Jody had seen the two silhouetted figures a hundred or so feet above them just before they fired. Now they had dropped out of sight. He took careful aim. When he saw a head come up he pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off the rock face with a sharp buzzing whine. The head disappeared again.
A moment later, two silhouettes appeared. They were running hard in the same direction the ferry was going. Three more shots rang out. Charles jerked down and felt a soft puff of wind brush his cheek. The other two shots kicked up water.
Jody and Lem fired simultaneously, but again their two assailants had dropped out of sight. “Keep rowing! Keep rowing!” Hall bellowed. With bullets zinging all around them and horses snorting and jerking their heads wildly, it was hard to keep the boat angling toward the shore. This time Lem didn’t wait for their assailants to reappear. He fired twice more. Jody had dropped to one knee to steady himself. At the sign of the slightest movement, he fired off another round.
For the next minute or two—which seemed like forever to the five men on the boat—the firefight continued. But Lem’s and Jody’s answering fire was so fierce and so consistent that their enemies had no time to aim. One bullet hit the prow of the boat, but the rest splashed harmlessly in the water.
“We’re almost there,” Hall shouted. “And we’re gonna need every hand to get the boat beached and the horses off.”
Lyman was reloading his rifle and merely grunted. When he was done, he took two quick steps and leaped off the prow of the boat. He landed in two feet of water and almost went down. Scrambling wildly, he was up on the shore in a moment. Again he dropped to one knee and began firing, slowly, methodically, and with deadly aim.
Lem darted forward to the front of the boat and slid back the pole that kept the horses enclosed. With no more need to steer the boat, Charles Hall let the rudder go and jumped forward. He slapped the nearest horse hard on the rump. “Hee-yaw! Git!” Eager to be off the un-steady ferry, the horses lunged forward and jumped off, one after the other. Hall’s brother quickly loosed the five horses tied at the back, and they struck out immediately for the shore.
They were still under fire from the cliff top, but Jody was keeping them pinned down enough that nothing was coming very close. Then suddenly, Charles Hall was hollering. He was behind the boat, waist-deep in water, leaning into the ferry. “The current’s taking it,” he yelled. “Help! I need help!”
The four men leaped to the task. Hy and Lem jumped into the water to join Charles. His brother leaped onto shore and started heaving on the rope. The boat slowed, but not enough. The back was still swinging around.
“Jody,” Hy yelled. “Give us a hand.”
Jody fired off one last shot and then raced to help on the rope. Heaving and pulling, yelling at one another and puffing like winded buffalos, they finally got the blunt nose of the boat up on shore enough that it halted the back end from swinging around. With the exception of Jody, the men collapsed. Remembering the other danger, Jody ran toward where he had dropped his rifle.
It had taken less than thirty seconds to beach the boat, but that was enough. When Bob Paxman popped up for another shot, he was surprised that there was no answering fire. He stood and saw one figure clearly running away from the boat. This time he took careful aim and fired. BLAM!
The bullet hit Jody in the femur just above the knee, shattering the bone. His leg was knocked out from under him, and he went down hard. Clutching his leg, rolling over and over, he screamed in agony. Lem Redd had his pistols out and was firing blindly at the cliffs, but it was too late. A man was down.
The five of them waited in the willows until it was dark. They cushioned Jody’s leg as much as possible and bathed his face with a wet cloth. Hy hovered over him and covered his mouth if he started to moan too loudly. The two horse thieves had come down from the cliffs and were across the river from them. Their voices floated to them in the night. They called across that they were willing to make a deal. The five men knew that was a ploy and said nothing. Eventually everything was quiet.
There would be a sliver of a moon in a couple of hours, but for now all they had was starlight. Lem Redd finally called them in close together and told them they could wait no longer. They had to get Jody back to Bluff or he would die. Grimly, the four men gave him a priesthood blessing and then prepared to leave.
Moving stealthily, they rounded up the horses. They wrapped Jody’s leg as tightly as they dared and then lifted him onto his horse. He gave one piercing scream of agony and fainted. They all ducked down, expecting to draw fire from across the river, but nothing came. There was no way that Jody could stay on a horse, so Lem climbed up behind him. They bade soft farewells to the Hall brothers and then started out. Again, there was no response from the two rustlers.
By the time they had gone eight miles, Jody could bear no more. As gently as they could, they lowered him off the saddle and laid him on a bedroll. As soon as Jody was somewhat comfortable, Hy took two of their three canteens and headed east, taking Paxman’s horse as an extra mount. His task was to cover the almost hundred miles to Bluff and return with help to take Jody home. Or to take his body, which was a very real possibility.
As he watched Hyrum disappear into the darkness, Lem Redd had little hope. Even with two horses, it would take two days for Hyrum to reach Bluff and then another two at the least to make it back. The leg was starting to swell, and Lem sensed that the unbearable pain was sapping Jody’s strength with frightening rapidity.
Shortly after sunup, Lem knelt beside Jody’s still form and checked for a pulse. He didn’t notice when Jody’s eyes flickered open. “Am I dead?” he croaked. Then, be-fore Lem could respond, he shook his head. “Can’t be. You’re too ugly to be an angel.”
Lem hooted. “I surely ain’t no angel!” Then he sobered. “The leg’s bad, Jody. Maybe swollen to twice what it ought to be. Had to slit your pant leg open to give it room.”
“My wife won’t like that.” He managed a wan grin.
“We’re nearly out of water,” Lem went on. “I’ll get you comfortable, and then I’m going to have to walk down to Lake Gulch. There’s water there. But it’s seven or eight miles round-trip. You be all right for that long?”
There was another effort to smile. “I got a longing to dance some, but I reckon I can resist it.” Jody closed his eyes. Even that much effort was too much for him.
Taking the bedroll from Dickson’s horse, Lem stretched a blanket between two of the bushes to create some shade for Jody. Then, using the last of their water to dampen a cloth, he laid it over the ghastly wound to keep off the flies. Satisfied that this was the best he could do, he murmured a farewell—which Jody did not hear—and set off at a rapid walk.
It took him over four hours to make the seven-mile trip. Cowboy boots made for a miserable walk, and he had blisters by the time he returned. Jody was conscious, but barely. Lem bathed the wound, which was now a bright, angry red around the torn flesh. The pain was so excruciating that Jody passed out again before he finished. Lem covered the wound again and settled down to wait. And again he bowed his head and prayed for his friend.
By morning, the leg was three times its normal size. Jody’s face was a ghastly gray-green, and his forehead was hot to the touch. When Lem removed the cloth from the wound to wet it again, he gasped and rocked back. Two thirds of the leg was a fiery red now. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The shattered flesh was crawling with a dozen or more maggots. Breathing through his mouth in quick, shallow breaths, Lem picked the maggots out as best he could and ground them underfoot. Then he forced some water into Jody’s mouth and bathed his face, trying not to look at the bucket, which was nearly empty again. When he finished, he bowed his head. The prayer was simple and short. “O God, do not let this good man die.”
It was about noon of the third day when a sound brought Lem Redd out of a fitful sleep. Jerking up, he looked around wildly, not sure what had awakened him. For one brief moment, his heart swelled with hope. Had Hy somehow made it back already? But that hope was dashed when he saw who it was. He dropped back down, clawing for his rifle. Utes, Piutes, or Navajo? That was the first question that flashed into his mind. It made a big difference. For the most part the Mormons had established good relations with the Navajo. The Utes could be more troublesome but were not in very close proximity to Bluff. If it was Piutes, that could spell real trouble. They were much more unpredictable and so desperately poor that they stole from the Mormons at every opportunity. Normally they were not violent, but there were exceptions to that.
But as the Indians came slowly toward him, Lem let out a long sigh and laid aside the rifle. They were Navajo. And even better, he recognized their leader. It was Pahlilly, a wise, old clan leader who often came to Bluff and who had been treated well by the settlers. Lem got to his feet, raised a hand, and called out, “Yah-ah-tay.” Pahlilly’s hand came up and called back the same greeting.
There were nine of them. The men rode horses, and the women and children walked beside them.
After listening to Lem’s rapid explanation, Pahlilly knelt beside the wounded man, carefully examining the wound. Jody groaned once or twice, but he was too far gone to come back to full consciousness.
The old Navajo grunted as he sat back on his heels. “He very bad. What you do for him?”
“I’m trying to keep the wound clean. Keep the flies off. And the maggots. I don’t know what else to do.”
“Not good,” the old Indian said. He stood up and spoke in rapid Navajo to the nearest brave. Lem knew a little Navajo but didn’t recognize anything he had said except for the final command to hurry. The young man leaped on his horse and kicked it into a gallop, heading back the way they had come.
“He go find prickly pear,” Pahlilly explained. “We make . . .” The wrinkles on his leathery face deepened. He held up both hands and moved them back and forth in a curving motion, as if he were stroking a large ball between them. “For the leg. Help make better.”
A wide smile broke out. “Yah. Poultice.” He looked down at the bucket. “Need more water. Where you get?”
Turning and pointing to the south, Lem answered. “Lake Gulch. There’s a small spring there. It’s a long ways, but I can go and—”
He stopped. Pahlilly was shaking his head and clucking his tongue. “Bilagáana,” he said, half in amusement, half in disgust. It was the Navajo word for white men. It wasn’t a compliment. Pahlilly turned to the other brave and spoke rapidly. The man grabbed the bucket, dumped what little water was left in it, and took off at an easy run in the opposite direction of Lake Gulch.
Lem turned to Pahlilly in dismay. “The spring in Lake Gulch is closer than the Colorado River.”
Pahlilly’s grin widened. “You wait. You see. Pahlilly teach bilagáana.”
To Lem’s amazement, ten minutes later the man reappeared, walking this time and loaded down with a full bucket of water. The old Navajo laughed aloud at Lem’s expression. “Red rocks not so far as Lake Gulch.” He pointed.
Lem had noticed the long but low outcropping of red sandstone about half a mile away on their first morning, but those were very common out here and he had given them no further thought. For a moment he was puzzled. Then he understood and groaned in disgust. “Water pots.”
Water pots were a common thing in the desert southwest. The same wind and rain that sculpted the soft sandstone into all kinds of fantastic shapes often carved out depressions in the base rock. Some of these were small depressions of various sizes that trapped and held the rain. Some reached four or five feet across and several feet deep. One could find water in these larger ones even in midsummer. Lem felt like kicking himself.
Pahlilly flashed him a grin, shook his head, and said again, with much satisfaction, “Bilagáana.”
As the man brought the water, the other brave returned at a full gallop. Dragging behind him on a rope was a prickly pear plant about the size of a bushel basket. Immediately the women surrounded the plant and went to work. They pulled out the needle--sharp spines with their teeth and then cut the flat, round leaves down the middle so they opened like a book.
Lem was amazed to see the skill with which they worked. When they finished, they brought the leaves to Pahlilly, who carefully laid them across the wound. In a minute or two, he had the whole upper half of Jody’s leg packed in the sticky cactus. The women secured it with strips of rawhide. Jody twitched once or twice during the procedure but did not awaken.
When Pahlilly straightened and stepped back, surveying his work with satisfaction, Lem turned to face him. “Thank you, my friend,” he said with great solemnity. “The Great Spirit sent you to save my companion’s life. You are a true friend to my people.”
Though his expression did not change, the old man’s jet black eyes gleamed with pleasure. “And the people of the Mormons are true friends to the Diné.” He looked down. “He better now. His leg crooked, and he have much pain for many winters. But he not die.”
Lem nodded. “When you return to Bluff Fort, my family would be honored to have you sit in our hogan to break bread together.”
There was another curt nod, but the pleasure in Pahlilly’s eyes deepened even more. “It shall be so,” he said.
And then, just like that, the old Navajo returned to his horse and threw himself onto it. He spoke to his entourage in his native language. Then to Lem he said two words: “We go.”
Lem watched them until they disappeared into a small wash about half a mile away. Then, with a lump in his throat, he bowed his head and dropped to his knees.
Sometime in the middle of the night Lem awoke with a start. He sat up, not sure what had awakened him. A sliver of a moon was up, providing some light. He turned and looked at his patient. To his amazement, Jody Lyman was up on one elbow. “Lem?”
“I’m right here, Jody,” he said, half in shock. “Are you all right?”
Lying back down again, Jody let out a long breath. “My leg. I can’t feel it. Did you have to cut . . . ?” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
“No. A band of Navajo came by. They put a poultice on it. It’s drawing out the poison. The swelling has gone down.” Lem had readjusted the rawhide strips three times now because the swelling was receding so fast. It was astonishing. “But if you can’t feel it, that’s not good.”
In the near darkness, Lem saw Jody reach down and carefully probe his leg with his fingertips. There was a soft gasp, then, “Uh . . . yeah. I can feel it.”
“You’re going to live, Jody. And thanks be to God for that.”
“Gone to Bluff for help. He should be back in a couple more days.”
“Sorry to be so much trouble.”
Reaching out, Lem put a hand on his shoulder. “You done good, Jody. And now you’re gonna be all right. Try to sleep.”
There was a long sigh. “Yeah, I think I will.”
They were quiet for quite a long time, but then Jody spoke again. “Lem?”
“Do you remember what they told us when they called us to come out here?”
“They said a lot. What in particular?”
“The part about us needing to be a buffer between the Indians and the white man.”
“And like shock absorbers on a carriage.”
“Yes, I remember. What of it?”
Jody actually managed a soft laugh. “I think I believe them now.”
Lem laughed right out aloud. To have the man he expected to be dead right now joking about their situation was like a breath of spring in the middle of winter.
Then the wounded man sobered. “How long do you think it will take? To make it all work, I mean. It is gonna all work out, right?”
Lemuel Redd sat back and then finally shook his head. “Dunno. Maybe not in our generation. But maybe our kids will live to see it.”
“Will they be strong enough to stick it out that long?”
“We keep having days like this and I guess they’ll have to be, won’t they?”
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