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In this fifth volume of his Texas Rangers series, Elmer Kelton takes the young ranger Andy Pickard, once a Comanche captive called Badger Boy, into the midst of a bloody vendetta between hate-filled families. Pickard and ranger Farley Brackett, a former Confederate soldier, are assigned to deliver prisoner Jayce Landon to the sheriff of a neighboring county to stand trial for killing a man named Ned Hopper but from the outset the seemingly simple assignment gets complicated. The Landon and Hopper families are in ...
In this fifth volume of his Texas Rangers series, Elmer Kelton takes the young ranger Andy Pickard, once a Comanche captive called Badger Boy, into the midst of a bloody vendetta between hate-filled families. Pickard and ranger Farley Brackett, a former Confederate soldier, are assigned to deliver prisoner Jayce Landon to the sheriff of a neighboring county to stand trial for killing a man named Ned Hopper but from the outset the seemingly simple assignment gets complicated. The Landon and Hopper families are in a blood feud; the Landons are gathering to free Jayce, and the Hoppers are gathering to kill him.
Filled with the author's always engaging characters and set in the historically accurate backdrop of post-Civil War Texas, Texas Vendetta chronicles the pinnacle era of the legendary Texas Rangers.
For the last twelve or fifteen miles Andy Pickard and Farley Brackett had ridden in almost total silence. One ignored his partner, and the other tried to. They talked no more than the surefooted little Mexican pack mule that followed them across the Texas hill country's rocky ground. That suited Andy fine, for Farley was unlikely to say anything he wanted to listen to.
Andy speculated that the Ranger captain might have been sore at him for some reason, detailing him with dour Farley Brackett on this locate-and-arrest mission. The captain had said, "Brackett's a man I'd like to have beside me in a fight, but be damned if I'd want him for company before and after."
Farley usually looked as if he had just come back from a funeral. The captain had probably been glad to get him out of camp for two or three days and let the sunshine in.
Andy had to squint, riding directly into the setting sun. "Fixin' to be sundown pretty quick."
Farley grunted as if to say he could see that for himself and he resented the break in silence.
Night was going to catch them before they reached the Leach place. That was all right with Andy. He liked a little low-level excitement, but he had no interest in getting killed. He said, "We'd make too good a target ridin' up in broad daylight anyway. Captain told us those folks are apt to put up a fight if we don't catch them off guard."
Farley's eyes were as grim as the muzzle of a shotgun. "Anybody is liable to put up a fight when they're lookin' at a stretch in the penitentiary. These people ain't bright, but even a fool can sight down a gun barrel and kill you."
Andy and Farley carried a warrant for the arrest of one Joseph Branford on a charge of robbery and attempted murder. He had ambushed a stock farmer back in Colorado County, leaving him for dead after taking money the farmer had collected for selling a team of mules. The captain had received a tip that Branford was hiding out north of the Llano River on a hardscrabble homestead operated by his sister and her husband, Banner Leach. Leach claimed to be a farmer, but he was suspected of operating a way station for stolen livestock. No one had been able to prove it to the satisfaction of a jury.
So far as the captain could determine, Leach was not currently wanted by the law despite his shady reputation. However, it was probably only a matter of time before he was caught knee-deep in some ill-conceived activity that would put his name on the Rangers' fugitive list.
Farley said, "If we was to shoot them both, the taxpayers wouldn't have to foot the cost of a trial."
Coming from some people, that would be considered idle talk. In Farley's case, Andy doubted it was idle. "There's no charges out against Leach."
"There will be sooner or later. Shoot him now and we'll save some squatter from gettin' his livestock stolen."
Andy could see a certain twisted logic in Farley's view of summary justice, but it went against many stern lectures peace officers like Rusty Shannon had preached to him about the importance of law, about the presumption of innocence until guilt was proven. He wished he had Rusty with him now instead of Farley. "Rangers don't go around shootin' prisoners."
"Wake up and look around you, boy. Sometimes justice gets served out in the brush, where there's no witnesses. No petty-foggin' lawyers, no bought-off jury. Time you get a few more years on you, you'll know what I mean."
Farley had touched a sore spot. Andy was evidently the youngest man in the company, though nobody knew his age. The best guess was twenty years or a little more. Indians had killed his father and mother when he was small and had carried him off to raise as their own. Circumstances had thrust him back into Texan hands about the time his voice began to change. He had had to learn English all over again and stumble along on the white man's road, learning the hard way by trial and error—lots of error. Even with Rusty Shannon's guidance, it had been a rough road to follow after knowing only the ways of the Comanche.
He was keenly aware that he still looked young to be riding with the Rangers. He had recently tried growing a mustache in an effort to appear older. He had shaved it off after three weeks because it looked pathetically thin and weak.
Farley had remarked, "Old men try to look young, and young men try to look like their daddies. They're all lyin' to theirselves."
Andy was aware that an element of truth existed behind Farley's talk about shooting prisoners. He had heard whispered stories about outlaws shot "trying to escape." If a man was considered dangerous, it was safer to carry him in dead. And a quick burial was cheaper on the county. No criminal ever climbed out of the grave to file an appeal.
Many people were afraid of Farley Brackett, with cause. He had come home from the Yankee war with a long scar on his face and a deeper one etched into his soul. During Reconstruction years he had become a scourge to the federally backed authorities. The unionist state police had chased him often but had learned from bitter experience not to get close enough to catch him.
Once the old-time Texans regained political control of their state, transgressions against the former government had been forgiven, even applauded. The reorganized Rangers had been glad to have Farley join their ranks. He knew how men on the dodge thought and acted because he had been one. Andy thought he still had the shifty wolf eyes of a fugitive.
In the fading light of dusk Andy could make out a dim wagon trail. "You sure these tracks lead to the Leach place?"
Farley grumped, "Of course I'm sure. I'm always sure. I came this way before, huntin' a pal of Leach's that stuck up a Dutchman over in Friedrichsburg. Leach tried to point me onto the wrong trail. I ought to've shot him when I had the chance. We wouldn't have anybody to worry about now but Bransford."
They followed the wagon tracks until Andy saw lamplight ahead. "Looks like we've found the cabin."
"It never was lost. I knew where it was at."
"I guess we'll wait till they're asleep, then bust in?"
Farley assumed command by right of seniority and age. He looked at Andy as if the suggestion were the dumbest thing he had ever heard. "No, we'll make a dry camp and wait for mornin'. Bust in now and we'd have Bransford and Leach both to fight. That ain't countin' the woman, but I expect she'll just scream, faint, and fall down."
Andy argued, "In the mornin' they'll all be awake."
"We'll wait till the men are separated so we can handle them one at a time. Last time I was here, Leach came out about daylight to milk. We'll surprise him at the cow lot."
"He'll give up when he sees we're fixin' to burn the cabin down around him."
"Or he'll come out shootin'."
"Good. We can finish him off legal and proper."
Andy protested, "We can't burn a cabin with a woman in it."
"She'll come out soon as her skirts start smokin'. With people like them, you don't ask permission or beg their pardon."
"I doubt the adjutant general would approve of it."
"The adjutant general!" Farley snorted. "Sittin' comfortable at a desk in Austin, writin' rules like he was dealin' with law-abidin' citizens. Out here the owl hoots in the daytime same as at night, and things look a lot different."
They moved back to the far side of a cedar-crowned hill where they could build a small fire without its being seen from the cabin. Farley commanded, "Cook us somethin' fit to eat."
Andy started to say, You're a private same as me, but changed his mind. The day might come when he had a showdown with Farley, but it would have to be over something more important than this. He took a pack from the back of the mule while Farley coaxed a small pile of dead wood into a blaze. Andy wished he had some of the dried buffalo meat that Comanches carried on long rides or the pemmican they made by pounding dried meat, berries, and nuts together. He preferred it over fatback broiled on the end of a stick. But he would settle for fatback because that was what he and Farley had brought, that and cold biscuits dried hard enough to drive a nail.
He knew no fat Rangers.
Water from their canteens yielded a cup of coffee apiece. Farley sat back, stretching his long legs, and slowly sipped his coffee as he might nurse a shot of whiskey. He seemed to withdraw into some private part of his mind, as distant as if he were back in the company headquarters camp on the San Saba River.
Andy broke a long silence. "I wish Rusty was with us." Rusty Shannon had taken charge of Andy when he was separated from the Comanches. He had become like an older brother.
"What's the matter, Badger Boy? You need a nursemaid?"
Farley took perverse pleasure in using the English version of the name by which the Comanches had known Andy. He was like some malevolent shaman who could summon up a dark and rumbling cloud from a bright and sunny sky.
Andy said, "Rusty always knows what to do."
"He's not a Ranger anymore, and it's probably a good thing. He always allowed the other feller too much of an edge. Sooner or later he'd get himself killed takin' pity on people that have got no pity comin' to them."
That was one thing Farley could never be accused of, Andy thought. "Rusty had pity on me when I needed help. And God knows I caused him trouble enough for a while."
Rusty had taken Andy into his log-cabin home on the Colorado River. He had managed to maintain his patience while Andy made the slow and painful transition from Comanche life. Andy had run away more than once, trying to return to his adoptive Indian family. He had fistfought boys for miles around when they ridiculed him for the Indian braids he refused to cut and the moccasins he wore instead of shoes.
The braids were gone now, and so were the moccasins. He wanted to fit in, to be the kind of Ranger Rusty had been. But he retained a remnant of Indian upbringing. It would probably always be there.
Drinking his bitter coffee, he lapsed into silence, pondering tomorrow and wishing he were as sure of himself as Farley seemed to be.
• • •
Morning was a long time in coming. Andy lay awake most of the night, visualizing the expected confrontation, imagining the worst that might happen. He pictured Leach's woman lying dead after the smoke cleared, much as he had seen his white mother dead years ago. It was one of his earliest memories, long suppressed because it was so terrible. The image still returned from time to time like a nightmare that would not wait for the night.
Farley seemed to harbor no misgivings. Andy listened to him snoring peacefully.
The stars still glittered when Farley came out from beneath his blanket. He looked up at them to get a rough notion of time. "We'd better be gettin' ourselves in position before daylight. Leach wakes up the rooster."
Andy was hungry. "Hadn't we ought to fix some breakfast first?"
"When we're done we'll make Leach's woman cook us a proper meal."
"Thought you were goin't to burn her cabin down."
"They raise pigs. We'll catch us a juicy shoat and have her roast it over the coals."
Andy started to pack the mule. Farley stopped him. "Don't you know a stupid mule is liable to smell feed and go in there brayin' his head off? We'll leave him here and pick him up when the job is done."
Chastened, Andy tied the mule.
The cabin was still dark as the two Rangers circled around to come in behind the milk shed. They left their horses in a clump of trees. The cow stood outside the gate, waiting in bovine patience for the grain that awaited her in the stanchion. She turned her head to watch the men approach on foot. She seemed to know they were strangers and drew away. She did not go far because she had not yet nursed her calf or had her morning feed. Hogs in a nearby pen grunted but quickly settled back down. Andy's nose pinched. He never had gotten used to the smell of pigs. Horses disliked them, and so did Comanches.
Presently he saw lamplight in the cabin window. A man came out carrying a bucket.
Farley said, "That's Leach. He's meaner than a boar hog with the hives. Be ready for real trouble."
"You don't figure on shootin' him, do you?"
"Not without he gives me cause. But if he gives me cause I sure won't take a chance with him."
Andy's hands were tense on his rifle. He could handle a pistol, but a rifle felt steadier and seemed to carry more authority. He could not see if Leach was armed. The man's face was featureless in the dim light of early dawn, but Andy could see that his body was broad and muscular. He looked as if he would be hard to handle in a fight.
Farley whispered, "He's got a six-shooter in his boot. Get set. It's liable to be a hell of a scrap."
Farley waited until Leach opened the gate for the cow to enter the lot. He stepped out into the open and said, "Hands up. We're Rangers." He shoved a pistol forward, almost in Leach's face.
Leach wilted and raised trembling hands. "Don't shoot. For God's sake, Ranger, don't shoot."
Farley seemed let down by the lack of resistance. "You're harborin' a fugitive. We got a warrant for Joseph Bransford's arrest."
"Go help yourself," Leach said in a quavering voice. "He's in the cabin. Only please don't shoot. I'm a married man. My wife depends on me."
Disgusted, Farley told Andy, "Cuff this cowardly son of a bitch to the fence post." He turned back to Leach, waving the pistol in his face. "If you holler I'll blow a hole in your brisket."
Fear gave Leach's voice a high pitch. "I won't make a peep."
Andy said, "That was easy."
Farley did not hide his disappointment. "Bransford is apt to come at us like a mad bull. Be ready to shoot him."
"What about the woman?"
"Don't worry none about her. She'll wilt like bluebonnets in June."
A wagon stood in front of the cabin. Farley placed himself behind it. He motioned for Andy to take cover behind a dug well ringed by a circular rock structure about three feet high, with windlass and wooden bucket on top.
Andy thought it would be more effective to burst into the cabin and take Bransford by surprise, giving him no time to put up resistance. But Farley preferred confrontation in broad daylight, where he could see his target and have plenty of room to move around.
Farley shouted, "Joseph Bransford, listen to me. We're the Rangers. There's ten of us, and we've got this cabin surrounded. Come out with your hands up or we'll burn the place and roast you like a pig."
Andy heard a woman's angry shout from inside.
For emphasis Farley fired a shot that showered splinters from the upper part of the door. He called, "Let the woman come out first. We got no paper on her."
The woman came out waving a heavy chunk of firewood. She made straight for Farley, cursing him for twelve kinds of egg-sucking dog. She was tall and broad and looked as if she could wrestle a mule to its knees. As Farley raised his arms for defense, she struck him twice. Startled, then stunned, Farley almost went to his knees. He raised his arms, trying to fend off her blows.
"Damn you, Badger Boy, do somethin'."
Farley's hat rolled on the ground. His head was bleeding.
Andy twisted the firewood from her hand and cast it away, but she closed in enough to leave deep tracks of her fingernails upon Farley's whiskered cheek.
"Get this civit cat off of me."
Andy got an arm around the woman's wide waist and dragged her away from Farley, only to have her turn on him instead. He managed to grab her strong hands and pull them behind her back. He handcuffed her to one of the posts that supported the windlass. She cursed until her voice went hoarse.
Both men struggled for breath. Farley raised a hand to his head and then looked at it. He saw blood. "Damn you, boy, how come it took you so long?"
"I thought you said she was goin' to scream, faint, and fall down."
Farley gave him a look that would wither weeds. He dragged a sleeve across his sweating face and fired a shot through the open door. "You comin' out, Bransford, or do you want to fry like a slab of bacon?"
A shaken man appeared in the doorway, hands above his head. "I give up. You don't need to shoot no more."
The woman turned her fury on him. "You ain't no brother of mine, you snivelin' coward. There ain't but two of them. You could've got them both." She looked around with wide eyes. "Where's my husband? What you done with my man?"
Farley was too choked with anger and embarrassment to answer. Andy said, "He's down at the shed, holdin' on to a fence post. Ain't done his milkin' yet."
The Rangers had just one set of handcuffs apiece, and those were both in use. Andy tied Bransford's hands with a leather string cut from his saddle. He drew the binding down tightly enough that Bransford complained about the circulation being cut off.
Farley said, "Ain't near as tight as a noose around your neck. You're lucky that farmer didn't die. Now, where's the money you took off of him?"
The woman said, "Don't you tell them nothin', Joseph. That money's ours if you'll just keep your damn-fool mouth shut."
Farley tapped the muzzle of his pistol smartly against Bransford's upper teeth. "Bad advice can get a man killed. Tell me where that money's at or I'll scatter your brains for the chickens to peck on."
Andy hoped the prisoner would see that Farley was not bluffing.
Bransford was eager to tell. "It's in there," he said, pointing to the cabin. "Come and I'll show you." Andy followed him while Farley remained outside, wiping blood from his forehead. Bransford pointed his chin toward a wooden box beside the iron stove. "It's at the bottom."
Andy said, "Stand back yonder and keep your hands high in the air." He dug the stove wood out of the box until he found a canvas sack. He could tell by the feel that it was full of paper. Coins clinked together in the bottom when he shook it.
He demanded, "Is it all there?"
Bransford was trying not to cry. All that effort and nothing left to show for it. "Just spent a little on whiskey. And I left a few dollars with a woman over to Fort McKavett." He was trembling with fright. "What you Rangers goin' to do with me?"
Andy said, "Farley is plumb sore that you didn't put up a fight. But if I can keep him from killin' you, we'll take you to camp. Then I expect they'll send you to Colorado County to stand trial."
"What you reckon they'll give me?"
"Ten to twenty years, the captain said."
Bransford mumbled, "Ten to twenty years. Seems like an awful long time for no more money than I got."
"You shot the man you took it off of."
"I wouldn't have if he'd given it to me right off like I told him to."
Andy motioned for Bransford to walk outside ahead of him. The prisoner avoided his sister's smoldering eyes. He stared at the sack, his expression solemn. "Looks like by rights that money ought to be mine, seein' as I'm goin' to give up ten to twenty years payin' for it."
Farley shook his bleeding head in disbelief. "We sure got a sorry class of criminals these days. At least the Indians gave us an honest fight."
Andy said, "I'm takin' that as a compliment."
It was as much of one as he expected to receive from Farley.
A couple of horses grazed a few hundred yards away. Andy rode out and brought back the better of the two, a grulla gelding, for Bransford to ride. The woman fought the cuffs that held her against the well. "That's my husband's horse." She resumed cursing as the three men went down to the shed.
Bransford pointed out his saddle, and Andy put it on the horse for him. "Mount up." When Bransford was in the saddle, Andy fetched up his own and Farley's horses. He unlocked Leach's cuffs and transferred them to Bransford.
Leach rubbed his raw wrists, his face twisting. "You damned Rangers think you run the world."
Farley said, "We do, and we'll be back to get you the first time you let your foot slip."
"That's my horse you put Joseph on. His is that jug-headed bay out yonder."
Farley had no sympathy. "You just traded. They're probably all stolen anyway." He mounted his horse and poked the muzzle of the pistol in Leach's direction. "Come on back up to the cabin. We ain't plumb finished with you."
When they reached the dwelling Andy leaned down from the saddle and handed Leach the key to the handcuffs that restrained his wife. "Turn her a-loose, then give me the cuffs and the key."
Farley argued, "We ought to just leave her thataway. While her man filed those cuffs off of her, she'd have time to study on a woman's proper place."
"You want to pay the captain for the cuffs?"
"I reckon not. But watch her close when you turn her loose."
Fortunately the woman seemed to have used up most of her fight as well as all the profanity she knew. She stood in fuming silence, trying to kill Andy and Farley with the hatred in her eyes. Leach handed Andy the cuffs and key.
As the three rode away the woman shouted, "Our old daddy's turnin' over in his grave, Joseph, you givin' up so easy. You better ride way around this place when you come back."
Farley turned in the saddle. "Lady, he ain't comin' back."
Andy said, "Some lady."
Farley took a final glance at the cabin. "That place would look a hell of a lot better if we'd left it in ashes."
Bransford said, "You'd really burn it down with me in it?"
"I had the matches in my hand."
Andy remarked, "Thought we were goin" to have her fix us some breakfast."
Farley shook his head. "She'd poison us."
They fixed their own when they got back to where they had left the pack mule tied.
Andy asked Farley, "How's your head?"
"If she didn't break my skull, she bent the hell out of it. And you just stood there watchin'."
"I jumped in as fast as I could." Andy saw that Farley had no interest in his side of the story. "First water we come to, we'd better wash the blood off of your face. I've seen butchered hogs that bled less."
Farley gingerly felt of his head. "Look, it's enough that we bring the prisoner in like the captain told us to. There's no reason we've got to tell him about that woman."
Copyright © 2004 by Elmer Kelton
Posted October 3, 2012
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Posted October 5, 2010
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Posted March 28, 2011
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Posted January 3, 2010
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