Coyote Trail

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Chapter 11: All Alone and Feelin’ Blue

Hank Duggan opened his eyes and looked up at a clear blue, cloudless sky. High above, several buzzards circled in anticipation. There was a burning pain in his shoulder and he felt icy cold and weak. As he tried to sit up, pain shot through his shoulder and pulsed down his arm and there was a throbbing in his head that made him dizzy.

Not far from him, a few faint tufts of smoke rose from the ashes of the previous night’s fire. Duggan raised his head and looked over the empty countryside around him. The only thing that moved was his horse, still hitched to a clump of squat cedar where he had left it.

Hank realized he was alone and the events of the previous night came flooding back into his mind. He remembered the gunfire, getting hit and falling to the ground. He remembered hearing more gun shots go off, the sound of hoof-beats and then, nothing.

Now he had awakened to find everybody gone. There was no sign of the Spencers or the Coyotes! To his right and not more than twenty yards away, lay the lifeless body of David Spencer.

The Spencers must have made a run for it he figured, but what had happened to Edgar and Clay? If they had been killed, their bodies would surely be lying somewhere nearby on the desert floor, but they weren’t. And their horses were nowhere in sight.

Wincing in pain, Hank struggled to get to his feet, finally standing erect on unsteady legs. The pain in his shoulder throbbed and he felt weak and dizzy, but the thought of being free of the Coyote Bandits and heading straight to Ellie’s place drove him on.

Slowly he made his way over to his horse. Somebody had saddled the animal and it was ready to ride and the Henry was there in its scabbard. It must have been one of the Coyotes he reasoned. For that he was grateful but still he was puzzled over their abandonment of him.

Mounting up proved quite painful and he sat for several moments until the pain abated. Then, taking a last look around, Hank Duggan started off towards Ellie Master’s place.

It was a long, slow ride. Every bounce, every jolt sent stabbing pain from his shoulder, down through his arm. After a few hours of this, he found himself growing light-headed and dizzy and he swayed a bit in the saddle.

Still, he kept on.

All he knew was to keep the animal heading in a general north-easterly direction through country that at times looked familiar and at other times not. His spirits revived somewhat when, much later, he came upon and crossed the shallow Rio Grande.

When darkness came he wearily drew up, painfully stumbled out of the saddle and managed to ground hitch his horse. Weakly and with one arm, he got the animal unsaddled and then collapsed in exhaustion.

It was the horse that nudged him awake and he found the sun already well on the rise. Painfully and with great effort he saddled the animal, climbed aboard and continued on his way.

After awhile he lost all track of time. The only awareness he had was of the rhythmic sound of the horse’s hooves and the to and fro motion of his body in the saddle as the animal moved along.

Some time later, the horse, smelling water, picked up its gait. Soon, it approached the trickling water of a clear running creek and bent to drink. This sent Duggan sliding out of his saddle and he hit the ground! There he remained, unconscious, as the horse drank and nibbled grasses at the waters edge.

It wasn’t until late in the day when Digger and Miguel came along, spotted the horse, and then noticed the man lying face down on the far bank of the creek! Hurriedly crossing over, they saw that the man had a bullet hole in his shoulder! Miguel knelt down beside him and gently turned him over.

Recognizing Duggan, Digger turned and ran back to the house as fast as his old legs would carry him! Moments later he was banging on the front door.

“Mrs. Masters!” he shouted, “You better come on out here!”

The door opened and Ellie appeared.

“We found a man down by the creek.” the breathless old timer reported. “He’s done been shot! And Mrs. Masters . . . it’s that Hank feller who was ridin’ with the Coyotes!”

Ellie gasped. “Is he . . .”

Digger saw the fear and concern on her face. “No Ma’am, he ain’t dead.” he replied. “But he ain’t in none too good’a shape either!”

With a sigh of relief, Ellie Masters took command of her senses.

“Take me to him!” she demanded.

With Digger leading the way, they both hurried along the footpath to the creek. Suddenly, she saw him lying on the opposite bank with Miguel kneeling next to him. Without hesitation she splashed right across and knelt down beside him.

“He has been shot in the shoulder.” said Miguel.

Ellie gazed into the pale face of the unconscious man.

“You and Digger bring him on up to the house!”

They picked him up and carried him to the house with Ellie leading the way. Once inside, she directed them to lay him down on her bed. She examined his wound more closely.

The bullet had gone straight through the shoulder and someone had cauterized the wounds with a knife! She proceeded to clean and bandage the areas.

With some difficulty, she removed his clothing, bathed him and then pulled the covers over him. Afterwards, she sat herself down in a chair by the bedside and gazed at him as he slept.

Before her lay the mysterious man that she had been thinking about ever since she had first seen him in front of her house days before. Here was the man she had worried about and inquired after, the man she had secretly hoped would return again.

And now he had returned and was obviously in need of her help. Well, help him she would! It didn’t matter that he rode with the Coyote Bandits. It also didn’t matter that he was involved in the hold-up at Red Holler.

She knew in her heart that the man was no outlaw.

Ransom’s men must have caught up with them and there must have been a gunfight. Caught between the Coyotes and Ransom’s men, Hank had been lucky to come out of it alive.

She shook her head, knowing that he was no gunfighter as well.

She sat back and made herself comfortable in the chair. Whatever had happened, the man had survived and escaped and had somehow made his way back to the ranch.

Back to her.

After some while, her eyelids became heavy and she nodded off to sleep.

An hour passed by, then two and then three . . .

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