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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.

Bear Chase

Shade Thornton

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Shade walked into Blackbird Lodge, the main ranch house and headed for the washroom attached to his bedroom. He wanted to clean up a bit before encountering anyone else. A short time later, he crossed the main corridor and headed up the main stairs to the second floor where the children's rooms were located. It was also where the actual master suite of rooms was but those were currently being used by Ezra and Laura Hale.

This was Clara Redmond's first day working as a part-time governess for the five-year-old Thornton twins, Nettie and Cody. Laura Hale had greeted the girl's arrival that morning with great enthusiasm. The twins' governess was currently visiting friends and family in Boston which left the older woman with the task of trying to supervise the children and manage the house. Even the twins had greeted the girl with less hesitation that Shade feared they would. There had been so many changes in their lives, not the least of which was the death of their parents two months previously.

Now, Shade thought he would offer to escort Clara and the twins up to see one of the waterfalls with a stop by a deep pool that was perfect for swimming. Even though the ranch house sat high in the Chogun Mountains, the August temperatures were soaring. Shade had heard in town that the marauding bear had killed someone's goats, so it sounded as if it had moved off the ranch - for now. He would still carry his rifle and wear his gunbelt, just in case.

Reaching the door to the children's playroom which also doubled as their schoolroom, Shade called out, "Good afternoon! Clara, if you are amenable, I thought we could hike up to the waterfall and maybe stop by the swimmin' hole on the way back?"

Although the twins looked ready to bolt for the door, they waited politely for Clara to respond to their uncle.


@Wayfarer (Clara)

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It had been quite a first day, mostly because it was all brand new. Well not completely, of course Clara knew the two children she was now in charge of and naturally she knew Shade Thorton, their guardian. But still this was her first day on her new job. She had eased the children into it by chatting with them, laughing and nodding at their various stories and declarations. They seemed contented enough with her presence as she then proceeded to some actual lessons, nothing too complex given their age. She read to them from a storybook the boy choose and they listened enthralled to the reading even though when she ended for the day, the girl declared they had heard it all before. But both loved it. Her younger brother, Wyatt, was much like that when he was a bit younger, happy enough to listen to the same favorite story again and again. Of course she allowed them some nap time which proved to be shorter for Nellie than her sibling. When they stated they were hungry she took them to the house's large and well laden kitchen and she cut them a few slices of freshly baked bread and choice of butter or honey. The boy took honey. Unable to resist, Clara indulged in a lavishly buttered slice herself. The twins had milk to wash it all down, Clara contented herself with water.


Thus fortified the afternoon began and time passed quickly. Clara's attention was interrupted by the arrival of Shade.


"Good afternoon, Shade," she decided to use his Christian name as he had told her back at the festival to do so.


He came apparently not just to check on them but with an offer too. A short hike to see the waterfall and then a stop at a swimming hole? Interesting.  Cody practically fidgeted with excitement.


"It truly is quite hot today. I do suppose a reasonable walk would not unduly wear out the children. Would you like that?" she looked to both of them who nodded and voiced immediate enthusiastic agreement.


"Very well, let us go then. But no running too far ahead, this is not going to be a race," she cautioned.



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"Get your swimmin' clothes," Shade warned the twins as they almost vibrated with excitement. He gave Clara a grin, "I'm sure Mrs. Hale or Mary has something you can borrow if you like. I confess I'm not too conversant with lady's swimmin' togs."


"Swimming togs?" Clara looked puzzled then remembered these were rich folk, they no doubt spent money on that sort of fancy east coast apparel.


"Neither Wyatt nor myself own any such fripperies. We go swimming sans clothing," she simply declared but then felt compelled to add, "And if you think you are going to get to see me naked, that is not going to happen. I am not a child and such a thing is not respectable."


Even though a tiny part of her would no doubt be thrilled but no, that was just temptation tugging at her. Her mother would be appalled at such brazen conduct.


Shade grinned, totally unabashed by the young lady's rebuttal of his alleged nefarious plans. "We don't use those fancy bathing costumes from back east, madam!" He gave her a wink, "Laura Hale usually takes old trousers, cuts them off, does some other stuff with scissors and thread I don't rightly get and then the ladies use them for swimming. It avoids the naked issue and drowning from tangling in their long skirts."


Clara slowly nodded, "Humpfff, trousers...that still leaves my breasts in clear view of ogling male eyes." Alright so she barely had any but still, it was the principle of the thing.


"No thank you," she dismissed the offer.


Once everyone was set, Shade left word where they were heading and led the way out of the house, across the courtyard and onto a trail that wound upward, disappearing into the towering trees of the dense mountain forest. From time to time they could got glimpses of Lost Lake where it spread out below the house. Soon though, the trail turned away from the lake to follow the course of a wide, rapidly flowing creek. It was cooler in the shade of the forest. Their passage barely disturbed the smaller forest animals and birds as they scurried around doing their daily chores.


As admonished by Clara before leaving the house, Cody and Nettie did not forage too far ahead, contenting themselves with running a short distance before stopping to wait for Shade and their new part-time nanny. To Shade, it seemed that both were in better spirits than they had been since his arrival back home. They had really taken to the girl, treating her both as a friend and someone to be respected and listened to. More and more, he thought his plan to hire Clara was a good one.


The trail was simply beautiful and a pleasure to walk. It didn't hurt either that she was walking side by side with Shade. Almost like a young lady and her beau. She did have to admit she liked him a lot and she was beginning to convince herself he liked her also. Pity he was a LITTLE old.


Shade glanced at Clara as they walked along the trail, "Your first day goin' okay? Is riding up here with Mary or Sage workin out for you?"


He interrupted her fanciful train of thought with a couple basic questions.


"Oh indeed, I believe it has gone very well. The twins have comported themselves splendidly today, they are a joy to work with. More obedient than Wyatt let me assure you, though that is setting the bar low. The ride here was fine too. I am used to getting up early so it was not a hardship."


She looked up at him, gosh he was tall...."And how went your day then, Shade?"


"My day was the usual cow chasing, fence mending kinda day," Shade told her, good humor evident in his voice. Then, he sobered up, "Don't know if Laura Hale or anyone else warned you, but don't go out and about by yourself, young lady! We have had two steers killed by a bear now. There's reason to believe it'll go after people too.  I don't wanna lose you to that thing."


"A bear?" one eyebrow went up, "I will have to tell Father. We could ill afford to lose our milk cow."


As for attacking people? She always thought they would rather just avoid folks. Still what did she know. An evil grin came over her pert features.


"People.....pity we could not direct it to the Evergreen ranch."


Quickly though she backtracked, "No, such thoughts are sinfully cruel of me. I do not actually want to see any of those men dead even the two who stole my things at the lake. I believe Billy is simply misguided, probably did not have a proper Christian upbringing."


"People have a way of bringing their fate onto themselves, Clara. Billy and Greer will reap the rewards of their actions in time," Shade said. He had learned the truth of his words the hard way. Of course, there were people that managed to slither out of the proverbial noose no matter how much they deserved it. "Your thoughts might be sinfully cruel to your mind, but they are delightfully human."


"I was so angry with those men...well, I mean I still am quite peeved but I do not wish to see them die," Clara declared, "We are all God's creatures after all."


There were times when she found that all hard to believe but she knew she was supposed to at the least. Suddenly she was reminded of something pertinent to the discussion.


"Oh, I do not think I have told you yet but I have my clothing and Colt Dragoon back now," she flashed a big smile of both relief and satisfaction, "Picked all that up at the sheriff's office where it had been dropped off. I would have worn the dress today but I had just washed it and it is hanging out to dry on the line today."


For a girl with such a limited wardrobe this was certainly a turn of event to be happy about.


"I'm glad you got your things back," Shade told her. He had lived on the edge for many years and understood how important a few belongings could become. For him, it had been his customized Colt, saddle and horse. Changing that mindset was not easy.


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the-falls.jpgOver the sound of the breeze rustling the branches of the trees was the sound of running and tumbling water. The trail had crossed a wide, shallow fast flowing creek several times. It would eventually flow past the house and to tumble into Lost Lake. The area around the main ranch house was known as Moonlight Basin. One reason that Shade's grandfather had selected it was because of the easy access to fresh, flowing water as well as the spectacular mountain views. Shade had seen some incredible landscapes during his years away. In his opinion, nothing compared to Montana.


Nettie turned back and ran to Clara. Taking her hand, she said, "Close your eyes, Miss Clara. We're almost there. It's the best way to see the falls for the first time."


Clara eyed her for a moment then reluctantly agreed to the girl's scheme, "Very well, Nettie, but make certain you do not lead us too close to the edge of the falls. Always safety first you know."


Although Shade was right there and certainly he would see to it that the child's exuberance did not lead to an accident.


"Don't worry," Shade told Clara, "I'll keep a sharp eye out for mischief." He gave the twins a warning look just in case their plan was to upend Clara into the creek. He took Clara's hand and began leading them onward, making sure to watch out for anything that might trip her up.


Feeling Shade take her hand, any nervousness Clara felt instantly vanished and her steps were confident, well as confident as one could be with one's eyes closed.


The rock strewn creek mixed deep, almost still pools with faster-running shallow water. Boulders had long ago been randomly deposited by various natural cataclysms - ancient glaciers and volcanic activity. The trail widened and opened into a clearing surrounded by towering aspens, pines, oaks and maples. Three creeks joined to create a multi-level series of waterfalls providing a light cacophony of sound - heavier rushing water overlaying the lighter gurgling of trickling falls working through the rocks. It was an enchantingly beautiful scene. Thick moss covered the trail and some of the boulders, inviting the hikers to sit and enjoy their surroundings.


Nettie tugged at Clara's free hand and Cody said softly, his voice barely louder than the water surrounding them, "Open your eyes, Miss Clara, we are here. This is one of my favorite places," he added.


"Very well then," she halted and did as the child instructed her.  It was quite the sight which greeted her gaze. Pristine nature at it's finest. She took a moment to scan almost a full circle.


"Most impressive. I love it," Clara wasn't one of those people who threw out compliments easily but this was sincere.


Shade breathed a quiet sigh of contentment as he looked around. Like Cody, this was one of his favorite places.


She glanced up at Shade, "Excellent idea to bring the children here by the way."


"I used to come up here to escape...things," Shade told Clara. "Okay, you two, we're going to rest a few moments and then head to the swimming hole. No getting too far out on the rocks." He grinned as the twins immediately headed off to poke around one of the tiny pools. No doubt they were looking for tadpoles or minnows.


Clara said nothing although she did not feel any need of a rest. But then Shade was an older man.......best go easy on him.


Shade walked over to a large, flat-topped boulder and leaned against it, half-sitting and half-standing. He was alert to the sounds of the forest around them and also was keeping a sharp eye on the twins. He grinned at Clara, "I'd come up here to read or just think." Pointing upward, "There is a hidden game trail that leads up to a little cave. Used to camp there when...sometimes."


"It is quite the location, yes," she readily agreed then heard his mention of a cave.


"You camped by the cave or inside it? I have never actually been inside of one but I have heard they are colder than the outside temperature," she was curious.


"The big ones are cooler than the outside air. They maintain the same temperature year round," Shade told her. He had always been fascinated by caves and cave systems. "I've been inside a couple of them while I was in the Texas and New Mexico area." He pointed at the faint, almost hidden trail that wound its way upward amongst the tumbled boulders. "The one up there is nothing more than a little hollowed out area beneath a fall of boulders. Large enough to shelter you from the rain, spread out your bedroll. That's about it." He grinned then, his eyes lighting with mischief, "I had a number such hideouts around the ranch."


"Ahhh, so you needed to lay low from your folks after causing mayhem? Why am I not surprised by that," Clara smiled right back, it was less an accusation than a tease.


Shade laughed, his dark blue eyes lighting with amusement. He really did like this girl. Shaking his head, "I didn't fit the mold they wanted to put me in," Shade confessed, his voice both nostalgic and touched with humor. "I loved learning - believe it or not," he added and flashed her an amused look, "but I hated being locked up in the St. Francis school during the week. Of course, I'm sure you never caused any mayhem a day in your life."




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  • 3 weeks later...

He claimed he loved learning. Clara was not so sure but let him go on, no sense giving him too hard a time. He did admit to not liking school.


"I only spent a few years in a schoolhouse myself, it was not so bad. I did not like having to wait while the teacher spent so much time with the slower students though," she gave a bit of a confession there.


He seemed to assume she too got into her share of childhood mischief. He would think that.


"No, no I did not. There may have been a few.......a very few times when my mother or father had to correct me on some trifling minor point but I was always well behaved. If you do not believe me ask Father...do not however ask Wyatt," she confidently declared.


Shade grinned again and shook his head, "No, I believe you." And he did. Somehow it was hard to actually see Clara getting up to hijinks and mischief. She was far too composed to have ever been too wild as as a child. In some respects, he thought, she was too old for her age and should be encouraged to have fun. Shade decided he would make that one of his goals, see if he could not coax a smile out of her more often.


"Guess we'd better get movin' if we're gonna get some swimmin' time before dinner," Shade turned and gave a piercing whistle to signal the twins it was time to go. He watched them closely as they approached. Clara might be prim and proper, but he would not put it past Nettie and Cody to have a frog or lizard ready to slip down her dress.


"Yes of course, the twins would be heartbroken if they do not get to swim, I am certain of it," Clara nodded, "Wyatt would live in the water in the summer if we let him."


"Lead the way, Shade," she gestured, more than willing to follow alongside.

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With the twins in tow, Shade turned them back toward the trail they had hiked up. A few yards along it, he turned onto another narrow path, a wide game trail. 

The track was followed by another creek that was also wide and fairly shallow. There were a plethora of such small waterways, and many of them terminated in a series of waterfalls or one beautiful cascade. Over many thousands of years, the water had carved its way through the Chogun mountains, including wearing away solid rock.

Shade was about to point out a pretty cluster of mountain wildflowers to Clara when he became aware that beneath the soft sound of tumbling water, there was total silence. He motioned for silence from the twins, his frown instantly quieting their chatter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck raise in response to his sense of danger. No birds or bugs could be heard. Instead, there was the crackle and crunching of underbrush. Something was moving toward the trail beyond them...something large.

Instinctively, Shade knew it was the bear, the creature that had likely been killing livestock in the region. It had even raided corrals and pens close to some homes which meant it held little fear of humans. He had obviously misjudged the animal's range having assumed it was hunting the foothills, farms, and ranches far away from the main ranch house. Shade would berate himself later. Right now he had to get the twins and Clara to safety.

Bears had excellent eyesight. However, Shade knew that they had a better sense of smell. He had learned both things the hard way when hunting a rogue grizzly back in Wyoming. The Indian tracker that had been with him had known, and it was his knowledge that had saved Shade from being mauled. Bears were also able to outrun the average human.

The sounds put the animal between them and where the trail began descending toward the swimming hole. Going back the way they had come was a bad idea. It was all uphill, and the twins would wear out quickly if they had to run. But, right now, the wind favored them. To reach the safety of the ranch, that would change. All trails would eventually put them downwind of the animal. A loud growl followed by a hair-raising roar made Shade's decision for him.

"Clara, take the twins and head toward the trail we came up. If you have to leave the trail, keep the sun to your left." Shade reached for the rifle that was slung by a strap over his back. He planned to distract the bear long enough to give the girl and his niece and nephew a head start. Shade did not intend to sacrifice himself to the bear. He would double back and catch up to them. "Try to follow the trail without getting on it. The underbrush might slow you down, but it will slow any animals down too."


@Wayfarer (Clare, twins optional, we can share out NPCing them).

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It was proving to certainly be a circuitous path to this swimming hole, Clara thought but at least Shade knew where he was going. She would have been lost by now, she had to admit to herself (though never to anyone else).  It was an enjoyable hike though. That all changed suddenly. Shade stopped and gestured for silence by the twins who actually obeyed too. Clara halted in her tracks also. She looked around, ears alert for any noises. There were the sounds of underbrush crackling, something was moving on the trail. Something big too, she just knew it even if she had not caught sight of it. Shade didn't even have to say it. A bear! Was it that dangerous bear? How could one even tell, in point of fact any bear could be dangerous. Clara waited on Shade to make a decision as to what they should do. He knew a lot more about this sort of thing than she did.  Then the unknown became the known, it was the deep and frightening roar of a bear!


"Shade!" she hissed wide eyed, grabbing one of the twins without even thinking about it.


"Clara, take the twins and head toward the trail we came up. If you have to leave the trail, keep the sun to your left." Shade reached for the rifle that was slung by a strap over his back. "Try to follow the trail without getting on it. The underbrush might slow you down, but it will slow any animals down too."


"What? Are you going to try and shoot it?" Clara was very averse to making this run for it, leaving him behind. Well not to mention leaving her with the twins in case anything went wrong. She wasn't even armed! Her father had always stressed to her a human being cannot outrun a bear and plus she'd have these two terrified little ones with their short legs.


Shade gave Clara and the twins a confident smile, but did not lie to them, "No. This rifle wouldn't stop a determined wolf, let alone a bear of any size. I am hoping the sound of the shots will be a deterrent. Then, I will be right behind you." He leaned down a bit so his eyes were on level with Clara's, "I will not desert you and the little'uns, I promise."


"I did not think such a thing, Shade," Clara was almost offended by such a possibility, "Very well then."


She still did not like the idea of splitting up and she with two young ones and no weapon. Shade's plan could go all wrong and then what?  But Clara was not a disobedient young miss, when her father gave her orders she obeyed. There was no time for arguing.


Clara shepherded the twins up close to her, "You heard your uncle. We are going to make a run for it but stay off the trail. Just run next to it. You start up and I'll be right behind you. No buts....go, go!"


As the children started their frightened retreat, Clara turned to look at Shade, "You be careful. God bless!"


And with that she took off right behind the kids.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Shade sensed that Clara did not like his plan. He felt the same way. Unfortunately, their options were few.

Even if this proved not to be the beast that had been raiding the ranch's lower meadow and killing livestock, bears were unpredictable. They were opportunistic hunters and a whole lot smarter than most people gave them credit for. While their eyesight was far from poor, their strongest senses were hearing and smell. Usually, once a bear caught the scent of humans, it tried to avoid them. Reports in town said this animal was not dissuaded by the presence of humans. That left sending a few shots its way and hoping that would slow the bear down. Otherwise, they could be in real trouble since outrunning one was near impossible.

Shade made his way toward the sounds of rustling underbrush. He was careful, circling around so that he could stay upwind of the animal. He and the bear wound up back on the side trail at the same time, and Shade's heart pounded in his chest. He was several yards away from the animal and had a moment to look at it. The creature was massive. Even from a distance, Shade could tell the bear was likely over a thousand pounds and missing one eye. That was a small break. It meant the animal's depth perception would be off a bit.

Raising his rifle, Shade cursed himself for not bringing the bigger gun. The sound of the lever ratcheting caught the bear's attention. Before it could charge, Shade fired three rounds in rapid succession. The bear roared and bulled its way into the forest on the far side of the trail. Shade turned and hightailed it toward the main trail, Clara, and the twins.

Shade had just caught up to them when he heard the bear's roar of rage. It was trying to triangulate on them, obviously only briefly dissuaded by being shot. No doubt the smaller caliber bullets were painful but lacked stopping power. Still, it had given Clara and the children a good headstart. They still might make it although Shade was already trying to think of another angle. A glint came into his eyes. The not-so-distant crashing in the underbrush made Shade's mind up for him.

"Clara, we're gonna cross the trail and follow the creek." They could not afford to stop or slow down, so Shade was giving her the plan while still moving. He also decided to leave out what happened next. He knew she wasn't going to like it at all.



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The trio had barely begun thrashing thru the underbrush when they heard a one-two-three volley of shots. The twins were crying now, but at least they kept moving, Clara was unnerved too but determined to keep as calm as she could. She was responsible for these little ones. Her mother would expect nothing else from her. Nettie tripped suddenly and toppled. Clara was right behind her stooping to pull her up as fast as she could.


"GO! Keep going!" she ordered, this was no time to be soft, pushing the girl forward.


There was noise behind them, gaining too. Clara did not want to even risk looking back, but then there was Shade's voice.


"Clara, we're gonna cross the trail and follow the creek."


"You heard your uncle! GO!" Clara managed to get the kids to veer off and head in the direction of the creek. Even as they did so, in the back of her mind, Clara couldn't help but remember what her father once said - you can't outrun a bear. Hopefully, he was wrong.

The four of them fled along a narrow track that followed the flow of the creek. Shade paused briefly every few moments to listen for the bear. His mind raced as he tried to think of how to protect the twins and Clara. He also chastised himself for bringing them this far from the house knowing the bear had been prowling the ranch. After another pause where Shade could not hear the animal, he felt he could hope the danger was past.

Unfortunately, that was about the time their luck ran out. The narrow track ended suddenly at a cliff. The creek spilled over the edge, dropping to a deep pool some ten or fifteen feet below. At that precise moment, the sound of something huge crashing through the forest could be heard. They only had moments before it would be upon them. 

Shade swung his rifle by its strap over his shoulder. "Clara, we're going to have to jump! It's our only chance. Take hold of Nettie, try to stay together. I've got Cody." He grasped the boy's hand who stared up at him with eyes widened in terror.


@Wayfarer for Clara / Nettie.

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  • 1 month later...

It was the four of them running desperately then, Clara could have gone faster but they had to go at the pace of the younger one's shorter legs. Still she felt better with Shade right with them plus he had the only gun in the bunch. That's when they ran up to a cliff side, turning back was not an option as the bear could be heard not far behind them. Shade didn't hesitate but barked out orders. There was no time for debate or even assessing the risk of what he commanded.


"Right!" Clara snatched at Nettie about her waist and then simply hurtled right off the edge feet first, the youngster having no choice but to take the dive right along with her.


They hit the water with a big splash!



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

Shade hesitated for a few moments to give Clara time to surface with Nettie and swim a short distance. The bear was very close now, too close! Shade could feel the creature behind him and knew without looking that it was now or never. Like Clara had done with Nettie, Shade scooped Cody up by the waist and tucked the boy into his body. As he leaped from the cliff, he felt the breeze of the bear's great paw slashing at his back, tearing his shirt, but missing him. Seconds later, he and Cody hit the water with a loud splash, going well under its surface. Shade thanked God that the pool was deep enough as he kicked for the surface.


As he broke the water's surface with the child, a tremendous roar shook the ravine. He rolled onto his back and looked up in time to see the biggest Grizzly he had ever seen or even heard tell of standing on its hind legs at the edge of the cliff. Shade held his breath for a moment, fearing that the animal was going to hurtle itself into the water after them. However, after another bone-rattling roar, it dropped to all fours, turned and disappeared into the forest. Before it moved away, Shade had been able to see that it was missing one eye.


As Clara's head broke the surface, she focused on making certain Nettie succeeded in doing the same. Luckily the little girl could swim so it wasn't like Clara was going to have to do it for the both of them. They splashed toward the shore and behind them there was another geyser of water as Shade and Cody hit the water, above them the bear roared his anger and no doubt disappointment too. 


Shade swam over next to Clara and helped pull her and the children up onto a flat topped boulder. He looked at the girl and grinned as he shook water from his near-black hair, "Not exactly the kind of swimming I had planned."


"I have not had much luck with swimming since I arrived in this valley," Clara dryly observed as she lay soaked to the bone upon the stone surface.


He ruffled Cody's hair, "You okay, tiger?" Cody nodded solemnly. Shade was pleased to see the fear was already fading from the child's eyes.


Clara was relieved the bear seemed to have decided to give up on them and wander off elsewhere, leastwise that's what she was hoping it did. She glanced up at Shade.


"So now what?"


"Now, we make our way over to the bank over there and get these little'uns home and dried out." Shade slid back into the water, treading easily and held up his arms for each twin in turn. They were both good swimmers having been taught early on by their mother who, Shade was convinced, had been part duck. Once the twins were on their way, he held his arms up for Clara, smiling at her, "You did great up there."


Clara swam beside the children nonetheless just in case they had any difficulties but they handled it with aplomb, like fish they were. Her little brother, Wyatt, was a fine swimmer too. She tread water then until Shade had lifted both children out then held out his arms for her too. She started to scramble out and instantly felt herself lifted with his strong yet gentle grip under her armpits. It was kind of exciting really. She quickly dismissed such unwholesome thoughts from her mind though to answer him.


"Thank you, the incentive to not get eaten was a strong one," she declared without a hint of sarcasm.


Continued in There's a Bear in the Woods!

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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