Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Good and Bad (05/07/09)
TITLE: Grace and the Desperado
By Myrna Noyes
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She flung the quilt aside, struggled into her robe, and hurried to her cabin's front door. Ears and eyes straining, she stepped into the moonlit world. Sounds like it's coming from that deep ditch beyond the woodshed!
Pulling on boots and grabbing a rope and lantern, she ran toward the cry. As she reached the edge of the ditch, she swung the lantern high and wide. The light caught the grimace of a man at the bottom.
Without fear, Grace shouted, "Who are you? What's going on?"
"Name's Johnny Smith, Ma'am. I tumbled into this here hole and hurt my foot real bad. Might be broke even."
"I'll run and find some men to help get you out of there. " Grace turned to go, but Johnny stopped her short.
"No, Ma'am! Please don't do that! I'm in a spot of trouble already and don't want no one knowing my whereabouts. Now don't be scared. I didn't kill no one or nothin' like that. I work for the Bar "W" ranch, and yesterday I accidently let a prize steer get loose. Everyone's searched but can't find it nowheres, so the owners have sent a right nasty bunch of boys after me. I'm afeared they'll hang me if I can't pay for the loss, but I don't got that kinda money."
"Well, how do you plan to get out of this ditch?"
"If ya toss me that rope you got and pull real hard, I 'spect I can scramble up using my good leg."
The feat accomplished with some difficulty, Grace helped the limping man back to her cabin and stoked up the fire in her stove. She made him a cup of coffee, which he gratefully downed, and was on her knees examining his swollen, bruised foot , when the sound of a horse nickering in the yard alerted them to a visitor.
Johnny's eyes darted around the room looking for another exit or a place to hide, but Grace calmly got up and walked out onto her front porch, closing the door behind her.
A badge glinted in the moonlight.
"'Evening, Sheriff Lawson. What brings you out this time of night?"
"I'm looking for a cowhand on the run. Through his negligence, the bosses of the Bar "W" have lost their best steer. They're mad clear through and want to string him up. I intend to find him first and arrest him, so he can be properly tried in a court of law."
"What do you think will happen to him if he's judged guilty?"
"I can see only two options. He'll either have to make restitution or serve a stretch behind bars. Those hard-nosed ranch owners won't be satisfied with anything less, and they've got a lot of clout around here."
"About how much was the steer worth, Sheriff?"
"More'n anyone has here in Straggler's Gulch, I can tell you that. Well, I best be on my way. Keep your door bolted, Grace." He tipped his hat and swung back into his saddle. Grace watched him ride out into the sagebrush before going back inside.
Johnny was crouched in the corner behind the stove, though that would hardly have been a refuge from the sheriff or the ranch men. Now he eased himself up and stood before Grace.
"I do thank you, Ma'am, for not handing me over to the Law out there. I better get moving on while there's still the cover of night."
"Johnny, you said it's your fault the steer got loose, and you really should make it right with its owners. You're not going to get far on that bad foot, and the Sheriff's good at tracking down fugitives. The Bar "W" boys are even better."
"But I told you already that I don't have but a couple dollars--not near enough to pay for that animal. I'd like to make it right, but have no choice but to run and hope for the best."
"There's another way out of this mess, if you'll just trust me. I know someone, wealthy and generous, who lives not far off. He'll surely help you. If you'll go with me, we'll leave for his place at sun-up."
And that's how Grace led the desperate man to her Father's house. There Johnny received what was needed to pay his lawful debt, thus escaping the threats of captivity and death.
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