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The Family Jensen Hard Ride to Hell
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
The two men stood facing each other. One was red, the other white, but both were tall and lean, and the stiff, wary stance in which they held themselves belied their advanced years. They were both ready for trouble, and they didn't care who knew it.
Both wore buckskins, as well, and their faces were lined and leathery from long decades spent out in the weather. Silver and white streaked their hair.
The white man had a gun belt strapped around his waist, with a holstered Colt revolver riding on each hip. His thumbs were hooked in the belt close to each holster, and you could tell by looking at him that he was ready to hook and draw. Given the necessity, his hands would flash to the well-worn walnut butts of those guns with blinding speed, especially for a man of his age.
He wasn't the only one with a menacing attitude. The Indian had his hand near the tomahawk that was thrust behind the sash at his waist. To anyone watching, it would appear that both of these men were ready to try to kill each other.
Then a grin suddenly stretched across the whiskery face of the white man, and he said, "Two Bears, you old red heathen."
"Preacher, you pale-faced scoundrel," Two Bears replied. He smiled, too, and stepped forward. The two men clasped each other in a rough embrace and slapped each other on the back.
The large group of warriors standing nearby visibly relaxed at this display of affection between the two men. For the most part, the Assiniboine had been friendly with white men for many, many years. But even so, it wasn't that common for a white man to come riding boldly into their village as the one called Preacher had done.
Some of the men smiled now, because they had known all along what was coming. The legendary mountain man Preacher, who was famous—or in some cases infamous—from one end of the frontier to the other, had been friends with their chief Two Bears for more than three decades, and he had visited the village on occasion in the past.
The two men hadn't always been so cordial with each other. They had started out as rivals for the affections of the beautiful Assiniboine woman Raven's Wing. For Two Bears, that rivalry had escalated to the point of bitter hostility.
All that had been put aside when it became necessary for them to join forces to rescue Raven's Wing from a group of brutal kidnappers and gunrunners. Since that long-ago time when they were forced to become allies, they had gradually become friends as well.
Preacher stepped back and rested his hands on Two Bears's shoulders.
"I hear that Raven's Wing has passed," he said solemnly.
"Yes, last winter," Two Bears replied with an equally grave nod. "It was her time. She left this world peacefully, with a smile on her face."
"That's good to hear," Preacher said. "I never knew a finer lady."
"I miss her. Every time the sun rises or sets, every time the wind blows, every time I hear a wolf howl or see a bird soaring through the sky, I long to be with her again. But when the day is done and we are to be together again, we will be. This I know in my heart. Until then ..." Two Bears smiled again. "Until then I can still see her in the fine strong sons she bore me, and the daughters who have given me grandchildren." He nodded toward a young woman standing nearby, who stood with an infant in her arms. "You remember my youngest daughter, Wildflower?"
"I do," Preacher said, "although the last time I saw her, I reckon she wasn't much bigger'n that sprout with her."
"My grandson," Two Bears said proudly. "Little Hawk."
Preacher took off his battered, floppy-brimmed felt hat and nodded politely to the woman.
"Wildflower," he said. "It's good to see you again." He looked at the boy. "And howdy to you, too, Little Hawk."
The baby didn't respond to Preacher, of course, but he watched the mountain man with huge, dark eyes.
"He has not seen that many white men in his life," Two Bears said. "You look strange, even to one so young."
Preacher snorted and said, "If it wasn't for this beard of mine, I'd look just about as much like an Injun as any of you do."
Two Bears half-turned and motioned to one of the lodges.
"Come. We will go to my lodge and smoke a pipe and talk. I would know what brings you to our village, Preacher."
"Horse, the same as usual," Preacher said as he jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the big gray stallion that stood with his reins dangling. A large, wolflike cur sat on his haunches next to the stallion.
"How many horses called Horse and dogs called Dog have you had in your life, Preacher?" Two Bears asked with amusement sparkling in his eyes.
"Too many to count, I reckon," Preacher replied. "But I figure if a name works just fine once, there ain't no reason it won't work again."
"How do you keep finding them?"
"It ain't so much me findin' them as it is them findin' me. Somehow they just show up. I'd call it fate, if I believed in such a thing."
"You do not believe in fate?"
"I believe in hot lead and cold steel," Preacher said.
"Anything beyond that's just a guess."
Preacher didn't have any goal in visiting the Assiniboine village other than visiting an old friend. He had been drifting around the frontier for more than fifty years now, most of the time without any plan other than seeing what was on the far side of the hill.
When he had first set out from his folks' farm as a boy, the West had been a huge, relatively empty place, populated only by scattered bands of Indians and a handful of white fur trappers. At that time less than ten years had gone by since Lewis and Clark returned from their epic, history-changing journey up the Missouri River to the Pacific.
During the decades since then, Preacher had seen the West's population grow tremendously. Rail lines crisscrossed the country, and there were cities, towns, and settlements almost everywhere. Civilization had come to the frontier.
Much of the time, Preacher wasn't a hundred percent sure if that was a good thing or not.
But there was no taking it back, no returning things to the way they used to be, and besides, if not for the great westward expansion that had fundamentally changed the face of the nation, he never would have met the two fine young men he had come to consider his sons: Smoke and Matt Jensen.
It had been a while since Preacher had seen Smoke and Matt. He assumed that Smoke was down in Colorado, on his ranch called the Sugarloaf near the town of Big Rock. Once wrongly branded an outlaw, Smoke Jensen was perhaps the fastest man with a gun to ever walk the West. Most of the time he didn't go looking for trouble, but it seemed to find him anyway, despite all his best intentions to live a peaceful life on his ranch with his beautiful, spirited wife, Sally.
There was no telling where Matt was. He could be anywhere from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border. He and Smoke weren't brothers by blood. The bond between them was actually deeper than that. Matt had been born Matt Cavanaugh, but he had taken the name Jensen as a young man to honor Smoke, who had helped out an orphaned boy and molded him into a fine man.
Since Matt had set out on his own, he had been a drifter, scouting for the army, working as a stagecoach guard, pinning on a badge a few times as a lawman.... As long as it kept him on the move and held a promise of possible adventure, that was all it took to keep Matt interested in a job, at least for a while. But he never stayed in one place for very long, and at this point in his life he had no interest in putting down roots, as Smo
Excerpted from The Family Jensen Hard Ride to Hell by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2013 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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