shirt sleeve he mounted again and turned the stallion towards the trees near his new home. He was wet and cold again and so tired he thought he could sleep for a month.

With the braves once again half circling him they were soon back to the teepee and he tiredly slid off the horse. Flower Woman and Runs Fast were suddenly in front of him, taking the horse’s rope rein from his hand. “Go. Rest. Eat,” Flower Woman told him, pointing to his teepee; she turned towards the back of the teepee beading the golden stallion between them again.

Gratefully, Johnny ducked into the teepee and looked around. The piled furs called to him, but he took time to check the different containers sitting near the fire. One held hot water, the other a thick stew, another one farther back held bowls and utensils. Finding apiece of deerskin he quickly stripped and washed the mud off. Crossing to the piled clothes he pulled on clean pair of leggings. He put more wood on the fire, then moved to the furs and crawled into them. Minutes later he was sound asleep, no longer hearing the rain pounding down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The holidays came and went in a whirl of activity. Teresa and a few of the ranch hands’ wives had decorated the house and the big tree that Scott had found and brought in for her. Maria, the Mexican woman who sometimes worked in the kitchen, had helped Teresa cook Christmas dinner for them all. To Scott the days had passed quickly, but he couldn’t seem to get into the spirit of the season. He spent more hours riding across the ranch than around the hacienda. He tried to be happy about Christmas, buying Teresa and Murdoch gifts. The gift he had for Johnny was hidden under his bed; he wouldn’t give up hope that Johnny would be home soon.

In the week between Christmas and New Years, it rained every day. Not able to stay indoors Scott rode across Lancer, watching creeks and streams fill. He kept busy pulling cows off of the muddy banks and out of harm’s way, before they ended up in the water. A week after New Year’s Day the rains finally stopped for awhile and Scott rode out with some of the hands checking livestock and working on repairing fences downed due to loosened posts. For over two weeks he worked from daylight until dark, pushing himself so when he got back to the hacienda he was tired enough to eat and drop into bed.

He was often plagued by nightmares; they flipped from the time he was a prisoner during the war to Johnny’s disappearance. On those nights he woke and couldn’t go back to sleep, the horror of the dreams playing over and over in his mind until he had no desire to sleep. He tried not to show how tired he always was but it seemed that Murdoch knew, and forced him to take a day off once a week. Those days he tried to rest as much as he could, but by afternoon he was impatient, needing something more to do.

Teresa tried hard too, plying him with the foods that he had always liked. He ate, but most of the time the food tasted like dust to him and he could barely choke it down. After his bout with exhaustion he forced himself to eat and sleep as much as possible. He tried but he still lost weight and always needed more sleep.

The water level in the creeks and streams fell, their banks once again showing, and water no longer flooded fields and pastures. The sun was slowly drying the land out even though it was still winter and the nights got close to freezing.

Scott was on horseback early one morning, pulling brush out of one of the creeks that was plugged with debris. Jake, one of the ranch hands, was down at the edge of the creek, working to free the debris as Scott dragged the pile away from the bank. Scott dismounted and untied his rope, then gathered the rope into loops, remounted and rode back up to the bank above the creek. Tossing one end of the rope down to Jake, he waited while the other man tied off a large piece of shrubbery, then quickly tied his end of the rope to his saddle horn. He turned his horse and they pulled another pile of brush out of the creek. The two men continued clearing the creek for several hours; around noon Scott tossed the rope down for the last time. One more stump to haul out and the creek would be flowing free once again. Jake chopped off the limbs and some of the roots, then tied it off and yelled up at Scott, who turned his horse and moved away from the creek. As the rope tightened the bay stallion dug in and pulled hard, then suddenly slid backwards.

Jake yelled as the stump slid towards him. Scott tried to halt KC, only to have the horse start to fight him as his hooves slid on the wet ground. Four feet from the lip of the bank the horse spun around wrapping the now slack rope around himself and Scott, the rope going under his neck, across Scott’s right leg and then around under the frantic horse’s tail. Scott pulled the rope free from his saddle horn just as the horse spun again stepping over the edge of the bank. With the rope across his legs Scott couldn’t get free of the horse when he fell. The horse landed on its side and slid down the ten foot incline into the creek with Scott’s right leg pinned underneath him.

Jake was there and instantly grabbed the horse’s bridle as he lunged to his feet. Scott slipped free of the horse and rope. Gasping for breath in the icy cold water, Scott pulled himself up and away from his horse. For several moments he stood still, trying to determine whether he had broken anything. When he moved, his right leg buckled, and he sat down abruptly on the muddy rocky bank. Jake, still hanging onto Scott’s horse, moved to his side, letting the rope fall to the ground around the horse’s feet. 

“Scott, are you alright? That was a nasty fall.”

“I think I’m alright. Can’t find anything broken. Leg just gave out,” Scott replied as he rubbed his right leg. It hurt, but he could tell nothing else was wrong. Carefully he stood up and took a couple of steps. He took a couple more steps; when everything seemed to be all right he moved to Jake’s side and took his horse’s reins.

“Guess he wanted to rest a little. I think we might need two horses to get that stump up out of here. We might as well head in for now. It’s too cold to work in wet clothes.” He smiled as he glanced down at his wet muddy clothes, feeling a shiver overtake him.

“You’re the boss. I could use some lunch too,” Jake smiled back as he coiled Scott’s rope and handed it to him.

Scott tied the rope to his saddle then checked his horse over to be sure he was all right. Finding just a few scrapes that weren’t bad, he looked around for a low place to get the horse out of the creek.

As they turned their horses towards the hacienda an hour away, clouds gathered behind them. Within minutes the wind had picked up and soon the grey sky started raining on them. Scott shivered in his wet clothes and jacket, wishing he had thought to bring his slicker with him.

Looking at Jake, he called over the wind, “Let’s get home.” At Jake’s nod they kicked their horses into an easy lope and headed for the hacienda.

Reaching the courtyard Jake told Scott, “I’ll take your horse for you.”

“Thanks Jake,” Scott dismounted near the front door, “If this rain continues, we’ll wait until tomorrow to finish.” He handed the reins to the other man, his hands shaking with cold.

Jake smiled and rode away. Scott moved to the door, wiping his boots as best as he could. He decided there wasn’t much he could do about his dripping muddy clothes. Inside, after hanging his gunbelt up, he pulled off the wet jacket and sat on a step to pull off his boots. Murdoch walked into the entry as he got the first boot off.

"Scott! Are you all right?” he asked seeing the mud still clinging to his son’s right side.

“I’m fine. Just wet and cold.”

“I’ll tell Teresa you’re here. We finished lunch a bit ago, but there’s hot food for you. You’re not going out again.”

“No Sir,” the other boot finally hit the floor. “I’d like to get a hot bath and warm up before eating though.” Scott rose, shivering again as he turned to go upstairs, his right leg cramping.

“I’ll be sure there is plenty of hot water for you,” Murdoch told him as he limped up the steps. Shaking his head, Murdoch picked up the forgotten boots and carried them to the kitchen with him where Teresa was paring apples for a pie.

“Scott’s back. He’s soaked and going to bathe before eating. If he stays awake long enough. I think he hurt his leg, he’s limping.”

“I’ll have his food ready as soon as he’s done,” Teresa answered as Murdoch placed the boots near the door, not close enough to the stove to dry too fast.

Scott appeared at the kitchen door wrapped in his robe, carrying dry clothes. “I’ll be done in a little while,” he told them as he crossed the kitchen to the doorway going to the bathing room, the limp very noticeable.

Teresa looked at Murdoch as he poured a cup of coffee, “He still isn’t well. He needs to eat and sleep and he’s not.”

“I know. But I can’t make him do that. All we can do is hope he doesn’t get sick before he realizes it.”

“I miss Johnny,” Teresa felt her eyes tear up as she turned away.

“So do I, little one. We all do.” Murdoch wrapped her in his arms a moment. She hugged him then moved away.

“I need to get this pie finished,” she smiled up at him. “Thanks.” Murdoch smiled back at her as he stepped around the table and sat down to wait for Scott.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 6

Scott eased out of the bathtub. His body felt as if he’d been run over by a herd of wild horses. He half grinned thinking that being rolled on was as bad. He had bruises all over him, but his right leg was the worst. Soaking in the hot bath seemed to help some; now he felt ready to eat a bite then sleep – or try to – for a couple of hours.

He dressed in dry clothes and made his way back to the warm kitchen. Murdoch heard him coming and had a cup of coffee ready for him, as Teresa dished him a plate of food.

Sitting down carefully, Scott held the hot cup in his hands for a few moments, relishing the warmth, then took a drink. He started eating as Murdoch asked, “What happened? Why were you covered in mud?”

“Pulling a stump out of the creek and my horse decided he’d had enough. Got wrapped up in the rope, then went off the bank. He landed on my leg when we were in the creek. Nothing broken, just some bruises, and I got soaking wet.” Scott filled them in as he ate.

“I want to check your leg.”

“It’s alright Sir. Just bruised,” Scott mumbled finishing his lunch. “I’m going to lay down for awhile.”

“I’ll come up with you. No arguing, I’m checking your leg. You don’t need something to happen to it.” Murdoch told him again.

With a sigh Scott gave in; he knew by the look on his father’s face it’d be easier to let him do what he wanted.

“Thanks Teresa, that was good,” he smiled as he rose.

“We’ll have fresh apple pie for dessert tonight, so don’t miss dinner,” she smiled up at him.

“Sounds good, I won’t miss it.”

A few minutes later Scott was in his room, his father checking out the bruises on his leg, hip and back.

“I guess you’ll live. But you will be pretty sore for a few days. If this rain keeps up I want you to check out the mares tomorrow. Creeks will be filling up again, so there’s no sense working on that until the rain stops. Now get to bed and I’ll see you at dinner.” Murdoch smiled at the thin young man as he left. He was a little shocked to see how much weight Scott had lost. He was worried; Scott seemed to be thinner than ever with just muscle and skin over his bones. He didn’t seem to be weak, just way too thin. There had to be a way to get some meat back on his eldest, but he couldn’t think how, knowing that most of his problem was the thought of Johnny’s loss.. He decided the next time he was in town he would have a talk with Dr. Sam.

Scott rolled up in his blankets and was almost instantly asleep. For awhile he slept peacefully, but then a nightmare took over. He was in prison with many other men. They were going to escape; as they cleared the buildings and started across to the woods, the Rebel soldiers opened fire on them. Everyone was cut down. He was wounded in the thigh and upper back, and was dragged back into a building and left alone in a tiny locked room. After several days they dragged him outside; his wounds were infected and he was sick with infection and a high fever. They tied him to a pole; his arms stretched around it and tied up high on the other side. He couldn’t figure out what was happening to him, and then they started to whip him. As the whip tore what was left of his shirt off and bit into his flesh he cried out in confusion. In pain, he glanced over his shoulder to ask “Why?” to the man with the whip. It was Johnny. Agony ripped through him as the whip kept slicing open his back. He couldn’t believe it was his brother doing this to him. The agony intensified.

With a scream Scott’s eyes flew open. Shaking he looked around the familiar room, hoping no one had heard him. Turning his face into his pillow he wiped his tears away. Some of the nightmare had happened to him, not quite in that way, but this was the first time he had ever dreamed that Johnny held the whip that had cut him to pieces. For awhile he lay in his bed, but knowing he’d never get back to sleep this afternoon, he rose, dressed quickly, and made his way down to the living room.

Scott found his father dozing in his favorite arm chair. Teresa was no where in sight. Silently crossing the room he stood looking out the large window at the wet world on the other side of the glass. Rain was still sheeting down in torrents, the sky an angry grey with darker grey clouds running before the wind. No one was in sight, a few cows were crowded together, their tails to the wind. A couple of horses in the corral were standing against the barn. Some of the outbuildings had smoke curling out of their chimneys, whipping away in the wind that seemed to change direction every few minutes.

Scott shivered and added several pieces of wood to the fire. Turning his back to the fire he let the warmth seep through him as he gazed out the French door windows. Movement in a far field caught his eye. Stepping closer to the window he watched for it again.

Suddenly seven or eight horses ran from a stand of trees and up over a low rise. After a moment several more horses ran through. With a start Scott realized they were the mares.

Scott ran from the room, calling to Murdoch as he ran past him, “Murdoch, something’s after the mares.”

Murdoch came awake with a grumble and jumped up as Scott ran out the front door pulling a slicker on as he headed towards the barn, his rifle under his arm.

Scott was riding out of the barn when Murdoch reached it, “Scott, wait!”

“No time,” Scott spurred KC away turning towards the direction in which he’d seen the horses moving. They covered the wet ground quickly. Reaching the trees he slowed KC; he heard a horse nicker and turned in that direction. There were no mares left in the trees, but on the other side he found several standing near the creek. Looking down at the ground he saw tracks filling with rain water. Wishing he could read the tracks better he back- tracked the ones he could still see. He followed the creek and spotted a flattened area that looked like something had slid down the opposite bank into the creek. He continued to ride slowly along his side of the creek bed until he found tracks coming out of the creek. He looked around, figuring the tracks would lead him to the little herd of mares.

Turning back he went looking for the horses. He followed the creek and rode quickly towards the south, passing the two mares he’d already passed once. He found a wide swath of tracks going into the creek and out the other side and followed, turning KC into the rising water.

After crossing the creek Scott followed the tracks for over a mile before he saw a horse coming towards him. Nudging KC in her direction, they passed her, continuing in the direction from which she had come. Several minutes later he heard the frantic whinnying of a horse. Kicking KC into a run he soon came upon a mare running back and forth along the lip of a small deep ravine. Scott pulled up KC, slid off his horse, and stepped to the edge. About fifteen feet below him lay a small white foal, tangled tightly in brush that stuck out of the walls of the ravine, well above the ravine floor.

Scott looked for a way down, as the mare brushed against him almost knocking him over the side. She nickered at her foal; there was an answering whinny from below. Scott knew he had to get down there fast, before something worse happened to the foal. He ran along the top trying to find a safe way down. Finally he found what looked like a narrow trail. Going back to KC he mounted and rode to the spot, then tied his rope to a nearby tree after ground tying the stallion. Tossing the end of the rope over, he looked around in hopes of seeing Murdoch, but no one else was around. He grasped the rope and slowly walked down the steep narrow trail, boots slipping in the mud.

‘This feels great on my leg,’ Scott thought, sliding the last few feet to the bottom of the ravine, and into what turned out to be a giant mud hole covering the whole bottom, from one end to the other. ‘Great! Another pair of boots wet and muddy,’ he muttered to himself, feeling the water and mud soak his socks.

Squishing through the wet, almost foot deep mess, he made his way to the tangled brush and started working his way up to where he thought the foal lay about ten feet above him.

The frantic mare, sensing that he was helping her baby, had stopped running and stood with her head over the edge constantly talking to her foal. Now and then the foal would whinny, but its nicker sounded weaker to Scott. He worked harder to clear the brush in which the foal was tangled, hoping he would be able to get to it in time.

A shout from above startled Scott and he slid backwards into the muddy water. Looking up he saw Murdoch and Steve Bennett looking down at him. Each tossed a rope down towards him.

“Can you see the foal? Where is it? I can’t see him from here,” Scott called up to the two men.

Murdoch pushed the mare away and edged to where he could get a clear view of where the foal lay.

“Right below me,” he called to Scott.

“Scott, I’ll be down to help you in a minute,” Steve called.

“No. Not yet. I’ll see if I can get to the foal. It’s bad down here. If I need you I’ll call, not much room to work in either. Can you get one of the ropes closer to the foal?” Scott grasped one of the ropes and started working himself up the bank once more, pulling brush out of his way as he moved. The sky was starting to darken, the unseen sun still hidden behind the rain and dark clouds as the wind swirled around in the ravine and surrounding trees.

For several minutes Scott worked in silence, the rain pouring down on him, soaking him once again. Brush pulled out easily but also slapped him with its wet branches. Now and then the mare would nicker and the foal would answer. The dirt that had been dry several hours ago had now turned into sucking mud, making movement on the bank treacherous. Scott brushed his hand over his face, wishing he’d remembered his hat.

“Scott, about three feet more. Can you see him?”

Shaking wet hair and water out of his face again, Scott finally spotted the light colored foal in the brush nearby.

“Yes. I see him,” he called as he carefully worked his way closer to the foal. The other rope was already there for him to grab.

The little foal eyed him, and then tried to rise. Its legs were tangled in the brush, its body held up by strong branches, but there was no firm ground on which it could stand. It thrashed a little, but gave up when it couldn’t move more than its head.

“Hey little fellow, its all right, I’m going to get you out of this mess, somehow,” Scott spoke softly to it as he ran his hand over the foal, checking for broken bones. The foal thrashed about, then with a sigh quit fighting the stranger’s touch, exhausted from its ordeal. Scott kept running his hands over the foal trying to calm it and figure out how they were going to get it out of there. He checked the fragile legs several times as he thought. Calling out to Murdoch and Steve he told them, “I’m going to have to tie him up in the ropes. I think if I can get my slicker around him it might be easier to pull him up that way. Nothing’s broken; he seems to be all right. Just be ready when I tell you. He won’t like this I’m sure.”

Scott pulled his slicker off and fitted the foal’s forelegs into the sleeves, with the opening along the foal’s back, then buttoned it up and tied the excess tightly with the rope. He crossed the split lower back of the slicker under the foal’s belly and tied it also. After pulling on his makeshift sling to be sure the ropes wouldn’t slide off, he called up,

“Pull both ropes at once. Fast and steady, it should hold.”

The two men above pulled and the foal’s forelegs came free of the brush. Scott pulled his back legs free as he rose higher up the bank. It wasn’t the best sling but it held as Murdoch and Steve hauled the foal up the ravine’s side. In a few moments they had the foal and were untying it.

“We better take him to the house. Scott, are you ready to come up?” Murdoch looked down at his son.

“Where’s the rope?”

Murdoch tossed the rope down to Scott and, with it tied off to his horse, quickly pulled Scott out of the ravine. Steve had gotten KC and coiled Scott’s rope by the time Scott was pulled up. Scott knelt beside the tired foal and ran his hands over him, then said, “I’ll carry him across my saddle. With my slicker still on him he’ll be a little warmer. Hand him up to me.” He swung into his saddle and slid back far enough to get the foal in front of him. Steve and Murdoch lifted the foal up sliding its forelegs over the saddle, with the back legs on the other side. Scott wrapped his right hand around the foal’s chest to steady him. The foal was tired and weak enough that he didn’t fight, just laid his head over Scott’s arm and closed his eyes.

For a moment Scott almost panicked, thinking that the foal had died after all the work he’d just gone through to free him. Then he felt its heartbeat and turned towards home. Kneeing KC into a fast walk he eased the foal against him a little more and got a better grip on it. After a couple of minutes he kicked the stallion into an easy canter and they headed for the creek, Murdoch and Steve following with the mare on a lead.

Scott slowed to ford the creek then took off again. The rain was still coming down, he felt miserable and freezing, except for where the foal was held against him. It was getting dark and he wanted to get the foal taken care of soon.

Suddenly it was full dark, but they could see the lights of the hacienda and other outbuildings ahead of them. Scott pushed on, shivering with cold. At last the barn loomed in front of him and he stopped KC. With an effort he waited until Murdoch and Steve arrived. He let them pull the foal down, then dismounted and led KC into the large dry barn. Finding the lantern he lit it and turned KC loose, grabbed a pitchfork and forked a large pile of straw into an empty box stall. Steve and Murdoch carried the foal inside and laid it on the fresh straw. Scott found a blanket and set to work drying the foal’s head and neck as the others removed the slicker. The mare pushed her way in and tried to nuzzle her baby, but Scott kept up his vigorous rubbing.

Murdoch and Steve cared for the other three horses while Scott worked on the foal, then they brought more straw, hay and water into the stall for the mare and foal.

Scott finally got the foal dried and warm. He raised his head and whickered at his mother. Scott helped it to stand as the mare came to it. On shaky legs the foal started looking for a meal. Murdoch passed another blanket to Scott and he put it on the mare. The foal was finally busily nursing, its white tail swishing from side to side.

Scott rose slowly and left the stall, closing the stall door behind him. “That’s the mare that was supposed to be carrying Johnny’s… Looks like she foaled early… I think that colt is going to be a palomino,” he said as his teeth started to chatter together, tremors shaking his thin frame.

Murdoch threw a blanket around his son, “We need to get you to the house and dried too. Steve would you watch these two for a bit to be sure the colt is alright, then come on over to the house?”

“Sure Murdoch. I’ll take care of that.”

”Thanks. Come on son, let’s get you to the house,” Murdoch put his arm around Scott’s shaking shoulders and guided him towards the barn doors.

When they were almost to the kitchen door Scott stumbled; Murdoch gripped him tighter to keep him on his feet.

“Another pair of boots soaked. This keeps up I’ll be barefooted,” Scott mumbled to his father as they reached the door.

“They’ll be dry before you need them I’m sure,” Murdoch scraped his boots off, sat on the bench by the door beside Scott and pulled them off, then turned to help Scott remove his boots. His hand once more on Scott’s arm, they entered the warm kitchen. Scott moved to the fireplace and stood as close as he could, trying to get warm as he continued to tremble from the cold. The smells of dinner and apple pie floated around the two men.

Murdoch looked at Scott and poured him a cup of coffee, liberally lacing it with whiskey, and took it to his son. Scott’s ash-blond hair was plastered to his almost grey face, his lips were tinged with blue, and he was shivering so violently the wet blanket slid to the floor.

“Here son, drink this, then we’ll get you out of these clothes,” Murdoch held the cup up to Scott, who tried to take it in shaking hands. Murdoch held onto it as Scott drank. When he finished Murdoch placed the cup on the table, and then took Scott’s arm and headed for the back stairs. Within minutes Scott’s wet clothes were in a heap; he was dried and dressed in warm clothes. Though he was still shaking, the color was slowly returning to his face. Murdoch left to get changed then.

For several minutes Scott sat on his bed with a quilt wrapped around him. Deciding to go downstairs he rose and made his way to the living room and went to the fireplace. The fire was putting out heat and he placed another piece of wood on it. Straightening up he stood as close as he dared, soaking up as much of the heat as he could.

Teresa came in and with one look at him announced, “Dinner will be in about five minutes. The kitchen is warmer so I’m serving it in there. Are you all right Scott?”

“I’m fine. Just cold. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

She started to say something but clamped her lips together and left the room. Murdoch entered the room and moved to the liquor table to pour them both a drink. He stepped to Scott’s side, handing him a glass.

They drank in silence, Scott still trembling occasionally. Murdoch watched him out of the corner of his eye, noting his color was better, but still worrying that he had overdone it.

Teresa called and they went into dinner, Scott sitting close to the fire. Steve stopped in to let them know the mare and foal were doing fine, but refused their invitation to dinner.

After eating Scott excused himself from the table and went to his room. He was still cold but he felt that he could sleep a week. Slipping out of his clothes in the cool room he was in bed quickly, blankets wrapped tightly around him, and within minutes he was fast asleep.

Scott woke with a start, blue-grey eyes flashing around his room. He’d had a feeling that Johnny had been with him most of the night. His room was shadowed, rain still beat against his window; he knew it was daylight though he didn’t know the time. No one was sitting beside his bed though. For several minutes he lay cocooned in the warm bed, thoughts of his brother running through his head. He realized that for once he had slept all night with no nightmares. For the first time since Johnny had disappeared he felt rested, even hungry.

Not understanding the feeling of Johnny’s presence, knowing that Johnny really wasn’t with him he said, “Thanks Little Brother, I owe you one for last night.” Throwing the blankets back he rose and reached for his clothes. He washed and shaved quickly, found another pair of boots and pulled them on. Downstairs he heard the Grandfather clock chime the half hour. Slipping down the back stairs he grabbed a cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits. When he entered the living room he found his father sitting in his armchair, engrossed in a book.

As Scott moved to sit on the couch, he glanced at the clock and stopped in surprise; it read 3:40 p.m.

Murdoch smiled at the look on Scott’s face. “I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all day.”

“Sorry Sir. Why didn’t someone wake me?”

Murdoch shrugged, “You were exhausted and cold. You needed the rest. Nothing happening today anyway.”

“Where’s Teresa?”

“She went out to the barn again to check on the mare and foal.”

“I need to see them too. I’m sorry I slept so late. I need to get back to work.”

“It’s Sunday. No one’s working today.”

Scott blinked his eyes; he had forgotten what day it was. The days had been flowing one into the other, he barely remembered one day from the next. “Oh.”

“Work will be there tomorrow. If this rain doesn’t stop, we will have a lot more to do.”

Scott took a deep breath, knowing his father wasn’t going to like what he was going to say. “I’m going to go look for whatever is after the mares tomorrow. What’s been happening can’t continue, or we’ll lose all the foals that are coming. I think it’s a stallion, maybe trying to get a band of mares. Probably a young stallion, otherwise the colt would have been killed and the mare taken.”

Murdoch shook his head, “Where do you go to look for this horse? With this rain there are no tracks. There is snow in the mountains. Rivers and streams are flooded. What direction could you go without running into one problem or another in this weather?”

Frustrated, Scott jumped up and started pacing around the room. “We have to do something or all the mares will be gone,” he said angrily.

“I have already done something. There will be a rider watching the mares all the time. Juan is out there right now. I’ve had the mares moved closer in too. For now that is the best we can do, short of keeping them all penned up and I don’t think that’s a good idea right now. They are getting the exercise they need; there’s still enough grass out there for them too.” Murdoch answered.

Scott halted; he decided it wasn’t worth the fight to try to convince his father to let him go. Glancing out the window he knew Murdoch was right. He’d wait a bit longer to go after the stallion. He turned and told his father, “I’m going to go see the foal. I’ll be back later.” Going to the kitchen he found his slicker and hat, threw them on and went out the door. Dodging large puddles he quickly made his way to the barn.

Teresa was just coming out the barn door when Scott got there. She held it open for him then followed him to the mare’s stall. “The foal is fine. He’s been sleeping, eating and playing. I don’t think he remembers what happened to him,” she told Scott as they stopped at the stall door. “How do you feel? You look a lot better today then you have in a long time,” she said looking up at him.

Scott smiled at her, “I feel fine. Slept well and am looking forward to dinner.”

Teresa laughed and gave him a quick hug, “Speaking of dinner I need to get to it. I’ll see you later.” She headed for the door.

Scott looked into the stall; the foal was trying to buck, but his long slender legs went in different directions. After taking a tumble in the straw he rose and kicked at his mother; she patiently moved away from him and continued to nibble at her hay.

Hanging his hat by the door, Scott quietly entered the stall, talking to the horses. The colt stopped and eyed the tall stranger. With a toss of his head he stepped forward to investigate him. Scott knelt in the straw and let the foal come to him, he wanted to check him over and make sure he hadn’t missed any cuts or bruises on him the evening before.

With his head outstretched the foal moved closer, then bravely stepped up to Scott. Scott let him nuzzle his hair as he gently ran his hands over the firm little body. Finding an itchy spot that the foal seemed to have, he scratched him. Soon the foal was leaning against him, his head drooped in ecstasy as Scott’s long slender fingers scratched and rubbed him. Scott figured he couldn’t be more than two days old.

Scott could find nothing more serious than a couple of bald places on the foal’s legs, so he finally rose and backed away. The foal seemed to be fine. The colt eyed him for a moment, then turned to his mother for a drink.

Scott left the stall, still watching the colt. He had seen fine gold hairs mixed in with the white though his mane and tail were pure white. The foal would be a palomino. He wished Johnny was here to name his new colt. He shook his head; he hoped Johnny would be home soon, and knew that when he went to look for the stallion he would look again for Johnny. He grabbed his hat and slowly made his way to the barn door, then sprinted across to the house, cursing the rain that was still coming down.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 7

Another month passed. The rain finally let up and the ranch hands worked steadily repairing damaged fences and bridges, clearing creeks and streams of debris, and checking pregnant cows and mares.

Scott worked beside the men, keeping busy, and taking his turn riding at night, watching over the mares. The first of February came and went, heralding calving season. The cows were moved within two miles of the ranch buildings, and fed to keep them there. It was easier for the men to watch for problems and quickly help an animal in distress.

After a hectic day of helping vaqueros pull calves and assisting cows with calving problems, Scott rode home as daylight faded. He was worn out and tired, aching all over, and splattered with blood. He put up his horse, then made his way to the back door; he hoped he would never again have a day like this one had been. After washing off outside, he entered the kitchen while shrugging out of his jacket. Teresa turned from the sink where she was washing dishes.

“Sit, I have your dinner waiting for you.”

“I want to clean up first.”

“Don’t worry about it, you need to eat, then Murdoch wants to talk to you. After that you can relax a little,” Teresa told him with a smile as she placed a plate full of hot food on the table and reached for the coffee pot.

With a tired sigh Scott did as she requested, not having the energy to think past the minute. He ate quickly, not really tasting the food, then headed towards the living room carrying his cup of coffee. Murdoch took one look at his son and poured whiskey into his coffee, taking in the blood splattered clothes and weary look on Scott’s thin face.

“How many did we lose?” he asked as Scott drank the coffee down in one long swallow.

“One pair,” Scott answered, “Calf was too big and the cow too tired. She gave up, no matter what we did.”

”Live?”

“Twenty two. But the young stock seems to all be having problems, and there’s a lot more to calve.” Scott stretched his aching back and shoulders. “Pulling calves is no fun,” he stated.

“Never has been,” came the quiet reply.

Scott rose, “I’m going to get cleaned up and go to bed. We’re going to be busy tomorrow again I think.”

“Before you go, we lost another two mares; Jeff and Christo found them though. I’ve doubled the guard on them.”

Scott felt his blood boil, “I wanted to go after them last month!”

“Yes, and where? There was no way to trail them in the rain. And you were in no condition to go after anyone.” Murdoch retorted.

Fighting his anger, Scott knew Murdoch was right, but he was still mad that someone or thing was still running off the mares. “I’m going as soon as I can.”

“No. You are needed here. Right now the cows are our main concern. The mares are protected.”

“For how long? It’s been weeks since we got the mare and colt back. Now it’s started again,” Scott snapped.

“Cows are our lifeline, they have to come first. The mares will be all right for now.” Murdoch said firmly.

“Fine. I’m going to bed.” Scott left the room quickly before he exploded. In his room he stripped out of the blood covered clothes, threw on his robe and made his way down to take a bath. As he soaked in the hot water he felt his anger dissipate. His father was right, the cows and calves were what kept the huge ranch going. But it upset him that the mares were being stolen; the foals they carried would be worth money too, to sell or keep as replacement mounts.

He thought of a conversation he’d had with his brother about how they needed well trained horses for working the cattle. Scott had seen how well Johnny had done breaking the few wild horses they had caught. When Johnny was working with them everyone would put aside their work to watch him. Johnny seemed to understand what the horse was thinking and used that to help train him; with his easy ways and his soft voice, it wasn’t long before the horse responded to him. Johnny had wanted to train horses for the ranch’s use; many of the horses being ridden had no ‘cow sense’ and the rider usually had his hands full trying to work cows from the back of his mount. A horse trained to work cattle knew instantly what was needed, even if the rider didn’t. Johnny was going to talk to Murdoch after the holidays about letting him train cow horses, but…Scott shied away from the thought. He had to find Johnny soon, or Johnny had to come home; he needed his brother, he felt too alone, too unbalanced and unsure, Johnny had seemed to keep him focused. He knew his brother was alive, he felt it in his bones, but where was he?

With a yawn, Scott rose and dried off. He dumped out the bathwater, then made his way back to his room. Too tired to do more than lay out clean clothes for the next day, he went to bed.

Several hours later the nightmare slammed into him with a vengeance, as if it had a mind of its own. Scott writhed in pain as it flashed into his subconscious; dreaming of being captured, he watched as other prisoners dropped dead around him from sickness and abuse. His own beatings seemed to be minor as his friends died one after the other. They tried to escape, digging for weeks on rations that barely kept them alive. He dreamt of the night that sixteen of them had crawled through the dark crumbling tunnel to freedom, only to find the guards waiting for them all to emerge before cutting them down as they tried to run for the trees. Wounded and half buried under a friend’s body, he was found and dragged back into the prison and left alone in a tiny cell as his wounds quickly became infected from the filth. He was delirious and confused as they dragged him outside and chained him to the whipping post so that everyone could see what happened to those who tried to escape. He was whipped, the guards laughing as he screamed in agony until he’d passed out, his back torn to shreds. He’d hung there for two days before the guards let some of the other prisoners take him down and tend to him as best they could.

Scott thrashed in his bed as another scream was ripped from his throat. Murdoch entered the room and wrapped his arms around his older son, holding him close, feeling the tremors that shook him and the anguished tears that soaked his nightshirt. He spoke to Scott calmly, rubbing his naked back. Feeling the old scars beneath his hand, he held him tighter as Scott gasped for breath and tried to pull away from his father’s grasp.

Scott fought his way back from the nightmare, and the hands that held him, his breath coming in gasps. Finally he heard a gruff voice calling him back to sanity. Still shaking, he opened tear filled eyes. He realized then that it was his father holding onto him. Embarrassed by his tears, he shuddered and tried to pull away again.

Murdoch felt the change in his son and cautiously released him. Scott sat back, head bowed, long hair falling into his face as he breathed heavily, trying to get himself under control. Murdoch could see dark spots appear in his gaunt cheeks. “Are you all right son?”

Scott nodded in the dark, taking a last deep breath, “Sorry Sir, didn’t mean to disturb you. I hope I didn’t wake Teresa,” More color flooded his face as he turned away.

“I don’t think so. I was just going for some water when I heard you. Want to talk about it?”

“No Sir. It’s past. It was just a dream.”

Murdoch saw him shudder and placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I’m here if you want to talk. Any time.”

“Thank you Murdoch. It’s okay.”

”Then I’ll leave you. See you in the morning.” Murdoch pushed himself up off Scott’s bed and turned to the door.

“Goodnight Sir,” Scott said quietly as his father left he room, closing the door behind him.

Leaning back, Scott rested, not wanting to go back to sleep. After awhile he rose, dressed, and made his way down to the kitchen, stoking up the fire and putting on a pot of coffee. A bit later he was sitting in the dark in front of the large glass window in the living room, drinking cup after cup of coffee as he stared at the cold light coming from the moon and stars as they slowly moved across the sky. As dawn started to make herself known he roused himself and made a quick breakfast. Clearing his dish away, he went to the door, buckled on his gunbelt, grabbed his jacket and hat and left the house. Within minutes he was riding out to another day of taking care of cows.

Dinner that evening was quiet. It was Scott’s turn to ride night herd on the mares. He had tried to sleep for an hour after dinner, but finally gave it up and slipped out to saddle KC. The night was cold and clear, the moon not quite full as he slowly rode around the dozing mares. There were a few new foals on the ground now, with more expected over the next two weeks. As dawn streaked the sky, two riders came to take Scott’s and Jose’s places. Scott changed horses, grabbed a bite to eat and rode out to the herd of cattle.

That night he staggered to bed so tired he couldn’t think, praying for sleep. When he had ridden in he had stopped to check on the little colt that he had saved. The foal was in a small corral with his mother, bucking and prancing around. Scott leaned against the fence watching his antics for a few minutes. When the colt spotted the tall man he’d planted his feet and gazed at him. With a shake of his head he moved towards Scott, thrusting his nose through the poles at him. Scott laughed and scratched him for a few minutes. “Johnny would love to be here and see you little guy,” he told the colt in a gentle voice. With a snort the foal pulled away and raced to his mother’s side. Scott left, just wanting to go to bed.

Scott dropped into bed, barely taking time to pull off his boots, and was asleep when his head hit the pillow. He didn’t hear Murdoch come in later, didn’t wake when his father called his name, just mumbled and slept on. Murdoch covered him, and then stood looking down at his son. He knew Scott hadn’t been sleeping, and also knew that the nightmare had affected him more than he let on. With a sigh he lightly brushed the long hair off Scott’s face and hoped he could sleep through this night.

Another week passed. Scott had finally slept twelve hours through, and had been working hard every day; now he was again riding night herd. The moon was full, throwing its bright cold light over the sleeping mares and foals. Almost all of the mares had foaled in the past week; there were only two more left to foal. Scott nudged KC around the herd of quiet horses; in the distance he could make out the pinto that Tim was riding.

As he circled the mares he thought of the cows; there were still close to fifty yet to calve but it seemed the problems they’d had during the first weeks had slacked off. Only one or two in the last few days had needed help. He was glad; he had learned more about cows calving then he really wanted to know. Scott grinned in the darkness as a cloud slowly made its way across the moon; he could imagine what his grandfather would say if he could see him with his arm in a cow trying to turn a calf so it could be born in the correct position.

He was so lost in his thoughts that at first he didn’t notice KC throw up his head, his gait changing from a walk into a balanced tip-toe pace. Several mares had roused themselves and were milling restlessly around.

Scott was suddenly brought back with a jerk as KC let out a loud scream. As his challenge was answered he half reared, then leapt into a run. Scott was taken by surprise and fought to pull him to a stop, but just as he managed to rein in the bay stallion, a ghostly grey figure appeared in front of him, standing tall on its rear legs, front legs pawing the air in angry defiance. KC rose to meet the grey, and the two stallions came together hard, the impact almost unseating Scott. The grey whirled away, kicking and KC ducked from the lethal hooves. With a guttural bellow the grey stallion was back, teeth bared, his head snaking down towards KC’s legs. KC kicked back, then whirled to meet the grey as he rose again on his hind legs. Scott finally managed to get his revolver out of the holster as the stallions came crashing together again, the grey’s hooves barely missing Scott’s right leg. As Scott fired into the air again and again, the grey stallion’s bellow changed into a squeal of surprise, and finally he turned and ran. KC took off after him as Scott fought to bring the enraged animal under control. He could barely see the ghostly grey horse as they flew through the darkness. Finally Scott was able to bring KC to a skidding halt and turned the angry stallion back towards the mares. Tim was patrolling the herd, waiting. As they approached the mares KC lunged at Tim’s pinto gelding, who squealed and backed quickly away. Scott pulled KC to a stop and held him still as he patted the sweaty neck and tried to calm the stallion while the horse swung his head and pawed the ground in frustration.

“They’re all okay Scott. The gunfire got them moving but I was below them and just circled them back. Did you shoot the horse?” Tim asked, keeping well back from the stallion.

“No. Just scared him away. Hopefully he won’t be back too soon.”

“Kind of something, riding a fighting stallion,’ Tim grinned as Scott dismounted and started running his hands over KC who had finally calmed down.

“Well I don’t think I want to make a habit of that!” Scott answered, his hand finding a bloody graze on KC’s neck, but nothing else. Just then the cloud finally passed the moon and moonlight once again flooded the land. Peering at the cut on his horse’s neck, Scott decided it wasn’t that bad and could wait a couple of hours to be tended. He used his handkerchief and wiped the blood away; he could see it wasn’t deep and it had almost stopped bleeding.

KC shook his head and stomped a forefoot as Scott patted him, “You’re not going after him,” he told the stallion as he mounted; he and Tim rode back to the mares and eased them towards their pasture. Within minutes the mares and foals were once again resting and the two men started circling again. Scott kept a tight rein on KC the rest of the night as the horse looked often to the southeast.

At dawn Scott and Tim rode back to the barn. Scott tended to KC and let him loose in a corral; the stallion was still angry and trotted around, bellowing out his anger and challenge with every stride. Scott entered the hacienda and greeted Teresa, then grabbed two cups of coffee and went to find his father. Murdoch had just come downstairs and was looking out the French doors, hearing KC’s loud hollering. He turned to look at Scott as Scott handed him a cup of coffee.

“I’m going after the stallion today. He came last night; I had to shoot to chase him away.”

”What’s wrong with KC?”

“They fought.”

Murdoch looked in surprise at Scott, checking him out from head to toe.

“Yeah, I was on KC, but the shots scared the other stallion away. I know the direction he went and I should be able to trail him. I’m leaving as soon as I get things lined up.” Scott informed his father.

“Scott…”

“No Sir. I am going. The cows are fine; the mares that are left are fine. Everything is just fine. I have to do this.”

Murdoch gave in; he knew Scott would leave no matter what he said, especially after what had just happened.

“Take the brown gelding, he’s strong and he can move if he has to. He’s a roping horse, he’s been trained to hold whatever was roped off him if need be. That bay mare with the wide blaze will make a good pack horse if you need one, and if there is a problem she will come home no matter what,” he added.

Scott paused and looked at his father. “Thanks, I’ll go get ready.”

“I’ll have Teresa put some food together for you. Get the horses ready and we’ll get food packed. There are some ropes in the tack room too. You might need them if you’re going to try to catch that horse.”

Scott nodded as a smile crept across his face. “I am going to try. He’s a grey stallion, and from what I could see he should make a good ranch horse. He can really move.”

Murdoch laughed out loud. “Should have known. Just be careful!”

Scott grinned, then turned towards the stairs. “I better get going, don’t want to lose that trail.”

In less than an hour Scott was headed out, following the grey stallion’s trail. The sturdy brown gelding and bay mare moved along easily at a canter. He had packed several extra ropes in hopes he could capture the grey. He had also brought an extra canteen; if the stallion crossed the desert he was prepared.

The stallion’s trail led him straight towards the desert; he went south for two days, then east, over an edge of the mountains. The mountains were still cold and in places snow still lay on the ground. He found the stallion’s tracks in the snow, evidence of his comings and goings, and followed them for miles. By the end of the fourth day he rode down to the wasteland edging the desert. An eerie feeling overcame him as he sat on his horse looking towards the desert a mile or so away. He knew Johnny was out there somewhere; he hoped he could find him too.

Scott nudged the horse forward, following a small creek that ended at the edge of the desert. He made a quick camp, tying the horses to a rocky outcrop. When he finished eating, he filled the canteens. Rolling into his blankets he watched the moon come up. He hoped the weather would hold, then rolled over and went to sleep.

Dawn found Scott and his horses making their way across the desert, still following the stallion’s tracks. Though winter was winding down, it was still cold at night. The sun warmed the desert, but it wasn’t the stifling heat of summer. By late afternoon Scott could see a dark smudge ahead of them. As they continued he finally made out some stunted trees and brush. Urging the horses into a faster pace, they reached the trees just as total darkness fell. He started a fire, and found horse sign and a little bit of water in the rocks, a little grass struggling to grow nearby. He checked the area as best he could but found nothing moving, so he unsaddled and watered the horses, tying them so they could pick at the sparse grass. He ate quickly, then let the fire die down as he rolled himself into his blankets.

Scott shivered as he broke camp in the dark the next morning. The moon had set when he woke from another nightmare. He rose, unable to get back to sleep, and checked the horses, then watered and saddled them. Frost whitened the ground as he mounted and turned into the desert again. The stallion’s tracks were a dim frozen trail ahead of him. As the dawn broke around them Scott kicked the horse into a canter; he wanted out of the quiet desert and seeing the far off line of hills, he knew they could make it there today if they kept moving.

It was dark again when they entered the low hills on the other side of the desert. Scott was happy that the desert was behind them. He made a dry camp, watering the horses by pouring water into his hat for them to drink.

The trail was faint the next day and Scott walked, leading the horses several times, casting around looking for tracks. The hills closed in on him, and then he found a well worn trail still heading east. Later in the afternoon the trail turned south and suddenly he came across a river, the tracks disappearing into it. For several minutes Scott debated whether to ride along the river or to cross it and look for tracks on the other side. Shaking his head, he kicked the gelding and they moved into the river. It was swift but not very deep and they easily crossed, but he couldn’t find the stallion’s tracks on the other side. Scott turned to his left and headed north, following the river. Just as dark covered the land he found horse tracks, many of them, heading away from the river and going south again. Scott made camp, impatient to move on, even though the tracks he had found seemed to be older than the others. He didn’t know for sure, but thought maybe they were two or three days old.

Another chilly day dawned, and Scott continued to follow the horse signs. He rode quickly through low hills, keeping a watchful eye out for Indians and the horses ahead of him. The tracks led him to another river, though this one was dry. He followed the tracks as the riverbed snaked between banks that rose steadily higher. He found a trail and urged his horses to the top of what was becoming a river canyon, then kept moving south. Suddenly his horse threw up his head, ears cocked as he gazed below into the riverbed.

Scott reined in and looked down to see several horses trotting past. Excitement ran through him as he nudged his horse forward again, following the horses below from the safety of the high bank. Rounding an outcrop of rocks, Scott spied more horses in the riverbed, then heard the whistle of a stallion. He halted in a stand of brush and trees, quickly dismounted and tied off his horses, then went back to the edge to look over the rim of the bank to the horses below.

Scott held his breath; it was the ghostly grey stallion that had attacked KC. The horse stood out from the rest of the herd. He was a silvery grey with a pure white mane and tail. Scott thought he could make out some dappling on him but wasn’t sure. As he watched the stallion trying to move the mares, Scott decided that the horse was fairly young; he would charge one mare after another trying to get them to go where he wanted them to go, but if one stopped he would pass her to go after another. It seemed as if he really didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

Once they disappeared around another curve in the riverbed, Scott mounted the bay gelding and quickly followed, wondering if he would be able to catch the horse. ‘The Grey Ghost’ he thought as he rode along the bank, and then wondered why he’d thought of that name. Then he remembered, the first time he’d seen him it was as if a grey ghost had come out of the darkness. He smiled as he continued to follow the herd below.

Tying his horses again, Scott moved carefully to the lip of the canyon and looked down. The wild horses were milling around an open area, with some grass and a large pool of water nestled in a cup-like opening. The bank on the other side was blocked, almost forming a natural corral. He could see an opening in the blocked bank where a stream of water drained into the pool. He guessed that the opening was about eight feet across. He figured that would be easy to close off, if the horses left. The entrance opening, into the ‘cup’ would be a bit trickier, as it was much wider, but there was brush and some small trees growing right down into the riverbed, so he thought he could get it closed off with some work.

Two days later Scott had the narrow opening by the stream closed. Before starting to work on the ‘fence’ he had back-tracked and crossed to the other side of the canyon, finding an easier way down into the area, and more grass for his horses. He was happy that he had thought to pack an ax; it had come in handy.

Scott had just gained the top of the canyon when he heard the thunder of hooves below him. Quickly dismounting he moved to the edge and watched. Moments later the wild horses came running through the riverbed and around the curve below him. Watching them flow past he spotted the grey stallion bucking and kicking behind the others. Scott had started to pile brush in the narrower entrance just around from the pool and watched as the horses reached it. They ran through the area without a second glance at it; the stallion was so busy playing he didn’t even notice it. With a smile Scott watched the horses run through the pool, around in a circle, then stop near the water. Soon all of the horses’ heads were down as they drank thirstily.

‘Ghost, you aren’t much of a protector. I think you should be on watch and more aware of what’s going on around you. No wonder you have problems running off the mares!’ Scott thought as he watched the grey. The stallion raised his head and looked around for several minutes, then dropped it to the grass near the pool and ate a few bites; moments later he was rolling over and over in the dry grass. Scott smiled as he watched the horse.

An hour later the grey circled the other horses; snapping his teeth at them he finally managed to drive them back in the direction from which they had come. Scott moved his camp after the horses left. He had an uneasy feeling for some reason he didn’t understand, but after moving he felt a bit better. He hid his extra gear in some rocks as he made camp again. As he tied his horses up he glanced at the sky. Clouds had rolled in and the wind was picking up. He hoped it wouldn’t rain. Dark came early and fast, the wind blowing hard and cold. He checked the horses to be sure they couldn’t pull loose, then quickly ate a cold meal and rolled into his blankets under a stunted wide limbed tree.

Early the next morning Scott was hard at work; it was windy but he was just happy that it hadn’t rained. He chopped limbs and branches off trees, weaving them loosely into a blind fence. He dragged more limbs to the fence, placing them in any holes that were in the blind, and binding them tightly to the woven part. The wind blew hard enough that his tracks were covered before he went back for more limbs. By late the next afternoon he finished placing the last of the woven branches and brush across the opening; and built that would easily slide across the opening. The wind had kept him company all day and he was tired of trying to get sand out of his eyes all the time.

He returned to his camp to find the mare gone, part of her lead rope still tied to the tree where he had left her earlier. Riding the gelding in a wide circle he tried to find her, but she had totally disappeared. He packed up quickly and moved his camp, then settled down to wait for the wild horses to return. He hoped the mare would go home, though he knew they were quite a ways from the ranch.

Mid-morning turned hot. Scott had his horse saddled with the ropes and canteen tied to the saddle as he waited patiently for the wild horses. As he sat where he could see the brush fence across the dry riverbed, he wished that Johnny was with him; he could sure use his cheerful teasing about now. He thought of what Johnny might say to his idea of catching this particular horse; his brother would probably tell him that he was going about it all wrong. He smiled to himself; he missed his brother a hell of a lot, and prayed that he would get home soon. Scott knew his little brother was still all right, somehow he could feel it, but he still missed him. He half-dozed, then jerked awake when he heard the familiar thunder of hooves below. Easing back he watched as the horses cantered along the dry riverbed, then around the curve and towards the fence. Scott held his breath as the first horse reached the opening and passed through it without a pause. As soon as the stallion passed through Scott mounted and urged the brown gelding down the steep trail to the riverbed. He rode slowly, following the wild horses to the brush fence. He dismounted, then led the gelding through the opening, pulled the brush covered gate closed and hooked it tightly. He mounted and glanced quickly at the fence; it stood almost as tall as him on horseback, so he was fairly certain the horses wouldn’t try to jump it. If they did, he knew that if they hit it hard enough it could all come down. He shrugged and loosened the first rope, then turned his horse towards the pool where the wild horses were gathered.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 8

The bay mare that had broken loose was heading towards home, stopping to graze now and then as she walked calmly along through the brush and shrubs. When she was almost four miles from Scott’s camp she was startled by a hand reaching out from a bush and grasping her halter; the mare pulled back in surprise, nostrils flaring. A man materialized at her head and she quieted somewhat, sniffing at the odd odor of the black haired, buckskin clad figure. Another figure rode forward out of some low trees, bringing the first man’s mount. The standing man quickly ran a rawhide rope through the mare’s halter. Taking offence at the approaching pinto, the mare lashed out with her rear hooves. The rider laughed at the mare as he turned his horse away from her, speaking quickly to the other brave. The first man quickly mounted his dark bay horse. Leading the mare, the two riders circled the area, trying to determine where the mare had come from, but after an hour of riding they stopped. Her tracks were too hard to pick up; the wind had almost completely obliterated them. They turned and headed back towards the hidden village; keeping an eye out for deer as they rode.

Johnny returned to the village, a deer draped across Gold’s withers. The village was excited about something, with people standing around talking, moving from one teepee to another. As he rode he noticed a small crowd near the Chief’s teepee, and turned the golden stallion towards them. He stopped the horse and threw the deer to the ground as Flower Woman and Runs Fast hurried towards him, smiles on their faces.

Johnny dismounted and headed for his teepee, pausing when the Chief called to him. As he walked back he nodded to the braves standing in a semicircle, then stopped as he neared the Chief, his bright blue eyes going to the haltered mare standing next to him. He felt a chill pass through him; the mare had a circle L brand on her hip. Knowing he was being watched, Johnny walked slowly around the mare, running his hands over her, his face a frozen mask. He turned to the Chief and said (in Spanish), “She’s very nice, healthy, although a little old. She should have a few foals before her time is up.”

Knowing the Chief was watching him closely, Johnny didn’t let any emotion show on his face as he patted the mare’s neck and turned away from her, saying, “I brought meat. I am tired.”

He turned to Gold and led him towards his teepee. Chief Running Horse nodded to Johnny as he left, and turned back to the others. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief as he reached his teepee. Pulling the cinched blanket from Gold’s back, he turned into the small roped corral and tying Gold to a tree, quickly brushed him down and fed him some dried grass. He entered his teepee and threw some wood onto the fire, then collapsed beside it, shaking.

‘Someone from home is out there. Are they looking for me? Where are they? Scott, is it you?’ Thoughts flashed through his head as he warmed himself and running his hands through his long hair as he sat staring into the fire.

Winter hadn’t treated the small tribe very well. The men went out almost everyday hunting for food. Deer had become scarce over the last several weeks and the braves had to forage farther and longer to find food. For the first several weeks Johnny hadn’t been allowed to go out hunting; he hadn’t been trusted to be on his own, so he had worked everyday with the young golden stallion. They had formed a bond and the horse was the one he turned to after a rough day, talking to him, even telling him his hopes of going home one day. The stallion had responded to his training, and Johnny had found that he was the fastest horse in the village. He had also trained him to ground tie when he dismounted, to come at a particular whistle, even to lay down on command. He was a joy to Johnny and they became inseparable.

Johnny rose and began making a quick meal. He seemed to always be hungry and had lost weight. His hair hung down several inches below his collar, down onto his back, but he didn’t mind as it kept his neck warm. The Chief had given him back his gunbelt and gun and in the privacy of his tepee he still practiced everyday, saving bullets in case he needed them later.

He heard a noise outside and slipped his gun into his bed furs out of sight, calling to whoever was there. During his almost four months in the village, he had been able to pick up some words of the language of the people, but not enough to speak it easily or to carry on a conversation with anyone. He could sometimes understand what was being said, but he usually answered in Spanish or asked them to repeat it in Spanish.

Two braves slipped through the covered opening, and the taller one asked slowly, “Come hunt with us in morning?”

Johnny smiled and replied, “Si. I will ride with you.”

With a smile the man said, “Dawn.”

“Si.”

The two men left and Johnny ate his meal in silence. The taller brave, ‘Hunting Fox,’ was the one who had found the Lancer mare. He figured they would hunt near where she had been found, and he wanted a chance to check the area out himself. If Scott or Murdoch or one of the Lancer hands was around he might be able to…’What Johnny?’ he thought. ‘Let them know I’m alive? Risk getting them killed? Leave with them?’ Thoughts and ideas ran through his head as he paced around the teepee. Finally he threw some more wood on the fire, dropped down onto his bed and pulled the furs up to his chin. All he could do was see what happened the next day, if he found his family out there looking for him, he would leave with them if at all possible.

Dawn found Johnny, Hunting Fox and Bear riding down the river until the canyon opened out flat. They traveled on the right side of the river up onto a huge mesa with trees sprinkled here and there. Large clumps of sagebrush reached the horses’ bellies. Johnny’s eyes flashed back and forth, looking for any sign of another rider. After covering a few miles they split up, with Johnny heading northwest, the other two men going east and southeast.

By mid-morning Johnny was riding through heavy brush and trees until he suddenly emerged above a dry riverbed. He halted Gold and took in the view. The dry bed extended for as far as he could see, and seemed to get deeper as it curved away. Suddenly he spotted fresh tracks below him in the bed. He turned the stallion and they slowly made their way along the high bank top, as the bank fell steeper and sharper down into the riverbed. Rounding a large outcrop of rocks he spotted a narrow trail that led downwards; there were more tracks, made by a shod horse. He kept going, carefully studying the tracks that were now in front of him.  As he pushed through a stand of trees he pulled Gold to a stop; there was a small blackened circle of rocks indicating a campfire, and he could see where a horse had been tied to a nearby tree.

Suddenly the quiet morning was shattered by the loud scream of a horse. Gold’s head whipped to the left, but Johnny stopped him before he could answer and nudged him towards the sound. He could now hear the thunder of hooves as well. They broke through the trees and stopped at the edge of a steep drop off into the dry riverbed. Below was a large pool of water surrounded by grass. He could see where a thin stream of water flowed under some brush to the pool. A herd of horses swarmed around a curve in the riverbed and splashed through the water. A grey stallion came running behind them, his head turned back as he looked over his shoulder.

The band of horses stopped and began eating, while the stallion stood off to one side watching, his angry nicker blaring out again.

A rider appeared on a big brown horse, moving slowly towards the stallion. Johnny could one rope looped over the saddle horn, while the rider held another in his right hand, loop slowly swinging at the horse’s side. He watched the rider closely, trying to determine if he knew him, and figuring he was the one who had lost the mare. The man was tall and very slender, but Johnny couldn’t see his face. For an instant he thought it was Scott, but he realized that his brother wouldn’t be this far from home, and even though some of his movements reminded him of his big brother this man was thinner than Scott. Settling back on Gold, he watched the rider move his horse between the stallion and the grazing herd, when suddenly the stallion took off, heading back in the direction from which he had come. Johnny stayed back from the edge of the drop off and moved Gold to where he could observe everything. He was surprised to see the brush fence stretched across the narrow part of the river; a grin of appreciation for the man’s knowledge of horses crossed his face as he watched the stallion swing away from the fence and run back towards the herd, the rider trotting slowly behind him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scott followed the stallion again; he had lost count of how many times the horse had gone back and forth. At least the herd of mares and geldings had finally stopped running. The first few times the horses had run Scott had tried to check for brands and had spotted several with the Lancer brand. As he followed the grey he wondered if there was a way he could get the herd to go with him. He knew once the grey was caught he’d have his hands full; he didn’t know if he could sort and drive the Lancer horses and handle the stallion at the same time. He decided there was no way he could do it and settled for just capturing the stallion, and concentrated on the horse.

As he rode Scott talked gently to the grey, letting him hear his voice as he ran past and ahead of him. When the horse finally stopped by the brush fence Scott got his rope ready. The stallion was lathered from his running, and Scott hoped he was tired enough that he wouldn’t fight him too hard. He glanced at the stump sticking out of the riverbed about four feet from the steep bank; he had checked it earlier and it seemed to be strong enough to hold the horse. There was enough room to maneuver his horse around it and to tie the stallion to it. He nudged the gelding forward as he swung the rope. When the stallion trotted closer to the stump and turned to face them, Scott saw his chance and threw the loop, grinning as the rope settled around the horse’s neck. With a squeal the stallion started to run, and Scott reined the gelding in at the stump. The stallion bucked as the rope tightened around his neck, giving Scott several extra seconds to loop the other end around the stump and tie it off.

With a bellow the stallion charged him and the gelding. Scott readied the second loop as he dug his heels hard into his mount’s side. The gelding leapt away from the stump and along the bank, the stallion almost on top of them. Scott threw the loop as the stallion crashed into them, knocking the gelding hard into the bank. For an instant Scott thought his right leg was crushed as they hit the wall of dirt and rocks. He waved his hand in the stallion’s face and the horse suddenly turned away. Scott sank his heels into the gelding again reining him up and away from the bank. The gelding gallantly scrambled away, taking them farther away from the bank with every stride.

Suddenly the stallion came charging back. Scott looped the end of his rope around the saddle horn and urged the gelding forward, but before they could get more than a few yards the grey crashed into them again. Scott thought he heard a yell but was too busy keeping his horse upright. The gelding staggered several feet as the stallion reared over them, his lethal hooves slamming down on top of them. One hoof hit Scott’s head and raked his flesh from his neck down and across to his right hip, tearing open his back. The other hoof drew blood on the gelding’s neck, then struck Scott’s right thigh just above his knee, tearing through cloth and muscle.

Scott was unconscious as the grey hit the end of the first rope. The gelding pulled up short, feeling his rider slide off of him. He turned to face the stallion and, as he had been trained, backed up until the second rope was tight and the stallion was stopped in his tracks, unable to go anywhere. The grey stallion screamed out his anger at the fallen rider, who lay only a couple of feet away, then shook his head at the smell of blood and screamed again, pawing the dirt.

Johnny had watched as the rider’s first loop landed neatly over the stallion, then watched in horror as the horse had attacked the rider. Seeing the second loop land around the horse’s neck he thought for an instant it would be fine, but then the grey had charged. He yelled to alert the rider and turned Gold towards the narrow trail they had passed. He urged Gold as fast as he could go, and they had slid down the trail quickly. He felt a pain in the back of his head as they hit the riverbed, but he ignored it as he raced Gold to the brush fence. In less than two minutes he reached the fence and found the piece of rope holding the gate closed. Without dismounting he slashed it apart with his knife and pushed it open. Gold jumped through the opening and the grey turned towards him; unable to move, he stood watching the gold stallion and its rider.

Johnny rode over to the gelding, glancing at the downed rider, who’s head and back was covered in blood. He dismounted by the gelding’s side, murmuring to him as he quickly checked the ugly gash on his neck then led him to the bank, keeping the rope taut. He untied the rope and retied it to a tree, efficiently getting the grey away from the rider and taking the pressure off of the injured gelding.

Running back to the rider’s side, Johnny knelt in the sand beside him and carefully turned the man over, being careful of the bloody head and back. He froze in shock at seeing his brother’s gaunt face. For several moments he stared at his brother, whom he hadn’t seen in almost four months. He ran his hand over his face and drank in Scott’s features. ‘He’s so thin,’ he thought, ‘He’s lost a lot of weight and his hair is over his collar.’ Suddenly he jumped to his feet and ran to the gelding. He rummaged through Scott’s saddlebags and found a spare shirt, then grabbed the canteen. Dropping to Scott’s side he tore the shirt into strips and gently rolled Scott back over, checking his head. There was a lump forming, as well as a deep cut on the back of his head. He poured some water over the area, then cleaned and wrapped it with the strips of bandages. He looked at the long bloody gash across Scott’s scarred back; the shirt was torn into shreds, so much so that Johnny didn’t think he had enough shirt material to wrap around his back completely.

Next Johnny checked Scott for broken bones, starting at the nape of his neck. By the time he’d reached the end of the gash at Scott’s hip, his hands were covered with his brother’s blood, and he was shaken; he had felt every scar on his brother’s back. But he’d only found two ribs that seemed to be cracked, not broken, the last two on his right side. For several moments Johnny knelt beside his brother, wishing for him to wake up, but knowing he’d be in terrible pain if he did. He carefully washed the gash as well as he could, especially the deepest part of the wound by Scott’s hip. Minutes later, he took a deep breath and started running his hands down the backs of Scott’s legs, checking once again for broken bones. Seeing that blood had pooled under Scott’s right leg he carefully rolled his brother onto his back again, trying to keep the torn pieces of the shirt closed over the wound.

“How did I miss this Boston?” Johnny asked as he looked at Scott’s right leg. Pulling his knife he carefully cut the pant leg away from the bloody mess above Scott’s knee. Sand and dirt were imbedded in the muscle tissue. He realized he needed more water to clean the leg, as he emptied the canteen over the wound in an effort to wash away some of the grit.

He dropped his head for a moment and thought, then smiled as he remembered the pool of water just up a ways in the riverbed around the corner. He rose and tucked the rest of the bandages inside his shirt, then hooked the canteen back on the gelding’s saddle.

Grabbing Gold’s reins he led the horse over to Scott. Johnny tapped Gold’s foreleg and the horse dropped to his knees. He lifted his brother and laid him sideways over the horse’s back, then spoke softly to the stallion, which rose to his feet. Johnny mounted behind his brother and nudged the horse into motion; the gelding following them up the riverbed and around the curve.

Within minutes they had crossed the pool of water. Johnny dismounted and carefully pulled Scott off the horse’s back, laying him near the water. Over and over he poured clean water over the ugly hole. Using a piece of Scott’s shirt he, carefully cleaned the wound as best as he could, checking closely for sand and dirt. When it was as clean as possible, he sat back for a moment, wishing he had something other than just a bandage that he could use to wrap around Scott’s leg and back wounds.

Looking at the steep banks that surrounded the area and towered over twenty five feet above him, he wished he knew if there were any herbs he could use. Glancing up at the sun he realized he didn’t have time to look, he had to find someplace to hide Scott, tear down some of the brush fence, and do something with the grey stallion. Reluctantly he bandaged the leg with the strips of shirt.

Johnny rose to look more closely at the deeply shaded part of the bank. As he jogged towards the dark shadow he could make out what looked like a wide opening. A few minutes later he was standing in front of a deep undercut that went back forty feet or more, under rock and hard packed earth. When he entered the space he could see that a horse would have plenty of headroom; it would only have to duck its head to pass through the entrance.

Johnny decided that the overhang would make a perfect cave that could easily hide a herd of horses. He quickly returned to his brother’s side, then found Scott’s jacket stuffed in the saddlebags. Carefully he sat Scott up enough so that he could get the jacket on him. His brother felt warmer; he knew that fever was starting to take hold, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it right then. It pained him to have to hide Scott and leave him alone, but he knew if his companions found him, his brother would be tortured and killed.

Once again he led Gold to Scott’s side and laid him over the horse’s back. After filling the canteen he led Gold and the gelding into the cave. He led them back as far as he could, then quickly unsaddled the gelding and spread the saddle blanket on a sandy area of the hard-packed ground. Dropping Gold’s reins he gently slid Scott off the stallion’s back and eased him down onto the blanket. He then unrolled the bedroll blanket and tucked it around his brother, knowing it would be cold in a few hours. He placed the canteen next to Scott where he could easily find it when he woke, then gripped Scott’s hand for a minute, not wanting to leave. Running his hand over Scott’s head he whispered, ”Brother, I’ll be back as soon as I can. I don’t want to leave you but I have to for awhile. Don’t you leave me!”

Regretfully Johnny rose and led Gold out into the sunlight again. Seeing the band of horses eyeing him he glanced around, then hurried to a stand of taller grass. Quickly he pulled up an arm load of grass and carried it back into the cave where he dropped it in front of the gelding. With a last look at his brother he left. He returned to the spot near the pool where he had cleaned Scott’s leg and erased all signs of blood, then mounted his horse, crossed the water and eased behind the band of horses. They rushed across the pond and he drove them back and forth for several minutes, efficiently wiping out all of his and the gelding’s tracks. He backtracked to the area in which he had first found Scott, brushed away all signs of blood and once again moved the horses over the area to obliterate the tracks, at all times aware of the grey stallion watching him. When the horses made their way back towards the water he opened the brush gate farther, noting that the fence was stronger than he had originally thought. For several moments Johnny debated whether to turn the stallion loose or not; but eventually he decided that Scott must have wanted him awfully badly to go to all the trouble of catching him, so he vowed that he would figure out some way of keeping him.

Before he could do anything he heard the clatter of rocks and hooves. He looked up to see Hunting Fox and Bear riding towards him, smiling as they saw the grey stallion. They shot questions at him as fast as they could, but he didn’t understand what they were saying; he held up his hand and replied in Spanish, “Found ropes hidden by the gate, and horses in here. So I captured the stallion. No one is around. Need to get him back to the village.”

The braves nodded in agreement. Bear pulled a long piece of rawhide rope from around him, a sheepish grin on the big man’s face as Hunting Fox laughed at him for the way he stored his rope. Handing the rope to Johnny he haltingly told him in Spanish to tie one of the stallion’s rear legs to his tail. Johnny shot a look at him; after seeing what the horse had done to his brother, he really didn’t want to tangle with his back legs, but he made a loop.

Hunting Fox and Bear rode towards the grey and Hunting Fox untied the closest rope, keeping it tight. While he pulled the horse away from the bank, Bear dismounted and threw himself at the horse’s head, grabbing his ears and forcing his head down with enormous strength. Johnny darted in and slipped the loop over one rear foot as it came off the ground, then pulled it up and back. With deft fingers he quickly braided the rope into the horse’s long white tail, pulling the leg up as far as he could.

The stallion squealed in anger and tried to fight, but with Bear’s fierce grip on his head and ears he couldn’t move around more than a foot.

Once the grey stallion’s rear leg was tied, Johnny stepped away and Bear released the horse’s head. Trying to get away from the ropes, the stallion sat down on his haunches and Hunting Fox pulled him up. Realizing he couldn’t get away, the stallion stopped fighting and stood quietly as Johnny untied the rope from the stump. Bear mounted his horse and took the rope from Johnny, then coiled it until it was within six feet of the stallion. Hunting Fox repeated the motion with the rope from the opposite side of the horse. Johnny leapt back onto Gold’s back and followed behind, urging the grey horse forward.

Lurching awkwardly, the stallion moved, and soon he and the riders had passed through the fence opening and were heading towards the village. The two braves laughed and talked about Johnny’s dream of the grey horse and how his dream had come true. Johnny shuddered as he watched the stallion, all too aware that the horse had almost killed his brother, just as he had dreamed. The day turned cold as he thought how close he had been to losing Scott; he knew that if he didn’t find a way to get back to his brother, he could still lose him.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 9

Note: There is another POV in this chapter, it is bracketed in <<   >>’s

Johnny and the braves rode slowly into the village late in the afternoon, the stallion staggering between the two Indians. He was wet, having slipped in the river and almost dragging the two men into the water with him. People came running as the word passed that Grey Horse Striking had captured his dream horse. Their voices rose as the riders passed by, all trying to reach out and touch Johnny, happy that his dream had come true.

Hunting Fox and Bear halted, when they reached Johnny’s teepee, still holding the stallion between them. Johnny slid off Gold and moved to the braves’ side, asking them, “Will you hold the grey while I work with him?”

Both men smiled and nodded their heads. They turned so they were all facing the open horse pasture. Johnny knew that the only way he would be able to return to Scott with the horse was to get the stallion to accept him, and fast. He wanted to leave that night; Scott needed him and even this much of a delay in going back to his brother was gnawing at his heart.

Slowly Johnny moved to the grey’s side and started to run his hands all over him, speaking softly the whole time. The horse couldn’t fight very much with his leg still tied to his tail, and the ropes around his neck held him still; even so, he tried to bite him, and several times he tried to paw at him as well. He learned fast, however, that it was a bit hard to strike the man with his hoof: whenever he tried the brave on the opposite side would pull him over a bit, he would over-balance, and then he’d have to scramble to remain upright.  

<<’I don’t like what is happening to me. I’m a free spirit! I am all powerful and I do not want this puny “man thing” to bother me. But there is something very wrong, I can’t get my back leg to touch the ground; I was forced to come with these riders to this strange smelling place. Now this “man” is trying to get me to do something I don’t want to do with his voice and hands. After awhile my ears twitch as I start to listen to the “man’s” soothing voice; his hands don’t hurt me, they seem to be everywhere; gentle and soothing, and finding my itchy spots. I have to lower my head a little as I try to hear more of this voice, it is so comforting. Suddenly there’s a weight on my back and my eyes fly open in anger; the voice and hands are coming from above me now. I have to see what is happening and I turn my head a bit and roll my eye so I can see better over my shoulder. I can see that “man” sitting on my back; it is the one from the enclosure, the one with the hands and voice. I have to get him off of my back; I try to buck but I forgot my back leg is still tied to my tail. I crash to my knees heavily, but the voice and hands are soothing me as I struggle up with that added weight. Quivering, and scared I stand quietly, waiting, suddenly the weight leaves me as do the voice and hands, but only for a moment. Something lightweight is thrown across my back then cinched tightly around me. I don’t like the feel and hold my breath for a moment in fear it will hurt me, but the voice and hands are back and gently rubbing me again. I feel the weight on my back again, but I stand listening and feeling. The weight is gone again, but the hands are now on my head, gently brushing and rubbing all over. I bare my teeth, but the hands are rubbing my ears and it feels so good! I lower my head again and half close my eyes as I watch the “man” beside me. Something is slipped over my head and into my mouth; I try hard to spit it out and shake my head real hard. The hands are back rubbing my face, and then they move to my neck. The weight is on my back again and I feel the ropes around my neck loosen some. Someone is behind me and I try to swing around but that thing in my mouth stops me; I almost gag from it as I shake my head and try to chomp on it, to break it. All of a suddenly my back leg is freed and it drops to the ground. I can put my weight on it; I feel all my legs connected to the earth once again. With a wild nicker of joy I take several steps, then stop dead when the thing in my mouth is tugged back. I pin my ears back prepared to fight it; I had forgotten the weight on my back but the voice and hands are still there. With a loud squeal I drop my head as far as the constricting ropes will allow me and I start to buck. Something is squeezing my ribs and I buck harder to get rid of it. All of a sudden the thing in my mouth jerks my head up and I can’t get my head back down, it’s held so tightly up by the thing in my mouth, it’s uncomfortable being held like that, and then I am gagging again from that thing in my mouth.

I feel the ropes fall away from my neck and my ribs are squeezed tighter. For a moment I breathe deeply, cautiously turning my head as the thing in my mouth eases its tight hold. I swing my head around sniffing at the leg of the “man” on my back; getting his scent, hearing the voice and feeling a hand rubbing me gently on my neck under my heavy mane. I have to move; looking ahead at the wide open area, I see a large bunch of horses off to one side. With a loud snort I dig my hooves into the ground and launch myself in the herd’s direction, the weight on my back moving with me, there are other horses running beside me as I head for the herd. I feel a tug on my mouth as the thing in it is worked back slowly, pulling my nose slowly in towards my chest. I have to slow down, the thing in my mouth demands that I do; the voice is still talking to me quietly. I cock my ears as I am turned away from the other horses; listening to the voice I slow my headlong run to a canter, then a walk. A horse and rider comes too close and I pin my ears and start to buck again, lashing out at the other horse in anger for the control I am loosing. The “man” on my back is pulling my head up again and I fight it as the other horse and rider shies away. After several minutes I finally gave up, I’m too tired to fight everything anymore. Raising my head high I blow mightily through my nostrils, turning my head I look again at the “man” on my back as I stand quietly, my sides heaving to pull in more air’.>>

Johnny wiped the blood from his nose as he returned the horse’s gaze, still talking easily to the stallion. He looked at the braves who had been hovering loosely around him and the horse. He nodded at them, then squeezed his legs together hoping that the horse was too tired to buck anymore. The grey stallion calmly stepped out, and Johnny guided him back to his teepee, his thoughts now going to his brother as darkness descended over the land.

Johnny brought the stallion to a halt, slipped off the horse’s back, and began running his hands over the animal’s wet body. Hunting Fox slipped a soft piece buckskin into his hand and he quietly thanked him as he used it to dry the horse. By the time he had finished the horse was leaning against him, totally relaxed.

Johnny ran his hands over the stallion’s face, “You’re just a big baby aren’t you? You don’t really feel like any of the wild horses I’ve been around, you just think you want to be wild. Come on, let’s see how you get along with Gold for a few hours,” Johnny slipped a rope around the grey’s head, fashioning it into a strong halter, then turned towards the trees where Gold was penned in the rawhide rope corral.

Gold watched his rider lead the grey stallion towards the little corral. He moved towards the ‘gate’ to check out the stranger, watching every movement with his ears pricked forward with interest. “Hey Gold, I’ve brought you a new friend. I hope you two will get along,” Johnny told the golden stallion as he moved past the horse, leading the grey.

Johnny tied the grey to a tree near the corral; he didn’t want the two young stallions fighting and getting hurt or loose. Gold reached his head over to sniff the grey as the grey’s head reached towards him. With a squeal Gold turned his hindquarters toward the other horse in a threatening manner. The grey flung his head back and away, then tentatively reached forward as Gold turned to face him again. After doing this several times the stallions touched noses and nickered lowly at each other.

With a smile Johnny picked up a pile of grass and dropped it in front of the grey, then gave an armload to Gold. For a few more minutes he patted and talked to his horse, until he finally turned and made his way in the dark to his teepee. He thanked the two braves who were still waiting patiently nearby, and watched them leave. Sighing, he entered his home and quickly built up the fire, then glanced around at his few belongings. He pulled the largest fur from his pile of bed furs and threw it on the ground. On it he placed several buckskin shirts and leggings and a smaller fur. He dug through the baskets lining the edge of the teepee and made another bundle containing food and wide strips of soft deerskin to be used as bandages. He paced around the fire as he tried to think of what else he needed to take with him. Water! He looked around; the people here carried water in tightly woven baskets or bladder bags made from goat stomachs. All he had was a basket. Holding it in his hand, he debated about taking it and wished he had something smaller. Finally he made a decision and tossed it onto the large fur. Next he grabbed a large coil of rawhide rope, knowing he might need it. At last he added a couple more furs to his pile, then rolled them all together and tied the bundle tightly. He retrieved the bundle of food, tied it together as well, then rolled it into another, smaller fur. He set the basket to one side; it would have to be tied on top.

Finished at last, Johnny made himself a meal, and allowed the fire to die down. He wished he had some of the heavy salve that Flower Woman had used on his legs months ago; he could have used it for Scott, but it was safely in the Chief’s teepee and he didn’t know how he could get some. Stepping outside for a few minutes he checked the horses and looked at the village; people were still moving around and talking. Ducking back inside he lay down on the remaining furs and closed his eyes; he’d have to wait a couple of hours before he could safely leave, and he knew he needed the rest.

Several hours later Johnny tied the two packs onto the grey stallion, whispering to him as he did so. The horse stood quietly, listening to his voice. He entered the small corral and bridled Gold and cinched on the blanket. He led the gold stallion out of the enclosure and moved to the grey, untying him and slipping the other bridle over his head. He mounted Gold and nudged him into motion leading the grey and praying he would follow quietly. They moved out of the trees and circled around them, the grey following without resistance. Keeping the horses to a walk, Johnny headed away from the village, then through the back of the stand of trees to the river. Halting on the edge he listened for a few moments, making sure no one had heard them. He heard nothing but the wind in the trees and the rush of the river, so he urged Gold down the bank and into the river. The grey balked for a moment but finally followed his friend.

It was almost dawn when they rode through the brush fence; a few streaks of color were starting to show in the sky. The grey danced beside the gold stallion and sent out a loud nicker, looking for his band of horses. Silence greeted him and he looked around in confusion; he knew his mares had been here. Johnny guided the stallions to the pool of water, letting them drink for a minute. At the cave’s overhang he slid off Gold and led the two horses inside; Scott’s brown gelding nickered a greeting at them in the darkness.

Moving closer to where he had left Scott, Johnny found a strong rocky outcrop and tied the grey to it, then ground tied Gold a little ways from him. He ran outside and quickly gathered some branches; breaking them into smaller pieces he made a small fire close to where Scott lay.

“Oh Boston, what did you do while I was gone?” Johnny asked the unconscious man, seeing the bandages around his head and leg soaked with blood. He could see blood on the jacket, and Scott’s hands were clenched in the sand, his face white with red fever spots on his gaunt cheeks. Johnny touched his face and pulled back; his brother was burning up. He rose and ran to the grey stallion, untied the two packs, and grabbed the basket he had tied on at the last minute. Dropping the packs near Scott he went out to the pool, filled the basket with water, and hurried back. He unrolled the larger pack and spread a deerskin on the ground next to Scott, then carefully moved his brother onto it. The blanket beneath Scott was soaked in blood; he took it to the pool and let it soak in the water. He found Scott’s battered coffee pot, filled it with water and placed it over the fire. With his knife he cut the bandage off Scott’s leg and carefully washed the wound with water, then wrapped a clean buckskin bandage around it. The leg wound was swollen and angry-looking, the edges red with infection, but at least it was now clean.

Next Johnny worked on the bandage around Scott’s head; he had to soak it loose and cut it off him. Scott moaned once as he finally got the bandage away from the long gash. With Scott’s head resting on his leg he cleaned the gash and then wrapped it. Carefully he rolled Scott onto his stomach and worked off his jacket. He sucked in his breath as he looked at the long ragged cut that crossed Scott’s back from neck to waist. It had bled quite a bit and was infected. He used the hot water to wash it over and over as he had with the other wounds, wishing again that he had some sort of medicine, even whiskey. A thought hit him and he reached for his brother’s saddlebags; dragging them to his side, he quickly rifled through them.

“Hey, Big Brother, you did bring something!” Johnny exclaimed, pulling a large flask of whiskey out of one side.

Johnny poured a small amount of the alcohol on a clean piece of deerskin, then washed the infected area. Scott hissed in pain but didn’t wake, and Johnny quickly poured a bit more whiskey on another ‘cloth’ and, placing it over the infected area, wrapped a buckskin bandage around and over it. Holding him up in a sitting position, Johnny tore off the rest of Scott’s shirt, then wrapped the bandage all the way up his back, around and around him until his entire back was covered by the buckskin.

Laying Scott back down on the deerskin, Johnny washed the bloody “cloth” in the remaining hot water, then hurried to the pool to refill the canteen and basket, and retrieve Scott’s blanket. He threw the blanket over a rock to dry, then led the brown gelding outside for a drink. He quickly pulled some grass for the horses, and then went back to brush out any tracks he had left going to and from the cave.

Johnny knew the Indians would be looking for him, so he ate a small meal and, with a last look at Scott, doused the fire, hoping there was enough time for the smoke to dissipate. Sitting down next to Scott, he pulled another fur over the both of them and began placing cold compresses on Scott’s forehead in an effort to cool him down. After awhile, Johnny’s head began to nod, and he fell asleep sitting next to his brother.

A low huffing noise woke Johnny suddenly, and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was. There was something hot pressed against his hip and leg, and with a start he realized it was his brother Scott. All three horses were staring at the opening of the overhang; he moved away from his brother and went to the horses, quieting then with a few softly spoken words. He knew there was someone or something out there. Johnny quickly led Gold then the grey stallion around to the other side of the brown gelding, not wanting to take a chance that their lighter coats would stand out in the darkness. He gathered up several strips of rawhide and tied them gently over the horses’ noses to prevent them from making any noise. He could hear sounds outside, so he gave each of the horse’s one last rub, then returned to Scott’s side.

Just as Johnny walked around the gelding, Scott began moaning in pain as he tried to wake up. Johnny rushed to his brother’s side, dropping to his knees just as Scott tried to rise. He grabbed the injured man as gently as he could, clamping a hand over his mouth as he spotted the Indians riding around the curve below the pool, and began whispering softly into Scott’s ear.

Scott thrashed in panic, trying to escape the strong arm and the hand covering his mouth. He could hear someone whispering to him, but he didn’t understand the words. He fought harder to get away as he caught a glimpse of the Indian holding him. His body erupted in agony and he felt himself slipping away, the voice in his ear calling to him, “Boston, take it easy, you’re alright. You’re safe. Please don’t fight me.” His eyes flashed up towards the man holding him as pain and blackness pulled him under.

Johnny held Scott as he watched the three braves ride to the edge of the water and halt their horses, letting them drink. Their black eyes looked all around the area. A large squirrel ran across in front of the opening and stopped; chattering angrily, it made its way across to the brush where the stream of water was coming through. Still chattering, it disappeared into the bushes. The men sat on their horses for a moment longer, then turned and left.

For several long minutes Johnny sat holding his brother, hoping the braves were satisfied there was no one around in this area. Gently he laid Scott back on the fur and placed the cool cloth on his forehead. Using another piece of deerskin he bathed Scott’s neck and shoulders.

The hours passed slowly, Scott twisting fitfully in pain and delirium. Johnny tried to get him to drink a little water, with little success. Finally he rose and went for more water and some grass for the horses.

Scott opened his eyes and saw a man walk past him carrying an armload of grass. All that registered in his fevered mind was that it was an Indian, and he had to get away from there before he was killed. Turning his head towards the opening he rolled to his left and tried to push himself up. Bright flashes of agony shot through him from his head and back to his knee. Moaning in pain, he struggled to stand and stay conscious at the same time.

Someone grabbed him around his shoulders and held him tightly as he struggled. Words he didn’t understand were spoken into his ear. He panicked, fighting the arms holding him, and yelled hoarsely, “Let me go!”

Johnny realized he was speaking a mixture of the Indian and Spanish languages; he quickly switched to English as he held his brother’s heaving body, wondering where Scott got the strength to fight so hard.

“Scott, Brother, it’s all right. It’s me, Johnny. Scott, its Johnny! Please stop before you hurt yourself more,” Johnny called to his struggling brother over and over.

The words finally sifted into Scott’s sub-conscious. The voice was familiar, but it had been so long since he’d heard it. Shuddering, he collapsed into Johnny’s arms, gasping for air, fighting the pain washing through him.

“Johnny?” Scott asked hesitantly.

”Hey Boston, it’s me,” Johnny answered still holding onto the thin figure.

Scott’s hand shook as he reached up and touched his brother’s face. His fever bright eyes filled with tears as he put his hand on Johnny’s cheek.

“Little Brother, I’ve missed you…” Scott’s strength gave out, and his eyes slid closed as Johnny gripped his slender hand. Johnny laid his injured brother down once again, covered him with another fur robe, and replaced the cool rag on his forehead.

He then returned to where he’d dropped the horses’ grass and fed them. Scott needed a doctor, but since there was no town closer than a five day ride, he decided he might as well head for home. Glancing out at the sun he saw it was early afternoon; he’d rest a few hours and hope the Indians were long gone by the time they left.

Several times Scott woke enough that Johnny was able to get him to drink some water; the only thing he was able to say, in a half whisper, was “Johnny” before he passed out again. Johnny finally fell asleep next to Scott; when he awoke the sun had disappeared behind the tall river bank. His side was hot, and as he turned his head he saw that Scott’s eyes were open and looking at him in the semi-darkness.

“Hey Boston, you look awful, what have you done to yourself while I’ve been gone?” he asked gently.

Scott’s eyes blinked, then filled, “Been looking for you Little Brother. I couldn’t find you…” He lifted a hand and Johnny gripped it tightly, “I’ve missed you…”

“How about we head for home?”

“Yes…got to…grey stallion?”

“You caught him. He’s here. Not sure if you can ride him yet though. He is a beauty.”

“Stealing mares… You okay?”

“I’m fine. But we have to get out of here before the Indians find us.”

“You look…” Scott gasped as pain shot through his head; he tried to keep his eyes open against it but felt himself sinking into darkness again.

“It’s alright brother, rest while I get the horses ready to leave,” Johnny told his brother as his hand went limp.

Johnny rose and quickly started to pack. He put the deerskin bandages into the saddle bags with some food, coffee pot, pan and whiskey. He stuffed in several more pieces of deerskin too.

He led Gold closer to his brother, then picked up Scott’s saddle, make sure the rifle was securely in the scabbard, and placed it on the palomino’s back. The golden stallion humped his back as the cinches were drawn tight. Johnny ran his hands along the horse’s neck and shoulder talking to him all the while, “It’s alright Gold; I know you don’t like this saddle but I need you to wear it for now. I’m sorry you’re going to have to put up with two riders too. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” The horse finally calmed down and Johnny turned to pack the other horses.

When he checked the ugly gash on the brown gelding’s neck he noted that the horse didn’t seem to want to turn his neck to the right; the gash was crusted over with blood, but it still looked clean. Johnny tied the deerskin packs on him then cinched his blanket on the grey stallion.

Next Johnny slipped one of his buckskin shirts on Scott; he was glad he had talked Runs Fast into making one that opened down the front of his chest. Scott roused and pushed himself up as Johnny rose to his feet warily, hearing a warning huff from Gold.

“Stay still Scott,” he told his brother as he quickly led the horses deeper into the darkness. He returned to Scott’s side and they waited in silence for several minutes until they heard the thud of hooves in the riverbed.

Scott sat silently beside Johnny, staring at the opening, until he was suddenly overcome by a waking nightmare. He was back in prison; the dark tunnel was closing in on him and men were pouring out into the night and trying to run. Bullets slammed into them, bringing them down to the ground. Whip lashes cut into him, shooting burning fire through his back. His breath came in harsh gasps as he struggled to rise, to get away from the agony that threatened to consume him.

Johnny grabbed Scott tightly to keep him from getting up, then clamped his hand firmly over his brother’s mouth and threw himself on top of Scott to hold him down. He was still surprised at how strong his brother’s thin, wiry frame was, and he whispered frantically to him, trying to calm him and keep him quiet as he watched several riders trot around the curve and head towards the water.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 10

Scott’s wild eyes finally cleared and he calmed in Johnny’s arms, as the nightmare finally passed. Johnny eased himself up and off Scott, while still keeping a hold of him and his hand over his mouth; he could feel shudders wracking through his brother’s body.

Johnny kept his eyes on the braves as he counted fourteen riders in all. They milled around near and in the water, talking and laughing as their horses drank and pulled up mouthfuls of dry grass up. Johnny felt Scott’s hand touch his arm and he looked down into his brother’s eyes just as they closed and his body relaxed into unconsciousness.

Johnny continued to watch the Indians until finally, after what seemed like hours but was really probably no more than a few long minutes, they turned their horses and thundered away. He wiped the sweat off his face, released his brother, and went after the horses. He wanted to leave before they came back; they needed to cover as much ground as possible before daylight.

Quickly he led Gold to Scott’s side and woke his brother, telling him it was time to leave. Scott raised his hand and Johnny helped him up, then buckled his gunbelt around his lean hips. Scott gasped as flames of pain shot over his right leg; he would have gone down if Johnny hadn’t grabbed him and held him upright.

“Hang on Scott, grab the saddle horn and I’ll get you mounted on Gold,” Johnny told him.

Blinded from the pain, Scott reached out and felt saddle leather right in front of him; sliding his hand up he gripped the saddle horn. For a moment he stood shaking and gasping for breath, then he lifted his left foot and found the stirrup. As he tried to shove off with his right leg he felt it fold. Johnny placed his hands on Scott’s hips and shoved, and Scott flung his burning right leg over the horse’s back.

“Duck your head Boston and we’ll get out of here,” Johnny told him as he grabbed Gold’s reins and the lead roped of the other two horses. Scott leaned forward and laid his cheek against Gold’s soft mane, fighting to stay conscious.

Soon they were standing in the dry grass by the pool. Johnny tied the grey’s lead rope to the brown gelding and, holding the gelding’s rope, he mounted behind Scott. Scott slowly straightened, still fighting the darkness that was trying to pull him down into its depths.

For a minute Gold looked over his shoulder at the two men weighing him down. Johnny spoke quietly to him as he held on tightly to Scott. The stallion tossed his head and stepped out, and soon they were passing through the brush fence.

Scott’s head hung low and he hissed in pain as they moved. He took several deep breaths to fight the nausea caused by the horse’s movements. As the nausea subsided he was finally able to lift his head, then he concentrated on fighting the pain and blackness that threatened to pull him under with every step the stallion took.

“Sorry Brother…Don’t mean to be a burden to you…”

”Hey Boston, I’m just glad it was me who found you, and not someone else. Besides, I’ve missed you.” Scott could hear the smile in his brother’s voice.

“I’ve missed you too Little Brother. Just wish you’d of found me under better circumstances. Sorry about fighting you earlier. Nightmare.” Scott said as they moved down the dry riverbed.

“It’s alright Scott; you have a fever so I sort of expected anything. Now all we have to do is get out of here and home.”

Scott looked around, then said, “I came in up there by that big crooked tree, the riverbed is low there; I was following horse tracks.”

“Good, we’ll be out of here in a few minutes then. Hey, when did you learn how to track horses?” Johnny’s eyes were never still as he watched for returning braves.

“Don’t really know how, but they were easy to just follow this time. Guess some of your instructions sank in too.”

When they reached the tree Johnny spotted the wild horses’ trail and turned onto it. Once out of the dry riverbed he nudged Gold into an easy canter.

“There’s another river, I crossed it. Water’s not too deep,” Scott gasped as flames shot through him again. ‘Hang on Scott’ he mumbled to himself as he felt Johnny’s arm tighten around him.

“Sorry you’re hurting Brother, but I want to get out of this area as fast as we can.”

“K…don’t worry about…me.” Scott’s hands tightened in the white mane as his head slumped forward and he succumbed to the blackness.

Johnny felt Scott go limp in his arms and gripped him tightly to his chest. Glancing towards where the sun had just disappeared, he figured there was about an hour of daylight left. He looked ahead at the trail and decided to try to move faster until dark. Looking back at the grey and brown horses he saw they were following without any problems. He nudged Gold into a gallop; they moved along easily for almost a half hour before Johnny finally slowed him down to a walk. The golden stallion was breathing a little hard, but still tossing his head and prancing.

Scott’s head lolled back against Johnny’s shoulder and he started to talk. Heat radiated off his body and Johnny realized he was still unconscious and probably dreaming.

“Let me go! Have to find Johnny!” Scott suddenly called out clearly. “Johnny….”

“I’m right here brother,” Johnny told him, “I’m right here.”

“Grey Ghost…catch him…Find Johnny…Need Johnny… safe…” Scott mumbled.

Johnny scanned the area; in minutes it would be dark and he wanted to keep going. Pulling Gold to a halt he reached for the canteen and tried to get his brother to drink some water. Scott turned his head a little and mumbled in delirium.

“Scott, you have to drink a little. Please brother, just a few sips,” Johnny urged.

“Johnny,” Scott’s eyes opened and he gazed in confusion at his brother, “Not Johnny. Indian…Have to find Johnny…”

”Drink,” Johnny pressed the canteen to Scott’s lips as the blond reached up a hand.

“Thirsty,” Scott took several swallows before pushing the canteen away. “Thanks,” he muttered as Johnny took a quick swallow, hung the canteen on the saddle again, and urged Gold into motion.

“Boston, we have to keep going, so the Indians don’t find us.”

“Yes. Dark now. They can’t see us in the dark.”

“That’s why we have to go fast.”

“Hide in day?”

“Yep. We’ll find a nice place to hide.” Johnny replied, feeling Scott nod in the darkness.

“Why don’t you rest while we ride?”

“Rest? Tired. Hot…Johnny…safe with Johnny.” Johnny felt Scott’s hand on the side of his face, hot and fragile. “Little Brother…Glad you’re here…Missed you.” Scott’s head slumped back onto Johnny’s shoulder again.

“Don’t worry Big Brother, I’m with you forever.” Johnny said as he kicked Gold into a faster gait.

The sky had pink and yellow streaks erupting over the hills as the sun battled to rise. Johnny’s tired blue eyes looked around the landscape to find a place to rest for the day. Earlier they had found the river Scott had told him about and forded it. He was wet to his knees and knew Scott was too, though he hadn’t wakened. He was tired and his arm was numb from holding onto his brother. Gold was starting to act up, and Johnny wasn’t sure he could hold him and Scott too; the horse had covered many miles and needed a rest too.

“Soon Gold, we just need a place to hole up for the day then we all can rest,” he told the stallion as he looked for a place to stop.

An hour later they reached a stand of trees with huge boulders intermixed with the timber, as if an unknown hand had tossed rocks amidst the small trees and they had all had grown up together. Making their way carefully through the trees, Johnny let Scott slump forward over Gold’s neck to keep him from being hit in the face by low hanging branches. Gold pushed through a tangle of downed timber and brush into an opening against a rock wall. There was dry grass as high as the horses’ knees, and the hungry animals dropped their heads to grab a few mouthfuls.  Johnny brought Gold to a halt and slid to the ground looking around as he eased his brother down from the saddle. Leaning Scott against a tree, he moved to the horses and quickly pulled off the packs and their tack. He tied all three horses so they could rest and eat, promising Gold he would give him a good brushing as soon as he could.

Quickly Johnny circled the small clearing looking for water, hoping there was some nearby. He found a tiny creek at the end of the clearing just on the other side of some brush. There was enough room to set up their camp for the day; the creek, not more than a foot wide and several inches deep, flowed slowly out of the rocks and disappeared almost fifty feet into the trees. He knocked down brush to clear a path to the creek, then moved the saddle and packs to the campsite and unrolled the furs. He spread the largest fur on the ground, then returned for Scott.

Scott watched Johnny approach; for a moment, pain and confusion filled his eyes and his thin body stiffened.

“Hey Boston, ready to lie down and rest?” Johnny asked seeing the confusion in his brother’s eyes.

Scott relaxed and smiled at Johnny in recognition; it wasn’t an Indian as he had first thought.

“Yeah. Sorry to be so much trouble, Johnny,” he said as he reached out for a hand up.

“It’s okay Scott; at least it was me who found you.” Johnny gripped the thin hand and eased Scott to his feet, noting the way his brother’s gaunt face turned white as a moan escaped the tightly-clenched lips.

Scott felt as if everything was trying to tear him apart as he rose. Pain shot through him from his head to his knee, he closed his eyes and moaned again. He swayed on his feet for several seconds as Johnny slipped his arm over his shoulders and gripped him around his waist.

Shuddering in pain, Scott took a deep breath and said through clenched teeth, “Let’s go Johnny before I can’t.” He took a step and Johnny moved with him. His second step was with his right leg and hot agony shot through him. “Oh…God…hurts,” he hissed as he tried to keep darkness from crashing down on him.

”Just a few more feet brother, we’re almost there.” Scott heard those words over and over as Johnny helped him towards the campsite. With an effort he stayed on his feet and kept walking as pain and darkness fought to pull him under.

Johnny eased Scott to the deer hide, knowing he was unconscious on his feet, not sure how he had made it the twenty feet they’d had to cross. Kneeling beside Scott he checked the bandage on his head. There was no blood on it, so he moved to the one wrapped around his torso, knowing he would have to remove it. He filled the basket with water and set it beside him then carefully sat Scott up and took off his shirt. He removed the bandage, soaking it with water several times to loosen it; he wasn’t surprised to see the fiery redness near Scott’s hip. He cleaned the entire length of the wound, then grabbed the flask from the saddlebags and poured a little of the contents on the infected area. Scott jerked but didn’t wake while Johnny quickly wrapped a clean bandage around him.

He laid Scott back down, then moved to his leg and cut off the bloody bandage. Using the cool water he washed the wound several times, trying to clean the inflamed area. Glancing up at the sky, he decided to take a chance, and within minutes he had a small fire going and water heating. He also threw some meat into the frying pan and sat it on the fire to heat.

Johnny used the hot water to again wash out the ugly wound; gritting his teeth he squeezed pus from the edges of the gash, apologizing to his brother when Scott cried out in pain. He soaked a piece of buckskin in a mixture of whiskey and hot water, then laid the cloth over the wound and bandaged it. ‘Wish it was a full bottle of whiskey,’ thought Johnny. ‘Sure could use a drink about now.’

Carefully he lifted Scott again and pulled on his shirt, then laid him back down on the fur. He turned to the creek to wash his shaking hands, then splashed hot water on his face. He pulled another fur over Scott and sat down by the fire. The meat was sizzling; he forked a piece out of the pan, and then poured a little water over the other piece to make some broth for Scott when he awoke.

As he ate he kept a cool cloth on Scott’s head; he wished they were closer to home. When he finished eating, he made his way to the horses, leading them one by one to water, then retying them. He brushed Gold down with a handful of leaves and grass as he’d promised; working on the stallion relaxed him, and by the time he was done he was ready for some sleep. As he moved away the grey nickered at him, so he ran his hands over him, brushing him as he talked to him for a few minutes. Finally he turned back to the camp and put out the fire; pouring the broth into the coffee pot, he covered it to keep out the bugs. He felt Scott’s forehead, then dipped the cloth into the creek and replaced it.

Lying down next to Scott, he pulled the fur over them and closed his eyes, falling to sleep instantly.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 11

Long dark shadows covered the area; darkness was slipping silently over the land like a thief. Johnny woke as a faint noise broke through his consciousness. For several minutes he lay listening with all his senses on alert, his right hand on the butt of his gun. A warm body was pressed against his left side, his left forearm was numb. Slowly he turned his head to the left and cracked open his eyes, and was greeted by a low groan.

Scott looked at him in confusion, then asked, “Are you okay?”

Johnny smiled, “Yep. Just my arm is asleep.”

“Sorry. Must have rolled on it…” Scott struggled to sit up, grimacing in pain.

“It’s alright Boston. Just needed to get my arm moving,” he smiled again as he sat up and looked at Scott’s face. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine…Umm…Well…” Scott grinned sheepishly at Johnny. “Not that great,” he finished, “Wonder what the other guy looks like.”

Johnny laughed back and lightly tapped him on the cheek, “Think he’s better right now. If you weren’t so beat up I’d take you down for you’re ‘I’m fine’ remark.”

“Feel like you could eat something?” Johnny asked as he glanced at the coffee pot, knowing Scott wouldn’t want him to see his struggle to control the pain.

“Well maybe later,” Scott smiled and shifted, grimacing again. “Help me up.”

Johnny looked at him, “Are you sure?”

“No. But I have to get up, now.”

Johnny quickly helped Scott to a standing position and held him as he swayed. Taking a deep breath Scott took one step away from him, then another. Slowly he made his way to several large trees and leaned against one.

“I’ll get the fire going and the broth heated for you. We’ll get out of here as soon as we’ve eaten.” Johnny said as he bent over the cold fire, keeping an eye on his brother.

“Kay…” came the quiet reply.

The fire was burning and the meat and broth were heating in the coffee pot as Scott carefully made his way back, wet with sweat. Johnny helped him sit down by the fire, eyeing his bandages.

“I need to check the bandages before we leave.”

”They’re fine. Just my leg hurts. Don’t think it bled though.”

“I’ll check them anyway,” Johnny said as he poured broth into the cup and handed it to Scott. “Drink.”

Scott took a drink then wrinkled his face at Johnny. “What is it?”

“Just some meat and water. Sorry. I don’t have any salt or anything else.” Johnny replied as he tore off a piece of jerky to eat.

Scott shrugged, “Well it’s wet.” A small smile crossed his face as he took another drink.

“There’s more. Drink all you can, you need it,” Johnny smiled back at him, “Tomorrow you can try some of this,” he held up his jerky.

Scott grinned, “I should have something better than that left in my saddlebags.”

“We’ll save that for later. We need to get moving.” Johnny poured the rest of the broth into the cup and dipped the pot into the creek, filling it with water then pouring it on the fire. Within moments the fire was totally out, and the shadows were getting deeper. Johnny rose, rolled up the furs up and got the packs ready. When he finished with the packs Johnny knelt behind Scott and checked his head bandage, then his back, glad to see that no blood had seeped through. Moving to Scott’s right side he checked his leg. There was a small spot of dried blood on the bandage, but he decided to leave it alone until they stopped in the morning.

“Well Doc?”

“Looks pretty good, and I think your fever is almost gone. Now let’s get out of here. I’ll get the horses ready, you just rest a bit.”

‘Been resting all day,’ Scott grumbled as Johnny rose and carried the two packs over to the horses. Soon he had all three horses ready with Scott’s saddle on Gold. After watering them, he helped Scott to mount Gold, then tied the gelding and the grey together and hopped up behind Scott, hooking the lead rope to the saddle.

By the time they were out of the trees it was almost dark and they turned west. When they found a faint trail Johnny kicked Gold into a canter and they started their nightly ride.

Scott managed to keep the blackness at bay for several hours, gritting his teeth against the pain that shot through him. By the time Johnny pulled Gold to a walk at the edge of the rocky wasteland bordering the desert the older man was barely hanging onto consciousness. Scott was surprised they had reached the area so fast, then realized that while he had been following the wild horses he had not been traveling in a straight line.

Johnny pulled Gold to a halt, feeling Scott slump further in his arms. “How’re you brother?” he asked reaching, for the canteen.

Blinking against the threatening darkness Scott looked around a little as he straightened, replying, “Think not long for this…Head and leg hurt…”

”Have a drink.” Johnny pressed the canteen into Scott’s hands.

With shaking hands, Scott raised the canteen and drank, then handed it back. Looking over the wasteland he said, “Will we make it to the water hole in the desert?”

“We have to. Only place I know of for us to rest. Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Johnny nudged Gold into motion and they set off through the rocks and shrub. Almost an hour later they broke out into the hard packed sand of the desert and Johnny kicked Gold into a canter. Scott’s head bumped back into his shoulder as the darkness finally claimed him. Johnny was glad; for the last hour Scott had been moaning in pain.

The night wore on and Johnny kept the horses moving at a quick pace, stopping now and then to let Gold rest a little. As dawn broke over the hills behind them they were still a ways from the water hole. Looking ahead, he could finally see a dark smudge on the landscape, and figured it was about an hour away. Urging Gold into a gallop they surged towards it.

The smudge turned into some shrub brush with a few straggly trees. They pushed through the brush until they reached the small water source, then stopped. Johnny slid stiffly to the ground, letting Scott remain laying over Gold’s neck while he removed one of the packs from the grey stallion’s back. He spread one of the furs on the ground, then pulled his brother down into his arms. The thirsty horses thrust their noses into the water as he laid Scott down on the fur.

Stripping the saddle and other pack from the horses as they finished drinking, he tied them where they could eat a little grass. “Sorry boys, it’s not much, but tomorrow night we should be where you can eat more,” Johnny told them as he finished tying them to the brush.

Soon Johnny had set up camp; a small fire was burning and he had Scott settled on a blanket. As he heated some water he checked Scott’s bandages. He was starting to worry; the fever was back, his brother’s face was flushed and his body wracked with an occasional tremor. Johnny cut the bloody bandage from Scott’s leg and sat back on his heels, staring in anguish at the ugly wound. It was bleeding, swollen and infected-looking.  He removed the flask from the saddlebags and set to work cleaning the wound with hot water, pouring the liquid over the wound several times. Finally it looked clean again; from what he could tell, the infection wasn’t as bad as he had thought. He used the whisky to clean the wound one more time, then covered it with a cloth and wrapped a light bandage around it.

Next Johnny carefully rolled Scott over and checked his head, then his back. He unwrapped the lower part of the bandage and quickly cleaned the infected area, repacked it with a whiskey-soaked cloth and then rewrapped it, rolling Scott over onto his back once more.

Johnny put a cool piece of wet deerskin on Scott’s forehead, wishing there was more he could do. There was only a tiny bit of whisky left; he’d save it to use later. For a while he worked at getting Scott’s fever down, but he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open.

Finally Johnny laid down next to his brother and fell asleep. For several hours he slept like the dead beside Scott’s fever ridden body. The sun was dropping low when an agonized scream from nearby woke him with a start; Johnny was on his feet, gun in hand, before he was fully awake, his eyes searching for whatever had awakened him. Another scream erupted and he dropped to Scott’s side, trying to wake his thrashing, shaking brother.

Scott was trapped in a nightmare of prison, but this time Johnny was being whipped right next to him. Pain flashed through him as he dreamed that he was trying to reach his brother as the lashes cut them to pieces. Again he screamed in agony, then he was calling for his brother, “Johnny…No…Please let him go. He hasn’t done anything to you…Nooo…Johnny…”

White faced, Johnny called out to his brother, finally gathering him into his arms, holding him tightly to his chest, and rubbing his back over and over.

”Scott…You’re okay. Wake up, it’s Johnny. I’m here with you. It’s all right. Come on Boston, we’re all right.” Several minutes passed before Scott finally calmed down, though he was still shaking uncontrollably. Johnny kept talking to him and rubbing his back.

“Wake up brother, it’s only a dream. I’m here with you…”

With a gasp Scott opened his eyes, listening to that much-loved voice. He lay in his brother’s arms as the nightmare finally released him, and his breathing finally quieted. Tears flooded his eyes as he listened to Johnny’s heartbeat, his ear pressed against his brother’s chest, calming him more. He blinked back the tears as he gripped his brother’s arm and raised his head.

“Sorry Johnny…Nightmares again…I... I’m...”

“It’s okay Boston. I’m here. Just relax. I’m here for you. Are you alright now?”

Scott shook himself and slowly sat up, dipping his head in embarrassment. “Sorry. This has been happening to me since you were taken. This was the worst one though.”

“Want to tell me about it?”

“No…Yes… I don’t know…” Taking a deep breath Scott looked into his brother’s concerned blue eyes, Johnny’s hand still resting lightly on his shoulder.

“It’s a combination of dreams. When I was a prisoner; trying to escape through that tunnel and everyone getting killed but me. The whipping because I survived… You were there this time too.” Shuddering, Scott looked away, then back at his brother as the hand on his shoulder tightened. “Sorry,” he half whispered, “I don’t want to think about that war anymore. It was bad.”

“I know. I’ve seen the scars, Big Brother.”

“I…I didn’t want anyone to…” Scott hung his head.

Johnny put his hand under Scott’s chin and lifted his head until their eyes met. “Scott, how could I not see them? We went swimming last summer. I barge into your room. We take our shirts off when it gets too hot fencing. I’ve been bandaging your back the last few days…They’re there, they’re part of you, always will be. We all have scars and nightmares, some are just worse than others.” Looking deep into his brother’s eyes Johnny continued, “It doesn’t matter to me, I will always be here for you Boston; if you want to talk about it, or not, I’m here.”

Scott looked back at his brother, “You can always depend on me too; I’m here for you no matter what Johnny. I’m sorry though, that I wasn’t there when you were taken.”

Johnny smiled at Scott, “Well there wasn’t much you could have done. It happened so fast. The horses jumped a creek bed and I was thrown out when the buckboard hit and fell apart. I think I got hit by a wheel, but I’m not sure. I had a bad headache when I finally woke up…” he stopped seeing an odd look cross Scott’s face. “What?”

“That day…morning… I had a blinding headache all of a sudden, it lasted all day,” Scott touched the back of his head, “I thought I was going to be sick from it. You don’t think…”  Their eyes met again as both young men smiled at each other.

Johnny shook his head, “The other day, when the grey attacked you, I ended up with a headache for awhile… Brother, are we something or what?” He laughed.

Scott shook his head carefully, “I don’t know or understand this Little Brother, but how about we head for home?”

Laughing out loud Johnny rose and gave Scott a hand up.

“I’ll pack up, but we need to eat something. How do you feel? I need to check your leg and re-wrap it too.”

“I’m fine. Hot, but feeling okay.” At Johnny’s look he added, “Don’t worry, I get a fever at the drop of a hat,” Scott quickly made his way around some bushes.

Johnny built a small fire and got a pot of coffee heating over it. He found a little flour and other ingredients in Scott’s saddlebags and quickly made some biscuits in the frying pan. As their meal cooked, he saddled Gold and led him to water, then watered the other two horses and tied them closer to the camp. He rolled up the furs and tied them to the gelding. Minutes later he handed Scott a biscuit and a cup of coffee and ate one himself as he fried meat in the now empty pan. They ate in silence, Johnny watching Scott closely, happy to see him eating something at last.

After he finished the last cup of coffee, Johnny rinsed the pot out and filled it with water, then set it over the fire again.

“I need to check your leg,” he told Scott as he grabbed bandages and the flask, and knelt in front of him.

Scott nodded his head. He knew the leg wasn’t doing very well; it hurt immensely with every move he made and he figured it was infected. Johnny carefully unwrapped the light bandage, then cleaned the wound. It was still swollen and red looking so he used the hot water to clean it again. Scott gritted his teeth hissing in an effort to keep from crying out with the pain.

“Sorry Boston. This isn’t good and I’m trying to keep it clean so it doesn’t get worse. I’ve only got a little whisky left and I’m going to pour it over this then wrap it. Its going to hurt like hell, wish there was another way, but… Are you ready?” Johnny glanced up at Scott’s face.

“Do it,” Scott said tightly and closed his eyes.

Johnny poured the last of the whisky over the inflamed wound, holding the leg as Scott turned white and gasped, involuntarily trying to jerk his leg away from the hot agony.

Quickly Johnny had the wound covered and wrapped, as Scott breathed deeply, fighting the pain.

“Done Boston. Rest a bit while I get the rest of our stuff packed up and the horses ready to go.”

Soon Johnny was standing in front of Scott, holding Gold’s reins. “Ready?”

“Yeah.” Scott stood carefully and moved to the golden stallion’s side. “I think I can ride alone for awhile, we could cover more ground couldn’t we?”

“Are you sure? If you pass out…”

“Tie my legs to the saddle. If I pass out, I won’t hit the ground.”

Johnny thought a moment, and then nodded, “I’ll tie you. If we can get to the foothills we could be home tomorrow night.”

Scott turned to the horse and slowly climbed into the saddle. Johnny handed him the reins, then found the rawhide rope in the grey’s pack and cut two short lengths. He tied Scott’s legs to the stirrups, then mounted the grey stallion and led the way into the desert.  The sun was disappearing into the west; they were getting an earlier start than Johnny had planned, but he knew they wouldn’t have gotten any more sleep anyway.

He kept a close watch over his brother, but Scott was sitting erect in the saddle and seemed to be all right.

“Let’s go a little faster, Brother. If you can’t keep up, let me know Scott,” Johnny said. Scott flashed him a quick grin and nudged Gold into a canter.

For several moments the grey stallion cantered easily beside the golden horse, until suddenly with a bellow, he ducked his head and started bucking. Johnny had felt the change in the horse and was prepared; before the horse could buck a third time Johnny had pulled up his head. The stallion fought the bridle controlling him as he tried to get his head back down.

Scott had halted the gold stallion and was watching the fight between the horse and his brother. Johnny finally pulled the horse to a stop near Scott.

“The Grey Ghost.” he said, smiling.

“How did you know?” Johnny asked a confused look in his eyes as he held the stallion still.

“Know what? I just named him that the first time I saw him, when he attacked KC and me. What’s wrong?”

Johnny smiled, realizing Scott wasn’t calling him by the Indian name. “I’ll tell you later, and you have to tell me about him attacking you! Do you think you can hang on if we run a little ways? I think your Grey Ghost needs to stretch his legs some. I don’t want to ride a powder keg all night.”

Grinning, Scott pointed ahead, “Go, I’ll slow down if I need to.”

Johnny nudged the grey’s sides and, still holding the reins firmly, let him move forward; as the horse realized he could move faster he snorted and took off with a leap.

Scott followed with the gelding, Gold sliding from an easy canter into a run. He bit his lip as agony shot through his leg. Ignoring the pain as long as possible, he let the golden horse run close behind the grey. The sun disappeared and dark shadows swept across the desert behind them.

Just as Scott saw Johnny working to slow the grey he felt a tug on the rope that was tied to his saddle horn. Glancing back he saw the brown gelding laboring to keep up. He quickly slowed Gold to ease the other horse’s efforts to stay with them. The golden stallion broke into a single-footed gait and the blowing gelding trotted beside him as Johnny circled the grey and pulled him up beside Scott.

“How are you doing?”

”Okay for now. What were you going to tell me? About the Grey Ghost?” Scott asked as darkness descended.

“Well…it was strange. The tribe accepted me and I had a dream, what they called the Naming Dream, or something like that. I think you’re so starved and cold that it’s more like a nightmare. Anyway, I dreamed about this grey stallion that looked like this horse. You had caught him, but I ended up with him. He was trained…to kill. When they heard about the dream, I ended up with the name, Grey Horse Striking. But the horse I dreamed of, I thought of as Grey Ghost.” For a moment the young men rode in silence, then Johnny asked, “Why do you call him the Grey Ghost?”

Scott laughed, “He kept running off the mares, like a ghost in the night. We never saw him until the last full moon. I was riding KC, guarding the mares and he showed up. He and KC fought until I could get my gun out. Scared him away by shooting in the air. That was the first time we’d seen him. Thought of him as the Grey Ghost ever since then. Now that I’m seeing him again, he does remind me of one.”

“Yeah, but if he was a ghost he wouldn’t buck so hard.”

”Probably wouldn’t move as fast either.”

“How do you feel Boston?”

“Like we need to get moving a little faster.”

”You sure?”

His answer was to urge Gold into a fast lope. Johnny followed, hoping Scott would be alright keeping up the faster pace.

The night wore on. The wind picked up and clouds scurried across the dark sky, hiding the partial moon. As the darkness deepened, the horses were slowed to a walk when it got too dark to see very far ahead. Johnny stayed near Scott, keeping a close eye on his brother. So far Scott seemed to be doing fairly well; Johnny had seen his head drop as he slumped forward several times, but after a bit Scott would raise his head and sit upright again.

Scott was peering ahead, ignoring the pain that was rolling through him with each step of the horse. Several times he had almost given up to the darkness that hovered at the edges of his pain.

“Johnny, I think we’re out of the…ahh…” Scott cried out in agony as Gold tripped and fell hard to his knees, throwing Scott forward; only the fact that his legs were tied to the saddle prevented him from tumbling off over the horse’s head. Not thinking, just reacting, Scott jerked back on the reins, pulling the horse back up onto his feet. The stallion flung his head back so fast he hit Scott in the face. The darkness that Scott had been holding at bay crashed down on him and he slumped forward onto the horse’s neck. Gold side stepped nervously until a strong hand gripped his rein and halted him.

Johnny was riding close enough to Scott to be able to reach out and grab Gold’s reins before the horse could bolt. He slipped off the grey stallion, then soothed Gold as he untied Scott and slid him gently to the ground, leaning him against a large rock. He ground-tied Gold nearby with the grey and gelding tied to the saddle horn.

Johnny poured water from the canteen onto a deerskin cloth, then ran the cloth over Scott’s face. The clouds broke for a few minutes, and from the weak light of the moon, Johnny quickly checked over his brother. He could see a stain on the bandage on Scott’s leg, but everything else looked all right. He ran the wet cloth over Scott’s face several more times, and was rewarded with a low moan. Scott opened his eyes and gazed at Johnny for a moment.

“What happened?”

“Gold tripped. Think he knocked you out when he hit you in the face. How do you feel?” Johnny handed him the canteen.

”Like he ran over me a few times.” Scott took a drink of water.

“I couldn’t find anything broken. We’re out of the desert. Been for awhile from what I can see. Do you feel like going on?”

Handing the canteen back, Scott said, “It’s still dark. I’m fine. We need to get to the hills if we can. How about you?”

“Just tired Brother,” laughed Johnny. “Let’s get you mounted.” Johnny helped Scott up and onto Gold, retying his legs to the saddle. Scott forced himself to sit up straight and ignored the pain. He gathered the horse’s reins and waited as Johnny mounted, then they once again headed off towards the northwest.

Slowly the darkness lightened to a deep grey, windy day, dark clouds scurrying everywhere, threatening rain at any minute. Johnny breathed a quiet sigh of relief; they were finally out of the wasteland and the foothills were at their feet. Glancing to his left he saw that Scott was bowed over the saddle horn again, head down, eyes closed. Scanning ahead he looked for a good place to stop. The grey stallion suddenly raised his head and snorted. Johnny turned and looked back; his blood froze as he saw, coming out of the desert, a wind-whipped cloud of dust moving in their direction. He didn’t have to see the riders to know who they were.

“Scott, wake up Brother. We have trouble coming our way fast,” Johnny gripped Scott’s arm shaking it slightly.

For a moment there was no response, then Scott’s head snapped up.

“Riders coming out of the desert. We have to ride,” Johnny pointed his thumb behind them, “Can you hang on? We have to get out of the open fast.”

Scott straightened in the saddle and gathered Gold’s reins; he was shaking but nodded to Johnny, “Let’s go.”

The horses broke into a canter, then a gallop, as they swung to the north and towards the closest hills.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 12

‘Cover finally,’ Johnny thought as they later rode under the protection of tall trees. He had given up looking back, knowing the Indians were gaining on them with every minute. Slowing the grey he looked at his brother, then reached over and grabbed Gold’s reins as Scott slumped over the horse’s neck.

“Hold on Boston, just need to find a place to stop, then you can rest.”

“I’ll…make it…” Scott slowly pushed himself up once again, his pale gaunt face showing the effort it took to stay conscious.

“Sorry brother, we’ll stop soon,” Johnny promised as he led the gold stallion deeper into the trees.

‘Too open,’ Johnny told himself as they rode through the timber. He turned and headed more to the west, his blue eyes watching ahead for anything they could use as protection from the fast moving riders behind them. Every now and then they could hear voices, or a horse’s nicker carried to them on the wind. A short time later he could detect the scent of rain in the air. Looking up through the whipping tree limbs Johnny could see black rolling clouds moving past.

‘Just what we need,’ he told himself, turning the grey stallion uphill as they fought their way through some heavy brush.

“Johnny, over there…” He heard Scott call out and looked back. Scott was pale but awake, and pointing up and to his right. Johnny looked over and saw a fold in the hill where it met the next hill, making a wide crease-like canyon. Johnny turned the horses and within minutes they had entered the crease and were moving forward at a slow canter.

Several minutes later the opening closed in on them and they slowed again. Johnny studied the area then nudged the stallion to the right and up the steep hill. Whoops and yells reached their ears as the horses scrambled higher.

As the noise below got closer they reached a rocky bluff and quickly rode underneath it until stopped by downed trees and a steep drop-off. Johnny slid off the grey stallion and led him into the downed timber, Scott and the gelding following closely behind. He worked his way over several trees and up a slight rise until he could go no further. He tied the grey out of the way as Gold clambered up the small hill.

“Cut me loose,” Scott said tightly as he pulled Gold to a halt beside his brother.

Johnny’s knife flashed and Scott was freed from the saddle. Pulling his rifle from the scabbard Scott dismounted, falling to his knees when his leg gave out. A cry escaped his lips as his leg was jarred and more pain lanced through it. Johnny was beside him in an instant helping him up and to a seat on a log.

“Take care of the horses, I’m okay. There’re more bullets in the saddlebags,” Scott gasped as Johnny helped him.

Johnny removed the saddlebags from Gold’s saddle and dropped them on the log beside Scott, who quickly dug for the box of shells as Johnny tied Gold and the gelding behind them. Slowly Scott rose and moved several feet down the slope, then leaned against a tree trunk, pockets filled with bullets. Johnny placed another box of shells near his cover, and checked his pistol.

Suddenly riders were coming at them. Scott yelled, “Johnny!” as the first Indians opened fire on him and lightning flashed overhead.

Scott’s first shot grazed a horse that started bucking wildly, his second hit a rider in the shoulder. He was aware that Johnny was nearby firing his pistol. Thunder crashed as his third shot found its mark, then the skies opened up and rain poured down, instantly soaking the two brothers.

Scott moved back a step just as an arrow imbedded itself into the tree upon which he was leaning. Turning slightly, he fired a shot at the brave as he drew his bow back again. Johnny’s bullet found the man too.

The braves backed off for a moment, several sliding off their horses and disappearing into the trees below the brothers.

”Scott, be careful, some’re on the ground,” Johnny called quietly to Scott.

“Yeah, I saw them,” Scott replied as he leaned against the tree reloading his rifle. When he finished he moved to the other side of the tree, knowing Johnny was watching the other direction.

Movement in the downpour a little below him caught Scott’s eye and he snapped off a shot, then another as a second brave took the other’s place. He winced as another arrow imbedded itself in the tree by his head. Stepping back, Scott fired the rifle again. Behind him the pistol cracked as Johnny fired at figures he could see. Gunfire and arrows flew at the brothers as they ducked back. A surprised cry came from behind Scott and he turned towards Johnny, who was firing at another Indian less than fifteen feet away. The man went down without a sound.

“Johnny…”

”I’m alright. Watch your right.” Johnny’s gun blasted again.

Scott swung back just as a brave broke cover and charged at him. Scott shot him and grimaced as his leg tried to buckle under him. He braced against the tree and breathed deeply, watching the area around him.

Suddenly silence descended, except for the thunder crashing overhead. Scott and Johnny quickly reloaded, watching around them for movements in the rain.

Several minutes later, Scott rested his head on the tree beside him, his leg throbbing with pain. Remembering Johnny’s cry, he pushed away and turned towards his brother, he limped so badly as he moved up the short incline that he was staggering.

Johnny was on the ground, his back propped against the tree he’d been standing beside, his face pale. He looked up at Scott and struggled to his feet, swaying as Scott reached him.

“Little Brother, what did you do?” Scott asked, looking him over.

“Didn’t move fast enough, I guess. Well, this isn’t too good,” Johnny replied, looking down at his left leg. An arrow had passed through his upper thigh; the arrowhead and six inches of the shaft, encased in blood, were protruding from the back of his leg, while the feathered part of the shaft and another foot or so of the arrow could be seen where they entered his leg.

Scott looked at the arrow, then at Johnny, “Got to get it out of there. I’ll try to do it fast for you.”

Johnny nodded and handed Scott his knife, then sat down on a log. Scott quickly ran the knife around the arrow a couple of inches from Johnny’s leg several times, cutting a groove in the shaft. Handing the knife back he grasped it and broke most of the shaft off. Making sure the break was clean and with no splinters, Scott looked at Johnny again.

“Sorry Brother,” Scott said as he grasped the pointed end and gave it a hard jerk, pulling the broken part through Johnny’s leg and out. Johnny moaned but sat quietly.

“Bandages?”

“Some in the saddlebags.”

Scott retrieved the saddlebags from where they had left them, and was soon bandaging Johnny’s leg, rain dripping off his face as he worked.

“Hat’s gone?” Scott said as he worked.

“Sorry. Think I left it in the cave with your bloody jacket. Forgot all about them.” Johnny grimaced as Scott wrapped the deerskin bandage tightly around his leg.

“Well, was planning to get some new ones anyway,” Scott grinned.

“I’m sure,” laughed Johnny, and looked around. “I think we better get out of here in case they come back. And maybe find a better place out of this rain.”

Scott shot him a crooked grin as Johnny rose. “Anything’s better than this!” Throwing the saddlebags over his shoulder he grabbed his rifle and slowly followed Johnny to the horses.

Johnny talked to the horses a few moments as Scott tied the saddlebags on the saddle and slid the rifle into its scabbard. For a moment he rested his head against the saddle, trying to control the pain washing through him. Scott raised his head as Johnny nudged him, handing him Gold’s reins.

“I…”

”No. You ride Gold for now. I’m fine,” Johnny told him as he slipped onto the Grey Ghost. Scott mounted and reined Gold after Johnny; the gelding, still tied to the saddle horn, followed. They made their way through the downed timber and down the steep hill, and then back through the crease. They headed back until they found a deer trail snaking up the other hill and followed it up. The trail twisted and turned but in less than an hour they had crested the high hill and halted for a few minutes.

“Northwest?” Scott asked, easing his throbbing leg and shivering in the wind and rain.

“Yeah, I think so. Don’t know where we are yet though.”

The brown gelding suddenly let out a loud nicker and tried to move away from the riders, his ears pointed to the northwest. The brothers looked at each other and smiled.

“Guess that’s the way we go, Ol’ Chocolate thinks home is that way anyway,” Johnny said turning the grey stallion.

Another hour passed before Johnny turned into the thick trees and rode for a few minutes under the heavy canopy of limbs. He halted and slid off the grey, quickly tying him under a large tree. Scott stopped and slowly dismounted. Taking a deep breath, he untied the gelding and, dropping its reins, began unsaddling Gold.

Johnny caught the gelding and tied him, then took his packs off and carried them under the wide spreading limbs of a nearby tree. Scott let the saddle slide off Gold, knowing there was no way he could catch it, then slowly tied him next to the other two horses.

Johnny unrolled one of the deer hides and quickly spread it over the lower branches of the tree, then threw the others on the ground under the cover. Grabbing the saddle, he placed it under the tree, unrolled the bedroll, and spread it on the wet ground, laying the rest of the deerskins on top of it. He then unrolled the pack containing the food and moved around the area looking for anything dry. Scott found a few dry limbs and was dragging them to the makeshift shelter. Johnny returned and set about starting a fire, both of them shivering from the cold. Pouring water into the coffee pot, Scott set it beside the pile of dry wood. As the fire caught and began to give off a little heat, he dug into the saddlebags for enough ingredients to make a few biscuits. Johnny handed Scott some jerky and put the coffee pot over the fire, then found the dry shirts and pants, which were rolled up in the deerskins. He quickly changed into dry clothes, then handed the other shirt and pair of pants to Scott.

“Shirt should fit, not sure about the leggings though, but they’d be better than those wet pants you’re wearing.”

Scott put the biscuits in the frying pan and set it over the edge of the fire. Carefully he pulled the wet deerskin shirt off and slipped on the dry one. “Not sure if this will work too well, the bandage is soaked.” He grinned tightly at Johnny. Johnny shrugged and smiled back. Scott peeled his wet jeans off carefully over the stained bandage on his leg, then pulled on the deerskin leggings on. He and Johnny exchanged surprised looks.

“They fit!”

“Must be new ones,” Johnny said, then, “Well Boston, I think you shrank since I last saw you,” Johnny’s grin widened. “Big Brother, you could almost pass for a skinny Indian, except for that hair of yours.”

“I think I’d rather not, thanks anyway,” Scott shivered and carefully sat down by the fire again to pull on his boots. “How do you feel?”

“I’m fine. Old arrow can’t hurt me much.”

“It will if it gets infected.” Scott tested the biscuits and tossed one to Johnny as he dumped them on a tin plate. Johnny threw some meat into the hot pan and placed it over the fire with a little water. He reached out and grabbed a deerskin, then edged closer to Scott and threw it over their shoulders as they sat beside the fire.

“Feels like it’s getting colder.”

”We’re pretty high up I think.”

“There was still some snow in places when I was following the stallion. I just hope this rain will stop before we head out again. I’ve been wet enough times the last several months, getting tired of it.” Scott said as he shivered.

“How is everyone at home?”

“Fine. Missing you. Not the same without you there,” came the quick answer.

“I miss being there. And right now I would give anything for my warm bed and a good hot meal. Don’t remember the last time I had a really good meal.”

“I think Teresa gave up trying to make good meals all the time, I…”

“What?”

“Well, let’s just say I wasn’t eating much, nothing tasted good no matter what it was,” Scott replied quietly.

“Imagine you worked too hard, too?”

“Yeah, dawn until after dark. Couldn’t sleep either.”

“No wonder you look so thin. No food and no sleep… How’s the head?”

Scott looked at Johnny, “Head’s fine.”

“Well you have a pretty bruise on your forehead, thanks to Gold.”

“Oh well…It’s alright. Let’s eat.” Scott poured coffee into the cup and forked the meat onto the side of the tin plate. They ate quickly, sharing cups of coffee. When they finished they rinsed and packed everything back into the saddlebags.

“I should check your leg,” Johnny said as he rolled out the rest of the deerskins to make a bed; Scott was shivering again.

“It’s alright for now. Can wait until we get home now.”

“You sure? It was a little infected the last time I cleaned it.”

”It’ll be fine. How is your leg?”

“Sore. It’ll be fine,” Johnny answered then glanced at Scott to see him smiling at him. Scott shook his head.

“We’re both fine I guess,” Scott laughed, then wrapped a long slender arm around Johnny and hugged him.

“I’m sure glad you’re here Little Brother!”

Johnny ducked his head, then returned the hug, blue eyes shining brightly. “Missed you too Boston.” Drawing back, Johnny looked towards the horses.

“I guess we need to get some rest so we can leave later, if we ever want to get home.”

“Sleep sounds pretty good to me. Guess we better put the fire out.”

“Be safer.” Johnny said as he poured water over the small fire. In moments it was out.

Scott moved to the spread out blanket and Johnny lay down beside him, pulling the heavy fur up over their shoulders, hoping to get warm fast. The ground was cold beneath the bedroll and they both shivered for several minutes. Sleep overtook them as the rain continued to come down, though the thunder and lightning had moved into the distance.

The cold woke Scott and he looked around; though it was still dark, it was light around their camp. For several minutes he lay still, pressed against his brother’s warmth. Suddenly he realized why it was so light.

“Damn!” he exclaimed in surprise.

“Wh… What?” Johnny woke slowly and turned his head towards Scott.

“It’s snowing.”

Johnny groaned, “Just what we need.” He rolled over and looked out from under the overhang. Over an inch of snow was on the ground, and it was still coming down. From where they lay they couldn’t see the horses through the falling snow.

Johnny reached out and grabbed another fur. Uncovering his other arm he shook the fur out and threw it over them.

“I say let’s sleep a bit more…” His eyes closed and he snuggled deeper under the furs.

Scott carefully rolled to his left side and closed his eyes; Johnny was against his back and warmth seeped slowly through him again.

Two pairs of blue eyes opened at almost the same time when they next woke. Snow was still coming down silently, but it was now daylight. Johnny stretched, then sat up, looking first at the four inches of snow, then down at his brother.

“Looks like we better get out of here before we get snowed in. Don’t think I could live long on your cooking, Brother,” he told Scott with a smile.

Scott smiled back and pushed himself up slowly, his thin face going pale when he moved his leg.

“Boston…”

“It’ll be fine. Let’s get packed and out of here.”

”How about some coffee?”

“Yeah. Might keep us warm for a few more minutes.”  Scott quickly filled the coffee pot while Johnny built a small fire.

“Wish we had coats, we’re going to be frozen soon.”

Johnny turned to the furs under which they had slept, “We’ll have to wear those. I’ll make them into ponchos. Hopefully it won’t be snowing lower.” He pulled one fur to him and deftly slit a hole in it, and tossed it over his head. Grabbing another fur he made one for Scott and handed it to him.

“We can hope there is no snow, probably be rain though…” Scott sighed.

Within a short time they had broken camp, drunk their coffee and packed the horses. After a quick argument Scott was mounted on the brown gelding, with the grey stallion tied to the saddle. Johnny mounted Gold. Both young men were covered by the deerskin ponchos.

Carefully they made their way through the snow, the brown horse in the lead, the brothers trusting his instinct to head home.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 13

Hours later Scott pulled to a halt and looked across at Johnny through the drizzling rain. They had dropped low enough to get out of the slick cold snow, but now it was rain that was coming down.

“Want to stop for awhile?” Scott asked, feeling as bad as his brother looked.

Raising his wet head, Johnny looked around and shuddered from cold, his face pale and drawn. “No, let’s just go. Can’t be that far now.”

“Okay…” Scott nudged the gelding and they moved off. He was wet and cold and in constant pain. He could barely feel his leg; it seemed to be just a limb of pain.  His face was flushed with fever and he was hot. Looking at Johnny he figured his brother felt the same way.

The gelding suddenly nickered, waking Scott from a feverish doze. It was totally dark and he could barely see the gold and grey stallions flanking him. Peering through the darkness he could see Johnny on Gold sitting slumped over, his hands braced on the horse’s withers to prevent himself from falling forward.

“Johnny…”

“I’m OK…Where are we?” Johnny roused out of his feverish daze and looked around; his thigh was on fire and he felt as if he’d grown permanently attached to his horse.

“Don’t know. We should stop…” Scott tried to rein in his mount and the gelding chomped at the bit, tossing his head as he fought to keep going.

“Must be close, Ol’ Chocolate doesn’t want to stop,” Johnny said as his pain-filled eyes watched Scott’s fight with the horse.

“I…Johnny look, lights ahead,” Scott suddenly spotted lights twinkling through the rain.

“Home?”

“I hope so. Maybe a mile.”

“Good. Don’t think I could make it much farther.”

They moved forward once more, Scott fighting to keep the gelding at a walk, knowing anything faster would have Johnny and himself on the ground.

It seemed like hours before they got close to the house, ‘Home,’ they both thought seeing the hacienda’s lights. Scott reined the gelding towards the kitchen door and finally pulled him to a stop. For a minute the brothers sat on their horses, not sure if they could get off without falling. From behind them they heard the click of a rifle being cocked, and then a voice in the darkness asked, “What do you want? Who are you?”

“It’s Scott, Steve. Would you send for the doctor and get someone to take care of these horses?” Scott started to dismount. A firm hand caught his arm as he staggered.

“Thanks Steve. Need to help Johnny.”

“Johnny! Hey boy, it’s good to see you. Though I wouldn’t have recognized you,” Steve said as he helped Johnny down.

“Good to see you too Steve. Watch these two horses; stallions, never been in a barn. They all need food…”Johnny stopped, realizing he was rattling on.

Scott slipped his rifle out of the scabbard, then grabbed Johnny’s arm.

“Let’s get out of this rain. I’m cold, hungry and tired.”

“Not to say, sick too,” Johnny mumbled as he and Scott carefully staggered towards the kitchen door ten feet away. By the time they reached the door the brothers each had an arm around the other’s waist, helping to hold each other up. Johnny unlatched the door and they shuffled in, blinking in the brightly lit room, warmth and the smell of chocolate pouring over them.

A scream and the sound of pottery breaking assaulted their ears as they glanced around the room, then once again they heard the sound of a gun being cocked. Heavy footsteps came running from the front room, and stopped beside the table; Murdoch stood there with a pistol in his hand.

“Teresa?” He stopped and looked at the two men standing in the kitchen, holding each other up, dripping water all over the tile floor. Murdoch’s gun dropped down to his side as he gazed in shock at his sons, dressed in buckskins with another one draped over each of them. There were bloody bandages on their legs, and around Scott’s head; both needed a shave and a doctor. Long black hair was plastered to his younger son’s head, face and down his back; fever bright blue eyes regarded him with a hint of a smile on his lips, then flicked to the ash blond holding onto him.

”Well, this is a fine home-coming, Big Brother. Maybe we better leave.”

“I guess so.” Carefully they started to turn, Scott reaching for the rifle he’d placed in the corner by the door.

”Stop!” Murdoch cried out. Teresa’s gun fell to her side as she stared in shock at the brothers.

“Johnny? Scott?” she said, stepping forward and dropping the gun on the table. She flew into their arms, almost knocking them over.

Scott winced in pain as her arms wrapped around him, then as fast as she was in his arms she turned and hugged Johnny. For an instant more Murdoch watched them, then stepped forward and hugged his sons, “Johnny, I’m so glad you are home,” he told his youngest.

“What happened to you two?”

“Murdoch, they need the doctor and dry clothes…”

“We’re fine…"

“Steve sent for the doctor...”

Words tumbled out all at once, then there was silence for a moment as the brothers peeled the soaked deerskin ponchos off over their heads. As Scott took a step towards a chair to lay down his poncho, he felt the pain wash through him as he moved, and the blackness overcame him as his leg collapsed underneath him. The last thing he remembered was seeing the chair coming right at him.

Johnny tried to grab Scott, but Murdoch was faster and caught him before he hit the chair. Scott moaned as the pain shot through him.

Murdoch lifted Scott easily and headed for the back stairs. “Sit down Johnny; I’ll help you as soon as I get Scott to bed. Teresa, get some water heating,” he told them over his shoulder.

Johnny eased himself onto a chair as Teresa turned to the stove. A moment later a cup of hot coffee was pressed into his cold hands; he was shivering in his wet clothes. Teresa brought a towel and dried his head then, asked if he wanted something to eat.

“Wanna get dry and warm first,” he told her as he listened for Murdoch to come back downstairs.

Teresa grabbed some bandages, then poured hot water into a basin and headed for the stairs just as Murdoch came back.

“Come on son. I’ll help you upstairs so you can change,” Murdoch said as Johnny rose.

Johnny was soon upstairs and in his room. Murdoch helped him peel his wet clothes off, telling him to get into bed and get warm, and that he would be back to check his leg as soon as he checked Scott over and got him settled.

Wrapped in a warm quilt Johnny looked around his room, then rose, grabbed a shirt and a pair of pants, and quickly dressed. He didn’t bother with boots, just pulled on a thick, warm pair of socks and made his way to his brother’s bedside.

Murdoch had removed Scott’s head bandage, cleaned and then rewrapped his head, and was now carefully cutting the bandage off from around Scott’s torso.

“Think its infected low, by his belt. His leg is the worst,” Johnny told Murdoch and Teresa as they worked. Teresa glanced at him, then grabbed a quilt from the foot of Scott’s bed and wrapped it around him as he sat next to the bed.

“What happened?” Murdoch turned Scott over onto his stomach as the last part of the bandage was cut. He started slowly and cautiously peeling the bandage off Scott’s back, having to soak it several times to get it loose. Teresa shuddered upon seeing the long ugly gash running from Scott’s neck to his waist, across a network of old scars. Tears filled her eyes as she washed the blood away.

“Horse caught him.”

“But all these other scars…”

“Prison, during the war…” Two heads turned to look at Johnny in surprise. “He never told you about it?” Both heads shook.

Johnny shrugged, “His story. Guess he’ll tell you if you ask,” he said without conviction, knowing Scott was a private person and didn’t like to talk about his time in the war.

After lightly bandaging the worst part of Scott’s back, Murdoch turned his son back over and uncovered his leg, reaching for the knife to cut off the bloody wet bandage.

Slowly he worked the bandage away from Scott’s leg. Telling Teresa to get more hot water, he looked at the angry U-shaped wound above Scott’s knee. Red lines radiated away from the wound in several directions, the edges were discolored and pus was seeping from the wound. Murdoch shook his grey head, “Got to clean this up before gangrene sets in.”

Johnny moved to the side of the bed and then sat next to his brother, grabbing his left hand. “Boston, why didn’t you tell me it was so bad? It must have hurt like hell,” he half whispered to Scott.

Teresa returned with the hot water and they began to bathe the wound. Scott moaned and struggled to get away from the pain. Johnny lay down beside him, slid his right arm under Scott’s shoulders, and began whispering into his ear. Scott lifted his hand and Johnny gripped it again in his, talking all the while. Scott calmed a little, though his face still twisted in pain.

Johnny was almost asleep beside Scott when they heard the slamming of the front door, and then hurried footsteps on the stairs.

“Murdoch?” a voice called out.

”In Scott’s room, Sam.”

Dr. Sam Jenkins hurried into the room carrying his black bag, pausing a moment at the sight on Scott’s bed. Someone who looked a lot like Johnny was wrapped in a blanket and stretched out beside Scott, one arm under Scott’s shoulder. His left hand lay on Scott’s chest holding tightly to Scott’s right hand. Murdoch and Teresa were bent over Scott’s right leg.

“Hey Doc…” Johnny’s soft voice greeted him.

“Hey yourself. What have you done to yourself? And what happened to your brother?” Sam greeted Johnny as his eyes took in Scott’s leg.

“Horse got him, almost a week ago. Didn’t have anything but water and a little whiskey to use.”

“Guess it could be a lot worse, but this leg is bad.” Sam quickly went to work; he pulled out his stethoscope and listened to Scott’s heart, then looked in his eyes, asking for more hot water and for Teresa to boil certain instruments. Murdoch and Johnny watched as he stepped back a little.

“Fever, infection, too thin, start of blood poisoning from that leg.” He turned and pulled a vial from his bag and dumped it in the basin of hot water Teresa had brought. “I’ll get this leg cleaned first, then check the rest of his wounds, and then you, Johnny, are next.”

“I’m fine.”

”Your leg was bandaged too and you could barely stand up alone,” Teresa said as she wrung out another cloth and handed it to Sam.

Johnny started to reply but stopped as Scott convulsed and cried out in pain. Johnny rolled and placed his hands on Scott’s shoulders, holding him down and talking to him.

”Sorry. Have to get this cleaned good, and stop the infection. It’s going to hurt. But…hold him Johnny.”

For several minutes Sam cleaned the wound with the medicated water as Scott moaned in pain. Sending Teresa for more hot water and his instruments, he told Johnny and Murdoch, “I’m going to have to lance these pockets of pus, then once they’re drained and cleaned I can bandage the wound. Murdoch, you’ll have to hold his leg still.”

Teresa came back with the instruments still in hot water, and Sam set to work. Scott moved restlessly under Johnny’s hands. As Sam lanced a large pus pocket he cried out in pain, thrashing and trying to sit up, his eyes looking wildly around as he fought to get away.

Johnny was half thrown off Scott’s bed; Murdoch caught him before he went off, and steadied him as he again grabbed for Scott, wrapping his arms around him and pinning Scott’s arms to his sides.

“Scott, it’s alright. I know it hurts, but you have to calm down so Sam can help you. Come on Boston, take it easy. I’m here for you… Sam is too.”

Scott’s eyes locked with Johnny’s as his body was wracked with shudders. He bit his lip as more pain shot through his leg, then slowly bowed his head and rested his hot forehead on Johnny’s shoulder.

“Sorry Johnny…it just hurts like hell,” he half whispered.

“It’s okay Brother. Just hang in there a few more minutes. Doc is almost done.”

“Sorry son. I know this is hurting but it has to be done or you’ll have worse problems with this leg,” Sam said as he worked.

“Sss…ok…” Scott hissed through his teeth, still shaking, his hands clutching the blankets on the bed.

Several long minutes later Sam finally breathed a sigh of relief. “Scott, the hard part is done. Just need to bandage this and you can relax. I will give you something to help you rest when we’re all finished,” he said as Teresa handed him some salve and bandages.

“No drugs.” Scott said to Sam as he nodded his head where it rested against his brother’s shoulder.

Sam sighed, knowing the brothers’ hatred of drugs. “I stitched some of this together; you’ll have a scar but not too bad. I want you to stay off this leg a couple of days, until I am sure all the infection is gone. I want it soaked with warm to hot water four times a day for the next two days,” Sam told them as he worked.

“Infection?” Murdoch started to ask.

“I think I got it all, but won’t know for a couple of days, that’s why it needs to be soaked. I’ll leave some medicine for Teresa to put in the water that should keep it from getting infected again. Now let’s check your back, Scott.” Sam finished and moved closer to the boys; Scott was still wrapped in Johnny’s arms. “Just sit there. I think I can check it from here.” He quickly unwrapped the bandage from around Scott’s torso as the blond tried to sit up straighter.

“Hmm… I hope that horse was worth all this…” Sam commented as he checked the long gash. Laying a towel against Scott’s lower back and hip he washed the wound with the medicated water.

"Sorry Scott, one more thing to lance. I’ll put a stitch in this spot and then wrap you back up.”

Scott moaned in pain as Sam worked on his lower back. His head fell again on Johnny’s shoulder, and Johnny held him, still whispering into his ear.

“It’s all right Scott. You’re doing fine,” Sam reassured him. “I’m done, just need to get you wrapped up again. This is clean and mostly healing nicely. We’ll keep an eye on it though. I’ll check your head and we’ll be done with you in a few minutes.”

As good as his word, Sam finished wrapping Scott and checked his head, washing the cut and putting in two stitches.

“There, Scott. You can lay down now. I’m all done with you for now. All you have to do is rest, eat and let these wounds heal. You have a fever, but it should go down as you rest and the infection subsides. You also need to drink lots of fluids,” Sam said stepping back from the bed, nodding to Johnny to let Scott lay down. Soon Scott was lying flat on his bed, blankets bundled over him.

“Johnny’s leg…” Scott said as Murdoch lifted his head, and helped him drink from a glass of water.

“He’s next. I just want to be sure you’re comfortable and Teresa will bring you something to eat.” Sam told him.

“I’m fine. Can wait ‘til you’re finished with Johnny. And I’m hungry for food, not broth!”

Sam laughed, “I imagine you’ll get regular food, just don’t overeat. Johnny, let’s go check your leg.”

“But…”

”He’ll be fine until I get done with you. Murdoch’s there for now. The faster we get to this the quicker you can come back. Now tell me what you did to your leg; it wasn’t the same horse, was it?” Sam pushed Johnny into his own room, with Teresa following with another basin of hot water.

 

The Grey Ghost

Chapter 14 

Murdoch made himself as comfortable as he could in the chair beside Scott’s bed.  Serious blue-grey eyes regarded his every movement until he settled into the chair.

“Want to tell me what happened to you? How Johnny happens to be with you?” Murdoch asked.

“Well…I followed the stallion’s tracks. I found him; I finally trapped and caught him. He attacked me before I could get him tied off. The gelding has a gash on his neck. Johnny found me and hid us before the Indians arrived. He had to take the stallion to the village; he came back for me with the Grey Ghost and his stallion, Gold. We took off for home, but were attacked by the Indians a couple of days ago. Got snowed on coming home. That’s about all… Oh, you’ve got two stallions in the barn now, both beautiful, young and the grey’s half broke.”

Murdoch just sat there; he knew there was much more to the story but he didn’t press, seeing that Scott was tired, feverish, and that his feverish eyes were glued to the connecting door to Johnny’s room. Every now and then Scott would run a hand over his bearded face and grimace. Murdoch rose and rested his hand on Scott’s shoulder.

“I’ll get some stuff together and give you a shave, and see about getting you something to eat as soon as Sam is finished. I’ll check on your brother too,” he said as he turned towards the adjoining door.

“Thanks Murdoch,” the tired, quiet voice said as Murdoch opened the door and entered Johnny’s room.

Dr. Jenkins was just starting to put stitches in Johnny’s leg and looked up at Murdoch. “He’ll be fine too. Had a little infection but we finally got it cleaned. Johnny, I don’t want you on your feet for a couple of days either, to give this time to heal.” He continued his work.

“I’m going to get my things and give Scott a shave; Johnny, do you want a shave when I finish with your brother?”

Johnny ran his hand over his jaw, feeling five days’ growth of whiskers on his face. He smiled at his father, “Please. I hate beards.”

Murdoch smiled and left the room. A little later he was back; he had just finished shaving Scott and was ready to shave his youngest son. As Murdoch set to work, he asked Teresa to get the brothers some food as soon as she was finished.

After covering the neat stitches with salve, Sam wrapped a bandage around Johnny’s leg, then stood, looking sternly down at his most difficult patient.

“Young man, you are as lucky as your brother. Another few days…that fever should be gone soon; it’s low, but keep an eye on it, Teresa and Murdoch. Now I want you to rest, eat, and get lots of fluids. No riding for several days; make that five or more days. I don’t want these stitches to come out before I take them out.” Turning to Teresa, he thanked her for her help. She hurried out of the room with the soiled basin of water, promising to have some food for Scott and Johnny in a few minutes.

Sam looked at Murdoch as he shut his bag. Murdoch was wiping the last of the soap off of Johnny’s face; now that he was clean shaven Johnny smiled up at the two men happily.

“Thanks Murdoch, this feels great,” Johnny said, rubbing his hand across his smooth face.

Sam smiled at his friends and then looked at Murdoch again, “I need a drink,” he said, and walked out of Johnny’s room heading for the front stairs, his black bag tucked under his arm. Laughing, Murdoch followed in his wake, promising Johnny he’d talk to his son’s in the morning, his heart light with happiness that the brothers were safely home again.

Johnny threw back the blanket, pulled on his pants, then hurried into Scott’s room and sat down beside his brother on the bed.

“You okay?” Scott looked up at him.

“Yeah. As soon as I eat I’ll be better though. You?”

“Still hurting some, but hungry. When did we last eat?”

Leaning against the headboard with a pillow tucked behind his head, Johnny thought a minute.

“Was it last night or yesterday morning?”

“Night before?”

“Don’t remember.”

Johnny looked down at Scott, bright blue eyes meeting blue-grey ones, then they both burst out laughing.

Teresa walked into the room carrying a tray filled with bowls of stew, sandwiches and a pot of coffee. Placing it on the small bedside table she went after cups.

Scott shoved himself up stiffly, sliding back until he was beside Johnny, pulling the blankets with him. Johnny reached out and snagged a sandwich from the plate and handed it to Scott, then grabbed one for himself. Teresa was back with two coffee cups and a tall glass of milk. With a thank you smile Johnny drank down the cool milk.

“Boy that tastes great! I sure missed milk and coffee!” he said, placing the empty glass on the table.

Teresa and Scott smiled. Awhile later Teresa picked up the tray of empty bowls, cups and plates.

“You best get to your own room Johnny, go to bed and get some sleep both of you.” Teresa told the tired looking brothers.

Johnny and Scott glanced at the window, “What time…” they both started to say at once and stopped.

“Almost 2 am,” Teresa answered as she left the room.

Johnny rose. “I better get to my bed, don’t want Sam mad at me already,” he smiled as he turned out the bedside lamp. “See you in the morning brother.”

Scott nodded as Johnny left; sliding down into his blankets he shut his eyes as warmth spread through him.

Johnny’s eyes snapped open and he lay in the darkness, trying to figure out what had awakened him. For several minutes he listened; the house was silent, everyone asleep, and all he could hear was the rain pounding on the roof above him. With a sigh he rolled over and closed his eyes. A sound broke through the darkness again and he quickly sat up, throwing back the tangled blankets. Another cry reached his ears and he ran into Scott’s room.

Scott was thrashing around in his bed, moaning in pain, and then cried out again. Johnny sat beside him and grabbed his hand, gripping it tightly.

“Boston, it’s alright. Wake up. It’s just a dream.”

“Noooo…Johnny…” Scott cried out, then sat up gasping as he broke Johnny’s handhold and threw the blankets back trying to get out of bed, to get away from the nightmare that had overtaken him. His eyes were wild with fear.

Johnny caught him before he could get off the bed, wrapping his arms around his shaking brother.

“Scott I’m here. It’s all right. Calm down. I’m here! We’re home, safe…” Johnny pulled Scott back onto the bed, holding him tightly to his bare chest. “Scott, open your eyes again. I’m right here, open those blue eyes and look at me. I am right here.”

Shuddering from the tremors racing through him, Scott blinked and opened his eyes; his hands gripped Johnny’s arms tightly.

”Johnny?” he whispered.

“Yeah brother, I’m here. You’re alright. Just relax, I won’t leave you.”

“So…sorry…Nightmare again…It won’t go away,” Scott mumbled.

“It’s okay Boston. I’m here and you don’t have to face them alone any more. Don’t have to worry, I will help you. I’m not leaving you.” Johnny rubbed his back, trying to calm his distraught brother.

Finally the shaking stopped, and Scott let Johnny help him lay back down and pull his blankets over him, his hand still gripping Johnny’s arm.

“Sorry Johnny…I…”

“Don’t worry Scott. I’m here. Go to sleep, I’ll rest here beside you.” Johnny pulled up another blanket and lay down beside his brother.

“Thanks,” Scott whispered as his eyes finally closed again in exhaustion, his hand wrapped in Johnny’s. Shortly the brothers were asleep, comforted by each other’s presence.

Murdoch left his room, heading for the kitchen; he had slept longer than usual. It had been a late night and Sam had stayed the night in the guest room. Stopping at Johnny’s closed door he quietly opened it and was surprised to see no ‘body’ sleeping in the tangled mess of blankets. Wondering if Johnny was already up, against doctor’s orders, he moved to the next room and opened Scott’s door. He stopped in his tracks, gazing at the bed, a smile on his lips.

Johnny slept on his right side; cheek resting against Scott’s left ear, long dark hair intermingled with ash blond. His left hand rested under Scott’s right hand atop his brother’s chest. Both were deeply asleep.

As Murdoch started to close the door, Sam Jenkins stopped beside him. Sam had come out of the guest room a moment before and had seen Murdoch standing at Scott’s door. He smiled up at Murdoch and stepped back. Closing the door quietly, the two men made their way down to the kitchen.

Teresa greeted the two men and set cups of coffee in front of them.

“What are you two smiling about? You look like a cat that just found all the milk it ever wanted.”

Sam laughed. “Scott and Johnny are going to be fine.”

“Are they awake? I’ll get breakfast going for them.”

“No. They’re sleeping, hopefully for a few more hours,” Murdoch said smiling.

“Are you sure they’re going to be all right?”

“They’re together again. They’ll be fine now.” Murdoch replied.

 

The Grey Ghost

Ch 15 - Epilogue

Almost a week later, a tall, slender, blond young man stood leaning against the corral fence. A slightly shorter, dark haired young man stood beside him. Both were smiling at the grey stallion that was trotting around the enclosure, tossing his head, making his heavy white mane fly in the air as he moved.

“Well, he’s half broke Boston. I did most of the hard work for you.”

“And I appreciate that Little Brother; after all I went through to catch him. I had planned to break him myself when I got him home…” the blond said.

“What do you know about breaking horses Brother?” the dark haired brother replied.

“I guess not as much as you do. It would have been a challenge.”

”Wal, at least you could have used a saddle. Trying to break a horse bareback is kinda hard on a body.”

“I don’t even want to think about that!”

“Yeah, I don’t want to ever do that again. Once is more than enough, but twice in a lifetime is way too much! Hey, why don’t you ride him now? No one’s around. Murdoch and Steve are gone for awhile and Teresa’s busy in the kitchen. We have enough time before we have to go check that north range.”

The blond looked around the area, checking to make sure there really wasn’t anyone around. Seeing only a few ranch hands at the far end of the meadow, he nodded, and the brothers went into the barn to collect his tack. The last words from their father were still rolling around in his head as they walked into the barn; “Stay away from that grey stallion. I don’t want either one of you hurt while I’m gone. You’re both just getting well enough to be outside!” The blond smiled, what Murdoch didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him, he figured.

Walking back to the corral they hung the saddle and blanket over the rail, and entered the enclosure carrying the bridle. The grey stopped and watched them, ears twitching.

“Talk to him Scott, then rub and pet him all over once you catch him,” Johnny instructed as he leaned back against the fence, out of the way, but close enough that he could help if necessary.

Scott slowly limped towards the grey. “Come on Grey Ghost, time for us to get better acquainted. No ropes this time either,” he softly told the stallion, holding his hand out to him.

After several minutes of trying to escape the corral, the Grey Ghost halted and stood still as Scott came up to him again, still speaking softly. Scott quickly slipped on the bridle. Still talking, he started to rub his hands up and down the horse’s neck. Soon the stallion’s head came down as the hands found his itchy spots and scratched them. Finally giving the horse a pat on the neck, Scott led him to where Johnny was still leaning against the corral rails beside his saddle. Johnny helped Scott saddle the grey then stepped up onto the rails as Scott gathered the reins and swiftly mounted.

Ghost stood still for a minute, not sure about the heavy contraption on his back. He accepted the man but he wasn’t too sure about the thing that gripped him tightly around his girth; it felt stiff and smelt of other horses. Finally he threw up his head and jumped mightily, landing on his forefeet as hard as he could, fighting to get his head free as he bucked across the corral.

For several minutes the battle went on. Scott held the reins as tightly as he could, keeping the stallion’s head up, knowing if the grey got it down he’d be on the ground within a couple of bucks. Finally the Ghost started cantering around the corral and Scott started talking to him again. After several more minutes Scott pulled him to a halt near Johnny.

Johnny grinned up at his brother, “I guess all that cavalry stuff worked. You’re still on him.”

“I guess. Why don’t you saddle up? We better get going.” Scott told him as he eased out of the saddle. Once on the ground he ran his hands up and down the Ghost’s neck.

“I’ll get Gold,” Johnny said as he hurried into the barn. Scott opened the corral gate and led Ghost out, then remounted, patting the stallion’s neck and talking softly to him as they waited. “Murdoch’s going to be mad when he sees me riding you, but I have to, or Johnny’s going to guess something is up. I’ll just have to hope he won’t be too mad at me,” Scott told the stallion.

Soon the brothers were riding slowly away from the barn and corrals, headed for the north range. They rode in silence for awhile, both young men thinking of the past several days, since their return home. Their wounds were healing nicely and Dr. Sam had given his permission for them to ride, a little, as long as they took it easy. Stitches had been taken out the evening before and they were happy to be able to do more than hang around the house.

They had finally told their family what had happened to them; Johnny told about being captured and some of what he had gone through during the last months. Scott filled them in on finding the grey stallion. Both had talked a little about their journey home, and Teresa had told Johnny what had happened after his disappearance; in tears she had given him back his hat. Murdoch caught Johnny up on the ranch business that he had missed out on while being gone, and even of Scott’s obsession with finding him. Dr. Sam, whom they considered family since had been Murdoch’s friend since before Johnny was born, and because he spent so much time at the ranch, had told Johnny how worried they all had been about Scott, and the fact that he hadn’t been sleeping or eating.

Scott’s face had turned red as the doctor told everyone he was happy that Johnny was now home and could keep his brother in line. If Scott could have left the room he would have, but he had been in his bed and everyone was sitting or standing around, with Johnny on the bed beside him sitting on top of his blankets, conveniently holding him in place. After everyone was finally talked out they left Scott alone and he was able to get up and dressed so he could join them for dinner. It had been a special dinner, and Murdoch had let his sons know how happy he was that both of his sons were safely home again, causing Johnny’s head to duck in embarrassment several times.

Johnny glanced over at Scott, catching his brother looking over towards him at the same time. Both of them smiled.

“I don’t think Sam would have liked seeing that ride!” Scott exclaimed.

”At least you didn’t get dumped off; he would have skinned both of us!” laughed Johnny as he tossed his head to get the long dark hair out of his face.

Seeing Johnny throw his head around, Scott grinned, “Looks like we need to get to town and get our hair cut soon. Teresa’s been threatening to take her sheers to us.”

“Yeah, you don’t look so bad Boston with that pretty long hair, but I would like to get rid of some of this. But not by Teresa’s means. Where are we going?” Johnny suddenly asked as they rode out of a large grove of trees.

After several hours they finally came to the north range and rode slowly through several huge meadows buried in budding wildflowers and tall grass.

“These pastures look good. Murdoch will be happy there is so much grass here. I guess all that winter rain we had has helped. Well Little Brother, feel up to moving cattle in the next week or so?” Scott asked as they looked over another meadow.

“Don’t know Boston. It was kind of nice at the village, no cows to worry about. I think I might have gotten out of the ranchin’ mood,” Johnny answered, smiling across at his brother.

“Don’t let the old man hear you talk like that! He’ll say you’re a third owner and have to pull your weight around here. Besides, I am getting a little of tired doing your chores and mine too,” came the quick retort.

“Yeah, I can just hear him!” laughed Johnny. Scott laughed with him.

“Let’s head home. We’ve seen enough to satisfy Murdoch, I think. Besides, it should almost be dinner time by the time we get back and I am getting hungry.”

“You, Boston? Hungry!?” Johnny quipped as they turned their horses towards home.

Scott smiled sheepishly and turned his head away from his grinning brother. “Let’s go!” Scott kicked Ghost into a run without answering; with a shout Johnny nudged Gold and gave chase to his brother.

They pushed their horses and arrived home well before dinner time, and saw that Murdoch’s mount was in his stall. After giving the stallions a good brushing and turning them out into the large corral, Scott and Johnny made their way to the hacienda, wondering what their father was going to say if he’d seen them ride in; Scott wasn’t suppose to be on the grey yet.

Johnny pushed the door open and took off his, hat, jacket and gunbelt, hanging them beside the door, Scott mirroring his movements. Together the brothers walked into the large front room, and Johnny stopped dead in his tracks in surprise.

“What the…” Johnny started to say as he looked around the room.

“Merry Christmas Son,” Murdoch said rising from his chair.

“Merry Christmas Brother,” came a voice from behind him.

“Merry Christmas Johnny!” Teresa said as she hurried to his side and kissed him on the cheek.

Johnny stood still, a stunned look on his face as he glanced around the room. There were some Christmas decorations around the fireplace and several lamps had colorful ribbons hung on them. There was the smell of fir in the room from several large boughs placed on the desk and side tables. In front of the couch was a pile of wrapped Christmas gifts.

“I don’t have anything … I missed…” Johnny stopped, embarrassed and confused.

“Don’t worry Little Brother,” Scott dropped his arm across Johnny’s shoulders. “You can get us all something really nice for our next Christmas. Come on, this is your Christmas Day.”

”And we have a special dinner for you too,” smiled Teresa, as she hurried out of the room. “I’ll be right back; don’t open anything before I get back.”

Murdoch took Johnny’s arm and led him to the couch, “We had our Christmas, but it wasn’t quite the day that we planned. Now that you are back, we want you to have a special day. This was supposed to be our first Christmas together; it didn’t happen, but we are going to make up for you missing Christmas. Sit down and open your gifts.”

Johnny let himself be led to the couch and sat down. Teresa was back, carrying a tray with cups of coffee on it. Handing one to each of the men she took the last one and sat in the other armchair. “Well, open your gifts Johnny! Mine first.” She smiled as she thrust her gift into his hands.

Everyone laughed as Johnny tore into the package. He held up three brightly colored shirts, red, blue and light blue, each with contrasting, intricate embroidery on their fronts with wooden toggles for buttons. He thanked Teresa with a quick kiss on her cheek, and then opened the large box from Scott. It was a case of tequila, and Johnny laughed at the look on Scott’s face as he offered him a drink, knowing his brother and tequila did not get along. The last gift was a new rifle from Murdoch, his initials engraved on one side of the stock, the Lancer brand on the other. Johnny looked the new rifle over as he thanked his father gravely. Murdoch smiled at his son, a look of love and joy on his weathered face.

As Johnny finished his thank yous, Murdoch rose stiffly from his chair, “We have one more gift for you, but we have to go outside first.” Johnny looked up as his father moved past him. He suddenly realized that Scott was no longer sitting on the couch beside him; he hadn’t noticed when his brother had disappeared, he had just been there beside him a few minutes ago.

“Where’s Scott?” Johnny asked as he followed his father, Teresa beside him.

“Outside I think,” Teresa said.

Walking out the front door Murdoch stepped to the side so Johnny could see what Scott was holding. Johnny paused, looking first at his brother then at the foal standing quietly beside him.

The colt was a dappled palomino color, his fuzzy coat shedding, letting the darker palomino color show through the almost white fuzz; his mane and tail were pure white. Around the foal’s neck was a long, colorful knitted scarf in blues, pink, and teal, trimmed in white, with a gift tag tied on. The shedding foal stood proudly, his large liquid brown eyes watching everything and everyone.

Johnny took a step towards the colt; the foal watched him for a moment then snorted, tossed his head, and stepped towards Johnny, his soft nose nuzzling Johnny’s chest. Johnny smiled and slowly raised his hand to pet the colt as it moved closer. Within seconds the colt was beside him, his neck stretched out as far as he could get it, eyes half closed, his upper lip wiggling as he leaned into the hands that were rubbing and scratching him in all his favorite spots and brushing the long itchy hair off of him.

Wiping his hands on his pants, Johnny looked at his family, a smile on his face.

“What do you think of this little guy?” Scott asked him, as Johnny reached for the gift tag.

“I think he’s going to be a handful of a horse. He’s full of himself. He’ll make a good mount for someone in a few years. And a nice breeding stallion.”

Johnny pulled the tag loose and read it. “To Johnny, From Pa and Scott.” He raised tear-filled eyes to his father and brother, not able to speak for a moment. “Mine?!” Johnny finally got out of his constricted throat, as the foal head butted him again.

Scott smiled gently at him as Murdoch placed a hand on his shoulder. “Yours, Son.”

“I don’t know…How…Why?” Johnny stuttered, not able to think of exactly what he wanted to say as the colt pushed him again.

“Well…Murdoch and I had picked out this mare and decided that her foal was going to be yours. He came early. So he’s a little larger than the other foals.” Scott said.

“I want this to be your horse, to raise and train. To be your mount,” Murdoch added. “It’ll be awhile before you can ride him. He’ll be a nice palomino color too. His sire was the stallion that was killed by the land pirates; he is one of the last of that bloodline too, so he is even more special.”

“Gold will be jealous, I think. Can you think of a name for him?” Scott could sense the emotion in his brother and tried to calm him down with a different question.

“Barranca. His name will be Barranca,” Johnny said, as he looked at Scott, then Murdoch. “I…don’t know what to say.”

“Just say ‘Thank You,’ Brother,” Scott smiled at him.

Steve came over and took the halter rope from Scott as he untied the scarf from the colt’s neck. Steve led the foal away as Scott handed the scarf to Johnny.

“Thank you, Pa, and Scott,” Johnny said hesitantly, saying the word “Pa” out loud for the first time. He took the scarf from Scott as he watched the colt prancing and bucking next to Steve, heading to a small corral where his mother waited. He didn’t see the happy smile lighting up his father’s face when he uttered the word, “Pa.”

“Looks like we got to celebrate Christmas with you after all, son, and there is also a special Christmas meal being prepared for you for tonight too, thanks to Maria and Teresa”

Johnny ducked his head for an instant, then smiled at his father, brother and Teresa “Thank you all, this has been one of the happiest days of my life,” he said quietly as they turned and re-entered the house.

Maria appeared from the kitchen as they walked in; with a smile she walked to Johnny’s side and, taking his face in her hands, planted a kiss on his cheek. “Feliz Navidad, nino. We have made you una comida especial, con enchiladas, tamales, chiles rellenos, arroz y frijoles. It will be ready in two hours. Do not be late or I will feed it to the chickens.” With a final pat to his cheek she returned to the kitchen with Teresa.

Murdoch had settled into his favorite armchair, one hand dangling over the armrest, a large smile on his face.

Johnny looked over his gifts and picked up his new rifle. Looking at his brother he said, “Let’s go try this out.”

Scott nodded and deftly caught the box of shells that Murdoch tossed to him. “Be sure you two pick a place where you won’t scare the livestock. And be back in time for dinner, or you won’t get any!”

“I know just the place; it’s not far, and we will be back in plenty of time for dinner, but we’ll have to ride there,” Johnny said as they hurried from the room.

“No racing,” Murdoch called after them, smiling to himself.

“Yes Sir,” Scott said over his shoulder as he grabbed his matching rifle and followed his brother out the door. Catching up with Johnny he threw his arm across Johnny’s shoulders. Their eyes met for a moment, both pairs of bright blue eyes shining with love and happiness.

“Merry, Late Christmas, Brother! I sure am happy you’re home again,” Scott told Johnny as they saw the tall grey stallion race around the corral, bucking and kicking with a golden streak running right beside him.    

      

~end~     

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