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She gave me a disgusted look. "Tony has a canteen. Hang it over the fire and
it will heat fast enough. And don't look at me like that. I've treated wounds
before. You seem to forget that I grew up in an army camp!"
"I didn't know." Tony was stripping the covering from his canteen, and
rigging a forked stick he could prop it over the fire with. I broke sticks,
built up the flame.
"How'd you get here?" I asked.
"On a horse, stupid.They're bringing a rig, but I knew it would take too
long. So I just came on ahead to see what I could do."
She was working as she talked, cleaning the wound as best she could,using
some kind of antiseptic on a cloth, after bathing it with water.
Nobody had any illusions. She might know a good deal about gunshot wounds, as
well as other kinds, but doctors themselves knew mighty little, and there were
no hospitals anywhere near. Survival usually meant reasonable rest and a tough
constitution and mostly the latter. Yet I'd seen men survive impossible
injuries time and again.
Tony had taken her horse, walked him around a little and was rubbing him
down. That horse had been running, all-out and too long. Seeing her there
bending over the fire, I could only shake my head in wonder. She hadn't
hesitated, but had come as fast as a horse would carry her.
I asked about that. "Switched horses twice," she said, "at the Stirrup-Iron
and at the Indian camp."
My hair stiffened on the back of my neck."Indiancamp?Where?"
"About twenty miles east.A bunch ofKiowas ."
"You got a horse fromKiowas ?"
"Why not?I needed one. I just rode into their camp and told them a man had
been hurt and I needed a horse, that I carried medicine in my bags. They never
asked another question, just switched horses and saddles for me and watched me
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ride off."
"Well, I'll be damned!Of all the gall!"
"Well, what could I do? I needed the horse and they had a lot of them, so I
just rode right in."
"They had their women with them?"
"No, they didn't. It was a war party." She looked up at me and grinned. "I
startled them, I guess, and they just gave me the horse without any argument
... Maybe it was the medicine bag."
"More likely it was your nerve. There's nothing an Indian respects more, and
they may have thought some special kind of magic rode with you."
I looked at Fuentes, and he merely shrugged and shook his head. What could
you do with a girl like that? Nevertheless, we both felt relieved. Neither of
us knew too much about wounds, although Fuentes was better than I. We had
nothing with us to treat such a wound, and I knew nothing of the plants of the
area that an Indian might have used.
After a while, she came out to where I stood. There was a faint gray light in
the east, and we stood together, watching the dark rims of the hills etch
themselves more sharply against the growing light.
"I thought it was you," she said. "I was frightened."
"I'm glad you came. But you shouldn't have, you know. You just lucked out
with those Indians. If they'd seen you first, the story would be different
now."
"Tory shot him?" she asked.
So I told her how it was, and just what had happened. "Now that you're here,
Fuentes and me will ride up on the mesa and bunch those cattle again. They
won't have strayed far."
"What will happen now?"
Considering that question had got me nowhere, and I'd done a lot of
considering since Tory fired that shot. We could only wait and see.
"I don't know," I replied.
It could be a shooting war, and I knew how that went. It could begin with
scattered gunfights, and then it could turn intodrygulching and no man would
be safe not even passing strangers, who might be shot simply because if they
were not on the shooter's side they must be on the other.
A thought occurred to me that I'd not considered before. "I rode in from the
northwest," I said, "an' had no reason to think about it. But where's your
supply point? This is a long way from anywhere."
"San Antonio," she replied. "We get together.Your outfit, ours andBalch and
Saddler. Each of us sends two or three wagons and each sends drivers and a
couple of outriders. Sometimes the soldiers fromFortConcho meet us and ride
along to protect us."
"But if you didn't go to SanAntone ?"
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"Then there isn't much. Oh, there's a stage station that has some supplies
for sale, a place called BenFicklin's , this side of the fort about four
miles. There's a place across the river from the fort called Over-the-River.
There's a supply point there, several saloons, and a few of those houses that
men go to. The boys tell me it's very, very rough."
If somebody was to the south of us, Lisa's people, whoever they were, must be
getting supplies at one of those two places. It was possible but hardly
likely they would go toSan Antonio alone, through Kiowa and Apache country.
Yet even a ride to BenFicklin's or Over-the-River would be rough. But suddenly
I knew it was a ride I had to make.
Come good daylight, Tony and me, we cut loose from camp and headed for the
high ground. A few of our cattle had already found their way down to the creek
for water, but we couldn't wait on the others.
They were scattered some, but we swung wide and began bunching them. By now,
most of them were used to being driven and we were going toward water. Here
and there, some bunch-quitter would try to cut off byhimself just to be
ornery, but we cut them back into the herd and drifted the cattle down off the
mesa and scattered them along the creek to get tanked up on water. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]