This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 830 words.
Daddy moved quicker than a snake, whipping that heavy old ladle across the fire, and smacking it into the woman’s hand. As the pistol flew from her grasp, it fired with a loud crack, and a big flash in the dark. Bringing his arm back across, daddy struck that ladle hard against the side of her head before she could dodge it, and she fell over to her left side, groaning. Then he turned and yelled at me. “Phin, get the small rope bundle from the wagon, quick now!” As I pulled the rope out from its spot, I could see that the old ox was on its knees, and making a funny sound in its throat. I ran back with the rope. “Daddy, it’s the ox, I think it’s hurt bad”.
He ignored me, and started to tie the woman’s legs together with the rope, threading it up along her back to fasten her hands too. “Pick up that pistol, boy. She ain’t getting it back”. When she was unable to move her feet or hands, daddy hauled her over close to the wagon, and tied her sitting up against the back wheel. She was still groaning some, but her eyes were open. I stretched out my hand to pass the pistol to him, and he shook his head. “You keep that. It’s yours now. Let’s go look at the ox”.
He lit the oil lamp so we could see behind the wagon. The ox was bleeding from a hole in the side of its neck, and didn’t seem able to stand. Daddy was furious. “Goddam our luck, boy, that stray shot’s gone and done for him. Get me the rifle, and I’ll put him out of his misery”. I scampered up to the wagon seat, and reached under where we kept the valuable rifle. Daddy put it close to the ox’s head, right between its eyes, and fired. Then daddy turned to me again. “Climb up in back and get my skinning knives, and fetch some of those muslin squares. You know where they are?” I nodded.
For the next hour or so, he butchered the best parts of the ox, handing the bloody chunks of meat to me to wrap in the muslin. Then he decided there was no point taking more, as it would turn in the warm weather anyway. He cut the rope that had secured the animal to the back of the wagon, and threw it inside. “We can leave the rest for the critters and birds”. We washed our hands with water from the small creek nearby, and daddy said we should get some sleep. I nodded at the wide-eyed woman. “What about her?” He walked over and ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom of her dress, wrapping it tight around her mouth. “She can set there, and think herself lucky she ain’t dead”.
When we got settled under the wagon, I looked at the pistol. Daddy pulled the pipe from his mouth, and nodded at the gun in my hand. “That’s a good Colt fourty-four, a nice four-inch barrel too. Easy to fit in a coat pocket, as we found out. Reckon she must have stole that from some poor fool, maybe even shot him with it. You be careful with that now, Phin, don’t play around with it”.
At first light, daddy took off her gag, and gave her some water. Her dress was wet, where she had been unable to hold herself. She was bold, that was for sure. “Mister, why don’t you take me along? I can cook real good, and make you warm and happy at night. You can keep my pistol, and if you share with me, I promise I won’t do you down no more”. Daddy told me to fetch some of the hard biscuit, and a lidded can full of water. Then he walked it a hundred feet or so away from the wagon. “Phin, you come and untie her, while I cover her with the rifle”. As I pulled the ropes free, he spoke sternly to her. “Now lady, you can get up and start walking. There’s biscuit and water you can take if you want it, and you can keep your bundle too. I want to see you turn east on the trail, and if I see you again in my direction this morning, it ain’t gonna turn out good for you, y’hear?”
She rubbed her legs and hands where the ropes had been tight, and got herself up slowly. “Just doing what I needed, you must know that, mister”. Daddy ignored her, and flicked the barrel of the rifle toward the trail. “You get now, and like I said, don’t let me see you again”. Grabbing the bundle, she walked off, stopping to pick up the biscuit and water. Daddy followed her most of the way to the trail and stood watching for a while until she had turned the bend.