Historical Romance novel set in Montana Territory Dearborn Ranch July 1883 - Prologue
Dearborn Ranch, Montana Territory
“Dammit Sheriff, it took ya long ‘nough to get here!” Tick Johnson enthusiastic voice echoed across the valley.
Old Tick was a tall scrawny fella, smelled worse than a wet polecat in heat, probably only having the compulsory two baths a year like most of the old-timers. Nevertheless, for all his faults, Tick was a damned good cowboy, the nicest most loyal fella a person could meet and Ruby was lucky to have him.
“Well ya know Tick it ain’t a quick jaunt from Cascade. Where’s Ruby?” Sheriff Morris Wilson asked.
“She’s up on the ridge, tryin’ to talk that there madman outta shoot us some more. The bastard’s gone and put a hole in Jed’s leg and he scared the shit outta Curt. Missus Clarkson’s concerned, she done heard a baby cryin’.”
“A baby?” Sheriff Wilson dismounted his tired horse and marched towards Ruby making sure to keep under the tree line, away from the shooters sight. Knowing Tick would be behind him, Morris asked, “Where’s Curt and Jed now?”
“Miss Clarkson done sent ‘em back to the ranch for Irene to fix ‘em up. Skip, Wylie and Pablo’s here.”
Hiding behind a large pine tree, Ruby Clarkson sat observing the small line cabin not fifty feet up the ridge, from where the barrel of a rifle could visibly be seen protruding from a small break in the glass window.
“Damned stupid woman.” Morris barked. His outburst rewarded him a quick but brilliant smile from Ruby as she glanced in his direction. Her beauty and audacity caused him to curse anew.
Ruby Clarkson was something, for the minute her husband brought her here from Smithfield, Virginia she brightened the world with her lovely blue eyes and bubbly personality. Far too refined to live on the edge of civilization, Ruby was born to social teas, ball gowns and carriage rides in the countryside. Richard Clarkson had no right bringing Ruby to Montana Territory. Montana was a rough isolated, harsh frontier territory, where for several months they endured rain in springtime, dry dusty summers, long cold and snowy winters. If the weather didn’t hamper one living in Montana Territory the temperamental cattle, temperamental horses, wild animals, rough cowboys, Indians and lawless men would.
Though Richard Clarkson was his childhood friend, Morris didn’t agree with most of his decisions, especially searching for a bride in the east and the means in which he begot an heir to his cattle empire. Despite his objections, Rich returned married to the prettiest girl Morris had ever seen, he was instantly smitten.
Morris wasn’t the only one taken with Ruby everyone immediately adored her.
Ruby, although forced into a completely different environment, adjusted better than most gave her credit. Montana very different from the small civilized town of Smithfield, Virginia and living on the ranch wasn’t easy. Furthermore, Rich was a hard moody bastard to live with, something Morris knew first hand, yet in the first year of their marriage Ruby brought the best out in her husband.
Then again, Ruby brought the best of everything and everyone.
Morris had predicted at the onset of their marriage that Rich would corrupt his own marriage, which he did.
Richard Clarkson never deserved Ruby.
Morris was still bitterly frustrated for what Rich had done, even though it’s been years since his former friend’s betrayal. What angered Morris foremost was that Ruby stayed married to Richard until he died.
This past February Rich died from pneumonia; it came upon him sudden like. One day he was fit as a fiddle, the next he was bedridden, two months later he was six-feet-under. Many knew the Clarkson’s marriage was a loveless match. Everyone that didn’t know the circumstances that surrounded their marriage faulted Ruby. Upon Rich’s death, it was expected that Ruby would return to Virginia. However, she remained. Took control of the ranch and the cowhands.
At thirty-eight, she was still the loveliest woman for miles; her blonde hair shone with the brilliance of the sun’s rays. Her completion showed some signs of the harshness of her environment, yet minimal. Her figure could stop a bullet and those deep blue eyes shone like the great Montana sky. Although God help him, she was stubborn.
“Goddamn you Ruby Maree you’re going to kill me with worry.” Morris said as he slid to a stop beside her. “Can’t you stay at home like a normal woman where it’s safe? Shit if anything happened to you …”
“Don’t you cuss at me Sheriff,” Ruby chastised him; her southern drawl became more apparent when something worried her.
“I damn well will cuss when you’re doing something stupid, woman!”
Ruby gave him with one of her meanest looks, however, she couldn’t stay angry with him and he knew it too.
“Morrie, I am capable of taking care of myself. With my boys around me I’ll not come into any harm,” Ruby touched his cheek, yet just as quickly she withdrew her hand, embarrassed by the brief show of emotional relief at Morris’s arrival. “The person is only frightened, Morrie.”
“Tick said there’s a baby.”
Ruby’s eyes misted briefly. “As much as I can understand from the baby’s cries, it’s not very old.”
“Why did ya call for me, Ruby? You and the boys are more than experienced enough to handle one freeloader.” Morris asked while watching the open area between them and the cabin. “Not that I don’t enjoy visiting, my favorite lady.”
“Your favorite lady ahh. I bet you have countless women, Sheriff. I hear there are some new and attractive young women in Cascade.” Ruby mocked Morris with a sideward look.
“Honey, there ain’t any other woman in my life or the next, but you. There never will be.” Morris replied remorsefully as he cupped her cheek and began to pull her closer.
“Morris, the boys!” Ruby exclaimed as she pushed him away.
“Ruby love, I never cared when Rich was alive, do ya thing I care if any of the boys see me touching ya?” Morris stated, with certainty. “I’ve missed ya, darlin’, let me call on ya? Let love me you.”
In a business tone Ruby stated, “Morris you know Rich hasn’t been …”
Angrily Morris growled, stopping Ruby from saying anything more. “That bastard didn’t deserve you when he was alive. He definitely doesn’t deserve your loyalties now that he’s dead. You know I’ve wanted you …”
“Morris, please not now.”
Pulling away from her, giving her a wide berth, Morris gave her a hard look. “Then Ruby why did you sent for me?” he growled angrily.
A shadow of regret fleeted across her lovely face before she answered. “The girl asked for you.”
“Yes, a very frightened girl.”
“She asked for a policeman. I have only heard the term policeman used in big cities. Her speech is cultured, so I think the girl is new to these parts. So, my dear you being only the lawman in these parts, I called for you. In her behalf of course.” Ruby replied hastily.
“I wonder if they’ll ever be a day when you will ask for me, Ruby.” Morris murmured sadly before he stepped into full view of the log cabin. Unbuckling his holster, Morris dropped it to the ground. With his arms raised, Morris called out. “Hey you up in the cabin. I’m Sheriff Wilson from Cascade. Ya want to talk to me.”
“Y … yes Sheriff Wilson … please come in.” A young voice squeaked from the broken glass, it definitely sounded like a girl’s voice.
Morris walked slowly up the hill towards Ruby’s northern line shack. He remembered another time, in November, nineteen years ago when he walked towards the same door, yet this time it wasn’t in the middle of a snowstorm, but on a beautiful summer afternoon.
He glanced at Ruby, who was looking on with concern. Morris saw her eyes mirror the same memory as his. It was an unspoken bittersweet memory that they will both take to their lonely graves.
Reaching the door that was slightly ajar, it was an invitation that he knew was only for him.
“I’m coming’ in,” he called to the squatter.
Pushing on the door open, Morris stepped into the cabin. Giving his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkened interior, he then saw a woman sitting in the corner of the one room cabin, with a rifle resting on her lap, pointed in his direction. Her tiny baby was sleeping peacefully on the bed. Ruby was right; the baby was only a day or so old. Unable to identify her features, Morris stepped closer.
“If you will close the door sir, though please, do not step closer.” She politely asked. When he did so, she actually gave him her thanks.
The lady was polished. Her speech flawless, her mannerism impeccable, she was a definitely lady. She sat on the chair, her back rigid, which spoke of years of discipline. How did an obviously privileged woman land herself in a remote Montana Territory cabin with a newborn baby?
“What’s this all ‘bout, ma’am? You got five people out there mighty angry at you for taking down one of their own.”
Interrupting the sheriff she cried, “I dearly hope he is not dead!”
“Jed ain’t dead, ya just put a hole his leg. I reckon though his mighty pissed.” Morris was becoming inpatient. “Now ma’am I’ll ask ya again what’s this all ‘bout.”
If possible, she sat straighter in the chair and said calmly, “Tell him I will never go with him. I’d rather kill my baby and myself first. If he makes me, I will tell the authorities everything. Those are my demands.”
“Ma’am, I ain’t got any notion what in hells back door you’re talking about. Ruby Clarkson and her boys are only protecting her land from squatters. Ma’am, you’re squatting on the Dearborn Ranch.” Morris stepped closer, “Them boys you gunned down, they was only doing their job.”
“Oh lord! I am sorry …” She stood abruptly. “I will leave immediately.”
“Saying sorry honey just ain’t going to do it. Its Ruby Clarkson’s land; she gets the last word. Ya gunned down two of her men, puttin’ a hole in one and barely killin’ the other, ya just don’t say sorry and go on your way. Ya gotta be accountable to your wrong doings ma’am. Ruby is a fair woman, she won’t harm ya but hell lady, she don’t cotton to folks squatting on her land and shootin’ up her men.”
“I am only protecting my son!”
“I can understand that ma’am, but sorry just don’t cut it none.” Morris replied.
“I thought …”
“Who’s the fella yore running from? Your husband? We can help …”
The woman gasped, her voice shook when she denied any apprehension to her plight. “I spoke rather immaturely of my plight, Sheriff. It is none of your concern, although thank you.”
“Fine by me lady. We all got us secrets. Just so ya know, I’m the law around these parts and I ain’t wantin’ trouble.” Taking another step closer, Morris said, “Give me the rifle and we’ll ask Ruby to come on up and we’ll have us a little chitchat.”
“I can reimburse Missus …” The girl swayed slightly, shook her head and lifted her hand to her head, as if she were trying to clear her thoughts. “I will reimburse her for the trouble I have caused.”
“As I said lady, its Ruby’s decision what she wants to do with you.”
She swayed again and put a delicate hand against the wall. The rifle was hanging unthreateningly from her arm. “I understand, sir.”
“Ya alright ma’am?
Answering rather quickly she frowned, “Yes somewhat. It is only that this ordeal has been trying.”
“Yeah. Ma’am give me the rifle the way you’re hauling it around your liable to shoot someone. I ain’t calling Ruby up here with ya holding a gun on us.” Morris took a step closer. She seemed to be losing some of her facilities, which worried him. Did she have the pox or something? “Ya ain’t lookin’ alright, ma’am. You sick or something.”
“I had a long labor yesterday past … I believe my son is healthy though.”
“Is anyone else here? I don’t like surprises, ma’am. Tell them to come on out!” Morris demanded; his patience was definitively wearing thin.
“I assure you Sheriff there is no one else with me. I am alone.” The girl tried to appear elegant, yet her own fatigue was become very apparent.
“No one else here. Sweet Jesus! Ya birthed the boy alone.”
“I had … no other choice …” She swayed again; her hand went to her head. She dropped the rifle. Involuntary she stepped forward, although her foot never landed on the rough panels of the wooden floor. Morris rushed forward to catch the girl as she fell unconscious in his arms.
Morris gazed down at the dark haired girl in his arms when she fell into the light from the single window, which clarified her features. She was young, extremely young. It took Morris a few moments to realized that the girl was hot with fever and she was wet but not from perspiration.
The wetness was sticky and dark.
She was covered with blood.
“Ruby.” Morris bellowed. “Ruby get your sweet ass up here.”
“Morris are you alright? Is it safe?” Ruby asked.
“Yeah. Get one of the boys to ride for the doc. Tell him to meet us at the ranch house.” Morris yelled in reply, aware that Ruby was running up the ridge.
Charging through the door, Ruby came to an abrupt halt. “Whatever did you do?”
“Sweet Jesus Ruby I ain’t done nothing. She passed out.”
Ruby stood and looked about the one room cabin. “She the only one here?”
“Yeah, except for the baby.” Morris looked at Ruby as she bent over the newborn.
“Sweet little darling. Morrie she’s lovely.” Ruby cooed to the child whom had awakened but lay without making a sound.
“He. It’s a boy.” Morris grumbled.
“Oh Morrie he lovely. Just as lovely as our Gabriel was. He’s not more than a day old though. I wonder …”
“Ruby! The baby is fine, but the mother ain’t.” Morris gained her attention. “She birthed the kid alone and is losing a lot of blood.”
“Oh lord, Morris. What has befallen this poor woman to struggle alone?” Ruby knelt beside him with the baby in her arms and gazed down at the mother. “For lands sake, Morrie, she is not old enough to bear a child. She is a child herself.”