From the hilltop on the outskirts of the ranch, Call could just barely make out the darkened shapes of the cabins in the distance. Now that his long journey had ended, he was no longer as sure of himself and the more time he spent overlooking his old home, the more uncertain he became in his decision to return.
He didn't know what the Captains reaction to seeing him would be and it troubled him more than he liked. The two of them had always had a strained relationship and it had just become more so after the Captain had finally admitted to being his father. Of course, they had only seen each other once since then, so they hadn't really been given the chance to work things out.
That brought his thoughts back to their last conversation before he departed the ranch. The Captain had tried, in his own way, to convince him to stay. This was an area that Call didn't like to think about, yet his mind often wondered. What would his life had been like if he had stayed on the ranch five years ago. Would things have turned out better or worse?
Shaking his head, he once again chased those thoughts away. He knew that leaving had been for the best and that path had led him to Hannah. He had loved, and still loved, her with everything in him and he would not change anything that had happened in his life if it meant never meeting her, even if it would have also meant avoiding all of the pain he had been in since her death.
Call returned his thoughts to his father's immediate reaction. Did he even know what had happened since they had last seen each other? If he did know, why hadn't he ever been in touch with him? Did he even care?
Feeling the old anger rise within him, he realized that he would have to try and overcome it. Deep down he knew that he was as much to blame for the bad relationship as his father. If there was ever going to be more between them, he was going to have to do his part. He also knew that holding on to all of the pain and anger was part of what was keeping him from moving forward in his life. He didn't know if this was where he needed to stay, but he did know that this what where he needed to start.
Finally, he nudged his horse forward and covered the distance between himself and the ranch. As he approached the main cabin, he saw that there were several hands milling around. They all seemed to notice him at once, and after one look at him, most dropped their hands to the hilt of their guns. The ones that didn't settled for giving him distrustful stares. Call noted their reactions, but merely shrugged it off; the conclusion that they had jumped to wouldn't have been all that far off at some points in his life.
As he brought his mount to a stop, one man in the group stepped forward, You need something, Mister?
One look at the man told Call that, if he were to stay, they would not get along very well. The man presented himself as someone who liked to be the leader. He didn't seem the type to take orders, making Call wonder how well he got along with the Captain.
Need to talk to the Captain, Call answered.
He's not here just now, the man returned.
His body language seemed to say, So I'm the one that's in charge.' Before either of them could say anything else, another man stepped out onto the porch. The new arrival looked at Call, glanced down at the Hellbitch, then up at Call once more.
he asks questioningly, as if not believing his own eyes.
Call said in return, trying to remain indifferent and to not to be affected by the strange look that his old friend was giving him.
You come back, Pea said, a happy smile spreading across his face as he stepped closer.
The man who had first spoken asked, You know him, Pea?
I used to work here, Call answered, in hopes of leaving off the long story, but this was not to be.
Of course I know him! Peas said quickly. I knowed him since he was just a baby. Newt lived with us in Lonesome Dove. He come up here with us on the drive from Texas, then was the range boss around here for the year that the Captain was gone back there.
At Pea's announcement, the cowhands still didn't look like the completely trusted him, but they at least took their hands away from their guns, except for the leader.' He seemed to dislike Call even more after hearing this.
You're just in time for supper, climb down from there and let's eat, Pea said.
The urge to stay away from the crowd that would certainly be in the bunkhouse warred with the fact that he hadn't eaten very well for the last few days. He had wanted to talk to the Captain before doing anything else, but it seemed like that wasn't to be. Finally his stomach won and he dismounted and went toward the cabin, tying the Hellbitch's reigns along the way.
Sarah Picket, who looked at him for a long moment before the recognition hit her, immediately met him at the door.
Miz Sarah, Call said at last. He found it odd that after several years of respecting no one, this woman could make him fall right back into old habits.
she asked, obviously surprised, but then wrapped him is a tight hug. Call awkwardly returned it, but pulled away quickly, glancing once more at the cowhands that were all watching their reunion. He noticed that that they seem to trust Sarah's judgment more than Pea's, not that he really cared all that much what they thought of him.
Sarah backed off and gave him a head to toe inspection, I'm really glad to see you, but if you think you're sitting at my table looking like that, then you've been gone too long.
Call surprised himself by smiling and simply replied, Yes, M'am.
Shaking his head in confusion, he quickly headed back out the door. After cleaning up somewhat, he returned and was once again met at the door by Sarah. She gave him a hard look, taking in his shoulder length hair and unshaven face, but simply said, It'll do.
Just as he was about to take a seat at the table, the door opened again and the Captain, along with Jasper, Alan, Needle, and a few other boys entered. The Captain has obviously noticed the Hellbitch outside because his eyes immediately fell on his son.
Not knowing what else to do, Call simply said,
was his only response.
Call looked towards the boys that had once been his friends, but could only bring himself to nod. They returned the gesture, but continued to silently look back and forth between he and the Captain. They seemed a little surprised to see him, but he couldn't really blame them. After all, it had been a long time since he had left, and he and the Captain hadn't really been on the best of terms at the time.
When the Captain said no more and moved to sit down, the boys follow his lead and took their seats. Everyone filled their plates in a silence that continued well into the meal.
Finally Jasper couldn't take it any longer and spoke up, Where have you been all these years, Newt?
was his simple answer. Jasper was never his favorite person and the whole situation was making him edgy. Surprisingly Jasper seemed to take the hint.
Unfortunately, Pea did not and decided to continue now that the conversation had started,
I couldn't believe it when we heard that you were married, Newt.
I'm not, Call responded
Not what? Pea asked
Not married, she died.
Call stared at his plate and tried to block out the pain that came with uttering those words and waited for the reaction of the men. He knew that this would be it; he wouldn't be able to take it and would leave. Surprisingly it was the Captains voice that he heard.
Did you boys get that new corral finished today like I told you? he asked.
As the boys all scurried to answer, a relieved Call just looked at his father. He had never once in his life thought that he would appreciate his work-only' attitude, but, just this once, it had saved him. He also had the distinct impression that the Captain had know exactly what he was doing when he had changed the subject.
Once he had finished his meal, Call began feeling trapped in the crowded bunkhouse. It had been a very long time since he had last around so many people for this length of time. He excused himself and quickly made his was outside.
Woodrow Call entered the barn quietly and was immediately greeted with the sound of Newt quietly talking to the Hellbitch. He slowly took in his son's disheveled appearance while trying to think of way to let him know that he was no longer alone. He didn't seem to care about himself anymore. In fact, the horse seemed to be the only thing that he did care about anymore.
You've taken good care of her, he finally spoke up.
Newt whirled toward him with a wild look of his face. He looked completely shocked that someone was able to surprise him, but he saw who it is he stopped his hands downward slide toward the gun on his hip.
After a moment, he cleared his throat and turned back towards the horse, She the only thing I got that's worth anything.
Woodrow shook his head and tried to think of something to say, he wasn't used to having to start a conversation. Gus had been the only person that he had ever felt comfortable just talking to and since his friend's death, so many years ago, he had never really had the need to have an extended conversation.
Talking to Newt had always been hard for him. When the boy was young, Woodrow had never found a way to relate to him and as he grew, the distance seemed to be set between them. Neither of them had ever found away to solve the problem.
Unable to find another way to go about it, he decided on the direct approach, I hadn't heard the news about Hannah.
Newt flinched at his wife's name and gave him a strange look. Perhaps the boy was surprised that he had been able to remember her name. Truthfully, he had never been able to forget the trip he had taken to Curtis Wells. He had been very proud of the life that his son had built for himself and it hurt him to think that it had all been taken from him.
How could you have known, you weren't around, he said bitterly, but then seemed to stop himself. After a moment and a deep breath, he continued quietly, I didn't exactly keep in touch, either.
How long has it been since it happened? Woodrow asked.
Newt nodded and responded without looking up, Three years. There were these outlaws. They were holding her and another woman hostagethe building exploded with the two of them inside.
The short description chilled Woodrow to the core. While there was obvious pain in the boy's voice, he told the story as if he were an outsider, as if it had happened to someone else's wife. It was obvious that he had been through a lot in the years since her death.
How could this have happened? Why didn't he come back here, if only for a little while? While he wasn't the ideal father, at least he was someone and there were others here that cared. Why did his son feel the need to go through something like that alone?
Not wanting to continue this way and cause Newt such pain, Woodrow decided to change the subject, Well, what have you been doing with yourself for these years? I take it you're not a lawman anymore.
Newt gave a short bitter laugh and said, No, I'm not.
Woodrow didn't say anything in reply; he just kept looking and waiting for an answer to his question.
Mostly nothing, Newt replied, Bounty hunting when I felt like it.
Bounty hunting, Woodrow replied, his disapproval was obvious in his voice. Bounty hunting was not an acceptable profession. Most times, bounty hunters were no better than the people they were chasing. They were not in if for the law, simply for the money.
Woodrow did not like to think of Newt in that regard.
Newt replied defiantly, obviously itching for a fight.
For possibly the first time ever, Woodrow decided that he wasn't going to fight back; he was just going to let it go. Are you gonna be staying a while?
Tonight, past that I ain't decided yet, he replied sullenly.
Woodrow said nothing for a moment and simply looked at Newt, he didn't even look like himself anymore. It wasn't just the longer hair, the clothes or the gun fighter's rig he wore at his hip. It was the boy himself. He had a look about him that Woodrow had seen many times before, on the faces of men that that were lost, men that didn't know what was going to happen to them from one day to the next. People who had that look usually ended up in troubleor worse.
That fact alone caused Woodrow to break down on of the barriers that he had built around himself and made him speak, Well, whatever you decideyou're welcome here as long as you want to stay.
Needing to end the conversation, Woodrow quickly turned and exited the barn, leaving a very stunned Newt alone to contemplate his words.
After an extended stay in the barn, Call finally entered the bunkhouse. As he walked through the door all, talking stopped and everyone turned to look at him. Smirking to himself at the power he seemed to have over everyone, he looked around until he spotted an empty bunk. As he walked towards it, Pea approached him.
You gonna be staying a while, Newt? he asked.
I ain't decided yet, he answered shortly.
Pea was obviously caught off guard by the brisk answer but continued anyway, Well, even so, you need to meet the boys that you don't know.
Seeing the older mans eagerness, Call looked around at all of the faces that he didn't recognize. After a moment he nodded and said, Newt Call.
As soon as his named passed his lips, he saw the shock register on both new and old faces. For a moment he was confused, but then he remembered that he hadn't started using Call until after his departure from the ranch. He had still been Newt Dobbs when he had known all of them. No one here was aware of his connection to the Captain.
Pea, who seemed not to have noticed, motioned to the man standing closest to him and started with the introductions, Well this is John Pe
He was cut off when, the man that Call had encountered upon his arrival, asked, Call? You any kin to the Captain?
Yeah, he's my father, he replied as he threw his few belongings onto the bunk.
Call was just trying to ignore the funny looks, when the guy spoke up again, He ain't ever mentioned having a son before.
Smirking slightly, Call thought back to something Gus had once told him, Well, Captain ain't much of a mentioner when he can help it.
With that said, he lay down on the bunk, effectively taking himself out of the conversation. Silence held for a moment, but slowly the murmurs started up again.
After a few minutes, he heard a few words uttered so low he almost missed them, It's good to see you, Newt.
A stab of sorrow for the way he had treated his old friend went through him, and he quickly grabbed Pea's arm before he could move away.
With the first real smile he had had in a long while, Call said, It's good to see you again too Pea. He was surprised to realize that he meant it.
The next morning his decision made, Call rose with the other boys and set out to find Woodrow. After checking several places, he finally found him giving order to a group of the ranch hands. When the group had dispersed, he approached the Captain.
So you've decided then? Woodrow asked upon seeing him.
Newt nodded, No promises, Captain, but I'll stay for a while.
A beat passes and then Woodrow nodded in return. Newt was very surprised at his easy acceptance of such a statement, that was, until he started speaking, You'll be expected to pull your weight around here, just like everyone else. Everyone works around here, you know that.
I figured that, Newt replied, Where do I start?
You still know your way around horses? the Captain asked.
It's been a while, but I think I can handle it.
Good, go a new bunch in last week I need broke. One of the other boys has been doing it but I need him elsewhere, and you're better suited to it.
All right, Newt replied as they started walking towards the nearest corral. No more words were exchanged, but for the first time in a long while, they both felt that everything just might turn out all right.