It was pretty obvious that the letter disturbed Charlie, the Commander of the Prince Williams County Militia and those who were close to him. His actions together with the storekeeper and the other men at the Poker Room this letter was not welcome news, nor was it a reasonable request in the eyes of these militiamen. However, to leave now would not be a good idea. Charlie had asked me how long I was planning to stay which indicated that he wanted me around. I suspect that were I to leave now, they would soon be in pursuit of me. I think the best way is to stay a reasonable length of time and deal with any customers and see what comes next. In this community I am a stranger, that is true, but my truthful answer to the question of who I knew in the Mexican War seems to have garnered some respect. So, to these people I am a southern businessman who served in the state militia, and in the Mexican War with one of their respected citizens, who is currently the Commanding Officer of the military region in the West. So, I think that Josh and I are reasonably safe for the moment. However, I need to get to the wagon and apprise Josh of the new situation.
As I walk out of the store, I notice several people in the street walking toward the Sheriff's Office. I am wondering if the Marshall there is in attendance at this meeting. I sit down on one of the empty chairs in front of the store and finish my apple. The street is quiet again now and I throw my apple core into a nearby cigar butt can. I get up and begin walking toward the blacksmith shop when Josh and the wagon are. I would imagine that the leather trace is repaired by now, and I should get the wagon into a more suitable place where the signs can be seen.
A short walk through the town brings me to the Sheriff's Office. There is a deputy sheriff sitting outside the entrance with a shotgun across his lap. As walk by the deputy looks me over but says nothing. This is good and I make way to the leather shop. The wagon is parked just outside the shop and the horses are gone. I walk up to the wagon and hear some cursing just behind the leather shop. Curious, I walk around the side of the shop and peek around the corner. Josh is holding the two horses, while an old man (I suppose the saddler) is fitting the trace strap. It looks repaired but the old man is having trouble with one of the trace buckles. I walk around the corner and greet Josh. The old man looks up and then drops the strap.
"Have we got some trouble with the traces, 'I ask?
"The $%#@(*&^%$# buckle is bent and I can't straighten with this pry-bar!" The old man was seemingly very frustrated and angry.
"Can the buckle be replaced?" I asked, curious as to why such a simple problem was raising the man's temper.
"Well, yes, I suppose so," said the Saddler," but I don't have one this size. So, if you are in a hurry we will have to wire the straps together. I f you have the time then the blacksmith over there," nodding his head toward the blacksmith shop, "will have to make another buckle."
"May I see the buckle please, " I asked the saddler?
"Sure enough," the old man said, I ain't sure how it got bent up so bad, cause it ain't a common thing to see."
I took the buckle in hand and examined it. The buckle was bent nearly in two, and the bridge of the buckle was badly cracked. "Thank you," I said to the saddler, "for finding this broken buckle. I see that we will have to look to the blacksmith for a replacement. How is the broken trace coming along?"
"Oh that is finished, I just made a new trace strap for you, same price. Sorry about the buckle, but it is funny tat I didn't notice it when unhitched the horses. Well, I'll get back to work now. Let me know when you get the new buckle." The old man picked up his tools and went back into the shop.
I walked over to Josh and he pointed to the buckle in my hand and shook his head. He pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket and a pencil stub. He wrote:
>>>Buckle good at store<<<
Hmmmm! that meant that the buckle was in good shape when we first stopped at the store.
I turned to Josh, "Did you leave the wagon at any time?"
Josh looked at me for a minute and then hung his head, and nodded.
"Josh, I said, putting my hand on his shoulder, 'It's okay. "You can't be with the wagon every minute of every day. Now, this is important, where did you go, and how long were you gone." Josh looked me in the eye for a full minute, and I said again nodding my head, "Really my friend, it's okay, we just need to figure where and how long."
Josh bent to the paper and pencil again. He wrote:
>>>Blacksmith look at wagon and show me tools, behind screen, five minutes<<< Josh pointed to the heavy canvas screen that hung from the tree that shaded the blacksmith, and which separated the blacksmith shop from the leather shop.
I patted Josh on the shoulder. "Good man, okay lets see the blacksmith about a new buckle, 'I said with resignation.