Yellowstone Redemption(6)By: Peggy L Henderson
What choice do I have? He’s almost dead already. Mama wouldn’t let that happen.
“Can you carry him into the cabin,” Sarah asked the men. “My mother will return shortly. I can care for him until she returns.”
The undecided look that passed between the warriors didn’t go unnoticed. She didn’t trust these men. The Absarokas weren’t exactly hostile, but they had a reputation to steal whatever they could. Having them in her parents’ home was not the wisest course of action, but she saw no alternative. Looking at the man on the ground again, she knew she’d never be able to move him on her own.
“What happened to his britches, and the rest of his clothing?” Sarah asked before she could recall her words. She hoped they didn’t think she was accusing them of stealing. The man’s dirt-caked britches fell barely to his knees, and his shirt was torn in several places.
“This is what he wore when we found him,” the first man spoke. Sarah caught the distinct note of annoyance in his tone. The other two picked him up, one man hoisting him up by the shoulders, the other by his legs. She rushed ahead to open the door to the cabin. Her parents’ home was a spacious three-room dwelling with a loft. The front door opened to a large main room. A huge hearth and fireplace took up almost an entire wall. Shelves and a workbench that served as the kitchen area covered the rest of the wall. A rocking chair stood in the corner. The center of the room held a large table with six handcrafted chairs. Doors on opposite sides led to two bedrooms. One belonged to her parents, the other was hers. The loft had served as sleeping quarters for her brothers, as well as extra storage.
In a hasty decision, Sarah led the Indians to her bedroom. She flipped back the covers on her bed. The warriors dropped the man not too softly onto the mattress, and turned quickly to leave.
“Thank you for bringing him,” she called lamely. She followed the two men outside and watched them mount their horses. They took off at a fast gallop. She caught the angry stare of the one man who’d lingered outside. She hadn’t meant to insult him with her question. Shrugging it off, she went quickly back to the stranger in her bed. This was not a good idea. Why couldn’t this have happened two days ago, while her parents were still here?
The man was covered in dried mud, but cleaning him would have to wait. She needed to warm him first. She unlaced and pulled his odd boots off his feet with some difficulty, and set them on the ground, spraying dirt all over the floor in the process. She covered him with the blankets on her bed, then left her room and rushed up the ladder to the loft to retrieve several animal hides – a buffalo robe and a bighorn sheep hide. She threw these over him as well, tucking them in at the sides. Her mother had taught her how to read a person’s heartbeat by feeling the throat. What she felt now alarmed her. His pulse was weak. His skin was like ice to her touch. She rushed to the main room and stoked the fire in the hearth. Next she poured water into the kettle over the flames. She reached for the three water bladders hanging on the wall by the front door, and filled them once the water was hot enough. She hastened back to her room, and placed one of the bags under each of the man’s armpits, and the third under his neck. It was all she could do for now. His body would have to do the rest.
Sarah stared at the man. Only his head was visible now under all the blankets and furs she’d piled on him. His hair struck her as odd. It was caked with mud, so she couldn’t even tell what color it was, but she suspected it would be a lot lighter once clean. She’d never seen such short hair on a man before. Curious, she reached out a tentative hand and touched it. It felt stiff with dirt. The man moved and groaned in his sleep, and she quickly pulled her hand away. She waited for any other movement, but he remained quiet.
A scraping sound and a whine brought her head around to the bedroom door. Something pushed it open from the outside.
“Come in, Grizzly,” Sarah said with a smile. “Where have you been?” She knelt down to hug the huge dog that padded into the room. His tail wagged furiously and he licked at her face. She buried her head in the dog’s shaggy gray coat. He looked more like a wolf, actually, and was at least as big.
Sarah stood, watching her dog’s nose twitch while he sniffed the air. A deep low growl emanated from his throat.
“It’s all right, Grizzly. He’s no threat to me.” At least not for the moment. She patted the dog between the ears for reassurance. Grizzly cautiously walked up to the bed and sniffed the man’s face. Then her dog ran his tongue across his cheek. He stirred again, and seemed to cringe, but he didn’t wake.
“All right, boy, that’s enough. Come on, let’s see if we can find something to eat. She slapped her hand against her leg, and the dog immediately turned and followed her out of the room.
The kettle still hung over the fire, and Sarah poured more water into it. She’d have to head to the river to refill the bucket soon. After adding more wood to build up the flame, she grabbed a slab of dried venison from a rack by the workbench, and pulled her knife from its sheath on her hip. The sharp blade sliced through the meat like butter, and she dropped small chunks of it into the water. She added a few onions that she had gathered the day before. If he was to regain his strength, the man would have to eat. She tossed several large pieces of meat to the eagerly waiting dog.