I've been a little more busy than I like over the past few months and expected a slight slow down in the fuel distribution business this spring, which has transpired. However, even though I'm home a little bit earlier these past few days, now there are all those things to do around here that where not done when there was several feet of snow on the ground.
So here is the first instalment of "The Yearlings" which I originally constructed in 2005 and is the sole property of David M. McGowan.
By D.M. McGowan
The horse and rider came through the deep cut in the hill, following the trail of the yearling steers. It wasn't a difficult task, the cloven hooves having left a well-marked path in the late-season, crystallized snow. The tracker slowed, partly to try to hear any sounds the cattle might be making, and partly because each step took them farther from the safetly of home. It didn't help that night was closing in fast.
The rider wore an old pair of coveralls, the cuffs of which were turned up and held in place by the mukluk laces tied around them. The coat was of heavy, brown wool that had become dark and shiny over the years. The outfit was topped off by an old, round-top hat, the brim of which had long since given up any resistance to the yearly attacks of sun and wind. Under the hat a bandana was tied around under the jaw to protect the ears, for although the sun had been warm, the breeze had been crisp and had turned to chilling cold with the coming dark. The barrel of a '73 Winchester carbine was nestled in the crook of an elbow, a homemade rawhide sling hanging under it. There was no saddle on the horse, but rather an old wool blanket folded to make a riding pad. From a distance it was impossible to tell that the rider was not a teenage boy but a woman.
She felt the horse, Ben, stop in mid stride and grunt. Almost at the same instant she heard the shot. Ben began to shudder and she jumped to her right - toward the closest cover - landing on a wall of young, fozen willow branches.
Looking back through the willows she saw Ben fall, breathe leaving him in an explosion. As he fell the blanket slid from his back and fell near the willows. She reached out and drew it toward her then rolled on through the willows to land in the icy snow.
She heard voices just close enough to understand in the crisp evening air.
"Dang it, Rolley, yuh done killed him! I come t' hep with a few cows. Didn't plan on no killin'."
"Shut up," a second voice responded.
Janet looked for a way out. Back down the draw a few young poplar had formed the beginnings of a grove which would probably not survive the next heavy spring run-off. Up hill from these young trees stood a few spruce.
With the willows screening her from her attackers she walked slowly to the poplars, trying not to make any noise in the wet snow. When she reached the first sapling she swung the rifle over her shoulder by the leather strap then stuffed the folded blanket between stock and makeshift sling. She shinnied a few feet up the limbless trunk then looked over her shoulder to see if she might be visible from where she had heard the voices. Reassured, she climbed a few more feet until the young tree began to bend. Reaching out with one hand she grasped the limb of the next tree and drew it toward her. Going from tree to tree in this manner she came to the edge of the grove and slid back to the ground fifty feet from where she started. It wouldn't hide her trail forever, but it should - with the help of dark - give her a good lead.
She paused before turning up the slope, attempting to hear something more from her ambushers. Hearing nothing she started up toward the spruce trees. Near the top of the slope she stopped again and listened. By then it was fully dark.
"Ain't nobody here" the first voice observed. "Yuh done killed a horse."
"I told you t' shut up!" the second voice responded.
Janet Kingsley continued over the ridge and into the next gully. This wash was much less steep than the one she had just left and, with the bottom filled with brush, she stayed on the slope and turned to her right, heading back down toward the ranch.
She had gone only a short distance when her heart rate began to slow and she began to think. She wondered what the rustlers would do. It wouldn't be difficult for them to figure out that she would want to back home. Would they ride down the trail and attempt to cut her off?
It would be easy, she decided, for them to outdistance her and wait for her where the draws all met and came out of the hills. In the dark she could easily blunder into them. That is, if they managed to shut up as ordered.