Thursday, January 3, 2008

Billy 11

The freighters sat talking for a couple of hours before turning in for the night. There was plenty of speculation about who the men were and why they might want the boy but none of them had any solid information. One of the things that stood out in the conversation was the quality and style of saddles and rigging that the men were using. Several in the group were certain that they were of Mexican origin. The men were dressed in ordinary fashion. Their pistols though were what would be termed “fancy” by most of the men. There seemed to be silver inlaid on a couple of them and all had ivory or bone handles. Such things were rare on the frontier. Most firearms carried for everyday use were fairly common in their finish.

The only one of the men who had spoken sounded like he had some kind of accent. His words were very properly delivered. Tom said that he had heard similar speech in Santa Fe and San Antonio. He thought the men might have come from Mexico.

Billy mostly just listened and asked a few questions. His mind kept racing back over the past days searching for clues in what Tad had said. He knew there was bound to be something that would help him to find the boy. The men would have a good start on him and he might have to hunt for their trail. He had a good starting point where he found the horses at the river, but he would need to wait for enough light to be certain of their direction before heading after them. The men probably wouldn’t be looking for him. In fact, if they quizzed the boy and found that he had stowed away with the freight wagons, they might not expect anyone to be following them. That could work to his advantage.

Daylight found Billy kneeling on the south bank of the Canadian River. He had found where the men apparently had left the river heading south. He was examining the tracks closely to be certain that he could recognize them. After a time he was sure that he could recognize the six distinct sets of tracks of the horses. One of them appeared to be carrying extra weight. It must be the one that had Tad. The men could have taken Tom’s horse for the boy, but they probably wanted to reduce the chances of being followed. Tom would certainly have tried to get his horse back if they had stolen it.

Tom wanted to come along on the hunt for the boy. The freighters would most likely be able to handle the wagons without him. If it hadn’t been for his wound and the weakness from loss of blood, he would certainly have joined Billy. As it was though, he loaned Billy his extra saddle gun and some shells and wished him luck. Billy was on his own which was how he liked it.

The tracks were fairly easy to follow as they headed southeast, angling slightly away from the river. It looked like they were heading in the general direction of Wild Horse Lake or maybe toward Goodnight’s place. There was also the T Anchor south of Wild Horse Lake on Spring Draw. Any of them would be places to get water for the horses. Water still determined where a man could travel on these dry plains. He could carry enough for himself, but the horses had to drink and there were only so many places they could get water.

As he rode along, Billy continually scanned the horizon for riders. The country was fairly rough all the way to Wild Horse Lake. There were plenty of places where someone could hide unobserved and watch the back trail. Even though the country was beginning to be settled, there weren’t many people. A man could ride for days and not see any other riders unless he rode up to one of the scattered ranches. Most of the Llano was still wide open. The few outfits that were taking root were on the few water courses that crossed the plains.

There were a few head of cattle scattered in the draws but not much else to be seen. Occasionally an antelope or deer would stick its head up to watch as Billy passed, but mostly it was just jackrabbits to keep him company. The monotony began to dull his senses. It was easy to think about vigilance, but it became more difficult as the heat of the day began to soak into him. It had been a dry summer and the grasses were mostly a dull gray with a coating of dust on them.

The hoof prints continued in their course to the southeast. There was no sign that they had stopped for the night. That meant they had about a twelve hour head start. He might be making up a little time on them but not much. Their horses would tire after a while and need to be rested. He had two so he could switch out occasionally and spare his own. That would work to his advantage.

Back to the southwest a few clouds had begun to build. July wasn’t known for thunderstorms, but they did occasionally happen. Billy didn’t pay them much attention.
Noon passed and still there was no variation in the trail. They appeared to be heading toward Wild Horse Lake. Where they would go from there was anybody’s guess.

By mid-afternoon, Billy began to get concerned. He thought he knew their first destination, but feared he would lose their tracks if it rained. The clouds had continued to build and a massive thunderstorm had welled up virtually covering the southern sky. Heavy rain would wipe out any tracks and he would be left searching for their trail. He also didn’t relish the idea of being stuck out in a thunderstorm. The rain wasn’t a problem it was the hail and lightening that he dreaded.

1 comment:

Donald Douglas said...

Just stopping over to wish you a happy New Year!