Not sure what I’m going to do with this… Maybe a short story or novella.
Usual caveats apply, your comments/recommendations appreciated as always.
First round of fixes done.
Danny Boyle wiped the sweat from his face and pushed his dark hair back with the ragged sleeve of his homespun shirt as he tried to get a good sight picture on one of the Indians surrounding his house, but they were riding fast and the black powder smoke was blanketing the area between the barn and the house, tickling his nose, while the pain of the bullet wound in his leg kept blurring his vision.
He’d started to unsaddle Blue when they’d come whooping and hollering down on the family ranch west of Camp Wichita. He knew he couldn’t make it to the house before they got him, so he swatted Blue on the hip and yelled at him to run. The horse had bolted from the barn and disappeared to the west before the Indians got there. He’d knocked one of the Indians off his horse in the initial attack but took a round in the thigh for his trouble, dumping him back into the barn.
Danny got as much of his lean, five foot seven body as he could behind the log post that held up the door and tied his bandana over the wound as a crude bandage. His da had gotten at least one Indian, and he saw his mother take another one with the old shotgun out the front window, but since then the Indians had been doing all the shooting. He finally got a sight picture and squeezed off a round, the old Henry Yellow Boy thumping against his shoulder. He almost screamed in pain as the recoil caused his leg to twist, but he saw the Indian throw up his arms and cartwheel off the back of the horse.
That left three…How many shots do I have left? I shot three times on the two deer, and I’ve been shooting the odd shots here and there. I guess they thought I was dead, but…shit, here they come! Two of the Indians had seen the billow of powder smoke and charged the barn, screaming ululating Comanche war cries as one raised a rifle and the other drew a bow. Danny took aim on the one with the bow and squeezed off another round, worked the lever and frantically shifted his aim as the other Indian continued charging. The click of an empty rifle had him cussing under his breath as he rolled behind the log, splinters exploding from it.
He rolled back far enough to get the old Remington conversion pistol out of his belt holster and waited, but the Indian didn’t come in the barn. Suddenly he smelled smoke and realized the back of the barn was on fire. Hearing a horse trot by the front of the barn, he rolled far enough to see out, hoping that help had come, instead he saw a different Indian throw a torch on the roof of the house as four more drove their dozen cows and three horses behind the house. He could faintly hear them talking but couldn’t understand what they were saying, however, he knew laughter when he heard it. Then one Indian pointed at the barn, but the other waved him off and they trotted after the others, leaving Danny to his own ends.
The fire finally forced Danny out of the barn, and he crawled to the water trough, didn’t see any movement, and using the rifle as a crutch, got to his feet and limped toward the house. He yelled for his da and mother until a gust of wind brought him the odor of burnt meat and he fell to the ground sobbing; knowing he’d never hear their voices again.
The sky to the west held the last rays of sunlight when he heard horses again and rolled over, fumbling at his pistol as he peered into the encroaching darkness to see who it was. He heard a tumultuous cry and a girl calling, “Danny? Danny, is…that you?”
He heard a thump of her jumping off her horse, the swish of pants, and looked up to see the blonde curls of the nearest neighbor’s daughter, Ellen Smith. “Ellen? What are you doing here?” He felt something wet hitting his face and realize she was crying. He reached up and grabbed her arm. “Ellen! What is wrong?”
“They…killed ma, pa, and old Adam. Burnt us out. I was down at the creek trying to catch some fish. I…hid in the brush.” She buried her head in his shoulder and sobbed as he tried to comfort her.
When he reached up, his leg burned, and he hissed in pain, causing her to jerk up. “Oh, you’re…where are you hurt?”
Gritting his teeth, he said, “Right leg, mid-thigh. I got a bandage on it. I gotta get up, gotta find da and momma. That was what I was doing before I passed out.” He reached for her, “Help me up!”
Ellen helped him up saying, “We gotta get out of here afore they come back. I brought Blue with me, but I had to cut the deer loose from his back.”
Danny hobbled closer to the smoking remains of the cabin and saw two burned figures curled in fetal positions. Biting his lip, he said, “Don’t come any closer, Ellen. I see ‘em, but I can’t do anything about it. You’re right, we gotta get some help. Lead Blue over to the water trough, please.” He hobbled over and, with Ellen’s help, got up on the end of the trough, then on Blue’s back. He dashed the tears from his eyes and looked over at her. “Only thing we can do is ride for Henrietta. Hope I can make it.”
She stared at him. “Henrietta? In the dark? Why not Camp Wichita? How will we—”
“The injuns headed toward the Camp. We’ll follow the wagon tracks. Should be enough moon to see them.” He kneed Blue. “C’mon, boy.” Blue turned his head and flipped his ears at Danny, snorting at the smell of blood, but he started out at a good walking pace.
Danny groaned as the bouncing set his leg on fire. Ellen asked worriedly, “Are you…going to make it?”
“Ain’t got a choice. Can’t do more than what I did. Ever thing else is gone up in smoke.”
Ellen sobbed. “I know. Our place too.” She sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve, but continued to ride by his side. The sun gradually set as the moon rose and they continued into the night. The last thing Danny remembered was mumbling about the wagon tracks as Ellen took Blue’s reins out of his hands. He came to on the ground with Ellen tugging at his pistol. “Somebody’s coming,” she hissed, terror in her voice.
He slapped her hand away, “Get my rifle…crap, I…” He reached up and found three rounds in his shirt pocket. “Here, load these and help me sit up, then get off the trail. Take the horses.” She helped him get to a sitting position, and he flipped the thong off the hammer of the pistol, sliding it out of the holster and setting it in his lap. He could hear hoofbeats and he said grimly, “Get going. Get in that clump of o’ trees over there. Hurry!”
“Dammit, Ellen, go!” She sobbed once but gathered up the reins and made her way through the buffalo grass to the small copse of trees twenty yards off the trail, leaving Danny sitting in one of the wagon tracks.
The hoofbeats got louder, and he saw hats in the moonlight. A group of men come around the bend in the trail. They pulled up short in a cloud of dust as Haseltine, the grizzled old storekeeper, jumped down and ran up. “Danny? Danny Boyle?”
Danny sagged back, “Yes, sir.” He turned and yelled, “Ellen! Come on out. They’re friendly!”
Haseltine knelt beside him, an arm around his back. “Looks like you got yourself shot, somebody give me a canteen,” he looked up and said loudly, “Get Morgan up here. Got a wounded man.” He took the canteen and turned back to Danny, giving him a drink as he asked gently, “How bad was it? We found out just before sunset when Ethan Morice and his brood rode into town, saying they saw two streams of smoke from the direction of your place.”
Danny sighed. “Da and mom are…dead. Comanches got ‘em, and almost got me.” He nodded to his thigh. “But we got at least four of the six that hit our place. They hit the Smith’s place too. Ellen was…the only survivor.”
She walked up leading the horses just as Morgan knelt by Danny and looked at the leg. “I can’t do much here. Need to get him to town. We can make a travois and drag him in that way, ain’t but a couple of miles.” He took out his knife and started to cut Danny’s pants off, but Danny grabbed his hand.
“Don’t please. I ain’t got any more than what I got on. Ain’t got no money either. Get me on Blue and I can make it to town.”
Morgan shook his head. “You sure, kid?”
“No, but I ain’t got much choice, do I?”
Morgan chuckled. “Well, we’ll find out. Jory, help me get him on his horse and tie him on with some piggin strings.” Ellen was deep in discussion with Haseltine and Smith, the blacksmith, as they lifted Danny onto his horse.
Two painful hours later, they arrived in Henrietta and lowered an unconscious Danny Boyle from Blue and gently carried him into the store. Gerta Haseltine took one look and said, “Bring him on back here, boys.” She looked sharply at Ellen, then added, “You too, Ellen?” She held out her arms and Ellen rushed into them, bursting into tears. Gerta comforted her as she steered her back into their quarters and pushed her down at the table, then pointed at the biscuits and honey sitting there, “Eat, child. I’ll be back.”
She found Morgan on the back steps, stripping Danny out of his clothes as he checked him for any other injuries. He looked closely at the leg and whistled softly, “The boy is lucky. Through and through, missed the bone and the big artery. I’m gonna wash him down out here, but I need some whisky and some clean cloths. I gotta clean the wound channel out, then pad it.”
“Give me his clothes, I’ll wash them and try to darn the holes in his union suit and pants. I’ll get Royce’s bottle and some cloths for you in a minute.” Greta disappeared as Morgan gently poured water over Danny’s leg as he moaned and twitched from the water hitting the wound. Fumbling in his bag, he pulled out a folded piece of leather and shoved it between Danny’s teeth as she came back with a whisky bottle and some torn cloths. “These should work. I ripped up a petticoat to get you something to tie the pads off with.”
Morgan nodded. “Thank you, Greta. Jory, get around here behind Danny and hold him. He’s gonna fight when I pour this whisky in the wound.”
Jory grunted as he slid around behind Danny, then grabbed him in a bear hug. “Go head. I got him.” Morgan sat across his legs, sighed, and poured a little of the whisky into the wound. As expected, Danny started fighting it and screamed around the leather in his mouth when the whisky penetrated down into the wound.
Inside, Ellen started up when Danny screamed, and Gerta said, “Ain’t nothing you can do, Ellen. ‘Sides, he’s nekkid out there. You don’t need to see that. Matter of fact, you probably need to clean up, don’t you?” Ellen, tears running down her face, nodded mutely as she stared at the back door. “I’ll get some water on the stove and get the washtub out. While the water’s heatin’, we need to find you something to wear. I think we got something in your size up front. C’mon.” She put the water on and led Ellen into the store and over to the corner where the store-bought clothing was. “See what you can find.”
Morgan poured more whisky into the wound and swabbed the back of the leg with a rag soaked in it. “I know this hurts Danny, but I gotta do it.” Danny nodded through tears as he bit down on the piece of leather. Morgan finally reached in his bag and took out a brown bottle. “Carbolic. Gonna pour this in the wound and then bind it. Best I can do.” Danny nodded again and only winced as they poured the mixture into the wound. Morgan quickly soaked two cloths, folded them into pads and bound the whole thing with the cut off petticoat. Danny sagged back into Jory’s arms and spit out the leather. “Damn. That…hurt.”
“You were lucky. I cleaned it out as best I can. Now we need to get you into some clothes and lying down somewhere.” He handed Danny the whisky bottle. “You get one drink.”
Danny took a swig and shuddered. “Damn! That’s…strong!”
Gerta came back out, a union suit in her hand. “This should fit him. We’ll put him in Johann’s bed for now. Ellen is cleaning up and I’ll put her in with Erica.” Morgan nodded as he took the union suit, then stretched it out beside Danny. He took out his knife and cut one leg off so that he could get to the wound after he had the union suit on.
He looked at Danny and asked, “Can you get dressed or do you need help?”
“Can you pull it up over my legs? I think I can get it from there.” Morgan did as asked and they got Danny up on his good leg as he pulled the suit the rest of the way on. Once that was done, they half carried him through the back to a bedroom with a small single bed, a chair, and a dresser in it. Danny more or less collapsed on the bed, looked up and said, “Thank you. I…thank you. Where’s my gun?”
Greta bustled out and came back with the belt, holster, and gun. “I’ll put it up here on the dresser. I hope you don’t think you need it here!”
“No, Ma’am. I sure hope not, but…I’m used to having it close to hand.”
Jory glanced at Morgan. “You want me to carve him a stick to walk with?”
Biting his lip, Morgan nodded. “Yes, otherwise somebody will have to help him to the outhouse.” Danny was out cold, and Morgan felt his forehead. “No fever. Kid’s gotta be wore slap out. He’s…what…seventeen, eighteen? And now he’s on his own.” Greta came back in with a pitcher of water and a can and Morgan added, “He’s out. I’ll be back in a couple of hours and give him a dose of laudanum. Leg’s goin’ to bleed some, if it gushes, let me know.” She nodded, and he got up with a groan. “Thank you, Greta. Is Ellen alright?”
“She’s…as good as can be expected. She’s bathing right now. I put her in with Erica. You go on about your bidness, I’ll take care of them.”
Danny came out of his laudanum daze to the smell of sweat and horse. Opening his eyes, he looked up to see Royce Haseltine standing uncomfortably in the door, holding two books in his hands. “Danny, we…found your parents and buried them on the hill above the creek. There wasn’t much left.” He thrust the books at Danny. “All we found was your bible and this book. Ever thing else was gone, except a saddle, and one side of it…is a little crisp.” He shrugged. “I dropped it at the stable. Maybe Zenaga can do something with it.”
Danny took them, smelling the remnants of smoke from the fire. “Thank you, Mr. Haseltine. I can’t…tell you how much I appreciate it. I just wish—” He bowed his head, tears rolling freely down his face. Dashing them away angrily, he continued, “What about the Smiths?”
“We buried them on the little hill just north of the ranch house. I told Ellen already.” Danny sniffed and nodded as he set the two books on the dresser. Royce bowed his head for a second, then left him alone with his thoughts.
By the fourth day, Danny was quietly going nuts. He’d stopped taking the laudanum, and the wound itched something fierce, along with hurting any time he tried to put his full weight on the leg, but he was getting around with a cane okay. Ellen tapped on his door and said softly, “Supper is ready, Danny.”
He slid the translation of Homer’s Odyssey back on top of the dresser and got up slowly. “Coming.” He reached in the little flap on the back of the pistol holster and pulled out the two twenty-dollar gold coins hidden there and slipped them in his pocket as he hobbled out the door. Supper, as it was most nights, was leftover meat, beans, and cornbread from lunch, but Greta had baked a pie that sat in the middle of the table. As soon as they finished supper, Danny said, “Mr. Haseltine, I don’t know how to…thank you for what you’ve done for me and for Ellen.” He reached in his pocket and slid the two gold pieces across the table to him as he continued, “This is all I got in the world, but I owe you more than I can ever repay right now. At least we can help pay for food and maybe cover Ellen’s and my clothes.”
Royce looked over at Greta, then slid one of the gold pieces back. “I won’t leave anybody with nothing. You still need some things; we can talk tomorrow.”
Danny hesitated until Ellen laid a hand on his arm and whispered, “Take it. I have one, too.” He scooped it up with a nod and shoved it back in his pocket as Greta sliced the pie.
Danny passed a piece to Ellen, then dug into his with a gusto. He finished and looked around in embarrassment, “Oh, I’m…sorry. Mom taught me not to eat fast, but…I mean, we just got back from Abilene two weeks ago.”
Royce looked at him. “You went up the trail again?”
“Yes, sir. With John Lytle. This was my third time.”
Greta laughed. “No wonder you eat like you’re starving. You haven’t had a decent meal in months.”
Danny smiled, then grimaced. “Um…I need to…go back and lay down. My leg’s starting to hurt again.” Greta got up, and he added, “No, I don’t need any laudanum. Can’t stand the way it makes me feel.” He got up and hobbled back to the room, slipped the gold piece back in the pocket in the back of the holster and slumped down, then levered his leg up on the bed with a groan.
Ellen came in as lay down. “Danny Boyle, you didn’t have to pay for my stuff! I have—”
He put a finger to his lips. “I know. But I don’t want them to think we’re mooching. I…need to go see if there is anything left, and I want to make sure they buried da and mom.”
The next morning, Danny limped down to the stable and finished the repairs he could do to the saddle. Swinging it up on Blue, he tightened the cinch as far as he could, but couldn’t knee him to make him let the air out. He doubled his fist and smacked Blue as hard as he could, then yanked the cinch tight as Jory walked in. “You goin’ somewhere, Danny?”
“Going stir crazy is where I’m going. I’m gonna go out and see the graves and check to see if there is anything left. I can’t just ride off without doing that.”
Jory nodded solemnly, “I understand. You want somebody to come along?”
“Nah, this is…something I gotta do.” With a grunt, he managed to swing into the saddle and walked Blue slowly back down to the store. His dismount was anything but pretty, but he got down without hurting himself and limped into the store, then back to Johann’s room. Picking up the new saddlebags packed with a lunch Ellen had made for him, and making sure he had the box of 44 rim he’d gotten from Royce, he slung them over his shoulder. He picked up the rolled blanket and slicker, along with the Henry and limped into the kitchen. “I’m heading out, should be back late tomorrow or the day after. I’ll go by your place too, Ellen.”
She nodded, her eyes wide, then came around the table and hugged him. “Be careful, Danny.”
“I will.” He limped out and untied Blue, then flopped the saddlebags over Blue’s hips, eliciting a snort from him and a raised hind hoof. “Don’t even think about it, Blue!” He tied the slicker and blanket to the saddle skirt and mounted slowly, then slid the rifle into the sheath angled back under his right leg. Turning him northwest, he rode slowly out of Henrietta and picked up the wagon tracks headed toward the ranch. This is stupid, but I gotta do it. I’m gonna be hurtin’ by the time I get up there, and I’ll have to camp the night.
Six hours later, he rode into the ruins that had been his home, and he sobbed as he saw the crosses on the little hill as twilight descended on the ruins. He got down stiffly and pumped water into the trough for Blue, who stuck his nose in as soon as he heard the first splash of water. “Take it easy, boy.” After the first drink, he led him to the hitching post and loosely tied him, then pulled the saddlebags down and limped carefully over to the remains of the fireplace. Three down, five to the left…that one should be… He wiggled the rock, and it slid out with a grating noise, then reached in almost up to his elbow.
He felt leather, felt for the top of a bag and pulled it out, followed by three more. Each of them weighed about six or seven pounds. He emptied the saddlebags on the hearth, and put two bags on each side, then put the other things back on top of them, keeping the sandwich out. He gobbled it, went to get up, and fell back groaning. You stupid bastard, you tried to do too much, now you’re hurtin’ and you still got things to do. Get up! He managed to get to his feet, picked up the saddlebags and stumbled back to Blue.
Hoisting them over Blue’s rump, he tied the saddlebags on, then untied him from the post. Then led him around the ruins to the soddy a hundred or so yards toward the creek. He looked at it distastefully, then grimaced. What is your problem, boy? You grew up in this here soddy; you gettin’ all picky now? Reaching in the door, he found the picket rope right where it had been hung two weeks ago. Pulling it off the nail, he stretched it between the usual trees and pulled Blue’s bridle off and replaced it with a hackamore. Tying him loosely to the rope so he could graze, he removed the saddle and saddle blanket, carrying them in and setting them beside the door. He limped over a felt around until he found the table, then the lamp and lifted the wick as he struck a lucifer from the tin next to it. The soft glow lit the inside of the soddy and he slumped into the single chair.
Some time later he woke, groaned, saw that it was dark outside, and staggered to the outhouse. Taking care of business, he limped back to the soddy and rolled out the slicker and blanket in front of the little fireplace and collapsed into sleep.
The next morning, stomach growling, he ate a piece of hardtack as he limped down to the creek. Stripping, he looked at the puckered wound in his thigh, but it didn’t look bad. Quickly taking a bath, he dressed and limped back to the soddy. Blue nickered as he walked up, and he said, “Soon as I can, Blue. Gonna be another long day.”
He re-rolled the blanket and slicker, then made two trips getting everything out of the soddy and on the horse. Slipping the bridle on Blue, he untied the picket rope and started to hang it and the hackamore back in the soddy, but coiled them up and tied them to the saddle. He mounted carefully, swinging around one time and looking at everything as if to fix it in his memory. He rode over to the graves and said, “I’ll do my best to avenge you. That is all I can do. Watch over me if you can…I love you both.” Tears running down his face, he turned Blue and started for the Henrietta.
Late in the afternoon, he rode back into the settlement and stopped at the store. Ellen came out as he stepped down and asked tumultuously, “Did they…”
“They did good, Ellen. Your folks are buried deep and rock cairns and markers over both of them.”