Donny and his younger brother crept through the tall Texas scrub towards the rocky outcrop where minutes before they heard the apparent screams of a young girl. Turning his head Donny quietly cautioned his impatient brother, “I tell ya’ it’s a Comanche trick Darnell” he whispered, “ that ain’t no innocent white woman in distress you hear screaming off in the distance. Least ways she ain’t one no more. Them devils have a nasty habit of stealing young girls then as they grow up they’s used to draw those to ‘em that just want to help. They ain’t white no more but they ain’t Indian neither, what they is, is bait! ”
At twenty three, Darnell was still prone to rash impatience. He nervously stroked the sparse blond whisker stubble on his chin. “I don’t know Donny, I am not convinced. I say we hurry up and save her! Why it might just be a bunch a no good rustlers that is tryin’ to have their way with a helpless traveler.”
At the age of thirty Donny had seen and heard more of the West than his younger brother had so it gave him an edge on wisdom. Blond and blue eyed like his younger brother, the two looked like a pair of bookends except for an old scar that cut across Donny’s forehead.
“We’ll sneak up a bit closer till we get to the shorter brush, but whatever you do Darnell, do not lift your head to take a look. Them Comanche is scourin’ the tops of this brush waiting for some unsuspecting cow poke to go in for the rescue. They know whites and Mexicans have this thing about savin’ a screamin’ woman. Once you raise up your head, they’ll see ya’ and a minute later you all will be playin’ a card game with the devil with your throat cut.”
Taking over an hour to travel the hundred or so yards, they were finally in range to view the tied up screaming girl. Without raising up, the brothers could now partially see between the scrub. In the clearing ahead of them the girl sat on the ground with her hands behind her back tied to a small dead Mesquite tree.
Donny crept silently up next to his brother and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, they’s good all right!” He whispered, “Before we do anything further, you tell me exactly what you see.”
“Damn Donny, this isn’t the time for a classroom lecture, that poor girl needs our help, and fast!”
In a sharp whisper, Donny repeated, “Describe to me what you see!”
“God, if you must know, I see a young brown haired girl, maybe eighteen years old, wearing a dirty dress and bare feet tied up by Indians waiting to be rescued. That is what I see brother! What in all your great Western wisdom do you see that is any different?”
“Plenty. First off, look at her skin, what looks like dirt ain’t, she’s darker than a city bred white girl. How many women do you know other than a farmer’s wife allows herself to get that dark from the sun? None, women prefer to be pale skinned. Then take a look at her dress. What girl do you know would wear a dress that many sizes too big? Not only that, look between her legs, no personals being worn!
You know of a girl who’d go around showin’ off her kahoochie like that? Now git your eyes off of that area an’ look at her feet. The bottoms are as calloused as a cowboy’s ass on a cattle drive. No white girl would be caught dead lookin’ like that. Indians ain’t up to fashion or knowin’ what a woman dresses like. That dress was probably taken off an older woman who was a lot heavier. Look how baggy it is. Our Maw Maw used to have a dress like that, remember? Ain’t no young girl gonna’ be seen dead in such a thing! Now, look closely at her hair. It’s tied up in the Comanche fashion an’ there sure ain’t no style to her cut.
No Sir Darnell, that there is what’s called bait! Let’s move on back a bit where we don’t have to whisper. Besides, They’s only gonna’ wait for so long before they figure out we didn’t get fooled”
A half hour later they had backed off a good fifty or so yards. It was a scorcher of a day and both were glad to be hidden in the cooler shade of large mesquite tree.
Laying motionless Darnell looked over to his brother. Darnell could now see the errors of his ways. He felt pride welling up inside him as he stared at his brother. Finally having to no longer whisper so quietly, Darnell yet took the precaution of speaking in a low tone.
“Damn but you’re good Donny!” He said. “If it had been me, I would have rushed on out there like a sheep going to slaughter. I apologize for the Western wisdom crack, you were right. What do we do now?”
“Well, for the last two days we’ve been bein’ tailed by a band of about ten or so. I didn’t want to get you all worked up so I kept it to myself. They’ve been pacing us a couple miles to the north as we travel west. The closer we get to Amarillo the safer we get. I figured they only had a day or two left to make their move if they planned to make one. I guess this here is where they planned to trick us”
Darnell shook his head saying, “Here I was thinking we had the trail to ourselves. I’ve actually been keeping a good eye out for trouble but was always looking behind us.”
Donny looked over at his brother, “Sometimes they will have a few tail from behind to get noticed. That way you think you spotted them. Your attention is drawn to that group and meanwhile the real trouble is riding right beside ya’. Ya’ get so intent on watchin’ your behind that they can ride right upside you before you know it.”
“I wished I had stayed in Texas learning all this Western like keeping alive stuff rather than being forced to attend school back East.”
“You’ll have plenty of time for learning the Western way brother, just as long as we can survive that long! Besides, one of us needed to learn our letters, how else were we gonna’ run our new bought ranch?”
The two lay hidden in the brush for what seemed like hours to Darnell before the girl gave up yelling. By then she was as hoarse sounding as an old saloon whore who smoked too much. Not long after she quit screaming the cautious head of an Indian popped up, looked quickly around and disappeared. Soon his head was followed by others wearing disgruntled and frustrated looks.
Donny lightly touched Darnell’s arm and again in a whisper told him, “Just be still brother. If we’re lucky they’ll head back to where their horses are tied up at and we can sneak back to ours and skedaddle out of here without bein’ seen.”
Suddenly the brothers heard what sounded like punch and someone gasping for air. The beating continued with the brothers giving each other questioning looks.
Lightly pressing on his brother’s shoulder Donny raised up enough to see if he could tell what or who was getting the beating. After a couple of heartbeats Donny lowered himself slowly back down.
“Damn it, they’s takin’ it out on the girl Darnell. Comanche bastard! Blame everyone else for their own failures. They know we’re somewhere nearby and by us not fallin’ for their trick, they feel the girl failed at her job.”
A loud slap and thud where heard then someone urinating.
Darnell face was red with anger. “Are they pissing on her?”
“Yup, at least one of ‘em is. Probably the one who owns her. He’s tryin’ to save face.”
“Are we just going to lay here like nothing is happening and let them beat her to death?”
“They won’t kill her, if they did, who would do their cooking and do the camp chores? No, they’ll beat her till she loses consciousness then leave her behind. If she hasn’t made it to the agreed upon meeting spot by nightfall, they’ll figure she up and died. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll wake up quick like and head for their camp and make no complaints about the beating she just got.”
“What are you saying? I can’t believe my own brother would say something that cruel!”
“It ain’t me! It’s them you gotta’ be pissed at! That’s the way they is. She was most likely born to a captive or is a captive herself. She ain’t one of their tribe, no more than a camp dog is. It’s what they do to captives, use ‘em and throw ‘em away when they ain’t of any further use. She’ll never be part of the tribe, not like a warriors wife is.”
A few minutes later they could hear the Indians making their way quietly back to where their horses were being kept. The young girl still lay unmoving when the brothers heard the distinct sounds of horses galloping off to the east.
Darnell looked questioning at his brother and asked, “Can we go now and see if she is still alive? If she’s still breathing we need to help her.”
“Sure, they rode off away from Amarillo. They’ll get back to wherever their band’s camped out at without pay’n the girl no more mind. If they were interested in keepin’ her, they woulda’ just rode off a couple of miles and made camp waiting for her return. It’s their way of disciplining children and women. Since they rode off instead, I’m figgerin’ they left her to die.”
The two carefully made their way through the brush until they could plainly see the girl. Taking one last look around, they stepped into the clearing.
Looking down at the girl, they could see how badly she had been beaten. Her face was battered black and blue with both eyes swollen shut. She may have been pretty but thinking that now was ludicrous. There wasn’t much that wasn’t bleeding, swollen or deeply bruised and her damp hair smelled of urine.
Darnell turned aside and putting his knuckles into his mouth swore. “What the hell kind of animals are these people? I couldn’t even do that to my worst enemy.”
Meanwhile Donny removed his shirt then knelt down and lifting her head placed his shirt under it. “Darnell, go get the horses, bring ‘em here and then give me one of the canteens. She’s got a mouth full of blood. With all this blood, we can’t tell if a ribs been broke an’ punched a lung or if she just lost some teeth. Loosen up a blanket from behind my saddle too.”
Darnell went speeding off no longer fearing the Indians. He was too upset. When he returned, Donny had removed the girls torn dress so they could check her other injuries. “Take that canteen and clear out her mouth and nose real well while I tear my extra shirt into strips. She needs some cleaning up and I think her wrist might be broke, look how swollen it is.”
Meanwhile Donny walked over to his horse and untied his blanket from behind the saddle. After cutting a hole in the center with his knife, he fashioned a crude Mexican style serape to replace her missing clothes. Darnell grabbed the discarded dress and soaking it with water from the canteen, washed her face, mouth and blood off of her chest.
Satisfied she was as clean as she could be, Darnell knelt beside her and rotated her wrist checking for broken bones. “I think they just tore up her ligaments by beating her when her hands were tied, I don’t feel any grinding of bones.”
Knowing that an expert eye was needed to keep watch for trouble, Donny handed over the responsibility of caring for the girl to Darnell. “I need to keep us safe and keep our larder full of fresh game to eat. Caring for her is going to have to be up to you till we reach the ranch. I sound like you picked up some Doctoring skills back East at school. You know something about caring for wounds?”
“As a matter of fact I do. To help support myself back East during the summer school breaks, I took a job helping out an old Doctor to make his house calls. Much of it was just driving the buggy but there came times I had to assist him in surgery too.”
Donny then gladly deferred the girls care to Darnell.
A couple of crude stitches to the gash on her scalp slowed the rest of the bleeding. She had not regained consciousness yet but Darnell thought that might be for the better. He pried open her cleaned out mouth to find a huge gash where her teeth had been driven almost through her cheek. It was this gash that had filled her mouth with blood. There was little he could do for that wound but he knew time would close it.
Donny decided to make camp right there rather than try to get her on a horse. She remained unconscious so they built a small fire without the fear of any further attack. By now the group of Comanche’s were far beyond camp fire sight.
Sometime during the night, the girl woke up and moaned. Darnell was immediately at her side trying his best to calm her and dribbled the cool canteen water over her lips.
She jerked up in fright but the need for water over rode her fear and she settled back down. She drank as a child does when learning to use a cup. Spilling more on herself than what made it down her throat. She winced in pain at each swallow. Darnell let her drink though she wasted most of it, there was plenty more water in the other canteens. She finally pushed the canteen away and lay back upon the rolled up shirt pillow where she once again passed out.
Donny woke up before dawn and duck walked over to where the girl lay. Darnell was up and squatting beside her. Pointing to her in the morning darkness, Donny asked, “Do you think she will be alright? I’m not much for human injuries, now if she were a cow, that’d be different.”
Darnell had spent the night beside the girl. “I suppose so.” He answered. “We’ll have to see come daylight when I can see better. They kicked her belly and ribs up pretty good. I hope she ain’t bleedin’ inside.”
“Do you want me to sit up with her so’s you can get some shut eye?”
Darnell started blowing on the coals that his brother had banked when they retired for the night. “Naw, I’m fine, I’m used to bein’ awake most the night. It comes with studying for college exams. Besides, she isn’t going to wake up for a bit yet and I was going to make up another pot of coffee anyway.”
When morning broke open it was a fairly uneventful event. The sun hid itself behind a grey cloud bank that had moved in from the west during the late night hours. The chill in the morning air meant the summer had waned and fall was going to be soon upon them. If they were going to get the ranch set up for winter they needed to be moving on.
Donny finished pouring himself another cup of coffee and started refilling Darnell’s when he asked about the girl. “Is she still alive? She looks kind of dead to me.”
“She’s alive but for how long I don’t know. I noticed fresh blood comin’ from between her legs. I guess her belly got it worse’n we thought. Poor kid. A woman’s kind of fragile down that way.”
Donny wandered over to where the girl lay. Looking down at her he felt a pang of sympathy run through him. Reaching down he pulled the cover over her that his brother had placed on her but had slipped during the night. He sighed heavily and sat down next to her with his coffee.
Darnell watched the expression of care cross his brothers face and thought to himself, “No woman should ever be treated like this, Indian or white”.
Darnell’s mind traveled back to the girls he knew back east and the stark difference between those he had courted and this young girl fighting for her life. He realized how shallow most of those girls were.
They had never been asked to shoulder any serious issues but instead were kept ignorant of any day to day struggles. Comparing the two, the eastern girls reminded him of play dolls in a playhouse. Then taking his thoughts further, he began to see how truly sheltered he himself had been.
Turning to look at his brother, Darnell realized he was a child in the wilderness compared to Donny. “Hey, Donny. I need to ask you something. Be straight up and honest with me now. Am I really needed in this ranching venture or is this just a way of keeping an eye on your younger brother to keep him from getting himself into a mess?”
Donny tossed the coffee grounds from his cup and set it down. He didn’t answer right away. It was important this be settled once and for all and settled correctly.
“Every year that I drove cattle I had one dream that kept me goin’. Brother, there was times I thought it would be easier to just lay down and die rather than go one more day. Drivin’ cattle wears a body down quick. I got more bones broke than I got hairs. I got froze feet, frozen fingers and once I took too long pee’n I about froze my lizard off! Dust, I ate more dust than a farmer needed to grow a crop in. I had horses die under me and Injuns steal ‘em from under my nose. But, I’d do it all over again if it was the only way to get the money together to buy us our own ranch. Before Paw Paw died he made me promise I’d do better than he did. He always dreamed of ownin’ his own place but never got the chance. Part of it was, he could have but he didn’t trust himself. With no schoolin’ he knew any ranch he built would probably fail because he knew nothing about the books.
It’s not just knowin’ how to raise cattle but how to handle the money you make that makes or breaks a ranch. Heck, if it weren’t for Maw Maw’s cookie jar Paw Paw would a come up short time and time again. That’s why he made me promise I’d see you get schooled.
Hell Darnell, there ain’t no way I could do better’n Paw Paw without you. Both of us have dreamed of doin’ this since we was kids. I know we both imagined as kids we’d be ridin’ the range together on horseback and sing’n songs around a campfire at night, but you and I both know them was just us kids dreamin’. Truth is, ridin’ the range is hard an’ then you get home an’ find out there’s bills to be paid. No, neither of us could do this on our own. It’s both as equal partners or none at all.”
Darnell knew truth when he heard it and looking up at Donny told him, “Well, since you put it like that, I guess I could see myself sitting in a warm house comfortably sitting my desk slaving over the ranch books while you play cowboy in the snow at thirty below zero!”
Donny was about to answer when the young girl moaned and woke up.
Darnell was the first to react to the girl’s plea for more water. Rushing beside her, he grabbed up the canteen and gently lifted her head. Her hands found his as he guided the canteen to her lips. After four or five full gulps, he backed the canteen off telling her, “Not too much. I don’t want you throwing up, you swallowed a lot of blood, that and too much water will get you to throwing up.”
The girl looked up at the handsome blond haired, blue eyed young man that was kind to her and thanked him. “Thank you. But, you are in danger for my sake, Coyote Legs will lead the band back here to kill you.”
Donny made his way over and squatted beside the two on his haunches. “No, I think we’re alright Miss. They rode off to the East. I’m afraid they left you for dead. They would have come back for you before this if it were so.”
The girl looked up at Donny and replied, “I hope so. If they return, kill me quickly or I will be tormented again. Coyote legs will not let me die quickly. I failed to trap you, therefore it is he who wears the shame because it is he who owns me.”
Darnell was looking at her with a stern look on his face. “Miss, no one owns you, not no more anyways. But tell me, why in the world did this Coyote legs fella follow us for so long? It ain’t like we got anything but a few horses between us. He coulda’ just run us down a couple days back and been done with us.
She shrugged her shoulders and replied. “Who knows. Coyote legs does not think straight. He becomes angry and driven to foolishness for no reason. I saw with my own eyes as he choked his own mother until she was dead. No one held him to blame because they are all afraid of him and the Spirits that speaks to him. He says Spirits speak in his head and give him the power to see inside of a man’s skull so everyone fears him. If you do not, it means your death. I did hear him say recently that he wanted to take the living heart from a white man to offer up to the Spirits. Maybe it was your heart that he wanted that he chases you so far.
Darnell continued to look questioningly at her then suddenly as if forgetting his manners apologized for not introducing himself. “This is my brother Donny, my names Darnell. We are on our way to a ranch we just bought just west of Amarillo.”
“My name is Wetu Wakinyela. It means Dove in the springtime in the Lakota tongue. I am white but lived with the Lakota Sioux since I was a child. My mother and I had become captives after a Sioux raid on our home. In that raid my father was killed and in less than a moon, my mother in her grief took her own life. I was without family so was given to an old Indian woman to be cared for. Years later while at a rendezvous, I was bought by a French trapper named La Fell just before my first blood. La Fell was a good man and was going to take me to the soldiers fort to be among my own people when I was old enough to marry. As we traveled through the land, Coyote legs of the Comanche found us before we reached the fort. La Fell was killed and since that time Coyote legs has owned me. He named me but I will no more speak that name. It has now been five winters since my first blood and I am now a woman who is again called Wetu Wakinyela.”
Donny spoke saying, “So that makes you about eighteen, nineteen at the most. Are you with child?”
“No, why do you ask me that?”
“You’re bleedin’ from between your legs Miss. We saw that Comanche kickin’ your belly. I was wonderin’ if he might’a been tryin’ to kill a child within’ ya’.”
“No, I am having my woman’s blood, that is all. It was one of these reasons that Coyote legs became so angry with me. A warrior cannot go into a woman during her bleeding time. If a warrior enters a woman whose time it is to bleed, he will lose his power and die with shame in battle. When he tied me up and I started to scream so that you would believe I was a white woman in peril, he became feverish with lust. He wanted to take me right then and would have but his warriors convinced him to wait until they had captured you. When he realized the two of you were not fooled by my screams he became very strange eyed and was going to enter me in anger even with his men standing about. As he spread me, it was then that he saw my blood, my San We. He became crazy angry and that is when he started beating me.”
Darnell shook his head saying, “I’ll get you some cloth for your bleeding Spring Dove. It’ll be a few days before your healed enough to travel so we’ll stay put right here until you can ride. Once you’re good to travel though we need to hurry off. Winters coming and we have a lot of work to do before then.”
“Where am I to ride too? I will not return to Coyote legs, he will kill me!”
Darnell glanced over at Donny before turning back to the girl. Nervously cratching his unshaved whiskers he said, “Well, I was thinking you could ride along with us to our ranch.”
Quickly glancing back at Donny, he defensively told him, “Shoot Donny, we can’t just leave her here!”
“Settle down little brother, I had the same thoughts. I’m just not sure what we’ll do with her once we get there.”
“Well, we could use a hand around the place doing the washing and do the cooking…” Looking back at Spring Dove he asked, you can cook and do wash clothes can’t you?”
“Not as a white woman does but If you teach me I will cook and do the wash as you want. I have nowhere to go and I will die here in the brush if left I am left behind. I know now that I am dead to Coyote legs or he would have come back by now.”
Three days after finding the girl, they broke camp and headed towards Amarillo. Each brother had brought along a spare horse and a pack mule when they left the stage at Fort Worth. To Darnell’s amazement the pack mules fared much better than the horses on the Texas plain. He had always heard mules were difficult beast, not worth the effort to own one. Spring Dove rode on Darnell’s spare mount as Donny’s was a bit too feisty for the still bruised girl. They made their way north until they hit the town of Claude, then headed west again until they reached the cool waters of Prairie Dog River. There they camped again as their new ranch was only a few hours ride south of Amarillo.
They could have made it by nightfall but decided to wait and leave in the morning. Only Donny had seen the place and that was a good six months earlier. He was sure the place would need a might of tidying up to make it habitable.
It was the hours just before dawn that Darnell awoke with the pressure building to relieve himself. Being a bit shy and city bred, he removed himself a good fifty yards out to do his watering. Donny had opened his eyes to watch his brother leave camp and kept them open until he was seen returning. It was the slight movement of a shrub in the moonlight behind Darnell that caught Donny’s eye. He instantly became alert.
When Darnell entered the camp Donny quietly bade him to lie down as if asleep. “There’s something out there moving the brush. It might just be an animal but then it might not be.”
Quickly, Donny crept on his belly over to where the packs had been tied and removed a storm canvas from one of the packs. Creeping silently back, he then placed and shaped the canvas into the crude form of a body and placed his hat on the one end. From a distance, it appeared to resemble a sleeping cowboy. Still crawling on his belly, he slipped silently out of camp.
Darnell lay with his gun ready hidden under his blanket. His newly purchased western style big brimmed Stetson hat was tilted just enough over his eyes to hide their movement. It was getting close to dawn when the girl woke. “Hush girl,” he told her, “ Don’t move none. There’s movement in the brush. Donny’s out there somewhere taking a look see.”
Frightened, the girl obeyed the order instantly.
Meanwhile in the brush, Donny had crept to within the general area where he noted the brush movement. It had not moved since but Donny was no fool. Indians were best at waiting. That was the biggest downfall of white men. They just get too impatient.
Donny scanned the tops of the brush looking not for a head to appear but something even harder to see. With the temperature just above freezing, he scanned the area for the one thing a warm blooded animal cannot hide, their breath.
As the eastern sky broke open with a slit of golden sunshine, the sun lit vapor from the breaths of two warm blooded stalkers could be seen rising slowly from above the brush. A tight smile broke across Donny’s face. He had them spotted.
Within fifteen minutes the one vapor trail had moved closer to the camp while the other stayed put. He needed to dispatch the one staying put as he was the back up and the most dangerous in an attack. The idea was that as the closest one to camp would reach the point where he could then rush into the camp surprising everyone. Meanwhile, it was the job of the one further back to do the actual killing. The one up front would grab the attention of the camp and draw all eyes towards him, leaving the second one free to take his time aiming his accurate and deadly fire into the group.
Donny crept unseen and unheard to within ten feet of the furthest attacker. He was surprised to see one of the Comanche’s that had ridden off with Coyote Legs. That would mean that the one in front must be Coyote Legs himself!
Silently gathering his Legs under him Donny formed into a human spring. With his knife pointed forward he sprung.
Hearing the slight sound of Donny’s launch behind him, the Indian turned his head in surprise. At the same time, the tip of Donny’s knife entered his throat just under the chin. immediately it silenced the murderous stalker.
Coyote Legs had no idea what had just happened to his back up so he confidently continued silently onward to the camp until he reached the point of no return.
Having made his way unnoticed as close as he could get, Coyote Legs then leaped up with a terrible scream. Running madly into the camp with his rifle ready to blast the sleeping trio, he faltered.
Two things surprised and confused Coyote Legs causing him to falter in his attack. The first was that the trio seemed unconcerned that he was rushing the camp screaming as if sound alone would kill them. None jumped up in fright. The second was that there were no well aimed rifle slugs plowing into the sleeping forms from behind him. A catch in the running Indians scream showed Darnell that Coyote Legs had come to the conclusion that something was very wrong. Dropping his voice to a questioning shout, Coyote Legs turned to look behind him to see why no gunshots from his fellow Indian had not been fired.
He began to doubt the effectiveness of his plan and slowed his attack, which gave Darnell plenty of time to stick the tip of his pistol barrel from under the blanket and fire away five times in rapid succession.
Hearing the familiar sound of Darnell’s pistol, he calmly rose and made his way in the morning sunlight back to the camp. There he found Coyote Legs sprawled head first in the embers of the previous night’s campfire. Pulling him from the hot embers, Donny rolled him over onto his back.
“Nice shooting brother, I knew my old gun would do you well.”
Donny sat still wrapped in his bedroll looking at the smoking revolver. “Oh my God, I shot him dead!”
Five times the lead slugs had punched the life out of the insane Indian called Coyote legs and five times Donny had shot his first man to death.
Donny went back to retrieve the body of the Indian he had ambushed back in the brush. He knew the Indian had been bound and determined to kill him but Donny reasoned that even an enemy deserves a proper send off to the happy hunting grounds.
After the burials, Donny turned to Darnell and asked, “How you doing Brother? I meant to ask earlier on but we’ve been too busy here for a chat.”
“I’ll do OK. I never imagined I’d have to kill somebody but then maybe in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable, being so near Indians and all.”
“For the most part things have settled down but there’s a few renegades still trying to reclaim what had been theirs. You have to look at it from their viewpoint at times to make sense of things. But, Coyote Legs was a different creature all together, not like the rest of the tribe. He was as evil a man that you ever saw.”
Spring Dove had been listening to the brother’s talk and as a captive female slave for so long held back her thoughts from turning into words. She saw how these men did not hate for the sake of race or prejudice but instead had fought and killed, risking their own lives for her sake.
It moved her deeply to see that as it was something no one had ever done for her before. La Fell was kind but he would not have risked his life for her, even if he did die in the end.
She stole a lingering glance at the younger brother Darnell and admired the silent strength he had just displayed. Remembering the kindness and concern he had showed to her when she lay broken and bleeding made her come to the conclusion that he would make the most wonderful husband. Of course, she frowned; he would never look at her in that way.
The brothers ranch lay alongside the Prairie Dog River. Behind and to the south not five miles off was the largest hidden Canyon in all of Texas. The prairie grass grew tall in these parts and at the site of the ranch, Darnell knew his brother had done right.
“How big is the place? I mean I know the acreage but how big by the eye?” Darnell asked.
“See that rise a few miles off? That’s the north end. The east and west end forget about seein’, it’s too far away. The south end is almost to the cliff of the canyon.”
“Holy…!” Darnell exclaimed.
“I see a bunch of buildings, is that part of the ranch or is that another ranch?”
“Nope, it’s all ours. The ranch house has not been occupied since the owners death but I sent word on ahead last month sayin’ we’d be showing up about now. Do you remember me talking about my old trail pard Bud? Yes? Well I went an’ hired him early on after the sale to oversee the place till we got there. He’s also the ranch foreman here. I told him to round up a mess of trusting hands to add to those that stayed on during the sale of the place watching over the herd. When the old owner passed away and the ranch was put up for sale, his family wanted nothing to do with cattle so we got them thrown in cheap. Bud knows near everybody as he’s been livin’ the cowboy life since he was a tot. He said he already had a full list of folks he wanted to get hold of to work here. We’ll be up an’ running in no time.”
An hour later brought the three up to the main corral gate just behind large barn. Inside the corral stood a wiry old grey headed fellow holding the reigns of a horse he’d been working. Throwing the reigns over the horn, he made his way nonchalantly over to the three as they stopped at the gate.
Looking at an imaginary pocket watch the trail bred old man scolded, “Well it’s about time ya’ got here, I was about to file for ownership of the place figurin’ you all was dead somewhere or came to your senses an’ gave up the idea of ranchin!”
Breaking into a wide smile Donny sarcastically replied in jest, “Hello to you too Bud, I see you’re as ugly and decrepit as ever you was! I’s half figurin’ you’d’ve fallen over with a heart attack before we got here.”
Pointing to the young man and girl that rode in with Donny, Bud asked, “Who’s them two that’s with ya’?”
Nodding his head first to his Darnell then to Spring Dove he replied in a more serious manner, “This here is my younger brother Darnell straight from Yale college back east and the young lady with us outfitted in my old blanket is Spring Dove. We found her along the way in dire straits and convinced her she’d be better off being our cook than becoming vulture feed on the prairie.”
Looking first at the young man he acknowledged him with a friendly nod then turned his eyes upon the girl. As fast as a man jumps back from the electrical shock he gets walking in wool socks on a carpet, the old man’s eyes blinked wide open then just as quickly closed, it was as if what he saw pained him. With a slight shake of the head, the old man reached for the girls hand and clasped it. “Ma’am it’s a real pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I hope you find the ranch here to be the end of your trails.”
The girl blushed in shyness. Her hand released, Spring Dove smiled back at the man but she saw something in his eyes that said there was something deeper to his greeting than just a welcome.
The extra ranch hands that had been hired by Bud had arrived in two’s and three’s until the ranch boasted sixteen hands. Most all had worked at one time or another with each other which creating a festive mood when the men’s dinners were served. The ranch house continued its transformation from an abandoned house to one thriving with life and Spring Dove was not without transformation herself. Old Bud and Darnell had early on made a necessary trip into Amarillo for supplies. While there, the two went shopping for Spring Dove. When she opened the wrapped parcels she refused to wear the garments as she had never worn clothes as fine as these. Confounded, the men insisted they were as plain as they had for sale at the dry goods mercantile. Not knowing much about female garments, they had purchased as simple of clothing as possible. When she finally consented, only one word could be applied to her, beautiful.
Spring Dove worked closely with Biscuit in the kitchen who was the middle aged ranch cook hired to once again serve up meals at the place. Spring Dove was a quick learner but was still confounded in trying to operate the giant wood cook stove sitting in the ranch houses kitchen. Until she became more proficient at controlling the iron beast, Biscuit stood nearby overseeing her culinary expertise. Flap jacks seemed to amaze her the most.
Making a roast or frying bacon had close similarities to Indian cooking but a frying pan that transformed a soupy liquid into a fluffy saucer shaped piece of bread never ceased to start her giggling.
Biscuit was amused as he watched a smile burst forth on the young girls face each time she dropped a ladle of batter into the pan. “What’s so darn funny about makin’ flap jacks Dove?” Along with most others on the ranch, Bud had also begun using the shortened name Dove for her.
“How does it turn from water to bread? We have no food that does this.”
“Huh? Oh, simple, it’s called rising. See that there bit of white powder you been putting in? Well that makes it bubble and them bubbles get trapped inside makin’ it hold its shape.”
“If you say so, but I still don’t understand. I have much to learn yet.”
“Trust me here, you’ll get the knack of it soon enough. I taught worse’n you how to handle a frying pan.”
Dove stopped stirring the next batch of batter and asked. “How did you learn to cook? Indian men don’t cook, it is beneath them unless they are away from the camp and have no choice but to cook or starve. Even then, many bring someone like myself to do the cooking. Here, the men admire you because you can cook, why?”
“You can thank Bud for that. He hired me on years back as a young man. The ranch cook he had was getting on in age so when we bumped into each other and he found out I had no job, he offered one to me as a cooks helper on the ranch. I took too it like a dog to a bone! Come Christmas time wait till you see what kind a meal I roll on out here.”
Dove once again started giggling and seeing the questioning look on Biscuits face she quickly explained why she found him funny. “I do not laugh at your cooking but the way you explain things. We never use words like ‘Dog to a bone’. It makes so much sense that I wonder why we don’t say things like that?”
Biscuit took the bowl from her hands and began drizzling a ladleful of batter into the skillet. “I’m not one to pry Dove, but just how did it come about that you ended up comin’ in with Donny and Darnel? I heard they rescued you from Ol’ Coyote Legs and his group.”
Not being used to chairs she still felt the need to sit down. Scooting her legs under the table to relieve the awkward position she ended up sitting in, she stared blankly at the painted ceramic cow shaped creamer sitting before her.
A serious look then crossed her face as if the memories hurt to be recalled “I was a young child when the Lakota Sioux were still fighting the whites. My family was attacked by the Sioux one day and only I ended up surviving. The Lakota are good people, they cared for me. As time went by it became difficult for them to hide me from the white soldiers. They feared if the soldiers found me it would go badly for the tribe. I was told all this by the Frenchman La Fell who bought me from the Sioux in order to take me away from the prying eyes of the soldiers. I must have been five or six years of age then. La Fell was kind to me and made me learn the language of the whites as I grew older. He wanted me to marry and have a good life. Coyote Legs did not want that. I am glad he is dead. The brother Darnell shot him many times. I only wished it was from my own gun.”
“Did he have someone in mind when he took you to find a husband?”
“No, he just wanted me to be have the chance.”
“I see how you look at Darnell, you got an idea about that?”
“Darnell would never have me no matter how much I wish. He is a fine man who deserves much better than I.”
“Don’t kid yourself lass. Only a blind man wouldn’t see how he follows you around like puppy dog. My bet is that the two of you feel the same way about each other but are too convinced the other would never have ya’.”
Dove’s well tanned face became red. Then with a twinkle in her eye she said wishing, “Maybe you should tell him that.”
That evening as the men sat smoking cigarettes on the porch, Bud told the story the girl had told him about her childhood.
Old Bud listened saying nothing until Biscuit had ended the tale. “You say she was from Kansas?”
“No, that’s where her and this La Fell person met up with Coyote Legs. She never said where she lived before the Sioux raided her place.”
“Well if it were the Lakota then she may have come from Nebraska or even Iowa. The Dakota had a fair sized range as they traveled with the buffalo.”
“Yep, I suppose so. What difference does it make?”
“Maybe none, maybe something.”
Before any further conversation could go on, the screened door of the house opened and out came Dove holding a tray of glassware. “I have made the drink you call lemon… lemon….”
Bud spoke up to help out Dove’s lack of English words. “Lemonade dear. We call it lemonade but don’t ask why the ‘ade’ part is on there. Maybe it means drink, I don’t rightly know. How’d you know about lemonade?”
“We make a drink from roots and when I told biscuit this he told me of lemonade.” With a chuckle she continued saying, “I made it the way Biscuit said. If it taste bad then scold him, not me!”
Chuckling themselves the rest of the men were thankful for the cool citrus drink and thanked her mightily.
As Dove turned to return inside, Bud called out to her to hold up. “Say Dove, would you give an old man a minute to satisfy his curiosity? Sit down here on the stoop next to me, will ya?”
Dove made her way over to the stairs and sat next to the old grey haired man. Placing the drink tray upon her lap, she folded her hands upon it. “yes?”
Bud scratched the top of his head and took his time searching for the right words. Finally realizing there was no good way to ask the question that he wanted an answer to, he exclaimed.
“Dove, would you take off the shoes you have on?”
Dove instantly began unlacing the tall boots she had been given to wear. “With joy! How do women wear these? The next time we go to town I want to go with you so I can buy ones that fit me!”
Wiggling and stretching her bare feet brought a smile to her face. “That feels much better. Maybe I should go back to wearing moccasins!”
The men laughed with her but smiling, Bud remained serious. “Can I see the bottom of your feet dear?”
The strange request made Dove pause but she shrugged her shoulders and complied. Sticking the bare feet up toward old Bud she wiggled her toes. “See, I have all my toes, did you think I was missing them?”
As she sat there with her feet in the air a change came over Buds face. It softened. Buds eyes became moist and soon tears were seen tumbling down the old man’s cheeks.
Startled, Dove sat upright and searching the old man’s face asked, “What is wrong? Did I do something wrong? Why do you sit here making tears?”
Old Bud choked back a cry he couldn’t hold back. “I knew it! I knew it the moment I first laid eyes on you and to top it off your story was the icing on the cake! It was like I was starin’ at my own daughter. You look just like your Mama!”
Confused, Dove shook her head. “What do you mean? Please tell me what you mean,” She begged.
The group of men sitting casually on the porch suddenly felt they should have been anyplace else but on the porch. Still none moved as their curiosity was killing them.
Bud looked through his tears and told her. “You was born in Iowa, on a nice farm just up the way from your grandma and me. My daughter Rebecca, your Mama, was my pride and joy. You are as beautiful as she was. I have a painting of her in my room upstairs. When you see it you will believe me.”
Shaking her head in confusion she asked, “But why did you make me remove my shoes? And why do you say what you say?”
“Because, I needed to be sure before makin’ a old fool of myself. An old man dreams dream’s and sometimes he thinks those dreams are real when they ain’t nothin’ but fools gold. I needed to see the only proof that can tell me for sure. You see, there is a small birthmark between your little toe and the next one. So you know I am not making this up, Here is a note I wrote yesterday when I knew I was going to ask you to show me your feet.”
Pulling the small piece of paper from his shirt pocket, he handed it over to her.”
“I cannot read.” She said in apology. “Darnell, would you read what it says to me?”
Darnell took the note gently from her hands and looked at what was written. As he re read the note for the third time he too began to become misty eyed. Clearing his throat, he stared at the girl his heart was bursting in love for.
“It says, “My daughters daughter, whose name was Elizabeth Higgens was born with a birthmark on her right foot between her little toe and the one next to it. We all said it looked like a tiny star. We called it her lucky foot for it was sure to bring good fortune in her life.”
Slowly Dove lifted her foot and twisted it until she could see the mark on her upturned foot. She had never done this before. Her eyes grew in wonder as she saw the small star shaped mark between her toes. Still holding her foot up, tears flooded her eyes as she looked up in wonder and joy at the smiling old man. Her tear drenched lips quivered and dropping the tray she slowly reached out to touch him. If it were the last word she should ever utter, she would have died completely fulfilled.