The Long Scout

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two leaders melded by past trauma oppose the assault of unschooled newcomers.

Submitted: September 04, 2014

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Submitted: September 04, 2014

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Words 5790

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Scout

 

 

The sky drops oceans. Thank you, Jesus.  Feet already splashing in water, Joshua jerks on the reins, barely able to make out the horse. He wraps his braids about his head, snugging the shapeless felt cap.  Peering into the ink, he appreciates that even the mystically skilled Dog Soldiers can’t hound him without light.

Hobbling the animal, he removes his saddle.  Walking the horse into the trees, he drops the reins to stay the beast.

Returning to his outfit, he places the saddle across a space between a rock outcropping and his horse blanket too, affording relief. He spreads his bedroll, levers his long gun, and keeps the pistol in hand.

He stretches out his lank frame, bone and sinew wrapped in brown skin with nary extra. He necessarily shrugs the chill induced by his soaked buckskin shirt. Whilst the night passes, he is attentive to the Cheyenne menace.

*

Joshua mulls his options. Continuing down the valley is risky but will quickly remove him from the Dog Soldiers’ range.

Up and over, while troublesome, especially for the kiuse, will be unexpected by the braves and might provide a head start before they catch on to the act.

He decides to go up and over, reckoning there is no gain awaiting the Cheyenne to sniff out his track.

He manages but three quarters of the distance to the crest before the Dog Soldiers fire upon him. He deplores having moved, exhausting his horse.

*

What is necessary is to out think the heathens, not to attempt to outfight the nonpareil warriors. Even Joshua Rudenbar’s consummate skills, gained through fifteen years of experience in the wilds, will not suffice to prevail in such a conflict.

The primary objective is concealment. This necessitates he not return fire until he observes the expressions on their faces. Only then will the scout fire if he cannot work the trick with his blade.

The second objective is to attain a broad view, assuring he sees them before they see him. To this end he climbs a tree. Swift work is this for a man five feet tall, light as a quill.

They ping away at him during his ascent; notwithstanding, his circumstances are improved.

Third, identify the sachem. If Joshua can wound, not kill, the leader, there is a chance they will break off and remove their wounded compadre to their shaman’s medicinal powers.

*

Soon the scout espies there are but three; he makes them out as two boys and a man.

Joshua observes the enemy now within fifty yards of the tree; they constantly search the foliage. Imprudently, he edges around the tree. At the instant the savages release a volley, two of the rounds hiss by and the third strikes the tree at Joshua’s midriff.

 Joshua observes the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers organize their stalk so as to come at the tree from three different directions.

He puts the sight on the man’s thigh and pulls the trigger. The report and the smoke cloud briefly obscure the result. The shot a miss, now the three are firing with rapidity.

Joshua feels the searing heat streak across his back, catching at the rear of his upper right arm and burning into the muscle. He questions whether he will be able to manipulate the rifle and cycle another round into the breech. After an attempt he satisfies himself that he is not.

The hail of bullets continues. Two more shots find their way into the muscle of each of his legs which buckle.  He’s in danger of falling. He considers dropping amongst the braves thus giving him a chance at close quarter fighting.

Disparaging this idea, with his left hand he draws out his pistol and begins popping in earnest at the man who, in short order, retreats. There is some vocal commotion and although the scout knows the sign language of the plains and a few parley words, he is unable to follow the palaver. In haste the Indians abandon their ambitions and remove.

Joshua drops.  He discovers that his horse and outfit are filched. He faces a walk of many miles, on damaged legs.

He fashions two crutches using patches, cut from the buckskin shirt, to cushion the top tees.  The rifle is slung on a string about his shoulders. Thus fitted out, he advances.

Rejecting his decision to proceed up and over, he inches down the slope to the valley park and commences, on the easier ground found there, to advance on a course so as to interconnect with the train.

*

Mr. Attendoff, Chairman of the Carmona Wagon Train Members Committee, has been deputized by the Representatives Elect assembled to address Mr. Cartoosh, Wagon Master, as to the value of the scout Joshua Rudenbar. “Mr. Cartoosh, you are aware that the Scout Rudenbar has not been seen for many days in number?”

“Yes, Mr. Attendoff, I am familiar with that fact,” responds Mr. Cartoosh with minutely detectable sub- rosa hostility.

Mr. Attendoff, oblivious, to the ill will, continues, “We, that is to say the Committee, understand that the absence notwithstanding, Scout Rudenbar continues on the payroll.”

“That’s a truth,” says Mr. Cartoosh.

“You may well understand Mr. Cartooshwe must carefully husband our resources in order to assure the success of this venture. The employment of a personage who is absent a great deal of the time and produces no discernible value is a matter of consternation and concern.” So saying, Mr. Attendoff, who having rehearsed the speech in front of his wife several times, believes he presents his case rather well and awaits Mr. Cartoosh’s response in an aloof pose.

Mr. Attendoff’s raiment is a traveling suit purchased for the munificent sum of seven dollars. The magnificent costume has been reduced to a blemished shirt, a blotchy vest minus buttons; a jacket rended in several locations and stained trousers above ruined walking boots. Amongst knowledgeable sorts, such would not be deemed to have been the shrewdest choice.

Albeit Mr. Attendoff wears the decrepit get-up with the same decadently dignified élan as when purchased.

Mr. Cartoosh considers his response as Mr. Attendoff is in fact his employer and Mr. Cartoosh has a short fuse and suffers fools not well.  “The contract we entered into is clear on question of my being Master until the train disbands, is that not right?” Mr. Cartoosh sardonically asks.

“Mr. Cartoosh, we now speak of the real world not the legalese created by a St. Louis lawyer with shiny pants!” says Mr. Attendoff.

 

Mr. Cartoosh squats, fills a coffee cup. It’s rational to be cordial to the boss. He hands the cup up to Mr. Attendoff, who declines with a curt wave. “Mr. Attendoff, the long scout’s job is to range well out from the train with an aim and design to alert me of any difficulties that may lie in our path within a timeliness which will provide me sufficient while to make what revisions I am able, to avert the potential troubles. I believe that Mr. Rudenbar does an admirable job. We have worked together on several occasions and he has my respect and good faith. If there were not a reason for his absence, I am confident he would be in communication with us,” so explains a man who conveys himself as if uniformed.

“Mr. Cartoosh, in good conscience, I can’t return to my Committee with nothing more than your belief that the long scout is absent with cause, I must have something more.”

“What do you have in mind?” Asks Mr. Cartoosh, whose interest whets considerably.

“I have in mind that you agree that when Mr. Rudenbar returns, if in fact he does return, he be subjected to an interview by the Committee. If his responses should be found wanting, he is to be released from employment with an appropriate docking,” Mr. Attendoff, made this pronouncement with an air of superiority that Mr. Cartoosh found quite disagreeable. A blowhard’s bloviating was punishing to his ear. It was a minute or two before he had sufficient control of his faculties to enable a civil reply. He unlimbered his six plus feet to posit his retort.

“I’ll agree, with the proviso that should the Committee find that Mr. Rudenbar is to be discharged, that at the next town, village, post or fort, wherein you may hire my replacement, I will abandon the train.”

Mr. Attendoff irrelevantly says, “Now Mr. Cartoosh you are putting this on a personal basis while I am only discussing the policy of efficiently directing this train. I beg you reconsider.”

“You are a greener Mr. Attendoff, no disrespect intended, just stating a fact. You come to me and insult my employee and my friend. In effect you accuse me of mismanaging the train. It sounds rather personal to me. I am afraid there will be no reconsideration.” Mr. Cartoosh says it quiet. He flings his coffee into the fire.

*

“The long and short of it is if we ask Mr. Rudenbar to leave the train, Mr. Cartoosh will exit as well. Now, you all know his position. If we are forced to buy another six months’ worth of supplies in the event we can’t find another train boss, we are in real trouble. There are families amongst us without the money.” Having had his say, Mr. Attendoff leans against a wagon wheel, shaving a stick with his clasp knife, to give the assembly time to mull that information over.

The group mumbles, fills their cups or stares at the ground absorbing what Attendoff has said.  David Matwane addresses the assembly:  “Tom, what you say has much sense in it although there is a portion which does not. Allow me to proffer a thought. Many times when decisions are to be made one of the arguments advanced is the one of economics, as you have done this evening. I cannot say the position is without merit. Nonetheless, I can say monetary concerns are not superior to all other affairs. We have an issue before us of effective train management. True there are other matters which may arise that will have to be dealt with, but that should not deter us from exerting our rights. If we allow this inappropriate employment to pass, then other like liberties will be taken, since there is an absence of sanction exercise,”  Matwane postulates, then leans down and fills his cup. No mean feat for a man of his bulk.

The murmur continues, gathering strength. No one else rises to speak. After some minutes, Mr. Attendoff, in his capacity of elected leader, steps up saying, “Thanks David, you are right that we must consider this matter from all angles. Does anyone else wish to offer an opinion?” No one else stands. “In that case I suggest we table the matter and reconsider it at our next meeting.”

*

Tom sought Ron Cartoosh out the next day, “Well, your pronouncement raised some concerns at the Committee meeting last night.”

“Is that good or bad?” Ron asks with a grin and crinkled eyes.

“If nothing else it has us focused on how democracy works. But I am hoping you understand the seriousness of this issue to the Committee.”

Ron looks Tom in the eye, and then opines, “I understand that people who have no knowledge of a situation are involving themselves in a matter they signed a contract prohibiting them from getting tangled in.”

“I believe we are beyond a question of strict contract interpretation,” offers Mr. Attendoff.

“I believe you are wrong.  The contract is the compact which governs above all on this train,” Mr. Cartoosh says.

*

Joshua staggers towards the train. He reckons the wagons will take three or possibly four days to reach a point he can attain in the same time. If he misses, he will be without a rescuer.

He is grateful for his need to travel. He has witnessed wounds to which white men succumb being borne by red men. The white man has a tendency to lie down when wounded and the red man has a tendency to keep moving. The Indians attribute their survival to the shaman’s powers.  Joshua believes it is the roving. Keeping the wound bleeding seems to him to prevent the gang green corruption and rot. He has no opinion as to the curative powers of waving feathers, acrid smoke and chants.

Consequently, he believes his continuing to move, causing his wounds to bleed out, has good effect. Further, his mobility preserves the limber of his appendages.

Of concern is the smell of blood on the wind. A grizzly or wolf will smell his ichor miles off.  They will be after him as soon as they whiff of it. How he might situate himself to ward off an attack troubles him.

Once he reaches the spot where the wagon train intersects his route he might pull himself into a tree, many of which will grow along a stream bed. Having the good luck to be at such a location each evening will be phenomenal. However, he cannot limit his progress to assure being at a tree at the time to rest for if he does he might not make the meeting with the train.

At the first dusk he’s at a pothole. Removing his gun belt, he wades into the water, and dredges muck up from the bottom to cover his wounds, obscuring the stench.

There is no place to squirm into for a modicum of cover. He has no tools to dig a fighting hole. His must lie exposed on the prairie. He thinks to lie beside the pool, so if attacked he can jump into the water. This will hold off the wolves. He possesses no notion of the possible impact on a grizzly.

He digs cattail roots for his supper.

Day break finds him hobbling since the longer he is down the stiffer his legs get. He knows he is better served on the march.

The grass is summer dry. The plants seem to be molting and the product chokes him as he walks. The stuff also mingles with his sweat where his skin is not covered, causing profuse itching.

The plain is without structure, causing him difficulty in keeping a course and measuring his travel distance. He uses what he can in the way of hillocks, trees and arroyos. He estimates his progress at about five miles for the day with approximately ten miles more to be achieved.

That night he crowds under a log in a creek bed.

The following dusk finds him in a gulley. There is a freshet and a number of trees. He believes the train must pass close by and that this place will water the stock.

He reckons to climb a tree for safety. He drinks all the water he can hold. The wounds are rubbed with mud. There is a modicum of satisfaction in the absence of redness about the lacerations.

The cotton woods he can’t manage, as there is a dearth of branches. However, a beech will do nicely. He begins to pull himself into the tree. He has the use of but one arm, no other appendage being of full value. He is able to drape the damaged arm over a limb at the armpit which provides a stabilizing factor.

As he reaches a height where at his legs leave the ground, the pain is so excruciating, he rubs his face against the bark to create a sensation that will keep him conscious.  He sags on a branch between each go. The waves of agony wash over him and away. The sweat pours down from his face, head and shoulders, soaking his woolen underwear and buckskin shirt. He breaks off a twig to put between his teeth, not wanting to break a tooth or bite his tongue thru.

*

Mr. Cartoosh is annoyed as he settles for the night. The interview with Mr. Attendoff  disturbs him. He wishes to handle the thing in the right way but in truth he lacks diplomacy. It is a fact that he is a hot head and his usual response to a situation is with his voice at full bellow or with his fists. However, in this setting, such behavior will not do.

What is foremost in his mind is Rudenbar. He recalls his Army service, 2nd Lieutenant Commission, Third Calvary Regiment, 6th Battalion, Company E, second platoon. General Cravish was commanding officer. Hell of a man Cravish, meaner’n shit, straight up and down fair. Got his start in the Indian Wars, liked it so much he never looked back. Took a bullet through his cheek, knocked most of his teeth out, crushed his jaw, smashed away one eye, and a good part of his nose. Laid abed for eight months before he broke his water glass and cut his wrist. Poor soul was he.

Encamped on the shelf between two creeks the surveyors named, Hansen and Gilmore, for a reason with which I am unfamiliar.

We had been maintaining martial behavior for weeks, training the good many recruits, and assembling our truck as the haulers brought forth supplies. We generally readied ourselves for a summer campaign.

Our objective was to subdue bands of Lakota Hunkpapa, in fact western Dakota. General Cravish made it clear that they did not call themselves Sioux and therefor neither should we.

Our quarry was of the Crow Totem council fire. The leaders were Twists his Hair, Antelope Hunter and Kill a Wolf. In the absence of senior officers, we called them Bud, Mike and Tom.

I was informed to report to Major Stenner’s tent and upon my arrival Captain Blair, our company commander was present.

“Lieutenant,” Captain Blair spoke, as the Major sat with folded hands, “as you know we’re preparing to embark on a campaign of several months. We have trained our men and are satisfied with their performance. What we’re not cognizant of is the quality of our scouts. We believe it would be of value for a scouting party to make a four-day tour under the leadership of one of our Lieutenants who upon his return will make a detailed report of the episode. We’re asking that you take on the assignment.”

Although my heart was racing and sweat was beginning to bead on my forehead I bespoke as calmly as possible, “Yes, Sir,” hoping to have not given myself away with my emphasis on the sir.  

Again Captain Blair spoke, “ Assemble your men and leave next day break, take ten scouts with you, three inside, two long, in rotation, any questions?” His look was one of invitation giving me every chance to make my inquiries and forestall gaffe.

“No, Sir,” I said with all the confidence and self-assurance of a greenhorn.

“You are dismissed Lieutenant,” Captain Blair said as he and Major Stenner saluted.

Returning the salute, I backed from the tent catawampously and almost whistled.

I assembled my scouts of which Rudenbar was one. I was somewhat reluctant to take him given his diminutive stature. One of the points in his favor however, was that he looked more like a scout than any other man. In fact his appearance was more that of a heathen.

The second day, we encountered a buffalo herd.  Mr. Rudenbar informed me that prudence dictate we circle the beasts so as not to excite any savages that might misinterpret our behavior as intending to interfere with their livelihood.

In agreement, we adjusted our route to skirt the herd. Unfortunately, for a reason unknown to us, the savages were already excited and ready for war.

Inopportunely, we came along in time to entertain the animated Indians.

Two of our inside scouts encountered the band and returned to us on the run. We now were in the position of having two long scouts and one inside scout on the prowl while the eight of us were grouped together.

In a flash, Rudenbar kicked his Indian pony in the slats commencing a heroic dead run for a gulch. Upon reaching the edge he hauled the reins with all his strength. The pony’s fore hooves skidded and its haunches hit the ground. I believed those legs were going to snap like twigs. However, there seemed to be no wear or tear, as the rider flew off and the animal continued down into the ravine and all was well.

We established our line of defense and awaited events.

Singly the braves began riding up to our battle line at break neck speed, whereupon they wheeled repeatedly, shook a stick at us that was covered in leather, bead work, fringe, and arrayed with  painted markings. While they waved the stick, they screamed at the top of their lungs. 

Rudenbar yelled out to all, “Hold fire, no fire, hold on boys.”

So we sat quietly and watched.

In a while the Indians appeared to calm down. They sat in a group, their ponies tethered. After a period Rudenbar came to me and asked, “Lieutenant would ya’ll be agreeable to me going out to powwow with those fellas?”

I was in a quandary as to the proper move. I was reluctant to risk the life of one of my charges. Alternatively, Rudenbar had proven himself an able plainsman clearly in command of the situation. I must acquiesce.

“You are confident you know what you are about?” I felt foolish asking the question. He knew more about the matter than I will ever know.

“Yes sir, quite confident,” he said with bland honesty, unaccompanied by neither smirk nor sneer at my innocence.


We wait as he sits in the savage group, waving his hands about, they waving theirs until eventually, one brute takes out a long rod, which is resolved to be a pipe and they smoke.

Upon his return Rudenbar says, “Lieutenant, there is to be a ceremony of sorts. If all goes well, everyone will depart cordially. We should cut a stake to tether our horses and take up sitting to one side.”

We do as he bids. He takes up a seat opposite one of the heathen. They both have removed their shirts.

Presently, a Lakota Hunkpapa, displaying much in the way of feathers, bead work, and paint upon his buckskins, takes his knife and begins to work it through the arm of the man who sits opposite Rudenbar.

The spew rises in my throat, I taste the bitter acid in my mouth, and the burning sensation causes my eyes to tear. By instinct I am aware that should I vomit or make a sound, our lives are forfeit.

The brave having his arm pierced sits stock still, without the slightest twinge or facial expression. Eventually, the knife pierces through the arm and the feathered butcher pushes a strand of red cloth through so that it hangs from either portal.

The doctor then turns his attention to Rudenbar. I am horrified. Sweat bursts from my forehead, my stomach is as a knot of primal pain, and there is a shrinking feeling in my crotch. I want to scream out, to stop this barbarism. My mind races as I search vainly for an avenue of escape.

The other scouts sit nonchalant, and I realize I must assume this pose and yet am baffled as to how I will achieve it. At this point an avalanche of shame envelopes me. I am observing what Rudenbar is about to endure for the sake of the group. I cannot manage to just sit still. I achieve the act although the bile remains in my throat. I condemn myself for my cowardice and force myself to maintain the required attitude.

 Rudenbar ably sits stoic tholing the piercing and the fabric insertion. After… the two participants rise, clasp each other’s arm and mouth an unintelligible phrase.

We ride towards our troop. The inside scout rides up. He had returned during the ceremony, as Rudenbar described it, but hid until it was over.

We can only hope that the long scouts will surmise that we are on the return and join us.

 At our first stop to allow the horses to blow, one of the scouts cuts the red flag as close to Rudenbar’s skin as possible and then pulls the remainder thru. Once cleared the wound is smeared with grease from a pemmican bag.

 The abomination is as a beacon emphasizing my character flaws and delinquencies. I wince at the brown blood splotch adorning that pejorative sleeve.

*

Lt. Cartoosh, interviews each of the illiterate scouts involved in the excursion to obtain corroborating accounts of events. He develops an extensive report which he has every expectation will be well received. And all the while he racks his brain to discover what gift he might bestow upon Scout Rudenbar for singular service since it is unlikely the Army will do so, given the whiffet position in which scouts are held.

In this regard Lt. Cartoosh was quite wrong. The Army did in fact reward Scout Rudenbar for his actions on the patrol in no small part due to the excellent report submitted by the Lieutenant.

This factor, while gratifying for Lt. Cartoosh, only heightened his dilemma in finding a suitable presentation for the Scout. In the end he was able to realize what he considered the perfect object.

“Scout Rudenbar I would like to present you with a token of my esteem for your courageous action during our patrol,” Lt. Cartoosh uttered these words with all the military pomp he could muster.

“Lieutenant, it ain’t necessary for you to be presenting me with nothing, I done what I am paid to do.” One who knew no better would have thought Joshua was an embarrassed school boy.

“Nevertheless,” the Lieutenant extended his hand conveying to Mr. Rudenbar a box such as one receives from a jewelry store in Boston, the city from whence this box and its contents had been ordered by Lt. Cartoosh.

“Well, thanks Lieutenant, I appreciate that,” the Scout feared this greener had bought him a gewgaw he’d be expected to wear like a God damn fool. With trepidation he opened the box. Upon the felt within lay a watch, a beautiful watch, to be sure. Not beautiful because it was of gold, which it was not, not beautiful because it was arrayed with etched curlicues and fancy work, such it lacked. No, the beauty derived of its exquisite design and flawless proportions.

Mr. Rudenbar, a man of boundless self-determination and control is stunned. In his life he has never held an item of such magnificence; nay he has never seen such an item. To think that this device of unimaginable worth is to be his is beyond his reckoning. “Lieutenant, in truth I don’t know what to say, it’s striking.”  

“Now, Mr. Rudenbar,” the Lieutenant’s excitement was getting the better of him, his emotions running askew, “although it might look like a watch, it is not, it is a chronometer, as long as you keep it wound it will keep very accurate time for you, much more accurate than a watch.” It was all he could do not to grab the mechanism from the Scout’s hand and begin a demonstration.

Joshua heard the words the Lieutenant says without appreciation as he has little mechanical comprehension and especially so as to a watch.  He said, “Thanks, I’ll use it a lot.”

“Scout Rudenbar, if I may, if you press this tab (pressing the tab) the back opens (the back opens),” and there appears the words that will bond the two men Always Beholden to Joshua Anthony Rudenbar, extraordinaire from Lt. Cartoosh 1859.  Lt. Cartoosh almost erupted with pleasure.

“Lieutenant, I will treasure this always,” Joshua reached out to shake the Lieutenant’s hand, gripping within the other a prize beyond plausibility.

*

Once again Mr. Attendoff addresses the wagon master, “Mr. Cartoosh the Committee is adamant on the question of the long scout. You must make a move and discharge this fellow, now missing these many days.”

“There is no way in hell I am going to discharge a man without I hear his side of the story. Adamant Committee be damned.”  He spat.

*

The wagon master sits aside the train, his observant eye taking in all, the drooping team, the loose wheel, and the shredded wagon covers. He takes notice as the cattle and horse herds freshen. He looks to assure himself the cavvy-men and wranglers are taking precautions for stampede.

The Boss wonders why the inside scouts haven’t alerted him to the fact of water. I’m gon’a havt’a blister some tails.

In fact the inside scouts have come upon Josh and are assisting him back to the train. They have fashioned a travois and are drawing him over the prairie, to his mind like the King of Spain.

Mr. Cartoosh notices them a ways off and angles his horse to intercept them. When he recognizes who occupies the favored spot, he leaps from his saddle.

“Well, hello! Where you been, why you laid up, God Damn, you shot? God Damn, where you been?” Beside himself with joy, Mr. Cartoosh acts a fool.  His scouts, embarrassed, make do to indicate they are heedless of his behavior.

They drag the travois into camp. People push and shove to get a look, as the murmur of the crowd crescendos. The collective of doctor, barber, dentist and pharmacist comes to make an examination.

“You’re right lucky not to have got corruption in them wounds,” says the saw bones/barber/dentist/pharmacist with his air of superior knowledge, wiping his unwashed hands upon a soiled cloth. 

Mr. Matwane, having observed the physical state of the long scout makes presentation to Mr. Attendoff. “It’s abundantly clear that Mr. Rudenbar isn’t going to be able to fulfill his employment obligations for a time, if ever. I’m compelled to point out that we aren’t a charitable organization and cannot continue financing the gentleman. We must press Mr. Cartoosh for his release.”

“Mr. Matwane, the man was injured working for us. Have we no obligation to him? We owe him nothing?” Mr. Attendoff inquires more of the assembly, than of Mr. Matwane.

Mr. Matwane looks the Committee over, recognizes that they are tending to agree with Mr. Attendoff and being the whiffler he is twists his position accordingly. “Certainly, I didn’t mean that we leave him without the wherewithal for his recuperation, let us bestow on him a sum to that effect,” he said, surveying the group in anticipation of his suggestion’s approval.

Mr. Attendoff has been met more than halfway. He no longer has a footing. Ample funds to pass the winter at a civilized location should put the scout right by spring. No one could gainsay the Committee with respect to having fulfilled its onuses. Mr. Attendoff commits, “I will take the matter to Mr. Cartoosh with vigor.”

*

“Mr. Cartoosh, the Committee has considered the matter of the long scout. Given his present physical state, it is clear he’ll be unable to fulfill his obligations. Therefore, the Committee has decided to discharge Mr. Rudenbar with a stipend in consideration of his injuries. Sufficient to see him through until the spring at which time his wounds should be healed. If you feel you cannot handle the matter, I’ll do so in your stead.”

Now Mr. Cartoosh faces a new fix. Not only must he deal with the matter of the pressure to release Mr. Rudenbar, he now must also deal with the affront to his authority. 

Dissidents amongst the wagon train membership have informed him whence the issues emanate.

The dissonance of the two opposing obligations works on Cartoosh’s mind. He cannot imagine a resolution to the matter in any manner or degree that will allow him relief. The fretting begins to affect his appearance as his eyes sink, he loses weight and his face assumes a drawn, gaunt appearance. There is about him the look of pestilence.

*

He brings the matter up to his old friend, Joshua. He explains as clearly as he can both sides of the argument.

“Tom, you got to let the thing go, you signed the contract, you can’t in good conscience leave these people stranded out here for the winter. The children, the wives, the innocent people who don’t even know English who have no idea what’s going on, they are all going to starve. Even if they have money to buy food, even if the people who run the post are charitable, there ain’t no food to be had. There’s none been shipped in, since there was no expectation for this many folks to be wintering. The buffalo are going to move south when the snow comes and then there will be nothing. Just make your mind to it, you have to go on. Hell, I’ll be fine.”

“That ain’t the question and you know it,” Mr. Cartoosh looks at this man to whom he is always beholden and resolve forms in his mind.

*

He strides through the group of Committee members assembled about Mr. Attendoff. He jostles Mr. Attendoff to one side and at the same time draws his Green River sticker. At that moment he does not know exactly his intention. Cut Mr. Matwane’s throat, gouge out an eye, or cut off his ear. Within the time it takes for the knife to rise from the sheath to Mr. Matwane’s face he knows. He thrusts the blade up through the soft behind Mr. Matwane’s chin, through the tongue and on up piercing the nose.

Mr. Matwane would scream bloody murder if his tongue were free to move but all he can muster is a gurgling sound. Instead he reaches for his face with both hands which come to scratching at his cheeks for there is nothing else they can do.

Mr. Cartoosh pulls the knife handle towards him bringing David Matwane with it and shouts in the skulk’s face, “Get the hell off this train, right now. If you’re here in an hour I’m gon’a put a ball through your brain.” He jerks the knife down and out of Matwane’s jaw.

*

Joshua sits his saddle, in lank comfort. His pony nuzzles at the head of Ron’s…  The reins hang down from his fingers. He smiles in the slimmest way and says, “I always reckoned you for a persnickety streak.”

There is a studied air in the manner in which he draws the piece from his pocket, studies the time and precisely returns the mechanism to its sanctuary.

His left hand tightens the rein on that side and the mustang’s head turns into the wide, almost unimaginable vastness that awaits the train.

 

The End

 


© Copyright 2020 jeffrey a paolano. All rights reserved.

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