When James Anderson washes up onto a river bank out in the middle of nowhere, two down-on-your-luck drifters face a dilemma. Do they leave him or take the responsibility of hauling the boy with them on their way to Texas?
The ride south from the Kansas Territory with the two would-be cowboys is a journey James will never forget. Do these men mean him harm? Where will he live? And, what is expected of him?
His only thoughts are to be reunited with his family whose covered wagon is headed to California. If James earns enough money to buy his own horse, can he find them? Or is he doomed to be saddled with these two quarrelsome cowboys for a lifetime? This is one challenging adventure that will change his life forever.
Treble Heart Books
BOUND FOR TEXAS
Kansas Territory, 1849
William Darrah Regan rode up to the bank of Deer Creek, dismounted, and dropped the reins to his horse and supply mule.
“Hey, Chat. Would you look at that? There’s a kid laying on the muddy bank down there. Looks like he’s hanging onto a piece of wood.”
Chatton Darrah Prescott slid from his saddle and made his way down the soft, slippery bank to the water’s edge. The mud kissed the back of his long legged, gray woolen trousers and covered the tops of his work boots, making a sucking sound as he made his way toward the boy.
“Is he alive?” Regan asked, straining to get a better view of the body without falling into the mud pit below.
“Don’t know. Can’t tell. He’s pretty beat up.”
The boy lay face down, his cheek resting on a short log, his arm draped over the wood. His torso bobbed up and down with each lap of the water slapping against the bank. Pieces of his ripped shirt were still attached to his shoulder and arm. Brown hair, plastered to his head, covered one side of his face. Only his dark, muddy trousers and unlaced boots were intact.
Prescott squatted next to the body, turned him over onto his back in the gooey mire. The kid moaned.
He jumped to his feet. “Jeez, he’s alive.” He lifted the boy in his arms and hugged him to his chest. As he scrambled up the bank, mud caked his blue shirt. Prescott lifted the boy up over the edge of the bank and laid him on the grass at Regan’s feet. Then he climbed up the bank to join his partner.
Regan removed his hat, and wiped his face with his red kerchief. “What’ll we do with him?” He ran his hand through his short-cropped, blonde hair and then replaced the cloth in the crown of his hat and plopped it on his head.
“We can’t just leave him out here.” Chatton Prescott looked across the horizon, shielding his eyes from the sun, searching for some form of life. “I don’t see anyone around. What’s a little kid doing way out here? He can’t be more than eight or nine. I wonder how he got down here in Deer Creek.”
“He probably fell in upstream somewheres. Maybe in one of them big rivers north of here. ” A scowl filled William Regan’s face. Turning his head, he spit, then wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his faded flannel shirt. “We can’t take ۥim with us. I don’t know anything about taking care of a kid.”
Prescott pursed his brows. “Well, we sure in hell ain’t leaving him here. We’ll take him to the next town we come to.”
“That could be in Missoura.”
Grabbing the reins, Prescott climbed into the saddle. “No, we’ll find somebody around the Neosho River before we cross the border. Hand him to me.”
Regan looked dubious, first at his partner and then at the kid. “You want me to hand him to you?”
“Are you deaf, you whoremonger? Pick him up and give him to me. He won’t bite ya.”
Regan raised his arms in the air. “Can’t believe this.” Then he wiped the back of one hand across his forehead, tilting his hat back. He hesitated for a moment, then bent down and picked the lad up with an awkward motion, slipping one arm under the child’s knees and another under his shoulders, holding him away at arm’s length.
“Don’t act like he’s gonna puke on you,” Prescott growled. “And don’t drop him. Sometimes you’re a worthless piece of crap.”
“I don’t want to get my shirt dirty.” Regan held the boy closer to his chest. Suddenly, the boy groaned and flopped his head against Regan’s shoulder.
“Sonofagun, he moved.” He stepped around in a circle, not knowing what to do with the body in his arms.
“You mule headed idiot, he’s alive and probably hurting. Hold still.” Chatton Prescott reached down and pulled the lad’s limp body up onto his saddle in front of him, holding him with one arm as the lad’s legs dangled free.
“Let’s ride. We need to find a place to get him some help,” Prescott called over his shoulder. “You keep the supply mules together. I’ll take care of the kid.”
“All the time, you do this and you do that. I should have left you in Tennessee," William Regan grumbled as he mounted his horse. Setting off in a trot, he shouted to his partner, “What we don’t need right now is a kid. I smell trouble.”
“You always smell trouble. What harm can he cause?”
“What harm can he cause? Like the time in Westport with the blonde floozy. Almost got us shot by that gambler who just happened to be her husband.”
“What’s that got to do with the kid? Besides, that wasn’t my fault. You’re the one who grabbed her butt cheeks. Not me. I was trying to ease things over.”
“Right. Ease things over.”
“Do you have to repeat everything I say?”
“Ah, shut up. You’re babbling worse than that blonde.”
Regan continued to complain. “You know, he might have cholera or some other disease.”
Prescott tried to ignore his partner. Finally he replied, “He’s not sick, he’s hurt.”
“Maybe somebody threw him away. “
“Will, you’re a dumb ass. No one throws a kid away. Did your mother throw you away?”
“Probably should have.” Regan urged his horse forward with a kick of his heels and pulled on the pack mule line.
Later toward nightfall, they rode into a small settlement with a sign stuck in the ground along the side of the road. The name, Smithsville, Kansas, was painted in uneven letters. Five buildings and one tent lined the camp’s street. A boarding house, three saloons, and a makeshift sheriff’s office stood on one side of the dry goods store. Two saloons were jumping with piano music and women’s voices singing bawdy songs. Lanterns hung from the ceiling’s beams, casting shadows through the open windows along the wooden plank porch. Outside the saloons, horses tied to the rails of the hitching posts whickered and shifted positions as the men rode past.
Dodging three drunks who staggered into their path, Regan and Prescott reined up in front of the sheriff’s office.
“Here, you grab hold of the kid so I can get down,” Prescott said.
Regan dismounted, strolled over, and looked at his partner.
“You gonna help me or not?” Prescott snapped.
“I’m thinkin’.” Finally he reached up and took hold of the boy, throwing him over his shoulder.
“Easy, he’s not a sack of flour.” Prescott dismounted and curled the reins around the hitching rail.
The lad gagged and vomited down Regan’s back.
“Ah, dang. He puked all over my shirt. Here, he’s all yours. I’m gonna smell like an old slut in one of them there whorehouses.”
“Hate to tell you this, Will. With no bath the last month or two, you already do.”
“Well, you don’t smell any better. Maybe I need to investigate one of them there saloons. Maybe one of them fancy bordellos with a bath.”
“Fancy? You’ve been away from St. Louie too long. Don’t go wandering off till we get a doctor for this kid.”
Shoving open the sheriff’s door, Chatton Prescott entered the small room and laid the boy on the desk.
Startled, the sheriff woke up, jumped up out of his chair, and reached for his gun. “What in do you think you’re doing? What’s that stink?”
William Regan backed up against the door, ready for a fast retreat.
Prescott nodded his head. “Evening. We found this kid in the creek about a few miles back. He needs a doc.”
The sheriff holstered his gun and placed his fists on his hips, glaring at the two men. “Well, this ain’t the doc’s office. It’s down the street past the next two buildings. Get that boy off my desk and get out of here. One of you needs to take a bath.”
Prescott hesitated for a moment.
“I said, now. You might want to stop in at Mandy’s Last Chance Saloon. It’s across the street. You’ll find Doc Thixton there.”
Regan smiled and cocked his head to one side. “I’ll go get him.”
“I’m sure you will,” Prescott said. “Don’t grab a drink or stay long.”
Regan removed his hat and placed it over his heart as he raised his hand in an honest gesture. Then he grinned.
“Oh, sure.” Prescott picked up the boy and headed outside.
“The sheriff is none too friendly.”
“Don’t worry about him,” Prescott said. “Just bring my horse and mule with ya after ya find the doc,” he called over his shoulder, walking in the opposite direction in search of the office.
Regan grabbed the reins and strolled in the direction of Mandy’s saloon. Trailing the animals behind him, he hummed an Irish tune his pap had taught him before the old man had up and left.
He threw the reins over the railing. Taking off his shirt, he doused it in the horse trough, scraped the vomit against the wood, and wrung the material tight. Redressing, he tucked the wet shirt into his pants, wiped the mud off his boots on the step scraper and dusted his trousers with his hat. It was the best he could do on short notice. Besides, he was on a mission, but first, one tiny drink wouldn’t hurt. He shot a quick glance down the street, hopped up onto the planked porch, and disappeared through the red swinging doors.
At the corner of the last saloon, now vacant and desolate, Prescott found a sign nailed to the wall, Doctor David Thixton. An arrow pointed to the back of the building and around the corner. When he reached the door, he managed to turn the knob with two fingers and shove it open with his body.
Inside, darkness surrounded him. No light shone through the solitary window. He shuffled his feet across the floor until he bumped into a table. Laying the lad down, he groped down and around until he found a kerosene lamp and Lucifer matches. Soon shadows danced about the room as the flame flickered and then settled down to burn slowly. Only the bare necessities lined the two wall shelves: several different sized bottles of fluid, four small stacks of folded cloth, and a goodly amount of dust. On the other wall, a medicine cabinet with glass doors housed bandages and an assortment of medical tools. No desk, only a wooden table and two chairs. Not knowing what critters might be afoot, Prescott closed the door.
The boy moaned again, catching his attention. Prescott approached the table and brushed a few straggly pieces of stiff brown hair from the boy’s forehead. The kid needed a bath to remove all the mud, but that would have to wait.
Where are your parents, boy? You got a name? How come you ended up in the creek? That’s no place for a young’un to be. Prescott had a lot of questions that needed answering.
When the doctor arrived, he shoved the door open, banging it against the wall. “This better be good. I had a winning hand.” Then his gaze settled on the small form occupying the table.
“Who’s that? Yours?” The doc eyeballed Prescott.
Regan stepped inside behind the doctor. “Not mine. He found him,” he said, pointing toward Chat.
“Found him? Where?” The doctor threw his hat on a chair and began rolling up his sleeves as he approached the table.
“He washed up in Deer Creek a few miles back,” Prescott replied. He was getting tired of that explanation, but it was all he had at the moment. “Don’t know his name.”
Doc Thixton examined the boy’s head, lifting his hair to check for lacerations. He ripped the solitary piece of shirt from the kid’s body and probed his chest and stomach area. Then he ran his hands over the boy’s arms and legs. “He seems to be fine. Nothing broken that I can see. From the knot on his forehead I’d say it looks like he hit his head hard.”
The lad groaned, opened his eyes, and stared for a moment.
“How ya doing, son?” The doc checked his eyes.
The boy nodded and then fell back to sleep.
“Probably had a good crack on the head.” The doctor pointed to Regan. “Get him out of these wet trousers and boots. No telling how long he was in the water.”
“Ya mean undress ‘im?” Regan stepped back like a cornered animal.
“How do you expect to get his clothes off without undressing him? The boy doesn’t have the plague.” The doctor turned to Prescott. “Is your partner daft or just hard of hearing?”
“He’s a bit addled sometimes,” Prescott said.
“You talkin’ about me?” Regan puffed up his chest, like a cocky Bantam rooster looking for a fight. Even though he was at least six inches shorter than Prescott, he knew how to hold his own.
Tired and hot as a lizard on a desert rock, Prescott was in no mood to deal with Regan’s pride tonight. “Help me get the boy undressed. He ain’t gonna hurt ya.”
As Regan lifted the lad, he opened his eyes and grabbed the man’s shirt with both fists. “Hey, turn me loose, you little varmint.” Regan dropped the boy onto the table and leaped back about four feet. “I ain’t gonna help. He’s loco.”
Prescott rolled his eyes. “He’s as harmless as a pet rabbit.”
“Some rabbit,” Regan mumbled.
Once the trousers lay on the floor in a heap next to the boots, the doctor laid the lad on a blanket. After pouring tepid water into a metal basin, he gently washed the grime from the boy’s body.
“Is there anything you can do for him?” Prescott asked. “He’s gonna live, ain’t he?”
“He’s gonna be fine. I’ll sit with him tonight. You two go get yourselves a room over at the boarding house. Come back in the morning. I’ll have more news for you then.”
The next morning Chat Prescott and Will Regan each grabbed a mug of coffee and a couple of biscuits before hightailing it over to the doc’s office. The boy was sitting up in a chair, sipping from a cup.
Regan stopped dead in his tracks. “Hey, you’re awake. It’s about time.”
“Who are you?” the boy asked, scrunching up his nose and lifting one eyebrow.
“You can call me Regan.”
“I don’t want to call you nothing.”
Regan tousled the boy’s hair. “He’s a spunky little guy.” Then he nudged the lad’s head with the heel of his hand.
Prescott stood in front of the boy. “I’m Chatton Prescott. So, what’s your name, son?”
“James Anderson,” he answered and took another sip.
“Where you from, boy?” the doctor asked.
Prescott smiled. “That’s a long ways from here. What were you doing out in Deer Creek all by yourself, James?”
“I fell off our wagon when we made the crossing of some big river. The water pulled me down and I don’t swim so good. Things kept bumping into me.” James rubbed his head. “I don’t remember much after that. Where’s my mother?”
The three men looked at each other.
“Don’t know, James,” Doc Thixton said. “Right now you’re in Smithsville, Kansas. These men found you and brought you to my office.”
“Right,” Regan said. “We’re on our way to Texas.”
“Well, you can take him along with you in a few minutes,” Thixton said.
“Wait a minute.” Regan bellowed. “We ain’t taking him with us. I’m not watching over no nipper.”
“Ain’t no nipper.” In anger, James threw the tin cup across the room.
“Hold on, son, my partner didn’t mean to say you were,” Prescott said. “He just has trouble with the English language, like making himself understood.” He gave Regan one of those ‘knock-it-off’ looks.
Prescott turned to the doctor. “Doc, we can’t take a kid with us. Why, we got a long way to go to travel deep into Texas. We’re ranch hands, looking for a place to hang our hats. We don’t know much about taking care of kids.”
“You cannot leave him here. This is a small camp, mostly gamblers and prostitutes. Why, the saloon ladies bare more skin than an Indian in a loincloth. Don’t even have a church or school in Smithsville. No one here will take him in. You two seem the most likely candidates to raise this young'un.” The doctor patted James’ back. “He’d make a fine ranch hand. Wouldn’t ya, son?”
James beamed at the two drifters. “Yep, I can even ride a horse.”
“That’s all we need is a dangler.” Regan gritted his teeth, crossed his arms and stared at Prescott.
“How much trouble can he be?”
“How much trouble can he be?” Regan mimicked. “We’ll take ’im into this here camp. Everything will be fine.” He threw his arms up. “Now we’re saddled with this scrawny bag of bones.”
Prescott glared at Regan. Then he asked Doc Thixton, “When do you think he can travel?”
“As soon as he gets himself dressed. I picked up a few articles of clothing from Miss Moses, who cleans the saloons. She lost her young son last year. You feed this boy some breakfast. In a few days, he’ll be fine.”
“Will, go buy a horse.”
“With our money?”
Prescott punched Regan’s arm. “Don’t think anyone is going to give you one, do you? Now get this kid a horse and meet us back at the boarding house. They’re still serving breakfast. We’ll eat first, then hit the trail.”
Regan grumbled to himself as he headed outside.
Prescott helped James get dressed. “If you’re hungry, let’s go get us some warm grub.”
“Well, son, guess you’re going to Texas,” Doc Thixton said.