The Long Ride To Destiny, Chapter 12

Florence woke, and after a lot of pain and only one yelp, she pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around for Seth. She saw the fire he’d made, but he wasn’t there. In a moment of panic, she reached to her side for the Navy Colt, and was relieved to find it. She checked the percussion caps, and finding them in place, put the Colt back in her holster.

She smiled when she thought of how Seth had taken care of her. After she’d seen it, Florence knew the bullet wound wasn’t all that serious. It hurt, but as long as she kept it clean, it would heal quickly. She remembered her father cutting himself deeper with a knife, and it had healed without incident. Seth had acted like she would die if he didn’t take care of her and make her rest. It was sweet, she thought, that he acted that way.

Florence could imagine living with him. He’d probably still treat her like he always had, thinking she should only do things his mother had done, but that would have been all right. She’d just help him anyway, and laugh when he said she shouldn’t be doing things like that.

Maybe that was why Kanuna’s daughter had told him to give her the wedding dress. Maybe she did know that would happen. The bond she felt for Seth had grown since they left her cabin, and she felt about Seth much the same as her mother had spoken of her father. She wished there was some evidence he felt the same way, but every time their conversation got close to that, it was the same as when she asked him about the war. He would change the subject, or say he had something to do and walk away.

Seth walked back into their camp as Florence was trying to stand up. She had made it to her knees when he saw her, and rushed to lift her the rest of the way. Florence saw the fish in his hand.

“Is that supper?”

“Yes. I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to go shooting anything. If there are more raiders around, they might come see who was shooting. Are you all right?”

“I’m stiff and sore, if that’s what you mean, but I don’t feel sick or like I have a fever. I do need to …”

Seth smiled.

“I’ll start the fish cooking while you’re gone. If you need help, just holler, and I’ll come.”

The next morning, Florence was still stiff and her side hurt. When Seth checked the wound, it was dry so he was sure it would heal. Just to be safe, he changed the pad again after wiping the wound gently with whiskey. Then he took the pads from the day before and washed them in the creek. He checked his fish trap on his way back, and found a small catfish. That served as breakfast for them.

When Florence asked him if they would ride on, he said no. There were a couple reasons for his decision. He didn’t want Florence to be jostled around on a horse. Doing so might open the wound again. There was also the possibility of more raiders in the area. If they had to run, he doubted Florence could do it without a lot of pain. If she fell behind, he’d have no alternative but to stand and fight in open country.

He felt relatively safe here in the trees. Outside them, on the open grassland, they would be easy targets for any more raiders. He’d been lucky to find the low rise that had provided them cover before. He might not be so lucky if there was a next time.

They spent the next six days inside the trees. Rather than use one of the rifles to bring down game, Florence made snares from the threads from one of Seth’s spare shirts and caught rabbits that way. She’d done it before when all she had was the Navy Colt. She could hit a man with it easily, but a rabbit was too small a target for a revolver. Between the rabbits and the fish that wandered into his trap in the creek and Awinita’s corn meal, they ate well. By the sixth day, Florence could stand on her own, and was only a little slower than normal when she walked. The bullet wound was still pink in color, but it was well along the way to healing.

Seth used the time to teach Florence how to use the Henry rifle he gave her. She was amazed at first, but quickly understood how the rifle worked and the advantage it gave them. Seth felt proud of Florence, though he hoped she’d never have a reason to fire the Henry. They had been fortunate so far in that the only injury they’d suffered was the slight wound to Florence’s side. He didn’t want to push their luck.

On the morning of the seventh day, Seth was walking back to their campsite with two rabbits that had run into Florence’s snares when he heard voices. He quietly dropped the rabbits to the ground and drew both Remingtons from his holsters. He moved from one tree to another, stopping to listen between each move, until he could see the camp.

Florence was standing with her Navy Colt drawn and pointing it at three men who looked like Indians. They didn’t look afraid. They were smiling and talking to each other.

Seth walked past the last tree and into the camp.

“Florence, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I was sitting here, and when I looked up, these three men were standing there looking at me. They haven’t tried anything so far.”

Seth approached the three.

“Do any of you understand what I’m saying?”

A chubby man wearing the gray shirt of a confederate soldier grinned.

“I understand what you say. I learned to speak the white man’s words in the Army.”

“What do you want? We haven’t done anything to you.”

“We were hunting, and found someone had killed six of the men who raided our village two moons ago. Their horses were the same. We followed the trail of two other horses here. If the two were other raiders, we were going to kill them. If the two were the men who killed our enemies, we wanted to thank them. Instead, we find a young girl and a man. We will not hurt you, but the young girl looks like she would like to kill us.”

“She’s just leery of strangers, that’s all. People around here seem to shoot first and then find out who you are.”

“Yes, the men who come from across the river do that, but they are not Choctaw as we are. You are the ones who killed them, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

The chubby man grinned.

“Then you are the man and woman we heard about from the Cherokee. The Cherokee say you are a man who wore the gray uniform and who is without fear, and the woman wears the clothes of a man and has hair the color of the leaves in fall. I think she has no fear either.”

“She doesn’t, but she should. Now that you’ve seen us, what will you do?”

The chubby Indian shrugged.

“We will go back to our village and tell the people what we have seen. They will be happy. We know of what happened to the Cherokee village. The raiders have done the same to our village. It is good they are dead.”

Seth holstered his Remingtons. If these Indians were as friendly as they seemed, he didn’t want anything to change that. The three men carried only percussion rifles cradled in the crook of one arm, and would be slow to aim and fire. He was certain he could draw the Remingtons and fire before they could. When Florence saw him holster the Remingtons, she put the Navy Colt in her holster too.

Seth smiled in hopes the Indians would believe he had relaxed.

“I didn’t know the Cherokees and Choctaws talked to each other.”

The chubby man shrugged.

“In the old lands, we sometimes were friends, and sometimes we fought. When the government brought us to Indian Territory, we agreed not to fight anymore. Many were lost on the way here. More of our young men were lost in the war. We do not want to be fewer than we are. Where do you go that takes you over Choctaw land?”

“Texas. In a day, I think, we’ll be there and out of your territory.”

“Yes, a day will take you to the river. There is a ferry to the south and west of here, but I would not go there. The raiders watch the ferry for travelers like you with things they want, and then attack them when they are a few miles away. The river is low at this time of year. You can find a shallow place and ride across.”

“Will we meet more of the Choctaw before we get there? We mean no harm to anyone, and I’d hate to be mistaken for more raiders.”

“It is possible, but if the woman lets her hair show, they will know who you are. All the Choctaw know of you now. They will not hurt you. Our people would like to see you and thank you themselves. Will you come to our village?”

“I appreciate to offer, but we need to be headed for Texas. I have two rabbits back there, if you want something to eat before you go.”

The man smiled.

“The Cherokee said you were a good man and a good woman and your offer of food is proof of this. We understand that you must go. It is enough that we have met you and can tell this tale to our children and grandchildren. We will go now and leave you to eat in peace.”

As they left, Florence breathed a sigh of relief.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do if you hadn’t come back. They were pointing at me and jabbering away. I was afraid they were going to…well, I was really scared. That’s when I drew my revolver.”

Seth chuckled.

“You’re probably the only woman in a hundred miles with red hair. That’s why they were pointing. They just recognized you because the Cherokees said you had red hair. You’re famous.”

“Well, I’d rather not be famous. I’d rather just be me.”

“That means you’d rather wear dresses and go to parties like you said back at Mae’s?”

“No, not anymore, for a while at least.”

“Then what does being you mean?”

Florence looked at the ground. She had been terrified by the Indians, both because they’d surprised her, and also because they were smiling and laughing. The men at Samuel’s had usually smiled and laughed when she’d tried to resist.

Her relief when Seth walked up beside her was immense, and she realized then she’d never feel safe without him. She wasn’t sure he’d want to hear what she was going to say, but she had to say it.

“When we left my cabin, I thought I’d find a place where nobody would know what I’d done and I could live like any other woman again. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen now. I know you don’t want me to, but I just want to stay with you.”

“Florence, it isn’t that I don’t want you to stay with me. I just think you deserve better. I don’t even know where I’m going yet.”

“I know that. It doesn’t matter. I don’t know what better would mean anyway. I’ve thought about that a lot. I did things at Samuel’s house that would drive any good man away if he knew and he’d know the first time we…Once he found out, he’d leave me. The only way I could take care of myself would be to do that again, what I did at Samuel’s, and I don’t want to do that.”

“You didn’t do anything you weren’t forced to do. Most men wouldn’t know anyway.”

“Yes, they would. The men who came to Samuel’s house always knew. He always tried to tell them it would be my first time and made them pay more, but they always knew it wasn’t and it made them mad.

“As soon as any man said he liked me, I’d have to tell him. I couldn’t lie to a man about that, and there’s no other way to explain how my back looks without telling him the rest. They’d never understand that the woman who did those things isn’t really me.”

Seth looked at Florence and saw the tears streaming down her face. She was a brave woman, true, but she was a woman who had all a woman’s fears and needs and hopes. She needed him. Before, he’d thought her leaving would hurt, but would be best for her. Now, as he watched her wipe a tear from her cheek, he realized he needed her as much as she needed him.

“I understand all that, and it doesn’t matter to me.”

Florence sobbed.

“But you always act like it does.”

“If I’d let you get too close to me, it would be just like when I made friends during the war. I always ended up losing them and it hurt. It still does. You probably would leave me at some point, and it would hurt just as much. I can’t do that again.”

Florence winced at her first step, and the rest of her steps were slow, but she walked to Seth and put her arms around his neck.

“What if I promised to never leave you?”

“Are you sure you’d want a man like me?”

“I don’t want a man like you. I just want you.”

Seth put his arms around Florence and pulled her tight against him. She yelped at the pain in her side, and Seth eased his embrace a little.

“I can’t promise that I’ll be as good a man as you deserve, Florence.”

“You don’t have to promise me anything except to be there when I need you, just like I’ll be there when you need me.”

Seth lifted Florence’s chin and kissed her. It wasn’t much of a kiss. Neither one really knew how, but the sensation of their lips touching sent a thrill through both of them they’d never before experienced. As they separated, Seth stroked her tear-wet cheek.

“So, what do we do now?”

Florence wiped her face on her sleeves and then looked up at Seth.

“In Tennessee, we’d get married, but there would be a preacher to marry us there, in Kingsport. I guess we keep going until we find a town that has one.”

Seth kissed her again, and then smiled.

“Do you think you can ride?”

They saw no one else that day and as the sun set, they found the Red River. It was wide, but Seth saw sand bars in several places, and the water didn’t look very deep. He and Florence spent the night in the trees that bordered the river.

The next morning, Florence said she felt well enough to make some flat bread, so after Seth lit a fire for her, he saddled the gelding and rode to the river. He was half way across before the water touched the gelding’s belly, and he knew it would get begin to get shallower if he continued. Seth turned the gelding back, and in a few minutes was sitting beside Florence eating the soft cakes.

As he put out he fire, Seth explained to Florence how they would cross. He knew she’d be afraid and wanted to put her at ease.

“I rode half way across, and the water was just up to my feet. We’ll put everything higher than that, and just ride across. Then, we’ll be in Texas.”

He touched her arm.

“Once we’re there, we’ll try to find a town…a town with a preacher.”

Florence rode into the river beside Seth. On the left side of her saddle was the scabbard with her Pennsylvania Rifle. In a scabbard on the right was one of the Henry’s, loaded except for a cartridge in the chamber as Seth had taught her. Seth had his Springfield in the scabbard on his left, and the double barrel shotgun in one on his right. He carried his Henry cradled in his left arm.

Seth let the gelding pick his way across the river, and they arrived on the other side with only their boots wet. They rode up the bank, and looked out over the land. It didn’t look any different than Indian Territory. Seth turned to Florence.

“Well, I guess this is Texas. That make you happy?”

“Yes. If it’s as big a place as you say, there ought to be someplace for us here.”

“Well, let’s go find us a town.”

They rode for most of that day before crossing a wagon track. It didn’t look well used as the ruts weren’t all that deep, but Seth followed it anyway. As he always did, Seth found a place to spend the night that was hidden in a grove of trees through which a small creek ran. That night, he unrolled his bedroll beside Florence’s, instead of on the other side of the fire. He wasn’t going to do anything with her. The Bible said that was a sin, and he still believed in that part of the Bible. He just wanted to be close to her.

The sun was high when they saw the town in the distance. It was small, much like the towns Seth had seen amid the farms of Tennessee. The building were spread out more than he remembered from those towns, and one that sat at the very edge of town seemed deserted. The sign hanging from a beam extending from the roof peak identified it as a blacksmith’s shop, but there were no people around it and the big doors in front were closed.

They rode off the wagon road and up behind that building. Seth asked Florence to stay there while he looked around.

There were buildings on both sides of the wagon road that became a wide street when it entered the town. The first building Seth passed was made of logs much like Florence’s cabin. The sign over the door said “Marshal”, and the small windows in the back had what looked like iron bars across the openings.

On the north side and directly across from the marshal’s office was a building built of red brick that wore a sign saying “Bank of Sulphur Springs”. Next to that was a two-story building of sawn lumber. Hanging from the balcony on the second floor was a sign that said “Calico Hotel” and under that “Rooms and Good Food”.

On the south side, across from the hotel, was the shop of J.T. Durham, Undertaker and Fine Furniture, and next to it another two story building with a sign that said “Sulphur Springs General Store”. At the end of town on this side was a sawn lumber building with a bell tower. It had a cross on top on top of the bell tower just like the little church Seth had attended in Virginia. Beside the church was a cemetery enclosed by a board fence.

Beyond the church were a few small houses, some of log construction and some of sawn lumber. Seth figured these houses belonged to the people who ran the businesses in town.

Four men were sitting in chairs outside the general store, and Seth rode there first. The men eyed him suspiciously, so he smiled.

“Mornin’”

The men nodded, but didn’t smile. A tall, older man on the end raised out of his chair. Seth saw the brass star on his vest flash in the sunlight, and the revolver in the holster on his right hip. The man walked to the edge of the raised boardwalk.

“Don’t know as I’ve seen you around here before. What’s your name, son?”

“Seth, Seth Moore.”

The man rubbed the short beard on his chin.

“Hmmm. You have business in Sulphur Springs, Seth?”

“I thought I’d see what the general store has to sell. I could use a few things.”

“If you have the money, Jeremiah can sell you what you need.”

“I have a little. I could use some more, though. Any work in this town?”

“Well, that depends on what you can do, now doesn’t it? You a blacksmith? We could use a blacksmith.”

“No, can’t say as I’ve ever done any blacksmithing. I can do about anything on a farm though.”

“Well, you go on in the store and I’ll ask around.”

Seth tied the gelding to the rail in front of the general store and walked inside.

Seth hadn’t intended on buying anything when he rode up to the general store. He just wanted to find out what was in the town. The marshal had surprised him with his questions, and by the suspicious way he asked them. The general store seemed like a good reason for him to be in Sulphur Springs.

Once inside, he did see some things he and Florence could use, and picked up a side of bacon, some coffee, sugar, and some salt. He was in the process of paying for them when he saw people running past the window of the store.

The man behind the counter said, “They must have come back again. God help us”, and ran through the door behind the counter leaving Seth alone in the store. He put down his purchases and walked to the window.

There were a dozen horses in front of the bank. One man was still mounted and held a double barrel shotgun as if ready to use it. As Seth watched, there was a muffled gunshot, then another, and then three men ran out of the bank.

Seth pulled his Remingtons from their holsters and stepped out the door. He saw the marshal yell at the man with the shotgun to put it down and get off his horse. The man pointed the shotgun at the marshal and pulled the trigger. The marshal crumpled as the buckshot tore through his chest, and collapsed in the middle of the street.

At the sound of the shotgun, more men came running out of the bank. One carried a canvas bag that he slung over his saddle horn as they all mounted their horses. Once all were mounted, they turned their horses toward Seth and started riding out of town.

A woman came out of the bank and screamed her husband had been shot. Seth knew these men were the same type of animals as the men who had raped Kanuna’s daughter, and the same as the men who had attacked him and Florence. He knew he couldn’t let them get away with killing innocent people, and stepped into the street as the mounted men bore down on him.

The man with the canvas bag on his saddle horn aimed his revolver at Seth and fired. Seth heard the ball buzz by his right ear as his own ball caught the man in the chest. As he fell, Seth fired at next nearest man. That man also fell. A ball from another of the men whizzed past Seth’s head and he ran for the store and cover.

The group of men turned their horses to face the general store. More balls thudded into the doorframe once Seth was inside. Seth waited until the shots slowed, and then popped out from behind the door and fired twice. Another man fell off his horse. The rest spurred their horses to a gallop as they rode out of town.

Three of them didn’t make it. Seth heard the loud cracks of rapid-fire shots that could only be a Henry rifle. He looked out the door and saw Florence stopping the black mare next to his gelding. She ran to him.

“Seth, are you all right?”

“Yes. I am now. I wasn’t sure before. There were a dozen of them.”

“I know. I watched them ride into town from behind the blacksmith shop. I didn’t know what they were doing there until I heard the shots. I figured you could use some help so I rode in to see. You were standing in the street and they were shooting at you. I couldn’t let you get shot. I used the Henry because I shoot better with a rifle and it shoots faster. Don’t be mad at me.”

Seth gathered Florence in his arms.

“I’m never going to be mad at you for helping me again…never.”

As they stood there, Seth heard a man clearing his throat. He looked up and saw one of the men who had been sitting outside the general store. The man smiled.

“What you two did wasn’t something we normally see from strangers. You were either mighty brave or mighty stupid, but it doesn’t matter which. We got all the money back, thanks to you and your boy here.”

Florence eased away from Seth, turned around and took off her hat and shook out her hair.

“I’m not a boy. I’m a woman.”

The man smiled though he looked a little shocked.

“Well I’ll be. So you are. You’re pretty good with a rifle for a woman.”

He stepped up on the walk and stood in front of Seth with his hand outstretched.

“I’m William Morris. I own the hotel and I’m the mayor of Sulphur Springs. I’d like to treat you both to supper tonight and a room at the hotel if you can stay that long.”

Seth shook William’s hand.

“We can stay, but uh…it’ll have to be two rooms. Florence and I aren’t man and wife.”

William smiled.

“Two rooms it is then. I’ll just go over and tell the desk clerk. When you get ready, just go up to the desk. He’ll give you the keys. I’ll meet you downstairs about sundown. Now, I have to see about something.”

As William hurried off, Seth touched Florence on the shoulder.

“Why did you take off your hat and tell him you’re a woman?”

“Because I’m tired of being somebody I’m not. You don’t think they know about me way out here, do you?”

“I don’t know, but the marshal is dead, so I don’t think we have much to worry about. Let’s go get our rooms. It’ll be nice to sleep in a bed for a change, don’t you think?”

“Yes, and nicer to get to wash somewhere besides a cold creek.”

Florence stroked his arm.

“I kind of got used to sleeping with you close, though.”

“I know. It won’t be long before we can again. I promise.”

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