View Full Version : Return to Sender - chapter 9

07-11-2012, 12:15 PM
Chapter 9
The next several days were about as good as a traveling man could expect. The second night after the run in with the cattle thieves, a storm was brewing in the southwest as evening approached, but I had no trouble finding a farm family that let me use their barn to sleep in that night. Not only that, they said they seldom had company, and wished that I'd join them for supper. Well, it had been a spell since I'd had a home cooked meal, so it didn't take much arm twisting to get me to accept.
Mr. and Mrs. Jensen had two girls and a boy, all between the ages of eight and twelve. Together they made a really nice family. Over supper, I told them the story of when Mariska and I had spent the night with Ben and Katie Dill under similar circumstances. When I mentioned how much I regretted not having the time to ride out of the way to visit the Dills, Dave Jensen suggested that I write them a letter. He said that he knew a circuit riding preacher that went down their way every couple of months, and was sure he would be happy to drop off the letter for me.

After supper, I set about writing them a letter, and when I left the next morning, Dave had it in his hand. He said he couldn't promise how long it would take to get to them, but that, barring the unexpected, it would eventually get to the Dills.
The countryside I rode thru the next few days had an abundance of streams feeding the rich farmland. Each evening, I would make camp, cut a tree branch for a fishing pole, then tie on some heavy string and a hook that I kept in my saddlebags. The banks of the stream were alive with various bugs and worms, so finding bait was easily done. It didn't look like most of those fish had ever seen a fisherman before, for it took only a few minutes to catch all I needed.
After cleaning them, and cooking them over my fire, I had about as tasty a meal as a man could want. When that delicious meal was finished, I settled my bulging stomach with a couple of cups of coffee, then broke camp, and put out the fire. It seemed to be fairly safe country, but habits die hard, and a man riding in strange country can't be too careful, so each evening, I rode a couple more miles before spending the night alongside the stream in the dark.

Each morning, a few minutes effort always produced enough fish for breakfast, along with a few that I cut into strips and dried over the fire. Those I would eat later.
Less than a full days ride from Boston, my good fortune ran out. As the trail climbed out of a farmland valley, the terrain largely became hills covered in a mixture of Maple and Oak trees. Half way up the hill, those trees seemed alive with the songs of lots of birds, residing in their cover. When I was but ten feet from the summit, there was only silence, and my horse stopped dead and lifted his head. Now, I'd always figured that horse was part Appaloosa, and part mountain goat. Nothing moved that he didn't seem to be aware of, and he had taken me places that I never dreamed a horse could go.
Some folks would have rode on up to the top of the hill to check things out. I trusted that horse's instincts more than mine, so I nudged him off the trail, and let him have his head. Down the hillside we went with me dodging as many branches as I could. When we reached the bottom of the gully, I had my share of minor cuts to my face, hands and arms, but nothing of any consequence. We traveled about thirty feet until that App found a spot to climb, then up we went. Climbing up that steep hillside, I had more time to duck, so I didn't add much to my collection of cuts and bruises.

When we came back onto the trail, I spotted three men on horseback with rifles at the ready, facing the direction we would have approached from had we not left the trail. For just a second I gave thought to just slipping away, but I had more than enough trouble waiting for me, I didn't need to have to worry that these gents might follow me. So, I eased back on the rifle hammer and spoke. "Might you fellers be looking for me?"
The man riding the big bay lifted his rifle and pointed it in my direction. The distance between us was no more than thirty feet, so I didn't waste time lifting my rifle. It was already covering them from across my saddle. It was just a matter of shifting the barrel a bit, and pulling the trigger. One of the other rider's horse spooked, and carried him into the path of my bullet, which had been intended for the guy that was aiming at me. I saw the unlucky rider drop to the ground and try to get back into the saddle, but his horse spooked and kept going. He yelled to his companions for help, but they took off without a second look, leaving him to his fate.

After reloading, my knee nudged my mount and he slowly took us over to a position from where I could keep an eye on the wounded man, and see if the other two men returned. When no one came down the trail after a few minutes, I stepped down from the saddle, and checked the wounded man to see if he was armed.
His rifle was on the ground, but far out of his reach. He carried a hunting knife, which I removed and threw over by the rifle. His eyes followed my actions as I placed my rifle where my body blocked him from reaching it, and where it was still quickly available to me, should his friends return.
"Are you hurt bad?," I asked.
There was fear in his eyes as he answered. "I don't know. I've never been shot before."

A quick examination revealed that the bullet had entered his shoulder and gone out the back, leaving a clean wound. Answering the obvious question in his eyes, I said. "The bullet went all the way through. I'm no doctor, but as far as I know, there's nothing vital in that area, so if we can stop the bleeding, you'll probably live."
"Thanks. Under the circumstances, I'm surprised that you are willing to help me."
I picked up his weapons, along with my rifle, and stepped into the saddle. "Don't go counting your chickens yet. Once I've thought about it, I may just keep riding. A man sets out to rob or kill someone, he shouldn't expect any mercy in return." I let that sink in for a minute, then continued. "You sit tight. Right now, I'm going to see if your horse is still somewhere around. If I'm not back in an hour, you'll know that I've decided to keep on riding." With that, I headed off in the direction his horse had taken.

More than half of that hour had passed when I returned, leading his mount. There was no mistaking the look of relief on his face when I dismounted. Going through his saddlebags, I found a spare shirt. My knife was razor sharp, and it was no problem slicing the shirt into a piece of material for a bandage. After I applied two pieces of the shirt, front and back to the wound, I used the remainder of the shirt ot tie them tight to the wound. "That should keep you from bleeding to death. You bled enough that you probably don't have to worry about infection. Altho, you never know. You might be dead before morning."
He had a miserable look on his face as he said, "You ain't much on trying to cheer a guy up are you?"
"No," I answered. "Man comes to rob, maybe kill me, best he doesn't expect me to lose any sleep over whether he dies or not. The way I figure, you're pretty lucky. I've already done more for you than those fellows you were running with. They didn't even make an effort to try and help you. Just left you to your fate while they ran like coyotes."

07-11-2012, 12:16 PM
He nodded in agreement. "Worst of it, they are my brothers. Not that it means a lot I guess. They have never been much good. Guess I got no call to expect you to believe me, but I didn't want to be involved in this. They just kept after me until I gave in." He reached out and touched my arm. "But, mister, you've got to believe me. I would never had shot you."
Pulling my arm out of his grasp, I replied. "Easy enough to say now."
Pointing at his rifle, he answered. "Check my rifle. It's not even loaded."
Keeping a close on him, I walked over and checked his rifle. It was indeed, not loaded. "That's one thing in your favor, altho it doesn't wipe out the fact that you were going to be involved in robbing me, and one of your brother's did try to kill me."

I grabbed the reins of his horse and pulled him over beside his owner. "Climb into the saddle. We are going to have to move you to a spot where we can make camp for the rest of the day and tonight."
He struggled to his feet, reached for the saddle horn, then stopped. "I've lost a lot of blood. I don't know if I can do this or not."
"Do you want to live?" I asked.
"Yes, I do," he answered.
"Then climb into that saddle. I don't recall saying it was going to be easy. You can ride with me, or you can stay here by yourself. Make up your mind. I've already lost too much time on you"
He struggled, and once I thought he might pass out, but he managed to get aboard that horse. Looking at me with anger burning in his eyes, he said. "You're a hard man."
"Only to thieves, murderers, and the like."
"I'm not...." he started to say, then stopped. A few seconds later, he continued. "Well, I suppose I was on my way to being a thief, so I guess I deserved what you said."
Grabbing his canteen, I opened the lid and gave him a drink. "Maybe you aren't a lost cause. We will see."

A little over an hour down the trail, I found a spot where a small stream was only about two hundred yards off the road. After helping my wounded companion out of the saddle, I sat him down under a Cottonwood tree close to the stream. "Just in case I wake up in the morning, and you are dead, I suppose I should know your name so I can carve a marker on your grave."
By this time, he was too weak to be angry. "It's Chet. Chet Wilson," he managed to get out before he leaned back against the tree.
"Well Chet, my name is Sean Eaton. You probably don't deserve it, but I'll do all I can to see that you don't die from this. If you don't change your habits, somebody else will probably kill you, but it won't be me. Every man deserves a second chance. I suppose this is yours. What you do with it, is up to you."
He tried to speak, but could only nod, then he passed out.
I spread his saddle blanket out under the tree, and rolled him over onto it, then set about making camp.

When Chet woke up, the sun had set, and I had a fire going. "It's high time you woke up," I said. "You almost missed supper." I handed him a couple of the fish I had caught out of the stream. "They are still pretty hot, so watch how you handle them."
"Thanks," he responded. He was impatient from his hunger, and burned himself a couple of times, but once he got started, he didn't waste anytime in putting those fish away.
I gave him one of the two fish I was getting ready to eat. "Go ahead and have this one too. You need food to build your strength back up."
After that fish disappeared quickly, I shook my head. "Well, a man that eats that much is not likely to die, so I reckon you can rest easy tonight. You a coffee drinker?"
"Yes sir," he replied. "I've got a cup in my saddlebags."
I found his cup, took it to the stream and washed it out, then filled it halfway with hot coffee. Handing it to him, I asked. "Just how old are you boy?"

Watching him take his first taste of that coffee, I said, "Old enough to be acting like a man, not an irresponsible kid, or a lazy outlaw. What do you plan on doing after you leave here?"
He took another sip of coffee, then looked into the fire. "I don't know. But, I do know this much. I'm never going to do anything like this again. Some way or another, I'm going to be the kind of man my folks intended for me to be."
"Your folks still around?"
He shook his head slightly. "My father was repairing the roof on our cabin, fell off and broke his neck. We buried him out next to the barn. Our mother died six months ago. Don't know why. She just died."
I grabbed his cup and filled it with fresh coffee, then handed it back to him. "It happens. I was seventeen when my mother died. My father was a soldier, and was probably already dead before Mom passed. He never returned."
"What did you do?"
"Well Chet, that's a long story. The short version, is I took the bit between my teeth and set out to make a life for myself. Made my share of mistakes, and stepped in more than my share of sinkholes, but, I kept plugging, and ended up living in a beautiful place in Colorado, and I've got a grand family around me."

"That sounds might fine Mr. Eaton. You think there's any chance someone like me could do as well?"
"If you want it bad enough, sure. You can't throw up your hands and quit the first time things don't go your way. But, if you set your sights on what you want, and refuse to give up, I reckon you can make it." Taking his empty coffee cup, I said, "Well, I know you've been resting all afternoon, but, I've been working, and I'm tired. I'm an early riser, so it will be a short night. Best we get some sleep."
After shaking out my bedroll on the opposite side of the camp from Chet, I tied my horse between us. I had a feeling that Chet had a chance to turn out to be a good man, but, that was just a hunch at this point. For now, I could go to sleep knowing that big Appaloosa would wake me if Chet started my way for any reason.
As the fire began to die down, I lay on my blanket, staring at the sky full of stars. My heart was heavy with the missing of my family. The last thing I recalled before sleep fell upon me, was the mental images of Mariska, Senta, Chance and Patrick.

The next morning after breakfast, I checked Chet's wound. "Looks like you will be fine. The bleeding has stopped, and you are already moving around with more strength. I'd say you are well enough to go your own way from here."
Chet nervously bit his lip, then spoke. "If you say no, I can't blame you, that's for sure, but, if you don't mind, I'd like to ride along with you."
"You don't even know where I'm going, or what I'm going to do."
"No sir, that's a fact. However, I don't know what to do, or where to go, so I guess I might as well ride with you. I can't go back home. Those brothers of mine will end up getting me killed or put in jail. I think I'd prefer taking my chances with you."
Pouring myself another cup of coffee, I said. "I'm going to have to think on this. You don't know me well enough to know if you really want to stick with me or not. I don't know you well enough to know if I want you around me or not." I took a couple more sips of coffee as I watched the morning sun glistening on the stream. "Take the dishes and wash them in the stream, then pack up our stuff and get the horses loaded. While you are doing that, I'll think on it."

While I pretended to not watch, I kept a close eye on him as I drank slowly from my cup. The kid was still weak, but he did it all, even tho it clearly was a struggle at times. I was impressed that he didn't complain, nor did he try to use his wound as an excuse to get out of doing the work.
I handed his rifle and his knife to him. "No promises, but you can start out riding with me. We will see how long it lasts."
After taking his rifle in hand, he examined it, and looked my way. "It's loaded."
Turning my back on him, I walked over to my horse. "Don't see much point in carrying a rifle if it's not loaded."
When I turned around, he was staring at me. "Mr. Eaton, you won't be sorry you gave me this chance. I promise."
After climbing into the saddle, I turned my horse in his direction. "The name is Sean, and we will see, one day at a time. Now, we've got a hard day's ride ahead of us. Let's go." As we started down the trail, riding side by side, the morning sun was right in our eyes. "Ever been to Boston?, "I asked. "No," he answered. "My oldest brother has, but I've never been there."
"Well, this time tomorrow, if you are still with me, you will be there."

Marilyn Anne
07-12-2012, 01:15 AM
Thanks Mike. Oh, and I really like the illustration too !

07-12-2012, 04:38 AM
Thanks Mike. Oh, and I really like the illustration too !

Very much appreciated Marilyn. Glad you are enjoying the book. :) :) :)

07-12-2012, 04:43 AM
Barney, I am so impressed again with this illustration, great great job and fantastic story

07-12-2012, 06:41 AM
Another terrific read Barnburner and nice painting too.:)

07-12-2012, 07:33 AM
Pat - Can't tell you how much I do appreciate your kind remarks. Thank you! :) :)

Katie - You are so very kind. I truly appreciate it. :) :)

07-13-2012, 10:02 PM
I love your stories Mike, and such a fine illustration too!

07-14-2012, 07:16 AM
I love your stories Mike, and such a fine illustration too!

Thanks so much Sandy. Your kind comments are always appreciated. :) :)