Chapter 28. Courage of a Dog.
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.—Josh Billings
Courage of a Dog.
Jake and Tarak arrived quite breathless at the door of the main house. They were covered in dust with sweat pouring from their flushes faces. Right outside the house they found a perplexed Sophie trying to free herself from a desperate Roy, who was growling and tugging at her dress. Jake jumped down from his tired horse and ran up to her.
"Sophie, where is Dannie?" He panted out.
Sophie looked up and jumped a little when she noticed the Indian who had just dismounted and ran up behind Jake. "Bless me!" She exclaimed. "I've got the cowboy and the Indian right at my doorstep. Did I suddenly get transferred into a story book?"
"Answer the question, God damn it!" Jake lost his patience. "Where is Dannie?"
Sophie was about to correct Jake for his bad language, but Roy grabbed her by the skirt again and she angrily tugged herself free. "Let go of me, Roy," she snapped at the dog. "I don't know what got into him. He's been jumpin' at me in a state of violence. Look, he tore my dress and nearly bit my hand. When Dannie gets here she'll hear about this, mister dog!"
"The little Miss is not very wise," Tarak pointed out. "Dog is not just being mean, he is trying to say something. Does he belong to Dannie?"
"Yes. They went out for a walk, and seein' Roy just showed up, Dannie come around soon."
Tarak and Jake exchanged glances, then looked at the dog. Roy had let go of Sophie and was now jumping around Jake.
"In which direction did they go walkin' and when?" Jake turned to Sophie.
"I think Mack mentioned she went off north, was quite some time ago," Sophie shrugged.
"Jake, have the lady get help," Tarak ordered. "From the dog's behavior, I'd say Dannie is in trouble."
"Well you heard the man," Jake snapped at Sophie. "Find your Pa, find Ed, Caleb. Just find someone,and have them bring their guns. Get them to ride to the north of the ranch."
"Is somethin' wrong?" Sophie's voice became tense as she realized things were a lot more serious than she thought.
"There's an outlaw on the loose and he was headed for your ranch. I think he's found Dannie," Jake's voice was crisp and tense, a cold sweat pouring from his brow. "Alright Roy, alright," he turned towards the dog. "Where is she? Where is Dannie?" Jake jumped onto his horse. "Lead me to her, Roy."
Roy barked around the horses hooves then took off running, he stopped and ran back, then forward again, then back.
"Come on boy, lead the way," Jake encouraged as he and Tarak followed the dog. Roy let them down the dusty terrain. Jake kept alert, his eyes focused straight in front of him. No matter how desperate and worried, he had to keep his head about him. Calhoon was not someone to take lightly. He often used fear and panic to get the better of his victims.
There, he caught sight of two figures standing in the distance. The sight of them caused Jake's breathing to become heavy. Even though they were still quite far, Jake easily recognized Calhoon, and standing with her back to him was Dannie. Jake and Tarak exchanged concerned glances. They were approaching Calhoon from the front; this would make it a lot more complicated as there was no hope of getting around him unnoticed. Jake's hand gripped his colt revolver, wondering how to try and get Calhoon without hitting Dannie, who was blocking the outlaw from him.
A shot rang out and the horses reeled as the bullet just barely missed Roy. The dog stopped his running, the fur on his back standing straight up. He backed away a little growling cautiously.
Jake and Tarak pulled their horses to an abrupt halt. Calhoon had noticed them.
"Well, look who decided to join our little party," Calhoon called out, roughly grabbing Dannie by the arm and turning her around. Her dark brown eyes met with Jake's and she let out a quiet gasp. She mouthed his name, without actually saying it.
"And just as I was about to call three; you two spoiled the entire show." Calhoon was pointing his shotgun at the two horsemen, making sure they didn't move from where their horses stood.
"You," he motioned to Tarak. "Make sure that dog stays where he is, or I'll finish him off. Well, go on," He waved the gun. "And the two of you, drop your weapons while you are at it, or you'll be sorry."
"Hold Roy back," Dannie pleaded. "Don't let him get hurt, Tarak. If he tries to come here Calhoon will shoot him."
Tarak cautiously dismounted and squatting down held Roy by his shoulders, his dark eyes looking about, trying to think of a way to get out of this without hurting Dannie.
"Calhoon, I'm the one you want," Jake stated, pointing his gun at the outlaw. "You can let her go."
"Nah, I don't think so." Calhoon shook her head. "She's a lot of fun; don't even scream when you aim at her. Not many a woman I've killed managed to do that. Besides, she says nice things right before you are about to shoot, no one has ever done that to me before."
Jake narrowed his eyes at Calhoon. "Your quarrel is with me, not with her. Let Dannie go!"
"Give me Rachel," the outlaw taunted.
"I can't, I don't know where she is."
"That is a great pity, Jacob Wade, because since you can't give me Rachel, I aint gonna give you Miz Preston, or Dannie as you called her. Tit for tat ya know. And drop that weapon!"
"Or what?" Jake retorted.
"Or," Calhoon's eyes glinted with a cruel amusement. "Or I'll do this." He roughly grabbed Dannie's hair and yanked it back. Dannie bit her lip from the pain, but didn't utter a sound. "Do as I say, cowboy, or I'll give your lady love some serious pain."
Jake looked at Dannie, his eyes wide and his breathing heavy. She shook her head ever so slightly.
"You can't get me without gettin' her," Calhoon reminded. "So there is no point in holdin' on to that. Get off your horse, Jake, and dump the weapon, and have your Indian friend dump his weapon as well."
"Don't!" Dannie called out. "He's going to kill me anyway. If you drop your weapons you'll be at his mercy."
Jake looked from Dannie to Calhoon. "If I do as you say, will you let Dannie go?"
"Nope," Calhoon grinned. "But I promise that I'll let her go swift and easy without any unnecessary pain."
"Why don't you just get on with it then," Dannie snapped.
"Because now I need you to get away," Calhoon replied. "If I shoot you they'll just get me. They can't get me with you as my shield. Don't worry; you and I will take a little ride off somewhere no one is. Drop the weapon, Jake, or I'll make her suffer."
Jake looked at Dannie again, he eyes filled with fear and confusion.
Dannie mouthed two words. "Shoot me."
Jake inhaled sharply and he shook his head a little. In theory that plan could work, if he shot Dannie it could let Calhoon's guard down, get Dannie out of the picture and then he and Tarak could get the gunslinger. But then again, Calhoon was not one to be underestimated; he could just toss Dannie aside and shoot either Jake or Tarak. If the plan failed Dannie would just end up in a lot of unnecessary pain.
"Do it," Dannie mouthed, giving her head a slight nod. Jake's grip on his gun tightened. Calhoon hand suddenly slipped around Dannie's waist.
"Hope you don't mind," he chuckled to Dannie. "More like I hope you don't mind," he nodded toward Jake. "Now," he pulled a knife out from his belt. "Jake, I'm gonna tell you one last time to drop that weapon, or the little Missy—"
Dannie gave her arm an angry shake.
"Oops, I mean Miz Preston, is going to start bleedin', like this." With his arm still around Dannie, Calhoon slashed her across the arm. Dannie bit her lip in an effort to keep the cry of pain from escaping her lips. She shut her eyes as the pain shot across her body and blood began dripping from the cut given to her by Calhoon. Jake just wish she would scream, somehow that would be so much easier than having her suffer in silence. He didn't know how much of this he could take, to sit here and watch the person he held dearest in the ruthless hands of Calhoon. How could he have ever let Dannie get tangled up in this?
"Oh Rachel, Rachel," he bitterly thought. "So many innocent people have to suffer because of you."
"Drop the weapon, Wade," Calhoon's voice grew severe. "Or I'll cut her again, perhaps this time it will be in her stomach, or better yet, on her face." The knife lifted to Dannie's throat.
Jake's finger on the trigger tensed. He glanced at Tarak, who was holding a struggling Roy. Tarak's eyes motioned to the dog, showing perhaps the canine could be used as a decoy. The exchange didn't go unnoticed by Calhoon however.
He shifted his aim to the dog. "Tell him to drop his weapon, Miz Preston, or I'm killin' your puppy. He's the one to blame for this mess in the first place. Didn't realize he was gonna get help, didn't think that stupid creature could do somethin' like that. Never happened to me before. Ah well, we live and learn."
Dannie turned her neck and glared at Calhoon. "Leave Roy out of this, you blood thirsty monster!" She ordered, her teeth clenched with pain.
"Oooh," Calhoon glanced at her, his eyes gleaming. "It seems we've finally found the evil tongue, what happened to all that mushy Christian stuff?"
"It is possible to be angry and sin not," Dannie retorted and spit in his face.
"God damn it, woman!" Calhoon growled as the spit got him straight in the eye. He squinted in disgust. Even more annoying was the fact that with both his hands busy, there was no way for him to wipe her saliva from his eye.
Tarak, realizing that Calhoon had gotten distracted with Dannie, let go of the dog.
"Miz Preston, you are startin' to get mighty--" the sentence was never finished as Calhoon gave out a great cry of pain and dropped Dannie. The dog had covered the distance between him and Calhoon in a matter of seconds and in one great leap had jumped onto Calhoon and sunk his teeth into the neck of the outlaw. Another shot rang out when Calhoon accidentally pulled the trigger before dropping his shotgun as he lost his balance and fell over Roy on top of him. All this was too much for poor Dannie and she fell to the ground in a senseless heap.
Jake leapt down from his horse. "You take care of Dani," he called to Tarak. "Calhoon's mine!" He rushed over to where gunslinger and dog were rolling about in the dirt. Just as he got to them, the rolling came to an end and both animal and man lay in the dust. Keeping his revolver pointed at Calhoon, Jake approached and carefully removed Roy from the outlaw. Roy rolled over to the ground, panting heavily, his chocolate coat contrasting sharply with the dull green shrubbery that covered the earth. Calhoon lay still and limp, his neck and collar covered with the bloody marks of canine teeth. Jake felt for a pulse; there was none. Hearing a frail wimp Jake turned to Roy.
"Good ole' boy," he softly said, reaching out and patting the dog. "Took care of him all by yourself you did. Managed to get him without hurtin' your mistress, no one but you could have done somethin' like that." Roy tried to wag his tail, but couldn't lift it. He gave a low moan. Realizing something wasn't right Jake inspected the dog and discovered the reason for Roy's pain. Calhoon's knife was embedded in his stomach.
"There, there, Roy," Jake soothed, taking the dog's head onto his lap. "You'll be fine. We'll pull it out; we'll make you better again."
With great difficulty Roy lifted his head and looked Jake in the eyes. For a few seconds the two of them stared at each other. The brown eyes of the dog were calm and trusting, reminding Jake when they had gazed at him that night on porch. Then Roy let out a low croon and dropped his head; his whole body gave a violent shudder and the dog went still. Jake turned away, blinking back a tear that was threatening to escape. He was a man, he didn't cry, he never cried. Not once during the long war years had he shed a tear, but now for the first time, the tears were threatening to come out. His hands caressed the lifeless head or the loyal dog who had sacrificed his life to save his mistress. Gaining control of his emotions, Jake gasped the knife and pulled it out of the dog's stomach. Then gently setting Roy's head on the ground, he gave it one last pat, and rising to his feet went over to where Tarak was holding the unconscious Dannie.
"How is she?" Jake asked in a husky voice, kneeling down beside them.
Tarak looked up. "She will be alright. It is only a flesh wound, it will heal quickly and her arm will be as good as new. What of the outlaw?"
Jake glanced at the two motionless figures, then back at his friend. "He's is dead," he said at last. "But so is Roy. Calhoon stabbed him with his knife."
Tarak hung his head and mumbled something in his native language. Then he turned back to Jake. "Fetch the medicine bag from my horse. I will dress the wound and then we shall wake her."
"How am I gonna tell her, Tarak?" Jake desperately asked. "It was so important to her that Roy don't get hurt, and now he's dead."
"Dannie is a strong woman," Tarak reassured. "She will be sad, but proud of her dog. He was brave in life and brave in death. He saved her life, and kept you and me alive as well. I believe she will be grateful to him and his sacrifice. Go fetch my bag. We must clean out the wound before it gets infected.
Jake nodded his head and rising up, went to get Tarak's medicine purse from the saddlebag. Dust was being kicked up in the distance and Jake guessed the help that Sophie had sent was finally getting here. Good thing too, they had two dead bodies and an unconscious, wounded woman, they could use some extra hands to clean up the mess.