Slowly but Surely Ch. 02byJakeRivers©
Chapter Two – The Waterfall
You're just what I wanted you're just what I needed.
You're my every dream come true.
Slowly but Surely
I had been following the Canadian River as it meandered down the slope, at times breaking into several streams that would wander around the valley floor and then come back together. We were step by step going down toward the valley floor and there were frequent small rapids. The water cascaded over the rocks with the warm spring sun gracing the splashing droplets with moments of brilliance before they fell.
Since I had picked up the Canadian near its headwaters the timber had been thinning as we got to lower elevations. The grass was a mix of last summer's heavy dry stuff joined with the light emerald green of the new grass that added color to the scene. I could see a mix of sagebrush, blue gramma and patches of Indian grass in the basin below. Along the river, it was the waist high bluestem that Dirty Red seemed to like a lot.
I was on the high side of the river about a half mile from the waterfall and pond. After passing through a stand of aspens I saw a small pinto mare. She had the Medicine Hat coloration: the better part white with, for this horse, black around the flanks and eyes. The mare was small, around thirteen hands. Red's sixteen-and-a-half hands dwarfed her. The mare's reins were dragging in the mud and grass. Someone had slipped the bit so she was able to graze.
Taking her reins I back trailed her. She must have strayed from the pond while seeking the tender bits of new grass. I wasn't paying too much attention, but was focusing on the mare's tracks when I was startled by a loud scream. Looking up with a start gave me an attractive but unexpected sight: a tall, somewhat slender girl standing almost waist deep in the pond havin' a confusing time trying to decide what to cover with her arms and what to leave open for my viewing pleasure. She was doing either a miserable or wonderful job depending on which of our viewpoints prevailed. Her clothes were hangin' on a bush beside the pond.
Being ever the gentleman, at least that's what my mom insisted on, I turned around. Calling back over my shoulder, I asked, "You all right, ma'am?"
There followed a loud shriek, "Just go away! Everyone knows to stay away when I ride up here. My pa is gonna kill ya."
Even though I'd never been to Colorado before, she still expected me to know her bathing habits. Sure. I started idling away on Red with the Pinto in tow. After about ten yards I heard another wailin' cry.
"Wait, don't go."
I took that as meaning she didn't want me to go after all, so I turned around and started back. She had jumped out of the pool and was standing behind a bush struggling to pull her jeans up over her wet legs. Hell, even I knew that was hard to do.
"No, damn you, go away but leave my horse behind. Now turn around."
Okay, I could take a hint. I did have some pride, so I thought I should make a point. "Now ma'am, I did go to considerable trouble to run down yore mare for you. Least little thing you could do would be to say thanks."
She wasn't impressed with my logic. "You arrogant damned fool, just leave my horse and get the hell away from here."
With a "cluck" from me, Dirty Red started forward again pulling the pinto.
Sure, I could do that, I was known far and wide for my patience.
"Thank you for bringing Missy back and I … I'm sorry for yelling at you."
She didn't sound all that sincere but I wasn't too proud. Dropping the reins of the mare, Red and I cantered back toward the aspens. I off saddled to fix some coffee and roll another smoke. I was pleased to see her look back a couple of times. It wasn't clear whether she was interested in me or whether she was tryin' to decide if she was in range for taking a potshot at me. Well, this sure looked like it was going to be an interesting job!
After I finished my coffee and put out the fire I rode back down to the pond to make camp for the night. It was getting dark so I figured I'd eat some bacon and leftover cornbread and call it an early night. Being in no hurry to freeze I decided to face the cold water for a bath and shave in the morning. I did get some water from where the little creek leaped from place to place and made its way down the rocky wall and fell the last four feet into the pond. Before I made the coffee I took a long drink from the pot and like to froze my throat – that water was cold. Most of the stream of water must be snowmelt.
It took me a while to fall asleep and when I did it was with the image of what must have been Candace Dancer standing deep enough in the water that I never did see her legs. What I had seen was pert near enough to convince me I was in love. Yeah, I know. I fell in love with 'bout every gal I saw but this one was special. Her hair was long and the wet strands twisted around and plastered to her body, nigh on down to her narrow waist.
Her high breasts stood out as if she was proud of them; which, of course, she had good reason to be. They weren't so large but I couldn't imagine anything lookin' better. She was a pretty filly. The two thousand three hundred and fifty nine freckles didn't mar that beauty a bit and even made her small nose kinda cute. I wasn't even counting some assumed freckles on her legs and back, which good fortune of observing had been denied me … so far.
Some might wonder how I saw all that with a couple of glimpses. Like all cowhands, I was trained to be observant. When we are trying to throw a lasso over a certain horse or cow, we'd best get the right one.
At first light I woke up feelin' refreshed. I fixed some breakfast from my diminishing supplies, then I heated some water and shaved. Not wanting to show up at the Circle R smellin' like a horse so I knew I had to bite the bullet and jump in the pool. I figured that the further I got away from that snowmelt flowing into the pool, the better off I'd be. Sucking it up I jumped in and … damn, it was warm. Lookin' closer I found there was a hot spring on the side of the pool.
It flowed out of the rock wall a couple feet above the pool and it was warm on that side of the pool and cold on the other. It must all be warm in the summer and during the winter before the snowmelt. I washed all my dirty clothes, well all my clothes, and hung them on branches to dry. I fooled around in the water 'til my skin puckered right up. After a light lunch I headed on over to the ranch; I guessed it would take an hour or so to get there.
Down on the valley floor, that part of Colorado they called North Park, I stopped and looked around. There were mountains to the east, the Medicine Bows and they curled around to the north. Straight East was Shipman Mountain and to the west was Flattop and Bear Mountains and Mt. Zirkel. I knew this from talkin' to people in LaPorte before I pulled freight. To the south was pretty open with more mountains in the distance. I could see winter was going to be somethin' here.
What I liked best was the water all over the place just meanderin' up the valley. There were the North Platte, Canadian, and Michigan rivers and more creeks than I could count. There would be a lot of hay grown in the rich bottomlands. That would make feedin' the cattle easier during the winter. There was more summer range up in the mountains than could be used. I started wonderin' if this might be the place I would settle down in. Thinkin' on it, I looked back and saw my ranch buildings just sort of build themselves tucked in under that hot springs. It looked damned good to me.
I already had my brand, a square with SR on it. The Box SR was registered in Nebraska and I'd get it done in Colorado as soon as I could. That's the brand I had on Dirty Red and about a hundred head of cattle I'd left behind on a friends ranch. I had a fair amount of money, so I wanted to get Pete to pay me part of my salary in calves. As they grew, I'd sell off the steers and borrow Pete's bulls for the girls - at least 'til I took my ranch on full time and then I'd need my own bulls. Ridin' toward the Circle R headquarters, it looked like Pete had all but about ten percent of his herd in Herefords – the rest were longhorns.
I ran into him a ways before I got to the ranch headquarters. We sat down on a sunny rock and smoked as we talked. I told him about my trip and made sure he heard my version of what had happened at the pond.
Pete commented, "Wal, she didn't say nothin' but I'll keep this in mind if she does. I've told her over and over not to go up there. Most of the guys around this area wouldn't take advantage of her, but there are always a few strangers around. And that's not counting the jokers stealin' our cattle. I've caught my foreman lookin' after her a couple times when she's taken off in that direction. Damned if I didn't have to send him off in the opposite direction on some chore or t'other.
"If it comes up I'll jump all over her. Speakin' of Klein, I know I said you'd have to pay him off but I hate to ask you to do it. Just watch out for him. He's a sneaky, mean sum bitch. He likes to trip a guy and then kick him in the head. He killed a guy up in Walcott last year when we took some cattle up. After supper, I'll tell everyone about the change and introduce you. I'm sure the fireworks will start then."
"What about the crew?" I asked.
"Wal, I've got the foreman and eight guys plus a cook that all work full time. The cook also does repairs around the yard and buildings, fixin' gates and stuff like that. During the summer, I take on three, four more men, whatever I can find. There's two guys, Packrat and KC that'll probably go with Klein.
"One thing I want to change. I've come to think the foreman shouldn't live and eat with the men. I want you to stay in the house; there's a room I bin storin' stuff in that you can use. It's right next to the office and the only door is on the outside of the house. You can eat with me and we can do our plannin' after dinner. Just get settled in this afternoon and I'll grab you when our cook, Gramps, serves dessert. Wear some old clothes, ha ha!"
I guess he thought that was funny. Actually it was, kinda. We mounted up and rode in to the ranch. Pete showed me my room and I spent a couple of hours moving the stored stuff out and some furniture in. In between moving things I grabbed Gramps to help me sweep it out and then mop it.
The cook turned out to be one of the original ranch hands from when Pete had moved out from Kansas with a herd twenty years before. A horse fell on his leg and broke it so it was painful for him to ride. He half raised Candy (and gave her the nickname), teaching her to ride a horse and pretend she was a cowboy. He loved the family and had nowhere else to go so Pete took care of him. He walked with a limp but got around okay.
He was a fun old man and had me smilin' while we were working on the cleanup. "You met Candy yet?"
I didn't want to explain so I nodded no.
"She's a real firecracker, I'd say. Most of the time she's runnin' around explodin' like one, anyhow. Say, she's got a temper. Don't get her mad at you and everything will be okay."
Well, I was sure she was already way past mad at me. "I guess she has lots of beaus?"
"Wal, yes and no. She doesn't seem to pine after any particular fellow but at the dances she's a whirlin' deverish, dancin' with all the young studs, if you know what I mean?"
Unfortunately, I knew just what he meant. "When's the next dance?"
"From this month through August it's at the school house on the last Sattiday of each month. Once in a while during the winter iff'n the weather's okay. Special occasions such as the Fourth of July and weddin's and such. A friend of mine helps me with the music." He laughed, "At least, some call it that."
He was a good man that could help me a lot. The room turned out nice. Aside from the door, it had a large window looking out the back of the house towards the barns and corrals. I cleaned up for dinner and walked around while I was waiting.
It seemed like a well run ranch. There was none of the junk laying around that seems to accumulate on a ranch, like old wagons that never get fixed, saddles hanging on the corral post, past falling apart, and trash laying around the yard. Everything I could see appeared to be well maintained. The gates looked okay and there were no broken fence posts or such. It came across as what it was, a serious, profitable ranch. It was a working ranch but still showed a woman's touch in the flowerbeds around the front of the house and the vegetable garden sprawled along the creek. I'd bet that Gramps got recruited for working in the garden all summer long.
Pete had asked me to come in the house when the cook rang the triangle hanging outside the cook shack/dining room for the hands. I walked over and went through the kitchen door. Candy looked up from the stove, took one look at me and started a nice pretty blush that at once turned to an angry red. She glanced through the dining room door where a woman, I assumed her mom, was setting the table. She grabbed my sleeve and dragged me into the large walk-in pantry.
She hissed at me, "What are you doing here? I'll tell dad how you snuck up and spied on me. If you want a handout, go over to the cook shack."
I smiled at her, nicely, and shaking her hand, said, "I'm Slade Ransom, the new foreman for the Circle R. I'm sure we will get on famously." With that, I left her with her jaw hanging down and walked into the dining room to introduce myself.
The woman I'd seen through the door looked just like Candy but twenty or so years older, maybe just shy of forty. She was a bit shorter and a little thicker around the waist, but she was every bit as handsome as her daughter was and was all woman. Her red hair was up in a bun, but promised to splay on a pillow just as lovely as Candy's would.
"Hi, I'm Slade Ransom, and as attractive as you are you must be Candace's mother." I didn't tell her I was the new foreman; I thought she would know that.
"Aw, go on with you. You don't look Irish, but you for sure must have kissed the blarney stone." She laughed at that and in a more serious mien, continued, "I'm glad you're here. Pete needs some help and says you are a good man with good references."
I hadn't known he had talked to Cap. There were some things I hoped Cap hadn't told them. I'd been with Cap for twelve years, and six years ago, when I was twenty, I'd married a local girl. We were young, she was short of seventeen, and a year later, she died in childbirth. The daughter that never grew up died with her.
It left me pretty broken up and when spring rolled around I talked to Cap, then took the summer off and went up into the mountains of Montana and on up into Canada. There were some things I'd been better off not doing, and when I came back in September, I was fast with a gun and skillful at cards. Surprisin' to me I'd learned to love the high lonesome places and spendin' time alone. I was quiet for the next year but worked hard and after that put on a veneer of bonhomie that I didn't have. Sure, I bought drinks for the guys and flirted with the girls but no one other than Cap and his wife got to know me much at all.
I got to need some company and started with Carla but I knew it wasn't real. The thing was, I liked women. I liked to be around them, I liked to look at them. Underneath it all I knew no one could ever replace Jennie. Damn, I couldn't much remember what she looked like anymore. Still, I had this reserved persona that no one saw. It was one that always thought things through, kinda watching myself from the outside and keeping the real me at arm's length so I wouldn't get hurt like I had been.
As I thought about it, I didn't think Cap would tell anyone anything about me that wasn't work related. Cap came in then and we sat down to dinner. Pete's wife, Glenna, seemed to want to get to know me right away. Without being too forward, she probed with soft questions and I was surprised how much I told her. Candy seemed to be avoiding looking at or talking to me. Pete, of course, knew the reason but Glenna didn't.
It came out of left field, but thinking about it later, it made sense. Candy asked, "Mister Ransom, I was noticing your horse. It seems like a fine animal – but why Dirty Red? That seems like an awful name for such a good looking horse."
Mister Ransom? Damn, I don't think I'd ever been called that. I started to answer that I'd noticed her horse too, right after I tripped over it. Maybe I would have of said that out of pure meanness, but with her folks there I thought I'd better play it straight. "Well, ma'am, Red's a mighty fine horse. I raised him from a foal and no one else has ever ridden him. He's fast and has great stamina. If I let him pick his pace, he can go all day. The Red is obvious if you look at him. The Dirty is his disposition. Pretty much every time I mount he makes sure I know that he's the boss.
"He'll do his best to throw me off, bite my arm, or just be plain ornery. Then he settles down and there's not a better horse for working cattle. He's not like that all the time. When the weather is bad or he senses it's important to behave, he is a perfect gentleman. I have to say that most of the time he's more of a gentleman that I am," I added with a laugh.
Candy, very primly, added, "I'm sure I don't doubt that. By the way, I thought Bill was the foreman."
Pete grinned as he was standing up. "Wal, we'd better get to work. Bill was the foreman. Slade is going to give him his walkin' papers."
"Oh, I do want to see that," Candy added sounding a bit snide.
I hated to leave. The fried chicken, potatoes and the huge bowl of gravy were askin' me to eat more but everyone else was on their way out the door.
We walked into the cook shack just as the boys were finishing an apple cobbler. Pete grabbed an empty coffee cup and banged on the table. "I'm gonna make this short and sweet. We've been losing too many beeves to rustlers and that's led me to make some changes. This here is Slade Ransom, and as of right now he is the new foreman."
I stood up, not speaking but looking at each of the men, measuring them. From Pete's previous description, I recognized Bill Klein. He was of medium height with a wide upper torso. He was not so much handsome in the normal way – his face was too rugged and his oft broken nose lent him irregular features. He was dressed in black with a black sombrero with a silver band. His black handled Colt .44 was visible under the skirt of his jacket. His nose was saber sharp and his sweeping black mustache and red-flecked eyes lent him an air of evil incarnate.
I started to speak, but Klein jumped up, shoutin', "What the hell is this? No goddamn cowboy is going to take my place! I'm gonna break yore back."
He started to lunge across the table when Gramps slammed a huge skillet down with a bang, bringing a hush to the room and drawing all attention to him. "Git the hell out of my eatin' place. You wanna fight, take it outdoors."
That was fine by me; I liked to eat and didn't want the cook mad at me. I was closest to the door and started down the steps, knowin' what was goin' to happen. I got set for it and timed it just so. Klein was behind me and had started his dive, figurin' to end the fight quick. I turned around as fast as I could and caught him in mid-air, tossing him over my shoulder. He landed on his back with the air whooshing out of his lungs. I fell on his beer gut with my knees to finish the job.
I straddled him and grabbed his hat, which had fallen off. With the added heft of the silver band, I, with a slow but heavy sweep of my arm, hit him on one side the face and then the other. After a few strokes, I felt someone tugging at me and looked up to see Candy.