In the Shadow of the Mountainbytechsan©
Author's note: the following story is purely a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. The author wishes to express his gratitude to Angel Love for her editing to make this a better story.
I stood on the ground at the bottom of three steps leading to the long, wide veranda of the main ranch house and called, "Hallo, the house!"
I had noted the run-down condition of the house as well as the buildings around back ... a barn and a lean-to that probably served as a bunkhouse. Either this was a poor hardscrabble rancher or he didn't care how his place looked. Either way, I figured there wasn't much chance of getting a job but I was getting kind of desperate now. I still had some money but if I didn't find a job for the winter, the money wouldn't last long.
Since I had finished the cattle drive at the railhead in Dodge, I had ridden into eastern Colorado, then into the foothills of the mountains, hoping to find work for the winter. And, who knows, maybe something more permanent than a drover of cattle for a living. But now, I had been stopping at every ranch house for the last four days and everybody already had a full crew. I just knew that somewhere somebody had to need another hand.
When a woman appeared at the open door, I swept my hat off my head and looked down. I knew I was not a sight to behold. It had been three days since I crossed a stream where I could take a bath and by now my clothes were dusty and I probably smelled of horse sweat and worse.
"Hello," she said in a sweet tone. The last female voice I had heard was the raspy cough of a two-bit whore in a brothel in Dodge. That was not exactly a lyrical tone either.
"Good afternoon, ma'am. I was wondering if I could speak to the man of the house."
"No, sorry, he's not here right now. Can I help?"
"Well...I was wondering if you needed a hand...?"
"I don't ... well, maybe. Are you a hard worker?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am. I'm good with fences, moving cattle, mending things around the buildings. I know I don't look like much 'cause I just rode in from Dodge after a cattle drive but I can do anything you need done."
"Well, you might not like everything that's going on around here. Are you any good with that Colt?"
My hand automatically went to the revolver in the holster on my right hip. "Yes, ma'am, I know how to use it."
"Well, there are some people around here who want to push us off this land. They don't mind cutting our cows or pulling down our fences or shooting our hands. So you probably don't want to stay here."
"Ma'am, if you've got work, I'd like the job. I'm loyal and if that means fighting for my boss's rights, then so be it."
"Oh, yes? Hmm, well, we don't have much to pay but, if you're willing to work, we'll give you a chance."
"Thank you, ma'am. I'll do my best to see that you don't regret it. My name's Dancer ... Allan Dancer."
"Well, Mr. Dancer, you can move into the bunk house out back. There's nobody else in there right now so it will need some cleaning. My daughter and I will be out in just a few minutes to take care of it. My name is Mrs. Thompson ... Lottie Thompson ... and my daughter is Nettie. I've got a son who's out back right now. His name is Jackson but we all call him Jack. You'll eat dinner with us at 6 o'clock. Welcome, Mr. Dancer."
She turned back into the house, the conversation over. I picked up my horse's reins and headed around back, grateful for a place to hang my hat for a while.
The bunkhouse was very dusty, indicating that it hadn't had much use for quite a while. I picked up a broom right inside the door and started sweeping but I had just gotten started when Mrs. Thompson knocked on the door.
"Come in," I called. She was followed by a flaxen-haired young woman that I would have considered being a beauty in any setting, let alone out here in this sparsely settled land. I found out later that she was 19 but I would have guessed that she was at least in her twenties.
"Here, let me have that," Mrs. Thompson said, taking the broom from my hands. Nettie ... at least I assumed it was her daughter ... had brought cloths for dusting and they fell to work while I took a look at the broken-down bunks. At Mrs. Thompson's direction, I went to the barn and found a hammer and nails and soon had the bunks back in usable shape. They had turned the corn-shuck mattress and smoothed it out, then covered it with some blankets for padding and covers. It wasn't much but it would be a lot better than camping out on the wind-blown prairie.
After the women had returned to the house with my thanks, I checked out the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. I wouldn't need it for heat for a few more weeks but I would use it for making coffee.
I didn't meet Jack until dinner. He was a very active, tow-headed twelve-year-old with a great sense of humor and an equal respect for his mother. I noted that Mr. Thompson still had not returned and, over a hot peach cobbler, I asked when she expected him to be back.
"I think he'll be home any day now, Mr. Dancer. He's been gone a little longer than he expected."
I noticed that both kids ducked their heads and wondered about it. I said, "I was thinking that tomorrow I should start riding the fences and see what the condition of the cattle is. Would that be a reasonable plan?"
"That would be a good plan, Mr. Dancer. How many days do you expect to be gone?"
"Well, from what you told me about the boundaries, I would guess three days if the fences are not too bad. If there are a lot of breaks, it will probably take longer."
"Okay. I'll have a pack of food and coffee for you in the morning."
"Thank you. Goodnight, ma'am...Nettie...Jack."
I turned in, knowing my internal clock would get me up before dawn tomorrow.
It didn't take me long to pack what I needed: a bedroll, coffee pot and utensils in one saddlebag and, as promised, the food that Mrs. Thompson brought out to me as I was loading up. It went in the other saddlebag. I packed a tow sack with a coil of wire, wire cutters, and a wire stretcher and tied it over my saddle horn before mounting up.
Tipping my hat to the lady, I said, "I'll see you in three or four days, I 'spect, ma'am."
"Take care, Mr. Dance. And do be careful, please. We want you to come back safely."
"I will, ma'am," I replied, kneeing my horse out into the breaking light.
Three hours of riding along the eastern edge of the ranch brought me to the first break. It looked like a single post had been roped and pulled to the ground, leaving an opening about 20 feet wide. Checking for tracks, I found those of a single horse, probably not more than two days old, but no recent cattle tracks so maybe no harm was done.
I got the post set back in the ground and tamped down, spliced the three strands of barbed wire with the patching wire I had brought and then headed on down the line. Again in mid-afternoon, I found another break where the fence had been cut and two posts pulled down. There were tracks indicating that six or seven cows had been driven through the break and then left to scatter.
I rode through the break and after a half-hour had rounded up six cows with the Running-T brand. I herded them back through the break and then mended the fence. I still had an hour of daylight left so I rode on before making camp just after sundown.
The next day was about the same. I mended three breaks but found no missing cattle. Then on the third day about mid-morning, I came across a huge break and the tracks looked like 30 or 40 head of cattle had been driven through the gap. I pulled my rifle out of the scabbard and lay it across the saddle in front of me, then rode through the gap looking for the cows. There were quite a few carrying the R-Bar-S brand and the Running T cows had been interspersed with them.
I started cutting out the Thompson's cows, heading them back toward the break, when a cowboy rode up. He shouted, "Hey! You don't belong here. Get off this ranch. Leave our cows alone."
I turned to face him. "Some of these cows are Thompson's. I'm taking 'em. You wanna stop me, have a try. Otherwise, leave me alone."
I don't think he liked the look of my hand near my Colt. He reined around and headed back the way he'd come and I went back to cutting cattle. I found 37 head of Running T's and got them back on home grass, then set about mending the long break. It was growing dark by the time I had finished.
The fourth day I found only one small break and no missing cattle so I wound up riding back into the ranch yard just before sundown. Jack came busting out of the back door to greet me and talked a mile-a-minute while I hung my tack and curried my horse, then fed him a scoop of oats for doing a good job.
By the time I had washed up, the family had long finished dinner but the missus had warmed up plenty of leftovers for me and it was scrumptious, since I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast that morning. She asked me to give a report of the conditions I'd found so I told her about the breaks and getting them repaired and pushing the cattle back onto their property.
I asked if she'd heard from Mr. Thompson and she dropped her head.
"Mr. Dance, I'm afraid I've misled you. Mr. Thompson left three years ago last spring. He was always very punctual so ... not having heard from him in more than three years, I seriously doubt if he's coming home. We'll probably never know what happened to him but ... I know if he could, he would contact us. So...I'm quite sure he must be dead. Unfortunately that means that I'm left with all the work around here and I'm not all that good at some of it." She stopped and ducked her head. After a few moments, she looked at me and continued, but with tears in her eyes. "I know I hired you under false pretenses, Mr. Dancer, and if you want to leave, I'll pay you for your time and you can go."
"Why, ma'am, why would I want to leave? It don't matter to me if I have a man or a woman boss, just so long as it's an honest job. And you got work that needs to be done. No, I'll stay, thank you, ma'am."
The next day, I got directions to the three watering holes on the ranch and rode out to check on them. The first was kept pretty clean by a running stream but the second and third were shallow wells dug my Mr. Thompson and fed by hand-built windmills. First the troughs needed to be cleaned out so I took care of that, then climbed up on the windmills and greased the moving parts so they would work better ... and silence their infernal squeaking.
Back at the barn, I checked the supply of hay for winter feed and found it woefully low. For the next several days, I hitched a team to the mower and cut a number of acres of tall grass, raking it into windrows for drying. I had been surprised to find that Mr. Thompson had one of the new-fangled bailers that mashed the hay into rectangular cubes and tied it up with twine. I didn't have any experience running such a contraption but figured I could learn.
At the dinner table, although we still used proper names, it began to feel like I was part of the family. They seemed eager to include me in their conversations and I talked to them about the work I was doing and had planned for the near future. Jack was especially eager and spent a lot of time near me when I was around the ranch yard. I was amused with his sense of humor and even his agreeableness for taking on small jobs if I gave them to him.
Nettie was very friendly and even sometimes came out to the barn when I was working there. She'd stand around watching or sometimes struck up a conversation, although I had a bit of a problem putting words into intelligent thoughts when a pretty girl was involved. I guess no small part of my reticence was caused by occasional glimpses I got of her shapely figure or its shadow when the sun's rays from behind her almost made her dress seem to disappear. Those were times when I frequently had to change my tasks to work in a stall or behind a pile of hay to keep from showing my true feelings for her.
Miz Thompson always made it a practice to bring me lunch if I was anywhere near the house. I told her that she didn't need to go to so much trouble but she brushed my protests aside and continued to bring me hot lunches and a pot of fresh coffee. Some days she joined me by drinking a cup of coffee and every day she came out, she would sit and talk with me until I was finished. It was obvious that she was lonesome with Mr. Thompson gone.
I would have liked to comfort her somehow but didn't know how. She was, like her daughter a beautiful woman, in some ways even more so because of her maturity, although the stress of holding her family together and keeping the ranch going showed up in little lines by her eyes. I suspected she had cried herself to sleep many nights.
While the hay was drying, Miz Thompson asked if I would mind making a trip to town to buy some supplies we'd need for the winter. She told me that the town of Salida was about 22 miles to the west, not an easy trip since there were no roads until the last 6 miles or so. I'd have to ford the Arkansas River and a couple of smaller creeks but at this time of the year, none of them should be major problems.
Before dawn, I hitched a team to the old wagon (I had applied a large helping of axle grease to each of the hubs the day before), picked up the list from Mrs. Thompson right after breakfast, and headed for town. The list wasn't long, just things that they could not produce on the ranch. Miz Thompson and the kids had plowed a sizeable garden and worked together to can a lot of food for the winter ... I had been down to the big root cellar under the main house and was amazed at the number of jars full of food.
It was late afternoon when I arrived and I went directly to the general store and began collecting items on Miz Thompson's list. Two hundred-pound sacks of flour, a sack of sugar, a small package of salt, and a hundred-pound bag of coffee beans. I brought in two five-gallon cans and filled them with coal oil ... I noticed they'd started calling it kerosene ... for lamp use. Miz Thompson asked for a bolt of cloth to do some sewing so the owner picked out a pretty blue material for me. Out of my own money, I had the store owner put together a bag with 4 bits worth of penny candy.
By the time I finished, it was too late to start back home so I turned out the horses in the livery stable's lot after parking the buckboard. I walked to a café and had a nice meal. Although I didn't drink a lot, I thought a nice after-dinner drink would be a good way to wind down the evening so I picked from among the several saloons and bellied up to the end of the bar.
The bartender poured me a sample of what was probably his worst whiskey and I just shook my head. He laughed, dumped it back in the bottle, and poured me a shot of a better brand. As I sipped, I checked out the other patrons, mostly cowpunchers like me but with a few who were dressed a little nicer, either townies or ranch owners probably.
Normally I don't eavesdrop on others' conversation but I heard snatches of a chat at a table near my side. I heard, "...somebody from Thompson's, don't know .... busted fences been mended and ... don't see how she kin stay ... "
Hm. These must be part of the group causing Miz Thompson so much grief. I walked outside and checked the horses along the hitching post and sure enough there were a passel of them with the R-Bar-S brand. Well, I was beginning to build a rogues' gallery in my mind.
I was thinking about getting a room at the hotel when I spotted a sign at an emporium called Mama's Tubs with another sign that advertised hot baths. It had been so long since I'd had a hot bath I decided to partake of one.
I guess I should have suspected it but the place was a brothel that just happened to sell baths. When I saw all those sweet ladies, I realized how many months it had been since I'd spent any intimate time with a woman. The way it worked, I picked a lady to fix my bath, paid the madam 4 bits for the bath, a dollar for the room and anything else I wanted later, I could deal with the lady.
I picked a pretty brunette who appeared to be a bit older than me ... I'm not good at judging ages but would guess she was about 40 ... because she had a ready smile, good legs and what appeared to be a very full bosom. She led me up the stairs to the room at the end of the hall.
Inside was a bed pushed against the side wall and a big brass bathtub sitting in the open space. The woman said, "Get comfortable and get your clothes off while I get the water."
She went just outside the door where I'd seen a stove with a couple of five-gallon cans of water were heating. I was in the middle of undressing when she came back with the first bucket and dumped it into the tub. By the time she'd poured enough cold water in to bring the temperature down to where I could stand it, I was naked and holding my hat over my privates.
As she knelt by the tub and swished a bar of soap in the still steaming water, she said, "Honey, you might as well put that hat on the bed. Sooner or later, I'm gonna see what you got there anyway."
Bashfully, I tossed the hat on the bed and stepped into the tub. I was a little surprised when she took off her two-piece top, letting her very large breasts into the steaming aura around the tub. But then she leaned in, grabbed the bar of soap and began scrubbing my back. She worked down my left arm and along the left side of my chest, worked her way down my left leg all the way to my foot. Then she moved around to the other side of the tub, her pendulous breasts swinging with each step, and settled down to repeat the process on my right side.
When she had finished with my foot, she moved back to the middle and began rubbing the soap around my balls, finally concentrating on my cock. It was just a bath but, man, I had never had a bath so good.
The lady finally asked if I'd like any other services and I asked about what it would cost for her night's companionship. She thought a while, asked me how much activity I thought I might be up for and she settled on two dollars. I told her it was a deal and asked her to join me before the water got cold. She dropped her fluffy pants and climbed in, easing herself down around my raging, throbbing cock.
Since she was going to stay all night, we weren't in a hurry. She leaned forward and I captured her swinging titties, bringing first one and then the other to my mouth, sucking her hard nipples forever. I finally pulled her down to lie on my chest and simply hugged her to myself, luxuriating in the feeling of a soft, curvy woman against my hard, scarred body.
When the water began to get cool, we got out and she dried me off...the first time in my memory that someone had done that. Laughing, I helped her dry off, probably more of a hindrance than anything else. Then we got in bed and she began working on my cock and balls with her mouth and talented fingers. I blew my load into her mouth and was surprised that she sucked down every drop of my cum.
It wasn't long before she had me stiff and ready again and I rolled on top of her, swimming slow strokes in her pussy while my mouth devoured her big tasty titties and toyed with her mouth. In the next few hours we kept the bed rocking most of the time as we fucked in just about every position I could think of and some new ones that she taught me. She even let me fuck her tight ass hole, which was a first time for me ... a really mind-blowing experience.
Without a minute's sleep, I got up with the first light of dawn out of the east, paid the lady her two dollars plus a three-dollar tip...which earned me another fifteen minutes of kissing and hugging and sucking on my now-limp dick.
I stopped in at the café for a quick breakfast of sausage, eggs, and flapjacks, then went to the livery and hooked up my team. I was on the road home just after sun-up and rolled into the yard by mid afternoon. I knew immediately that something was wrong because the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something about the place was too quiet.