Word count 4780
Anyone watching would think they were just seeing a boy on an old nag, riding down the road late one evening. They wouldn’t know they were watching a runaway, a boy mad enough to spit nails.
Mumbling as he rode along Carlo fought the tears that persisted in gathering in his eyes. “He would show them.” he said. His backside still smarted from the sting of the bull whip his Pa had used on him.
He never stuck Anna with a pin like she claimed, but Pa always believed her over him. “Well, that would be the last time.” he vowed as the road before him swam on unshed tears.
He had gathered his few belongings, rolling them in his blanket, and saddling up Tony had set out for parts unknown. He didn’t have a plan, he just knew he wasn’t hanging around there any longer and taking a lick for something he didn’t do.
Boy, he hated that stuck up Anna. She was always getting him in trouble. Pa was partial to her over the rest of them. Everyone cow-towed to her, even Mama it seemed, but he was fourteen now and too old to be getting licks. He was going out west and making his fortune. They would regret the way they treated him then.
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the road then dropped behind the low hills ahead. Carlo’s stomach growled and gurgled reminding him it was way past suppertime. He thought about the big biscuits his Mama made and the plum butter she had put up last summer. His mouth watered as he remembered the fried chicken and mounds of potatoes he usually had on his plate. Boy, he was hungry. He wished he had thought to bring along a cold biscuit or two. He didn’t have a penny to his name. Where was he gonna get something to eat? And where was he going to find a place to spread his blanket?
Leaving the road he began looking for a likely spot along the creek. Maybe come morning he could catch his-self a fish for breakfast. Removing Tony’s saddle, he placed it next to a big cottonwood along the bank and laid his blanket over it, using it as a pillow.
For the first time he thought of his horse and the fact he had nothing to feed him either. He would just have to eat grass. Carl wondered how grass would taste. He was hungry enough to try it himself, he thought. Laying down he looked up through the leaves and studied the stars. There were millions of them up there.
He wondered if anyone had missed him yet. Would his Mama cry for him? He listened as the frogs and crickets began their evening song, he had never noticed before how sad and lonely it sounded.
Carlo woke to sunshine filtering through the leaves and playing patterns on his face. Tony grazed nearby. The water was calm; there was hardly a ripple in it. Swamp flies were skimming along its surface. A fish leapt from its depths and snatched his breakfast in flight. Gee, he thought, I wish I’d had a hook on that fly. That was a whopper of a fish; it sure would make a tasty meal. Thinking of how hungry he was, he grabbed up his boots and quickly dressed, then looked about for a stick to fashion a spear, as he had no hook.
He always carried the pocket knife. He got it for Christmas when he was eleven. It was a treasured gift from his Pa. He studied on that for a minute, then shaking his head said aloud,”He never should have hit me with that bull whip.” and settled about whittling the end of a broken branch.
Satisfied he had a fine point on it; he removed his boots, rolled up his pants legs and edged into the water. The soft mud on the bottom of the creek squashed up between his toes. It felt good; he wiggled them and imagined it might draw the attention of the fish thinking his toes were worms. He waited for one to swim by. He felt something brush against his leg, looking down Thinking he would see a fish or two, he was horrified to see a big water snake wrapping around his leg. With a blood-curdling yell he clambered from the water onto the bank, his heart pounding, had he been bitten? Was he to die of snakebite alone on this grassy bank?
He examined his body for fang marks and when he found none he sank to the ground in relief. How was he to catch a fish? His spear floated slowly down the creek caught in the current of the slow moving water.
Scratching his head he ran his fingers through his blonde hair brushing away the leaves he picked up while rolling on the ground. Reaching for his hat he looked around. Spotting wild grapevines growing in the trees nearby he said aloud, “I guess that’s breakfast.” Donning his boots and giving a wide berth to the ‘snakey’ water he picked his fill. It didn’t taste like fried fish but it was better than nothing. Filling his pockets with the fleshy fruit he saddled up and hit the trail.
The sun shone hot on his back burning through the thickness of his broadcloth shirt. Shifting in his saddle and pulling his hat back he sought what ever shade he could muster up. He longed for a breeze, the day was hot and sultry.
Tall trees lined the road on either side. Plodding along wondering where he was going he spotted an animal lying along-side the road. As he neared he could tell it was a big hairy dog. Was it dead? He got off his horse to take a closer look. Picking up a stick and squatting down beside it he studied the hound intently. Reaching out with the stick he poked at it. Suddenly the dog’s eyes popped open and his tail gave a lazy wag. The surprise of it caused Carlo to fall back.
The dog raised his head. They sat there eyeing one another. Carlo looked around wondering if there was a house close by. Maybe he could get something to eat, but after looking at the dog, decided he looked hungry himself.
Carlo didn’t say anything; he just got back on his horse. The dog watched him and as he rode away got up, stretched and followed after them. Carlo kept watching for a house, that old dog had to belong to somebody.
Spotting an orchard and a peach tree loaded with ripe fruit Carlo climbed down from Tony’s back. There was an old ramshackle house nearby, but from the looks of it no-one had been around in a long time, he supposed the peaches were for anyone who happened by. Climbing the fence he helped himself. They were mighty tasty. He ate til his stomach hurt, then picked some to take along. He didn’t know how long he could live on fruit. Making a sack of his neckerchief by tying the corners together, he hooked the bag of fruit over his saddle horn.
‘Dawg’, as he decided to call the scroungy mutt trailing along with him, laid in the shade and watched. That appeared to be one lazy worthless dog Carlo thought. Heading down the road once again he noticed him following along, tongue out, and head hanging low. He figured that mutt never got in much of a hurry over anything.
All at once a rabbit jumped from the brush. In a flash Dawg was on his trail. Startled, Tony shied to the side and kicked up his heels almost unseating Carlo. “Whoa boy, whoa.” Carlo pulled back on his reins and held on. “You’re bout as ornery as Pa’s old mule.” He told the skittish horse.
Dawg had disappeared into the brush. Carlo figured he had seen the last of him when he appeared carrying the limp rabbit in his mouth. Carlo stopped and looked at him in amazement as he dropped the rabbit at Tony’s feet and looking up wagged his tail. Carlo could have sworn he was grinning.
Carlo piled off that horse in a split second and grabbed up that luscious hunk of meat. They were going to have a fine meal today, thanks to that worthless ole dog, who was suddenly Carlo’s best friend.
That pocket knife Pa gave him sure did come in handy. After skinning and cleaning the Rabbit, he fashioned a spit and building a fire in a nest of rocks, he turned the meat slowly, watching it drip juice into the coals and brown til it was done on all sides. It sure was good eatin’, and he shared it equal with Dawg and gave him the bones to gnaw on for desert, while he ate a juicy peach.
As he ate he eyed the rabbit skin wondering what he could make of it. Seemed a shame to waste it, so he made a twig frame and stretched it as best he could, vowing to tan the hide and make a present for his Ma. He might go home for Christmas some day, he thought, after he had traveled the world a bit.
Dawg came over and lay beside him; Carlo absently put his arm around his neck and pulled him in close. The two of them sat there by the creek gazing at the water as it foamed and gathered among the rocks, then washed away in swirls to disappear from sight.
Carlo dosed but woke with a start when he heard loud voices from the road overhead. Dawg was gone. Sensing danger Carlo quickly went to his horse and covered his nose to keep him quiet. He had chosen a place on the creek where a small wooden bridge passed over nearby. He knew they were hidden from sight from the main road and it should be a good place to camp for the night. His fire had burned down to ashes. Now he was glad of that.
He couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but he could tell it was no good. Seemed they were arguing and mad. All he could hope was that they didn’t see him. He wished he knew what happened to Dawg.
He wondered if he might get on old Tony and ride quietly away, but there was no place to ride too, he was trapped down here as long as they were on the road above. Looking about for an escape route, other than the narrow path that led to where they were, he caught sight of Dawg coming along the edge of the creek. He hoped he would not give them away.
He heard the men scuffling and grunting as they stirred up the dirt of the road, then a shot rang out. All sound stopped, a deep voice cursed. Carlo held his breath. Dawg had stopped too, then came on the run swift as the wind. Coming to a sliding halt next to Carlo he dropped another rabbit at his feet and looked up expectantly. Carlo put his hand out and rubbed his head, suddenly Dawg caught scent of the intruders, the stiff hair on his neck rose and a deep low growl sounded from his throat, Carl grabbed him and pulled him close. Dawg strained to get away but Carlo held on.
He heard the creak of leather; a horse whinnied and stamped his feet, then the sound of horse hoofs pounded on the road as it ran away.
Holding on to Dawg and Tony’s reins, Carlo waited and listened. Hearing nothing, he ventured up the path to the roadway, Dawg leading the way. When he reached the top, Dawg was sniffing at a body lying on the ground. Assuming the man was dead Carlo was surprised when the man moved his arm, reaching out to Dawg. Carlo cautiously approached and looked down into the dark eyes of the wounded man.
“Help me.” He whispered, then closed his eyes.
How was he to help the man he wondered, he was too big, there was no way he could lift him. He couldn’t leave him lying on the road; it was a long way back to get help. If he could get him to that old house he saw a ways back, maybe then he could go get his Pa. What would Pa do now? He thought on it and decided He would make a traverse, he had watched his Pa build one many times to move things on the farm and had a fair idea how it was done. The horse could pull him back to the abandoned house, out of the sun and away from nosey animals. Carlo looked over his shoulder at the thought. There were probably wolves along this creek, or maybe even panthers.
Quickly searching among the trees for broken branches he found some the right length to build his frame. Taking out that handy pocket knife once again, he cut a length from his rope and weaving it through and around the tree limbs made a carrying rack to tote the injured man. Now the big problem was getting him onto it. He studied what to do. Taking his sleeping blanket he laid it beside the man, rolled him onto it, then dragged him over to, and rolled him onto the traverse. As he was about to tie it to old Tony, who was spooked and leery of the prone man on the ground, and didn’t like the smell of blood, a saddled horse appeared from the edge of the trees. Assuming it belonged to the wounded man he attached the rope to the horse’s saddle, then remembering the rabbit Dawg had caught, he hurried down the path and grabbed it up thinking he might fix something to eat later. Climbing onto ole Tony and leading the buckskin he started for the ‘peach orchard’ house. It was slow going making sure the man didn’t roll off the makeshift carrier.
When at last they pulled up to the abandoned farmhouse, Carlo pushed the door open and went inside to see if it was fittin’ to leave a man in while he went for help. The house had evidently been empty for a log time. A cotton stuffed mattress lay on the floor, half its stuffing torn out by wild critters. Carlo figured some hobo had stayed in the house before and bedded down by the fireplace.
Rolling his charge off the carrier onto the ground he proceeded to drag him inside, trying to ignore the moans of the man as he bumped him up the steps and across the threshold to the waiting mattress.
After seeing to his wound and dressing it as best he could, Carlo sat back to rest and study the man before him. He wasn’t all that old and looked as though he was from the city. No-one he knew wore cloths like the ones this guy had on. And his shoes...er boots, they were fancy and shiny. Carlo couldn’t help but wonder where he came from and where he was going.
Hearing his stomach growl reminded him he was hungry. He better get that rabbit skinned ‘fore it ruined. It was getting on toward evening and Carlo didn’t take to the idea of traveling down that long road after dark, so he decided he would stay there and leave early in the morning, come daylight.
He hoped the fellow would hang on ‘til he got help. Putting the two horses in the makeshift corral out behind the house, Carlo cleaned the rabbit and built a fire in the fireplace. Finding an old syrup bucket, he used it as a stool and watched as the rabbit cooked, its juices popped and spit as they hit the open flames. The odor of the roasting meat filled the little room and the glow from the fireplace cast shadows about the barren walls. It was spooky, but Carlo was mighty tired from all the activity. Making a hopeless attempt to feed the young man he and Dawg cleaned up every last bit of it, then snuggled in his blanket before the fire and fell into a deep sleep. He figured Dawg could handle the spooks.
He woke to the voice of the injured man calling out in a weak voice.
“Boy, do you have some water?”
Grabbing up his canteen, he hurried to the man’s side, opened it and held it to his mouth. The man drank thirstily then fell back to the mattress.
“I’m going for my Pa. He’ll help you.”
“How far do you have to go? Will it be long?”
“He’s in Portersville.”
The young mans eyes widened and he whispered, “That’s my home. My name is Sam Porter. The town is named for my grandfather.”
Carlo studied him skeptically, then said, “You don’t look like nobody I ever seen around here in them fancy cloths.”
The boy gave a weak laugh. “I’ve been away at school for a long time.” He closed his eyes and was very quiet, Carlo was afraid he had passed out when he whispered, “Go quickly and hurry. I am very weak.”
Carlo jumped up grabbing his hat. “I’ll be back quick as I can...Sam.”
Sam opened his eyes and the corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. He waved as Carlo left the room. Rushing to his horse he saddled up, then turned to Dawg who was patiently waiting and said. “You Stay here Dawg and look after Sam. I’ll be back.”
Dawg’s ears perked up and he cocked his head to one side, he wanted to go with Carlo but when he moved to follow, Carlo said again “Stay.” Reluctantly he lay down on his stomach and watched him ride away.
Carlo liked the young man, even if he did sound different and wear weird looking cloths. He knew he better hurry and get him some help and he set off at a gallop.
He had been away from home for two nights and he figured he was in for a licking for running away but he would just have to take his licks if he was gonna help his new friend, Sam.
He hardly slowed down except to let Tony get a drink and cool down some. It was nearing suppertime when he rode through the gate to the farm. He saw his Pa walking from the barn to the house, so he was pretty sure Mama had supper ready.
He took off his hat and waving it went whooping and hollering down the road. Pa stopped and shading his eyes against the sun, watched him ride in. Reining up, he slid to a halt in front of him and jumped down. He felt a thrill at seeing his Pa, even knowing he was in trouble.
Hat in hand he stood before him, “Pa...”
“Where ya been boy?” His voice was gruff, but he didn’t sound mad, in fact Carlo thought he looked glad to see him.
“Pa, there’s a boy back down the road a ways that’s hurt real bad, he’s been shot. He said Portersville is named after his grandpa. His name is Sam, I told him you would help him.” He ended breathlessly, a question in his voice.
“Young Sam Porter? Where is he, boy?” He asked turning back toward the barn, “How did you happen to find him?”
“I saw it all Pa.” he said as he followed him into the gloom of the barn and grabbing up harnesses they headed for the horses to hitch a team to the wagon.
”Which way did you come? I will head in that direction; you ride on into town, go to the Porter’s house and roust them out, then follow after me and show us where he is.” Climbing onto the wagon-seat he added, “Go tell your Mother you’re home and where we’re going, then get to town.”
Carlo was mighty glad he was going in and could grab a handful of biscuits before he climbed back on Tony.
“Ma I’m home.” He called coming into the kitchen. Ma almost dropped the gravy bowl. She sat it down and held out her arms, tears forming in her eyes. She pulled him close and held him. He was ashamed he made her cry. Turning him loose she stepped back and looked him up and down.”You alright Carlo?” she asked softly, he nodded. “Why did you go and do a thing like that to your Pa? He has been sick with worry.” She went on in a stern voice. “Just you wait young man, you are in trouble.”
“Pa knows I’m here Ma, there’s a boy hurt and Pa has gone to help him. I’m ta go get the Porters and take them along, it’s their boy Sam.”
“Sammie?” she asked in surprise.
How come everyone seemed to know who he was but himself, Carlo wondered. Grabbing up a chicken leg and a big fluffy biscuit he hurried from the kitchen.
“Tell Miz Porter I’ll be right in, Carlo.” She called after him as she took off her apron and reached for her hat. He climbed astride Tony and headed for Portersville.
It was only a mile into town and Carlo lost no time in getting there. He had never had reason to go to the Porters fine home on Cedar Hill. He hesitated at the gate seeing the imposing lion statues on either side of the front door. Gathering up his courage he walked boldly forward and rapped on the brass knocker. Expecting Mr. Porter to open the door, and knowing exactly what he was going to say, he was taken back when he looked into the blue eyes of a girl his own age. He stood there struck dumb. She was the prettiest girl he had ever seen in all his born days.
“Yes?” her voice was like a silver bell. He stared.
“Yes?” she asked for the second time. Coming to his senses he grabbed off his hat and swallowing hard he said with a swagger he didn’t really feel,”I’m here to see Mr. Porter.”
On hearing a voice in the background she turned calling out,”It’s a boy to see you father.” She stood aside and a large man stepped to the door.
Looking at first one and the other while twisting his hat in his hands he said, “It’s your boy, Sam, he is hurt and my Pa has gone to help him and sent me for you.” Mr. Porter just stood there looking at him.
“You’re to come with me, quick like.” He added.
“Who are you, and how do you know Sam?” He questioned.
“My name is Carlo Duncan. We live on Dobbins Road.” he explained anxiously, “We got to hurry. My Pa took the wagon and we have to catch up. Sam got shot.”
“Shot! Boy do you know what you are talking about?” He said in shocked surprise. “What makes you think it was Sam?”
“He told me that was his name and that he was on his way home from school.” Carlo worried; he never expected to be doubted by Sam’s father.
Mr. Porter studied him; he seemed suddenly to decide he was telling the truth, much to Carlos relief. “I’ll get my coat and hat.” he said and turning found his young daughter standing there wringing her hands with tears in her eyes.
“Cindy, get your Mother while I saddle my horse,” he said as he followed Carlo out the door. Carlo stopped, and looking at the girl said,
” Ma said tell your ma she would be here directly.” He told the tearful girl. He saw Mr. Porter pause and look at him again, then nod his head.
Once on the road there was no chance for any conversation. Carlo worried ole Tony might be getting too tired to keep up the pace but the sturdy little horse seemed to get his second wind and had no problem keeping up with the big brown, Mr. Porter rode.
They soon caught up to Pa and he explained what Carlo had told him about finding Sam. At Pa’s suggestion, when he discovered they still had a ways to go, Carlo tied Tony to the wagon and crawled onto it’s bed and went to sleep thinking of Sam’s blue-eyed sister. Her name is Cindy, he marveled. He sure hoped Sam was still alive.
The barking of a dog woke him. It was Dawg raising cane at the intruders coming near the house. Aside from Dawg, there was no sign of life, the house was dark. Carlos hopes sank. Carlo called out to Dawg as he growled and threatened Pa and Mr. Porter.
”Here Dawg.” jumping from the wagon bed Carlo held out his arms. Dawg hesitated only briefly, then ran to him circling and jumping up. “Good boy. Settle down now.” He roughed his hair and put his arms around him as he waited to see what they found inside.
“Carlo, pick up the blankets we’re bringing him out.” Pa called. Carlo watched as they came out, Sam’s father carried him like a child and Pa, handing Carlo the lantern, placed the mattress in the wagon. Sam gave Carlo a wan smile as his Dad put him in the back and covered him with the quilts Pa had brought along. He was pale in the dim light and Carlo, relieved he was still alive, climbed in to ride along with him.
“Come on Dawg.” he said motioning for the mutt to jump into the wagon.
“Whoa, Whose dog is that?” Pa asked.
“He’s my dog, Pa. Is it okay? Can I keep him?”
“We’ll see.” He said as he climbed into the wagon and started for Portersville, Mr. Porter riding close behind kept an eye on his boy. Dawg snuggled next to Carlo as they rocked and bounced down the rough road. Soon the motion lulled them both to sleep.
Next he knew they were stopping in front of Mr. Porters House. The eastern sky was showing light as Sam’s Mother rushed out the door and down the steps with Carlos Mother close behind. To his disappointment Carlo didn’t see anything of the blue-eyed sister. In a few minutes a darkfaced man went scurrying from the house and down the road after the doctor.
Carlo and Dawg stayed in the wagon. The doctor came back with the dark man in a buggy and hurried inside. Soon Pa and Ma came out and they headed out Dobbins road. He heard Pa telling Ma that Sam had been way-layed and robbed and if it hadn’t been for Carlo and Dawg finding him he would have died alongside the road. Carlo had a glad feeling that warmed him through and through when thinking he saved Sam’s life. Pulling into the yard at the house, Ma climbed down from the wagon.
“We got chores to do Boy.” Pa sounded tired. Carlo figured he would do most of the work; it had been a long night.
Putting away the team and wagon Pa eyed Dawg. “If he messes with the chickens or the stock he’ll have to go, understand that. He is you’re responsibility.” Having said that, Carlo figured he meant he could keep him for his own.
That afternoon the dark-skinned man Carlo had seen that morning come to the farm with a letter and gave it to Pa, then left. Pa studied it and handed it to Ma. It was really a letter for Carlo. They read it to him at suppertime.
Mr. Porter wanted to thank him for what he did for Sam and thanked Pa for being such a good friend and neighbor. He offered Carlo the opportunity to go to school with his son in the fall, all expenses paid. He hoped he would consider it, kinda like a reward for being nice and saving Sam’s life. Carlo didn’t think he had done all that much, but he would think on going to school. He liked the idea of being friends with Sam, which meant he could see Cindy sometimes.
All in all it had been quite an adventure, he found a dog, made a new friend, and met a pretty blue eyed girl, and he owed it all to Anna...and the pin.
He studied his sister across the supper table, ‘Miss Uppity Anna’ he called her to himself. He smiled, she looked up seeing him, she narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
He laughed. He was home.
© 2008 Bodrury