Chapter 13: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
The first thing Duggan saw when he opened his eyes was Ellie Masters asleep in the chair beside the bed. Then he remembered the gunfight and waking up alone in the desert. He remembered mounting up and starting off for Ellie’s place but then it all went blank.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, he’d made it.
Several minutes went by as he lay there gazing at her. She seemed so peaceful and content, almost angelic as she slept. But then Sanchez, who had been lying at her feet, rose with a moan and nudged her awake. She opened her eyes and saw that Hank was awake and smiling at her.
“Welcome back Mr. Duggan.” she said.
“It’s good to be back Ma’am.” He responded.
She rose from the chair and smiled at him. “You can call me Ellie.”
“Well then Ellie, how long have I been out?”
“Digger an’ Miguel found you two days ago.” she replied as she laid her hand lightly on his forehead and then his cheek.
“How bad is it?” he asked. “It sure hurts like hell.”
She smiled and turned to a pitcher on the bedside table to pour him a glass of water.
“Digger rode to town an’ fetched ol’ Ma Tate. She was a nurse back east durin’ the war. She’s the closest thing we got to a doctor in these parts. She said you’re a lucky man. The bullet went clean through an’ didn’t cause much damage.”
Ellie put down the pitcher and handed him the glass.
“You lost some blood, but you would’ve lost a lot more if somebody hadn’t cauterized the wounds.”
“I think it might have been Clay.” He replied.
She watched him as he drank down the cool water.
“He saddled my horse too.”
He handed her the glass and looked into her eyes.
“I can’t figure out why they left me.”
“They left you?”
“When I woke up, they were gone.” He said.
There was a pause, a hesitation, as neither one of them could think of what to say next. Hank realized his nakedness under the sheets.
“I appreciate your looking after me so . . . thoroughly.”
“You’re not the first man I’ve ever seen naked, Mr. Duggan.” She replied as she pulled the chair up closer to the bed. She sat herself back down and leaned forward. “Tell me what happened out there.”
Suddenly in his mind, Hank could see the billowing, white puff of smoke just before the bullet passed through his shoulder. In that instant, he’d thought his life was over! He felt the bullet hit him like lightning and the force of it knocked him right off his feet! It was a horrible experience, one that would be engraved in his mind for as long as he lived.
“It was the Spencer brothers.” he began. “They rode into our camp late at night and at first it seemed we were caught in a stand-off. Suddenly a horse reared up, a gun went off and then all hell broke loose! Next thing I knew, I was hit and I went down.”
“Matt Ransom and his men are after ’em.” Ellie said. “We all figured it was them that you tangled with.”
“No.” he replied. “We’d tangled with Ransom’s men earlier.”
“I see.” She said raising an eyebrow in mock surprise. “It seems you’ve had quite an adventure since I saw you last.”
He sighed. “I’ve had nothin’ but trouble since I came upon those Coyote brothers out in the desert!”
“So you’re not really ridin’ with them?” she asked teasingly.
“Me? I’ve been trying to get the hell away from them two! They’re just a couple of two bit outlaws with bad attitudes!”
She gave him a knowing smile.
“I suspected from the start that you were no outlaw and after talkin’ to Doobie Acuff, I knew for sure you weren’t.”
“Who’s Doobie Acuff?”
She bent over him and whispered softly in his ear.
“He’s the man you tied up at the general store.”
Duggan looked into her deep, green eyes.
“Well, I already apologized to him for that.”
“I don’t rightly know what you are Mr. Duggan.” She said as she rose and crossed the room. She paused in the doorway and looked back at him. “But I reckon I’ll find out soon enough!”