Like An Eagle
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It was a day
just like any other, one in a series of long hot summer days. Heat shimmered on
the horizon and gentle winds stirred up dust devils on the road that led from
Laramie to the Sherman Ranch.
On the roof of the barn Jess Harper straightened
up, a paint brush in his hand. He wiped the back of his hand across his
forehead, and then used his bandana to wipe away the moisture that was trickling
down the back of his neck. He’d
been up here with his partner Slim Sherman, for what seemed like days but in
fact the position of the sun told him it was several hours yet till midday. “Think we’ll get this done before noon, Slim?”
“I sure hope so, Pard. It’s hotter than hell up
here.” Slim replied as he carried on working.
Jess stretched his aching back, then dropped down onto his
haunches and hurried to complete their task before the midday sun made it
impossible for them to continue.
The two friends laboured on, a comfortable silence settling
between them. In many ways the two
were in direct contrast to each other, both physically and in character, yet
they had forged a friendship closer than if they had been brothers born and
Slim was blond whereas Jess’ hair was a rich dark brown.
Both had blue eyes, Slim’s being paler than Jess’. Slim was taller by several inches, however, Jess was leaner
than Slim in his build, and it had been a common complaint from Slim that he
couldn’t figure out how someone could eat as much as Jess, and still look half
starved, and it was true, Jess carried no spare flesh on his muscular frame.
Their first meeting had been confrontational.
Slim was firmly grounded to a steady home life, the ranch and his younger
brother being the centre of his life since the death of their parents.
Judging on first appearances, Jess had appeared to be the
exact opposite. He was a drifter with a reputation for a quick temper and an
even quicker draw and he appeared to care for nothing, least of all his own
life. His carefree easygoing attitude and wariness of commitment had made him a
hero to Slim’s younger brother Andy, and an instant threat to the elder
Yet there had been something, an indefinable quality, which
had prompted Slim to offer Jess a job, a decision that Slim would never have
cause to regret. Over time Jess had settled down and Slim had come to know and
trust the real person that hid behind the carefree face Jess Harper showed the
Slowly, Slim had been allowed to see the world weary, hurt
and lonely young man that was the real Jess Harper. He had come to learn of the
hard lessons Jess had been forced to learn at an early age and the harsh
existence that had led him to the life he had been forced to live before he met
Despite everything, Jess was basically a good man, just
needing a chance to prove it and a place to belong. Slim had given him both, and
had been rewarded many times over for the trust he placed in Jess.
Andy was in college now and the ranch had become the home
to two more of life’s casualties. A young orphan boy, Mike, who had arrived at
the ranch after the death of his parents in an Indian attack, which he had been
witness to and the two friends, perhaps driven by the losses they too had
themselves experienced, had taken him into their home and become surrogate
fathers and brothers to him. Then there was Daisy Cooper, who had arrived on the
stage one day looking for a store that her late husband had purchased in
Sherman, Wyoming. Once she realized
that her husband had been swindled and that she was literally without funds or a
home, she agreed at the boys’ request to stay on as housekeeper but had
rapidly become a friend and mother to all three, filling a gap in their unusual
yet unique family that they hadn’t even realised was there.
Although both men were still opposites in many ways, time
had worked its magic and Jess had, with Slim’s steadying influence, settled
down into the family life he had craved without knowing it. While Slim, for his
part, had begun to unwind and relax under the influence of the small mischievous
child that still hid just below the surface of his friend and partner.
It was that mischievous side that showed itself now.
“Slim, we’ve almost finished. Couldn’t we maybe---?”
“No, we couldn’t,” Slim interrupted, their closeness
allowing him to read the younger man’s thoughts. “Daisy has been waiting on
us painting the roof for weeks now. I reckon she’d skin us alive if she came
back from town and it wasn’t finished.”
Jess was hot, tired and growing more stubborn by the
minute; he wasn’t about to give up that easily. “But, Slim, she ain’t due
back till the evening stage couldn’t we maybe just----.”
Again his best friend interrupted him “No, we couldn’t.
Daisy promised us apple pie if we got this done before she got back, and I have
a hankering after a piece right now. I’m certainly not hankering after the
sharp edge of her tongue.”
Jess dropped his head and started back at the job of
painting with a vengeance, all thought of a cool dip in the swimming pond
forgotten. Slim squinted sideways at his sullen friend and smiled to himself. He
knew just how Jess felt, but the job really had waited long enough and both of
them knew it. After a few more minutes of painting with not a word passing
between the two of them, he relented a little and spoke up, hoping to draw the
other man out of the sullen silence he had slipped into. “If we get this done
today, then I think tomorrow we should head out to the south pasture and check
out the fences.”
This last statement drew Jess’ attention instantly.
“Aw, Slim. It’s far too hot to be diggin’ post holes and stringing
wire,” he complained, and then suddenly realization struck. “Hang on a
minute; we replaced that stretch just a month ago.” His deep blue eyes flashed
in anger as he challenged his friend. “Dog gone it, Slim it would be a waste
of time to head on out there again.”
The laughter in Slim’s eyes told Jess he’d been
suckered in, and Slim confirmed it as he responded. “It’s been mighty hot,
Jess. This kind of heat could drive a critter crazy.”
“I know how they feel,” Jess replied sarcastically, but he kept his head down, his eyes focused on the rough boards of the roof.
Slim ignored him and continued on, keeping the laughter out
of his voice. “Crazy
critters could have pulled the fence down in their rush to get at that lake. You
know the one, Jess, always cold and deep, fed from those mountain streams. This
sort of heat could be mighty tempting to them brainless beefs to take a long
Now Slim allowed himself to smile freely and looked up at
his partner to see Jess standing there, his mouth hanging open in surprise as it
finally sank in what his friend was saying. An answering smile now spread across
Slim, you just might have a point there. Daisy’s gotta agree we need to check
those fences again and save any of them cattle from straying.”
A few hours later, Jess stood up again and stretched cat
like, endeavouring to ease the stiffness in his back. “Reckon that’s got it
licked. Just this last bit where
we’re standing; and we needn’t worry about this again for quite a while.”
“I have a
feeling Daisy will have us doing this all over again a lot sooner than you
think, Jess.” Slim said as he stood up. He turned around surveying the fruits
of their work. A puzzled frown formed on his tanned features. “Say, Pard,
where’s the ladder?”
Jess turned towards the far side of the barn roof.
“It’s right over there, where we climbed up.” Jess
answered as he pointed over to the far corner. As comprehension dawned, Jess’
jaw twitched in disbelief. “Dad gum it, we’ve painted ourselves into a
corner.” Jess couldn’t help but
smile. The whole ridiculous situation appealed to his sense of fun.
With an exasperated sigh, Slim set his fists on his hips
and turned slowly around, searching for a way to get off the roof without having
to walk across the wet paint. He turned towards the edge they were backed up to
and dropped to his knees again, peering cautiously over the edge. Unfortunately,
this was the high side of the building, and it looked to be a long way down.
Slim grunted his annoyance, finding nothing funny in the situation they found
themselves in. “Jess, you’re a little lighter than me“
Jess snorted his amusement at this statement “A little--?
You’ve been eating a few too many helpings of Daisy’s good cooking, Slim,
cause you’ve sure outgrown your nickname.”
Slim chose to respond to the insult with one of his own
“Its good muscle built by plenty of hard work, but I guess that’s something
you’d know little about. Now as I was saying before you started throwing the
insults about, if we go real careful I can lower you down most of the way, then
let you drop the rest.”
Leaning over to inspect the drop for himself, Jess shook
his head.” I dun no, Slim, it looks a long way down. It might be easier if’n
one of us walked backward across the roof to the ladder, painting out the
footprints as they go.” As he spoke a broad smile crept across his face,
“Since you reckon you’re light on your feet, my vote goes to you.”
Something then caught his attention and he kept his gaze fixed on the horizon,
his deep blue eyes watching the approaching cloud of dust he had spotted.
Still unaware of what was fascinating his friend Slim rose
to the bait. “That honor goes to
you, Pard; you’re the one that looks like a puff of wind would blow you right
off your feet.” As Slim looked at his friend, enjoying the verbal sparing and
expecting a humorous retort, he finally noticed that Jess’ attention was
elsewhere. He followed the line of sight his friend was using and saw the
growing cloud of dust that could only come from horses.
“A mite too early for the stage,” he commented, “We expecting
“Nope, but I don’t think its trouble, they’re comin’ in slow and easy. Looks like it’s a wagon, but it’s too far away to make out how many’s with it.” Jess replied easily, but his right hand strayed nervously to his gun, which he carried with him most of the time. Old habits die hard, and Jess had learned early on that trouble could come a calling at any time.
The two men stood side by side, patiently watching the
approaching wagon and team. As it pulled around the final bend in the road, Jess
gave a small whoop of joy. “It’s, Daisy, Slim. I’d recognise that
collection of feathers she calls a hat anywhere. Looks like Mike riding in the
back too. Seems like we’re rescued, Pard, and not a moment too soon.” Jess
cast an accusatory look at the sun, as he squinted his eyes against its
unforgiving glare. “I was beginning to understand what a roasting chicken must
feel like. Much longer and I might have taken it into my head to grow wings and
A few minutes later and the wagon pulled to a halt in front
of the ranch house. A middle-aged man dressed in a formal business suit climbed
down from the driver’s seat and turned to help a waiting Daisy Cooper step
down to the ground. Behind the seat Mike sat talking happily with a fair haired
young girl, and the two children were so engrossed in each other that they had
failed to notice they had come to a halt.
“Come on now, Mike. I will need you to help me unload the
wagon.” Daisy prompted, looking around, surprised that neither Slim nor Jess
had appeared to greet them.
“Sorry, Aunt Daisy but Marie Rose was just telling me
about when she lived in India. Did you know that they have magic men that can
make snakes dance to music?”
I’m sure that is all very interesting, but right now you need to go see if you
can find Slim or Jess.” Daisy turned to her other companion. “I don’t know
where those two could have got to. They were supposed to be painting the barn
roof, but knowing them, they may well have slipped away for a dip in the
The two friends on the roof had been listening intently,
and at hearing Daisy’s last remark, it was too much for an indignant Slim to
bear. “So that’s what you think we get up to when you go off shopping.
I’ll have you know we’ve been up here since you left this morning and the
roof is all finished.”
“Well thank you, Slim, so why are you still up there?
Come on down and meet our guests.” Daisy was staring upwards, her gloved hand
shading her eyes from the sun. She could make out the dark shapes of her two
adopted sons silhouetted against the bright light.
to, Daisy, but we seem to have gotten ourselves a little problem here. We could
do with a bit of help,” Slim said sheepishly, not willing to admit to the
tactical error, especially with strangers around.
Jess was beginning to feel the need for a nice cool drink,
not to mention another more urgent requirement of the human body. “Stop
hedging around, Slim,” he ordered. “Miss
Daisy, we’ve gone and painted ourselves into a corner. The ladder is over on
the north side could you and Mike bring it round here? Please.” That last word
carried a world of appeal and need.
Suppressing a very girlish giggle, Daisy turned to her new
friend. “Doctor Sender, do you think you could help me rescue those two up
there. I think they have got problems enough without the sun addling their
brains still further.”
Jess stopped himself from a sarcastic response. He didn’t
want Daisy to retaliate by neglecting to bring the ladder round. He needed to
get down and take care of a few things, and then he could worry about his
injured pride. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Slim square up and start to
rise to the teasing. “Save it for later, Pard. Let’s just get down from
here, and think about that pie you’ve been waiting on.” Jess’ remarks did the trick and Slim kept quiet.
With the two children helping, the stranger retrieved the
ladder and soon the two stranded friends found themselves with their feet firmly
on the ground again. Jess excused himself briefly, saying he intended to put the
ladder away and made a detour to the outhouse. By the time he got back, Daisy
was herding everyone towards the house and was busy making the introductions.
With a shy grin, Jess shook the strangers hand as Daisy introduced them.
“Doctor Sender, this is Jess Harper, Slim’s partner.”
Turning, Daisy smiled at Slim before continuing. “And of course, this is Slim
Sherman. Both of you, I’d like you to meet Doctor Sender and his daughter,
Marie Rose. They very kindly offered to give me a ride back here, when it looked
like the stage was going to be late.”
“You planning on moving out west, Doc? We could sure do
with another Doctor setting up practice. Old Doc Michaels is finding it hard to
keep up, the way Laramie is growing.” Jess stated as he made friendly
“Ah, no. I’m not that sort of Doctor. I studied Physics
at university. The title refers to my Doctorate. I’m afraid I would pass out
at the mere sight of blood.”
“So what brings you out west, Doc?” Slim asked as he
redirected the conversation.
“Please, the name is James. I would much prefer it if you
called me that, Mister Sherman.”
“Fine, but we’re just plain Slim and Jess.” Slim
smiled warmly then stood back indicating that their guests should enter the
ranch house first.
Once inside, Daisy set about making a pot of coffee, always
aware that Jess never seemed to function until he had at least one cup inside
him. As she worked to pull together the rudiments of a meal, Daisy joined in the
conversation from the kitchen. Mike had disappeared into his room, Marie Rose in
tow, eager to show his new friend his pet squirrel.
“So why are you this far west?” Slim prompted him
again. “No offence, but you look like you’d be more at home in a classroom
“None taken, Slim. I know I look like some dusty old
Professor, but I have a dream, and that’s what brings me out west. I’m an
inventor of sorts, and right now I’m working on something that is best tested
out here. Lots of fresh air and space, you see.”
Jess was sitting in the rocking chair, and had been gently
rocking back and forth as he listened to the thread of the conversation. Now he
sat forward and asked. “Mind if I ask what kinda inventions?” It was a hard
life on a ranch, and although Laramie was a growing town, strangers offered a
welcome diversion from the routine of daily ranch life.
“No, not at all. I dabble in lots of things. The army has
been interested in a few. That’s one of the reasons I’m out here, to field
test one of them.”
Slim and Jess exchanged worried glances. There had been
problems in the past with Indians but things had settled down. There was a
reservation relatively close and both men worried that this man might
inadvertently cause problems, especially if he was testing a new sort of weapon.
It was Slim that asked the question that was bothering them
both. “It’s not something dangerous like a weapon is it? We‘ve got a lot
of families in these parts with children. Wouldn’t like to think they could be
put at risk.”
James smiled an easy likable smile that re-assured Slim, as
he replied. “No, nothing at all like that. I have my own daughter, Marie Rose
to think of. I abhor weapons of destruction. No, I’m afraid I can’t tell you
about it, as the government want to keep it quiet. I think they don’t want to
be associated with it in case it fails.” He laughed ruefully, and then
continued, “But I can assure you it isn’t a weapon.”
The group went silent for a moment, Slim feeling a little
embarrassed for having asked the question, but relieved nonetheless to have
asked it and have received an honest answer.
A soft female voice came from the kitchen, rescuing the
situation. “Does Marie Rose’s mother mind you bringing her out here,
“My wife died when Marie Rose was very young. She has
always been with me. I couldn’t bear to be separated from her. She is a very
special young girl, so very like her mother in many ways.”
Daisy popped her head around the door from the kitchen,
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pry,” she apologised.
“Don’t apologise. It was along time ago, Marie Rose and
I have had a good life together. Her mother was a student at the university
where I taught. She was a very bright young woman and used to help me with my
research after we married. Marie Rose is just like her. Sometimes she amazes
even me, with her knowledge. One day she will be very famous I am sure, and in
the mean time she is my right hand man and helper.”
Taking off her apron, Daisy emerged from the kitchen.
“Supper will be ready in a little while.” She turned to Slim and Jess.
“James is looking for somewhere to stay while he conducts his research. Do you
know of any where that’s available?”
Jess shook his head, but Slim recalled a ranch about five
miles away that had been left empty for the past year.
“There is the old Rowland’s place. Its been up for sale
since, Mrs. Rowland’s moved back east last year. I guess she could be
persuaded to rent it for a while, since it hasn’t sold.”
Now Jess felt obliged to speak up. “It would take months
to fix it up and make it liveable, Slim. I rode past it a few months back on my
way back from delivering those horses to the army. The winter storms must have
hit it pretty bad. A large part of the roof is off, and the windows are mostly
broken. You planning on staying around here long enough to make it worth while
doing that sort of damage up?” he directed to their guest.
James smiled as he replied. “I don’t know how long I
will need to complete my tests, but I do know I won’t have the time to fix a
place up, much less maintain it. No, I really need to find somewhere that we can
pay for room and board, preferably out of town, as its out here I need to do my
Slim and Jess exchanged quick glances, but it was Daisy
that spoke up. “Slim, we could make room here until James can find something
else. Marie Rose can share my room and there is still a spare bed in Mike’s
room that Andy uses when he stays.”
“It will mean more work for you, Daisy,” Slim
“Oh I don’t mind. It would be nice to have another
female around to talk to and Mike would enjoy having a playmate,” Daisy
The good Doctor laughed, “While staying here for awhile
would be very welcome for me, I think you might find Marie Rose doesn’t quite
fill the category of a playmate.”
Slim considered things carefully before he spoke again.
“Well, I guess we could do with the extra money right now. As long as Daisy is
sure she can manage, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t stay here. Okay
with you, Jess?”
The dark head lifted from staring at the empty fireplace.
Slim had always valued his friend’s opinion, but Jess still had trouble
remembering he was now an equal partner in the ranch, and had the same rights as
Slim in deciding such things. “I don’t see why not, Slim, but I got one
concern. You recall when Mike slept in our room, he ain’t a peaceful sleeper,
and those pets of his can make things kinda noisy. The Doc here might be sleepin’
a lot better if we move that bed into our room.”
“Are you volunteering to share with Mike?” Slim smiled,
teasing his friend.
A horrified look crossed Jess’ handsome features. “Uh uh, Slim, I was figurin’ that’d be you.”
Jess’ lightening fast speed came into play and saved him
from being hit by the napkin Slim threw across at him. “I think we may be able
to make room for three beds in our room, don’t you, Jess?”
“Yep, it might make things a mite more interesting around
here with you stayin’ a while, Doc.”
“That’s settled then. Jess and Slim will help you
unload your wagon later.” Daisy finalised it all.
Momentarily, Jess’ suspicions rose. “Doc, you never did
say why you was headed out here this afternoon. Though it was mighty lucky for
Daisy that you were.”
Innocently, James replied, “That’s easy. I was in the
general store asking if they would place an advert in their window about
suitable accommodation. Daisy happened to be in there and she said she might
know somewhere. We got to talking and when I realised Daisy was kind of stranded
I offered to drive her out here and she could direct me on to my potential
lodgings.” As he said it, James realised how he had been manoeuvred. The three
men looked at each other as it dawned on them how neatly they had all been out
manoeuvred by the older woman.
voice conveyed the question, “Did you plan all this?”
Daisy had the good grace to look embarrassed, but she
recovered quickly. “Now, boys, you said yourself the money would be useful,
and besides, like I said, I think a little female company for me would be
“Seeing as it all seems to be settled, if you don’t
mind, I’ll tell Marie Rose.” James headed to Mikes bedroom door and called
his daughter out.
“Yes, Father,” she said as she came out. Although she
spoke to her father, her eyes roamed the room, searching the faces there.
Finally they settled on the dark haired young cowboy she had seen earlier and
“These kind folk have offered to let us stay here while
we complete our research. What do you think of that?” her father asked.
The young girl had been really excited at the idea of
coming out west. She had been fascinated with the stories of handsome cowboy
heroes, and the two men here on this ranch stirred her adolescent feelings. She
was in serious danger of developing her first case of hero worship from the
moment she had seen them, especially the dark haired one with mischief in his
“That’s wonderful, Father. It’s so nice here, and I’ll have Mike for company.” Even as she spoke, her eyes never left Jess’ the lean figure, as he now lounged against the fireplace.
All the while, the object of her thoughts was blissfully
unaware of the adoring pair of eyes that were fixed on him. If he had been aware
he may have felt a little less complacent about their guests and a little more
wary over the days ahead.
As it turned out, the next few weeks at the ranch were to prove a lot more interesting than any of them could have anticipated.
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