Tempest was completed nearly one year ago under the beta reading and guidance of Carol Marsella. It was my first Laramie based fan fic and I was very ignorant of the ways of the fan fic writer. Subsequently the first three chapters were posted on Newprose, her site. Since then, as Carol has been committed to a lot of other projects, it has been further beta’d by Elaine Kane. Elaine has kindly guided me towards a more ‘American’ use of phrases, along with some help in pinpointing some anomalies I had missed in the original story line. I would like to sincerely thank both these ladies for their generous support and encouragement, without which Tempest would not have made it this far. I hope you, the reader enjoy it in the spirit it was written, dedicated to those wonderful characters that have given us so much viewing pleasure.
A Laramie Story
it was barely mid day in late summer, it was as dull as twilight on a winter’s
evening. The sky directly above was overcast and gray, and a steady drizzle was
managing to soak everything and anyone that ventured outside. Black thunder
clouds where massing in the distance, their ominous shadow further darkening the
land, and threatening to once more erupt into a fierce storm, as had been the
case for the past three days.
The tall blonde rancher stepped out onto the
porch, and after a reproachful glance at the distant storm, headed purposefully
towards the barn. Stepping hurriedly through the door to get out of the rain,
Slim Sherman, jumped backwards again with equal speed as an extremely smelly
lump of stable debris flew past, narrowly missing him. “Easy there, Jess. You
almost got me!” he exclaimed loudly, “Try and watch what you’re doing.”
The black haired cowboy he’d addressed turned
from the job he’d been tackling. “Sorry,
Slim. I didn’t see you there,” he apologized, a mischievous smile flickering
across his handsome face. “You come to give me a hand?” he questioned
The taller more heavily set man, glanced around
the stalls, of which all but one were now cleaned and laid out with fresh straw.
“Looks like you’ve got the job licked, Partner. I’ll let you finish up.
Daisy said to tell you supper will be on the table soon.”
“I’ll be right there. With the horses being
inside this past few days cause of the storms, it was a lot of muck to shovel.
Kinda works up a man’s appetite.” Jess
Harper spread the last stall with fresh straw and turned to walk back with his
partner to the promised feast. He
was pulled up short when Slim stepped in front of him, halting his progress.
Slim's blue eyes
danced with amusement as the taller man gently pushed Jess in the general
direction of the wash tub by the back door. Jess turned, frowning, a peevish
edge entering his voice. “Aw, Slim. I’m soaked already, and Daisy don’t
like her good cooking to go cold at the table.”
“That’s damn right, but she don’t take
kindly to us turning up at the table looking and smelling like we’ve spent a
week on the trail either.” Again Slim moved to propel the younger man towards
the wash tub.
“All right, but lets make it quick,” Jess
moved reluctantly towards the icy water, but turned when he realized his friend
was not following. “Well. What are you waiting for?” His thick black eyebrows rose questioningly.
“Sorry, Pard. I ain't the one's been rolling
around in the manure. I’ve been doing the books all afternoon. Seems like
you’re the only one in need of a bath.”
softly, Slim turned and headed back to the ranch house. “If you’re quick,
you might just find a piece of apple pie left. Can’t guarantee it though.”
Slim’s laughter increased at the muffled cursing and splashing he heard behind
him, as a disgruntled Jess set about cleaning off the evidence of his hard work.
The ranch house door slammed shut behind the now
relatively clean Jess Harper. He hastened to the table, addressing the woman he
knew would be in the kitchen. “I hope you didn’t let Slim and Mike eat all
that apple pie I know you were baking earlier,” he joked.
Slim looked across at his partner and friend.
“’Bout time you got here. Mike
and I are starving while waiting on you to show up.”
A younger voice joined in the conversation.
“Aunt Daisy wouldn’t serve dinner till we were all here, Jess,” he stated,
by way of an explanation for the growling of his stomach, “and I ‘m hungry
enough to eat a whole cow.”
Jess reached over and tousled the boy’s sandy
hair. “Is that right, Tiger. Then I reckon you’re gonna hafta fight me for
it, cause I’ve worked up one Hell-,”
Daisy's voice cut the air sharply. “I won’t have cussing at my table.”
The miscreant hung his head, and then looked up
sheepishly, “Sorry Daisy.” Then he brightened, looking for all the world
like a young boy himself. “But I sure am ready for some of your home
Daisy had entered the room as she spoke and,
setting down the heavy pan of fried chicken, she turned to look at Jess. When
she saw that wistful smile on his face, she was always reminded of how young he
really was, despite his worldly ways. She knew from what he had revealed of his
past that he had had a rough time growing up. Yet the man she now regarded as a
son, along with the other two male members of the household, had turned into a
man any mother would be proud of. “You’re
forgiven, provided all of this food I’ve been cooking is eaten up.”
“I ain’t arguing with that, Daisy.”
Jess’s grin spread across his entire face. Moments like this reminded him of
how lucky he was to have become part of this family.
He reached across to snag a piece of chicken,
only to find the succulent piece of fowl he’d been eyeing snagged away by a
laughing Slim Sherman. “You’ll have to be quicker than that, Partner. I
reckon that reputation you’ve got for being quick on the draw must be a mite
Jess picked up the pan and offered it to a now
seated Daisy and then Mike. They each took a piece of the chicken and Jess then
filled his own plate. “Nothing wrong with my speed, Pard.
It’s just a fact some of us have some manners---.”
“What manners? At least I get to the table on
time.” Slim shot back, emphasizing his words by poking his fork in the general
direction of Jess, pleased to see the laughter in his friend’s eyes.
“Boy’s, let's settle down and eat, otherwise
I might just get the idea you’re all finished and clear up.”
Daisy joined in the light-hearted banter going round the table.
As the four turned their attention to doing
justice to the repast, the conversation settled down. Finally, after dinner and the much-anticipated apple pie,
Daisy rose to clear the table. Jess
hastily gained his feet. “Here,
let us do that. Come on Slim, after such a good meal, we owe it to Daisy to
“It’s all right, Jess. You’ve both been
working non-stop these past days, what with this weather and all. You take it
easy, Mike can help me clear up.” Daisy emphasised her statement by handing
the plates to Mike. “Take them into the Kitchen, please, Mike.”
Then she turned her attention back to the two young men.
“Besides, I think Slim has some things he needs to talk to you
Jess turned an anxious face towards Slim.
“Problems?” he asked simply.
“Not yet, but there could be?” Slim moved
from the table and took up his customary seat on a chair to one side of the
fireplace. With a simple nod of his head he motioned the younger man to join
him. Responding, Jess settled in to the rocking chair on the other side of the
fire and placed one leg across the other, resting his ankle on his knee. He
automatically started the chair moving in a gentle rocking rhythm, an
unconscious move to soothe his now alert nerves.
It was the only thing
that showed his concern, as he held his impatience in check, waiting for Slim to
collect his thoughts. The taller blonde man was always slow to speak, carefully
considering his words before speaking. Jess, on the other hand, although improving by association
with Slim, was known to be quick with his tongue and his temper if he felt the
cause was just. His impetuousness had landed him in hot water on many an
occasion and was another difference between the two men who were closer than
brothers to each other.
what felt like an eternity to the worried Jess, Slim cleared his throat and
began to speak. “I worked hard on the accounts today, Jess. I checked and
double checked them to be sure they were in order.”
“Hey, I was the one mucking out the barn, I
purely do know how hard you worked at them books, all warm and comfy at the
desk. It was real rough on you.”
Jess joked in an effort to alleviate what he thought was coming.
He knew it had been a bad year, and it was only the stage line contract
that had enabled them to keep up payments on the ranch mortgage. His forced
smile faded when Slim failed to retaliate. He knew whatever the next thing Slim
was going to say was serious. Jess stopped his incessant rocking and focused
hard on his blond friends face.
Slim leaned forward toward Jess, keeping his
voice low. “The ins and outs balance, just about.”
“That’s good news, ain’t it, Pard?” Jess
questioned, his own voice barely above a whisper.
his head, Slim continued, “I don’t want to worry Daisy and Mike, Jess, but
it isn’t a healthy margin between keeping going or failing to meet the next
payment to the bank. We’re going to have to pull in our belts a notch and we
can’t afford to loose any more stock.”
blue eyes darkening with concern, Jess nodded as he considered their options.
“What about the horses that the army is set to buy next month?
Did you account for them in your figures?”
Jess. The army didn’t sign any contract, we can’t count on that sale till
the money’s in the bank. There’s nothing else for it, we’re going to have
to knuckle down and make sure we don’t lose any cattle in the calving over the
next few weeks.”
Concern written all over his face, Jess
responded. “That ain’t gonna be easy Slim, with this rain and all.”
Having helped his aunt clear the table, Mike had
been sent to his room to finish his schoolwork. While Slim had received a reasonable education, he had had to
give up any ideas of college in order to run the ranch after his father had been
murdered. Jess, on the other hand,
obviously a clever man, had had very little opportunity to attend school.
He had been forced to leave home at an early age, after his family died
in a fire that had been deliberately set. He
had been too busy simply surviving to have any chance at more than a basic
education. Both men, however, knew that the west was changing, and the
future lay with those who achieved academic qualifications.
They were determined that their ward, Mike, would be given every
opportunity they weren’t. From
their point of view Mike’s schoolwork was given top priority.
Mike, for the most part was obedient, as much as
any boy that age could be considered so, but right now he was neglecting his
books. He had easily picked up on the concern in Slims voice, and the answering
worry that it had generated in the usually congenial Jess. He was happy in his
life here, and had quickly grown to love his new family. Now, out of a deep
desire to help, he stood with his ear pressed closely to the small crack left by
the not fully shut door. He had heard every word, and the more he heard the more
his own fears increased.
“What do you want us to do?” Jess questioned
intuitively. He knew they would have to work till they dropped over the next few
weeks if there was to be any chance of succeeding in what Slim proposed. Jess,
with Slim, Daisy and Mike, he had found the home and family he had been missing
most of his life. Slim had accepted
and supported him, despite his murky past, and had helped him clear his name and
regain his self-respect. The older
man was the brother Jess had always longed for and more so. He was prepared to
give everything he had, including his life, to ensure he kept his family safe.
Slim shared Jess’
brotherly feelings. His own
brother, Andy, had left for college not long after Jess Harper arrived in
Laramie, and even though the two eventually shared a strange kinship that even
Andy, could not help but notice, Slim’s first impression of Jess had not been
a good one. The same irresponsible
drifter, with whom he had a run in at their first encounter, eventually saved
his life and a grateful Slim offered him a job on his ranch.
Slim’s somewhat staid nature, at first, seemed to fight against the
growing friendship he felt for the drifter, and it was Andy who first grew close
to Jess. Possibly because of
the closeness in their ages, Andy could easily see the basic good in Jess and
somehow understood that it was cleverly hidden beneath a rough, devil may care,
exterior. Eventually, Slim learned
that, in spite of his youth, Jess had already done a lot of living and that the
mischief he occasionally created reflected the child in him that had never been
allowed to show. Slim now knew some
of the gruesome details of the life the ex-gunslinger had been forced to live
and realised that, despite all he had been through, he’d turned out to be a fine young
man. No man could have been a
better brother than Jess had repeatedly proven himself to be.
All this ran briefly through both men’s minds
before Slim spoke again. “This unending rain will have swollen the river near
to bursting its banks. The lower pastures will be boggy. I think we need to ride
out tomorrow, despite the heavy rain, and start bringing the cattle up to higher
ground.” He raised his head, waiting for Jess’ reply. It wasn’t long in coming.
The younger man was in
full agreement. “We could make a start tonight if you like,” he suggested,
thinking they could camp near the lower ground and get an early start.
“No, it would be too risky riding the flooded
trails in the dark. We could easily lose a horse, or worse. We’ll get a good
nights sleep, then start out at first light.”
Jess saw the sense in what Slim was suggesting
and nodded once. “I’ll ask Daisy to pack us some trail rations. Reckon
we’ll be living rough for a few days….” The last was part statement and
minute will count, Jess. We can’t risk loosing a single cow.”
Slim’s voice carried the weight of his concern and it was not lost on
worry, Pard, We’ll get this licked.” He reached over as he stood and
squeezed Slim’s shoulder reassuringly, then strode into the kitchen to tell
Daisy to ready the trail rations. He knew it was on the cards that they would be
leaving at first light, before Mike or Daisy even woke up.
Daisy was worried, having lived out west long
enough to know the dangers such weather could create, but she also knew the job
had to be done.
Mike had quietly returned to his homework, and
once finished, he had emerged from his room to find the two men preparing their
saddlebags and bedrolls for the morning.
“Hi ya, Tiger, school work all done?”
“Yes. Are you going somewhere, Jess?” Mike
Jess knew the risks they faced the next day, but
didn’t want Mike to worry. He forced himself to make light of the situation,
while remaining truthful. “Slim
and I are riding out tomorrow. Some of those ornery critters we call cattle are
bound to have given themselves a mud bath. We thought we’d go round them up
and head them back here. Daisy can give them a bath at the same time she’s
Jess, I had a bath last week,” Mike protested. “Can I come and help?”
Mike didn’t expect Jess to say yes, but he had to ask none the less.
Jess laughed, and tousled the boy’s hair.“
Sorry Tiger, you’ve got your chores to do, and I reckon Daisy’s going to
need all the help she can get when the stage arrives tomorrow.”
“That’s right, Mike. Don’t you go getting
any ideas. I’ll need you right here.” Daisy said as she emerged from the
kitchen with several bags packed full of food. “Here, Jess, I hope this will
“Thanks, Daisy. It looks plenty.”
“You’ll need good food to keep your strength
up out in that weather.” It was a simple expression of her concern, though for Mike’s
sake she forced a smile on her face.
Just then Slim came in, dripping water from his
oilskin cape. He had ridden the short journey to their neighbours’ homestead
to ask for someone to help Daisy when the stage arrived tomorrow. “It’s
getting heavy again out there.”
“Here, let me take that.” Daisy took the
offending clothing from his hands and slim moved over to the fire to warm up.
“Mister Perkins says he’ll be glad to come
over to help change the teams when the stage comes in. There shouldn’t be any
problems. You be sure to help and do as you’re told, Mike. Jess and I may be
away for a few days. I don’t want any bad reports when I come back.”
“Don’t worry Slim, I’ll make sure
everything’s fine.” He felt
guilty for telling a lie, but reconciled it to himself by thinking he hadn’t
really said just what he would ensure was fine. “Aunt Daisy, I think I’d
like to go to bed now. I’ll need to be up bright and early if I’m gonna be
the man in the house.”
“Well, that’s a sudden change, Mike. Go on
then. I think we’ll all be having an early night.” She laughed as she affectionately kissed Mike on the cheek.
Mike hastened over and kissed his two ‘uncles’ and then hastened to his bed.
He needed as much sleep as possible if he was going to succeed in putting his
plan into operation.
It was not that
long after that the rest of the occupants of the house also took to their beds.
Both men knew the task ahead was no easy one, and this might be their last
chance of a good night’s sleep for several days. Given the worries, fears and
concerns that haunted all their minds that night, none of them really achieved
the restful night they all
The only visible
evidence that it was dawn was the slight lightening in the dark grey sky over to
the East. Black clouds darkened the horizon in all other directions, and
ominous, grey, low storm clouds scuttled across the still dark sky, driven by
the storm winds.
house was a darker shape against the dark land. The yellow glow of the lantern
that lit the room, shined briefly out onto the porch as two figures exited its
comforting warmth. Across the yard, a figure was silhouetted briefly in the
doorway of the dimly lit barn, before it moved forward, leading two saddled
As Jess reached the house, he handed the reigns
of one mount to Slim Sherman. “Here
you go, Pard, all ready to hit the trail?” Jess turned his blue eyes towards
the pair, before continuing softly. “ How many sticks of dynamite you use to
get him out of bed, Daisy?”
“I didn’t need any,” stated Daisy with a
curt smile. “The smell of the hot pancakes did the trick.”
Jess, made a playful lunge at his friends
stomach, “Those pants of yours will bust right open soon. Reckon we’d better
ride hard and work off some of that stomach you keep insisting is muscle.”
Slim feigned anger as he responded. “I’ll
show you who’s the one around here in danger of busting out of his clothes.
I’ll out ride you and round up more head than you before this day is out.”
to make a bet on it.” Jess was acting like he was about to set off on a
Saturday night jaunt, and Slim was playing along in an effort to reassure Daisy
that all was well. Deep down they realized that Daisy knew full well the dangers
and risks ahead, but none the less they kept the atmosphere as casual as
Slim picked up the conversation and continued in
the same light-hearted manner. “Nope, Pard. It wouldn’t be fair to take your
hard-earned cash that way. It’d be like taking candy from a child.”
A worried look flitted briefly across Jess’
face. “Speaking of children is Mike all right. I think he heard some of our
talk last night, Daisy. I wouldn’t like to think of him worrying on things.”
“Don’t you two fret, I’ll explain it to
him so’s he won’t worry on it too much. Then I’ll keep him so busy with
his homework and chores he won’t have time to think about it. You’ll both be
back safe and sound before he’s had time to miss you.” Daisy kept her voice
light and reassuring, hiding her own concerns. The weather had been fiercely
destructive, the ground was treacherous and muddy, and a landslide could easily
carry horse and rider to their deaths. Even though she had every confidence in
the resourcefulness of the two young men before her, she could not help but
worry about them and she knew that she would not stop worrying until they where
both back safe and sound.
A small figure watched the exchange from the
shadows of the woodshed. Too
far away to hear the words clearly, he could still see the anxiety in the stance
of the people outside the house. Tension was evident in the posture of the
hidden figure also. Mike kept himself well back behind the building, peering out
cautiously to observe the progress of his two adopted uncles. He knew he would
be in terrible trouble for this, but he had to take that risk. His new family
needed him, and he was determined to help. They had given him so much and now it
was his chance to return some of that love and caring.
He had come from his room the previous evening,
asking for some supper. Daisy had laughed at his young appetite and told him to
help himself in the kitchen. Carefully, in case he was being observed, Mike had
secreted several biscuits and apples and sneaked them back to his room. He had
wrapped them inside the bundle of clothes and a blanket he had pulled off his
bed, and hidden the whole thing behind his cupboard, before settling in bed.
He heard the men when they rose with the dawn,
despite their efforts to be quiet. But that wasn’t surprising given that he
had lain awake most of the night. His
anticipation had not allowed him more than short periods of light sleep. Once he
knew that Daisy was in the kitchen he had dressed in his warmest cloths and
rolled the rest up. These he placed in his bed and covered them with a blanket.
In the dull light it passed as a sleeping boy to the quick observer. That was
what he was counting on. Hopefully, Daisy would want him to sleep in until the
men where long gone, knowing how he would fret at their absence.
Mike hoped he would be at least an hour’s ride
away before she found out he was gone, and then it would be too late. She would
have to wait on the neighboring homesteader, who was due at eleven, before she
could organize a pursuit. He would be well away by then and would join Slim and
Jess. Given the urgency of their work, the two friends would not be able to
spare the time to see him home and so he would be allowed to stay and help. Oh,
he knew he would be in deep trouble, but that would soon pass once he showed
them how useful he could be.
He watched intently as Daisy reached up and
pulled each man insistently down towards her to plant a soft kiss on each cheek.
“Just take care, both of you. Don’t take any stupid risks. Nothing is more
important than your lives.”
As she stood back, both men tipped their hats to
her and wheeling their horses around headed off towards the trail that would
take them down to the lower pasture land by the river. It was a good two hours
ride in good weather, and neither expected to make good time today. If
they where real lucky they might reach their first destination shortly before
Daisy watched their departing forms until they
disappeared around the bend in the road and with a soft sigh she turned back
into the house. Quietly, lest she disturb the still sleeping Mike, she opened
the door to his room a crack. In the dim light she saw the hunched up shape of
the boy in the bed. Smiling, she shut the door quietly again and returned to her
own still warm bed. It
was going to be a long, hard few days, with little time to rest. A
few hours sleep taken now may make all the difference to howwell she coped during this time.
Outside, Mike finally stepped out of the shadows
leading his already saddled pony. Earlier he had waited until Jess had exited
the barn with the horses, and then sneaked in to saddle his own pony, a surprise
birthday present from Slim, Jess and Daisy.
He had a good idea of where the two men were
heading and knew the trail at least part of the way. Mike’s keen ears had
heard Slim mention building a small corral to hold the cattle and Jess had
suggested the small valley where he had taken Mike fishing a few times last
summer. It was sheltered, not too far from the lower pastures, and had a natural
water supply. Right now, it was high enough above the river’s flood line to
ensure the safety of the cattle. More importantly, from young Mike’s point of
view, he was pretty sure he could find his way there alone.
Once the light went out in the ranch house, he
led the pony out from behind the shed and continued to lead it until well clear
of the house. When he was sure he was far enough away to avoid being heard, he
mounted up and urged his pony onwards, following the same trail as the men.
With the recklessness of youth he let the pony
speed up into a gallop, not realizing the potential dangers hidden by the mud.
The two experienced men ahead where holding their mounts back to a steady trot,
sometimes slowing to a walk. They where filled with the urgency to get to the
low lying pastures as soon as possible, but were only too well aware of the risk
to both horse and rider posed by the slippery, muddied road.
Fortunately for Mike, he managed to pull the
pony to a stop, before he plowed in to his ‘uncles’. They where too
engrossed in scanning the track for hazards, to see him on the rise behind them,
and the growling thunder that was rolling around in the hills covered the sound
of the pony’s hooves. Recovering from his near miss, Mike waited shadow of the
trees until the two men had moved on. Keeping to the shadows, he cautiously
It was two downcast and wet men who arrived at
the small canyon that was to be made into their makeshift corral. With no time
to lose, Slim and Jess set about cutting down branches from the nearby trees to
use as fencing to keep the rescued cattle held safely in the canyon. Half the
day was gone and they still hadn’t been able to start the round up itself.
Over in the distant hills dark clouds lit by
frequent flashes of lightning spoke of the storm still raging there. Both men
found themselves casting frequent glances in that direction, anxious in case the
winds changed and brought the storm to them.
Despite the urgency to get on with the job, they
had to deal with the priorities ofliving outdoors, so a small makeshift camp was made. A good amount
of woodwas gathered and placed in a sheltered area to dry, for the
campfire they would need that night.
While all this was going on, a small figure on a
pony slipped by unnoticed. Mike knew the trail from here to the river pastures.
Jess had taken him camping to this very canyon, and they had made a daily
fishing trip to the river, during a few days last summer when they took a break
from the hard slog of running a ranch.
was determined to prove his worth to his adopted family. By the time Slim and
Jess made it down to the river, he was going to have several cows and their
calves safely rounded up and tied on a line, ready for the men’s arrival.With such a catch to prove his skills they would have to let him
stay and help, wouldn’t they?
As sure-footed as the little pony was, it began
to struggle against the sucking mud that now passed as the river road. With an
uncensored feeling of security that only the very young can have, Mike saw no
danger in his situation and continued to urge his mount onwards.
Nearing the river, a low noise to his left drew
his attention, and moving slightly off the trail he saw a young calf. It was
lowing softly and moving restlessly near a flooded area close to the river. Even
to Mike’s relatively inexperienced eyes, the animal was in trouble.
The pony began to flounder and Mike needed to
get closer to the calf if he was to successfully get a rope on it. He knew it
was not likely that a calf as young as this one would stray far from it’s
Beneath him the pony came to a stop, sensing the
treacherous ground ahead. Despite Mike’s urges, it refused to move forward
again.“ Come on, Paint, you can do it.” urged Mike, as he kicked his heels
into the pony’s flanks. Still the small horse refused to move into the boggy
ground. Finally, Mike was forced to dismount and ground tie the animal, before
he continued on foot.
the coil of rope he’d hung on Paint’s saddle. Mike approached the distressed
calf quietly. The calf kept its attention on something close to the river’s
edge, so Mike managed to get in close to the animal. Moving quickly he placed
the loop around the animal’s neck, and pulled it tight setting it in place.
Only then did he look in the direction that had claimed the calf’s attention.
“No wonder you’re so bothered,” he said,
speaking aloud his thoughts to the young animal. “ Don’t you worry none,
I’ll get your momma out.” This last was said with more confidence than he
felt, as he looked at the struggling heifer. It’s
hindquarters looked to be sunk in the river itself, just short of the main flow
Tugging firmly on the rope, Mike led the
reluctant calf away, speaking soft reassurances as he did so. Eventually, he got
the small animal off the muddy patch and onto the relatively dryer high ground.
Once there he took a shorter rope and used it to tether the calf to a tree. He
would need his lasso for the next job of rescuing the mother.
This time he knew he would need help. No matter what Paint
thought about it, the pony was going to have to cross the semi-flooded
pastureland. Mike grabbed the reigns on his reluctant pony and hauled it along
behind him as he moved cautiously towards the heifer that was fighting to get
out of the eddying water and onto safer ground. He could see the animal was
suffering from the effects of fighting the cold current, as its struggles became
“It’s all right girl, I’ll soon have you
out.” He mimicked the way he had seen his two guardians speak to panicked
animals, trying to soothe their fear. Whether by shear luck or skill he didn’t
know, but he managed to throw the rope around the animal’s head. He tied the
other end of the rope to his saddle horn and mounted Paint.
Steadily he urged the small pony to pull
backwards, encouraging the heifer slowly up, out of the water and onto the boggy
ground. Finally the animal seemed to realize she could find purchase for her
feet and began to move herself forward as well. Exuberant at his
success, Mike jumped from his horse and ran to the cow. He
removed his lasso and urged the animal forward. At first she was reluctant to
move, but Mike started pushing her from behind and once she heard the lowing of
her offspring she found new strength.
The young boy was totally unprepared for what
happened next. Suddenly the cow surged forward, kicking back with her hind legs
to gain purchase. One of her hooves caught Mike on his thigh, sending him flying
backwards. Trying and failing to regain his footing, Mike found himself sliding
down the muddy bank into the freezing waters. He grabbed frantically at branches
that overhung the bank, seeking a lifeline. He was a strong swimmer, but knew he wouldn’t stand a
chance against the swirling, rain swollen river if he were carried away from the
relatively calmer waters of the run off.
On his third attempt he succeeded on getting a
good grip on a strong branch and held himself there, but he was unable to gain
footing. The slick mud in the run off allowed him no ground and the more he
struggled, the more the mud shifted beneath his feet, threatening to send him
out into the dangerous currents of the main river.
The seriousness of his situation began to
register on the plucky boy, and he realized he was going to need help to get out
of the water. He reasoned that Slim and Jess would be along soon, and although
he knew he would be in a lot of trouble for his escapade, he knew the two men
would soon have him safe on dry land.
It seemed to the young the young boy that he had
been holding on for an eternity but in fact it was only a few minutes. His
body had begun to rapidlylose heat in the icy waters and his limbs where becoming numb. As
hard as he tried, he couldn’t prevent his weakening grip from slipping on his
He recognized that somehow he had to secure
himself to the branch, so that when his grip failed, he would not be swept away.
Releasing one hand, he fumbled with his belt buckle. Finally managing to undo
it, he pulled it free of the first trouser loop and threaded it around the
branch, fastening it back through the buckle again. Now, even if he lost his
hold, he figured he should remain safely held by the belt.
Mike knew that his two ‘uncles’ must have
been coming soon. The trail they had taken to the river led directly here, and
it was the logical place to start their search for strays caught by the floods.
He could only hope they wouldn’t decide to stay at the campsite and start
afresh in the morning.
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