Cody's Redemption by Dusty HayesYoung troubled cowboy Cody Weaver is taken in hand by older mentor Harlan Dunlap and taught the errors of his ways. Historical western, M/M spanking.
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Cody's Redemption (Sample Chapter)
Young cowboy Cody is taken in hand by retired Marshall
© Dusty Hayes and ABCD Webmasters, 2013
Cody Weaver's tongue felt thick and swollen. He lay where he'd fallen off his horse, moving just enough to keep the darn buzzards at bay. His horse had run off and with it his canteen. He thought the bleeding in his shoulder had stopped, but he knew he'd lost a fair bit of blood already. Suddenly he wondered if he was going to make it out of this fix. How had things gone so wrong in such a short life?
Maybe he had been stupid to take up with that gang. It seemed like a good idea at the time though. He'd just stay with them for a couple of bank robberies and then slip away with a nice grubstake to get him a start out in California. The other fellows made it sound so easy, as they made their plans in a dark corner of the saloon.
It turned out to be far from easy. How were any of them to know that the sheriff would be in the back office with the bank president? As the newest fellow in the gang, and the only one without a pistol (that was the first thing he was planning to buy with his share of the loot) Cody had been left holding the horses. The next thing he knew, shots were being fired and the other fellows in the gang were running towards him and jumping on their horses. They all rode off as fast as their horses could gallop, but Cody caught a bullet in the shoulder as they fled. He kept pace for a couple more miles and it was even starting to seem like they'd shaken the posse at the river. He wasn't riding as well as the others, though, because of his shoulder, and his horse was tiring.
The rest of the gang drew ahead, as he fell further and further behind. He'd stuck it awhile longer, heading up towards the mountains, but as the afternoon heat reached its peak, he finally lost his hold on the saddle and slid to the ground with a thump, too tired to do anything about his situation but hope. He drifted off into a strange daze. He could move a little if one of those dang scavenger birds came close, and he even vaguely brushed at the flies now and then, as they buzzed around his bloody shoulder, but he didn't even know how much more of that he had in him.
As the light began to fade, so did Cody. He still moved a little and mumbled to himself, but his mind was floating far and high now, drifting like the motes of dust in the golden sunset air. His horse, lonely and confused by the empty land, had returned and stood nearby, snorting and stamping whenever the dang buzzards tried to land. He tried to get up the energy to call to the horse, wanting to mount up and get them both to water or at least get his canteen, but he was so tired... so tired.
The next thing he knew it was night... quite a ways into the night considering how cold it had grown, but there was a glow and part of him was warmer than the rest, though he would have been colder if he hadn't been wrapped in his bedroll. He turned his head to see a campfire, small, but he was grateful for the heat it gave off. He thought he heard the sound of water running. How had he gotten to water and who had made the fire and gotten out his bedroll? Suddenly he tried to sit up, but the pain in his shoulder laid him flat again. A deep voice drifted down from somewhere overhead.
"Whoa, son, you need to stay down for a while longer, or let me help if you really need to get up. That's quite a wound in your shoulder. I had a devil of a time getting it clean though you were lucky at that. It went right through the meat, so I didn't have to dig it out of you. Must have been some hunting accident! Now you just drink this tea and then try to get some more shut-eye. We'll talk in the morning."
Cody nodded without speaking and drank the bitter potion, thirsty enough to make short work of it, and exhaustion claimed him once more. The next time his eyes opened, it was bright morning, and he could see that he was in the shade of a grove of aspen, near a small stream. He heaved a big sigh, glad he hadn't awakened to a bunch of little devils with pitchforks. Maybe his luck hadn't all run out.
He turned his head slowly, on a neck stiff from lying still so long. His shoulder hurt, but not as bad, and the wound was bandaged. He turned his head the other way, toward the creek, and that was the first time he saw Harlan Dunlap, walking towards him on the other side of the creek.
The weather-beaten face spoke of time and distance traveled, but the man walked strong, despite the wrinkles and lines. He had bushy gray hair and bushy gray eyebrows and a mustache, and as he drew closer, Cody could see that he had long-seeing blue eyes. He crossed the creek, stone to stone, and saw that Cody was awake. He smiled, put the rabbit carcass he was carrying down on a rock near the fire, and spoke.
"Good morning, young fella. I'm Harlan Dunlap. Glad to see you made it through the night." He bent to rinse his hands in the creek, dried them on his pants, and knelt down next to the young man, helping him drink fresh cold water from a recently filled canteen. It tasted like nectar to the thirsty boy. The old man put a hard and callused but surprisingly gentle hand on the boy's forehead and nodded. "Good, no fever. Now let's get you up and over to the bushes for a minute, and then you can have some breakfast and tell me who you are and how in the world you came to be lying on the ground with that hole in your shoulder last night."
Since Cody's bladder was on the edge of bursting, he just nodded and with a little help from Harlan managed to get himself up on his feet and hobble far enough away from the fire and creek to do his business. When he came back to the fire, he saw that Harlan had set up one of those beds he'd heard about Indians using, round willow sticks twined together, with a frame that could prop part of it up to make a back rest. Harlan indicated this seat and helped ease Cody down. He brought him a cup of coffee and some kind of porridge-looking stuff. Cody was pleased to find it was sweetened with what tasted like honey. The older man began skinning out the rabbit. "Lunch," he said with a grin.
Cody nodded and grinned back. Suddenly he was hungry for more than porridge and knew he'd be glad when lunch time rolled around. Meanwhile, he leaned back and sipped the dark rich coffee and ate the porridge and marveled that he was alive and apparently well and cared for, when he'd been getting pretty sure he'd never see another morning. Still, if the old man knew, he'd probably turn him in. Would he tell him? Cody thought over various stories that just might sound plausible enough to explain himself.
"So what should I call you, son, and how did you end up in this fix? Hunting accident?" The blue eyes were concerned and somehow compelling. Suddenly Cody knew he couldn't lie to those eyes. They saw too much, too deep and too far... he'd never get away with it. Better to come clean from the outset.
"You can call me Cody, sir, Cody Weaver. And no, it wasn't a hunting accident, though now I wish it had been. I was dumb enough to take up with a gang that was planning some bank robberies. I was just going to go along for a couple. Just enough to get me a fresh start out in California. Just to get away. So I guess you'll want to turn me in."
"Anybody hurt but you, son?"
"I don't think so. It was only my first and it went bad from the beginning. All I did was hold the horses and we never even got the loot, though I got some lead I could have done without in my shoulder. They got up a chase that took a long time to shake."
The old man nodded. "How do you feel about it now?"
"Dumb. Dumber than ditch water. It was a stupid thing to do, and if Ma'd still been alive and found out, she would have tanned my hide good for even thinking about it. I do want to get out of this state, but that wasn't a very smart way to try to pull it off."
"No, it wasn't, son."
Cody looked down for a minute, wishing he hadn't had to confess to being such a fool to the confident older man, wishing they could have met under circumstances that didn't make him look like such a dumb-fool jackass. He sighed softly and looked up.
"Thanks for taking care of me, Mister. I'm sorry to have made trouble for you, but I'm sure glad you came along." He looked down at the bowl in his hands and then looked back up. Might as well try to face it like a man. "Are you going to turn me in?"
The blue eyes regarded the anxious young man steadily and thoughtfully. God, Harlan wondered, was I ever that young? He spoke, "That depends on you, son. Now let's check your wound and then you should try to rest some more. You'll heal quicker if you rest."
Getting his wound tended wasn't the nicest thing that had ever happened to Cody, but he gritted his teeth and got through it without making too much of a fuss. He could tell, once the bandage was off, that it was clean and starting to heal. It was a relief to see. The cold water felt good as Harlan washed it again, and then he re-bandaged it with a minimum of fuss.
"Now you just lean back and rest, Cody. I'll get you up when lunch is ready."
Cody did as ordered; looking up at aspen leaves quivering, filtering sunlight from the clear blue sky. The creek sang a gentle lullaby as he drifted again.
He woke to find Harlan kneeling at his side. "You ready for something more solid to eat, young man?"
A rich meaty steamy smell was drifting across Cody's nose, and he sniffed appreciatively. "Yes, sir, ready as I'll ever be."
"Drink this, and then you can have some stew." Cody sipped from the cup, making a face at the bitterness. Harlan chuckled and smiled.
"I know, I know, lad, but it'll do you good. Now if you want some stew, you'll get the rest of that tea down pretty quick. Cody nodded and drank again. When the cup was empty (which didn't take long), he handed it back to Harlan. Harlan passed over the same gourd bowl the porridge had come from, only this time the bowl was full of tender-looking meat and some bits and slices of roots and things swimming in a rich broth that smelled better than anything he'd eaten since Ma had passed. He dipped in with the horn spoon Harlan handed him and wasn't disappointed.
"Thanks, Mister, this is real good."
Harlan nodded. "The name's Harlan, son. Now dig in." Harlan had a bowl and spoon of his own, and both men ate for a while, in companionable silence.
Cody was thinking about what Harlan had said that morning. Finally he got up the nerve to broach the subject. "Uhh.. Harlan?" He felt funny calling the old man by name.
"When you said it was up to me whether you turned me in or not, what did you mean?"
"Just that, Cody. One way or another, you have got to face what you did. You made a very foolish choice and risked your own life as well as the lives of others, in hopes of a quick gain you didn't have to work for. What you did was wrong, just plain bad wrong. One way or another you have to face it and take your medicine. If you can convince me that you never want to be that foolish again, you may win yourself a chance to take your medicine from me instead of in prison. I'll be easier on you than some of those rough old cobs at the prison will be, but that's not to say it will be easy getting your licks from me."
He felt the young man's forehead again. "Now you rest up again, Cody, and just let it all be for now. We are not going to be making any decisions today, and not tomorrow either. You need to heal up some before you can really face this and start figuring out how to move on."
Cody did his best to follow the old man's advice throughout that day and the next. He slept and ate whatever the old man provided, most of which was pretty tasty, except for the bitter tea, but there must have been something good in it, because he never got the fever that killed so many with gunshot wounds, and each time he awoke the shoulder felt better.
Harlan did not discuss what he'd done through the rest of that first day and all of the next, though Cody thought about it plenty. He and Harlan did talk from time to time and had gotten to know one another better. Harlan knew that Cody was a woods colt, his father killed on the cattle drive that was to earn him the money to settle down and get married to Cody's mother, who then had to bear and care for her child without the benefits and protection of a husband.
Shunned by the "good" (Cody said bitterly) people of the town, she had scraped out a meager living for herself and her son cleaning saloons and doing the laundry from the upstairs rooms. They hadn't let Cody attend school with the other kids, afraid that the stain of his bastardy might rub off on the others somehow. His mother had done her best to teach him but her various jobs didn't leave her much time and less energy, and Cody could just barely read a bit, write his name, and do a little figuring.
He'd been only sixteen when she died, worn out from her short lifetime of work and worry, and he had managed to keep body and soul together taking over much of her work, but it was not much of a life for a healthy young man. After a year of this, he'd run into the gang that had led him astray. All he'd wanted was a chance at a better life, but all it had gotten him was this.
He learned that Harlan had been a lawman and a Ranger, which certainly helped explain his abilities when it came to living off the countryside as well as his having more knowledge than most about doctoring bullet wounds. Harlan's stories about some of the expeditions and man-hunts he'd been on helped to pass the time between eating and sleeping. Cody listened raptly and thought about what an interesting life Harlan had led. Maybe there were other ways than bank robbing to build a better life for himself, if he could only have a second chance at it. If only. He ate and slept and hoped.
The morning of his third day with Harlan dawned clear and fine. Cody's shoulder was feeling much better, and he ate his porridge with a good appetite and polished off a prairie chicken leg left over from the previous night's supper to fill in the corners. When Harlan had straightened up the camp after breakfast and checked, cleaned and re-bandaged the gunshot wound, he sat down next to the younger man.
"All right, son, that shoulder of yours is healing up fine. I guess it's time for the two of us to talk."
Cody didn't know what to say, so he just looked up and said, "Yes sir."
"You've had a couple of days to think about what you've done, Cody. How do you feel now about what happened?"
Cody looked down at his hands and blushed. It was going to be hard to talk about how he felt. He felt foolish and guilty and very young (he looked it, too). He took a deep breath, swallowed and looked up at the older man. "Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I'm downright ashamed of myself. I told you before than Ma would have tanned my hide good if she'd known I'd even thought of doing such a thing, and that's God's own truth. The worst part of this fix is wondering if she can look down on me and be shamed by what I've done." His voice caught in his throat in an almost-sob when he said this. He took another deep breath, struggling for control, and continued.
"What I did was wrong, I know that now. I'd give anything to take it back, but I guess there's no way to go backwards in life. I suppose you are going to want to turn me in, being a lawman and all, and I'll go along peaceable. I wish I could have another chance to make better choices, but that's not to say I think I deserve it. You gave me my life back when I probably would have died and gone to the buzzards. Whatever you decide to do with me next, I'm grateful to you for that, Harlan."
Harlan's penetrating but kind gaze considered the young man for a minute. The kid was so young it was almost hard to think of him as a man, but he had made a man-sized choice, and there had to be serious consequences, one way or another. Cody had had a tough row to hoe out of life so far, and one bad choice had brought him nearer to ruin than some people ever had to get. Harlan knew what those old cobs at the prison would do to a man as young and inexperienced as this one, though he hated to think about it. He'd seen what that had done to other young men, some of whom might have learned a better way of life if they hadn't been used so badly that a bitter hopeless anger became their only means of survival. He could tell that this kid had a lot of good in him. Maybe he could save this one. He came to a decision and spoke.
"I think you've been honest with me, Cody, and I'd like to see you get that second chance, but you're still going to have to pay for what you've done. Your poor mama did her best, but she had an awfully hard row to hoe, and you never had a daddy in your life to help you stay straight. If you decide to accept my help with a second chance, you'll have to take my medicine, and some of it may be a lot more-bitter than that tea you keep making faces at. What do you say to that?"
Cody looked up, the light of hope dawning in his eyes. "I'm not sure what you mean by some of that, sir, but I'd do just about anything for another chance at life... anything honest, that is."
"Good. You'll get your chance. But don't you ever forget that you get exactly one second chance from me. If you go bad again, I will hunt you down myself, and if there is no other way to bring you to justice I will kill you myself. You got that, son?"
Cody nodded slowly, letting this sink in. "Yes sir. I'll do my best to make the most of the chance you're giving me. I don't understand why you are willing to do it, but I'll try hard not to let you down."
"All right son. Now stand up."
Cody stood up, wondering what was next, but willing to obey this strong but kind old man who was going to help him try to get his life back.
Harlan got up and seated himself in the willow bed the boy had just left, leaning back on the backrest. "Time for a new kind of medicine, son. Skin those jeans down and get yourself across my lap for a dose of what your mama would have given you if she were here to do it."
Cody couldn't believe his ears at first. He hadn't known exactly what to expect, but he hadn't expected this! His rear end twitched, remembering some of the tannings he'd gotten from his mother. All right, he'd put his money where his mouth was and take his medicine the best he could. Blushing, he dropped his jeans down to his knees and awkwardly laid himself down over Harlan's lap. Nobody but Ma had ever seen his naked bum before, and he felt embarrassed, as well as very young and vulnerable. He was even more embarrassed with Harlan shifted him just a bit so his bum stuck up even farther. The air felt cool on his naked skin, but he had a feeling that his backside wouldn't be feeling cool much longer. He shivered slightly, though the day was warm.
"So tell me, Cody, about when your mama tanned that hide of yours. Did she teach you how to behave when you're getting a hiding?"
Cody blushed fiercely. "You mean not trying to get away and not getting my hands in the way or kicking too hard or asking for her to stop?"
"That's exactly what I mean, son."
Blushes on blushes and the answering voice sounded very young. "Yes sir, she did teach me that." His bum twitched involuntarily, remembering some of those lessons. Ma had been pretty strong in the arms from all the hard work she did. Harlan smiled slightly at the twitch.
"She sounds like she was quite a woman, son. You'd better remember those lessons, especially the one about not asking for it to stop. If you can't take this medicine, I will have to turn you in. I am going to have to hurt you plenty, to make you see how you could have hurt yourself and others by your choices, but you had better believe that whatever I will do is not as bad as what those old cobs in the prison would do if they got their hands on your bum. Do you understand?"
You couldn't grow up around saloons and not hear some of the stories. Cody nodded and shuddered and choked out a reply. 'Y-y-yyyes, sir. I understand."
"Good. I'm going to give you a hiding you'll remember for a long time, and if you honor your mama's memory, you'll take it like a man instead of fighting against it. Are you ready for that, Cody?"
The young man nodded. "Yes sir." His voice sounded strained but determined.
Without further ado, Harlan brought his hand down hard on the pale young backside turned up over his lap. He took up a steady rhythm, brisk and hard, but not too fast.
Cody gritted his teeth and tried not to wiggle or kick or cry out, but he knew it was going to be tough. Even with all the hard work Ma had done, her hands had never been as hard and callused as Harlan's were, nor had she been as strong. Oh Lordy it hurt! And that was just Harlan's hand! Cody expected that Harlan's hand was not the only thing his bum would be hurting from before this was over. Ma had stopped using just her hand when he was about six years old.
Meanwhile, Harlan's arm went up and down, up and down, steady as a piston, as the hand moved from place to place, spreading its deep burning sting over every inch of the younger man's bum and then, when that bum was glowing red, moving down to pepper the upper thighs with burning spanks. Oh Lordy it HURT!
Cody was wiggling a little now, and grunts and moans were escaping from his tightly clenched teeth, and still the rough hand spanked on and on. His breathing became more and more ragged, and sobs started catching in his throat. He hated it... he did not want to cry and babble like a little boy getting spanked, but he had a feeling that Harlan was not going to stop until he did. Still he resisted as long as he could, trying to take the burning medicine into himself. He deserved every lick, considering what a fool he'd been! A few tears ran down his young cheeks, but still he did his best to choke back the sobs that kept threatening to overwhelm him.
Harlan watched the young man struggling to contain himself as the sting mounted, careful not to ease up any. He admired Cody's grit, but also knew he would have to break the kid down to make a full impression on him. When he judged that the moment was right, he stopped his hand briefly to reach for his quirt which lay nearby. Cody's head jerked up as he felt the sharper sting, and his control started to slip..
"Oooohhh! Oh god, that hurts! Owwwwwwww! I'm s-s-ssoorrryyyy, Harlan! I'm sorry! It was stupid! I was a fool! Oh, I'll never do it again, never!"
Still Harlan's arm rose and fell like a piston, bringing the quirt whipping down smartly, to criss-cross and dot the red stinging bum with new welts that burned like fire.
"You ought to be sorry, young man. You did a damn fool thing that could have gotten yourself or somebody else killed." Narrow slashes of fire, over and over and over.
"I knooowww! I'm sorry! I won't do it again. I WON'T! Honest! Aaarrrgghh!"
"I am glad to hear it, son, but you are still going to take your medicine for what you've done!"
"Y-y-yyyes sir! I will! I am! I d-d-deserve it! Give it to me good, sir!"
Cody was wiggling around some now, but Harlan wrapped his other arm tight around the young man's waist and spanked on, knowing that no hurt he could give would be as bad as the hurt Cody might get in prison, or a what a basically good kid like that would have felt like if he'd ended up staying with the gang and killing some innocent bystander. The very thought lent strength to his arm and he picked up the pace a little more, bringing on a fresh burst of wiggles, as Cody's feet dug into the dirt in a desperate effort not to kick. His sobbing voice sounded younger and younger, and he began to babble out promises, just as he'd ended up doing every single time he'd gotten a hiding from his mother..
"Ow! OW! I'll be good! I will! I WILL! I'll be a good boy, I swear! HONEST!"
Still the quirt slashed on. "I hope you will son, but you will still take this dose you've earned yourself."
Cody's whole hind-end felt like it was on fire now. It felt like all the skin was being peeled off, though he knew from past experience over Ma's lap that his bum could take a lot more than it felt like it could. His whole reality was pain, and he lost his words completely and broke down and sobbed like a little kid, embarrassed by his behavior but totally unable to control it. He stopped wiggling the little he had been and just lay there sobbing, completely vulnerable and defenseless, as Harlan lashed away at his burning young backside, now a deep shade of red, overlaid with layers of welts from the quirt.
Harlan noted the change with a sense of satisfaction. You had to take them all the way down if they were to have a hope of climbing back up by way of a better path. Still he spanked on for another minute or two, as Cody lay there sobbing, to make sure the message sank in deep this first all-important time. Then he stopped.
Cody felt a great peace descend on him when he realized that Harlan had stopped. He'd made it through his first bitter dose, even if he had blubbered like a baby. Maybe he could earn his second chance.
Harlan relaxed his arm around Cody's waist and let his hand rest on the boy's back, his other hand quietly resting on the young man's legs. He let Cody stay there for a couple of minutes as the boy's breathing slowed and steadied. Then he spoke.
"All right, son, you've earned your second chance so far. You took that dose pretty well. Now it's time to rest that shoulder again, so get up and hitch up those jeans and have a lie-down."
Cody did as ordered, fixing the back-rest of the willow bed so it leaned back a little farther. He winced when he sat back down, but stayed down and leaned back with a big sigh. He knew from past experience that wiggling around would only make it hurt more, so he lay back quietly.
"Hurts pretty good, does it?"
"Yes sir. I deserve it though. I deserved every lick you gave me, and I know it." The boy blushed fiercely and then continued, "Thank you, Harlan. Thank you for giving me what I deserved and for not letting up on me."
"You're welcome son. It's not over yet, but that dose is done. Now get some rest."
The fluttering leaves and whispering water lulled Cody to sleep despite the ache and burn in his hind end, and he dreamed. He dreamed he saw Ma, and she looked young and pretty and strong again. "I love you, son," she said, and he felt the soft touch of her lips on his forehead. He awakened to Harlan's hand feeling his forehead again, checking once more for any signs of fever. There was some small animal roasting on the spit over the fire. It smelled wonderful and tasted even better once Harlan passed him his share, and he didn't even ask what it was as he eagerly ate his share of the juicy meat and spooned in the beans seasoned with wild onions that Harlan had cooked to go with it.
When they'd finished, Harlan looked at him and smiled. "Still pretty sore, son?"
Cody wiggled slightly and then winced a little but grinned back gamely. "Yes sir. That was quite a hiding you gave me."
"You know you deserved that and more, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. You didn't give me a single lick that I didn't deserve. Not a one."
"Good. That's taking it like a man, Cody."
Cody blushed and studied the empty bowl in his hands for a minute. Then he looked up and met Harlan's eyes, blue and steady as always. "Even though I babbled like a little kid and bawled like a baby?"
"You did that," Harlan conceded and chuckled, but not unkindly. He sobered and went on, "Cody, life is tough. Sometimes it's almost more than we can bear, and that is true for anyone in this life. Even then, a real man... a good and true man... keeps pointed in the right direction for as long as he can hang on by a fingernail. You did babble like a naughty kid, and you did bawl like a baby, but you stayed where you were without fighting me and took your medicine, every single drop of it. You kept facing it, even when it had you so low that all you could do was bawl like a stranded steer with a flood coming on."
He reached over to tousle the young man's hair briefly and then stood up, taking the bowls to the creek to rinse them out. Now you lean back and let that food settle in, son. In a little while we'll try a little walk up the creek. You don't want your legs to get to thinking you don't need them anymore.
Cody was getting tired of lying around most of the time, "No, sir, I don't." He looked eager. "We could just go now."
"We'll go when I say so, Cody, and until then you'll lean back and rest, like I said."
"Yes sir." Cody leaned back and closed his eyes, not about to argue with Harlan anytime soon! He guessed he knew who was boss now. After this morning, he had no desire to butt heads with Harlan unnecessarily! He dozed off and the sun was a little lower when he opened them again.
"I was just about to wake you. Get up nice and slow and we'll go for a little stroll."
Cody rose slowly to his feet. Whew! The ground looked much farther away than he remembered it being, but he took a deep breath and steadied himself. He felt a little shaky but guessed he could walk. "All right, Harlan, let's do that."
They set out upstream, stopping to check on their hobbled horses, grazing peacefully in the meadow that edged the alder grove. Cody noticed that his horse was looking much improved from the wide-eyed, sweating, nervous beast, which had somehow held the buzzards at bay. Cody felt suddenly grateful to the horse and when he saw Harlan walk up to what Cody presumed was Harlan's horse and stroke its neck and nose and speak to it softly he did the same with his. There was a mule, too, Harlan's pack animal, and Harlan even had a pat and a word for it. Then the two men walked further, strolling up the bank maybe a half-mile, where a downed aspen log made a rustic seat.
"Let's rest up a spell before we head back, son." Harlan sat himself down on the log and Cody folded up next to him, suddenly glad to sit for a while. For a couple of minutes, both men sat in companionable silence, enjoying the sound of the creek and the birds and watching dust motes dance in the soft golden light of late afternoon.
"What is it, son?"
"Why? You've already taken an awful lot of time and trouble because of me, and now you are taking more. A lot of people would have figured I was a bad 'un and left me there on the ground. So why are you doing this? What do you get out of the deal?"
Harlan took a deep breath and spoke, keeping his gaze fixed on the creek. "I was young once Cody. It was a long time ago... longer than you've been alive. I was married and had me a little spread and a start on building up a herd. My missus was sweet and pretty and we laughed a lot. Our family was starting to grow, too. She was due to have a baby in a couple more months. Our first. Life was good."
Harlan paused for a moment, his eyes fixed on distant visions in a past that had happened before Cody had been born. He sighed. "We set out for town that day to do some shopping. I had just sold some cattle to a nearby military post and we were feeling gay. We joked about buying some new ribbons for her hair. We were laughing as we entered the bank. Turned out there was a bunch of bad 'uns right behind us, who set about robbing the bank. Then some dam fool cowboy, with more guts than sense, comes out of the back room and pulls his gun and the shooting starts. Poor Elmira never knew what hit her, and neither did the baby who would have been our firstborn son. At least they didn't suffer. But they were both gone in less time than it takes to draw breath."
Harlan drew another long breath, still almost overwhelmed by the pain of that moment, but it was an old familiar pain now. He took another breath and just let it wash on through him. "They caught one of the bandits, a young fellow who'd been shot. I'll never know whose bullet killed Elmira and our son, but it got pinned on the one left behind, and the jury voted him guilty and the judge sentenced him to hang. I stayed on for the hanging, but there wasn't much satisfaction in it. The kid was so young... even younger than me... and so scared. He didn't try to break and run like some I've heard of... he faced it pretty square on... but he was shaking so hard he could barely climb the stairs to the gallows. Just a young scared kid who should have been out riding with a herd or sparking some pretty gal around. The hanging just depressed me more, as it made me feel like three lives had been lost for nothing. I didn't have the heart for the ranch anymore and sold it and moved on."
Harlan sighed and went on. "I worked as a deputy for a while, and then when the Rangers were forming I signed on. I didn't much care what happened to me but figured if I could help keep the kind of tragedy that happened to me from happening to others my life wouldn't be wasted. I put a lot of bandits behind bars and put some in the ground, too. As time went by, I did my best to take an interest in the young men around me. Maybe I helped steer a few of them straight, I don't know for sure.
"One way or another I worked as a lawman for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, when I hung up my badge and decided to spend a few years just traveling around and seeing the country. Then I found you. Maybe I want to save a life for the sake of that youngster who died on the gallows. Maybe I want to save you from the way you will feel if you ended up killing some innocent bystander... a woman or kid... or maybe I wanted to save you from the rage and despair of prison that all too often leads to men coming back, again and again, unless they end up on the gallows. I don't know. I just know I want to give you a chance, but I am going to have to hurt you a lot to get you steered back to the straight and narrow without destroying my own conscience. It won't be easy on either of us, but I want to try if you do."
Harlan looked over at Cody who looked back at the old man, seeing the blue eyes full of pain, tears standing in the corners. The young man's face was wet with tears.
"I never thought of that... of an innocent person getting hurt. I just never thought. How can a person live with himself after doing something like that? I must have been crazy AND stupid to ever agree to go along with robbing banks." Cody shuddered and went on, "Harlan, I don't know how to thank you for the chance you are giving me and for all you are saving me from. I'll try to take everything you feel you need to dish out... and I'll try not to let you down." They young man put out his hand and Harlan reached to take it, and they shook on it, man to man and eye to eye.
Harlan went back to studying the stream. Suddenly he stood. "How about something different for supper tonight?" He pulled off his boots and socks and waded into the creek, headed upstream. As he approached a boulder that stuck up out of the current, he bent to let his hands dangle in the water. He moved forward more and more slowly. He stayed still for several moments, still bent over, and then he straightened up and tossed something to the bank near where Cody sat. "You'd better grab onto that if you want to eat tonight, boy," he said laughing. Cody jumped up and ran to grab the big trout before it could slip back into the water.
Harlan kept going upstream until he was around the bend and out of sight. Cody took his trout over to the log and sat back down; thinking again about everything Harlan had told him. While he pulled out his jack-knife and cleaned the trout (remembering the rare happy occasions when Ma had had the energy to pack up a picnic and go fishing with him down at the river), he tried to imagine what it would be like to lose a young wife and son in a hold-up like that. It sounded like a terrible thing to go through. He tried to imagine again how he would feel if he caused or contributed to such a death and shuddered again. It sounded even worse than what he'd heard could happen to a young man in prison! All of it was part of what Harlan was saving him from. Was he worth saving?
Cody considered that one. He decided it all depended on where he went from here. He couldn't change the past, but at least no one had been hurt by his actions yet... or at least no one but himself! Maybe with Harlan's help though, he could change his future from what it might have been if he'd stayed with that gang any longer. He felt like the hiding he'd already gotten was a small thing compared to the enormity of the mess he could have made of his own life or the damage he could have done to others. He had a feeling that Harlan thought so too. There was probably a lot more than that in store for him if he was to be properly punished for what he'd done... and for what he might have done. Well, he'd do his best to face into it and take it as it came without crying quarter. He'd do anything Harlan thought he needed to do to redeem himself.
He saw that Harlan was walking back down the stream bank with a couple more nice trout strung on a willow twig. He hoped he could learn to be as self-sufficient and confident as the old man someday. He'd never felt so much respect for anyone else in his life so far except for Ma. The two men smiled at each other and Harlan sat back down on the log to ease his socks and boots back on. He nodded with approval at Cody's neatly cleaned fish.
"Let's head back to camp. I'm getting hungry."
Suddenly Cody was ravenous! "Sounds good to me, Harlan!"
The fresh trout, baked on hot rocks alongside the fire, was wonderful, and Harlan even had some salt to put on it. Cody had never known anyone who could live off the countryside like Harlan could, and he wondered if he could learn to do that. A fellow who could take care of himself like Harlan wouldn't have to worry too much about going hungry. He asked how Harlan had caught the fish using nothing but his bare hands and Harlan carefully explained how to 'tickle' a trout out of the water.
"You'll be able to give it a try yourself, Cody, once your shoulder is healed up."
Harlan was very pleased when he checked on Cody's wound, and he decided a light bandage to keep the dirt out was all that would be needed. They watched the stars come out. Cody decided to talk to Harlan about some of the thoughts he'd had at the creek side that afternoon.
"Harlan, I want to thank you again for what you've done for me, but I don't know words to thank you enough. I am so sorry about what happened with your wife and kid. That was tough. I'm not sure if I could have lived with myself if I'd ever done anything like that. You are saving me from so much that I don't know how to ever make it up to you." He paused for a moment, feeling his way through what he wanted to say, while Harlan waited patiently. "There's no way I can really pay for what I did and what I risked, and I don't know if any punishment can be enough, but I'll... well, any medicine you want to dish out I'll try to swallow the best I can."
Harlan looked at Cody and smiled. "No need to pay me back, son, except by living the best life you can. If you live your life so that you take care of yourself in an honest way and help others more than you hurt them, that's all the thanks I'll ever need. As for punishment, you still have plenty in store. You were risking the rest of your life, not to mention the risks you took that could have affected other lives. You can't pay up for something like that with one hiding. You'll be having punishments on a regular basis for a while... hopefully enough so that you will never consider such a foolish choice again. You've had enough for today though. Time to get some shut-eye."
Cody nodded. "I could use some. It was good to get walking again, but that wound took more out of me than I realized. So what's the plan for tomorrow?"
Harlan thought a moment. "Tomorrow, I want you to wake up thinking about how you would feel if you hurt or killed an innocent bystander. I want you to still be thinking about that when you take your strapping after breakfast. I am going to do my best to put all the hurt I feel about what happened to Elmira and the little guy into that strap tomorrow. But that's enough for now. We'll worry about tomorrow when it comes. Now it's time to rest."
Cody settled into his bedroll. His bum was still sore, but he knew it would be a good deal sorer tomorrow. He squirmed uneasily thinking about the strap but pulled himself together. He'd face it when it came. Ma had used a strap sometimes, when he'd been especially foolish, and he'd survived it. He knew that getting strapped by Harlan was going to be worse than getting strapped by Ma, but he also knew that he deserved it. Ah well, he'd face it in the morning. Harlan was right, now it was time for sleep. He closed his eyes with a sigh.
Morning dawned fresh and clear, and Cody woke thinking about the awful possibility of hurting an innocent bystander. It made him feel so bad that he decided that however long and hard Harlan strapped him was no more than he deserved. He guessed he'd need his strength, so he ate his porridge with a good appetite as well as finishing what was left of the trout. When Harlan asked him to go rinse the bowls and spoons, he went without comment, glad to be well enough to be of some use around the camp.
Meanwhile, Harlan buried the last of the fish bones and tidied up around the fire and then went to check on the horses. Once again, Cody noted the tidy look of the camp. It was quite a contrast to what he'd seen of the drunken untidy mess that gang had called a camp. He finished rinsing the dishes, stacked them neatly by the tidy little pile of cooking gear. Then he went to find Harlan. He found the older man leaning on his horse, but Harlan turned when he heard the boy approaching.
Cody blushed, but kept his head up, and his voice close to steady. "I'm ready for my strapping, sir. I don't think you can strap me enough to equal the pain it would have caused me to have hurt someone innocent, but I... well, I know you have to try."
"Ready to take your medicine, eh?"
Cody wondered if you could ever really be ready for something like this. Might as well get on with it though. "Ready as I'll ever be, sir."
Harlan nodded. "This way, son." He walked back towards the aspen grove and Cody followed.
The cool shade was welcome after the bright sunlight of the meadow. Harlan stopped by a straight young alder. "All right, Cody, I want you to skin down those jeans and grab hold of that tree trunk, and if you don't want to be here all day, you had better hold on tight."
Cody nodded. His palms broke out in a sweat, and his stomach was churning, but he managed to get his jeans pushed down and then he wrapped his arms around the tree. His backside wanted to hide, but he soon found that if he pulled too far into the tree the bark got sort of uncomfortable up front. If he didn't want to scrape the skin off his business up front, he'd have to keep his bum stuck out which made the whole thing more embarrassing. He positioned himself carefully, renewed his grip on the tree and took a deep breath. He heard the snickering sounds of Harlan taking off his belt... he'd been noticing Harlan's belt, which was wide and looked to be very stout. I deserve this, he told himself. I do. One more deep breath.
He heard the faint swish an instant before his bum burst into flames, the belt coming down straight across the fleshiest part, biting in deep.. He sucked in a sharp breath while strangled noises filtered through his clenched jaw, and only the roughness of the bark kept him from cringing away from that terrible bite. Another swish and another band of fire, slightly lower but overlapping the first, and then another, as Harlan methodically painted Cody's bum and thighs with what felt like wide bands of liquid fire.
"Oh Lordy, Harlan, it hurts!"
Again and again the belt swished through the air and CRACKED across Cody's burning backside. "I know son, but it doesn't hurt as much as killing an innocent victim and it doesn't hurt as much as the loved ones that innocent victim left behind hurt. Not even close to as much." Harlan continued methodically working up and down Cody's backside, which had gone from white to red and welted in record time.
"Owwww! I know! God, I know. I'm sorry! I know I deserve this, but it hurts! I'm sorry! I'll never be that dumb again! NEVER!"
Cody managed to keep his grip on the tree, but just barely. He couldn't kick with his pants down around his ankles, but he was bouncing on his toes, and wiggling around, too. Still Harlan's belt found its mark, over and over. There was the briefest of pauses while Harlan moved to the kid's other side, so the end of the strap would flick its deadly fire onto Cody's other hip.
As the pain mounted, Cody was so focused on hanging on to the tree that his control over the rest of his body was slipping. His bum started waggling and while he couldn't really kick with his jeans down around his knees, his legs began an odd capering kind of dance, not that it made any difference in the fiery, methodical progress of the strap. He hated it... hated the embarrassment of doing this pain dance in front of Harlan, who he had come to admire a great deal... hated most of all that he had brought all of this down on himself by his foolish choices. He vowed to never again choose such a foolish road.
He couldn't keep his jaw clenched, either, and was now yelling and hollering with every fiery streak of the strap. He made endless apologies and promises of future good behavior, and still the strap spanked on and on. Finally he just dissolved into sobs, jumping and jerking like one of those jumping-jack toys kids liked to play with. At last the vicious strap stopped. Cody sagged, still holding tight to the tree, wondering if it was over yet.
"Hold tight, Cody. We're almost done, but you're going to take twelve more and they will be the worst yet. After each one, you will repeat 'I will not risk innocent lives for a quick dollar'. Shout it out good and loud, or it won't count." Harlan put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You've done pretty well so far, son. Hold tight and you'll make it through this part, too." He took his hand back and picked up the strap. "Ready, Cody?" Cody didn't trust himself to speak, but he managed a nod.
The belt whipped full across Cody's bum, slashing from one side straight across to the other, licking its tip into the cleft in the middle as it whipped by. Cody screamed and jumped up and down, but he didn't let go of the tree and just as soon as he had his breath back he shouted out, "I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!"
Swish-CRACK. Streaking back across in the other direction.
"I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!"
Again. Oh Lordy, top to bottom diagonal, right hip to left thigh, crosses just about every welt on his bum as it streaked by.
"AAaarrrRRhhgg! I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!"
Yet another, opposite diagonal.
"AaahhoooOOWW! I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!"
On and on it went, every other slashing stroke mirroring the one before, that darn tip finding somewhere extra painful to slip into every time it streaked across. He didn't know how he had managed to hang on through the ones that streaked across his thighs... that hurt so bad. But somehow he had held on, as he had managed to hold on firmly to the reason he was taking this strapping.
Eleven was bad, streaking straight across the fleshiest part of his bum, the tip just brushing into his sensitive groove.
"AAAiiiiieeeEEII! I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!" Then the wait for the mirror image, knowing with quivering certainty exactly where it was going to hurt. He wanted to squeeze his bum shut.. spare himself that final indignity of agony, but he knew that would be cheating. Just one more, however terrible. He could do just one more.
Oh Lordy. Oh Lordy.
"I WILL NOT RISK INNOCENT LIVES FOR A QUICK DOLLAR!"
Again the strong, gentle hand on his shoulder. "All right, son, it's over for now, and you took it pretty well."
Cody's body sagged, held only by his locked arms. "Oh Lordy, Harlan I'm so sorry. Sorry about your family and sorry I took such a risk. I will never do such a foolish thing again. Never." And then his arms slowly lost their grip and the young man eased himself down to his knees and then to the ground, lying curled up on his side, backside still blazing as he broke into fresh sobs, but softer now... deeper. He was saying something over and over, and Harlan bent nearer to hear. "I'm sorry, Ma. Oh, Ma, I'm so sorry."
Harlan nodded. Now he had some confidence that the lad's heart was getting touched deep enough to make a real change possible. Quietly he sat down on the ground near Cody, just close enough so he could reach out to put a hand on the boy's shoulder. The old man watched the stream flowing by.
We each have to do the real work ourselves, he thought... everyone has got to live their own life... but sometimes we don't have to do the whole thing alone. He watched the stream for a long time, a calm hand on the boy's shoulder.