tagNovels and NovellasWolf Creek Ch. 20

Wolf Creek Ch. 20


Ada's return to the Wolf Creek Ranch for the duration of the war years was a period of fantasy isolation from the world gone mad around them punctuated by shocking reminders that they were part of that world.

Beth proved to be a real delight for Ada—the daughter she had always wanted but that the Spanish flu had ripped out of her arms. Ada didn't know how she ever could have gotten the notion she'd had that being the daughter of a Hollywood movie star would make Beth's adjustment to life in the Wolf Creek valley an impossibility. The ranch did, indeed, need Ada's guiding hand, but Beth had done very well in managing both the ranching part and the celebrity entertainment part of the business. The clientele now was slightly different than it once had been, being composed more of the actor friends of Beth's parents rather than primarily artists and writers of Ada's days. But upon Ada's reappearance, her own set of artists and writers began reappearing. This war was even more frustrating and debilitating for Americans than any prior upheaval since the Civil War had been. In such circumstances, there always were the well-heeled and high-tempered celebrities who wanted to drop out of the limelight and the realities of life from time to time. And Wolf Creek Ranch was still good medicine for that.

Ada doted on her grandson, John, now nearly five when Ada returned to the ranch in early 1942. He was a sunny and active child, and Ada couldn't resist think of the namesake grandfather he would never know whenever she watched him playing in the sanding drive in front of the vast lodge front porch.

There were few men about to be employed at the ranch, all of the able-bodied and productive ones having gone off to war. But there were a few ranch hands who had been with the Wolf Creek Ranch for decades who helped Ada and Beth with the hard work required to minimally maintain operations. Some of the other ranching families in the valley weren't as lucky, however.

Ada's love for her daughter-in-law was solidified when Ada was called to the nearby valley-bottom farming ranch of an old friend of hers, whose husband had died and sons were now all off in the war. They'd planted the hay before they left and it was now sitting in the field, waiting to be harvested. But there was no one to harvest it—or at least not enough hands to harvest it. This was where Wolf Creek Ranch had been getting its hay for the horses used at the dude ranch stables for decades, but the hay was sitting there in the field. It would rot, the dude ranch wouldn't have the hay it needed, and Ada's friend would go under in a mound of debt.

Ada and her friend were standing on the porch of the woman's ranch house, commiserating with each other about how much damage wars did to the fabric of the economy much less people's lives, when Beth rode up with several of the guests at the ranch. She had told them of the situation and made cutting and bailing of hay sound like a real neat dude ranch outing, and they all pitched in and had the woman's fields stripped and her livelihood protected for that year within a week. The guests left saying this was the best vacation from the worries they had waiting for them themselves in the greater world that they ever could have wished for—and steeped in a good yarn to impress their city-bound friends and in the satisfaction of having accomplished basic manual work—and Ada and Beth left arm and arm, with a renewed respect and love for each other.

The first, straight to their hearts, jolt of war lightning stroke the peaceful Wolf Creek valley ranch in February of 1943, when Beth received notification that Hugh's ship, the destroyer USS De Haven, had been sunk in the South Pacific in the Battle of Guadalcanal, with Hugh listed among the missing seaman. Relief came weeks later when they heard he had survived and was being transferred to the destroyer USS Kearney in the Mediterranean theater. But the death's hand had already been sighted from the knoll on which the lodge sat for the first time, and no arrival of the post or knock at the door would be the same for the remainder of the war.

The Colorado guardsmen, who included not only Ada's stepson, Jess Wolf, but her former lover and savior, Congressman Peter Fair, as well, were rolled into the Army's 157th Regiment of the 45th (Thunderbird) Division and inserted into the war in Oran, Africa, in the summer of 1943. They were part of the army that landed in the boot of Italy and worked its way all the way up the Italian Peninsula, through France, and into Germany through the next two, grueling years.

Ada learned of the death of Peter Fair, at the Anzio beachhead landing in February 1944, when a tearful Aunt Martha called her from the Slater post office and told her all of the Colorado government offices had been told to fly their flags at half staff for their fallen congressman. Martha's husband, Thaddeus, who had been close to Peter since they had been sent from Detroit over twenty-five years earlier by James Shaffer to drive Ada and her family from Indiana to Colorado, was devastated by the news. By the summer of that year, Thaddeus was also dead, of a heart attack, an unacknowledged victim of a seemingly never-ending world war.

Soon thereafter they had received word that Jess Wolf also was missing in battle, just north of Anzio, but eventually they learned he'd worked his way back to Allied lines from a surrounded position and was doing fine—and, in fact, had been promoted to major and was up for a medal for having brought his men and the wounded men in what had been a hospital position to safety. But the war was dragging on, and so many of the Colorado men were being killed in the fighting, that Beth and Ada were losing hope for those in their own family.

It was almost a bittersweet comical scene one day in late August 1944 when Beth came rushing out of the lodge toward the stable where Ada was brushing down horses and, scattering celebrities left and right and waving a telegram in her hand, jubilantly cried out to her mother-in-law as she ran, "Good news, Ada! Jess's been shot."

The good news part was that he had received nonlife-threatening wounds through the muscles of his calves in a sniper attack in the Vosges Mountains of France when the regiment was preparing to push into Germany and had been sent back to Rome to recuperate. This meant he was out of the fighting, if for only a little while, and wouldn't have to face the German army defending its own homeland on the Rhine.

It was then, while he was recuperating in Rome, that Jess started to correspond with Ada, at first asking about how the family and his ranch were doing and, eventually, over the next three months in three exchanges that went between them, how Ada herself was doing. They both went into what they each wanted to do after the war, and Ada felt that, through these letters, she could open up and discuss where she was in her life as she couldn't do and hadn't done with anyone else.

Then the day came near Christmas of 1944 when a large truck rolled down the narrow valley road and drove up the hill into the Wolf Creek Ranch compound. A ranch hand came running for Ada, who once more was out in the stables brushing down the riding horses. He was babbling something about a large Oriental man with a big truck full of paintings being up at the lodge.

"Sun Li. My paintings!" Ada cried out. She dropped the brush and ran from the stables toward the house. Those indeed were her Malaya period paintings being unloaded from the truck. But her steps slowed as she came closer and realized that the big Oriental man standing there wasn't Sun Li. She knew as soon as she saw the expression on his face. And all of her dreams now, what had been holding her together during this horrific war, came crashing down.

The Genting Mountain tribal compound where Sun Li had been lord had been overrun by the Japanese almost as soon as Ada's airplane had taken off for Bangkok. Sun Li had been dead for all of these years. But he had left instructions about the paintings, and now that the Japanese had been forced to retreat down the Malay Peninsula, Sun Li's surviving followers were returning the paintings to her.

There was a final letter to Ada from Sun Li as well. She retired to her room in the lodge and did not appear again for two weeks.

When she did reappear, her eyes were a little glazed over and even her grandson, John, now seven, couldn't seem to get her to focus. The pills her doctor had given her to control her crying fits had quite a bit to do with the glaze.

Her daughter-in-law, Beth, found her sitting and rocking on the porch one day and sat down beside her and rocked in rhythm with her for a good half an hour before speaking.

"There are two more letters here for you from Jess, Ada. They've been on the table by the front door for some time now. Don't you want to open them?"

"Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow," Ada responded in a tired, distant voice.

"The horses miss you, Ada," Beth said. "No one can work with them and brush them as well as you can. They trust you the most."

"I'm sorry. I know I haven't been pulling my weight these last two weeks," Ada said.

"Please, Ada. I know you've had some sort of a shock. I didn't mean what I said to be criticism. You've more than earned your way here. If you want to rest, by all means rest now. We're doing fine. Even little John is becoming a work horse. He's growing up just like Hugh. He loves it here."

"Yes, yes, just like Hugh," Ada replied. And then she leaned over and patted her daughter-in-law on the arm. "But nothing would be working here, Beth, if it wasn't for you. You are the greatest gift to this valley in years. Just give me a bit more time. I'll pull myself out of this state I'm in."

"Those paintings you did in Malaya are beautiful," Beth said, embarrassed at what her mother-in-law had said, but glowing at the praise.

"Thank you dear."

"About those pills, Ada. Do you think . . .?"

"Just for a few days," Ada answered. "They help me sleep. Just for a few days more."

"You should start painting again," Beth then said. "I can tell from your paintings that you receive solace and power from them. You should do some more painting."

"Perhaps I shall, dear," Ada said and, then she withdrew into her own world of grief, a world she never wanted her fine daughter-in-law to ever enter.

It started a few days later when Ada had the urge to see how Brook House was doing. It wasn't exactly abandoned, but no one had lived there since she had left it when she came up to pull Frank Wolf through his bout of water poisoning. Then, when she saw Brook House and saw how the wild flowers had taken over the yard, she had the urge to clear it out. But this was overtaken by the urge to paint it as it was. And when she started painting at Brook House, she couldn't stop. And when she had painted her heart out at Brook House, she moved on to the other settings that she had painted in the winters ten years earlier. She wanted to paint them in the spring now. And it was the spring of 1945 and the meadows were coming alive—and the war was winding down at last.

Thus it was that in a warm afternoon of May 1945 Ada found herself in "her" glen, where the waters of the upper Wolf Creek tumbled down to meet with the main stream along the valley floor half way between Brook House and Hagen's saw mill, the glen where she and Peter had made love and where she had released the ashes of her husband, Frank, into the pure, dancing waters of the brook.

The day was warm, and Ada was in a world of her own, with her painting and the beauty of the glen and the flooding in of her memories here, mostly of her happy years with Frank Wolf. More of coming here and making love with him than of the earlier trysting here with Peter Fair. Ada was in a haze, created partially by the setting and her absorption in her painting but also partly by the drugs she was taking, and the day was becoming increasingly warm. She wanted to feel free and unencumbered and, without really realizing she had done it, she had disrobed completely and was perched on her little stool in front of her easel, trying to capture the vivid hues of the wildflowers of the field, when she saw him from a distance.

Frank. Her Frank was here with her again. Those were carefree days, the days rollicking here in this glen with her Frank. She ran to him, in a hazy slow motion. He was standing stiffly there at first, but her kisses and caresses loosened him up. And they were dancing, closely together around the glen, moving in a close embrace of lips and gliding hands and laughter and murmured words of affection, turning to gasping directives of needs and burning desires and cries of passion, as they fell to the ground, him on top of her, and she tugged at his clothes until he was free and she had her hands wrapped around his tool and was pulling it into her. He struggled against her advances initially but then was overcome by the situation and entered her deeply. He was holding her close and riding her and riding her and riding her and she was writhing under him in remembered passion. He was filling and vigorous and long-lasting and able to touch her deeply and make her moan and sigh and overflow, again and again. Frank had always been able to do that for her.

They lay spent and panting beside each other in the tall grass. Ada looked at him with clearer eyes, the effects of the pills retreating, having been counteracted by the adrenaline she'd been pumping.

"Jess!" she cried out in wonder and despair. Not Frank. Not Frank at all. But the spitting image of a far younger Frank. His son.

"Ada. Ada. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean . . . I came upon you and you overwhelmed me . . . you were such a vision . . . and so insistent. It was such a surprise . . . You knew I was coming home . . . I wrote."

But by this time Ada was gone. She had jumped up and quickly grabbed up her clothes and had fled down the mountainside.

Three weeks later she was living with Stanfield Walker's two tight-lipped maiden sisters in a gigantic old, drafty, almost sterile pile of granite on the banks of the Merrimack River in Manchester, New Hampshire. Three aging women, sitting in straight chairs and watching the hands on the clock move, just waiting for death to overtake them.

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