The Sergeant's Lady

The Sergeant's Lady

by Miles Hood Swarthout

Narrated by J.P. O'Shaughnessy

Unabridged — 9 hours, 50 minutes

The Sergeant's Lady

The Sergeant's Lady

by Miles Hood Swarthout

Narrated by J.P. O'Shaughnessy

Unabridged — 9 hours, 50 minutes

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Overview

Deep in the untamed Southern Arizona Territory, the United States Army embarks on a final campaign to rid the area of the remaining Apache warriors and capture and kill their famed war chief Geronimo. Legendary for their relentless battle tactics and astounding survival skills, the Apache make a fearsome enemy, able to cut down man, woman, and child in silence, and transverse undetected throughout the rocky terrain. General Nelson A. Miles is determined to bring a swift end to the war against the Apache. He is also a seasoned Indian fighter, having defeated the Comanche, Sioux, and Cheyenne to the sound of his creed: "Always advance." On his side is Sergeant Ammon Swing and a unique, experimental communications system designed to keep the brigade alert to surrounding dangers. Caught in the middle of the Army and the Apache is Jacob Cox, a rancher trying to bring peace and a new life to his hard patch of land, and to his sister, Martha. Martha is a woman perfectly suited to her wild new home, able to shoot down an Indian and match wits with any soldier. In the unforgiving desert and treacherous mountains of the Arizona frontier, an unexpected love grows between Martha and Sergeant Swing. The affair leads Martha, her brother, and the army towards a harrowing encounter with the Apache, where some will meet their ends with the blast of a shotgun, while others will rise to become honored heroes.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940169667585
Publisher: Books in Motion
Publication date: 04/15/2011
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

The Sergeant's Lady


By Swarthout, Miles Hood

Forge Books

Copyright © 2004 Swarthout, Miles Hood
All right reserved.




ONE
 
The American Indian commands respect for his rights only
as long as he inspires terror with his rifle.
--Brigadier General George Crook
 
 
Lookout on Square Mountain, Winchester
Range, Southern Arizona Territory
He was big for an Indian, especially an Apache. Six feet, one inch; loose-jointed; with long fingers and narrow, almost feminine features, except for his muscles, which ran like steel cords through his arms and legs. His deep chest was another giveaway, a legacy from generations of mountain-dwelling ancestors. His bare chest was covered by a buckskin shirt consisting of only sleeves and a shoulder yoke held down by a blue canvas and leather belt of cartridge loops draped over his shoulder. Beneath his navy blue wool headband, small black pupils in eyes sunk into his handsome face didn't move. They were transfixed, watching a small flatbed wagon rattle slowly toward him from the dusty distance.
He was Naiche, grandson of Mangas Colorado and the second son of Cochise, the legendary leaders of the Chiricahuas and the greatest Apaches of this nineteenth century, now winding toward its hard end. He was nearly thirty years old.
 
Trail to the Winchester Mountains
Shadows cast by giant saguaro cacti lengthened this afternoon across a rough two-track heading toward Square Mountain. This quartet of rockypeaks comprising the Winchesters rose sixty miles east of Old Tucson and seventy miles north of the border, where it formed the northwest side of the hundred-mile-long Sulphur Springs Valley, the main southern Arizona corridor for Indians traveling down into Mexico.
Jacob Cox was well aware of this ever-present danger as he slapped his horses' rumps with his long reins, urging them to pick up their tired gait now that they were almost home. A gaunt midwesterner on the shady side of forty, Jacob turned to his sister riding the plank wagon seat beside him.
"Another beautiful Arizona spring, sis."
Jacob's free hand swept the air, encompassing the palo verde bushes blooming yellow within their view, a patch of lupines, and Mexican gold poppies alongside the trail. New plant life in spite of the usual wind, which sucked the winter's moisture right out of the ground and contributed to the annual spring drought in this southeastern corner of the territory. "Gosh, I love seeing the country this time of year. So clean, fresh. The Apaches, you know, call spring the season of 'many leaves.'"
"Ahh. To the point, just like Apaches." His younger sibling tipped back the narrower brim of her dark brown cowboy hat to take in the whole grand vista of the big valley, thirty miles across at its widest, its five- to ten-thousand-foot peaks of small mountain ranges providing borders along both of the valley's sides. Tanned and on the sunny side of forty herself, Martha Cox was no woman to wear a sunbonnet.
"What was that poem?" She thought for a moment.
* * *
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright!
--Say  Not the Struggle Naught Availeth,
Arthur Hugh Clough, 1862.
* * *
Jacob nodded.
Her sharp eyes took in all the bright land. Good cattle country were it not for its hereditary caretakers, the Apaches. "I cherish our trips away, Jacob, especially to Tucson for the shopping and someone else's cooking, but the sight of home again after a hard journey always pleases me most."
Her older brother nodded again and smiled.
"You think these latest raids were as bad as we heard at the trader's?"
That wiped off his smile. "Army's been fighting these wild Apaches for twenty-six years now, Martha. Haven't whipped them for good yet, but each time they run off the reservation, seems like there's fewer Indians loose and more soldiers chasin' them. Those long odds can't last forever. Not enough Apaches left."
* * *
Atop his pony in a brushy wash lined with desert willow and hackberry, below the fairly flat hilltop over which this rancher's wagon now rolled, a long-haired Apache spit into his palm. He rubbed grime off the silver dollar sewn onto the upturned toe of one of his knee-high deerskin moccasin boots, his n'deh b'heh. The turned-up toe was distinctive to the Chiricahua, and the metal kicker protected his elk-soled moccasin from wearing out in cactus country sooner than every few weeks. Perico rubbed more saliva onto the silver coin, brightening it.
Standing nearby, Delkay and Inday-Yi-Yahn passed a willow wood canteen between them, as the former pulled his buckskin shirt from under his rawhide belt, which held up a muslin breechcloth draped down to his knees, and yanked it off over his head. Apache warriors stripped before battle, their bare brown skin blending better with the desert than the white man's colored cloth.
These warriors handed their shirts and canteen and personal items to a sixteen-year-old boy, Zhonne, who stood nearby holding the reins of his pony. Besides his smaller size, the teenager was distinguished from these fighters by his headgear; a leather novice's hat, or rounded skullcap, to which were attached four types of feathers: hummingbird, oriole, quail, and eagle. His trainee's cap had no "enemies against power," for the youth was not a full-fledged raider yet and wasn't even allowed to fight, unless he had to defend himself.
Their youngest warrior-in-training was completing the last of his four required raids with these men, acting as their servant and horse holder, doing what camp chores or errands were required, speaking only when spoken to, before he could finally be invited into the ranks of fighting men. This time Zhonne had to stay behind to bring spare horses, weapons, or ammunition up to the fight if needed.
Perico was Geronimo's cousin, which gave him leadership responsibilities in this little band of raiders. He pushed back the derby hat atop his head and held his silver toe toward the sun, adjusting it to aim some bright reflections up at Square Mountain, the lowest peak in the Winchesters.
 
Lookout on Square Mountain
From his aerie atop a large boulder halfway up this 5,700-foot pinnacle, Naiche caught the signal flashes from the men far below in the wash. His warriors were ready! The tall Indian untied a long length of horse gut slung over his shoulder and drank sparingly from one end as he watched the wagon rattling toward the ranch nestled at the foot of the mountain beneath him. Nothing else moved on that hilltop or in the arroyos rutting either side. Wiping his mouth, Naiche retied his water carrier and slowly raised his big Sharps hunting rifle over his head and tilted its shiny steel trigger guard and breech back and forth against the sun, answering them. No danger. Attack!
* * *
Down in the wash, his warriors caught the flashes from Square Mountain and clambered up on their Mexican mustangs. Inday-Yi-Yahn (He Kills Enemies) adjusted his saddle made from two rolls of rawhide stuffed with grass and tied to his horse's back, while Dahkeya notched a cane arrow onto his mulberry recurved bow, straightened his deerskin wrist guard, and tested the tension of his sinew bowstring. These short, tough men, few of them over five feet, eight inches besides their leader, had the smooth faces, small chins, and strong jaws of Chiricahuas to match their smaller feet and hands common to all Apaches. Narrow white stripes slashed across their cheekbones indicated these Chiricahuas were ready for war.
Perico watched his companions ready themselves as he fingered the buckskin thongs braided into his war charm necklace, which he'd strapped over his right shoulder and under his left arm. Eagle feathers fluttered from this ceremonial strap, fragments of obsidian, pieces of turquoise, and coral beans were sewn into it, also. Ussen, the sacred God of all Apaches, would protect them. Perico took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, pulled his stolen black derby tighter down over his long hair, and nodded to the others. Yanking their hackamores braided from horsetails, the warriors jerked their horses' heads around and kicked them up, up the steep dirt embankment of the ravine.
"Will it never end? So many deaths, families, and ranches ruined." Miss Cox rearranged her brown cotton riding skirt over her blue denim knickers. Although not riding this trip, she liked knickers because they gave her the freedom to ride her horse astride like a man rather than sidesaddle like the more proper, citified ladies back east.
"On both sides. Poor Mexicans have suffered far worse than we, Martha. But we've got thousands of troops out here now on patrol day and night, chasin' Geronimo and those renegades over to New Mexico and halfway down into Sonora. General Crook left guards at every ranch and water hole along the border at five-mile intervals from Bisbee to Lang's Ranch over in New Mexico before he got the boot, trader Pertwee told me, so we're gonna be protected." Jacob smiled reassuringly at his sister.
"Heck, I heard Crook's Apache scouts have killed more of their own bad people than our Army's ever been able to. And when you're fighting your own kin, the bloodshed can't go on forever."
The smile she returned was thinner, concerned, as she fiddled with the pins in her hair bun, shaking loose its sandy blonde mass. "Fighting Apaches for over two decades! Hard to believe." Twisting her head about, Martha picked up the flash from the mountain above their ranch. "Oh! Look!"
Her brother saw it and immediately craned about to see who was being signaled. Over his shoulder he got his answer, as three Chiricahua bronchos came boiling up out of the ravine, yipping and yelling, demonstrating their nickname among all the Apache bands as "the chatteres," for the calls they made during battle.
"God Almighty! Get down, Martha!"
Long-reining his two horses, Jacob got their light wagon bouncing faster over the rough trail. His sister leaned forward, pulled a Spencer seven-shot carbine from below the seat, flipped up the rear sight and turned to take jerky aim between them. Her first shot went awry, causing the three hard-riding Apaches behind her to drift their horses apart. The warriors leaned behind their mounts' necks to lower their profiles.
"Sis, ahead!"
Two more Chiricahuas, white stripes under their eyes as well, came racing out from behind a big paloverde, attempting to pinch their trap closed. As Elote and Hacki angled rapidly toward them from the opposite side, they loosed arrows at the Anglos. One thudded into the wooden sideboard right next to Martha. She whirled round, yanked the breech lever on her repeating rifle, ejecting the cartridge and levering another cartridge into the Spencer, recocked the hammer and took a snapshot at the nearest ambusher.
With a yelp Elote tumbled ass over teacup, bouncing off his pony's rump before he flipped into the dirt, facedown. Angry now, Hacki (He Shakes Something) let fly another errant arrow over the ranchers' heads as his horse curved alongside the racing wagon.
Down the hillside and across a sandy wash the spring wagon bounced and clattered. Jacob crouched, his feet braced against the kickboard, urging his speedy team on as they heaved and slobbered to pull their load up the incline across the dry watercourse.
Taking another shot behind her brother's back at the three Chiricahuas closing in on them again, Martha shot one of the Indians' horses, putting the animal into a careening tumble as its rider flew over its neck.
Hacki took advantage of her distraction and the wagon's slowed climb to leap from his pony onto the heavy sacks of flour, potatoes, and staples they were hauling home in the flatbed. Hacki hit hard on the lumpy sacks but rolled over as he yanked a long knife from the fold of his knee-high moccasin. The Apache lunged at the woman, who had one knee on the wagon's seat to face his attack. Parrying his thrust with her seven-pound carbine's wooden buttstock, Martha swung the barrel rapidly back around to recock the hammer and pull its trigger--right in his chest! The impact of the big bullet blew the warrior backward, sprawling him atop their provisions.
With a thump of a turkey-feathered shaft, Jacob Cox took an arrow in his left bicep. The wagon driver yelled in pain and slumped forward as his sister retaliated, blasting away at the two nearby riders, causing them to duck and swerve their ponies off again.
"Jacob!"
"Get him off! Slowing us down!"
"What?" She was confused, concerned about his wound.
Her brother lashed his team on with his good arm. "Push him off! We won't make it!"
Now she understood. The racing wagon reached flatter ground as the galloping team neared the ranch. Martha crawled back over the swaying wooden seat. Seizing the bleeding Apache's hand, she wrested the knife from his grip and, on her knees, rolled the groaning warrior over to the sideboard. Sensing what was about to happen, Hacki tried to resist. But his fingers were slick with blood from the hole in his chest, and his grip was feeble. She grappled with him, overcoming his waning strength with her own as she struggled to hoist him upright. A big bounce of the rear wheel over a rock and a yank! Martha had him up now and rolled the Apache over the wagon's sideboard with a last kick good-bye! Another arrow flew at her, missing as she ducked down to hold on.
With a groan, the compact Indian hit the ground hard! Hacki's broken, bloody body infuriated his tribesmen as they galloped past, causing Perico to pull his revolver finally and blaze away wildly between his jumpy pony's ears.
Rolling back on a flour sack, Miss Cox snatched up her rifle, jerked the breech lever to insert another cartridge and recocked it to fire again at the enraged Indian, narrowly missing him, too! Perico ducked behind his horse's neck and veered off again.
They neared their ranch house, Jacob lashing his exhausted team for all they were still worth.
"Jump, sis! Jump!"
Martha pulled herself to her knees on the food sacks, steadied as she took aim once more at a galloping Indian.
"No! Staying with you!"
"Going to the stable! They want our horses! Catch 'em in a crossfire!" Bending low over the reins, her brother jerked his head back and forth over either shoulder, frantically eyeing his sister and their hot pursuers.
"Jump!"
As the wagon skidded wide past the corner of their adobe's front porch, she decided and suddenly rolled to the wagon's edge and flung herself over the sideboards! Martha Cox landed roughly on the hard dirt, bouncing on her hands and knees before she rolled over, hugging the precious rifle to her chest.
The three Apaches on horseback were too surprised by her rash act to stop quickly enough, even if they were interested in this feisty woman. Instead they chased Jacob and his valuable horses as he careened up to his stable and corral, yanking his tired team to a skidding stop. The Apaches galloped past and slid to stops on their ponies' hindquarters, milling about in a cloud of dust, trying to reload pistols and notch more arrows for another run at him.
 
Ranch Near Cox's Tanks,
Below Square Mountain
Martha was unhurt as she rolled to her feet and ran to minimal cover behind a porch post to blaze off a last round at the frenzied Indians.
Leaping from the wagon seat, Jacob Cox pulled the reins between his skittish team and dragged them past his small weathered barn, its arched roof covering a hayloft. Two dogs were out of the barn into the thick of the melee now, bounding around in the dust barking, unsettling both the Indians' and ranchers' horses even more. Throwing open the wooden gate to his corral, Jacob ran the two horses and his wagon inside, between two other horses he kept for riding.
Dropping the reins, Jacob Cox finally pulled his single-action Colt from his hip holster and dodged the stamping, rearing horses to get close to the wagon. Ducking behind its seat's minimal protection, he was able to snap off a couple shots from his .45. His aim was spoiled, though, by his team's nervous jerking about as the Apaches' arrows whizzed by when they dashed past the corral on their ponies.
From a longer distance, Perico's bullets kicked up dust about the hooves of Cox's horses. Their owner was up and down like a jack-in-the-box, firing and then taking moving cover. The Apaches were after his horses, or they would have shot one earlier, so his safest firing position was behind the big skittish animals.
* * *
Throwing open her plank front door, Martha Cox dashed through her front room to the kitchen, where she grabbed a spring-loaded tube from a shelf. Yanking the empty out of the buttstock of her Spencer, she rammed a full tube of seven copper rim-fired cartridges up inside her older repeating rifle until it locked. Breathing hard, she flung open the wooden window shutter facing their small stable and began triggering more shots. So practiced was she with this carbine that she could aim and empty all seven cartridges in thirty seconds, even with having to recock the rifle's hammer before each shot.
Three Apaches circled the stable yard, but the few arrows and bullets they had left couldn't hit Jacob as he moved behind his wagon, jerked anxiously about by his still-hitched team. The ranch dogs added to the chaos, scooting from between the corral's rungs to bark at the rampaging Apaches, then dashing back inside again as the Indians cursed and shot at them, too.
Martha's second shot hit an Indian as he galloped past, burning Perico in the thigh. The big bullet bore on through to wound his mount as well, and the horse went down in a flying, squealing fall past her open window, tumbling its wounded rider to the dirt, knocking off his derby hat. His fall panicked Dahkeya and Inday-Yi-Yahn, who realized they were caught in the open in a crossfire. Dahkeya loped his pony over to Perico, now up and limping, leaned down, and thrust an arm out to swing the still-armed Indian up behind him in a rescue carry. Both kicked the mustang's flanks hard, and the three men on their two horses galloped off from that ranch as fast as their tired mounts could carry them.
Martha Cox watched them go, still breathing heavily as she paused to lever a last cartridge into her rifle's breech. She chanced leaning out, sticking her neck from her kitchen window to peer around. Were they safe? Nothing else moved in the stable yard except their two dogs, as the disappearing Apaches' dust settled. Seeing no more attackers, she grabbed a fresh ammunition tube off the shelf and then risked it, jumping right out the window to the ground, still holding her rifle.
"Jacob!"
The Indian pony kicked on the ground, whinnying in pain from its bullet wound as she dashed past it across the stable yard.
 
Lookout on Square Mountain
The Apaches' leader watched the woman run as he raised his 1860 Sharps, lining her up over his front sight. His index finger hesitated, twitching, before he lowered the long gun slightly. Naiche fingered the blue Anson Mills ammunition belt over his shoulder. He'd taken it off a bluecoat he'd killed, and fully loaded with fifty bullets, the belt weighed at least eight pounds. It was much lighter now, nearly empty of finger-length .50/.70 cartridges in its big loops. Naiche snorted. Little ammunition left to spare, too difficult a long shot. He looked up again to see the damned woman run into the corral where her brother was unhitching his team.
* * *
Jacob holstered his revolver as his sister literally crashed into him, overrun with concern. "Jacob!"
"Sis! Good shootin', girl! You saved our carcasses!"
"You all right?" She clutched his shoulder, tearing away his bloody shirt to get a look at the wound.
He winced. "Yes, I guess not!"
"Gracious! They're coming back!"
Startled, he jerked his head to follow her worried gaze. The moment he was distracted, she grabbed his shoulder with one hand and the arrow shaft with her other and pushed--hard!
"Owww!" Her brother was driven straight to his knees in pain. Without flinching, she snapped the feathered tip off and then pulled the arrowhead and remaining shaft out the inner side of his fleshy upper arm. "JESUS, girl!"
Jacob clutched his flesh below his bloody shoulder. "Trying to tear my arm off?" The Apaches' thin steel arrowheads, often made from the hoops of water barrels, were jagged and couldn't easily be pulled from a deep wound. And the pain from pushing the arrowhead through the other side of the skin to extract it was more agonizing than an operation without anesthetics.
"Had to come out quick. Got to wash any poison out and get it dressed. Come inside." She helped him to his feet.
Her brother hesitated. "Got to see to these horses." He patted a gelding's sweaty flank with his good arm. "Good horses got us home!"
"I'll rub 'em down and feed 'em just as soon as I get you doctored." Taking him by his good arm, she led her still agitated brother from their corral before shock set in.
"Didn't see any more Apaches?"
"No, just those last three. Winged one, I think, or at least his horse." They stared at the downed animal as they walked slowly back to their small house. The stallion was sweaty beige in color, and its shaggy mane and bushy tail evinced its wild bloodlines. The horse scraped the dirt in agony with its good rear hoof. Martha Cox reached down to pick up a dusty black derby hat lying nearby. Stolen from some white man? Suddenly conscious of her own head, she shook out her long hair, damp with sweat.
"Don't know if I can doctor that poor horse."
"Oh, my." Jacob wobbled, light-headed suddenly from his loss of blood. His sister reached round under his good shoulder to prop him up.
"In you go, hero, to bed."
"What if they come back?"
Martha walked him slowly on, helping her brother step up on the wooden porch under the eaves of their adobe home. "Shouldn't for a while. Need to doctor their wounds first, just like us."
Jacob looked relieved and so did his two dogs, now that the excitement was over. "And bury their dead and say their prayers. Apaches always do that first, I heard."
The yellow mutt plopped down in the dirt in front of the porch to pant, too tired even to climb up on the porch with them. Jacob reached for a rocking chair next to their front door.
"Let me stay out here, keep watch. Need some fresh air."
Her dry lips creased into a frown.
"Just awhile, please, until things...I calm down."
Reluctantly, his sister helped him sit down in the rocker. "Just for a minute then. I'll get my medicines." She put a hand on the door latch, but his pained look stopped her.
"I counted two shot...out there," he jerked a thumb toward their back trail. "Did you kill that one you pitched out?"
A deep sigh. "I'm afraid so."
He almost smiled. "Afraid's not part of your makeup, sis."
She caught his look, unspoken thanks, and walked inside.
Her older brother reached down to scratch the neck of the longer-haired, black-and-white mongrel of mixed breeding that took up a guard position next to its master. The younger cow dog looked beat, as it yawned settled down beside the rocker.
"Good work, Buster, boy."
* * *
From his vantage halfway up Square Mountain, Naiche could make out the dogs and shadowy figures talking under the piñon poles spaced over the partially open porch. When the woman fighter disappeared inside, the Apache grunted in disgust. His luck in battle was still the same--bad.
His older brother by ten years, Hndaazn, his name shortened by the white men to Taza, had first inherited their father's, Cochise's, chieftainship but then had died on a train trip to Washington arranged by General Crook to meet the Great Chief of the White Eyes. Naiche was immediately chosen by the Chokonen band of Chiricahuas to succeed Taza. He was only twenty years old but suddenly chosen as the hereditary chief of these fierce Apaches! His older brother had received all of Cochise's leadership training, deliberately, so that there would be no rivalry between his two sons. Naiche was the sensitive one in the family, an artist in this all-warrior society, who much preferred to sing and dance and paint pictures and chase girls and drink far into the night.
Of all the Apache leaders, Naiche was also the only one with no special power. Juh, leader of the Mexico-based Nedhni Apaches, and Geronimo, Juh's war chief, could both foretell the future. The stuttering Juh also had the power to handle men. Chihuahua, a leader of the Mescalero Apaches, had power over horses. Chihuahua could gentle and ride the wildest horses, or heal them of sickness or wounds, curing one of a rattlesnake bite. Old Nana's power was over rattlesnakes and ammunition trains. He could always bring back precious ammunition from a raid. Victorio, another Mescalero leader, had a sister, Lozen, who was also famous for her power. Lozen could locate an enemy and even tell how far away they were and had done so on many desperate occasions.
Most medicine men and chiefs-to-be acquired power as adolescents. All Apache boys were required to go alone to the sacred mountains to fast and pray for four days. They could take along a blanket but nothing else. Most did not obtain any special gift on their quest, and the few who did, usually got it the last night of their ordeal. Then the supplicant heard a voice, or saw an animal, even a tree, plant, or stone, which was to be his special medicine. It talked to him, telling the Apache boy what he was to use and how. From that time on he carried a bit of this power in a small buckskin pouch on a thong around his neck. It was his spirit guide and helper all his life.
Naiche was not one of these lucky ones. No power in a deerskin pouch graced his neck. He never experienced any voices or visions as a boy and consequently had never displayed any special insights or abilities to his fellow Apaches as their ceremonial chief. Naiche grimaced as he realized he'd now allowed an easy attack on a wagon to result in the deaths of two of his fierce warriors and the wounding of another, his war chief. By a woman! How was he even to keep this small band together, disgraced like this? He had failed again as a leader in battle, and the Chiricahuas all knew now he had no special power to protect them. Ever! With a discouraged shake of his head, Naiche vanished behind the big boulder upon which he'd been sitting.
* * *
Martha Cox took a last swipe with a cloth soaked in carbolic acid around the puncture wound on her brother's upper arm. Jacob's sharp breath and teeth-clenching grimace were the only visible result. She took another bandage she'd prepared by soaking in a smelly yellowish liquid and wrapped it tight around his arm and shoulder, causing him to flinch again. "Poultice should ward off infection, draw the pain from your wound. God knows what Apaches dip their arrowheads in, to kill their game. But this should counteract any natural poisons."
"Mother's herbal medicines?"
"Tincture of goldenseal, stinging nettle, and poke root. One of the many good things she taught me, Jacob. You were too busy with school to learn anything practical."
"Practical. If I were a practical man, I wouldn't be running a cattle ranch out here in the middle of Apache country, no matter how cheaply I acquired it." Jacob Cox took a long swig of water from a canteen, then leaned from his porch rocker to pour what was left into the tin pan between their two dogs resting below them in the dusty yard. Both animals slurped thirstily, then lay tiredly back down. Buster, his longhaired herd dog, sniffed the air carefully first, to pick up any stray scent of the wild Indians who had threatened his life that same afternoon. The older, yellow, shorthaired mutt was just too exhausted from the afternoon's frantic defense of his territory to even venture a sniff.
"No wonder old Morrison almost gave me this ranch. Thought I was stealing it three years ago."
"Gave it up with a deep sigh of relief," added his sister.
"And wished me luck making the Tanks prosper," nodded her brother.
"You've since paid full price, with all the time and sweat you've put into this property, Jacob."
"True, but that's my price, Martha, not yours: I know what mother would say if she knew the hardships I was putting you through, sis. It's just too dangerous out here now. We were very lucky today to save our scalps." He shook his head tiredly.
"If they're that desperate for horses and guns...they'll be back."
Silence drifted between these close siblings as the rancher's younger sister wiped sticky fingersful of herbal potion off on her apron.
"We've got this army detail coming to our mountain. They should be able to warn us of any further ambushes." She seemed a bit flustered.
"Besides, I've nowhere else to go. I can't run our old farm in Iowa, with my husband missing and our few relatives moved away. There was really nothing left for me to do but come out to this burning wilderness and look after wifeless you."
The throbbing in his wounded arm intensified, forcing a hard decision.
"It's not fair of me to risk your life and limb, regardless how good a markswoman you still are. I'll make you a promise, sis. If we're attacked again and we make it through alive, we're leaving here, immediately, for good. And if the army's unable to rein in these renegade Apaches, within another year, we're moving out, too." The midwesterner tightened his jaw. "Agreed?"
"Where would we go? What would I do?"
"Further west maybe. Los Angeles, San Francisco. Climate's more salubrious on the coast, and those big towns are booming. We should be able to find decent work. Yet another fresh start for the Coxes, eh?"
"Rowdies don't shoot poisoned arrows down their main streets?"
Her brother managed a slight smile. "I think not. I'll miss this wild place."
Martha smiled back, trying to lighten her brother's defeated mood. "You come inside and lie down. I'll see to our valiant steeds. Maybe I can save that Indian pony."
Jacob laid his good hand upon her arm. "It's been an exceedingly exhausting day for us all. Two handfuls of oats each, okay?"
 
Copyright 2003 by Miles Hood Swarthout

Continues...

Excerpted from The Sergeant's Lady by Swarthout, Miles Hood Copyright © 2004 by Swarthout, Miles Hood. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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