Fire Down the Valley Ch. 01

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[This is a completed six-chapter novella that will finish posting by the end of February, 2020.]

“Don’t worry about that shed, Pa,” Cal said. “I’ve already talked to them up at Milo Mather’s mill, and they should deliver lumber for a new shed sometime while I’m gone.”

“Lumber? While you’re gone?” Old Henry answered. He was sitting on the front porch of the house, rocking, and pulling on his pipe. He’d already put in eight hours on the garden behind the collapsed shed and the sun wasn’t far beyond its zenith yet.

“Remember, Pa? I told you about it yesterday. They got word to me from down in Hayden that a couple of more buildings were being put up. They need my help. It will mean cash enough to pay for the lumber from the mill.”

“Regular boom town they got for themselves down in Hayden, I reckon,” Henry said.

“Yes, Pa. A regular boom town.” They, in fact, were always putting up more buildings in Hayden. It wouldn’t be long before they’d talk about making a town of it. It had started to take off as soon as they decided to put that road to the West, going over the mountains from Denver, right through the center of the settlement. They were talking of trying to get the town incorporated for the centennial of American independence, but that was only two years off, and Cal couldn’t see any Colorado politician down in Denver moving that fast for anyone on the west side of the Rockies divide.

It wasn’t really construction Cal was going down the valley, across the Yampa River, and into Hayden to do, but he’d be getting the money they needed to pay for the lumber, and his foster father never needed to know how he’d gotten it. He knew he wouldn’t be more than a couple of miles away from the spread before Henry forgot he’d even gone.

“John and Harv will take care of the sheep while I’m gone. I’ve already talked with them—and they’ll help us raise that shed when I get back. I should be gone two weeks, maybe a couple of days more if they need me longer in Hayden. And you stay near the house, you hear? Don’t be going to that section you’ve fenced and are trying to farm while no one else is here to go with you.”

“Hayden. Quite a boom town they got going for them down in Hayden,” Henry said, stopping to take a couple of puffs on his pipe. It was like he hadn’t even heard Cal’s admonishment. “Used to be that up at Slater was where we’d go for excitement, but now it looks like it’s Hayden—since they put that road through.”

Excitement, Cal thought. Yes, it was excitement of a sort that was taking him down to Hayden. He was afraid it wouldn’t be that long before they’d have all the excitement around here that they could handle, though. He could smell it in the air. The danger. Ever since they’d passed that law back East in Washington that settlers could fence their land, you could feel the tension in the air. Something just waiting to happen. Having the sheep people move in—people like Cal’s foster parents—had raised the tension, what with the cattlemen claiming the sheep ruined the pastures by close cropping and slowly being pushed out of valleys like this in search of better grasslands. Now folks could fence their land and farm it too. Even Old Henry was starting to make the transition. Cal didn’t think the cattlemen would give into that without a fight. And he was afraid that fight would come before the farmers arrived, while the cattlemen could take out their ire on the sheep men.

Cal had already decided he’d leave the valley to do something else once his foster father had passed, but it looked like Old Henry’s brain was going to give out before his body did. It had come to a head over that shed. When it caved in, Cal had told Henry that it was a sign, a sign for them to sell out to a farmer, to sell the sheep, and to move down to Denver.

Old Henry had taken Cal’s hand and walked him out to that little stand of trees up on the hillside in back of the house. They’d stood there beside the graves of Cal’s foster mother and of Henry’s and her two little daughters, and Henry had said that he was going to be buried there too in the not-too-distant future, and that he wouldn’t be leaving his family as long as he had breath.

Cal had lost the question of whether the shed would be rebuilt, but it had been a bad winter. They’d lost sheep. There wasn’t any money for lumber for a new shed. That was until the tinker had passed through, coming up the valley from Hayden, headed for Slater, selling wares off his wagon. He’d been given a message from Levi Yost down in Hayden to deliver to Cal. Samuel Forster at Levi’s place in Hayden had business down in Denver for a couple of weeks and Cal was needed to temporarily take his place. He’d done this once before. The pay was something Cal couldn’t turn down, not at a time like this. So he would be going down the valley and across the Yampa to Hayden for a week or more.

The tinker had done more than that before he’d moved on. He’d given Cal a couple of dollars casino şirketleri and given him “that” look. Cal had taken him to behind the fallen-down shed, gone down to his knees to the tinker, and then, when he’d sucked the tinker to full engorged, lain down on the soft earth and opened his legs for the man. Cal was a beautiful young man who had learned how to earn extra cash to keep the family sheep ranch going.

“Guess I better be going,” he said to his foster father. “I’ll take the mule. John and Harv will need the horses to check on the sheep.”

“Be home for supper, will you?”

“I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, Pa. I’m going to Hayden for a couple of weeks. John will be fixing your suppers. You’ve always said his cooking was better than mine, so that should make you happy.”

“Be sure to say good-bye to Lizbeth and the girls.”

Cal’s eyes teared up. After two years, Henry still couldn’t talk like his wife and daughters were gone for good. He still talked to Lizbeth and included her in the day-to-day activities on the sheep farm. Cal turned and walked around the house and started up the hill to the graveyard under the trees. He would have stopped to say good-bye to her anyway, he supposed. But he sure as hell hoped she wasn’t in a position to know what he’d be doing down in Hayden.

When he came back around the side of the house with the mule, the old man was standing at the top of the porch steps. He was holding a couple of wooden dolls in tiny colorful dresses and carved horses in his hands. Cal almost teared up again. Of all the things for his foster father to remember it was to remember to carve those things. It was one of the last things Lizbeth had asked Henry to do. It was before she died but it was while she was caring for Mary and Sally in their last lying-in.

“Henry,” she’d said, “I don’t suppose the girls will need the new dresses I made for their dolls now. We’ll keep the dresses on the dolls they have; the girls will probably prefer having the familiar clothes on their dolls to take across with them. Perhaps when winter sets in you could carve another set of dolls for these dresses, and we’ll send them down to the girls at Mrs. Thornton’s. You might make something for the boys down there too.”

Mrs. Thornton was the widow woman down the valley at the schoolhouse, where she was the teacher. She’d taken in several orphan children. She’d been married to a sheep man who had run afoul of some big-time rancher at the southern mouth of the valley and been killed for trying to show spunk. Warren Savage, Cal thought the powerful cattleman’s name was.

And Cal’s foster father had remembered to carve those dolls and a few horses too. Cal wondered when he’d done that. He’d spent most of the winter just sitting at the window and looking up at the graveyard as far as Cal could remember. He must have been spending some time working the wood with his hands too, though.

“You’ll be going past the schoolhouse,” the old man spoke up from the porch. “Could you drop these off at the Mrs. Thornton’s for those orphan children?”

“Sure, Pa,” Cal answered, taking the toys from Henry’s hands. Now suddenly, the old man was lucid, Cal thought. On the way down from the graves, Cal had been thinking that he could get his foster father moved from the homestead and the old man probably wouldn’t even know it. But there were the lucid moments like this that defeated any thought of that yet.

At the front gate he turned and looked back at the house, but Henry was already back inside. Cal knew he’d be sitting at that back window already, gazing up the hillside at the graveyard.

Looking up above his head, at the cross bar above the gate opening, Cal saw the weathered chunk of wood on which he’d carefully carved the word “Paradise” when he was no more than twelve. Looking beyond that, up the length of the valley and then even higher, up the flanks of snowcapped Hahn’s Peak, his heart went zing as it always had at the first glimpse of the sun rising in Antelope Gap. Heaven. That was what his foster father had wanted to name the place they’d homesteaded. But Lizbeth thought Paradise best, and her husband gave in with an indulgent smile and without a fight, neither of which was normal for him. And so Paradise it was—at least until there was no one to argue with Henry; everyone in the valley called it Heaven now, but no one had bothered to change the sign.

It hadn’t turned out to be much of a paradise for Lizbeth or his foster sisters, Cal thought—and it sure didn’t seem much of a paradise to him either. And it sure as hell didn’t seem like heaven either. More like hell.

Before he nudged the mule to set forth down the valley, he looked up at the sign one more time, remembering. He had made it because Mrs. Thornton had said that the Cowdens would like it and that he should do something for them for taking in an eleven-year-old boy, especially one who had been raised as he had been.

Mrs. casino firmaları Thornton hadn’t been the school teacher when Cal first went there, though. That would have been Mr. McKinley, who had given Cal special attention, Cal not knowing why he got the teacher’s particular attention until, reaching eighteen, and long after Cal had been fostered, McKinley had marked Cal’s graduation from the school by inviting Cal to his home, seducing him, and fucking him on his bed in multiple positions. Cal hadn’t minded all that much. Losing his virginity to a man had freed him from all of the anxieties and confusion he’d felt about sex. He knew it was men he liked, and his teacher, in particular, before he’d lain down on his back on McKinley’s bed, spread and raised his legs for the man, and, with a resolute grimace and sensation of pain mixed with pleasure, taken the man’s shaft.

McKinley had been given notice and run out of town, to be replaced by Mrs. Thornton soon after he’d deflowered Cal, but it had been some other boy, not Cal who had precipitated that. Cal’s druthers were still a secret in the valley. It was in Hayden where he let them out—and for money.

* * * *

It was a good two hour’s hard mule ride down the dusty road to Mrs. Thornton’s place at the schoolhouse. The distance wasn’t all that far but the navigation of the rocky, mountainous terrain was arduous. When he’d been at the school, Cal had lived there during the week and only came back to the ranch on the weekends—except when he was needed at the ranch and then he just would be skipping school. The road was not much more than a trail, along the lowest point of the valley that ran down inside the Rocky Mountains, with the towering Hahn’s Peak to the east, from Slater on the Snake River that divided the Wyoming territory in the north from the brand-new state of Colorado to the south. On the western side of the valley was the high ridge, which would be thought of as mountains anywhere else in the country, with the sheep-shipping center of Craig beyond.

From the southern mouth of the valley, a good two-day’s ride from Heaven, Cal would follow the Elkhead River for half a day and then drop down due south to the Yampa River for another half day, arriving in Hayden on the southern bank of the Yampa late in the night. The Yampa would pose no problem in crossing. The snow melt had come and gone, and he figured he’d be able to ride across what little water was running in the Yampa without getting more than his boots wet.

It had been a lonely ride to Mrs. Thornton’s. Usually there’d be some traffic along the road, as this was the only track in the valley that carts could easily navigate, but on this day Cal didn’t meet a soul. The two hours alone, if he didn’t count the mule’s presence, and he didn’t, gave Cal more than enough time to carefully not think of conditions in Heaven—his foster father’s ranch—and how close the inevitable decision to leave was, not just because Henry couldn’t hang on there much longer but also because of the rumblings of the cattlemen building up to something nasty.

They had rampaged through the valley before, burning homesteads and slaughtering sheep. The sheep men had held on, but they hadn’t recovered the strength they once had had. They probably couldn’t even withstand having farmers move in and fence the land, Cal didn’t think. And more of the sheep men in the valley were, as Henry was starting to do, turning to fencing the land for farming themselves. In terms of needing an open range, the sheep men and the cattlemen were more or less of the same opinion. But whereas the sheep men would be content to coexist with cattle, the cattlemen showed no such willingness to share the land with sheep—or to tolerate fencing of the range.

Instead of worrying on the Henry and Heaven problem, Cal turned his thoughts to where he was headed today. He would be spending the night at Mrs. Thornton’s. He’d be lucky to be able to leave there the next day to continue on to Hayden. It was inevitable that she’d have this or that to fix that she and the children living with her—some students and some orphans she’d taken in—couldn’t handle. Cal couldn’t tell her no to fixing anything he could. She’d always been sweet on Cal. He didn’t know the extent of the origin of this favor she had for him—at least not until he had grown older and had understood how it normally was been men and women. By then, though, Cal had known it would only be men for him and he did nothing to encourage her interest in him in that direction. As it was, the vast differences in their ages had thus far kept her declarations of her desires in check.

Cal had been one of her orphans. She had taken him into her house before he was sent, as an older teen, to live at the schoolhouse. Although Lizbeth and Henry Cowden had been the only parents Cal could remember now—and they’d been as good as any parents could be—they weren’t Cal’s real parents. He hadn’t gone to them until he was nearly güvenilir casino twelve and Mrs. Thornton decided that some family would be willing to take him because he’d grown to be a good and sturdy worker. He’d be giving more to any family he went to than he’d be taking from them, she decided. In many respects, Mrs. Thornton had allowed, she was sorry to see Cal go. She had said she felt like he was the son she’d never had, and he had been her star pupil, her biggest success, in the home schooling she had provided her children and wards before taking up the job of school mistress herself. Not having the colloquialisms of the insular valley family engrained in him from birth, for instance, she was able to teach him to speak almost as properly as she did. In this valley that was no mean feat.

Cal had come to Mrs. Thornton at what everyone figured was the age of eight. He’d been a wild one—literally. Only Mrs. Thornton had the kindness and fortitude to take him in at the time, and he was left to her by a U.S. cavalry unit as it rode down the valley from having just helped round up and subdue the Arapaho tribes to the east beyond both Hahn’s Peak and Mount Zirkel. It had been a messy and bloody roundup, and the tribes were being force marched south to reservations in southern Colorado and also down into what was to become the Oklahoma territory.

Cal, his blue eyes and blondness identifying him obviously as not being Arapaho, was found in an Arapaho camp and otherwise was as native American as any of them. Along with a few other obviously white people, mostly women, he was separated from the tribe before it was marched off. A white woman old enough to remember who she was before being captured by the Arapaho had said that Cal had been in the camp before she arrived there and she understood that, as a baby, he’d been the sole survivor of a wagon train wiped out by the Arapaho.

It had taken all of the four years Cal had been with Mrs. Thornton for her to cajole most of the Indian out of him. She had done it with love and kindness, and although Cal still remembered his life with the Arapaho as natural and good, he had only appreciation for Mrs. Thornton’s kind reordering of his life. He felt the same about the Cowdens. There was a time when he thought of the Arapaho as his people, but there no longer was a moment that he didn’t think of Mrs. Thornton and the Cowdens as his family.

He had made no stops on his way from Heaven to the schoolhouse. Henry had suggested that he stop in and check on the widow, Hattie Anderson, who, by herself, was scratching out a mere existence with a small herd of sheep. Her small spread was on the trail between Heaven and the schoolhouse. But as he rode up to her gate, a bullet whizzed over his head, and Cal figured that Mrs. Anderson didn’t want any company. She got along fine with his foster father, but Cal was receiving the welcome that most passing by her place got, so he just rode on by, yelling out a “Good day to you, Mrs. Anderson.”

There were all kinds of folks living in this valley, he thought. He’d miss them all, even Hattie Anderson. But even if nothing exploded in the valley to change life here, Cal knew that he’d have to leave. This wasn’t the life for him. Even if folks from around here never discovered his secret.

While he was at Mrs. Thornton’s, mending a fence near the house before his breakfast the next day, Cal found out why he hadn’t encountered anyone on the road the previous day. The sound of the clattering of metal on metal made him look up to see that the tinker who had dropped him the message that he was needed in Hayden was making his return trip south on his cart from Slater. Mrs. Thornton heard him too and came out on her porch and watched Cal and the man talk briefly before the tinker moved on down the road.

“That was Mr. Gifford you were talking to,” she said as Cal sat down to his breakfast.

“Yes, it was.”

“You two were talking pretty seriously.”

“He told me why there hasn’t been traffic on the road. When he entered the valley up south of Slater, he ran into a barricade.”

“A barricade?” Mrs. Thornton put the kettle back on the stove and sat down hard in a chair at the table where Cal was sitting. A few of the children were gathered around the door into the kitchen and she shooed them off by assigning tasks for all of them to do. Giggling and shoving each other, they were off. They had gathered, really, to see Cal, who was somewhat of a hero to all of them—the former student and orphan who kept coming back to do chores for Mrs. Thornton.

“It’s the cattlemen, isn’t it?” she asked when the two of them were alone.

“Yes, Mr. Gifford was told there was a barricade at the southern end of the valley now too. They let him pass, but they took his rifle and the pistols he was peddling away from him.”

“Took his guns?” she asked with a distressed voice. Her hand went up to her mouth. Nothing was more serious out in this country than parting a man from his firearms.

“They told him that no firearms were to go into the valley. And . . .”

“And what, Cal? What could be worse than that? You’ve told me the worst now, but there’s more, isn’t there?”

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