Idaho fairytale bride ro.., p.5

Idaho Fairytale Bride (Rocky Mountain Romances Book 2), page 5

 

Idaho Fairytale Bride (Rocky Mountain Romances Book 2)
 


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  Maybe the others had already found him. The eerie dark made her think of excuses of why she should return to the house. Right away. But she knew better.

  Next, she checked the outhouse, but no one was in it. She even shined the lantern down the hole in case he’d fallen in. Luckily, no.

  She checked the root cellar, as creepy as that was. This time it was the spiders that glared at her. With a slam of the door, she beat a hasty retreat.

  On her way out she ran smack dab into someone. She screamed. The other person screamed.

  “Mama!” When she got her breath, she started laughing at her own foolishness, as did Edith.

  “You scared the daylights out of me,” Edith scolded, but in a playful tone.

  “And me,” Grace added. “I take it you didn’t find Arthur.”

  “No, the only place left is the chicken coop and I don’t know how he could even get in there since the latch is quite high.”

  She saw a lantern bobbing toward them.

  “It’s me,” Morgan called. “What’s all the screeching about. Did you find the boy?”

  “No,” Moriah answered. “I’m checking the chicken coop next. Want to go with me?”

  “I do. We’ve got to find that boy. If he’s not there, I’ll saddle up one of the team horses and search the creek banks.”

  “And I’ll look everywhere a second time,” Grace said.

  “You might want to stick close to the barn just in case he comes back.”

  Edith and Grace went on their way and Morgan walked with Moriah to the coop.

  “The latch is high because I used to have a donkey that would let all the chickens out,” Moriah explained and she stretched up to unlock the door. “We just never got around to lowering it after Merryweather died.”

  “Merryweather?”

  “I named her after one of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty.” That little fact embarrassed her now, but when she was little, she loved fairytales best of all. In her mind, she was the princess, all her animals were her fairy godmothers, and no fairytale would be complete without a handsome prince. But she was done with that foolishness now.

  And becoming more and more desperate to find Arthur.

  “I’ll search the creek within a few miles both upstream and downstream from here,” Morgan said. “And at first light, you fetch the marshal and see if he can find some men to help out.”

  “All right, but I hope it won’t come to that. The hens are to the right—we strung chicken wire so don’t worry about them escaping. The grain and straw is on the left.” She opened the door quietly so as to not wake the chickens. Or Wilbur, for he was the noisiest one of all.

  What she saw when the lantern lighted up the straw in the corner could’ve knocked her over with a feather.

  Prince lay sleeping—Arthur and Wilbur slept cuddled up to the dog.

  Morgan stepped across the coop and gently shook the boy. Wilbur honked and Morgan startled.

  Arthur sat up wide-eyed, then blinked a few times and rubbed them with his fists. “Is it morning yet?”

  “No, it’s the middle of the night. You need to come to bed—your grandma’s worried sick about you.”

  “But I have to sleep here.”

  “No, you don’t.”

  “Uh huh,” Arthur said, nodding vigorously. “Wilbur and Prince are best friends, and Grandma said Wilbur couldn’t sleep in my room for he’d make a mess. So we had to come out here.” He lay back down on Prince, who’d opened one eye, and Wilbur piled on top of Arthur and snuggled in. Arthur stroked the feathers on his back. “We’re tired.”

  “How about we muck one of the stalls and make a bed for you three there?” Moriah suggested once she caught her breath for the absurdity of it all. She turned to Morgan. “Do you think Grace would agree to that?’

  “She’d likely agree to most anything right now—she’s in a state.” He bent over and picked up Arthur. “It’s late. Let’s go back to the barn.”

  Arthur sleepily nestled his head on his grandpa’s shoulder. “With Prince and Wilbur?”

  Morgan rubbed his grandson’s back. “Yep, Wilbur can come, too.”

  Moriah wanted to hug the little boy, too, but she hung back. Arthur was Morgan’s blood, not hers. She would never have the joy of giving comfort to her own child or grandchild.

  * * *

  Tex woke before first light, dressed, took care of the horses, built the fire, and had coffee on to boil before he tried to wake his younger brother, who slept in a ball with his covers over his head. Since Jeff had slept through the racket, it’d take some doing to get the kid out of bed.

  “Daylight’s wasting.” Tex pulled the covers off Jeff. “We’ve got to eat and get in the saddle.”

  “Mmm.” Jeff rolled over and curled into a ball again.

  “Get up. Next call will have a bucket of ice-cold creek water to go with it.”

  “You wouldn’t do that.”

  “If I were you, I wouldn’t test that.” Tex held up the canteen he’d just filled.

  “All right, all right.” Jeff stood and scrubbed the sleep from his eyes. He scanned the horizon, took a deep breath, and grinned. “This is the life. No wonder you left home. I barely remember that. You leaving us, I mean.”

  “I did hate to leave the family, but had ants in my pants.” Tex remembered those days—being so sure he was a man ready to take on the world, but only if everything went his way. Which it seldom ever did. “But at your age, all I wanted to do was leave the carpentry shop behind and herd cows from Texas to Montana, which is what I did the minute I graduated from tenth grade.”

  “I’ll bet that was fun, riding trail.”

  “At first.” He held up the coffee pot. “Want some?”

  “Sure.”

  “But friends were killed in river crossings, one died of a rattlesnake bite, and then trail bosses often hollered at everyone for something one man did wrong—and that’s after you put in a twenty-hour day with only a bowl of beans and a couple cups of coffee. It got dreadful old after a while.”

  “That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

  “Sometimes it was. Sometimes it was downright exciting. But the biggest share of the time it was boring hard work.” Tex poured Jeff’s coffee. “I’m slow, though. It took me ten years to figure out that what makes a man is dealing with life’s blows in an honest and productive way—the way that builds family and community.”

  “You’re sounding like Pa,” Jeff said, he expression sour.

  “I know—he told me the same things he tells you.”

  “But you don’t plan to work in the carpentry shop, do you? Isn’t that why you bought the Jensen ranch?”

  “I plan to help out however much Pa needs it and run the ranch, too.”

  “You eyeballing Miss Jensen?”

  Tex grinned, then picked up a stick and stirred the fire just for something to do. “She’s not hard to look at.”

  “She’s looking back, too.”

  “With darts for glares most times.”

  “That’s when you’re looking at her, not when you’re busy and she’s sneaking a peek on the sly.” Jeff stuffed half of a cold biscuit in his mouth.

  Tex stood and refilled each of their cups, then used the rest of the coffee to douse the campfire. “Let’s get a move on. Those horses aren’t going to wait all day.”

  Half an hour later, they’d packed up and were on the trail.

  “I think you should marry Miss Jensen,” Jeff said out of the blue.

  “How did you come up with that crazy notion?” Tex wouldn’t let on to his little brother—or utter a peep to any other single soul—that he’d thought the same thing.

  Jeff rode close to him and pointed to the horizon on his left.

  Horses. Lots of them.

  Chapter 8

  Tex and his brother rode past several large piles of horse manure on the way to higher ground. He pointed at the stud piles and quietly told Jeff, “Those mark the band’s territory. This i
s their home.”

  The closer he and Jeff got, the better he could see the individual horses and their markings. One of them was definitely Compass—her distinct paint markings stood out easily—which eased Tex’s mind greatly. But he also noticed that the lead mare wasn’t at all happy with the new edition to the harem. She, with her yearling foal alongside, chased Compass away from the best grass, sometimes even nipping her.

  He took off his hat to feel the breeze on his forehead—making sure they were upwind, for the breeze was so light he was hard pressed to tell, but the wild horses certainly would notice their scent. The weather couldn’t have been better what with the sunny but cool morning. Their horses would get quite a workout even if his plan went well. Cool air would make it a lot easier on them all.

  “Remember,” Tex whispered to Jeff, “watch for my hand signals.”

  Jeff scowled as if he were an old hand at rounding up horses. “You told me that three times already.”

  “Just a nod would’ve been better. Remember that.”

  This time Jeff did nod, and the scowl eased into a look of anticipation. Tex felt the excitement, too, nodded back, and then untied his rope from the saddle strings and made a loop. He signaled for Jeff to get into position and waited for him to ride to the next bluff over.

  When the lead mare drove Compass to the edge of the herd, Tex waved to Jeff with his ropes, then dug his heels into his horse’s ribs. He hoped Jeff noticed and would do the same.

  The chase didn’t amount to much because once Compass saw them, she ran toward them. Tex knew that all he’d have to do is lead her away. But he also saw a two-year-old buckskin colt being harassed by senior members of the band.

  Tex haltered Compass, attached the lead rope, and handed it to Jeff. In a low whisper, he said, “Take her over behind those boulders and wait for me.”

  Once Jeff had gotten Compass away from the herd and hidden, Tex rode behind a large juniper and waited for the colt to try to make up with the stallion—he knew the old man of the herd would drive the young fellow off. It didn’t take long, for the stallion had little patience. He unwittingly drove him right toward Tex. He rode toward the colt, twirling the lasso over his head and when he got within throwing distance he made the toss.

  Perfect. As the loop settled over the colt’s ears and onto his neck, the buckskin took off pulling the rope tight around his neck. Tex dallied and spurred Dancer, who galloped full out to keep up so as not to let the noose tighten too much. The rope needed to be just tight enough to limit the buckskin’s air so he’d tire easily, but not tight enough to harm him in any way. The colt had excellent conformation and if he took to training well, he’d be a great riding horse. Eventually Arthur could have him, so he could name him. Too bad he’d already named his own horse Dancer.

  Could that buckskin ever go, but Dancer kept up even though he carried a two-hundred-pound man. What a ride! The strong colt ran for miles over hills, across streams, and occasionally getting the rope tangled in a bush. Tex always managed to yank the rope clear, though, and the race went on. The buckskin did everything he could to get away but Tex was determined to take him home.

  The colt snorted and Dancer started to lather. Tex would have to let the young mustang go if he didn’t give up soon, lest Tex’s own horse be harmed. Just about the time he’d decided to let the colt loose, he stopped.

  Tex rode closer, keeping the rope taut, then when he was beside the winded mustang, wrapped the rope around his nose and over his head as a makeshift hackamore. Then he loosened the loop around the colt’s neck to give him room to breathe deeply. That would be dangerous because the mustang would likely fight the hackamore, but Tex dallied and nudged Dancer to walk slowly back toward Jeff.

  It had been a very tiring morning and it wasn’t even breakfast time yet.

  * * *

  Moriah got up early to collect the eggs and feed the pigs before she got ready for school. While she did her chores, Edith milked the cow and Grace fixed breakfast. Moriah had to admit that having help in the mornings was nice, especially on school days.

  But keeping busy today did help keep her mind off Compass. That Tex hadn’t returned last evening concerned her greatly—and not just because of her mare. She had no idea whether Tex knew how to survive in the Owyhees, which had claimed many experienced mountain men. It was a harsh, dry land, and beautiful to those who grew up there but outsiders often had a hard time appreciating its grandeur.

  As she walked through the barnyard on her way back to the house from the chicken coop, Arthur ran out of the barn while Wilbur waddled and flapped on one side. Prince, his tail wagging his tail, trotted on the other.

  “Good morning, Arthur,” she called. Arthur had been correct last night, for Wilbur and Prince now seemed inseparable. Moriah wondered how long the arrangements would last, though. The three of them sleeping in the barn was one thing, but she doubted Grace would be overly excited about having a goose and a dog sleeping in her house.

  “Good morning, Miss Jensen. It’s a school day, right?”

  “Yes, get your things ready. Your grandpa is going to hitch up the wagon for us. Jeff’s not back yet so he won’t be going today—just you and me.”

  “Pa ain’t back yet?”

  “Isn’t,” she corrected. “And no, he’s not.” She did worry some—all night, in fact—that they wouldn’t find Compass, or maybe they got hurt or lost. Tex hadn’t ridden the range here and didn’t know the lay of the land. “I’m sure your pa and uncle will be back before the day is done, so get ready for school like you always do. Your grandma probably has breakfast just about ready so don’t dawdle.”

  Wilbur honked, and sure enough, a rider was approaching—not that she could see who it was, but the horse kicked up a lot of dust. One thing about dry country, she always knew if someone was coming.

  Edith came out of the barn with a bucket of milk.

  Moriah pointed down the lane. “Are you expecting someone?”

  “No, other than I’d hoped Tex and Jeff would be back by now.”

  “Since they had to camp, I’m sure it’ll take them more time,” Moriah said, mostly so Arthur wouldn’t be worried.

  The rider turned out to be Daisy Richards, who looked a mite green around the edges.

  “I thought I felt better, but after Gal trotted about a half a mile, I felt ill again.” Moriah helped her off the sidesaddle, which indicated that Daisy was truly sick, for she never let anyone help her on or off her horse.

  Edith smiled. “I think you need a little rest. You say you felt better?”

  “Right as rain all afternoon and evening, not as well when I got up, and definitely not when I was riding. Maybe I should’ve stayed home.”

  Moriah took her friend by the arm, although she still held a bucket of eggs with the other hand. “You come on in the house and sit a spell. We’ll fuss over you, and if you don’t feel like riding, you can go to town with us. I’m driving the wagon today.”

  “You are? Why?”

  “Because a mustang stallion stole Compass yesterday.”

  “Yep,” Arthur said, “and my pa is rescuing her!”

  Moriah smiled as they walked toward the house. “Recovering her is more like it. I’m hoping she doesn’t need rescued.”

  “Well, if she does, Pa’ll do it. My pa can do anything.”

  “I’m sure he can.”

  Daisy held her hand to her throat. “I, uh, need to go to the outhouse.”

  Edith took the bucket of eggs from Moriah. “You take Daisy. I’ll bring some damp cloths.” To Arthur, she said, “Come with me, but that goose can’t come on my porch.”

  “Maybe I best eat breakfast outside, then.”

  “We’ll see what your grandma says.”

  Grace’s opinion on the matter put Arthur in a sour mood, but Moriah had to agree.

  “No, Arthur. You need to eat a solid breakfast, for you never know what the rest of the day may bring. I’ve seen Prince snatch food right out of you
r hands and I wouldn’t put the same behavior over Wilbur, either. You’re eating with us in the kitchen. Now go wash.”

  “But I washed my hands.” Arthur held them up. Moriah refrained from laughing.

  Grace cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. “I see that. I also see water streaks running down your arms.”

  “Aw,” he whined as he turned around and trudged toward the pump as if washing were a death sentence.

  “And scrub your neck, too,” Grace called. She shook her head in resignation. “There’s never been a boy born that could wash up right the first time. Not Charles or Jeff, for sure.”

  Moriah always had to think a moment about who Charles was—Tex’s rightful name. Only Grace called him that, as did Morgan on rare occasion.

  Daisy took off in nearly a run to the outhouse and Moriah followed.

  “I hope you don’t have the flu, Daisy.”

  The door slammed and Moriah heard her heaving. Edith ambled over, smiling.

  “She’s sick, Mama. That’s nothing to smile about.”

  “Her kind is. She better see Doc Mabry next time he comes to town.”

  “You mean...”

  “I’d be willing to bet on it.”

  Once Daisy felt better, the three of them went in the house where Grace was dishing up breakfast and Morgan sat at the table. Lily sat on the floor by his chair, flicking her tail impatiently as she waited for him to drop her a morsel.

  “Sorry, I can’t deal with the smell of bacon.” Daisy cupped her hand over her mouth and dashed out the door.

  Edith caught Moriah’s gaze. “Very willing to bet on it.”

  Moriah felt a brief pang of jealousy but immediately quashed it. She’d chosen her own path and she’d stick to it. Having babies was for other women, not her.

  “Morgan,” Grace said, “you better go help Daisy onto the wagon. She’ll need the softest seat.” She handed him a bucket and a wet cloth. “She’ll need this.”

  He studied the bucket a moment. “Ah, I see.” He took it and followed Daisy out.

  Concerned as Moriah was about Daisy, she became more and more uneasy about Compass’s return—and of course she was anxious for Tex. And Jeff. Arthur hadn’t come to the house yet, and she couldn’t resist voicing her concerns to Grace.

 
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