A Long Way Home
The air had been getting heavier all afternoon. The clouds quickly built up high, black, and thick, filling the sky, blocking out the sun. Then it went unnaturally dark. Abby had her hat strings snugged under her chin, and her rope coiled in her hand ready, for whatever was coming. She watched David look the cattle over, knowing by the way he leaned on the cantle, he was worried.
Before the herd could be bunched up, the sky turned green – old copper-green – and fire began to play off the tips of horns and the ends of grass blades. The hair on the back of David's neck stood on end and tingled. He had a terrible feeling about this. Not just of the storm coming. Worse. The clouds quickly began to swirl right overhead. He looked back at the herd and other riders. The beeves were very snuffy, and the men were even more nervous. Lightning could strike a mounted man, and they all knew what could happen in a stampede. Those vicious hooves could grind horse and man to nothing. Not so much as a belt buckle or a boot heel or pistol frame might be left to find.
The sky opened up with the most terrific crash David had ever heard – and he had heard some mighty canonnades, but nothing like God's.
Lightning, a brilliant, blinding, blue-white Devil's Pitchfork, drove straight into the ground.
Water descended like someone emptied a tremendous bucket from overhead.
The wind howled straight into a deafening roar.
The herd exploded.
The horses went with it.
The riders could barely stay aboard.
Riding as hard as the horses could run, they chased the thundering cattle.
Then, when it seemed they couldn't handle anything worse, the sky lowered itself to the ground.
David watched in horror as a funnel lowered into the crowd of stampeding beeves between himself and Abby. How the rain and that Devil's Finger that ripped up the ground cleared for him to see he couldn't have said, but for an instant, she was there, then she wasn't.
His heart leaped into his throat.
The wind ripped the air out of his lungs.
He fought the panic.
Getting the cattle under control was her best hope. He could only do the job at hand. So he strove for that.
The wind slashed like knives trying to rip them to pieces.
The rain pelted them like lances.
The wild ride went on and on and on.
It was unquestionably night when at last what remained of the herd faltered and ground to an exhausted stop in the mud and drizzle. The men dragged in one and two at a time all night.
David was frantic with worry, though none of the crew could have said so. He went about checking each man and horse as they came in. Making sure they were well enough – or what they needed by way of tending to – taking a tally of the men, stock, and gear as it came in, anything to keep busy and do the things that needed to be done to keep the drive going in the days ahead, knowing there was nothing he could do in the cloud-covered dark to look for Abby. He could only pray she would show up, and If she didn't, wait until sunup to search for her.
By first light, there was still no sign of her. David could wait no longer. He saddled up and headed back to where he'd last seen her, where the twister had come down, leaving the rest to hunt the strays of the herd that might have survived the wild run. He didn't care about the cattle or the horses, only his sister.
It was a long ride. The ground was gouged and shredded in a wide swath for miles. David took it slow, searching for what he hoped he wouldn't find. When he came to the place where he'd last seen her, the sign told him that the herd had split and many had veered off in her direction. That made him more anxious. He pushed down the sick feeling and doggedly continued to search, following this new trail, just as carefully. He crossed streams and washes, found torn and barely recognizable longhorns and horses. His heart caught at each one.
A day passed, then another.
Finally, he topped out on a rise of ground and heard a whistle. In the distance was a goodly bunch of longhorns with horses being used to haze them back along the same trail as they had come. A bedraggled but steady rider brought up the rear, pushing them on.
David leaned with both hands on the pommel, head down, and shaking he was so weak with relief. He thanked God for the miracle. It was Abby, using the horses to herd more cattle than could easily be handled by one person. He kneed his horse on down the rise, rode up beside her, leaned over, hugged her, pushed her hat off, and kissed her.
"Don't do that to me again, you hear? You scared me near to death."
"Scared you! I was worried you got caught in that tornado."
"Looked to me like it came down on you. God Almighty, you had me worried.” He planted her hat back on her head with a pat and a smile. “And here you are calm as you please hazing back half the herd while the rest are back there hunting the other half. How'd you manage that?"
"They just came along, I guess. Maybe they figured I was lucky." She laughed. Then she sobered. "I just tried to stay out of the way, but with them, until they finally settled down. I didn't think they were ever going to. I began to think it was going to rain like Noah's flood.” She squeezed his hand. “Then the horses were here and nobody else, so I figured that the best way to find the rest of the outfit was to use the horses to haze them back the way we'd come."
Together they pushed the stock back down the trail, picking up any strays that happened along, to where the rest of the drive was trying to put itself back together.
When they got back two days later, with a goodly bunch of the herd, there was much surprise, and the crew kidded Abby considerably. PeeWee called her Tornado Wagner, and she was stuck with the nickname from then on.
David grinned every time he heard it.
That night Abby went around singing to herself. That didn't bother the men so much as what it was she was singing. Some thought it was funny, others not so much. She was singing to herself,
"What a friend we have in Jesus,
"All our sins and griefs to bear!
"What a privilege to carry
"Everything to God in prayer!
"All because we do not carry
"Everything to God in prayer!"
Only David had an idea how much she was joking or serious.