A Short Ride Home

by Caroline Masters, September 2011

Trampas and Elizabeth face a difficult journey in this story set in series five.

Chapter 1

"Libby, are you sure you won't come with me to Denver? There are lots of dress shops you could visit."

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, Grandad, as much as I'd like to, I promised Hannah I'd be home in time for her birthday party. I'll go back with Trampas on the stage."

"Well, that must be the first time you've rejected an invitation to go shopping!" he said smiling.

Elizabeth smiled back. "I know. I'm breaking the habit of a lifetime. But at least your wallet is safe!"

"Don't you worry, Mr Grainger," said Trampas, as he handed their bags to Sam, the stage driver. "I'll take good care of her. We'll be in Medicine Bow before nightfall. It's just a short ride home."

Trampas and Elizabeth's traveling companions were a smart-looking couple from the East. Elizabeth marveled at the wife's elegant scarlet dress and matching hat and immediately struck up a conversation with her. She discovered that the husband – Mr Heath – had made some successful investments on the stock market and they had come West to buy a ranch with the proceeds. Although Mrs Heath was glad to pass the time talking to Elizabeth, her husband maintained a cordial but distant silence, so after the initial introductions Trampas shut his eyes, pulled down his hat, and went to sleep.

As the journey progressed, the road took them over rougher and rougher terrain. Woken by one particularly bad jolt, Trampas looked out of the window and was shocked to see they were passing below some towering sandstone cliffs.

Immediately he shouted up to the driver: "Hey, Sam! What's going on? This isn't the road to Medicine Bow!"

Sam either didn't hear him or didn't want to reply.

"Where are we then, Trampas?" asked Elizabeth.

"We're going through Dead Man's Canyon!"

"Ah," said Mr Heath. "It's nothing to worry about. We're taking a slight detour, that's all."

"What do you mean 'a slight detour'?" asked Trampas.

"I asked the driver if he would take my wife and me directly to our new ranch. It's only a little way off the stage route and he very kindly agreed to help us."

"You arrogant, selfish…" Trampas stopped himself in time, remembering Elizabeth's presence. "You just took it upon yourself to change the route – without even telling your fellow passengers! How much did you pay him?"

"I'm afraid any agreement that was reached between the driver and myself is strictly confidential and no business of yours."

"It is our business. You've taken us off the main route and through the meanest stretch of land in the whole territory. Not only that, we now won't reach Medicine Bow until after dark. You had no right to do that."

"Stacey will be waiting for us. He'll be worried when we don't arrive on time," Elizabeth said with concern.

"Oh, these stage coaches rarely keep to the official timetable, even I, coming from New York, know that. No one will worry about a delay of an hour or so."

Trampas was about to give him a further piece of his mind when he caught sight of the anxious look on Elizabeth's face and reined in the words. It was too late for argument, the damage had already been done. He could only frown and look out anxiously at the dark clouds starting to collect in the distance.

Ten minutes later, streaks of lightning lit up the sky and a torrential downpour flooded down onto the stage coach, bringing a landslide of rocks with it. Sam and his co-driver were knocked to the ground and then the whole stage coach toppled over onto its side.

Fortunately, Trampas and Mr Heath had been sitting on the side that hit the ground and took the full force of the impact, thereby protecting Elizabeth and Mrs Heath from more serious injury. Trampas hit his head and was initially stunned, but he soon regained control and managed to push both Elizabeth and Mrs Heath up through the door of the stage, before clambering out himself and helping to pull Mr Heath from the wreckage.

The rain started to ease off as quickly as it had begun but the ground had already been transformed from a dustbowl into a muddy lake. After checking that Elizabeth and Mrs Heath had suffered no serious injury, Trampas walked over to the co-driver, who was lying on the ground, motionless, staring upwards to the dark sky with a bewildered look. Trampas sighed and closed the dead man's eyes.

Then he turned to the driver, who was breathing heavily.

"Sam, how are you? Where does it hurt?"

"In my chest, Trampas," the old man whispered, with difficulty. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, you can't be blamed for bad weather. Take it easy, now."

"It's my fault we came this way. If we'd stayed on the main road, we'd be safe now. But the money he offered was going to pay for a trip back East to see my daughter and grandchildren. I so wanted to see them again, after all these years."

"It's all right, Sam. You'll be seeing Mary-Lou in no time at all. Don't you worry."

"Yeah," Sam said, then shut his own eyes so that Trampas didn't have to.