â€œItâ€™s typhoid,â€ declared Dr. Jackson as he dropped his stethoscope back into his old, battered bag. He pulled a crumpled, brown neckerchief out of his back pocket and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
|Kid Clay By Carl Watson|
Kid was only fifteen, but he knew all about typhoid. Aching all over, he felt chills but, at the same time, was sweating from the heat. His dreams of coming west to be a Texas cowboy had not included this.
The doctor left, pushing through the curtain that hung over the doorway. Sheila and Jim stared at Kid a moment, their eyes expressing concern and fear. They backed through the curtain, carrying the lamp with them.
Kid heard Sheila gasp and her voice shook as she weakly muttered, â€œWhat can we do?â€
Dr. Jackson sighed. â€œAinâ€™t much you can do, and this heat donâ€™t help none.â€ He cleared his throat. â€œGive him liquids, but no food. Thatâ€™d kill him.â€
The group moved away from the doorway, but Kid could hear every word they said through the curtain. Maybe they thought that if someone had typhoid it would be hard for them to hear.
Quietly, the doctorâ€™s voice continued, â€œWhen you get right down to it, Iâ€™ve gotta tell you, heâ€™s likely to last no more than a few days. His folks ought to know.â€
Sheilaâ€™s reply was tense. â€œBut Doc, we donâ€™t even know his name.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Dr. Jackson sounded puzzled.
â€œLook,â€ Jim said, â€œSheilaâ€™s brother, Frank, is a trail-hand with an outfit heading to Kansas 'cross the Injun Territory. The kid just showed up one day and seemed to know horses, so the boss took him on. When he got sick, Frank dropped him off here cuz there werenâ€™t no other place to take him.â€
â€œBut didnâ€™t you ask his name?â€ insisted the doctor, brows crinkled.
Jim hesitated, shuffling his feet. â€œYou know betterâ€™n that, Doc. Nobodyâ€™s asked their name when they hire on as a cowhand. In fact, themâ€™s darn near fightinâ€™ words in most outfits.â€
â€œFrank said he reckoned him to be only fourteen or fifteen, so they called him â€˜Kid,â€™â€ recounted Sheila.
Dr. Jackson sighed. â€œUnder the circumstances, you might want to ask him who his folks are.â€
Kid stirred restlessly, his mind in a whirl. They were talking about him, talking like he was dying. Well, forget that! Ma died from typhoid only three years past, in 1877, but that ainâ€™t happening to me. I didnâ€™t leave Kentucky just to end up in a squatterâ€™s hut on the edge of a prairie.
Kid rubbed his eyes and struggled for every breath, He rolled off the straw pallet onto a hard-packed dirt floor. Mustering up every bit of energy he had, he started painfully crawling toward the curtain-covered doorway. The doorway was not far in this dark, windowless room, but every inch seemed a mile as he struggled to breathe and move at the same time.
â€œWrong!â€ he gasped with all his strength. â€œForget it! All of you! Youâ€™re wrong!â€
The lantern and a pair of dusty boots pushed back through the curtain.
Defiantly, Kid shot a glance up the boots to Jim Lesterâ€™s startled expression. But the momentary burst of energy faded, and the room began to spin like the insides of a tornado. Everything became a fuzzy blur. Slowly, a blanket of blackness dropped over him, threatening to smother him with its suffocating folds. Again, he gasped and crawled toward the door. If only I could get out under the stars, I could breath. There might even be a breezeâ€¦ His head hurt, and the heat sapped all his strength, making it tough to move.
Someone stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
Kid shrieked, â€œLet me go! Iâ€™ve got to get out!â€
â€œThe kidâ€™s delirious. Letâ€™s get him back to bed,â€ ordered the doctor.
Hands grabbed Kid from all sides and lifted him. He didnâ€™t have the strength to resist. Exhausted, he closed his eyes, and the voices merged into mutterings like the roll of distant thunder. He felt a change. His pain and discomfort faded. Is this what it feels like to die? That can't be. Iâ€™ve got things to do and places to go.
From the darkness and confusion, Kid heard a familiar voice. â€œNext case.â€
In the days that followed, Kid heard many voices, but they were distant, not in his world.
Kid lifted his head and glanced wildly about. Everything was different. He sat in a chair in the middle of a brightly-lit courtroom. His hands were tied. There were chains around his ankles. His father, the Honorable Demetrius Clay, sat perched behind a high desk peering down at him with a stern, critical expression.
The judge spoke, â€œKid Clay, you have been brought before this court for being impertinent and refusing to follow your fatherâ€™s instructions. How do you plead?â€
â€œPa! What do you mean?â€
â€œThe defendant will address the court in a proper manner. We hereby declare you guilty of insolence and sentence you to jail for thirty days.â€ Judge Clay banged his gavel on the desk. â€œNext case.â€
â€œBut Pa! You canâ€™t do that! Thatâ€™s not fair!â€
The Honorable Demetrius Clay rose to his feet. â€œRemove this prisoner!â€
Invisible hands grabbed Kid by the shoulders and jerked him to his feet. They threw him through an open doorway into a void of silence. Opening his mouth, he tried to scream, but no sound came. He fell, fell through time and space. Blinding flashes blurred his thoughts and feelings, leaving him with no sensation except anxiety. He felt a thud and opened his eyes to find himself back in the small, musty, dark room.
The pallet lay next to him. As Kid struggled to get back on it, he heard a distant voice yell, â€œHey, is that kid still alive in there?â€
â€œDonâ€™t know,â€ came a gruff reply, â€œand I ainâ€™t goin' in there to find out.â€
Kid tried to shout, â€œIâ€™m here!â€ but his mouth was so dry that only a whisper escaped his lips.
He gave up trying to get on the pallet and lay back on the hard, dirt floor, gasping for breath with every bone aching; shots of pain for every movement he made. This dark, corner room had become a prison; a musty-smelling cell without windows.
Struggling to sit up, he barely lifted his head when the dizziness returned. Kid flopped back down and buried his face in the crook of his arm. His frustration turned to anger; anger at this moldy chamber that had become his prison; anger at his father who wouldnâ€™t let him make his own decisions; anger at this sickness that sapped away his strength. He clinched his fists so tightly his aching arms trembled. Itâ€™s useless. They say folks donâ€™t often recover from typhoid.
â€œWhatcha givinâ€™ in for?â€ asked the voice of a stranger. â€œFight!â€
Kid opened his eyes to find the room had disappeared again. â€œOh, no,â€ he groaned. â€œNot another nightmare.â€
This time, he sat in a wooded area. A heavy fog had settled around him, and the trees were barely visible. A shadowy shape stood over him. He could hardly see it because its features were so blurry.
Rubbing his eyes, he pleaded, â€œGo away!â€
The voice continued. â€œIf you getcha back to the wall, there ainâ€™t much else you kin do but fight. And you dang well better do a good job, or you ainâ€™t going to be around to tell your kids about it.â€
Kid squinted up at the figure. Slowly, it came into focus, taking the form of a tall, homely-looking frontiersman with a primitive fur hat on top of his head. He had a heavy, dark mustache and was carrying a long-barreled rifle.
Kid muttered, â€œThe pictureâ€¦Youâ€™re a painting; the painting at homeâ€¦above the mantel! Youâ€™re my great, great grandfather! Youâ€™re Simon Kenton!â€
â€œIâ€™ve been in a lotta places,â€ uttered Simon, gazing at him with unblinking eyes. Simonâ€™s buckskin clothes, the rifle, long hair, and sharp features were an exact replica of the painting. â€œIâ€™ve seen a lotta weird sights, things no man ever seen before, and youâ€™re one of the saddest. Here you come all this way lookin' for adventure and now that ya hit a bit of a snag, youâ€™re just going to quit and let it all end right here. You do that, and Iâ€™ll lay no claim on you as kin.â€
Simon leaned on his rifle and spat a chaw of tobacco on the ground. â€œLook, most of your ancestors was fighters long 'fore anybody even thought about you. Now, make yourself worthy of being in our family. Getcha butt back in that bed and brace yourself for a golâ€™dern fight.â€
Shadows moved and voices muttered to Kid, but they were hallucinations; headaches, chills, and fever racked his body as hours merged into timeless voids. Still, there were periods of semi-consciousness when he was aware of someone putting a cool cloth across his forehead and giving him water to drink.
Kid thought about the painting in his fatherâ€™s house. Years ago, the tall, stern figure had frightened him. Now, it gave him strength.
At home, in his upstairs bedroom there had been a sketch of his girl, Sarah, until she tossed him for someone else. That drawing was no longer there. He had tossed it as well. In fact, the tree outside his window had made a good target. When he had told her he was going west to become a cowboy and chase Indians, she told him to stop acting stupid and come to his senses. If only he could have seen her face when she discovered he actually went.
Yet, maybe she was right. Maybe he had just been stupid. After all, it was him, the judgeâ€™s son, who lay dying, far from home. He was alone. His fatherâ€™s money and influence couldnâ€™t get him out of this one.
Kid felt a tap on his shoulder. â€œThat ainâ€™t gonna do you no good to ponder.â€
He looked up to see Simon Kenton again, standing behind him. He was getting used to seeing illusions, so it didn't startle him. In fact, he wasnâ€™t sure he could tell what was real and what wasn't any more.
The delusion spoke again. â€œYou gotta work at livin' or you ain't gonna be 'round very long.â€
Kid sort of knew what he was saying, but feeling was returning to his body and he felt so weak and tired he couldn't really process everything properly. Lying back, he looked up at the old frontiersman in despair. â€œIâ€™m dying. What can I do?â€
Simon reached out toward him. â€œGimme you hand.â€
â€œGimme you hand.â€
The sweat poured off of him as Kid stretched out a shaky arm. Simon grabbed it, and Kid felt a strength surge through his body he didnâ€™t realize was there.
His surroundings changed again. Kid was in a circular hut. Simon Kenton had disappeared and left him sitting naked in the middle of a dirt floor. Next to him were a number of large rocks, glowing with intense heat and scalding steam. Pulling his knees up to his chest, Kid peered into the darkness. â€œWhere am I?â€ he gasped.
An Indian entered. He pranced around, muttering and chanting. He lifted a gourd and poured its contents over the stones. The sound of sizzling rocks, the intense heat, the steam, were more than Kid could bear. He fought to maintain consciousness, but couldnâ€™t. He shut his eyes, and his breath came in long struggles as he gave in to the darkness that closed about him.
Kid jerked into consciousness. His heart beat rapidly and he caught his gasped as if someone had dumped a pail of cold water on him. He was back on the pallet and sweating as he never had before. However, this time the room, the walls, everything, dim as they were, came quickly into focus, and he realized he had returned to the world of reality. It was no longer a dream.
â€œHello,â€ he whispered to the walls.
Kidâ€™s mouth felt dry as a desert. He had to have water. Rolling off the pallet onto the floor, he crawled with determined effort to the doorway and pushed though the curtain that separated his gloomy cell from the rest of the house.
Half-blinded from the light streaming in from an open, shutterless window, Kid pulled himself into a standing position. Using the wall for support, he inched his way to a water bucket. Frantically, he grabbed the dipper, scooped it into the water, and raised it to his lips again and again. Never could he remember anything tasting so good.
Winded from the exertion, he dropped the dipper and gazed down into the bucket. The reflection of a stranger stared back at him; a thin, white-faced, dark-haired stranger. He had lost so much weight, his own parents wouldnâ€™t have recognized him.
A little further along the wall, Kid saw a cupboard. The doctor had warned Jim and Shelia against letting him eat, but he was hungry, and knew that without food he couldnâ€™t get back his strength. He slid along the wall toward the cupboard and found a bin of boiled potatoes. Famished, he ate one before his stomach became so cramped that he gasped with pain and dropped back to the floor. With tremendous effort, he inched his way back to his room and lay exhausted in the center of it.
Later, voices echoed about the room, and Kid felt someone drag him back onto the pallet. Afterward, all was quiet once again.
Kid didnâ€™t know how long he slept before a sound in one dark corner of the room awoke him. â€œWhoâ€™s there?â€ he whispered.
â€œThe devil,â€ repeated the voice, â€œIâ€™ve come to take your soul.â€
Recognizing the voice of the son of the folks who had taken him in, he realized it was not a hallucination. For once, he was awake and talking to a real person.
â€œYeah? That might be true, but itâ€™ll take more than you to get it.â€ Kid tried to sit up, but the dizziness returned, and he flopped back down on the pallet.
A figure moved out of the shadows to squat next to him. â€œKid, itâ€™s me, Jacob.â€
Kid stared at him a moment and frowned. â€œWhoâ€™s Jacob?â€
Jacobâ€™s mouth dropped open. â€œWhadaya mean, â€˜Whoâ€™s Jacob?â€™ Iâ€™m the guy who lives here.â€
Kid forced a grin. â€œAll right,â€ he affirmed. â€œYouâ€™ll get your room back soon.â€
Jacob raised his eyebrows and stared at him, then hopped to his feet. â€œI told 'em youâ€™d get better! Iâ€™ll getcha some water.â€
â€œWait!â€ Kidâ€™s head cleared a bit. â€œYouâ€™ll be bringing water to a corpse if you leave me here much longer.â€ He stopped for a breath. â€œGet me out of here.â€
â€œWhere do you want me to take you?â€ Jacob frowned. â€œYouâ€™ve been in that bed a mighty long time.â€
â€œRight.â€ Kid struggled to his elbows. â€œStill, it seems like I remember thereâ€™s a well out front, right?â€
â€œHelp me to it.â€
Jacob chuckled aloud. â€œThat ainâ€™t no problem.â€ Almost effortlessly, he scooped him up as if he were a small child and hauled him a few feet out the front door. He set him on the ground with his back against the well. After pulling up a bucket of water, he grabbed a dipper and helped Kid drink. Then he took off his shirt and spread it out on the ground.
Kid rolled over on it and took a deep breath of fresh air. â€œArenâ€™t you afraid of the fever?â€
Jacob chuckled. â€œI ainâ€™t been sick a day in my life, and donâ€™t figure on starting now.â€
â€œWhereâ€™re your folks?â€
â€œThey took the wagon to town early this morn to get supplies; left me to look after you and the farm.â€
Kid shaded his eyes. â€œYouâ€™re doing a good job, but the sunâ€™s getting kind of hot. Better get me back inside.â€
Jacob gently lifted him off the ground and carried him back into his room.
Jacob began talking, and he talked a lot, but Kid had no idea what he said. He closed his eyes, and the words faded into a murmured jumble of sound.
He didnâ€™t know how long he slept before awakening to hushed, excited voices.
â€œJacob!â€ shrieked Sheila. â€œWhat if you'd caught the fever?â€
â€œMa, I ainâ€™t never been sick.â€
â€œBut you donâ€™t know nothing about this sickness. What if you'd got it?â€
Jacob grimaced. â€œThen Iâ€™d fight it just like Kid did.â€
â€œBut Jacob, why fight it when you donâ€™t gotta?â€ Sheila scowled. â€œNever take chances on something you donâ€™t know nothing about.â€ She turned quickly, then noticed Kid was awake, listening to their conversation. She spoke to him soft-like. â€œIâ€™m sure glad you got better, though.â€
The next morning, Jim sent Jacob into town to get the doctor, while Sheila brought Kid a dipper of water.
Kid stared at her, speaking softly, â€œYouâ€™re the one. You brought me water.â€
Sheila nodded and stared down at the floor. â€œYou was having dreams and imagining things.â€
â€œYeah, I know. Everybody was afraid to be around me. So why did you do it?â€
Shrugging, she glanced up and spoke, â€œSomebody had to, so I did.â€
â€œJust like Jacob, right?â€
She sighed, grinned slightly, and nodded. â€œIn ways, heâ€™s like me more than I want him to be.â€
That afternoon, Jacob returned with Dr. Jackson. Kid had been confined to his little room for forty-two days. The doctor looked astonished to find he was still alive. After checking him over, he shook his head. â€œAmazing! But youâ€™re going to have to get back your strength little at a time.â€ He got to his feet and turned to Shelia. â€œI think the boyâ€™s going to be all right. Letâ€™s start him out on broth and water. Then as time goes, you can add potatoes and vegetables.â€
Kid didnâ€™t think the doctor had really helped much, but he appreciated him coming. He called out to him, â€œDoc.â€
Dr. Jackson crouched back down next to him.
Kid stretched out his hand. â€œI donâ€™t plan on you needing to see me again, so thanks.â€
The doctor shook Kidâ€™s hand and laughed. â€œI donâ€™t plan on it either. Good luck.â€ He stood up and turned to leave. â€œI think someday youâ€™ll make more than just a good cowhand.â€
Kid grinned and watched him disappear out the door.
Over the next few weeks, the long hot days became shorter. And as summer turned to fall, Kid became stronger and more restless.
At home, he had read every book available about his great, great grandfather, Simon Kenton, the frontiersman and Indian fighter. Simonâ€™s life had been filled with one adventure after another. Kidâ€™s bookshelves were filled with stories about Kit Carson and Daniel Boone. Kit was a distant relative, yet one whose blood surged through his veins.
Kid wanted to be an adventurer like them. There wasnâ€™t a horse he couldnâ€™t ride or a gun he couldnâ€™t shoot. For him, it wasnâ€™t enough to sit at home and read the tabloids about Carson and Kenton and the exciting lives they lead. He wanted to be a part of the West and experience it himself, yet this was not what he expected.
The chills and fever were with him nearly every night. As fall turned to winter, he made good use of the heavy jacket from his pack. Soon, the â€œnorthersâ€ arrived. The cold wind blasted its icy breath across the prairie and whistled through the cracks in the door and in the solitary window of the sod house. The weather seemed to be much colder than he remembered it in Kentucky.
Jacob referred to his home as a â€œsoddy.â€ It was made out of stuff found throughout the grass-covered prairie. It came from a layer of soil that had densely packed roots of prairie grass holding everything together. Though the structure was crudely built with just a hard-packed dirt floor, it was mostly fire-resistant and could stand against the strong winds and the thunderstorms that came rolling across the land.
Kid started doing things that would get his muscles stronger and working like they should. He gave Jim some money to buy a bag of bullets for him the next time he went for supplies. Kid didnâ€™t want to lose his skill with a six-shooter due to a lack of practice.
One day, Kid pulled his coat snugly about his neck and went out with Jacob to help milk and care for the livestock. While feeding the horses, he questioned, â€œWhy did you and your folks decide to settle way out here so far away from everything?â€
â€œPa said the land was good for raising crops.â€ He gestured at the well, â€œThis is where the water is.â€
â€œYou mean the well was already here?â€
Jacob snorted, â€œCourse not. We did that ourselves.â€
Kid was puzzled. â€œHowâ€™d you know where to dig?â€
â€œWhy, dowsing, of course?â€
â€œWhatâ€™re you talking about?â€ Kid cocked his head.
Jacob set the feed bucket down and stared at Kid in disbelief. â€œYou ainâ€™t never heard of dowsing? Pa is downright good at it. See, he takes this forked stick and thinks real hard â€˜bout water while holding it out in front of him. When he gets near water, the stick points to the ground and thatâ€™s it.â€
â€œNaw, it really works. I seen him.â€
Kid shook his head. He couldnâ€™t make sense out of it. How anyone could find water by simply thinking about it seemed a bit ridiculous, but he said nothing.
Jim and Sheila Lester had saved his life. They were good people, and meant well, but he had no intention of spending any longer than necessary on a prairie farm. As the days passed, he began to feel restless, and as soon as he could mount and ride, he told them his intention to move on.
The Lester family had expected he would leave soon, so it came as no surprise when one evening Kid announced he would leave the next morning. He cut into the lining of his coat and yanked out some bills that heâ€™d sewn there before leaving home. It wasnâ€™t a part of his nature to be in debt to anyone, and he certainly didnâ€™t want to start now.
Handing the money to Jim, Kid added gently, â€œThanks for looking after me.â€
Jim took the bills and stared at them for a moment. He shook his head and held them back out toward him. â€œNo, I canâ€™t. Theyâ€™re yours, and youâ€™ll need them.â€
Kid insisted. â€œTake them. I have more. After all, I owe you my life.â€
Silently, Jim folded the bills and put them in his pocket. â€œThanks,â€ he muttered. â€œI hope you find the adventure youâ€™re looking for.â€
Kid grinned, saying, â€œI plan to.â€
The next morning, after putting on his buckskin shirt and cotton trousers, Kid pulled on his boots and tied on the leggings. He hitched on his gun belt and checked the action of his pistol. Snuggling into his heavy coat, he picked up his bags and headed for the corral.
Jasper nickered restlessly after being confined for so long.
Kid packed his gear and threw on the saddlebags. He put on his battered, sweat-stained Stetson, mounted, and rode up to the front of the Soddy to say good-bye. Dismounting, he called to the family.
When Sheila came out, she handed him a provision of food and water. â€œGood luck,â€ she whispered and kissed him on the forehead. She stroked his hair in a motherly fashion and added, â€œNow, remember, you still ainâ€™t all the ways well. You gotta take care to rest a bit every now and again so the sickness donâ€™t come back.â€
Kid nodded. â€œBy the way, just so you know, my real name is Henry, Henry Clay, and Iâ€™ll always remember you and appreciate what you did.â€
After shaking hands with Jim and Jacob, Kid tightened the pack on Jasper and again mounted.
â€œBe careful with that thing,â€ called out Jacob, nodding at the six-shooter. â€œIt can get you in a peck of trouble.â€
Kid grinned and lifted a hand in farewell. He figured it was best folks didnâ€™t know everything about him. After all, he hailed from Kentucky. When it came to guns and horses, he could hold his own with the best of them.
Jacob continued, â€œIf youâ€™re ever back this way, stop by.â€
Kid patted Jasper, turned him about, and waved back at them. â€œSure thingâ€¦and thanks!â€ Leaning over, he whispered in Jasperâ€™s ear. â€œWell, olâ€™ buddy, itâ€™s just us again. Letâ€™s ride!â€ He grabbed the reins and spurred him on down the trail.
Kid could sense the spirit of adventure rising inside him. With the blood of his ancestors running in his veins, nothing could feel more natural than the freedom and challenge of the open country. He planned to follow his dreams; to go places and do things others only talked about.
The town of Sherman was located in North Texas just south of the Red River and Indian Territory. It was the county seat and, being that it was Saturday, the square was filled with horses tied at the railings, while carriages and wagons were scattered haphazardly about. It seemed as if their owners had abruptly abandoned them and entered the saloons without a thought or concern. The hotels around the Square looked crowded. In the middle of it, the courthouse stood like a lonely sentinel, while the setting sun cast a series of long shadows across Kidâ€™s path, as if trying to block the way.
Kid rode Jasper to the railing in front of the courthouse, sitting easily in the saddle like a seasoned traveler. As the sound of a bell struck the hour in the tower, Jasper looked about wild-eyed. For a moment, Kid feared the horse might bolt and head down the street. But after patting Jasperâ€™s head and speaking in his ear, the horse calmed down and all appeared well once again. Dismounting, Kid tied him on the rail and looked about.
Nearby, a hefty-looking lawman, sporting a deputyâ€™s badge, shoveled sawdust from a wagon into a wheelbarrow.
The deputy puffed out his chest, scratched his scraggly beard, and leaned on his shovel. â€œWhat you need, kid?â€
â€œKnow of a room to rent?â€
â€œSure.â€ The deputy spat a chaw of tobacco at a nearby hitching post, hitting it dead center. He drawled, â€œThe Binkley House is the largest and best in North Texas, but itâ€™s probably full.â€ Glancing up and down at Kid with a critical eye, he added, â€œThereâ€™s The Texan over yonder across the square. It ainâ€™t quite as fancy.â€
Kid glanced at the hotel he was gesturing at. â€œItâ€™ll do.â€ Then looking back at the deputy, he studied him a moment.
The deputy had that all-knowing voice of conceit; a man whose only claim to fame probably reflected from the badge on his coat, which he displayed with much authority. Though Kid despised arrogance, he knew that with a touch of flattery, this kind of person could be a treasure-house of information. He stepped toward the deputy and held out his hand.
â€œFolks call me, â€˜Kid.â€™â€
â€œIâ€™m Jake,â€ replied the deputy. After shaking hands, he pulled out a fresh chaw of tobacco. â€œYou ainâ€™t from around here.â€
â€œJust passing through.â€
Jake stared at him. â€œWhere are your folks?â€
â€œBack in Kentucky. Iâ€™m just doing some visiting.â€ Before the deputy had a chance to ask anything else, Kid added, â€œI bet a guy like you knows about everybody in town.â€
â€œIn fact, I bet there isnâ€™t much happening in this town you donâ€™t know about.â€
â€œI might stay around a while if I had a job. Anybody needing a ranch hand you know of?â€
The Deputy shook his head as if he thought talking with Kid was a lost cause. â€œTiming ainâ€™t good. Most anybody that can herd cattle already hit the trail going up north through the Injun Territory.â€ He studied the boy intently for a moment. â€œCome to think of it though, a fellow coming through from Waco mentioned a place on the Brazos called Brooks Ranch thatâ€™s hiring for the spring run.â€
Kid nodded gratefully. â€œThanks!â€ He gestured toward the sawdust. â€œLooks like youâ€™re staying busy.â€
â€œI reckon.â€ The deputy grunted as he shoveled another pile of sawdust into the wheelbarrow. â€œGetting ready for a dance.â€ He leaned on his shovel again. â€œEverybodyâ€™s coming.â€ Gazing at Kid a moment, he bit off another chaw. â€œYou might can join â€˜em. Thereâ€™ll be a bunch of young folks there. Itâ€™ll be up in the courtroom. We gotta couple of good fiddlers, and plenty of food.â€
â€œSounds interesting. Might drop in for a bit.â€ Kid mounted Jasper. â€œIf you hear about any jobs, Iâ€™d appreciate knowing.â€
The Deputy grunted a reply and stuck his shovel into another pile of sawdust.
Kid turned Jasper toward The Texan. After putting the horse up in the livery stable and securing a room for the night, he went over to The Binkley House for a meal.
In the dining room, he sat at a table with his back to the wall and watched a parade of folks entering and leaving. He soon felt sweat rolling down his forehead, even though the temperature was dropping with the setting of the sun.
The fever had returned.
A waitress with a flashing bright smile approached his table, and he stared. This was no ordinary girl. She flung her flaming red hair away from her eyes with a toss of the head, and with a slight Irish accent announced, â€œGood eveninâ€™ to ya, sir. And what wouldcha like?â€
Kid felt the blood rising to his face. He wasnâ€™t used to being called â€œsir,â€ and especially not by a red-headed angel. He tried to say something, but nothing came out. He had never seen a girl so beautiful. She looked young, about his age, and the hair cascaded over her shoulders with a gentle swirl of curls that looked like the realization of an artistâ€™s dream. Her clear, blue eyes gazed at him warmly, and a slight grin crossed her face.
â€œThe stew, tis good,â€ she offered. â€œWouldcha like some?â€
Kid opened his mouth to reply, but nodded instead.
The girl laughed and used her hand to brush a persistent strand of red hair from in front of her eyes. â€œIâ€™ll get it for you.â€
He couldnâ€™t take his eyes off her until she disappeared into the kitchen. Taking a bandanna out of his pocket, he wiped his forehead. This time, he knew it was more than the fever that made his face flush.
In a few moments, the goddess returned carrying a steaming bowl of stew. â€œHere be ya.â€ She smiled as she placed it on the table in front of him. â€œHope all sets well.â€ She turned to leave.
Kid grabbed her hand. â€œWait! Tell me your name.â€
The girl snatched her hand away. With a toss of the head, she laughed, â€œIâ€™m Patricia, Patricia McGuire. And I hope you find the stew to your liking.â€
Continuing to stare, Kid muttered, â€œIâ€™m sure itâ€™s great.â€
Again, Patricia laughed gaily and moved to another table.
Kid could have kicked himself. He hadnâ€™t had anything to do with girls since his girl had jilted him back in Kentucky. Why am I acting like such an idiot?
He had taken only one bite of stew when such a ruckus occurred that he dropped his spoon. Instinctively, he snapped his hand down to the holster at his waist and glanced toward the area where the noise occurred.
Patricia stood angrily with hands on her waist, glowering at a disheveled cowhand sprawled out on the floor next to an overturned chair. â€œIâ€™ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself!â€
An uproar of laughter came from the patrons nearby as the red-faced fellow picked up his hat and staggered to his feet. â€œNow, little lady, ainâ€™t you being just a bit uppity?â€ The man steadied himself with a hand on the table, put his hat on, and moved toward her. â€œCâ€™mon, honey, letâ€™s go for a walk.â€
Kid didnâ€™t stop to think. Jerking his revolver out of its holster, he took deliberate aim and shot a bullet through the top of the manâ€™s hat, sending it sailing across the room.
The fellow backed against the bar, his hand dropping to a gun about his waist. But as his revolver cleared its holster, Kid shot again. The manâ€™s revolver went spinning across the floor as he doubled over, clutching his hand, his face twisted in pain.
No one was probably any more surprised than Kid. He hadnâ€™t even aimed; just reacted. Consciously keeping his mouth from dropping open in surprise, he placed his gun on the table and put his hands in his lap, hoping no one could see them tremble. He forced himself to look calm as the room grew quiet. Carefully speaking in a steady and controlled manner, he announced, â€œI think the lady asked that you keep your hands to yourself.â€
Footsteps clanked heavily on the wooden planks outside, and Deputy Jake stepped into the silenced room. He had drawn his pistol, and stared unblinking at the assortment of gamblers, ladies, and cowboys, some of whom were half-way crouched behind tables. â€œWhatâ€™s goin' on?â€ he demanded.
The drunk staggered to a table and leaned against it. Still holding his hand, he nodded at Kid. â€œHe shot me!â€
The deputy picked up the pistol off the floor. He stepped toward Kid who had remained seated; his revolver still lying on the table.
The Deputy scratched his beard and stared at him. â€œI say, Kid, that true?â€ he inquired in a skeptical tone.
* * *