Copyright© 2019 by Wendell Jackson
They were almost ready to leave for church, when Eleanor saw the seepage on Allan’s shirt. Bringing it to his attention, she had Allan sit down while she helped him off with the stained shirt and examined the bandage. The wound was seeping, soaking through the gauze. “We need to change that.” she stated and went to gather the needed materials for cleaning and redressing the wound. She was taken back when she discovered that Allen didn’t have just one wound, but several. Two large wounds that looked almost healed, except for a stint to drain the infection.
“Why on earth would they let you out of the hospital with something like this.” she said as she cleaned the draining stint.
“Because it’s going to take a while to heal, and I’m not going to lay around a hospital for another month while it does.”
“It’s an infection,” Eleanor stressed. “You can die from it. Are you taking the medicine they gave you for it?”
“Yes,” Allan answered. “ It’s suppose to drain like this for awhile. It’ll take time.”
“How did it get so infected?” It was more of a rectorial question, not needing an answer.
“We lived in filth. Might say we were infected to begin with.” Tom, stated dully, remembering the filth, mud mixed with feces and rotting flesh. “I just wanted to get as far away as possible.”
“You have to take better care of your self, Allen. There’s a lot to be done here on the place. You can’t help us from the grave.”
Her words struck home, with Allen. If he was ever going to be of any use, he had to get well. He made up his mind then and there, to do what it took to completely recover. After church, he would start taking the medications the VA had sent with him.
Church was bland as normal, the parson did recognize Allen from the pulpit, and gave thanks that he had returned to them. The parson’s words made Eleanor beam with pride. Allen thanked the parson and rose to except the acknowledgment, then sat right back down again. He did notice the three teenaged girls smiling at him. They were young. Too young but so far the only available females he’d seen.
Tom was sitting on the other side of his Aunt, with the Kinkade family next to him. The daughter Alice was next to him with her mother on her other side. They sat straight and silent during the services, not daring to hardly smile at each other.
The Kinkades owned and operated the ranch to the west of the Wakefield ranch. William Kinkade didn’t work his ranch to its full potential, but still enjoyed a good living. Rumor was that he came from money back east, and money was something to be enjoyed. Dora his wife, was well liked in the community, always attending local functions with her daughter Alice and son John.
William tried his best to get out of the local doings, but wasn’t always successful. Church was one that Dora insisted they all attend. John, like his father, didn’t care for social gatherings, finding them dull. Hunting and fishing were his prime activities when not attending his chores. Both father and son, left the hard work around the ranch to the hired help.
The out doors was something John and Tom had in common. There was always the need for keeping the coyote population down. Calves and yearlings all took a beating from the ever hungry animals. It was also a good way to earn money, by turning in the ears for the bounty. Fishing the year round creeks produced a sting of good sized trout. The two young men were always looking for new fishing holes. The many dams built along the streams that wound down through the canyons were stocked with fish. Most ranchers in the area knew the boys and didn’t mind them fishing their private ponds. They were careful not over fish any creek or pond, so they explored the surrounding mountains and canyons for fish-able ponds and streams.
When Alice rode along, it was sometimes better. During the hot summer months, they all went swimming every chance they could. Most often the only time they had together was on Sunday afternoons. Then they couldn’t travel far, due to time and distance. So they usually ended up either on the Kinkade ranch or the Wakefields, picnicking and swimming in the stock ponds. Often Alice would have a girl friend stay over, and the four of them would plan something out. Mostly it was riding the different trails, exploring the high country meadows. It was fun, and during the hot summer always ended an outing with a swim in one of the many stock ponds.
Today, as they sat and sang hymns selected by the parson’s wife, Alice slipped Tom a note, with a whispered word to read it later. Tom slipped the note discreetly into his pocket. From the smile on Alice’s face, he knew that what ever the note had written on it, it would be to his liking. It wasn’t official, but it was understood that she was Tom’s girl. The choice of a girl friend depended on availability. There wasn’t a large field to chose from. Alice’s brother John and Tom, were best friends. The two of them had hung out together for years, hunting fishing, and just plain exploring the nooks and crannies of the nearby canyons. As time went by, Alice began to accompany them on their outings. At first she was happy just to go along with them, but some time in the last year, she had begun choosing the activity for each occasion. John was happy with his sister taking a commanding lead in their adventures, because she usually brought along a girl friend from school. So it became a four some, that soon included swimming parties, at different live stock ponds, or picnics during the colder months, with open fires and roasting hotdogs.
John usually took up with who ever Alice brought along, and of course Tom with Alice. As long as John was along during these outings, Alice’s mother was okay with her and Tom being together. Secretly she liked Tom, and hoped that some day the relationship would grow into a future together. That was a future that only time, luck and circumstance could bring about. There was college ahead for Alice. Dora was going to make sure of that. What Toms plans were, she had no idea. If he was just going to stay on the ranch and work it like the rest of the cow hands, then she hoped Alice would find some one while she was away at collage. Even if Tom’s father did own the ranch, it was no guarantee, that it would one day be in Tom’s hands. Not with two older brothers and one that left her with an uneasy feeling when ever he was near.
Alice had one more year of highschool left, and then she would be off to collage. Dora’s son John had finished highschool, the same as Tom. John had planned on joining the Army Air corps this fall, if he wasn’t drafted. Tom had voiced similar plans, but now that the war was over, neither one of the young men, seemed to have any set thoughts about their future. It all was a concern for Dora. There wasn’t much she could do in influencing John, but she certainly could aim her daughter in the right direction. She took pride in that her daughter was more than just comely looking. It wouldn’t surprise her, if when in collage, that Alice would make a cheer leader or some other position that required looks.
After church, Eleanor drove Allen and Tom back to the ranch. Tom sat in back where he read the note, from Alice. It was an invite for him to join, Constance Bailor and her for a picnic and swim at the regular Kinkade ranch swimming hole. Her Brother John would be there of course, as Constance was invited not only so Alice would have a companion, but so John would have some one to keep him occupied while Alice and Tom spent some time alone. So far all that transpired between Tom and Alice had been a few kisses and mild petting. It was all a good time for Tom, and he was looking forward to it.
“I saw that Bailor girl looking you over.” Eleanor mentioned to Allen. “You might have quite and admirer there.”
Allen smiled and pointed out that Constance was young, and was still in school. He was at least five or six years older and needed to find a more mature thinking woman. His words raised an eyebrow on Eleanor, who corrected him, in that Constance had finished highschool this spring, along with Tom.
“She’s very nice,” Tom offered in case Allen was interested. Just because she was going to be with John this after noon, wasn’t a road block in Allens dating her. John wasn’t interested in her, other than just a friend. Tom knew that John was hoping to saddle up with a girl who took tickets at the movie theater in Burns. It was all the young man could talk about, when it came to girls. So if Allen was interested in Constance, it wasn’t going to upset anyone’s apple cart.
“She wasn’t looking at me.” Allen shook his head, but declined further comment on the subject. He seen the girl eyeing Tom. He would have liked to date the girl, but wasn’t going to step in front of a brother.
“Still, she’s the only daughter of the widow Bailor.” There’s that ranch, that needs a good man to run it. I hear that if Barbara Bailor doesn’t remarry, she will probably sell out.
“Your not saying I should take up with the Widow, Are you?” Allen was slightly shocked.
“So, she’s a little old.” Eleanor sated tongue in cheek. “It wouldn’t be the first December May wedding.”
“You’ve got to be kidding, Aunt Eleanor.” Allen shook his head in disbelief. “Beside’s I really ... I’m not ready to settle for ranching.”
“You’d be more than ranching.” Tom laughed from the back seat, which brought a sharp reprimand from Eleanor, for his innuendo.
“Well for right now, I’m not fit company for any female.” Allan mused. “I still wake up, trying to find my rifle.”
“Just don’t go looking for answers in a bottle.” Eleanor advised. “My uncle tried that after he came back from Europe after the great war.” She sighed, remembering. “The flu took him. But he was dead inside long before that.” Looking over at Allen. “Don’t you end up like that. You’ve been through a lot, I know, but you have a whole life to live. You can do it here or some where else. These few months are just that, a few months. A few months that will pass and many more will come an go. Your young now, and this is the time to do something with your life. Maybe go back to school for a while. The ranch will still be here.”
“Hey, how come I haven’t got the Go on to school talk?” Tom exclaimed with false indignation.
“Would you listen if I did?” Eleanor asked.
“Probably not. I can’t leave with so much that needs doing. Dad and Uncle Paul have so many plans, I don’t see where I would have the time to go to collage.”
“You can make time. School starts in the fall, and after the harvest, there won’t be a whole lot to do besides feed and water the cattle.”
“Yeah, Who would take over my chores? I don’t think Harold’s going to be much help. Not unless you have a bottle leading him.” Tom remarked as he sat back in the seat.
“Don’t put him down like that. Everyone has their problems. When your mother died, he took it very hard. Things like that can scar a person.” Eleanor tried to ease the growing bitterness she could see between Tom and Harold.
“We all took it hard.” Allen, wasn’t keen on feeling sorry for his younger brother. He’d seen Harold take out his frustrations on Tom too many times. Often for no reason, just to do something mean. “Harold wasn’t the only one, that lost a mother.”
“You were older, and stronger, emotion wise. You got to do things that Harold didn’t.”
“Only because he wasn’t old enough. He’s had everything I had, maybe more.” Allen didn’t like being told that he’d had a better child hood than Harold. They’d been close enough in age, that Harold tried many times to over power him in fights, that he’d started. After realizing he couldn’t win a head on contest, Harold began using other means to claim some oblique victory. The only reason Harold didn’t cause more family problems, was because he couldn’t get away with blaming all his misdeeds on Allen and Tom.
The part time job down at John Walkers gas station and Tavern eased family tensions. When he started, he was much to young to work behind the bar. It didn’t keep him from sneaking whiskey when the chance came up. Now almost twenty one, he took what he wanted from the bar, but made sure to leave enough cash to cover the cost.
If John Walker knew of it, which he surely must, he never said anything. As long as the money was right, he had no problem with the young Wakefield helping himself to some whiskey. It was hard enough on himself to live out here in the wind blown desert. The locals didn’t like their home lands being referred to as desert, but to Walker and many others, that’s just what it was. Hot blistering summer days, and ice cold bitter days in the winter. The years since his wife’s passing were long and lonely. The comfort of the bottle was all that kept him going. He’d tried having other women move in, but they couldn’t take the isolation, and soon were gone on the same bus that brought them.
Once back at the ranch, Eleanor parked the sedan under the car shelter next to the house. She could keep an eye on it there, and shoo the chickens off when they came to rest atop the vehicle. She didn’t like going out to drive a car covered in chicken crap. So she had Paul build her a shelter for the car. Something to keep it out of the sun and rain. The barn wouldn’t do because of the chickens. Here beside the house, she could look out of the kitchen window and check often as she liked, to make sure no chickens were sitting on it.
A quick change out of her Sunday dress and it was back in the kitchen getting an afternoon dinner ready for the men. Tom had left to take care of some chores in the barn, while Allen sat on the porch reading through his V A papers. Harold was no where to be seen, which was normal. Eleanor assumed he would be across the road from the church, tending to the gas pumps at the station. They wouldn’t be seeing him until late tomorrow after noon. When he did show up, he would be reeking with the smell of whiskey and tobacco smoke. She knew it wouldn’t be long and he would be off to who knows where.
To Eleanor, Harold was still a sad little boy that just lost his mother. Nothing she did seemed to comfort the child. As time passed, he hardened to the world around him. Trying to hide his feelings, afraid that if he let some one get close to him, they would leave and he would have that empty feeling all over again. It wasn’t worth it, so he only took from people what he wanted, and gave nothing in return. It was his armor against a very hostile world.
Tom, born to a dying woman, never was cuddled by anyone other than Eleanor and his father. He didn’t suffer the lost of a mother like the two older boys. He wondered what she must have been like, and only had the stories told by Allen and maybe one or two by Harold. Austin, held his infant son, trying to make up the difference of not having a mother. Eleanor, stepped in and filled that need almost from the start. Tom grew up, almost worshiping his father, and tried to emulate him in every way. He walked like his dad, and sat the saddle like him. Tom also followed his brother Allen around the ranch. His eyes seeing every move Allen made. Allen and his Dad were the two most important men in his life. Tom sat them on a pedestal, while his brother Harold, was more or less his equal and an adversary most of the time.
Given a task, Allen would do his best to complete it. Harold, avoided one if possible and then only did enough to get by. Tom, on the other hand, would work on a chore, making sure it was done completely. Once he’d been sent back to do over some work in the barn, and that one time had been enough to convince him to make sure a job was done correctly the first time. It was a matter of personal pride.
Today, Paul and Austin were checking on conditions in the north pastures. The ground was hard and dry, only a few springs flowed out from the hills, to dry out several hundred feet away. They looked the ground over, and concluded the water was seeping back under ground, and not evaporating into the air. It was Paul’s thinking that if they dug out a pond where the land met a rock ridge, a ditch could be dug and direct the water to the souther fields where it was needed.
“If we take the water from here, it will be taking it from some where else.” Austin nodded down the lower canyon where the main ranch house stood. “The water is under ground here, but you can tell by the lay of the land, that’s where its draining.”
“We only use the home canyon for winter feeding. There’s plenty of water then, so it won’t make a difference. Besides, we won’t be taking all of it. Just what is needed to water the grass. We have plenty of water, its just not in the right places.”
“We can get a couple of dozers up here, and some dynamite will take care of what ever the dozers can’t handle.” Austin was looking it over and determining what would be needed to channel the water. “We’d lose the water in an open ditch. It would take too much to line it with clay. Have to lay in pipe.”
“There’s pipe coming for the Crystal Creek project. We can use that. If it’s a success, then we can buy more.”
Austin still thinking of costs and how to fund it all, remarked. “This isn’t going to be a fast turn over. It will take time before we have enough money for another load of pipe.” Pointing to the surrounding area. “We don’t know if this will work.”
“Then we pick up our pipe and pack it over to Crystal Creek.” Paul was pushing for digging the pond. “All we will be out is the rental for the dozers.”
“What about the operators? They won’t work for nothing.”
“I’ve spent some time on a cat. I can handle one, and it won’t take much to train the boys on how to operate it. I figure we rent two, one to dig the pond and the other to clear the way for the ditch. Even dig it if need be.” Paul raised up in the saddle and pointed off to their right where the ditch would have to go. “We can lay the pipe in, and after every things in place and working, we can cover it over. A good layer of earth will protect it against the elements and what ever else may come along.”
Austin nodded his head, he looked back at where Paul pointed the ditch would go, and back at the place where they would dig the pond. “Okay, tonight let’s run this all by Eleanor and see how the figures add up.”
Eleanor was the one who could keep track of expenses, and knew the costs of things. Several deals in the making had to be postponed for a day, so Austin could confer with Eleanor and get the okay. It wasn’t always like that, but shortly after Austin wife died, he’d fallen off a horse and hit his head. Ever since, he’d had trouble dealing with costs and figures. Eleanor had come at the right time, and helped keep the ranch from going under, by mismanagement. She had become so important to the running of the ranch, that Austin told her, if she was tired of being the chief cook and bottle washer, they could hire it done. Eleanor smiled, and said maybe later. Right now the Ranch needed all its resources.’
Tom took the west ridge trail up and over to Kinkades ranch. He’d saddled his favorite gilding, Custer for the trip over. The trail was wide and well used, having had cattle driven over it for many years. He could even ride it in the dark with out problems. Once over the ridge, it was a gently slope down a few rolling hills to the flat grass lands that made up Kinkades ranch. A stock pond with a drovers shack was tucked away in a small feeder canyon, where the wind wouldn’t gust through as strong. There he met up with Alice and the others, already changing in the drover shack. Alice came out waving to him, in her one piece bathing suit. She looked good, a shapely figure with a bosom like her mother. Tom was getting a good look at how well she’d grown since they’d last been swimming. Constance was next, wearing another one piece bathing suit and just as well endowed if not better. John had laid out the food basket on the outdoor table, while the girls were inside changing. Now he motioned for Tom to hurry up and join him, so they could all enjoy a swim together.
The day was hot, and Tom wasted no time in changing into his swimming trunks. He felt a little guilty leaving his horse still saddled, tied to the hitching rail along with the others. Custer was a good horse, that didn’t realize some of the time, that he was not longer a stud. He still had spirit, and didn’t like to take up the last position in a line. It cause a problem once in awhile, particularly if he hadn’t been ridden recently. Most of the time, Tom shaped him up with little effort and he was continent to obey his rider. Austin didn’t like seeing the horse acting up, and threatened to sell Custer off. So Tom took to riding the mount at every occasion. He liked the animal, and informed his dad, that he wanted to keep him. Custer became Tom’s horse, much like everyone else had a favorite mount, though all the stock was owned by the ranch. He still claimed the horse by love.
Then off to the pond, both John and tom ran. They leaped off a solid board that was suppose to be a diving board but had little spring to it. They sent the water spraying over the girls who did not want to get their hair wet. A few screams and everyone was satisfied that the ice was broken. Alice took Tom’s hand and walked through the chest deep water to a thick rush of cat tails at the head of the pond. There where no one could see them, Alice clung to him, her arms around his neck and kissed deeply. It was a kiss that took Tom by surprise. They’d kissed before, but not like this, not as a start up. With only the water and the thin layer of the swim suits, they pressed bodies together. The warmth of Alice in the surrounding cool water, brought Tom to an awareness of her, he’d never experienced before. They kissed and fondled each other several minutes before they heard John call out. They had to reappear, or he would come in the cattails looking for them. Everyone laughed, at the threat but knew there was some truth to his words. They had to keep things from getting out of hand.
Moving back into the open pond, Alice kissed him again and slid her leg between his. “I want you to do something for me.” she breathed in his ear, with her body again pressed against his. “I want you to take me to the movie.” She wasn’t asking, he was telling him. “We can spend the whole time, sitting close together in the dark.”
“When, do you want to go?” Tom almost croaked out, but managed to speak in what had to pass for a normal voice.
“Next Saturday.” She smiled, then reached down and squeezed his buttock. A surprised look on his face, brought a knowing smile and laugh from Alice. “Tom, I swear, you have to be led to water just like a horse.”
Several times during the continuing swim, Alice snuck in kisses while Constance and her brother were looking the other way. The girls took to jumping off the board and soon had their hair soaking wet. Once while both the girls were climbing out of the water to take another run off the diving board, John asked Tom if Alice had brought up the idea of going to the movies.
“Yeah, she said she wanted to go.”
“Mom and Dad already said we could use the car. Thing is though, she invited Constance.” John seemed a little disappointed. Seeing Tom didn’t understand his meaning, he explained. “If Gloria see’s me with her, she won’t go out with me, later.” Gloria was the ticket taker at the theater, the one John had a crush on since last winter.
“Have you talked to Gloria?” Tom was keeping his voice down. He’d seen Constance and John playing around in the water, and thought they might be getting close, as in boy friend girl friend. Some how John was going to get this more complicated then it deserved.
“What do you mean?” John responded keeping his voice low, but a bit excited.
“Have you said anything to Gloria, you know. Does she want to go out on a date?”
“No, I haven’t even talked to her. She’s always working.” John hated to admit they hadn’t talked. “Just don’t want to ruin my chances with her by showing up with a girl. What I want you to do is walk in with both Alice and Constance, while I park the car or something.”
“You want me to pay for her way in too?” Tom was joking.
“Hell, I’ll pay her way. I’ll pay your way. I’ll pay everyone’s way, Just do this for me. Okay.” he was intense.
“Sure, I can do that much for you.” Tom chuckled at his friend. “Just clear it with Alice. I don’t need to be explaining your problems to your sister.”
“Good. Its settled then.” John looked relieved. “I think I’ll dive off the board.” and he climbed up the bank to the diving board.
Alice gave him a what is going on look, after seeing Tom talking to her brother. Tom smiled and hunched his shoulders, indicating he didn’t know or want to explain right now. He did asked if the needed to build a fire to roast anything, which Alice nodded. She didn’t take her eyes off Tom, as if she thought he and her brother were cooking something up that might concern her. It wasn’t a very trusting look.
After drying off and getting some matches from his pants, Tom got to the task of building a fire in the old fire ring they’d used many times before. Alice and Constance arraigned the food on the table cloth John had laid out before, then sat waiting for the boys to join them. John went for a couple more jumps off the diving board, while Tom still was tending the fire. Finally Alice, came over to him and asked what he and John were talking about.
“It was about something John wants me to do for him, but he’s going to clear it through you. Its his doings so, he has to explain it. None of its, my idea.” Tom informed her. He could tell that she didn’t trust anyone that whispered in her presents.
“You sure?” Alice cocked her head with a doubtful look.
“Positive. I like those kisses. I sure don’t want to do anything that will keep me from getting more.” He nudged her with his shoulder. The fire was growing and popping into life. Tom stacked several large sticks around it and rose up. “That should do it for a while.” Then looking at Alice he exclaimed he was hungry.
The wind came up while they ate. The girls still in their bathing suits, grabbed towels to wrap themselves in. John looked in the direction of the wind, and said he was going to get dressed. The day was still warm, but the wind would soon cool it down. A gust of wind, blew Alice’s napkin away causing her to jump up.
“I’m not waiting for him to get dress, not while this wind is blowing everything away.” She grabbed her towel and headed for the drover shack.
It was just Tom and Constance still at the table, looking puzzled at the sudden departure of the brother and sister. “Well it maybe be one thing for them to dress in front of each other, but I’m not.” She shook her head smiling. “I can wait.”
Looking over at the fire, which had really came to life in the strong wind, Tom decided to go stand next to it and enjoy the warmth. A few more napkins flew off the table, lost in the wind. Constance quickly gathered up the other items and placed them back in the basket. With the lid back on and secured on the basket, Constance stood up and joined Tom at the fire. She was still wrapped in the towel as protection against the wind and bits of sand that blew over the ground at ankle level.
“I’ve enjoyed the day.” She announced, more to her self than Tom. “Swimming’s good. Takes the sting out of everyday problems.” With the towel tucked around her, Constance took a scarf and tied it around her head and hair, to keep the dust and sand from collecting in it.
“Makes the sore spots melt away.” Tom added. He spoke just to keep something of a conversation going if that’s what Constance needed. Though John had showed her a lot of attention, Tom feared she might be feeling out of place. Probably since John didn’t want a certain girl to see him with her. It puzzled Tom, that here Constance was, a very good looking girl, with a nice personality, and John was more interested in a girl that wasn’t a bit better looking. Had never even talked to Gloria, had no idea what she was like. Just being a ticket taker at the movies, was not enough to judge a person on. It just seemed like a waste of a good time with a real girl.
“You have any plans, now that were out of highschool?” Constance’s question caught him off guard.
“Well, now that the war’s over. I have to rethink everything. I was planning on joining up, but that isn’t necessary now.” Tom paused for a moment, then remembering. “Before the war, I thought I would just be a rancher.”
“That was a long time ago.” Constance thought back over the years, and how long everyone was caught up in the talk of war, the newspapers, ration cards. It seemed their whole life was all about the war. Now it was over and she wondered what the world was going to fuss over now.
“There’s a couple of projects that Dad wants to get done. I plan on helping out there. After that, I kind of would like to do something important.”
“What about an education?” Constance moved a stick closer to the fire with her toe. “An education is important.”
“Only if your going to do something with it.” Tom shrugged his shoulders. “It’s nice to know a few things. I suppose a few courses in ranching would help. Do they have those kind of course’s” The question was sincere.
“Yes, My father was collage educated.” Constance affirmed. “He had a lot of plans for the ranch.” for a moment she seemed lost in a memory. Then realizing Tom was watching her, she concluded her thought. “That all ended when he died.”
“Your mom keeps the ranch going.”
“Only because your Dad and Uncle’s help. Mom says that its because of your family that the hands keep after the place. If it weren’t for them, the hands would steal everything that wasn’t tied down.”
“I know my Dad and Uncle liked your father. I think it was your dad that got my dad into making improvements on our place.”
“Well, Mom’s going to sell the place, if she can find a buyer. One with money and is willing to pay true value.”
“It will be a change, New neighbors an all. I suppose you’ll be off to collage soon any way.”
“That’s my plan.” She looked over at the shack, and exclaimed. “Haven’t they gotten dressed yet?”
The shacks door opened and out came Alice, fully clothed. John followed, adjusting his hat against the wind. “Next!!” he called out. “One of you can use the kitchen for privacy.” he nodded towards Tom. “ Just don’t lean against the table. I think its about to collapse.”
“I’ll wait until your finished before I change.” Tom said to Constance, who thanked him as she went to get dressed.
“I guess it will be okay.” Alice said to Tom after Constance left to change. “I think its silly, so immature.” the last was aimed at her brother. Now Tom had the Okay to walk both girls into the movie theater. It wasn’t a big deal, but John didn’t want to hurt his chances with the ticket taker.
Once everyone was changed out of the swim suits and back into their regular clothing, they took one last look around the picnic area, cleaning up what ever was dropped. John put the fire out, which was the signal that the outing was over. While John and Alice were talking something over with Constance, Tom led his horse down to the pond for a drink. The horse took its time, and tested the air, before lowering its head to the pond and taking a small drink.
John and Alice waved goodby and rode off home, a laughing smile from Alice as she looked back. It puzzled Tom, and he was aware that Constance was walking her horse down to the water. Coming up beside him, the mount lowered its head to the water. Standing on the other side of the mount, Constance while watching her horse nuzzled the surface, explained to Tom.
“I’m going to ride home from here.” she told him. Tom on hearing that, looked at the brand on the mount. It was a small Kinkade brand on it rump. “John said, I could return the horse, next Sunday, if I didn’t see them sooner.”
All three ranches narrowed close together at the highway. The Wakefields and Kinkades sat a couple miles back from the highway, the bailor ranch was close to four miles back. It was a two mile ride out of his way just to where the fence lines touched the highway, but Tom knew he was expected to accompany the girl at least to her property. That explained the laughing smile that Alice gave him as she rode off. She knew that Tom, had chores to do, and liked to get them done before dark. Riding the few miles out of his way, would get him home late. He nodded understanding, and once his horse was finished drinking he mounted and waited for Constance to swing into her saddle.
For a mile they rode side by side, talking small talk. Constance brought up her family once, and then avoided further talk about the ranch. Feeling some what awkward about what to say, Tom talked about his brother Allen, just home from the Marine Corps. Constance seemed interested, and so he brought out how great a brother he’d been. Always looking after him, keeping Harold from pulling his mean tricks.
At the mention of mean tricks, Constance said she remember Harold from school. He was several classes ahead of them, and was often at the center of some mischief. She remarked that she thought it had all been done in good fun. Tom didn’t see it that way, but didn’t correct her. It was Allen he wanted to build up in her mind. It occurred to him, that if Allen had a reason to stay, he wouldn’t be thinking of leaving. Which would free himself up to either go on to school or seek some adventure on his own part.
“What about you and Alice?” Constance question took him by surprise. “What have you got planned with her.”
“Well, I...” He started to say, but realized he didn’t have any real plans. Alice had another year in school, and there was ample time to discuss their future.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t be prying into your affairs.” Constance sensed his reluctance to speak was her being too nosey. “What about Allen, is he planning on working the ranch. I know my mother would love to hire him.” She changed the subject.
“I think he needs time to heal up. He’s still recovering from some shrapnel.” Tom warmed to his subject. “He’s pretty tough though. I think he’s going to be okay. Just needs a gentle touch.” The last he added thinking Constance might decide to administer the gentle touch, her self. He knew that John didn’t care about the girl, so he was doing them both a favor, by trying to aim her towards Allen.
“He’s lucky.” She remarked. “Clair Welder didn’t make it. His family got a gold star, that was all. The Army say’s they still might find his body.”
“Marine, Clair was a Marine.” Tom corrected her. He’d learned that it was an important issue, that a Marine was called a Marine. “I don’t think they’ll ever find his body, or at least know its him.”
“Well I’m glad that your brother came home. I hope he fully recovers and enjoys this country he defended.” She spoke the words sincerely.
“Me too.” Tom added, and rode a while in silence.
They came to the trail that led down off the mesa into the Wakefield lower pastures. It was a wide trail also used for driving cattle, and a truck could be driven over it. Once down below the mesa, the wind wasn’t as strong. Constance, with a mention of it being too hot to wear the scarf, now that the wind had eased, she took it off and tucked it in her blouse. Tom noted the red hair that was again free to frame her face. She was pretty, he had to admit it. Allen would be a fool to pass her up. She rode a horse better than most of the saddle worn hands that spent their entire lives on horse back. She would be a good addition to the family. Eleanor liked her already, so there would be no problem there.
Tom rode along with Constance until they came to the Bailor Ranch Gate. Constance from horse back reached down and opened the gate. She swung the animal around and again reached down, holding the gate as the mount backed into the road leading to her home. Tom was impressed, not only at her horseman ship, but at how her breast almost exposed themselves as she leaned from the saddle to work the gate. She was perfection in all her womanly manners.
Once the gate was closed, Constance sat back in the saddle, with a smile. “Takes awhile to figure out that move.” She referred to her horse and how it kept out of the way of the closing gate, yet didn’t move too fast for her to keep hold. “I bet you do it all the time.”
Shaking his head no, Tom smiled reluctantly. “No, I have managed to open the gate a time or two, but that was as far as I got.”
“My dad said, a real cowboy never gets out of the saddle, if he can help it.”
“Your Dad was quite a man.” Tom commented.
“Well, I guess this is where I leave you.” She drew herself up tall in the saddle. “Thank you for seeing me home.”
“I enjoyed the ride. Maybe we can do it again some time.” He was thinking of Allen, joining her and doing another picnic with him and Alice.
“I don’t think Alice would like that, her boyfriend out riding with me.” She smiled, turning the horse towards home. “It would be nice though.”
Tom thought about explaining that he meant, riding with his brother, but decided to just let it go. He didn’t want to come off like he was pushing Allen on her, which he was trying to do. He watched her ride off a bit before turning his horse back towards home. “Come on Custer.” he patted the horse’s neck. “It’ll be dark before were done tonight.