Two men huddled alongside their
fire. Wind-driven sleet stung their faces.
“Down your coffee. We’d better
get movin’ before this storm hits.”
“Knew we should’ve stayed in
Texarkana,” Quinn Mason complained.
“Never mind bellyachin’,” Texas
Ranger Jim Corey ordered. “If you hadn’t robbed that bank, we wouldn’t
be in this fix.”
“Never figured you’d follow me
into Arkansas,” Mason muttered.
“A Ranger never quits a trail.”
“Reckon I learned that. You
think you’ll get me back to Fort Worth?”
“Give me any trouble and you’ll
find out,” Corey promised. He headed to where his pinto gelding,
Sultana, and Mason’s bay were tied.
“Mornin’, boy,” Corey called to
his pinto. Corey gave him a biscuit, then scratched his ears. Sultana
nuzzled his shoulder.
Watching his handcuffed
prisoner, the Ranger saddled and bridled both horses.
“Get mounted,” he ordered.
“Yessir,” Mason shrugged. “You
sure we shouldn’t ride this norther out here?” he questioned.
“I’m sure,” Corey replied.
“Pushin’ hard, we’ll make Sulphur Springs before dark.”
Corey swung into his saddle.
The day never brightened. The
riders trudged through the gloom, while the wind reached gale force.
The sleet changed to snow; heavy, wet flakes plastered themselves to
man and mount. Corey and his prisoner struggled to find their way
through a virtual whiteout. Quickly the snow accumulated eight inches
deep, drifted three feet high in spots.
“Ranger, ain’t there anyplace
to hole up?”
“None that I’m aware of.”
“You must have some idea,”
“I’m not familiar with this
area,” Corey explained. “Most of my time’s been spent along the Rio
“You’d better figure somethin’
“We’ll ride a bit farther and
hope we can find shelter,” Corey replied. “You might want to start
“I don’t bother with that,”
Mason snapped. “My ma dragged me to church every time the preacher came
into town. Waste of time.”
“You’re wrong,” Corey answered.
“I pray every day, and go to Sunday Mass every chance I get. The Lord’s
help has gotten me out of many a scrape.”
“I don’t need help from some
pie-in-the-sky God,” Mason stated. “Besides, after all I’ve done wrong,
He isn’t gonna welcome me with open arms.”
“You’re wrong again, Mason.
It’s never too late to ask the Lord for forgiveness . . . or
assistance. If we get outta this fix, it’ll be with His help.”
The Ranger took out the handcuff
“I’m gonna take those cuffs
off, just in case somethin’ happens to me. I wouldn’t want you freezing
to death because your wrists were shackled.”
“I appreciate that,” Mason
“We’d best keep movin’. Watch
for any kind of shelter.”
The pair rode until without
warning, Corey’s pinto stepped into a snow-hidden rut. The horse fell,
sending the Ranger tumbling into a ravine. Mason jumped off his horse
and stood staring at the lawman.
“Reckon your almighty God
didn’t answer your prayers, but He sure answered mine,” Mason muttered.
Corey’s pinto had regained his
footing. Mason went to Sultana and got the Ranger’s Winchester, then
started for his own mount. He was stopped by a voice.
“You’re not going to let that
man freeze to death, are you?”
Mason turned to see a Mexican
gazing at him. He carried a sack containing carpenter’s tools.
“That’s what I’m plannin’ on.
He’s a Ranger who’s takin’ me to prison.”
“Have you been sentenced
“No,” Mason admitted. “I robbed
“Then why commit a far more
grievous offense by taking a man’s life?”
“To keep from spending ten
years in Huntsville.”
“Which means you’ll be running
all your life, with an innocent man’s death on your conscience.”
“That doesn’t matter. I’m . .
.” Mason started to protest, but was stopped by the Mexican’s gentle
gaze, which seemed to pierce clear to his soul.
“There’s no way to reach that
lawman anyhow. It’d be better if I just shot him.”
“You could get his rope and
lower me to him.”
“You?” Mason scoffed. “You
couldn’t get him back up here.”
“I assure you I can. Will you
save the man’s life, or condemn him to death?”
Mason stood there, conflicting
emotions crossing his face.
“I could just shoot both of
you,” he murmured.
The carpenter merely stood
watching Mason until he turned, replaced Corey’s rifle, and untied the
“Let’s get that lawman.”
Mason tied the rope around the
carpenter then lowered him over the rimrock. Once he reached Corey, the
Mexican grasped him and signaled Mason to pull them up.
“You’re too heavy, and the
snow’s made it too slick for this horse.”
“Have faith,” the carpenter
Mason shrugged, then pulled the
pair back to the trail. To his surprise, they seemed to have little
“Reckon you were right,” he
Now let’s see what we can do for this man.”
Corey moaned with pain.
“You think you can ride,
Ranger?” Mason questioned.
“Only if you splint my leg.
“There’s no chance of finding
anythin’ for a splint,” Mason answered.
“Must be something.”
“Your rifle!” Mason exclaimed.
“Yes,” the carpenter said.
“I’ve got cloths to bind it in place.”
While the carpenter dug rags
from his sack, Mason retrieved Corey’s Winchester. He knelt alongside
the lawman. “I’ve got to snap the bone back. This will hurt.”
“Dunno what good this’ll do.
We’ll never be able to lift him onto his horse,” Mason said.
“We got him out of the ravine.
Putting him in his saddle should be simple,” the carpenter said.
“Get at it, Mason.” Corey
gritted his teeth.
Corey yelped when Mason set the
“Sorry. Went easy as I could.
Can you ride?” he asked.
“Bet a hat on it.”
“We’re still in trouble,” Mason
complained. “We need shelter fast.”
“Have faith,” the Mexican said.
“We’re less than three miles from Mount Pleasant.”
“Then we’d best get movin’. You
ride my horse.”
“No, Mr. Mason. Follow in my
footsteps,” the carpenter urged.
Mason tied a lead to Sultana’s
bridle, mounted, and heeled his bay into a walk. The storm abated, and
shortly they stopped in front of the Mount Pleasant marshal’s office.
Mason and the carpenter carried Corey inside. The office’s occupants
leaped to their feet.
“I’m Marshal Thaddeus Stone.
“Got a Ranger here who needs a
doc,” Mason explained.
“Put him on my bunk,” Stone
ordered. “Jake, give them a hand.”
The deputy helped Corey to the
“You were out in this storm?”
“We were. Thank God it
stopped,” Mason answered.
“What do you mean? It’s a
Indeed, the storm was once again
at its full fury.
“Get Doc Richards, Jake,” Stone
ordered. “Get their horses into shelter, too.”
The marshal turned to Mason and
“Mind givin’ me your handles?”
“I’m Quinn Mason. Robbed a
bank. Ranger Corey tracked me to Arkansas. We got caught in the storm.
His horse stumbled and threw him. He fell into a ravine.”
Stone scratched his head. “I’m
surprised you didn’t just leave him out there to die.”
“This gent happened along and
talked me out of it,” Mason confessed. “You never did give me your
Stone and Mason turned back to
“Lie still, Ranger,” Stone
ordered. He turned back to question the Mexican. “Where’d he go?” He
scanned the room, but it seemed the carpenter had simply disappeared.
“Couldn’t have gone anywhere that quick.”
“Hay-sus . . . Jesus!” Mason
exclaimed. “Of course, it had to be Him.”
Mason dropped to his knees and
bowed his head in prayer.
© James J. Griffin
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