"Nathan! Nathan! Hurry!" came the chaotic shouts of various voices from the
trees that got nearer and louder very quickly. Chris' horse broke through
the bushes with a boom with its owner at the reins and a bleeding Faron
McAllister slumped over its neck. Casey and Maude gasped their horror as
the others rode in after them.
The healer rushed to Chris' horse as it stopped close and helped the ailing
man down. The arrow still protruded from the man's chest, and every breath
was wheezed painfully by the patient as he was laid down on the nearest bedroll.
"My lord! What???" Nathan exclaimed in disbelief at the atrocious sight.
"Damn! Sometimes I hate bein' needed." As he began to rip off the patient's
shirt, he asked, "How did this happen, Chris?"
But before anyone could answer, Avery was right by Nathan's ear asking, "Will
he be OK?"
"He's -- you've lost a lot of blood," the healer said, directing his words
to the victim as well as the onlookers, "but I'll see--"
"Have you done this before? You're not a doctor, are you?" Avery asserted
over Nathan's shoulder.
Clearly becoming irritated, Nathan shouted, "Please! Let me have some space!
You'd all better go." Chris and Ezra guided Thornton, Avery, and Jimmy away
from the bloody mass toward Maude's carriage and the horses, where Maude
sat and Casey stood.
The younger woman had frozen while feeding her horse an apple when the emergency
arrived and now Jimmy took the opportunity to comfort her. She welcomed his
gentle arm across her shoulders. "Is he gonna be OK?" she asked.
"Don't know. It looks bad. I never seen anyone get shot with an arrow before,"
However, Thornton and Avery were not content with sitting back and not doing
a thing. They each spun angrily on their escorts.
"How could you let that happen to him? Where were you?" Avery shouted at
Ezra and Chris. "Aren't we paying you to prevent this sort of thing?"
"That's right! We are!" Thornton echoed with equal anger.
The following responses fired off in rapid succession and at the same time.
CHRIS: "Look, we told you it would be dangerous!"
EZRA: "You knew the risks."
Thornton frustratedly fretted, "What are we paying you for?"
EZRA: "Technically, you haven't paid us yet."
THORNTON: "Then maybe I won't!"
AVERY: "He's not a doctor, is he? Does he have a clue what he's doing? Oh,
isn't this great?"
JD and Buck were approaching the mob scene when Buck heard the last remark
and finally lost his patience.
BUCK: "All right! That's it! I am sick and tired of you and all your questions!
Don't you ever say anything straight-out?"
AVERY: "Are you judging the way I speak?"
BUCK: "Look! There you go again!" He thrust his arms exasperatedly into the
THORNTON: "Don't question him! You're the ones who were remiss in your duties!
This never would have happened if--"
JD: "This never woulda happened if you greenhorns just stayed home!--"
BUCK: "Oh! Did you hear that, JD? He's questionin' us!"
JD: "You come out here lookin' for a barrel o' fun, and even ask for our
help. And this is our thanks?"
THORNTON: "Oh, blame us! How typical!"
EZRA: "Do you want his help?" he asked, indicating the healer.
BUCK: "We'll leave it that's what you want, but we'll take him with us!"
THORNTON: "We are all staying! We never quit!" he declared, indicating himself,
Jimmy, Avery, and Maude.
BANG!!! Then everyone jumped and stopped yelling to see who had fired the
shot. It was Chris with his smoking gun pointing skyward. After pausing to
ensure the maintenance of this quiet condition, he lowered his gun and calmly
said, "I believe we're all on the same side here." Faces turned grudgingly,
shamefully to the ground as the quarrelers caught their breaths. "Now, there're
some people out there who've gone to a heap o' trouble to make sure no one
else gets that gold. I don't care if we find that gold. But I do care what
happens to us. If we don't stick together, we might as well turn around and
go right now, 'cuz there's no way we're gonna make it out alive if we don't."
Everyone was silent as Chris turned and headed back toward Nathan to see
if he needed assistance.
Maude spoke first. "Well, now that we've finished expressing our frustrations,
we can resume our work. I've had a chance to consider our dilemma, and I
believe I know where we should seek our treasure."
"Where?" Thornton asked.
Maude pointed east to the mountains. "There. It's north of the triangle of
peaks, and the sun is unbelievably blinding as it rises over those ridges.
Now, I believe that the Indians love nature. I'm sure we'll find the trees
surrounding something up there. I suggest we try that location as soon as
As she spoke, Ezra looked slowly up from the grass with a numbing feeling
spreading from his stomach to his legs, upon the realization that his mother
had come up with the same solution he had.
The pack of seven coyotes was making its way over the dry, rocky terrain
near the river. They sniffed the ground and sniffed the air. Their ears perked
up. They paused. Then they continued their trek with a new purpose and energy.
JD now held the bullwhip in his hand, with Casey, Buck, Ezra, and Jimmy as
audience behind him. A few yards away, Nathan was checking on his still-ailing
"This shouldn't be too hard. Just like a heavy rope," JD said as he unraveled
the long, sleek weapon and wiggled it in a side-winding motion toward the
"Careful with that," Buck warned. "You're liable to whup your own
"You know me, Buck," JD said as he continued to maneuver the whip.
"You bet I do." Then Buck grabbed for the snaking object. "Gimme that!"
But JD pulled away. "Nuh-uh-uh! Who's got the whip?" He stepped away, then
readied the whip for a good cracking. "See that pile o' rocks over there?"
He pointed to a rock pile a few feet in front of him. He raised his hand
which held the whip, then quickly yanked downward, sending the business end
of the weapon upward... and straight at his face! JD hit the ground like
a lightning bolt, narrowly escaping a painful whipping, and the runaway snake
settled on the ground behind him.
"JD, are you OK?" Casey asked, kneeling beside him.
"Yeah, just practicing--" JD began, but stopped himself when he saw Jimmy
grab the whip. "Hey!" He reached for the departing mass, but was unsuccessful
at gaining hold of it. He jumped to his feet.
Nathan, still kneeling on the ground by his patient, looked over his shoulder
at the whip boys with apprehension.
Jimmy examined the whip with the bravado of a famed gunslinger. "I don't
know, JD, I think I could do as much harm as you with this thing."
"Is that supposed to be of comfort to us?" Ezra said rhetorically.
Jimmy turned and faced the same rocks JD used as targets.
"Be careful!" Casey called from behind him as she and JD got out of his way.
"I will," the city boy chuckled over his shoulder. Then he turned to face
the rocks and took a deep breath with eyes wide with trepidation. He gripped
the handle tightly and quickly snapped up the whip, sending the opposite
end up over his head and backwards, shooting Ezra's hat off his head. The
gambler ducked at that instant and peeked to make sure it was safe to come
up. The hard, snapping action of the whip had extricated it from Jimmy's
grasp, and it settled on the ground near Ezra. Jimmy turned and covered his
gaping mouth when he realized what he had done.
"Gee, I'm really--" Jimmy started in apology. But Ezra immediately snatched
up the whip and shot off with it after Jimmy, who ran for his life.
Upon realizing no one was hurt, Buck, JD, and Casey started to laugh. Jimmy
ran in a wide arc that brought him toward Nathan and Faron. As Ezra passed,
Nathan intercepted him and ended the chase.
"Boys, knock it off 'fore you hurt someone!" the healer warned. He confiscated
the object of interest from Ezra, who offered no resistance. "This is not
a toy! You can really do a lot of damage with it! We're not playin' games
here!" There was a pause as they all felt the sting of the moment for themselves
and realized the many things the object could symbolize.
Ezra, hiding his shame, paced back to the audience saying, "Now, see what
you've done? You've angered Mr. Jackson!"
"Sorry, Nathan," apologized JD. "Just tryin' to hone in some new skills."
Nathan was breathing hard and biting his lip as a variety of emotions waged
war within him. Then sighed and said, "I'm sorry, too." He somberly looked
down at Faron on the ground behind him and said, "He's gone. Just a short
while ago." Then he looked down at the ground at his feet and cursed softly
at himself as he always did when he lost a patient.
Chris, Thornton, Avery, and Maude approached when they noticed a change in
the mood at this part of camp. "What's wrong?" Thornton asked, fearing the
"He's dead," Buck answered.
Thornton and Avery immediately hit the ground by their colleague's side.
The romance writer whispered, "Your death will not have been in vain. All
you've done for us will be remembered for years in history books when we
find the treasure. I promise."
Nathan, Ezra, Buck, and JD exchanged uneasy glances. Whereas such a tragedy
may have sent others packing, it only strengthened Thornton Jacobs' resolve
to succeed in the very objective that caused it.
Josiah and Vin led their horses through the wooded area as they followed
the tracks that were left presumably by the ghosts that haunted the Jacobs
expedition the previous night. They were headed toward the mountains. The
tracks matched those they found near the Indian village, minus some prints,
three of which belonged to the kidnapped natives. This was logical unless
the ghosts brought their prisoners to the haunt with them, which was unlikely.
The rest of the "missing" prints probably belonged to people who were left
to guard the natives.
"It's amazing the lengths that some people will go to for a little fame and
fortune," the tracker said.
"'Fame comes only when deserved, and then is as inevitable as destiny, for
it is destiny,'" Josiah said. Vin looked at him sideways. "Longfellow," the
Vin shrugged with a spiteful grin. "If you ask me, I don't think these people
care what they get famous for, or how it happens."
"We better hope they do, or we'll have a real mess to clean up and a lot
of explaining to do."
"What?" Vin finally asked. "Who are we talkin' about here?"
"Who should we be talkin' about?" the preacher asked calmly.
"Those murderin' kidnappers."
"Then that's who we're talkin' about."
Then there was a sudden rustling through the trees above them. Both men looked
up and saw a large black bird flying in a wide circle over their heads. Vin
looked at Josiah and found him being hypnotized by the spectacle. "You OK,
pard?" Vin asked, snapping the preacher out of it.
Josiah looked at Vin with more worry in his cool blue eyes. "We gotta move."
Then both men marched on and into a clearing.
The smothered black remains of a campfire lay in the center of the clearing.
The preacher and the tracker approached. Vin kneeled down to the ground and
found many tracks trampling on top of each other around the fire... including
a set of miniature prints. He picked up a handful of ashes from the campfire
and sifted them through his fingers.
"They must've been here," Josiah said, looking at the child prints.
"Yeah," Vin agreed. He brushed the remainder of ashes in his hands back into
the fire remains and stood. "They left this mornin'. They couldn't be more'n...
I'd say maybe 3 hours ahead of us." He examined the ground again and pointed.
"They're goin' that way."
"At least we know Dogface and his family are still alive."
Then they continued after the freshest set of tracks, which included every
set of prints... even the tiniest ones.
The pack of coyotes continued to make their way through the green and brown
The members of the Thornton Jacobs expedition and Chris Larabee and his men
stood solemnly around the mound of dirt with a makeshift wooden cross sticking
up from one end of it. While everyone stood silently with their hats in their
hands, Thornton spoke. "He was a good friend and an honest man. He will be
missed. May his soul find peace in the next world that was not allowed him
in his life or in his death."
There was a moment of silence.
"And now... on to the matter of the utmost importance..." Thornton donned
his dusty white hat again and noticed the still-low spirits of the group.
"Faron would have wanted it this way. He would have liked us to continue
on our paths to success and renown." He looked again at everyone's faces.
Then Maude spoke. "I only knew him for a short time, but... I do believe
Mr. Jacobs is correct. Faron was a forward-looking man. Not as assertive
as he may have needed to be, but... his ambition was genuine. As long as
we march bravely toward our goal, he will not be forgotten."
"Isn't that the truth?" Avery stated as he placed his hat on his head. Jimmy
"Well, since we are all in agreement, I say it's an opportune time to head
for the mountains," Maude said.
At the base of the mountains, the members of the "ghost" expedition had stopped
for nourishment. A new fire was blazing on the ground with a bird cooking
over it. The child fidgeted close to his mother and quietly whimpered. The
natives' feet and hands were bound with ropes.
"Can the kid be quiet?" Craig impatiently lashed out. "It's almost ready!"
Stu shot back with tolerance. "Come on, he's just a kid. I'd like to see
you with as much discipline!"
"Ha ha ha! I won't need any if we ever get that treasure!" Craig complained
again, this time darting an accusing sneer at Jim Dogface. The native showed
no fear. "Look, Chief, we're getting impatient. Now, it better be in this
next little spot you're showing us or, I swear, you're gonna see some of
their blood," the white man threatened, indicating the wife
"I told you I'm doing my best. But, as I said before, I don't know where
it is," Dogface said firmly though his eyes belied his dauntless stance.
Vin and Josiah crept low to the ground and hid in the shrubbery some distance
from the camp. "Guess they couldn't get as far as I thought, worryin' 'bout
the kid," Vin postulated.
"Lucky for them," Josiah said as he looked and mentally measured the distance
between themselves and the hostages. "Now, there's 6 of them and only 2 of
us. I think we're gonna need a diversion."
"Just what I was thinkin'." Both men looked around at their surroundings
and tried to think of a plan.
"Or some divine intervention," Josiah added when he couldn't come up with
Then suddenly, bursting into the clearing, seemingly out of nowhere, were
the 7 coyotes. The hungry canines leaped into the center of camp, tearing
up the meal and attacking the members of the expedition and leaving the natives
alone, even though the child would have made an ideal snack for them.
Vin and Josiah stared for a second before they realized what was happening
and decided to take advantage of the situation. "I believe! I truly believe!"
Josiah whispered as he and Vin dashed out from hiding to aid the family.
As the expeditioners scattered everywhere, the bounty hunter and the preacher
were able to cut the ropes that bound the captives' legs so they could run
with them to safety behind the bushes.
When the coyotes were able to chase the evil away, Vin and Josiah turned
back to Dogface and family. They undid the remaining ropes under the attentive
supervision of the newly freed captives.
"Who are you?" Dogface asked.
"Not even a 'thank you'?" Vin said as he finished cutting the ropes from
the man's wrists.
"Thank you," Dogface added, "who are you?" He rubbed his rope-injured wrists.
The other two men exchanged slightly amused glances and then turned back
to the family. "Friends of the tribe," Josiah answered.
The expedition, led by Ezra and Chris, made its way up the graded slope near
the bottom of the mountain on horseback, except Maude and Thornton, who drove
her horse-drawn carriage. Thornton's horse was now tied to and being led
by Ezra's. Their destination was the ring of trees that Ezra and Maude had
seen earlier, near the top of this particular peak. They decided that they
would take the horses up as far as they could, to a plateau half-way up the
incline, then climb the rest of the way themselves. Along part of the base
of the mountain were some decidedly painful-looking rocks and boulders. The
team chose to take the less rocky, but more dirty, path instead.
Now they reached a steeper region of the slope. Aware of the difficulty this
might pose to some of their riders, Ezra and Chris paused part-way up the
slope. "Everyone all right back there?" called Ezra.
Everyone gave firm affirmations to the query as they and their horses climbed
the mountain. Thornton now held the reins to the carriage-pulling horse with
Maude snugly beside him. He asked her as the carriage heaved rockily and
crookedly forward, "Miss Maude, how are you coming along?"
"Just fine, Thornton dear," she replied with a forced smile to reinforce
her answer although the creaking of the carriage was unnerving.
But unbeknownst to anyone, with each jarring of the carriage, the pin keeping
the rig connected to the horse was coming loose.
"We're almost there!" announced Chris. Then he turned and urged his horse
Most of the horses made it up the steepest part in one piece. However, the
carriage was stalling as the horse tried to pull the rig over a large bump
in the slope. "Come on, come on," Thornton urged the horse, whipping the
reins. Then the horse pulled forward abruptly and the pin popped out. With
a clink, the horse scurried forward but the carriage began to tip backward.
"Thornton!" screamed Maude as she jumped out of her seat and held on for
dear life at the same time.
"Good lord!" Thornton gasped, helplessly grasping for the fleeing, flailing
reins that followed the horse up the mountain.
Then the carriage began to roll.
"Chris!" JD shouted to alert the front of the group to the mishap, having
nearly arrived at the plateau himself. Then he kicked his horse to a gallop
back down the incline to chase the runaway carriage and its screaming passengers
just as Ezra and Chris turned to see what the commotion was about.
The gambler saw the carriage rolling away and had to snicker at the sight
of the panicking pair. But he wiped the smile off his face when the carriage
accelerated more noticeably and, while crashing up and down, took a turn
toward the sharp rock-lined base of the mountain. Earlier, Ezra had had the
feeling that this escapade had taken a downhill turn, but this was ridiculous.
Chris and Nathan charged their mounts after the carriage. Then Ezra quickly
untied Thornton's horse from his, and, throwing down the rope, he blasted
back down the mountain, too.