Kendall Springs

Introducing Enoch Wilkins and his life in Kendall Springs, New Mexico Territory, from 1871 to 1874! This story started out as a claimed assignment from Yahoo Associated Content, but the timing was such – just after working on the latest Civil War 150th anniversary posts – that I got into a lot of research about what a Confederate drummer boy might have experienced had he headed west after the war. I lived in Albuquerque for a few years in the late 1980s, and had visited a canyon where they grew apples that just seemed like a terrific setting for something and…well, it all kind of has come together. I met the deadline for Yahoo with “Kendall Springs,” but I want to go on with it, but not on Yahoo; they turned it into a 32-page ad carrier, which after all is what content writing is about, I guess, but that’s not what I want for this. I got to know the characters and have an idea of what the next three years of Enoch’s life are going to be like. I plan to do about a story a month covering those years, between now and October 2012; publish them here, not on Yahoo; and then package them into a book and put it up for sale on Yahoo in time for the Christmas season. It’s a work of love, but hey, you never know.

The images that accompany this story here are not really central to the story, but I liked them, and they relate to some of the places in New Mexico that served as wellsprings for this story.

Hope you like this. Enjoy!

KENDALL SPRINGS

Descent

Enoch ducked his head back down behind the boulder, though no Apache in the small band, which was several miles away now and a thousand feet below him, appeared to have seen him.

He’d gotten pretty good at not being seen over the last month or so since the cyclone had struck his party, shortly after they set off on the Cimarron Crossing. Remembering the storm, he gingerly touched the left side of his face; it was still swollen and bruised, and hurt like the Devil.

This was likely just a raiding party.  He’d seen whole Apache tribes on the move, as he had followed the river upstream into the New Mexico mountains. At least he hoped it was New Mexico. He wasn’t too good with directions.

There were six men out there. He waited for them to continue on and disappear into a fold of the foothills.  Night was coming on down there, so he couldn’t see for sure, but they probably had a rope on his horse.  He had the bridle, along with the saddle and blanket and his other gear up here.

What a struggle up the mountainside that had been, carrying all that, and finding a place to hide before the Injuns showed up!

Fear had given him speed and strength. Lucky he’d seen them first.

Well, there was no help for it now. He’d been right to strip the old crowbait of all tack; otherwise, the Apaches would be coming right up this hill, looking around for its rider. He had the high ground, though and there were only a few of them. He wondered if he should have risked it and maybe kept his horse.

There! They were gone, and the young man’s sharp eyes could see no stragglers.

He surveyed his present situation. The boulder was good and warm from the day’s sunshine and big enough to sleep on, maybe, if the snakes and such stuff got too bad during the night. His canteens were full, and now he wouldn’t have to share any with the horse.

He decided to reconnoiter a little while there was still sunlight left here on the mountain top.

A raucous croaking broke out above him, and then lines of crows flew over from the other side of the mountain. They weren’t far above his head and kept on flying eastward, mostly, though some settled down into the pine stands down below.

A couple hundred yards above him, the sharp, dark line of the crest stood out sharply against the sunset.  Enoch kept an eye shut as he looked up at the sunset, so he could still see the darker lowlands afterwards before moving out. There was still no sign of movement down there now, so he carefully crawled away from the rock and headed up the steep slope.

He kept to the few thickets of pine and scrub along the way, and was glad to find a little spring about 15 feet away from his boulder. He carefully tasted it. Good! He could drink freely over the night, then.

He kept going and reached the crest so suddenly he was glad he was crawling. The far side of this mountain dropped away sheer, like somebody had sliced it with a knife. He might have strode right off it, if he’d been walking, blinded by the glare of the red sun that now sat on the far horizon.

There didn’t seem to be anybody else on this peak, but people surely came up here. There was a path off to his right that dove off steeply down along the rocky cliffs and probably went all the way out to the vast plain, many thousands of feet below, where the lights of a town shone, some 10 miles away.

There was a rustle in the grass behind him and off to one side, and the youth had his revolver in his hand, fully cocked, when he rolled over to see what it was. A rabbit stared back at him, mildly surprised and not the least bit scared of him.

A few straggling crows flew overhead after that, but it was otherwise quiet. The rabbit had long since hopped away before Enoch moved, and that only after the sun had set, complete darkness had fallen, and he was reasonably sure there were no surprises waiting for him in the nearby trees and bushes.

He didn’t holster the Colt until after he’d gotten back to his things beside the boulder. They were undisturbed. He unrolled his blanket and settled down to get some sleep.

Several hours later, he was up on top of the boulder, thinking of the town out on the western plain and trying to stay warm. He was wrapped in the blanket as well as his gutta percha poncho.

The Big Dipper was rising over there beyond his feet. His head was propped up on the saddle, whose metal stirrups and rings were muffled with cloth so they wouldn’t clank against the rock.

A bear had just gone by, much further down the hillside, and the regular night noises were coming back now. Enoch had thought it was a man at first but then with great relief had heard that familiar hunting growl that sounded like a rockslide.

The crescent Moon wouldn’t be out for hours yet, and tonight the many stars overhead seemed to blaze with a peculiar intensity. The young man liked a starry night as a rule because it usually could keep the monstrous dreams from Back East at bay, but there was something special about the sky tonight. Most probably it was just the thin air and his lack of food.

In any event, after calculating for the umpteenth time how difficult the morning’s descent off this mountain was going to be while burdened with a saddle and the rest of his gear, Enoch made a wish upon a million stars.

“Peace,” was all he said out loud. Shortly after that, he fell sound asleep.

Rapids ahead

Enoch awoke to the screams of nearby mountain jays and the joyous caws of crows flying overhead; this time they heading out west to spend the day foraging.  His breath smoked in the quiet mountain air, but a growing fire in the eastern sky promised warmth once the sun rose.

Instead of just huddling there and waiting for it, the young man threw back the blanket and leaped off the rock, taking the shock of cold as a reveille. He kept his poncho on, though. There wasn’t anything to eat, so after a quick look to make sure the surrounding countryside was still empty, he crawled up to the mountain’s crest again and looked around.

This wasn’t so much a single mountain, he now realized, as it was the highest point on a long ridge that ran from north to south. The air was clear and he could see a long way to his right and his left, but all he saw was solid rock walls.

The only way down to the town looked to be the path.  It would have to do.

Enoch slithered over there in the grass, keeping low so as to not be seen outlined against the dawn sky. Lord, it was a dreadful drop. By golly, though, this was the time to do it, when anybody looking up there wouldn’t be able to see much detail.

He turned around and slipped back down to his boulder. First he filled his canteens, and then he rolled up the bridle in his blanket and tied that over his shoulder with the few bits of rope he had managed to collect. After making sure the Colt was tied in its holster and his Bowie knife was secure in its sheath, and everything else pushed deep down in his pockets as far as they would go, Enoch picked up the saddle and surveyed the little site. There wasn’t much indication that anyone had stayed there, and the weather would soon wash it all clean again.

He hiked back up to the crest, at some distance away from the trail head, and flung the saddle out into the great drop. He didn’t watch it fall, but instead headed over to the path and started down.

It was terribly awkward at first.  He used his hands more than his feet, lowering himself down by little ledges and trying not to think about the empty gulf of air that was sometimes at his back, sometimes on his left and sometimes on his right, as the little path switched back and forth across the mountain’s west face. It was slow going, and more than once Enoch wished he had more rope. Then, either the grade got a little better or he developed a little more trust in his feet; anyway, he was able to walk a little more securely and a lot more easily.

Indeed, his greatest risk now was tumbling forward down the steep slope.  Eventually he came to a little site that made him much more cautious. It wasn’t much, just a wide, fairly flat area of the trail, but there were signs that a campfire had been built there recently.  No footprints could be seen on the hard rocks. There were no bushes or trees around, either; they must have hauled the firewood up with them.

A flash of color on the ledge about 6 feet up caught his eye. A strange little doll, brightly painted, had been placed up there, along with some trinkets that had so far been overlooked by the crows and jays.

This wasn’t a white man’s path, then.

Enoch unfastened the strap that secured his revolver to its holster, even though a little ways ahead the path took another plunge downward, and from that point onward, he went on much more circumspectly.

About mid-morning, soon after refilling his canteens at one of the many springs along the way, he reached the high slopes of the plain where sage and grassland started growing. He could see the town clearly now, off to the left, and he decided to cut out straight cross-country for it, away from the Indian trail and whatever tribal encampment it eventually would lead to.

After much slipping and sliding along, he struck a wagon road.  Right about then, the sun peeked out over the top of the mountain. It was hot enough now, for sure.

Well, good! The canteens were still pretty heavy, and he could make good time here.

He had the rutted track all to himself, which was a disappointment. It wasn’t so much that he was lonely – out here, every man, white or red or brown, was your enemy until proven otherwise – but more that he had been hoping to find out something about the town before he got there.

And maybe, just maybe, he might have met somebody who had a little extra food they would share along the road with a stranger. Enoch wasn’t set to gnaw on the leather bridle just yet, but the thought did occur to him.

He jingled the dime and few cents left in his pocket. It wasn’t much, but he’d be able to buy a meal a whole lot tastier than leather with those and whatever he could get for that old bridle.

By mid-afternoon, he had reached a ford just outside of town where he could tidy up some. A bony scarecrow with shaggy brown hair and a bruised, swollen face and neck stared back up at him from the water’s surface as he washed his face and hands.

After doing the best he could, he straightened up and walked up the far bank and into town. It wasn’t a very big place, as far as he could see, with just the one central street, but they had a barber shop and a hotel and a marshal’s office and a store and two saloons. There was a small church down at the other end of the street, but the youth was coming in from the livery end of town, where it looked like saints were in short supply.

A few men were lounging around outside the open barn door in the shade. All of them were heeled, despite the sign painted on the side of the barn that said “All visitors will check their guns at the Marshal’s Office,” so Enoch saw no reason to worry about his Colt sidearm.

There were more men inside the barn, it seemed, but it was difficult to see them. Two of the loungers outside were Enoch’s age or a little older, and they watched him with narrowed eyes as he walked up toward them. The third man had iron gray hair poking out from under his wide-brimmed hat and was powerfully built. If he had been wearing the big apron instead of range clothes, he could have been the blacksmith.

A couple more faces appeared at the barn door when it became clear the stranger was headed their way. Enoch thought he glimpsed some movement up higher in the loft, too. This livery stable owner sure was a popular fellow, though his friends seemed a might touchy.

Well, that wasn’t any of his business. He pulled up short some 20 feet away from the loungers and nodded at them, keeping his hands well up and away from his sides. Nobody so much as smiled back, so the young man kept his face quite composed and announced to the wall of suspicious faces that he had a horse bridle for sale, if they wanted one.

“Mule halter’s more like it,” snarled one of the young loungers. His voice had a smooth edge to it, like a knife. He was about Enoch’s height and had maybe 20 pounds on him. He kept his hand close to his holster, too, and clearly deserved the label of “trouble.”

The other young fellow let out a guffaw. He was missing several teeth, and though well built, seemed slow in his ways. Enoch knew he could get by this one easy enough, if he ever had to.

“Yeah,” Toothless was saying, “the mule what kicked you in the face.”

“T’wasn’t a mule,” Enoch replied quietly.

“What was it then?” Toothless was determined to make a mountain out of this little molehill of a remark, so Enoch ignored him.

“Injuns took my horse yesterday,” he told the men in front of him, “and I was well rid of him, ‘cause they didn’t take me. Got no use for a bridle any more.”

“Injuns!” This came from Toothless and several of the men inside the barn. The older lounger remained silent but crossed his arms.

“Apaches, I reckon, though they was dressed a little different from the the plains ones.”

“Ain’t no Apaches this side of the mountains, boy.” Trouble kept his voice low, but with a little emphasis on the last word.

“I reckon you’d see enough of ‘em if you was sitting up there like I was yesterday.”

“Where?”

Enoch waved a hand and wished he hadn’t, since the move made some of them reach for their guns. Not Trouble, though, whose hand was already there. The man appeared to be all business.

Toothless looked where he’d pointed and snorted.

“Red Peak? Nobody goes up there.”

“From here? I reckon not,” Enoch said dryly. “It’s steep enough coming down. I wouldn’t want to have to do that twice.”

“Did Geronimo punch you up on the mountain top or land the blow sneaky like while you was climbing down?” Trouble asked all innocent like.

Enoch wheeled on him, but the older man uncrossed his arms and raised a hand.

“Let me get this straight, kid,” he said to Enoch. “You was sitting on Red Peak and the Apaches just came by and wrassled with you some, and then they stole your horse but let you keep your bridle so you could hightail it down the mountain here to Kendall Springs where you knew we was just aching to buy one?”

“No, sir.”

“Tell it to me straight, then, from the beginning.”

Even Trouble appeared awed by this iron-haired man, so Enoch didn’t waste any time in his reply. Indeed, it felt good to talk about it.

“We was on the trail,” he told them, “the Cimarron Crossing, a month or so ago – Big Jack Ferguson’s party out of Franklin, Missouri – and a big cyclone came up and plowed right into us, blowing everything every which way.

“What a roar that thing had! Like artillery and then some! My horse panicked and threw me. Something bumped my head, maybe the ground, maybe something in the air. Dirt was flying everywhere. I don’t what all happened, but things was pretty quiet when I came to again. A few busted up wagons was spread about, but no sign of anybody else, living or dead. I should have looked harder, maybe, but I was kind of sore in the head. It was all I could do to collect a horse and gather up some supplies and set out.”

“Where’d you head?” the older man asked, still grim.

“West. Aiming for New Mexico, just like before. I followed what looked like a road, but it ended in the middle of the wilderness. I guessed it wasn’t the Crossing and that I was a goner, but then I saw some pony tracks and figured, where there’s Injuns, there’s water….”

Trouble broke in to say, “Marshal’s coming.”

The older man noticed the fleeting apprehension in the lad’s face and nodded. Ole Smitty would want to know about this one.

Enoch was mad at himself for showing his fear. He knew better.  Out here in the territories the law couldn’t touch him over that difficulty back in Vicksburg with the no-good gambler who had insulted his cousin.

Of course a marshal would want to meet a stranger in town, especially one as rough-looking as he was. Of course he would. Saying it over and over in his head made Enoch feel calmer.

“Go on, boy,” said the older man. His voice still sounded mean, but he wore a smile on his face now. It almost extended to his eyes.

“There ain’t much more to tell, sir. I got to a river – don’t know the name. You can hide in places along a river, even when it’s in flood like this one was. The Injuns didn’t get me, but we was close sometimes. They didn’t know I was there. I just went upstream, traveled at night, hunted a bit, fished a little in the quieter places. Then I got up into this hill country hereabouts….”

“Morning, Marshal Jaeger.” The big man’s voice was smooth and polite.

“Morning, Lanson. Hot enough for you?”

This was the first U. S. Marshall that Enoch had seen since Missouri, and he was much taller than any of the other ones, well over 6 feet and muscular enough to give the old man – Lanson – a run for his money if they’d decided to fight.

He took off his hat, revealing plenty of blond hair, and wiped his brow with the back of his hand. Enoch didn’t think he looked particularly sweaty.

Lanson said, “Will, go get the marshal some water.”

Toothless turned and went inside the barn.

“Thank you kindly, Lanson. Hello, stranger.”

Jaeger’s face was broad and sunburned. His blue eyes, set under thick, sun-bleached eyebrows, were several shades lighter than the clear sky overhead. They were sharp, too, but Enoch’s fear had disappeared now that he had a real person to look at, instead of a guilty conscience nagging at him.  He figured he could stand up to that gaze well enough.

“Afternoon, Marshal,” he said, as if challenging the man to say it was actually morning.

Lanson chuckled. Toothless Will brought out a ladle of water, and the marshal took it and drank.

“Thanks again,” Jaeger said to Lanson as he handed the ladle back to Toothless. Then he gestured at the holster that rested on Enoch’s right hip.

“Don’t see many of those any more,” he said to the young man, “Paterson’s, I mean, Mr. ….”

“Wilkins. Enoch Wilkins. Mr. Jenkins gave it to me out on the trail somewhere in Kansas – well, he made me play a card game for it, but he wasn’t exactly trying too hard to win – he was an old Ranger. Said he wasn’t going to need it much longer. He had the consumption.”

“I see. Sound interesting enough. I’m heading back to the office now. You’ll have to leave it with me anyway, so why don’t you come along and tell me more.”

Enoch couldn’t help but look at the sidearms everybody else was wearing openly, but he said nothing.

“Look here, Marshal,” said Lanson. “We’re right in the middle of a business deal.”

Jaeger looked at Enoch.

“Right, son?” Lanson asked.

“Sure.”  There surely were a lot of strange undercurrents going on here, but the young man told himself not to care: he was just here to sell the bridle so he could get some food.

“It’s in my blanket here,” he said, kneeling down. He took his time untying the knots that kept the two ends of the blanket roll fastened, wishing the marshal would leave – things had been all right until he showed up.

Marshal Jaeger didn’t seem inclined to hurry back to his office, though, and so Enoch unfolded his blanket and lifted up the old bridle. It looked pretty dirty in the bright sunlight.

“How much?” Lanson asked him.

“Uh, well, what’s it worth to you?”

Lanson reached into his trousers pocket and brought out a coin. It flashed gold in the afternoon sunlight as it flipped through the air toward Enoch, who saw the “FIVE D” underneath the eagle on its side as he caught it and slipped it into his pocket.

“Compliments of Jake Smith,” Lanson told the young man. “He owns every gold mine in the area.”

Enoch thought he gave the marshal a malevolent look when he said that, but Jaeger remained impassive.

The older man then gave Enoch a look that said as plain as day, ‘There’s more where that came from.’  Then he ordered Trouble to take the bridle. This was obviously beneath that sharp young gunslinger’s dignity, but Trouble didn’t dare refuse the order. Enoch held onto it just enough to rile him up before letting it go.

Lanson waved a hand.

“There you go, Marshal,” he said, and to Enoch, he added, “There’s a card game over at the Dreadnought Saloon most nights. You’re welcome to sit in a hand.”

“Thank you, Mr. Lanson,” Enoch replied.

He rolled up his blanket and fastened it again. When he was done, Marshal Jaeger turned without saying a word and started back down the boardwalk, with Enoch at his side.

It sounded like a buzz of conversation broke out back at the stable after they had gotten a ways down the boardwalk, but it was too low for Enoch to tell what was being said.

The front door of  the hotel was open when they walked by.  Enoch slowed down to savor the rich odors of roast meat, bacon, cornbread and other delicacies.

The marshal immediately stopped and said, as if to himself, “That reminds me, I worked so hard this morning, I forgot about lunch! Let’s go get a bite to eat before we settle down to business, Mr. Wilkins. My treat.”

He didn’t have to ask twice.

They settled in one of the back rooms, owing to Enoch’s untidy appearance, and soon were knee deep in roast venison, beef, fowl, boiled salads, and fresh white bread as well as cornbread, washed down with plenty of beer. Then came some sort of cobbler and currant pie, served lots of fresh coffee.

“This is mighty fine food for the scrub lands,” Enoch said in wonder at some point.

“There’s enough water around here to support ranches,” Jaeger replied. “The soil’s good.  There’s farms, too.”

Neither man said much else during the meal, but afterwards, when the table had been cleared and the hotel owner had brought them both cigars, the big blond man leaned back and shook his head in amazement.

“Mr. Wilkins, you must have a hollow leg. You put away enough for three people your size.”

Enoch was enjoying the unique experience of having a whole cigar to himself.

“They sure do know how to put on a spread here, sir,” he said. “Thank you.”

The marshal nodded his head, not at Enoch, but at the hotel owner, who had popped in through a side door with a brandy flask and two glasses. Ignoring the young man’s protestations that he never touched hard liquor, the marshal filled both glasses.

“Just a drop. Brandy’s not hard liquor – it’s medicine, and especially good for the digestion after a big meal. There, just this one.”

After obliging his host, Enoch had to allow it was good medicine. He didn’t argue when Jaeger refilled his glass again, and then once more. In fact, he got to feeling quite benevolent toward the marshal, the hotel owner, Kendall Springs and life in general, and pretty soon got to talking all about his trip across the plains, and then the cyclone and the journey upriver. He didn’t mention the trouble in Vicksburg, though, or the war or coming home.

The marshal had difficulty following his story and asked about the same parts of it a few different times, but by and by, he seemed to have heard enough and suggested they go out a ways from town and have a shooting contest.

Enoch felt more like renting a room and settling down for a nap, but he couldn’t admit that to Jaeger, so they ended up down by the brook about a half-mile up Kendall Springs Creek, trying to see who could place the tightest group in a birch trunk at 16 paces.

The walk out there had cleared Enoch’s head wonderfully.  He did pretty well in the informal contest, matching the marshal’s more modern Colt Navy pistol shot for shot. That impressed the marshal quite a bit.

Crows were flying overhead now, heading back to the mountains.  They called to the two men below who were busy reloading. Enoch saw all the sheer face of that vast ridge glowing in the sunset, and none more so than the mountain he had climbed down that morning.

“So that’s why they call it Red Peak,” he said out loud.

“Nah,” said Jaeger. “They all turn red, this time of day. Adobe rose, some call it. That one’s a holy mountain to the plains tribes who live up north of here. You’re lucky they didn’t catch you up there, Mr. Wilkins.”

He left it at that and got back to firing at the birch. Enoch took another look at the mountain and suddenly felt tired. He just shook it off and got back to concentrating on his aim again.

After another half-hour or so, it was getting pretty dark, so they headed back into town to conclude their business. Enoch waited by the office door while the marshal lit a couple lamps and then sat down behind his desk and opened a drawer.

The light revealed the office to be a clean, Spartan sort of place. There were ribbons a frame over on one wall, Yankee war decorations. Enoch’s lips tightened.

“The war’s over,” he heard the marshal say behind him.

“Yes, sir.” He’d played this out too many times to count and knew exactly what to say.

“All right. Just so’s I know that you know that, too. Come on over and have a seat.”

Enoch turned around and gasped. There on one edge of the desk, next to the empty chair Jaeger was waving him towards, sat the packet of letters and a few of the other belongings the youth had brought with him out of Mississippi.

“What, how did you, where…?”

“Bill Jenkins and my dad grew up together out in Indian Territory,” Jaeger told him. “Go on, sit down. My neck’s getting sore. There, take them, they’re yours. I was in Santa Fe when Ferguson’s party came in and dropped by when I heard old Bill and his family was in it. He told me the story just before he died. Most of the party did manage to group back up after the storm, though they couldn’t find you or several others. Somebody found your stuff, and Bill collected it up and gave it to me for safekeeping.

“‘Enoch Wilkins is the name,’ he told me, ‘and if anybody can make it through to New Mexico, he will. Pass these along if you hear of him.’”

Enoch picked up his things, recalling the old man’s thin, sallow face and how Jenkins had smiled most times when he was with him, except when that terrible cough broke out. He wished he’d gotten a chance to thank him.

“How’d you know it was me this morning?”

“I didn’t, not clearly anyway, though you sure resembled someone who might have just made the Crossing on his own hook. Just went down to have a look-see. I try to do that every day even when there’s no newcomer to town, just to keep thing sociable and also remind Smitty’s boys I’m in town.”

The marshal went on. “Then I heard you talk. You Mississippi people sound a lot different from folks in Georgia. Lanson didn’t pick it up but I did. I was born around Texas way myself but served with Sheridan in the war. Spent a lot of time around Macon. Anyway, you were right, Mr. Wilkins. Bill did let you win that revolver. He had taken a liking to you and said you’d have made a good Ranger.”

“Ain’t no Texas Rangers now,” Enoch said.

“Nope. There’s still plenty of work to be done, though, and it could mean a heap of stuff to you.”

“Like what?”

“I’ll double Ole Smitty’s half eagle and throw in a good horse plus a saddle and bridle.”

“No, I mean, what kind of work.”

“There’s a ranch north of town, up in a little box canyon, that needs some guarding. Smitty stole it from Jim Martin years ago, but then forgot about it when he couldn’t find any gold there. A few months ago, one of the of the Martins came back down from Denver to take up the ranch again – Sally, Miss Martin – and Smitty wants the ranch back now, even though it’s worthless to him.”

The marshal kept talking, but Enoch was busy thinking. The way Jaeger’s tone had softened when he said the girl’s name, plus Bill Jenkins’ recommendation, told him why the marshal was being so friendly. He needed help bad. That was clear enough.

He missed most of the marshal’s story, but it sure sounded like things had been slowly coming to a point for a while now. Four days ago Jaeger had sent his deputy out to request help from Fort Union. It was a ways to go, but they still should have heard something back by now. There had been no word.

“I don’t know,” Jaeger was saying. “It could have been Smitty’s men, or the Mescaleros or any number of things. I want to go out and check but somebody has to stick here and keep an eye on things.”

“What about the telegraph?”

“We’ve got no telegraph. Kendall Springs is small, out of the way. We don’t even have a stagecoach.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“If you’ll take the job, I need you to go up there and just sit tight, with a gun and sharp eyes. You can do it. That canyon is a lot easier to protect than a wagon train out on the prairie. Hank Dougherty’s up there – you won’t be alone.”

“Who’s Hank Dougherty?”

“Used to be Jim Martin’s foreman. He’s seen a lot of winters, but he’s still good with a rifle. Two men can hold off an army in that canyon for years, and it won’t take that long. I’ll be back in a couple of days at most.”

Jaeger fell silent.

After a while, Enoch said, “All right.”

“Good!” The marshal opened a desk drawer and brought out a five-pointed tin star. Then he reached into his vest and pulled out a gold coin. It was another half eagle.

“You’ll get the second one after I get back with the patrol. The horse is out back, and I’ll loan her to you for now. Now, where’s my Bible? Here – all right. Hold up your hand and swear…What?”

“I didn’t say nothing about signing on as a deputy. I got no plans to stick around.”

“It’s just…well, it’ll make things simpler if there’s killing. That’s all. You can resign as soon as I get back with the soldiers.”

Enoch picked up the star and looked at it long and hard.

“Pardon me for asking, but just where was you planning on going after this, Mr. Wilkins?”

The young man glared at him and Jaeger smiled back.

“Just curious,” he told Enoch. “Didn’t mean any harm. You going to take this job or not?”

“I’ll take it.”

“All right. Now hold up your hand and repeat after me….”

After the swearing in, Enoch pinned the star on his coat, picked up the coin, and stood up. Now he could easily afford the best room in the hotel, as well as a hot bath. What would it feel like to sleep under a flat ceiling after all these wilderness nights?

Marshal Jaeger was reaching for his hat as he left his chair. “Let’s go,” he said.

“Where to?”

“It’s not far; we’ll be there before 9 o’clock. If Smitty’s men did get Rick Morrison, well, somebody hereabouts is keeping closer tabs on me than I find healthy. I plan to stay a couple jumps ahead of ‘em. C’mon. You’ll like Maribel. She’s part Tennessee Walker.”

The big lawman blew out the lamp and headed for the door. Enoch was too tired to resist. He just followed along, wondering if this marshal ever felt weariness or slept. He hadn’t had such an energetic day since the war!

Maribel turned out to be a big bay mare, and the Mexican saddle and matching bridle were fairly new. It took Enoch a little while to get used to the new seat, but that was pretty easy on a horse with such a smooth running walk. Jaeger was right. He liked her.

One light shone down by the livery stable, but nobody could be seen there. Enoch and the marshal took the north road, out past the church and into the scrublands.

The Moon wouldn’t be up for hours yet, but there was plenty of starlight. Once their eyes got used to the dark, they picked up to a canter, but it was still close to 10 o’clock when Jaeger slowed down and then turned left off the road by a little stream.

They were in hilly country now, and the water flowed down through a small canyon that led up into the higher elevations. There was no road to speak of. The first half mile was pretty slow going, since the land climbed upward and there wasn’t much footing for the horses. The marshal seemed to have an aversion to using torches during a night ride.

Then the canyon widened out a bit and they found themselves on a decent path. Up above them and about a mile away, a lantern was shining. As they got closer and the canyon opened out, Enoch saw a tin lantern hanging above the door of a rickety wooden shack.  There was more lamplight further up the valley. Under the faint light of the night sky, he thought he could see a fairly big one-story house up there, but Jaeger didn’t head that way, drawing up instead next to the shack. There didn’t seem to be anyone about.

“Hank! It’s me!”

Enoch just sat still, keeping his hands out in plain sight on his saddle’s pommel. He hoped this man wasn’t the trigger-happy kind.

“Come on out and meet my new deputy!”

There were voices now, above them and off to the right. One of them was a woman’s. Then an old man’s voice hailed them.

“Welcome, Marshal! We wasn’t expecting you. Hold on a bit.”

Marshal Jaeger swung off his horse and motioned for Enoch to do the same. After a short wait, a thin, profusely bearded old-timer, dressed in ragged clothes, appeared in the faint light. He was carrying a Sharps carbine, its muzzle pointed down at the ground.

Behind him a woman, her face and arms hidden in a shawl, and several young children scurried around the two visitors and ducked into the shack. After a moment, the woman appeared with another, bigger lantern. She lit it and set it on a a big flat rock outside.

“Evening, Maria,” said Jaeger, taking off his hat. In the lantern light, his blond hair glowed like gold. Enoch resisted the urge to scratch his own greasy brown mop and wondered when he was ever going to get a chance to wash up some.

“Señor Marshal…” The woman curtseyed briefly and then disappeared into the shack again. The big man put his hat back on as he turned around to shake the old man’s hand.

“Hank,” he said to him, “I’m sorry to have spooked you, but it couldn’t wait till morning.”

“No soldiers yet?” It sounded like the old-timer already guessed the answer.

“Nope. And Smitty sent Mike Lanson and ten more men into Kendall Springs last night. Things are gonna start popping soon enough, unless those soldiers get here. This here’s Deputy Wilkins, Old Bill Jenkins’ protege.”

Suitably impressed, old Hank reached over and Enoch smiled and shook his hand.

“Please to meet you, Hank.” The old man smelled of smoke and grease and alcohol.

“He can lend you a hand here until I get back.” Jaeger was already mounting up. “About two days, I figure.”

“What are you in such a hurry for, Marshal? Ain’t you gonna pay your respects to Miss Sally?”

“It’s too late and I’m not dressed for it. You tell her I send my regards, you hear?”

“I will.”

Jaeger looked at Enoch, who just nodded. Then the marshal started off back down the canyon path.

The young protege and the old-timer stood and watched until his light gray gelding disappeared completely in the darkness.

Right about then, Maria came out with a tray and three big flasks on it. Looking around, she said something in Spanish and Hank came back at her with more of the same, none of it making any sense to Enoch. The old man took two of the flasks and handed one to Enoch. His left arm seemed pretty stiff.

“Your health!” he said, and took a big gulp.

“Yours, too!” Enoch replied. It wasn’t anything like the good brandy they’d served in the hotel, but it was a lot better than some of that oh-be-joyful he’d tried out on the battlefield and in that Yankee prison.

“I’ll be back directly,” the old man told him. “Here’s a hobble for your horse. There’s plenty of good grass right over there.”

Hank stepped inside the shack, where he and the woman yattered back and forth and all the children started with war whoops or something.

Enoch got busy settling Maribel down for the night. Then he sat down on the long flat stone for a while and looked at the stars. Eventually his host came back out, took a seat on a barrel nearby and got busy with his hands for a little while. Then he offered the bag to Enoch.

“‘Backy?”

“Don’t mind if I do. No, thanks. I got whirlies.”

The young man had plenty of practice rolling cigarettes on horseback on a windy prairie day, so it wasn’t anything but easy here in the quiet darkness. The two sat silently for a while and smoked.

Enoch eyed the tops of the canyon walls and wished he could see a little more out back behind the house up above them. He strained his hears, but everything seemed quiet down there on the canyon path.

The old-timer seemed to read his thoughts. “Ain’t nobody coming tonight, Deputy. You can settle down for a while.”

“When do you figure they’ll come and how many?”

Hank shrugged. “We’ll find out tomorrow maybe, once they figure out the marshal’s gone. Or the next day.”

He slapped Enoch on the back. “Get some rest while you can, boy. If you don’t have a bedroll, we can make room for you in the house.”

“Thank you kindly.  My blanket and stuff is over there by the saddle.”

“You stretch out on that rock you’re sitting on, then. I’ll sit guard here for a while, and shake you up afore I head to bed.”

That sounded all right to Enoch, and he thanked the old man again. Not long after he got comfortable there, rolled up in his blanket, he fell sound asleep.

Despite his strenuous day, the bad dreams still came. Sometimes he woke up or just dreamed he woke up and saw Hank sitting there, or else Maria, standing watch throughout the rest of the night.

The Plunge

Exhaustion must have finally caught up with him because it was from a sound, deep sleep that he awoke in the morning, when the smell of fresh coffee eventually summoned him. It was full daylight, and for a few moments Enoch was confused about where he was, until Maria came out with a smile and set a steaming cup in front of him.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said. She smiled again and went back inside, where a baby was crying.

The young man unwrapped his blanket and hoisted himself into a sitting position. There was Hank, standing next to a big rock that jutted up in the middle of what seemed to be a pretty wide canyon valley. The old man’s back was to the house, and he was holding a bucket with his stiff arm while he worked a pump handle with the other. A couple of youngsters were playing nearby and every now and then he took a break and hollered at them.

Enoch sipped the coffee. Though he’d slept well past daybreak, the air was still pretty cool, thanks to the scattered clouds in the sky today.

The smell of Mexican cooking and resinous smoke was quite pleasant. Nobody could be seen at the big adobe house above them, but smoke poured out its chimney and light-colored curtains were pulled back on either side of each window.

A couple of unkempt little boys came racing around the corner of the shack and tripped over his feet. They immediately got up, with quite serious and sober faces and looked a little scared. When he smiled, they cautiously smiled back and then sidled off and soon were chasing after each other and rolling down the short grassy slope that stretched away from other side of the building.

The bay mare strolled into view over by the creek, still hobbled, and contentedly feeding. What a beautiful animal! Then he recalled that Maribel was only on loan to him and he still had to earn his pay.

He ran a finger over the tin star on his coat’s breast pocket. Then he drained his coffee, stood up, and rolled up his blanket.  He dropped it off by the saddle on his way to find a private place along the creek out back where he could wash up some.

Hank was sitting on the rock, smoking, when he returned a while later. He seemed mighty happy about something.

“Maria!” he hollered without bothering to take the pipe out of his mouth, “fetch some coffee! Lord, it makes me shiver just to look at you, boy.”

“That creek water’s right off the mountains, for sure.” Enoch positioned himself smack dab in the middle of a patch of sunlight, but a cloud soon chased that off and he felt cold again. “Thank you, ma’am. Oh, that hits the spot.”

“Creek’s usual dry,” the old-timer remarked, “except for the spring runoff and storms and such. That’s melted glacier water you just washed in!”

“And didn’t it just feel like it, too! My face feels better, though.”

“What on Earth happened to you, anyway? I thought maybe you was born that way.”

“No, sir.” Enoch told him the story of the cyclone and how he made his way to Kendall Springs after that.

Hank was very impressed and felt the need to demonstrate his own weather knowledge.  He peered up at the sky and then, using his pipe for emphasis, told Enoch, “You step lively today and watch yourself around the creek, especially later on. Those are storm clouds gathering.”

“Yes, sir.”

The young deputy was more interested in the terrain now than the weather.  He figured the canyon was about a mile wide, maybe a little more, at this point. The house was up on a little rise, just about squarely in the middle of the canyon, and not likely to get hit by much more than a lucky rifle shot from the rim.

Then he noticed that the shack wasn’t more than 100 yards from the creek and asked, “You flood out a lot here?”

“Never been flooded. When Jim Martin ran this place, him and me and the two boys built a big dam up above, big enough to hold the spring melt and then some. This here,” and the old man waved his pipe at the creek, “this just runs off from the side.  It’s controlled up above, a sluice.”

Hank put a heavy emphasis on the last word and then leaned back and puffed away, waiting for a reaction from Enoch.

The young man couldn’t think of a thing to say. Sluice? The 49’ers used the word, he’d heard. Something to do with mining, but the marshal had said there wasn’t any gold up here.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” he said instead, “how come Miss Sally came back and not the brothers?”

The old man took a few puffs before answering. “So the marshal filled you on some of this. Guess he didn’t tell you that the Jim and his boys stood their ground here against Jake Smith. I was there with ’em.  See this?”

He rolled up a sleeve and Enoch saw that his arm up above the elbow to halfway down the forearm was just a massive scar.

“Got another one just like that in my right leg,” Hank said dryly. “T’wasn’t the bullet so much as the infection afterwards. Anyway, with two bullets in me, Jake Smith still insisted that I be the one to bury my old boss and his two sons – one-armed and with a busted up leg! He sat there and watched me plant all three of ‘em behind the house. Then he kept me on to manage things while he looked all around here for gold. He gave up on that soon enough, but I stayed on and here I am still.”

“Guess you don’t have much reason to like Ole Smitty.”

“Guess you don’t know too much about it, Mr. Deputy.”

The sudden, uncontrollable outburst seemed to surprise Hank Dougherty as much as it did Enoch.

There was deep hatred and bitterness here, the young man realized now, and maybe a little craziness, too.  Not too surprising, given what he had lived through.  The best thing to do was just pretend you didn’t notice.

As they had done the evening before, the two men sat and smoked for a while, and after a while Hank broke the silence.

“Whatever are you looking for up there up on the rim?  Ain’t nothing up there but sage and scrub land.”

“Just trying to figure where they’ll come at us,” Enoch answered. “Unless they’ve got artillery, it won’t be from the rims. I figure they’ll be coming up at us from down there, right up that path we rode last night.  That’s the only place they can get in.”

“You got it figured right, son.” The old man chuckled. “Artillery! Ha!”

Enoch set down his cup and stood up. “Guess we’d better get going.”

“Where you off to?”

“To set a watch, of course. Right there just before the canyon widens out – you and me can hold ‘em off pretty good from that spot.”

“Oh, yeah. Of course. Maria!” The old man set his pipe down and hollered some Spanish and in English, “Better bring us some lunch and supper, too.”

He went into the shack for a bit, and after some palaver in there, came out with his Sharps. Enoch saw that it was modified and figured the old man must have some cartridges in his vest side pocket, since he kept reaching in there as they walked the hundred yards or so down to their selected posts.

A single set of hoof prints went down the path, tracking over the two sets that led up into the canyon.  The water lapped at the marks.  Either the creek was rising a bit or they had ridden much closer to it last night than Enoch had realized.

Where was the marshal now?

“How far away is Fort Union?” the young man asked as they climbed up into position. They were only some 50 feet part at this point, about three feet above the ground and well shielded in front.

“Depends on whether you take the road or cut overland,” Hank replied.  “It’s rough land, with a lot of little canyons and creeks. I don’t think he’d try it in the dark. He’d take the road, and, well, he’ll probably reach the fort by sunset tonight, if he rides hard enough.”

“So at the earliest he won’t get back until tomorrow some time.”

“Probably not until late tomorrow  or after dark,” the old man said. It sounded like he had been figuring it pretty closely. “Them blue-bellies won’t leave the fort until tomorrow morning.”

“We got a long wait ahead of us then.” Enoch wedged himself in between two rocks and put his canteens in the shade.

“Yep.” Hank set down his carbine and brought out a pipe. “Backy?”

“No, thanks. Got some here.”

“Any time. So, how’d you meet up with old Bill Jenkins anyhow? You look a little young to have ridden in the Rangers.”

Enoch smiled. “No, we just played cards on a wagon train coming west.”

As he told the story of his few weeks with Bill, the youth thought his companion might think less of him for not being a Ranger, but quite the opposite happened. Hank seemed almost relieved to hear about the casual acquaintance.  As the day passed, he also learned about Enoch’s temporary arrangement with the marshal. That seemed to please him no end.

Maria came by around mid-day along with eight children and a little baby she had on her back, Indian-style, in a swathe. Enoch didn’t know what the food was that she had brought, but it had a lot of good cornbread and seasoned beans and meat, and he cleaned his plate pretty well. She took their canteens and refilled them, and then she and Bill sat over on the other side of the path and gabbled back and forth in Spanish for a while.

Thunder rolled high up in the mountains behind the canyon as she and the kids headed back up to the shack. The clouds were thick up there and building. Enoch wished he’d brought his poncho, although the sky overhead was pretty clear.

Hank had something else on his mind.  “So what are you fixin’ to do after all this blows over?”

The question irritated Enoch for some reason. Why was everybody in Kendall Springs so blamed interested in what he intended to do in the future? He hesitated, not wanting to show this to the old man.

After a while, Hank spoke up again.  “Maybe this will interest you.”

The old-timer set down his carbine, clambered down to the path and walked over to Enoch. He drew his hand out of the vest and held it up, just out of the young man’s reach. Gold nuggets glittered in the sun.

“I..No, wait. You said there wasn’t any gold in this canyon!”

Hank shook his head solemnly. “I never said no such thing. Ole Smitty couldn’t find any gold. That’s what I said. I found it, after he left, one day when I was fixing up the dam up above.”

“How’d you find it?”

“Jim rigged up a spillway over the dam – that’s where this water comes from – and one spring I was up there when the water was flowing pretty good, and it washed this big one here right into my bowl! Wasn’t long before I figured how how to keep enough water in the pond so’s that sluice would keep running, washing more and more dirt away.  This is just a small part of what I’ve gathered over these years.”

“Miss Sally….”

“Miss Sally should’ve stayed in Denver, where she was the belle of the town! This ain’t no place for a girl like here.”

“Well, what did she say about it?”

“You ain’t met Miss Sally Martin, boy.  If she’d found out about this gold, she’d have staked the claim before the sun went down.  Smitty would take that as a challenge.  I couldn’t tell her.  I…She was my favorite. I used to dangle her from my knee back in the old days. There’s just no way, no way I could….”

Enoch heard the pain in the old man’s voice and looked at the golden power and influence that Hank was holding in his hand.

“What did you do?” he asked quietly.

“What would you do, Mr. Deputy?”

The old man looked up the canyon at the house, near where he had spent his whole life. “I wasn’t about to have to go bury her, too.”

A few birds whistled and chirped high up in the canyon walls. In the distance, Maria was calling to her children.

Enoch was thinking about Marshal Jaeger’s desperate haste last night, driving them both in order to stay one step ahead of Ole Smitty and his gang. ‘Somebody hereabouts is keeping closer tabs on me than I find healthy,’ he had said.

“I made the deal.” Hank had pushed all his emotion deep down inside now.

Enoch, on the other hand, was starting to have a little difficulty controlling his own, as he thought about Marshal Jaeger probably riding all night to bring back soldiers to help him protect the town and the women he loved, trusting this man all the while.

“It won’t be hard,” the old man said to the youth. “They told me you’d play along.”

The youth felt chilled all over again.

“Guess you didn’t sleep much last night,”  he said.

Hank chuckled again.  “I got a horse up at the barn behind the house.  Miss Sally didn’t hear me go.  They’ll be along directly, Smitty at their head. We just let ’em pass. He’s promised her safe passage back to Denver.”

The deluded old fool probably believes it, too, Enoch thought. Maybe I would have, too, before the war.  Not now.  There’s no honor left in anybody any more.

Was that a bird? No, it was the clank of metal from further down the canyon.  Hank was still talking.  He hadn’t heard it.

“We can keep this and half of what Old Smitty finds up there….”

Enoch made up his mind.  “Mind if I come down?”

The old man looked up, surprised and a little wary, but he nodded and the young man climbed down, keeping one hand on his revolver, his fingers well away from the hammer that would release the trigger.  All the while, he stared at the gold in the old man’s hands like he was hypnotized by it.  That seemed to settle Hank’s suspicions.

When he got close enough, the young man quickly brought his hand up, holding the revolver sideways in it, and whacked the old-timer up side the head almost as hard as he could.  Hank dropped like he’d been pole-axed and stayed down.

Enoch knelt beside him, made sure he was still breathing and then dragged him over to one side. Then he went through the man’s clothes and found quite a few cartridges.

Good, he thought as he stored them in his pockets and picked up the carbine. Ole Smitty is gonna get quite a surprise today.  It was a cold, hard thought, just like back in the old war days.

There were more noises far down in the canyon, though it was hard to tell what they were, what with all that racket up in the mountains where there looked to be quite a thunderstorm going on.

The  sun was still out down here.  It sparkled on the gold nuggets scattered over the ground, and Enoch scooped those up in one hand and put them in his pocket.  Then he jumped back up to his place in the rocks, made sure the carbine was loaded, and steadied it on a rock as he waited.

Clouds passed overhead just as he saw the first movements of several riders down there.  It darkened things, but then the sun came out again and the young man saw a light gray gelding in the lead.  The sunlight also picked out the colors of an American flag two or three riders behind, though the faces of the soldiers were still in shade.

“Whoo-hoo!”  His heart filled with unexpected joy, Enoch jumped down onto the path and waved with both arms.  “Whoopee!”

The lead rider took off his hat, showing a thick shock of blond hair, and waved back.  The boy laughed out loud.  Hank stirred and muttered a little bit, but stayed put on the ground.

After a few minutes, the first riders reached them.

“Hank!”  Marshal Jaeger looked at the old man in concern, and then with narrowed eyes peered up the valley.

“No sir,” Enoch told him, “they ain’t come yet.  I knocked him down myself.”

“You!”  For the first time, the youth noticed just how tired the marshal looked.  He was swaying a little bit on the saddle, but his eyes were still sharp.  “Mr. Wilkins, why did you do that?”

“Because of this, Marshal.”  He had pocketed the gold and now brought it out and showed it to Jaeger.  “There’s gold in this valley after all, and Hank kept it secret and cut a deal with Smitty.  He thought I’d play along with it, on account of what they must of told him when he rode out last night after I fell asleep, to tell them you’d gone for the soldiers.  They’re on their way now, figuring you wouldn’t get here till tomorrow.  We was just talking about it before you showed up.  I thought it was Smitty’s men coming up the canyon so I didn’t waste too much time arguing with him.”

The marshal made him go through it a couple times.  Then he turned to the officer at his side.

“Captain, it looks like there’s a fight ahead, but can you spare a man to take Dougherty into custody?”

“Certainly, Marshal.  Green!  Wilson!”

Enoch gaped at the two men as they rode up.  Then he wheeled around and looked at the rest of the troop.  They were all…

“Folks call ’em buffalo soldiers out here, Mr. Wilkins.”

“Yes, sir.”  The youth sighed a little bit but kept his peace.

That little difficulty attended to, Jaeger watched the two soldiers help Hank Dougherty to his feet and lead him off up the path toward the shack.  His eyes strayed up toward the adobe house, but he made himself turn back to the captain.

“They’ll come riding in freely,’ the captain said.  “They won’t expect any resistance.  We’ll spring the trap right here.”

“They’ll see our tracks,” the marshal replied.

“No, the water will cover those,” replied the captain. Indeed, their horses were now standing in shallow, fast-flowing water now, runoff from the storm above.

Jaeger paused for a moment, and turned in his saddle.

“Enoch,” he said, “this is going to be a mounted affair. You go on up there and get Maribel saddled up but stay there and keep an eye on things.  I’m leaving Dougherty and his family in your hands.”

There was a stir further down the canyon, and the word came that riders had been spotted, at least ten, coming in from the road.

“Get going,” Jaeger told Enoch.

“Good luck, Marshal,” and with that the youth started off at a run up the path.  He had to stay to one side, as the creek was now wider and getting kind of deep.

Maria was standing outside the house, surrounded by her children, wailing and yelling at the soldiers in Spanish and Hank had recovered enough to be talkative, too.

“That’s how you return my hospitality, boy?” he yelled as Enoch ran past.

There was a rumble high up in the hills that wasn’t thunder just as the young man reached his horse.  Looking up, he saw a big splash up there somewhere among the trees, and saw a tree go down.  He undid the mare’s hobbles, slapped her on the hindquarters, and then turned around, yelling, “Flood!  Flood’s coming!”

Everybody at the shack seemed frozen in their tracks looking up at the hills.  Beyond them, the buffalo soldiers, their white officer and Marshal Jaeger, guns at the ready, were lined up on either side of the path, waiting far enough back so as to be hidden from the view of the riders that could be seen coming up the canyon.

“Flood!”  Enoch screamed.

“Dam’s bust!” yelled Hank.  “Run!”

Gunfire broke out down at the canyon.

Hank and the two soldiers were gathering up the children.  Enoch helped get them all moving up the slope toward the house.  He looked back.  There was plenty of shooting going on down the path, where horses milled around and gunsmoke filled the air, but all the young man had eyes for was Maria.

“Pepecito!” she was screaming as she ran back to the shack and disappeared inside.

The grassy meadow where Maribel had grazed was now full of churning, muddy water, and the wave front was coming on fast.  They’d never make it.

Enoch was running.  He was about 10 feet from the shack when the big water hit it, lifting it right off its foundation.  There was Maria, her baby in her arms, and it was all he could do to stay upright as he plunged into the flood and tried to wade out to them.  No good!  He was going to drown, too!

Then, as she tumbled backwards, Maria reached out to Enoch, and handed the screaming baby to him.  Then she disappeared under the water, just as a big pine branch that was floating by caught one edge on something and swung around, sweeping the young man over toward the big rock in the middle of the canyon.  The well at its base had disappeared under the water, but Enoch kept moving forward and somehow managed to clamber up, one-handed, high enough on the outcrop to save himself and the baby.

The little boy was squirming all around in his arms, screaming so hard it seemed he’d bust a gusset or something, but all Enoch could think of, as he kept one eye on the rising water, was the look in Maria’s eyes when she had handed her Pepecito over to him and the way she had smiled as the water took her.

There!  It was past.  The water line on his refuge wasn’t getting any higher.  They would live.

The young man crouched, holding the baby gently in his arms.  Uncontrollable tears started coming, and then sobs.  He didn’t know how long he wept out there, in full view of everybody, but finally it was over and he was himself again.

The water was going down fast now.  When it was about halfway down the pump handle at the base of the rock, Enoch crawled down and waded up toward the hill.

“Pepecito!”

Enoch turned around.

She was up on the gray gelding, soaking wet, as was Marshal Jaeger, who was leading the horse up the the path.  A few sodden soldiers were riding along with them.

He waited, and when they got close enough, he splashed on over to her and handed the baby on up.  After hugging little Pepecito, she impulsively reached out and clasped Enoch’s hand tightly for just  a moment.  Then old Hank appeared out of nowhere, and lifted her off the horse and hugged her and led her off up the hill.

Looking past them, up at the house, Enoch saw two women, one white with dark hair, and the other, dressed as a maid, who was Chinese.  Together they stood on the porch.  The white woman waved when Jaeger glanced up and saw them.  He smiled.

“Come on, Mr. Wilkins,” he said.  “I want you to meet somebody.”

“Did we get ’em?” the young man asked as they walked.

“That’s for the cavalry to tell.  I winged Ole Smitty but then the water came, and they mostly just turned and hightailed it right out of there, with Captain O’Hara and his men close behind.  We were too far to the side, away from the opening and had to swim for it.  I saw Maria come by and was sure glad to hear her sputter when I grabbed her!   Didn’t lose a man or a horse here in the canyon – don’t know how they made out below.”

A thought struck him.

“Your job is done here, Mr. Wilkins,” he told the young man.  “I’ll get you a new horse if we can’t find Maribel or she turns up drowned.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Here’s what I need to know right now.  How am I going to introduce you up at the house?  As Mr. Wilkins or Deputy Wilkins?”

Enoch thought about it for a minute or two, and then he asked, “Are things always this lively in Kendall Springs?”

Jaeger laughed out loud and shook his head.  “No!  With Ole Smitty on the run now, it’s going to be a lot quieter.  We’ll be growing some, too.  I could use an extra hand.”

“I reckon Deputy Wilkins would do.”

The marshal slapped him on the back, and they went on up the hill together.



Categories: fiction, Short story, Writing

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