Jack called the bunch together and told them, “Vard get wood and lots of it. We gotta have a huge bonfire all night long. We’ll sleep in shifts. J, you and I will take the first watch until midnight. Ben & Frank get some shuteye; you’ll be from 12 to 3 AM. Vard, you and Orville take us to sunrise. Be alert and make sure your guns are clean and ready. I’m gonna kill one of the calves that has been struggling and post it out about a hunert yards over there in that clearing. They’ll be in bout midnight I spose. I’m gonna hang two lanterns on those two trees in the middle there. That’ll give us enough light to get good kill shots. Anybody got any questions?”
“Yeah, piped up Ben. Let Frank and me take the first watch. You and Orville are the best shots. Its best we be outta your hair when the shooten starts. Frank might shoot himself in the foot. He gets a might skittish when it comes to shooten and actually hitting anything.
Jack mulled it over and looked at Vard. Vard gave him a knowing wink, and Jack nodded yes. Everyone knew their place and job now.
It was as quiet as a tomb as the guys sat and ate their supper. Vard hopped to it gatherin’ fire wood, stacking it up so as to make a Teepee shape, and doused it with coal oil. When he lit it, the flames shot up like lightning had hit it. Vard let out his famous wheeze laugh and whooped, “There ya go, lil brother. White man’s fire, roast on one side and freeze on the other.” He wheezed until it made him cough, and the group cheered for him.
Jack lassoed the calf he had in mind, carried it over to the tree where he had hung the lamp, and put a round in its head. The sound of the shot was muffled by the wolf cries off about two hundred yards. The pack was still gathering. The dogs were pure blood Border Collies and knew somehow that it was going to be a long night so they rested next to Orville by the fire.
With supper over, the Williams brothers whistled for the dogs and they set out to keep the herd in check. Frank took the front and Ben set up on the far side. He hated being out in the darkest part, and tonight there was a chill in the air as the wind blew storm clouds over head. He cursed the day he met Mrs. smith and knew that this was the only way they had to keep outta jail; so he set his jaw and covered his face from the wind.
Wyoming is a particular form of hell. Even though it was spring and warm, blizzards were just something that happened. Tonight hell was in charge and everyone knew it. Just about midnight the snow began to fall; and, as if on cue, the wolves set in.
With the chuck wagon to his back, Jack set up. He had two Winchesters and two boxes of ammo as did Orville. Vard quickly came up alongside Jack and J crept off to the middle between the others.
Just like clockwork, the pack settled in on the calf, but two of the older ones crept toward the darkest side of the herd. The cows began to bawl and stir. The dogs knew it was high time to get to work and quietly circled the herd. Each one knew her job.
Just as the shoot’en started over by the camp, the two wolves attacked just behind Frank. His horse jumped and threw him over its head. He lit squarely in front of the biggest one. Before he could raise his gun, it attacked him and caught him by the throat. He didn’t stand a chance. He didn’t have time to holler before his throat lay open. Once it had killed Frank, it proceeded to pull him into the dark. That was when the two closest dogs attacked its flank. Ben heard the commotion, but knew if he left his post there’d be hell to pay. It was a good thing he didn’t because as if it was a ghost the other wolf attacked a calf near Ben. Ben had one chance only to draw his pistol and shoot.
Jack was killing with each shot, and what he missed Orville and J picked off. Vard kept Jack’s guns loaded. In less than the time it took for it to start, it was over. Nine wolves lay dead, the calf was barely touched. Everyone let out a sigh of relief, until Frank failed to answer back to Ben. Everyone shouted Frank’s name and took off in the direction of the dogs barking.
There was Frank deader than a doornail, eyes wide open and his mouth was formed to say the words that would never be spoken. Ben dismounted and leaped to his dead brother’s side. “Oh Frank, how am I ever gonna explain this to our maw? I promised that I’d keep you safe ‘en now I got you killt.” With that, the hard looking man knelt by his brother’s lifeless body and cried like a baby.
The snow had begun to fall, and the temperature had dropped below freezing. It was now so silent as the snow fell and the wind moaned through the trees. Death comes too quick for some and in the worst possible ways.
Cookie was the first to speak, “We best get’em in the ground afore it gets too cold. We can plant’em in the latrine I dug yesterday. It’s nearly deep enough.”
Jack took Frank’s shoulders while J and Orville picked him up by the knees and carried him back to the camp. The fire was still burning big and in the cold night air, they laid the ex-con to his rest. They found a lot of river rock to mound up over the body. J said a prayer over him, and Orville played Amazing Grace on the guitar.
Cookie never allowed liquor in the camp, but broke out a bottle of old rot gut whiskey.
“This is for wounds, and I guess this’ll do just the same.” He poured a shot into each man’s coffee cup. Each man said his peace and then they lifted a cup to their fallen companion Frank. The snow continued to fall as the men settled in and Jack and Vard went out on night herd.
The book continues with Part 5 THE WHITEOUT .