He kicked his horse from a lope into a full gallop as the acrid smell in the air grew stronger. He had first smelled the smoke several miles back and had set out to find it's source.
As he topped a rise he saw the flames and knew it was bad. The Campbell house was ablaze, smoke and flames pouring out of the roof and windows.
Buck kicked his mount again and galloped down the hill and into the yard, dismounting before the horse even came to a stop. He glanced around anxiously as he hurried toward the house, hoping to see the Campbell's nearby, but even as he did so he could hear a faint cry for help from inside the house. He knew help would be arriving from Sweetwater soon, the smoke visible from that direction, but there wasn't time for those inside.
Without thinking he ran up onto the porch and tried to open the door but it wouldn't budge. he stepped back and rammed the door with his shoulder, once, twice, three times. He could feel the heat through the door, could breath in the choking smoke, could hear the cries for help grow more and more feeble. He hit the door harder and it finally gave way. Buck stumbled as the door fell to the floor, flames licking up around the edges, and he fell with it. Struggling to his feet, his hands covering his mouth and nose, he tried to see through the thick smoke, his ears trying to follow the low moans to their source.
Buck fumbled his way to the left, falling over furniture twice. His lungs ached as he tried to breathe, his eyes watered even as he squeezed them shut. He could feel his hands getting burn as he shoved away whatever was obstructing his path.
He tripped again and landed on something soft. It moaned and moved beneath him. He reached out finding an arm and then a second and began to pull.
It seemed like hours before he made it to the door, pulling Geneva Campbell with him into the somewhat fresh air. He helped her to her feet and half carried her into the yard away from the house. He could feel cooler air, could drag in small amounts of the fresh air into his lungs.
Falling to his knees he began to cough, wiping away tears from his stinging eyes with his shirt sleeve so he could see, but more tears followed in their wake. He could smell burnt hair and he became slowly aware of pain in his hands face and arms.
The woman next to him stirred, trying to sit up, but doubled over as she too began to cough.
"Emmit," she choked out. "He's still in there. Oh, dear God, Emmit's still in there!" She began to sob.
Buck struggled to his feet, staggering back toward the house, coughing and choking as he went. He tripped as he got to the porch, nearly falling. He paused long enough to draw in several ragged breathes, leaning against the porch rail as he did so.
He had taken one step toward the doorway before the explosion threw him backward into the yard.
Pain. His next awareness was intense, bone jarring pain. He screamed out, heard a soft "Easy now Buck. You'll be fine." before slipping back into blessed unconsciousness.
Emma moved cautiously next to the cot where Buck lay and placed the basin of cool water on a small table. She dipped the cloth and gently dabbed at the burns on Buck's cheeks and neck.
Bandages were wrapped around his eyes and hands covering the salve the doctor had applied. More bandages covered his abdomen. His left leg was elevated and wrapped in heavy bandages, waiting for the swelling to decrease and the wound from the compound fracture to heal some before a splint would be applied. A bottle of laudanum sat on the table
An occasional moan would escape his lips, but mostly he was quiet, the medication keeping him asleep, beyond feeling the pain. This bothered Emma almost as much as the screams and groans when they had first brought him back to the house. He was sometimes too quiet and she kept finding herself checking to see that he was still breathing.
Sam had found him when he, Thomkins and several others had arrived at the Campbell farm. They had seen the smoke from town and had ridden out with buckets and shovels to help. the explosion came when they were still a mile away and by the time they reached the farm was the house was completely engulfed in flames.
Mrs. Campbell was kneeling at Buck's side, screaming as she slapped at the tiny flames on Buck's shirt over his arms and chest. His leg was bent under him at an odd angle, the bone protruding through his trousers inches above his knee, blood oozing from the wound. Blisters were already forming on his face and the skin around his eyes and on his cheeks was bright red with black smudges running through it.
Sam and Thomkins had brought him back to Emma's, another member of their group taking Mrs. Campbell in to town and sending the doctor out. Jimmy and Teaspoon helped carry Buck inside Emma's house. He was unconscious, but still screamed out in pain, especially when Emma and Teaspoon began to remove what was left of his shirt. Just touching him would cause him to groan or cry out.
The doctor arrived shortly after and gave him a dose of laudanum, then set to work cleaning the wounds, applying salve and bandages.
That was three days ago, and Ike hadn't left his side since, catching what sleep he could on a blanket on the floor next to Buck's bed. Emma hadn't slept much either, spending her time trying to make the young man comfortable.
Teaspoon and the other riders took up the slack, covering both Buck's and Ike's runs, doing the cooking and cleaning. Jimmy once again had that duty, much to everyone's dismay. But all their free time was spent on Emma's porch. One would venture in to the house at a time, not wanting to disturb Buck but all feeling the need to be close.
Sam and the doctor came out twice a day. The doctor wasn't encouraging. There was very little in those days that could be done for burns and even less that could be done for smoke inhalation. All he could do was control the pain and apply salve. Buck's breathing was often labored, especially when the medication was wearing off. The burns were not horribly serious, and if he lived through the smoke and heat damage done to his lungs he would recover from the burns. Those on his hands were the worse, concentrating on his fingers, from grabbing burning furniture and throwing it out of the way.
The doctor also had no way of telling what kind of damage had been done to Buck's eyes. The burns were minor, as burns go, but he couldn't tell them if the damage would heal or if Buck could end up blind. His only reply to their questions on the subject was that time would tell.
To add to everyone's worries, Kid disappeared on the second day. He had been sitting with Buck and Ike when the doctor had arrived and stayed to listen to the doctor's advice. He pulled Ike to the side while the doctor finished his work then quietly saddled his horse and rode off without a word to anyone.
Emma knew the Kid could take of himself, but she still worried about him. And Lou was beside herself with worry. They had all asked Ike what he knew, but he would just shake his head and turn back to Buck, placing his hand on Buck's shoulder as gently as possible. he believed that his friend knew he was there if he was touching him and wanted him to draw strength from the connection.
Emma finished dabbing at Buck's forehead, trying to keep the boy's skin as cool as possible to keep him comfortable. she placed the cloth in the basin and carried it to the dinning table. She looked over her shoulder at Buck and since he seemed to be resting quietly she went to the door, leaving it open a crack so she could hear Buck if he stirred and stepped out on the porch.
The evening air felt cool and refreshing. She felt a little guilty, knowing that Buck would get no relief from such a beautiful evening. Emma leaned against the porch rail. She could hear Teaspoon and Jimmy debating some issue over the dinner dishes. Cody was out tending the horses having just come back from a run, and Lou sat on the bunkhouse porch worrying about Kid and staring off into the direction he had ridden off in.
Emma knew that shortly they would all be back on her porch and she felt some comfort knowing that these boys, that she had come to think of as her own, would be there in support of one of their own. But for now she had a few moments of quiet to gather her strength.
Emma was dozing in a chair by Buck's cot and Ike was in his usual place on the floor when Kid let himself and his two companions in.
He touched Ike on the shoulder to wake him then pointed to the two visitors behind him. Ike began to rapidly sign to them as Kid moved over to Emma, lightly touching her on the shoulder and placing one finger against her lips to signify silence.
"Kid!" she whispered. "Where'd you go off to? We've been worried..." Emma halted her sentence upon seeing the two Indians now standing over Buck's bed.
"Kid. What's going on?" she said slowly beginning to rise, looking as she did for the rifle she kept in the house.
"Emma, it's okay. This is Red Bear, Buck's brother." Kid motioned at the tall, regal looking man now kneeling by Buck's side. Ike had moved off to the side to make room. The man carefully pushed scorched hair off of Buck's forehead, his fingers gently brushing the bandages around the boy's eyes, then resting lightly on his arm. He leaned over, whispering into Buck's ear. Emma could see the love and pain that flickered across the man's face as he looked at his younger brother and she relaxed some. Red Bear motioned to the older man that had arrived with him, standing to let him move closer to the boy's bed.
"Red Bear brought the tribe's medicine man with him. He brought some herbs and such that he says will help with the pain and even help him breathe better. He won't need as much of the laudanum, Emma." Kid said quietly, watching his friend.
"Kid, what made you decide to go after Red Bear?" Emma stood with her arms wrapped around in front of her. "Do you know how dangerous that was?"
"I know Emma," Kid looked down at the floor then back at Emma, his brown curls framing a very tired face. "But Red Bear is Buck's brother. The doctor said there was a chance that Buck might not make it. Red Bear should have the chance to see him, just in case." There were tears glistening in the Kid's eyes at the thought of losing his friend. Ike wiped away a tear of his own.
"And Red Bear says that they might be able to help. The doctor did say that the laudanum could be dangerous. If White Eagle's medicine will help, well..." The Kid shrugged and let the rest of his sentence trail off.
Emma looked at the older man now kneeling by Buck's bed, passing an eagle feather over the boy and chanting in Kiowa.
"Red Bear, welcome to my home. What can I do to help?"
Red Bear stood and placed his hand on Emma's shoulder.
Shortly before daybreak the medicine man completed his work. He had mixed up two blends of herbs to be brewed into tea, one for pain and one to induce sleep. He had also made a mixture that when boiled created a scented brew. When inhaled it would help control coughing and help Buck breathe. They could cover his head with a blanket to create a type of steam tent to help him inhale the steam.
Emma hadn't given Buck any of the laudanum since before Kid returned and Buck seemed to be resting comfortably enough. His breathing, while more noticeable than it was after a dose of laudanum, was more regular. But even then, at times he would start to cough, which would cause him to gasp for breath. The steaming herbs helped the gasping. White Eagle said that Buck must rid himself of the smoke and the only way to do that was to cough. The coughing sounded painful. Emma had to admit that even the doctor said that coughing would help keep him from developing pneumonia, which could be fatal.
White Eagle showed Emma and Ike how to use the steaming herbs. When Buck's breathing would get labored or the coughing out of control, they were to place a bowl of the boiling herbs near his head and pull the blanket over him. the steeping herbs would develop into a steam filling the air under the blanket and Buck would then breathe it in. Emma was amazed that it did seem to help.
As the medicine man gathered his things together, Red Bear knelt by his brother's side once more. The two men chanted, a song Emma would learn later was meant to give strength to Buck's spirit. When finished red Bear whispered into Buck's ear again, then stood.
"I will come back again tomorrow with more herbs," he said to Emma. "I trust you with my brother's life. He has spoken highly of you and the riders of this Pony Express." He turned to Kid.
"You have shown great bravery in coming to get me. My brother has chosen his friends well."
"I had no choice. Buck needed his brother." Kid replied.
Red Bear nodded and he and White Eagle walked out the door to their horses. Emma and Kid followed them out as Ike returned to his friend's side. Emma could see Teaspoon emerging from his shack and start walking toward them as Cody emerged from the bunkhouse, the blond rider wiping sleep from his eyes as he headed to the corral to ready his horse for a ride.
"Thank you Red Bear. I'll do my best to care for your brother." Emma said as Teaspoon came up beside her.
"That is all I can ask." he replied as he kicked his horse and the two men rode off. By now Jimmy and Lou were standing on the bunkhouse porch. As the two men left they joined Kid, Teaspoon and Emma in her yard.
"Emma, Kid, do you have something to tell us?" Teaspoon asked in his Texas drawl, one eyebrow raising in question.
"Why don't we show you. Then I think I'll try and get a little sleep. It's been a long night." She led Teaspoon into the house to show him how to use the herbs.
By now Cody had saddled his horse and led it over to the group in the yard.
"Where you been Kid?" Lou asked, keeping herself from not flying into the Kid's arms. "We've been worried."
"We?" Cody cracked. "I think Lou's the only one that lost sleep while you were gone. Jimmy and me, we slept like babies."
"You might have slept like a baby but I was up all night listening to you snorin'."
"Snorin'? I don't snore Jimmy. That musta been Teaspoon you were hearing."
"From clear across the yard? I don't think so Cody."
"So where were you Kid?" Lou interrupted, bringing the conversation back to the subject at hand. "And who were the Indians?"
"That was Red Bear, Buck's brother, and a medicine man from their tribe. Any one start breakfast yet? I'm starved!"
"Kid! What was that all about? What was Red Bear doing here?"
"Let's go back to the bunkhouse and fix something to eat. I'll tell you about it then."
Buck awoke to the sound of a loud groan. It took a second to realize that it had come from him and less time than that to know why. The pain took his breathe momentarily away. Then the coughing began, the movement causing more pain. He tried to open his eyes and couldn't. he felt panic rising. He tried to touch his eyes and couldn't. He couldn't even move his fingers. he tried to rise, but felt a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Go easy now Buck. It's okay. Put that pillow behind his head Ike. That's it, prop his head up. let's give him a sip of that tea."
"Teaspoon...." Buck gasped between coughs.
"Quiet now Buck. Here, try to breath deep. This should help. That's good. Now sip some more of this tea. Ike help me pull this blanket over. Breathe deep son. That's it."
The coughing began to ease and Buck could catch his breathe some. It was still hard to pull in more than a little bit of air at a time. He tried to relax, to use his ears to figure out what was going on around him. He heard footsteps and the sound of china being set down, another set of footsteps descending stairs.
"Teaspoon? is everything all right."
"Just fine Emma. Buck here's awake."
"Buck? Just take a deep breathe. It's gonna be all right." He felt fingers stroke the top of his head.
"Emma?" he whispered and coughed again.
"Easy, easy. Here, sip this." Emma lifted Buck's head up and placed the cup to his lips, then gently lay it back down. She picked up the cloth laying in the basin of water and dabbed at his forehead where a faint layer of moisture had appeared.
"What...?" he asked weakly.
"Ssshh. Just relax. Don't try to talk. You're gonna be just fine." Buck barely heard Emma's words as he drifted off.
The call went out and Ike reluctantly mounted his horse to receive the pass off. He wasn't happy about taking the run, but he also knew that it wasn't fair for the others to be doubling up so much. He kicked his horse into a gallop. The sooner he got done, the sooner he could get back and be with his friend.
It had now been a week since the fire and the doctor said that Buck was doing well. Sam had told them that Geneva Campbell was recovering also, fighting very minor burns and some smoke inhalation. Her husband had some gunpowder stored in the house which is what had caused the explosion. He didn't know why Emmit Campbell had had so much gunpowder on hand or why the fire had gotten so far out of control so quickly that the two Campbells had not been able to get out of the house. And Geneva wasn't able to say yet. She remembered virtually nothing of the fire or the events leading up to it. The doctor felt it was due to shock and would probably wear off.
Buck slept a lot. Emma and Teaspoon did their best to keep him comfortable, using the herbs Red Bear provided to help control the pain instead of using the laudanum. True to his word Red Bear had returned just before daybreak the next morning with a large supply of herbs and a medicine bundle for Buck. He told Kid that it would not be safe for him to come back anytime soon, but if there was any change to come find him again and he would risk coming back. Kid would be safe, Red Bear guaranteed it and everyone believed him.
It was a slowly gathering awareness the second time Buck truly awoke. He heard noises, felt pain, saw darkness. The pain was strong but he didn't feel the need to cry out. He could tolerate it, but he needed to know why he felt it. He searched his memory, saw a house on fire, smelled smoke. He began to cough.
Almost immediately he smelled herbs. He felt a cup pressed to his lips and liquid slide down his throat. He breathed in the herbal scent and shortly the coughing subsided.
"I think he's awake Ike. Looks like he's swallowing to me." He felt soft fingers caress his forehead. "Can you talk Buck?"
"Yes." It came out a hoarse whisper, followed by more coughing. His throat hurt but the tea helped. "I think so," came out a little louder but still weak.
"It's okay. Probably best if you don't try too hard. Ike why don't you go and get the others. I think he might be awake for awhile." Buck felt his friend touch his arm, but it felt funny, kind of far away. That was it, the pain felt distant, part of him, but not. he heard Ike's footsteps and the door open and close.
"Are you in a lot of pain?" Emma asked softly, continuing to stroke the top of his head. it was comforting, but strange also. No one had ever done that to him before, not even as a child.
"Not bad," he croaked. He felt her arm slide under his neck and back as she lifted him up and placed another pillow behind him. It was easier to breathe but the movement caused some pain and he could see colored lights swimming before his eyes. It was several moments before both subsided.
"What happened?" he coughed out.
"Ssh, don't try to talk too much. Here, have another sip of tea. We'll fill you in as soon as you're comfortable. That's good....one more sip."
Buck could hear footsteps on the porch and the door opened.
"Emma, Ike said that Buck's awake. I told the others to wash up, then come say hey. How's he doin'"
"Well he wants to know what happened, so his head's clear and thinking. Says the pain's not bad. Been coughin' a bit but the doctor said that's good right now. Here, keep givin' this tea. I'm going to heat up a little broth."
"So I take it you don't remember what happened, " Teaspoon said as he sat down next to the bed.
"House....fire," came out softly. Yes, talking definitely hurt his throat.
"Yep. the Campbell house. Remember anything else?" Buck moved his head slightly to the negative. Big mistake. His head began to swim.
Now Teaspoon Hunter had always enjoyed a good story, but he knew Buck wasn't up to hearing a tale just yet. So he hit the highlights.
"Now, here's the bad news. Your left leg is broken in two places. The doctor called the upper break a compound fracture. That mean's the bone broke through the skin. So you'll be healing from that for a while. In other words no dancing for a few months." Teaspoon paused as Kid, Jimmy, Lou and Ike came in each greeting Buck with encouraging words before settling into chairs.
"You've got some pretty nasty burns on your hands and arms. The Doc thinks that there shouldn't be any scarring, though, as long as we keep salve on them for a while. You've also got some burns on your stomach and chest. Seems your shirt caught on fire. There may be some scars there, but then there may not, the Doc says it's too early to tell for sure." Teaspoon paused again and handed Ike the teacup. Ike gently helped Buck take a sip.
"Eyes." Buck managed to say.
Teaspoon had wanted to avoid this part of the diagnosis, but obviously couldn't.
"Well son, I ain't gonna lie to you. The Doc's not real sure about your eyes. The burns around 'em ain't real bad. No worse than those on your arms. They blistered up some but should heal over real nice. You just won't be real pretty for awhile." Cody and Jimmy both chuckled behind him.
"But the Doc doesn't know about the eyes themselves," Teaspoon continued. "There may have been some damage and you'll have lost your sight. Or maybe not. He's just not sure. We won't be able to tell until you heal some."
The news hit Buck like a lightning bolt. Blind. He had a hard enough time fitting in with his sight. The chances that a blind Indian would be accepted into the white world were pretty slim. He wouldn't be able to continue with the Pony Express if he couldn't see, which meant losing his new family. And he would never be able to defend himself back in the Kiowa world where he always had to be on guard with everyone but his brother.
He began to cough. Within moments he was gasping for breath, barely able to drag air in between coughs. He suddenly smelled herbs and tried to breath in the healing scent. It took some time but he was finally able to drag in a few ragged breathes.
"That's better. Try to take a deep breath." Teaspoon pulled the blanket over Buck's head and his own as Emma brought over a cast iron skillet with hot coals in it. They placed the bowl of herbs on the coals and placed it on a small table at the head of the bed and under the blanket, creating a steam tent of sorts, the scent of herbs swirling in the moist air trapped there. Buck's breathing came easier, the coughing slowed then stopped all together.
He felt his head lifted and a cup placed to his lips. This tea tasted different, bitter. Minutes later he drifted off to sleep.
On to Chapters 4-5