“It’s one thing to bluff someone like me, but where we’re going, there are gonna be people looking to shoot first before you even get a chance to bluff.”
Hank Hopper decides to leave his life as a popular buckaroo and head to Texas to track down his father after receiving a mysterious letter. On his journey, he becomes friends with a man who has secrets of his own, and saves a prostitute from a ruthless saloon owner. Little did Hank know that his traveling companions would be in mortal danger because of the letter he received.
Weird circumstances ask for Hank Hopper’s unmistakable intuition and high deduction skills. Can he fight injustice and save his newfound family when time is running out, and his father is dying?
Double C Ranch — 1867
“Easy, Sunshine,” Hank Hopper said, his voice soft but firm. “I don’t need you kicking my head off my neck, okay? I’m just gonna make sure that your shoes don’t go flying off again.”
The large midnight-colored quarter horse turned his head to regard the ranchhand with suspicion. Hank was used to that. Sunshine looked at everyone with suspicion. That made sense, having once been wild and free — now confined to working the ranch, along with all the other horses and ranchhands.
For a long moment, man and horse stared at each other and finally, with a derisive snort, Sunshine turned forward and allowed Hank to lift up his right rear hoof and place it in the holding block.
“You know,” Hank said, using his hoof pick to clear out the packed mud and dirt, “I don’t blame you one bit, Sunshine. There you were, with your herd, minding your own business, being a horse, and the next thing you know, you’re taken away and put with a bunch of strangers that you don’t know. I know exactly how that feels — and I know what it can do to you, too.”
“Hank! You got yourself a letter, Hank!”
Hank raised his dark eyebrows in surprise. In the three years that he’d been working at Jake Cutter’s ranch, he’d never once received a letter.
He saw Randy coming from the main house, moving as quickly as his limp right foot would allow. There was excitement in the ranchhand’s craggy face as he drew near.
Hank waited for Randy to reach him and took the letter being extended in the old man’s leathery hand.
Hank studied the worn envelope, his name written in a shaky hand. He didn’t recognize the return address.
Although he wanted to immediately read the contents — and he was well aware that Randy was standing there, a curious look on his weathered face — Hank decided that he’d wait until he was done with Sunshine before he satisfied his own curiosity.
“Thanks, Randy,” he said. “I’ll read this later. Sunshine here’s been pretty patient with me and I don’t want to push my luck.”
The old man, obviously disappointed, grunted out in understanding and headed back towards the main house.
He carefully placed the thick envelope over by his gear and tried not to think about it. He needed to focus on the task at hand.
That proved to be easier said than done.
Who in the world would have written him a letter? The guys in the bunkhouse would often receive mail from their distant families, but that was something Hank had never experienced. He didn’t even know if he had a family somewhere out there.
Hank Hopper had only the vaguest memories of his childhood. From a very young age, he’d been sent to the orphanage run by Miss Mary Sullivan and he had not adapted all that well, at first. He didn’t know the people there and he didn’t like many of them, so he tended to be a source of constant trouble for both the other children there, as well as Miss Mary herself.
Thinking about the thick-set, middle-aged woman with the warm blue eyes made Hank smile. She was one of those rare people, he knew. She didn’t just see with her eyes, as she’d once explained to him, after he’d gotten into yet another fight with one of the other orphans.
“Anyone can use their eyes to see, Hank,” she’d told him, “but it takes a special kind of person to see with their heart. It took me years to understand that. When I look at you, I see a good person. I see a very good person. You’re smart and you’re kind to those who need it — and you’re quick to take on those who tend to bully others. You’re also always looking at the world, aren’t you? You’re always taking in everything around you — and that’s good, because there are a lot of things in this world that’ll try to sneak past you if you’re not always looking out for them.”
Of course, despite the kindness of Miss Mary, things in the orphanage had been brutal at times, due to the director, Jonathan Starke. An overweight man with a foul disposition and even fouler breath, he believed his sole obligation towards the orphans under Miss Mary’s care was to make sure they didn’t die.
Hank remembered the beatings he’d received, the nights he’d gone without food — and the night Miss Mary had met him at the back door when he’d decided, at the age of fifteen, to finally break away from the orphanage and make his way in the waiting world.
“You’re one of the good ones, Hank,” she’d whispered, holding him close and pressing some money into his hand, “and I want you to know that God is always with you, always watching over you, and that He loves you more than you will ever know. Now, go — and make sure that you always use that God-given intelligence of yours for all the right reasons.”
Had it not been for Miss Mary Sullivan, he knew, he might well have grown up without ever knowing kindness and love — and it would have made him just as hard and cold as so many others that he’d encountered in his journeys, both at the orphanage and on the ranch.
Hank thought about how life never quite seemed to take a straight path. If anyone had told him when he’d left Miss Mary’s that he’d wind up a twenty-one-year-old buckaroo working at the Double C Ranch, he wouldn’t have believed them. Back then, he simply couldn’t imagine any sort of life beyond living day to day.
“What do you know, Sunshine?” he said, shaking his head, “but it looks like I’ve got someone out there who knows me.”
This envelope surprised him. As far as Hank knew, outside of a few friends he’d made at the orphanage and Miss Mary, there wasn’t a soul alive who knew of his existence — other than the people who had taken him to Miss Mary.
He couldn’t even remember the couple who had brought him to the orphanage, but later on, he’d been told they were friends of his family.
He’d pressed Miss Mary a few times for more information, but hadn’t received any satisfactory answers.
“All I can tell you, Hank,” she’d once said, after he’d spent yet another afternoon trying to find out more about who he was and where he came from, “is that your family loved you very much, but they gave you into my care for reasons they could not tell me. I was told it was as much for my protection as it was yours.”
Knowing there was a family out there that had given him up had been a source of incredible pain for Hank, even though he told himself that it really didn’t matter. Knowing that there had been people in his life who had possibly loved him, but had been able to put him out of their lives, was a wound that he suspected might never heal.
Perhaps the letter on the ground beside him might answer the questions that had been haunting him for so long?
Back in the bunkhouse, Hank sat by the window, using the last light from the setting sun to read the letter.
In the distance, thick clouds, swollen with impending rain, hung in the crimson sky. The air in the bunkhouse was stifling and Hank had removed his shirt, hoping a stray breeze might cool him off.
The other ranchhands were still at dinner, but Hank had quickly eaten his stew and cornbread, and headed back, unable to keep himself from finally opening up the envelope and reading the letter it contained.
It took him several tries to understand some of the shakily written words, but, eventually, Hank made out the entire letter.
I hope this letter finds you in good health and good spirits. I know this is something you probably never expected to receive, but in this life, I have found out, there are things that are out of our control.
The first thing you must understand is that you were given to Miss Mary Sullivan out of love and care and to ensure that you were raised out of harm’s way. If I were to tell you just why you were surrendered to her in this letter, it would take me much too long to write. This is something that is better discussed when you and I finally meet.
That is the second thing I want you to know — I want to meet you. I want you to come to see me, so I can see the fine young man that I know you must have become. I am truly sorry that I have waited so long to make contact, but my health is failing and I fear that I do not have much longer on this earth before I find myself standing before my Creator, awaiting His judgment.
Son, I need you to understand that not a day has gone by when I have not dropped down to my knees and prayed to Our Lord to keep watch over you, and to somehow have Him let you know that you have never been out of my thoughts or out of my heart. You are loved more than you can possibly know and the thought that I might finally get to see you once again brings me more joy than you can possibly imagine.
If you are willing, Son, please come to see me before my time to be with Our Lord comes. It would do me so much good to see, with my own eyes, how fine a man I am sure you have turned out to be.
I can be found at the Winslow Ranch in Austin, Texas. I will pray with all my heart and all my soul that God keep you safe in your travels here if you decide to come, and if you decide not to come, I pray He will keep you safe throughout your life and that He grant you peace and love.
Hank carefully folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope. His fingers touched the thick vellum and he could not ignore the pounding in his chest, or the hope rising within him.
Though he hated to admit it, this was something that he’d been searching for as long as he could remember — answers to who he was, where he came from … and, most importantly, why he had been given up by his family.
Perhaps he’d finally find some measure of peace and be able to move forward with his life.
With the last light of the setting sun coming down upon him, Hank sank to his knees, eyes closed, and said, “Dear Lord, thank You for this gift — this wonderful gift. You’ve heard my prayers begging to know who I am and where I came from and You have answered them. Watch over my father, so that we can meet and become a true family again. Watch over all the men and women here on the ranch while I’m gone and make sure that Sunshine doesn’t get too ornery with anyone when I’m not here to talk some sense into that fool horse. Forgive me my sins, and I forgive the sins of those who have hurt me, and make sure that Miss Mary is always under Your divine care. Amen.”
Hank rose and took a deep breath.
It was time to talk to Tim Branscom, the foreman of the ranch, and let him know that he’d be leaving as soon as possible.
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