tagNovels and NovellasWolf Creek Ch. 12

Wolf Creek Ch. 12


At his own request, Frank Wolf was cremated, and Ada and Frank's surviving son, Jess, took the ashes up to the glade of the upper fork of Wolf Creek, where he and Ada had been married and, together, they scattered the ashes. Jess was a perfect gentleman, which Ada found quite surprising. But Frank had told Ada some time earlier that Festus's death had sobered and mellowed Jess considerably, and, by all evidence, Jess's father's death had completed that process. Ada had thought it only right to let Jess know his father had died when his horse had thrown him and fallen on him out on the range, although she hadn't really expected Jess to respond in any way. But the same night he was told, he rode up to the Wolf Creek Ranch lodge and respectfully paid his condolences to Ada.

Frank hadn't spent all of his time that last week riding his fences. He'd gone to Jess's ranch and made his peace with this son. but he'd also told Jess how happy Ada had made him and that if anything happened to him, he expected his son to support her and not give her trouble. Jess had shown up at the ranch stating his intentions to follow his father's wishes. He also told Ada that the biggest reason his father had come to see him was that he'd just been told he had inoperable pancreatic cancer—and he wanted to get some decks cleared before he told Ada.

The fact that Frank had been under a death sentence anyway didn't console Ada all that much, but it gave her pause for thought. Frank had been an expert horseman. Her first response when she heard that he had been thrown was that this wasn't possible with the Frank she knew. Now she wondered if Frank perhaps hadn't welcomed his manner of death.

For the first two weeks of her renewed widowhood, Estelle Hopewell tried to transport Ada beyond the present during the days with her magic tongue and fingers working on Ada's body, and J. Harvey Kincaid took up the torch by night, spinning stories for her in the darkness of his room and searching deep inside her with his throbbing manhood. It was always in Estelle's or J. H.'s rooms, however. Never in Ada's. Ada did find sex a helpful consolation in her second bereavement, but never in her own room, never in the bed she and Frank had shared.

By the end of the two weeks, though, Estelle had grown too jealous to be sharing her own erstwhile lover with another woman, even if it was Ada. And when her pouting and little tantrums couldn't get Kincaid to visit her rooms by night rather than withdrawing to his own rooms with Ada, Estelle made a big production of how Ada's loss showed her that she must reconcile with her own husband, and she flounced out of the Wolf Creek valley in search of the great adventurer in the National Socialist lairs of Europe.

For his part, J. Harvey stayed for a further two weeks, but he was more helpful to Ada in her grief. Estelle had been transcribing his notes for his new book on a daily basis and now he was bereft of help. But in Ada he found what was actually a far better editor. She could type better than Estelle could and she had a better head on her shoulders for enhancing his distinctive, masculine prose, where Estelle had battled with him incessantly in an attempt to give his wordings the ethereal, much more feminine tone of her own work. And in working with Kincaid in this way, Ada herself found new purpose in life and a steadiness and structure to her days that she now needed.

When he heard about Frank's death, William Hagen came down to Wolf Creek, ostensibly to do last-minute detail work on the lodge, but really to give her whatever support he could and to see what the chances were to rekindle the snail-like pace of his decades-long courting of Ada. Once again his timing was way off. He arrived one evening in time to see Ada enter Kincaid's rooms, and when he saw the two together the next morning, he was left in no doubt that he hadn't even made the starting gate this time.

Nothing at all was heard from Ada's current sometimes lover, Peter Fair. Elections for the U.S. Congress were coming up and Peter was being groomed for a run for that office. His kingmaker of a father-in-law had heard the rumors that Peter was womanizing, though. He hadn't narrowed down on Ada, but Ada, in fact, wasn't the only one Peter was dallying with. The father-in-law had lowered the boom, and Peter was cutting all of his relationships cold turkey because he wanted a congressional seat so badly that he could taste it. Sex was one thing. But power was something far more important—especially since, once he was established in the congressional seat, his power would not be as dependent on his wife's daddy as it was now, and power was a great conduit to more sex.

Ada more or less coasted for the next four years, if working her tail off to keep her ranch from going under could be called coasting. The celebrity dude ranch didn't lose its appeal to the national literary and art set as much as that the writers and artists became largely preoccupied with events that swept over American and then throughout the world in the last year of the second decade of the twentieth century.

nearly a year and a half after Ada lost Frank, she suddenly lost another of her old, dear friends. One Friday in October 1929, a distraught George Vaughn called her from Chicago.

"He's gone, Ada. James is gone?"

"Who, what?" Ada had just been up four hours helping to foal a horse and wasn't prepared for the intrusion of the outside world.

"Black Tuesday and Black Thursday," George continued. "They did him in. James. James Shaffer. He's dead."

After she had recovered a bit of her composure, Ada asked for specifics.

"Surely you know about the stock market crashes, Ada. This Tuesday and then even worse yesterday. The bottom has dropped out of the American economy. Just like that. Surely that news has made it to your little valley."

Well, it had. Of sorts. But the world of finance was a long way from the remote Wolf Creek valley reaching down into the center of Colorado from an even more remote Wyoming. Ada had been much too busy entertaining a full house at the lodge and keeping her now much-smaller cattle herd fenced in.

"It's bad, Ada. Bankers and financiers have lost everything. They're jumping out of windows, Ada. Literally jumping out of windows. James too."

Ada froze. "You don't mean literally. He couldn't have . . ."

"He did, Ada. He called me right before. He was sad and nostalgic and his good-bye was a strange one. But I had no idea he'd do that. I had no idea he was that tied up in the stock market. His wife says everything is gone. She'll lose the company, the house. Everything. I'll see that she doesn't go destitute, of course, but . . ."

Ada focused on the immediate, wanting to know about services and such and saying that, of course, she'd have to go and wondering if her Dan would be able to make it from St. Louis, where he managed the Vaughn network of stores in Missouri. But then the full implication of what might be happening in the outside business world hit her.

"God, George. Your stores. Dan. What . . .?"

"Vaughn's should be same. Mainly safe, Ada. Thanks to Dan's advice on how to develop our business. We'll have to close some stores, certainly and retrench a bit. But we have our money in inventory of necessary consumables, not in paper stock. We'll be able to ride the storm . . . if anyone does."

And by 1933, it was becoming apparent that Vaughn's would indeed, survive the Great Depression, albeit with many more store closings and more retrenchment than George Vaughn could have imagined in his wildest dreams. But by that time, Vaughn himself was spent. Not only was the effort to keep the company fluid and in business a great strain on him, but he never really recovered from the loss of a friend, James Shaffer, who was far more to him than anyone but Ada knew. By the middle of the 1930s, Ada and George's son, Dan, not year thirty, was already president and controller of what was left of the Vaughn business empire—which, thanks considerably to Dan himself, was much more of a business empire still than most of the American business sector.

Not even Ada, in her distant valley, escaped the effects of the depression entirely. She was somewhat blessed, because the ranch was largely self-sufficient—or she was able to make it so. Its rustic charm ambiance was, in fact, constructed on a great deal of self-reliance and minimum of frills. In addition to this, the literary and artistic community was probably the least disadvantaged by the depression, at least those who were still producing their art and hadn't invested heavily in business on the side. Writing and art are renewable resources, there was still money floating around to support this community at least somewhat better than the average American worker, and, if nothing else, the Great Depression itself was a gold mine of literary and artistic inspiration.

William Hagen's Rocky Mountain Construction company survived the Great Depression as well, but it was much depleted and barely able to breathe for most of the decade of the thirties before coming back full-blown in 1938. The depression completely killed the company's big money-making vacation house divisions, however. Bigger government projects continued but at much smaller profit margins. There was no need for Ada's interior design services, and so requests for her to travel to Denver to consult withered, and her contact with William Hagen also diminished concurrently to the exchange of seasons greetings at Christmas time. Ada had no contact in this period with her erstwhile lover, Peter Fair, at all. He had won his congressional election and was spending most of his time—and all of the energy he once had given to Ada in vigorous lovemaking—in Washington, D.C.

The artists and writers still came to the Wolf Creek Ranch, especially as such mainstays as the Hopewells and J. Harvey Kincaid continued patronizing the ranch—if not necessarily at the same time—and kept sending their friends and acquaintances. They just didn't stay as long as they used to or tip as well. They still drank and smoked as much, though, and the ranch had a healthy markup on supplying their unhealthy habits.

Ada's clientele had even branched out. American government bureaucrats and diplomats had discovered this special retreat. One diplomat, in particular, Stanfield Walker, a New Hampshire patrician, made annual, prolonged visits to the ranch each year starting in 1930. Ada had little difficulty in discerning that he came to see her rather than the rugged landscape or the elk at the Hahn's Peak timberline. He had proposed marriage to her during his visits in both 1931 and 1932. And here he was, in 1933, back again and courting her in a desultory way the old money New England aristocrats were prone to do. Walker was a handsome man, tall, straight, and every inch both the patrician and the diplomat. He was past his sixtieth year in 1933, but, at forty-eight, Ada wasn't exactly young either, although she was still as beautiful and statuesque as ever and had the bearing of a queen even when she was wearing jeans and a cotton plaid cowboy shirt.

In the early fall of 1933, both Walker and Kincaid were in residence at the ranch at the same time. Both were euphoric, because Walker was being named American ambassador to Malaya and would take up his posting in 1935, and Kincaid had just received the Pulitzer Prize for a deep and dark novel on male bonding against the challenges of nature in a remote Colorado valley. Ada was celebrating with Kincaid, as she had typed and edited draft after draft of that novel, and she knew better than most, that Wolf Creek was that valley being celebrated throughout the literary world. The conversations at the supper table were lively, and the two men obviously were vying for Ada's attention by competing with the considerable power of profundity, wit, dramatic delivery, and glibness that they each possessed in abundance. Walker had a vast knowledge of the world at large and an extensive and rich vocabulary. In a heavily contrasted style, Kincaid had a mastery of imagery and earthiness and master storyteller talent. Both obviously were performing for Ada. But as polished as Stanfield Walker was, it was J. Harvey Kincaid who took Ada into his bed at night.

Ada's no-longer-so-young son, Hugh Raven, a fine, handsome, strapping youth of eighteen, was now old enough to take on much of the management responsibility of the ranch, while Ada concentrated on entertaining and feeding the celebrity guests. He ate at the high table with the more important guests now. Wolf Creek valley was virtually all he'd ever known and he didn't have the wanderlust that his mother had been simultaneously blessed and cursed with, so he was not much taken with the worldly, urbane Stanfield Walker. But he was simply mesmerized by the rugged adventurer and novelist J. Harvey Kincaid.

One evening Kincaid was trying to explain the central symbolism of the elk and the hunting of this beast that were vital to his Pulitzer-winning novel at the supper table, and Walker wasn't understanding—or was choosing not to understand—either the relevance or the import of this symbol to anything of value in American society, noting that this nation, like Europe was rushing toward a world conflagration that had already raised its ugly head in East Asia. Thus, elk as a symbol of anything wasn't, in his opinion, relevant enough to merit a major literary prize—and he certainly couldn't see anything morally redeemable in hunting the majestic animals.

This worked J. Harvey up to the point of saying he did hunt elk and would jolly well continue to do so—and, in fact, that he wanted to hunt elk from the ranch by the end of the week.

Ada was about to tell him that the ranch didn't make up hunting parties for anything larger than deer when they were in season any more when young Hugh piped up and volunteered to take Kincaid on such a hunting party himself. Preparations could be made within two days. And so that was settled.

Kincaid and Hugh were gone for three days, and they returned with an elk slung over the saddle of the provisions horse and with glowing eyes and a good deal of camaraderie and back slapping. It almost seemed to Ada like Hugh had transformed from her young son to a mature man in just those three days. And, seeing the way Kincaid and her son had bonded made her decide that, if Kincaid proposed marriage, she would make the plunge even though she had decided soon after Frank had died that she would forego the grief that brought. She liked a good roll in the hay, but there was no reason, at her age, that she need marry the guy. This had been her immediate reaction when Stanfield Walker, trying to take advantage of Kincaid's absence hunting elk up on Hahn Peak to propose to her for the third time. She had refused him as politely and gently as possible and, unbowed, he'd made reservations for his visit the next year and warned her that he would propose again when he next returned.

By 1935, her fiftieth year, though, Ada indeed had wed again.

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