Jim was feeling like something the hounds had dragged in, chewed up, and then spit up. He had pushed himself far past the point of fatigue for the last two weeks, then he had seen his heroic efforts wasted by the slipshod methods of the Sheriff and Deputy, though he still had some hope that he was right and the injun would leave the outlaw trail. His friendship with Vickie was over.
Hellfire, he fumed, he hadn't ever asked that crazy female woman to fall in love with him. Due to his association with her, a good woman he might have learned in time to really care for wouldn't even give him the time of day. The one good thing he'd done in the last month was to kill that damned Silas Hawkins, if you could call his having killed another mother's son a good thing. Any other time Jim would have been proud of having been the long, swift arm of justice, but with his outlook today, the killing only seemed to be one more notch on an already whittled up tally stick.
Jim stopped his spotted stud at the telegraph station and tied him securely out in front. The door to the telegraph office was open so Jim hobbled right on in. The elderly man behind the desk was evidently the telegrapher. He looked Jim up and down and seemed to be more than a little disappointed in what he saw.
He asked Jim. "You the Ranger 'at kilt Silas Hawkins? I'd a thought you'd be a much bigger man." "I was big enough to get that job of work done, I reckon." Jim answered shortly, then he felt worse for being angry with the old man. "Look, can I just have a telegraph form, please?" It seemed to Jim as if nobody was going to like him as he was today!
The man slid a form and a stubby pencil across the counter. Jim printed tersely, "Brought Joe in. Got receipt. Joe headed north out of Texas. Killed Silas Hawkins. Jim." The Ranger Captain didn't believe in his men wasting state money by sending long messages, as Jim had found out early in his career.
Jim gave the man the address as the Ranger headquarters at Austin to deliver the message to and told him he would wait for a reply. He paid for the message then he went to wait out front. There was an old wooden bench out there; Jim moved it far enough away from the wall that he could sit down comfortably. He sat down and leaned back and he found himself getting drowsy from the fatigue and the loss of blood.
Sometime later Jim groggily woke up as the telegrapher shook him by the shoulder. "Hey Ranger. Your answer just came in from Austin." Jim took the message; he cleared his throat and thanked the man. He wiped at his eyes with his fists then he read the message. "Luke Warner seen in Gonzales. Capt. Rayford." He'd not even rated a "well done!" Well, the Captain certainly wasn't known for his appreciative attitude or long-winded praise but then again, Jim had known how he was for the last five years.
"I guess I'd best head for Gonzales." Jim thought, "It ain't like I've got anything or anybody keeping me around here!" Jim stubbornly climbed on his horse and rode around to the Sheriff's barn to pick up his mule.
He led the mule around to the livery stable and called to a man who was inside tending the horses. "Would you be interested in buying a good young mule?" The skinny, bearded old man came outside into the barnyard and Jim could tell he was really giving the mule a hell of a looking over on the way. He stopped a few feet from the mule and spat a thick stream of tobacco right between the animal's front hooves. "Sure would, Cowboy, I'm always in the market for a good mule! Do you know where abouts I can find me one?" "Wait just a minute, Mister." Jim stopped the hostler.
"Before you set in to dickerin', I was talking about this'n right here! Any other time I'd enjoy arguing with you, but just now, I've got to get on down the road. We both know this mule and his tack are worth thirty-five or forty dollars easy, but right now I've got me a big knife hole in my hind leg and if I don't have to get back down off of this tall stud to haggle, I'll take thirty for him." The old timer looked at the mule's teeth to determine his age; he picked up his feet to check on his disposition and the condition of his hooves, then he lightly swung onto his back and reined him around the yard to make sure that he rode all right.
This mule was about as gentle and sound as a mule could possibly be and he handled well with a light rein. The man crankily called across the yard; "I'll be needin' me a recipe for him." Jim reached a pencil and paper out of his saddlebags; he wrote out a short description of the mule as a bill of sale and exchanged the receipt for the money the buyer handed him when he reined the mule back in next to the stud. The feller had a real sour look on his face, Jim realized it was because he'd stolen the man's thunder by not haggling with him on the deal.
Jim put the thirty dollars in his poke, then he rode on out headed east toward Gonzales. The mule brayed at them loudly, in the last week he'd gotten so he liked following the big spotted stud. The farther Jim rode from San Antonio, the weaker he felt. That night he came close to falling off of his horse when he tried to dismount. The Ranger knew by then that his decision to leave San Antonio had been made while he was still half dazed with shock and loss of blood; he should have wired the Captain that he'd been wounded by the outlaw and needed a few days off.
He realized he was in as much or more danger now than he'd been when he was facing Silas Hawkins in the cafe. He gritted his teeth and he managed somehow to slide down off of the saddle without jarring his leg much and he kept a good hold on the horse's reins.
He curled up right there on the rough ground and held the reins through the painful night, he knew that if his horse grazed off even a few feet from him, he'd probably lie right there and die.
Jim's last coherent thought before he passed out was his imagining some dumb sod buster of a hundred years in the future turning up his rust encrusted Colts with a plow. After closer examination they might dig up his badge and maybe even a few shards of his bones and his gold coins.
He pictured big wagon loads full of curious town folks riding out to the farm to see the grave and relics of a real old-time Texas Ranger. When Jim woke the next morning he was feverish and stiff. He looked around the best he could and saw he still held the spotted stud's reins. Jim gritted his teeth against the pain and sat up. He stiffly rolled over; then he got to his knees and started pulling himself up his saddle. By the time he stood erect he was so nauseous from the pain in his leg, he had to endure the dry heaves for a spell.
This weakened Jim so much, he barely had the strength to continue his tortuous trip to the seat of his saddle. Once he was there, he urged the stallion to walk and he held on to the horn. He wasn't real sure where he was headed, but he knew if he stayed where he was he was sure a goner! Jim let the appaloosa have his head while he dozed. Hell-Fire and Perdition! Jim came to with the realization that the Bible poundin' preachers had been almighty right about him, he was roasting in hell for his many sins!
He struggled to get out of the hot coals but the devil pushed him right back down amongst 'em again. He struck out weakly and he heard the dark angel talking in tongues, this gave him the strength and the will to keep on fighting. The brave Ranger had never heard tell of anyone escaping from purgatory but he had never been a quitter and he thought if he could only hold out to fight his way back to the saddle of his good spotted stud he might just prove to be the first! A woman's calming voice penetrated his sense of doom in his fight for his life.
He wondered what one of Satan's demons was doing talking to him in a soothing woman's voice? A cool, wet cloth on his brow finally brought him around. The voices weren't talking in tongues now, but in some European language; Jim gave up and quit fighting. Later, the same woman's sultry voice murmured to him as he felt her hands on him. He couldn't understand how he could be so feverish and yet so aroused at the same time.
He felt the woman on top of him and then he felt the snug warmth of her surround him and her soft breasts bouncing on his chest as she rode him to a standstill. Jim's raging fever broke then and he slept. Jim was freezing to death, for a spell he thought he was back on the front lines of the rebel war against northern aggression in the midst of a bitter winter.
His teeth wouldn't stop their infernal chattering. A warm, nude body climbed under the covers with him and a woman's hands chafed his shivering body and held him close until he felt warmer and slept.
Later, he remembered her offering him a bitter bark tea of some sort; he decided from the taste, it was willow. He was almighty thirsty, but try as he might, he was so weak he could only sip a few drops of the brew. When Jim woke next the stifling heat was still with him, but most of the pain and delirium were gone.
He roused and looked around him. He was inside an ornately painted wooden wagon of some sort, and there was a black haired, brown-eyed beauty watching him in appraisal.
He found she had broken his fever this time by wrapping him with blankets and putting hot poultices on his leg. As he watched her she pulled back the covers that wrapped him. Jim felt so much better now than he had been feeling he decided to go along with any damned thing she did!
The woman took the luke-warm wraps off his leg and carefully looked it over. She smiled and nodded encouragingly and brought a fresh steaming cloth and rewrapped the leg. Jim ventured a questioning, "Who are you?" The woman didn't seem to understand his question, she asked something of him using the same sultry voice that had stayed through the night with him but he couldn't understand it.
He wondered if she'd really bedded him to break his fever or if that had only been a fever fed dream? The woman brought him half of a cup of watered down meat broth and helped him hold it to his lips to sip it. Although drinking it exhausted him, he couldn't remember ever tasting anything half so good in his life. He slept after that and when he woke again he was clear headed and the woman fed him a whole cup of wonderfully thick broth with thinly sliced wild mushrooms and shreds of tender meat.
Jim asked the woman for water and she clearly didn't understand what he'd asked for. He tried asking her in border Spanish with no greater success and then he tried using some of the Louisiana French he'd learned from his mother and her family.
"Oui!" The woman responded instantly to his question in French. She brought him a cup of delicious cool water. Jim next explored his knowledge of French with the woman, though their pronunciation and some of their usage varied, he managed to find out she claimed to be a member of a Romany or gypsy family. Her own given name was Anya. The appaloosa stallion had carried him into their camp three days before. He had been in and out of consciousness ever since. Anya told him that the fever and swelling in his leg had subsided and the leg was now starting to heal.
Jim thanked her for all she and her family had done for him and asked her if she knew how far they were from Gonzales.
She didn't know, but she told him she would go and ask her father who was the chief of their little gypsy band. A short time after she left, a short, powerfully built gypsy man climbed into the wagon.
He cheerfully introduced himself to Jim in French as Gustav. He told Jim they were about two days wagon ride north of Gonzales.
Jim asked Gustav which direction they were headed, and the man responded that they were gypsies; he told Jim they went wherever the wind blew them. Jim reached for his pants and took his leather poke from his pocket.
Thankfully, it still weighed what it should in his hand. Jim felt this showed him something about the people's basic honesty. They could have stolen from him or they could have taken everything he had and left him lying up in a pile of brush to die for that matter. Jim took a twenty dollar gold piece from his poke and showed it to Gustav. "Which direction is the wind blowing now, my friend?" He asked in French. "Toward Gonzales. The wind blows toward Gonzales as straight as the black raven flies, mon ami." Gustav used a gypsy trick and caused the heavy coin to vanish.
Gustav then showed Jim again that he was an honorable man by asking his permission to breed the spotted stallion to one of his mares that had come in season. Jim agreed immediately and then he enjoyed discussing the merits of the stallion with Gustav who certainly talked like he was a knowledgeable horseman. Jim had heard tell the Gypsies were as good at raising, breeding, and training horses as the American Indians. He couldn't tell if Gustav was quite that good, not having actually seen him work with a horse, but the man did talk as if he had an amazing knowledge of the animals.
Gustav called out to one of the women to bring them some wine. When it was delivered to him he poured Jim a full cup; Jim gratefully sipped the strong wine as they talked. Anya came in and told Gustav that Jim shouldn't drink much of the wine, but Gustav loudly insisted the gypsy wine would strengthen Jim's gajo blood. After they'd had another drink, Gustav confided something to Jim.
He'd already bred his mare to the spotted stallion. Actually, several of their mares had become receptive with the new stallion being among them and the stallion had bred them all! Jim laughed about this and told Gustav it was fine with him. They could breed all of the mares they wanted to.
Their mares weren't going to wear that old stud horse out. Jim wasn't going to quibble about the man breeding his mares to Chief. Hell, unless his imagination had been tricked by his fever, he'd been bedded by the man's own daughter himself. The other men and women came and looked in the wagon. They were obviously curious about Jim. Gustav asked Anya if she thought Jim was strong enough to move outside where everyone could see and talk to him. She agreed he was strong enough he could sit outside in the air and sun for a short spell.
Jim got up out of the bed and put on his clothes. He felt as weak as a puppy, but he could tell that the worst was over. The leg was still plenty sore, but if he were careful with it, it would hold his weight. He carefully climbed down out of the wagon and sat on a stool Anya pulled out of storage for him. Jim had hardly gotten settled before a youngster among the gypsies asked him how he'd been injured.
He was immediately hushed by one of the elders, but Jim told them it was all right and he answered the youngster anyway.
He told them about his bringing in the horse thief and then about having the killer almost stumble over him in the diner. He admitted to the gypsies that he hadn't had the good sense to hole up somewhere close to the Doctor in San Antonio and to let his wounded leg heal. They talked about Jim's job as a lawman for a while. Gustav told Jim he had once almost been hung as a horse thief, even though he had a bill of sale from a county auction for the horse in question.
No one in the posse had been able to read. The other Gypsies all laughed with fatalistic humor at Gustav's story, but Jim agreed with him that justice had been poorly served by lawmen's ignorance many times. Jim enjoyed sitting in the sun and talking to the Gypsies, they were interested in the same things most country folks were.
He thought of all of the bad talk he had ever heard about Gypsies stealing babies and anything else that wasn't nailed down. He had to laugh at some people's natural ignorance.
When Anya started to fret and then began insisting that Jim be helped back into her wagon it felt good to him to be fussed over by a woman. The little outing had tired him, but he slept soundly and rested after that, instead of the fitful sleep of the sick.
That night when Anya crawled into bed with him, he found his incoherent vision about the woman breaking his fever that way hadn't been a dream! The next day Jim felt much stronger. They were on the trail to Gonzales and, despite Anya's loud and angry protests, he insisted on saddling and riding Chief for an hour. He knew he was pushing himself again, but he had to be alert and ready for trouble by the time they reached Gonzales. Luke Warner, the man Jim was being sent after, probably wasn't as bad as Silas Hawkins had been, but he surely wasn't any Sunday school teacher, either.
He was wanted for armed robbery of a merchant and for holding up a stagecoach. He'd shot and wounded a guard during his last robbery, so it was only a matter of time before he killed someone if he hadn't done so already. That night, Jim initiated the sex with Anya. Afterward, they lay awake talking in her bed for a while.
Anya was outwardly fatalistic about Jim leaving them, but she did ask him if he would look them up again after his current assignment was finished. Jim told her he'd certainly try to and then he reached over the side of his bed and got his poke out of his pants.
He reached for her hand and put two twenty-dollar gold pieces into it; it was a fortune to her and he knew it. She shyly refused to take the money, but Jim insisted. He told her he felt her having saved his life was well worth that and ten times more, if he'd had it to give.
She got all excited over the money, then she thanked him profusely and told him the money would allow her to buy a couple of brood mares she'd been wanting, both of them recently bred to his spotted stallion!
Jim was happy he could afford to return some of the help she'd freely given him. Gustav stopped the wagons about noon the next day; he motioned to Anya to rein her team up beside of his. Gustav called to Jim; the gypsy chief shrewdly told him they were on the outskirts of Gonzales and that perhaps there would be less trouble for everyone if Jim rode in separately from them.
Jim had saddled Chief and tied him to Anya's wagon that morning, so he was already prepared for this moment. "Anya, I sure do thank you again for everything that you've done!" Jim kissed Anya passionately and she returned the kiss with feeling. Jim swung down from the wagon and untied Chief's reins then he stepped into his saddle on the stud's back.
He reined Chief over to Gustav's wagon and handed him another gold piece. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, my friend!" Gustav returned the sentiment. "Jim, you are a very good man for a gajo. I put a secret sign on your saddle, where ever you ride, you will be known by our people as a pal, which in our language means you are a friend of the Gypsies." Jim waved a hand in a final farewell as he reined Chief toward Gonzales.
He had enjoyed meeting the gypsy band and hoped he would meet them again, but he was eager to get back to the hunt. Jim pondered over the strange sounding word Gustav had called him. Many words from different languages were being adapted to common usage in the United States; Jim would remember this day again, years later, whenever he heard the word, "pal".