Nugget Nate fans, I hope you enjoy this sequel to yesterday’s “Nugget Nate Saves Christmas”. It takes place a bunch of years after that story and after a book I hope to release by the end of 2016; the Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, as Nate would say, titled “Nugget Nate: Why a Good Man Goes to War”. Any way, enjoy part one and come back tomorrow for the conclusion in part 2 of “Nugget Nate and the Santa Rescue.” -PG
Nugget Nate carefully crept up the ridge stalking the elk that had been eluding him all day. If he could just get this animal then he would be able to smoke the meat and have enough to get him down out of the Rocky Mountains and back to his family in New York.
Since Penny’s death, he had lost himself in the Mountains. Trapping and surviving off his wit and skill. He had no desire to be around people. Heck, iffen she hadn’t made him promise to reconcile with David and look after Nathan he’d have just disappeared into the mountains for good. Slowly he crested the ridge and saw his prey about a hundred yards away, about to enter into a thick stand of trees. Nate eased himself up off his knee and slowly lifted his Winchester into position. He missed Bessy, his Kentucky long rifle, but loved the quick reload of the new-fangled lever rifle. He’d never admit it to anyone but his Maker but his eyes weren’t what they used to be and his aim not quite as true. He breathed out and held his breath to steady his aim and slowly depressed the trigger.
Just before his trigger reached its break point, there came the crack of a rifle off to his left and a terrible pain hit his hip. The elk lifted it’s head and then darted into the thicket. Nate eased of the trigger and tried to spin left as he heard something thundering through the brush towards him. All of a sudden his leg gave out under him and he pitched face forward into the leaves of the forest floor. Just then a young man dressed in store bought denim arrived right in front of him. The stupid Dandy had mistaken Nate for a deer and shot him. The man looked at the old mountaineer and his face turned white at the blood oozing from the hole in Nate’s hip.
“Oh, God! Oh, God! Did I shoot you mister?”
Nate said through gritted teeth, “Well, I didn’t do it myself.”
Nate watched as the fella wrestled with himself about what to do.
“Don’t just stand there, young fella, help me get the bleeding stopped.”
“Son how long you been in the mountains?”
The fella hung his head. “Three days.”
“Who brung ya?”
“No one. I heard there was deer, elk and moose up here and thought I could get some meat for my new bride and myself.”
Nate shook his head and pointed at the oak tree behind the man. “Rake the snow away from the bottom of that tree till you find some moss.”
To the fella’s credit he leaned his rifle against the tree and started raking at the base of the tree.
“It’ll be on the other side youngster. Moss only grows on the north side of a tree.”
“Oh, I thought this was the north side.”
“Boy, iffen yer gonna trounce around in the woods, you need to know how to get around before you get yourself lost.”
The man pulled up a large hunk of moss. “I got it. What do you want it for?”
Nate held out his hand for it. “I’m gonna pack that bullet hole with it ‘til I can get back to my trapper shack and dig it out. It will stop the bleeding and keep any infection from getting in the wound.”
Nate pulled a flask of Kentucky bourbon out of his game bag and pulled the stopper out. He took a big swig to steel himself to the pain and then poured some into the bullet hole. He let out a mighty yell, tore a good sized piece off the moss and shoved it into the wound, screaming the whole time. Nate kept packing the wound until it was full of moss. Then he pulled a scrap of old long johns out of his pack and cut off a strip that he used to tie over the wound, keeping the moss in.
“I’m so sorry, sir. Is there anything else I can do to help you?”
“Name’s Nugget Nate, son, what’s yers?”
“Harm Morgan. Are you Nugget Nate Ryder?”
“The one and only, Harm. Listen, iffen you mean it about helping me, why don’t we help each other? You help me get back to my trapper shack and I’ll give ya some already smoked venison to take back to your family.”
“Oh, I couldn’t take meat off of you after I shot you.”
“Sure you can. Think of it as me keeping ya from shooting any other trappers that might be up here in the mountain. Or keeping you from getting shot by one. Some of us old timers don’t take too kindly to greenhorns stomping around in our territory and running off the game.”
Harm had the decency to blush at being recognized as a newcomer to the ways of hunting and mountain life.
“Well, in any case, how can I help you get back to your camp?”
Nate pulled Ole’ Davy’s hatchet out of his belt and handed it to the boy. “Go cut down that there sapling and strip the branches so I can use it as a walking stick.”
The man did exactly that and handed it and the hatchet back to Nate. Nate took the hatchet and shortened the sapling to the size he needed to use as a crutch. “Help me get up on my feet and then we’ll head towards my camp. I might need to lean on you a bit later. I ain’t as young as I once was and this stick will help but I might need more than it to lean on before I get there. Don’t neither of us need to get caught out here in the open after dark.”
Nate shook his head at how little the young fella knew about the mountains. “Two reasons. One, I’m covered in blood and that will bring the wolves and cougars looking for easy prey. The other is that it’s gonna get below freezing after the sun goes down. Now come on, daylight is a wasting.” Nate slung his rifle over his right shoulder and placing the sapling under his left arm, began the long trek of hobbling back to his camp. Harm walked beside him making enough noise to drive any game they might have come across to scatter before they could see them.
As they went, Nate tried to help the boy by showing him how to move slower and quieter. Harm never got as quiet as Nate even with a bum leg but he wasn’t sounding like a company of soldiers anymore. Nate pointed out different game trails and the tracks of rabbits, marlins, a lynx, deer and elk. Before long Harm could tell the difference between them and Nate knew the lad would be able to find meat later for his family. About a mile from Nate’s camp they started to come across Nate’s trap lines. Every one that had an animal in it, Nate got Harm to collect them. Those that were empty they tripped, so that no animal would get caught in them. Nate knew that it would be a while before he would be able to get around to check them again. Just as the sun was dipping below the mountaintops, Nate and Harm reached Nate’s trapper shack.
Once inside, the young man got a fire going and at Nate’s direction got a pot of coffee started and a couple of elk steaks in the skillet to fry. They dropped a couple of potatoes into some melted snow to boil. Then Nate sat on the floor and scooted over to the fireplace, pulled a small thin knife out of his moccasin boot and buried it’s blade in the red hot coals to sterilize it.
“What in the world are you doing, Nate?”
“I’m a fixin’ to get your slug outta my leg. Don’t want to get lead poisin.”
Nate chuckled as Harm turned white as a sheet. “Are you going to need my help?”
“No, I think I can get it myself but iffen yer gonna faint when I start digging round in the hole, then I suggest you go out to my smoke house and pick out the meat you want to take home with ya. After I get the bullet out and we eat I’ll show you how to skin and dress these varmints so that you can make some money from the hides and smoke the meat to provide for yer family.”
The young man nodded and when Nate pulled the knife from the fire and poured some more bourbon on it to cool and continue sterilizing it, the young man pulled on his coat and left the cabin. Nate chuckled as he untied the makeshift bandage from his leg. He took a swig of the bourbon to steel himself to the pain and then pulled out the moss and tossed it into the fire. He picked up the knife and slid it into the wound. Nate grabbed a wooden spoon and shoved it between his teeth to bite down on so as not to grind his teeth together in pain. He pushed until he felt the tip of the knife hit the slug in his leg. He angled the knife away from the bullet and pushed harder, feeling the knife bite into his flesh as it slid past the bullet. Nate stopped and waited ‘til his vision wasn’t greying out anymore, angled the knife the other direction and felt it slip under the edge of the slug. Slowly he drew the blade out keeping it wedged against the bullet. After many stops and starts and a few slugs of bourbon, Nate finally drew the bullet out of the hole.
He reached one more time for the jug sitting beside him and despite the pain poured a goodly amount of the amber liquid into the wound. Then he scooted over to the cot in the corner and used his Bowie knife to slice a two-inch strip off the cotton sheet. He cut that in half, folded it, and laid it against the wound. He tied the other half around his leg to hold the bandage to the wound.
When he was done the two men sat down and ate their supper. Nate showed the greenhorn some skins he could use as a bed and they turned in for the night.
As the sun rose, Nate knew something wasn’t right with his leg but he also knew that if Harm didn’t leave today he wouldn’t get off the mountain before the winter weather made it impossible. He struggled out of the cot and grabbing the stick he had used as a crutch hobbled over to where Harm was still sleeping. “Hey, Harm git yer lazy butt up. You need to git packed and git back down this mountain. There’s snow in the next couple days and iffen you get caught, then y’all be stuck here with me until spring.”
The young man got up and took one look at Nate leaning on the sapling crutch. “Nate, I can’t leave you like this. How are you going to survive?”
“Boy, I was surviving worse than a little bullet in the leg before you were out of short pants. I kilt my first bear on my tenth birthday and saved Davey Crockett’s life too. So you eat some breakfast, get that meat I gave ya, and git yer butt offa my mountain before you go and insult me worsen ya already did.”
The young fella blushed at the thought that he just might have made it seem like he thought Nugget Nate couldn’t survive without his help, when in reality Nate wouldn’t have needed any help if he hadn’t accidentally shot the legend in the leg. He scrambled out of bed and got his pack together. While Harm was doing that Nate hobbled out to the smoke house and grabbed some bacon and then a few eggs he’d rustled up a couple of days before. Every step cause more pain and by the time he was back to the fireplace he was sweating from the pain. He eased himself down on a stump he used as a stool and stirred the coals until they glowed a cherry red. Then he put the bacon in his skillet and set it to frying up. He pulled the cooked bacon from the pan and quickly fried four eggs in the bacon grease. Lastly, he threw a couple cups of water in the skillet and cooked up some grits. All the while the coffee was a percolating in the pot. Nate divided everything equally and slid two plates onto the table. He pulled two tin coffee cups off of the pegs on the side of the fireplace and sat them and the coffee pot on the table as well. Both men sat down and dug into the victuals without a word said between them. Once the plates were clear and the pot of coffee drank down to the dregs, Nate looked at the young man. “Harm Morgan, I won’t say it was a pleasure meetin’ y’all but I will say I’m sorry to see y’all go. Now you take that pack and yer rifle and you git a going while the sun is still shining. Don’t you dilly-dally, either. You keep a good steady pace and make it off this here mountain as quick as y’all can. I reckon that there snowfall is gonna be here in the next two days iffen it don’t come sooner. You want to be as low as you can before it starts. Iffen ya jest keep the mossy side of the trees to yer left you’ll hit the town without a problem.”
Harm looked at Nate. “Nate, are you sure you don’t want to try and come with me?”
“Naw! I ain’t got all my trap lines in yet and you can’t wait on me to get them pulled. I knows how to survive a snowstorm in the Tall Lonesome. You don’t and would jest get us both kilt. So you take what I gave ya and git. Don’t even try to do anymore hunting on the way down, jest get offa this mountain as quick as ya ken, y’all hear me?”
Harm nodded, shook Nate’s hand and thanked him one more time for the meat. Then without a look back the young green horn headed out of the trapper’s camp heading south. Nate whispered a prayer to the Good Lord that he’d keep the young man safe and on the right path to reach civilization before he either froze to death or lost the meat Nate had given him. Once Nate was sure he was gone, he unwrapped the bullet wound. It was red and very tender which was not a good sign at all. Nate knew that what he had for a bandage wasn’t very sanitary. That old sheet had been in use ever since he’d left Redemption after Penny’s burying. He reckoned he’d be better off to pour some more bourbon in the wound to clean it out again and then sew it closed and cover it with some moss instead of another square off of the sheet. He tossed the bloody square onto the remains of his morning fire and went outside to gather up a bit of moss. Once he had what he needed he went and got a needle and some gut line from his pack. He placed the needle and gut in a cup full of bourbon to sterilize them as best as he could. He threaded the gut into the needle and quickly closed up the wound as best as he could. Then he poured even more bourbon over the closed wound, put the moss against it, and wrapped the whole thing with the strip of sheet and tied it tight.
Next he took a piece of fire wood and whittled it down to make a cross arm for his make shift crutch. He cut the sapling down to a more comfortable cane size, attached the handle he’d whittled to it and tied them tight with a couple of pieces of rawhide. Then he stood and tested it out. It wouldn’t win any beauty contest but it would do for what he needed.
He felt bad for lying to young Harm Morgan but he knew if the boy didn’t get off the mountain before the snow came he’d be stuck here ‘til spring, just like Nate was going to be. He’d promised his daughter-in-law and grandkids he’d be in New York for Christmas but unless a miracle happened he just didn’t see how it was possible. He was in no shape to get off the mountain in a month let alone the next two days. If he tried to push on his leg wound it would certainly get infected and that would lose Nate his leg, or worse, his life. He couldn’t envision living without his leg and as much as he’d love to be in glory with Penny and his Savior Jesus, he knew it weren’t time for him to go yet. He’d just have to tough it out on this mountain ‘til spring. By then his leg would be healed and the family would understand, especially Nathan. The boy had spent many a summer with Nate and knew that sometimes you beat the mountain but sometimes the mountain won and you jest had to let it have its way.”
He pulled some firewood into the shack and stoked the fire so it would continue to burn through the day. After that he was feeling mighty tired and his leg hurt a great deal. He grabbed his jug of liquor and retreated to the camp cot. A couple of big swigs to dull the pain and Nate slipped into a deep sleep.
Too Be continued…