Western Short Story
The Passage at Muscle Hill
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Here was Morgan Gautry in a stoned-up cave, both hands smashed by a rifle butt, a renegade leader sparing him at length at the whim of his woman, a woman who liked the younger boy’s looks, a woman who had smiled at him so many times he couldn’t remember.

“Let him live, Atur,“ Donna Cartè had said to the leader of the pack, “and I will be good to you for a month. We gain nothing by killing him, you and I. Not a thing. Lock him in a cave. Put rocks around him. He will not get out for a long time … if he ever does get out. We’ll be long gone, but leave some food for him.” She smiled her smile of smiles, and said, “Let’s play a game with that boy and see if he lives and see if he can catch up to us out there.” The lone female in the gang pointed to the mountains and the grassy plains that spread between them. “Don’t you think it’s impossible for him to find us --- out there? Wouldn’t that be fun? We could play checkers waiting for him … or whatever else.”

The leader loved her humor and assented, but demanded that she do the work. “Cater to the boy, Donna Cartè, but only food for a week. He won’t last that long anyway.” She had willfully disobeyed him, left enough food and water for one man for a few weeks, and dropped her knife so he could hear it fall in the back of the cave. And in one high niche she placed a stick of dynamite, which she had hidden in her clothes along with what fuse she could find and flint. Her heart hurt for the boy, but he’d have a chance if he was alert, resourceful. She dared not look back when the party of renegades left the area, and Atur riding beside her.

Two days later that sound of the falling knife rang in the ears of Morgan Gautry, the way a bell might sound to a dazed fighter.

Morgan Gautry, from the beginning, hadn’t bargained for any of this, hadn’t seen any of it in his dreams or fantasies of heading west, the promised land waiting on him. He believed in dreams, fantasies, eloquence of travel sifting from geographies, Atlases that practically pulled him through the pale colored pages with their high come-ons and deliberated adventures, but never any signs telling him to go back.

“He’s a strapping 6 foot tall and then some,” as his mother used to say, and “He has strong arms, legs and a back like a mountain,” his father would chime in. His father knew such bodily traits were needed as he had fought much of his time in the Appalachians and the Ozarks in younger days before settling down in Oak Ridge, the village near Chicago his wife had dreamed about.

But Gautry always believed that he had found the West Due Company to be the best way for him to get further west. In reality, it was Cavan Grady who had seen him looking around the outskirts of Chicago hunting for a group heading west and not particular about the destination “as long as it was away.” Grady had seen the young man, he figured to be about 23, take part in a rope pull and instantly recognized power, strength, willingness, and a certain flair for intelligence that marked the lad. He handled himself with a deal of patience, as though he was sure of any outcome, and that spelled confidence for Grady who knew that the young man would be invaluable on the trip. He saw it with his eyes, felt it in his bones.

“I’d like to hire you on, son,” Grady said, “pay comes at the end of the journey, but you get fed on the way, and all your needs supplied. It’s a good way to get west and you don’t have to go through any Indian or renegade country by yourself. Numbers count out there. I’ve been there three times already, and you need many men to complete the journey.” He showed him both bullet and arrow scars on his arms and thighs. “You’ve got to be lucky too,” he added, “finding someone somewhere who likes you, favors you highly. I call it intercession. It all counts.”

There was a distinctive pause in his words, and then he explained, “I’ve dropped a few young fellows right into the lap of heaven, with some coin in their britches. Where are you from anyway?”

“Oh, not far from her, the village of Oak Ridge, near the west side of the city. I hear they’re going to change the name of the place, but I’m moving on anyway and I accept your offer.”

He set out two days later in a group of 21 men, three wagons, three dozen horses, a set of oxen Grady won in a poker game, and a string of mules. Grady was exhilarated to get on the move and young Gautry shared his joyous mood, and his outlook.

That attitude was in focus until they hit the river at Muscle Hill. It was a difficult crossing in normal times, but the mad rush of the water they met this time forced them into a passage that would call on every ounce of energy of man and animal. Part of it was uphill, part downhill, and part on a precipitous ledge barely two oxen wide.

“We gotta go this way, Boss?” said one of the men. “It looks ornery if you ask me. You been here before?”

Grady said, “Once before on this route, but never so loaded as now. But it saves us a couple of weeks in tough country. No one out there likely to like us but our goods and animals, and all our guns. I’ll take this chance before them, renegades, Sioux, you name it. They don’t like this way any better than we do, so they stay away most times I would guess. They crave whiskey and salt and ammunition like we all do. A chance is better than half a chance.”

All supplies had to be broken down from wagons and carried by man or single animal twice on the route, and every man kept on the constant lookout for trouble. It was most difficult carrying a load and a rifle at the ready, so Grady ordered the first two men and the last two men in the column to carry a smaller load and their rifles at the ready. All the others were made to carry as much weight as they could, with Grady demanding that important supplies be distributed between a number of carriers.

The column was about halfway through the passage, when one of the lead men yelled out, just before a rifle shot took him right off the narrow ledge and into the river … his pack and his rifle going down with him. The echo of his yell, “Renegades,” rang off a cliff face before a barrage of rifle shot from hidden sites across the river ploughed into the crew. The firing was heavy and well-aimed, and came from good cover.

Grady lost 7 men immediately, all of them dead on the spot, and four others were found wounded when the firing stopped. Grady and the upstanding survivors were fully exposed on the narrow ledge. Gautry was one of the lightly wounded men at the front of the group, having been hit in the leg after he had shucked his load onto the trail and tried to hide behind it. The slug passed through his thigh, but with no serious structural damage. His rifle was empty and he had fired more than a dozen rounds in the engagement.

In the silence after initial fusillade of rifle fire, men moaning, and one mule, hit and trying to move in reaction to the pain, simply fell over the edge and disappeared quick as the gun fire had come. The animal made no sound as he fell or when he landed, so deep was the drop onto rocks or into the river.

That’s when a voice, from the other side, said, “We have each one of you in our rifle sights. All of you will die unless you do what I tell you. I want an answer or we will start shooting.” With that statement at least two dozen rifles were waved in the air and then quickly disappeared.

“Do you understand me? You, Brown Legs, at the end there, I think you are boss. I’ll let you and your men go back on the trail, but leave all your packs right there. Right where you stand now. We’ll shoot the first man who tries to dump his load. Then we shoot everyone. Do you understand me? I’ll let you carry off one rifle for every three men. That looks to me like three rifles. That’s a pretty good bargain. I am trading it for your goods and supplies. I don’t want them dropped in the river. Is that not a good deal for you? But you have to say so right now.”

There ensued a lengthy silence and the renegade leader said, “I want you to know that we are just hunters, like mountain men who kill bears and cougars, trappers who take all the beaver from the ponds, buffalo hunters who take hundreds of hides and leave the meat to rot in the sun. Rotted meat, I can tell you, which could feed whole villages for months.” His head shook in significance of such loss. He wore a fur hat with a reddish hue, possibly a fox fur, his shirt was a dour and drab gray under a black vest and a loaded bandolier rolled over one shoulder. In his hands he wielded a repeating rifle, much like the one Grady and Gautry carried and some of the other men.

Cavan Grady had heard and understood it all, saw the plight of his surviving men. He put down his rifle and said, “We will go back,” then added, “and we will take the wounded with us.”

The renegade leader said, “No. That will take too long for you to make your way back. We will take care of the wounded. You have two minutes to start back with no supplies, three rifles, and the ammunition three men can carry in their belts or bandoliers. That’s all. It’ll be enough to get by with while you make your way back to some village. Better go now or we shoot.”

Ten men left, including Cavan Grady, carrying only three rifles and minimal ammunition for a party of 10.

In half an hour they were back down the trail, while a host of renegades converged on the upper trail. All supplies were taken along the trail and into a deep cavern, along with the lone wounded man who survived the journey, Morgan Gautry. Two others died soon after they were picked up, and the third man, after a tussle, was simply dropped over the side into the river.

Gautry marked the man who had pushed his friend off the ledge.

The female member of the renegade band, Donna Cartè, was a beautiful woman with very dark hair and dark eyes, who could not take her eyes off handsome, and youthful, Morgan Gautry. The young man brought a persistent smile to sit at the corners or her mouth as she looked upon him, tended his wounds, saw the results where Atur had battered Gautry’s hands with his rifle butt to insure he’d raise no problems.

“I only have half a heart, young man. Half a heart,” Atur said to Gautry, “and that half belongs to Donna Cartè, the Beauteous One.”

Atur ran his fingers through her hair, but Donna Cartè smiled at Gautry instead, and for perhaps the 10th time her fingers touched lightly at his wrist, sending messages unsaid but understood. He had been packed atop a mule and brought down with the band.

The whole band was in the cavern down below, the goods being distributed by Atur, and after the distribution, Donna Cartè led Gautry into a cave. She whispered, “You can get out of here if you try real hard. They’ll only block the way with a pile of stones. Let your hands heal. Do not hurt them further.” She kissed him on the cheek and said, “I could stay with you forever, but he would kill us. You remind me of my little brother in a way. Be careful. Don’t rush out of here. He will chase you down, but watch who and what is around you all the time.”

“Who and what?” Gautry said. “You’re the who that’s here. What is what else?” He was trying to interpret the look on her face and the meaning of her words. She was secretive in many ways but her real goodness shone through.

“If you know all you can, find all you can, you will become a good man and live a long time. Don’t let Atur trick you. Know who and what is around you.”

She left and the rocks came in a sudden pile from many hands, walling him off from sunlight.

Gautry, in persistent but minor pain, finally feel asleep on a single blanket and some fir boughs and the last image he had was remembering the touch of Donna Cartè’s fingers on his wrist.

His sleep was sound and long and he woke in the darkness but saw a thin shaft of light through the rock pile at the cave mouth. It was day, and a slight sense of air movement passed across his face. The air was obviously passing upward when it came into the cave and escaped through an unseen higher opening; the draft of it was steady, slow but steady. If he could get a fire going the smoke might also pass upward. Perhaps it would give his presence away, but it was worth a chance … and he could eat and have some light to see by.

He began to talk to himself, finding a bit of comfort in it and a bit of sanity. “The fir branches I slept on might be dry enough for a fire. I hope my matches are intact.” He fished in his fob pocket and found a small tin of matches. “Father told me this day would come. Bless you father.”

“Don’t hurry, fool,” he said aloud. “Don’t spoil your chance. Be careful. Don’t waste anything.” He acknowledged that his pain had decreased, nodded at the self-message and gathered a few twigs from beneath his sleeping place. They were dry and lit easily when he struck a match. He marveled where he was, saw the interior darkness, heard nothing moving deeper in the cave, and saw a thin trail of smoke start rising to escape.

“I hope Atur is long gone and does not see the smoke. If I keep the fire small, feed it slowly, just warm some dried meat, I can stay here for a few days. I’ll look around after my next sleep, whenever that comes.”

He ate warm dry meat, a kind of jerky, ate a hard biscuit, chewed on an apple until his teeth hurt. Falling asleep again, he woke with a start to put some more branches on the fire, found a few bigger pieces of dry wood, started to re-think his planned stay and knew he had to be out of there in two days. Again he slept, woke to mere embers, fed a small flame he roused from its sleepiness, and heard the clink of knife come like a savior’s echo. The knife was where Donna Cartè had dropped it, and then he found the stick of dynamite.

“Bless her heart!” he exclaimed as he gripped the dynamite, held it aloft, and then he kissed it, saying, “That’s for you, girl.”

Holding the dynamite over his head in a second salute, he yelled, “Thank you, Donna Cartè. May we meet again.” The dynamite was in one hand and the knife was in the other hand.

Settled down, planning moves, he said in a thoughtful manner as though he was convincing himself, “I can’t set it off today. I have to wait until the next light. They can’t be waiting outside to see what I’ll do. And I’ll have to make some kind of longer fuse so I can get away from the blast. I’ll have to place the dynamite as far into the pile as I can and then make sure I’m in the deepest part of the cave.” Around the arc of the dim light and shadows still holding their places he stared, putting space in its place in his mind.

From one part of his shirt sleeve, torn off with difficulty, he tied strips together long enough to promise a burn sufficiently slow to allow him to get to the deepest niche in the cave.

He was thinking of his good fortune after such a horrid start of the journey and found the confidence beginning to rise in him. “I have a knife. My hands feel better. One of them I can squeeze without great pain. I’m in decent shape. I have a chance to get out of here, to make amends.” The faces of Donna Cartè and Atur came and passed in a mere seconds. He kept one image longer than the other.

Wedging the stick of dynamite into the rocks as far as he could with his best hand was finally accomplished after several manipulations. It sat tightly in the small space between three large rocks and Gautry sat to rest, the knife in his belt wrapped with the remainder of his sleeve. It created a sense of security. His breathing was controlled and the way back to the deepest point was illuminated by the fire. Pictures of his father fighting the Indians in the Ozarks flashed through his mind and his confidence soared.

He lit the fuse and walked deliberately to the selected spot in the cave, sat down, and blocked his ears.

For a few minutes he waited, not looking at the sleeve remnants and the fuse burning toward a hoped-for result. His hands were pressed tighter against his ears and the breath in his chest seemed to ball up in that cavity.

Morgan Gautry shut his eyes tightly, the ball of breath held itself in one place.

The blast was thunderous. It boomed and banged and burst around him like an artillery duel. Rock particles, shards of rock, pellets newly made, and assorted debris flew into the back of the cave. Next it was like a shooting gallery or a turkey shoot. His ears rang. The repetition came in great waves and the mountain shook above him as if it was about to plunge down on top of him. There was nothing to hold onto except the knife Donna Cartè had left for him. He clutched it tightly. The small fire was blown out by the blast and embers whistled past him in a red and fiery stream. The scent in the cave was brand new, pungent, and almost exotic. It made him see Donna Cartè’s face in a new light. Then it went smoky, with carbon and embers and fiery particles loaded in the air.

The rumbles in the mountain slowed, and finally stopped. Smoke continued to fill the air, and the echoes of the explosion still rang about him as if they were pushing him to his knees. The knife was hard and sure in his hand, carrying both vengeance and promise in the grip of it.

He thought time had progressed past 10 minutes, his breath slow in recovery, smoke still strong, but a new scent, that of fresh air, passed across his face the way it might have been breathed in by the cave, by the whole mountain, and went up into whatever hole, whatever escape, there was above him. The freshness and a new scent in the air kept its pace and he finally opened his eyes. A shaft of light streamed in where minutes earlier there had been a stream of fiery particles. The silence nearly overpowered him, the whole mountain quiet, motionless, and hope raced into his entire body.

When he finally looked toward the mouth of the cave, the pile of rocks Atur’s men had put there, the light of the sun, the light of a new day, shone through a significant hole. “Donna Cartè’,” fell from his mouth. Her face came from out beyond the source of light.

Before an hour had passed, he had crawled easily through the new opening, looked all about him, saw a piece of cloth beside a rock. The color and design came back to him: it was from Donna Cartè’s blouse and he knew instinctively it was a signal. Behind the rock, under another rock, he found a loaded pistol.

“Bless your heart,” he said, in the tone of a solemn supplication, “Bless your heart, Donna Cartè’.”

His good luck continued before the day was over, finding a saddled horse standing in a small space of ground where a tree that might have clung to the side of the canyon for 100 years had fallen, and locking the animal into nature’s corral. The animal Gautry thought he had seen before might have been in either party at the passage incident. He patted the horse gently, said, “Whoa, Boy. Nice, Boy.” He said it several times, looked into the small saddlebag still in place and found one small piece of jerky and a piece of hard bread.

Gautry patted the horse once he freed him from the tight space, mounted him, and said, “We’re on our way, Boy.”

The images returned, of Donna Cartè’ and Atur, one at her best and one at his worst. He rode out of the canyon, the plain of grass leaping westward in front of him, his mother and father finding space in his thoughts after the images quit him.

His spirit, once more, was high.

On his new route west, he was helped with some supplies by people in a wagon train who listened to the part of his story he told them, but not saying anything about Donna Cartè. Good spirits continued their ascension.

A few days later, on the edge of a wooded foothill below a small range of rocky peaks, he spoke to a prospector who told him a story about a gang of riders. “I saw them coming, about a dozen or more of them, and one was a woman. I stayed out of sight. I don’t trust such bands on the loose. They’re usually bad if you don’t know them or don’t recognize them as a posse. Anyway, they went into that pass just up there. It leads into the Curtain Range. It goes deep into the range before it gets really rugged.” He nodded and finished by saying, “It’s good hide-out country. You can get lost in there, and it can get lonely. I spent a year up in there and came away with nothing but loneliness and a dry throat.” He smiled and said, “I made up for both.” And he was off on again, on his lonely pursuit of his own dream. His wave goodbye was over one shoulder without even looking back.

Gautry loudly wished him the best of luck, but it sailed off on a soft breeze.

With a supply of food on hand, a weapon and some ammunition, all from the prospector who was counting his own days in concert with those of Gautry, the young avenger watched from a high point. In a small recess in the rocky domain, he had pitched a lean-to of boughs and leaves, and a haven for his horse. Early each morning he climbed to a look-out that offered him a wide scan of the territory, the mountain walls like slammed doors or drawn shades, and the sun, once it had gone past an early hour, sat at his back for nearly half the day. He felt domineering, as if he could whip the world and all the bad guys in it, and few men could find him in the glare.

On the third morning, birds alive, the owls asleep, the coyotes territorial, he spotted two riders coming as if from a door in the wall of a cliff. With juxtaposition and line of sight he marked the place well. And near sunset of that same day he was at the entrance to a very secret and secluded area tucked into mighty walls that shot straight up like a pole all around it.

There were no guards about, no position ready where a sentinel might sit, the walls too steep and forbidding, and looking quite impenetrable.

He advanced on foot, pistol in hand, alert, looking for light, giveaways, a sign of activity.

He almost missed it. Possibly a candle it was, being moved about, one window or one small space letting the flame have passage. The flicker of light was quick as lightning, but he marked the spot, and advanced in the darkness.

The light of the candle or a lamp came back, He didn’t know if it was coming through a window, a door, or an open side of a shelter such as his own lean-to.

Then he saw her, the figure in a sudden light. Donna Cartè’. The unmistakable figure. Her. Donna Cartè’. He tried to give her another name. None of those he came up with would do the job. She was Donna Cartè’ for always.

“There will be gunfire,” he said to himself, keeping his voice very low and whispered. “I have to separate her from them. Draw them off. Get her away from them.” He wished he had one more stick of dynamite like the one she had left for him in the niche in the cave. He wondered if they carried a supply in their arms and ammunition. He had to have a plan.

The sound of tethered horses came to him, as the higher shadows began to lift and the sun was beginning to slip into the high reaches of the hide-out. He assessed his position: he was behind the cabin, he saw where the horses were held in small area by a clumsy fence, he had a canteen of water and a belt full of bullets, and he found a place where he could impress his body so it might not be seen by any of the gang when daylight came. That time. He guessed would come in less than an hour.

At that minute he heard the snake in among some fallen rocks. It was a rattler. His mind leaped at possibilities. If he caught the snake it might prove better than dynamite. With the stealth of its own kind, and a rock in his hand, he advanced on the sound of the snake, heard it clearly, and dropped the rock on its head. He leaped in with another rock and slammed the stunned snake on the head again. Twice more he hit it, the flesh of the snake deadening the blows, the blows killing the snake.

Morgan Gautry was nearly giddy as he held the snake up. “Hello, Mr. Dynamite,” he said, “thank you for coming to my assistance. The fruition of his plan come to light, came to reality in his mind. He saw the whole effect of it, saw Donna Cartè’ fleeing with him from the secluded hide-out.

“I must do this quickly and hope it goes as I see it.” He looked overhead saw light creeping into high shadows, moved to the fence, not having heard anyone in the cabin move about, and could no longer see Donna Cartè’ in any way.

He took down two parallel poles from the clumsy corral and put them soundlessly on the ground. “The scent of the snake must be in the air,” he said as a couple of horses began to fidget about.

“Get ready,” he said again, and whirled the dead snake over his head and into the middle of the horses. The bloody snake landed on the neck of one horse.

It was as good as dynamite! The horse leaped and snorted and let loose with a mighty sound of terror that all the others picked up and every horse bolted out of the little corral space, sped past the cabin on the dead run and headed straightaway for the open plains. The noise was thunderous in the tight little space between high straight walls that went up to meet the coming sun.

The cabin was suddenly alive with noise and shouting and men rushing out to try to stop the runaways. Gautry heard Atur say, “Go get them horse. Go get ‘em now.”

Atur spun about and said, “Anybody hear anything in here? I didn’t hear a sound all night.”

While some of the men were chasing after the horses, one of them stepped on the dead snake. He picked up the crushed body where many of the horses had trod on it. “Hey, Atur,” he said, “look what I found. This sure got ‘em goin’. A rattler, but them horses got even with it. Crushed him all to hell.” He held the snake overhead.

Atur said, “We better all go get them horses before the damned law finds them or tracks them back home, back in here, if they ever come back with that damned smell of dead snake in the air.”

He said, “Donna Cartè’, you stay here and get some vittles going. We’ll be hungry when we catch the horses. Make up a big spread, real big now.” He turned to one of the men and said, “Joe Vee, you stay and give her a hand. The rest of us are going horse hunting.”

The gang left, Donna Cartè’ went to work, and now behind the cabin where he had gone in all the noise and excitement, Morgan Gautry dropped a pellet of stone that Joe Vee heard. When the unsuspecting Joe Vee came around the corner, Gautry slugged him with a pistol butt and tied him up with his own belt and lashed him to a fence pole.

With his body shaking with anticipation, Gautry went around the front of the cabin and walked in on Donna Cartè’. Her back was turned to him as he said, “Hello, Donna Cartè’. Thank you for the knife and the stick of dynamite.”

She spun about, gleamed at his sight, and rushed at him. Her arms were around him. “Oh,” she said in a husky voice, “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. Ever.” She kissed him directly on his lips, and was liquid in his arms.

“We have to hurry,” Gautry said. “We have to get out of here. Do you have any more dynamite?”

“Ye,” she replied. “Atur keeps some in a box outside. Quick, let’s go. Take this canteen of water and I’ll get the dynamite. We’ll have to get some horses out there. Maybe we can find two someplace.”

“Even one will do,” Gautry responded, his body more fully alive than it had ever been.

The pair in their quick flight had dynamite, fuses, water, two handguns and bullets, and nobody on their trail.

She held him by one hand as she slipped the three sticks of dynamite inside his shirt. She was finding her own newness. “Once we get outside the entrance we have to go to the right, into a canyon that has a way out through a tight pass in the rocks at the deep end. We can block it if we have to.” Her hand touched the bulge of dynamite.

Her eyes looked into his. “Oh, Morgan, to be free. To be free. I have dreamed of it for almost a year. You are my savior.”

“No, Donna Cartè’,” he quickly responded, “you are my savior.” He kissed her in a hurry and was comfortable with her, an essence coming at him, and newness also.

They did not find any horse as they managed to get into the next canyon. From one rocky pinnacle Gautry saw some of the gang out of the prairie, two of them now riding recaptured horses. “Soon they’ll have all the horses back,” he told Donna Cartè’. “We’ll have to keep them off our trail once they find you’re gone. I don’t think Joe Vee ever saw me, so they’ll have no idea about what’s going on. We’ll have to keep it that way.”

Donna Cartè’ led him to the back of the next canyon and they squirmed through. She said, “It’s only been a few hours and Atur will come this way. When they find Joe Vee and I’m not there and they didn’t see me out on the grass, they’ll come this way. I am sure of that, so you’ll have to do your best to stop him. I can’t go back there with him, ever.” Her voice trembled with imploration.

Gautry looked back at the narrow aperture they had come through, picked the likeliest spot and set two of the sticks of dynamite with the one fuse. The spot he had picked, he believed, would be the one to loose the least sound into the air, the mountain itself holding most of it. “Maybe they’ll think it’s an earthquake or a landslide,” he explained to her, and she nodded back and smiled.

He looked back out on the prairie, saw that all men were on horseback and headed for the hide-out. He set the charge and waited sufficient time for them to get to the cabin, perhaps find Joe Vee, realize Donna Cartè’ was loose.

The blast was muffled in the canyon, the mountain taking much off the noise into itself. At the hide-out there was much consternation and swearing, and Joe Vee saying he never saw anybody. “Maybe Donna Cartè’ hit me on the head. I don’t know.”

Atur almost shot him, he was so mad, and then he saw the cover off the box of dynamite they kept outside the cabin. He knew someone must have helped her escape. He did not think of Morgan Gautry at first and then remembered her fascination with the young man. “I should have killed him,” he finally said to himself.

The gang kept asking him what they were going to do, and Atur kept putting things back in place, all the possibilities, all of them. Then, when he was rehashing every detail in his mind, he recalled the ground shaking when the thought it might be an earthquake of a landslide.

“Quick,” Atur said, “We have to check out the escape route in the next canyon. Donna Cartè’ must have gone that way. She took some dynamite. Three sticks were missing from the box.

‘They rode quickly to their planned escape route, if it was ever needed.

There was no escape route. The way was clogged with huge hunks of rock, and the smell, of detonation still hung in the air, and dust on flat surfaces.

On the other side, she said to Gautry, “It’ll take them at least four days to go around. We better move as fast as we can and get some horses.

Two days later, the savior and the savior’s savior were on two saddled horses they had bargained for, putting in the knife and the third stick of dynamite into the bargain.

They headed west again, dreams and freedom riding with both of them.