The Ballad of Zachery Carson Ch. 02bywoodmanone©
Please read Chapter One before continuing.
I appreciate any comments, critiques, and/or emails you might have.
Zach reined his horse onto a low rock shelf that had been exposed by the elements and continued East for miles. When the horse finally stepped off the shelf onto the desert floor, Zach spurred the animal into a fast lope. Kathleen had relaxed her hold on Zach as they rode slowly over the shelf but now she renewed her death grip as she bounced around on the horse's rump.
They rode at the lope for about 20 minutes, slowed to an easy walk for 10, and then increased their speed to a lope again. The third time they slowed down, Kathleen leaned forward.
"This isn't the way back to Phoenix," she said. It was more of a statement than a question.
"Nope, it ain't," Zach replied.
"You must take me back to Phoenix." It was Lady Kathleen speaking. "Father will be waiting."
"The Comancheros probably followed you out of Phoenix. If they come back they'll figure you headed back that way and follow you again." Zach pointed toward the east. "We'll head to Tucson to throw them off our trail. You can telegraph your father from there."
"But won't those ruffians follow our trail east?"
"Hope not. That's why we rode so long on that rock shelf. Only an expert tracker or a magician could follow us across that. And if they do find our trail, I hope to outdistance them to Tucson."
"Why would they follow a single horse? They don't know I'm with you."
"They know all right," Zach answered back over his shoulder. Your hiding trick wasn't gonna work much longer."
"What do you mean?"
"Did the kidnappers make you ride in the false bottom all the way from Phoenix to the water hole?"
"No, we were a day out of Phoenix when they let me ride on the wagon seat with one of them. They said they didn't want me to be too tuckered out."
"Like I said, the Comancheros probably followed you from Phoenix. They do that sometimes, especially if it's a small group like only two wagons. Anyway, I'm sure they saw you when you were on that wagon seat."
Zach walked his horse around a big group of Creosote bushes. "Didn't want to say anything to you back at the spring but I saw tracks going away from your wagon back toward Phoenix; probably looking for where you got out of the wagon. When they don't find you, they'll come back here again; they left a lot of things behind including the wagon. They'll discover that open false bottom and be on our trail damn quick. Those ruffians, as you call them, might be bandits, killers, or worse but they're not dumb."
He kicked Buck back into the lope and they rode hard for 20 minutes. When they slowed to a walk, Zach took off his hat, held it up to shade his eyes, and looked at the sun's position. He rode into a grove of Palo Verde trees next to another butte and stopped. He threw his leg over the front of his saddle and slid to the ground. Turning he helped Kathleen to dismount.
"Why are we stopping?" She asked. "Shouldn't we keep going?"
"Got to rest Buck." He looked around and stepped over to a spot between two of the trees. Taking a metal plate from his saddle bag he knelt down and started to dig in the soft ground beside the trees. Zach used the plate and his hands to scoop out a hole about 24 inches wide and close to 18 inches deep. Kathleen watched, puzzled as to why or what he was doing.
Zach stood, took a canteen and handed it to Kathleen. "Take a mouth full, swish it around and then swallow it. After a bit, we'll drink some more." He watched her carefully and pulled the canteen away from her before she could take more than the one drink.
"But I'm still thirsty," Kathleen objected.
"You can't drink too much at one time or you'll just bring it back up." Zach followed his own instructions, put the top back on the canteen and hung it from a tree branch. "We'll have more later."
"Why did you dig that hole?"
"Come look," he answered.
Slowly water was seeping into the hole. When it got near the top, Zach led Buck over to it and allowed the animal to drink. The water was muddy and full of grit but Buck didn't mind; he needed water after the hard ride. After the animal had water, Zach unsaddled him. He put the horse on a long lead and let him graze on the meager grass growing around the Palo Verde.
"Palo Verde trees can live where there's not much water but if there is a spot where it's close to the surface you'll always find a bunch of them grouped together," Zach explained. "I figured what with all these trees, the ground water must be near the surface."
"Shouldn't we keep going?"
"It's better than a 100 degrees by now. Can't ride all day, in this heat or we'll kill Buck. We'll rest here until just before dusk and then head out. It'll be easier ridin in the cool of the night."
"Won't those bandits catch up to us?"
"Maybe so but I don't think they'll pick up the trail any time soon. Sides, if we keep ridin hard during the heat they'll just catch us out in the badlands." Zach could see that "Lady Kathleen" was about to make an appearance and complain. "We've only got the one horse," he continued before she could speak. We're ridin double, and their animals are probably fresher. If we push too hard Buck could founder, break down and then we'd be on foot."
He turned, found shady spot, and sat down leaning back against a tree. "Best get some rest. We'll be ridin hard again at dusk. Here you can take another drink," he said as he handed her the canteen. Zach watched and was pleased that this time Kathleen followed his instructions.
Every so often, Zach would get up and go to the hole he'd dug. He'd scoop out some of the dirt, the water would seep back into the hole, and he'd lead Buck over and let him drink. Kathleen watched him and the next time he got up she went to help. She took the plate from him, dropped to her knees and dug; motioning for Zach to bring the horse.
The first two times he would limit the amount he let the horse drink; after the third time, when Buck had had time to cool down, Zach let the horse drink the hole dry. Each time he would tie the horse on a long lead to another spot he would step to the edge of the trees and look back along their trail.
He looked for the Comancheros and not seeing any sign, would go back to his shady resting place. Every time he would get up, Kathleen would go and do the digging. Then she would sit back in her own spot of shade and use a small branch or twig to get the dirt from under her finger nails.
"I mustn't waste water by washing them," Kathleen muttered to herself. "They'll have to wait until we get to this Tucson."
She may be full of her title and herself, but she's doing alright, Zach thought. Not much complaining, she's trying her best to keep "a stiff upper lip" as the English say. He chuckled at Kathleen's attempt to clean her nails.
As the sun set to the west, they could feel the heat of the day wash away in the light breeze that had came as the sun went down. Just as the sun began to set behind the high mountains behind them, Zach watered Buck one last time and saddled him. The days were long this time of the year and it was close to 7:30 before Zach and Kathleen hit the trail.
"Time for us to go Kathleen," he said as he put the few things away that he'd taken from the saddle bags. "I don't see any sign behind us, so we'll take it a little easier this evening."
"How can we see to ride at night?" Kathleen asked. "It is cooler now, but how can we see?"
Zach pointed to where the moon could be seen rising into the sky. "Going to be a Hunter's Moon tonight."
"What's a Hunter's Moon?"
"I forget that you're not from around here. That's a full moon. It's called a Hunter's Moon because it throws enough light for people to see to hunt and travel by its light."
Zach stepped onto the saddle, extended his hand and helped Kathleen to once again mount behind him. They rode as they had earlier; a lope for 20 minutes, then an easy but fast walk for 10. After the third walking period, Zach dismounted leaving Kathleen on the horse.
"Slid forward onto the saddle," he said. "Put your feet in the stirrups and grab onto the horn." As she settled, Zach took off his boots, donned a pair of soft Indian moccasins, and put his boots in the saddle bags. "These are a mite more comfortable for walking," he said pointing to his new footwear. Zach took hold of the lead rope on the bridle and started walking toward the east, leading the horse.
"What are you doing? I can walk too if we need to rest the horse, I mean Buck," Kathleen offered in a proud voice.
Still 'Her Ladyship', Zach thought and smiled to himself. Not wanting to let a commoner out do her. "Nope, you stay on the horse. I'll be running a long side for a spell and you can't keep up."
"Why aren't you riding too?"
"We've a long way to go and this will make it easier on Buck. You don't weigh much so he's almost resting when he's carrying just you instead of the both of us." Zach was silent for a little while. "I'll stay a foot for an hour or so and then we'll hit the trail hard again."
As he'd said, an hour later Zach remounted. Kathleen slid back behind the saddle, he stood in the left stirrup and threw his right leg over the horse's neck and settled back into the saddle. Putting his spurs gently to Buck they started another series of a fast lopes followed by an easy walks.
It was close to 7 AM when Zach guided Buck into an arroyo and dismounted. He helped Kathleen off the horse and loosened the saddle cinch. When Buck had time to cool down a bit, Zach took a canteen and poured water into his hat; holding it so Buck could drink. After watering the animal, he attached a long lead rope to the horse's bridle. The rope was tied off to a rock outcropping so Buck could graze on the sparse vegetation.
Kathleen watched while Zach took care of the horse and when Zach handed her the canteen she sighed in relief. Remembering his instructions, she took a mouthful of water, swished it around and swallowed. Zach motioned for her to drink again and then took a drink. He held the canteen upside down to show Kathleen that it was empty and then tied it to the saddle.
"Why are we stopped here?" She asked. "I thought you said we needed to put a distance between us and those men."
"Need to rest Ole Buck; there's a long way to go and we need to take care of him. There's another water hole before we get to Tucson but we're still a day's hard ride to it, maybe more." Zach pointed to the empty canteen and added, "If I can find another grove of Palo Verde, I might be able to get more water. But if I can't that water hole is our only hope."
Zach took an extra shirt out of his saddle bag, used some of the water from another canteen to soak it, and tied the shirt around the horse's nose. Kathleen looked at him, started to ask a question, then shook her head and said nothing. As Zach tended to Buck, she took the bedroll from behind the saddle. Kathleen found a soft place in the sand of the arroyo and laid out the ground cloth and blanket, making two pallets.
"I thought this would be better than being on the ground and dirt," she explained when Zach joined her.
He nodded, gave her a little grin and flopped down on the ground cloth. "It will help keep the heat from the ground from soaking up into us."
"Why did you put that wet shirt on Buck's nose?" She asked.
"It's a way to help replace the moisture that he's lost. I could give him more water but it wouldn't be smart, not with the ride we've made so far and the ride we still have in front of us." Noticing the puzzled look on Kathleen's face, he added, "It's a funny thing about working a horse hard; too little water and you can lose your mount; too much can do the same thing. Gotta be careful."
He handed her some beef jerky. "Ain't much but with a cold camp, it's all we've got. Eat some, take a sip of water and eat some more."
Kathleen took the jerky and sat down on the blanket as Zach leaned back against the arroyo's bank. "Why did you come to Phoenix all by your lonesome?" He asked around a mouth full of jerky.
"Father came to the colonies, I mean the United States, sorry, a year ago looking for a ranch. I was at our estate in Berkshire and my father sent for me to join him. I took a steam ship from England, then I traveled by train to St. Louis and from there it was more trains and stagecoaches to Phoenix.
I'd only been there for two days when those...those...men kidnapped me." The thought of how the men treated a Lady of the Realm was back in Kathleen's voice and tone.
She sat with her head down and muttering to herself for a bit. Looking up at Zach she gave him a small smile and asked, "Are you a man of the West, Mr. Carson?" He hesitated and Kathleen added, "It would be ever so nice to know something about my knight in shining armor."
Zach returned her grin. "Don't know about that knight part and there's not much to tell. But yes, I guess you could call me a westerner now."
"You said now. Haven't you always lived out here?"
"No, been 'out here' as you call it for going on seven years. I was born in Franklin, Missouri and lived there until I was 20, then I headed west in '67."
"Why?" Kathleen's face got red as she blushed. "I'm sorry, it's not really any of my business but I would like to hear the story of my gallant rescuer."
"No apology necessary Lady Kathleen," Zach teased her with a grin. "You sure you want to hear all this? It's not really interesting to anyone but me and my family."
"You have a family? A wife and children waiting for you somewhere?"
"No wife or kids, just my folks, my Ma, Pa, and my brother and his wife, back in Missouri."
"Why did you leave Missouri?"
"Sort of a long story Kathleen," Zach replied. She nodded for him to continue. "Well...When the war started my brother..."
"War? What war?" Kathleen asked.
"The Civil war, some call it the War Between the States. Anyway I was only 14 but my brother Caleb was 17 and he joined the army. I tried to enlist in '64, when I was 17; but my folks talked me out of it. Pa said he needed my help on the farm." Zach grinned and added, "My Ma just said she wasn't going to put another son in danger."
Zach got up moved and retied Buck so he could graze some more. He continued as he sat back down. "My brother was one of the lucky ones; he came home. The month Caleb got back he married the girl he'd been courtin before the war and they moved onto the farm. I stayed there in Franklin for a few months but the farm isn't big enough to support three families, if you include my family, if I ever have one, so I decided to head west. So for the last seven years that's just what I been doin; Headin West."
"While traveling on the train and stagecoaches to Prescott, I read a pamphlet about a man named Kit Carson," Kathleen offered. "He was a mountain man and a trapper and a scout for the army. Quite the adventurer I think. As I remember he was from Missouri as well. Are you related to him?"
"Pa said we were cousins or some such," Zach replied. Then he laughed. "Pa also said we was too far removed for it to count as family."
"Did you ever meet him?"
"Never did. He left Missouri in 1825, long before my time. Understand he died in Colorado in '68." Zach smiled at Kathleen again. "Don't believe everything you read in those dime novels; nobody could be as brave or strong or as fast on the draw as those writers make them out to be."
A few minutes later, Zach stood and looked over the rim of the small arroyo they were in. He checked their back trail for better than ten minutes. "Best get some rest Lady Kathleen," he suggested. His voice was teasing but he meant what he said. "We'll lay up until dusk and head out again."
Kathleen moved her blanket so she could lean back against the side of the arroyo, copying Zach's position. "I was wondering why the men that took me went so far from Phoenix. If they wanted a ransom, it would have been easier for my father to pay it if they stayed closer to Phoenix."
"Don't know for sure, but that's probably one reason they headed out," Zach replied. Seeing the question on Kathleen's face he said, "If it was easy for your father to bring the money to them then it would be easy for him to bring the law as well. I suppose they wanted someplace they'd feel safe."
"Ajo then?" Kathleen responded.
"The land around Ajo is in the middle of miles and miles of miles and miles of nothing. There aren't any towns, or villages or even a shack. Not much there except a few low hills, some canyons, and a lot of desert. Be a good place to hole up in if you knew the water holes."
Zach glanced back at their back trail for a few more minutes and sat down. "If they had a hideout they could see for a long way; be hard for the law to sneak up on them. My guess is that's why they chose Ajo."
Kathleen nodded that she understood. "How much farther to Tucson?"
"I told you about the water hole closer to Tucson and we've got another night's ride to it. We'll rest and water Buck when we get there and then head on in just before dusk. With any luck we'll be in Tucson by midnight." Zach smiled again and ordered, "Now get some rest; we've still a hard ride ahead of us."
"Could you travel faster without me?" Kathleen asked. She was afraid of what his answer would be as she had no wish to be left alone in this desolate land.
"Could but I won't. If I left at dusk I could make Tucson by early to mid mornin, that's more than a day's hard ride for me and Buck. I'd have to get another horse and one for you; Buck would be used up. We'd need the Sheriff and some men to return with me. That's a full day before I could start back and then we'd have another day and a half of hard riding. That leaves you alone for at least two days."
"Oh," Kathleen replied. "I didn't think of that."
"If I left you at the next water hole, I could be in Tucson and back by in about twelve hours," Zach said. "There's a problem with that too. I didn't want to alarm you, but I saw a dust cloud behind us, comin this way."
"Is it the Comancheros?" Kathleen asked. Her voice had a hint of fear and concern.
"Don't know. Could be and could be something else, but there's not much out here that's friendly." Zach shook his head. "Most everything in this desert will bite you, sting you, or poison you. No, leaving you isn't a good idea." He pulled his hat down over his eyes and made himself comfortable.
"Shouldn't we be going?" The fear in Kathleen's voice was more pronounced.
"Whoever they are, they're still ten miles or so back. They'll probably bed down during the heat of the day and start at dusk; just as we start riding again. Besides, Buck needs the rest. If we push him too hard, they'll catch us for sure. At least this way we have a chance. Now get some rest; sleep if you can."
"There is no way I can sleep now," Kathleen replied.
To Be Continued