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Rated: 18+ · Chapter · Western · #2303696
My eyes said she was as sweet as a potful of blueberry jam, but darn, she stole my horse!
The Man Who Loved Sweet Woman of the Night (Real title)


***

I rode old Danger through the blue spruce and juniper timber growing along the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado, pausing here and there to take in its beauty. Dust-covered, and worn-out by the journey from Kentucky, I was almost home . . . I was headed toward Pueblo County, Colorado with the intention of filing a claim under the United States Homestead Act.

          Old Danger was a stallion, and opinionated. Every now and again, he'd whip himself up a fish-tail and spring it on me. He had thrown me out of the saddle many a time. He was cantankerous as hell. And it was his belief, that I was.

         I'd left Kentucky six months ago with barely a hundred dollars in my pocket, and it took me three summers to accumulate that small sum.

         Other than that, I was dirt-poor.


***

It was coming on for dark, when old Danger and I neared the edge of the junipers which populated the foot of the mountains. As we walked along, I fished in my saddlebags to see if I retained any of that slab of bacon I'd bought back in Kansas.

         There was about a quarter of a pound remaining, along with two chunks of cornbread the storekeeper's wife insisted on giving me. Bless her heart.

         I pulled old Danger up next to a big, juniper tree and staked him out. The mountain brome was thin and straggly, but he could fill his stomach. There was a little stream for our thirsts running along about five yards away. There, I filled my canteen with fresh water. Dark held itself back long enough for me to gather a few wild onions and some dried juniper for my fire.

         I walked back to that sunk-in place I'd selected to spend the night in, and commenced digging in my saddlebags for my cooking utensils. "Heh-heh." They weren't anything store-bought, just an empty, quart-sized, peach tin and a spoon. I went over to the creek, cleaned my onions and filled the tin about one third of the way with water.


***

After I'd swallowed the last piece of bacon, and drank that onion soup, I settled back on my haunches and commenced making an inventory of my worldly possessions. Like I said before, I was poorer than a lump of red clay. A man can't get any tomatoes from dirt such as that.

         I unrolled my bedroll, hoping I'd at least uncover an apple or some dried peaches. But my eyes failed me, there was no dessert for a poor man. He must make do, and I did.

         There wasn't much in that bedroll. A ground cloth, a blanket and a hatchet stared up at me. The rest of the things in there, paid me no nevermind. There was my Spencer carbine, Model 1860, a flannel shirt, an extra pair of Levi's, a Taft and Mason adjustable wrench and a Bible. I kept looking, wishing for a pair of socks to be in there; I didn't want to wash the pair I had on again tonight.

         In my saddlebags were the rest of my life's accumulations. A Russell's Green River Works skinning knife, a few odds and ends, a Harris pocket telescope and a meager supply of spices resided in the bags.

         I rose to my feet, moved old Danger to another patch of grass, laid out my ground cloth and settled my head on my saddle to think a while.

         It was the last of March, and a late snow was trying to fall to the ground, without success. The ground was a little too warm. Spring was wont to hover over the remnants of winter.

          It was going to cost me eighteen dollars to own my claim. I was going to possess 160 acres of land for eighteen dollars. I'd pay a ten dollar filing fee, two dollars to the government agent for his services and six dollars to receive my patent after I'd proved up. Cheap dirt, I hoped it was fertile. Tomorrow morning, I'd ride on into the area where I wanted to stake my claim.

         I watched the fire burn out and eyed the moon a while as I thought. I was already lonesome for the smell of juniper smoke before the fire died. Then, I covered myself with the blanket and settled in for the night. Old Danger was my watchdog; he'd let me know if something untoward approached during the night.

          I woke up the next morning, and old Danger had let me down. He was gone. The rope I had staked him out with was lying in the grass, wet with dew.


***

I jumped up and had myself a careful look. After a minute or two, it was obvious. A trail had fastened itself upon the dew, a darker streak leading down the slope. The only thing was, there were two trails leading away. What?

         I ran over to my bedroll, picked up my Spencer and levered a bullet into the breech. Strictly, for self-defense. I don't meddle in other folk's lives, but old Danger was mine. I cached my saddle, rolled up the bedroll, got old Danger's bridle and commenced following those trails.

         Along the slope, a straggle of white marigolds lifted their heads as I passed by. I waved, and looked down at the tracks I was following. Old Danger's imprints were plain to see, but only once or twice did I pick out a toe or the heel of the other trail. The prints are small, likely a youngster, maybe wearing moccasins. I thought.


***

I followed those tracks all day before I came upon her. As I recall, it was along close to four o'clock when I saw old Danger, traitor that he was, standing in the shade of an oak tree. I dropped to the ground. Nothing else stirred. Presently, I bore down with my eyes, and a slither of blue-gray smoke rose near an outcrop of rock close to the oak. I got you.

         I settled down to watch. I needed to get the true lay of the land before I commenced to ride old Danger back toward my saddle. There was not much to cover a man's movement between me and the oak tree, although a stand of sagebrush stood sentinel along the approach. If I kept my hind end close to the ground, might be, I could come within spitting distance.

         There was nothing to be heard close by. A nicker from old Danger once in a while, and a scuttle of wind stirring up dust, was all I noticed. It was then I saw her . . . She came out of a small cave under a cliff overhang. Lord have mercy!

          I stared. Of a sudden, I wanted to get closer. Much closer . . . I wanted to touch her beautiful face and send my emotion to her heart through my fingertips.


         I did not want to start any kind of ruckus with her; from this distance, she appeared to be sweeter than a potful of blueberry jam. Both my heart and my lips had taken themselves a yearning to confirm that. But darn it, she stole my horse . . .

          I inched a few feet closer. My nose struck upon a patch of purple violets. On an impulse, and by the off chance they might come in handy, I picked about twenty or so. Tying their stems together with blades of grass, I stuck them in the barrel of my Spencer. I heard him curse under his breath.

          Who was I fooling? I wanted her to have those violets. If I had to, I was going to lower myself to my knees to give them to her.

         I began to wiggle toward her, using my elbows and toes. When I reached the sagebrush, I smiled. I could see her good then.

         She was small, not overly. Skin the color of the shell of a pecan rested across her features. Her lips wore the color of juniper berries. In my heart, I could taste them, both her lips and the juniper berries. I was familiar with juniper berries from the juniper trees in Kentucky. Black was her hair, and her eyes glittered with the shine of coal under a hot sun. I could not tear my eyes away . . . I did not want to.

          I laid there in the sagebrush for around half an hour, watching her roast some prickly pear. My eyes not yet sated, at last I climbed to my feet and edged in for a closer look.

         Of a sudden, old Danger nickered, and the woman's knees slightly bent as she prepared to run. My voice stayed her, "Wait!" Her eyes darted from me to old Danger, and back again. I held out the violets.

          I was hoping it was the same everywhere, that when a man gave a woman flowers, she would know what was in his heart.

         I wasn't much for a woman to look at, with light auburn hair, blue eyes, and a straw-colored beard stroking my jawline. But hope walked beside me, on a narrow rope.

         I was as pale as white, or thereabout, as I waited.

         Presently, she smiled. Reaching for the violets, she pressed then against her face, "Hmmm, hmmm."

         I nodded toward old Danger, making the motion of riding away with my fingers. Again, she smiled. I walked over, put the bridle on old Danger and mounted.

         Carrying a small, leather sack, she followed. I reached my hand down to her, she took it.

         Yehaw-w-w!

          I swung her up behind me, and urged old Danger to a walk toward her fire. Her arms wrapped around my waist. I got off old Danger long enough to put out her fire and collect her prickly pear. And hurried back to the warmth of her arms.

         My heart stirred whenever she looked at me.


***

We rode back to camp. All along the way, I was realizing that riding behind me was something more precious than 160 acres. I saddled old Danger, cleaned up the site and we headed toward the area I wanted to file on. On the way there, my Spencer and I got us a grouse for supper.

         I found us a little creek, and we set up camp close by. Taking my hatchet, I cut a few small aspens and set up a lean-to. Using the many-needled boughs of spruce trees, I wove them together, covered the sides and fashioned a roof. Inside, I covered the earth thickly with spruce needles. She made us a pit for a cooking fire close to the opening, and commenced to roast the grouse, stuffing it with wild onions and juniper berries.

         I walked over, and catching her eyes, pointed to myself and said, "James." She pointed to herself and made sounds which I thought were, "Matamis Na Babae Ng Gabi." I was to later learn it was Sweet in English, or Sweet Woman of the Night. We both smiled.

         Later, while our grouse settled into our stomachs, we sat around the fire looking at each other. I held her hand, touched her face and kissed her juniper berried lips, three times. She giggled.

         When the fire burned down, we entered the lean-to. I gave her my blanket and ground sheet, and she lay down, motioning me to come beside her. I lay down, and we slept.


***

The next morning, we breakfasted on prickly pear cakes, with juniper berries mixed in. I still had that cornbread for midday, but along come suppertime, my Spencer and I had a job to do. I saddled old Danger, and we began to ride the boundaries of my claim.

         As far as I could tell, there were no official claims near where I had chosen to file. No houses sat on the land, no fences, nothing . . . Only the high lonesome reflected itself into my eyes as I gazed upon it. Thank you, YHWH.¹

         I wanted both sides of the creek where we had camped, so we crossed over and went another hundred yards, this took us a hundred feet into the low hills. My claim was going to be in the form of a square, 1,320 feet on each side, a quarter-section. On my claim, I wanted some timber for building, the creek and some grassland.

          I laid the claim out in my mind. Looking through my Harris telescope, it seemed as if I was going to own a strip of blue spruce and juniper trees about 1,320 feet long by 101 feet wide. A few oaks, aspen, and an occasional maple, were mixed in among them. If I staked it out right, my claim would extend 1,219 feet beyond the creek, 1,320 feet along its far side and 1,320 feet back across the creek to where my strip of spruce and junipers ended.

          Papa didn't raise a surveyor . . . In my saddlebags, I'd brought along a length of two-strand, hemp rope. Small, but useful for making do. Today, I was going to reconnoiter my intended boundaries, and tomorrow, string some hemp in the air a few times to measure them.

          Sweet and I tarried in the shade of some blue spruces, long enough to kiss a few times. Then we set out down the slope toward the far side of the creek, with me eyeing the boundary. I was looking for trees and shrubs which were, more or less, in a straight line with each other.

          As we neared the creek, Sweet dug through her sack, and came out with a gorge attached to a four foot length of catgut. She patted my arm, I slowed to a stop, and she dismounted. I watched her as she coated the gorge with a layer of sticky, half-dried juniper berries and dropped it into the water of the creek.

          If the gorge was swallowed by a fish, Sweet would tug on the catgut and the gorge would swivel horizontally, lodging in the throat of the fish.

          Sweetwater Creek, I thought. I got off old Danger, sank my lips into the water and drank. Sweetwater Creek. Sated, I spoke it aloud, "Sweetwater Creek." Sweet's little laugh showed her pleasure. I tied old Danger's bridle to the saddle pommel, which was equipped with two stout, steel rings, one on either side, and left him there. He wouldn't wander, not with Sweet by his side.

         I waded on across Sweetwater Creek. Buffalo grass and wheatgrass laid themselves across the land, creating a mixed cover for the area within a hundred yards of Sweetwater. Further on, buffalo grass crowded out the wheatgrass. Here and there, lone Gambel oaks cast their shade. Amidst the buffalo grass, curly dock, dandelion and wild spinach rooted themselves. The few head of cattle I planned on running would not go hungry here. In the far haze of the horizon, a mesa beckoned to me . . .

         By and by, along close to noon, my stomach began to let itself out a continuous dribble of growls. Having almost completed my examination of the claim's northwestern boundary, I headed down to Sweetwater Creek.

          As I neared, I saw Sweet tending a fire over a wooden spit. Getting closer, I smelled the satisfying aroma of fish. When I stepped up to the fire, she handed me a roasted fish on a stick, the inside of the fish was filled with wild strawberries. I brought out the cornbread and gave her a chunk. She bit into it, and smiled. I kissed the crumbs off her lips. Between bites, Sweet opined that Sweetwater Creek was full of brown trout. She was picking up a few words here and there.


***

I headed back up toward the northwestern boundary to finish up. As I approached the far end of the claim, the sun cast a glint of light off an object about thirty feet away from me. I pulled out my Harris, lined it up, and began casting around. I kept on walking toward the glint of light. Directly, I came upon a pile of rocks, from its center rose a metal bar with a brass cap.

         There seemed to be engraving on the cap. I hunkered down to read it. U. S. Government Survey Marker. Northwest corner of quarter-section 17, Section 8, Township 27. I'd stumbled upon something that was going to save me weeks of labor. Now, all I had to do, was to uncover the other three corners of the claim.

         Later on, I wandered up among the spruce and juniper trees on the other side of Sweetwater Creek, in search of a grouse or turkey. I found a likely spot from turkey scratching sign, and settled in to wait. I kept my eye on a Gamble oak I'd earlier decided was a turkey roost. Along about an hour before the shadow of night, I heard 'em. A few minutes later, Spencer and I walked back toward Sweetwater Creek; I carried the turkey.

         On the way, I cut some young aspens to use to make a drying frame. It was early spring, and no flies were in evidence. Sweet's eyes got big when I arrived carrying the turkey. She set about cleaning it, while I constructed the drying frame.

         Before Sweet set the turkey to roast, my stomach growled, and again. I cut up some thin strips of turkey and hung them on the frame. Sweet and I ate about a third of that turkey, and I dried the rest.


***

It took me three days to find the northeast corner of my claim, the search being interspersed between fishing with Sweet, turkey hunting and other things that needed doing. On the third day, I found some cattle tracks near a spring. They were old, dried out and crumbling on the sides, but nevertheless, they were the tracks of cattle. It worried me.

         It was a Tuesday; I decided to ride to the U. S. Land Office in Cholla, Colorado the next Sunday to file my claim. It was thirty miles away, so I'd arrive there on a Monday morning. Sweet Woman of the Night would travel with me. I had two of the coordinates, and at the land agent's office, I could determine the others.

          I thought I'd buy Sweet a dress while we were in town. Light blue would sure look pretty on a woman the color of pecans. Maybe, I'd fill my saddlebags with sugar, salt, and a few other things. I told Sweet about our journey later that night.

         I busied myself about the place for the next few days. Of a night, Sweet and I talked some. She told me she was about to go home to Tennessee the night she'd borrowed old Danger. But now, I carried her heart . . .

          She was of the people, Cherokee by name. She had slipped away from a U. S. government prison in Oklahoma. She had headed west instead of east to throw off pursuit. I dwelt on that for a while, and directly, I told her I loved her. She looked very sweetly at me, as only Sweet could, and giggled.

          Sunday morning came, and after our meal, Sweet prettied herself up with a bath in Sweetwater Creek. Lucky fish. Afterward, she took a yellow ribbon and a green sassafras stick from her sack. The ribbon, she tied around her left wrist, and with the sassafras, she pinned her hair back toward the rear of her head. She was sweet. Yes, she was.


***

Sweet and I rode into Cholla about nine o'clock Monday morning. Here and there, a few people wandered the streets. We headed for the land agent's office; I filed my claim and got a receipt with all the details of the claim written down. My claim was official. I gave the agent an extra dollar for his time. I then took Sweet to a dressmaker's shop and bought her that light blue dress and a comb to match. Her eyes shined.

          When Sweet wasn't looking; I snuck and bought her a blue bandana² with a pink rose embroidered on it. As I put it in my pocket, I thought, I'll give it to her some other time.


***

We were headed toward the general store when four or five tough-looking men slurred Sweet's character. I ain't one to bully folks, but folks can't mess with me or mine, without my say-so.

         "Look here, fellows, a fine-looking, squaw woman just looking for a man."

         I frowned, and my Spencer opened its eyes. The other fellows laughed. I turned to Sweet and spoke loud enough that everyone on the street took notice.

         "That fellow who just spoke to you is a lucky man today, Sweet."

         He was the biggest among them and appeared to be the toughest. He looked at the others and laughed. The makings of a snarl began to curl the corners of his lips.

         "And why might it be that I am a lucky man, youngster?"

         "Because you're fixing to see something no man has ever seen."

         "And what kind of miracle are you aiming to show me today?"

         "Why friend, you're fixing to see a man with two anuses."

         About that time, Spencer, of his own accord, lifted his barrel toward that fellow's gut. They ran, with that smart-mouth fellow running the fastest.

          Sweet and I had a right pleasurable day after that.


***

The minister and his wife gave us a big smile as we passed by. When we encountered the United States Marshal, he slapped me on the back, and told me those old boys I'd put the run on, were from the Lazy Bar Z, I'd be advised to keep a wary eye on my place, and he'd take it kindly if I joined him for a drink in his office before I left Cholla.

         We entered the general store a few minutes later, and Sweet was fascinated by the smells wafting out of the barrels and boxes. I bought her a handful of graham crackers and a dill pickle to munch on.


         My first purchase for myself was a brace and bit, along with twelve steel rods, ten inches in length with threads and nuts on one end. The second thing I bought was a two foot long, one-man crosscut saw. I'd be needing it to dress up the log ends when the house I was going to build was finished.

         I also purchased a pound of salt, a half pound of sugar, two ounces of ground pepper and a small bottle of apple cider vinegar. Then I got some horehound candy and a new blanket for Sweet. I bought a small skillet, a fifty pound, weatherproof bag of Portland cement, and five pounds each of flour and cornmeal. The storekeeper gave me a small, metal pot with its lid, two tin cups, two tin plates, a pair of Mason salt shakers and a fork and spoon for two dollars.

         That about did it for spending, except later, I stocked up on .56-50 cartridges for Spencer and bought myself a pair of socks. From the blacksmith, I purchased a twenty foot chain with hooks on either end, and a file.

         When I asked him how much it was, the blacksmith gave me a short-handled mattock for a dollar. My last stop was the lumber company. There, I bought enough oak boards to install a door and three window frames. The purchases left me with sixty three dollars when Sweet and I rode out of Cholla.

         From the general store, we went over to the stable, and I paid the hostler a dollar to let us sleep in the hayloft. Then we went over to a butcher's and bought some bread and ham slices for supper, along with a four pound slab of dried bacon to carry home. We turned in early; it had been a long day.

          Early the next morning, along about five o'clock, after having some coffee, bacon and eggs, we got on old Danger and commenced making our way home. Our purchases were in a burlap sack hanging from the saddle horn.

          I had tied the Portland cement behind the saddle, using some of the rope from my saddlebags. Old Danger was loaded down, but he was a big, strong horse. He protested when I commenced to load the oak boards, so they would be delivered by the lumber company later.

         Sweet was looking so pretty . . . Old Danger must have been missing the buffalo grass; he was sure in a hurry. He got us home in seven hours. We were tired . . .

          After a meal of brown trout, turkey and wild strawberries, I began to think of building a home for us. I was thinking to put it up the slope, with its rear portion shaded by blue spruces. Tomorrow, I'll select just the right place. We watched the stars for a while, till directly, it was time to turn in.

         Before we put out the fire, I serenaded Sweet with a song from the old country.

"It fell on a sad Tuesday as a raven was a cawing.

The noble, young lasses were all a bawling

For to know where the heart of the young lad had fallen.

While the raindrops were a falling,

James of the moorlands, where bloom the heather flowers fair,

Fell in love with sweet Matamis, her of the long, black hair.

She was a comely lass come a calling,

Praying for their hearts to be fore'er entwined,

And into the heart of her true love, her love to be enshrined.

It was said she was a maiden of her honor inclined,

Which made James the more to inquire

Of her eyes of the ice and her legs of the fire.

And oh, her lips of the taste of desire.

Her voice like a rose of heaven to compare,

They cried she used her wiles to ensnare

James of the moorlands where blooms a flower so fair.

All the dire lasses were laid up a bawling

While the raindrops came down a falling,

Their hearts no more came a calling.



Oh, where the heather does dwell, he to her did promise,

To wed her in June, for in truth James loved the sweet Matamis.

The lie from the mouth of a sore lass was uttered and spread,

That the sweet Matamis, her soon to be wed

Laid alone with a stout lad abed.

All the sour lasses were a crying,

That James loved another, brought on their sad sighing.

The poor lasses were distraught,

All their tears fell for naught.

James of the moorlands, his choice to declare,

The love of his heart, he truly laid bare.

Said he the words to a priest of their banns.

His life pledged he into the touch of her hands.

Swore he, his eyes would only ever be unleashed

Upon the lovely face of the sweet Matamis.

He of the moorlands, where blooms a rose-purple flower,

The day they wed, carried her away to his cottage, his bower.

The lies of the lewd lass he eschewed,

For he knew the true love of the maiden he wooed."

         Sweet loved it . . .


***

The next day, I saddled up old Danger, got my hatchet and the chain, and went up into the junipers. Sweet accompanied me. I wanted her to pick a location for our home. Among the blue spruce and junipers there was a fairly level bench of land, mostly clear of trees, this is where we decided to build our home. A large portion of the claim could be seen from the bench.

         I decided to use juniper timber for the house. Almost impervious to rain or snow, juniper also was a fair-looking wood. I'd use four inch diameter logs mostly. I could handle their weight. I cut down about ten and topped and limbed them. Tomorrow, they'd be ready for stripping.

         The next morning, I cut down ten more junipers and spent the rest of the day stripping the bark off my twenty logs. The junipers were thirty feet long, and I cut them in half. I had enough logs for two walls six and one half feet in height and fourteen and a half feet in length.

         Over the next three days, I cut enough trees for two more walls and my rafters, the rafters were two and one half inches in diameter. I kept at it the rest of the week, till the timber for the house was all ready. I'd let the logs season for a while.

         Then, I commenced gathering stone for my foundation. It was near the last dregs of May, I needed to finish the house before winter set in. Sweet kept herself busy drying fish and gathering raspberries, blackberries and other foods. Nearby, thirty or so feet away, a small creek ran down out of the hills into Sweetwater Creek. It was there, I began to gather my stone.


***

One day, Sweet came running, all excited. "James, James!" A few bees buzzed around her, and her lips were covered with honey. Of course, being the man I was, I licked it off.

         We got ourselves a stick, put some burlap on its end, Sweet got her little pot, and led me to her bee tree. Nestled among the blue spruces and junipers, Sweet had found herself a basswood. A basswood tree in bloom is one of the most gratifying gifts God has given mankind. This basswood was even more precious; It was plumb full of honey. I lit up my stick, blew out the flame, and commenced making those bees dizzy. Sweet climbed that basswood and filled her pot. It was a sight, looking at her loveliness. Oh my, that honey made from the nectar of the basswood flower was delicious, more so when I licked it off Sweet's lips.

         After filling up on honey and fried cornbread, I wandered up to the homesite. Beside it, I had collected a big pile of rocks, so I commenced preparations to lay my foundation. I dug a trench twelve inches deep, and as close as I could get it to fourteen and one half by nine and one half feet. I carried about two hundred pounds of coarse, angular sand from Sweetwater Creek and piled it up beside the stone. I dug a hole in the small, mountain creek to catch water. Then, I filed the mattock to an extra-sharp edge for use in flattening the logs. A slab of stone to mix my cement on, and I was ready.

         I laid off the rest of the day, and meandered around the forests and meadows. The big day was tomorrow. Sweet and I would pack a lunch and spend the day working.

         Late that evening, I picked some curly dock, some wild, green onions and some spinach for a salad tomorrow A little salt, a sprinkle of sugar and a dab of vinegar rounded out the taste. Sweet made some raspberry cakes and fried some dried turkey slices.


***

That night, I was lying on my ground sheet thinking. Sweet was already asleep. I was thinking about that wild grapevine I had found the other day. It was huge. It was bigger around than my forearm.

          Yeah boy, my Sweet is sure going to like swinging on that vine. I'd tested it with my weight, and it was secure. I had used my hatchet to cut it where it grew from the earth. Then I'd formed the loose end into a rough oval, slightly notched it in several places and tied it four feet above the bottom arc of its oval. There too, I'd notched the vine. I used tough rope in the tying. Then I'd wound about eleven feet of hemp rope around the vine right at the point where a person would sit. Sometime or another, I began to drowse off, and I let myself go.

          Before full sleep struck me, a grin stirred on my face as I recalled late yesterday evening I'd tied Sweet's blue bandana with the pink rose onto the grapevine swing.


***

Sweet and I woke up as the dew was still forming on the grass blades. Excitement struck us as we ate some bacon, cornbread and honey. We hurried . . .

          We took old Danger with us as we headed up the hill. I'd stake him out on a patch of grass when we got there. As we walked up the slope, I thought I heard the far-off bawl of cattle. Sweet also heard it.

         Of a sudden, the face of old two anuses, in that moment right before he ran, appeared in my mind. Spencer's breech mentioned it was feeling lonesome about that time, so I levered a cartridge into it.

         The U. S. marshal back in Cholla had told me those Lazy Bar Z men ran their cattle on the free government range. Some kind of trouble might be fixing to leave me its calling card. A rude welcoming awaited it, if it did. I must remember to tell Sweet to hide or disappear if there's trouble.

         We went on up to our homesite; and I set about mixing the cement. But first, I poured a layer of sand inside the foundation ditch, selected stones and placed them nearby.

          Then, I began laying the stones, mixing only enough cement for eight feet at a time. At each corner, and in the center of each foundation wall, I installed a steel bar. The bars projected four and one half inches above the foundation stones, with five and one half inches embedded in the cement, and were securely cemented into place. These were to hold the sill beams in place.

         Just before noon sidled up, I had completed the laying of the foundation to my satisfaction. We took a break, ate and rested a while. I decided to let the foundation set and cure for a week before I commenced on the walls. Later, I'd drill one inch holes in the sill beams to fit them over the steel bars.

         After we'd rested a bit, I suggested to Sweet that we take a little walk. I led her in the general direction of her grapevine swing. We came upon several patches of bergamot as we walked along. I stooped over and got Sweet a handful.

          Bergamot is in the mint family, with a piney, lemon-like taste. Its flowers are shaped like others of the mint family, resembling a fleur-de-lis. The flowers are a lavender-pink color; the plant is about two feet tall. Sometimes, the flowers are different shades of purple, depending on the type of soil they are growing in.

         Around a large, blue spruce, Sweet and I walked; and there before us, in a Gambel oak, sat the swing.

         Sweet made a little sound of pleasure in her throat and ran to the swing. She untied the bandana, looked at it longingly, and tied it around her neck. As she turned to sit in the swing, tears crawled down her cheeks. My Sweet . . .

         I watched her swing for a while. It was beautiful. The embroidered bandana made her look even lovelier. A light tinge of wind-whipped pink on her cheeks matched it. Oh, so lovely . . .

         I could not wait. I ran over there, stopped the swing and kissed her. Ummm sweet!

          We tarried there by the swing an hour or so, then went back to work. The cement had hardened enough for me to measure the placements of the steel rods in the foundation, so I could drill corresponding holes in my four sill beams. This, I set about, and soon I was drilling holes in the sill beams.

         It was four o'clock or so, before I had all the holes drilled. Tomorrow, I'd set the sill beams and hand tighten the nuts, then let everything sit for a week to harden up. Next spring, I'd enlarge the house; this was just to get us through the winter months.

          Soon, I would need to be thinking about getting a winter supply of meat, maybe a couple of deer. Sweet was busy gathering nuts, berries, apples, plums and a few herbs that could be dried: wild onions, the tubers of spring beauties and toothwort roots for their peppery taste. She also sliced and dried a measure of sugar-coated strawberries. Myself, I was learning that many of the food plants in Colorado were the same as ones I knew from Kentucky.


***

A bite of chill had scattered itself through the air this morning when I woke up. Sweet had a supply of dried spearmint which she mixed with basswood blossoms, and brewed us some hot tea in her little pot. No coffee . . .

          We each enjoyed several cups of tea as we sat by the fire, eating cornmeal tortillas. Sweet's tortillas were about an inch thick and stuffed with strips of crunchy bacon and dried raspberries. Yum-m-m.

         That's one thing I forgot to buy when Sweet and I were in Cholla: coffee. How could I forget that? We'd have to make do.

         Back in Kentucky, there wasn't much money, nor coffee. Of a time, in the early mornings, Mama used to grind up dried chicory roots, and add some dried acorn powder for the bitter flavor. Pa opined he couldn't tell the difference, once a little sugar and Borden's St. Charles Evaporated Milk were stirred around in it. Maybe, I'll look around for some chicory . . .


         The voice of Sweet dulled my thoughts. "James, I make baskets. Need many willow."

         "Sweet, I saw some willows growing along Sweetwater Creek. Let's go gather some. And I want to find some birch trees."

          Dang it, the black birch tree is an illusive female here in Colorado; but I aim to find her eventually. Her sap is sweet, and tastes of wintergreen.

         We began to walk along Sweetwater Creek, holding hands and glancing at each other.

          In a few minutes, we approached a thicket of creek willows. Using my Russell's skinning knife, I cut two large bundles of thin branches. Taking them back to camp, I removed the bark and cambium, leaving a smooth surface for Sweet's basket making. Sweet set to work right away; we needed something to store our food in.

         I determined to cook a midday meal for Sweet. Keeping a lookout for birch trees, I aimed myself along the creek. After a while, I headed toward the edge of the timberline above the grassland. Near a small mountain creek, I dug two handfuls of spring beauty tubers. They are about the size of an acorn, sometimes smaller. These can be sliced and fried, or boiled. Myself, I roast them whole over an open fire.

         Moving further up the slope, I entered a stand of pinyon pines. I used a stick to knock off several of last year's cones for the delicious seeds. I was using Sweet's leather sack to carry all the foods I collected. I ambled back down the slope, crossed Sweetwater Creek and picked some curly dock and wild mustard. Finished, I headed for camp.

          In the waters of Sweetwater Creek, I cleansed the plants I had gathered. Then I soaked them in apple cider vinegar for five minutes before beginning to prepare them. Later, I would heat the cones of the pinyon pine over a fire until the seeds loosened.

          Let me tell you, I can't cook, but I can try to impersonate one who can.

          I rubbed the skin off the spring beauty tubers, stuck a green, oak stick through them, and set them to roast. I shredded the curly dock, cut up the wild mustard, and mixed them. I added a dab of sugar and a little salt. I put in a splash of vinegar, a pinch of cornmeal and a hefty measure of dried, finely cut, green onion shoots. I fried some bacon till it was crunchy, crumbled it, and added it to the salad.

         The wild mustard was going to be delicious. It kind of reminded a person of broccoli, a miniature version. One can eat the whole mustard plant. The heads are shaped the same as broccoli, only smaller, the size of a man's fingertip. I had put some aside to cook for supper.

         I fried some turkey, adding flour, salt, a sprinkle of pepper and a little bacon grease to make a gravy after the turkey was done. Then I hollered at Sweet.


***

We lingered over the meal a while, and directly, I determined to go up the hill and make some final adjustments on the logs for the house.

         "James, I'll make some tea and bring it up later, now I make baskets."

         Two kisses were not enough for so sweet a woman, so I kissed her three times. "I love you, Sweet." My heart now belongs to Sweet Woman of the Night forever.

         "I love you, James."

          I got my crosscut saw and went up the hill. It was the last part of July, and a slight tinge of the fading of leaves was visible on the broadleaf trees. I worked the rest of the day, notching the logs and smoothing their tops and bottoms.

         When the logs were smoothed and notched, I prepared some oak stakes I would use to bind each layer of logs together. I rounded them with my skinning knife, and cut them into seven inch lengths. I was going to drill three holes in each log, and drive the lengths of oak in tightly. I planned to put a thin layer of cement between each layer of logs to seal off outside air.

         When I got back to camp, Sweet mentioned she had seen three men earlier in the day. I was curious; tomorrow I was going to have a good look around the place.


***

That next morning, I saddled old Danger and rode out to where Sweet had seen the three men. I came on their tracks in just a little bit; three riders had been paying us a visit yesterday. I followed the trail up along Sweetwater Creek for about a mile. At that point, cattle tracks almost obliterated the trail of the horses. There was no way to tell for certain, how many cattle were in the herd. Maybe a couple of hundred . . .

         I followed the herd for about two hours before I came within sight of it. I guided old Danger behind some rocks and withdrew my Harris telescope from my saddlebags.


         There were three outriders pushing the herd. One of them was old two anuses. That fellow seemed to be intent upon collecting himself another anus. Pray to the Lord that it will not be me who has to oblige him. I do not want to hurt anyone, but self-defense wears a coat and tie of readiness on Sundays; and every other day of the week, it wears an open for business coat. I turned about and set out for Sweetwater Creek. I had to get back to Sweet.


***

I am Matamis Na Babae Ng Gabi. Today, I am restless. Inside me, a voice cries out. Only myself, and the red-tailed hawk sitting in a willow tree along Sweetwater Creek are aware of the sounds my heart makes.

          "Ai-e-e-e-e-e-e," she wails inside herself. Her loneliness cries out, with the voice of fear and a scream of love.

          I am afraid; my courage wafted from its presence within me as the dull drum of old Danger's hooves ceased while James rode into the edge of a new morning and disappeared.

          Like a hickory bow, I am ingrained with strength. I can be bent a thousand times, but I will never splinter. Yet, I am weaker than the featherless owlet just dropped into its mother's nest. "Ai-e-e-e-e-e-e!"

         My heart weeps as I stand here looking toward the horizon in search of James. Its tears run along unseen channels on my cheeks and fall slowly to the earth.

         I busied myself even before James slipped past the horizon, but to no avail. When a man carries your heart with him, busy is no consolation for worry. James, my love awaits you.

          Don't worry, my love. I am the wind; I kiss your face as you lie sleeping. I am the swallowtail butterfly that hovers over you, seeking to alight on your golden-copper hair. I am the bluebird, crying out her love. I am the teardrops of happiness as I touch your face. I walk beside you, my heart.


***

Sweet and I sat by the fire a long time that night. She whispered in my ear the sounds her heart cries when I am not beside her. I can not translate the sounds into words, but each time my eyes fall upon her, I am reminded. Both of us know well, the entrance to the other's heart.

         I told her of the cattle, and the ranchhands of the Lazy Bar Z, but withheld my notion of the possibility of imminent trouble from the direction of the Lazy Bar Z.

          Sometime or another, as the moon slid motionlessly toward the horizon, I fed the fire and fried us some Kentucky cornbread fritters, with sliced, fried apples and a little honey mixed in the dough.

         Sweet told me she had been with me while I was looking for the three riders. Her heart had been walking in my footprints. How can I repay such a woman? How did I stumble upon a woman with a heart that gives so much?

         We ate those cornbread fritters and turned in for the night. Tomorrow, the house would be started . . .


***

It had the makings of a warm day when Sweet and I set off up the slope to our homesite. A rustle of wind in the blue spruces fiddled itself this way and that, a furtive catbird mocked the sound of a limb cracking under the weight of snow and a far-off bawl of cattle made Spencer grimace . . . Neither Spencer nor I, were ones to shirk our obligations. But of a time, nausea dwelt in our stomachs at the thought of completing them. Still, we were willing.

          The metallic sound of Spencer clicking himself into half-cock startled me for a second. Spencer had just jacked a bullet into his breech . . . Spencer is not one to fiddle around with trouble; he prefers to eliminate it before it can sprout roots.

         After some thought, I agreed with his assessment of the situation, and left him at half-cock to ward off resting the firing pin on a live round.

          Sooner or later, someone was going to come calling on us, with a gun in his hand and a half-lit, half-wit fire in his eyes. I could not delay this event, but I could ready myself for participation. I wonder, is it a possibility that Spencer can pull his own trigger?

         Sweet and I continued up the hill without further incident, arriving at our homesite despite the stumbling block which had migrated from my thoughts to my feet.

          I took my Taft and Mason's wrench from my saddlebags and tightened all the sill plate bolts, then I commenced positioning the logs. I poured an inch and a half of cement in each hole I had bored before driving in the dowels. By noon, gauging the time by the sun, Sweet and I had constructed all four walls to a height of thirty two inches. I then decided to complete the front wall of the house; and figure out how to construct doors and windows. Sweet had used her cooking pot and water to remove the excess cement and smoothed the cement which had oozed from between the logs.

          Early the next morning, I notched the second to last log to create two sawing points for building my door frame, installed the log and finished laying the last log of the front wall on top of it. Directly, I stepped back and took myself a look. My eyes told me they approved.

         To finish out the day's work, Sweet and I added four logs to the remaining three walls. After finishing the last log, we quit for the day. Sweet set about cooking us some supper, and I oiled old Danger's saddle and bridle with bacon grease.


***

After the fire had dwindled down to an every now and again curl of aromatic smoke, Sweet took to her bed for the night. I sat in the dark as the last spark of the fire crackled out.

          Maybe Spencer was right about killing trouble. I made up my mind as I sat there, to put a halter on trouble and rein it to a stop. If trouble is walking toward you, if at first you can dodge it, do so. But, do not allow trouble and its hangers-on to begin to run toward you.

         As soon as I finished the house, I had a job of work to do.

         I stood up, walked over to the lean-to and looked down upon my precious woman. At that moment, anxiety tried to sneak up on me, but I was riled up and ready to fight for what was mine. Look out, Lazy Bar Z! James is fixing to come calling . . . This visit will necessitate a lot of thinking, a lot of planning and three spoonfuls of courage. Determined nevertheless, I laid down on my groundsheet and slept till sunup.


***

Cedar-smelling smoke aroused me the next morning. Sweet was sitting by a fire, frying tortillas. She smiled as she watched me come toward her.

         "James, let's relax today. I want to visit the cliff overhang where we first met. Before, I only went a few steps inside."

         "Sweet, let's eat, then get ready to go. I've had a notion to see that overhang close-up since the day we rode away from it."

         "James, I want to look for sassafras trees; we can walk there, it's not so far."

         "I love you, Sweet. Sweet, I don't think sassafras grows here in Colorado, but we can keep our eyes open for it. I'll take along my telescope so we can see the far away trees "

          Thank you, Sweet. I almost forgot about the sassafras and spicebush twigs I put in my saddlebags back in Kansas.

          Sweet handed me a tin plate full of bacon, tortillas and crushed, dried raspberries. After fixing her own plate, Sweet sat beside me, and we ate. Along about twenty minutes later, we set out toward the cliff overhang. I was curious about that overhang. My heart always had a desire to know, to see with its own eyes.

         I left old Danger up by the homesite, staked out in a little meadow of mountain grass, and within reach of the small stream. He'd be alright; we'd be home in a few hours.


***

As Sweet, Spencer and I approached the mesa upwards of ten minutes later, we slowed to a brief stop. To each of us, the mesa spoke.

         The mesa did not speak with a voice. Nonetheless, it spoke as it traveled through the twists and turns in our hearts. The three of us each examined the mesa in silence.

         Acquiescing to our silence, the mesa studied us in the same manner.

         I just stood there as the silence stooped over me, hunched up as if it were the lump of an anvil probing.

         A voice cried out in my heart, "You too, are of the people. The blood of long ago still journeys inside you. Come closer."

         Grasping Sweet's hand, I stepped forward.

         The voice extinguished itself into silence among the eye-mesmerizing, dark places of the mesa as Sweet and I approached the opening of the cave of the forebearers. Sweet's hand tightened against mine, and Spencer involuntarily clicked himself into full cock as we stepped forward.

          Awe elongated its tendrils to encompass Spencer and I as our vision saw beyond the opening. Sweet gasped twice and closed her eyes.

         I jumped as Spencer eased himself back into half-cock. Then I relaxed somewhat, knowing as I did, that Spencer could sense trouble.


* Spencer *

Spencer grimaced. A cold hand clutched at his barrel. A slight breath of air sought out his muzzle and proceeded along its length toward his breech. Fear groped at him, but could not gain a foothold. A derisive sound exuded itself from his barrel.

          "Harrumph! A harmless, talking stick."

          That may be, but in the next thirty seconds, this old Spencer can discharge seven bullets right between your eyes.

         The voice dissipated. Spencer remained poised in the hands of James, the weight of his will lessening its pressure upon his trigger and clicking his hammer back into half-cock.


***

We stepped through the entrance slowly, Spencer, Sweet and I. From whence they had arrived, our illusions returned. Somewhere, the plink of water droplets . . . Above, a ragged aperture in the sandstone captured sunlight. A gradual procession of steps cut into the sandstone wound their way toward the opening.

         
Sweet was halfway up the steps before I could caution her. Leaving the small, adobe structure to my left for later examination, I followed . . .


*Spencer*

In this southeastern corner of Colorado, and all along a trail stretching from Kentucky to Colorado, folks call me Spencer. Before I met James, it was my habit to dispense justice with one eye closed. But James has taught me the value of tempering this fault with discretion. Still, at times the urge will seep into my heart.

         I watched Matamis Na Babae Ng Gabi as James hurried up the steps behind her. Did I say watched? Rather, I hurried after her myself. Although I traversed the steps in the hand of James, I was cocked and on the verge of being trigger-happy. The slightest blink of an antagonist was wont to expel retribution from my barrel.

         I am a Model 1860, Spencer carbine, I do not relish the thought of dealing out harm, but my disposition is such that I will acquiesce when evil walks toward me.


         Matamis was making her way through the opening when James and I caught up with her. We waited as she climbed through . . . Momentarily, we went through the hole and stood beside her. James set me aside and began to focus his telescope . . .


***

Far in the distance, east toward Kansas, several buildings entered the lenses of my Harris as I focused it. The Lazy Bar Z?

         An urge to retrieve Spencer flexed the tendons in my right hand. Patience, James. Trouble walks in your footprints, when the moment arrives, abort it.

         I consoled my nerves and reflexes by listening for the click of Spencer's hammer.


***

The end of chapter one.










Notes:

¹Bandana is sometimes spelled bandanna, but not in this story.

²YHWH, the four Hebrew letters, none of which has a lower case, translated into English as the name of our creator. The name God has given himself.


©j. holloway






















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