The Outlaw – Part 8

The next day, Geoffrey led Ben and Sarah to the edge of Indian territory. Sarah would miss his tall tales about England and other parts of the world she had never heard of. Ben, on the other hand, seemed apathetic at their parting, as if their guide meant nothing to them. But she saw the way the two men exchanged looks, wordlessly communicating something that she couldn’t comprehend.

There was a warm, fatherly wisdom about Geoffrey that Sarah admired and she wasn’t afraid to admit that she grew fond of the man in the short time they had been together. But with the pressing need to find her parents’ murderers still at hand and with his desire to return to his own country, Sarah had no opening for argument.

Sarah and Ben traveled, her on her horse and he trotting alongside her, for a long while. The sound of hoofbeats and shuffling dust was her companion for time being. She didn’t have the courage to talk to Ben anymore. With the image of him devouring the raw meat of the buffalo still fresh in her mind, she had debated asking him to leave her so she could continue this journey alone. He might have been a hard character, capable of protecting her or killing her, but she couldn’t stand the idea of facing the outlaw, Clarence, alone.

“Did you enjoy your time with the natives?” he suddenly asked, his voice steady even while he jogged alongside her horse at a constant pace for miles and miles.

She wasn’t sure how to respond right away, half wondering if he meant to speak to her at all. It was odd of him to initiate conversation this way. “I did. The children were sweet.”

Sarah glanced down and saw his fierce stare fixed ahead of them. “Did you?”

His expression didn’t change, but it took him a while to answer as if he were thinking about the answer. “There was a little girl who came up to me and called me something. I don’t know what she said.”

Sarah remembered this instance and smiled. “I saw that. I asked Geoffrey about it and he said that she called you a wolf. I guess it’s because of your eyes.”

Ben’s brows drew together and his golden eyes turned cold. It was this that told her their conversation was over.

Noon crept up upon them and they stopped for lunch. With their packs full of Indian bread and dried meats, both Sarah and Ben ate their fill and found a creek to water her horse in. After this short break, they began their journey again.

It wasn’t long after they started again that Ben came to a dead stop, letting the dust from Sarah’s horse cloud around him. It took her a moment to realize that he wasn’t following and then turned around. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He was looking all around and sniffing the air as if tracking something. “Cattle. Close by. I can feel the ground tremble with their movements.”

Sarah looked around and listened, but heard nothing and saw nothing. But, that didn’t mean that Ben was lying. She swiveled her head in every direction, turning her horse. “Why have we stopped?”

“I hear men with them. Cattle rustlers perhaps.”

Sarah did not understand his hesitance. If they were cowboys or cattle rustlers and that far off, they should have posed no threat. “Why is that important?”

Ben looked straight ahead, down the path they needed to take to get to Devil’s Rock. “They’re coming our way.”

Sarah was losing her patience. “I still don’t see why that’s an issue. We can just bypass them, right?”

For the first time since they had known each other, Ben looked nervous and she had no idea why. Did he have something against cowboys? Or was it the idea of facing down another group of people that would judge him for his eyes and the obvious intimidation he put off? If Sarah was with him, she could convince the men that he was all right.

Sarah didn’t wait for an answer from him and continued to trot in the direction of Devil’s Rock. Ben lagged behind, but stayed within range of her in case something should happen. If the rustlers were violent, he would intervene.

Sure enough, a herd of brown and white cattle were making their way across the desert. Their mooing and grunting could be heard from the crest in the hill that Sarah and Ben stood upon. They watched as the herd was being controlled by a small team of five men giving shouts and cracking whips at the bulls, calfs, and heifers. There had to be over a hundred and fifty head there.

The herd traveled fairly fast and Sarah dashed out of the way and Ben followed. She noticed how his eyes shifted between the men and the cattle. It was then she realized that he was nervous about encountering the heard for an entirely different reason than she suspected. This was live prey, not a dead rotting carcass baking in the hot sun and swarming with buzzards. This was live quarry and given that there was something entirely wrong with Ben to begin with, this must have been a mighty strong temptation. He might have had the strength to easily take down a young calf or old bull.

Realizing this, Sarah edged closer to Ben and made her own attempts at guiding him away from the rustlers. They might have been able to pass by without incident, but Sarah made the mistake of trying to see if she recognized any of the cowboys.

And she did.

A man with graying temples, the eldest of the group, she recognized as an old friend of her father’s. She reared her horse around and grinned at the first familiar face she’d seen in what seemed like ages. She waved wildly and called out the man’s man. “Mr. Dunn! Mr. Dunn!”

She abandoned Ben and galloped towards the herd, probably spooking some of the cattle in the process but she managed to get Mr. Dunn’s attention. His dusty, dark face, full of wrinkles and sunspots brightened as soon as his old eyes fell upon her. He quickly called for the other men to hold the herd and met her in the space between them.

Sarah leapt from her horse at the same time he did and they embraced. Mr. Dunn spun her around and she giggled like a child when he let her down.

“Sarah, I haven’t seen you in quite a few moons here. How are you? How’s your family?”

Sarah didn’t want to be the one to give the news, but she recounted the tale of her family being murdered by Clarence. Mr. Dunn wasn’t happy at all. If he weren’t such a rough and tumble cowboy, he might have shed a tear. Him and her father went way back.

By now, a few more cowboys had wandered over, including a men about Sarah’s age, if not a little older with sun-bleached blonde hair and bright blue eyes. When Sarah glanced up at him during her story, she found herself dumbstruck by his handsome looks and the way he looked at her so affectionately.

When Mr. Dunn was finished with his condolences, he introduced them all. Henry was the name of the man that seemed to take a liking to Sarah. He hopped down from his horse and took off his hat for her, something that the other men had neglected to do.

“If I may ask, what are you doing way out here in the middle of nowhere, Miss Sarah?” Henry asked, his voice just as gallant and appealing as his looks.

It was then that Sarah remembered Ben and looked behind her. He was off some distance away, but she could still see the way his body was tense and waiting. Mr. Dunn took notice of him as well, but his look was more disapproving than anything.

“I’m out to try and find Clarence and avenge my family. Ben’s helping me.”

“Ben, who?” Mr. Dunn asked warily.

“Ben Myers,” Sarah replied.

One of the men retrieved a pistol from the holster on his hip and cocked the hammer back. Sarah dove in front of him and held up her hand. “No!” she cried. “He’s helping me.”

“I thought Ben Myers was just a campfire story?” Henry asked of the others who had at least a decade of experience against him.

“Myers ain’t no story, boy,” the gun wielder grunted out, spitting a bit of tobacco into the dirt.

“Sarah,” Mr. Dunn said, “How could you enlist this man’s help. Haven’t you heard about him?”

Sarah knew that word of Ben’s reputation might have circulated amongst the rougher crowd, but if he just ate on discarded buffalo carcasses, he was no threat to these men. Maybe just the cattle.

“I met him in a saloon. The sheriff won’t do anything to help me and I was desperate. I hadn’t seen any wanted posters for him yet.”

“That’s because no one ain’t ever caught him in the act. Just rumors. And I don’t like them kinds of rumors.”

Mr. Dunn came up to the trigger happy cowboy and snatched the pistol out of his hand. “If he’s helping Sarah, then there’s a good chance he has good intentions.” He leveled a look at Sarah. “Has he violated you?”

Sarah was taken aback. “No, not in the least. He’s been a bit quiet and he defended me against a man in a saloon when we were asking around for where Clarence hides out.” She paused, assessing whether or not her next statement was true. “He’s a good man.”

The cowboys looked between them and Mr. Dunn finally nodded. “I suppose if he’s been good to you this far, he’ll be good the rest of the way. Where are you two headed?”

“Devil’s Rock,” she said, pointing in the direction they just came from.

“We passed by there some time ago,” Henry said, waddling stiffly up to Mr. Dunn. No doubt sitting in the saddle for hours on end would have made him a little sore. “With your permission, I’d like to break off here and escort the lady to Devil’s Rock. I can lead her there safely and if Ben Myers tries anything funny, I’ll be there.”

The one who was ready to shoot her guide gave a mocking laugh. “You think you’re strong enough to take down a monster, boy?”

Mr. Dunn didn’t look convinced either. “You got your gun?” Henry replied by patting his side iron cased in leather. “Don’t hesitate to use it. I was planning on you taking off over the next day or two, but I suppose now is good a time as any.” Mr. Dunn fished out a wad of paper bills and handed them to Henry. “Here’s your share.”

Henry took it and stuff the money into his side saddle.

“Henry may not be the best body guard, but he’s better than nothing,” Mr. Dunn encouraged.

Sarah sighed. “I don’t need a body guard. I have one,” she complained, motioning back to Ben who was watching and probably hearing their entire conversation.

“All the same, it’ll make me feel better and your father will stop rolling in his grave.” Mr. Dunn made the sign of the cross over his chest and gave Sarah one last bear hug before ordering his men to move out.

Thought Sarah was eager for the chance to get to know Henry, she wished it were under different circumstances. They rode back up the hill to Ben. He pulled down his hat so the rim effectively hid half of his face, just the way she saw him for the first time.

Henry approached him with caution, his gorgeous eyes watching the stranger of myths and legends.

“Ben, this is Henry. He’s going to show us the way to Devil’s Rock.”

“I already know the way,” Ben grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest, do doubt trying to show he was still in control here.

“We just came from that direction last evening and the canyon valley is a prime spot for ambush. You’ll need my help.”

Ben’s lips pulled up in a snarl and Sarah couldn’t understand why he was being so difficult. “Henry is doing this as a favor for me. I asked him to come along.”

“No, you didn’t,” Ben growled. The breath was stolen from her lungs and Sarah had her horse pad a few steps backward. “He’s here to make sure I don’t kill you. I appreciate lies just as much as I appreciate upstart cowboys who just want to hike up a lady’s skirt.”

Henry pulled his gun. “Watch your mouth, Myers.”

Ben lifted his head and glared with his golden eyes. Henry didn’t show any change in emotion and the two stared each other down for what seemed like hours. Finally, Ben broke away and began walking in the direction of Devil’s Rock.

“We’ve wasted time already,” he called back. “We’ll need to camp once more before nightfall and we can be there by tomorrow afternoon.”

Henry sheathed his gun once more, but kept the hammer pulled back for a quick draw if he needed it. They followed him on their horses, keeping a fair distance behind Ben, allowing for them to talk. The cattle herd moved on in the opposite direction, leaving the three travelers to resume their course to find Clarence.

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