The herd reached the river. Favor relayed his orders to have the herd strung out, and then they started to move the cattle into the river. The cattle bawled their objections, but the drovers relentlessly pushed them on. All the men did well, and Favor was pleased at most of the orders Rowdy gave as the herd was driven into the swift current. There was however one big decision Favor had to shake his head at. Rowdy ordered a drover back to help push the herd, which was starting to shy away from the water's edge. There was a need for a man: he just took a man away from the wrong position, that's all. That man was needed to shoo the cattle away from the sharp drop-off that the current was pushing the cattle toward. Just a rookie's mistake. But Favor berated him for it as hard as anything to get the lesson learned. Rowdy took it in stride like he always did, but as Favor left, Pete saw a flicker of the uncertainty that had resided there just days ago pass through his eyes. He went back to his work striving to do better, but there were fewer orders given that Pete could see, and the ones that were given, though the right ones, had a second's hesitation before being issued, and that didn't bode well.
The river was crossed successfully, and all the men were proud of the hard day's work. Favor was proud of his men, but of course, they still had a couple hours of daylight left, so they went right back to work, pushing the cattle as many extra miles as they could get out of them. Pete unobtrusively studied Rowdy during the last few hours, but Rowdy appeared to be his normal self again. Maybe Pete was just being paranoid, but the scout didn't want to go through another week of Rowdy's strange moods; it hurt the drive. Okay, maybe it didn't really hurt the drive, since Rowdy had done all his work fine before when he was feeling down, but, and Pete was loathe to admit it, he had kind of missed having the normal Rowdy around. He guessed he kinda liked the irascible, stubborn, crazy and reckless kid, but only the Lord knew why.
"Hey, Rowdy, wait up!" Dan yelled as the drive finally stopped, and all were heading for the night's camp. Rowdy reined up obediently, but when Dan got close, he tore off. Dan instantly spurred his mount, and the two raced their way to the remuda, narrowly missing the dismounted drovers, who leapt out of the way of the speedsters.
Pete watched them. When Dan had shown up, he had gotten Rowdy back into his old mood, but already there was evidence of the strange mood still lurking in the shadows, waiting to lash out again. And Bailey was leaving soon. What was going to happen then? Pete frowned as he brooded over the situation. But then an idea began to form, and Pete nodded to himself as he walked over for some grub. Sometimes all you need…yep. That was it, Pete knew.
Over the next few days, the herd made its steady, lumbering process to the railheads in Sedalia. The drive was going along quite uneventfully, everyone doing their job with hard work and without complaint. The only unusual thing was that every now and then during the day, Pete would drop back to drag and spend a little time with Bailey. The trips seemed to be casual, just for a little conversation, and Pete quickly left for his own position, but something about it made Favor frown. He didn't know if it was trouble he was sensing, but he was certain these "casual visits" were anything but.
One day, after Pete had finished another casual visit, and was returning to his assigned position, Favor loped over to have his own "visit" with Nolan.
"How's it going over here?"
Pete glanced up as the boss sidled alongside. "Oh, really good."
"Been working hard?" The sarcastic, questioning tone told Pete that the Boss was fishing.
"Actually, I've been back in drag, checking on how the new man's doing."
"You still worried about him?"
Pete shook his head. "No, Mr. Favor, no. He showed us a good crossing, and he's doing his job and not complaining about being in drag. I'm not worried about him. I just wanted to make sure he was comfortable in that position."
Nolan had answered his question, and Favor quickly rode off, but a nagging suspicion told him that Pete had just weaseled his way out of telling the whole truth.
All too soon for Rowdy, Dan Bailey had enough wages to go a long ways by stage, and he was heading out. He knew that ever since Dan was a kid, he had wanted to see the world, but Rowdy couldn't help wishing that Dan would sign on for the rest of the drive. Besides a stage wouldn't take him to see the world, just to a couple more same-old same-old hole in the walls. But Bailey wanted to go, and so on the last morning of the drive, Dan collected his pay and started for the nearby town. The boss allowed Rowdy to accompany him; Pete had insisted it would be a good idea. So the two of them rode away.
"You sure you don't want to stay?" Rowdy asked again as the ride wore on.
Bailey laughed. "I'm sure." At Rowdy's scowl of disapproval, he elaborated. "Look kid, it's just not a job I like. I haven't found one yet that I can stand for more than a few days." Before Rowdy could say anything about him staying on the Sedalia drive a couple years ago, he defended, "That's because I needed the money, and I had nowhere else to go."
"Man, you really make pushing cattle sound awful."
"Well, I shouldn't," Dan apologized. "It's a good job, and a hard job, just one that doesn't happen to suit my tastes. But I'm glad for you, kid. I'm glad you found a job you like. A ramrod, that's really something."
"It's really something all right," Rowdy shook his head, "but I don't know if I'm doing that great."
"Oh sure you are."
"No, I keep on making dumb mistakes."
"Aww, you're just learning. You can't be perfect."
"But I'm supposed to know better by now." He sighed. "I don't think I'll ever get the hang of it. I can't believe the men have put up with such a baby-faced runt like me ordering them about for so long."
"Rowdy, they know you're more than that."
When Rowdy hadn't made a move like he'd heard, Bailey decided to solidify his statements. "I've heard the men talk. They know you're green, and mistakes will happen. But they can also see that you're learning and you're trying and that you're loyal to this outfit. It's your honest hard work that makes those men listen to you."
"Yeah, but I don't know. A ramrod's supposed to order the men about and make the decisions when the boss is gone, but every man there knows twice as much about the cattle business as I do."
"Something you'll never let the others know, right?" Bailey added knowingly, sparking off an embarrassed, but agreeing grin from his friend.
They had reached the town. Rowdy hadn't said anything for a while, but Dan could tell the talk had done him good. Nolan had had a good idea, Bailey decided. The kid had needed a good talking to, and he was the only person who could really make an impact, him being an old and trusted friend, as the scout had put it. But Rowdy was more than that, he was like another kid brother to him, and Dan wanted to do something more than just offer a couple of nice words.
When they reached the general store, Bailey dismounted and looped his reins around the hitching post, and then leisurely strolled under the protective shade of the building's porch roof. Rowdy slid down from his horse, but he stood holding his reins as he looked questioningly at his friend.
"Hey, shouldn't we be selling your horse? The stage is due in pretty soon," he commented, looking up at the high sun.
Bailey shook his head. "Naw, everybody's probably got a horse in this town. They wouldn't be interested in buying one like this."
"You kidding? She's a great piece of horseflesh, but of course not as great as you," Rowdy corrected as his own horse nickered as if in protest. He scratched his mount's ears in apology.
"You take her, then," Dan suggested.
"What? Oh no." But the kid's eyes had lit up for a second, Dan saw.
"Come on, Rowdy. I'm serious, take her."
"I don't have enough money for her. Besides, I've already got me a horse."
"But what happens when yours goes lame, or tires out? You gonna just keep riding whatever bronc you can get ahold of?" Rowdy glared at that pointed comment.
"And besides, a Ramrod should have two horses."
Rowdy laughed. "You make ramrod sound like being the governor of Texas. But still, I just can't take your horse."
"Who says I'm just giving her to you? You oughtta know me better than that. You're gonna keep and take care of her for me, and whenever I come across you again, I'm taking her back from you." That stipulation would make him feel he could take it, Dan knew. "Fair enough? Oh, and I'm keeping my saddle."
"You're so kind."
"Then it's a deal?"
He hesitated for a second. "It's a deal. Thanks Dan," Rowdy gushed as he patted the beautiful bay affectionately. Dan smiled at the excitement in his friend's eyes. Bailey had been away from friends and family for so long, traveling around, that it made him happy just doing something nice for someone else for once. And the way the kid's eyes lit up, Dan remembered that gleam in both Rowdy's and Charlie's eyes whenever Dan would allow them to ride on his first horse back on the farm. Bailey shook his head and the thought off before any dust could get into his eyes and make them water.
"Well, you better head on back or Mr. Favor's liable to get a little ornery at you."
"Yeah, I better."
"And when I get back," he warned, "I better hear that you're the best darn ramrod there is this side of the Pecos."
"I'll sure try. It was good seeing you, Dan. You take care of yourself." They shook hands.
"You too. You've done all right for yourself, Rowdy. You've done all right."
At camp, that afternoon, the drovers were milling about, enjoying their break. Pete and Favor stayed around the chuckwagon with Wish and Mushy. They chatted away quietly, but they all looked up as Rowdy rode into the remuda, leading the beautiful bay that belonged to his friend. Yates dismounted, and quickly grabbed a plate from Wish.
"That's Bailey's horse isn't it?" Favor asked.
"Yeah, he wants me to keep it until he finds his way back around these parts. He's a nice guy, isn't he Mr. Favor?" He smiled, then after getting his plate, he made a dash for the coffeepot.
"Rowdy's looking a lot better," Wish commented as the youth wandered away to join the other drovers.
"Yeah, but with Bailey gone, will it last?" Mr. Favor asked seriously.
"I think it will. I think Rowdy's gotten over what was bugging him," Pete said.
"Sometimes all you need is a friend," the cook observed. Pete glanced at him, surprised Wish had been seeing the same thing he had been.
"Well we're his friends," Mushy protested. Wishbone glared at him and raised a pot threateningly; Mushy backed away.
"But we're his new friends, Mushy," Pete elaborated for the boy helpfully.
Favor nodded slowly as he took in what the others were saying, and it coincided with his own thoughts he'd been having. "He's starting a new job, new friends, pretty much a new life. Guess it was starting to scare him a bit. He needed Bailey to kind of say it was all right, that he was doing right. Course," Favor continued, pushing his hat back a little, "I wonder who told Bailey to tell Rowdy that and give him the horse."
"Don't look at me when it comes to the mare," Pete said when he felt Favor's eyes on him. "I just hinted to Bailey that the kid was feeling a little down and that he might need some reassurance. I didn't tell him to give Rowdy a whole horse. I kinda liked seeing him ride that bronc." The others laughed.
A few minutes later, Rowdy returned to the wagon, tossing his plate away. He held his biscuit up accusingly in front of the cook's face.
"Wish, even with a new bag of flour you still can't make a decent biscuit? These are harder than rocks, and taste worse," he nagged. He turned to Pete and Mr. Favor. "Well, what are y'all waiting for? Let's get moving." He sprinted eagerly over to the remuda.
Pete grinned. "Yep, Rowdy's back to normal."
"Hallelujah," Wish grumbled.
Favor just smiled, then stretched out his back as he straightened up. "All right, let's head 'em up and move 'em out!"
Well, that's it. It's late, but it's still Tuesday by my clocks, so I'm on time! Thanks for reading, it's nothing much, but I just felt in the mood to do a quick, little family/friend story after being in the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas for so long (what with school starting up again, it's a little depressing). Thanks again for reading and have a great day!