The rope instantly parted; no match for the blade of Pony that Walks' skinning knife. Pete dropped heavily to the damp earth and lay silent and unmoving. Several of the Apache guards bent to lift the prone figure from the ground, but a sharply issued command stopped them cold.
"Don't touch him! Don't you bastards touch him!"
Although none of the braves understood the tall man's words, they certainly got the general picture. His tone and the flushed angry look upon his face as he advanced upon them, fists clenched, left nothing to the imagination.
Gil Favor shoved the nearest Indian roughly aside and bent over his fallen friend, gently rolling Pete over onto his back. "Where can I take him? He needs to get outta this rain."
Favor glanced up and into Yellow Sky's worried face. She beckoned him to follow. Between Gil, Mushy and Wishbone, they got Pete up off the ground, carrying the unresponsive scout to a wikiup, an Apache dwelling constructed of a branch framework covered by pretty much whatever lay at hand – brush, woven mats, animal hides.
Inside a fire burned hotly and a bed of soft furs waited. Pete was laid upon the warm pallet and covered with blankets. Yellow Sky, the baby in her arms and Mushy in tow, left the small confines of the shelter with Favor reluctantly following. He'd leave Pete's care to Wishbone and the Apache medicine man, though as he passed through the low opening to the wikiup, he found the door held wide by Pony that Walks. He didn't know whether to tip his hat, nod, smile, scowl or just ignore the woman. She'd given them all a bad fright after all, what with that skinning knife of hers held inches from Pete's throat and no one knowing if she planned on cutting him or the rope. Gil tipped his hat. The woman's expression never changed. As Favor exited, she entered. Gil wondered what her business there might be.
Once again Wishbone met with Spotted Bird's incessant repetitions of Pete's name and once again he was unable to silence the man. Though, to the Indian's credit, once Wish began working over the wounded body the medicine man became instantly quiet, obviously his desire to help overwhelming his need to alert Wishbone to Pete's identity.
Pete mumbled and tossed and it was no small feat to tend his wounds. Only Pony that Walks seemed able to quiet him, her touch as she washed dirt and blood from his body having a calming effect. Although Wish couldn't say he liked the woman much, he appreciated her help and that was for certain. Between him and Spotted Bird they got Pete's wounds well cleaned, but the lance entry site, previously healing nicely was now, due to rough handling, gaping wide. Stitches were required and since Wishbone couldn't communicate with Spotted Bird, he called in the big guns.
"Mushy! Mushy! Where the hell are you, boy? Get in here quick!'
In a moment the young man poked his head into the wikiup as if waiting outside for just such a summons. "What is it, Mr. Wishbone?"
"I need a few good long horsehairs pulled from the tail not the mane; a pot a boiling water and a sewin' needle – a thin one mind you and sharp as they come with an eye big enough to thread that horsehair through."
Mushy waited expectantly in case more was forthcoming.
Wishbone's patented 'well what are you waiting for withering glare' gave Mushy his answer. "Yes, sir! Right away, Mr. Wishbone!"
To the boy's credit and Wishbone's shock, Mushy returned quickly, a caldron of hot water swinging from one hand and the horsehairs and a selection of fine bone needles clutched in the other.
Covering his pleasure at Mushy's dual accomplishment of speed coupled with accuracy, Wish barked, "'Bout time you got back! Now let's see what I can actually use!"
Taking the pot of water, Wish placed it onto the fire watching as it began to bubble. Choosing the two longest tail hairs, he dropped them into the pot to boil.
"What cha gonna do with them hairs, Mr. Wishbone?" Mushy asked; his innate curiosity piqued.
"I'm gonna stitch up Pete's wound with 'em, that's what! You was in the war, boy. You gotta remember how the south had to make due what with all them northern blockades keepin' medicines and supplies down to just about nothin'. More than one fella I knew got stitched up mighty fine with boiled horsehairs. Boilin' makes him soft like cat gut or silk; keeps a man from gettin' infected, too, or so I heard.
"Now enough a this talkin'. Why don't you take the lady here and the old fella outside? It's too darned crowded here abouts! How's a man supposed to work I'd like ta know!"
"But I can't do that, Mr. Wishbone!" Mushy replied with a shake of the head.
"And why not might I ask?" Wish questioned.
"'Cause this is their place! I can't kick 'em outta their own house now can I, Mr. Wishbone? That just wouldn't be right!"
Pony that Walks retired to the back of the wikiup, almost as if she understood the conversation between the men - a small silent shadow who busied herself at some task or another. At least that was one person out of Wishbone's way. He sighed deeply. "Well then why didn't 'cha say that in the first place, Mushy? Geesh!"
Out of the blue, Spotted Bird started some incomprehensible narrative which set Wishbone off on a tangent of his own. The ensuing racket of the men speaking over each other in two different languages was enough to wake the dead, let alone a wounded man.
Pete groaned and attempted to sit up. Spotted Bird patted the scout gently and as Pete struggled, the old healer firmly kept him down and still. Nolan opened his eyes, his woozy gaze falling on the Indian. "Grandfather," he murmured softly, "grandfather," the affection in his tone unmistakable.
Wishbone and Mushy exchanged surprised looks. "That old fella is Pete's grandfather?" Wish asked aloud. Not expecting an answer, he was shocked when he got one and from an unexpected source.
"Not Pete Nolan's…mine." Though her English was hesitant and heavily accented, Pony that Walks' meaning was clear.
"That's right, Mr. Wishbone! And Spotted Bird is Yellow Sky's great-grandfather!" Mushy beamed.
"Well ain't you just a font a knowledge all of a sudden!" Wish turned from Mushy to Pony that Walks. He couldn't see her for the gloom, but figured she could hear him right enough and he needed some answers.
"If Spotted Bird is your grandfather, then how does Pete know him?"
There was a pause. "Ask Pete Nolan…he tell you, maybe."
"Was it Pete taught you English?" Wishbone asked.
The reply was a very faint "yes."
"That sure does beat all." Wishbone mused, then shrugged off the new knowledge, getting quickly back into healer mode. "That's all well an' good, but I got work to do here. Pete still needs stitchin'."
Nolan lay back on the furs, the old Indian's gnarled hands affectionately patting the damp curly hair, the bearded cheeks, finally taking and holding one of Pete's hands, his joy at being reunited with his 'grandson' obvious and affecting. His speech took on a gentle crooning tone, the nature of parent to child. When Wish interrupted to hand him some clean bandaging, Spotted Bird took no notice. It was only then that Wishbone looked, really looked into the elderly man's face – into his eyes. He felt a proper fool and more blind than the old Indian. Wish turned to Mushy, whispering, "Why in hell didn't you tell me the old fella can't see?"
Mushy shrugged. "You didn't ask, Mr. Wishbone and why you whispering? Spotted Bird don't understand English."
Wishbone growled, not unlike a bear worrying its victim, but kept further comments to himself. What was the use?
It took only moments to suture the wound and Wish had to acknowledge he couldn't have done it without the old medicine man's help. His continual soft murmuring kept Pete's attention off the procedure and doubtless kept the pain off his mind as well. Nolan offered no resistance to the stitching and although it certainly must have been acutely uncomfortable, he remained still and quiet. With new poultices held in place by fresh bandaging, Wish had done all he could; the rest was now up to Pete, and time, which was said to heal all wounds. That remained to be seen. Some wounds ran deeper than others.
Yellow Sky's footsteps, light upon the damp earth, brought the young woman to the wikiup of her mother unnoticed by those within. Hearing the sound of singing, the young woman stopped, one hand on the skin doorway, and listened while her mother's lilting voice filtered out to her. It did not occur to Yellow Sky that she was eavesdropping, she was only curious. However, her curiosity soon became too much for her to bear as she recognized the words to the song – a song as old as the Apache people – one of love.
Opening wide the doorway, she coughed softly before stepping inside, her intention to be noticed. She was, her mother looking up, yet never missing a word as she continued to sing, her exceptional voice throbbing with emotion as she leaned over Pete Nolan, gently blotting fever sweat from his forehead, throat and chest.
"You love him," Yellow Sky stated matter-of-factly.
Pony that Walks stopped singing to glance up at her daughter. "It has always been so," she replied.
Yellow Sky stood there, shocked. Not so much by the statement, but by her mother's expression – so tender, so gentle, not unlike when she held her newly born grandson – so loving and so very rare in a woman beset by a lifetime of tragedy and sorrow. "Always? It has always been so that you have loved this man, Mother?"
"Come; sit by me, my daughter. We must talk." Pony that Walks put aside the sweat-dampened cloth and lifted the buffalo robe to cover Pete's chest, carefully smoothing it into place.
"Come, sit." She indicated the spot opposite her and next to Pete.
Yellow Sky did as bidden, uneasy, yet so curious it was difficult for her to remain quiet while her mother took time to form her words.
"I have loved Pete Nolan since he came to us as a very young man…during the winter of the great snows. He came with another from the soldiers' fort to the north – both scouts, the other with a broken leg. They stayed many weeks with the Apache until the injured scout healed." Pony that Walks looked down at the sleeping man and reaching out, rested one small work-worn hand upon the robe which covered him, over his heart.
"We loved each other, but could not marry. My father refused. Pete Nolan was not Apache. He had nothing to offer for me but one horse and a pack mule. When father refused him, Pete Nolan left the camp. I have not seen him since and soon after I was married to Nachi who paid many horses and a fine rifle to my father."
Before Yellow Sky even thought to ask the question which had formed in her mind, her mother answered for her. "I never loved Nachi. In my heart there was room for only one – a tall white man with curly hair and laughing eyes. He was all I ever wanted. And then you told me Pete Nolan killed my son and my heart wept for Running Elk, but still, in my heart the love remained."
Pony that Walks stopped a moment and Yellow Sky waited patiently for her to continue. It couldn't be easy to say these things, even to a daughter and it seemed Pony that Walks was having difficulty finding the words she needed to finish the story. Finally, she cleared her throat.
"Pete Nolan killed my son, that is true, but he brought my daughter and grandson home to me." She turned to Nolan, looking upon him lovingly, before facing Yellow Sky with her direct gaze. "He brought our daughter and grandson home."
Yellow Sky heard the words and readily understood their meaning; Pete Nolan was her father. She should have been shocked or at least surprised, but hearing the words spoken aloud just brought the truth out in the open. Somehow Yellow Sky knew, perhaps she'd known all along. Why else would there have been such a connection between them? It was love, but not the love she felt for Mushy. It was that of daughter for father – yes, of course. If Pony that Walks thought the truth would be met with disbelief or worse, anger, she was mistaken. Yellow Sky felt relief and even joy. Nachi was not a good father – not to her and not to Running Elk, his own son. The young woman felt no false loyalty to the man's memory. Her happiness at having a real father at last appeared on her face in the form of joyful tears. Only one question nagged at her and she would have an answer.
"Who knows I am not the daughter of Nachi?" she asked.
"Much to my shame, only Spotted Bird knows. He has always known and loved you all the more for it. Pete Nolan is much in Grandfather's heart; a wise shaman knows the true worth of a man and Spotted Bird is a very wise shaman indeed."
"Then my father does not know of me?" the girl asked.
"He will. As soon as he can understand my words, he will know." Pony that Walks noticed the slight shadow which fell across her child's features, the shadow of doubt. "Will he love you as I do?" The mother smiled. "He will, have no fear."
Jim Quince rolled a quirly and relaxed back in the saddle to enjoy the smoke, his right leg crooked casually around the pommel, the change in position offering a bit of relief from a hard saddle against an unpadded tail bone. Quince sighed. The boss and Wishbone had been gone for days and even Rowdy was beginning to worry, though he was loathe to admit it. By noon the following day the herd would be at Crazy Woman Creek. If Mr. Favor and the old cook weren't waiting, well, Jim didn't want to think of Rowdy leading the drive all those long miles to Sedalia. Yates sure enough tried his best to be a good trail boss, but his lack of experience showed. Dealing with the men was difficult for the youngster; the drovers just didn't take the boy serious! Jim would be happy indeed to see Mr. Favor ride up right about now, even if it meant being caught 'resting on his laurels,' so to speak, though surely even the boss wouldn't mind a fella takin' a minute for a smoke.
"Who's on flank, Quince? You'd better tell me Joe Scarlet!"
The booming and very authoritative voice belonged to no man save Gil Favor and though Quince very nearly got himself a good case of apoplexy due to the shock of hearing it, his pleasure burst from him in the form of a loud and very raucous rebel yell. Luckily it did not spook the cattle who were more interested in the water they smelled up ahead than Quince's wail of a greeting.
"Boss, am I ever glad ta see you! Where's Wishbone? Did 'cha find Pete and Mushy? What…?"
Favor cut Quince off with a wave of his hand. "Later. All I'm interested in right now is finding Rowdy and hearing why in hell this herd ain't where it's supposed to be!" Favor turned his horse, kicking the animal into a gallop.
Quince shrugged, settled himself back in the saddle and with a disappointed grunt crushed the majority of a well-rolled cigarette out against the pommel before setting off in hot pursuit of the quickly disappearing Boss. There'd be hell to pay. Jim was just glad none of it would be taken outta his hide.
Pete woke with his mouth feeling like it was stuffed with cotton, so dry it made swallowing difficult. Within moments of waking a hand slipped beneath his head and a cup of cool sweet water was pressed against his lips. He drank, but the small act exhausted him and it was all he could do to keep his eyes open, for there was something he had to know – was it Pony that Walks' face he remembered seeing or a cruel trick played by a feverish mind? It took several seconds for his eyes to focus, but the wait was worth it. Close, so close had he the strength he could've pulled her into his arms, sat his first, his truest love. Tears filled his eyes and he blinked them away, the better to see her.
"Still the prettiest little girl in Texas," he murmured. His reward was a slow easy smile so familiar it seemed he'd last seen it only yesterday instead of nearly twenty years past.
Without a sound Pony that Walks came into his arms, her dark head resting in the spot just beneath his chin. She was crying; he felt the trembling of her body. Resting his cheek against her hair he took in the scent of her, like crushed sweet herbs warmed in spring sunshine.
"Don't cry…please don't cry. You know I can't stand to see you sad," he whispered and she raised her face to his.
"These are tears of joy!" She replied and then hesitantly, tenderly, she kissed him.
When Yellow Sky entered the wikiup the sight which met her eyes brought a smile to her heart. Sleeping in the curve of her father's arm was her mother and the look upon Pony that Walks' face was that of utter peace and contentment. Setting down the basket of fresh food she'd brought, she shifted the baby up over her shoulder and turned to leave, unwilling to interrupt.
"Don't go." Pete Nolan whispered – no, no longer Pete Nolan, but Father she reminded herself. Did he know of her yet she wondered?
"Sit by me. I haven't seen you or the baby for awhile," he said.
Sitting cross-legged by his side, she opened the baby's blanket, revealing the sleeping infant, angling the baby so that her father could see the perfect face framed by dark hair, the hint of the curliness to come only slightly visible as a stray tendril across the forehead.
"Beautiful," he whispered. "Like his mother; like his grandmother."
"He has a name now." No one yet had heard what the child would be called, not even Mushy. She prayed her father would like it. "His name is White Scout." Her wait for a reaction was brief.
Pete Nolan smiled, an expression which began in the laugh lines at the corner of the amber-colored eyes and swept the sharp features, finishing at the mouth. "The Apache custom of naming a baby after the first thing the mother sees after birthing." He paused a moment. "You honor me, Daughter."
"Mushy, I wanna talk to you." Wishbone appeared ill at ease, fidgety, most uncharacteristic for a man so set in his ways and thoughts.
Mushy grew instantly worried, breaking out into a cold sweat. If ever the time came when he didn't react that way to Mr. Wishbone, it would be a glorious day indeed! "Okay." The single word came out a rasping croak. Mushy swallowed and tried again. "Okay, Mr. Wishbone." That was better.
The older man took the younger by the arm, guiding Mushy to a spot down near the creek, a private spot. This sure don't bode well, Mushy thought. What can Mr. Wishbone want to talk about that nobody else should hear? He was soon to find out.
"I been wrong about you, son," Wish began and suddenly Mushy felt his knees go weak. It was as if everything he'd known was suddenly turned topsy-turvy, upside-down and inside out. G.W. Wishbone just admitted he had been wrong and about Mushy Mushgrove no less! Would wonders never cease?
"Uh, could you say that just one more time, Mr. Wishbone? I think I musta heard wrong!"
Wish raised his eyes to the sky and did a slow silent burn, but to his credit he did not lose his temper. "I said…I been wrong about you, son."
Mushy's mouth dropped open. He had heard right! Impolitely, he stared at his former boss which prompted Wishbone to add, "You'll catch flies you don't shut that pie hole right quick!"
The mouth snapped closed and Mushy shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Wishbone, but you never said anything like that to me before. Guess you surprised me is all!"
Casting around, Mushy found a rock and sank down onto it, the cold stone a tether to reality in his suddenly shaky world. "What makes you think you been wrong about me?"
Wishbone gazed out at the swiftly flowing creek. On a snag a good-sized turtle basked in the warm sun. As he spoke, Wish kept focused on that turtle. It made the speaking, the admission all the easier.
"Because I seen what you got done once you was given a chance. There's more ta your future, boy, than bein' a cook's louse! That ain't no job for a youngster who can think on his feet and that's you, Mushy. You got what they call potential – meanin' you can do pretty much whatever it is you want to do with your life."
Wishbone turned to face Mushy and walking slowly over to where the young man sat, he placed a hand on either shoulder, shaking gently. "Don't come back on the drive, boy. It ain't that I don't want 'cha, that ain't a bit true – truth is, I don't know what I'll do without 'cha…but don't come back, Mushy. A cook's louse ain't no kinda life for you."
Mushy's heart swelled with pride and he felt warmed from the inside out. He wouldn't let on he'd decided not to go back to his former occupation some time back, though if he had any idea he would be treated with such respect and kindness the decision might have been a bit harder to make.
"All right, Mr. Wishbone. If you think I have this…um potential, well then I'll just stay on here with Yellow Sky and her folks. I believe I can make a fine life here."
Mushy covered the cook's hand with one of his, patting it somewhat awkwardly. "I'll miss you, Mr. Wishbone. When all's said and done, you were right good to me. Oh, you was cranky at times, but you looked out for me, too and I learned a lot from you, sorta like things I mighta learned from a father. Thanks…thanks for everything."
Wishbone nodded and turned his head, pretending to look for the turtle out on the snag. "Darned sun; makes my eyes smart somethin' awful!" He rubbed at the tears which came, unasked for and unappreciated, into his eyes. If he thought to hide anything from Mushy, he was sorely mistaken. There came a tap on his shoulder and when he looked up, a bright red and white handkerchief the size of a small tablecloth was being held out toward him.
"Thanks, boy." Wish grabbed the kerchief, dabbed his eyes and loudly blew his nose into the massive square, folded the soiled part inside and attempted to hand it back to Mushy who declined with a shake of his head. In one quick motion, Mushy retrieved the identical cousin to the red and white monstrosity from somewhere beneath his vest, dabbing at his own watering eyes and blowing his nose.
"I wondered what happened to those red and white checkered tablecloths I bought in Abilene for them la-de-da socials we was gonna have some day!" Wish commented wryly. At that, both men burst into laughter.
"Go ahead, Mushy, just call out his name. Go on!" Pete urged from his hiding place behind a clump of trees. "Go on!" he hissed, waving his hand at the wikiup.
Mushy, wondering why the heck Indian customs were so hard on grooms-to-be, swallowed the rather large lump in his throat and called out in carefully coaxed Apache, "Juan Castro! Juan Castro! I need to talk to you!"
In the time honored tradition of making a young courting man sweat bullets, Juan Castro took his own sweet time in putting in an appearance. But when he did, finally, it was in broad expansive gestures. The hide door to his wikiup, exquisitely painted in a sweeping battle scene, was thrown aside and the imposing figure of the great Apache chief stepped into the light. "What is it you want?" he asked, in Apache.
Mushy fought panic and turned slightly toward the hidden Pete. "What'd he say?" he whispered rather loudly.
Pete translated and Mushy answered, "I would take Yellow Sky as my wife."
So far so good as Juan Castro raised one eyebrow and answered, "Who speaks for you?"
Pete didn't wait for Mushy to turn to him, but showed himself, walking out from behind the trees, leading a fine sorrel mare upon whose back rested a magnificent black hand-tooled Mexican saddle sure to dazzle the eye of any self-respecting Apache chief while setting said Indian's finery loving soul on fire with the unbridled desire to own such a prize. At least that's what Pete and Mushy hoped.
By the way the chief's dark eyes nearly bulged from their sockets at the sight of the bride-gift, Pete, at least, knew that was how things stood with Juan Castro. Speaking directly to the chief Pete added more booty to the pile.
"My friend also would like the great chief of the Lipan Apache to have twelve head of the finest Texas beeves to go along with this choice mare and magnificent saddle!" The cattle were a wedding present from all the drovers to Mushy for just this occasion.
Never had the chief been offered bride-gifts of such finery and the bride in question not even his own daughter. The young suitor should, in all rights, be offering these gifts to Yellow Sky's father – the white man who now stood before Castro, hat and gifts in hand. But Juan Castro, as brother to the potential bride's deceased husband, spoke as the girl's guardian. The chief fairly salivated at the saddle and brood mare, and the cattle! He'd seen them corralled at the creek and better animals he'd never thought to own!
"Consent is given. The ceremony may take place when the bride's parents are ready to give their daughter to this man in marriage."
Pete handed over the mare's reins and gladly. The interview was over.
Yellow Sky anxiously smoothed her hip-length hair into place, at least the tenth time she'd done so in the last hour. Naturally on this day, her wedding day, the usually compliant hair caught every passing tree branch, every stray breeze blew it about her face and tangled it. Exasperated, she sat down in the middle of the wikiup she alone built and decorated as a first home for her and her husband and of course White Scout, and expertly plaited the long heavy hair into two braids, tying off the ends with brightly colored ribbons which matched the beading on the front of her buckskin dress. Satisfied, she took a moment to glance around, marveling that she actually managed to finish the wikiup in so short a time. What it lacked in decoration, it made up for in the love that went into its construction. Well made and solid, the woven rush mats making up the walls would keep out wind, rain, heat and the prying eyes of the curious. Yes, it would do, she decided.
The sound of her name being called roused Yellow Sky from her musings. Rising gracefully, she exited the wikiup. Just outside her parents waited. Her mother looked beautiful and more importantly, happy as she stood next to the man she loved, her small grandson cradled in her arms. Father, too, looked content and very handsome in a deerskin shirt her mother had made for him. How many hours went into its construction and elaborate beading Yellow Sky could only guess. She wished she had had the time to sew one as beautiful for her Mushy. How handsome he would have looked in such a shirt.
"It's time," Mother said.
In a secluded glen beneath a bower of ancient cottonwood trees waited Spotted Bird. As shaman, the honor of joining Yellow Sky and Mushy in marriage would be his.
Yellow Sky trembled and was glad to have her father's strong arm to lean upon. She never believed the day would come when she would marry a man she loved. She'd thought it her destiny to spend life married to a man not of her choosing in a cold and loveless union. How wrong she had been to give up her dreams of happiness.
As she lifted her head she saw Mushy for the first time that day and her breath caught in her chest as it always did when she saw him. There was not a dearer, gentler man anywhere or one as handsome as he was this day, with his pale wavy hair and laughing eyes. When she remembered how she'd first felt about the attractiveness or lack thereof of white men in general, it brought a smile to her lips. How ignorant she had been and how blind!
To Yellow Sky's delight, her groom was dressed in a deerskin shirt of superb craftsmanship; easily identified as the work of Pony that Walks. Her use of the tiniest pastel–colored beads in the most intricate of designs was her trademark. Yellow Sky turned to her mother and caught her in a quick hug, mindful of the sleeping infant in her arms. Regaining her composure, the bride moved up to stand by her groom, taking his hand in hers.
Spotted Bird began. Standing closely behind Mushy, a proud Pete Nolan softly translated the words to his future son-in-law.
"Now you will feel no rain,
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness,
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies,
But there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your togetherness
And may your days be good and long upon the earth."
Rowdy Yates rode up to where Gil Favor sat his horse, the boss smoking a cigarillo and calmly surveying the milling cattle in the uncommonly lush valley below.
"Didn't you say Pete shoulda been back by now, Boss? I mean, we're three, four days to the border and there's no sign of him."
Favor turned leisurely in the saddle. "What I said was, Pete promised to be back a day or two before we reached the border. He's got time. Pete's one to keep his word. I ain't worried and you shouldn't be."
"Well, I dunno, Boss. If I found out I had a family I never knew I had, and if Pony That Walks is as well, as nice and pretty and all like you and Wish say she is…well, if it was me, I might not come back to life on a trail drive, even if it is only this one last drive. You know what I mean?"
Gil Favor sighed. He certainly did know what Rowdy meant; he knew it well. He had a home and a life outside cattle, heat, dust and danger, but chose to stay on. Even he wasn't sure of the reason. If Pete chose to stay with his family, well, Gil would understand, maybe not like having to make do without his scout, but he'd understand.
A cloud of dust and the approach of a rider turned the men's attention to the south. "Well, speak a the devil," Rowdy said with a grin as he kicked his mount into an intercepting lope. "Pete Nolan!" he yelled.
Gil Favor ground out the butt of his smoke against the saddle horn, put off thoughts of family and home and settled back down to business. There was a herd to move.
"Head 'em up! Move 'em out!"