Ike and Jimmy noticed the covered wagon lying on it’s side, with a broken axle. A young woman covered in mud up to her waist, was unhitching the horses from the wreck. A small boy waited by her side. He was clutching what looked like a stuffed toy. As Jimmy and Ike rode closer, the woman stopped what she was doing, and grabbed her rifle. She aimed it at both of them. Glancing over at the youngster, she said, “Stay near me Nathan!”
Ike and Jimmy stoppped their horses, and raised both of their hands.
“Who are you, and what do you want!?” the woman asked.
“My name’s Jimmy Hickok, and this is Ike McSwain. We both ride for the pony express. We noticed the trouble your havin’ there… can we help?”
The woman studied both of the men. She then lowered her rifle. Wiping sweat from her brow, she said, “Yes. Please. It’s just me and Nathan. My name’s Jane. Anyway, the axle’s broken, and I don’t have anything to repair it with.”
Jimmy and Ike dismounted. Walking over to the wagon, they both looked at the broken axle.
“Ma’mam, we just might be able to fix this temporarily. The nearest town is Sweetwater. Just five miles up ahead. You’ll have to lighten the load though. Just take what you need.”
“All right,” she said as she picked up her son, and held him close. The youngster looked at Ike and smiled. Ike signed to the boy. The small boy returned the gesture.
“He doesn’t talk either. Not since his father died.” The woman said.
“Ike, let’s get this fixed, so we can head back into town, before it get’s dark.” Jimmy said
Jimmy tied his horse behind the wagon. “That axle should hold long enough for us to get into town.” He then began to adjust the harnesses on the team.
Ike sat on his horse waiting for Jimmy to drive the wagon. Nathan wiggled around in Jane’s arms, wanting to get down.
“What’s the matter son?” she asked.
He pointed in Ike’s direction. She put him down, and he ran to Ike. Nathan raised his arms. His mother began to smile. “I think he wants to ride with you. That’s if you don’t mind?” She walked to Nathan and picked him up. She handed him to Ike. Nathan placed his tiny hand on the saddle horn, while still holding the stuffed toy. He looked up and smiled. Ike smiled back.
“He’s really takin’ a liking to you,” Jimmy said. Jane walked back to the wagon, and sat on the buckboard next to Jimmy. Gathering the reins, he slapped the team into a steady walk. Ike and Nathan followed along.
“Where exactly were you two headed?” Jimmy asked. Jane brushed a strand of blond hair away from her face.
“Yes. Anywhere. Away from the memories of the old homestead. The place where Nathan’s father was murdered.” She noticed the courious expression on Jimmy’s face. “He was murdered by a raiding party. They burned our home, our barn, and took our horses. One of the horses belonged to Nathan. It was an appaloosa with four white half socks. Nathan loved that horse. I was blessed by being able to purchase this team and the wagon too. I made a wedding dress for the blacksmith’s daughter .”
Jane looked over at Ike and Nathan. “I love my son so much. I only want the best for him.”
“Tell you what,” Jimmy said. “Why don’t you and Nathan stay at the waystation until you find a place to call your own?”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude-
“You wouldn’t be. Anyway, I think Nathan would enjoy meeting the other riders.”
Jane and Nathan met everyone at the waystation. Nathan never wanted to leave Ike’s side. When it was Ike’s turn to ride; Nathan seemed heartbroken. He wanted to go too.
“Honey, Ike will be back in a few days. He won’t be gone forever.” His mother would say.
Nathan walked up to Ike, and handed him his stuffed toy. Ike gestured a thank you, and placed the toy inside his coat pocket. Nathan would watch Ike spur his horse into a gallop, as soon as the mochilla was passed. Often the riders would volunteer to babysit the youngster.
“It’s like having a little brother,” Lou said.
“I’ll teach him how to play poker,” Cody grinned.
“You mean how to lose at a card game- Kid interjected.
Buck laughed at the remark. “Cody, why don’t you teach him everything that you learned from Hezikiyah Horn?”
“Yeah…” Cody said. “He was a great man who taught me a lot about life itself. I could pass that along .”
Jane was helping Rachel hang the wash on the line. “Rachel,” she began.
“What’s on your mind Jane?”
“I need to ride into town tommorrow. I feel bad about askin’, but would the riders mind watching Nathan for me? I need to find employment. The sooner my son and I are on our feet, the better.”
Rachel put her arm around Jane, and smiled. “Sure. We are always here to help.”
“Thank you so much!”
The next morning, Teaspoon had Jimmy escort Jane into town.
“I’ll meet you at the general store in about half an hour,” Jane said to Jimmy as she walked to the milliner’s shop. I do have some experience in that sort of craft…she thought.
Jimmy walked to the saloon for a sasparilla and a sandwich. Suddenly, he heard gun fire. He ran outside to see what was going on. He noticed a crowd of people gathered around the victim. He made his way through the crowd, and was shocked at who the victim was…Jane. “What in the world happened here?” Jimmy asked the crowd of people. He knelt down to cradle her head against his lap.
An elderly citizen said that a couple of town drunks had a dispute,
and called each other out to settle their differences. Jane accidently
walked out into the line of fire. Jimmy knelt there, still cradling
her lifeless body. Wondering how he would tell Nathan what had happened
to his mother.
It rained on the day of the funeral. Ike knelt next to Nathan, and hugged him. He knew the pain of losing both parents.
The riders all decided to adopt Nathan. They were his family now. He helped out with what he could doing chores. A lot of his time was spent in school, even though he didn’t like it much. He often did his homework while he sat on the porch steps, watching and waiting for Ike’s return from a run.
“Nathan? Nathan. Time to wash up for supper.” Rachel said.
Startled from his thoughts of one day becoming an express rider, he looked up at Rachel and smiled.
“Did you finish your homework?”
Nathan shook his head in agreement.
“You need to turn in early tonight. Jimmy’s takin’ you to school in the morning.”
He closed his book, and obediently did what he was told. As Rachel was about to leave, she noticed a sheet of paper lying next to the book. Couriously she picked it up. She smiled at the picture Nathan drew. On the bottom of the page, he wrote in scribbled letters: Ike
The next morning, Jimmy took Nathan to school. He stopped his
horse in front of the one room school house.
“Lou will pick you up this afternoon,” Jimmy said. “Be good…see you later.”
Nathan smiled at Jimmy, and watched him ride away.
He turned around to enter the school house, and stopped. He
noticed two classmates pointing at him and giggling.
“My pa said he’s a dummy.” One child said to the other. Laughter filled the school yard. Nathan lunged for the troublemaker, and both boys tumbled to the ground. Each striking each other as hard as they could.
The schoolmarm hurried out of the classroom to investigate the ruckus.
“Boys! Boys!” She got in between the two. “Stop it! This instant!
I’m not even going to ask who started this. You will both stay after
school, and write ‘I will not fight again,’ fifty times!”
As soon as Nathan dismounted, he ran to the bunkhouse, and slammed the door.
“Teacher said he was in a fight …” Lou said as she lead her horse to the barn.
“Well…I remember being in a few school yard scraps myself.” Teaspoon chuckled. “I’ll get Rachel to take a look at that eye.”
Ike returned from a run, and walked into the bunkhouse. He noticed Nathan lying on his bunk. It was evident that he had been crying. He put his bed roll on the table, and walked to Nathan’s bunk.
Buck entered the bunkhouse and said, “Lou said he was in a fight at school. I’m pretty sure it was the other kid’s fault.”
Ike looked at Nathan and signed. Nathan shook his head and looked away.
Buck put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “Hey, I’ve been in a few school yard fights, and so has Ike.” Nathan looked up at Ike and smiled. Ike smiled back and signed. Nathan let out a loud giggle.
Rachel entered the bunkhouse carrying a wash cloth, and a water bowl. Nathan flinched as Rachel applied the cold wash cloth. “Bet you’ll never want to get into another scrap like that again,” Rachel said.
“Boys, I need a few supplies from Tompkins’ store,” Rachel said handing the list to Lou. Rachel walked over to Nathan and handed him a dime. “Here…treat yourself to some candy while your there.” Nathan’s eyes lit up and he smiled.
“Comon’ Nathan, you can ride with me,” Noah said. The youngster happily ran to Noah’s horse, and pointed at the silver saddle that had the initials ‘SD’ on the rear flap. “That saddle once belonged to my daddy,” Noah said as he followed behind.
Rachel watched as the riders headed into town for the supplies. She thought about how much Nathan had become part of their family.
Nathan pointed at the glass jar that held the licorice sticks. He handed the dime to Tompkins, and took the stick of candy. As the riders waited for the supply list to be filled, they each looked around at the miscellaneous merchandise.
Nathan wandered outside as he enjoyed the licorice stick. He stopped suddenly, as his eyes noticed a gunman across the street, riding an appaloosa with four white half socks. Nathan recognized the horse to be the one that his father gave him. There wasn’t another horse like it around. He remembered his father even saying so.
Jimmy was standing next to the marshall’s office, talking to Barnett, and Teaspoon. Nathan ran up to Jimmy, and grabbed the gun from his holster. “What the--?"
Before he could stop the youngster, Nathan aimed the pistol and the
gunman on the appaloosa, and fired.