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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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As we were preparing to leave for the Miller place for the burial, I watched as Margaret refused my father's help. How dare she! I had learned why she hated indians so much, and I thought it a pretty lame excuse. This matter would not go unresolved, no one would talk to my father in such a way, not even a woman. Smallpox, that was a whiteman's desease brought upon the indians!

 

I was amazed though at my father for the way he handled it, he didn't let her actions control him in anyway what so ever. I guess my mother had had more influence on him than I knew. As I drove the team pulling the wagon I had plenty of time to think about how my father had dealt with Margaret. Though I must admit, the company I had with me, Water Lilly and Morning Star, really made it hard to think about anything else but the two of them. The two girls were getting along really well, sharing stories about growing up, but I did notice that every time Water Lilly would talk about some of our escapades, Morning Star would frown, but then crowd a little closer to me. When Water Lilly would stop to breathe, Morning Star would jump in and tell of some of the things we had shared together, and when she talked about the skinny dipping at the water hole, it was Water Lilly's time to frown and push in closer to me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but a large part of me wanted to be in the wagon in front of us where Calico was riding. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of her looking back, never looking to happy either.

 

My thoughts often wandered to the events that had taken place last night. Things had happened soo fast, but I was sure about my heart,,,, well, I think so anyway. Having Water Lilly and Morning Star vying for my attention didn't help much, that was for sure.

 

As we rode back towards home my father sent a rider ahead to let them know we were nearing and to start preparing for dinner. I was growing used to regular baths again and was looking forward to one that evening. After we had arrived home I helped the two girls off the wagon, they seemed to be enjoying the competition for my attention as each one tried to out do the other as they gave me hugs and kissed my cheeks. I helped them up the stairs to the porch, as I turned to go down to Calico, she was already coming up the stairs alone, as she went by she punched me in the arm. It hurt as badly as any punch I'd ever had too, dang it all, she was either really mad, again, orrrr she really cared for me. But which!?

 

Hop Sing had announced that dinner would be ready soon, but we should wash up first. I cleaned up quickly, put on fresh clothes for the evening and took a step out on to the front porch. Margaret was sitting alone their in one of the rocking chairs. Hmmm, I wondered if I could act as graciously as my father had that morning. I approached greeting her, "good evening Margaret, I am very sorry for your loss." I knelt before her and took her hand as I told her of my mother's passing during the past year. Then I told her that the small pox was a white man's desease that had been visited upon the natives by sick trappers. I told her how my father had rescued my mother during the cholera epidemic of '47. As I finished I felt a hand on my shoulder. Dinner's ready" Calico said sqeezing my shoulder. I offered my hand to Margaret to help her up, she hesitately briefly, then nodded ever so slightly, took my hand again and let me help her.

 

As I ate dinner, sitting between Calico and Margaret, I asked Calico, "Would you like to return to your ranch tomorrow?" If so, I will need to make arrangements for wagons and some men to go with us.

 

"Calico looked surprised, "you mean you'd go too?" she asked. "I thought you might want to stay here, after all, this is awlfully nice."

 

"My oath is not finished, I must go" I replied as I looked into her deep blue eyes.

 

"Well what do you need with wagons?" she almost demanded.

 

"For lumber, tools, leather goods, anything else you need for a new ranch." "The reward money the army sent for taking care of those marauders in Kansas will pay for most of what you will need". With that said, I excused myself saying that I heard the old swimming hole calling my name. That cool water would feel good after a day riding in a wagon, and it would be a while beforeI could return home again I thought to myself.

 

It was just a short walk, I slipped into the water leaving my clothes on the log by the pool of water,,,,I had this feeling that I was being watched, an overwhelming feeling, and every once in a while a twig snapping.....but oh this water felt good.....

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After dinner I decided to go for a walk, I had a lot of things to think about and wanted to be alone to do it. As shocked as I was when Cheyenne asked me to stay here, I was more shocked when he offered to use that reward money he had gotten towards rebuilding my ranch....why bother if he wanted me to move away from it? Sometimes that man just didn't make any sense!

I wasn't sure where I was going, so I just followed a little path out behind the house, and next thing I knew, I had come across a little swimming hole....and it wasn't empty!..... Cheyenne was in it, and I could see his clothes piled up on a log...uh oh....I tried to turn around and head back to the house before he saw me, but no such luck, and I heard him call my name. I went back and sat down on the log next to his clothes, but then he said “You know, if you wanted a bath, you could have asked Hop Sing to fill one of the tubs for you, but since you're here, there's plenty of water for both of us....”

I just blushed, and tried to tell him that I'd just been taking a walk, but I had to admit a swim would be nice....then I noticed a slight movement in the trees beyond the pond, and it figured, it was Water Lilly spying on us again! That did it, I asked him to turn around long enough for me to get undressed. He replied “Why? It ain't like I ain't seen you in a swimming hole before...”, well he had a point, but I still wanted him to turn around, finally he did, so I took my dress off, laid it on the log, and jumped in. That water did feel nice! We splashed around for a while, and I noticed that Water Lilly had disappeared, and for a minute that worried me. Was she going to get Mr. Culpepper? What was he gonna think?

A few minutes later we did have company but it wasn't his father, it was Morning Star. She didn't look real happy at first, but I just told her to go ahead and join us, that the water felt good, and before I knew it there were three of us in that pond....what was I thinking? Cheyenne didn't seem to mind though, he was grinning from ear to ear, splashing us and laughing, and finally I started to relax. We weren't really doing anything wrong, just going for a swim, was there really any harm in that?


But there was one thing I needed to ask Morning Star, “You know I'm going back home tomorrow, and Cheyenne is going at least escort me there, are you gonna come with us?” “If you want me, I go with you,” she answered, “You need someone to cook.” She didn't have to remind me of that, but she did have a point, and I would be glad to have her along. She was still my friend, and I enjoyed her company, it wasn't her fault that Cheyenne seemed unable to decide which of us he liked....better her than Water Lilly, somehow I had the feeling I knew why Morning Star had come down here....


The sun started going down, so we all figured it was time to dry off and head back to the house. Cheyenne did let us girls get out first, and kept his eyes on the other bank while we got dressed, then we waited for him just beyond the trees. When we got back, Mr. Culpepper was sitting on the porch smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of whiskey, and asked us “Did you all have a nice swim? Come on up here, I've got extra glasses, and I'll have someone fetch you some tea Morning Star. Come sit with me for a while before you all turn in.”


I don't know which of the three of us turned the brightest red, but it didn't seem to bother our host, so we joined him and he started asking about my plans for the ranch, and had I made any decisions about it yet or not. I had to admit that I hadn't yet, but would be soon, and thanked him for all his advice. We talked about some other things for a while, he told some more stories about his late wife, then we went inside, three of us had to be up early for the trip to Denver. Before I went upstairs, however, Mr. Culpepper pulled me aside and asked me to go in the den. Once we had sat down, he told me he understood that there was another man in the picture, and to not rush to any decisions without knowing for sure exactly what I wanted first. His only concern was not seeing his son get hurt, and I could see his point. I assured him that that's the last thing I wanted either, but I kinda needed both men to figure out what they wanted as well....that could have a big effect on what happened to me. He just nodded, and told me to run along to bed, and sweet dreams. Yeah, I sure hoped so, the nightmares had given me a break for a couple of days but I wasn't sure they were completely gone....

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I finally caught sight of what was breaking the twigs, and the reason I felt that I had been watched. It was Calico, but as she saw me look her way she took off. I called for her to come back. She finally turned and came over to the log where my clothes were, she looked down at my clothes. For a second thought she was going to grab them and run off, something that Water Lilly and I had done to each other years ago. My, but she looked pretty standing there. I convinced her to come and enjoy the cool water with me, I didn't quite understand when she made me turn my eyes away as she removed her dress. The other times I had watched her she was much further away though. Maybe her seeing Water Lilly spying on us helped her to decide to join me, but then I really didn't care about that any way.

 

As we splashed and played around for a little bit Morning Star arrived, she didn't need and convincing to join us. She had thrown off her dress before I had time to avert my eyes. We had a great time playing in the water, each of us trying to act like we weren't really looking, after all I was in the presense of two beautiful, el-natural women. I must admit I did enjoy looking at them, it was almost as much fun as acting like a kid again.

 

We watched the sun set over the mountain before we got dressed, it wouldn't be dark for awhile. As we got back to the house my father was waiting for us, I wasn't sure how red my face was, but the two girls looked like beets. I think my father was really enjoying watching us squirm, he had that silly look on his face. We sat and had some drinks before we retired for the night. As we started up the stairs my father asked Calico to join him in the den, I continued upstairs, it was going to be a tiring trip back to Calico's ranch and I wanted as much sleep as I could get tonight.

 

We rose early the next morning, as I put on my buckskins I noticed that Hop Sing had packed a large case of clothes for me to take. I was going to protest that I didn't need them, but before I said anything I thought how good nice clothes feel sometimes. As I left my room a couple of the men were coming for the case. I could hear Calico trying to protest to Lu Sing that see didn't need any more dresses, she's going to loose that arguement, and she did loose it. Morning Star's case was already in the hallway, she had tear in her eyes as she told me that my father had insisted that they were not only to take dresses and such, but also much of my mother's native clothing.

 

As we stood at the top of the stairway, we could smell breakfast, I think I only hit two steps on the way down, and I didn't beat the other two by but a step. As we entered the dining room all three of us let out, "Oh my". It didn't matter where we sat now, all we were thinking about was the food.

 

Once we were done eating we stepped out onto the front porch, Calico almost started crying, there in front of the porch were five wagons lined up. One wagon was being loaded with the cases that were packed for us, along with more than enough food stuffs to get us and the ten men going with us to the ranch. "Keep the men for a week after you get there, that should get you a good start" my father told Calico. "The wagon with the two extra draft horses, those two drafts are my gift to you, no strings attached."

 

He looked me straight in the eyes, "follow your heart, that's all I ask," he said as he walked out among the wagons making sure every thing was right.

 

Little Joe was leading our ponies out from the barn, our rifles in their cases, all had been cleaned, oiled, and reloaded. Even the leather cases had been brushed clean.

 

As we started to pull out, I looked back at the wagons, it was quite a sight, five nearly new wagons, a driver on each one and a rider and the driver's horse tagging along.

 

I turned my eyes to my father standing on the porch waving to us. I spun my pony around and headed for my father, jumping off the pony at the foot of the steps. My father met me there, we hugged briefly and without a word being said, I leapt back upon my pony and joined the others as we started our journey. We would go to Denver first, Calico would see that Margaret was set up for her trip east, and try to locate her other sister there. Morning Star and I would buy the food stuffs we needed while the men would get the lumber, tools and other hardware we would need on the ranch.

 

As we rode away from the ranch I looked over and saw tears running down Calico's face. She noticed that I was staring at her, "Are you sure you don't want to stay?" she aked me.

 

"I'm sure, very sure" I replied. "Me too" chirped in Morning Star. We were quite the trio,,,,I'm sure we all loved each other....

 

Denver sure looked good off in the distance, we would be able to set up camp outside of town before dark.

 

I knew that Calico and I really needed to have a serious talk,,,maybe tonight would be when let each other know how we felt, one way or the other....I was sure she was the one....but was she ready?

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After breakfast the next day, we all got ready to leave, and we were sure taking a whole lot more with us than we'd arrived with. I couldn't believe the generosity of Mr. Culpepper, how was I ever going to repay him for his kindness? I was sure gonna miss that man! As we were pulling out, I couldn't stop the tears from running down my cheeks, so much had happened this week, some of it bad, but some of it was oh so wonderful....

We didn't get as close to Denver that day as we had wanted, the wagon Margaret was riding on couldn't move that fast, the ground was a little bumpy and it wasn't good for her to get bounced around too much. But we found a good place to make camp, and some of the men got a tent set up for us ladies to use.....until Margaret decided to throw a fit about it, said she wasn't sharing a tent with Morning Star, and that was final! I was just about disgusted with her, as the oldest she'd always been a bossy know-it-all, but now she was a hundred times worse....maybe finding her wasn't such a blessing after all. I pulled Morning Star aside and the two of us spoke in Arapaho, Margaret had never been good with the language so I was sure she wouldn't understand. I asked my friend if we could just let my sister have the tent to herself for one night, she'd be gone the next day and we wouldn't have to put up with her attitude anymore....thankfully Morning Star was perfectly fine with that idea, but told me I could stay in the tent with my sister, it wouldn't hurt her feelings. I told her no thanks, Margaret snored!

We had dinner, then Cheyenne asked me to go for a walk with him (again?!), he needed to speak with me in private. I said ok, but no sooner had we started to walk away from the camp when one of the men came running after us, saying “Mrs. Miller just got real upset and started crying, Morning Star tried to comfort her but now Mrs. Miller is really getting hysterical, I think she needs you Calico....”. Well, what could I do, I had to turn around and go back to my sister, darn her! She spent the rest of the evening crying on my shoulder before I could finally get her to go lay down, and by then it was really dark and too late to try that walk again. Somehow I was starting to get the feeling I was not gonna miss her as much as I'd originally thought!

The next morning, I didn't really want to get up, after several nights of peaceful slumber, the nightmares were back...this time just about Theresa though. I also had another weird dream, but I couldn't call that one a nightmare, it involved Cheyenne and Buick and the swimming hole down by the Golden Aspen....oh brother! Before we got going again, I did ask Cheyenne if we could talk for just a minute, and he started smiling...until I explained I was a little nervous about the idea of taking Morning Star into Denver, I thought it best to just take one wagon and a couple of the men, and have everybody else go around the city and meet us on the other side later that day. I don't think he liked hearing that, but finally agreed it would probably be for the best.

We split up then, Margaret, Cheyenne and I, along with two of the men, went on into Denver, with everybody else heading a little ways east before they would head south. We got Margaret to the train station all right, got her a ticket to Kansas City, she could continue on to Tennessee from there, and saw her onto the train. Then the rest of us headed through the city towards the south, but we didn't get very far before I saw a couple of familiar faces, and pointed this out to Cheyenne. Coming down the street towards us were none other than Buick and Deputy Gibson, and Buick had a star pinned to his shirt! Boy, that was a shock, but we got their attention and stopped to talk. I asked Buick what he was doing here, and why wasn't he at my ranch? He replied “I'm afraid I got some bad news for you...remember the sheriff telling us about that horse thief? Well, me and the boys were rotating standing watch at night, but a couple of days ago the thief managed to sneak up on poor Jesse and knock him out cold, then he got away with 4 horses, including that black stallion. I'm so sorry, and Jesse feels awful about it, but it ain't his fault. I went to town to report it to the sheriff, and next thing I know he's pinning this star on me and telling me to raise my right hand, that he was gonna deputize me. He did and then sent me and his brother out looking for that no good horse thief, we're here trying to get some information about where he may be headed next.”

That was certainly upsetting news, it figured it had to be that beautiful stallion! But I was proud of Buick for trying to track the man down, and I was glad to see him. I don't think Cheyenne felt the same, especially when Buick pulled me aside saying he needed to talk to me in private. First thing he told me was that he missed me an awful lot, then he said "But I'm afraid I got some other bad news as well, I think I may have found your sister Theresa, but that might not be a good thing...."

I wasn't sure what he was getting at, I had already told him about Margaret, what could be so bad about finding my other sister? "Well, if you know where she is, then let's go, I wanna see if it's really her and if so talk to her!" I told him, but he just shook his head, saying "No, you can't go where she is, we'll have to figure out some other way to see if it is her. " That didn't make much sense to me, and I said so. Deputy Gibson overheard what we were saying, and came over to me. "Buick's right ma'am, this woman that may be your sister is in a place that no lady would want to go in....and it ain't no place for you to be!"

Oh my lord, it didn't take long for me to figure out what they were implying, just what kind of trouble had Theresa got herself into?

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When I saw Buick in Denver with that star on his chest I almost jumped plumb off of my pony. Whoopee I thought, he's done give up on the ranch and moved back to the city. What luck!!!

 

To say that I was disappointed when he explained that he was just there searching for leads for the horse thief would be an understatement. I never liked to swear much, but a quiet Shi.... came out from under my breath.

 

Buick went on to tell Calico about perhaps finding her sister, Theresa, someplace in town, and that Calico sure shouldn't go where her sister may be. I didn't spend much time in the city, but I knew what they were talking about. I had come into Denver once with men from the ranch, they thought it would be fun to take me to one of the saloons. Somehow some of the women working there found out I was a Culpepper, I felt like flypaper trying to get away from them. Much to the pleasure of the men. It took me a long time, but I managed to pay back each one of them, and they paid dearly, much to my pleasure.

 

Well, I thought, it had worked back then, maybe it would work again. I told Buick and Calico the trick the men had played on me, if we did the same thing and if I could recognize Theresa I would convince her to leave the saloon with me for a good time somewhere else. They agreed we didn't have anything to loose and decided to give it a try.

 

I had a good talk with Calico about her sister, her looks, mannerisms, and any pet names that I could use to see if she would react to it. "Calico," I said, but was quickly interupted my Buick, "when did you start calling her Calico?" he huffed. I ignored him as I continued, "Calico, we'll put you in the finest restuarant nearest to the saloon district. When I think I've found Theresa somehow I'll get her to come to dinner with me. I'll bring her to you and well, then you can see if it's her." Buick huffed again, "And how to you plan on getting a saloon whor,, I mean saloon girl into a fine restuarant?" I pulled a wad of bills from my pocket, "I think I'll find away, now let's get this started."

 

We found a restuarant that would work and we went in to speak with the manager, as Calico found a table she liked I pulled the manager aside and told him my plan. He reacted quite violently until I pulled a few bills out. I put them in his hand, "Sir, I will buy this place and fire your french butt if you don't do as I've asked." "Well," he replied quite annoyed, "and who do you think you are, a Culpepper perhaps?"

 

That got Calico's attention, as well as my hands getting a better grip on my pistols. "Cheyenne!" she said loudly enough for all to hear, "Your father, Frank, wouldn't like it if you shot up this place!"

 

One of the waitresses that had been keeping an eye on me, quickly to the manager, "Pierre! I've known him since he was a kid, that is the son of Frank Culpepper!"

 

Pierre looked rather annoyed again, "Well I guess we could help this lady here find her sister" he kind of moaned.

 

"Bring the lady here your finest steak" I told him, "and take it out of what I've already given you!"

 

With that taken care of Buick, the sheriff, and I headed for the saloon. As we walked towards the saloon district both men removed their badges, badges weren't too welcome in saloons.

 

As we entered the first saloon we split up, I found an empty table and the other two went to the bar. Soon they were whispering in the ears of each of the women working there. It wasn't long before I had five women nearly sitting on my lap. It took a little time but I finally found one named Theresa, it was hard but I managed to get rid of the other women. I bought several drinks while I gained her confidence and gleaned any information I could . I asked her if she had evered lived on a ranch, if she had brothers or sisters, about her parents, everything was leading to this being Calico's Theresa. Then I asked her if she had any dolls when she was young. She said yes, and then described it. It was the same as the one that Calico had.

 

I shifted the conversation away from the questions as I was sure this the Theresa we were looking for. Then I asked her to join me for dinner, "That will cost you a lot of money, Joe there won't let me out of here for less than $20 she said, if he will at all."

 

I looked around and spotted a big man watching me like a hawk, I motioned him over to the table. "How much for the woman for the night?" I asked him. "don't know that you've got enough money on you for that" was his sarcastic reply. "Name the price!" I told him as I stood. "Thirtyfive dollars," he laughed. I pulled fifty dollars from my pocket, "Keep the change, we'll be out late," I told him as I took Theresa's hand and led her out of the saloon.

 

"My room is the other way" she said with a big grin as we headed in the direction of the restuarant. "I like a fine meal first," I told her putting my arm around her waist as I stared into her face. I was starting to see things about her that were familiar to me.

 

As we started to enter the restuarant she pulled back suddenly, "they won't allow my kind in there, we better go someplace else" she said with what I could feel was great disappointment.

 

I looked her in the eyes, "I know Pierre, the manager, he'll be glad to see you" I lied as we entered the restuarant.

 

Pierre welcomed us, but rather rudely until he saw my hand reach for my pistol, his demeaner immediately changed as he showed us to the table next to Calico. I pulled out her chair for her and slid it under her as she sat. I turned to Pierre, "a bottle of your best wine, and two clean glasses Pierre." "But of course sir" he said as he hastily disappeared.

 

I could see Calico staring and listening closely to every word as Theresa and I spoke. Pierre quickly returned with the wine, as he poured it into our goblets, I ordered two of his finest steaks with the fixins. I could see that fixins annoyed him greatly, but he bit his tongue and again quickly disappeared. The steaks arrived and I have to admit they were awfully good.

 

We finished eating and had enjoyed another glass of wine when Calico gave me the signal. I rose, taking Theresa's hand, as she stood I turned her towards Calico,,,,whew...my job was done, no use wasting that bottle of french wine, I thought as I returned to my seat. I sure hoped she was nicer than Margaret was.....

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That restaurant Cheyenne found sure was fancy, I was getting a little uncomfortable, people were sure staring at me a lot. I guess they weren't used to a woman in buckskins eating in a place like that. I wasn't positive this plan of Cheyenne's was gonna work, but it was worth a try. When he finally got there, I almost wasn't sure if that really WAS Theresa with him, she sure didn't look like I remembered her. Ma would have skinned her alive for dressing like that! But sure enough, it was her, and I was more than a little disappointed. When Buick first told me that he thought my sister was one of those saloon girls, I had hoped he was wrong...

I let the two of them eat their meal, I knew Cheyenne was probably really hungry by then. Finally they were done, and he stood up and helped Theresa stand, then turned her to face me...and I could tell she recognized me right away. Boy, she sure looked mad, you'd think after as long as it had been since we'd seen each other, she would have been a little happier finding out I was still alive, but no such luck. She stomped over to me and got right in my face, saying "What the hell are you doing here, are you following me or something? You ain't got no right, now get outta here and leave me alone, I don't need you bothering me!"

I was heartbroken, all I wanted was to make sure she was ok! "Theresa, I ain't trying to bother you, I just wanted to find you and see if you wanted to come home, I'm gonna try and rebuild the ranch," I insisted, hurt by her words. "I don't want anything to do with that dang ranch, how can you even want to go there after what happened to ma and pa?" she demanded. "But then again you always were pa's favorite, you spoiled rotten little brat....you just leave me alone, I don't need your help and I don't need you! I like my life just fine the way it is...without you in it!" she practically screamed at me, and Pierre just about had a fit! I didn't care at that point, I just turned and ran out, crying. This hadn't worked out the way I had wanted it to, that was for sure!"

I didn't get far before I felt a hand grab my arm, it was Buick, he had been watching from across the street. He didn't say anything, just put his arms around me and held me so I could cry. As upset as I was, I couldn't help but notice that it did feel good to have his arms around me. While we were standing there, Cheyenne came walking up to us, and I could tell he was furious! So I pulled back away from Buick, and tried to dry my checks, Buick pulled out a handkerchef and handed it to me. "I'm sorry it didn't work, " Cheyenne told me, "I saw where your sister went, did you want to go try and talk to her again? I'll go with you if you want."

"No, I don't, I just wanna get outta here. It'll be getting dark by the time we get to where we're supposed to meet the others anyway, we better get going." Cheyenne nodded, but Buick pointed out he couldn't go with us, he had to meet up with Deputy Gibson and keep chasing that dang horse thief. He did tell me that he would try to be back to the ranch as soon as possible, especially now that he knew I was gonna be there. Again Cheyenne didn't look real happy about that.....

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I didn't even get to finish my glass of wine before Calico stormed out of the restuarant. I paid the bill, grabbed the half empty bottle of wine and headed out to the street to follow Calico.

 

Dang it all!! There she was getting hugged by that dandy! What in the world did she see in him, he was nothing than a city slicker that liked to hang out in saloons. What was he doing in Denver trying to catch a horse thief? Horse thieves don't hang out in the city, just about anyone should know that, cept a saloon lover and a city slicker sheriff.

 

I was glad when Calico didn't want to talk to her sister again, good grief, what a basketcase she was! Good riddence was how I felt about her!

 

You know, I was glad when Buick said that he and the sheriff were going to stay in Denver to look for the horse thief. They'd be here a good long time, good place for them!

 

Calico and Buick said their goodbyes, more like good riddence to him too I thought as we headed down the street where Praire Dawg and Korupt Karl were loading tools and such from the hardware store. I realized that they hadn't had any thing to eat so Calico and I stepped into a small dinner before we got to the hardware and got a basket full of food for them.

 

Dawg and Karl had just finished loading the wagon as we walked up. I held the basket up under their noses for them to get a whiff, finally I had gotten those two to smile. The way there Prairie Dawg talked the whole time about food, and Korupt Karl, all he wanted to do was get to the saloon to find big breasted wimmen and drink Crown Royal. Well at least Dawg was happy. Maybe I should have brought Theresa for Karl,,,nawwwwwwww,, bad idea!

 

As we headed out I was thinking about the dandy and the sheriff again. Why not just track the thief? There would have been at least five sets of tracks, and four weren't shod yet. I just shook my head in disbelief. With the wagons, we had about a two days travel to reach Calico's ranch. That should present plenty of opportunities to finally get to talk with Calico. I still couldn't quite understand that woman though.

 

We finally met up with the other wagons just as it was getting dark. We had smelled their fire and I was looking forward to Morning Star's open fire cooking again. I didn't understand her either, what did she see in that dandy. Well, at least while we were at my father's ranch I got the feeling that she wasn't all that hooked on the dandy. Women, good grief!

 

Any way, as we pulled up to the other wagons they were just finishing their meal. A couple of the men jumped up and started unhitching the horses from the wagon. Two more got our ponies as well as Dawg's and Karl's horses and lead them to the other horses that were tied nearby.

 

Man oh man, Morning Star could cook, and hug too. She had come running as we came into the camp, "I'm so glad your back Cheyenne" was all she said as she was hugging me. Well, I thought, is she just glad to see ME, or glad that she wasn't alone with all those men anymore. I doubted if I would ever figure that one out either. Life was so much simpler when I was in the shadows,,,

 

After we ate I took Calico's hand and told her it was time we went for a talk, with a T.

 

We didn't need to go far, just far enough not to be heard. As we stopped she started to say something, but I put my finger to her lips and quietly said "sshhhhh." "I've been wanting to tell you this for a long time, you don't need to say a word. I don't know just how you feel about me, but I've had great feelings for you from the depths of my heart for many many moons." "Now it is up to you, when you are sure who your heart sings for, let me know. If it is me, I will soar as if on eagles wings, if not, well, I will honor my oath until you have a man who will protect you always." I put my finger to her lips again and whispered, "when your heart is sure, tell me." I leaned over and kissed her on her cheek as I got ready to return to the fire. There! I had finally gotten to speak from my heart to her.

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I suddenly thought of one more thing, "and it doesn't matter where, if you choose me, either building your ranch or returning to my father's ranch. I can soar as an eagle at either place," I told her.

 

Now I was done,,,,I think,,,maybe...

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Oh my, I could feel my cheeks turning bright red....he finally told me he cared! But I knew by then Buick did too, what was I gonna do about that? I didn't want to hurt either one....

We returned to camp, and I said goodnight and went into the tent, Morning Star was already there and getting ready to go to sleep. I laid down, but sleep was slow in coming, I had too much to think about. Cheyenne was a good man, and I had the feeling that all I had to do was tell him I felt the same about him, and it wouldn't be long before he would ask me to marry him. But was that really what I wanted, and was I ready for that? I still didn't know, so finally I closed my eyes to try and sleep.

But rest eluded me again that night, no more nightmares but really confusing dreams none the less. First I saw myself at the Culpepper ranch, wearing more of those pretty dresses that had belonged to Lives Again. Cheyenne was never far away, and we would go for long walks, or sit on the porch and listen to more of his father's stories, and have bonfires with all the men where we'd sit around laughing while watching the sun sink over the mountains. Next I would see myself and Buick on the Golden Aspen, watching Jesse and Pete work with the horses, and going for long rides across the prairie, and having dinner together in the little cabin we had built....

I woke up in the morning more confused than ever, but I had to put all those thoughts aside for now, there was too much work to do. Regardless of what I chose to do, I still intended to finish rebuilding, if I did that the ranch would bring a far better price if I decided to sell. We continued on, and reached my property before noon the next day. Pete and Jesse came out to greet us, Jesse saying "I'm real sorry, Miss Calico, it's all my fault I didn't hear that feller come up behind me until it was too late...."

"Nonsense, Jesse, it ain't your fault some people just can't keep their hands off stuff that don't belong to them! I'm just glad you weren't hurt any worse....you mean far more to me than a few horses. Don't you worry about that any more!" I was glad to see he was going to be all right, according to Pete, Jesse had had a bad headache for several days, but seemed to be improving. I was also glad to see that they'd gotten the frame of the barn up, and had started on the walls. With the men from the Culpepper ranch, it wouldn't take long to finish the whole thing, then we could get the horses inside at night. I also hoped that the men would have enough time to get started on a cabin before they had to return north.

Cheyenne talked some to the boys to find out more of what had happened the night the horses disappeared, and tried to see if he could find any tracks, but it had rained really hard both that night and a couple of other nights, any tracks that may have been there had been washed out. Well, it WAS the rainy season, and that reminded me, one more thing I wanted to do was either enlarge the dugout or build a storm cellar. I remember quite a few times growing up when ma and pa made us all go in the dugout when twisters were in the area, that's one danger that hadn't gone away. We discussed everything that needed to be done, then the men got to work while I helped Morning Star get some food ready for them.

Morning Star seemed a little upset with me, and I couldn't help but wonder if she knew what Cheyenne had said to me. I knew she would be disappointed if I got together with him....but then again as much as she seemed to like Buick that would probably be an issue either way. Lord, was I going to be able to make any choice without hurting somebody? Didn't seem like it, and that fact wasn't helping me make up my mind. Things were progressing nicely on my ranch, but what in the world was I going to do about my future?

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I had hoped to come across tracks while we headed for Calico's ranch, but no such luck. After we arrived at the ranch I took some of the men,to search for sign or tracks of the stolen mustang. I knew Badger was the one I really wanted to take with me because he was as good or better of a tracker than me. The sun was high when we left, we had several hours to search and I was sure we could at least find some sign. It didn't take long to realize that the rains had washed out any sign we had hoped to find.

 

The only hope now was if he came back for more, that would be a deadly mistake! One could only hope!

 

Calico hadn't hardly spoken a word since I had opened my heart to her, dang it, maybe I had made a mistake telling her. But when your heart cries out you must let it speak.

 

Back at the ranch you could tell that my father had picked the men wisely. The barn was going up quickly, two men were digging out a storm cellar, and one man was teaching Morning Star how to use the plow behind one of the huge draft horses. My, how that girl had spunk.

 

Calico was constantly hauling water to the men, making sure none of them became sick in the heat. Every once in a while I would see her just standing with a huge smile on her face as she watched the progress the men were making.

 

I had pictures of her in my mother's dress drift through my thoughts, oh yea, I was sure, especially when the pictures of her at the swimming hole passed through too. But, in the back of mind I knew I needed to be ready if she decided to choose the dandy. What a battle was raging between my head and heart. Dang women anyway!

 

Early in the mornings I would go out after fresh meat, we needed to save as many of the hams and other smoke meats as possible for winter. Plus, I enjoyed getting away from everyone. It wasn't that I enjoyed killing things as I always gave thanks for the animal, but the quiet time it provide to seek the wisdom of the Great Spirit. I would often read the bible my mother had given me as I sat near the watering hole in wait.

 

As the days passed, you could see the place becoming more and more of an actual ranch. It was also becoming a home for someone. As darkness would fall each evening we would all sit out by the fire. After eating, instruments would start to appear among the men, and some of them could actually sing withour sounding like a wounded coyote.

 

As the men sang and played their instruments, I started teaching Calico and Morning Star to read. I had quietly warned the men ahead of time not to say something to hurt their feelings. I knew that they all understood, afterall most of them hadn't known how to read before they had starting working on my father's ranch. It was fun seeing the girls' faces as understanding would come to them. Well, I thought, if I am not the chosen one, then she would sure remember me all the days of her life.

 

Every once in a while I would put some of my mother's herbs in Calico's water in the late evening, I couldn't stand watching her struggle try to keep so busy without rest.

 

I hoped that I would learn to have my father's heart as I watched his men work on Calico's ranch. I wanted to return with the men, but not nearly as much as I desired the Fair One!

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Thanks to the hard work of Mr. Culpepper's men, the buildings were going up quickly, and the place was finally starting to look like a real ranch. The barn was the first thing finished, and I was glad to be able to get the horses inside at night, that was a relief. Pete and Jesse had also started fencing off a large bit of pasture, so we could let the horses out to graze, and that project was soon completed. I kind of had a bit of a problem with Cheyenne when it came to the cabin though, he wanted something a whole lot bigger than what I had planned on. It took a while to convince him that I didn't need a big huge house, a small cabin with a few rooms would do for now, it could be added on to later if necessary. He wasn't thrilled, but I did finally win that argument! The cabin would have a main room, kitchen, two small bedrooms, and a loft. It would still be bigger than the original one.

The last few days in that week, some of the men got busy on the task of breaking the horses. Buick, Jesse, and Pete had done a good job of getting all the mustangs used to human contact, now it was time to get them used to riders. Pete had a little experience at it, but it was all new to Jesse, so I was glad some of the more experienced men were here to help, at least for now. I made sure that no attempts were made with the pregnant mares, those ones could wait for later. But at the end of two days, all the other mustangs were willing to accept a rider, that was a good start. I'd have the boys continue to work with all the horses, and I was hoping that by next year I'd be ready to start selling some of the stock. I'd still need far more horses, but we were getting there.

I knew the time was quickly approaching for the Culpepper men to return north, but I still didn't know if Cheyenne intended to go with them or stay. We had been so busy that there wasn't much time to talk, which was fine with me, as I didn't really know what to say to him. I knew what he wanted to hear, but that wasn't the same thing...

On the day before the men were set to leave, I was helping Morning Star with breakfast when I heard Pete shouting. I walked towards him to see what was going on, when I noticed two riders approaching, both of them leading two additional horses. It was Buick and Deputy Gibson, and they had my mustangs, even the stallion! As they arrived, men stepped up to take their reins and the lead ropes of the other horses, so the two dismounted and came over to talk to me. Buick gave me a big hug and an even bigger kiss, which was real nice until I realized that Cheyenne had seen the whole thing. We invited Deputy Gibson to stay for breakfast, and he gladly accepted, so I took both men over to the fire to get them some coffee. As they were drinking it, they started explaining what had happened to them that week.

They had gone to Denver to try and find a feller by the name of Texas Charlie, a drifter who was known to have been seen in the company of Dutch Henry Born, the horse thief that they were sure had taken my animals. They finally had found the man in one of the worst dive's in Denver, and had waited for him to leave to place him under arrest. They took Texas Charlie to the Territorial Marshall's office, where the Marshall gave him a choice, either help the two deputies find Born, or face charges of horse theft himself and end up at the end of a rope. Well, it hadn't taken long for Charlie to see the wisdom of assisting the deputies. He had led them to a place up in the foothills where he said that Born may have been hiding out, with 5 members of an outlaw gang that were rumored to be involved in robbing stagecoaches and an occasional bank.

When they got to this hideout, Buick and Gibson could see my horses in the corral next to a beaten down old shack, but they knew they were outnumbered, and were trying to decide whether or not to go get more help, when 6 men came out of the shack, saddled up, and left. How's that for some good luck....they waited until they were sure the men were gone, then just went down to the corral, roped up my four horses, and went back to Denver. They turned Texas Charlie over to the Marshall, and gave him directions to the hideout in case the Marshall wanted to go after the outlaws, or to retrieve more of the horses. Buick and Gibson were sure most of them were also stolen but were only concerned with recovering the ones that belonged to me. They did offer to come back and help the Marshall if he wanted them to, but first they had to get my horses back to the ranch. The Marshall told them he would need to do some planning before going up to the hideout, but he would contact the deputies if he decided he needed their help.

After breakfast, Deputy Gibson had to go back to Hugo Springs, but told Buick to go ahead and stay, that he'd send the Sheriff by later to talk to him. I think Cheyenne was hoping that Buick would go on to town as well, but there was no real reason for him to do so. Buick helped get the four horses he had rescued settled in, and took a quick tour of the buildings, he was really impressed with everything that had been done, but quickly pitched in to help with some of the daily chores that needed doing. After lunch though, he did tell us he was in desperate need of a bath, and could I show him where this swimming hole was that he'd heard so much about. Well, I thought Cheyenne was gonna explode, he sure didn't like that idea!! Before I could say anything, Morning Star popped up with "It's ok, I show Buick to swimming hole, I know where it is," and next thing I knew the two of them were leaving together....

I was a little hurt, I would have been more than happy to show Buick to the swimming hole, a bath sure sounded nice to me too!

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Women!!!! What in the world was wrong with me?! I guess I had read the Book of Solomon in the old testament way too often, because boy if I could shake those images I'd head for the mountains. But I knew deep inside me that would never happen. But dang it, those two weren't making it easy! I guess you say three if you included Water Lilly.

 

I had to get my mind off of that so I headed for the corral. Buick and the deputy had managed to find the mustangs, much to my surprise, but they didn't get horse thief. If I ever found him I'd dangle him from a tree with a rope myself. In my mind a horse thief was the worst of the worst, well almost. A soft stretchy rope at that! No quick snap of the neck for him, he could dangle there and try to breathe for a while!

 

We had four more mustangs to break, I chose the black stallion while three of the other men picked out which one they wanted to break. The other three went first, I hadn't seen any better riding at any of the rodeos that I had gone to as a youth. The men knew they were leaving in the next day or two and really wanted to get this of the job done. But boy, the mustangs were giving their all too. As it went on eventually everyone was watching. The men would ride and get thrown off until they were exhausted, then another mustang would be brought in and a new man would try to ride him, this went on for quite a while until the three were broke.

 

No it was my turn with the black stallion. "Hey Cheyenne, whar's thit flute of yurs?" Korupt Karl hollered. "Yea, play him some notes!" added Prairie Dawg.

 

I had them rolling on the ground, just like at my father's, when I produced my flute. I waited until they were done writhing in the dirt before I approached the stallion. This is going to be interesting I thought as the stallion lowered his head and backed away from me. His ears were straight up and he was starting to snort a bit. If I didn't know bette, this could be another female came to my mind!

 

I started playing the flute as I approached him holding out some roots in my hand, he calmed a bit and took the roots from my hand. Then I held out some cubes of sugar for him. Nowwe were getting somewhere. I took the halter off of my shoulder and placed it on him. More sugar, and then I slid the saddle on him, he didn't care for that at all! I let him prance around for a few minutes, playing my flute as he did. As he started to settle down, I gave Calico my flute, took the reins in my hands, and slowly put my foot into the stirrup.

 

I was already tasting dirt as I pulled myself up onto the saddle. Oh boy, the struggle I was having with the girls was long gone now,,,talk about highs and lows. He twisted, jerked and pratically stood straight up! Finally he threw me, I swear I could see over the top of the barn before I started down. OUCH, the ground rushed up to greet me.

 

As I laid there, Calico tried to climb the fence but the men held her back. "This ain't over yet" they told her. The stallion came over and nudged me as if to say, come on I wanna play some more.

 

So I got up, and went at it again. He tried the same move that he ahd thrown me with before, but I was ready for it. Soon he began to settled a bit, I thought, but he was just catching his breath!

 

This time when he threw me I saw the sky three seperate times as I summersaulted off his rear. Somehow I managed to land on my feet, for some reason the men all hollered "TEN".

 

What that was all about I had no clue.

 

I climbed aboard him again, much slower this time, he just stood there! hmmm what's he got up his sleeve now I thought, but then I heard it, Calico was playing my flute as Morning Star sang along.

 

About time those two did something useful crossed my mind as I sat there nearly motionless on the stallion. But my, they were a sight to behold! Maybe I could have them both, after all Solomon had many wives.

 

NO NO NO, I knew I didn't need that much troubl..uhhh, that much...get off the horse dummy!

 

I led the stallion over to Calico, handed her the reins and told her, "your turn."

 

As she climbed thru the fence, I was thinking, I hope he's finnished. But then I wanted to she how she could handle him, and a little part of me wanted to see him put her through the twists and turns she was putting me through....

 

As she led him into the middle of the corral, I saw the men holding Buick back. He hadn't seemed nearly as eager to go out there before I thought, as Calico rubbed the stallion"s face as she got ready to pull herself onto the saddle......

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Calico was pulling herself up on the stallion when I say him look over at her, then back at me. I saw his ears perk up, uh oh, he ain't gonna like this. Calico had no longer gotten into the saddle when the stallion proved my fears were well founded. She did manage to stay on him longer than I thought she would.

 

As she flew into the air I was over the fence in a single bound, I thought I would be able to catch her in mid air, I had seen that done in a dream once, but she hit the ground with a thud. I slid down beside her and put my arms around her lifting her head and shoulders off the ground. The picture of her after being wounded by the Kansa braves went through my mind.

 

"I'm sorry" was all that good come out of my mouth, over and over again, what had I done?

 

Then she opened her eyes and winked at me! "Gotcha" she said as she leapt to her feet, grabbing the reins and up on the stallion she went. I was no fool, I headed for the fence on all fours as fast as I could go. Of course that brought another round of laughs from everyone, even Morning Star. Calico wasn't laughing though, she was too busy holding on for her life. The stallion started to settle down about the same time the men had finished laughing, which took a while, much to my chagrin. Calico rode the stallion around the corral for several minutes making sure the stallion knew who had won.

 

I watched in amazement as she quided the black beauty around the corral, not because she was able too, I knew she could ride as well as anybody, but because I was watching two of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen.

 

I quietly asked Korupt Karl to fetch Samson. I knew the dandy was itching for the opportunity to prove he could ride too,, Gotcha huh,,, I would show her what a gotcha was!

 

Calico had dismounted the black beauty when I saw KK leading Samson out from the barn. The dandy had just finished saying how much that he wished we hadn't broken all the horses already, for he would surely have liked the opportunity to show how well he could ride a bronc.

 

KK hollered over to the dandy, "I got one here you can try, I know he's just a big ole draft horse but, he's the only one thti taint broke yet." KK didn't bother telling him that NO one had ever been able to stay on Samsom's back for than a few seconds before. KK led Samson into the corral and hefted a saddle on Samson's back and got it ready for the dandy.

 

"That's all you got for me?" Buick laughed as he walked over to Samson.

 

Of course we didn't bother to mention that Samson didn't mind a saddle, or a rider, unless the rider actually expected Samson to move, at all! Well, Buick pulled himself up onto Samson with all the confidence in the world. When Samson didn't even begin to buck, the dandy laughed and said, "Yea big bad horsey you got here",

 

Then he made the mistake of spurring Samson. Suddenly his laugh disappeared with a shout of "OH $hit" as he tried to hang on. He lasted until the "T"

finished leaving his lips. Karl quickly grabbed Samson and had him in front of the dandy before he could dust the dirt off his clothes. "Shucks" KK said, "forgot to tell you he don't care much for spurs." This went on until the dandy could harldly manage to get to his feet.

 

"Gotcha" I hollered as the dandy limped out of the Golden Corral. Of course that brought another punch in the arm from Calico.

 

Morning Star just said "Your mean!" but with an impish smile. I noticed her hair wasn't wet, it couldn't dry that fast I thought....

 

I looked around at the men, the were all bent over holding their sides laughing so hard they could hardly catch their breath. Least they weren't laughing at me, this time. They had pulled the same trick on me with Goliath. He had gotten the name Goliath because when he had thrown me a few years before, I had knocked him out with a stone from my sling.

 

I was the only one that ever was able to ride him. I think he had gotten the message. Too bad that wouldn't work on Calico....

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When Buick came limping out of the corral, I went over to make sure he was ok, then turned to Cheyenne and the other men who were laughing.... "That was down right mean! You knew that was gonna happen, didn't you?? It ain't funny, he coulda been killed!" I was furious! Obviously Cheyenne was letting his jealousy get the best of him, and I didn't like it, not one little bit! That was no excuse for pulling such a mean trick on Buick! Buick put his hand on my shoulder, and said "It's ok, no real harm done, besides, they'll all be leaving real soon....thankfully!"

The other men had all quit laughing when I scolded them, but were still smiling, even Cheyenne, until Buick said that. "Don't be placing any bets on that one, Dandy!" Cheyenne told Buick, and for a minute I thought those two were gonna start fighting right then and there, until I stepped between them and yelled "No! Both of you just knock it off! I ain't gonna stand for this, now you just both back off and calm down, NOW!" Boy, was I pissed! This was hard enough on me, did they both really have to make it harder?

I stomped off and went inside the cabin, slamming the door behind me. A few minutes later the door opened and Morning Star came in, telling me "They both want to talk to you, but not at the same time. Will you go out and talk to them?"

"No way, " I told her, "Not until they both decide to start behaving themselves a little better. And I need time to calm down, or else ain't neither one of them gonna like what I got to say!" I was almost in tears, I cared deeply about both, and I hated the fact that they weren't getting along, all because of me. I didn't know what to do or say to either one....I stayed in the cabin for the rest of the afternoon, just sitting and staring into the empty fireplace....we just couldn't go on like this!

Finally Jesse came to the door to tell me supper was ready, at least they had sense enough to send him in after me! I went out to where the men were getting ready to eat, and noticed that Buick was over talking to Morning Star, while Cheyenne was laughing some more with his father's men. I sat down at one of the long tables we had set up and asked Pete and Jesse to please sit with me. Buick quickly led Morning Star to the opposite side of the table from us and both of them sat down. I don't think Cheyenne was really happy about that, but he sat down at the end closest to us, and tried to pretend he was concentrating on eating. I wasn't buying it, but I certainly was hungry, I still didn't believe what I'd manage to accomplish with that stallion! I'd helped Pa with wild horses before, but he'd always made me wait until he had them calmed down a bit before letting me on any of them. That had to have been the hardest ride I'd ever had.

While we were all eating, Buick and Morning Star kept up the conversation they had started earlier, but most of us didn't say much. After he was done eating though, Cheyenne got my attention and said "Unless you can think of anything else that needs doing right now, I think it's time my father's men went back home, he's gonna be needing them soon." Well, that got Buick's attention, and he replied "Anything left that still needs doing, me and Jesse and Pete can handle. I'm sure Calico appreciates all you fellas have done for her, but you really don't need to stay any longer." Obviously he was counting on Cheyenne leaving too....

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After the dandy had finished trying to speak for Calico, "REALLY?" popped out of my mouth. "I know her bottom is hurting from helping break the black beauty, but I reckon she can still speak for herself." "Why don't you go for a ride on Samson, you didn't manage to give him much exercise earlier!" I said as sacastically as possible.

 

Then I caught Calico's eyes, you stupid bigmouth I muttered to myself. "Wait a minute, I'm sorry about that, that was a pretty dirty trick Buick. We should have warned you about Samson, he's thrown me more times than I care to mention, I thought it would be fun to watch him throw somebody else for a change. You could take Goliath out tho" I said aloud.

 

Dang it, Calico punched me again, I had forgotten I'd told her the story about Goliath! I wished she would at least find another spot to hit me though, my arm was getting mighty sore.

 

"I guess our welcome is about plumb wore out, so we best get to making things ready to leave early in the morning," I said and started to leave the table. The dandy was smiling like a chesshire cat. I'm sure he was feelng pretty good about me leaving. Calico's face told a different story though, hmmm.

 

The men joined me as I walked off to the barn to get things ready. "Get ready" the men laughed, "All we gotta do is hook up the empty wagons to the teams in the morning."

 

We hung out in the barn for a while, we were supposed to be busy after all. When we finally got tired of that, we gathered a bunch of scrap wood for one more fire that evening.

 

I tried to make a sure that Calico and Buick thought that I would be leaving in the morning, I gave extra attention to my pony, checking his hooves and such. I pulled out my rifles and wiped them down as we were sitting by the fire.

 

I could see Calico's eyes getting bigger and bigger the more I fiddled with my gear.

 

She finally couldn't take it anymore, she nearly tore my arm off as she grabbed it and pulled me away from the fire and well out of sight and hearing of everyone else.

 

"Your leaving? she nearly cried, "I thought...." I put my finger to her lips and shushed her. "Not unless you want me too" I whispered. "Samson and Goliath together couldn't pull me away unless you told me to go" I assured her. I took her in my arms and gave her a kiss on her forehead.

 

She looked at me like that wasn't enough, "That's all until I know you're ready" I told her as I led her back to the fire.

 

As for Buick, I would let him bask in his "victory" until morning. I wasn't done messing with him yet! He had gotten lucky finding the horses, I sure it was deputy Gibson that made that happen!

 

Back at the fire the men already were singing and playing their instruments as Calico and I returned. Morning Star was waiting for us with my flute in hand. As she handed it to me she quietly asked, "you leave?" I winked at her and just ever so slightly shook my head back and forth. When I saw her smile I knew she understood.

 

We enjoyed ourselves that evening, I had dug out the bottle of wine left over from Denver, Calico sure enjoyed that, Morning Star even had a few sips.....She looked at me sitting there between her and Calico and whispered to me loud enough for Calico to hear, "you know I didn't swim today, ....."

 

Gee, was she trying to help me,,, or.....

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I had more of those strange dreams that night, that left me tossing and turning until morning, and woke up tired and cranky. I was sleeping in one of the bedrooms in the cabin, Morning Star had the other one, and Buick, Pete, and Jesse were sharing the loft. I had told Cheyenne he was welcome to sleep up there as well, but he declined and slept outside with the men from his father's ranch. I still wasn't positive that he wasn't going to leave the next morning....

While we were having breakfast, Sheriff Gibson and his brother rode up, saying they needed to talk to Buick. We poured them both some coffee, and invited them to have a seat. They started to explain that the Marshall in Denver had sent them a telegram, asking for them to join a posse he was getting together to go after that band of outlaws up in the foothills, and hopefully that horse thief Born as well. They had come to ask if Buick wished to join them as well, if so they would leave the next morning for Denver to meet up with the Marshall.

Buick looked at me and asked "Can you handle things for a while with just Pete and Jesse? I'd really like to help try and catch that feller that stole your horses, and the rest of that scum as well." I just nodded, the sooner all those criminals were caught, they better off we'd all be. It was kind of unnerving, knowing that they were in the area and could cause a lot of trouble. I offered to go as well, I could shoot as well as most of the other men around here, but both the Sheriff and Buick shook their heads no. "You need to stay here and watch your stock," Buick told me, "Just cuz we're chasing them doesn't mean we'll catch them right away, and you can't leave your horses unprotected. Jesse and Pete will need you more than the Marshall, he's probably got some of his own men as well."


I wasn't happy about it, I actually didn't want Buick to leave, after all he'd just got back, and I was hoping to spend some time with him.....I knew now exactly how Cheyenne felt about me, but I wasn't so sure about Buick....maybe there wasn't really a choice for me TO be making.


Of course, it figured that Morning Star's warped little sense of humor (sometimes I wondered about that girl!) reared it's strange little head, before I knew what was happening she starts suggesting that maybe Cheyenne should go with the posse too, that he would be a big help to them in tracking the outlaws, and he was a good shot with that Sharps of his after all....just what was that woman thinking??? I didn't think this was a great idea at all, and I had a feeling it wouldn't end well....


The sheriff told Cheyenne to think about it, if he decided not to go that was ok too, but if he was willing to then be ready to go the following morning. The two brothers then left to go back to town and get ready, and Mr. Culpepper's men also prepared to leave. Buick wasn't happy to find out Cheyenne was in fact not returning north, but tried to be polite about it, though I could tell that was a struggle. After we had seen the wagons on their way, we all went to take care of the horses, and work some more with the ones we had broke to ride the previous day. Buick did much better this time, and Cheyenne managed to behave himself like a gentleman!

After lunch, I wanted to go down to the swimming hole for a nice soak, I was still awfully sore from the day before, and it was getting hot. I asked Morning Star if she'd go with me, and of course then she said "Why don't we all go? It would be fun!" Yeah, right, somehow I wasn't so sure about that, but Pete and Jesse both jumped at the idea, they were also hot and dirty, and they liked the idea of going for a swim. Buick and Cheyenne just stared at each other until they both noticed that the rest of us were leaving, then both of them hurried to saddle horses and follow us. I guess it was going to be awful crowded in that swimming hole this time!

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I was going the water hole but there was no way that I was going in with two or three men there. As Buick and I rode towards it I could tell by his look he wasn't really happy either. "I don't know about you Buick, but I have no intention of going in with that many people," I told Buick. "Well," started Buick, "at last something we agree on."

 

We both had a laugh at that and rode on towards the hole talking about how they had located the stolen horses. Once at the water hole we stayed back a bit and continued to talk about all sorts of things. Buick was actually a decent guy I thought as we talked. He even had to admit that the stunt with Samson was a good one. We had a good laugh about that.

 

We both could see the looks from Calico and Morning Star that we were getting, we thought that was pretty funny too.

 

He was amazed to find out that I was actually the son of Frank Culpepper, the Frank Culpepper. He couldn't believe what I was doing here, so I told him about my oath, and that that had led to my strong feelings for Calico. He shook his head in disbelieve saying, "You've got it bad don't you?"

 

Yep I agreed as we mounted our horses to return to the ranch. I'd have to think about joining the posse, but I had til morning to decide about going or not.

 

We heard Calico and Morning Star calling for us to come back, but, well we decided to just go sit a spell.

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When the four of us got to the swimming hole, we didn't waste any time jumping in the water, oh that felt so good! It wasn't long before we were all laughing and splashing and having a great ole time, but when Cheyenne and Buick arrived, all they did was sit up on the bank and talk. Both Morning Star and I tried convincing them to join us, but they just shook their heads, and went right on talking. Oh well, at least they seemed to be getting along a little better, and weren't trying to kill each other, but I was kinda disappointed that they missed out on a great time!

After a while the two of them just disappeared, and I couldn't figure out why, oh well, their loss! We played around for a while longer, then got out and dried off for the ride back home. When we got there, the two men were leaning on the corral gate, still talking. They noticed us riding up, and Buick came towards us, I thought he was coming to help me down, but he went straight to Morning Star...I couldn't believe my eyes! I had to admit, Cheyenne was right behind him, and he came over to help me, but I was still a little hurt. Later, when Morning Star was going to start dinner, I volunteered to help but Buick said no, he'd help her tonight, and for me to just go relax. Just what the heck was going on here?


I went back to the corral to watch the horses while I was waiting, and it wasn't long before Cheyenne joined me. He didn't say anything for a few minutes, then turned to me and asked "Are you going to be upset if I join that posse tomorrow? I won't go if you don't want me to. There's still plenty of work to do around here."

I admitted that I'd miss he if he went, but pointed out that the posse really could use a good tracker, all the same it was his choice. He told me was still thinking about it, and would let me know in the morning. We all had dinner, then Buick and Morning Star said they were going for a walk, and would be back later. I was starting to get the idea that I had competition for both men, and if I didn't hurry up and make up my mind, it might be made up for me! So I asked Cheyenne if he'd go walking with me as well, and we headed out in the opposite direction. While we were walking I pointed out to him that he was welcome to stay up in the loft with the other men, I knew at some point I was going to have to put in a bunkhouse if I wanted to hire more men, but that could wait a little while longer.


Before long he stopped and turned to face me, but he didn't say anything, just stood there looking at me...it didn't make any sense, if he wanted to say something he shoulda just done it..for the life of me I had no idea what he was up to.....

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As I looked into Calico's eyes I kept waiting for her to say something, after all I had already told her how I felt, and she was the one who wanted to go for a walk.

 

I was perfectly content lookin into her eyes, but she wasn't saying anything either. I don't know where it came from, but all of a sudden I blurted out, "I don't like the idea of sharing you, especially at the swimming hole!" I didn' know where that came from and there certainly wasn't anything to follow it up with so I just stood there looking into her eyes.

 

All she could come up with was "But".... then she hugged me, then kissed me on my cheek.

 

Well, that went well I thought as we continued our walk ending up back at the house.

 

That night I slept out in the barn alone. Well, I guess I shouldn't say slept, because I spent the night asking the Great Spirit for guidence about leaving with the posse. Come sun up I had my answer, I would stay at the ranch. The last time I had gone off with the troops in Kansas it ultimately led to Calico almost being killed by those renegade braves.

 

I was waiting on the porch when everyone woke that morning. Morning Star was preparing a fire, as the others came out of the house. As we sat around the fire I announced that I would not be going with the posse, and gave a brief explanation, but with no details.

 

When I was done Morning Star piped up with, "I know how to track, my father taught me well, I go with Buick and posse to track this bad man."

 

Calico tried to talk her out of it but her mind was made up. After breakfast Buick and Morning Star left, I was glad to see Buick go, but a part of me was sad to see Morning Star leave.

 

As they rode off I decided the first order of business would be to create a plan to defend the ranch from another incursion from outlaws or whatever.

 

I would take the night watch, then sleep in the barn till late morning. The others would be armed all the time, and they would have their rifles nearby at all time. Calico would wear her pistols too, and her rifle and that one of the new shotguns in the house. She would never leave the ranch without one of us, with no exceptions. She didn't think that was nessasary but then I didn't ask her either.

 

One thing she did insist on, I would stay in Morning Star's room while she was gone. I agreed, as long as she didn't make too much noise in the house while I was sleeping. I thought that was kind of funny because Calico didn't spend much time in the house anyway.

 

We continued working on the ranch that day, food was a little lacking as Calico had been depending on Morning Star to prepard things for us to eat. I enjoyed watching Calico struggle to come up with something but I knew we would all be better off if I chipped in with the cooking.

 

Night was coming, it would be a long night...

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For a few days after Buick and Morning Star left, everything went pretty smoothly, well, except for my cooking, that still hadn't improved any. The men were good sports about it, even helping out, I was sure it was to make sure I wasn't gonna poison them! Cheyenne took the night watch, and slept most of every morning, but would get up after lunch to help us out. One afternoon, we were moving the horses to some new pasture quite a ways from the cabin, when one of them pesky prairie rattlesnakes spooked my pony. I wasn't prepared for it, and ended up on my rear on the ground. Pete took care of the snake real quick, and I wasn't hurt, but I did tear a big hole in the seat of my britches. So I told the men that I was gonna go back to the cabin and change, and I'd be right back. Cheyenne told me to be careful and not take too long, as soon as the horses were settled maybe the two of us could make a trip down to the swimming hole...without Jesse and Pete...and that didn't sound all that bad to me....

I got back to the house and went inside, unbuckling my gunbelt as I went. I laid it on the table and went into my room, humming a little tune, and changed into some new britches. As I was doing so I was thinking that maybe tonight I'd change into a dress before dinner, I hoped Cheyenne would like that. As I came out of my room, all of a sudden I noticed a man standing by the table, and he had a pistol pointed straight at me! "Don't you even make a sound, or I'll drop you, don't think I won't" he snarled at me, then a couple of other men came in, one of them grabbed me and dragged me outside. There were a few other men out there as well, I hadn't heard them at all....

I recognized a couple of them from some wanted posters that Sheriff Gibson had shown us, the one pointing the pistol at me was none other than Dutch Henry Born, the horse thief, the rest must be members of the gang he had been riding with! Obviously the Marshall's posse hadn't caught up with them yet. They dragged me and my pony off to the other side of the aspen trees, where they had hidden their horses, and forced me up on my pony. They tied my hands to the saddle horn, then Born took the reins and made me ride off with them, in the opposite direction from where Cheyenne and the other two were. I knew better than to try and raise an alarm, there was no doubt in my mind that those men would kill me if I did long before help could come....


I was scared, but at the same time I knew it wouldn't be long before Cheyenne realized something was wrong when I didn't return to the pasture. I was positive he wouldn't waste any time in coming after me, I just hoped nothing else bad would happen to me until he got the chance!

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The outlaws forced me to ride hard, we were heading straight for the mountains. We kept going and going, how my pony managed to keep up is beyond me. We didn't stop until it was almost dark, and we were in a small clearing in the foothills a little north of Pike's Peak. There one of the men untied my hands and pulled me off my pony, then retied my hands. Then he said "Hey, Dutch, can we have some fun with this little filly tonight?" and started grabbing at me. Well, he had tied my hands but not my feet, and I managed to kick him real good, then he slapped me so hard I fell. The man he called Dutch came over and grabbed my attacker's hand, stating "No, leave her be, damn it! We need her unharmed if she's gonna be any use to us...." Ok, that made me feel a little better, whatever the reason they kidnapped me it wasn't to kill me....at least not yet. Dutch threw a blanket at me and told me to get some sleep, we'd be moving again as soon as it was light enough to see.

I didn't sleep much that night, between the nightmares (they had come back, go figure) and the fact the ground was really rocky. So I was awake the next morning when the men started getting up, Dutch came over and kicked my foot a little, saying "On your feet, let's go! That durn posse wasn't that far behind us, move!" and I figured I better cooperate, at least for now. There wasn't much else I could do at that point anyway. We mounted up and kept riding, later I heard one of the men ask Dutch if we were heading for Badger Mountain, and the leader just nodded. We mostly rode through the valleys, but finally started up the side of one mountain, it was rather tough moving up through the trees. We finally came out into a large meadow, and I could see a run down old shack standing in the middle of it, and my heart sank. There was no cover around the shack from which anyone could try attacking the place very easily, these men knew what they were doing.

We dismounted in front of the shack, then Dutch shoved me inside, it was rather dark but I could tell there were already two people in there, and to my surprise one of them was Theresa! "What are YOU doing here, what the heck is going on?" I asked, confused. "You just shut up and sit your butt down, I don't gotta tell you nothin!" she growled at me, then she slapped me, and the man that was in there with her grabbed me and threw me towards a narrow bunk along one wall. "Do like she says and you might not get hurt," he told me, and I did, there was probably no getting out of this mess all on my own...Where was Cheyenne and where was that posse??


Later that night they did bring me a plate of what I assumed was supposed to be food, I wasn't real sure about that and I didn't want to eat any, Theresa had never been a very good cook either. Dutch noticed I wasn't eating, and he didn't like that very much. "You go ahead and eat sumthin', we need you fed and healthy when your boyfriends get here." Well, that kind of shocked me, one of the other men got all mad that Dutch had said that, but Dutch just shook his head. "Don't matter if she knows, what's she gonna do about it? I don't care if she finds out I wanna kill that deputy boyfriend of hers, fer stealing those horses back from me...yeah missy, I know all about that! And your other boyfriend, that rich one, we're gonna see just how much it's worth to him to get you back in one piece!"


So that's what they were up to, they wanted revenge on Buick and ransom outta Cheyenne...lord I hoped those two would be real careful in coming after this bunch! I spent the rest of that night praying that the posse would find out I was here before attacking the place, and that Cheyenne wouldn't try anything crazy all on his own......

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While we waited for Calico to return with her new britches, I still couldn't figure out what the big deal was, it only showed a little white skin, and besides she was sitting on it anyway, but like I've said before, I don't have a clue about women, we built a small fire and ate that pesky rattlesnake that had spooked Calico's pony.

 

We lingered there a while, I wasn't going any further without Calico, I pulled my glass out from its' pouch on my pony. I couldn't see her anywhere as I glassed the trail back to the ranch.

 

I put the glass back into its' pouch and tolde Jesse and Pete to mount up and that we were returning to the ranch, with the horses.

 

I could see in their faces the concern they felt, we didn't waste any time getting back to the ranch. I didn't see the autumn pony anywhere, my heart sank even further, Calico wasn't in the cabin, but her gunbelt was still there on the table.

 

Jesse and Pete were busy putting the horses in the corral when I hollered to them. "Put halters on six of those, and saddle up new horses for the both of you. Then I circled the cabin, there were tracks, lots of tracks, I saw Calico's moccasin tracks, with a set of worn boot tracks leading out back to the aspens. There were at least six sets of shod horse tracks too, along with the unshod autumn pony's tracks. They were headed straight west, towards the mountains.

 

I ran back to the corral and threw my leather rifle pouches over the black beauty's shoulders. I wanted to send one of the boys after the posse, but I knew we were already outguned and that it would be a long shot of him finding the posse anyway.

 

We took out following the tracks, with the extra ponies with us. I knew we had to ride hard to try to catch up, we would run our mounts hard and then trade off to new one's as we went. Jesse and Pete had seen me get ready without a saddle and had asked why I wasn't going to use a saddle, "too much weight" was my reply. They both said, "Hey we can ride bareback", and all we took were our rifle pouches, and saddle bags full of ammo, and as much water as we could.

 

We came to a large hill and from it's top I glassed the area towards the mountain, I could barley make out a group of riders miles ahead of us. I had hoped to run our horses hard even for me to cirlce around in front of them to be able to pick one or two off them off at a time. But we were much too far behind to be albe to manage that.

 

Jesse hollered real quick like, "look to your right, way out yonder!" I looked through my glass, another group of riders were heading for the mountains, "Naw, it couldn't be" I said aloud, I good see a yellow spot out if front of the group. It had to be Korupt Karl leading the group of riders, I'd never seen anyone else ever wear a bright yellow shirt except for Karl.

 

We quickly changed horses, and continued on with the chase, we could tell that we would be meeting up with KK's group about the time we got to the mountains, which was still about 10 miles out.

 

We met the other group at the foot of the mountains and as it was late in the day we decided to camp there.

 

It seems that that my father's men had stopped in Denver on the way back to pick up supplies for the Culpepper ranch. Well, and of course to hit the saloons. Culpepper hands were quite popular with the saloon girls, the girls knew that men from the ranch always had money when they came to town. Anyway, Karl and the others were in the saloon when one of the girls got pretty drunk and told them of Theresa's plan.

 

They left the wagons at the livery, sent one man to my father's ranch to tell my father, stopped at the hardware for extra ammo, and got ready to head for the mountain meadow and the cabin the drunken whore had told them about. While they were loading the ammo into their saddlebags Buick, Morning Star, and the Gibson boys spotted them.

 

It didn't take long for them to decide to ride together, the only change was to have two of the men go back to the livery and get the smallest wagon, get food stuffs and anything else they could think they might need, and have it follow along as best of they could.

 

That wagon finally caught up to us later that night at the base of the mountains.

 

When KK told me of the evil plan that Theresa and Dutch Henry had come up with, KK and Prairie Dawg had to hold me down to keep me from heading up the mountain in the dark.

 

One of the father's men knew this area well, seems he had been a trapper and scout in this area years before. He had left being a scout for the army after the massacur at Sand Creek. He knew he had to get away from Chivington before he killed the man. We all understood that.

 

We headed up the mountain just after sunrise, all 15 of us. We left the wagon at the camp, it would help my father's group find the trail up the mountain. My blood ran hot as I rode the black beauty up the mountain, constantly trying to think of a plan. I had never come against this type of problem before, not one with so much at stake. I did swear that not one of the outlaws or theresa would come back down the mountain, dead or alive!

 

When we reached the meadow I had the men circle the meadow dropping a man off at they went until the had the cabin surrounded. I kept Morning Star, Karl, Buick and the Gibson boys closest to me.

 

When we were all in place I stepped out into the open and fired my Sharps at the top of the chimney, I thought I would get their attention. Well it did real quick like.

 

Dutch Henry stepped out of the cabin holding Calico, he had no trouble spotting me, I had Korupt Karl with that yellow shirt standing beside me.

 

"I got your woman" the thief hollered, I wouldn't try anymore of that if you want to hold her again!"

 

Karl had to push my rifle down from my shoulder to keep my from blowing dutch into eternity...

 

"We want $25,000 for the woman and I want that black stallion back, you got that!" dutch hollered again.

 

I gave a signal and all the men surrounding the cabin stepped their horses out into the open for Dutch to see, "It'll take me a couple days to get the money" I hollered back, and with that we all stepped back into the shadows.

 

Karl slapped me upside the head once we were back in the shadows, "What in the world were you trying to do? they would of killed her." he said.

 

"Thanks" was all I could say, "Now let's come up with a plan to send that pig to hell and get Calico out of there alive."

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It wasn't long before the lookout came running in, yelling "Riders comin', about a dozen or so, it's gotta be them!" All the men started grabbing their guns, all I could do was hope Cheyenne and Buick, as well as the others with them, would come out of this ok. Dutch came over and grabbed me, telling me "Now don't do nuthin' stupid now, I'd hate to have to put a bullet through your pretty little head!" Yeah, well, that made two of us!

We all heard a loud "BOOM" and I recognized it right away as Cheyenne's Sharps, just what was he shooting at? Dutch flung open the door and shoved me out, still holding on to my arm but with his pistol pointed straight at my head. I could see Cheyenne at the edge of the clearing. Dutch started yelling at him, making his demands, then all the men stepped out, and I knew that at least they had the outlaws outnumbered. Wasn't sure what good that would do, I knew neither Cheyenne or Buick would want to put me in any danger.

Dutch then shoved me back inside and slammed the door. He pushed me back towards Theresa, and told her, "OK, our little plan is working, get ready to go." I didn't understand that part....go where? Then one of the men opened up a trap door, and I could see stairs going down. Theresa grabbed a lantern and lit it, while she was doing that I listened to Dutch tell all the other men "OK, we're gonna take our little filly somewheres safe while the rest of you wait here for that money and my horse. When you got both, make all those law dawgs wait in the shack, tell em' you gotta go get the girl, and they won't see her alive again if they follow, as soon as you're all clear blow the place!" Oh my gosh, they had dynamite or something rigged to blow up the shack, and were intending to get all my friends in there....

Theresa then pushed me towards the trap door, telling me "Get your butt down there, we're leaving", and she followed me down the stairs, and Dutch followed her. Obviously they were going to take me somewhere else to wait for Cheyenne to produce the ransom. They shoved me along a tunnel, I wasn't sure if it was an escape tunnel or a mine shaft or just what it was, but we walked for quite a ways before coming to an exit, hidden behind some rocks. We all climbed out, and there were three horses tied nearby, with saddles on the ground next to them. "Dang it!" exclaimed Dutch, "I told those fools to make sure the horses were saddled, we ain't got time for this! Theresa, watch your sister and don't let her do anything stupid!" then he got busy putting the saddles on. Theresa pulled out a knife and threatened me with it, saying "Wouldn't bother me at all to bury this thing in you, brat, you behave for once in your life!" That was priceless, her telling me to behave? She'd been working as a whore.....

I didn't know it, but Morning Star had left the circle of men surrounding the cabin, telling Buick that she needed to find a bush or a tree, something a little private..... He nodded, but told her not to go too far. She didn't...until she heard noises coming from behind some nearby rocks. She crept up through the trees until she could see what was going on, and silently grabbed her bow and an arrow....

Dutch had finally got the saddles on, and was about to force me onto one of the horses when Morning Star made her move. She had been aiming at the center of Dutch's chest, but just as she let the arrow fly he moved slightly, and it hit him in the shoulder. "Damn!" he screamed, and yelled at Theresa to get me on a horse while he scrambled to pull himself up on his. Instead, my sister grabbed for the rifle he had in a scabbard, and pulled it out and started aiming for Morning Star! All of a sudden, a thought popped up in my head, "Hey, Theresa don't know how to use that thing, pa never taught her or Margaret how to shoot!" When remembered that, I knew I would have a few seconds before she could do much, so I grabbed the knife that she had dropped and threw it as hard as I could....

The knife went deep between her shoulder blades just as Morning Star's next arrow found it's mark, in the center of Theresa's chest. As she was falling, Theresa did manage to pull the trigger, but the bullet went harmlessly over Morning Star's head by several feet. Dutch hadn't wasted any time, he was already galloping away through the trees, but I didn't think he'd get far, not with that arrow still sticking outta him! Our men had heard the shot though, and came running, Buick was there first with Cheyenne only a step behind. They took in the scene, and in a heartbeat Buick had Morning Star in his arms and was kissing her soundly! I knew right then that there was something special going on there, but for some reason it didn't bother me anymore, especially when I saw the look in Cheyenne's eyes as he came up and put his arms around me. He didn't kiss me, but the way he was holding me I didn't think he would ever let go, which was fine with me....

Then Morning Star pulled away from Buick and came over to me, saying "I'm sorry, I know she was your sister, but I had no choice...." to which I happily replied, "No, my sister just helped save my butt! Theresa was just someone I was stuck being related to...." and Morning Star and I threw our arms around each other, we really did think of each other as sisters now.

Buick came over and put his arm around Morning Star's shoulder, and told me "I am sorry for your loss anyway, but she weren't no lady, she was a whore! I'm just glad you two aren't hurt!" to which all the other men quickly agreed. I told them all about the plan to lure them into the house and blow it up with dynamite, so we knew we'd still have to do something about those outlaws back at the shack, and then there was the little matter of Dutch...we couldn't let him just get away!







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I was so happy to see Calico standing there as we cleared the rocks all I wanted to do was hug her, until I remembered Dutch was getting away.

 

"Karl, bring blackie down here fast as you can" I hollered back up the mountain. Karl was there in no time leading blackie as he rode down to us. He handed me the reins to blackie and we were off in a flash.

 

It was easy to follow Dutch, the horse's hooves were tearing up the ground as it ran and we would see Dutch every now and then. We hadn't made up ground on him as we reached the foothills, Karl kept hollering at me to just stop and shoot the fool. He knew how well I could shoot the Sharps, but I was wanting to see Dutch clearly when the bullet hit him.

 

It didn't take long to see that we were quickly gaining on him. I was looking way ahead and noticed that Dutch had taken the long way around a large outcroping of rocks. I pointed for Karl to keep following Dutch as I cut around the other way. I ended up beating Dutch around by about five hundred yards. I quickly hid blacky behind some rocks and found a spot that Dutch would have to pass. I had the Sharps all ready as he neared, when he was about 50 yards away I stepped out in front of him. It took him about twenty yards to stop and when he did the Sharps spoke. As the smoke cleared all I saw was a red mist where Dutch had been.

 

Karl rode up a few seconds after the shot, coming through the red mist as he did. "Now I know why you wanted to get so close" he laughed looking at the red mist and Dutch laying several feet behind his horse.

 

We left Dutch laying there for the buzzards taking his horse as we returned back to the mountain...

 

Boy was I looking forward to seeing Calico, I was hoping the men would take care of the rest of Dutch's men by the time we returned.

 

I also was thinking about that that trip to the swimming hole she had promised......

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While Cheyenne and Karl went after Dutch, the rest of us returned to the clearing where the shack was. We could hear hoofbeats fading off in the distance, but I could tell that not all of the outlaws had left, there still had to be about half of them in the shack. Sheriff Gibson called out to them to give themselves up, but they just started shooting at us. Rather silly if you ask me, as there was no way they could see anyone, but they weren't real smart without Dutch to do their thinking for them. Gibson again called out for them to surrender, and then yelled that we'd blow the cabin up if they didn't come out. I guess it hadn't occurred to them that I had been rescued, and knew about the explosives....

But they still wouldn't come out, so Buick and I snuck around to the other side of the clearing, where we could see the back of the shack, and there were a couple of crates stacked up there. The dynamite or whatever they were gonna use had to be stored there. Buick sent me back to where Morning Star was waiting, telling me to get her and all the horses and get ourselves a safe distance away. I knew he was planning on shooting whatever was in those crates, and for a second I felt sorry for those men in there, after all they hadn't hurt me....but only for a second! I gave Buick a quick kiss on the cheek for luck, and went to find Morning Star. We took the horses and went down the mountain about half way, that should be enough. It only took a few minutes before there was a huge explosion, and several more minutes before all the men came walking down to where we were waiting.

Well, that's half of them, what about the rest?” asked Deputy Gibson, and his brother replied that they needed to go after them, and the rest of Mr. Culpepper's men volunteered to go along and help. Buick just looked at me and Morning Star, and said “I better go find Cheyenne so we can get these ladies back to the ranch, they've both been through enough!” Jesse and Pete chose to come with us, the horses back home would need tending, and soon. So we went our separate ways, and the men going with the Gibsons asked us to tell Karl they'd just head back north when they were done, and meet him there. It was then that it occurred to me, what was I gonna do? I couldn't expect Cheyenne to stay at the Golden Aspen forever, I knew his father wanted him to return eventually. If I went with him, what was I going to do with my ranch?


I was still thinking about that when we found Cheyenne and Karl, and they told us what had happened. We all turned our horses to the east, and enjoyed the ride back home immensely, Karl told a lot of funny stories about all the trouble he and Cheyenne had gotten into over the years, I laughed so much I almost fell off my horse! But every time I looked over towards Cheyenne, he wasn't laughing, just staring at me real intently, so finally I asked him what he was thinking about.


He just got a big grin on his face and said, “A bath.....”



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As we rode back to the ranch, Korupt Karl was trying real hard to make me look silly with all the scenanagans we had a part in. My mind though was on Calico and the water hole back at the ranch. At times I had to shift around on blackie quite a bit.

 

It seemed to take forever to get to the ranch, it was almost dark when we got back, Jesse and Pete tended to the horses, Buick and Morning Star disappeared into the house, and I found a bottle of Crown for Karl. I grabbed a couple of fresh ponies and Calico headed for the water hole. It didn't take long for us to get there, I'm not sure who was in the bigger hurry, her or me.

 

The cool water really felt good, but not as much as she did, there wasn't much splashing going on tonight.

 

After a while I had to ask her, "You ready yet?" She gave me an impish smile, and let her lips meet mine.

 

"What am I going to do with the ranch" she whispered. "Well, you could always give it to Buick and Morning Star as a wedding present.....

 

We didn't talk much after that.....

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No nightmares for me that night, no sir, the dreams I had this time were far more pleasant. I woke up, stretched, and reached over to the other side of the bed....but it was empty. For a second there I wondered if it had all been a dream, I coulda sworn I'd had company last night....

But then I realized that the sun was much higher than it should have been, so I jumped up, got dressed as quick as I could, and went outside. The others were just finishing up with breakfast, though Morning Star had saved me some. I sat down next to Cheyenne, and he put his arm around me and told me “I decided to just let you sleep, thought you could use it. Did you finally get some rest?” I smiled and nodded, but noticed that for some reason it looked like Jesse and Pete hadn't got much sleep....I wonder why? Maybe it was time to consider building them a bunkhouse so they wouldn't have to sleep in the loft over the bedrooms. Oh well, maybe they just needed an extra cup of coffee, there was work to be done.

 

The next few weeks just flew by. Cheyenne started teaching Buick more about ranching, and I had to start coming to terms with the idea that I would soon be leaving here, and letting my two friends have the place. That was hard, but I knew I wanted to be with Cheyenne, even if that meant moving north. At least I knew I would be welcomed at the Culpepper ranch, well, at least by everyone but Water Lilly. I was sure she wasn't gonna be happy about this!

Buick had asked Morning Star to marry him, so I did tell Cheyenne that we couldn't leave until after than, I wanted to stay at least that long, and he agreed. They had a simple ceremony at the ranch, we invited the Barretts from the ranch next to ours, and the Gibson brothers (by then they had caught the outlaws and turned them into the Marshall in Denver for hanging), and a few others in the neighborhood that seemed nice. The townspeople still weren't sure what to think about Morning Star, but she was slowly winning people over and making friends, I sure hoped she would be ok.

Afterwards we had a big party and a barn dance, and that was a lot of fun. I noticed Jesse and Pete staring at the Barrett daughters for a while, those two girls were really growing up fast! I did warn both of them that Mr. Barrett was an excellent shot.....”Ifn' ya wanna ask those girls to dance, go right ahead boys, just don't get any crazy ideas about taking them to the swimming hole!” I advised them, trying hard not to laugh. They both assured me they had no intentions of it....yeah right! It was a fun evening, but kind of sad for me as well, I knew that Cheyenne and I would be leaving the day after tomorrow (with Karl, he had stayed to help), and part of me was wanting to back out of the whole deal. But the decision had been made, and most everything was to be left here, about all I was taking was my autumn pony, my clothes, and my guns.

Finally it was time to leave....I hugged and kissed them all, and Buick made us promise we'd come back and visit. Cheyenne agreed, but said that Buick and Morning Star would also need to visit the Culpepper ranch as well. The three of us got underway, Cheyenne and I riding and Karl driving the small wagon with our stuff in it. We arrived at the Culpepper ranch a few days later right before lunch. As we approached, I could see Mr. Culpepper come out on the porch, when we got closer he came down to greet us, a huge smile on his face. Cheyenne jumped off his horse, and Father and son hugged, then Mr. Culpepper came over to me and helped me down, saying “Welcome home, Calico!” That was sure nice of him, as I was so nervous about this whole thing, I really wanted to be accepted there.


And I was, by everybody but Water Lilly, she was furious when she found out! I was gonna hafta watch that one.....After lunch Hop Sing told Cheyenne that his things had been taken to his old room, and that my belongings had been put in the same guest room that I'd used before. I was a little disappointed hearing that, but I guessed we'd have to behave ourselves, after all it was still his father's house and I was going to have to learn to act like a lady if I was going to stay there. I had gotten used to having someone to hold though, on those nights when the bad dreams got a little intense, I sure wished I could figure out how to make them stop once and for all! Especially since none of them ever made sense to me anymore....

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Lu Sing and a couple of other ladies, I think they were wives of some of the men, volunteered to help me “get settled in”. I didn’t think I really needed help, but they were kind of insistent, so we all went up to my new room. For the most part I just sat on the bed and watched them unpack the clothes of Lives Again’s that I had brought back with me, they seemed to know more about what they were doing than I did. After a while, Lu asked me where all the underclothes were, why hadn’t I brought those? I told her that neither Morning Star nor I was quite sure what to do with those things, and most of them didn’t fit too well under buckskins, so we had cut most of it up for rags. You coulda heard a pin drop in that room when I said that….

 

“Well, we get you more, and proper shoes too” she informed me, “Maybe riding skirt be helpful while you waiting on side saddle Mr. Culpepper ordering for you to arrive.” “Why do I need new shoes and a new saddle? My saddle is almost brand new, and these moccasins are just fine, so are my other pair…..” I started, but all the ladies just stared at me until Mrs. Sing came over right in front of me and put her hands on her hips, and scolded me, “You learn to act like lady, dress like lady, now! You not embarrass Mr. Culpepper or Mr. Cheyenne no more! You unnerstand?” I wasn’t too sure I did, I mean, nobody seemed to mind me dressing in buckskins and wearing moccasins and all that stuff before, but I was a little intimidated by Mrs. Sing and the other ladies, so I just nodded and from then on kept my mouth shut.

 

The other ladies went right on putting all my stuff away, and making lists of all the stuff they thought I needed, and making plans for teaching me to put up my hair like they thought it should be….til I was ready to run screaming out of there! I knew they were just trying to be helpful, but I was getting real uncomfortable with all this, and it got worse when Mrs. Sing declared that she was even going to talk to Mr. Culpepper about letting me use some of his late wife’s jewelry. Jewelry?? Why the heck did I need that? Oh, this wasn’t going so well……at least Water Lilly wasn't up here "helping", I was thankful for that!

 

But I was determined to keep my mouth shut, learn what they were trying to teach me, and try to make the best of it. At least, except for the separate bedrooms thing, Cheyenne and I were together…..and that’s all that counted, right?


 


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I was a happy man, the Fair One had finally won my heart, that was the way it happened wasn't it? Well, maybe it was the other way around.

 

I did feel sorry for Jesse and Pete, two young men trying to sleep in a loft over two couples that were very enthusiastic at,,,,well you know.

 

I was glad that my good friend Korupt Karl and stayed, even if we had to the send wagon to town on a special trip to get more Crown for him, but we always did find room in the wagon for some wine. The man was a worker for sure, and boy did he know about how to make sure a roof wouldn't leak.

 

Buick and I had become fast friends, every since our talk at the water hole we had understood each other and down deep we weren't that different.

 

I could tell that it was going to be really hard for Calico to leave her ranch, she had grown up here, and now it was a beautiful working ranch. But knowing how hard it was on her to leave also made me happy. She was willing to leave it for me! I knew that with her sacrifice I had a great deal of responsibility to make her life as wonderful as I could, a tall order indeed.

 

I was going to miss that water hole! I knew that there was one on my father's ranch, but this one was different, we had unspoken rules about, well, we didn't interupt anyone who was there first.

 

The ride home was sweet and sour, but as long as Calico was beside me I would have gone anywhere. Karl was happy all the way home, he had plenty of Comfort and Crown, we even led the team of horses for him, didn't want him running off into a ravine. We did enjoy his company, he was a better story teller than me and I didn't have to talk that much, I got to stare at Calico that much more.

 

I came up with a plan for Karl to reward the saloon girl that had warned him and the other men about Calico's kidnapping. After we got home he would return to Denver to find her, he would take $1000 to her. I wanted him to try to talk her out of the saloon and make a new life for herself, the rest was up to Karl. I knew that was a little risky, but then I actually had a lot of faith in him.

 

Calico and I were disappointed with having to stay in seperate rooms, but then I was expecting that. But that didn't keep us from the water hole or sneaking back and forth late at night. We just had to make sure we were in our rooms before daylight. For some reason I was tired alot, and dang it I had no idea why....

 

Calico was getting along well with everyone, Water Lilly was keeping her distance from both of us but that was ok, less drama. Schoolmarm and Prairie Dawg's wife, Skipper had been telling me how much they liked Calico and were enjoying her being on the ranch. The three of them were kindred spirits and were spending a lot of time together, especially after school was over for the day. Schoolmarm would work with Calico on her reading, the two were a kick to watch, I don't know who got more exited when something would click.

 

A few weeks after we had gotten there Shoolmarm and Skipper grabbed me and led me out aways behind the house. "There's trouble brewing Cheyenne, Lu Sing and a couple of those uppity women are trying to tell Calico how to dress, even down to her undergarments and have been telling her that she's embarassing you and Mr. Culpepper" Skipper blurted out. "Their even going to tell Mr. Culpepper that Calico should have your mother's jewelery."

 

"REALLY," I almost shouted,"we'll see about that." I hugged them both, thanked them and took off for the house. First, I told my father what was going on and that I wanted the den for a "meeting" with the women involved. Then I called for Hop Sing and Water Lilly and told them to fetch Lu Sing and the other women and bring them to the den, IMMEDIATELY!

 

I almost burst out laughing when I saw their faces. Off they went to find the women, and it didn't take them long at all to have the women gathered in the den. I asked Hop Sing and Water Lilly to join us and closed the massive doors. I pointed to the pictures of my parents on the walls. I started with the two where my mother was wearing the fine dresses that Calico and Morning Star wore the night of the big party when we had visited.

 

Then I pointed to the one where my mother was wearing native dress and my father was in his buckskins. "This is the LAST one my mother had made, and the ONLY one that SHE had made." I told them. My father had the other two made to show how much my mother loved him, that she loved him so much she would wear those dresses for him!

 

I calmed down a bit and continued, "I watched Calico from the shadows for months, before I ever was able to talk to her, all I ever saw her in was buckskins. I watched her help drive a herd, in buckskins! When I cradled her in my arms afraid she was going to die, yup you guessed it, she was in buckskins. Do I really need to go on?"

 

I turned to Hop Sing who was pretty red and told him, "you take care of Lu Sing." Then I thanked Water Lilly for behaving in a way as not to hurt Calico, I knew how hard that it had been for her. I then excused the three of them. The rest of the ladies tried to follow them out, haaa fat chance.

 

I stepped in front of them and closed the doors again, as I turned to them they were all backing up as fast as they could. I'm sure they saw the anger in my face.

"OK ladies, and it hurts to call you ladies, things are going to change one way or the other! You are either going to learn how to treat Calico as the one I love, or you are going to find somewhere else to live. I don't reckon your husbands will be too happy with you if that happens. They might just drop you off at the Long Branch and tell y'all to go to work there. Have I made myself clear?" They all shook their heads in agreement, but that wasn't enough, "I can't hear you!" I bellowed.

 

"Yes, we understand Cheyenne" they almost sang.

 

"And what are you going to do about it?" I asked.

 

"We'll make it right, yes we will, tomorrow."

 

"When?" I bellowed even louder.

 

"Right now, right now, we'll do it right now!!" was the answer from several scared women.

 

I turned and opened the doors,,"Don't make me tell your husbands about this, you hear, Or I'll drive the wagon that takes you all to town!"

 

Hop Sing had Lu Sing waiting for the other women as they left the den. I don't think I'd ever seen a group of women go up a flight of stairs any quicker than they did. Hop Sing told me that Water Lilly had found Calico and gotten her to follow her to Calico's room.

 

Oh, how I wanted to be a fly on the wall in Calico's room. I think Hop Sing was thinking the same thing as he followed the herd up the stairs. I returned to the den to find my father waiting there with a glass of that fine sipping whiskey in each hand. "You made me proud boy, you made me proud" he told me as he handed me my glass. I took a deep breath as we both sat. "How did you know what was going on?" I asked.

 

"Son, the whole ranch heard you," then he led me out to the porch where most of the men were. This time they wern't laughing at me, they were actually applauding me.

 

Gee, was I really THAT loud?

 

I was going to need a trip to the swimming hole after this....

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The first few weeks at the Culpepper ranch were really hard on me. Those women were watching me like hawks, I was starting to be a nervous wreck. I was trying my best to act like the lady they insisted I learn to be, but this was a whole different world, one I was beginning to think I would never fit into. It helped a little once Cheyenne introduced me to the teacher that ran the school for the ranch hands families, Schoolmarm, and asked her to help me with my reading. Schoolmarm also introduced me to another lady, Skipper, who quickly became a good friend. I was really missing Morning Star, and those two ladies really helped me feel not quite so alone. They also helped me find ways to sneak down to the water hole to meet Cheyenne, it wasn't easy finding time alone with him, not with all those eyes on me all the time. I had told my two new friends how the other women had been acting, and asked for their advice in dealing with it. Neither said much, just told me they'd think on it and let me know if they came up with any ideas that would help. I didn't realize they were gonna tell Cheyenne all about it....

 

Mr. Culpepper had been kind enough to have some material purchased for me, so I could make some quilts for something to do. I spent most of my time doing that or practicing my reading. I was sitting on the front porch, trying to read a book that Schoolmarm had lent me, when I heard the shouting start. Oh, no, I was in big trouble now....I was sure half the ranch could hear Cheyenne! I was so shocked at first that I almost couldn't move, then I closed the book and headed for my room, the only place I could think of to hide. I was halfway up the stairs when the door to the den opened, and Water Lilly hurried to catch up with me. “Let's go to your room for a minute” she told me, well I was heading there anyway so I just nodded, not sure what to say to her. I went into my room, but she didn't follow me, I think she had snuck back to the staircase to eavesdrop on what else was happening. Before long there was a knock at the door, then Lu Sing and the other women came in...I don't think any of them really wanted to talk to me, and the feeling was mutual. Finally they started apologizing one by one, and I was feeling really humiliated by then....I hadn't meant to get them into any trouble, I was just so afraid of failing to live up to their standards.

After they left I sat there for a while, then I heard another knock. It was Cheyenne, wanting me to go down to the water hole with him. I agreed, but on the way downstairs I noticed his father was sitting in the den, and I told Cheyenne to go ahead, and I'd catch up in a few minutes. After Cheyenne had left, I went in the den and asked “Mr. Culpepper, may I speak with you for a moment?”

He just looked at me with a funny expression on his face, and said “Don't you mean “can I talk to you fer a minute'?” then he winked at me! “And don't you think it's about time you started calling me Frank? Mr. Culpepper is way too formal!”

I wasn't sure if he was making fun of me or not, but he was smiling, so I carefully sat down in the chair across from him. I wasn't sure how to say what I was thinking, so I took a deep breath and just blurted out “I'm real sorry about what happened earlier, I wasn't meanin' to cause no trouble! I don't want you and Cheyenne to be shamed of me, but I just don know how to act....how can I learn how without always feeling like a mouse in a room full o' cats?” I was humiliated, but I had to let it out!

 

He just kept looking at me for a while without saying anything, until I was really starting to squirm. Finally he just sighed, and said “Cheyenne loves you just the way you are, and as long as he's happy, that's all I care about. Why do you think you need to change just to make us happy?”


I knew he was asking a serious question, so I thought about it for a minute before answering, “I know Cheyenne loves me, but that's why I want to learn to act proper, not because Mrs. Ling and the others are forcing me, but because I want to feel like I fit in better around here. I'll be a lot happier ifn' I'm not always so worried about making mistakes and having people think I'm stupid, and that would make him happier. I really want him to be proud of me, like you were proud of his mother.”

“Oh, I think he already is. But if you want to do this, do it for you, and no one else. I think your new friends would probably be willing to give you more than a few pointers, and if you want I can even help with some of it as well. But only if YOU want this, otherwise I won't help. Is that a deal?”


Of course I agreed, it was really sweet of him to be so understanding. Then he asked “Has Cheyenne said anything yet about making this a...well...a more permanent situation?” and I shook my head, I wasn't ready for that just yet. He continued, saying “I'm beginning to be a little concerned about both of you, all that late night sneaking around is making you both very tired, don't you think?” and then he winked at me again.


I almost fell off the chair, I was so shocked and embarrassed! “You know...about....that?” I squeaked, and he just laughed. “Of course I do, Cheyenne has never been able to sneak as much past me as he wanted to think he did. It's ok, it will be our little secret. Just keep it discreet, that's all I ask.”


All I could do was nod, then he insisted I better get going, and not keep his son waiting...I managed to walk slowly out of the house, then I ran straight to that water hole!!





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Boy was I glad to see Calico coming down the trail to the water hole. She tried to apologize for embarassing me in front of everyone on the ranch, but before she could finish I interupted her. "What were you wearing when I fell in love with you?" I asked her.

 

"Well, it all depends on when you knew, either my buckskins, or well....nuthun" she answered turning red.

 

I laughed a little, "the nuthun was icing on the cake, but you were in you buckskins, even the one's that you tore a hole in the seat." "I would take you away from here if you thought you had to act like those biddies." "How often have you seen my out of my buckskins?" I've got enough fine clothes for five men, and yes they're nice once in a while, but that's my choice not anyone else's." "What you where here is your choice, and if you ask me, I like the way you look in those buckskins over there, though this is the icing." "right now I like the icing."

 

After a while Calico told me about my father knowing about our little trips. He thought I didn't know he knew, haa, that was a good one. My father could hear a mouse walking in the hallway. I figured he stop me if it mattered, he didn't, so I didn't.

 

The next morning I barely made it back to my room before the others woke. As we were having breakfast I watched Lu Sing whisper in Calico's ear, all I could hear was "please forgive me." Lu Sing whispered the same thing in my ear too and then said aloud for everyone to hear, I want to apologise for how I have been acting, I forgot what it is like to be young, and I forgot my manners, please forgive me.

 

Then I saw something I'd never seen before, Hop Sing, Lu Sing and Water Lilly all hugged each other. Maybe things will change around here I hoped.

 

I heard yelling as a horse came running into the yard. The was almost aways a bad thing, then men at the table jumped up in unison and grabbing rifles out of the rack headed for the front door. By the time we got to the porch the yelling had turned to laughing and backslapping.

 

It was Blackwater Desperado, Schoolmarm's husband, who had been travelling with his group of musicians, going from town to town playing for whatever people would pay to hear them sing and play. He was quite well liked by the men, and boy what a character he was too. Scruffy beard, kinda crippled up from the many fights he had been in, but boy could the man sing!

 

I always got a kick our of his firearms, they were all at least 20 yrs old and I think some of them were held together with fence wire. He had to work on them a bunch but when they weren't broke he could shoot pretty well, and he was fun to watch trying!

 

My father told one of the kids that were heading for the school house to tell Schoolmarm that it was a holiday, no school today. The young boy looked kind of surprised and asked, "What holiday." "It's a because I said so holiday, not git!" By then the young boy understood and took off for the school house hollering Yippee all the way there.

 

Schoolmarm came out the door of the schoolhouse and hollered over to us, "and just what kind of holiday is a I told you so holiday?" Blackwater then stepped out from behind his horse, "because I'm home, that's why!" She waited a minute before she came running over to hug him, but slugging him in the arm first. Now I saw a little of why her and Calico got along so well.

 

Calico was standing just in front of me, I looked down at her..ah ...nice little round bottom and then I smacked it, "that's why I like them buckskins!" I said as I took off before she could slug me....I was gonna pay for that, but...I liked the way she paid...besides I had fences to ride today. Dummy, I thought to myself, ask her to come along, you know she needs to get away from these women, so I stopped running,,,,ouch, ouch OUCH, dang it she could hit.

 

"Get your pony" I told her, " we got fences to ride"....I got blackie and off we went, bareback. I knew of another waterhole.....hehehe.

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We spent most of that day riding and occasionally fixing the fences, not exactly the most enjoyable job in the world. Still, we managed to have a really good time, especially on the way back when Cheyenne decided to show me the location of another water hole....which was ok by me, I needed a bath. He had told me that since Blackwater had come back, there would be a big party that night, with lots of music and dancing. When we got back to the house, I saw Skipper and excused myself to go talk to her. I asked her if she would help me get ready, I wanted to look nice, so the two of us went up to my room. I showed her the dress I wanted to wear, it was one that I had made myself. All the dresses that had been given to me were very pretty, but rather modest, with high necklines and long sleeves. This one though, well, it showed a little more skin...

“Are you sure you want to wear that, Cheyenne and Mr. Culpepper both said you didn't have to” she asked me, but I nodded. “Yep, Mr. Culpepper told me I didn't have to dress up fancy, but I could if I wanted to, and tonight I want to. I'm just hoping Cheyenne will like it....” Skipper both her hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye, and told me “If he doesn't, why, he's just a plain old fool! But then again, when it comes to men, aren't they all?” and she laughed.

Well, I wasn't too sure about that, I thought it was possible for any man to act like a fool once in a while, didn't mean they all were....but maybe I just wasn't understanding what she meant. Seems like there was still a lot around here that I didn't understand, but I was learning. She helped me get dressed, and then fixed my hair up real nice. We heard everyone being called to dinner, so I crossed my fingers and down we went. Cheyenne was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs, and at first I thought I'd made a big mistake, because when he saw me his eyes got real big. But then he started smiling, and I knew tonight was going to be special. We went out to where the meal was being served, tonight's party would be held outside, and next thing I knew everyone was staring at me. I was a bit uncomfortable, but Cheyenne's father just came over to me and kissed my cheek, saying “You look lovely tonight, my dear, save at least one dance for me please?”


That made me blush, but I told him “Sure thing Mr. Culpepper, I'd be honored.” “Thought I told you to call me Frank” he replied, then he led us over to one of the tables that had been set up. It was a fine meal, and the rest of the evening was absolutely wonderful. That Blackwater feller really could sing very well, and I danced almost the whole night. Of course, that caused a bit of a problem, Cheyenne and I got so tired that the next morning we both overslept and we could hear people moving around when we did finally wake up. I sure hoped nobody heard him trying to sneak back to his room without getting' caught!


After breakfast we heard the sound of a buggy pulling up outside, so Mr. Culpepper, I mean Frank, went out to see who was coming. A few minutes later he came in with some city slicker feller, and neither of them looked happy. Frank asked if Cheyenne and I would join them in the den, then he closed the door behind us and we sat down. “This is Mr. Winchester, my lawyer,” Frank told me, “and I'm afraid he has some disturbing news for you Calico.” The lawyer pulled a bunch of papers out of the satchel he had with him, and handed them to me. I looked at them, and then shook my head, still too many big words that I didn't know what they said. So Frank asked if I would allow him to read them, and I gratefully handed them over. When he started to read them out loud, he also tried to explain what it all meant as he went. Turns out my sister Margaret had decided that since she was the oldest, the Golden Aspen should belong to her, and she wanted it! But I'd already given it to Buick and Morning Star.....

“I'm afraid that may not be a legally binding agreement, miss, not if your sister has a legitimate claim to the land, “ the lawyer told me, “I'll do what I can to help, but I'm afraid this is going to end up in court, and what a judge may decide is anyone's guess. The fact that you did all the improvements to the place works in your favor, but until I have a chance to do more research on this, I can't make any guarantees.” By then I was nearly in tears, of course Frank told his lawyer to take whatever steps necessary to help me, but I was still pretty upset. How dare she?!


While we were talking, we had heard the sounds of another horse approaching, and a few minutes later then was a knock at the door. It was Hop Sing, telling us “A messenger from Fort Collins just brought this telegram for Miss Calico,” and I could see there was a piece of paper in his hand. Frank took the paper and handed it to me, I sure hoped this was something I was going to be able to read for myself. I took it, and sure enough the message was easy enough to understand. It simply said “Have two big problems. Need your help. Please come back. Buick.” I silently handed the paper to Cheyenne and let him read it, as he was doing so I told his father “I'm sorry, Frank, but I have to go back to the Golden Aspen for a while, something's wrong and I need to go find out what.” Of course Cheyenne immediately said he had no intention of letting me go alone....

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I enjoyed riding the fences with Calico, sure more fun to look at than Rye Miles. We had to fix a few spots here and there and for some reason Calico was always the one that worked on the lowest wires. I enjoyed that, those buckskins were just right for this job, or any job for that matter. We worked pretty hard that day and the water hole on the way home really felt good, and with the party that night we needed baths anyway.

 

When Calico stepped out of her room and stood there at the top of the stairs, she took my breath away, I missed her buckskins at first because they fit so well, but when I saw the neckline of her dress I forgot all about the buckskins. We both had a marvelous time that evening, dancing and listening to Blackwater's group entertaining us. I was messmerized by Calico that evening, not because of the dress, but because of her smile that evening. I don't think she didn't have a smile on her lips the whole evening. So many of the men wanted to dance with her she didn't miss one dance the whole time. During one of those dances I asked Miss Tabitha and Mad Mountain Mike, our leathersmiths to make Calico a new set of buckskins, but with the neckline that her dress had. That brought a giggle from Miss Tabitha and a rise of Mike's eyebrows. "I can do that!" was Mike's immediate reply. "I've got some leather ready to cut and sew, I'll have then ready before lunch tomorrow!" My, but I loved those two!

 

It was pretty late by the time the party ended and as I snuck into Calico's room I found her nearly asleep. I just crawled in beside her and fell asleep myself. It was interesting in the morning, trying to sneak back to my room when the others were already starting to stir, just as I was leaving Water Lilly came around the corner so I turned back to the door and knocked. I called for Calico to wake, but as Water Lilly walked by me she just giggled and said quietly "yea, right." Oh well, at least she was giggling about it.

 

After breakfast the attorney showed up, with bad news. Too bad I hadn't found Margaret in the ashes of her parent's home, or that the desserters hadn't taken her!

 

Then, to complicate things even more the news from Buick that there was some kind of trouble and he needed Calico right away. Of course, she wasn't going without me, been there did that way too much.

 

As we went out on the porch, Mike and Miss Tabitha were coming with the new leathers for Calico, oh goody goody I thought as they handed them to Calico. Those would make the trip to the Golden Aspen a whole lot better!

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When we got that telegram from Buick, it didn't take long to throw some things together for the trip, I wanted to get on the road as soon as we could. Before we could leave though, Mad Mountain Mike and his lovely wife Miss Tabitha showed up with a gift for me, from Cheyenne. I must have turned bright red when I saw the neckline on that shirt, but I knew Cheyenne wanted to see me in it, so I hurried to change then stuffed my old buckskins in my saddlebags, to take with us. We hit the road then, and made good time getting back down south.

As we were riding up to the Golden Aspen, all of a sudden two men that were standing by the corral saw us coming. Before we knew what was happening, they both had pistols in their hands, aimed right at us! Just then Pete came out of the barn, and seeing that he called out “Red, Win, lower your guns, that's Miss Calico!” then he darted around the two other men to come take the reins of my horse. Cheyenne was furious, but Pete quickly explained that they'd been having some trouble, and the two new men were just trying to protect the house, and Morning Star. Pete made the introductions, and I was glad that Cheyenne was willing to shake hands with Red and Win, after all, they hadn't known who we were. Buick came out of the house just then, and came running to greet us, and invite us in.

After Morning Star had gotten through hugging us, her and Buick took turns telling us about the trouble they had been having. For days one or more people had been taking shots at them, or at the men, and the incidents were becoming more frequent. They never did see their attackers, so obviously whoever was doing it was managing to find trees or rocks or something to hide behind. The bullets never came close to hitting anyone, so Buick figured that they were just being harassed, but wasn't sure how long that would last before someone got hurt. Morning Star had tried to track whoever it was, but wasn't having much luck following the tracks very far. Rumor around the town was that some of the Scott family was involved, but nobody could prove anything.

“Barrett was over here earlier this morning, to warn me that he heard talk that someone would be attacking our house soon, so I'm glad you got here when you did. I have no idea how many people may be involved, so I can use your help.” It turned out to be a very good thing we got there when we did!

Cheyenne and Buick went on talking about how best to defend the house and the barn, but I got Morning Star into the kitchen and asked her “Ok, that's one problem, but Buick's telegram mentioned two, what's the other one? Buick didn't say anything about it.” Morning Star took a deep breath, and told me “We got a letter from the indian agent at the reservation the rest of my people went to....my father is on his way here to see me, he still wants to try and talk me into going down there.” “Let me guess,” I said “Your father has no idea you married Buick, does he?” My friend just shook her head, and I thought I say tears in her eyes. “What do I do? Father will not like this, not at all! Especially when he finds out he's going to be a grandfather.” At that all I could do was hug her, that last part was wonderful news, but I doubted Chief Hosa would see it that way. After all, the only reason he let her come with us to Colorado was because he was sure she would win Cheyenne's heart....and it didn't quite work out that way!

 

I told her I'd try and help her think of something, then gave her a hand with dinner. Before we all went to bed that night, the men had set up a rotating schedule to stand watch. Jesse and Pete took the first one, and the rest of us went in the house to get some sleep. Everyone stayed in the house that night, even though the men had been staying in the new bunkhouse, it would be too hard to defend both buildings. Red and Win took the next shift, then in the early morning woke up Buick and Cheyenne so they could take over. About an hour before dawn, Buick came in and shook me awake. “Get up and get dressed, Cheyenne thinks he sees someone moving around out there beyond the barn.” Then he left and I could hear him heading up to the loft to wake the others.

I dressed as fast as I could and went into the main room, the other men were coming down the stairs, they must have all slept in their clothes. Buick told us, “Pete, Jesse, you two take the back of the house, one in the kitchen and one in the back bedroom. Me and Morning Star will take the other bedroom, the rest of you stay in the main room until we figure out what's going on.” We all took our places to wait...and we didn't wait long. The sun still wasn't up when I heard shouting “Hullo the house, ifn' you all want to live to see tomorrow, you better pack your stuff and leave, this ain't your place and the real owner wants you gone!” I knew that voice, it was Leo and Bill Scott's younger brother Tom. As for what he said, Cheyenne and I looked at each other and both said at the same time “Margaret!” She had to have something to do with this....

Buick yelled back “This is our place now, and we ain't goin' nowhere!” and at that several guns opened fire on us....obviously Tom wasn't alone. We returned fire, but the attackers had found good hiding spots, and we had no idea if we'd had any luck. All of us were fine, at least for a while, then all of a sudden I didn't feel real good....I felt kind of dizzy and my stomach was real upset, I had to take a few deep breaths until the feeling passed. Cheyenne looked over at me and I could see he was concerned, but I just shook my head “I'm fine, keep your mind on whut you're doin'!” But the feeling came back a few more times, and I started being really glad we hadn't had time for breakfast.


Whoever was out there would shoot at us for a while, then stop for a while, then start up again. During one of the lulls in the shooting, Morning Star came out to tell Cheyenne that Buick wanted to speak to him, then she looked hard at me “Are you okay Calico? You don't look so good...” “I'm fine, can everyone quit worryin' about me and worry about those men out there already?” For some reason I was really cranky, but I told myself it was just because of the situation we were in...after all, first one sister had tried to kill me and now the other one was.....that would make anyone sick to their stomach, wouldn't it?

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Dang it, I wish I had been in the barn when the attack started, the cupulo that we had built on it's roof would have been a great spot to be now. You could see for nearly a mile from up there and my Sharps would had many opportunities to speak to Margaret's men. I was gonna have to get out there to it somehow.

 

I was worried about Calico though, she just didn't look quite right....I couldn't put a finger on it but, well, she just looked a little different.

 

The man outside hollered to us again. "You had enough yet? We'll let you leave if you go now." he yammered. Those words were his last, I finally found a target, his voice let me zero in on him. I slid the Sharps out the window and found the man through the tube, set the trigger, took a breath, and as the rifle lowered and the smoke cleared I saw the man faltering backwards. His whole chest was blood red as he fell to the ground.

 

I cracked the door and yelled at the men outside, "Y'all had enough yet, or do you want some more?"

 

Their answer was pretty clear as a few bullets pecked at the door.

 

I closed the door and looked over at Calico, she looked like she was going to heave. Man, talk about bad timing, getting sick in the middle of a fight. I was just glad it wasn't me!

 

I needed to get to the barn!

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