Incident at Painter Creek

(A painter is a panther)

Rowdy Yates: It takes a lot of men to get a cattle drive going. Each man has his own part, his own job – and each job in its own way is just as important as any other. Mr. Favor's the trail boss of this drive. Me? I'm second in command. The name's Rowdy Yates, ramrod.

Rowdy Yates was riding next to Gil Favor. Both had their eyes trained on a horse galloping towards them. They already knew the horse to be Spot and the rider to be the drive's scout, when they were still some way off.

Pete Nolan rode up to the boss and ramrod, and stopped his horse whilst leaning one hand on the horn, and the other on the cantle of the saddle, so that he could shift himself in his seat after his long ride.

"How's it look, Pete?" Mr. Favor asked.

Pete's mouth protruded in a thoughtful expression before he answered. "Not bad – could be better. There's a river up ahead, just like the map says - called Painter Creek. It's fast flowing, and pretty deep in parts, but it's better than going out of our way by five days through them hills up there." He motioned to some monotonous hills standing like giants behind him, just to the left of the direction in which they were leading the 3000 head of cattle.

"Can they make it across?" Favor asked, motioning to the cattle which were passing by his right, lowing softly.

"We've crossed rivers before that have been pretty fast – this is no different, I guess." Nolan replied.

Rowdy frowned up at the sun, and, rubbing the back of his neck, said, "How far off is it, Pete?"

The scout hesitated. "They've been going pretty well so far, haven't they boss?" He got a nod of agreement from Favor. "Well, perhaps two days journey, maybe more, maybe less."

"And what about camp, Pete? Any good places up ahead?"

"Yeah," Nolan said. "If we keep on going, we should reach a place to stop before nightfall. There's a waterhole there – not big, but, it'll do."

"That's good enough for me," Gil Favor said, and with a slight tug on the reins with one hand, the other placed amiably on his hip, he urged his horse on to where the point riders were leading the trail of cattle.

They reached the place that Pete Nolan had spoken of pretty much as the sky began to turn a dusky rose colour. The men, after the long, hard day's work, were ready for a big meal, even if it was only the usual sourdough and stew.

Wishbone and Mushy began preparing the meal as the men tied their horses up and left them with 'Hey Soos', the wrangler. It wasn't long before Wishbone cried out the usual, "Come and smell it!" and all the men rushed to be the first to be served.

The night was peaceful, and quiet. The coyotes were not yet beginning their evening melody, so the only noises were the gentle lowing of the cattle, the quiet chatter of the cowhands, interrupted occasionally by loud exclamations from Wishbone, usually aimed at Mushy.

All was calm and still. Mr. Favor, as he leaned against the back of a solitary tree whilst ponderously scraping at his food with his fork, contemplated on the drive so far. The drive's going well, perhaps almost too well. Nah! We have had a few difficulties – nothing we can't handle. No, I'd say it's going pretty well. I just hope that we don't have any difficulties crossing that creek –

His thoughts were cut short, for he could hear Wishbone talking to Rowdy as he filled his plate.

"If you ask me, Rowdy Yates," the cook was saying with a toss of his head. "That crik has trouble written all over it. They don't call it Painter Crik for nothing."

"Come on Wish, surely you don't think there are panthers around there." Rowdy said, rubbing his knee with uncertainty.

"All I'm saying is that it don't smell good!" Wishbone said, with a decisive nod of the head.

"Mr. Wishbone," Mushy said nervously. "You mean there's real panthers around these parts? Real ones?"

"Oh, shut up!" Wishbone said disgustedly. "As I said, Rowdy, I haven't been living in the mountains for nothing. I tell you there's trouble waiting at that crik. I can feel it bad!"

Trouble! How could Wish know that? No – things have been going quite well, and, besides, if it's all as Pete says, we'll manage fine.

Gil Favor couldn't snuff the flame of this new uncertainty quite that suddenly. However, in the attempt to wave it off, he walked over to the chuck wagon, dumped any scraps of food that were still on his plate in the squirrel can, and then deposited his plate into the wreck pan.

"Alright, men. We'll be bedding down for the night soon. Quince, Scarlett, you're on night duty. Make sure you both take a shot gun with you. If we're gonna have trouble with any panthers," he said, glaring at Wishbone for having insinuated such a thing in front of the men, "we can deal with 'em."

The two men went to get the guns and some shells, and then went off to settle the cattle down, and keep watch for the night.

The next morning, the men were woken to Mr. Favor kicking them awake, and to the smell of Wishbone's sourdough biscuits and sowbelly.

Thankfully there had been no disturbances during the night, so each man – with the exception of the night hawkers – had had a good night sleep. The weather was not so warm today, for a cold wind had set in, and some grey clouds were usurping the glorious cyan which had previously set its reign there.

As the men rolled up in line to have their plates filled before they started another day's work, they had no idea that from the rocky slopes up to their right, they were being watched. Slowly, softly, silently, the great figure stalked them, creeping up behind a rock where it could look down upon the camp, but not be seen itself.

With feline aptitude the figure crept back to some larger rocks, where were waiting some others. These were no panthers, as you might expect, but men. Cruel men, with a cruel purpose.

"How many men, Burt?" one figure asked the one who had performed the stalking.

"About twenty or so, but if everything goes according to plan, we can handle them."

"But that's over three times our amount of men," another man cried, "and of course," he added, after an exclamation from one of the other figures, slouched against a rock, "there is Kitty."

"What can she do?" the first man to have spoken asked. "She's just a woman – this is a man's job."

The woman got up in a heated manner and cried, "You've forced me this far, made me cook for you, hide you, lie for you – I haven't done all that to be pushed aside now!"

Burt pursed his lips, "She's got a point, Joe."

"You're just saying that 'cause she's your sister. Are you soft man? Surely you don't believe a woman could be any help here."

Burt put his hand to his holster, and said through gritted teeth, "If we didn't have this job to do, I'd shoot you right now, Joe!"

Joe began to laugh hysterically, "Well you need me, Burt Cassidy. You need me real bad, and I need the money, but I'm not so sure that I need you. After the job -" He cut himself short so that everyone could make up for themselves what would happen to Burt after the job had been done!

Kitty's blood ran cold. "Now that's enough," she snapped, rubbing a cold and clammy hand along her skirt. "You heard me! Now Burt," she cried, squatting next to him, "Couldn't I help? Oh, couldn't I? I'd do anything – just don't leave me out. You've left me out too many times now – I'm not gonna let you do that to me again!"

Burt shook his head. "No, Kitty. No!"

"What's wrong with you?" she cried, jumping up and looking at him squarely, her eyes flashing fire. "You scared of Joe? Is that it? Have you gone yellow?"

Burt sprang to his feet, looking savage. He grasped Kitty by the shoulders, and shook her. "Listen, woman!" he said. "You don't ever say a thing like that again, you hear? You ain't helping us none in this except how you always have, and that's that!"

Kitty pulled herself away, almost snarling. "You don't handle me like that!" she cried. "I've told you before. You be careful, or I won't help you no longer."

Burt gave a half-hearted laugh. "You hear that?" he asked the men, pulling his gun from his holster, and spinning the cylinder in a threatening way. "If she ain't gonna work for us anymore, then we don't have no need for her anymore." He pointed the barrel just a few inches from her forehead. "What d'ya say, Kitty? Do you want to work for us, or not?"

She pushed it away, sick to the stomach. "You're crazy, I'm a fool, and I'm sick of you all – but I'll stay."

Burt smiled, and laughed coarsely. "See, I always said I had a way with women! They always do what I say." He took aim with his gun, and pretended to shoot, "Just as simple as - that!"

Back at camp, the men were collecting their horses from the remuda. They had eaten their fill, and now all were ready to face the day ahead of them.

Wishbone and Mushy climbed up onto the chuck wagon, and started ahead, with Gil Favor riding point. All were well aware that they would be arriving at Painter Creek in a day now. Not long, and then perhaps Wishbone might let them all have a bit of peace, for since he had heard of their next destination, he had made as much fuss as he possibly could!

Rowdy rode up alongside Mr. Favor.

"How's it look, Rowdy?"

"The cattle are doing fine," Rowdy said, taking off his hat and wiping his brow. He replaced his hat, and then continued, "They're moving slowly, but steadily. I don't know what Pete would make off it, but I should think it would only take us a day or maybe even less till we reach that creek now."

"Sounds good!" Favor said, with a nod of his head. "If things keep up like this, we should arrive on schedule."

"Hey, boss," Rowdy said after a momentary pause. "What do you make of Wish's reaction to crossing Painter Creek?"

"What am I supposed to make of it?" Favor asked. "He's probably got a point - Painter Creek is renowned for its panthers. But we'll be ready for it. If we've got anything to worry about, it'll be the crossing of the creek, not any wild cats!"

Rowdy smiled. "Sure!" he said. "But it shouldn't be too bad. Like Pete said, we've crossed fast flowing creeks before – this should be no different."

Favor could have smiled at the youth's positive outlook, but if he did smile, then Rowdy certainly missed it. Favor leant on the cantle of the saddle, so as to have a look at the long line of cattle, stretching for three miles behind him. He was proud of his job, proud of his men. They were doing well. The sooner they passed Painter Creek, the better. Everyone was tired of hearing the cantankerous old cook's warnings of panthers, so everyone was more than ready to cross and get done with.

It shouldn't be bad. The trail boss thought to himself as he wiped his face with his bandana. Wishbone's more than made it a big obstacle in everyone's mind, but we'll be crossing it in a day's time, now. Not long. Besides, we can handle some old cats alright. Favor shook his head at himself. Wishbone had got even him worrying – which was not like him. No, everything would be fine, he was sure.

Meanwhile, not far from Painter Creek, six men and a woman were riding at full speed to a deep gorge, whose riverbed had dried long since. Beyond that was Painter Creek – beyond, and through.

"No one can survive getting bushwhacked here," Burt shouted over his shoulder to Kitty. "We'll get 'em easy!"

"Yeah, then three thousand head of cattle, split between the six of us!" another man cried.

"Seven!" Kitty cried defiantly. "Ain't you forgetting someone?"

"I don't reckon he is," Joe replied, smiling curtly. "Do you, Burt?"

"Oh, I'm sure we can give Kitty what is due her," Burt said, patting his holster and watching with a smug smile on his face as she shivered in horror. He laughed, "Don't take on so, Sis. You won't get hurt. Just so long as you do everything I tell you, then everything will be just dandy."

Kitty stiffened, and a shiver went up her spine. Just dandy? She was surrounded by curly wolves, every one of them. Did that make everything 'just dandy'? She wouldn't be safe till she was far away from all of them. She felt shocked, and scared whilst hatred and defiance ran through her very veins. She wanted to pay Burt back for his threats. She wanted to pay them all back. And if that meant killing him with her own bare hands, then she would have done it. But something held her back. She didn't know what it was, but quietly, she complied; breathing heavily, she gave in, her mind all a turmoil, whilst she cursed her brother under her breath and swore to do so with every breath she breathed.

Back at the trail, whilst Burt's gang was arriving at the ravine, the drive was going speedily well. The cattle had already travelled five miles, and it was now early afternoon. The good weather was gradually declining, and the cowhands were now beginning to wonder whether there might now be need for their slickers.

"Bad weather up ahead," Pete said to Gil Favor and Rowdy, motioning to the ever darkening sky, as the three rode their horses alongside each other.

Favor nodded his head. "It's gonna slow 'em up, too, if it's real bad."

"Do you think there's a storm up ahead?" Rowdy asked with concern.

There was a storm up ahead, whether the weather or Burt's men would strike first, there was a storm coming.

"Yeah, there will be a storm." Favor replied simply, yet with a slight note of apprehension in his voice.

"Oh, that's just great!" Rowdy cried. "A storm? That's really gonna spook the cattle!"

"Yeah, what's more, if we don't get a move on before it hits," Pete added, "then Painter Creek is going to get pretty full!"

The thought of an already fast-flowing, deep, apprehensive obstacle in their path becoming an even faster-flowing, even deeper, and more apprehensive one, made Mr. Favor stop in his thoughts. There was no turning back now, not for him. He was persistent, but he didn't want to lose the cattle in a creek that might burst its banks and turn more into rapids! His mind filled with trepidation as he thought uneasily about Painter Creek, the creek that had been the trepid obstruction that had made some of the men so reticent the past day or so, all thanks to Wishbone's melancholy warnings. They had nothing to do but press on, and as that was the case, Mr. Favor decided he wasn't going to waste time worrying about something that just thinking about couldn't change. So he waved off the matter, and turned sharply to Pete and Rowdy.

"We need to move, and we need to move fast, before the weather hits us bad," he barked. "You understand how important this is," he added. "Tell the men to get 'em moving!"

With a "Yes, boss" Rowdy and Pete rode off to tell the other men to push the cattle on.

"Joe Scarlett," Rowdy called to the swing rider, "you need to move the cattle on faster. Looks like the weather's on a change. We need to get to the creek before the storm breaks! Pass on the news."

Joe Scarlett nodded his head to show that he had got the message, and rode off to tell Jim Quince, and the other men.

"Do you think we'll make it, Pete?" Rowdy asked, rubbing the back of his neck, as he always did.

Pete's mouth once more protruded ponderously. "I don't know. I think we've got a bit of a chance, but not a great one. See, that weather could hit at any time – most likely tonight. The best thing we could possibly do is gain now, and then we can always rest the cattle after we've crossed. That's the way I see it – we've just got to wait on the boss."

Wait on the boss! Yes, that was what they had to do, but Rowdy couldn't help thinking that as he was ramrod, second in command, he had a right to say something, too. He knew the danger up ahead, and he didn't know quite what he would do if he were in Favor's place, but he wanted to talk over everything with Mr. Favor. So, with a sudden change on the reins, and urging his horse on with a firm squeeze, he rode up to point again, where Mr. Favor was calmly leading his trail, looking as though there was nothing up ahead.

"Boss," Rowdy started.

"Something on your mind?" Gil Favor asked coolly.

"Yeah," Rowdy said, puzzled. "Ain't anything on yours?"

Favor shrugged his shoulders. "Thinking and fretting about something ain't gonna change anything, Rowdy. I know, just as well as you know, what'll be up ahead if we don't get moving quick, but fussing doesn't change a mite. See?"

The young ramrod was almost taken aback by Favor's composed manner. Of course, Favor was always like that – if he wasn't, then they would have more cause for alarm. So with a satisfied, "Sure, boss, sure," he headed back to swing, where a few steers were wandering out of line.

Meanwhile, at the ravine, Kitty was watching her brother's last preparations from a rock. She hated her brother, and watched every move he made with contempt. If there was only some way that she could get even…

"Then as soon as they come in, no one starts firing until I say," Burt was going through the instructions again.

"We know all that," a young man, almost a boy, was saying. "When are they going to come in?"

"Patience!" Burt said. "The bad weather should make them pick up speed – they'll hurry along now, right into our little ambush." He looked up at the ever darkening sky, and gave an abrupt, horrible little laugh. "I couldn't have planned it better myself! Hah! They'll come in here just as the storm breaks. They'll have enough of a handful keeping the cattle from stampeding – and that's when we hit!"

Kitty felt sick when she heard that. Her brother had been nothing but a killer his whole life, she had known that all along – but somehow, in helping him out, she had tried to forget what she was really helping, what she was aiding him to do.

The wind was blowing against the string of cattle that wound its way over the prairie. Gil Favor pressed his hat down hard on his head to keep it on, the brim flapping wildly around his forehead.

It's coming in faster than I thought. He thought to himself. He looked around him for Pete Nolan, his scout, and called him over.

"Yeah, Mr. Favor?" Pete asked.

"How much further is it to this creek?"

"About two miles, why?"

"We should make it," Favor murmured in reply.

"Huh?" Pete asked, not catching Mr. Favor's mumbled thoughts in the wind that was now picking up.

Mr. Favor woke from his contemplations. "Well," he began, "what do you think?"

"Me?" Pete started. "Oh, we'll make it fine. Besides, even if the storm breaks a little before we reach the creek, it can't do that much harm."

Mr. Favor knew that Pete Nolan was right, so he shook off the trepidation that was returning with a brisk nod of his head. "You're right," he said. "We'll make it fine. Tell Rowdy to come here a minute, I want to speak to him."

Rowdy was informed that he was wanted, so he rode up next to Gil Favor, rubbing his knee, and pulling down on the brim of his hat.

"You wanted to speak to me, boss?" he asked.

Favor nodded his head. "Pete said the creek's about two miles off. We should make it if we keep the cattle moving at this speed. The weather's gonna hit bad soon, but we mustn't let that slow the cattle down. Keep 'em movin'."

"Sure, Mr. Favor," Rowdy said, and rode off. He found Pete, and pointed out to the ravine that could be seen in the distance. "We gotta go through that?" he asked.

Pete nodded his head, "Beyond, and through."

In the meantime, at the ravine, Kitty had been told to keep watch for the approaching drive. Her heart leapt with a sickening lurch when she finally saw them, about a mile off.

She hesitated, wondering whether she should alert the men or no. Burt saw something was amiss, and advanced toward her.

"What's the matter, woman?" he asked. "You ain't losing your nerve, are you?"

She ignored him with a scowl.

He looked out across the prairie in the direction that the drive was coming, now fully visible.

He started. "They're coming," he cried haughtily. Then he stopped, and turned on Kitty savagely. "Did you see 'em coming?"

"No, no!" she lied.

"You, did! Didn't you? Didn't you?" he shouted, grasping her roughly by the shoulders.

"No, I didn't? And what if I did? What then?"

"Then I say you're giving up. You know what they do to deserters, don't you?" he asked, putting his hands around her throat, and envisaging a rope.

"Yes, I know," she cried, choking as his hands grew tighter, and tighter around her slim neck. "They do what they should have done to you a long time ago – and they would have done it, too, if I hadn't been so blind!"

His eyes were the only things to show that these words had been a mistake. They would have shot forth bullets, if they could, her words were as a firing pin against the primer of a bullet. Then, just as suddenly, his eyes went quite still, so curiously, frighteningly still. "Alright, woman. Perhaps you don't want to help us anymore. Perhaps you would rather put an end to all this!"

She wasn't afraid anymore. She just looked at him in disgust and said, "Lay your hands off me you dirty dog."

She pushed his hands aside, and forced her way by him. But he, coward as he was, drew on her, ready to shoot her in the back. It was Joe who darted to her rescue.

"Stop, you lousy-brained idiot!" he cried. "Do you want them to hear your shot?"

Perhaps Favor and his men wouldn't have heard the shot, but this was a risk that Joe wasn't about to let Burt make.

Kitty whizzed around, and saw to her dismay the barrel pointed straight at her. "Put it away, you hard case," she said with revulsion. "Put it away!"

Burt smiled smugly, and slipped the revolver back into its holster. "Alright," he said. "But this ain't over yet. Who's to stop me when we've got this job all done?"

"No one's to stop you," she said simply.

"Good," Burt said, and turned away.

The drive was nearing the mouth of the ravine now. "Get ready," Burt called to his men. "We've got the bulge on 'em – this is even simpler than it was to break out of jail!"

Kitty shuddered. The amount of times he had bragged about how he had tricked and shot the young deputy sheriff. He was 'no more than a boy', as he always put it. Just 'between hay and grass'. And he shot him down after he had disarmed him. Shot him down in cold blood. No mercy. Mercy? Burt didn't know the meaning to such a word.

Kitty's thoughts were distracted. Burt was going to kill her after this, but more lives could be saved if she warned the drovers. Anything to get her revenge on Burt, and Joe – on all of them, but especially on Burt!

At the bottom of the ravine, Wishbone led the chuck wagon through first. Joe raised his rifle to pick off Mushy and the old cook, but Burt stayed his hand. "They're not gonna be any problem. Grandpappy there is probably nothin' more than a coffee boiler when it comes to shooting – as for the lad. He's no more than that deputy I beefed."

Mr. Favor looked around him at the gorge through which they were passing. He couldn't see any of the men who were laying wait up in the rocks overhead. All he knew was that the storm would start at any moment, and that the creek was somewhere beyond the gorge.

It was then that the storm began with a flash of lightning, which made the cattle start in alarm. Mr. Favor was well aware that they would be ready to bolt at any point. The gorge was narrow. It would be hard to stop them by turning them around. They might stampede across the creek. They needed to cross that creek calmly to cross safely – Pete had warned it was deep in parts.

Rowdy rode up alongside Mr. Favor, just as the first rumble of thunder sounded. At the same time, from nowhere, a woman's voice shouted out, "Go away! It's a trap! Go away!" At the same moment, Mr. Favor and Rowdy saw a woman up in the rocks struggling with a man. He had a gun, and as it went off, the barrel pointed sharply into her stomach, she screamed and fell to the floor of the ravine.

At the same time as the shot sounded, and she fell, a great flash of lightning lit up the sky, and almost instantaneously, a clap of thunder rent the sky, thundering off the rocky walls of the ravine.

That started it. The cattle tore through the gorge, trampling under foot anything in their way, which, in this case, was Kitty's lifeless form.

"Turn them around!" Mr. Favor shouted, and at the same time, a volley of shots burst forth from the rocks overhead.

With a yowling moan bursting forth from the cattle, sounding like a perpetual lowing mixed with horror and fright, the cattle surged forward through the ravine. The chuck wagon shook against the force of the cattle running on either side, trying to avoid, yet knowing nothing except escape. With a final overbalancing shake, the wagon tottered to its side. Wishbone and Mushy pressed themselves against the wagon, on the side facing the direction in which the cattle were charging; thus they would not meet the shockwave of the Texas beef as they madly dashed through the gorge.

With rope in hands, the drovers chased the cattle, trying to get a vantage point where they could get ahead and turn them around. If they could only get ahead!

Fighting against the rush of cattle, and trying to shield themselves from the gunshots, the men gradually managed to urge their horses between rock and cattle.

It was then that the rain started to fall. The men's shirts clung to them. The lightning lit up the now dark sky, and the thunder roared loudly above the din of the cattle.

Rowdy galloped up to Gil Favor, having to shout to make his voice heard above the storm, shots and stampede. "Boss, did you see a small ledge back there?" he pointed over his shoulder.

Favor looked back, and nodded his head.

"If we could get up there, we could run on ahead, and fire shots at the front of the stampede to stop them."

It was as Rowdy was talking that he gave a sudden exclamation, and make a grip for his arm.

"You hit?" Favor asked.

"It's nothing – shall we try that, boss?"

"It's better than losing them to the creek – or even to these rustlers!"

Favor looked around him, some of his men falling from their saddles with bullet wounds most likely in their backs. He and Rowdy made their way to the ledge, and climbed up, rope and pistols ready.

"If this doesn't work, we'll make our way round on either side, and see if we can't just make them stop firing." Favor said, insinuating to the rustlers above them.

Rowdy and Favor ran along the ledge as fast as they could. The cattle had been slowed down by a few men, but some of these men had lost their balance in saddle, only to be trampled down in the sea of cattle beneath.

As they ran, Favor and Rowdy fired shots, in order to confuse the cattle, and break up the stampede. Wildly shouting and throwing lassos into the air, they made their way across the ledge.

The cattle were really spooked, tearing through the gorge!

"We can't do it Rowdy!" Favor called. "We won't be able to stop 'em till we're out of the gorge. Our only hope is to get those rustlers!"

Rowdy nodded his head in agreement, and the two of them split up, in order to creep up on their opponents on either side. With the greatest agility, the two men began to climb the face of the rocky ravine. It was like a small canyon, really, and the rather flat surface of the rocky walls made it hard to climb.

Wishbone and Mushy, who were having a hard time as it was pressed against the wagon, could see the trail boss and ramrod make their way up the rocks. Wishbone saw what they were trying to do, and so, in order to keep the rustlers busy, he gave Mushy the small pistol which he only parted with when he bathed, and using his own revolver, the two men fired continuously at Burt's men.

Favor and Rowdy reached the top of the rocks at pretty much the same time. Burt saw Favor first. He fired, just as the trail boss tumbled onto the top of the ravine. Favor darted behind a rock, and quickly loaded the cylinder of his gun. Meanwhile, whilst Burt was kept busy, trying to shoot past the rock which Favor was hidden behind, Rowdy made his way toward Burt. His arm felt like it had a burning sensation through it, but still he kept on. If he could just jump on him by surprise –

But Joe had seen Rowdy. Burt's other men were too busy seeing to the drovers down in the ravine, but Joe had seen Rowdy alright. Whilst Rowdy crept up on Burt, Joe stole closer to Rowdy, just behind a sparse bush where he could get a perfect shot at Rowdy.

Gil Favor, still keeping an eye on Burt, had seen Joe, and so he called out in warning, "Look out Rowdy!"

Rowdy ducked at the same time as a bullet whizzed past him. He ran to hide behind a rock, and at the same time looked towards the bush. He could see Joe crouched low behind it.

Their chances were very low, but Gil Favor had always been a determined man – as for Rowdy, well, he could be a little stubborn and hot-headed at times, but at times like this, it more than paid off!

Gil Favor, having now loaded his revolver, started shooting round past the rock which he was hidden behind, trying to get a shot at Burt.

They shot at each other until they were clean out of bullets. Shot after shot, whilst the rest of Burt's men let them get on with it. They were too busy thinking of the cattle which were getting away, like bags of money. That was all that bothered them.

When all bullets had been exhausted, Burt, cowardly as he always was, made a dash to escape. Favor leapt after him, and upon falling upon him, the two men fought furiously.

Rowdy looked at the two men struggling on the floor a few feet away from him. Then he looked back at the bush. Joe was no longer there.

At the same instant that he realized that, a sharp soaring pain struck him on the head, and he felt his head almost caving in. Joe, the butt end of his gun held in his hand, darted away, just as Rowdy fell senseless to the ground.

If he got away now, then he might have a chance. But then there was the cattle – the money. They hadn't finished the job yet. He had been planning on killing Burt, too, after the job had been done. The trail boss could do that for him though, and then he would kill him. He watched in satisfaction from behind a rock as Favor and Burt fought it out. Burt grabbed Favor roughly by the shirt, and dealt him a blow that knocked him to the ground. But he was soon up, retaliating blow after blow until it was a wonder that the two men had anything left in them.

It would be easy for Joe to dispose of Favor once he had beaten that yellow-livered Burt. Joe knew it, and he delighted in it. Just one blow with the butt of his gun, then over the precipice.

But maybe he should have thrown that other drover over the top of the ravine, too! Carefully, he made his way over to Rowdy. Rowdy lay in a muddy puddle, the rain pelting down on his unconscious form, almost willing him to stir. Gradually, a faint, misty consciousness returned to Rowdy, and he moved his head slowly, just as the shadow of Joe's approaching form neared him. Trying to gather his thoughts and clear his head, Rowdy struggled to his feet, just as Joe reached him.

Joe, astonished that Rowdy had returned to consciousness so soon, was taken by surprise. Joe hesitated for a single second, and in that second, Rowdy sprung upon him. The two men struggled, rolling over and over, right to the edge of the cliff. Rowdy's head still felt muzzy, and as he faintly struggled, before he knew it, he found himself hanging from the edge, his two hands, slipping in the rain, the only two things to keep him from certain death.

It was as he hung there, almost helplessly, as Joe prepared to give him his last blow that would send him falling to his death, that Joe suddenly doubled up, and with a look of pain on his face, tottered and fell down to the sea of cattle below. Rowdy looked with surprise around him, wondering who could have shot his opponent. His hands still slipping, he grappled with all his might. His arm, bloody and sore, seemed to be losing all power. Could he make it? His head, still dizzy, began to threaten to once more close in. He had to hold on. He just had to. He could almost feel himself falling, whether into unconsciousness or into the ravine, he did not know. But then suddenly, a strong hand took hold of his arm, and pulled him up, and then he knew no more.

The next day Rowdy finally awoke to find himself on a bedroll, with Wishbone looking at him.

"Wish?" he said, in a confused voice. He attempted to sit up, but Wishbone pushed him down again.

"Now wait a minute, Rowdy Yates," the cook said. "You're not well enough yet."

"What happened?" Rowdy asked, trying to recollect everything that had happened.

"You were fighting with a man, hanging off a cliff, I shot him, and Mr. Favor helped you up. Then you plumb lost everything and we had to carry you here." Wishbone said simply.

Rowdy looked around him. They were camped on a vast verdant area, where a great fast creek gurgled merrily nearby, with a great ravine looking formidable in the background.

It all came back then. "Oh, oh, I remember," he said suddenly. "Hey, Wish. The cattle, what happened to them?"

Wishbone shook his head. "Now that's just like Mr. Favor," he said. "Always thinking of the cattle, and not taking care of yourself! Now you just rest up here. That arm of yours is much better now, but your head isn't!"

"I'm fine, Wish," Rowdy said, forcing himself to sit up, much to Wishbone's irritation. "Now, where's Mr. Favor?"

"Now, you're not going anywhere, Rowdy Yates!" Wishbone said. "You stay right here, and if you don't lay down right now –"

"Go easy on it, Wish," Rowdy said, holding his head.

Suddenly, Mr. Favor appeared, his curiosity roused by the noise that Wishbone was making.

"How are you, Rowdy?" Favor asked.

"Fine, fine," Rowdy said. "But the cattle?"

"They're alright, as far cattle goes after a big stampede in a narrow gorge. We lost quite a few, but not half so many as we would have done if the rustlers had got them!"

Rowdy smiled. Then suddenly he recollected the woman who had tried to warn them. "I wonder who the woman was?" he asked.

"The woman?" Favor asked.

"Yeah, the woman who tried to warn us, and then the man you later fought shot her."

"I guess we'll never know," Favor said simply.

"I guess not," Rowdy said. "Although, I suppose it's as the Good Book says, 'If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand'. Perhaps they were divided."

"Perhaps," Favor said. "Pete and I buried the dead this morning, but like I said, we'll never really know."

Rowdy nodded his head, whilst rubbing his neck, "I guess not, boss. I guess not."

The cattle grazed for another day, and then Gil Favor, looking proudly at cattle and men, horse reins in hand, gave the words that brought the drive back to life again, "Head 'em up. Move 'em out!"

© Rachel Louise Driscoll 2011