by Roger L. Haley


Chapter 1

“Son, it is not in a man to always understand the actions of our Maker. When your ma died, I ranted and railed at Him for weeks but finally come to accept that He had left me with a son who needed my care, and maybe He needed your ma more than I did.”

The memory of my paw’s words comforted me as I stood on that lonely knob over the mound of fresh turned earth and felt the whisper of the dying breeze ruffle my hair. Hat in hand, I watched it flow off down the valley, rustling through the grass as it dried the final dampness on my cheeks.

I never knew my mother, for she had died on my bornin’, and that pile of fresh dirt held the remains of my paw. I was alone now. Fifteen years alive, and the last of my line.

I could still hear Paw’s voice as he told me so many times, “Whatever comes our way, Son, we can handle it. With the Lord’s blessin’ and our own determination and courage, we’ll see it through.”

Well, he was gone now, and I wondered if I had the backbone that he’d tried so hard to instill in me. It looked like I had no choice but to find out, or lay down and die. He’d be mighty ashamed if I did that, so I reckoned I’d keep on tryin’.

My paw had not been an overly lovin’ kind of man but had always shown me his gentler side. Oh, he had him a temper I reckon, but I’d only seen it once or twice and that was plenty enough. I knew I’d miss him somethin’ terrible.

I took one last look down that meadow at the grass movin’ slow, like timid waves crossing a lake of green, the half-set sun just bouncing bits of light off the tips. Then, all used up, I settled my battered old hat atop my mop of coal black hair and headed for the cabin. I had a heap of thinking ahead of me.

That tumble down cabin would be mighty lonesome with just me and ol’ Rip there. Rip was a big, dirty yeller kinda dog who’d just come walkin’ up to the cabin a few years back, one ear sorta chewed by some critter he’d tangled with. He reminded me some of a black dog I seen once, only Rip was bigger. I reckoned he’d run about a hundred and twenty pounds or more and I figured him for a mix of some kind.

With me bein’ about twelve years old then, and with never a dog to call my own, I taken to him right off. That tore up ear just naturally led to the name “Rip”. Now Paw had always been tolerant of me and Rip, but he wouldn’t have had no truck with a dog in the cabin.

“Jon,” he said on that day, “If you plan to let that ol’ dog hang around, it’s your responsibility to care for him and teach him.  He ain’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to make him a spot in the lean-to. And, if he can’t feed hisself, you’ll have to provide for him.”

“I swear, Paw. I’ll make sure he’s a good dog and has plenty to eat. Why, I’ll bet he can help me catch rabbits and such!”

Smiling at my enthusiasm, Paw just said, “Don’t make promises ‘less you plan to keep ’em, Son. A man’s got to keep his word.”

“Yes Sir, I’ll shore take good care of him. I promise.” And I did. Sometimes it was tiresome, but most times me and Rip had a great time rangin’ about the woods, swimmin’ in the creeks, and generally bein’ a boy and his dog.

Bein’ as it was only Rip and me now, and I didn’t want to be alone, I held open that door and invited him on in. He just kinda looked at me, sniffed a couple of times, and sashayed on over by the fireplace like he’d been doin’ it all his life. He circled twice, and then settled down on the rug.

“Rip,” I says to him, “Me and you got to study some on what we do now.”

A fifteen year old boy and a big yeller dog, all alone, might have a time of it here in these hills, and I was sure wonderin’ which way to jump as I took stock of our worldly goods.

First off, we had a leaky, leanin’, wind blown cabin settin’ on a rocky hillside where wouldn’t nothing grow but rabbits, squirrels, and trees. Of these, there was plenty, and we had a small meadow and truck patch nearby.

Next, there was Paw’s horse. He was a surefooted blue roan, kinda rangy, but he could travel all day and night on a handful of grass and the dew licked from a leaf. Paw’s saddle weren’t much, but better’n none, that’s for sure.

I had my squirrel gun, Paw’s long gun, and his Walker colt. It was a 44 caliber, and named for a Texas Ranger, Sam Walker, who’d helped Samuel Colt design it. My squirrel gun hadn’t seen much use ’cause I was real handy at flinging rocks to get squirrels and rabbits, but Paw had taught me a lot about shootin’ so I weren’t too bad at it.

Anyway, these few things, a bait of flour and salt, some venison, my kit, and forty-four dollars in coin that Paw had put back for hard times just about summed up my wealth. Now we had to get on with stayin’ alive.