"I quit, Mr. Favor." Rowdy Yates finished tying his bedroll to his saddle. He checked the Winchester Wishbone silently handed him, making sure the rifle was loaded before sliding it into the scabbard. Beside him, Gil Favor said nothing. It was as if the boss was waiting for Rowdy's explanation. After all, when Favor had hired him, Rowdy swore he could do the ramrod job. Back then, all of six days ago, he had been certain he could. Now, with what happened with the Diehl brothers, how he had hired them because the drive needed more men and they 'looked' like they could do the job, and how they'd come within a hairs-breadth of murdering Pete Nolan, Rowdy knew the job was beyond him.
"I got no sense when he comes to hirin' men. I didn't take the time to see past the horses and gear and my own need to hire on more help to get this drive started. I thought you'd be pleased by me takin' on the extra drovers." Rowdy looked up and into Favor's eyes. "Any fool with half a brain coulda seen the Diehls were trash, but not me…not me."
Favor rubbed a hand across his chin, the thick, two-day growth already well-on to a beard. "You talk to Pete Nolan about this?" He asked.
Rowdy shook his head. "No, but why should I?"
The boss took out fixins and rolled himself a smoke. He took his time about it, getting it just perfect before touching a match to the tip. Rowdy wished he'd hurry up and get on with answering the question. Favor inhaled deeply, the smoke curling from his nose and fanning out about his head. "You're feelin' guilty. Nolan mighta gotten killed by men you hired. You oughta talk to Pete and see how he feels about it…see if he holds you to blame."
Yates seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospect, but he made no move to step up into the saddle and leave, as had been his intent. "Talk to Nolan," Favor repeated, "if you still wanta quit after that, I won't stop you."
For some moments Rowdy stared after Favor's retreating back. Maybe the boss was right. Maybe it was guilt that tore so at him. He didn't even know Pete Nolan, but Gil Favor did, and Joe Scarlet and Jim Quince, knew him and liked him. Maybe it was time Rowdy Yates took advantage of other men's knowledge and stopped trying to do everything on his own.
Rowdy found Pete Nolan sleeping on the far side of the supply wagon. He was glad the newly hired scout was asleep, that way he could check out his condition without Nolan being any the wiser. Pete's face, even in the wagon's shadow, showed overlapping bruises in varying shades of black, blue and green. As he shifted his body to a more comfortable spot, Nolan caught his breath and swore softly. He opened his one good eye and blinked up at Rowdy. Yates felt his face color in embarrassment.
"Um, sorry, Nolan…I didn't mean to wake you," Rowdy stammered. He ran a hand nervously back through his thick, unkempt hair. "I…I just." Exasperated, Rowdy shook his head. "I need to ask a question is all."
Pete struggled to sit up and with a bit of assistance from Rowdy he relaxed back against his propped-up saddle. "That's better. I'd rather talk sittin' up than layin' down like some sorta invalid." Nolan grinned in a friendly manner. "Ask away."
Pete's smile was lopsided and almost painful to look upon due to the battered features, but Rowdy judged the expression genuine. Perhaps speaking to the scout wouldn't be so bad after all. He joined Pete, sitting directly across from him, on the hard ground.
"I guess the only way to do this is jump right in, so…I need to know if you hold me responsible for the Diehl brothers…um, for what the Diehl brothers almost did to you last night."
Pete looked questioningly at Rowdy. "You think I blame you for last night? Why, because you hired them boys on?"
Rowdy nodded. "My judgment was poor and my reason for hirin' the Diehls was purely flawed." Yates stared hard at the ground, unable to look into the face of the man he figured he wronged. "We needed more drovers…I hired them to impress Mr. Favor. I never once thought to check 'em out or to be suspicious of 'em. I didn't think."
Pete solemnly shook his head. "I don't blame nobody but myself for what happened with the Diehls. If anybody made trouble for Pete Nolan last night, it was Pete Nolan."
Rowdy Yates felt the weight of the world lift from his sagging shoulders. He actually smiled, which had the scout grinning right along with him. "Let's just say we both made a mistake when it came to the Diehls," Pete said. "And like my pa always told us kids…if you learn something from a mistake, then it ain't been a lesson wasted."
The young ramrod thought for a moment before replying. "Well, then, Mr. Nolan, your Pa'll be glad to know this lesson ain't been wasted. "
"It's Pete, Rowdy," the scout corrected, "and next time I see Pa I'll tell him…for both of us!"
Rowdy stood before Gil Favor, hat in hand, a man on a mission. In a clear, unwavering voice he recanted his previous announcement. "I changed my mind about quittin', Mr. Favor," he said. "I want to stay on as ramrod of this drive."
"You talked to Pete, then?" Favor asked.
"Yes, sir, I did. He don't hold me responsible for the Diehls."
Favor nodded. "That sounds like Pete." The boss reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a thin, dark cigarillo, which he lit. Rowdy thought as how the boss sure smoked a lot, but naturally allowed the thought to pass without comment. Favor inhaled deeply and a look of utter satisfaction transformed his expression from serious to calmly peaceful. "You think you're up to the ramrod job now, no more doubts?"
"Doubts? I still got plenty, Mr. Favor, but I figure what mistakes I do make…"
At that statement, the boss lifted a single eyebrow, but waited for Yates to finish the sentence before commenting.
"What mistakes I do make I'll learn from and I won't make the same mistake twice, Boss. You can count on it." Rowdy placed his battered Stetson on his head, pulling the stampede string tight beneath his chin.
Favor ground out the remains of his smoke beneath his boot and the calm serenity of moments before vanished, as the serious, 'boss' expression settled firmly onto the chiseled features. "You're damned right you won't make the same mistake twice," he stated firmly. "I'll see to that, and Rowdy," Favor poked his index finger perilously close to Yates' chest, "no more quitting. From this day on, if you leave this drive it'll be at my discretion, not yours!"
Rowdy's head bobbed in agreement and a grin lit his boyish features. "Yes, sir, Boss. No more quitting! I understand…absolutely."
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