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    • It was long, tedious work, even though, for the most part, it was just plodding along with the cows, making sure they all stayed together and went the right way they were supposed to.  Even after the wind picked up, there were only a few mavericks who tried to wander off on their own, but the drag riders managed to coax them back to the herd.   As the day progressed, Annie became less jiggy, and Justus could tell she was getting tired.  "It's all right, Miz Annie."  He patted the horse's neck, then tightened the bandanna that was keeping his hat from blowing away.   "Ya think this is just a dry wind?" Justus called to Loredo, "or somethin' more movin' in?"  There wasn't the smell of rain in the air yet, nor clouds, but he knew that the weather could change quickly.  "Will they try ta settle in camp early?"  It seemed to him that if there was 'weather' moving in, it was better to have the cattle settled than moving, but what did he know? He just hoped it didn't impact supper!   @Flip
    • "Wonderful!"  Jonah almost clapped, for this had been going on for so long, that he really expected that this would be some sort of new setback, and Leah certainly didn't need any more complications.  "I'm sure it's going to be a huge relief when they finally break ground.  It's going to be rewarding to watch it take shape, and for you to know you are responsible for it."   He hoped, for her sake more than anything, that the weather cooperated, and that the progress was swift and without complications.    "You'll be overseeing the project?"  He couldn't imagine that she'd step back now, and not assure that every detail was right.   @Flip
    • "Boss, we found us a herd ripe for the pluckin'. Maybe we oughtta move on it afore they change where they're grazin' 'em, an make it more difficult." Toole suggested. "We can take close to a hunderd head easy enough, they move 'em, thet might not be the way of it."   "'Scuse me men, but Toole here is on to something, and cattle is our other business. We've customers waiting up north." Case said, not happy at being interrupted, yet realizing that what he said was true. It was why they were there, and it was what the did. "So go on and make yourselves to home while I get this job situated."   "Oh sure thing, Case, an thanks for the offer. We appreciate it, 'mon boys." Shannon said, and with that they walked outside to find the other building Case was talking about.   "Alright Toole what did you have in mind?" Case asked.   "The place is just at the foothills where they have their cattle. Now any buildin's 'er maybe a mile, mile'n a half away. What we saw was just maybe four riders wit the cattle, may not hav'ta kill any of 'em. We just filter down through the trees and then rush 'em. Maybe eight 'er ten of us, circle the heard an' push 'em back the way we come which was the long way around , and shore they'll be tracks alomst all the way to the dry river bed, maybe  whot, two mile from the tree line. Hard ground to river bed, but they won't catch us, not seein's they're out numbered."   Case gave it some thought, but Toole had been plotting how they would steal a herd for quite a while, and he knew what he was doing. Besides, no County Sheriff, no problem!   "Pick your men, Toole and get it done." Case said, knowing if they got a hundred head, that would be enough to drive north, once the brands were altered.
    • Having a second thought, to bolster the findings he sent for Fairchild before he could leave for New Orleans, and in the vicinity of Elinor Steelgrave, that could be done at another time after this meeting with Elias himself.   It was like hedging his bet on the situation. He wanted Elias to meet the man who could explain what was in the file in detail, much better than he himself.  might be able to. Nothing like being prepared. Elias could be unpredictable when upset, if a man like Fairchild explaining what he had found could manage to keep Steelgrave manage-ably clam then the expense was worth it to all concerned.   He had to congratulate himself on the idea. It just might work!
    • List in hand, they made their way back to town and to the Anderson's Mercantile where they laid out their list of needs. John and Mary Agnes looked over the list and began adding prices, plus shipping where it was warranted.   "So, you're in the mining business Marshal?" John asked.   "We are." Alice replied with a wide proud smile on her face. Speed just looked at her.   "Amos here found a property to good to pass up, so I bought it myself." Speed said, "Actually two properties, the other on is off to the west, but this one is just north of the Evergreen Ranch a couple of miles."   "Ah that would be the Henshaw mine. Sad about his wife passing on so suddenly. Life can be hard out here, it was just too hard for Martha Henshaw, though she tried as hard as anyone could." Mary Agnes said. "Most all of what you have here we have in stock. Most all of this was on Henshaw's list as well, he just quit before he paid for it. I believe we can give you a good price on the machinery out back. Right John?"   "Yes we can, The fact is Speed I'll let you have it at our cost, plus the shipping expenses, of course. Be good to free up that room back there. Let me see here at my cost, yes, well, it looks to be just under three thousand dollars, without the things we have in stock that wasn't Henshaw's."   Fair enough John, and we appreciate it. Now, if you'll let me get up to the bank, we want to use their money until we get started, and then we'll settle up."   "Makes sense to me, it's what we did. Hated those monthly payments, but it worked for us." John agreed.   "We'll be back." Speed promised.

A Working Proposition


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The dance was in full swing and going well. The floor was not overly crowded thanks to Ezra Hale's superb planning in laying it all. He had learned from years past that the dance was a very popular event. A standard-sized dance floor would not nearly accommodate everyone, so he had made this one half-again as large as its predecessors. This year, refreshments were served at the edge of the food tent instead of setting the table up on the floor, leaving more space for dancing. Picnic tables and benches for seating were scattered on the ground around the perimeter of the dais so those taking a break could relax and watch the dancing. After only three years, the Kalispell Founder's Day Celebration was becoming the talk of the region and the event of the summer season.

Shade finished the lively square dance with a flourish and returned the lovely Annie Boone to her husband, thanking Gabe for allowing him to dance with his wife. He sauntered off the dance floor and toward the long punch table, surreptitiously surveying the on-hand choices for the next dance. Unlike many men that protested they could neither dance or enjoyed dancing, Shade was both a good dancer and liked it. His mother had made sure both of her sons could acquit themselves well on the dance floor.  After many years of living life on the drift, Shade had looked forward to the weekly socials and town gatherings for companionship and a bit of fun. This was his first opportunity to really meet the majority of Kalispell's residents, and he had enjoyed it so far.

Without hesitation, Shade headed toward the young lady that he hoped would agree to the next dance. He also hoped that dancing would soften her up for an offer he wanted to make to her. Of course, he thought wryly, softening Clara Redmond up with a simple dance was highly unlikely. He would need to be on his toes, not hers, figuratively and literally.

Clara looked pretty in a dress of a reddish-brown color that Shade knew was technically called maroon. It offset the rich dark brown of her hair. Clara Redmond was going to grow into a beautiful young woman, he thought. Shade reached out to gently tug one of the dark plaits hanging over her shoulders, "Miss Clara, would you like to dance?" They had agreed to call one another by their first names earlier but chose to be more formal, so that she understood he was taking the request seriously and not presuming anything.


Big crowd, good food, bunch of folks dancing away with each tune but for Clara, no luck thus far. One boy who might have been her age had been staring at her for awhile but when he might have been ready to head her way, another friend of his tugged him away and they both headed outside, no doubt for some sort of juvenile boy mischief Clara sourly noted. She would have turned him down anyhow...or so she told herself now.


Just then a slight tug on one of her pigtails, having its desired effect, she spun about convinced it was her little brother playing that same old trick which never failed to amuse him. Probably because it always drew her angry reaction which is what her father had been trying to tell her. Ignore him was his bright idea. Parents..............


But it was Shade and her glare vanished even as she stopped before even launching any of her angry invective at what was now obviously NOT her brother.


"Shade. Is that how you sneak up on a lady where you come from?" she inquired but it had sunk by then he was asking her for of all things.......a dance! She had seen him out there, dancing away with various women, both he and his varied partners seemingly enjoying themselves and really he was quite the dancer....well for a man of course.


"Me?" she swallowed, momentarily at a loss for words, not something that happened to her much.


"Well.....yes, I suppose.....I do not know how to square dance though I should warn you. It all looks rather complicated," she admitted truthfully.


Shade smiled at the girl, his eyes warm and friendly, "Truthfully, I prefer the country waltzes to the square dancing. We can have a glass of punch and wait for one of those if you like." The band had played several square dances and Ezra, who was doing the calling, had taken a break. It was likely they would perform some different style of dance music when they restarted.


That brought a smile to the girl's pert features, "Oh me too. My mother taught me the waltz, I can do those."


The two of them sidled over to the punch bowl, Clara hoping everyone was looking at them so they could see she had a man at her side, paying attention to her. Pausing at the bowl, she decided it would be proper for the gentleman to provide the drinks and waited, heart pounding.


Shade picked up the ladle and one of the punch glasses. He deftly filled it and offered it to Clara before filling another one for himself. Once they had their drinks, he gestured toward a couple of chairs where they could sit and wait for their dance. Once settled, he gave the girl a once-over with his deep blue eyes, "I hope you did not take any hurt from the scuffle in the drinks tent?"


"Thank you kind sir," Clara took the glass offered to her then and followed him over to the chairs on the side of the dance floor, the current dance was another square dance so they had agreed to wait for something more suitable....that is something she could do.


"That? I am fine. Few bruises," she gave it a shrug then continued, "You worry about me too much. I will have you know I was shot in the chest by an Indian arrow. Close range. The doctor thought I was going to die, said as much to my father. But father replied that I was too stubborn to die...pretty much the right of it."


"However you took a few shots I see.  You should be blocking those with your fists or arms not your face," she smiled.


Shade blinked at Clara and then laughed quietly. The girl definitely had moxie! "You're right, ma'am, I should have made a better job of it." He winked at her, "You sure you want to be seen on the dance floor with such a disreputable varmint because it sounds like they are playing our dance?" The band had finished the square dance and had struck up a slow, lilting country waltz.


Clara sipped her punch, honestly she wasn't even paying any attention to how it tasted, her full focus was on Shade.


"I thought those days were behind you. And besides you promised me a dance and you will not get out of it that easily," Clara replied.


Sure enough the music had changed, glancing from Shade for a second, she could see various couples now commencing steps like her mother had taught her. Of course that had been in their own home and there hadn't been any actual music.  She suddenly stood and placed her glass down upon the chair then held out her hand for him to take and lead her on out there. Try as she might to actual all calm and reserved, her heart was racing. She was going to dance with a man!


"Those days are never completely behind you," Shade said solemnly as he stood up. He took both of their glasses to the table and then returned, offering his arm to Clara. "Dance with me." He smiled at her.


"My pleasure," she beamed.


The floor was not horribly crowded as most of the dancers had gone to sit down or get refreshments after the enthusiastic square dances. Shade twirled Clara into the country waltz, stepping close but not overly so. Despite a life on the drift, he had been raised well and taught to be a gentleman. For the moment, the rough cowboy took a back seat to the gentleman rancher.


Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Clara did know how to dance this sort of thing and, as was her perfectionist nature, she did not make any blunders though maybe she was a bit mechanical in her movements as she thought on each one. Still after a few moments, it all just came naturally enough as they danced as if they had done this many times before. Clara was lost in her own little world, she could never have even imagined this glorious evening a month ago or even a week ago. She was still a realist and knew this was not anything romantic and they were not going to get married or any such foolishness. But she was - despite all her logic - very fond of him and though she probably would not admit it the fact she had a girl's crush on him.


For now, she just wanted to enjoy this magical moment. Tomorrow it could go back to reality.


Shade found himself enjoying the dance. Clara was surprisingly good and he was no slouch himself. He wanted to make sure that Clara had a good time and that the Redmonds realized not everyone in the region were like the Steelgraves and their ilk. He needed to talk to her about the job at the ranch too. However, right now, it was about making sure she enjoyed herself.


He needn't worry about that, the girl was smiling and enjoying every moment. And to think her father had to convince her to actually show up tonight. Knowing what she knew now, she would not have missed it for the world!


The band played two more waltzes and a lively country dance. When they started forming up for another square dance, Shade led Clara off the floor and to a table set a little way away from the others. "I'll get us something to drink."


"Very well," Clara nodded, content to sit and just enjoy the whole atmosphere.


He headed to the water barrel, found a couple of clean glasses and carried them back full of clear, clean icy cold water.


Clara took the glass offered her, "Thank you, kind sir."


Taking a sip she then offered, "I would have much preferred the punch. I can have water every day of the week but..."


She ended with a shrug then another sip of water.


He sat down in the chair opposite Clara and smiled, "You're a very accomplished dancer. Your mother teach you?"


"Yes, she was a splendid dancer. Father has two left feet and no ear for music. Hearing him sing at church can be a pain," she smiled.


The smile faded though quickly as she went on, "My mother taught me so much. She was an excellent mother and I dearly miss her. I am only here now because she shielded me when that......Indian fired a second arrow to finish me off...."


Clara stared for a moment at the floor, "She should have kept running. After I got hit I mean. Then Wyatt would still have a mother and Father....well, I know he misses her every single day. He is just not much of a talker."


Shade's voice was kind when he spoke, "I cannot imagine how hard that's been on your family, Clara, especially you little'uns. I wasn't able to get home and see my mother before she died, so maybe I understand a little." Reaching out, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "You are doing a great job with Wyatt and the homestead. So much so, in fact, that we would like to offer you a job at the ranch. I've talked to your father and he is okay with me offering you the job."

Edited by Wayfarer (see edit history)
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She liked what he said, well except for that nonsense about 'little'uns', she firmly believed she was much an adult as many folk quite older. Even her father admitted he didn't know how he could manage their homestead without her hard work and varied skills. It came as no surprise to her that he too missed his mother, seemed the natural way of things. But all those thoughts evaporated when he made a sudden job offer.


"A job? At the ranch? Surely you do not wish me to be one of your cowpokes?  I am but fifteen years old and a gi...lady," she was confused.


Shade laughed, his eyes glinting with humor, "No, but I will be happy to teach you the skills. Mrs. Hale is one of the best wranglers I've ever met." The image of Clara dealing with a recalcitrant steer still made his eyes dance though. "We'd like for you to take care of the twins for one or two days a week to give Miss Josephine days off. What do you think?"


"I have no desire to wrangle cows or anything else for that matter," she made that perfectly clear then considered the actual offer. Babysitting....that she could certainly do.


"Well..............will I get paid for this?"


She was not about to squander her precious time (she had a farm to help her father manage) for some volunteer job.


"Well yes," Shade drawled, "I thought we'd pay you a fair rate for your time. Due to the distance from Blackbird Lodge - the main house - to your ranch, my suggestion was that you stay over at the ranch for your two days."


"It is a farm, Shade, my father is not going to dabble with cattle. We are farmers," Clara corrected him but in an informational tone of voice, not like some of her more typical irritated corrections.


"Two days ....so one night there. And my father is aware of this?" Clara was unsure of how she felt about this. A part of her was excited and happy to be able to earn money for the family, money her father could desperately use. But another part of her was nervous. She had never spent a night apart from her father......well excepting the few weeks she had been in bed at the doctor's place recovering from that arrow in the chest but most of that she barely recalled being unconscious for a good portion of it.


"Farm," Shade echoed her in a good-natured tone. "Yes, your father is aware of it. I asked him before talking to you. Despite your obvious maturity, you are still technically underage. Depending on how the mechanics of getting back and forth are arranged, either one or two nights and you get a ride home at shift change with Mr. and Mrs. Miller - our night foreman and his wife."


"Well, it sounds interesting but I do not know..." she didn't finish her sentence as she wondered how she might handle being away from her family for the first time in her life.


Shade decided to press his advantage while the spark of interest and excitement showed in Clara's eyes, "I did the math earlier. We pay a top hand forty dollars a month plus room and board. Rounded up, that works out to about two dollars a day. I'm offering you the same rate which will come to about sixteen dollars a month plus room and board."


Clara's eyes got big, "Sixteen dollars? That is indeed a lot of money."


Her doubts and nerves were instantly dismissed as he considered how much the family could use that money.


"Very well, Shade, I believe we have ourselves a deal. Shall we seal the contract with a handshake?" she held out one hand, she had seen her father do the same after a few of his business agreements over the years.


Shade solemnly took Clara's hand in a firm grip and shook it. "After you talk with your father, let me know what days work out best for you. We'll make travel arrangements with Sage and his wife." As he finished speaking, the band struck up another square dance. Shade's eyes sparkled, "Let's see if we can figure this square dance thing out."

Edited by Wayfarer (see edit history)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Shade enjoyed another dance or two with Clara and a few dances with some of the other ladies. As the evening began winding down, he once again sought out Clara to walk her to her wagon and have a word with Aurelian regarding which days were best for his daughter to work.

They reached the wagon to find Aurelian waiting. Shade gave the other man a nod of greeting and a pleasant smile but left Clara to break the news about the accepting the job.


"Pa, here she comes...bout time," Wyatt spotted them first.


Aurelian nodded, "We were in no rush, son."  His daughter had been having such a good time and he felt she richly deserved it, no one worked harder than that girl of his.


"Father, I need to tell you something  important. Mr. Thorton offered me a job to care for the children and I accepted. He will be paying me sixteen dollars a month," Clara was smiling, eyes sparkling with excitement.


"Well, that is indeed wonderful news. Thank you, Mr. Thornton," Aurelian knew the basics already as Shade had, as he stated, first cleared things with him. But he did not truly know if Clara would take the man's offer. Now he did.


"So she is gonna bunk with the cowboys?  Wow!" it all sounded very exciting to Wyatt. He had mixed feelings though, Clara would be out of his hair but....it would be just him and Pa? Besides, despite his whines sometime, Clara was his sister after all and she was family.


Shade smiled at Redmond and ruffled Wyatt's hair, "Make it Shade, sir," he told the other man. "We'll only keep Clara a day or two, Wyatt."


"Aury then," Aurelian nodded acknowledgement and then explained to his son, "She will not be expected to do ranchhand work, son. Your sister is a lady."


"Clara?" Wyatt sounded like that concept was a new one to him, she was just his sister is all.


Clara glared at the boy, "Yes, me. And as for you, that means you will have to do some of my chores while I am gone. "


"Awwwww," Wyatt frowned.


"Enough both of you two. Save your squabbling for at home, where the public cannot see it," Aurelian gave a mild correction but he was plainly not really upset.


Shade grinned again, enjoying the sibling squabbling. His brother, Chance, had been eight years his senior and felt sibling bickering was beneath him. "Would Wednesday or Thursday work for your first day?"


Clara's big brown eyes went to Aurelian, "Father?"


"Either is fine, Shade," he nodded.


"Wednesday it is then, how early do you want me?" Clara was obviously eager.


"Mrs. Miller arrives by six AM," Shade told Clara and Aurelian. "That means she would need to be at your place around five. So, if five am on Wednesday is workable for everyone, we can plan on that." Shade was glad that Clara was excited. He hoped it worked out as well as he thought it would.


"I am an early riser," Clara nodded.


"Aury, thank you for letting Clara take the position. It will help us out, especially since the twins know her a bit."


"Oh this is an excellent exchange for us too, I will not pretend to false pride, we can certainly use the money," Aurelian fully admitted.


"I am handing over my wages to Father you see," Clara promptly explained.


Aurelian smiled, wanting to hug the girl but knowing she had never been much for such displays of affection, "Shade, can you see why I am so proud of my daughter? I just ask you take good care of her...."


He noticed the look of disapproval in Clara's eyes at that very last part and quickly amended, "Not that she needs anyone to care for her, mind you."


"We will take the best possible care of Clara and she of us," Shade told the man. "And yes, your pride in her...in both of your children is more than justified. Have a safe journey home, folks." He looked at Clara, "I'll be in the valley working most of this week. If you need anything, get word to Ezra Hale, he'll be able to locate me."


"Yes, Shade, and thank you. Thank you for the job and also....thank you for our dance. It was.....splendid," Clara doubted she would ever forget that special moment when she stepped out on that dance floor with him.


"Gnite, Shade, come on, Wyatt," Aurelian smiled.


The Redmonds' wagon had just rumbled off into the night when several of the horses on the picket line neighed nervously and shifted, some pulling against their tethers. A man that was hitching a big mare to his buggy had to leap for her lines as she tried to bolt from between the shafts. Shade helped him settle the mare before starting down the picket line, making sure the horses were secure. He was also keeping his senses on high alert as he stared into the night seeking out what had startled the animals.


In the dark, a massive creature watched. He was full of meat from a steer he had killed earlier in the night. It was only curiosity that brought him so close to human activity. A mix of feral hatred and fear permeated the monster. Man! Man meant pain and there were many of them around. Uttering a growl too low for human ears to hear, the creature faded deeper into the shadows and disappearing into the night.


As suddenly as it began, the horses settled back to their feed bags. The night held no threat after all.

Edited by Shade Thornton (see edit history)
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