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ASSAULT OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWashington, D.C.
Sally Jensen had been back East for almost six weeks, during which time she had visited her family in Vermont, friends and relatives in Boston and New York, and as the last part of her trip, she was in Washington, D.C. At the moment, she was sitting in the reception room just outside the Presidential Office in the White House. As she waited to meet with the president, she was reading the novel, A Study in Scarlet, written by the English author, Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he introduced a new character, Sherlock Holmes. Sally enjoyed the intellect and deductive reasoning of the Sherlock Holmes character. So engrossed was she in the book that she did not notice Colonel Lamont, the appointments secretary, approaching her.
"Mrs. Jensen?" Colonel Lamont said.
Sally looked up from her book. It took her a second to come out of the story and realize exactly where she was.
"The president will see you now."
"Oh, thank you," Sally answered with a broad smile. Slipping a book mark in between the pages, she stood, then followed the secretary into President Cleveland's office.
The president was rather rotund, with a high forehead and a bushy moustache. He was wearing a suit, vest, and bowtie, and he was smiling as he walked around the desk with his hand extended. "Mrs. Jensen. How wonderful to see you."
"The pleasure is all mine, Mr. President," Sally replied.
President Cleveland pointed to a sitting area over to the side. "Please, won't you have a seat? And tell me all about your wonderful West."
"As you say, Mr. President, it is wonderful. You really should take a trip out there sometime."
"I agree, I must do that. And your husband, Smoke? He is doing well?"
"He is doing very well, thank you. Right now he and the others are involved in the spring roundup."
"The spring roundup," President Cleveland said. "What exciting images those words evoke." The president glanced toward the door to make certain no one could overhear him. "Please don't tease me about it, but from time to time I read novels of the West. I find them a wonderful escape from the tedium of reports, analysis, bills, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad naseum."
"And how is your family?"
"They are doing well, thank you. It was my family who insisted that I call upon you before I return home," Sally said.
"And rightly so," President Cleveland replied. "When I was governor of the state of New York, I vetoed the bill that would have reduced the fare to five cents on the elevated trains in New York. That was an extremely unpopular veto, and your father's support, even though he was not a resident of New York, helped convince several legislators to change their vote and support me when the legislature attempted to override the veto. Had I lost that veto, I believe my political career would have been finished. I do not think it would stretch credulity too far, to suggest that I am occupying the White House partly because of your father's early, and important, support."
Sally laughed. "It wasn't all altruistic on my father's part you understand, Mr. President. He had loaned Jay Gould the money to buy the railroad. He was merely looking out for his investment."
"Oh!" President Cleveland said, clutching his heart with both hands, and laughing. "And here, I was certain your father's support was because he thought me to be a brilliant politician and servant of the people."
Sally and the president visited for a while longer, then she was invited to have lunch with Frances Cleveland, the president's young wife. "Unfortunately I will not be able to attend, as I have a prior luncheon engagement with the caucus of Western Senators."
"Well, if they are from the West, then by all means you should not break the appointment," Sally suggested.
"But if it was a caucus of Eastern Senators?"
"Then I would fully expect you to join us," Sally said, and the president laughed with her as he escorted her from the office.
"Colonel Lamont, would you please telephone my wife and tell her that she will have a guest for lunch," President Cleveland asked of his private secretary.
"Mr. President, I have already done so," Lamont replied. "Mrs. Cleveland is on her way here now."
Grover Cleveland was twenty-seven years old when he met his future wife. She had just been born, the daughter of Oscar Folsom, a long time close friend of Cleveland's. When her father died in a buggy accident in 1875 without having written a will, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of the estate. This brought Cleveland closer to Frances, who was eleven at the time.
She attended Central High School in Buffalo and went on to Wells College in Aurora, New York. Sometime while she was in college, Cleveland's feelings for her took a romantic turn. He proposed in August 1885, soon after her graduation, and she accepted. Frances became the youngest first lady ever. Despite her age, her charm and natural intelligence made her a very successful hostess, a quality Sally was enjoying.
"Oh, Sally, have you seen Washington's monument?" Frances asked during lunch.
"I saw it some time ago," Sally said, "but it wasn't completed then. It was sort of an ugly stob."
"Oh you must see it now," Frances said enthusiastically. "It is all finished, and it is beautiful. If you would like, we'll drive out there after lunch."
"I would love to," Sally replied, her enthusiasm matching that of the first lady.
Even as Sally was touring Washington, D.C., with the first lady, Pearlie, the foreman of the ranch she and Smoke owned, was out on the range with three other cowboys, riding bog.
It was one of the less glamorous and more difficult jobs pertaining to getting ready for the roundup. While crowding around a small water hole, weaker animals were often knocked down by stronger ones, and they would get bogged down, unable to get up. Getting them out was called bogging.
It was easy to find them; the hapless creature would start bawling, not a normal call, but a high pitched, frightened, intense bawl.
"Pearlie!" one of the hands called. "Over here!"
Pearlie rode in the direction of the call, and saw a steer, belly deep in a pond that was mostly mud. One of the cowboys, a new hand, looped his rope around the steer's neck.
"No!" Pearlie called. "Not the neck. Around his horns."
It took the cowboy a moment of manipulating his rope until he managed to work it up onto the animal's horns.
Pearlie dismounted, then got behind the steer and started pulling on the rope. The idea was to get the animal over on its back, then pull it backward—which was easier than trying to pull it out straight ahead, or sideways.
A couple of the other cowboys grabbed the rope with Pearlie and they pulled until the steer was free.
"You boys grab his tail and hold on until I get the rope off," Pearlie said. "Then one of you run one way and the other run the other way, 'cause this critter is goin' to turn around and charge. If you go in opposite directions, he might get confused and not chase either one of you."
"You said he might get confused. What if he don't get confused and he chases after me?" one of the cowboys said.
"In that case run like hell," Pearlie said, and the others laughed.
Pearlie remounted, then rode around and took the rope off the steer's horns.
"All right, let 'im go!" Pearlie shouted, and the two cowboys started running in opposite directions from each other. The steer took off after one of them, and Pearlie slapped his legs against the side of his horse, urging it into an immediate gallop. He closed on the running steer within a few seconds and forced the steer to turn aside, breaking up his charge.
The other cowboys were laughing hard as Toby, the cowboy who was being chased, stopped running and bent over, his hands on his knees, breathing hard from his exertion.
"Damn, Toby," one said. "I sure didn't know you could run that fast. Why, you should enter the race at the county fair this summer."
Toby was still breathing hard. "Won't do any good unless I've got a steer runnin' after me," he said, to the laughter of all.
"All right, you boys know what to do now, so keep it up, pull out all the cows you find bogged down. I'm going back to get cleaned up, then I'm going into town. Smoke wants me to pick up a few things."
"If you want, Pearlie, I'll go into town for you," one of the cowboys said.
"Yeah, I'm sure you would," Pearlie replied with a broad smile. "But like as not you would get drunk and forget what you went to town for."
"Ha, Wade, you think Pearlie ain't got you pegged?" Toby said with a laugh.
Big Rock, Colorado
Pearlie took the buckboard into town. He stopped first at Cousins' General Store to fill the list of food items needed for the chuck wagon while the roundup was ongoing.
"Hello, Pearlie," Cousins said, greeting the young cowboy as he came into the store. "Come for your possibles, have you?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Cousins," Pearlie replied. "We'll need beans, flour, bacon, coffee, sugar, and some dried fruits. It's all written out."
"You got a buckboard outside?"
"I'll fill your order and take it out to the buckboard for you. If you have anything else to do in town you can go ahead and take care of it."
"Thank you. I'll do that."
Food wasn't the only thing on Pearlie's shopping list. From Cousins' General Store he walked over to the gun shop where he bought several boxes of ammunition in various calibers. From there he went to the post office to pick up the mail. By the time he got back to the store, the food had been loaded onto the buckboard. He touched the brim of his hat, in a salute to Cousins, climbed into the seat, picked up the reins, and clucked to the team.
Back at the ranch, Smoke Jensen was standing in an open field by the barn. Twenty-five yards in front of him were three bottles inverted on sticks of varying heights, one as high as a man's head, one about the height of an average man's chest, while the third would align with a man's belly. The sticks were ten feet apart.
Off to Smoke's right, but clearly in his vision, Cal was holding his right hand out in front of him, palm down. There was an iron nut on the back of his hand, and beneath his hand, on the ground, was a tin pie plate.
The full-time hands, the ones who had stayed through the winter, as well as some of the new men, the temporary cowboys who were showing up for the spring roundup, were gathered around in a semicircle to watch the demonstration.
Cal turned his hand over, and the nut fell. The moment Smoke saw Cal turn his hand, he began his draw. He fired three quick shots, breaking all three bottles before the iron nut clanked against the tin pan.
The men cheered and clapped.
"Damndest thing I ever seen!" one of the cowboys said.
"How can anyone be that fast?"
"I've read books about him, but I always thought they was just made up," another of the hands said. "I never know'd there could be anyone that could really shoot like that."
"Yeah, but this is just trick shooting," a new cowboy, one who had never worked at Sugarloaf before, said. "Seems to me folks who can do trick shootin' ain't always that good when it comes to the real thing."
Cal, who was picking up the iron nut and the pie pan, overheard the last remark. "Trust me. When it comes to the real thing, he's even better."
"How would you know?"
"'Cause I've been right there beside him when the real thing happened," Cal said.
He walked over to join Smoke, who had gone back up to the big house. Smoke was leaning against the porch, punching out the spent cartridges and replacing them with live bullets. "Better not let Sally know we used one of her pie pans for this."
"Oh, yeah, I nearly forgot!" Cal said. He examined the pie pan carefully, then breathed a sigh of relief. "Ah, it doesn't look like it was hurt any."
At that moment Pearlie came driving back in the buckboard. He came all the way up to the porch, smiling as he was holding up a letter.
"Looks like you got a letter from Miss Sally," Cal said.
"Looks like it, doesn't it?" Smoke said.
"Reckon how long she's going to be gone before she comes back?"
"Next week, I believe," Smoke said as he reached for the letter. "Unless this letter says something different."
My Darling Smoke
I have enjoyed my visit back East, (please notice that I did not say back home, as the only home for me is our beautiful Sugarloaf) but am growing anxious to return. The weather here has been abysmal; it snowed every other day for the two weeks I spent in New York. I did get to see a play in which Andrew and Rosanna MacCallister appeared. It made me feel special to be sitting in the theater, watching as they enthralled the audience, knowing that their brother and my husband are good friends.
I visited Washington, D.C., and President Cleveland asked about you. Smoke, I am used to everyone in the West knowing who you are, but when a hotel concierge, a restaurant maitre d', a hack driver, and the president of the United States ask about you, I must say that it does give me pause.
Mrs. Cleveland, whose name is Frances, is a most delightful person. She is younger than I am, but is mature beyond her years. She took me on a personal tour of the capital, and how fun it was to see the city through her eyes.
How glad I am that I stuck to my childhood dream of seeing the wonderful West, and how fortunate I have been in finding in you, the love of my life. I shall be returning home next week, and expect to arrive in Big Rock at eleven o'clock Tuesday morning. I can hardly wait until I breathe the high, sweet air of Colorado once again, and, if I may be so bold as to put it in words, to taste the lips of the man of my dreams.
Your loving wife, Sally
"Yahoo, boys!" Smoke said. "She'll be back home next Tuesday!"
"Reckon we'll be through ridin' bog by then?" Cal asked.
Pearlie chuckled. "You ain't never really through ridin' bog, Cal. You know that."
"Yeah, I know, but it's generally worse right after winter is over," Cal said. "Then it starts easin' up some."
Another necessary, but unpleasant job, would be cleaning out the water holes. It would require a team of horses and a scraper. Depending on the size of the hole, and how much weed, mud, and cow-dung there were in the water, it would sometimes take up to a week just to clean one hole.
Of course, even before the general roundup was done, there would be a roundup of all the newly born calves, so they could be branded. This was the kind of work that was keeping Smoke, Pearlie, Cal, and the other cowboys, those who had been present all winter, and those who were newly signed on for the spring roundup, busy.
Chapter TwoBig Rock
When Sally Jensen stepped down from the train it was nearly midnight. Dark and cold, the little town of Big Rock was a windy emptiness under great blinking white stars. "What ever do you see in that wild and wooly West?" Molly Tremaine had asked, during Sally's recent visit with her. Molly was an old schoolmate, now married to a Boston lawyer.
"It isn't something that can be explained," Sally replied. "It is something you have to experience. There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more vibrant, than to live in that wonderful country."
Sally wished Molly could be here, right now, to get a sense of the magnificent wonder of the place—high and dry, with the stars so huge it was almost as if she could reach up and pluck one from the sky.
Sally had written to Smoke telling him she would arrive mid-morning Tuesday, but when she was in St. Louis she took advantage of a faster connection, which caused her to arrive in Big Rock almost twelve hours ahead of her schedule. At first she thought only of the time she would be saving, not realizing it meant she would arrive in the middle of the night. She was alone on the depot platform and there was no one to meet her.
Excerpted from ASSAULT OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2011 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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