BUCK LONESOME

 

Taken from the 1970 High Chaparral Annual

 

 

See what you think of this one. Personally, I feel it shows that it was written so long ago. Plus I don’t think the writer had watched much (if any) High Chaparral

 

 

There was one empty place at the breakfast table and Big John Cannon raised his eyebrows and glanced at the empty place where his brother Buck should have been sitting.

“Buck’s late down, Victoria,” he observed to his wife as she brought in the meal. Big John’s son Billy Blue and Victoria’s brother Manolito Montoya exchanged glances and looked at their plates.

Victoria Cannon laughed; she shrugged her shoulders as she set down the coffee pot. “That one,” she smiled. “Buck was in Ladston last night, John. It would seem that he made what you boys call a night of it.”

Her husband frowned. He glanced sharply at his son and brother-in-law.

“Were either of you guys with him last night?” he demanded. “Buck’s altogether too free with these wild nights of his. Going to be in trouble before he’s much older. Fella like him should be setting a better example. Where is he?”

Blue coughed and spluttered over his flapjacks and maple syrup.

Manolito smiled ever so innocently at Big John. “How hard we tried, noble brother-in-law. But --- you know what Buck is. We departed at midnight; our heads are not as hard as that of the good Buck.”

“So,” grunted Big John, “he hasn’t come home yet and it’s six in the morning. Okay, if either of you see him, tell him I’ll be wanting his help over at the Deep Sixty. The fences are down and I’m taking a party. Tell him to look lively. We’ve got a living to earn.”

But by sundown there was still no sign of the missing Buck and after supper Big John got up grimly and buckled on his gunbelt again. “Blue, and you, Manolito, we’re riding for Ladston. Something almighty queer about this long absence of Buck. He’s always come home before this, some time at least.”

 

 

In town, Buck’s trail was easy to find and then as easy to lose. It led from the Ladston Tavern to a clump of firs half-a-mile out of town. Then it faded into nothingness. Big John breathed hard and stared round him.

“That bartender told us that Buck left at two in the morning, managed to climb onto his horse and was seen riding at a walking gait out in this direction. There’s horse tracks here; could be anybody’s. Horseshoes are very much alike, I guess.”

“But, Pa,” put in Billy Blue, “there’s unshod tracks here as well.”

“Indians!” growled Big John. “That means Apaches. So, Buck met up with some Apaches. What of that? So close to town even Apaches wouldn’t dare molest a white man, would they?”

Manolito was kneeling and peering at the ground. “Good brother-in-law, I find traces here that someone has been busy wiping out tracks.” He scuffed the dusty earth with his fingers and brought the hand up. There was a dark brown stain on the fingertips and he showed it to Big John and Blue. “Blood!” he said, solemnly.

“Now, now,” said Big John. “we mustn’t go off half-cocked like this. All we know is that Buck vanished round about here. So we search. We each take different directions. That stain might be blood or it might not be. Even if it’s blood, no need to assume it’s Buck’s blood. Even if it was he might have had a scratch or a nick.”

“Whose side are you on, Pa?” asked Blue. “You seem to be making excuses for the Apaches.”

Manolito grinned, flashing teeth. “Always the optimist, Big John.”

Cannon flushed and scowled. “Nothing wrong with being an optimist,” he grunted. “Until you’re proved wrong, that is. Okay, we ride. Adios.”

It was dark by now and they searched all through the night, meeting occasionally to compare results, which were always nil. In the thickets and the copses they trampled thinking maybe Buck might have crawled unconscious into some hideaway. And all with no results.

 

 

By dawn the next day when they all three cantered wearily back to the ranch-house, none of them had found the least trace of the missing Buck Cannon. It was a gloomy breakfast to which the four sat down.

“What about the law, John?” Victoria broke the silence. “Have you told the sheriff?”

Big John laughed bitterly. “Sheriff Watkins?” he snorted. “You think he’d bother? He don’t approve of Buck so much. He might make a few half-hearted attempts, to save his face, but ---“

“The Apaches, Pa.” Billy Blue put in. “Ain’t we gonna do anything about them? Manolito is convinced there were tracks brushed out in the dust. Who but Apaches would do that?”

“Just what does one do about Apaches?” Big John asked ruminatively. “Seems to me that all one can do is fight ‘em, then fight ‘em some more, and then fight ‘em again. The critters just won’t live in peace with us. You think we oughter start a war with them, Blue?”

Victoria paled, but Manolito bristled. “If they done any harm to Senor Buck, we should wipe them off the face of the territory, Big John.”

“The U.S Army’s rather busy right now, Manolito,” John replied, but his sarcasm was lost on his fiery Spanish brother-in-law.

“But who else could have taken Buck except Apaches?” chimed in Blue Boy.

“So we’ve got that far,” his father commented. “We agree that he’s been --- what did you call it --- taken?”

“What else?” persisted Billy Blue. “Kidnapped, abducted, taken. All one.”

“That has to be proved.” Insisted Big John stubbornly.

He had not very long to wait for the proof.

After breakfast, when Big John Cannon strode out to the porch of the ranch-house, he was met by three members of the race about which he had been thinking, the Apache nation.

There were three of them, one a chief and two braves. The chief bore a white flag of truce and the two warriors carried rifles. These they held stock foremost and with the white flag this denoted that they came in peace, for a parley.

Cannon stood still, staring into the stone face of the chief. Blue Boy and Manolito came out behind him. They, like himself, had taken off their gunbelts on sitting down to breakfast. There was a heavy silence.

The Apache chieftain was the first to break that silence.

“This is the house of John Cannon?” came the grating voice. John nodded.

“We have found a treasure,” went on the Apache. “A brother, from the same squaw. His name is Buck.”

“Steady,” muttered Big John as Blue and Manolito started forward. “Let me handle this.” He turned to the Indian. “What do you know of my brother? Where is he and what have you done to him?”

The Apache stared arrogantly into his face. “Your kinsman is safe. He lies in my tepee and he has been wounded. He was found senseless by two of my braves in the dawn hours of the day before the last one. He is wounded, but not to death. My head medicine man will not allow him to be moved.”

Big John’s breath blew out in a great gust. So Buck had been found after all. “We will bring a paleface doctor to him,” he began, but the chief held up his hand.

“That cannot be,” he said solemnly. “No white man sets foot in my village armed and I know you would not come otherwise. If you come for your man you come unarmed and be searched by my braves. Otherwise we will leave him in some named place and you will come for him.”

Big John glowered into the blank eyes of the man. He had had many dealings with the Apaches and well he knew the constant and bitter enmity between the tribes and the white settlers.

“There is still the price to be agreed,” continued the man calmly. “Before your brother is released to you, you will deliver to us one hundred head of your best cattle, fifty rifles and ammunition, and ten ploughs.”

Then the white rancher exploded. “You would sell my brother to me?” he hissed in a furious anger. “Get our guns, Blue. They’ll be needed.”

The Apache chief remained calm. “If I do not return inside the hour the town of Ladston will be raided and burned to the ground. Five hundred of my fiercest warriors await my medicine man’s signal. Why should I not sell your brother back to you? If I had found a box of the yellow gold that you white people covet so much, would I hand it back without payment? That is one of the principles the white man has taught us. The palaver is finished. We will retire for a half-hour while you decide. Remember that only a half-hour remains.”

The three watched the Apaches depart a hundred yards, then climb down from their mustangs and sit together on the earth, their backs turned away from the ranch-house. Big John turned a sombre face towards the others.

“Now here’s a pretty mess,” he ground out. “Buck goes on a spree and he lands all of us in this. We’ve no choice, of course?”

Blue and Manolito looked gloomily thoughtful.

Was there a choice, thought Blue Boy? No, his father was right, there was none. It was blackmail, of the most flagrant kind, but the Apaches held all the aces. The army was far away and, if they defied the ultimatum, it would only be vengeance the soldiers could wreak after their possible deaths. No army could then save Buck, who would by then have been butchered or burned. Could they rouse the men of the surrounding townships? They would answer the call, but they were all weary of fighting Apaches by now, and their women would maybe stop them from going, fearing they would never come back. All for one man.

“Darned fool thing, Buck did,” growled Big John. “A wild night and then trying to ride his horse home, close by the Apache encampment. He was asking for it and now he’s got it. Or maybe it’s that’s got it. Well we’ll have to pay and I will have to go into that Apache village and fetch him out.”

Billy Blue started and put out a hand. “Can you trust them that much, Pa? They could hold you too and then ask for more cattle and more rifles.”

“I have no alternative, son,” said his father stonily. “Call them back.”

It was decided. The cattle, the rifle and the ploughs were to be left on the range, at such a place and at such a time and no white man was to linger within five miles of the spot.

One hour after they had been taken, John Cannon was to ride in with the buckboard to the Indian village. He must come unarmed, or else surrender his guns to the sentry. He could bring a doctor if he wished, but that doctor would also have to be unarmed.

 

 

That afternoon, Victoria clung to him as he threw down his gunbelt and strode out alone to the buckboard. He had decided against taking a doctor. He would take Buck straight into town. Victoria had heaped the back of the buckboard with blankets and he drove off without looking back.

Victoria and Manolito watched him go mournfully.

Blue Boy, maybe unable to witness the signs of such an abject surrender to the insolent demands of the Apaches, was hiding himself.

After five miles the buckboard was met by six Apache braves. Big John stonily suffered the indignity of being blindfolded as he laughed bitterly to himself. This was all sheer melodramatic nonsense. The redskins must know well that every white man in the locality well knew just where the Apache encampment was situated.

At the entrance to the village, the Apache warrior who had taken the reins threw them over the horse’s head and leaped down, Another snatched the blindfold from Big John’s head and flung it away.

The chief who had come to the High Chaparral was waiting for him. His nut-brown face was no longer stonily inscrutable. Now it bore the triumphant malice of the man who has successfully tricked his enemy and now looks forward to his triumph. Ringed by armed braves Big John stood before him unarmed.

“So now I hold both of the so famous Cannon men,” the chief gloated. “I have the cattle and the rifles and the ploughs. When dealing with white men my race has always the great advantage. The white man is a fool and he does not lie. Like the fool he is, he mostly keeps his word and we Indians can rely on that. Bring him down and put him with the other prisoner.”

He turned contemptuously away and Big John, dazed and scarcely believing the words he had heard, was dragged almost unresisting away.

Buck was still unconscious when Big John was thrown into the tepee beside him. So the Apache chief had lied the whole way through. Buck had been wounded by the Apaches themselves before they had taken him. Big John fervently hoped that Buck had taken toll of the impudent villains before going under.

Quickly he felt Buck’s pulse and respiration and he breathed again. At least he lived. Then John sat down to await stoically whatever events fate should bring. There was no alternative, with a fully armed brave at the tepee door and one at each point of the compass, their shadows visible though the skin sides of the tepee.

It was dusk before the chief came again. As the sentry threw back the flap, Big John saw the blazing fires. Round them already were dancing the medicine man and the warriors celebrating their victory over the hated palefaces.

This time the chief was bland and courteous. “To whom,” he wanted to know, “should I address my demands --- blackmail was the word you used? The price this time will be much higher, for now I have the owner of the ranch as well. Shall it be to the sheriff at Ladston, or to the territorial chiefs in Tucson? Or maybe to the Army, eh? They tell me the blue-clad men are two hundred miles away. But I can wait.”

Big John gave an involuntary leap from his squatting position, his eyes blazing with fury. But the haft of a spear from the chief’s bodyguard hit him in the chest and he reeled back.

Then to his bemused ears there came the sound of shots in quick succession. The sentry fell and then the chief himself. The bodyguard was the next to go and then, like some ghost in a play, there loomed the face of Blue Boy himself.

His face was browned and he wore a travesty of an Indian’s garb. A wig roughly concocted from a pony’s mane mimicked the long hair of the Apache and the red and white painted cheek was true to Apache custom.

But this ‘Apache’ held a six-gun in each hand and another was thrust into Big John’s nerveless hand. The elder Cannon was bewildered by what was happening but he recognised Blue --- it was all like a miracle now --- and he obeyed voicelessly.

“Keep ‘em away from the space in front of the buckboard,” hissed Blue Boy. “I’ll get Buck…”

There came rifle shots as Big John ducked out and a bullet nicked him. He paid no heed and the six-gun barked and each time found a victim. Through the hail of bullets strode Blue Boy, the limp form of Buck in his arms. Unceremoniously, Buck was flung into the blankets at the rear of the rig and Blue leaped up into the seat. His father clambered in after him and, lashing the horse, Blue turned the rig round and made hell-for-leather for the open country.

A solid phalanx of warriors barred the way and Blue gritted his teeth. His father was firing steadily and they had to stop and reload. The horse, nostrils flaring and flanks steaming, reared up at the row of spears presented by the Apaches. But the driver lashed her on and, neighing loudly, the hooves fell and she galloped forward.

The tough Apache braves cracked and, as the thundering hooves came closer and closer they broke ranks and divided. Still firing, they rattled through and headed for the open country.

“Gotta take him to the Doc in town I guess?” asked Blue Boy.

But his father, breathing heavily, shook his head. “No, son, we got to go back home first. Victoria will be just about demented by this. We have to tell her everything’s okay. We’ll go there and after that we’ll tote Buck into town. He’s been unconscious a while now.”

The blankets behind them heaved and the bewildered face of Buck Cannon, dirty and blood-streaked, looked up. “Say,” he wanted to know, “what am I doing out here in a buggy with you and Blue, all dolled up like a comic Indian? I can remember that last jigger of bourbon, then the slow ride and the dark figures. A shot in the arm --- it hit me like a mallet. I saw all the stars there are and…then I wake up here. Tell me, someone, willya, what’s all this ruckus about?”

“We’ll try,” grinned Blue Boy, looking back at him.

As the carriage, now proceeding at a more sedate pace, headed for the High Chaparral ranch, Blue told all he knew up to the time when he had dressed himself up like an Apache Indian and hidden himself in the blankets of the buckboard which his father, unarmed, was driving to the meeting with the late treacherous Apache chief.

“You mean I missed all that!” groaned Buck. “You mean I’ve been lying senseless like a stuck pig while all this glorious fighting’s been going on?”

“No more senseless than you always are, Buck,” said Big John, with a wink at Blue, “Seems like our ‘wounded’ invalid won’t need Doc tonight, eh? A good wash, a feed and a warm bed --- “

Buck’s eyes gleamed. “Food!” he said gloatingly. “Step on it, Blue. Ya wanta know somethin’? I can’t feel a darned thing now except creeping starvation.”

 

 

THE END

 

Taken from the 1970 High Chaparral annual. Published in Great Britain by World Distributors by arrangement with Western Publishing Company Inc, Racine, Wisconsin, U.S.A

 

Printed in England by Jarrold and Sons Ltd, Norwich.