This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 836 words.
I fixed my belt around daddy’s leg, and he pulled it real tight. I was staring at the wound, and could see the muscle of his leg through the blood. He gritted his teeth, and spoke quietly. “Phin, get the Hawken for me, then go get the wagon and the long rope. I ain’t leaving this hog behind”. I did as he said, running until I thought my lungs would burst. When I got back to him with the rope, he had dragged himself up against a tree, and there was a twig twisted inside the belt around his leg. “Tie the hog’s legs, then fix the rope to the wagon axle. Drive it forward until the hog’s dragged out, then come back for me”. I nodded.
He didn’t look none too good, but I wasn’t about to go against anything daddy told me to do.
Using the long-barrelled Hawken like a crutch, and holding on to me, daddy managed to hop out of the woods, though he fell forward two or three times. I got on the back of the wagon and managed to haul him up onto the boards. He was as white as a clean sheet, and sweating real bad. “Now wrap that rope on the hog around the footboard, and bring the end back here”. With both of us pulling on the rope, we got the hog up level with the wagon. Then I tied off the slack, and jumped out to swing the animal into the back of the wagon next to daddy. He wanted water, then he wanted whiskey. He drunk some, then poured more over his leg, shaking his head and screwing up his eyes at the pain.
“Get us home, Phin. Push the horses”.
The poor mares must have wondered what was going on, as they had never been pushed so hard. I kept going until it was too dark to see the trail, and daddy yelled from the back. “Stop now son, afore we break a wheel or the horses’ legs”. I got a fire going, tended to the hot horses, and then tried to make daddy more comfortable. From the light shining out the oil lamp, I could see the leg was still bleeding, though not as much. I tried to get him to eat something, but he shook his head. Pulling the stick out of the loop, he slackened the belt, and sighed. “More whiskey, son. You eat”.
At first light, daddy woke me from a heavy sleep by calling loudly. “Rouse yourself, Phin, we need to get going. Now!” I got the horses ready, then set off. Daddy called again. “Better not push them all day, boy. Start off slow, then quicken them up after full sunup”. That was one hell of a day. I kept hoping we would see some other people, and I could ask for help. I didn’t stop but once, to help daddy tighten the belt again, and grab a bite for myself sitting next to a stream where I watered the horses without unharnessing them. Without the need to stop and look for game, I kept the wagon going until the horses started to slow up, and the sun was setting.
Daddy called from the back. “That’s enough now. Get a fire started, we’ll be home tomorrow”. I managed to get him to eat some of Mary’s bean and potato soup once it was warm from the fire. He had wrapped a thick cloth around his thigh, then put my belt tight around it. The whiskey was all gone, but he drank down two cans of water like a man with a mighty thirst. That night I lay down between him and the dead hog, and there was no warmth from neither of them.
He was still sleeping when I woke up, and when I shook him, he didn’t come round. I put my cheek against his mouth and could only just feel his breath. Before the sun was breaking through the misty morning, I started to recognise the surroundings, and knew we would soon be near Derby. I pushed those poor mares real hard, and it wasn’t long before I was turning off the trail with our homestead in sight.
With me yelling fit to bust as I approached, Walter came running, followed by Susan and Mary. Walter lifted daddy as if he was a baby, and carried him inside. Mary rushed in to clear the big table, and Susan put her hand on my chest to stop me following. “See to the horses, Phin. Ma knows what to do. Henry’s already left for work, but Walter will be out directly”.
Walter came out later, to help with the deer and the hog. His face was serious. “How’s my daddy, Walter?” I wanted to go in and see him, but the big man shook his head. “Best leave him to Mary, boss. He don’t look too good”. He reached over and touched my shoulder.
“Not good at all”.