Sunday, July 30, 2017

Harry and the Horse Thief

Harry and the Horse Thief
- by William Hay

Harry rode his Apallosa western style. He’d only learned recently his riding was called ‘western style’ when he’d asked Miss Mary if she wanted to go out for a ride.  He’d commented on her straight backed riding with the little saddle.
“Why it’s called Eastern style, or English,” she’d said.  It looked pretty but he didn’t think it would amount to much on the trail or being chased by hostiles.  His own saddle was an old Mexican with all the ornate embroidery and some silver  but sturdy.  Those Spaniards knew their saddles. His Appaloosa was a new world horse though leopard spotted horses had been depicted on cave  paintings from God knows how far back.  The Nez Perce tribe had perfected the breed.  He’d called the stallion Lewis when he got him as a colt because he’d read Lewis and Clark’s description of them from their 1800 expedition west.  Seemed like a good name and the horse liked it.  He liked telling Miss Mary how he came to name his horse Lewis. She’d not be in town long but he had a sense that she liked education and breeding.
“That’s a fine reason. Lewis and Clark were such great men to explore the west to the Pacific like that,”   she’d said. He’d liked riding with Miss Henry. She was too fine a young church lady for a man of his character but he couldn’t help thinking on the trail of someday getting up the courage to talk to her father the minister. He didn’t know if Mary would care for him more than for than a friend but if there was going to be any doubt it would come from her father.  He’d heard of another young man who’d thought to find approval with Mary without including her father in the courtship.  That’s had been a mistake the young man didn’t live to make again.  He didn’t know the details but the minister wearing a holster had confronted the young man and the young man known for his swagger hadn’t been respectful of age so called the old man out.  The minister always got a lot more men in church after some incident like that. He’d been a marshal out east before moving west. Faster with a gun than with his tongue.
The high whine of the bullet whistling past his ear like a bubble bee took his attention off his musing suddenly.  Lewis was used to gun fire but didn’t like it one bit. Didn’t shy but hunkered down and the message was clear to Harry from his horse that he’d better pay attention to matters more proximate than Mary a hundred miles along the back trail in town. Lewis didn’t like being shot at and if Harry didn’t something quick Lewis would surely bolt and teach Harry to respect bullets the way he, a mere horse, did.
Harry had  been trailing a horse thief.  As a ranger and tracker it fel to him to uphold the law in these parts helping the sheriff who couldn’t very well take care of all the criminals.  A posse was out after some bank robbers when this fellow thought to take advantage of the law being distracted.  He’d not counted on Harry being in town visiting Mary though.
“I’d better cover this,’ Harry told Mary when the Sherif rode round to see him.  They’d been sitting on the veranda of the minister’s house with minister and his wife sitting nearby in rocking chairs.
Big Ned was a good enough town sheriff and could handle the saloons and occasional gunslinger that passed through town.  He’d been wounded in the war in his leg though and long rides were out for him.  Harry liked nothing better. He wouldn’t be in the town except that Miss Mary made the whole town bluster and business somehow tolerable.
With that first shot he was off Lewis real quick.  He pulled Lewis behind a canyon outcropping as more bullets ricocheted off the rocks.  With Lewis and himself out of line of fire, he had his own Winchester out the leather scabbard and was looking back around the edge of the rock  when a lucky  bullet blew his new white cowboy hat off. He’d bought that just to impress Miss Mary.
“Good thing I got the 10 gallon size,” he said to Lewis after jumping back at the shocking surprise of having his hat shot off.  In a more conspiratorial tone, he said to Lewis, “I think now there’s two of them.  That calls for a different strategy. Picking up the wounded hat he stuck it on a stick carefully noting the position before lifting it in the air.  Immediately two more holes perforated the material.  It had stayed on the stick.  He looked carefully at the entrance and exit hole and considered the position of the hat before putting it down and picking up his Winchester again.
A little way out from his rocky hiding hole another pile of rocks with room behind for a man was to be his goal.  Leaving Lewis he sprinted across the opening firing at the glint of light off the rifle barrel of the ambusher just where he’d figured him to be. . He didn’t hit him but his bullets made him duck.  He stopped suddenly then as bullets struck the ground where he would have been if he’d kept going forward.  Turning and taking quick aim he shot the first of the two. When the second came up to look , Harry shot him as well. There was a deliberateness about Harry that folks had noted in the war years.   Hearing no sound, Harry waited an hour or so figuring eventually the hombre’s must be dead from bleeding out by now even if his body shots hadn’t killed them right out.
Coming out of cover to fetch Lewis he was thankful that no more shots sounded.  He mounted and rode over to see the damage.  The second hombre had a chest wound that looked like it had taken a while in bleeding out. If he’d come out sooner he might well have been plugged dead by a dying man.  The first fellow must have died instantly because Harry’s  shot had caught him in the neck. A lot of blood indicated it had severed the artery.  Harry found their horses tied to a bush a ways back from the canyon trail. There were 6 of them all together, all likely stolen.  He’d been most concerned about getting back the Judges’s arab mare.  e was glad she was there safe whinnying  her hello to Lewis. Lewis and she had a history.
The Judge wanted to improve the breed but Lewis hadn’t been in on that discussion. He’d sort of jumped the corral fence and now the judge had to wait for little Lewis progeny before he could move on with his Arab breeding program.
The judge had  tried to blame Harry when he’d learned.  But Miss Mary had been there outside the general store when the judge had harangued Harry for his horse’s behaviour. She’d stopping  saying, “Why judge Harry’s horse Lewis can’t be blamed solely if your horse lacks breeding.” Saying that she’d continued walking alone along the boardwalk of the town. The judge was no less mad at Harry but his jaw dropped long enough for Harry to beat a quick retreat catching up to Mary. .
Harry was thinking  of that time with a smile when he was loading the dead men across their horses and tying them down so they’d not slip off.  It was a clear sky.  He was glad he’d packed some bacon before leaving.  He’d begun heading back to town and was thinking of the best place to camp that night. It was going to be a couple of days riding the 100 miles.  There was a stream about 10 miles back. He figured he could get there while there was still light. He’d like to heat up the bacon and have it on the hard crust with some coffee before turning in. He didn’t think there were any Indians or hombres out but seven horses were a mighty temptation to some.  He sure was hungry.
Killing men gave a man a mighty appetite.
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