Excerpt from Heart of Gold

  Buck tried to sit up, but the agonizing pain instantly smacked him flat. Lyse had bandaged him so securely he could barely draw a breath, which only added to his discomfort. "Damn!" he swore angrily. "Help me get up. I've got to get to Galveston."
     Not about to let a stranger order her about like her pa did, Lyse ignored his demand. "Well mister, unless you expect a miracle, you aren't going to get there any time soon." She picked up his hat and waved it above him to discourage the flies from the smell of his blood, and gradually the annoying insects flew away.
     "I'd be lucky to get you back to my house without opening up that wound again and I don't think you can spare any more blood. Since my pa is even less charitable to strangers than I am, you're probably better off here than trying to reach the house anyway."
     Buck still could not see her face clearly because her battered sombrero shaded her face. He saw only a skinny kid, who though reluctant, seemed to be the only source of help he had. He felt sick to his stomach but stubbornly resisted the wave of nausea threatening to wash over him. He hated being so helpless. "I'm afraid you're right," he admitted grudgingly. "Besides, the fewer people I meet the better." He then vented his frustration with language so colorful Lyse blushed deeply, for not even her pa used words that foul in front of her.
     "If you'll just calm down a minute and tell me why you have to get to Galveston," she offered in a more kindly tone, "there might be a way for me to help you." If there was some money in it for her, she didn't add, but she didn't run errands for anybody for free.
     Buck laughed out loud at the thought of turning over to a skinny kid the job he had set out to do. When his deep laugh erupted into a hacking cough, Lyse had to lift him into a sitting position and give him another drink from her canteen. "I thought that shot was too high to have pierced your lung. Maybe I was wrong."
     "You're a right cheerful soul, aren't you?" Buck closed his eyes again as he tried to take a breath deep enough to clear his head. "There's no way you can help me with what I have to do but go and unsaddle my horse. I can prop myself up on my saddle. That ought to help me some."
     His words were spoken as a command, and though she instantly rebelled, she didn't want to spend the day holding him in her arms and eased him back down on his back. "There, you all right?" Though she thought him ungrateful, if not downright rude, she felt a sense of responsibility for the poor soul and while annoying, she couldn't overcome it.
     "Yeah, I'll live another few minutes. Now get me my saddle."
     "Yes, sir," she responded flippantly. "Can I get you anything else while I'm up?"
     Buck risked opening one eye to look up at the kid. He would have laughed at that question had he not been afraid of the consequences. "Yeah, my saddlebags. I've got some food in them," he answered instead.
     She walked off without replying. She unsaddled the horse and because there was a branch of the Oyster Creek nearby, she led him to it to drink while she filled the stranger's canteen. When she took the horse back to the patch of newly sprouted grass where he had been grazing, the well-mannered gelding stood quietly as she bent down and tied his forelegs together with the leather hobbles she had found in the saddlebags. He was a fine animal and as she removed his bridle she gave his neck an affectionate pat before moving away. She lugged the heavy saddle back to Buck, dropped it next to his head, and made a second trip to carry the leather pouches and bedroll that had been slung over the horse's rump. She unrolled the blanket, then knelt down and helped Buck shift himself into a position where he could recline comfortably against the saddle then stood up and moved away. She was too smart a girl to stay close to any man for long, even a badly injured one.
     "My pa would skin me alive if he found me out here with you, so I hope you're not too weak to stay by yourself. I've got to go home, but I'll come back later and check on you. Here's your canteen. I'll fill it for you again when I come back. Try to drink all the water you can." As she picked up her rifle, she handed him back his Colt but if he wondered why she had put it aside he didn't ask.
     Buck nodded. With food and water handy, he was confident he would survive the day. "Do me another favor, kid. If your dad doesn't like strangers, don't tell him about me. Is that a deal? You help me for a couple of days until I get back on my feet, and I'll make it worth your while."
     She frowned pensively; she needed money desperately, but taking it for helping a half-dead man just wasn't right. "You in trouble with the law?" she finally had the presence of mind to ask.
     "Not yet," Buck assured her, his words meant as a joke.
     He was disappointed, however, that his youthful companion didn't laugh.
     "Well look. I've got to go," Lyse insisted. "I'll come back around sundown."
     "Hey, what's your name, kid?" Buck called out as she started walking away.
     "Lyse," she tossed over her shoulder before mounting her mare.
     Misunderstanding, Buck attempted a feeble wave. "So long, Lee, see you later."
     She hesitated a moment, and then let it go because it didn't matter what the man called her. He would be up and gone by the end of the week and she would be unlikely to see him again. She returned his wave and fearing she had been gone too long, she hurried home at a full gallop, but her father had already been out looking for her. He swung open the door to greet her.
     "Just where in the devil have you been, missy?" he shouted in a hoarse challenge.
     She wasn't even tempted to tell him the truth.
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