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    • "Ain't hardly nothin' to do but hunker down till she blows herself out." The man squatted, "Rance, is the name. Been watchin' you, doin' a fine job. You'll do Wheeler, you'll do. Try and get some rest, might end up bein' a long night. Least you won't be ridin' drag come daylight, there's a plus for ya."   He stood and made his way to his shelter to await the grub that was coming.   @Bongo
    • Meanwhile, in the main house, Reb Culverson was visiting with his old friend Fightin' Joe Hooker, who was the ramrod for the fledgling Montana Territory Stockgrowers Association, Northern District. He was there to convince ranchers to join and support the organization, hoping it would take root.   "And just what good is this here association ya got started?" Reb asked.   "It'll give us a voice in the territorial government, Reb, that's what it'll do. Once that happens we'll be able to git us some sortta range police to protect the herds, and the ranchers." Hooker responded. "Rustlin' might not be the threat it was, but you know as well as me, it can come back."   "You get anywhere with Lost Lake, 'er that cow thief on the Evergreen?" Reb asked.   "Can't say as I have, startin' with the smaller spreads an' workin' my way up to them two. I'm well aware of both spreads, and the men that own 'em."   -------------0------------   They swept down out of the trees whooping and hollering and firing off a couple of shots as they closed on both sides of a big group of cattle, just as they had planned. The  lone night hawk knew he had no chance of stopping the raiders, or of saving the cattle while he watched the chunk of the herd moving toward and then into the trees at a run.  He emptied his Colt at the raiders, the whipped out his Winchester  and levered several shots in the area where they had disappeared.   He could not know that one of his shots had found its mark. A man that had just joined took a slug in his back and toppled from his horse. Toole and the men continued to drive the cattle toward the dry riverbed as planned. It was an acceptable loss.   The sound of the shots, mere pops at the distance to the main house and the bunk house alerted everyone, and men boiled out of the bunk house guns in hand, only to watch the night man shooting after the rustlers.
    • Out on the boardwalk they stopped, "So we managed ta git a deal right off, thet's good, it is. Now all we gotta do is convince ol' Wentworth to free up the money so's ya don't have ta use yers right off." Amos commented, "Seems a fair deal but like you say, minin's not no sure thing."   "John and Mary are good folks. It's not a sure thing, but you saw the vein, went to the floor and it looks rich," Speed responded. "And it looks to be wider where they stopped digging. I can't wait to get it assayed to see what we've really got our hands on."   "And it should assay out pretty good from the looks of it, though I know so little about copper ore." Alice admitted.   "Well, you saw the copper ore, which is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding rock due to its reddish, mottled appearance. And that surrounding rock is granite which is not easy to work, but it can be done, and, if we have hit it, the veins could be as much as a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep!" Speed explained with a grin. "With that equipment we'll be able to not only dig deeper, we'll be able to tunnel, and we have the property to do just that."   "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" Amos exclaimed. Might oughtta buy up what ground ya can aound 'er, jest ta be certain!"   "First things first, let get on up to the bank." Speed suggested.
    • Justus was more than happy to have a chance to get out of the bulk of the wind, although he knew this was far from over.  And he knew they'd be hacking up dirt for days.     With the picket lines set, he moved over to help put up the shelters for the night, pretty quickly deciding that it was a fool's errand...they were all going to be miserable until this let up.   Squinting, he looked out toward the herd, not able to see but a few in the dust, it looked like they had been swallowed by the big, dirty cloud, and weren't even there.  In fact, he had the eerie sensation that all that was left in the world was this small circle of men and horses.   "Ya need me ta do anythin' else?" he called over the din of the wind.   @Flip
    • Doc Gilcrest walked into the bunck house to see Carson on his feet, dressed. "I may not be able to ride, but I can darn sure walk some. Tired of layin' in that bed."   "I reckon you kin do thet, sure 'nough. No body said ya had ta lie there if'n ya didn't want to. Yer stitched up plenty good. Jest leave thet hog leg where she's hangin' fer now, don't need the weight in thet wound."   "So anybody come sniffin' around?" He asked.   "Not so's you'd notice. There's four men down there keepin' watch, but it don't look like Lost Lake's lost any sleep over their man, that is if'n they even know he's gone." Gilcrest offered.   "He seen that brand an' went ta shootin'!" Carson reflected. "I jest shot straighter. Had no choice in the matter. Fool could'a rode on, but, well, that just ain't what happened. Hell of a mess."   "Oh I dunno. So far nobodies come huntin', the boss ain't upset over it, neither's Granger, so you got nothin' ta worry on 'cept gettin' better."   "I should'a been more careful, but maybe there just wasn't no way to be more careful. Up on the side of that mountain is the purdiest view a man could look at. You can see fer miles, see right where they got them cows of theirs. Now that ain't gonna be no easy matter to get to any of 'em. They're deep on Lost Lake range. Gonna be hard to get at, an' worse to get out. We'll lose some men tryin' this one, that's for sure!'   Gilcrest rubbed his chin. It wasn't like Carson to go on about the prospects of a job.

Epitaphs


Shade Thornton
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It was late afternoon when Shade stepped onto the footbridge that spanned one of the many creeks that flowed down from the higher regions of the Choguns. Like most of the many creeks, streams, rills, and small rivers, it was mostly fed by meltwater from glaciers. The water was beautifully clear and frigidly cold. Shade paused, his sharp blue eyes spotting the movement of a lone salamander as it hunted for tadpoles in the eddies and small pools. A breeze stirred the branches of the trees, making the leaves whisper to one another. That and the coolness of the water rushing under the bridge made a welcome relief from the heat of the day. Late July in Montana was hot and dry. Shade was happy to have the afternoon off.


Shade stepped off the bridge, noting the wide trail that meandered into the forest. He knew that it led deep into the Chogun mountain range, eventually ending at a high alpine valley where a lone cabin stood beside a small lake. It had once belonged to his grandparents. Now, it was used as a hunting lodge. Instead of the wider trail, he followed a small footpath that also led into the forest, but not higher into the mountains. Just short of a half-mile from the larger stream, he came upon a much smaller rill tumbling in small, sparkling cascades. Much further down the mountain, it would meet up with a larger creek or maybe even spill into the Chogun River. Stepping over the rill, Shade passed a weeping willow tree with a stone bench tucked beneath its branches. Now, along with the sounds of the wind and the tumbling water, he could hear the musical notes of wind chimes. Shade smiled. He remembered his father protesting the expense of the metal wind chimes when his mother had purchased them. He also spotted the carefully made musical chimes set into the tones of the galloping rill. The water hitting the thin metal plates made the sound as it tumbled on its way.


He now found himself in a small glade facing the Thornton family mausoleum. It was rectangular in shape and built of local granite. The exterior stone was rough and unfinished but not ugly. When the branches overhead shifted to let in rays of sunlight, bits of quartz flashed and sparked giving the building light. Shade fished a key out of his pocket as he approached the edifice. A heavy wrought iron gate barred the entrance, and he had to unlock it. Surprisingly, it swung open easily. Someone was taking the time to see the mausoleum maintained.


From the vestibule just inside the gate, you could see through to the far end and another gate. Narrow slits cut into the ceiling let in light although there were also oil lamps set into sconces on the walls. The interior of the building was laid out in the shape of a cross with the vestibule being the short end. Several steps in the arms of the cross branched off to either side. The one on the right held a beautiful oak prie-dieu. Several votive candles burned in holders on the surface and a carved statue of the Virgin looked down on it. The left arm of the cross was a beautiful replica of Michelangelo's Pietá. It had been carved out of the mausoleum's granite walls and polished to a high sheen. Where the quartz sparkled on Mary's face, it looked like tears.


Out of a sense of respect and habit, Shade crossed to the prie-dieu and knelt, removed his hat and lay it on the kneeler next to him before sliding his rosary from his pocket. When finished, Shade rose, lit one of the candles and turned toward the building's main corridor. He knew that his father and mother had commissioned the building of the mausoleum shortly after Ishmael Thornton, his grandfather, had disappeared. He walked to the end of the row noting that most of the crypts were open and devoid of occupants. That was not surprising. None of old Ishmael's offspring except for Shade's father had been allowed to remain in the area. The farthest slot had a polished gray marble slab covering it. A brass plaque affixed to it was engraved with the names Ishmael and Kimi Thornton. There were no urns with their ashes inside. Shade's grandparents had ridden into the mountains and never returned. It had to be assumed that they had died.


Shade felt nothing as he stared at the names on the plaque. He had never known his grandparents. He hesitated to turn to the next six niches. The wind increased setting the chimes jangling. It also swirled through the mausoleum bringing with it the fresh scents of the forest. Having the open wrought iron gates at either end and the lighting slits in the ceiling kept the air fresh instead of musty and stale.

 

The next plaque read...

 

John Caleb Thornton
Born: Dec. 02, 1806
Died: March 02,1868


There was no epitaph. Why bother since it was likely the only family would ever visit this place? Besides, John Caleb Thornton was larger than life. What short phrase could adequately describe his life? Loving husband and father? Shade snorted softly. No, that sentiment was not fair. John Caleb had been a good and honorable man. He adored his wife and his sons. Although a stern man who brooked no defiance of his edicts, he was never needlessly cruel or mean. Shade and his brother had felt the sting of his hand or belt more often than he could remember but always after some transgression of the rules on their part. It was only as he reached his teenage years and became more and more defiant that his relationship with his father had disintegrated. It had ended entirely after Shade had been forced, yes forced, to kill Calvin Steelgrave. Instead of receiving a letter from his father telling him it was safe to come home, John Caleb had arrived at the boarding house in Helena. His first action was to knock Shade to the floor. He then informed his son that he had been disowned and was no longer welcome at the ranch. Without giving Shade time to explain or give him a message for Hannah, Caleb walked out. Although he had written to his father over the years, John Caleb never responded. He had never spoken to his father again. Now, he wondered if John Caleb had ever forgiven him. Maybe on his deathbed? Unlikely. John Caleb Thornton had not been a forgiving man.


Had Shade forgiven his father? He had done that many years before his father's death. Even at his angriest and most hurt, he had never stopped loving and respecting John Caleb Thornton for the man he was.


Isadora Kiara Thornton, born Isadora Kiara de Monserrat y Calderón in Mexico City to Spanish nobility. She had only been seventeen when she and John Caleb met in Charleston, eloped and were married. Shade remembered his mother's warm contralto voice, often singing Spanish ballads as she took care of her home and family. No matter how angry he was with his father, Isadora could calm him, make him smile, even laugh. She had the same effect on her older son and her husband. Shade had some solace in knowing his mother had not shared his father's decree that Shade was no longer their son. She had responded to his letters, encouraging him to stand on his own, to stay strong, stay good. Isadora had not been able to change John Caleb's mind about allowing him to return home. It had been his mother that had written telling him of his father's death and asking him to come home. Fate had kept that letter from finding him before his older brother's missive telling him that their mother and father were both dead. Isadora's letter had reached him two months later.


Isadora Kiara Thornton
Born: July 30, 1814
Died: June 2, 1868

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Shade knew without looking that only the dates of birth would vary on the next four. There were no remains in the crypt niches although each slot was large enough for a coffin. That was true of his parents' crypts as well. Although not endorsed by the Church, the Thorntons had always cremated their dead, spread some of the ashes on the land and interred the remainder. In the case of his brother and his family, it had been only logical as their bodies had been burned beyond recognition already. Shade had seen the charred remains of the wagon where they had been found.


William Chance Thornton
Born: Jan. 05, 1837
Died: June 02, 1875


Chance had been eight years older than Shade and, as Shade got older, a bulwark between him and their father. He did not protect Shade so much as simply talk their father out of lashing out in anger. Chance expected Shade to take his punishment if he had misbehaved, sometimes meting it out himself when necessary instead of reporting it to the sometimes volatile John Caleb. Shade's older brother had been something of an anomaly amongst the hotheaded Thorntons. He had inherited some unknown ancestor's cool head and calm demeanor. He preferred talking to fighting although he could do the latter quite well, physically and verbally. Shade had desperately missed his brother when Chance had gone off to college in California. He'd been ecstatic at his return and not only because Chance and his father butted heads so often that it kept John Caleb's focus off of Shade.


Although he had advised Shade to honor John Caleb's edict that he be banished from the ranch - in fact, his father had stated that he should never return to Montana - Chance had never cut off communications with his younger brother. Letters had been sporadic, mostly because Shade moved around often. He had even urged him to come home after their father's death. Shade had not been ready. By the time that he was giving thought to visiting, it was too late. For that, there was regret and sorrow amidst the grief over Chance's death.


Regina Beth Thornton
Born: April 05, 1845
Died: June 02, 1875


Regina had been and, even in death, continued to be the blood-tie between Shade and Quentin Cantrell. She had been Cantrell's younger sister. The first thought was not entirely accurate. Her children, the living, and death, also tied Shade and Quentin by blood.


Shade had only known Regina briefly, but it seemed like a lifetime. The Cantrells, fearing what would happen if war broke out, had sent her to live with their dear friends, the Thorntons. They felt she would be safer in Montana. Regina was his age and had been so much like Shade in many ways, a bit wild, somewhat unconventional, and preferred to be outside no matter the weather. She had taught him to swim and vowed to teach him to sail should she ever be able to wrangle a sailboat for the lake. He had taught her to ride astride rather than sidesaddle and to shoot. When Regina had confided to Shade that she had fallen irrevocably in love with the quiet, somewhat studious Chance, he had been ecstatic. It had meant that she would not return to Charleston if Chance felt the same way.


Chance had returned her feelings. After a whirlwind romance, they agreed to marry. Sadly, war prevented her parents from traveling west, but they sent their love and blessings along with a promise to come visit as soon as they could. It had been during Regina's final pre-wedding shopping trip that Shade had gotten into the gunfight with Calvin Steelgrave. It had been self-defense and defense of her. In that respect, his father had been unreasonable. Regina had stood her ground against her future father-in-law when he had banished Shade to no avail.


Every letter from Chance had included a separate one written by Regina. She had been his sister more than just by marriage and his friend. He reached out and touched the brass nameplate. The coolness of it shocked him. Somehow he had felt it would be warm like Regina. Using the sleeve of his shirt, he rubbed away the smudge that his fingerprint left behind.


Chance and Regina had had four children. The two older ones had died on that windswept meadow south of Flathead Lake. One had escaped the carnage but from all accounts had been forever changed by what he had seen that day. The fourth was his twin. She had not been with the family on that outing due to illness.


Josiah Grant Thornton
Born: May 02, 1865
Died: June 02, 1875 - aged 10 years


Lilah Beth Thornton
Born: March 01, 1867
Died: June 02, 1875 - aged 8 years.


Shade had never met his niece and nephew, but he felt he knew them. Chance's and Regina's letters had painted a vivid picture of their children. The descriptions of them and their misadventures had been so detailed that it allowed him to mourn their loss with a palpable ache.


A few steps brought him back to his brother's crypt. For the first time since Quentin had brought the news of the deaths to Shade in Wyoming, a tear slipped from the corner of his eye. Three more followed. One for each of those whose ashes were protected by the stone slabs. The anger over the deaths was still there, but it had quieted. Resolve remained, and it now spoke louder than the simmering rage. Shade would find and punish those responsible for the killings. He and Quentin had agreed on that as they listened to the wind in the rocks that stood sentinel over the burned out remains of a family outing.


This was not the place to voice the anger or even the resolve. It was a place of peace, of final and eternal rest. It was how Shade's mother had envisioned it, or so she told him when bringing Shade with her to light the candles and say a blessing for Ishmael and Kimi. Shade murmured a promise to protect the family's heritage. That was a fitting thing to do. His stride was firm and strong as he left the mausoleum, pausing only to pick his hat up off the kneeler. Life called. It was time to leave the dead in peace.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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