Slowly but Surely Ch. 04byJakeRivers©
Chapter Four – Duel in the Sun
A black anger overwhelmed me as I recognized Colin MacPherson on the blanket with Roxie. Spurring Red towards them I dived at MacPherson as soon as I got close enough. I wasn't in any mood to play nice and I caught him with my knee in his chest just as he was rising up. Thinkin' that had finished him I was dismayed to find out he was a lot tougher than I'd expected.
I turned towards Roxie to say somethin' but I never got it out. MacPherson's hand grabbed my shoulder and swung me around. His hard fist landed squarely on my nose and I felt it break, blood gushing down my chest. He slammed another hard punch at my stomach and I was able to back away just enough to prevent him winnin' the fight right then. Catchin' his arm I swung him around and onto the ground. I tried to kick him but he rolled into me and we both tumbled towards the river.
Shaken and staggerin' we eyed each other. He gave me a malevolent, icy glare and I realized just how evil he was. This would be a fight to the finish for one of us. I considered myself a good brawler but MacPherson turned out to be a good boxer. Now that he had time to gather himself, he started making mincemeat of my face. He had a wicked left jab that left its mark each time it rocked my head.
I moved in close and was able to get under his fists. It didn't look like he was a workin' rancher. He was in good shape but I had been doing much harder work than him for years. A steady hammering of his stomach and a hard fist over his heart put him on the ground again. Standing there, trying hard to get air into my lungs, I watched him pull himself to his feet.
We started dancin' around again, him trying his jabs with an occasional successful one at my head. Me, I was just doin' my best to stay out of his way, backin' up and tryin' an occasional counterpunch. He was getting' winded and if I could stay out of his way I knew I had this fight won. Through all this, I could hear Roxie screamin' in the background but I had no idea of what she was sayin'.
Confidence was good, but it was misplaced. I stumbled over a rock straight into a vicious right hook. Fallin' down in a daze, I tried to cover up but he was too quick. He kicked me several times in the ribs and the pain was terrible. The fight would have been over but he was weakening and his last kick was slow enough for me to grab his leg. I jerked it up and pushed and he fell hard on his back. The whooshin' of the air from his lungs told me I had a chance. As he rose to his knees, tryin' desperately to catch his breath, I made it to my feet. Staggerin' closer to him, I kicked as hard as I could right in his gut.
Fightin' down the sharp pain in my ribs and givin' it my all I grabbed his shirt and pulled him to his feet. Measurin' him carefully I put everything into one last punch. Two things happened; I broke my fist and his jaw. He collapsed, falling head down in the river. Stunned with pain and exertion I stood and watched the current pullin' at him for a few seconds, then turned and made it over to Red. I don't know how I made it up on his back and I never had a thought as to whether MacPherson was dead or not.
The pain in my ribs and hand caused me to black out. I was not aware of anything until I woke in my bed with the sun streamin' in the window. Someone had bound my ribs tight and wrapped my hand and nose. Candy was sittin' there lookin' at me. Not havin' the energy, everything was still hazy from the pain, I didn't try to say anything to her – just stared.
She was quiet for a minute then blushed, and said, "How do you feel?"
Tryin' to respond I started coughin'. Candy helped me drink some water. "Awful. Who fixed me up?"
She blushed again, "I did. Bud helped me. Mom and dad were in town. What happened?"
I sure didn't feel like talkin' with her about it. "Nothin'."
"Well, Bud said that Colin MacPherson was near to dead and has a broken jaw. Besides the places I wrapped, your face looks like a horse kicked it. Somethin' must have happened!"
I didn't respond to that, just turned my head and looked out the window. It seems that Roxie had cared enough about him to pull his head out of the river. A few minutes later, I heard the door close. Without realizin' it, my eyes closed and I fell asleep. It was dark when I woke. I reached over for my pants and took the ring out of the pocket. Holdin' it up to the dim lamp, I watched the play of light as I turned it. There was a tap on the door and Bud came in.
He saw the ring and his eyes got big. "Was that for Roxie? Damn, she really screwed up. I went over to see the folks and she told me what happened. She says she didn't meet him there – that she was out ridin' and stopped to sit there and enjoy the day. Then MacPherson came along and she says she don't know for sure what happened."
Muttering, I said, "It don't make much difference one way or another how it happened. It did and that's that."
Bud didn't seem to disagree so we just chatted for awhile. He did add, "One of the riders for my dad was in Steamboat Springs and tol' me he saw Bill Klein."
"Thanks, if you hear any more let me know."
I was in bed for another four days. I had to give MacPherson credit; he could fight. Candy was in every day though we didn't talk much. She would do whatever needed doin' for me but mostly sat and looked at me. In a way, it made me nervous but it was also kinda nice. When she took the bandage off my nose, she started laughin'.
"I'm sorry, but it looks like yore gonna have a crooked nose. Yore still kinda handsome though."
Glenna also stopped in regularly to see if I needed anything or to keep me company. The more I saw her the more I liked her. She was smart and easy to get along with.
I was settin' on the front porch when I saw Mark walk by on his way to supper. I called him over.
"No way will I be able to go up to Walcott to pick my cattle up. Could you grab someone to go get them? Pete already said it was okay. You won't need the chuck wagon and Bud already said he'd go along."
"Sure, Slade. Be glad to do it."
The next mornin', Roxie came over to see how I was.
"I'm sorry for what happened. I don't know what came over me." Wistfully, she added, "Bud said you had a ring for me?"
I didn't know why I did it, but I took the ring out of my pocket and handed it to her to look at. She put it on her finger and held it up to the sun to look at it. I didn't want her to get too attached to it, so I held my hand out.
With a hopeless look and tears in her eyes, she said, "I guess there is no chance for us?"
Softly, I replied, "I'm sorry, Roxie. I'm just not made that way."
She handed the ring back and left after kissin' me on the cheek.
Candy came up on the porch after Roxie rode away and sat next to me. Neither of us said anything, just sat in companionable silence.
Two weeks later, Mark was back with my cattle. He'd left them in the pasture Pete and I had agreed on. I tried to pay him and the boys but they refused. I decided I'd get them a nice present for Christmas. Pete and I rode out and looked them over.
Pete offered, "They are nice lookin' cattle, Slade. You have the beginnings of a fine herd.
The next couple of months were quiet. The weather was turnin' colder and we had some snow flurries but nothin' much stayed on the ground. In mid-November, we started to get some reports of cattle disappearin' mostly on the west side of the basin. I had Kirby head out to scout. He came back a few days later.
"They are hidin' out down around where the coal is in the southwest part of the basin. I followed some tracks and it looks like they are runnin' 'em down to Kremmling to sell."
I thought about it for a while. "But if they go that way, wouldn't they have to cross MacPherson's ranch?"
"Damn straight," he said with a grin. Breakin' Colin's jaw had made me popular with all the cowhands.
I went around and talked to some of the neighborin' ranchers, especially the ones that had been losin' stock. We made our plans and a week later we had their campsite surrounded when the cold light of dawn showed through a wispy winter ground fog. We had them dead to rights and there was no fight.
Several of the men disarmed them and tied their hands. I walked up to Klein. I noticed that he was missin' two fingers on his right hand where I'd shot him. I guessed that he'd been using a rifle on the ambush during the trail drive. He didn't even have a handgun with him now.
"You just don't learn, do you? I don't think yore smart enough to have planned all the rustlin' that's been goin' on. Who was in on this with you?"
"Go ta hell, you bastard!"
"Did MacPherson know you were movin' stolen cattle across his land?"
He stared at me with a stony silence. I tried a couple of the other men but no one was talkin'. I think they knew they were dead and just wanted to get it over with.
We found a couple of thick branches to throw ropes over and one by one put a noose around their necks and swatted their horses out from under them. All but Packrat died quickly. His was lookin' to be a slow painful death. I grabbed my rifle and ended it for him.
We left the bodies hangin' from the cold limbs and slowly rode away, feelin' no regrets. We were as sure as we could be that this would end the problems we'd been havin' with rustler's. Not much was said about the raid on their camp on the way back and no one ever mentioned it to me again.
Candy and I were slowly startin' to spend time together. We weren't doin' much; more than anything we'd sit in the livin' room of the house in the evenings, sometimes with Pete and Glenna. We would talk some but mostly we just enjoyed each other's company. I still hurt from what Roxie had done and I think Candy understood that. She seemed like she had grown a lot the last few months.
One afternoon Candy took me out to the barn to see the new kittens from one of the cats that made the barn their home. She picked one up and held it to her cheek. She looked so sweet with the kitten that I moved behind her and slid my arms around her waist. I nuzzled her neck and bit her ear gently. She turned around and handed me the kitten. I held it out at arm's length like it was a snake.
She laughed at me and said, "Is that how you are goin' to hold a baby?"
They had a Christmas dance the middle of December. It was cold enough to bundle up with furs but the schoolhouse was warm with the roarin' fire in the stove. Candy was strangely quiet. She danced a couple of times with me and a couple of the married ranchers but avoided all the cowboys except for Bud and Gramps. She'd adopted Bud as a brother and Gramps had raised her as much as her parents did. She had on a new dress that kept my eyes on her all night.
I came earlier with Candy in the smaller of Pete's wagons as she had to help decorate. On the way back, she snuggled up to me and held on to my arm. When I dropped her off, she gave me a quick, sleepy kiss and jumped off the wagon before I had a chance to help her down.
Christmas was quiet; Bud had gone home for the week and the hands kept to themselves. Christmas Eve had arrived with six inches of snow and strong winds causin' a lot of driftin'. Candy and her mom fixed a nice dinner on Christmas day and we exchanged presents. I gave the women some nice gloves. For Pete I had a new pipe and a big pouch of tobacco.
Candy gave me several new scarves and made me throw all my old ones away. "I swear, Slade, you must have had those awful things for ten years. Her parents went over to see some friends so that gave us time to sit in front of the fire and practice our kissin'. We were definitely getting' better at it. It was a nice, quiet Christmas.
Spring came and the hard work resumed. No one had seen anything of MacPherson. He hadn't been to any of the dances and no one saw him in town. The rumors had him stayin' in Denver, but no one really knew.
A funny thing happened one Sunday while we were eating dinner. A man came to the door and Pete invited him in and asked him to sit with us for dinner.
Pete introduced everyone, but before the man gave his name, he said, "So you're Slade Ransom?"
I nodded but didn't say anything.
"I'm Phil Epperson. I was sheriff of Keith County in Nebraska, that's where Ogallala is, until I lost the last election. I'm movin' out to California where my daughter and her family are livin'." He looked at me. "You're a hard man to find. I was talkin' to the gunsmith in Laramie and he was tellin' me about this man that bought the first Winchester 94 he had for sale. We kicked it around and I decided that man was you!"
I felt sick. I'd 'bout forgotten the bank robbery. I looked around and knew there was nothin' I could do. I was unarmed and Pete's family was around the table. I couldn't let anything happen to them.
"Don't look so worried, son. Cap talked to me some more and half convinced me you were innocent. I started tryin' to find out who was in town durin' the robbery and I found a farm couple that saw the whole thing. They were so scared when the bullets started flyin' that they left town. I met with them and they told me that you had been sittin' on the bank steps waitin' when the bank robbers rode up.
"So you can relax. No one is ever goin' to come lookin' for you."
He stayed that night and the next day he rode back to Laramie to catch the train for California. I sure appreciated the extra effort he'd taken to set my mind at rest.
I started takin' Candy for rides on Sunday afternoons. I stayed away from the spot on the Platte. Mostly, Candy and I rode up to the Pond where we met. We'd take a picnic lunch and lay a blanket on the grass. Spendin' time with Candy helped me realize I'd been more in lust with Roxie than in love. With Candy, I fell in love with her first and the rest was comin' slowly. We did continue with some serious kissin' and Pete kept askin' me when the weddin' was.
One time when we were sittin' by the springs I finally got around to askin' her about how she had acted when I had the confrontation with Klein when I had fired him.
"You acted like you really liked him."
"Well, no. He had been chasin' around after me, and every girl likes that. I was just so darn mad at you. Mostly because I liked you, I really did. But I didn't want to admit it to myself. Then you started with Roxie at the dance 'bout the time I realized I didn't really have any reason to be mad at you. You couldn't have known that I was up at the hot spring. After that, I was jealous, so I kept acting as if I didn't like you.
"When you came back from the fight with Mr. MacPherson I was scared that you might have been hurt even worse than you were. I think it made me grow up a little. I knew I liked you but I hadn't let myself think about it 'cause of Roxie. It's like I woke up from a dream. Over the winter, I fell in love with you but I didn't say anything. I knew it was hard on you. I decided that if you came to care for me I'd just have to wait for it."
"Do you love me, Candy?"
"Yes, Slade, I really do."
I told her about Jennie and my little girl that had never had a chance to grow up. "It's taken me a long time to get over her. I thought I'd never love anyone again. I do think I love you but I want to be sure."
One time Candy asked about my shootin' Bill Klein in the hand. "Are you really that good a shot?"
I grinned because no one had asked me that before. They must have felt I really was that good. "No, not really. I'm fast and more accurate than most men, but not that good. I didn't want to kill him. I was actually trying to hit him in his upper left arm or shoulder but as I brought the pistol up I shot a tad too quick."
I couldn't even do that good now since I was still havin' some problems with my hand. The broken knuckles from the fight by the river hadn't healed right and my fingers were stiff – they were slow and clumsy. I didn't bother to carry a gun belt at all. I couldn't draw a pistol fast enough to shoot a snake! So I made sure to carry my rifle with me whenever I rode out on Red.
On a hot morning in July, Candy and I rode into Walden to pick up a couple of things she needed to make a dress. She tied her horse to the rail in front of the store and went inside to do her shopping. I started ridin' Red down the street towards the bar. He had an icehouse out back of his place and had cold beer all summer. Candy had said she would be a while; a beer and cigar with Ken sounded good.
I was walkin' Dirty Red, daydreamin' more than anything, when I heard a shout. My head snapped up and I saw Colin MacPherson steppin' off the board sidewalk into the thick dust of the street.
"Damn you, Ransom, I'm gonna kill you. Draw you son of a bitch!
Well, not havin' a side arm, I really couldn't draw. He didn't seem like he was in the mood to negotiate. Grabbin' my rifle, I dove off Red on the side away from the man in the street. I rolled a couple of times as fast as I could, hearin' the bang of his gun and whinin' of the bullets slammin' into the dust inches from me. I threw the barrel out and as fast as I could, levered and shot three times. I was pullin' the lever down for the fourth shot when somethin' hit my head like a hammer.
I came to in what turned out to be a couple of minutes later. Candy was sittin' in the dust with my head in her lap. There was blood on her dress and her hands. She was wiping my head with a wet towel.
"Slade, he creased your head but it's not too bad. You've been bleedin' a lot but it's 'bout stopped now. I don't think you have a concussion."
"What about ..."
"He's dead. Only one of your shots hit him but it was right in the middle of his chest."
Ken had a wagon he kept in a shed behind the bar. He took me out to the Circle R in it. Candy and her mom, Glenna, fixed me up. Glenna shaved around the crease from the bullet and put several stitches to pull the cut together.
When it was bandaged Glenna told Candy to let me have some rest. I took Candy's hand and pulled her down to the bed. "Could you stay a minute?"
She nodded as her eyes went wide.
"Candy, I do love you. Maybe I did all along and was just as hard-headed as you were." I pulled her to me and kissed her gently." Hand me that leather pouch on the dresser."
She reached over and gave it to me. I opened it up and took out the ring I had purchased in Laramie the year before.
I put the ring on her finger, and asked her, "Candy, marry me, please?"
She looked at the ring and started crying. Flingin' herself over my chest she murmured, over and over, "Yes, Slade, oh yes!"
We were married in October, and the next summer when I found she was with child, I built another house a ways off from Pete and Glenna's place. All the neighboring ranchers, their families and hands showed up to help and we got most of the work done in a day.
It was a good life in a good country, and I was as happy as a man could be.
This completes my first attempt at a Western. I hope you have enjoyed it. Should I try another? I do have some ideas for a sequel to this story.