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Old-time scout Jason Coles quit tracking outlaws for the army to settle down with his wife and child, but when his ranch is burned to the ground and his family abducted by the bloodthirsty Cheyenne Little Claw, Coles straps on his revolvers for the last time. Original.
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Charles G. West lives in North Port, Florida, and was the proprietor of a commercial typesetting and printing business. He now devotes his full time to writing historical fiction. Son of the Hawk is his ninth novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
She heard the shrill cry of a hawk as it wheeled high above the valley and she paused in her work to listen. Looking up from the antelope hide she had been scraping, she shielded her eyes with her hand as she gazed toward the ridge that formed the south wall of the valley. She was at once alarmed. Months usually passed between visits from strangers yet this was the second time in two days. And both days Jason was away from the valley. She counted six of them as they descended the slope to the valley floor where they paused and seemed to be considering whether to continue or not.
She had always liked the fact that their little valley was so remote that very few people happened upon it. Jason had scouted these mountains for years before he found it and decided that this was where he would raise his horses. Named Magpie by her father, an Osage chief, she had lived with her sister and her sister’s husband until they were killed by the Cheyenne renegade, Stone Hand. It had been over a year since their deaths and during that time Magpie had come to know that happiness could follow grief, for her love for Jason Coles had blossomed from the first time she saw the tall white scout. And her joy was complete when he asked her to go with him to his valley. Shy and bungling when it came to speaking of love, he never expressed his feelings, but Jason loved her. She was certain of that. He did not have to put it into words. His gentle way with her was reassurance enough.
Jason did not think her name, Magpie, suited her a thought that always puzzled her he preferred to call her Lark. She found herself smiling each time she thought about her husband. Jason had assured her that she was indeed his wife, although there had been no ceremony, Indian or white. She remembered his stern indifference to the baby at first. Jason didn’t seem to care much for children and he could hardly be faulted for his attitude toward little Bright Feather. The child wasn’t his. It wasn’t hers, for that matter, but they had adopted it and taken it as their natural son. It amused Lark to see how, during the course of a year, the boy had wormed his way into Jason’s heart although Jason would never admit it. Bright Feather was a good baby, never cried much, and Jason was too softhearted toward helpless little creatures of all species to remain indifferent to their son.
She returned her attention to the six riders across the valley. What did they want? This was Ute country and the Utes knew they were there but they had left them alone until recently. Only the day before, while Jason was away in the mountains hunting, two young Utes had stolen into the valley and tried to run off with their horses. Jason had brought those horses all the way from the Bitterroot country where the Nez Perces had developed a breed like no other. Appaloosas, Jason called them, and he had traded for fourteen, all strong and fast. And these two warriors, no more than boys really, had managed to open the corral and drive them out before she even suspected their presence.
When she heard the horses running, she ran out to see what was wrong. Seeing the two Utes on their ponies, driving Jason’s horses, she ignored any danger to her own frail body and ran in front of the herd, waving her arms and yelling at the top of her lungs. She had managed to turn and scatter most of the herd but the Utes got away with three of them. They didn’t come back for the rest, evidently satisfied to escape with three of the unusual horses.
When Jason returned, he immediately set out after the stolen horses, after rounding up the rest of the scattered herd. That was yesterday and he was still not back.
She watched the six riders as they moved toward the cabin and hesitated at the edge of the stream, cautiously surveying the cabin and the tiny corral. Jason,” she murmured in a worried whisper, I wish you were here.” Maybe, she thought, they will do no more than watch at a distance like others have done, and then move on to leave her in peace. She glanced at the cabin where the baby was quietly playing, then back toward the riders. They entered the water and splashed across.
She considered grabbing the baby and running but she knew she would not get far before their ponies would run her down. Maybe this was a bigger raiding party, coming to steal the rest of Jason’s horses. Then her anxiety gave way to anger, for Jason had worked hard to train his horses and she decided, if that’s what they came for, they will pay a price for them. She got up and went to the baby, carried him into the cabin and got the Spencer rifle Jason had taught her to use. Determined to protect her husband’s property, she went outside the cabin and waited for her visitors.
As the six riders approached the cabin, one of them held up his arm in greeting and she relaxed a bit. She now recognized three of the men as Cheyennes from the reservation at Camp Supply. She had often seen them at the agency when she lived there with Raven and Long Foot. Something about one of the other men looked familiar as well, although she did not recognize him at first. He appeared to be the leader of the group and there was a fierceness in his face that made her uneasy.
What brings you this far from the reservation?” she called out to them. Although a rare occurrence, it would not have surprised her to see a group of hunters happen upon Jason’s valley. It was unusual, however, to see reservation Indians from as far away as Oklahoma territory.
They did not answer her question but continued walking their ponies slowly until they were standing before her. Then the fierce one spoke. Why do you greet us with a rifle in your hand? Have we threatened you?”
I don’t mean to offend you,” she answered. I thought at first you might be Utes, coming to steal my husband’s horses.” She put the rifle back inside the cabin door. If you are hungry, I have some meat that I boiled this morning.”
Without answering, the Cheyenne dismounted. His companions followed his lead, looking around them as they did, as if searching for something instead of looking in idle curiosity. Lark hurried to her cookfire and pulled a large pot from the ashes where the venison was warming. She turned to find the man, who was obviously the leader, standing right behind her. He was a young man, solidly built, with an air of arrogance about him that warned Lark to be cautious even if he was not an enemy of her people, the Osage. As she gazed into the deep piercing eyes of the young warrior, eyes that even now seemed to be measuring her, she recognized him Black Eagle the young man who had all but worshiped Stone Hand. It was Black Eagle who had secretly passed a knife to the notorious Cheyenne murderer and effected his escape from the army prison. She was shocked. In one year’s time, he had been transformed from a boy to a fearsome warrior. She warned herself to be cautious and polite and hoped they would eat and then be on their way.
Where is Coles?” he asked.
My husband is away,” Lark replied. He will return soon.”
He turned to his companions who were gathered around the pot of boiled meat. Coles is not here.” He turned back to face Lark. He was obviously annoyed that the scout was away. I will deal with Coles later. Now I am in a hurry. Where is the child?”
Lark’s eyes widened with fear and she shook her head indicating she didn’t understand. The Cheyenne had no patience for this. He lashed out at her with his hand, striking her across the cheek. I have come for the son of Stone Hand! Where is he?”
He is my baby! Stone Hand is not his father!” she screamed as he raised his hand to strike her again. You must go now. My husband will be here soon and he will kill you.”
The man sneered at her. Coles is a dead man. I, Black Eagle, will tie his scalp to my lance.” At that moment, one of his companions came from the cabin, carrying the boy. Black Eagle nodded toward the horses. Take him on your pony. We will kill Coles after we have taken the son of Stone Hand to Sitting Bull’s camp.”
No,” Lark screamed and she snatched the child from the hands of the warrior and ran toward the stream.
Black Eagle ran after her and caught up to her before she reached the shallow water. With one mighty blow, he caved the back of her skull in with his war axe. Lark fell, killed instantly, still clutching the child to her bosom. Black Eagle took the screaming child from her arms and handed him to one of his companions. He stood, staring down at the dead woman, for a full minute. Then he took his bow from his shoulder and strung an arrow, drew it back and released it, planting the arrow between the dead woman’s shoulder blades. It would serve as a message to Coles. Osage bitch,” he sneered, venting his contempt for the woman who had chosen to live with a white man. Burn the white man’s house,” he ordered while he dipped into the pot of boiled meat.
* * *
Jason Coles was mad as hell. He had traded fair and square for those horses, had traveled all the way to the Bitterroot country to haggle with the Nez Perces for them. He had worked with them to take the wildness out of them, worked too damn hard to let a couple of half-grown Utes run off with them.
Possibly, he allowed, he had gotten too careless since he had enjoyed relatively peaceful times in the little valley he built a cabin in. He was in Ute country but he had been left pretty much at peace since he was one man, alone with wife and baby, and seemed to want nothing more than to be left alone. He hunted for no more than he needed to survive and he hadn’t plowed up the land or tried to fence it in. The Utes had given no indication that they resented his presence.
More than a year had passed since he had left Camp Supply and the business of scouting for the army. Maybe he was losing his edge, he couldn’t say. He was mad as hell but his anger was directed at himself, not at the two young Ute warriors who had run off with three of his best horses. Hell, he thought, that’s what Indians do, steal horses. To them, it’s an honorable thing to do. It just gets my goat that they snookered me . . . three purebred Appaloosas, and they would most likely have gotten the rest if Lark hadn’t scattered them. Poor little Lark, he thought, so upset that she had let three of his horses get away. He had tried to reassure her that there was little she could have done to prevent it. As it was, it was her actions that kept them from getting away with the whole herd. He hated having to leave her and the baby alone but he had to hunt. There was no way to avoid it.
After assuring her that he was not angry with her over the loss of the three horses, he had to take the time to round up the other eleven horses and put them in the corral before he could start out after the stolen ones. They had a few hours start on him but he didn’t have any trouble tracking them . . . two Indians with three extra horses left a pretty wide trail.
They had left his little valley at a gallop but after clearing the north ridge and picking up a trail by the river, they settled into a leisurely pace, as if unconcerned about being followed. Jason speculated that they were of a mind that figured two to one odds were in their favor, even if the white man did try to come after them. Well, that might be so if the white man wasn’t Jason Coles.
He shifted his position just enough to get off of a root that was threatening to punch a hole in his belly. He eased his rifle up beside him, taking care to avoid raising his head above the rim of the coulee he was lying beside. He checked to make sure he had not dragged the muzzle in the sand when he crawled up to this position. Turning his head to look behind him, he noted the position of the sun. It wouldn’t be long now, maybe another thirty minutes and it would be setting on the hills in the distance. He would wait until it was sitting right on top of them. Then he would move in with the blinding rays at his back.
While he waited, he studied the camp below him. Two braves, they both looked young. They evidently felt they were in little danger, having gotten away with the horses while the white man was up on the ridge, hunting. Jason figured they must have been lying around, watching until they saw him leave. Seated before a small campfire now, they were doing a great deal of talking and laughing. Probably congratulating themselves for being so slick.
He looked back again to check on the sun’s progress, still another fifteen minutes or so, he figured. Nice of them to make an early camp, he thought, permitting him to catch up to them before dark. Long Foot would have argued that it was best to wait until dark, then slip in and kill them while they slept. He might have been right; it might be the easiest way to do it. But Jason couldn’t see the need to murder two young boys for doing what they were born to do. Besides, he preferred to have at least an hour or so of daylight to herd his horses back toward home before having to make camp. Even as familiar as Jason was with the country surrounding his valley, it might be a bit foolish to attempt to negotiate some of the mountain passes in the dark, leading a string of horses.
The thought of Long Foot brought a mental picture of the Osage scout, slumped over in the saddle as he rode, so that he always looked like he was sleeping. He missed Long Foot. Long Foot was gone now, cut to pieces by the Cheyenne renegade, Stone Hand. He died trying to avenge the murder of his wife. Jason’s last job for the army was to track the murdering savage down. He found him and he killed him and stuck his head up on a pole in front of the Cheyenne agency. That didn’t make him any too popular with the sizable faction in the Cheyenne village that had come to regard Stone Hand as something of a spirit. Well, he thought, they sure as hell found out he was as mortal as any other man when they saw his ugly head riding on top of that pole. It was a damn shame, and a helluva price to pay, losing Long Foot and his wife. Killing Stone Hand was something he had to do, but it didn’t take up the slack of losing his friend.
One of the young warriors got to his feet and stretched, said something to his companion and walked a few paces away from the fire to a dead tree lying on the ground. Using the log as a platform, he stepped up on it and, pulling his breechclout aside, squatted to empty his bowels. Jason could see the bright light of the setting sun shining directly in the young man’s face. I don’t reckon there’ll be any better time than right now, Jason thought, while he’s doing his business. I’ll see if I can’t help him move his bowels a little faster.
Jason slowly rose to one knee and raised his Winchester to his shoulder. He brought the front sight down to bear on the bone breastplate of the squatting Indian, hesitating there for a second before lowering the sights to rest on the bark of the log between the man’s feet. As he took a breath and held it, he couldn’t help but smile before squeezing the trigger if he wasn’t careful, he might make a squaw out of him.
The rotten log exploded under the Indian’s bottom, stinging his behind with pieces of flying bark. At almost the same time, he heard the sharp report of the rifle. As a result, he fell backward, his feet straight up in the air, his arms flailing the wind in an effort to grab something to catch himself. He landed on his back, hard, knocking the wind out of his lungs. Thinking he had been shot in the butt, he lay stunned for a few moments.
Not waiting to see the results of his first shot, Jason turned and placed his second shot in the cam...
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Book Description Signet, 1998. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110451194918
Book Description Signet, 1998. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0451194918
Book Description Signet, 1998. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0451194918