The Box Canyon
A Serial in Seven Parts
Previous Episodes: 12
Sam woke suddenly, heart beating fast. He listened intently, but everything was quiet, except for the owls, still calling back and forth to each other. Must have been dreaming.
The sky was just beginning to brighten, and a waning moon shed a faint light. Across the box canyon he could see his horse grazing in knee high grass with a couple deer nearby. He shouldered his Winchester and started walking toward the arroyo. He could see his tracks from the night before along with tracks of deer. When he reached the stand of mesquite, he sat and listened for a long time while the day grew light. All he heard were bird calls and the faint gurgle of the water that ran placidly in the arroyo. After a while Sam heard grunting and a herd of javelina came to drink. They were calm and unperturbed, and eventually moved back up the slope.
After they left, Sam moved closer to the little stream, staying on the hard ground at the edge of the stand of mesquites. He checked the sand, but there were no sign of followers. Relieved, he started back up the side canyon, wiping out his tracks for the first hundred yards until the first bend. He hoped that he had thrown them off his trail so that he could stay and rest his horse. He needed to give his horse some rest in case he had to run again. If his horse went down, so did he.
When back at the box canyon, he caught and checked his horse over carefully, making sure that the last three days hard ride hadn’t caused an injury. He checked hooves and shoes, ran his hands up the pasterns and fetlocks. There were no hot spots and the horse seemed fine, though the ribs showed results of the hard riding. Couple days in the deep grass will do ya good, hoss.
His horse seen to, he felt secure enough to build a small fire. He picked small dry branches and made a small fire under a large mesquite, which would help dissipate the smoke some. Sam threw some grounds in a pan and made coffee, the first in three days. He drank the coffee and chewed on some jerky and hard tack while he took in his surroundings. The floor of the box canyon was mostly grassy and sloped gently uphill, but all around was a steep wall. There was a small swale running down the middle, probably made by run-off from hard rains. It was a pleasant, if lonely, place. Right now, the lonelier the better.
He decided that this would be a good place to hole up. A few days would give Glory’s ranchhands time to give up their pursuit. The ranch needed tending with round-up coming, and they couldn’t be gone too long. With all the game nearby he wouldn’t go hungry, and his horse would have plenty of good pasture.
He sighed. Put it off long enough, time to deal with the dead man. It would be a kind of payment for using the man’s canyon and pasture. He found a shovel and pick in the shed out back of the house and scouted out a nice place for a grave. Because of the condition of the body, he didn’t not have to dig very deep—a good thing because the ground was hard.
Entering the cabin, he left the door open and opened the shutters on the two small windows, creating a small draft. Moving to the bunk he examined the body. Clutched to its chest was a small tin box. A Colt revolver in a holster hung from a peg in the wall within easy reach, along with a coat and other clothes. Sam took a closer look at a leg that jutted at a bad angle, bone broken and sticking through the skin. The blanket showed dried blood stains. Poor bastard. Sam had no doubt of cause of the man’s death. Alone with no help and that leg, he would not have lasted long.
Opening the tin box he found some letters. Some were to a Chester. Others that were apparently written by Chester but not mailed yet. There was a bill of sale for a horse with a Double O brand made out to Chester Jefferson and several more papers that Sam did not bother to look at. He set the box aside and wrapped Chester in the blanket Come on Chester and carried him to the grave. He was surprisingly light. Sam laid him in the grave and filled it. He collected rocks for the top, to mark it more than anything else. Sam wasn’t much into religion so he had no words to say.
To be continued