tagNovels and NovellasThe Ballad of Zachery Carson Ch. 04

The Ballad of Zachery Carson Ch. 04

bywoodmanone©

By Woodmanone copyright May, 2013

Please take the time to read the preceding chapters before going on with this one.
As usual any constructive comments, critiques, and/or emails are welcome and appreciated.


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Chapter Four

Shoulder feels pretty good, Zach thought as he kept his promise to visit Sir Gerald and Lady Kathleen at the Grand Hotel; it was three days after his first meeting with Sir Gerald Astor. Still a mite tender but it's healing up. Should be able to ride out in another three or four days; course if the Doc has his way I'd still be sitting on my backside.

The Grand Hotel was just that, Grand; at least for Tucson. The building was two stories, painted a brilliant white, with four tall columns across the front. For those from the South, it reminded them of the anti-bellum plantation mansions in Georgia or Alabama. The Grand had been built by a railroad tycoon for visiting people of importance; both investors and wealthier companions who wanted to escape the harsh winter weather farther East and farther to the north. However, summer in the southwest wasn't a good time for visiting so the hotel was mostly empty.

Zach had waited until the heat of the day passed before his visit. He felt out of place as he entered the foyer of the hotel. Doc had my pants cleaned while I was laid up, he thought, but there still a mite threadbare and worn from the trail. Hell, even brand new they're not fancy enough for this place. Good thing Doc loaned me a shirt.

Zach approached the man behind the desk. The clerk looked at Zach with a raised eyebrow. He took in the faded whipcord pants, worn shirt, scruffy moccasins and raised an eyebrow. His expression seemed to say, who is this cow person and what is he doing in my hotel? "May I help you?" The clerk asked in a voice that indicated Zach had to be in the wrong place; he couldn't possibly have business at the Grand.

"Like to see Sir Gerald Astor and Lady Kathleen please," Zach replied.

"And what is your business with Sir Gerald?"

Zach was usually an easy going man; he didn't push people but he didn't accept being pushed. He leaned on the counter and looked at the desk clerk with piercing gray eyes that had gone from soft to hard in an instant. "Ain't rightly none of your business Mister. Just let Sir Gerald know that Zach Carson is here to see him."

Feeling the heat from those gray eyes, the clerk began to think he'd overstep his bounds. He was sure of it when Zach stood back from the counter. Zach's hands had naturally dropped to his sides and the clerk's eyes were drawn to the big Colt, holstered on his hips.

"Yes sir, right away." Pointing to several sofas and settees scattered on the far side of the lobby. "If you'll just wait there please, I'll send the bellman up to Sir Gerald's room."

Zach nodded and found a seat. Long time since I set on anything but a saddle or the ground he thought as he settled back on the comfortable sofa. It was only a few minutes before Kathleen came down the grand staircase and walked over to him.

"Why are you sitting out here?" She asked.

Zach pointed to the desk clerk. "That fellar there said for me to wait here. He's the range boss of the hotel so I thought I'd better listen to him."

"Mr. Dickery was told to sit you at our table in the dining room." Kathleen turned and gave the clerk a look that might have killed other men. As it was, Dickery seemed to melt in on himself when he saw her stare. "Come with me Zach," she ordered.

Zach stood, tipped his hat at Dickery, gave him a self satisfied grin and followed Kathleen. Sure beats staring at the rear ends of cows, he thought as he walked behind her. The manners Zach had been taught by his mother, which he hadn't had much use for on the trail, came out. He took off his hat and when they got to a large corner table in the dining room, he pulled out Kathleen's chair. When she was sitting, he chose a chair across the table from her.

"Why don't you sit here next to me Zach," she suggested with a smile. "It will be oh so much easier to talk that way." You obviously are feeling better. How's your shoulder?"

Zach stood and moved two chairs over next to Kathleen. "Still a mite sore but another week of this easy living and I'll be back on the trail."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about young man," Sir Gerald said as he walked to the table. Zach had been paying so much attention to Kathleen, that he hadn't noticed her father come into the dining room. He stood to greet Sir Gerald and after shaking hands they both sat down.

Sir Gerald, Kathleen, and Zach stepped out onto a patio for an after dinner drink and the men lit cigars. "I believe I owe you money Mr. Carson," Sir Gerald said as they sat at one of the tables on the patio. "Kathleen tells me she promised you a fee for rescuing her." Sir Gerald was wearing a fancy frock coat and pulled his wallet out of an inside pocket.

He counted out some bills, laid them on the table between him and Zach. "Is $1000 sufficient?" Zach looked at the money, then at Sir Gerald and shook his head.

"Put your money away Sir Gerald," Zach replied. "I won't take it for helping Kathleen."

"You put yourself at risk to help my daughter, great risk I might add. Those outlaws could have killed you both and you were seriously wounded. You deserve a reward."

"Sir, the way I was raised you don't expect money for helping people," Zach answered. "Besides, I figure Kathleen and I are sorta even. I rescued her then she rescued me."

"That's admirable Mr. Carson," Sir Gerald responded. "Let me suggest this. I will pay for a hotel room and board for you until you're fit to travel. I also will pay for the stagecoach fare for you to come to my ranch in Prescott Valley. If you won't accept a reward, possibly you will let me replace the horse you lost."

Zach started to protest but Kathleen spoke up. "Please Zach, let Father help. He, and I, would feel so much better about it."

Studying Kathleen for several seconds, Zach nodded. "Reckon I could use a horse," he said.

********************

Zach decided he needed some new clothes. His shirt had been torn to get at his wound and was useless. The pants he'd been wearing weren't torn but were bloodstained and no amount of washing could get those stains out. Luckily his hat and moccasins were fine, if a little trail worn.

He had left most of his money with the saddlebags at the water hole but he did have five gold Double Eagles left in his pocket. Zach bought a pair of pants, two shirts, a new hat, a new pair of boots and some other things like shaving gear, a bedroll and ground cloth; spending thirty dollars. After using the advance from Sir Gerald to pay for his stage ticket, he had fifty some dollars left which he split with Dr. Simpson.

"Go ahead and take it," Zach said when the Doc tried to turn down the money. "I've been living off you long enough. Sides, weren't for you I wouldn't have need for it anyway."

Zach was in Tucson for another three days. He telegraphed Sir Gerald to let him know when he'd arrive in Prescott. First he rode the stage to Phoenix which took four days. Normally it was a longer trip but there was a full moon so they could drive most of the night. From there it was another five days into Prescott.

Even though Phoenix to Prescott was a shorter distance, the wagon road climbed through the mountains. When Zach got off the stage depot just off Prescott's main town square, Kathleen was there waiting for him.

She was wearing a split riding skirt and had a woman's version of a Stetson on her head. Kathleen twirled and said, "Father relented and lets me ride astride now, like a real western woman should." She laughed and took Zach's arm. "The stage was only an hour later than scheduled. Our horses are over by the court house and we'll be at Astor Manor in time for dinner."

"Astor Manor?"

"It's what Father calls our ranch. I think it's pretentious but he says it reminds him of home. I tried to tell him that Prescott was our home now, but he insisted."

Zach grabbed his bedroll from the stage and they walked across the square to where Kathleen had hitched the horses. Kathleen mounted a pinto she called Chuckles; Zach helped her get up. He got on the big bay gelding she pointed out to him.

"That's Woodstock," she said. "I named him after our butler back in Berkshire; he has the same color hair and big brown eyes." Kathleen shook her head a little. "Father and I were sad to leave Mr. Woodstock; he'd been with the family for over twenty years." She giggled and added, "The butler not the horse."

"After all that time with the family, didn't your father want to bring Mr. Woodstock with him?" Zach asked as they rode north east out of Prescott.

"Yes he did; Father tried to convince him to come with us but Mr. Woodstock didn't want to leave England." Kathleen laughed. "Mr. Woodstock said he didn't want to be scalped by some red Indians or shot by a pistolero."

She laughed again at the look on Zach's face. "Seems I'm not the only one who reads those 'dime novels' you warned me about."

The ranch house at Astor Manor would have fit right in with the houses Zach had seen in the hill country of Texas, although it was a bit more grand. It was a long, rambling type home with two main sections with a covered breezeway between them. He would learn that the section on the left, which sat on a small rise, was the main living quarters.

There were five bedrooms in the back of the building and a very large open living room across the front. This big room had a formal dining table that would seat 12 as well as several easy chairs and sofas.

The other section was smaller and housed a very large kitchen and what passed as a common eat in area; there was another large table at one side that provide space for up to 20 to eat at one time. The rest of the room had a few chairs and several waist high cupboards for storage.

At the back and slightly to the west was the barn, other out buildings and three corrals. Sir Gerald was standing by one of the corrals and turned as Kathleen and Zach rode up.

"I say, it's good to see you Mr. Carson," Sir Gerald said with a big voice. "Do dismount, I have something to show you."

"Hello sir," Zach replied and stepped off Mr. Woodstock. Kathleen dismounted too and Zach noticed she had a wicked little smile on her face. "What?" Zach asked.

"Father and I have a surprise for you. Wait just a moment." Kathleen motioned and a ranch hand gathered the reins of Chuckles and Mr. Woodstock and led them to the barn.

"Bring out the other one, if you please," Sir Gerald requested. "How was your journey Mr. Carson? Not too hard on your wound, I trust."

"Fine, thank you for the ticket," Zach answered.

"I wager you could have made better time on horseback," Kathleen offered.

"Yes em, but it's hard to do without a horse."

"I think Kathleen and I can solve that problem for you." Sir Gerald pointed toward the barn where the hand was leading a horse over to them.

The wrangler was leading a dark dappled gray stallion with a full mane and a forelock hanging between his ears. The man was out to the side trying to stay out of the way of the front hoofs of the prancing horse. He tied the stallion to a snub post just outside the corral. "Here you are sir,' the cowboy said. "I'll go back to work now." The man made sure he walked well away from the hind legs of the horse.

Zach glanced over at the horse, looked at Sir Gerald with a question in his eyes and then quickly looked back at the big dark grey stallion. That's about the best looking horse I've ever seen, he thought.

"Examine him. Get a closer look," Sir Gerald suggested. "If you like him, he's yours."

"If you don't, we'll find you another mount," Kathleen added.

Zach walked over to the horse and speaking in a soft voice walked around the animal. He stuck out his hand, let the gray get his smell, and then ran his hands over the legs, back, and rump.

"Andalusian, isn't he?" Zach asked in more of a statement than a question. "He's looks to be about 16 hands. Got a big deep chest, strong legs, a good back and hindquarters." Zach stroked the horse's face and hand combed the forelock. "Bet he could run all day at a fast lope and have plenty left over."

"You like him?" Kathleen asked, almost giggling at the look on Zach's face.

"He's about the best lookin horse I've ever seen," Zach repeater his earlier thought aloud.

"Bill Hobart, a friend of mine, has a ranch on the other side of Prescott from us," Sir Gerald explained. He's a cattleman but he breeds horses as a hobby. He had an idea to cross an Andalusian and an American Quarter horse. This," he said pointing to the gray, "is one of his best."

"I can see that," Zach said and continued stroking the stallion.

"Mr. Hobart said this one combines the best of both breeds," Kathleen said. "He said he got the strength and size from his Spanish sire and he's quick and nimble like his dame." She walked over to Zach and the horse and took Zach's arm. "Do you like him?"

"According to Bill, this horse will run all day, rest overnight and run all the next day without losing a step," Sir Gerald said. "He's a fine animal and he's yours if you like him Mr. Carson. Zach started to protest but Sir Gerald cut him off. "Consider him as sign of my respect, admiration, and gratitude for saving Kathleen." As his voice quivered a little he said "I don't know what I would have done if she'd been harmed or killed." .

Zach stared at Sir Gerald for several seconds and then smiled. "He got a name? If I'm gonna ride a horse like this, he's got to have a name."

Sir Gerald smiled and Kathleen hugged Zach. She blushed and stepped away from him. "I thought it would only be proper for you to name your own horse Mr. Carson," Sir Gerald said.

"I think maybe Sir Gris would be a good name," Zach said after a few minutes thought. "Gris is Spanish for gray and the 'Sir' is in honor of you sir." He leaned close and whispered in the horse's ear as he scratched it. "I'll call you Gris for short."

Sir Gerald nodded slowly. "Mr. Hobart said Sir Gris was trained to the saddle and bridle, but he warned me that you would have to take a firm hand with the animal. He is quite spirited; a tad on the wild side were his words." Motioning toward the ranch house, Sir Gerald said, "The cook should have dinner prepared. Come, let's put on the feed bag as you Westerners say."

After dinner, Sir Gerald poured Kathleen a glass of port and whiskey for Zach and himself. "What are your plans Mr. Carson, now that you have a steed? Of course you are welcome to stay with us as long as you like. It's a big house and we have the room for guests."

"I appreciate the offer sir. Reckon I'll heal up a bit more, spend some time training Gris to be a cowpony, and then maybe head for California. Suppose I'll take advantage of your hospitality for a month or so."

"After you 'heal up as you say' I'd like to offer you a position here at Astor Manor."

"A position sir?"

"Yes, Kathleen tells me you have experience working with cattle." Zach nodded and Sir Gerald said, "I've come to realize that I may have not hired the best man to run my cattle operation.

"I've never been a range boss sir," Zach replied.

"You have more experience than I, Mr. Carson. To be frank I think Mr. Billings, my ranch manager, is stealing from me. Unfortunately, I don't have the education about cattle or ranching to know if that's true."

"What makes you think this Billings is cheatin you?"

"Based on projections, the inventory of cattle on the ranch has not increased as they should." Sir Gerald stared at the wall for a moment. "I believe that Mr. Billings is stealing cattle and selling them himself. You've proven your mettle and we trust you Mr. Carson." He made a motion to include Kathleen. "Is that something you'd be interest in or is a California Siren calling you?"

"Let me think on it a couple of days Sir Gerald," Zach said.

"Fair enough. Now let's have one more glass of this excellent whiskey and then I'll turn in."

Kathleen stayed behind after her father retired. "Please stay Zach. I know it's a lot to ask, giving up your dream, but we need your help. I'm afraid Father will do something drastic if the situation isn't resolved soon."

"Tell what I will do, whether I take the job or not. I'll check into your suspicions about Billings and if you're right I'll let you know."

"I'm gonna take a ride around the ranch this morning," Zach told Sir Gerald at breakfast. "If Billings asks, you can tell him I'm a looking for cattle as a start up herd for a place of my own."

As Zach saddled his new horse, Kathleen joined him at the stables. Zach grinned at her. "This will be my first time to ride him."

"I'll go with you," Kathleen offered.

The next several days Zach trained Gris to be a cowpony. He worked with the big gray with a firm but gentle hand, a soft voice, and a lot of praise when the horse did well. Now Gris would turn at the touch of the rein on his neck, knew which direction Zach wanted to go by the shift of weight in the saddle and the horse would stay in place when the reins were dropped to the ground.

One morning, at first light, Zach saddled Gris for another ride around part of the ranch. As he finished with the cinch, Kathleen rode Chuckles over to join him.

"I'll go with you Zach," she offered.

"The company would be nice, but if Billings is off the square he won't show much with the owner's daughter around."

Zach mounted Gris, guided him at a walk around the barn and then put him at a lope toward a high hill in the distance. About thirty minutes later, a big, red faced man rode up to him.

"Understand you're lookin for stock," the man said after pulling his horse to a stop. "Name's Todd Billings, I'm the ranch boss."

Billings sat tall in the saddle. He was a stocky, solid looking man. His eyes were brown but a little bloodshot like he'd had a bit too much whiskey the night before. Long brown hair, mixed with a little gray, hair showed under his hat. Zach noticed that the man's nose was red veined, a sure sign that Billings liked the whiskey bottle a mite too much.

"Yes sir. I'm Zach Carson."

"You're the fellar that saved Kathleen."

"It was more a matter of Miss Astor and me helping each other."

"Follow me and I'll show you what we have for sale," Billings ordered. Zach wheeled Gris and rode side by side with the ranch boss.

Riding slowly through the scattered herds, Billings would point out that the cattle were fat, sassy, and almost ready for shipping to market. The weather was very warm, nothing like the deserts around Tucson, but warm enough that the horses had broken a sweat. Zach pulled up in the shade of some trees at the head of a small box canyon to cool down Gris and himself. Billings had no choice but to stop too.

"Gris is new to longer rides," Zach explained as he dismounted and loosened the saddle cinch. "I need to give him a little time to cool down."

"Reckon you had to do the same thing with that English girl out on the trail," Billings said. Zach eyes went hard as he turned to look at the ranch boss. "I mean you can't ride all the time, although with that one you'd sure like to try."

Zach had never been one to start trouble or to go on the prod, but he was seriously thinking about making an exception for Billings. He couldn't believe that Billings would show such little respect for a woman and especially his employer's daughter. Fore this is over Billings, you will answer for that lack of respect, Zach thought. After a short rest, Zach retightened the cinch and they rode on.

Close to two hours later, Zach and Billings stopped atop a small rise overlooking the ranch house. "So what do you think Zach? We gonna do business."

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