Requiem for Lost Souls
Randy Lee Eickhoff
Hell hath no limits nor is circumscribed,
In one self place, where we are is Hell
He is old and nightmares invade most of his sleep. Tonight is no exception as he awakens early in the morning beside the ash-covered embers of his campfire, trembling from the familiar nightmare. The ground in West Texas is covered with frost and he shivers as he rolls from his blankets and checks his saddle horse and pack horse, ground-staked nearby, and his old Colt Navy revolver that he had converted to cartridges. The scarred walnut handle fits his hand and the barrel is shiny from use.
He coughs and spits night phlegm from his throat and blows the ashes off his campfire. He puts small mesquite twigs on the embers and waits patiently until a small fire begins again before placing the coffee pot, still half-full from his meager supper the night before, on the edge of the fire. He shrugs into his vest with the Texas Ranger badge pinned on the left breast and rises, going to his pack and removing two nosebags with the last of the oats he’d packed in Pecos before setting out across the Big Empty toward San Elizario. He slips one nosebag over the pack horse’s head, then crosses to his old saddle horse, talking softly.
"‘Morning, Jim. How’d your night go?"
The sorrel nudges him, hoping for a lump of sugar, but the sugar ran out the day before and Ranger Bill Walton apologizes as he slips the bag of oats over Jim’s head.
"Meager rations, Jim," he says. "But we should be in San Elizario in late afternoon. I’ll make it up to you then."
Jim grumbles as he begins munching the oats with worn teeth. Walton stands for a moment beside the sorrel, rubbing the night cold from him.
"I dreamed again last night," he says conversationally. "The same old one. Wish it would go away, but don’t expect it to."
Years ago there would have been a trace of bitterness to his words, but the years have resigned him to the nightmare of when William B. Travis had called him to his room in the Alamo two days before Santa Ana sent Mexican soldiers over the Alamo’s walls and slaughtered the garrison. Now, a day doesn’t pass when he doesn’t remember that late night meeting when the garrison was quiet as exhausted men slept the day’s battle away at their posts along the ramparts of the Alamo walls.
"Bill," Travis said, "I need someone to carry a last message to Houston for help." He lit a cigar and poured two small glasses of brandy, handing one to Walton. "But, I’m not ordering you to go. You know the danger as well as any man here."
Walton nodded thoughtfully as he drank his brandy. Santa Ana’s lines surrounded the mission and getting through would be little short of a miracle. He’d have to go over the wall when the moon set and crawl through the lines, hoping he would be able to steal a horse at the rear of the Mexican army. Then, his troubles would really begin as he tried to make his way to Houston’s headquarters somewhere near the Trinity River. He knew his chances were slim and no one even knew where Houston had encamped.
"How long you figure I got?" Walton asked.
Travis shook his head. Food was running low as well as ammunition. The last charge had thinned the Alamo’s ranks noticeably. The chapel was filled with wounded men and those who were still able to fight were so exhausted that he wondered if they would be able to repel another attack at all. He looked closely at Walton, noticing the tired circles under the pale blue eyes, the fatigue lines etched deeply in his face.
"Not much," he admitted. "In fact, I don’t know if we’ll be able to last a week. You may be making the run for nothing."
"Well," Walton said, "a slim chance is better than none, I reckon." He finished his brandy and gently placed the glass back on the crude table. "You got the message written?"
Travis shook his head. "I don’t want Santa Ana to know anything in case you get caught. You know what to tell Houston when you find him." He hesitated, his eyes burning as he stared at Walton. "I don’t have to tell you not to get caught."
Walton shrugged, knowing what Travis was saying and what he could expect if he was taken alive by Santa Ana’s men.
"I reckon the best thing, then, is not to get caught," he said. He took a deep breath. "Well, I’d better get ready. The moon’ll be going down soon."
"Good luck," Travis said solemnly. He shook hands with Walton.
"I’m going to need it," Walton said. Then, he grinned and left, making his way across the Alamo’s yard. He collected a small sack of pemmican and a leather bag filled with water. He checked his rifle and took a horn of powder and a small bag of shot. He took a deep breath, wiping his hands down his stained butternut shirt, then left, climbing the north wall. He made his way to the corner shrouded by darkness and carefully studied the ground between the Alamo and the Mexican lines. He took another deep breath and slipped over the wall, landing softly on the balls of his feet. Keeping to the shadows, he slipped across the corpse-strewn ground to the Mexican lines. He came to a small drainage ditch and dropped flat, crawling carefully along it, working his way deeper and deeper through the army until at last, he came to the cavalry’s horses picketed on the bare prairie. He picked a deep-chested bay, still saddled, and led it behind the tents before leaping onto its back and galloping away. A sentry fired a shot at him and then he was in the clear, galloping west to lead pursuit away before swinging back to the north to find Houston.
Five days later, he rode wearily into Houston’s camp and discovered he was three days late, the Alamo had fallen, its defenders slaughtered, and although Houston did not condemn him for not staying at the Alamo, there were others who spoke scornfully to him for leaving before the final battle. His word meant nothing and was considered a coward’s excuse. The following years had been marked with brawls and contempt that followed him even when he joined the Texas Rangers and was given the lowliest of assignments in the most remote areas.
He sits on his blankets by the fire, sipping his morning coffee, reflecting stoically on what had become a life spent in loneliness as he stares into the flames and sees the past reflected in the dancing shadows. Black as a wolf’s mouth and as vicious, but he resists the darkness and settles, instead, into the familiar melancholy where he exists day by day.
He sighs and takes a paper from his shirt pocket and unfolds it, reading.
You will proceed directly to San Elizario to take charge of a prisoner and escort him back to Austin to stand trial for murder. You will travel by the most direct route. This letter will serve as your warrant and draw for expenses
CAPT. WILLIAM MACNALLY
Terse and succinct and, he knows, the usual assignment for him. Normally, a U.S. Marshal would be assigned to bring a prisoner back, but he has had a career of prisoner transport and other assignments of this mien meant to belittle him and force him to resign. But he has long been resolved to such work and the letter, other than being orders, has little meaning to him now.
Funny, he thinks while refolding the paper, how a man comes to accept most anything that keeps coming his way despite doing everything a man can do to make things right. If only those Comanches hadn’t delayed my ride to Houston things might have been different. But, he sighed, you play the cards as they are dealt to you and there’s no use crying over a bad hand.
He rises and makes ready to leave his camp, covering his small fire and loading his pack and saddling his horse. Within the hour, he sets off across the mesquite dotted desert, heading toward the distant Sierra Blanco mountains. He huddles deep inside his heavy coat as an early morning wind comes down from the north. He smells the cold and a wry smile crosses his thin lips beneath his heavy salt-and-pepper mustache. The return trip will be made through winter cold and although spending Christmas escorting a prisoner is not an assignment he would have chosen, he is content with the solitude that the trip will provide for the two of them. Besides, he reasons, it’s better to be busy during the season instead of sitting in a saloon somewhere, drowning his thoughts in whiskey or spending the days in Rosa’s whorehouse.
He rides into San Elizario in the dead of night, weary and covered with trail dust. He guides Jim over to the jail and dismounts stiffly, looping the reins loosely over the hitching rail. He places his hands upon his hips and arches his back, feeling the cramped muscles loosen. He is as tired as a mining camp whore, but he mounts the steps and enters the jail, slipping off his heavy coat and draping it over his left arm.
The sheriff sits behind a scarred walnut desk, his brow furrowed in concentration as he writes. He looks up, notices the Ranger badge pinned to Walton’s vest and drops the pencil stub upon the desk.
"Got a telegram from MacNally saying you was on the way. Wasn’t expecting you until morning," he says. He motions to a stained blue-bottom coffee pot on the potbelly stove. "Help yourself."
Walton nods and takes a tin cup from a warming hook on the side of the stove and pours a cup of coffee. He blows gently across the surface of the coffee, cooling it, then sips cautiously. He sighs as the warmth begins to spread through him.
"Saw no reason to draw the trip out. ‘Sides, there’s a norther coming down and I’d just as soon get a good start before it hits."
"Uh-huh," the sheriff says. "Most folks would rather stay in town and ride out the storm ‘fore starting back."
"Ain’t most folks," Walton says.
"Yeah, so I hear," the sheriff grunts, rearranging his bulk in the captain’s chair. "The last of the old wolves. I heard about you."
"What did you hear?" Walton asks, fixing the sheriff with a hard stare. He took a small sip of coffee.
The sheriff drops his eyes to the top of his desk. "‘Spect it’s nothing more than what others hear. Don’t put much stock in what other folks say. I like to make my own mind up about a man."
"Admirable," Walton says. He nods toward the back. "I’ll want to leave at early light. Best that way. Keep the man’s friends from causing any problem."
"All right. You looking for a place to stay, the hotel’s across the street. I got them to save a room for you. Meals are pretty good too."
"Appreciate it," Walton says, finishing the coffee. He slaps the dregs out into a wastebasket and hangs the cup back on the warming hook. "I could use a good night’s sleep. Won’t get much on the way back, watching the prisoner and all. Can you get someone to take care of my horses and have another one ready by false light?"
The sheriff nods. "Easy enough. We only got the one prisoner ‘cept a couple of drunks sleeping off season’s greetings. I’ll have him take your animals down to the stable and settle them in. You want a drink to warm you?"
"No. Don’t like riding with a bad head. Time to drink’s when I’m back."
"Suit yourself," the sheriff says indifferently, but Walton sees the relief in his eyes that he doesn’t have to spend any time with him in the saloon. He nods and crosses to the door, slipping his coat back over his shoulders. He leaves and steps down to his saddle horse and unties his saddlebags and takes his Henry rifle from its saddleboot. He rubs his hand up and down Jim’s thick mane.
"Get what rest you can, old boy," he says. "We leave early in the morning."
Jim turns his head and gives Walton a nudge with his nose. Walton pats him and walks away, crossing the dirt street to the hotel.
He awakes in his room, forgetting for a moment that he is in San Elizario, then he remembers and sighs, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed and rising. He crosses to the mirror hanging above the washstand and peers into it, noticing the deep circles under his eyes and running his hand over the stubble on his chin. He shaves carefully, then dress in a fresh warm shirt and pants, knowing it’s unlikely that he’ll get a chance to change until he’s back in Pecos before heading down to Austin with his prisoner.
Purple light streaks the street as he steps out of the hotel and makes his way across to the jail. Jim is tied to the rail along with his packhorse and a wall-eyed mule. He checks the pack and the saddles, then takes handcuffs out of his saddlebags before tying them behind Jim’s saddle. He slides the Henry back into the saddleboot and mounts the stairs, entering the jail. The sheriff is waiting for him.
"Sleep well?" the sheriff asks, rising from behind his desk.
Walton shrugs. "Thanks for getting the horses and mule ready. You want my chit for receipt of the mule?"
The sheriff shakes his head. "Not needed. I used MacNally’s telegram for a receipt. I had the jailer pack coffee and beans and some hardtack for you along with some jerky. That enough?"
"Good enough for the trail," he says. "I’ll send a telegram telling you when I get to Pecos so you know the first leg of the trip has gone okay."
"Good enough," he says. He picks a paper from a pile on the desk and hands it to Walton. "If you sign for the prisoner, I’ll get him out and ready."
Walton hands him the handcuffs and says, "Cuff his hands in front of him. I don’t want him falling off the mule."
"Your choice," the sheriff says, taking the cuffs and disappearing into the back of the jail.
Walton scans the paper and scrawls his signature across the bottom, then takes the Navy Colt from its holster and checks the loads. He slips the Navy back into his holster as the sheriff reappears with the prisoner, a Negro, slight of build with a scruff of a beard around his chin. He’s dressed warmly and looks to have been well-fed, although his eyes are wide and expressionless in his face as he stares at Walton.
Walton returns the stare. "You Sam?" The Negro nods. "I’m Ranger Bill Walton. I’ll be taking you back to Austin to stand trial for murder. You understand that?" The Negro nods again. "Good. I only got one rule for you to remember; you run and I’ll shoot you. You cause problems, I’ll cuff your hands behind you and leg iron you and tie you onto the mule you’ll be riding. Otherwise, everything will go nice and easy. You understand that?"
Sam nods again, remaining silent.
"Long as we understand each other," Walton says. He looks at the sheriff. "Wasting light. Might as well get on with it."
"I say you’re a man of few words," the sheriff says. He prods Sam toward the door.
"Talking ain’t gettin’ the ridin’ done," Walton says.
The sun shone briefly then heavy leaden clouds heavy with rain and snow begin to roll ponderously down from the north as Walton and his prisoner ride toward the Sierra Blanca mountains across the high desert dotted with mesquite and greasewood. They ride silently, Sam’s long legs dangling down beneath the mule’s belly, his hands handcuffed in front of him. He wears black worsted pants and coat and a white shirt long overdue for a laundry. Yet, there is a dignified quiet about him, his face impassive, and he rides with his head up instead of slumped in the saddle as other prisoners. Walton is grateful for the silence as many prisoners begin to whine and complain their innocence from the minute they clear the towns where they have been held prisoners.
Walton rides easily in the saddle upon his sorrel, Jim, his eyes constantly sweeping the country around him. Apaches and Comanches have been known to ambush parties this close to towns. Just a couple of years ago, Vitorro, leading a band of renegade Apaches, had waylaid a small troop of rangers in the foothills of the Sierra Blancos until being driven away with withering fire from the rangers’ Winchesters. And Vitorro is a mad man, taking great delight in torturing any prisoners, Americans or Mexicans, that he can capture. Automatically, he reaches down and loosens the Henry in its saddleboot and fingers the cartridges in a belt around his waist.
But it is the weather that worries Walton the most. He doesn’t want to be caught in the open if the clouds coming down are the forerunners of a blue norther that would force them to hole up in the open to ride the storm out. At least in the mountains shelter can be found. Four years ago, a man and his wife and two children had been caught in a blue norther for three days and froze to death only miles from shelter and he had found them, the husband and wife huddled around their children in a vain attempt to slip their body warmth into the children to keep them from freezing. When they were discovered two days after the storm had passed, the Mexican wolves had already been at them, gnawing what flesh they could from their bodies.
He shivers and huddles deeper into his warm coat and casts a critical eye at his prisoner, wondering if the Negro is dressed warmly enough for this weather. As if sensing Walton’s contemplation, Sam turns in his saddle and looks back, questioning, and Walton makes his decision.
"I think it’d be better if we hole up in those mountains somewheres until this storm blows itself out," Walton says, pointing toward the Sierra Blancos. There’s a cave a bit off the trail and we still got time to gather some wood for a fire. No sense in pushing on for the sake of saving some miles and being caught. You give that mule a kick to get it moving a little faster. Weather don’t wait on no man."
Sam nods and turns his attention back to the trail, kicking the mule into a trot. He bounces all over the saddle when he rides like a pumpkin-roller on a plowhorse, his workshoes clapping against the sides of the mule.
They just make it to the pass over the Sierra Blancos when a stiff wind comes barreling down across the desert, bringing with it cold rain mixed with bits of ice. Jim grumbles and shakes his mane. Walton pats his neck reassuringly and takes the lead, climbing off the trail and following a narrow game trail a half-mile until he comes to a shallow cave large enough to hold the horses in the back.
He dismounts stiffly and stands aside watchfully as Sam slides awkwardly from his saddle. He pulls the collar of his coat tight against his neck and looks impassively at Walton.
"We’d better gather wood quickly," Walton says. "But you stay where I can see you. Remember what I said."
"I’ll remember," Sam says softly. "I ain’t going to cause you no trouble."
"See that you don’t," Walton says gruffly and gestures outside the cave.
The two moved down the side of the mountain and gather as much dried wood as they can find. They make three trips each back into the cave, neatly stacking the wood to one side. Then, Walton builds a small fire before stripping the tack and pack from their animals. He tosses blankets to Sam and says, "You build yourself a pallet next to the fire while I get some coffee on. We cold use something warm inside."
"I can do the coffee, you want," Sam says. "I worked as a cook back in Austin."
"All right," Walton says. "You’ll find what you want in the pack. There’s a frying pan in there as well."
Walton spreads his blankets on the other side of the fire away from Sam and sits, his Henry in his hand, checking the action. Sam watches him out of the corner of his eye as he scurries around, laying his pallet and setting out coffee and beginning supper.
"It’s gonna be kinda lean. You don’t have much to work with," he comments.
"Wasn’t expecting no fancy eating house fare," Walton says. "But it’ll keep us warm and filled while we wait here."
"You’re a quiet man, for a nigger," Walton says. "I don’t mean nothing personal; it’s just that usually prisoners talk my ear off about how everything is a mistake with them."
"I figure you wouldn’t believe anything I said anyways," Sam says. "So, there’s no use me saying anything. Far as you and other white folks are concerned, a black man is guilty just because a white man says he is. Always been that way; always be that way."
"You been accused of murder."
"I’ve been found guilty of murder."
"You ain’t had a trial yet," Walton says.
Sam remains silent, but he looks up, his eyes steady on Walton’s eyes. A tiny smile flickers around his lips, then he turns his attention back to cooking.
"A trial is just another way of saying a black man’s guilty," he says.
"Man’s supposed to be innocent until he’s proven guilty," Walton says.
Sam shrugs. "‘Spose that works for white men, but there’s a different law for black folk. When the last time you see a black man turn loose by the courts?"
Walton frowns, studying Sam. The wind begins to howl around the mouth of the cave and the horses move uneasily. He rises and goes to them, soothing them, and begins to rub them down with their saddle blankets.
"Well, you might as well tell me your story," Walton says.
"Didn’t think you wanted to hear," Sam answers.
"We ain’t got much else to do in this here cave while it’s storming outside. Talking will help pass the time between us."
Sam studies him carefully, then shrugs. "All right. You want to hear, I’ll tell you. I was a cook for Cullen Wakefield. You hear of him?"
Walton nods. Cullen Wakefield is one of the richest men in Austin with a fancy house and servants off Guadaloupe near the capitol. Senators and representatives seek his advice and it is well-known that the governor considers him his best friend.
"Yeah, I’ve heard of him," Walton says. "He swings a big loop down in Austin."
"That’s true," Sam says. "And he got a beautiful wife that makes other men hunger for her."
"I’ve heard about Sarah Wakefield too," Walton says drily. "She was Sarah Caufield before Wakefield married her."
"She was a singer up in Saint Looey," Sam says. "I was cookin’ for Mister Wakefield ‘fore he brought her back as his wife. But I could tell that there was more to Missus Wakefield than others thought. She had a wanderin’ eye and that make Mister Wakefield angry some of her antics does. She wasn’t the show piece he wanted her to be. She about twenty years younger than him and old men and young women don’ mix well together. Like castor oil and water."
"I’ve heard that too," Walton says, remembering the stories that floated quietly in and out of the saloons about how Wakefield’s wife like to entertain when her husband was out of town.
"Well, one day last September—the fourteenth, I recall—Mister Wakefield come home and find her with another man. He chased the man out of the house and then he and Missus Wakefield get to shoutin’ upstairs in her room. I can hear it way down in the kitchen. I hear the words and they ain’t words that a married couple say betwixt themselves. Mean words. Then I hear her laugh and there ain’t nothing nice about the way she laughs. Then I hear a scream and it scare five years out of me. I go running up and see Mister Wakefield come out of her room with blood all over him. He look at me and goes running down the stairs and slams out the door. I go into her room and find her cut to pieces and Mister Wakefield’s fancy knife he claims his granddaddy got from Jim Bowie himself lying on the floor. There ain’t nothing I can do for Missus Wakefield, cut as bad as she was, and I wondering what to do when I hear the door slam open downstairs and voices shoutin’ about where that nigger and get a rope."
He shrugs. "Don’t take much for me to know that Mister Wakefield had some men with him and that I gonna be the one to hang for what happened to Missus Wakefield. So, I drop out the back window and run away. Figured that be the best thing for me to do."
"But you got caught," Walton says, returning to the fire.
Sam nods. "I ain’t no killer. I a cook. That’s all. But I hear as I come out this way ‘bout how I ‘sposed to have raped and killed her and Mister Wakefield he come home to find her body and me with blood all over me and such." He looks up at Walton. "But there never any blood on me. These the clothes I was wearing and you see no blood on them. But I a nigger and ain’t no white man gonna believe that. You don’t."
"No, I don’t see no blood on you but that don’t make your story true," Walton says. "It’s just like the other stories I hear from prisoners I take back to trial."
Another tiny smile flickers around Sam’s lips.
"It the only story I got. And it the truth." He pauses and sits back on his heels. His brow furrows as he considers Walton. "You think I don’t know what happens to a black man accused of such by a white man like Mister Wakefield? You think I stupid enough to forget that?" He shakes his head. "Don’t matter. I ain’t. And no nigger in a house in Austin gonna forget that. They know." His shoulders slump dejectedly. "And all niggers know that ain’t no where they can go where they be safe. Once the bad name’s put on them, they don’t ever live that down."
Walton flinches. He rises and crosses to the mouth of the cave to study the storm. Sam’s last words fit him as well. No one lived down a bad name once it came on them. A loneliness comes upon him and he crosses his arms against the cold coming in through the mouth of the cave. He shivers and turns and looks back at Sam, fixing supper. The small fire blazes and shadows dance on the walls of the cave. He stares at the shadows, seeing puppet-masters making puppets dance jerkily on thin strings. He watches as one of the figures separates itself from another and moves toward the fire only to double up as if a great pain lances across its stomach. Shadow after shadow tries to cross from the walls to the fire only to be drawn back again by the puppet-masters.
He shakes his head and looks back at Sam, feeling himself drawn into the darkness of the prisoner’s eyes.
"You ever hear about me?" he asks impulsively.
Sam looks away, concentrating on the skillet he’s laid on the fire.
"I mean, you hear any stories about me?"
Slowly Sam nods. "Yes, I hear stories. In Texas, a man hears all stories come time. Ain’t nothin’ kept away." He raises his head and looks at Walton. "I hear all about you, Mister Walton. I hear what you done and what you ain’t supposed to have done but it don’t matter none what you ain’t supposed to done ‘cause no one believe you."
Bitterness sweeps over Walton.
"They ain’t true."
Sam shakes his head. "Don’t matter none, do it? No one believe what you say. No man ever believe what you say, do they?"
"I ain’t like you!"
"Damnit, I ain’t like you!"
Sam silently takes the skillet off the fire and scraps the dinner out onto two tin plates. He sets one across the fire on Sam’s blankets, then takes the other and goes to his pallet and sits, crossing his legs. Methodically, he begins to eat.
"Ain’t nothin’ I do about that neither," he says.
"You believe them stories?" Walton asks, going to his blankets.
"Make no difference what I believe, do it?"
"No. Guess it don’t," Walton says. He takes a bite of the food, but has no appetite and places the plate next to his leg. Sam notices.
"Best you eat ‘fore it get cold," he says. "Otherwise, you get a mouthful of grease."
But Walton ignores him and hunkers down, staring out at the storm mounting its fury against the cave mouth, feeling the familiar blackness begin to settle over him.
They stay in the cave for two days while the storm rages outside. They speak about the lives that they once knew and what they have become, and the shadows continue to dance on the walls, coming toward the light, then moving back again to the walls where they jerk helplessly to the strings held by the puppet-masters.
The storm moves away by the noon of the third day and Walton rises, stretches the night kinks from his back and moves toward the horses to ready them for travel. Sam cleans the coffee pot and plates and rolls the blankets tightly and ties them onto the packhorse.
"You in the cave!"
Walton stiffens and picks up his Henry, moving cautiously to the mouth of the cave. He peers out and a bullet whangs off the rock near his head. He ducks back inside and levers a round into the Henry. He glances at Sam.
"Get down!" he says.
Obediently, Sam drops to the floor and lays flat.
Walton inches closer to the mouth of the cave and risks a quick glance. Men with Winchesters have scattered themselves among the boulders at the foot of the incline. A man in a white hat and dressed in a mackinaw with a fur collar stands next to one rock.
"Hold your fire! I’m a Texas Ranger taking a prisoner back to Austin!" he yells.
"We know who you are!" the man yells. His words echo off the stones of the cliff above the cave.
"That be Mister Wakefield," Sam says. He laughs, but no humor comes with the laughter. "I don’t think you gonna take this nigger back, Mister Walton."
Walton ignores him. "I’m ordering you all to fall back and put up your guns!" he shouts.
Laughter comes hard upon his words and bullets ricochet off the stones and whine around the walls of the cave. The mule grunts and sags to the ground and slowly lays on its side.
"Give up your prisoner and we’ll let you go!" Wakefield shouts.
"Can’t do that. I have my orders!" Walton shouts back and ducks as bullets whine around him again.
"I don’t think they gonna listen to you," Sam says calmly. "Fact, I don’t think they gonna let you go neither. They don’t want witnesses."
Walton slips near the edge and fires down at the men as quickly as he can work the lever on the Henry. A bullet answers him, whines off the wall, and he feels it slam into his lower back. He grunts from the impact but feels no pain. The pain will come later.
"I’m hit," he says.
Sam crawls forward and cautiously lifts himself to examine the wound. He crawls back and grabs a blanket, ripping strips from it. He crawls back to Walton.
"It bad," he says. "But you raise up a little and I can wrap it."
Walton backs away from the edge and eases up, gasping from a sudden pain that cuts through him like a razor. Sam wraps the blanket strips around him, pulling them tight, ignoring Walton pains. He knots the ends together firmly and pats him on the shoulder.
"You won’t be riding," he says. He moves back and rubs his hand over his head, sighing. "Well, look to me like we done for."
Walton takes a deep breath. The pain intensifies and he lets the breath out slowly and begins to breathe shallowly. He feels the cold moving up him and sighs.
"Reckon you’re right," he says. "But, maybe you’re wrong."
He looks back at the horses and notices the mule. A wry grin tugs at his lips. He takes the handcuff key out of his pocket and unlocks Sam’s handcuffs, then unbuckles his gun belt and hands it to him.
Sam frowns as he takes the gun belt and looks questioningly at Walton.
"Go on," Walton says. "Put it on. You’re gonna need it ‘fore this is over."
Wordlessly, Sam buckles the pistol around his waist.
"Now," Walton says, "it’s gonna get dark quick around here and there ain’t gonna be no moon. Not with this sky. When it gets dark, I want you to take Old Jim and the pack horse and make your way up around that game trail. Move slowly and stay as quiet as you can. Then, when you get over the top, you ride hell-bent for leather away from here.
"You letting me go?" Sam asks.
"Uh-huh," Walton grunts. The Henry feels slippery in his hands. "I was you, I’d make a big swing to the East and then make your way up north into the Oklahoma territory. I hear about some black folks who have built their own settlements up there. One’s called Paradise, but I can’t remember the others. Don’t matter. They’re there. You can lose yourself in them easy enough. Build a new life."
"Why you doing this?" Sam asks
Walton nods toward the mouth of the cave. "Figure what you said was true. Otherwise, why would Wakefield and his boys be out there. They knew you was arrested and that I was bringing you back. Don’t take a wise man to figure out why they down there shooting up here at us when I told them I was a ranger."
He glances back at the horses.
"I figure you got enough food to get you up there, you eat sparingly. You get up over the Red River and you can swap the pack horse for what all you need." He smiles, feeling light-headed. "That’s about the best I can do for you, Sam."
"It enough," Sam says solemnly. He stretches out his hand and Walton takes it, shaking it firmly.
"You get yourself ready now. This ain’t no sure thing. But after you clear away a bit, I’m gonna let them know that someone’s still here. I’ll keep them down there until I figure you’re well away."
They wait silently, patiently, Walton firing an occasional shot down at the men to let them know that they were still there. Then, night comes rapidly over the Sierra Blancos and Walton turns to Sam.
"It’s time," he says. "There’s no moon. Dark as the bottom of a well."
Sam rises and crosses low back to the horses and leads them out by the reins. He pauses and looks down at Walton.
"I ain’t never forget this," he says.
"Neither will I," Walton answers. "Go on, now. Get while you can."
Sam pauses, looking out into the dark. "Just remembered. This is Christmas."
Then he disappears out the cave. Walton hears the horses moving quietly up the game trail leading over the mountain. He counts slowly and when he reaches a hundred, he crawls to the edge of the cave, takes a deep breath, and fires as rapidly as he can down into the blackness. A yelp answers a shot and he grins. He knows that they’ll be coming for him at first light. For a second, he sees Travis again in his mind and the dusty room in the Alamo, then bullets begin to whine around him, ricocheting off the dim shadows on the walls of the cave.