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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.

There's No Place Like Home!

Harriet Mercer

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Mature Content: No

With: Quentin Cantrell, Shade Thornton
Location: Blackbird Lodge (main ranch house)
When: Mid-September 1875 (just past the middle of the month)
Time of Day: Late Afternoon




At last! Harriet felt herself slump in the saddle as the main barn next to the lodge came into view. Without the cattle holding them back, they had made good time on the return trip to Kalispell. Still, the last thirteen miles from the ranch's border to the main house felt like it would never end. She patted Spirit's neck. Even the powerful paint was weary, although he did manage to throw up his head and whinny at the sight and smell of home. They had left the other riders at the bunkhouse, so it was only herself and Quentin arriving at the house. Now, she glanced over at him, certain that he was as exhausted as she was.

The ride back from Poison had been made with Harriet very aware of what had passed between herself and Quentin. They had been careful of one another during the journey for propriety's sake. She needed to talk to him, but that would also have to wait until a more propitious time. Right now, she would have to content herself with brushing her gloved fingers over his when he reached up to help her off of her horse. Despite her best efforts, she staggered slightly when her feet hit the ground.

A hand came out to greet them and take the horses. Harriet smiled, "Give him a good extra helping of feed. He worked hard and took good care of me." The man grinned and tipped his hat as he gathered the reins.

Harriet walked slowly to the door and paused just outside it. Squaring her shoulders, she tossed a smile at Quentin, then pushed heavy doors open, raising her voice stridently, Harriet called out, "Shade Thornton! I need to speak to you right now!" Her eyes and her smile brightened as she imagined the younger man wincing or even trying to find a place to hide.



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Quentin followed Harriet into the house, his saddlebags hanging on one shoulder. He grinned as she yelled Shade's name. If she thinks Shade will show himself at the sound of her voice, then Harriet doesn't know Shade very well.


Quentin batted at the trail dust on his clothes before finally giving up and hanging his hat on one of the row of hooks on the wall. A look at the hat reminded Quentin that he needed to go to town and buy a new one when he had the chance. Quentin stood, tugging his gloves off each hand in turn as he watched Harriet as she did the same. He found himself smiling to himself as he watched her and wandered how things had changed over the past months since he had first met her. One time he had heard or read "There is a thin line between Love and Hate." Quentin figured that maybe that intensity of dislike had contributed to the way the two of them were feeling about each other now.


Quentin blinked and gave himself a mental shake as he looked around and did not see Shade. "Come on out, Shade!..." Quentin yelled finally. "...Don't make her come looking for you!"



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Mike lifted up his head from the ledger he had been perusing.  He and Shade had started having a meeting at the end of each day to go over what happened during the day and work out what needed to be done on the next.  They were meeting in the office just off the main entry, which Mike thought was nicely decorated and suited for the purpose.


The first voice was a woman's, followed quickly by a man's. They both sounded pretty impatient and eager to find his boss.  He looked over to Shade, "Either they're friends of yours or you've got a security problem," he said with slight touch of humour in his voice.

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Shade also looked up and in the direction of the doorway. His sigh was audible, "They live here. You might as well meet the rest of the household," he said before raising his voice slightly and calling out, "Office! Working."


Rapid footsteps could be heard crossing the entryway and heading toward the office as Harriet made her way to it. Since the door was already open, some of the drama was dissipated and the woman simply appeared in the doorway. She was dusty and her normally neatly coifed hair hung in ripples down her back. All-in-all, Harriet Mercer looked completely disheveled. Shade managed not to smile, instinctively knowing that might result in pain.


"Harriet," Shade said mildly, "I assume Quentin is with you?" He glanced past her, noting an equally dusty and weary looking Cantrell. "Glad you both made it home in one piece. Harriet Mercer, Quentin Cantrell, I'd like for you to meet our new day foreman, Mike Wentworth."


Mike stood up. It was something he always did in the presence of a lady.  He looked over to Harriet and smiled, "Ma'am."


Quentin stepped into the office to stand beside Harriet, He nodded and shook hands with Wentworth. "A pleasure..." He said as he nodded his head toward Shade. "...I am glad we have someone to help take care of this place."


Mark nodded, "I don't know about that, I'm still on trial.  If Shade is happy to keep me on by the end of it, I'll do my best."


"Mr. Wentworth," Harriet said, immediately remembering her manners. She would have to deal with Shade later, "Are you related to Mr. Matt Wentworth, owner of the Belle-St. Regis?" She divested herself of her riding gloves but did not offer her hand, "I am far too grubby to shake hands."


"I wouldn't expect you to ma'am.  Back where I came from ladies usually don't shake hands but for you will I make an exception," Mark smiled.


"As for the answer to your question, yes Matt is my older brother."


"Hmmmm," Harriet responded although her tone, to Shade's ears, was far more affable than normal, "quite the charmer also, I see." She turned toward Shade, "Do not think this gets you out of trouble, Shade Thornton. Right now, though, I need to clean up and say hello to the twins. Please excuse me." Harriet turned and left the room.


Shade looked at Mike and then at Quentin, "What just happened? What did you do to her on the trail? I was expecting the usual Dragon Lady."


Quentin's eyes widened. "What? I didn't do anything? What makes you think that? Don't be silly!..." He stopped answering and swallowed, then looked back at Mike. "Ignore him."


Mike got the impression, that Quentin was trying to hide something.  Since he didn't know the man he couldn't say what it was but it had to be interesting judging by the way he was acting.  He decided to play into what was happening, "I can't really ignore Shade, after all he is my boss and I'm still on trial. But then again, if I remember rightly you have a say in running this ranch as well. So, I think I'm probably better off staying out of this."


"Smart man," Shade said to Mike and then pointed a pencil in Quentin's direction, "I will find out what's going on with you two," he warned lightly. "Of course, if the end result is that Harriet's mood remains improved, I am for it...whatever it is. I take it you got the cattle delivered to Fort Poison without incident?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Quentin looked back through the doorway to make sure Harriet was out of earshot before he turned back to Shade. "Oh, right...about that..." Quentin moved around and dropped into one of the chairs opposite Shade's desk. "...Let's see...after all the days on the trail where Harriet showed she isn't a half bad cowhand...not half good, either, but not bad." Quentin's hands batted at his vest until he found the leather holder for his cigarillos and he tugged one out and lit it with a match from the same pouch's holder. He puffed the cigarillo a few times then held it in two fingers while he relaxed in the chair. "Then there was the Indian attack..." Quentin watched Shade's face after that little nugget of information.


"Indian attack!" Shade's head snapped up and he stared at Quentin. He frowned, "Is everyone okay? I mean, obviously you and Harriet are fine, but the other men with you?" What Shade wanted to ask about was the location of the attack. Poison was on a few miles north of where Chance, Regina, and the kids had been killed. He still suspected that their murders were not as simple and straight-up as the authorities wanted them to believe. "And you are sure they were Indians?" Shade had to question that too. Poison was roughly twenty-five miles south of Kalispell and they were not getting many reports of Indian troubles here in the northwest part of the territory.


Quentin blew a gust of smoke at the ceiling then lifted his hand and moved it in a calming gesture. "Easy. Everyone made it. It was a scary situation. The Indians did not want the fort to get that meat. It seems Mackenzie...Colonel Mackenzie that is...has been trying to subdue the Indians in this area with varying degrees of success." Quentin then sat up a little straighter. "You're forgetting one thing, though...Harriet about got her scalp lifted helping you out. Once she's cleaned up she might consider lifting your scalp as repayment."


Mike raised his eyebrow at Quentin's remark about Harriet.  It sounded like the woman he had just met was a bit of a curmudgeon.  Although she seemed pleasant enough when he met her, he wasn't really sure if that was an act or not.


As for the rest of the conversation, it wasn't a good sign that the Indians were attacking as it meant that it could be the start of something bigger.  "Did MacKenzie have any idea of why they have been so restless?"


Quentin shrugged. "He had received orders to do more...I'm sure you have seen how the Government treats Indian tribes all over..." Quentin took another draw from his cigarillo. "...Mackenzie realized that the local tribes weren't going to just accept it...and really...do any of them? So he's going to do his part to make things smoother, and now that they're going to build a new Fort, Mackenzie will have more men to keep the peace, regardless of Indian or White man being the troublemakers." Quentin took another draw and looked at the small part remaining before he mashed it out on an ashtray nearby. "Now...I think that's enough storytelling. I'm going to clean up and go to bed." Quentin stood up with a grunt and nodded to Mike. "A pleasure once again and welcome aboard..." He then looked at Shade as he stopped at the door. "Good luck with Harriet." Quentin nodded and disappeared through the door.


Shade watched the older man leave and leaned back, his mind now occupied with what a new fort might mean. He glanced over at Mike, "We need to consider expanding our contracts with the army. Depending on where they are putting the new fort, we could increase the frequency of our cattle deliveries to them - smaller drives. I can also see MacKenzie about doing more with our contract for supplying mounts." Shade enjoyed the job of wrangling cattle, but his heart lay with the ranch's equine operations. He was a natural horseman and really good with them.


Tags for Mike @JulieS (maybe in a new reply?)

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"We might have to hire a few more men if we get the extra work," Mike answered, "It will be something that will have to be done sometime next year depending on when this new fort gets built.  I don't see them requiring anything extra until that is taken care of."


He mused for a moment about the two people he had just met briefly, "What did your friend mean by good luck with Miss... or is it Mrs. Mercer?"


Shade tapped his pencil on the paperwork in front of him as he considered Mike's comments regarding hiring more hands. He also wanted to think about how much to tell him regarding Harriet's role at the ranch and their off-again-on-again issues. "You're right, of course. No need to winter extra hands since we have already downsized the herd in preparation for next spring's calving season. They won't get much work done on the fort until then either. Still, won't hurt to get contracts in place."


Looking up from the papers, Shade regarded Mike steadily, "H.G. Mercer and Associates are the ranch's legal firm. Harriet was the attorney for my older brother and his wife, Quentin's sister, Regina. She was also a good friend to them. When Chance and Regina remade their wills naming me and Quentin in them, Harriet naturally did extensive research on us. She did not like some of what she found. Then, on top of that, when we first arrived, there was an attempt by someone to take custody of my niece and nephew so the Judge put Harriet in to oversee the terms of the custody agreement. She is very good at what she does and a business hawk. I trust she'll always act with the twins' best interest at heart and I respect her."


Shade stopped and chuckled at his atypically long speech, "I even grudgingly like her...some of the time. However, Harriet and Quentin have been known to squabble like an old married couple. From what I've seen of Harriet, under that veneer of culture and high-society, there is a tigress with a spine of pure steel who doesn't back down or back off. I'd prefer to have her on our side than opposing us."


"I know the type.  Growing up in Washington, I got to see a lot of people like Miss Mercer," he smiled. "Although from what you tell me she sounds like she is more honest than ambitious. I like honesty in a person.  Someone who says what they mean and means what they say."


"Harriet's as honest as they come. She doesn't play games and says what she means," Shade affirmed. "Like you, I like people to be straight up with me even if I might not appreciate it at the time." He leaned back and closed the folder on the papers in front of him. "We're good, Mike. Judge said the ranch had to show at least a three-percent increase in profits and we're at nearly five-percent. We should have the numbers from the drives in a couple of days which will set us up for laying in some extra winter feed."


"That'll be fine.  I feel better knowing that if we have a bad winter that there will be plenty of feed on hand."  He pulled out his pocket watch, "It's getting near sundown and I need to go and check on that horse in the barn that tore its tendon the other day."


Mike went over to the table where he had left his hat, "Is there anything else you want me to do?"


"No, Mike, we're good. Enjoy the rest of your day," Shade replied. He leaned back and relaxed as the other man took his leave. He put away the work he was doing, stood up and stretched. It was time to track Quentin down and see how much more information he could get out of the older man.

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