Incident of the Sterling Fox

Chapter 1

Rowdy Yates: I guess lots of folks don't think about it much, but to me, a horse is more than just a horse. He's my friend and lots of times, he's the only one I've got. He'll stick by me through thick and thin. Sure, he's got his rough spots but don't we have ours too? And how else could we drive these beeves without our horses? We wouldn't. We gotta give 'em credit, that's for sure. My horse's name is Fox. And not just for his color either. He's got the wits and cunning of a fox sometimes it amazes me what that horse can do. I'm Rowdy Yates, ramrod of this drive.

Rowdy Yates dismounted and led his blaze-faced sorrel to the waterhole they had just brought the cattle to. It had been a hot week and this was the first water they had seen for two days. Wishbone and Mushy were on the other side of the small lake filling the water barrels. Rowdy saw the older man scowl at Mushy for a moment then shake his head in disgust. I wonder what Mushy's done now, he thought, amused. The older cook was always complaining about something Mushy had done, and though he would never admit it, everyone knew that Wishbone had a soft spot for the always smiling, young man. Yates looked up from Fox, who was at the moment happily splashing the water with his white fore hoof, to see a rider coming in at a lope over the rise. As the cloud of dust in the distance came closer and the rider came into view, he was immediately recognized as Gil Favor.

"How's the cattle?" The deep-voiced trail boss asked. Rowdy admired the man, and though they had their differences now and then, he looked up to him. Sort of like a son would a father. To Yates, Favor was a father, a trail boss, and a friend all wrapped into one. Even though the cattle came first on a drive, Gil Favor looked out for his men.

"They're doing fine, Boss. We gonna bed down here tonight? Pete told me there's good grazing just over that rise. And with the water so nearby here."

Favor nodded and leaned on his saddle horn. "Yep, I figure we can bed down here and maybe let the cattle graze until late tomorrow and get their fill." He smiled. "And besides, I don't think Wish'd forgive me if I didn't let him stock up on more supplies. Said he's about out of flour and he needs an extra wheel on account of that last one breakin' up at the pass."

"Do you think maybe I could go into town with him? Me and some of the men have some letters we were hoping to mail to our folks soon, and Fox lost one of his shoes back there. It wouldn't take more'n an hour at the most. I could be back in time to bed down the cattle." Rowdy asked hopefully. He searched the boss' eyes and he saw an amused twinkle in his eye.

Seeing the eager expression on the young ramrod's face, Favor relented. "You can go. But I want you back in time to help, you hear?"

Rowdy nodded firmly and grinned up at the trail boss. "You got my word, Mr. Favor."

"Town's about 5 miles east of here. A little place called Sterling Gap." Favor nodded his head indicating the direction. "And while you're there, I got somethin' I want you to mail for me too." He pulled out an envelope from his shirt pocket and leaned over to hand it to Rowdy. "It's to my daughters."

Rowdy nodded again, "Will do, Mr. Favor." He mounted up and rode off to where Wishbone and Mushy were finishing filling up the last water barrel. Just as Rowdy was reining in near the chuck wagon, Mushy tripped and caused both cook and louse to fall. Water spewed everywhere and Fox shied at the sudden shower. "Steady, boy, steady," Rowdy soothed his horse.

"Gosh it all, Mushy! Can't you do nothin' right!" Wishbone exploded. "I think you must have two left feet, and they're both made of butter."

"I'm awful sorry, Mr. Wishbone. I guess I must've tripped," replied the apologetic Mushy.

Wishbone's mouth gaped and Rowdy could see the cook's face turning red. "You guess? You guess? I'll guess you right outta here if you're not out of my sight in 10 seconds, I'll-"

"Aw, come on, Wish. It was just an accident." Rowdy said in Mushy's defense. Mushy was scrambling in the mud that the water had created and was making a futile attempt to get back to the wagon. Yates skirted around the mud to where Mushy was trying to get up and helped him up.

"Accident, my eye! I think he must have a death wish. Well, you'll be mighty well told, he'll get it if he keeps it up." Wishbone got up and gave Mushy a glare that would've made any child cry out in fear. Mushy's eyes got wide and he hurriedly proceeded in getting the barrel back to the water.

"Well, whenever you and Mushy finish up here, Mr. Favor wants you to go into town to get that replacement wheel and any supplies you need. I'll be going with you to mail some things and get Fox's shoe fixed, so let me know when you're ready to move out."

"It's about time we came to a town. I'm about out of everything and if Mushy keeps it up, I'll probably be out of a wagon and team before we even set out." With that final word, the older man stalked angrily toward Mushy who was trying his best to lug the barrel back out of the lake. Huffing and grumbling something about incompetence, Wishbone helped him drag the barrel, which was now filled again, onto the bank.

The young ramrod mounted up and smiled as Mushy took care to walk ever so carefully around the place where they had previously fallen. After succeeding in tying the barrel back onto the wagon with no further episodes, the trio headed east for the little town known as Sterling Gap, not knowing what awaited them and having no thought as to what dangers lay in wait for them.