Son of Fly


by Mary



Chapter

It was a truly magnificent early spring morning. A morning made all the more special by the fact that it followed the toughest and most brutal winter anyone who had lived in the Wyoming territories for the past thirty years could recall. It had taken its toll on animal and human alike.

 

As the willows and cottonwoods transformed themselves into the glowing soft greens that would soon herald summer, the hearts and minds of all creatures – animal, bird and human, warmed by the strengthening sun and lengthening days, were drawn as they had since the very beginning of time to the most fundamental of prime directives– the urge to reproduce.

 

In a large, sturdily fenced in corral just beyond the main barn of the Sherman ranch, the young stallion, just entering his fourth spring, snorted and postured in hopes of catching the attention of the relay mares in the lower field. He threw his thick wavy black tail up over his back, arched his long elegant neck and pranced up and down the fence line. Rapidly becoming bored with this, he dug in his powerful hind legs and galloped with youthful abandon, kicking out from time to time at imaginary obstacles in his way. He was proud, magnificent and full of himself. He was the first son of the renowned Fly or as she was known around the area, “The Sherman Mare” - the greatest trotting horse the territory had ever seen and the Morgan stallion known as General Bob both direct descendants of the very first Morgan horse – the legendary Justin Morgan himself.

 

Both his sire and his dam had passed on to him their kind natures and intelligence. From his mother he had inherited also her incredible speed and beauty and from his father, his impressive size. While Morgan horses tended to be fairly small, he like his father stood nearly 16 hands high. Both had managed to attain this height without sacrificing any of the power and strength that Morgans were famous for. He was a fitting tribute to his parents and to his breed. His name was Flash and it wouldn’t be long before he would be as famous as his mother. But he would do it his way and in his own time.

 

Chapter One

 

“He has a good look about him,” Slim Sherman thought idly to himself. Now where the heck had that come from, he mused. Then he recalled that was what his pa always said about a horse he was especially taken with. Only Slim Sherman wasn’t watching any horse. He was standing on the sidelines of the first town dance of the spring, enjoying a glass of punch and the sight of Jess Harper expertly guiding yet another of the local beauties around the makeshift pavilion in the center of town. It never failed to amaze him that Jess, his friend and partner of the last five years, could be so wary and shy around the ladies most of the time and then turn into nothing less than pure poetry on the dance floor. Even after all this time, he was still discovering new and fascinating sides to his complex and often contradictory companion. First there was his appearance. Just looking at him at ease, he appeared almost angelic – what with those deep blue eyes and impossibly long thick eyelashes. He wasn’t overly tall or heavy but rather possessed a neat, lithe compact body capable of performing the ranch work of any three ordinary men.

 

His normal bent was to be kind and polite, if perhaps a tad skittish where the ladies were concerned. He was a fiercely loyal friend and the best drinking buddy a fellow could ever ask for. But stir him to anger and you had a tornado on your hands. How those blue eyes could blaze! And he would wade into a fight with a whole crowd of men twice his size and as often as not come out on top. He’d beat them back with sheer guts and determination. He was now much slower to take umbrage than he had been when they had first met, but when he did go into battle, he’d see it through to the bitter end.

 

“Hey, these ladies can’t read minds ya know.” Jess slapped his partner on the shoulder jolting him out of his wool gathering. “If you want one to dance with ya, you’re going to hafta’ ask one and not just stare at her.”

 

“Mortified, Slim tried desperately not to blush. What would Jess think if he knew whom he’d actually been staring at? He looked around in some desperation, his eyes finally fixing on the young Miss Abigail Warner. Without further delay, he gallantly took her arm and ushered her towards the punch bowl.

 

Chapter Two

 

“Ya know, Slim,” Jess leaned towards his partner, slurring his words slightly, “these wimmin ain’t got but one idea in their heads these days and that’s to rope, hogtie and put their brand on the two of us.” “Now maybe it’s somethin’ in the water but it just seems to me that gals that just the other day were perfectly normal like, an’ now they got that crazed look in their eye. Like you and me was some kinda prized bulls or somethin’.”

 

“Well, Jess,” Slim replied. “Speaking strictly for myself, I guess I can kinda understand how they might wanta use the word bull an’ me in the same sentence.”

 

Jess chuckled and began to choke on his beer winding up with a resounding belch. “Slim, I’m sure there’s many a heifer out on the range that looks to you with lust in her heart but when the ladies here are daydreamin’ about their perfect man, it’s about me.”

 

Slim laughed until his sides ached. “Daisy is going to have our hides if we don’t get headin’ home soon. You know she’s mad as a wet hen if we make her stay up half the night waiting to let us in.”

 

The two men settled their bar bill, passionately kissed the saloon girls goodnight and headed out into the dark Laramie street to search out their horses. Finally finding said horses and after having tried with varying degrees of success to out do the other in the area of creative mounting techniques, they loped happily out the Laramie road towards home.

 

Chapter Three

 

“Damn it, Jess,” Slim grumbled as he tromped into the bedroom. “You know damned well that it was your damned turn to take care of the damned horses.” He paused as he stumbled over a boot left in the middle of the floor. When the only response he got for his tirade was a soft snore, he glanced over at the far bunk only to see Jess sprawled fully dressed with one boot on and one boot off, sound asleep. Plopping himself down on the edge of the bunk, he vainly tried to rouse his partner. All he got for his trouble was a bit of unintelligible grumbling. Giving up, he rolled him over on his back. “You know how Daisy feels about boots in bed,” he admonished as he struggled with the remaining boot. It suddenly came free and he was aware of drowsy blue eyes peering out at him from under thick lashes. “An’ I know your fakin’ – don’t you go thinkin’ I can’t tell”

 

With that, Jess abruptly pulled up the covers and rolled over on his side. Slim gave him a good-natured swat on the backside and returned to his own bunk. This ritual had played itself out with numerous variations many times over the years that they had been friends. No matter how exasperated he became with Jess, his antics never failed to make him smile. Ever since that first morning when he discovered the dark haired stranger dozing next to the creek with his horse tied right up to his no trespassing sign, his normally serious nature had been constantly at odds with Jess’s teasing and irreverence. It occurred to him, as he drifted off to sleep, how dreadfully he would miss him if ever he were to go away.

 

Chapter Four

 

“Slim! Jess!” Daisy called in alarm. As the men came running from the barn, Daisy Cooper tried vainly to chase off the marauding young stallion by flapping her apron at him. He stood expectantly by the kitchen door with the remains of a clothesline and a generously cut pair of lady’s bloomers entangled around his ears and neck. “This is the second time in a week he’s jumped out of his corral and it’s got to stop!”

 

“There, there, Miss Daisy,” Slim soothed. “He’s just lookin’ for some more of those apple peelin’s you used to give him when he was a baby.”

 

“Well he’s no baby now,” Daisy retorted. “its high time one of you got him broken to saddle and out there working. This is what happens when a youngster has too much time on his hands – er hooves.” She laughed in spite of herself and standing on tiptoes, retrieved the bloomers.

 

Jess clipped a lead-shank to Flash’s halter and led him back to his corral with Slim following close behind.

 

“Daisy’s right ya know,” Jess said, stroking Flash’s soft silky nose. “He’s as ready as he’s goin’ to be. One of us needs to be getting’ on him.”

 

“I know,” Slim replied. “The way I see it, his owner by rights ought to be the one to back him.”

 

“Well, I guess then, that’d be you since you won his mom in that poker game.”

 

“Yup,” Slim said softly. “That’s about how I figure it. And as his owner, I’m giving him to you. I’ve had the pleasure these past few years of ownin’ Fly – now it’s your turn. “ ‘Sides, he’s been considerin’ you his ever since he first laid eyes on ya.”

 

Jess stared at him open mouthed.

 

“An don’t you be givin’ me any grief. You’ve got a mornin’s worth of work to do repairin’ Daisy’s clothesline and adding more rails to the corral – an’ Mike an’ me have got some serious fishin’ ahead of us.”

 

With that he smiled broadly, punched his partner in the arm and wandered off towards the house in search of Mike.

 

Jess gazed up into Flash’s huge expressive eyes. “Well fella, looks like it’s you an me. I just hope I’m good enough for you.”

 

Chapter Five

 

Jess stepped back to admire his handiwork and to wipe the sweat from his brow. The new clothesline was a masterpiece if he did say so himself.

 

Startled, he felt a small hand on his arm. “I’ve brought you some lemonade,” Daisy said brightly. “You were so engrossed in your work, you never even heard me.”

 

“Thanks,” he replied, drinking it down in one long gulp. “That sure hit the spot. Say, did Slim happen to mention anything to you about givin’ me Flash?”

 

“Oh, well not exactly but I know that’s always been his intention. There’s been a strong connection between you and that horse – like the two of you were meant to be together - right along with Slim and Mike and me,” she said laughing. Then giving him a quick hug, she said, “come on in and have some lunch. You’re going to need all the strength you can get if you’re planning to ride that creature.”

 

 

Chapter Six

 

“Jess! Jess! Look what I caught!” Jess had tied Flash to the hitching post by the barn and had been brushing him when Mike came galloping down the drive brandishing a string of fresh caught trout.

 

“Good goin’, Tiger. Didja’ leave any back in the creek for the rest of us?”

 

“Weeell, Slim says I musta got ‘em all since there weren’t any left for him but I think he just fell asleep and forgot to put his line in the water.”

 

“That’s our Slim for ya,” Jess replied. “Guess I musta kept him out too late last night.”

 

Slim came jogging up a few moments later. “Mike, you take those fish up to the house – Daisy’ll help you clean ‘em.” Then seeing that Jess had brought out the old saddle they used for breaking colts, “you fixin’ to ride him?”

 

“Seems like as good a day as any.”

 

“Need a hand?”

 

“Naw, I should be ok – wouldn’t mind if you hung around a bit though, you know, just in case.”

 

Slim smiled. He knew Jess would never come right out and ask for help and he also knew that few men in the territory were more capable of doing the job right than Jess was. He was unaccountably pleased that Jess had asked him to stick around.

 

Flash had worn a saddle many times over the last year. Slim and Jess, when they had a moment, would gently place it on his back and slowly cinch it up. Then they would lead him around, letting him get accustomed to the feel of it. As Jess put it on him now, he simply gazed calmly ahead. This was no big deal. When Jess slipped the light snaffle bit between his teeth and pulled the bridle up over his ears, he still stood quietly for he had also worn it before. When Jess led him to the corral, he still remained unfazed. Heck, this was old hat. It was only when Jess carefully tightened the cinch a bit more that his senses became aroused. He had come to know Jess so well that he could feel the anticipation and excitement in him and maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of worry.

 

Jess stroked the great bay stallions neck and spoke soothingly to him. He glanced over to Slim who was sitting on the corral fence, made brief eye contact and then when Slim nodded his encouragement, he placed his foot in the stirrup and swung easily and lightly into the saddle.

 

For the smallest of moments Flash was confused. First Jess had been there and then he was gone. Then when Jess spoke to him again and continued to stroke his neck from up on him, he relaxed. He was aware of the additional weight on his back but it caused him no concern. As long as his Jess spoke to him and touched him, he would be just fine.

 

“Okay fella,” Jess said softly as he gently applied a quiet leg pressure. “Let’s walk on.”

 

Flash took his first steps awkwardly, trying to balance himself with his rider. Jess sat quietly and within a few more strides Flash began walking more and more confidently, his ears flickering forward and back constantly seeking Jess’s voice.

 

Jess kept the lightest of hold on the reins and guided him around the corral just using his legs. The reining would be training for another day.

 

After about ten minutes of walking in circles, Jess gave a little chirp and applied a bit more leg pressure. Flash got the idea at once and moved into a slow and somewhat uneven jog. Again, Jess gave him the time he needed to adjust himself and soon his jog smoothed out and became more regular. As both horse and rider relaxed, Flash’s ears slowed their restless flickering and pricked straight ahead. This was the beginning of the rest of his life. What he was bred to do – to work and to be a partner with his human. He was now a horse with a job and that was just fine.

 

Slim watched on in awe. No matter how many times he had watched Jess work with young horses, he never ceased to be amazed at the trust and confidence they had in him. There was never any loud yelling or macho posturing. Just firm kindness and patience. It was no wonder that a respected selling point for a horse were the words, “Jess Harper broke him.” Even with all that, the obvious rapport between the spirited young stallion, the son of his beloved Fly, and his partner and best friend was such a joy to behold that he knew he’d be smiling about it for a long time to come.

 

Chapter Seven

 

As the weeks stretched into months and the spring to summer, young Flash received the education he would need to be real working ranch horse. It would not be enough that he be a sire of beautiful horses. In the west of the 1870’s, all horses needed to be able to work – there was no room for pets or pretty playthings.

 

Flash learned to obey his rider’s most subtle commands without question. To hold perfectly still while his rider fired a rifle pointed practically between his ears. To stare down the most recalcitrant cow. To be steady and brave and always a gentleman. His only fault appeared to be his boundless enthusiasm and passionate desire to please his owner. If Jess asked for a lope, he galloped. If Jess pointed him at a maverick steer, he would chase it to the end of the earth if that was what Jess wanted. Jess found himself, more often reining in his star pupil than encouraging him. The bond between them grew stronger and stronger as they worked together.

 

The ever-faithful Traveler now became Mike’s horse. Mike had grown up considerably that summer and was beginning to be a real partner in the ranch operation. Traveler took great care of him and many remarked that Mike rode him exactly the way Jess had.

 

Fly watched all these goings on from her pasture behind the house with a serene sense of pride. Every spring since Flash’s birth she had bestowed upon her owner one fine baby after another. The Sherman barn was beginning to accumulate an impressive row of kind, well-built Morgans – the very image of their famous dam. This year’s offspring was a doe eyed filly that Slim had aptly named “Fancy”.

 

Flash’s reputation had started to grow as well and it wasn’t long before ranchers from all over the territory – some from as far away as Denver – had dropped by to see “that colt outta the Sherman Mare”. It also wasn’t long before they began inquiring as to when they could bring their mares to him and how much it would cost.

 

Slim and Jess discussed the subject in depth as they held their “business meetings” boots up on the railing of the front porch of the ranch house. Not strictly limited to business, these meetings were one of their favorite ways to pass an evening over coffee after the chores and hard work of the day were done.

 

After careful consideration they decided that they would limit Flash’s first year to just ten mares – mares of their choosing. The fee would be low as Flash was untried but hopefully they would breed him to mares of such quality that it would justify a much higher fee in future years. One half of the proceeds would go into the general ranch coffers with the balance being placed in a fund to purchase purebred unrelated mares for their herd.

 

Dave Hutchinson, the owner of Flash’s sire had taken a particular interest in all of this. As a result of Flash’s reputation, his stallion’s stud fee had risen considerably. A fine horseman in his own right, Dave saw the value both short and long term of Flash having an opportunity to breed to only the finest mares possible. Not only had he promised to put Jess and Slim in touch with Morgan breeders that he knew in New England, he also made arrangements for no fewer than three of his finest purebred mares to visit Flash in the spring.

 

Thus as the long languid days of summer shortened into the crisp golden days of autumn, a general sense of hopeful and happy anticipation settled over the small household of the Sherman Ranch.

 

Chapter Eight

 

It was a chilly overcast September morning when Dirk Ingraham came calling to the Sherman Ranch. Mike was at school, Daisy in the kitchen baking bread and Slim and Jess were just sending the morning stage on its way.

 

Dirk and the men of the Sherman ranch had a long history. The scion of a family who had made their fortune in the China trade, Dirk was a weak, poor excuse of a man. Never having had to work or show any sort of accountability for his own actions, he had grown up wild and mean. His own family had sent him west after he had become involved in a scandalous affair in Boston involving both an upstairs maid and the daughter of a prominent local politician.

 

The original idea had been that Dirks father would send him some of his best breeding stock from his racing stable on the north shore. Out in Wyoming where grassland was plentiful, Dirk was to breed the mares with local stock in hopes of ultimately breeding a racehorse both fast enough and strong enough to take on the best the east had to offer.

 

That had been the plan. In actuality Dirk had proved himself to be not only a dreadful horseman but also a remarkably bad judge of horseflesh. Foal crop after foal crop was a disappointment. And to top it all off, he brought with him his crude and uncouth ways with the ladies. He soon became a persona non grata with every self-respecting family in the territory.

 

The legendary encounter he had had several years prior with his father’s best trotter and Slim and Jess with their Morgan mare had really sealed things. From that day on he had vowed to get even. Now with the pressure on from his father to arrange to breed their best mare to a stallion standing at the Sherman ranch, young Dirk was both livid and spoiling for a fight.

 

As he reined in his lanky chestnut, Dirk regarded the immediate environs of the Sherman Ranch with disdain. It galled him no end that he was here in the first place. It seemed almost as if it were yesterday that Sherman and that hired hand, Harper he recalled, had so beaten and embarrassed him and his champion trotter with that damned Morgan pony of theirs – and right in front of the widow Fowler to boot! He’d give a lot to get even and he was sure his time would come but for now he had more pressing business.

 

“Hey you, Harper!” he yelled.

 

Jess froze and then slowly turned around.

 

“Yeah.”

 

My pa sent me over to deliver you a message. Says he’s willin’ to breed Pandora to your stud. Now bear in mind that I’m totally against this but he says if you was to bring that stud over to our place next week, he’d return him when he was through. We wouldn’t expect to pay you nothin’ of course seein’ it’s our champion mare.”

 

Jess took a deep breath and sauntered slowly over to Dirk. “With all due respect,” he drawled. “Flash’s book is filled for next year and even if we had an openin’ Pandora ain’t the type of mare we’d be looking to breed him to.”

 

Dirk leapt off his gelding and stalked stiff legged up to Jess. “Just whata’ you sayin’ boy? You sayin’ our mare ain’t good enough for your stud?”

 

“Ain’t a matter of good enough or not,” Jess replied calmly. “First of all it appears as like you an’ your pa are breeding strictly for speed and we ain’t in the racin’ business. Secondly, everything you bred so far is all legs and no bone. Sure they’re fast when they’re young but they ain’t got the bone to support them bodies – one wrong step an’ those legs shatter like glass. Slim and I are breeding horses for workin’ cattle and providin’ remounts to the cavalry – fancy racehorses like yours don’t have no place around here.”

 

Dirk took a deep breath – oh how he’d love to wipe that self satisfied smile off that cowpoke’s face. “Okay, Harper, I’m a reasonable man. If you don’t want to breed your stud to our mare, then just name a price and my pa and I will buy him – we’ll be sort of doin’ you a favor for all you’ve done for the community.”

 

“He ain’t for sale – not to you and not for any price. Now me an’ Slim got work to do so if you’ll excuse us.” With that, Jess turned his back and strolled off to join his partner.

 

Dirk stood for a moment fuming and then snatched up the reins of his nervous gelding – climbed awkwardly aboard and galloped off, arms flapping. He’d get even.

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

It was the opening day of Laramie’s very first harvest celebration. The entire town was atwitter. There would be all the usual contests – pie bakin’ , pumpkin growin’ – pickles, moonshine. If it could be grown or made they’d have a competition for it. There’d also be tests of strength and speed for the young men and for the more adventuresome, a good old fashioned flat out no holds barred horse race. The race would start at the hotel – go straight out Main Street, make a large loop around the church and then charge back up Main Street and end in front of the Courthouse. Even though the entries were far from confirmed, betting was fast and furious.

 

Daisy had made herself busy with the women’s club booth and Mike had caught up with a group of his school friends. Slim and Jess sat astride Alamo and Flash observing the festivities. “Ya know this town’s come a long way, Jess,” Slim remarked. “When I was a kid, this street was always six inches in mud and God knows what else. You wouldn’t even think of comin’ this far without your hand on a loaded gun – just look at it now –we’re in some danger of getting’ civilized.”

 

Jess laughed as he waved to one of the saloon girls. “Thank goodness somethings never change – what would we do without them gals?”

 

“Get hitched I suspect,” Slim responded dryly and together they jogged up the street.

 

Down by the hotel the horse race was just getting organized. Last minute entries were paying their fees and runners were going up and down the street collecting bets.

 

“Hey, Harper,” a voice called out. “How’s about a little side bet – all or nothin’?” Jess looked behind him to see Dirk coming up behind him riding his father’s gray thoroughbred stallion, Apollo.

 

Coming up very close so that no one else could hear, he said, “It’s really very simple. You enter your stud in this race. If I win, I get him and no harm comes to that kid of yours – if you win, no harm comes to that kid of yours – like I said, real simple.”

 

“What have you done with Mike?” Jess hissed.

 

“He’s safe enough – for now. Whattya say?”

 

Jess glanced over to Slim who was presently engaged with chatting with a number of the local townsfolk.

 

“Okay Dirk”, Jess said evenly, feigning a far more casual attitude than he felt. “Jes supposin’ I go along with ya – what happens after the race?”

 

“Why you get Mike back and this little chat we’re havin’ never happened,” Dirk replied with a sneer.

 

Jess searched with his eyes frantically up and down the street but there was no sign of Mike.

 

The race was quickly assembling. He thought frantically. There was no time. No time to search. No time to think. He just couldn’t – wouldn’t take a chance where Mike was concerned. Running his fingers through Flash’s thick mane, he finally made up his mind. Wheeling the stallion around, he joined the other contestants at the end of the street.

 

Chapter Ten

 

The riders sat their dancing horses at the start line. The head of the city council held his revolver up over his head and pausing just a moment the better to sustain the suspense, fired.

 

Flash couldn’t believe this was happening. All he had to do was run his heart out and his rider would be happy. Rarely had his directives been so simple. As the adrenalin rushed through his veins, he leapt forward – gravel flying behind him and set his sights on the tall gray stallion leading the pack.

 

As the pack neared the church the leaders surged forward leaving the many stragglers behind. With his powerful hindquarters, Flash dug in around the turn and emerged back onto Main Street solidly in the lead. Dirk’s Apollo, though faster on the straightaway, lost considerable ground on the turn.

 

Jess guided him grimly. He knew the thoroughbred was by far the more experienced racer. He also knew his Flash possessed power and drive that was thus far untested. Keeping him in perfect control as they cleared the church, he then leaned forward and urged the young stud to go for it. Flash responded with an amazing surge of speed and strength easily outdistancing Dirk’s mount. As they streaked towards the finish line, Jess was horrified to see straight ahead of them, a small child pull away from his parent’s hand and run directly into the street. Sitting up straight he yelled “Whoa!” Responding valiantly as he had been taught, Flash sat back on his haunches and began to slide to a halt. Seeing an opening, Dirk pushed his mount in front of Flash. As the child suddenly appeared in front of him, Apollo shied violently to one side missing him. As he came down on his right foreleg, the toothpick thin limb snapped and the huge stallion cartwheeled against the blue September sky. Unable to avoid him, Flash crashed against him with a sickening thud of flesh and bone. Dirk was thrown clear and landed with his neck at a decidedly unnatural angle. Both horses rolled heavily over Jess’s prone body with Apollo winding up lying still and unmoving, his back broken. Flash struggled to his feet and stood on three legs, his sides heaving, and his body white with foam.

 

Horrified, Slim ran to his fallen partner. As he reached him, Jess was just regaining consciousness. Seth Andrews, their friend and family doctor arrived at exactly the same time. Looking up at Slim, Jess frantically implored, “Where’s Mike?”

 

Laying a strong hand on Jess’s chest, Seth said, “Don’t try moving. Just tell me where it hurts.”

 

“Mike, where’s Mike?” Jess demanded frantically.

 

“He’s right over there with Mose and Daisy – he’s fine – he’s been there right along,” Slim assured him.

 

“And Dirk?”

 

“He’s dead,” Slim replied softly.

 

“And Flash?”

 

Slim stood up and went over to where several bystanders were holding him. He was obviously in deep shock – a huge gash opened up across his shoulder exposing torn muscle and bone. He was shaking, his great eyes reflecting the incredible pain he was feeling.

 

Slowly he went back to where Jess lay writhing uncomfortably. Seth was examining him and it didn’t look like he was pleased with what he was finding.

 

Seth looked up at him. “I think his pelvis is broken – it’s important that we don’t shift him around any more than we have to.” And more quietly, “he can’t move his legs.”

 

“Slim!” Jess called out weakly. “What about Flash?”

 

Slim crouched down beside his friend, grasped his hand and said in a voice filled with grief, “Not good Jess – he took a hard hit.”

 

Several men had taken down a door from one of the local establishments and were carrying it to where Jess lay. As they prepared to lift him onto it, Jess looked up at Slim and with all the courage he could muster implored of his friend, “Don’t let Flash suffer – promise me you won’t let him suffer.”

 

Solemnly Slim nodded his head and wearily rising up took Flash’s rein and slowly led him, hobbling behind the livery stable. Drawing his revolver, he carefully took aim at the spot just above the eye and prepared to fire the shot that would end the fine horse’s suffering forever. The brave horse gazed calmly at him with kind understanding - forgiving eyes.

 

The sound of the shot echoed off the surrounding hills and reverberated right through Jess’s soul. It was the last sound he heard before the huge dose of laudanum that Seth had given him took effect.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Seth Andrews sat with Slim Sherman and Daisy Cooper in his small office. “I only wish there was more I could tell you. Jess is extremely fortunate in that there don’t appear to be any internal injuries. In accidents like the one he’s just been through, this is quite rare. His pelvis is definitely broken along with several ribs but there seems to be no displacement. All we can do for him at this point is to keep him totally immobilized for a period of four to six weeks.”

 

“What about his legs?” Daisy inquired. “You had said earlier that he couldn’t move them.”

 

“I don’t think he can now either but we can’t know for sure without risking further damage to his pelvis,” Seth continued. “There’s so much we don’t know. He may have sustained some nerve damage and that damage may be permanent or it may heal itself over time. At any rate, all we can do for him now is keep him quiet and comfortable while he mends.”

 

“When can we take him home?” Slim asked.

 

Seth thought a moment. “He’s going to require a lot of care. Daisy, there’s no one around better to do that than you. I should think in a day or two. I just want to be sure he isn’t bleeding anywhere he shouldn’t be first.”

 

Daisy and Slim both nodded in agreement. “Well, that’s it then,” Seth concluded abruptly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another patient to tend to.” He looked meaningfully at Slim but Slim avoided his eyes. Daisy looked on perplexed but made no comment.

 

Jess arrived home three days later in the back of Caleb Haskin’s hearse. Under any different circumstances, Slim was sure Jess would have found great humor in this but as it was, it was merely the safest and most practical way for him to make the twelve mile journey. Slim sincerely hoped they wouldn’t be requiring Caleb’s services again for a very long time.

 

Chapter 12

 

Daisy pushed back an errant lock of gray hair and wiped her hands on her apron. The past two weeks had been for her a constantly changing prism of emotions. Jess, heavily medicated and snuggly wrapped in wide wool bandages mostly slept. With Slim’s help she kept him clean and got as much nutrition into him as she could. Seth had assured her that he was healing well and for this she was grateful.

 

She had been totally unprepared for the amazing outpouring of help and support from the neighbors and townsfolk. Twice a day crews from the nearby ranches arrived to help with the stages. Others helped Mike with the barn chores and as roundup time approached Slim had been assured that his stock would be taken care of. Taking her aside one morning when he found her weeping quietly, Mort Corey had explained that these people were only too happy to have finally found a way to in some part repay all the kindness and generosity the folks of the Sherman Ranch had bestowed on them over the years.

 

Her greatest concern at the moment was Slim. He had been acting strangely ever since the accident. He hardly spoke and rarely ate. He was growing startlingly thin. Even more puzzling was that every night after dinner when he was sure Jess was settled, he’d mount Alamo and disappear often not returning until dawn. He became tense and moody. It all came to a head when Mike had innocently asked him where Flash was buried. To Mike’s shock and horror, Slim had virtually exploded, lashing out at the hapless boy with words that hurt him far more than a hand could. He had then bolted from the house slamming the door behind him.

 

Daisy had found him up on the hill crouched beside his father’s grave. She had knelt beside him and wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly until the great shuddering sobs had quieted.

 

“Slim, it’s going to be alright. Jess is getting better. You need to rest.”

 

Slim shook his head. “No Daisy, you don’t understand. I’ve done a bad thing – an unforgivable thing. I just can’t talk about it now.”

 

He stood up and gazed for a long time out over the ranch he loved so much. Looking back at Daisy he asked, “Mike in the house?”

 

When she nodded, he walked of in the direction of the ranch house. Later she saw him sitting with Mike on the porch talking. She figured that part at least was fixed.

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Jess had floated through the last weeks in a soft drug induced haze. He was vaguely aware of being touched and fed and talked to but all sense of time and place eluded him. These were the good times. The bad times came later when the laudanum thinned in his bloodstream and the echo of that last shot came back to haunt him. The great gray horse flying against the sky – Flash’s groan when he was hit and the sound of the shot – always that dreadful final sound – the death of his friend, the death of his dream. These scenes replayed themselves over and over again until he felt Daisy put the spoon to his lips, felt the sharp tasting fluid slide down his throat and then blessed nothingness.

 

“Daisy, its time we started backing him off the laudanum,” Seth remarked as he put away his stethoscope. “We’re going to have us an addict on our hands if we don’t.”

 

Daisy nodded in agreement for she had seen all too often in the army hospitals she’d worked in during the war, the ravages of opium addiction.

 

“Now this isn’t going to be easy,” Seth was continuing. “He still needs to stay quiet for another two or three weeks. He’s going to be anxious about his legs but he’s going to have to wait a while.”

 

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“Don’t you think it’s about time for my medicine?” Jess asked hopefully as Daisy settled herself by his bed with a bowl of gruel in her hands.

 

Daisy smiled at him and gave his arm a squeeze. “No you’re all set for now. You just need to get some food in you so you can get your strength back.”

 

Jess narrowed his eyes as the significance of her words sunk in. “Daisy, it don’t take no strength for me to lie here in this bed.”

 

“But you won’t be in that bed much longer. Seth says that you can try sitting up next week and the week after that; if you’re strong enough we may be able to try getting you out of here. You must be very sick of these four walls by now.”

 

“You seem to be missin’ one small thing. I ain’t about to be walkin’ anywhere – not now – not next week – not ever. Now are you gonna get me that medicine or aincha?” With that he turned his head away from her, bitter tears running down his hollow cheeks.

 

Chapter 14

 

“Easy there, Jess,” Daisy cautioned as Slim propped him up in bed with a number of pillows behind his back. “You’re bound to feel a little dizzy at first. Just close your eyes and it will pass.”

 

Jess did as he was told and after a few bad moments the light-headed feeling did go away. He glanced briefly at Slim and Daisy’s anxious faces and then stubbornly turned his face to the wall, maintaining a stubborn silence.

 

“Well if you don’t feel like talkin’ then we’ll just leave ya be for a while,” Slim said as he ushered Daisy from the room. “We’ll be close by if you need any thing.”

 

“Need anything! Now that’s a laugh,” Jess thought. What he needed right now was a bullet – a bullet right in the head, just like Flash. Trouble was, he couldn’t get out of the damned bed and it was a darned site unlikely anyone was about to leave a loaded firearm within his reach. He’d tried refusing food but Daisy hadn’t been about to let him starve himself and consumed as he was with self pity, he still couldn’t bring himself to hurt her feelings any more than he’d probably already had.

 

And damned if he didn’t feel crummy. Since the bandages had been removed, his hips had hurt like a toothache. He knew it was a waste of breath to ask for his pain medicine so for the last few days he’d been suffering in silence. Finally curiosity getting the better of him, he reached down and gingerly lifted up the covers. He was appalled by what he saw. His legs looked like matchsticks – they looked worse than the legs of Dirk Ingraham’s racehorses. As quickly as the thought of Dirk and his horses entered his mind, he quickly dismissed it, adding it to the growing list of things he couldn’t bear to think about.

 

His big toe began to itch and instinctively he turned his foot so he could rub the offending toe against the sheets. As he did so a searing pain shot up his leg and through his hip. He groaned and then his eyes flew open wide as he realized what had just happened. Tentatively he tried bending his knee. Again the pain was fierce but the knee bent – just like he’d asked it to. Could it be that Seth had spoken the truth? He’d been so angry and yes, he had to admit it, scared that he’d shut out the possibility of any sort of a happy ending to this whole sorry time.

 

He sat there for a very long time thinking and when Daisy came in later to check on him, he’d drifted off to sleep.

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Slim Sherman wearily sat his horse trying desperately to stay awake. Alamo, now accustomed to this routine, headed directly home and stopped obediently in front of the barn. It was nearly dawn and once again, there would be no time for Slim to grab any sleep before starting the morning chores.

 

After turning Alamo out in his corral and securing a cup of coffee from the kitchen, he returned to the barn. As he often did nowadays, he stood by Fly’s stall sipping his coffee seeking solace in her kind, quiet presence.

 

“Oh girl,” he said. “What have I done? What am I gonna do?”

 

The beautiful dark mare sighed softly and pressed her head against his arm. They stood like that, man and horse, in the dark fragrant stable watching as the dawn turned to morning.

 

Finally Slim looked down at her and said, “Fly, you always know just what to say.”

 

With that he squared his tired shoulders and marched into the house. “Daisy! Mike!” he called. “Come here. I have something to tell you.”

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

That evening under cover of darkness a strange wagon came rumbling down the drive. It was a low covered affair obviously makeshift.

 

Jess was roused from his uneasy sleep by the noise of the wagon and the murmur of voices. He thought it odd but then dismissed it and went back to sleep dreaming a pleasant dream of dark horses and endless western prairies.

 

He awoke in the morning feeling strangely happy and well rested. And something else besides. A feeling in the air that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. A sense of anticipation maybe. At any rate, he was also hungry and as the smells of breakfast drifted in, he struggled to pull himself up into a sitting position, actually looking forward to eating.

 

“Why, Jess,” Daisy exclaimed with pleasure. “I haven’t seen you eat like that since…” she trailed off and quickly changing the subject said, “Slim has something for you – he went to a lot of trouble to find it.”

 

Before she could go any further, Slim appeared in the doorway pushing a strange looking object. “What’s that?” Jess asked, eyeing the contraption suspiciously.

 

Slim whipped off the blanket that covered it to reveal a somewhat battered and obviously much used wheelchair.

 

Jess stiffened immediately. “If you think I’m getting’ into that thing, you gotta another thing comin’,” he growled.

 

“I knew you’d be ornery about this,” Slim said evenly, “and you just go ahead but if you think I’m going to pick you up and carry you around this place while you finish getting better, you got another think comin’.”

 

Jess knew he had a point but if he got in that thing, well heck, he might just as well hang a sign saying “cripple” around his neck.

 

“And what make’s you think I’m getting better,” he retorted.

 

“Well you ain’t getting worse are ya?”

 

As Jess pondered that last comment, Slim continued, “I know when you’re fakin’ and pard, you’re fakin’ right now. I know you want to get out of that bed and get outside. You been stuck in here for over six weeks now and that’s a long time for an outdoors boy like you. Now, are you going to get in this peaceably or am I going to have to wrestle ya?”

 

Jess chuckled in spite of himself. “Ya going ta put some clothes on me first?” he asked.

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

It sure felt good to be outside, Jess thought. Feeling the thin November sun on his face. The smells of wood smoke and horses – amazing he could now think of horses without waves of grief washing over him. How he’d missed all this. How glad he was to be back out here even if he was in this damned chair all covered up by heavy blankets. He took a deep breath and looked up to his partner and grinned.

 

Slim grinned back at him. He had his partner back at last – at least for the moment. Would he forgive him when he found out about the secret? The only thing in all the years they’d been friends that he’d ever kept from him. Well he’d gone this far; he might as well go the rest of the way.

 

As they neared the barn door, both men grew anxious. Jess dreading the sight of what wouldn’t be there – Slim dreading him seeing what was.

 

As Slim pushed him down the center aisle past Alamo and Traveler, towards Fly’s stall, the little mare stuck her head out and nickered an eager welcome. Jess held out a trembling hand and stroked her nose. It felt so good – so familiar – so like… well he guessed he still couldn’t quite think about that.

 

At the far end of the barn was a large corner box stall – Flash’s stall. Jess was surprised as Slim continued to push him towards it. He looked up at him questioningly but Slim was staring grimly ahead and said nothing but kept pushing.

 

And then time stopped. As they approached the stall a head appeared over the door ears pricked with interest. A fine dark muzzle pushed forward and a pair of huge intelligent eyes glowed with recognition and happiness as they fixed themselves upon the man in the wheelchair.

 

Jess was stunned. Laying a hand on his shoulder, Slim said gently, “You need to see this.”

 

He opened the door and pushed Jess forward so that he could get a better look. The stallion nickered a deep low rumble and pressed his nose into Jess’s hand. At first Jess just sat there gazing at his horse’s face. Then he lifted his eyes and took in the entire scene. It was Flash alright but he was painfully thin, his once glistening coat now dull. Slashing across his now wasted shoulder was a raw pink hairless new scar.

 

Jess sat quietly, never taking his hand from Flash’s nose. Then he looked at Slim and asked the question Slim at been dreading. “Why?”

 

Slim stared out the barn door and struggled to get his emotions under control. Finally he knelt down in front of Jess and laying his hands on his knees said in a voice rough with sadness and worry, “When I made you that promise not to let Flash suffer – when I went to put him out of his misery – I failed. I couldn’t do it. I fired that shot up into the air and then hid him in the livery stable. I didn’t tell you because I really didn’t think he was going to make it. It’s been real uncertain right up until now. I couldn’t bear to have you lose him twice.”

 

Jess continued to stroke his horse’s face. “But how – how did you manage all this?”

 

“I had a lot of help. Seth actually sewed him up and made up the poultices and all. Mort and Mose and Ben – even the gals from the saloon all took turns tending him during the day – they were the only other ones who knew. I’d head out after dinner and tend him through the night. Sometimes it got real bad, Jess. Real bad. But he kept comin’ back and he fought with everything he had. So that’s it. I just hope you’ll come to understand – and forgive me. I figure from this point on the two of you can finish up your mendin’ together.”

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

From that point on both horse and man mended quickly each drawing new strength from the other. Every morning Jess needed less and less help from Slim to get dressed and into his wheelchair. Slim had rigged a series of ropes in the barn that Jess could use to pull him self up with. Holding the rope with one hand, he would stand brushing Flash for ever longer periods of time. It wasn’t long before Flash’s dull coat attained its former gloss.

 

As Jess’s legs grew stronger with use, so did Flash’s shoulder. As soon as he could manage it, Jess began leading him around the corral, steadying himself first on Slim and later by using the fence.

 

Finally one day in late January, Jess found himself alone in the barn with Flash. Daisy and Mike had gone to town and Slim was repairing some fence up behind the house. On an impulse he took down Flash’s bridle and slipped it on him. Then looking about outside for something to stand on, he led Flash to an overturned wooden box. Flash stood perfectly still like he’d been taught as Jess slowly and painfully climbed up onto his bare back.

 

“We must be a sight,” Jess thought. “Skinny, battered and bruised but heck we’re still standin’.”

 

He slowly walked him up to the house and then up to where Slim was just gathering up his tools. He walked him right up to Slim, looked him in the eye and quietly said, “Thanks, pard.”

 

Epilogue

 

If you were to travel to the National Museum of the Morgan Horse in Shelburne Vermont, you’d find hanging on the wall in an obscure corner, a framed and yellowed photograph of a large handsome Morgan stallion being ridden by an equally handsome cowboy. The cowboy is staring at the camera – possibly the first time he’s ever seen such a contraption – with a mixture of good humor and curiosity. Behind them stretches a vast western prairie. The picture is labeled “Harper’s Morgan 592” and is from a collection of early western Morgan memorabilia donated by the estate of the late Caroline Sherman Worthington of Laramie Wyoming.

 

Now if no one is looking and you are very careful, you can take down this picture and turn it over. On the back, written in a spidery hand, are the words, “Jess and Flash 1886”

 

The End



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