Chad glanced out of Shasta’s stall where he was brushing him. There was Ryder, carrying a saddle for the old horse Patches. He entered the stall and started giving the horse a rubdown before he saddled him up. Mitch came up the aisle, winked at Chad, and leaned up against the stall door.
“So Levi,” Mitch said. “You never did tell us how old you were.”
“I’m sixteen,” Levi said without realizing they had used his real name. He was busy trying to get the stubborn Patches to open his mouth so he could get the bit into his mouth.
“How old were you when you ran away from home?” Mitch questioned further.
“Thirteen . . . ouch!” Levi shook his hand,and clamped his mouth shut from the pain.
Mitch walked into the stall and took the bridle from Levi. He tried to put it on the stubborn horse.
“So, why did you run away?”
“’Cause I didn’t like my step-pa taking my pa’s place . . .” Levi looked up and suddenly realized what he had just said. He was caught.
“Why didn’t you tell us who you were?”
“You woulda made me go back home and I wasn’t ready.”
The barn door opened. Kate came to where Mitch was talking to Levi. “Mitch, is Patches ready for Hannah to ride? She’s . . .” She paused and for the first time took a good look at Levi’s face. “Levi? Levi!” Her voice caught. “Why didn’t you let us know you were here? Your pa and I have been so worried.” Kate stepped forward to give her son a hug.
Levi left the horse stall and stared at his mother. “He is not my pa. And the reason you didn’t know I was here was because I didn’t want you to know I was here. And the only reason you know I’m here now is because of Uncle Mitch. And I never want to see any of you ever again.” Levi ran out of the barn.
Kate just stood there.
“Sorry Kate.” Mitch came up beside his sister.
“I think we should go after him,” Chad spoke for the first time since he had come into the barn. “Actually, I take that back. I think Ryan should go talk to him.”
“I have to agree. I’d like to find out what he has against me.”
“Ryan, I didn’t know you had come down to the barn.” Kate was clearly surprised to see her husban.
“I had something I wanted to talk to Chad about, but that can wait. I’ll go after him.”
“You’ll need a horse.” Chad led a chestnut mare toward Ryan. “I looked out the barn door and Levi was heading out onto the range.”
Ryan took the reins from Chad and started leading the horse out of the barn, but Mitch’s next words stopped him in his tracks.
“Watch out for rattlers. They’re out this time of year. But if you do get bit there is some snake root in the saddle bag. Do you know how to use it?”
”Yes, I sure do. It’s saved my life before.” Ryan left the barn and mounted his horse and left the ranch yard.
Levi leaned up against the sapling. He had been gone from the ranch for a couple of hours. Or so he figured. Exhausted from running, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. While he slept, a young rattlesnake crawled onto a rock close by his lower leg.
About twenty minutes later, Levi heard the sound of galloping and sat up quickly. The low rattle of the snake caused Levi to tense. The rider approaching didn’t know that the rattler was ready to strike.
Ryan saw Levi. Strange. Levi knows I’m here but he isn’t running.
Then Ryan saw it. The snake. He took his gun from the scabbard hanging off the side of his saddle. The only choice he had was to shoot the snake or let it bite Levi. He could shoot and miss and hit Levi, or the snake could bite Levi. The medicine could or it might not work. He’d let Levi make the decision.
Levi moved his eyes toward where Ryan was standing. Ryan picked up his gun and waved it indicating he could try and shoot. Than he made a biting motion with his hand and waved the bag of medicine.
Levi made no indication.
Ryan held up the gun, and Levi gave a slight nod of his head.
Ryan took a deep breath and got ready to shoot. He pulled the trigger. With a bang the gun went off. Ryan ran toward his stepson. The snake was dead. The snake had been on a rock, and the bullet had ricocheted and hit Levi in the leg.
“Son, you all right?”
“Yeah, my leg hurts is all.” Levi clenched his jaw as a another wave of pain washed over him.
“Do you think you can make it to the ranch?”
Levi shrugged and shut his eyes.
Ryan led his horse over to where Levi lay. By the looks of it, Levi had passed out. Ryan bent down and picked up his stepson. Levi groaned and came back to consciousness when Ryan started the horse into a canter.
“How are you feeling?”
Levi tried to sit up, but the pain in his leg made him fall back against Ryan.
“I take it you don’t want to talk.”
Ryan decided to take the opportunity of Levi being somewhat subdued to talk to him. “We got your letter.” Ryan thought that was the best way to start the conversation.
“So? I just did it because I felt like it.” He turned his head away from Ryan.
Taking it as a good sign that Levi had not gotten mad right away, he continued, “You said you were sorry for the way you acted towards us. I forgive you, you know.”
With that statement Levi sat bolt up. In doing so, he jarred his leg against the saddle. “Ouch! You do? You forgive me?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well, maybe ’cause I acted horrid. I really am sorry for the way I acted.”
When Levi said that Ryan got really confused. “Sorry I’m confused. If you were sorry why did you run away then?”
“I guess I didn’t want to face my fears. Even though my pa was mean, he still was my Pa, and I didn’t want anyone to take his place.”
“I understand what you’re trying to say,” Ryan said softly. “I hope you’ll come back home with us. Your mother misses you, and so do the kids. Even though you and Sam fought, he really looked up to you and was hurt when you left. So all, I”m asking is that . . . well . . . that you think about it.”
”Well, you are surely one that gets shot quite a bit, boy. You heal from one wound and get another. What has it been . . . seven weeks? And two incidents with guns!” The doctor shook his leg as he looked at Levi’s leg. Levi had been back at the ranch for a couple of hours, and the doctor had been called out.
”So, Doctor how’s the leg look to you?” Kate leaned over the doctor’s shoulder, watching everything he did. She had not left Levi’s side since he had gotten back, much to his annoyance.
“Looks fine. Just a flesh wound, no shattered bone,” The doctor was removing the bullet as he spoke.
“Mama, look. It does hurt, but I’m fine. It isn’t the first time I’ve been shot.”
“I know Levi, but a mother can’t help but be worried when one of her children is hurt,” Kate gave his shoulder a light squeeze.
“There, it’s all fixed up now. Just keep an eye out for redness or swelling. Let me know if any of that occurs. Also. he should keep off his leg for about a week. If no problems occur he can get up and use a crutch for a little while.”
“A week!” Levi wailed. “After I got shot in the chest I had to stay in bed for a long time. This one isn’t so serious, and a week is seven whole days, and each of those days is twenty-four hours.”
“Yes, that makes one-hundred and sixty-eight hours, and you’ll stay in bed for every single one of them,” Ryan said sternly. He crossed his arms.
“Looks like you’ll have your hands full.” The doctor chuckled. ”I better be on my way.”
“Oh, yes, thank you doctor,” Kate called after him as he went down the stairs. Then she looked back at Levi. ”Sam was wondering if he could come up and talk to you later today. Is that all right?”
“Yeah, I guess,so.” Levi replied, looking at his bandaged leg.
“Wonderful. I’ll tell him that he can,” Kate sounded relieved that Levi hadn’t flatly refused.
Later that afternoon a knock wakened Levi from a light sleep. He shook his head to clear himself from sleep. “Come in.”
The door opened and Sam poked his head in. “Hi. How are you?”
“How can you be fine when Pa just accidentally shot you?”
“No, he didn’t,” Levi said. “He gave me a choice. I’d rather be shot than bit by a rattler.”
“Oh! I heard Uncle Mitch say that you had been shot before.”
“Yeah, Uncle Chad shot me that time.”
“He shot you?”
“Yeah. He thought I was a criminal,” Levi said sarcastically.
Sam started laughing,
Levi shook his head and said, “Well I’m sure it wouldn’t have been so funny if you had been the one shot.”
“True. So, are you going to come home with us?”
Sam’s quick change of subject caught Levi off guard. “Umm, I . . . uh, maybe.”
“Well, think about. I really want you to come home with us. There are only girls at home when Pa’s working and that isn’t fun. Come on home. You’d only have to stay home for a little while.”
“All right, I’ll give it a try/” Levi gave into Sam’s persistent asking.
It had been five weeks since the family had come to the ranch, and they were ready to go back home. Much to the thrill of everyone, the Carters went with the family to the train station to say good bye.
“It was great to see you, and come back soon,” Elizabeth Carter said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back,” Ryan assured her.
It was time to board the train. Final good-byes were said, and the family boarded the train.
“So are you glad you’re coming home with us?” Sam asked Levi.
“I guess so.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.”
Two months later the Carters received a letter from the Kate.
Dear Mother and family,
We still talk about our visit to your house. We are thrilled to have Levi back at home. He and Sam are working at a livery down the street a couple blocks. Everyone gets along well. It’s like we’re truly a real family now, and we thank God that he helped us through that hard time.
Katherine and family