Five AM: Daisy had been up for over an hour getting ready for the day. She knew her boys would be up and hungry just any time. So, she had coffee on and bacon and eggs cooking on the stove.
Slim & Jess were beginning to stir. Jess stretched as he smelled the bacon in the kitchen.
He knew there would also be fresh brewed coffee on the stove. He rolled over, knowing it was time to begin a new day. Slim was just beginning to stir as Jess sat up and turned to put his feet on the floor.
Jess walked into the living room, as Daisy was setting the table for breakfast. She looked up and grinned when she saw him standing there, his hair falling down in his face, his shirt needing tucked into his pants. “Well, bout time you got up. The day will be half over pretty soon. Where’s Slim?”
Jess smiled, he knew Daisy was one of the hardest workers on the Sherman ranch. Just as he was about to say Slim was still sleeping, he heard a noise and looked behind him to see Slim coming out of the bedroom, dressed but carrying his boots in his hand. “Morning’ Daisy. Jess, is Mike up yet?”
“Hey, Mike”, Jess called. “Are you up?”
“Jess, you don’t have to yell,” Daisy scolded him. “It isn’t that far to the door, you could go and look.”
Jess kind a ducked his head as he went over to Mike’s door. “Mike! Rise and shine Tiger!” Jess opened the door and looked in. “Daisy, you sure you ain’t seem him? He ain’t in is bed.”
Daisy rushed to look for herself, as she dried her hands on her apron. Slim followed them both into Mikes room. “Now, where could that boy possibly be this early in the morning” Daisy asked, not speaking to anyone in particular.
Slim was pulling his boots on as Jess went out the door headed to the barn looking for Mike. Daisy stepped out on the porch waiting to see if Jess found him outside anywhere.
Slim went out behind her. He checked the bunk house and all around Mike’s animal pens and couldn’t find a sign of the tow headed boy. Slim headed to the barn just as Jess was coming out. “Any sign of him?” Slim ask Jess.
“No, you?” Slim shook his head as they both looked back at Daisy standing anxiously on the porch for news. They both started back to the house.
Daisy was pacing on the little porch as she watched the boys coming back to the house and Mike no where to be found.
“Any sign of him?” She asked.
“No, Daisy, nothing” Slim replied.
“You don’t reckon he heard us talking last night do you Slim?” Daisy asked.
“I don’t know Daisy. You know how he likes to eaves drop when the grown up are talking.” Slim said.
The night before the three of them had been discussing the financial situation the ranch was in. They didn’t know if they would have enough money to make the payment at the bank. It was due in 30 days and the way things were, they were going to be about $200 short if they didn’t find enough stray ponies they could break and sell the army in time.
Two miles down the road, Mike was headed South, looking for the string of wild ponies he and Jess had spotted only 2 days before, while they were fishing at the stream. He had heard the talk last night about needing them for the money they would bring. He figured
the only way he could help was to round up those ponies and he knew Slim and Jess wouldn’t let him do it any other way. So, he had gotten up just ahead of Daisy, packed some grub and rode out on his pony. He knew that by the time he was missed, he would be real close to where they had spotted the herd. Then all he would have to do, would be follow the tracks till he located them. Then he just had to head them back to the ranch. Boy, wouldn’t Slim & Jess be surprised when they saw him come in with the extra ponies.
At the ranch, Jess told Daisy and Slim about Mike’s pony being gone. Daisy had noticed that some cold biscuits she had left from the night before, were missing also.
“Slim, I got an idea. I bet Mike heard us last night. If so, he has gone after those wild ponies I told you about seeing the other day when me and him were fishing down at the creek.” Jess said.
“Oh my,” Daisy said as she is wringing her hands in her apron, “he can’t handle a bunch of wild horses by himself!”
“No, Daisy, but he is trying so hard to do his share around here, I’ll just bet that is where he has headed off to. Jess, saddle up, we got to find him before he finds them horses,” Slim said as he headed for the door. “Daisy, can you throw us some grub together in case we have to stay out all night?”
“I’ll have it ready by the time you two are saddled up,” with that Daisy was filling a bag with cold biscuits, coffee, jerky, and some beans. As usual she packed enough to last them at least 3 or 4 days, even though Slim had said they should only be gone over night.
Thank goodness, it was summer and they didn’t have to worry about Mike getting caught out in the cold.
Slim and Jess came from the barn just as Daisy came outside with their grub sack.
“Should be back by some time tomorrow Daisy,” Jess said as he reached for the sack and him and Slim took off, headed south, where Jess and Mike had seen the ponies just days before.
Mike rode up to the banks of the creek where he and Jess liked to fish. He got off his pony to see if he could see any fresh tracks. Leading the pony he walked down stream, hoping to see fresh tracks so he would know the ponies were still around close. Andy stopped when he heard something in the trees up ahead of him. He tied his pony to a tree branch so he could ease up on whatever was making the noise. Carefully he eased up till he could see over the pile of rocks that lay at the edge of the stream. As he looked over, he saw them; about fifteen ponies, grazing in the clearing, some twenty yards away.
Mike looked at them, so peaceful just minding their own business. He was trying to decide the best way to get behind them so he could herd them back to the ranch. He figured he might just have to think about it while he ate something for lunch. So, he went back to where his pony was tied, got his little sack of biscuits and jerky and sat down under a tree to think and eat his meal.
In the mean time, Jess & Slim had picked up Mikes trail, and like Jess figured, the trail was taking them straight towards the creek and his favorite fishing spot.
Slim & Jess were about an hours ride away when Mike decided it was time to make his move. He got on his pony and started to where the wild herd was grazing. As he rode around the rocks and toward the opening in the clearing, he heard it!!! A low growl, his horse reared as Mike looked up, just in time to see the cougar leap toward him.
Mike fell off his pony and the pony took off, headed back toward home. Mike lay still, his head hurt really bad, but more than that, he was afraid what would happen if he moved. Where had the big cat gone? Just as Mike thought he heard something, he head felt as big as a barrel and he slipped into the blackness caused by the big knot on his head from hitting the rock where he fell.
Shots rang out as Slim & Jess saw the big cat only about 15 feet from where Mike lay.
The cat ran as they rode up. Slim went straight to Mike as Jess checked to be sure the big cat kept moving on and wasn’t interested in them any more. He followed him about 2 miles along the creek bank before he stopped and thought he better head back to where Slim & Mike were.
Jess was riding back along the creek when he heard it… A growl, where, what, did it come from. He had chased the big cat off. Or had he?
The cat was smart, he had circled back and gotten ahead of Jess. Jess didn’t know, the big cat had a mate with a litter only a few yards from where he had stopped to water his horse. He looked up, just as the cat jumped.
It happened too fast for him to get to his gun. The cat was on top of him. Clawing, biting & growling, doing all he could to run the stranger away from his den and family.
All Jess could do was try to hold him off by the throat. But the cat was too heavy, he could only hold out for so long. The cat clawed at Jess trying to kill this strange intruder. Jess had held him back as long as he could. He had lost a lot of blood, and it felt like his chest had a big weight on top. As much as he fought it, he felt the blackness over take him. He only hoped that the big cat would leave enough so that Slim would know what happened to him.
Slim had gotten Mike taken care of. All he had was a bump on the back of his head and a slight head ache. Slim knew it had been long enough Jess should have been back long before now. He was beginning to worry, what could have happened to the man, he thought of as a brother. Even though the two were no kin, they felt a kinship that is felt by very few. They knew how each other would react, no matter what the situation was. And that is why Slim couldn’t understand what was taking Jess so long to get back. He knew that Jess would be worried about Mike.
Jess had come to, only to find himself alone, no cat, but also, no horse. He tried to get up, figuring he would walk the mile or 2 back to where Slim was with Mike. Mike, now he remembered, he had to see if Mike was ok. He started to get up when he felt a stabbing pain in his side. He felt something warm and sticky running down his side. He looked and saw the open gash, left by the cougar. He wasn’t sure why the cougar didn’t finish him off. And he sure didn’t want to stay around to find out.
Jess wasn’t sure which way the big cat went, but he knew he had to get back to Slim and Mike. He lay still long enough for the burning pain in his side to ease up some. Then He slowly started to get up once again. Just has he got to his knees, he heard it! That familiar low growl, just like before but lower. As he turned his head, he froze. There sitting a mere twenty feet from him was the cat. He did have to admit, the animal was a beautiful specimen of the cougar family sporting such a healthy thick coat of golden fur. His shining black eyes, watching every move Jess made.
What was he thinking? Why was he just waiting and watching, most cats would run off after taking down the thing that was threatening them. But not this one, he seem almost concerned about Jess. He was watching, but making no move to harm Jess.
While keeping one eye on the cat, Jess slowly sat up and leaned against the huge boulder that was at his back. His side was aching, but the bleeding seemed to be slowing down. He took his shirt off and slowly wrapped it around his torso. The cat, sitting watching every move, but not making any move himself.
Slim was getting worried. Jess had been gone almost two hours. Something had to have happened. He needed to go find his pard. But, should he take Mike with him? Mike as already asking about Jess. He to, was worried and kept blaming himself if something had happened to Jess.
Slim was trying to ease his mind. Telling him that nothing was totally his fault and that Jess was a big boy and could take care of himself. As he told Mike this, he was trying to make himself believe it. He knew Jess could take care of himself normally. But, there was something about this that just didn’t seem normal.
Jess wasn’t sure how long he had been laying there. But it seemed like forever. He wasn’t sure what his next move should be. Did he just lie still and wait for Slim to find him, hoping the big cat would not make a second move on him. Or did he try to make it back to Slim and Mike?
The cat! Where was he? Jess must have passed out again. But for how long, and where was the cougar? He checked and his side was bleeding some, but not as much as before. He decided he had to try to get back to Slim. He propped himself up on the large boulder and ever so slowly rose to his feet. Checking to be sure he was ready for this journey, he checked for his hat and gun. His gun was holstered so he reached for his hat that was laying on the ground. Slowly he started his way down the trail.
He had been walking maybe an hour when he heard it. A long loud growl! He thought of the big cat, but this was different. The growl was much louder and more meanacing. He froze in his tracks and looked slowly around to see where and what was so close to him. Then he saw it. Another cat, much smaller than the other one, sitting on an outcrop, watching every step he took. Jess watched it waiting to see what his next move should be, based on what the cat did. Should he just shoot it, or hope it would go on it’s way. Jess didn’t like to shoot an animal if he had other choices. He had always been an animal lover. He showed that by the way he always saw to it that Traveler was taken care of no matter whether he had a bed or food to eat. His horse was fed and bedded down first.
Then it happened! Before Jess had time to decide whether to draw his gun or not, the smaller cat was gone. But just for an instant, as the smaller cat came charging out of the underbrush, to Jess’s amazement, the big cat appeared, standing between him and the smaller cat. Where did he come from, Jess wondered. Had he been following him all along? He stood in utter amazement as the big cat faced the smaller one, almost as if he was protecting Jess from this intruder.
The big cat bristled up at the smaller one, causing the smaller one to stop in its tracks.
By now, Jess was weak and tired; it was all he could do to stand. He didn’t want to give in, but he had to rest. There was a large pine tree just a few feet from him, so he eased over to it and slowly lowered himself to the ground. All the time, keeping his eyes on the two big cats to see what their next moved would be.
Just as fast as they appeared, they seemed to disappear. The smaller cat, sensing the larger cat’s power, turned and ran back into the brush. The big cat, turned, took one quick look at Jess and ran off after it. As they ran into the brush, darkness over took Jess once again.
“Jess, Jess, are you ok?” Jess stirred, at the familiar sound of his name. “Slim? Is that you?”
“Yeah, pard, what happened to you?” Slim asked as he and Mike was trying to get Jess’s blood soaked shirt unwrapped in order to tell what had happened to their best friend.
“Did you see him?” Jess muttered as he tried to sit up more.
“Who? See who Jess? Who did this to you?” Slim asked, as he and Mike looked all around to be sure no one was there watching them.
“The cat, two of them,” Jess whispered.
Slim looked at the tracks and saw where there had indeed, been to cougars both within yards of Jess. What had happened, he wondered.
With no other threat in site, Slim got Jess on his horse, which had come running back to where he and Mike had been waiting on Jess.
Then they slowly started towards the ranch as nightfall was beginning to settle in. As it got darker, Slim realized that they weren’t going to be able to get to the ranch tonight. Jess had to travel slowly so that his wound wouldn’t open up again. Slim had cleaned and rewrapped it the best he could.
As nightfall overtook them, Slim stopped and made camp. They were still several miles from home. Slim got Jess off his horse and bedded down while Mike started picking up wood to make a fire with.
Jess was hot to Slim’s touch. Slim knew he was beginning to run a fever. He tried to keep him covered as Jess began to shiver. Mike got their grub out of the saddle bags for Slim. After Slim made some coffee and beans for Mike he turned his attention to Jess.
Jess had finally slipped into a more relaxed state it seemed. So, maybe, Slim thought, the fever was ebbing away. Jess roused and Slim offered him some coffee. Knowing that it was Jess’s favorite drink and he rarely turned it down.
Jess took several sips of the hot black liquid. He wasn’t shaking now, which was a good sign. Mike was sitting next to Jess’s head. He hadn’t gone but a few steps from Jess ever since they had made camp and he had returned with the firewood.
“Hey Tiger,” Jess softly spoke as he woke enough to realize that Mike was sitting next to him.
“Jess, you ok? I am so sorry, I didn’t mean for anything to happen, I just wanted to help you and Slim gather up those wild ponies we saw” Mike just rambled on, unable to stop telling Jess how much he was sorry, that he had caused him to be hurt.
“Hey, wait a minute Tiger, nothing was all your fault. I’m gonna be ok, don’t you worry and don’t blame yourself, alright?” Jess spoke ever so quietly as he was still trying to keep the coffee down that Slim had just given him.
“Jess, can you tell us what happened?” Slim asked as he kept a watchful eye on Jess as well as the surroundings. He still was a little uneasy, not knowing what Jess meant when he said there were two cats around.
Slowly, Jess told Slim and Mike his story. About how the first big cat jumped him, but then later, how it seemed the cat was sorry and was keeping an eye on him, even running the smaller cat off, when it started to attack.
Slim shook his head, he had never heard of any cougar ever doing such a thing. He even wondered if Jess had dreamed the part about there being two cats, and even more so, about one cat running the other away.
After Slim got Mike and Jess settled in for the night, thought he had better stoke the fire up. He didn’t want it getting to chilly on Jess during the night. Even though it was summer time, the night air could sometimes be a little cool. To cool, for someone in Jess’s condition.
Slim was sitting by the fire, being sure it would burn all night before he went to bed when, he stopped in his tracks. The loud roar of a cougar could be heard out in the darkness. Slim wondered if this was the cat Jess had talked about. But if it was, was it alone, or with the second one Jess had described as being the smaller one?
Slim heard the cougar scream once again. This time it seemed much closer. Slim sat alert, not daring to go to sleep, he kept one hand on his gun as he sat ever watchful and protective of his two friends and brothers, sleeping soundly near him.
Slim jerked his head up. Apparently he had nodded off. Something had woke him, but what? He sat perfectly still, wondered what the slight noise had been, when he looked to his left and saw it! He froze, not knowing whether to move or not. Should he draw his gun or would that movement be enough to make the big cat charge. To his disbelief, there to his left about thirty feet was the big cougar; so regal, sitting there, watching him. Not making a move to harm them, yet ever on the alert.
Slim sensed that the cat wanted something. Was it Jess? Why did this cat seem to have such a tie to Jess. The way Jess described the big cat protecting him from the smaller one. Had he been following them all this time, just to keep and eye on Jess?
About this time Jess stirred. As he did this the cat perked up and looked intensely at Jess lying by the fire.
“Jess,” Slim calmly called. “Jess, wake up”.
Jess stirred again, only this time, he turned toward the fire. As he looked toward Slim, he saw the cat, watching him.
“Slim? Slim? Are you ok?” Jess spoke, not wanted to scare the big cat into charging.
“Yeah, me and your buddy here been watching each other for several minutes!” Slim replied, still not quite knowing how he should handle the situation. All the while, Mike slept peacefully in his bed roll. Not knowing anything was out of the ordinary.
Jess slowly sat up, still keeping an eye on the cat. His side felt a lot better now, and his head was clearer. As he looked at the cat, he couldn’t help but wonder, had he met this cat before? Why did the big animal seem to have such a keen interest in him?
The big cat watched Jess slowly sit up and lean against a log that was lying by the fire. It seemed this is what the cat was waiting on. As soon as he saw Jess sitting up, the cat stood, Slim, ready to draw his gun ever watchful.
“No, Slim!” Jess said, “Let him be. Something tells me he has seen what he needed to see.”
As Jess spoke, the big cat slowly turned and vanished into the brush once again.
As the sun was coming up, Slim put on some fresh coffee. Jess was feeling better, but he still knew he had to be careful so his side wouldn’t start bleeding again. Mike stirred and as Slim was heating the beans and biscuits for breakfast he got up. Going to check on Jess was his first thought. With that he found Jess sitting up by the fire talking to Slim.
“Jess, what is there about that cat?” Slim questioned as he poured him and Jess a cup of coffee.
“I don’t rightly know. It acts like it knows me or something. But, I can’t remember ever having a run in with any cats around here.” Jess kept wondering what the story was with the big cat as he drank his morning coffee.
After breakfast, Slim and Mike saddled their horses and broke camp. Slim helped Jess mount Traveler as they all headed back to the ranch house.
They finally arrived back home around noon. Daisy heard their horses and had run out to the porch to meet them. She had been worried about Mike. The last thing she expected was for Jess to come home, hanging onto his saddle horn to keep from falling off his horse.
Daisy ran to Jess “Oh Jess, what happened to you?” She looked over at Slim and Mike. Slim grinned as he spoke, “He met up with a wild cat Daisy!” By now, Slim was helping Jess dismount and go into the house. Mike had taken their horses and headed for the barn with them.
“Slim, don’t you dare make me laugh!” Jess said as he held his side.
Daisy didn’t quite know how to take Slim’s comment. As Jess got inside Daisy ushered him straight into his bedroom. He almost fell onto his bed. It was so good to be back home, and in his warm bed. Daisy, unwrapped his side and proceeded to clean out his wound and rebandage it. As she finished Jess fell into a peaceful, relaxing sleep.
“Now, would you please, tell me what happened to him? What kind of “wild cat” were you referring to?” Daisy questioned Slim with a look in her eyes telling him play time was over and she wanted to know what had happened to her middle son.
Slim told her the entire story. Even about how the big cat had come into camp and just sat there until Jess sat up and it saw he was ok.
“Daisy, it was the strangest thing I ever saw. Never in my life have I ever seen a cat act like that” Slim was still utterly amazed in the way this cat acted. He couldn’t help but think that the cat seemed to “know” Jess.
As the days passed Jess slowly started getting around a lot better, his side was mending nicely. It had been about 4 weeks since the big cat had watched over Jess after attacking him.
Jess occasionally thought about the way the cat looked at him. Why did it seem to know him? What had happened in the past that Jess wasn’t remembering? But then, the thoughts would fade away and Jess would go on with his usual business.
“Hey, Jess, come here, quick!” Slim yelled from out in the yard.
Jess looked out the barn door, to see Slim standing in the middle of the yard. He was staring out toward the open meadow in front of the house. Jess came out of the barn and ran over to where Slim stood.
“What’s the matter?” Jess questioned, not knowing why Slim had yelled for him to come so quickly.
“Look,” Slim said as he motioned for Jess to look over at the meadow.
There under a big oak tree sat the big cat!
“Well, I’ll be,” Jess said in awe. “Slim, that’s him. That’s the big cat from up in the hills. But why, what would make him come down here?”
“I don’t know. It sure don’t make any sense to me either,” Slim stood in amazement. Why had this creature come down into the valley. A place where any cat would be shot on site, yet this one dared to venture not only to the valley, but this close to the Sherman ranch.
About this time Mike came running around the house to see what all the commotion was.
“Hey, what’s going on? What cha lookin’ at?” Mike was always full of questions.
Slim motioned toward where the big cat was still sitting? Waiting, watching.
Mike looked at the cat, still sitting quietly under the big oak. “CUBBY!!!!” And with that Mike started to run toward the cat. Just as he started past Jess, Jess grabbed him y the shoulder.
“Where do you think you’re going, Tiger?” Jess asked as Mike tried to squirm away.
“Jess, don’t you know?” Mike replied.
“Know what? What are you talking about?” Jess, couldn’t understand what Mike was talking about.
“Jess, that’s Cubby. Don’t you remember? Right after I came here, we found him out by the creek when we went fishing? Remember, he was a lot thinner then, but he was hurt. You cleaned his wounded leg and sewed up his gash with thread that I had in my pocket?”
Slim looked at them both, this was the first time he had heard the story of cubby. By now, Daisy had come out to see what all the fuss was about. She stood by Slim in awe of the big beautiful cat under the big oak tree.
“You know Mike, you might be right. That would explain a lot of things,” Jess said as he slowly walked towards the oak tree.
Slim held Mike back as Jess made his way towards the cat. “Jess, be careful” Slim called.
As Jess eased up to the rail fence separating himself from the big cat, Jess could see the scar on his front leg. Yes, this was Cubby alright. Now, it all made perfect sense to him.
“Cubby,” Jess spoke to the cat in a calm soothing voice. “It’s me, Jess, Cubby. You remember me don’t you?” By now, Jess was within ten feet of the mighty cat. The cat stood keeping an eye on Jess as he moved closer. Jess stopped, still keeping one eye on the big cat. The cat took a step forward, back in the yard; Slim had drawn his gun, just in case. He wasn’t going to take a chance on this wild animal attacking Jess or any of his family again.
Jess didn’t want to push the big cat so he squatted down in front of him. The cat just looked at him. It almost seemed to be smiling at Jess. He sensed a gleam in the big cat’s eyes.
“I’m ok boy.” Jess spoke to the cat. “It is you ain’t it. You didn’t know me when you jumped me. But, then you remembered. I saved you and you returned the favor. That’s why you got between me and the other cat.”
Jess heard a noise and looked up. There, farther out in the meadow, he saw another, smaller cat. Then he noticed the grass move and he saw a young cub playing by its mother. The big cat looked back at the pair.
“So, that’s it, huh boy?” Jess grinned as he spoke to the big cat. “That’s it. I was to close to your family when you jumped me. Well, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean them any harm. But I guess you figured that out huh? It was your wife, that didn’t know who I was. Thanks for setting her straight bout me.” With that the big cat looked back once again toward his family.
“Well, I’m ok now. But thanks for watching over me. Now, we are even, you can go take care of your family. Take them back up in the hills where they will be safe.” Jess spoke softly to the beautiful big cat.
With that, the big cat slowly turned and started back toward his family. When he reached them, he turned and looked at Jess one last time. With that, they disappeared into the brush.
Jess turned and walked back to the yard where the others had watched in amazement.
“Well, pard, I guess I’ve about seen it all now! You talking to a wild cat, and even stranger, he was listening!” Slim said with a wide grin on his face as he put his gun back in its holster.
“I think we need some apple pie and cheese don’t you?” Daisy said as she turned and started back into the house. Always ever amazed at how her sons were always showing her the kind of men they were.
(My First fanfic. 2-12-10)