For the next five days JD never left the corral as the stallion fought for his life. His chest injury was wracked with infection and huge patches of skin were peeling off his hide from his immobility lying on the ground.
Nathan brought him herbs to cover the wounds and combat the infection, and an herbal bowie clay poultices for swelling and bruising. Several times a day JD would pull the scab off the chest wound and shoot rubbing alcohol, cayenne, myrrh, comfrey and aloe vera up into the injury with a silver syringe Nathan gave him. Nathan found everything he needed around Four Corners except the aloe vera that came from the little Chinese potion doctor who worked on the railway.
Vin came with a long necked glass bottle for water. The two men would take turns holding the stallion head up while the other poured water in his mouth and gently rubbed under his throat to get him to swallow.
Chris came with his nippers and he and JD trimmed the large hooves while the horse was down. Chris doubted the horse would ever be in a position where he would let anyone touch his feet again.
Josiah brought JD a bedroll and extra blankets for the cool spring evenings, and said a prayer over the horse that he had learned from a Lakota medicine man, to the spirits to help heal the horse. JD didn't understand a word, but figured he needed all the help he could get.
Ezra started bringing meals down to JD and between the two of them brushed as much mud off the horse as they could, and pulled the weeds from his mane and tail.
Buck came and visited, telling longwinded stories to help pass the time away. Every night he came and watched the boy work on the stallion, talking until JD would pass out from exhaustion and then he would sneak away; back to the saloon and the rest of the seven.
On the sixth day JD was woken from his deep slumber by the sound of movement beside him. Opening his eye's he saw the horse standing on very wobbly legs. JD bit back his cry of joy and slowly got to his feet, talking quietly he reached to touch the quivering horse on the neck.
Vin was on his way down to the corral with JD's breakfast when the heard the shriek; dropping the food he raced to the corral to find the stallion's teeth gripped tightly around JD's arm, shaking him like a rag doll. Vin grabbed the pitchfork JD used for cleaning the corral and leaped the fence; screaming a torrent of curse words he started waving it at the horse's head until the horse released JD and backed off.
Chris and Buck heard the commotion and came running in time to see Vin drag a bleeding JD out of the corral.
"What the hell happened?" Buck asked as he removed his bandana, and squatted down beside JD to try stopping the blood that was pouring from the kid's arm.
"I just heard him scream, when I got here the horse was shakin the bee-gibbers out of em."
"Look Buck...he's standing, I think he's going to make it!" JD squeaked out in excitement.
"He's standing...you almost got your fool head ripped off, and all you can say is he's standing. What the hell were ya thinking getting close to him like that?
"I've been close to him for the last six days Buck, but now I know he ain't ready for me to work that close yet, I have to take it slow now that he's mending."
"What do you mean yet, JD? I don't know why I let you talk me into bringing this horse here, but this isn't some animal you´re going to make a backyard pet out of JD. He ain't going to fall in love with you and become your best friend because you doctored him up. Horses don't think that way, he was born wild and he will die wild, I don't want you to get hurt in the middle of all that." Chris leaned over fence and watched as the stallion made his way painfully down to the pond to drink. Even this badly hurt he had the look of a caged animal, which was just looking for a way to escape. If Chris had not been so mad at the Cooper's, his common sense would have prevailed and that horse would be dead by now.
"I know Chris, I know he ain't going to be a pet, but I figured we could give him a better life then the one he had."
"Kid, what you know don't amount to spit in a river." Buck said as he pulled JD to his feet and pushed him in the direction of Nathan's clinic.
+ + + + + + +
With his bandaged arm in a sling, JD started splitting his time between the injured horse and his duties to Four Corners. The other men had all taken turns covering his shifts, but JD know they would only be willing to do that for a short period of time, and he didn't want them to think he was taking advantage of their friendship. Besides after six days he needed a change of scenery.
In between his duties at the jailhouse and patrolling the town, he worked on building a chute that he could run the horse into. Pus was draining out of the chest wound still, but if it closed up the infection would take over; and the horse would die. JD wasn't about to let that happen without a fight, not after all the work it took to keep the stallion alive so far. It seemed to take forever to get the chute built, between his arm and an uncooperative horse. Sometimes JD would spend the whole time standing outside the corral as the stallion paced the fence line and ran at JD if he got too close. When the stallion did let him in he still had to work close beside the fence in case he had to exit in a hurry.
All seven men came to the corral to get the horse in the chute, which as Chris predicted was no easy task. With the horse loaded in the chute and the six of them holding the horse down, Nathan was able to open the wound and remove some splinters that had been missed, and clean it out with some more herbal mixture. Buck left with a horse hoof size bruise on his hip. The horse had come at him and like a firecracker had been lit under his backside, Buck tried to scramble up the corral fence, but had been a stride to late. And Ezra was still grumbling about his stupidity in wearing his favorite red jacket, though he came away lucky as the horse's teeth just missed grabbing a nipple along with the pocket on the front of his red coat.
+ + + + + + +
Spring turned into summer with a vengeance, the early spring grass now turned brown under the unrelenting sun, and creeks turned from torrents into little bubbling brooks. Nathan worked steady in his clinic, there was always someone hurt or sick, and in need of his services. Hammering could be heard coming from the church on most days, except when Josiah would hang up his tools and disappear to visit his sister. Ezra wasn't getting rich, but the saloon attracted a constant enough supply of gamblers to keep his skills sharp and the poorhouse away. A wagon full of new dancehall girls pulled into town and Buck was having a great time making all their acquaintances. Vin and Chris spent a week out on the trail after some cattle rustlers; they could have caught up to them in a day, but were enjoying the time away from Four Corners. And every day JD spent hours talking to a horse.
JD started by throwing a few grains of oats on the ground, then by hanging a bucket on the fence and standing near it. The horse would race up and grab a mouthful of oats, then retreat to the middle of the corral to eat. After a week he would stay by the bucket to eat, but pin his ears at JD. JD then took the bucket off the fence and would lean over with the bucket in his hand; again the stallion would run in, grab a bite and leave. Another week passed before he would stand and eat out of the bucket. JD then moved into the corral, he placed the bucket on the ground then backed off to let the stallion near it. The stallion would pin his ears and pace back and forth, but made no more attempts at chasing JD out. It was two weeks before he would stretch his neck and take a mouthful while JD held the bucket.
JD finished his early morning patrol of the town and headed to the corral as always. The stallion stood in his usual corner, his tail swishing at flies. JD climbed through the rails and stood in the middle, waiting for the horse. Tentatively the horse approached, stretching his neck out he pulled a few flakes from the bucket; slowly he put his head back in and started eating. While holding the bucket, JD softly stroked the stallion´s jowl with his thumb. JD stopped as the horse froze, neither moved for the longest time, then JD stroked him again. The horse shuddered then snorted into the bucket making oat dust swirl around. JD moved his thumb away and the horse continued chomping, it was a huge first step.
The next day the horse stood trembling as he stood listening to the crooning voice, and felt the soothing palm caress his neck. Gently the hand moved up to untangle again, the mane that once flowed down to his shoulder; a series of shudders rippling along his spine. The quiet voice never once pausing its rhythmic cadence. The stallion suddenly swung his head to bite at the arm, but this time found nothing but air.
JD ran the currycomb gently over the horse, carefully avoiding all his sores, and where his ribs stuck out. Unflinching the horse stood as JD then ran a soft dandy brush over the horse's withers, down the middle of his back, then over his hindquarters. Nathan had given him another herbal mixture to get rid of parasites from the horse's system. Thankfully the horse liked the flavor and ate it with his morning grain.
+ + + + + + +
"Any of you been down to check on JD or his horse lately?" Chris asked as they sat at their table eating lunch.
"Thought you were."
"He hasn't asked me for any help."
"Came to the clinic for some herbs the other day, but I never went back with him."
"I don't have a large enough wardrobe to go near that animal again."
"Well, let's say we wander over and see how he's making out."
+ + + + + + +
"Hey guys!" JD smiled at the men as he continued to brush the sorrel horse, sidestepping out of the way an occasional kick or bite attempt.
"I don't believe it!"
"That can't be the same horse. JD what ya do with that other stud horse?"
"You think he should be in there?"
"Looks like we have a horse tamer living amongst us, boy's."
"Why didn't he do that before my coat became a rag?"
+ + + + + + +
"Move over Blaze...nah. Give me your foot King...yuck. Let's ride Red... that's original."
"What are you blabbering about at that horse now?" Buck asked as he, Josiah and Vin leaned over the fence and watched JD work with the stallion.
They did not recognize him as the same horse that arrived six weeks ago. All the long guard hairs had fallen out and the bald spots were growing in. The protruding ribs were being buried under a layer of fat, thanks to good feed and the herbal worming. His coat was taking on a deep rich copper red sheen, and his long flaxen mane and tail flowed around him. The battle scars from both other horses and man, he would wear for the rest of his life.
"I want to give him a new name, but I can't find one that I like." JD told them
"In some cultures the name given to a horse is very important JD. For centuries in Europe when they went to battle, their warhorses were given warrior names, and many Plain's Indian tribes do the same. They believe the name gives them strength, and courage. Maybe calling your horse Red Devil added another negative connotation to his personality." Josiah said.
"I think what Josiah's trying to tell ya kid, is ya need a name that means something good instead of something bad." Vin tried to explain.
"Oh, I get it...Windy!"
"Wendy? You want to name this wild killer stallion, Wendy! Call him that and I wouldn't blame him if he tried killing you!" Buck said scornfully.
"I didn't say Wendy Buck. You got cotton in your ears, I said Windy...like 'runs like the wind'...'free as the wind'!"
"Passes lots of wind!"
"Your not helping Buck."
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat amongst the cottonwoods on a fallen log, he didn't want to interrupt the training session between JD and the horse now apparently called Windy. It was pure magic to watch the taming of this once wild horse; a rapport had been established at that first touch and carried further then Chris had ever thought possible. It was not a little boy love of a pony, but one of respect as the two constantly tried to best the other. JD was constantly on guard for a hind leg lashing out or teeth coming at him if he pushed Windy harder then the horse was ready to be pushed.
"Maybe that was why it worked as well between them as it did, JD usually knew when to draw the line and stop, where most cowboys would have kept demanding more." Chris thought. JD was almost ready to pass the school of hard knocks for horse taming, with his soft voice and steadily improving skill.
The big stallion still would not allow anyone, but JD near him, not that any of the other men had a desire to try their luck with the horse. For some strange reason he seemed to dislike Buck the most, though no one could figure out why. Josiah thought it was because JD was closest to Buck and the horse was in some weird, obscure way, jealous of Buck. JD figured it was because Buck still always called the horse Wendy.
JD had removed the old halter that had been rubbing the stallion so badly, and just worked with the rope looped over the horse's neck. JD spent hours getting the horse to trust his touch, teaching him to move his front end away; then his hindquarters to move around. He rubbed the tense muscles along Windy's neck and back, so the horse could learn to bend his neck around and touch his nose to his shoulder. The stallion was terribly head shy from all the past rough treatment he had endured, so JD spent hours patiently working around Windy's head and ears, knowing the horse would probably never like people around his head. He eventually relaxed enough so JD could teach him to drop his head down towards the ground when asked too. This exercise became much easier when Windy discovered JD's bootlaces, and how much fun it was to untie them with his teeth.
The other six men showed up at the corral occasionally to give JD unsolicited advice, some helpful, some not so much.
"A good rider...why that's just someone with the ability to keep the horse between himself and the ground, John Dunne...that's all being a good rider is." Josiah told him.
"Thanks for keepin' it simple Preacher, I bet all the great riders before me came to that same conclusion."
"JD ya have to make sure that horse never gets away from you, if he learns how much stronger he is then you all this work you've done will be for nothing." Vin told him.
"I think we already both know who is stronger Vin, but I'll remember what you said."
"But if he does get away from ya, he will eventually have to stop when he comes to an ocean."
"Ya want the best out of your horse JD ya treat them like a women. When your making love to a women, you don't go about her crudely, you need finesse, you stroke them with a fine soft hand. And whisper sweet love talk in their ears as ya gently nibble on them. You feel their emotions and give back that emotion from the depth's of your body and soul!"
"Your so full of crap Buck!"
"Whew...I feel the need for a cold bath kid, catch ya later."
+ + + + + + +
JD had done all he could think of for groundwork with Windy, now he thought was time to try riding him. For three days he lead the horse to the fence and just leaned over Windy's back, never getting on, but letting the horse become accustomed to having someone hover above him.
On the forth day JD slid a leg across the broad back, when nothing happened he dropped his seat onto the bare back. The explosion came so fast JD didn't even have time to close his eyes before hitting the sod face first.
For the next week every time JD showed up he was limping, packing an arm or bleeding from somewhere on his body. The stallion never hurt him on the ground, didn't even seem to hold a grudge that JD was trying to ride him, but so far JD had not been able to ride further then three jumps on the powerful stallion's back.
Vin out of concern for his young friend came down to offer some more advice. "JD, some of the best riders I ever seen in my life were those Apache Indians I lived with. They take the horse into deep water where it can't buck, and get them used to being ridden that way. You have the pond, ya can go stand him in there."
For the next several days they never saw JD when he didn't have water dripping off of him. He still couldn't ride the horse, but the landings were a lot less painful.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat on his horse outside the corral with little Billy Travis in his lap. JD had the rope around the stud's neck as he prepared to try riding one more time. JD was turning into a tough, hard headed, cheeky kid, determined to ride this snorty horse. Chris wondered if he would have persevered this long when he was JD age. Probably, and Buck would have been in the background egging him on, just like he was egging JD now.
"Hey Billy, can ya toss me that curry comb?" JD asked.
Chris settled Billy on to the grass so he could get the brush, then turned his head to glance at Four Corners.
To late Chris turned around to see Billy open the corral gate to take in the comb, instead of just throwing it over the fence. Instantly the stallion was out the gate dragging JD behind him.
Chris took off after the panicked horse as he raced towards Four Corners. Hearing the commotion the five others ran out of various building to see the horse thunder down main street, JD flipping and flopping behind as he hung on to the rope.
"Remember JD...never let go of the rope!" Vin hollered as JD flew by. Buck and Vin jumped on their horses and joined Chris in the race after the stud.
JD swung out wide as the horse cut a corner and ricochet off a water trough, almost taking Buck's gray out at the knees with the rope. Buck swung out to the other side, and spurred his horse up past the stallion. Checking where Chris was, Buck shook out a loop and dropped it over the stud's head, Chris then dropped his from the other side, again putting the stallion between them. The two men kept the gallop as they headed out of town; once outside the town limits they made a wide circle and brought the horses down to a walk.
"You can let go of the rope now JD." Vin said as he caught up.
"Take care of him Vin, Buck and I'll get Nathan after we put this guy away!" Chris yelled as they led the fighting stallion away.
Vin dismounted off Peso and ran to were JD lay moaning on the grass. Vin slowly turned him over on to his back, but he yelped so Vin put him on his side. JD's shirt lay in tatters and the knees on his britches were worn right through. A fine sooty dust covered him from the top of his head to the tips of his work boots.
"They had to drag me over a cactus patch?" JD managed to gasp out.
Vin looked down to see dozens of thorns sticking out of JD's backside.
"Ya should have let go of the rope!"
"You told me 'don't ever let him get away from me' so I didn't!"
"Gees kid...ya picked now to listen to me, they just dragged ya over a cactus patch!"
"Just help me get to Nathan's, this really stings!"
+ + + + + + +
Buck could hear the howls of pain from outside the clinic. Entering he found Vin standing by the door and JD leaning against a table with his pants down around his ankles.
Worried he looked at Vin. "He going to be okay...how badly hurt is he?"
"He's got some real nasty road rash and ya ran him over a cactus patch, otherwise he's going to be fine." Vin turned his head away and covered his mouth with his hand. Buck could swear he heard Vin actually titter.
Buck moved past Vin to check on JD. "Oh I'm blind...I can't see, it's so bright! JD you need to get some sun on that butt of yours, son. Next time we're stuck out in the dark and can't find a light, we'll get ya to drop your drawers and it will be as bright as a fine, sunny summer day."
"Oh ya, real funny coming from you Buck...ow... Nathan that hurts...you enjoying my pain...oww!" JD screeched as Nathan pulled another thorn out.
"Yes JD, pulling cactus's out of your rump is a lifelong dream of mine. Stop your whining. Buck can you hand me that bottle of whiskey, I want to make sure none of these get infected. Okay JD, hold still now!"
+ + + + + + +
The next morning six out of the seven sat enjoying their breakfast, when the seventh made his painful entrance into the saloon.
"JD you still with us, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable." Josiah slid a chair out from between him and Ezra.
"Thanks Josiah, but I think I'll just eat at the bar this morning."
"JD, I need you to ride over to Eagle Bend this morning to pick up the newest wanted posters. Stage coach won't be here for a few more days." Chris said to the kid propped up against the bar.
"Your jokin' right?"
"No, I really need you to ride over there. We all have things to do today, so you're the only one free. Why...you have some reason you can't give me five hours of your time?"
"No, fine I'll go."
"Good, we'll even wait supper on you."
"Great!" Came a very unenthusiastic response.
Vin shook his head at Chris "I can't believe ya did that. You can be a real lowdown mean son of a bitch sometimes Larabee!"
"I can't believe he's actually going." Chris replied.
The six men watched JD step into his stirrup, and agonizingly slow climb up onto Seven's back and ride out of town; standing in his stirrups, his seat out of the saddle and leaning over the saddle horn.
"Don't look at me like that." Chris said to the unimpressed faces around him. "Buck and I'll give him a five minute head start, then we'll send him back home. Yep, you were right Buck, sometimes these guys just don't have any sense of humor!"