Welcome Western Wednesday Readers,
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Carson looked up. “What’d ya find?”
“A branding iron.”
Carson raised his eyebrows.
“You don’t brand cattle in the woods unless you are trying to hide it,” Jed said. “The way I figure it is a few cattle rustlers were using this as a re-branding place. They could easily get a few cattle from a herd about anywhere, bring them here and brand over the brand already on them. They were here yesterday when Ty rode out of the trees. Of course, being thieves with guilty consciences, they either thought he knew about them or was about to find them. So, one of them shot Ty and then they all left in a hurry, not bothering to make sure he was alone or dead, or to hide their evidence.”
The experienced trapper listened to this explanation in silence, now and then nodding slightly. “I reckon ya might be on ta somethin’. Let’s see if’n we can’t find where the shooter was waitin’. An’ then I reckon we ought ta check out that there path.”
Jed nodded, yet wondered how Carson could find where the one had been standing when he shot Ty. He didn’t have to wait long, for already Carson was examining the ground in some nearby brush.
“Right here,” he remarked, pointing. “Ya can see his footprints. Jest the same as one near the fire. I reckon they heard the horse comin’ ‘fore they saw him. An’ look there, that leaf was clean shot in two. A shot from here’d hit right where yer pa is.”
“It looks like he found something!” Jed declared, watching his father spring from his saddle and look intently at the ground. “Should we go find out?”
Thinking a moment, Carson agreed, saying they could check the path later.
It wasn’t long before the entire search party were gathered around Mr. Fields. “Look,” he was saying as Carson and Jed rode up. “See this hole? From the looks of it, I’d say Ty’s horse stumbled in it and that is why Ty got hit in the shoulder instead of being killed outright.”
For several minutes Carson examined the ground around the hole, gazed into the woods where the shot came from, and with his eye, traced yesterday’s path back into the trees. At last he nodded. “Seems reasonable. I remember Par were limpin’ slightly by the end a the day.”
“It seems like an act of Providence,” Jed remarked quietly, “that Par should stumble then.”
“I agree, Son. But who did it?”
Jim Fields glanced at his son quickly. “Sure?”
Jed nodded. “There is even a brand in the woods.”
“Mr. Fields, I’m beginnin’ to see how we’ve been losin’ cattle,” one of the hired hands put in.
“Yes, and we need to put a stop to it.” His face was grim. “You boys ready?”
“Just say the word, Boss.”
“Carson, I don’t like to put you in danger, and you can go on back to the house if you want; though I’ll admit having one more gun as well as your ability to read sign would--”
He got no farther for Carson interrupted him. “I aim ta spend the day lookin’ for ‘em myself, an’ I reckon yer company would be down right nice. Even jest knowin’ it were rustlers an’ not them, gives me a better feelin’.”
“Them who?” questioned Jed, puzzled.
“Long story. I’ll tell ya tonight,” Carson promised, mounting Flint and heading for the trees.
Sally, though clearly exhausted, couldn’t sleep long, for her mind replayed her brother’s accident over and over even in her sleep. The sun had barely risen when Sally again slipped into Ty’s room. No one was there except Ty.
“Oh, Ty,” she moaned, bending over him and gently brushing back his dark hair. “Ya have ta get better, ya jest have ta. I can’t lose you an’ Pa. Besides, we have to find our sister, Ty. Ya have ta help me.” Still talking softly, pleadingly, Sally perched on the edge of the bed.
There was no response from the still form of her dearly loved brother, the companion of so many childhood hours, the one who understood her better than had her own father. Would he ever open those dark, searching eyes of his again? Would those grey lips ever smile? Would she ever again hear that voice tease her as before?
“Ty!” she cried, tears spilling down her cheeks and dropping onto the bed clothes, “Ya can’t die!”
A hand was placed on her shoulder. She looked up. Jack stood there looking down at her. “Go and eat some breakfast.”
Sally shook her head. “I can’t.”
Again Sally shook her head. “Ain’t no use, I’m stayin’ by Ty.”
“Ty’s just the same as he was last night. He is weak from loss of blood, and it might be a while before he is rested enough to wake up. Go and eat. You can come back as soon as you’re done.”
If Jack had known Sally, he would have seen by the sudden determined tilt of her chin and a look in her eyes that she was not going to change her mind. She continued to sit beside her brother, her fingers softly playing with those stronger ones of his. When Jack again touched her shoulder, she didn’t even look at him, but shook her head. “Until Ty wakes up, I ain’t leavin’ him.”
Frowning, Jack withdrew from the room.
In a few minutes, Joe appeared beside Sally and asked softly, “How is he?”
She looked up, “Jest the same.”
He beckoned her over to the side of the room.
Reluctantly, after some hesitation, she followed.
“You need to--” Joe began but never got to finish his sentence, for at that moment, a groan came from the bed and Ty muttered something.
In an instant Sally was back beside the bed while Joe hurried to the door and in a low but insistent voice, called Jack.