DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

It felt like weeks he had lain there. Blankets were tangled around him, damp with sweat.

He was alive, he reckoned. Light cut through the doorway as he pulled himself up in the bunk. He managed to get to his feet, holding his hand against his ribs as he walked hunched over into the dining room.

“Well, you look like grandma trying to get over here.” Mark grabbed his arm and helped him to a chair.

“He ate a bowl of soup and sucked down some coffee. He offered no resistance when Manny and Mark walked him back to his bunk. He slept peacefully.

The next time he got up, Mark was waiting with a cane and handed it to him as he shuffled to the table near the kitchen. Mark was chuckling. Tyree jerked the walking stick away from him, which sent pain shooting through his side.

He rubbed a thumb on the bear teeth hanging from the cord Lonny had given him, and sank into a chair by the fire.

“I found your knife out there, you slashed that bear pretty good. She would have died from blood loss eventually, though I reckon it was the lead that killed her,” John said. “You really had your head in that bears mouth? Her mouth was bigger than your head.” John said.

“Her breath smelled like ass,” Tyree chuckled.

John nodded, “I bet.” The man went back to the jackass table, and he heard one of the riders say something about half breeds. It wasn’t Lonny this time, and whoever had said it got reprimanded, but another rider.

“Let’s see it.” John and several hands gathered around. Tyree unbuttoned his shirt and opened it. He shivered as he looked down at the wounds across his chest.

“Looks like somebody sewed a zipper in me.” He grinned. “I ain’t seen my face yet. How bad is it?”

“Looks like a bear tried to eat you.” John grunted. Someone fetched a mirror and held it up for him. Crusted over holes decorated his forehead. There was a good three inches between them. There were bald places along two stitch lines up into his hair. He winced as he touched them. They were still swollen. Manny had shaved around the edges of the bites, so he could stitch them. He wondered if the hair with grow back.

“You didn’t get no prettier, that’s for damned sure.” Lonny remarked.

It was two weeks before Manny clipped the stitches and pulled them out.

He wasn’t up to moving around much, but he could sit in the livery and soap leather, run a brush over the horses and walk the colt around the yard. Malone came by frequently to check on him.

Lonny came by once and sat watching him sharpening an ax. “Tyree.”

“Yeah?”

“We ain’t friends. I just want you to know that.”

“That’s a funny thing to say, Lonny. What you mean?”

“I am not stepping aside for you. I am willing to call a truce, but we ain’t never gonna be friends.”

Tyree leaned back, his eyebrows wrinkled, eyes squinted. “I don’t hardly know what to say to that Pruitt. I plan on dropping a rope on her my own self.”

“That ain’t never gonna happen. She don’t want you. You ain’t nothing but a saddle tramp. Everybody knows that. Except you.”

“And a half-breed. Don’t forget that.” Tyree said flatly.

“Yeah, and that. No self respecting white woman is going to marry no Injun. But I just wanted you to know where we stand.”

“Fair enough. So when we have our wedding, me and Marcie, you gonna finally take a bath and wash that goat stink off you?” Tyree asked. Lonny offered a low chuckle.

“For a saddle tramp Injun, you got a lot of sand,” he said as he left.

Pete stepped out of the back stall where he’d been standing the whole time.

“What in the hell is wrong with that boy?”

“Nothing wrong with him. He wants Marcie. He’s just letting me know nothing changed.”

“And you?” Pete asked in confusion.

“I don’t know. It ain’t like I ever really had a chance. I’m just a saddle tramp, like he said.”

“That don’t make no damn sense,” Pete grumbled. “You told him you plan to marry her.”

“I make all kinds of plans. Been making em all my life and yet, here I am. Shoveling shit.”

Marcie stopped by to talk to him. He caught her staring at his scars and thought about what he’d said about women liking scars. He wasn’t sure that was so. She didn’t look impressed, she caught him looking and her face reddened up.

“I was thinking of going for a ride. Lonny is busy. I didn’t know if you were up to it. If you are healed up enough to ride, that is,” she said.

He’d seen her holding hands with Lonny earlier. He figured he’d lost her to him but, then he’d never had her. Did she feel sorry for him, then?

“I can ride. You ask your brother about riding out on the range?”

“Haven’t been any rustlers around. He said if you were going with me it would be okay.”

“He trusts me with you?” Tyree asked in surprise.

“Joel knows I can take care of myself. He said to use my quirt on you if you get out of line. Don’t think I won’t.”

He snickered at that. “You’re so dang salty.”

She sparkled like sunlight on water. He thought about Katherine for a second. There was a world of difference between them, between her and Katherine and between himself and Marcie, and it was a bitter sweet feeling. It made him want her more than he’d wanted anything.

“People always want what they can’t have,” he muttered to himself.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Let’s saddle up. Gosheven is itching for a ride.”

“Gosheven?”

“That’s my mule’s name.”
“What kind of name is that?”

“It’s Arapaho. It means jumper.”

“Is he?” She asked with a grin.

“Oh yeah. First day I threw myself on him he jumped right over the corral, like to have throwed me in the dirt. Thought sure he was going to kill me.” He didn’t say he’d been stealing the horse and was praying hard that the owner wasn’t going to catch him in the dirt and shoot him like a dog.

“Remember, we were talking about conformation?” She asked as she spread the blanket on the dark bay mare. “See these angles here, the withers to the breast, and then the angle off the loins and croup? You know that much, but look at that barrel, now look at your horse. See the difference?”

“Yeah. Mine is shorter barreled, shorter altogether.”

“Right, now check his croup with the withers. See how they line up? Your horse is compact, short, deep chest, he’s built for endurance. Mine is all legs by comparison.” She threw the saddle on and let Tyree step in and cinch it down.

“You ride her. I’ll take yours. Let you feel the difference.”

“He won’t let you on,” Tyree told her. “He’s an ass, like me. He’s only half broke.”

“Ha. You ride him, I can ride him,” she said confidently.

“No, seriously. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

She rolled her eyes at him, and ran her hand down Gosheven’s nose and took his reins. She was in his saddle before the horse registered what had happened. The horse looked around at her and waited patiently.

“Traitor, you just made a liar out of me,” Tyree growled. “Well, he’s notional. Don’t be surprised if he decides to start sun fishing in a minute.”

They rode off across the pasture, and he had to laugh as the mare out walked the buckskin. He was trying so valiantly to keep pace with the long legged bay. They cut down to the gate in the drift fence and rode up toward the dam. Two hours later, the bay was frothed up and slowing her pace. Gosheven was just getting in stride and his coat was still dry.

They dismounted at the dam and found a shady place in the trees to rest while the horses grazed. Tyree found a flat boulder and hunched down on his heels, looking out over the water.

“You move like a cat,” she commented.

“What?”

“Cowboys, they all got that rolling bowlegged walk. My brother Joel, stretches out his legs like he needs to get there in one step. Mark struts like a damn rooster, so does Lonny. You, slink like a panther. Even in boots, I can barely hear you walk. I noticed that before. Sometimes you slip up on me. Quiet like a mouser.”

“You walk like a deer,” Tyree laughed. “You take a few steps, your head comes up and you take a look around. Dainty.”

“Dainty?”

“Careful, smooth, I should say. You don’t put your feet down hard.” he explained. “Most white women walk toe first, almost like they are tip toeing.”

“White women. And Indian women?”

“Like… panthers,” he said, “heel toe, heel toe, even measured steps. Watching every step they take.”

“You lived with them how long, Tyree?”

“I dunno. Seven, eight years.”

“So they were family.”

“Were, I reckon.”

“No more?”

“Your pa, did he homestead this ranch?”

“Yes. My grand father, my father and mother started the ranch back when mother and father got married. My grandmother was already passed by then. Grandfather was a horse man. Joel got that from him. Father and mother have always raised cattle. They brought a herd of longhorns up from Texas and mixed them with Herefords. Now why aren’t the Indians your family any longer?”

“I dunno. Cause I’m too white for em, I reckon. I’m not allowed on the reservation for another.”

“Why do I get the feeling there’s more than that? You sound almost… angry.”

Tyree chewed at his lip. “I’m not angry. Just seems like, I dunno. Indians know I’m white, whites think of me as Indian.”

“That makes you angry,” she nodded.

He stood up and threw himself on his horse. “Come on, let’s get back. I’m starving.”

“Tyree.” She grabbed the buckskin’s bridle. He looked down at her, his jaw working.

“What?”

“I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends.”

“I wish we were able to just talk. You always pull away…”

“We can talk, while we head back to the house.”

She huffed loudly and mounted the mare. It was easier to talk though, now that he was sure they could be nothing but friends. Lonny was right. She had no interest in being with some saddle tramp who was more savage than civilized. And now his face looked… was damaged.

They rode in silence most of the way home. She looked at him with a pouting expression. She was going to give someone a run for their money, he reckoned. She was, he imagined, accustomed to getting her way.

She came to him several times after that, talking horses, and finally got around to talking about the bear attack. She felt guilty, he decided. She thanked him for saving her life and reached up to touch the thick scar running from his scalp along his forehead. She looked like it pained her to do so.

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