Country Living - Cover

Country Living

Copyright© 2021 by Wendell Jackson

Chapter 3

The drive was over and the cattle sold. After a day of celebration, the men headed back home. Brad wasn’t used to drinking, so he refrained from taking a turn on the bottle being passed back and forth. They were traveling much faster on the leg home, now that they didn’t have a slow herd of cattle to tend too. The chuckwagon still had to travel a bit slower, because Mattie couldn’t take all the jostling.

The first stop was the main ranch at Salmon Falls, where they unloaded several items William had purchased for Dorothy. Wallace was finding it hard to stay in the saddle, as he and Luke shared more than one bottle on the trip home. Brad didn’t notice how drunk they were, as they had held back from the others. They wanted to drink without hearing a lot of criticism. They did receive some admonishment for drinking when they were supposed to be guarding the wagon from Indian attack. Wallace just laughed and rightly pointed out, that there hadn’t been Indian trouble in the valley for over a year. All the Indian trouble was in the Siskiyou’s, the mountains of Northern California. South where Margo and Willow were at the time.

When Dorothy saw her son’s drunken condition, she turned her pent-up fury on Brad. She made certain that he knew she was holding him responsible. Like always Brad held his tongue and didn’t respond to the tirade. He had the men unload the supplies and other items William had purchased, and then headed home the Broken Bow. He sent several men on ahead, to build a fire and whatever else needed done, before Mattie and the chuckwagon got there. Marla wanted to ride ahead with them, but Brad knew better. Mattie would skin him alive if he let her go and Mattie wouldn’t have it.

When Brad finally arrived at the ranch with Mattie driving the chuckwagon, and a very drunk Wallace, the sun had been down for an hour. The place was lit with lantern light, and smoke was curling out the chimney. Brad told the men he’d sent ahead, that they’d done a good job readying the place for Mattie and Marla. It wasn’t them; they said the place was already lit up for a welcome. Nola had ridden out with Jonas to make sure a meal was ready when they got there.

Seeing Nola, Brad was elated. She had been on his mind for days. The first thing he did, was present her with a tin of hard candy he’d bought just for her. She smiled and opened it, making sure that everyone around her got a piece. Brad held back giving her the neckless, but told her he had one more gift, and would give it to her when they didn’t have a crowd around them. Hearing that, Nola urged him to a spot around the corner of the house. Once there she pushed him up against the wall, trapping him with her body. The feeling of Nola pressed against him, stirred a physical reaction. He’d held her several times in the past, mostly while they were dancing, but never like now.

It just happened without thinking, Brad pulled Nola close, and planted his lips on hers. She returned the kiss with passion, even more than Brad had put into his.

“Okay,” Nola said stepping back just a little. “That was for the candy. What else do you have for me?” She was ready to plant another kiss on him.

Brad reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a paper box. He opened it and picked up the gold chain with his fingers, the chain dangling down with a gold cross. The cross reflected the light shining from a window. “I don’t know if this is being too forward. I just had to get you something special.”

“Oh.” Nola was a little surprised that it was a gold cross, she’d wildly hoped for a ring but knew it was too early in the relationship for that. She smiled and lifted her hair off the back of her neck. “You’ll have to put it on me.” Turning so he could close the clasp. After a moment of fumbling, he managed to get it closed.

Turning back to facing Brad, Nola told him that with a gift like this, people would think that there was something between them. Then she asked him about Willow. How was this going to set with her, since the two were supposed to be something of a couple.

Brad’s answer was “When I saw Willow talking with the other men, it didn’t bother me that much. It was you I was thinking about. And I’ve been thinking about you ever since.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to be some ones second choice.” Nola smiled big. This meeting was going better than she had hoped.

“I’m sure, I’ve never been surer of my feelings, then I am right now. It will always be you, if you’ll have me.” Then Nola melted in his arms, placing another kiss on him. Several minutes later, they walked hand in hand into the house.

Nola spent the night in Marla’s room, while a very happy Brad managed to get some sleep down the hall in his room. Nola had accepted him, but on one condition. He had to ask her father for her hand. That would make them an official couple. Willow would be out of the picture completely. She didn’t know that Willow was long past Brad, and was bringing a man home to meet their father.

The aroma of breakfast brought Brad out of a lingering dream. He opened his eyes fully aware of all that happened last night. He was hungry, but not starving like usual in the mornings. He was more interested in seeing Nola, and dressed hurriedly. Seeing her again this morning was his immediate goal.

Breakfast was laid out on the long dining table. Mattie had risen early and with Nola’s help, had laid out a large breakfast. Being in her own kitchen again, brighten Mattie’s mood. At the table, she didn’t say a word about Brad sitting between Nola and her daughter Marla. She knew where Brad’s affections lay, and Nola was holding all of Brad’s attention.

While the women sat taking time with breakfast, Brand and Wallace had plenty of work to do. Wolfing down several pan cakes, and drinking coffee after blowing it cool, Brad and Wallace went out to check on the herd. As he got up from the table, Brad gave a gentle squeezed to Nola’s hand. The gold neckless displayed for everyone to see. “It’s from Brad.” She proudly explained to Marla.

The men rode out, moving the cattle along one of the small streams that flowed out of the forest. The tall timber acted like a natural fence, it helped keep the cattle in the open acres. Brad could see where fencing would help keep strays out of the forest. He’d spent a lot of time in the past, rounding up strays from the underbrush. This time the herd was going to stay for several weeks, so there was no need to round them up. The men would stay for the day, helping to calm the herd. It helped to keep the cattle comfortable in the new location.

It would be dark by the time the men returned to the Broken Bow. Nola was there to greet Brad and help him stable the horses. Together they curried down the mounts, plus making sure there was plenty of feed in the troughs. She had a special demand that Brad had to perform, and that was asking her father for her hand in marriage. She wanted it done soon.

Brad got a sinking feeling, that William MacKay might not approve of his youngest daughter marrying one of the ranch hands. Worried that he might not accept Brad as a future son-in-law, he expressed his fear to Nola. “Well, then.” She responded, “You need to ask him in a polite manner.” She was finding humor in his worries, but Brad was serious. He didn’t see himself worthy of Nola, who was still young and wasn’t aging any faster.

The next morning, Nola returned to Salmon Falls in the company of Jonas. Everything was turning out well for Nola, and she was more than ready for Brad to present the big question to William MacKay. Her father would be returning to the Ranch soon, after he finalized land deals and made final payments on all the bank loans. He was coming home, owing nothing to anyone, except the daily wage to those working for him.

Two days after William was back home at Salmon Falls Ranch, he sent for Brad. Wallace assumed his dad was going to discuss the Broken Bow with Brad, and wondered why he wasn’t summoned too. While Brad was saddling his horse, Maggie came out with a small bundle. Handing it to him after he swung up in the saddle, she said to make sure Mister Williams got them soon as he arrived. She’d made pastries with a blue berry filling.

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