Haying season was upon us. The Buckeye mower was ready to start cutting, and we’d ordered another identical model fer the Morgan place. Before he was murdered, Zeke Jacobson had cut hay to feed his cattle through the winter, but only the old school way, with a scythe.
Technology is a strange thing. We’d mowed with scythes in ’74, but the very idea of going back to that was enough to run chills up and down a man’s spine.
Calving season is intense, but getting the hay put up allows even less margin fer error when it comes to time wasted. Iffen you don’t check on a cow when she’s ready to give birth, odds are purty good the calf will still hit the ground alive and healthy. Not so with hay. We talked it over, and not a one of us ever seen a hay meadow cut itself, rake itself into windrows, stack itself on wagons, and then restack itself in the big haystacks.
Durned things wouldn’t even fence their own stacks to keep the cows out.
Which meant we couldn’t afford to take the time out to fix up a fancy wedding fer Doug Franzen and Eleanor Moore. In fact, once the new Buckeye come in, the man wouldn’t even be cutting gems till the hay was put up. We needed ever hand we could git.
“Doesn’t matter,” he shrugged. “From what you’ve told me of your marketing plan, I don’t need to push too hard on the stones. Got nearly enough of ’em ready to go right now for next year’s sell-off.”
“What about your wedding?” Scrap asked. I’d ridden over with Hannigan, mostly to parley with Daniel and Jack, making sure we were all on the same page. There weren’t any more time left. Coug was on the mower today, and I’d be on the dump rake tomorrow. But I needed to know how and when we’d be getting the Moores outa the hotel. The place was expensive over time.
“Not a problem there, either,” he grinned. I’d never seen the man crack so much as a smile before. “We’re seeing the Justice of the Peace on Wednesday.”
“Civil Ceremony?” I tipped my hat back so’s I could scratch my bald head over that one.
“Yep. It’s fine with my fiancee. The Moore family is Catholic, but Clarisse and Elly both turned into–I guess it’s what they call lapsed Catholics. Anyway, they give up on the Church when Timothy Moore died. That’s Elly’s Dad. He was healthy as a horse, making a good living, till one day he jist dropped dead. Doctor said his heart stopped, but he was clueless as to why.”
“Huh.” Doug was starting to talk like a westerner. His English was a lot better before we started corrupting him. “Bet that’ll drive Penny nuts, her being our resident Bible thumper and all.”
He sighed. “I suppose. And I’m right sorry ’bout that. But it can’t be helped. Like you say, make hay while the sun shines.”
“What time’s the wedding? Oh, and, are we invited?”
“Well, I should hope so, Dawson! You people kept me on, give me a second chance when you coulda had me sent to Territorial Prison jist as easy, and I wouldn’t a blamed you fer it one little bit!”
Yep. Talking like a westerner. “I’ll tell everybody. You and the Moores all got something to wear to the Courthouse fer the ceremony? Something suitable?”
“We’re okay on that score. Daniel loaned me a bit, told me to pay him back as I could.”
“Ah. I dang near forgot.” Which was the truth, shameful as it might be to let something which would impact the Franzen family this much slip my feeble little mind. “The owners–meaning me, Tam, Coug, and Daniel–have agreed you’ve earned your stripes. You can pick out your eighty acres of land, anywhere you like as long as it don’t encircle the lake and does keep you within commuting distance of your workshop.”
The man didn’t say nothing. He couldn’t. His eyes looked suspiciously bright, though. Most likely, if he tried to speak, he’d end up choking and bawling all at the same time.
“C’mon, Scrap.” I pretended not to notice anything outa the ordinary. “Let’s git them cinches snugged up and head back over the Saddles. We’re burning daylight. Besides, this man’s got some land-looking to do in a hurry.”
“Reckon so,” the one eyed man remarked. “He ain’t gonna want them fine Philadelphia ladies living in the Army tent any longer’n they have to.”
Getting Elly Moore hitched to Doug Franzen went off without a hitch, which was a remarkable achievement considering the rain. We’d rolled out this morning to face a drizzle that didn’t quit all day long, getting spiced up every now and then with a bit of thunder and lightning and the occasional cloudburst.
June rains and all that.
We couldn’t put up hay when the stuff was waterlogged unless we wanted a stack of mold that was worse than worthless. Hopefully, the sky juice would quit dumping on us before the three fields Cougar had already cut were ruined entirely. It’d take at least a couple of days of serious sunshine to dry things back out. That, and turning the windrows by hand with pitchforks while they were drying.
Dump rakes don’t turn hay. It’s people power or nothing.
On the other hand, we had no problem with guilt, taking time off fer the wedding. We rigged a frame to the freight wagon, laced a canvas top over the thing, and had us a poor man’s version of a Conestoga wagon suitable fer keeping the ladies and their purty dresses dry on the way to town.
We men packed our fancy duds in a chest inside the wagon, saddled up, and were good to go. Flywheel had given the hotel so much business over the years, they always kept a couple of rooms reserved for our use at need. We’d change in town.
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.” The J.P.–Eugene Smith by name, if memory served–kept his cool when he said them words, but our women didn’t. Maybe it was because a them knowing what they did about the struggle and tragedy and close calls these two had seen before managing to come together, but there was a lot of sniffling going around the courtroom.
Laughing Brook, I noticed, was about as teary as any of ’em, too. Seemed like she’d taken the new Mrs. Elly Franzen under her wing, never mind the chemistry between Elly and me.
That’s when it hit me. Of course she sees herself in Eleanor Moore Franzen! When she first come into Believer’s possession, she herself was only eleven years old and had already been a hard-used slave of the Blackfeet fer two years before that!
I didn’t know whether to slap myself fer taking this long to see it or pat myself on the back fer getting it now.
The Judge didn’t have any cases scheduled fer today, so the newlyweds were granted enough time to set up the receiving line right there in the Courthouse. Dawson and Coug were ahead of me, so I couldn’t help noticing that when they kissed the bride, they kissed the bride. Something told me I wasn’t the only Flywheel man who felt a little pull toward this particular splittail.
Then it was my turn.
The Devil made me do it.
With my wife right behind me, close enough to stick a knife in my ribs had she a mind to, I laid one on Mrs. Elly Franzen…tongue and all.
I didn’t take long enough at it to be ridiculous, but by the time I moved on and Laughing Brook was congratulating the new bride, she (my wife, I mean) had to flow a little strength into the girl to hold her up. Elly’s knees were buckling and her eyes were some glazed.
“Show her how you really feel, why doncha!” I heard the words in my head, jist like Smokey talking to me–but I wasn’t used to hearing from my honey in that fashion. Woulda made me piss my pants, except I could also see her in my inner vision, and she was laughing fit to bust a gut.
I do believe the Devil made Laughing Brook do it, too. She was clasping one of Elly’s hands in both of hers, smiling into the stunned girl’s eyes, saying, “Welcome to the Medicine Bull clan.”
What? No, my Cheyenne woman and I are jist fine about the whole thing. Iffen you ain’t realized yet how strongly the two of us are suited to one another, you ain’t never gonna git it.
While we were filing back outside, the rain finally broke…and so did Penny’s water. She hadn’t had a labor pain one prior, but we obviously didn’t have time fer the four hour wagon ride back to the ranch.
Cougar took command–appropriate, since it was his wife fixing to have her fifth baby right in the middle of downtown Walsenburg. “Somebody go tell Doc Chouteau. We’ll be there shortly.”
“On my way,” Dawson said before I could git it out.
I didn’t like this sneaking up on our redhead like it done; she always knew ahead of time.
Something was wrong.
“The stars continue to be with you and yours, Tam,” my old friend told us. “Us” meaning the Flywheel men. With Julie the nasty assistant plus Marie and Laughing Brook jammed into Doc’s operating room along with the mother to be, the place was packed. We hung out in his front office, telling ourselves it’d be all right.
Believing it, too, even if bad memories of nearly losing my wife in ’74 did keep coming back to haunt me.
“Gotta agree about the stars, Doc…but what specifically are you getting at?”
“She needs surgery.”
“Details?” Cougar’s anxiety was obvious as he stood turning his hat in his hands.
“No time. I understand she’s your wife and you need to know, but you’ll have to deal with it for now. I must start cutting.”
Jist like that, he was gone back inside the operating room. My son heaved a sigh. “He could at least have not said it quite that way.”
Dawson and I simultaneously shifted our positions so’s we flanked the shootist, one on each side. “Cougar,” said the former Army sergeant who’d seen more death and dying than the rest of us put together, “Chouteau kept you alive when nobody else coulda. Remember that.”
“Yeah, I know. But it ain’t me in there this time.”
“No. It isn’t.” None of us could find another thing to say. We settled down to wait.
The operating room door didn’t open again fer nigh on three hours. When it finally did, it was Marie who slipped out to talk to us, not the doctor. None of us said a word, jist stared at her till she could step quietly over and bring us up to date.
“She’s okay, or at least she will be, and so’s your son.”
The man damn near fainted. I felt him start to buckle, but Dawson and I jist kinda squeezed in against him, and he managed to hold it together.
“Details?” I asked.
“The cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. Not jist once, either, but again and again till purt near all the slack had been taken up. Damnedest thing, almost like a hangman’s noose.
“Iffen the baby had made it as far as crowning, he’d a likely been strangled to death right then and there.”
“Let me guess,” Cougar put in. He was getting his color back, didn’t need us holding him up no more. Fast recovery. “Iffen we’d been at the ranch, both of ’em woulda been dead before we coulda got Doc out there.”
“The baby fer sure, Coug,” Marie nodded. “I don’t know about Penny. But it wouldn’t have been good; that much is certain.”
“Well, at least now I know why we couldn’t settle on a name. Had one picked if it was a girl, but not fer a boy.”
“What’re you getting at, son? The way this newest Tamson come into the world has something to do with his name?”
“It does. I’ll have to talk to my wife once she’s out from under the ether, of course, but his name is Felix.”
“Felix?” Nothing wrong with Felix fer a name, I reckoned, but–
“Yep. Felix. In Latin, it means Lucky. All things considered, there can’t be a luckier young man on the planet today than Felix Tamson.”