|Western Fiction posted March 25, 2009||Chapters:||...5 6 -7- 8...|
Tea objects to Clay Slade's plans to lynch him.
A chapter in the book THE TOUGH BREED
Note: The Prologue is a guide for this story. These are my author's notes that I am sharing with the reader.
The Peralt Land scandal led to violence pitting settlers against new arrivals that had fallen for the farce.
The Colonel invited Leland into his office after breakfast. “What are your plans for today?”
“We have a few more days of work here in the lowlands. I thought I would check the highlands for any steers that didn't come down.”
“Would you mind taking Mr. McKenzie with you and showing him around?”
Leland had the feeling there was more behind the request. I wonder if the boss has heard about my trouble with the Circle C. Panhandle wouldn’t say anything to him, but he might have mentioned it to someone else who told the Colonel. He felt trapped. He never thought to argue with the man who had been like a father to him. “No, sir, but I planned to be gone for a couple of days.”
“He needs to get back into the saddle. A couple days of riding would do him good.”
“What about weapons? He only has a rifle with him.”
“We can furnish him a hand gun if he wants one, but I don't think he would accept it.”
Leland nodded his head and stood. “I'd best go get some supplies from Cookie. I’ll meet him outside.” He looked at the Colonel. “Is there anything else?”
K.D. shook his head. “I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
When Leland arrived at the corral, carrying a bag of supplies, Tea had Thunder saddled and was visiting with Cindy in Sidewinder’s corral. The foreman was surprised that Thunder was ignoring his owner. He went to a third corral and roped his mount. A few minutes later, he was ready. He tied his horse several feet from Thunder and walked over to Sidewinder’s corral. “Anytime you are ready,” he called out to Tea.
Tea said a few words to Cindy who nodded and petted the horse before following Tea out of the corral.
She walked over to Leland and lightly kissed him. “Be careful. Father would be upset if his guest was injured.”
Leland put his arms around Cindy and returned her kiss with a little more enthusiasm. “What if I got injured?”
She gave him a mischievous grin. “You can be replaced. Father only has one guest.”
“Don’t you get any ideas while I’m gone,” Leland punctuated his comment with another kiss, went to his horse and mounted.
Cindy, excited over her chance to work with Sidewinder alone, stepped between the corral’s bars. “Then you'd best come back healthy.”
Tea chuckled at the interplay between the two and mounted. As he and Leland rode away, he looked at the young man. “That filly needs to be branded.”
“So I’ve heard.” Leland’s mood darkened. First Panhandle, now Tea was talking about Cindy and marriage. I’ll put my brand on her when we get back. It’s time I asked the Colonel for her hand.
The first part of the morning was spent getting to the high country. Tea was lost in his own thoughts and did not mind Leland’s silent brooding. He followed the young foreman as he checked each canyon and ravine.
A few times the two men discovered small bands of cattle. They would herd them onto the trail leading to the low country and started them on their way.
In mid-afternoon, they began finding Circle C cattle with K-Bar cattle. They left the Circle C cattle alone and herded the K-Bar cattle to the trail.
It was nearing sunset when Leland led the way up a slight incline. He stopped at the top and pointed the way they had ridden. “The Colonel has over fifty thousand acres deeded land and access to over a hundred thousand acres of free range. That creek, down there, divides our land from the Circle C.”
Tea looked at the small creek and judged it to be three miles away as the crow flies. “I can see why Ken is in an uproar over Peralta. There is plenty of water and grass. That creek looks like it flows all year round.”
“It crosses the K-Bar, a few miles south of the ranch house,” Leland said. It did not escape him that Tea had referred to the Colonel by his Christian name. He turned his horse to lead them to a nearby campsite.
The next morning, Tea and Leland continued their search. About mid-morning, they came across fifty head of Circle C cattle in a small canyon. There were no K-Bar cattle mixed in.
“Circle C is trying to take over our range,” Leland said, angrily.
Tea rode toward the small pond of water. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say this is a rustler’s camp.” He pointed to an old campfire with a running iron in it.
“Those bastards are trying to make it look like K-Bar is rustling their cattle!” Leland's anger was getting the best of him.
“I would agree with you about that, but think about it.” Tea spoke in a calm voice.
Leland looked at Tea. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t you think it was odd to run into Circle C’s crew yesterday when you were herding their cattle?”
“I was driving them back to the Circle C’s property line.” Leland said heatedly. Now, he knew someone had told the Colonel. I’m going to have a word with Pecos and find out who might be talking to the Colonel. Panhandle might have told one of the other cowhands. I’ll question him, too.
Tea pointed toward a steer. “Why would someone do a poor job of changing a brand?”
Leland saw a poorly shaped “K” covering part of the Circle C brand.
A horse whinnied as a group of Circle C riders rode into the canyon. Clay Slade blocked the entrance with a dozen Circle C cowhands.
Tea calmly rode toward him.
“It looks like we caught our rustler and his partner,” Slade laughed.
Tea continued to ride toward the Circle C group. “You boys are off your range.”
“It looks like we caught you bastards red-handed.”
Tea was within fifteen feet of Clay when he whistled.
Thunder went into a gallop and Tea rolled off the back of him and landed standing up, with his Winchester in hand.
Thunder crashed into the Circle C riders, startling their mounts.
Clay was unseated by Thunder’s attack and landed hard on the ground. Several Circle C’s cowhands joined him.
Leland saw Tea with his rifle in hand and drew his own.
Tea whistled again and Thunder came to him. Tea fired a shot into the air and jacked another shell into the chamber. He pointed his rifle at Slade who was getting up. “You’re the first casualty if there’s any fireworks.”
One of the cowhands on the ground reached for his pistol.
Leland placed a shot near the cowhand’s foot. “The next one will be in your gut.”
The cowhand moved his hand away from his gun.
“Leland, why don’t you relieve them of their firearms before someone gets hurt?” The sights of Tea’s rifle never left Clay. “You can start with their boss man.”
The Circle C’s horses settled down and went to grazing.
It took Leland a few minutes to gather the handguns. He pointed to a boulder-riddled area. “You boys set down on the ground over there. If any of you have a hideout gun, you’re dead.”
Two cowhands turned their smaller guns over to him.
When Leland was finished gathering the rifles and checking the saddlebags for extra firearms, he looked at Tea.
“Grab a saddlebag and empty the ammo into it. Give the guns back to them. Don’t worry about having the right gun in the right holster when you’re finished.”
He nodded at Tea and quickly unloaded the guns and used one of the cowhands’ saddlebags. When Leland was done, Tea had another command, “Rope the horses together. Make sure you leave two horses free and make sure loudmouth’s horse is one of them.”
Leland finished his latest chore and smiled at Tea.
“One last job,” Tea said in a casual voice, “Pick out a cowhand and take the bullets from his gun belt. Do the same thing to loud mouth.”
When Leland finished, Tea slipped a few shells into his Winchester.
The foreman topped his rifle off and made a point of loading the sixth chamber of his forty-five.
Tea looked at Clay and the cowhand that Leland had picked. It didn't escape his attention that it was the one the young foreman had fired at.
“You two will take the lead and herd the cattle back to your range.” Tea looked at all of the mounted Circle C cowboys. “Try anything and you will be walking back to the Circle C without your boots and with your hands tied behind your back.”
It was late afternoon when a Circle C cowboy called for Jake Barker, the owner. Soon the ranch yard was filled with cowhands, including Coffee Joe. Jake Barker Jr. and the twins were standing with their father. Coffee Joe also, was near the owner.
Barker’s face turned purple when he noticed that his men still had their guns. “What is the meaning of this?”
Tea, with his rifle in its scabbard, stopped in front of Coffee. He ignored Barker. “Did you know about the Circle C cattle being moved onto K-Bar’s range?”
“I’m not a cowhand.” Coffee slipped the leather loop off the hammer of his forty-five. He looked at the men behind Tea. “Looks like you’ve been pulling teeth, again. A gun is virtually useless without bullets. I’ll bet you aren’t carrying.”
“You’re right.” Tea reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a letter and offered it to Joe. “It’s from Rachel and it’s sealed. She wrote it before she died.”
Coffee walked over and retrieved the letter. He looked at it before he put it in his hip pocket. “You were lucky the last time.”
“No, you were drunk. Your bullet missed. Mine didn’t.”
“I’ll be sober this time.”
“You can give me your answer this Saturday night at Pete’s. If you still want guns, I’ll accommodate you.”
“Who are you to treat my men this way?” Barker glared at Tea.
“Those men came onto K-Bar range with lynching on their minds. Did you send them?” Tea directed his question to the owner of the Circle C.”
"What business is it of yours?”
“I take it personally when it’s my neck being measured for a noose and I don’t like it when someone tries to frame a friend of mine.” He nodded toward Leland.
“That bastard pistol-whipped my boys!”
“You’re a damn liar!” Leland exclaimed. “I whipped them fair and square!”
“Maybe you can whip me fair and square,” Jake Jr. stepped forward.
Everyone turned toward him.
Barker smiled at his oldest son. “Right here and now?”
“Right here and now, Pa, unless he’s afraid to fight me.”
Tea looked at Coffee. “Your word that no one will interfere.”
“You have my word,” Barker exclaimed.
“Insult intended, I want the word of a Westerner, not an Easterner,” Tea said, bluntly.
“No one will interfere,” Coffee replied.
Tea looked over toward Leland who nodded. “Leave your gun belt on the saddle horn.” Tea smiled, “Remember who’s waiting for you.”
Jr. handed his gun belt to one of the twins and his coat to the other. He took the classic stance of a bare knuckle fighter.
A minute later, Leland was flat on his back with a bloody lip.
Jake Jr., with a smile of contempt, waited for him to get up.
The fight went young Barker’s way until Tea looked at Leland laying on the ground for the tenth time. “The Marquis of Queensberry ain’t refereeing here. Fight your style.”
Jr., with his muscular body, outweighed Leland and waited for him to get up.
The foreman started to get to his feet, but instead of straightening up, he ran straight at his adversary and tackled him. Leland sat on the larger man’s chest. His fists went to work: several blows later, young Barker lost consciousness.
Leland got up and staggered toward his horse.
“Do you want to try him, Mr. Barker? Tea asked, sarcastically. He took Leland’s gun belt and hung it on his saddle horn.
“Get off my property!”
Tea looked at Coffee, “See you Saturday night.” He and Leland turned their horses and started for home.
“Pull that gun and you’ll regret it!”
Tea didn’t bother to turn around as Coffee issued his warning to someone.
That night, Leland’s place at the table was empty.
Tea’s explained to Cindy, “He tired himself out trying to keep me out of trouble.”
He claimed to have acquired an old Spanish Land Grant giving him the rights to twelve million acres in Arizona and New Mexico Territories, the size of New Jersey.
He was a master forger and enhanced his claim with very good forged documents and by training a young Mexican maiden claiming she was a direct heir to the Peralta Land Grant. He married the young girl, giving him a stronger claim. The farce lasted for twelve years and he made several millions of dollars by cheating rail roads, mines and individuals. The twelve year farce was revealed in the Santa Fe Territorial Court. The Baron of Arizona spent a short time in jail for his duplicity. He was a true Arizona Legend.
NOTE: Coffin Joe and Coffee refers to the same person.
NOTE 2: I am referring to the animals in this story by using "it" and the personal pronouns. The first when the speaker does not give human traits to the animal and the latter when the speaker does.
Note: Marquis Of Queensberry is the English form of writing the Frenchman's name.
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