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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.

Another Journey Begins

Quentin Cantrell

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Marianne had expected everyone to be somber and depressed over Shade's imminent departure. But, much to her surprise and thanks in large part to Shade's determinedly cheerful demeanor, that had not been the case. She was still half-asleep and in her dressing gown because she and John had been up late discussing Shade's suggestion of buying the Grossly property. John had decided to recommend waiting a bit longer. The railroad had approached both him and the bank about acquiring property for a new rail line and railhead in Laramie. John thought they'd be better waiting for a few months before making any definite moves. In the meantime, he'd put an option on the Grossly place, so he had the first bid.

Shade and John had lingered long enough for coffee and then rousted Andy and Mike out of their beds. They were all outside doing the routine morning chores which included feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, and milking the cow. Marianne was in the kitchen working on breakfast. She planned on making it an epic meal with all of Shade's favorites. He enjoyed dinner with the family but had always said that breakfast was his favorite meal of the day. Everyone was fresh from a good night's sleep instead of being tired from a long day's work.

Marianne stoked the cookstove with fresh wood and set it alight. While it heated, she slipped off to her bedroom and donned her trousers and work shirt, pulled her hair back and secured it at the nape of her neck in a pretty clasp John had gotten her, but left her feet bare. By the time she returned to the kitchen, the stove was hot. She placed sausage patties and bacon in a skillet to fry and began mixing up the ingredients for biscuits and flapjacks. This would be a breakfast to remember!

Cantrell inhaled and rolled over on his back. A second deep breath made his eyes open. He took the third breath and then sat up as his stomach growled. Cantrell shifted around and sat on the bed, rubbing his face a few times before he reached for his shaving kit...

Shortly after, Cantrell walked into the kitchen and stretched. He reached and looped his gunbelt on the wall rack beside some coats. "My my...I must say this breakfast smells even better than your supper did last night. I did not think that was possible."

"Why, thank you, kind sir," Marianne smiled and dropped a curtsy. "John and Shade both say breakfast is my specialty. They are outside making sure the morning chores get done, and Shade wanted to check the horses over again. Water's hot if you'd like tea. I need to get the biscuits ready for the oven. Make yourself at home."

Cantrell moved over and made himself a cup of tea from the cabinet. "Before I leave I will leave you a box of my tea. It's a blend I have made near my hotel in San Francisco. It's the least I can do for drinking from your supply." Cantrell stayed out of the way and sipped from the cup. "Is there something I can do to help? I am a pretty decent cook, and no, that's not a delusional lie..."

"Again, thank you. I love tea. John and Shade won't touch it unless they are so sick or injured, they can't protest, so I rarely drink it," Marianne laughed, her eyes sparkling with humor. "Shade can manage a trail meal. John burns water. If you wouldn't mind managing the bacon and eggs, I can get the biscuits in the oven."

Cantrell nodded. "More than fair..." He set the tea nearby and washed his hands, then set to work. He sliced off plenty of bacon for the group, taking into account the fact that the others had been up working for a while. He hunted up a skillet and greased it before laying the bacon on the bottom spaced close together. He set it on the stove to begin frying, then found another pan and began cracking eggs into it. Cantrell played it safe and just mixed the eggs into one huge pile, scrambling them while adding some random spices from the rack nearby. "Anything special they like about their eggs?" Cantrell stepped back over, flipping the bacon over and also adding a few spices while keeping their frying even.

"Spice 'em up, Quentin," Marianne said with an engaging grin. "Both of them have decided Southwestern tastes. They like their food spicy." She watched for a moment as Cantrell expertly turned the bacon and began adding sausage patties to the skillet. From what little she knew of him, he seemed to be a man of contrasts. She couldn't help wondering how Shade would cope with someone that seemed to be infinitely more worldly than the former drifter.

"Spice got it..." Quentin sprinkled more portions of spices over the eggs while stirring, then he moves to the other pan and even sprinkled some spices on the sausages. He then fished out a slice of bacon and held it up, giving it a shake, nodding as he took a bite. "Mmm...perfect. Not too crunchy." Cantrell stirred the eggs again and shook the pan, inhaling the aroma as it floated up from the eggs. "These are almost ready..."

"And," Marianne carefully pulled a large cast iron skillet out of the oven, "so are the biscuits. If you dish it up, I'll set the table and ring the bell."

Marianne got out her best serving dishes and china. She wanted this breakfast to be special. She placed a pretty tablecloth over the larger dining area table rather than the breakfast table in the kitchen. Still humming cheerfully, she set a place for each person while Quentin carried in the serving dishes loaded with the morning's repast. Standing back, she admired their efforts and nodded at Quentin. Leaving him to put the finishing touches on the table, she went outside to ring the gong, calling everyone in for the meal.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Shade heard the summons for breakfast with relief. His empty stomach protested its status in collusion with the sound of the dinner gong. He patted the big buckskin gelding's glossy hide. He had pulled one shoe and replaced it, but otherwise, the horse was ready for the journey. "Paladin," he said the horse's new name quietly, "a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry. Let's see if you can live up to the reputation you've been saddled with."

A moan from behind him made Shade grin. John had heard the joke as he passed by, slapping his younger friend's shoulder, "C'mon before Marianne breaks the bell."

By the time John and Shade had washed up, Andy, Mike, Marianne, and Quentin were already at the table. They usually did not stand on ceremony for breakfast, but this morning John asked they link hands so he could say grace. Shade bowed his head slightly, listening as John spoke, strongly and quietly, "Dear Lord, bless this table, the food upon it, and all those that sit here. Watch over our friends as they ride north and keep them safe. See that they know that time and distance will not break the bonds of friendship. Amen." There was a soft chorus of amens, then John said, "What are you waiting for, tuck in."

"Planned your route yet?" John asked as he dished scrambled eggs onto his plate, appreciatively inhaling their fragrant and spicy scent.

Shade nodded, following John's lead and loading his plate. It might be awhile before they could take a midday meal break, so it was best to be slightly over full. "Looking at following the road north through Jackson and the Yellowstone, on to Butte, skirt the Nez Perce lands, and into Missoula. From there, it's another two days minimum to the Kalispell. If we run into trouble, we might have to try the Lolo."

"Hmmm," John mentally reviewed Shade's planned route. "Tetons are tricky even at this time of year. But, there's not a better main route. I've got some old survey maps of the Lolo. You should take one of them, just in case..."

Cantrell shrugged as he busied himself with buttering a biscuit. "I will bow to the superior knowledge of Shade. The last time I did this much cross country riding I was in a uniform, and I don't think deepest darkest Virginia quite compares to this place."

Shade chewed his bite of bacon and eggs slowly, savoring the flavor. He indicated the plate with his fork, "Marianne, you outdid yourself this morning. You did something different with the eggs."

Marianne grinned and gestured toward Cantrell, "Not me. Quentin helped with the cooking since Andy and Mike were helping you."

Both John and Shade looked at the other man, their expressions showing they were impressed with his prowess in the kitchen. "All that and handy with a shootin' iron too. Maybe the trail grub won't be quite as bad as I was anticipating," Shade stated with a friendly smile in Quentin's direction.

"We have to start with good stuff before it turns out good...I can only do so much." Cantrell continued after devouring the biscuit. "...just don't get us lost."

Shade grinned at the implied challenge to his hunting prowess and skills as a guide and scout. It would keep the journey interesting.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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