Dawson and Tam
We worked as the well-oiled team we’d been for many long years, smoothly easing the last of the herd down out of the Prince Peak summer pasturage to the calving meadows closest to the ranch yard. Nearly eight hundred cow-calf pairs in this bunch, plus three hundred yearlings and two hundred two year olds, all heifers.
Plus the funny face bulls, of course.
The two year old heifers would be ready for breeding in the spring. It might sound a foolish thing to say, but the bulls already seemed to be eyeing the new crop of virgin girl cows with prurient interest.
Fer the first time, the meadows were separated by fence lines. Which meant a lot more getting off your horse to open and close gates during calving season, but you can’t have everthing. The control over the critters made it worth the hassle from a lot of angles.
Not the least being the problem it give the rustlers.
We’d hardly been hit at all, in part because of the terrain and lack of easy routes fer driving beeves out of Flywheel Ranch territory. Of course, the other part of that was our reputation. We had riders out and about, nearly 365 days a year, and ever one of us that could sit a saddle could–and more importantly, would–shoot, shovel, and shut up.
“That’s a wrap!” Cougar hollered at us as he was closing the mountainside gate. Then he was back aboard Charger, bent low over the big bay’s neck, racing his Heyókȟa brother to the barn.
Them two twins might be well into their twenties, seasoned warriors of a hunnert or more life and death battles, but they could still be kids at times like this.
Wolf’s dun couldn’t beat Coug’s horse, but Wolf made up fer that by putting on a show, hanging down off the side of his mount like a wild Indian attacking a wagon train. Which was some tricky with a western saddle getting in the way, but he done it.
By the time the dun pulled up in the ranch yard, heaving and blowing, its rider was under the horse’s belly. How he dun that (pun intended), we never could figure out. Had to be some sneaky handholds, but we’d never found anything rigged different on his saddle.
And believe us, we’d looked.
Wolf’s bride, Summer, was waiting fer us, sitting atop a fence rail with her big belly making her look like…there ain’t really no words fer what she looked like, perched up there. Humpty Dumpty, maybe.
The rape-child might have Summer fer a mother, but it was due to be born well into the fall.
Any day now. If she didn’t jist fall right off that fence and go splat.
The rest of the hands were joking around, not racing pell mell like the Tamson twins, but clearly lighthearted. It was always a good feeling to have the last of the herds down outa the mountains before the snows hit.
Jack Prosser, who’d been helping fer these past nine days, would be heading back over to Flywheel/Prosser in the morning. Anxious to git going, too. His Hattie weren’t near as due to pop as Mrs. Summer Tamson was, but after losing the last babe in the womb to the black widow poisoner, Clarisse, Hattie had ended up with a husband fearing she might have a miscarriage.
No sign of it, but that didn’t matter. She insisted on riding through the Double Saddles, not going around the long way in a buggy, and that was enough to spook Jack.
“You know, gentlemen,” he observed as we all kind of bunched up on the way to the barn, “this is turning out to be a good life. Couldn’t have seen it working out this well, not even as recently as when I was tending bar at the Singlejack. You done good here.”
We jist grinned at him and nodded.
Truth be told, we had us a bit of another worry. Felix still hadn’t started talking, and he was a good two and a half years old. He might be Believer, but he sure hadn’t reincarnated as Talker.
Was Coug & Penny Tamson’s fifth child destined to be a mute?
We ain’t mentioned this before, but bringing in the final herd in any given year had sort of evolved into an event to celebrate. Not anything wild, but the girls had the fire pits going and the barbecue spits turning. James Bodeen had even kicked in a treat paid for out of his own pocket, an entire hog he’d bought from a local pig farmer.
Not that many of us preferred pork to beef on a daily basis–except fer breakfast–but we weren’t complaining.
The sun was near setting. It’d be getting chilly after dark, but we all had wraps enough.
Appetite enough, too.
Speaking of Felix, there he was, strutting around like he owned the place. The youngsters were sort of everywhere, naturally, there being more’n a few of ’em these days. Quentin Pritchard at eleven years old, Henry at nine, Reggie at eight, and ranging down from there. Ten kids on the ground and two in the oven.
Felix…what was that tyke up to? We were jist riding in through the yard gateway when we realized the boy was staring out at the meadow behind us. Looking like he had something on his mind, too.
Then all of a sudden, he done it. He pointed out thataway–coulda been looking at cows or grass or even beyond to the foothills leading back toward Prince Peak fer all you could tell–and started yelling with considerable enthusiasm,
“CATALANLAN! CATALANLAN! CATALANLAN!”
We reined up in pure amazement. His Mom turned from where she’d been laying out a table with plates and forks and knives, her eyes wide. “He’s talking! Felix is talking!”
“Yep,” Cougar agreed, pausing with curry comb in hand to take note of this long anticipated phenomenon, “but what’s he saying? That sure ain’t Ma-ma or Da-da!”
It was Grandma Brook who figured it out, calling across the yard. “Remember, Crazy Rifle, what Believer said you needed to do if you wanted freedom for the future? He said you needed to acquire cattle and land!!”
Felix heard that. He turned, beamed at his Grandma, obviously thrilled to know he’d been understood. His head was bobbing up and down in earnest approval as he threw his toddler’s arms wide to take in all of Flyheel Ranch.