“He’s cool.” Said Caleb as he tried not to watch Fred disappear into the creekbed.
Shirley just nodded, her mind elsewhere. As the road curved away, she was able to take a long look at the ranch. What had started as their dream home had slowly become an anchor that weighed the family down. They had purchased the land empty and Greg’s construction company had built the house at the peak of the housing boom. He had been busy and making money hand over fist building luxury homes in the mountain resort towns for the rich and famous. But then the market had tanked and he was left with several properties. What started as laying off one crew soon found him declaring bankruptcy on the business and picking up odd jobs to make ends meet. Even if this event hadn’t happen, they soon would’ve had to move away from their home. She marveled at the mysterious ways of the universe.
Once again the drive back to Lost Park wasn’t noteworthy. They arrived at dusk and found Mary, Bill, and Ned taking care of the evening’s chores. Introductions were made and the new animals shuffled to their respective pens.
The group moved into the house and Ann explained to Bridget where they had left her fiancé. The weary group settled down to large bowls of stew and chatted away, learning more about each other.
“Mary tells me you make soap from the goat’s milk?” Ann asked.
Shirley finished her mouth full of food and answered. “Yup, and lotions and skin creams too. My sister-in-law got me started on it. She’s been doing it in Alaska for years. About, oh I guess three years ago, one of the tour companies in Fairbanks started bringing tourists to their Farmer’s Market. Jen has had this cute stall there and was running a little business called Far Above Rubies Goat Milk Skin Care and the tourists loved her stuff. She knew I had goats as a kid and talked me into starting a sister company that she could refer people too when she got really behind. Sales had been steadily picking up, even with the Recession, until this happen.”
Bridget asked, “Are you going to be able to keep making that stuff with what we have here?”
“It won’t be the same unless you have a coconut tree or a shea butter…fountain, but I think we can still do some stuff. Soaps for sure since a really basic soap is just fat and lye. I am sure we’ll be able to do better than that though. The lotions will be a little tougher but are still doable. But how much are we five ladies going to need? I have a fair bit at the house still and a few more supplies” she finished.
“Oh, I imagine it won’t be long before folks are wanting whatever you can offer and I think my husband is going to develop a market for a bit of everything,” answered Mary as she glanced at James.
“We’ll have to see what happens. We’ve got to get this cooperative running before we look too much else. But before that, we need to get through this move. Tomorrow we not only need to get a few trips in, I want someone to go into Fairplay and try to find those medicines Dan wants. Before we leave out of here in the morning we’ll load a couple horses and full tack for them in the trailer. Once we hit 285, Jeremiah, you and… well someone, will ride into town and swap for what we need. After that, I want you to ride back up to the Miles place.
“Tomorrow it’ll be Bridget, Janice, and the kids here. Ricky, Caleb, Jerry, I expect you to behave and help Bridget out. You’ll be the men of the house while we’re gone and I expect you to act like it. It’s going to be a full court press tomorrow to get the house moved down here. I know when we first thought this plan up we were going to combine the herds but I had a thought. Since we owe Fairplay 30 head, and its half way between the ranches, I’d like to drive your cattle into town to pay off that debt. Don’t answer now Shirley; let’s talk it through tomorrow when Greg is there. Anyway, I would really like to be done mess’n with everything but the animals by tomorrow night. That all sound doable to everyone?” James asked.
“I’ll go with Jeremiah into town,” said Mary, “They have seen my face recently and I’d like to see if anything else is available.”
Everyone agreed it was a good plan and they decided on an early start in the morning. Soon the newest members of the Lost Park Ranch were being shown there new sleeping quarters. In Ricky’s room the boys were soon busy not sleeping. Shirley decided to spend the night on the couch in the great room rather than sleep in the trailer alone on her first night away from her home. No one could blame her. The others finished cleaning up dinner and were all soon in their own rooms.
The morning bustle was filled with a sense of anticipation as everyone readied themselves for a busy day. Weapons were checked, three horses provisioned (one as a pack animal with a few goods Mary wanted to bring), and the truck’s fuel tank topped off. After a big breakfast of leftover stew, the truck and trailer left the ranch.
Mary and Jeremiah unloaded their horses at the junction with the highway as planed and set off at an easy walk. It would take a couple hours to cover the fifteen or so miles to town. By then, Mary figured the townsfolk would be awake and moving.
After a quick kiss for his wife and handshake for his hired man, James got the truck moving again. The chill morning air reminded the crew that while it might be spring, winter loves Colorado as much as Coloradans do. Everyone was eager to finish the trip and get out of the back of the truck.
Smoke from the chimney was their first sign of the ranch. The column rose arrow straight into the sky showing there was no wind. James hoped this meant a high pressure system had settled over the area and they would have good weather for a few days.
They backed the trailer into the driveway as they had the day before. Ted had the gate lock open by the time they were ready to pass through it and helped guide the trailer to the front door. Greg had thoughtfully put on a large pot of water when he started the stove and everyone enjoyed a warm drink.
Festus, who had spent the night at the Miles’ ranch, interrupted them with a bark. It was a bark that rapidly turned into a serious of barks and a whole lot of bounces as he ran to the door. The group reacted quickly and soon the front of the house bristled with weapons. Ted and Bill were sent to the back door and to the second story to watch the sides. Greg, who had a good vantage point, scanned the area with a pair of binoculars.
“I’ve got one guy in camo walking down the middle of the driveway. I think it’s your friend but whoever it is, they’re armed so let’s be careful.” Greg explained.
James nodded, “Good idea. I’m going to move up to the barn there where I can cover the driveway and keep an eye on that treeline. Everyone just keep an eye out and don’t shoot any of OUR people.”
As James opened the door, the question was resolved. Festus had quieted down when the atmosphere in the room had tensed but shot out through the door like a rocket the second he could. His legs pumped like mad until he was half a dozen feet from the intruder. At that point, he launched himself and the man snatch him out of the air.
The others couldn’t help but laugh as the Special Operations Warrior and the Jack Russell greeted each other with barks, flips and much wagging. And Festus seemed pretty happy too.
The two joined the others on the porch and Fred dumped his gear. After Greg handed him a cup of hot green tea, he filled the others in on his exploits overnight.
“I figured we could drop them at the highway or even in town if they wanted,” Fred explained, “though to be honest, I’m not sure Fairplay’ll want ‘em.”
“Did you ask them what they did for work? They might be useful.” Ann asked.
“No ma’am, it never came up. Who knows though, maybe they will be? It just didn’t seem right leaving them up there with no options. Hope you don’t mind me volunteering taxi service,” Fred finished.
James waved his hand, “No, you’re right; we need to help them out if we can. But for now we better get to work. Greg, Shirley, why don’t you get folks started then the three of us need to talk. I’d like to go out and look at the barn for a minute so come grab me when you’re ready.”
And with that, the day began. It wasn’t long before teams had been divided up and were busy packing goods. The plan was to empty the essentials from the house first, including the rest of the food. After that it would be things deemed essential or non-replaceable from the barn and outbuildings. They would then work on what was left in the house and finally what was left in general. The animal feed would be the last load before the animals themselves.
Greg agreed that it would be much easier to take his 35 cattle to Fairplay instead of all the way to Lost Park and a plan was made to drive them into town in two days to fulfill James’ deal.
It didn’t take long to fill the truckbed and trailer to capacity. James, Greg, Fred, and Ann piled aboard anywhere they could find space and took the load to Lost Park. Unloading took longer but the boys were pressed into service and the trailer was back at the Miles’ ranch, ready to be loaded for a second trip, by noon.
The loading and unloading continued throughout the afternoon. The runs after the first one went much faster and they were returning from the third trip to Lost Park Ranch when they met a horse drawn wagon on the road.
“From that smile, I’d say you got what Lizzy needs my dear,” called James as he stepped from the truck.
“We did, and few other things. The pharmacy is now a ‘city asset’ but Jeremiah was able to trade for the medicine while I was looking around Old Town. It’s amazing; that place has so much stuff we will be able to use! I’m not even sure we can haul it all back to the ranch. Jeremiah was able to hitch the horses up to this wagon and we loaded a few things from the museum into the back. We’ll have to decide which horses are going to be our wagon team as it defiantly takes them some getting used to. There are nine more wagons still there and just so much stuff.” Mary said, almost without breathing.
James chuckled at his wife’s enthusiasm. “It sounds like we did very well indeed. For now, why don’t you hop in here? Jeremiah, keep heading onto the Miles’ ranch and we’ll meet you there. We’ll figure up a plan for tomorrow but we need to get moving if we don’t want to be caught out after dark. One of you fellas want to keep Jeremiah company on his ride?”
Ted and Mary changed places and everyone continued on towards the ranch. It took the wagon almost an hour and a half to finish the trip and they joined the others as the sun was just beginning to set. They were met by the group standing around the truck and trailer, which were fully loaded and ready to go. Also standing with the group were three unfamiliar faces.
Fred introduced Jake, Cat, and Henry from the lake and James addressed the group.
“Okay gang, to go over it one last time for those just joining us, here is where we stand. We didn’t get as far today as I had hoped so we’ve got another day of moving tomorrow. We also need to get the herd collected up from Greg’s south pasture and on the trail to town and give these folks a lift to Fairplay. So tonight, Jeremiah, I’d like you and Fred to stay here with these folks,” he said, indicating the group from the lake. “I understand the young lady is hobbled but you boys can lend a hand tomorrow.
“Jeremiah, you okay with this lot getting those horses tucking in for the night? Good. Shirley took care of that stinky goat of hers, fed the birds, and left you guys a dozen eggs on the counter. Between what the girls sent with us from home and what Shirley has left out for you guys, you should eat just fine.
“Anyone not staying here, double check your weapons and load up. We still need to make a stop and daylight is fading fast.”
Those departing quickly loaded into the spaces they had reserved and were off. The dust hadn’t settled from their leaving before Jeremiah had driven the wagon into the barn and he was talking Fred and Henry through unhooking the horses. Jake was put to work making sure hay and water were available for the three animals and Cat had moved into the house to get off her bad ankle. It didn’t take long with everyone working together and they soon joined the dog and Cat in the house.
Jake, who worked as a chef at a mom and pop restaurant in Denver, took charge of dinner preparations. He used the eggs, beef, and dehydrated vegetables that had been left for them to make a tasty and filling meal that they all enjoyed. Fred and Jeremiah talked it over and set a watch schedule between them.
The land between the county road that crosses Highway 285 and the outskirts of Fairplay is almost perfectly flat. As the Lost Park group crossed the highway in the twilight, they could see barrels burning at the edge of town.
Mary, who was sitting between James and Ann in the cab, explained, “They have beefed up the roadblock. They have a bit of a segregation area setup a ways back from town and have managed to nearly encircle the town with a wall. It’s not much of a wall, mostly just cars pushed in between houses, but it’s starting to look like a Wild West fort. They have setup a cattle yard on the north side of town between 4th and Harleg. The mayor seems to be getting it together and is looking to make a go of it. And James, Old Town is inside that wall on the banks of the Middle Fork. They have started filling in between most of the buildings with cars and rubble and stuff but soon that is going to be part of the wall.”
“I’m glad they are getting organized. The more they do, the more I hope we can get this coop organized and get in good with the folks of Fairplay. If we do, I think we’ll have a real chance of making her thrive beyond any time in her history, even the Gold Rush.” James replied.
They both grew quiet as the evening darkened. When they were a little over a mile from the highway junction, James turned on the headlight. Ten minutes later he turned into the driveway for the Double Bar $.
They were met at the house by Mike and several of the men from earlier. The truck had hardly stopped before Mike was walking towards it.
“Did you get it? Were you able to get the stuff for my girl?” he asked.
“We did Mike, we did. The mayor ‘nationalized’ the pharmacy but we were able get what Dan asked for,” said Mary as she walked to the rancher.
Mike scooped her up in a hug and let out a whoop. “Great, get yourself, all yawl, get in the house you must be freezing riding around in the back of that truck. Let’s get this to the Doc.”
The ranch hands followed the group into the house where hot drinks were soon passed around. Dan joined the others momentarily then carried the medication into the bedroom with him. A few minutes later he returned and took up a drink himself.
Mike, who had been busy adding a slug of whiskey to any cups he could get a hold of, called for quiet when he saw Dan.
“A toast, to this fine young man that has saved my little girl!” he called.
Dan’s ears burned. When the clapping stopped, he spoke. “She’s not out of the woods yet. The fluids I gave her helped a lot but if these pills don’t do the trick she could still be in real trouble. She’ll need to eat pretty bland stuff, mostly broth like we talked about, and take one of those pills three times a day until they are gone. I write that on the paper I’m leaving for you. I’d like to come back by and check on her in a few days but if she starts going downhill, send somebody for me.”
“I know she’ll be better, thanks to you,” turning to James, he extended his hand, “and to you. Jimmy, you and yours really came through for us. I meant what I said before, anything you want, it’s yours.”
“Right now I need two things from you Mike; top me up on fuel again, and let my people loose. It’s getting late and my day aint near over.” James replied as he returned the handshake.
“That we can do. Billy?” Mike called to his foreman.
Billy nodded, “Brian should be just about finished filling that tank by now Boss. Mr. Duncan, your Doc says to send for help if Elizabeth gets worse, but we can’t get to your place any way but on foot. I am sure Mr. Johnson would swap you for a horse or two if you can spare it.”
James thought it over for a minute. Addressing Mike and Billy at the same time, he said, “Why doesn’t one of your boys ride back with us tonight. If he’ll lend a hand, we can put him up tonight and he can ride back in the morning. I am sure you’ll take good care of a loaner horse.”
Billy looked at Mike who nodded. Billy turned and strode across the room where he spoke to another man for a couple minutes. The man turned and left the room.
“Joshua will be back in just a minute. I figured you wouldn’t mind him going armed, ‘specially since he’ll be riding back alone tomorrow,” said Billy.
James stiffened for a moment then realized Billy was right. “That’s fine. Okay folks, we need to get home,” he called to the room.
Space was made for Joshua in the bed of the truck and they were soon on the way. Twenty-five minutes found them backing the trailer up in front of the house. Mary went inside to let Bridget know they had another mouth to feed and to get boys to come help. She was surprised when she found the whole lot asleep in front of the fire.
She laughed to herself as she woke Ricky and asked if the evening chores had been finished. The boy’s eyes popped open in surprise when he realized he had been asleep but he quickly calmed down. The chores had all been finished when Bridget had gathered them all to read a story at sunset. They had fallen asleep less than two hours ago.
Ricky woke Caleb and the boys joined the others in unloading the truck and trailer. Bridget and Jerry were left to sleep while Mary checked the pot on the stove. It only took a second to see Bridget had been busy. There would be plenty of the soup and fresh bread for one more mouth.
It was a tired lot that congregated at the table for the evening. Most of dinner was eaten to a soundtrack of slurps and groans. People soon leaned back and heads began to nod, as was the habit, James laid out the plan for the following day.
“When we leave here in the morning, we’ll be taking several horses along. I want one more for the wagon team. That pack horse that didn’t pull today will make a good one and that dun mare should pull with her well. I think those kids from the lake will ride in the wagon with Mary driving. Jeremiah, Greg, and I will start pushing that herd into town and I want Fred along too. So that’s the three up at Greg and Shirley’s plus three from here. We’ll get Joshua all rigged out and he can take off from here in the morning. When we get to the Miles’ ranch, we’ll all pitch in on the first load. Then it will be on the rest of you for the remainder for the day. I know you’ll be short hands but I think you’ll be able to finish everything but the critters tomorrow. Well, you might not get all the animal feed but see what you can do. Anyway, I hope we get finished soon, even with Mike filling us back up we only have so much go juice. Alright, we’re all falling asleep at the table so let’s pack it in tonight. Joshua, you’ll be bunking on the couch here. ‘Nite all.”
The normal ruckus that was the morning commenced and animals, equipment and people were being loaded when Bridget cornered James.
“Oh father of mine, I need to speak with you.” She said, “Do you realize that I have not been off this ranch almost two months? Everyone else has been out riding, chasing cattle or even just loading trailers but not me. I’m pregnant, not porcelain and I’m seriously starting to go stir crazy.”
“Whoa hey there missy, things have changed. It’s dangerous out there; we told you what Fred saw, heck what Fred DID, up at Jefferson. No, you need to stay here.” James finished, nodding to himself.
Behind them, Mary laughed and deflected the tirade Bridget was winding up to launch. “He was the same way with both of you kids. Remember when he tried to make me quit gardening when I was about to have your brother?”
“How’s this sound you two,” Mary said, looking first to her daughter, then to her husband. “Once we get this business taken care of with the town, you and Dan take the pickup and go check up on Lizzy? James, they’ll only be going up the way and it’s not even close to the highway. In fact, I am sure Ted would be happy to go along and guard his baby.”
Bridget smiled, gave her mother a kiss on the cheek, turned, and went back to the kitchen where she resumed packing food for the moving crew. James could only watch her go, chuckle to himself and follow her lead. The kiss he gave Mary carried a whole lot more passion though.
“Enough you, lets finish getting ready to move out,” she whispered to her husband.
They walked onto the front porch as Joshua, Ricky, and Caleb, walked out of the barn. The Double Bar $ hand led a saddled horse to which his gear had been secured. Seeing Mary and James, the group angled across the driveway to them.
“This is a fine horse Mr. Duncan. I’ll take good care of her.” Joshua said.
“I’m sure you will. If you folks need us, send a rider and we’ll get there as quick as we can. This is for you, be careful out there.” James replied as he threw a warm newspaper wrapped bundle to the ranch hand.
Joshua held it to his nose for a second before smiling, “More of that bread from last night, thank you very much sir. I best be off, I’m going to take the back way in and check that feed we put out the other day.”
The young man easily mounted and turned his horse away from the bustle of the driveway, setting off in the opposite direction. Seeing this, Dan put the saddle he had been carrying in the truck and approached James.
“Fred and I saw that track when we were out walking the property a little while ago, I’ve been meaning to ask where it goes.” Dan asked.
“That? It goes out that way a fair bit. Joshua will turn off after a mile or so and then cut northwest to come onto the back side of the Double Bar $. This old trail goes all the way over to His Rising Star Christian Camp. Most of the horses you see running ‘round here belong to that camp.” James replied, “I doubt we’ll ever see Mr. or Mrs. Green again. They live in Los Angeles and this camp was as much a tax write-off as anything else for them. No, even if they could, I doubt they would run here for safety.”
Dan mumbled his thanks and went back to work. His wonder at the possibilities an abandoned summer camp might offer were soon replaced as he joined the others in cajoling horses into the trailer.
Eventually, everything was loaded into the truck and trailer and people began piling in. James took the wheel with Mary and Shirley in the cab with him. Greg, Dan, Ned, Bill and the boys piled into the bed. Bridget, Ted, Ann, Janice and Hannah would remain at the ranch.
James stopped at the highway crossing from long habit. He first looked left, or southwest, towards town and saw nothing unusual. When he turned the other way, he could see something far up the road, nearing the top of the steep grade coming out of Kenosha Pass.
“You two see that?” he asked the women.
“Yeah, but what is it?” Shirley replied.
James shook his head, “I’m not 100% sure but I’d guess the first of a whole lota trouble. That looks like a pack of refugees.”
Still shaking his head, James turned the truck towards town. “That group’s not moving fast, we’ve got time to spread the word.”
Fifteen minutes later and the group was approaching Fairplay. James pulled off the road and turned around, pointing the vehicle back the way he had come. He shut the engine down and opened the door.
He spoke to the group, “I’m going to talk with these folks for a minute and then we’ll be on the way. The plan stays the same but you all keep a sharp eye out here. There is a group of people coming off The Pass and they might not all be on foot. I’ll make this quick.”
Dan and Greg dismounted and watched the road to their East. Both men made sure that the bulk of the truck and trailer was between them and town guards to their West.
Greg, after casting a look over his shoulder at the town’s defenses and then looking back up the road towards Denver, chuckled aloud. He looked at Dan, smiled, and asked, “So, which way you think the bullets are gonna fly first?”
“Well, if you’re taking votes, mine’s for straight down,” Dan replied. “But I doubt we really need to worry unless someone over at that roadblock gets antsy. It’s what, almost twenty miles from where we saw those folks to Fairplay? On a good day, the average, healthy adult can do about 3 miles an hour, on flat ground, for a day. But with a group like that, their pace is going to be a whole lot slower. The ground on the other side of that pass in anything but flat and who knows how long they have been walking it? It’s safe to say for a while. Plus, those people are gonna be carrying as much as they can and probably have young and old people mixed in with them. All that subtracts from how much ground they can cover; and that doesn’t even take into account that they are most likely starving. No, I doubt they’ll be here today or even tomorrow.”
“I sure hope you’re right. I don’t want to get caught out here with my wife and boys if there’s trouble.” Greg said.
Dan looked over towards the roadblock and could see James speaking with two others. One looked to be a woman dressed to spend time in the cold and armed with a scoped hunting rifle. The other person was an older man who, even from two-hundred yards away, looked to be overdressed and uncomfortable. Dan could see three other armed individuals in the area.
Greg followed Dan’s gaze and said, “That was quick, they already got the mayor up here.”
After a few minutes, James turned and walked back to the truck. When he neared he called, “Load up, we need to get moving,” and as he got into the truck he said, “I’ll fill you all in when we stop.”
He had the truck in gear almost before the door was closed. His sense of urgency was apparent as he pushed the truck as fast as he dared. It took them ten minutes to get back to the county road that led them to the Miles’ ranch.
James slowed to a safe speed to make the turn and as he did the others all peered up the highway, trying to glimpse the mass of people moving their way. The group was easy to spot, a dark smudge against the lighter colored of the highway, high on the hill. They did not look to have moved at all in the hour since they were first spotted.
A couple miles north of the highway, James slowed then stopped. He shut the truck off and stepped out so he could speak to everyone at the same time.
“Alright folks, I’ve made a little change of plans for today. Greg, we need to get those cattle to Fairplay as quick as we can. You’ve got about forty-five head in your range herd and they’re most likely down on the southwest corner of the property, right? Well, I just traded off ten of those so we need to get forty beasts rounded up and delivered before that group shows up in Fairplay. Royce is in a hard place. He’s got over 500 mouths to feed, not enough food to do it, and he doesn’t want to turn folks away. With what they have been able to collect, they’ve been able to give folks at least a meal before sending them on their way but some in town are starting to grumble about it. And when I told him I saw a group of about twenty, he got real worried. There is an element, one that has been getting more vocal, that says these ‘road people’ are a threat. He’s been humoring this element and letting them start hardening the town, but he’s afraid if they see a large group they’ll get violent. Sorry I didn’t ask you about these extra cattle but I needed to make a decision right then. We’re giving him the extra beef with the express intent that it’s to feed this group. He says that dog’l hunt but only if we get the animals there before these travelers do.”
James took a deep breath and ran his hand over his face with a motion that was becoming more frequent. “Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing here but I know the people he’s dealing with and they will hurt those folks; bad. I have to try and stop that.”
“I just hope we’re helping the right kind of people, “Greg replied.
“..sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.. You did the right thing,” his wife added.
“Alright then, we need to get a move on. We’ll get horses out and saddled here for Greg, Mary, and I. Jeremiah and Fred will have to catch up. Once we’re on the move, you’ll need get up to the ranch and send them after us. The rest of you will go ahead and load the trailer. I want you to be careful taking it back across the highway. Check it out with the binos and don’t go near it if you see people in the area. It’s just going to be one trip today so make it as full as you can. Now let’s get a move on.” James finished.
It was only minutes later when James, Mary, and Greg set off at a fast trot in the direction Greg thought the cattle to be. They had gone only a few hundred feet before the truck and trailer was moving again with Ned at the wheel.
When they arrived at the ranch they found the others awake and already at work. The remaining goods had all been stacked for easy loading into the trailer. Dan quickly filled the others in on the morning’s happenings and James’ plan. While he did, Ricky, Caleb and Bill saddle mounts for Fred and Jeremiah.
Caleb gave the two men directions that would put them in the area with the cattle and the men rode out at a gallop. They were soon out of sight.
“You know, there is another way to make sure the cows make it to town first. If those people go slow, they won’t beat James and Greg, right?” Bill asked.
Dan shook his head, “No, that’s too dangerous. We have no idea what kind of people these are, if they’re armed, if they are some gang, nothing. What could we do to slow them down, shoot at them? Invite them for tea? Besides, we’re down to the two horses we brought for the buckboard. No, I don’t think it’s worth the risks.”
“It is if it prevents them from all getting killed. Look, I’m a lawyer, I convince people of things all the time. I can take a horse and go watch them. If they don’t look dangerous, I can talk with them.” Bill answered.
Dan kept shaking his head but Caleb spoke up. “There’s a spot where the property looks down onto the road and we could see them from. Me ‘n Ricky used to go there and watch the big trucks in the summers sometimes. You could look at them from there and probably yell to them too. They wouldn’t be able to see you up in them rocks either, unless you wanted them to.”
Shirley cast a look at her son but he shrugged.
“I say it’s worth a try. It might keep the others out of a gunfight and if it can be done safely we should try it. Besides, if they are a bunch of marauding barbarians, we can warn Fairplay.” Ned added.
“For the record, I don’t like it. But if that’s what the rest of you think we should do, I’ll play along. Whatever we’re going to do, we better do it quick though. Caleb, what’s the best way there?” Dan asked.
“If we go across the hill pasture to the base of the mountain, we can follow it to the road,” he said, pointing the direction they would need to go.
“Okay, then we better get going,” Dan said as Ned and Bill exchanged a look.
“Dan, I don’t think you should go; you’re too valuable. I can go by myself,” said Bill.
“Hey, we can help too.” Jake interjected. He was thoroughly ignored.
“Nobody should be going anywhere by themselves. We need to stay in pairs at least,” Dan replied, “Besides, you just said this would be a safe exercise.”
“He’s right Dan. I can’t believe I’m saying this but one of the boys should go. They’ve crawled all over these hills and know where they’re going. They can both ride and shoot if need be; Ricky even brought his deer rifle.” Shirley said.
“I’ll go. It’ll be nothing, really.”Ricky added.
Dan gave in. “This bad idea just keeps getting worse. Fine then, but really, you guys need to get moving.”
The decision made, the horses were saddled and made ready for the trip. Shirley sent Jerry to the barn and went into the house. The others watched as the boy ran across the yard back to the house with an armload of empty feed sacks. Minutes later, the two returned holding bulging bags tied shut with cords.
“There is some rice, a few cans of soup, and a few other dry goods in here. It won’t feed many and it won’t do it for long but it might help your talking,” she said as she handed the first one up to Bill.
The ropes used to close the bags were looped over the saddle horns, two each, and the others were ready to go. Bill carried the AR he had brought from the ranch and Ricky his 7mm. Both were dressed in their warm clothes from the truck ride and carried canteens. With a wave to his buddy, Ricky turned and led them out of the yard.
Shirley took a deep breath and spoke, “We should get to work too. You two,” she said pointing to Jake and Henry, “Start loading those last few totes from the living room into the truck. Make sure you leave enough space to lay the girl out. You three should check the barn and the shop. I think we just have the bagged feed, the barrels of grain, and the hay left but make sure before we start loading out. Boys, I need you to collect eggs and bring them in. When you’re finished I want you to unscrew the nesting boxes from the wall in the coop and put them with the feed in the barn. Save some grain out so we can get Pan in the trailer. ”
Ned looked at Dan. “Geez, she even sounds like your mother, those two will get along great. Just what we need.”
Dan laughed, “Ah you know you love it. I am sure between them and Mary, you old coots will be kept in line. We better get moving before we get hit with a broom or something.”
The group dispersed, each to their assigned tasks. The house was soon emptied and the trailer backed closer to the barn. Shirley organized everyone into teams to wrestle large steel can used to hold open feed into the trailer first. After that, bag after bag of goat feed, chicken scratch, cracked corn, and oats were loaded.
The last thing to be loaded was the ornery buck, Pan. In spite of the grain they tried tempt him with, it was a pushing sweating cursing event to load him in the back of the trailer. Eventually the door was closed and two tired crew took a break.
“He’s usually not this much of a pain in the butt,” Shirley commented. “The girls have been wearing off on him.”
Ned gave her a disbelieving look as he whipped sweat from his brow. “I thought this was normal for these things.”
Shirley chuckled at that. “Well, for the ladies it kinda is. They’re Nubians who are KNOWN for their bad attitudes. Pan’s a Boer and he usually has a much better attitude.”
Dan, who had been listening in, asked, “A Boer, I thought those were meat goats?”
“Yup,” Shirley replied. “I wanted the girls to drop bigger kids and he’s done the trick. The Nubians put out plenty of milk and the kids grow fast enough that we can sell them pretty easily.”
The men nodded their understanding and Shirley checked on the project she’d tasked Caleb and Jake to in the barn. She was happy to see it find them finishing up and the three joined everyone else on the porch.
Shirley and Caleb made a final pass through the property and pronounced it packed. A nest had been left for Cat and she was soon installed in the bed of the truck. The rest of the group piled in and they pulled out of the ranch for the last time.
The living are higher than the lifeless, and the thinking are higher than those that can merely draw breath.
Marcus AureliusMechanical Issues