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Drummond Takes a Hand
By Alan Irwin
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2008 Alan Irwin
All rights reserved.
Jane, wife of homesteader Ed Foster, straightened her back and looked over the patch of vegetable garden which adjoined the house, and which was her pride and joy. She was an attractive fair-haired woman in her late twenties. She had been doing some work in the garden while her husband and young son Davy had taken the buckboard into the nearby town of Danford for supplies.
She looked to the east, through the clear Wyoming air, along the river which ran past the homestead, to see if there was any sign of the returning buckboard. It was not in view, but as she turned to go back into the house, she noticed a rider approaching at a canter from the south. Curious, she waited until the rider, a man, rode up to her, and stopped. He was a stranger to Jane and she took a close look at him.
About five-eleven in height, he was in his early thirties, well-built and clean-shaven. He was neatly dressed, with brown hair showing beneath the brim of his Texas hat. He was wearing a long-barrelled Colt .45 Peacemaker in a right-hand holster. Jane studied his face. A good-looking man, she thought, with a pleasant, open, square-jawed face, and an air of confidence about him. A man who could be trusted, she decided, instinctively.
The stranger touched the brim of his hat.
'Howdy, ma'am,' he said. 'I'm heading for Danford. I'm a stranger in these parts, but I reckon it's somewhere nearby?'
'You reckon right,' said Jane. 'Follow the river for seven miles to the east, and you can't miss it. I'm expecting my husband and boy back from there in the next hour or so. You look like you've had a long ride. I've got a pot of coffee on the stove. Maybe you'd like to share it. Truth is, I couldn't be happier than I am on this homestead, but now and again, I crave to hear a little of what's happening away from here.'
'I'm obliged, ma'am,' said the stranger. 'My name's Drummond, Will Drummond.'
He watered his horse from a trough nearby, then washed his face and hands, using a bowl of water standing near the door of the house. Then he followed Jane inside.
'I'm Jane Foster,' she said. 'I've got a slice of apple pie to go with the coffee. My husband Ed always says that my apple pie was one of the main reasons for him marrying me. Let's see what you think.'
During the next half-hour, Will told Jane of a visit he had made to San Francisco about a year earlier, and he described, as best he could, the latest fashions there, at the time, in women's clothing. From her, he learnt that she and her husband and son Davy had moved out West from Illinois three years before, and had laid claim to the quarter-section of 160 acres, on which the house now stood. As she finished speaking, she glanced out of the open window by which they were both sitting, and saw two riders approaching.
'There are two riders heading for the house,' she said. 'I'll go out and see what they want.'
She left the house, and stood outside the door, facing the oncoming riders. As they drew closer, she recognized them as Grant, the burly ramrod of the big Diamond B Ranch which straddled the valley, and Dixon, one of the hands. Each of them was carrying a gun. They stopped on the far side of the garden patch, and Grant asked Jane if her husband was inside.
'He's gone into town,' she replied. 'What did you want him for?'
'Mr Brent is still waiting to hear that you've accepted that offer he made you in exchange for moving off this homestead,' Grant replied. 'He's getting mighty impatient. He says he's expecting you to move out soon, or face the consequences. Just pass that message on to your husband.'
Jane Foster's face flushed wit anger. 'You can tell Brent,' she said, 'that we ain't got no intention of leaving here.'
Grant scowled, and he rode slowly towards the vegetable patch, with the intention of deliberately riding across it. Dixon followed him.
'No!' shouted Jane. 'Keep off my garden!'
Will, who had heard the interchange through the open window, rose quickly and joined Jane outside. The two Diamond B men stopped short of the garden as they saw him appear. They noted the Peacemaker on his right hip.
'Who're you?' asked Grant, looking closely at the stranger.
'A friend of the Fosters,' Will replied. 'You got your answer. I reckon it's time for you to leave. Just turn round right where you are, and ride off.'
Grant hesitated. He felt a strong impulse, with Dixon's help, to give this meddlesome stranger a lesson.
Will read his mind. 'I don't advise it,' he said. 'Before you could both trigger your guns and fire an accurate shot at me, one, and maybe two of you, would be dead. And the one who's doing all the talking would be my first target. Turn round and leave, and nobody's going to get hurt.'
Grant was seething with anger. But there was something about the look in Will's eye, the expression on his face, and the hand hanging close to the handle of his six-gun that convinced the ramrod to back down.
'We'll be back,' he said, then the two men turned and rode off.
'I sure admire the way you handled those two,' said Jane.
'I've had some practice,' said Will. 'I was a lawman for a spell.'
Jane told Will that the two men who had just left were from the big Diamond B Ranch straddling the valley. The owner, Eli Brent had, for some time, she told Will, been trying to move all the homesteaders out of the valley, so that he could bring more cattle in.
'There are four homesteads along the river, including ours,' she said, 'and Brent has made offers of money to all of us if we leave. But nobody wants to go. We all filed our claims for our quarter-sections, and we figure that, according to the law, nobody can move us off. Trouble is, the nearest lawman is over a hundred miles away.
'We're all pretty worried about the situation. We're wondering what Brent's going to do next. Up to now, he's just been hassling us, without anybody getting hurt. But the way Grant was talking just now, maybe things are going to get worse.'
'Has Brent got any sons?' asked Will.
'We heard that he has one son called Luke,' Jane replied. 'But the rumour is that he's a wanted man, and we've never seen him around here.'
Just then, Jane spotted a buckboard approaching from the east, and they stood outside the house, waiting for it to arrive. Ed Foster looked curiously at Will as he climbed down from the buckboard, followed by his son Davy. Ed was a few years older than his wife. He was a stocky man, of average height, normally cheerful, and with a driving ambition to make a good living out of the homestead. Davy was a boy of nine, who bore a strong resemblance to his father.
Jane introduced Will, then told her husband about the recent visit of Grant and Dixon, terminating with Will's intervention on her behalf.
'I'm sure obliged to you, Mr Drummond,' said Foster. 'I've been afraid something like this might happen. I reckon Brent's set on clearing all us homesteaders out of the valley, whatever it takes. Are you just passing through, Mr Drummond?'
'I figure on staying in Danford for a little while,' said Will. 'I've done a lot of riding lately. Feel like resting up for a spell. It looks like you've picked yourself a good homestead here.'
'We think so,' said Foster. 'It took us a while to find it, but it was worth the effort. There's plenty of water, the soil's good, and we're fairly sheltered in the valley here. Like you see, we have a good-sized corral, and a fenced-in pasture. As well as raising crops, I'm building up a small herd, fenced in, and producing high quality meat. Up to now, things have gone pretty well for us. And the other three homesteads along the river are doing pretty good too.'
Will left the homestead shortly after, and headed for Danford. The Fosters watched him for a while as he rode towards the other homesteads strung along the river bank.
'What d'you make of him, Jane?' asked Ed. 'He sure didn't let out much about himself.'
'I think he's a good man,' she replied. 'He told me he'd been a lawman for a spell, and I believe him. He sure cut Grant and Dixon down to size. I got the feeling that if he had exploded into action, they wouldn't have stood a chance against him. And I'm sure they felt the same way too.'
Will found Danford to be just a small group of buildings, housing the necessary businesses to cater for the needs of the big Diamond B Ranch and the homesteaders. He stopped outside a large building which accommodated a small restaurant and saloon, and also provided sleeping accommodation for the occasional visitor to Danford. He found Fuller, the owner, inside, and enquired about a room for a few days.
'I can fix you up,' said Fuller, a pleasant middle-aged man. 'You got business in town?'
'No,' replied Will. 'Just resting up for a few days.'
As Will was climbing the stairs to his room, he was spotted by Dixon, the Diamond B hand, who had just come in from the street to visit the saloon bar. Will went to the restaurant for supper a little later, then, tired after a long ride, he went back to his room for some sleep.
In the morning, he was just finishing breakfast in the restaurant, when a man walked into the room and up to his table. He was a big man, well dressed and bearded, with an arrogant look about him.
'I'm Brent, owner of the Diamond B,' he said. 'I know you're Drummond, who had a run in with two of my men yesterday. I'd like a word with you.'
Will gestured to the empty chair at the table, and Brent sat down.
'You told my men that you were a friend of the Fosters,' he said, 'but I reckon you can't be all that close, because you're a stranger in the valley, and you ain't staying with them at the homestead. So I figured you might be interested in a proposition I have to put to you.
'You've probably heard that I want the homesteaders out of this valley. I need room for the extra cattle I'm going to bring in. I've been reasonable so far. Offered all of them a good price for moving out and finding homesteads somewhere else. But they're all being obstinate. I need to step up the pressure on them. And that's where you come in. I think you're the kind of man who can throw a real scare into those settlers, for the kind of money I can offer you. And I'm talking big money. Are you interested in the job?'
'You wouldn't be bothered if one or two of the homesteaders got killed?' asked Will. 'That might be the only way to get them to move.'
Brent looked hard at the man sitting opposite him. Will's face was expressionless.
'The way I look at it,' said Brent, 'they've only themselves to blame if anything like that happens to them.'
'I was wondering just how far you were prepared to go,' said Will. 'The way I look at it, the homesteaders have the legal right to work their homesteads without any interference from you. The solution to your problem seems pretty clear to me. Take your cattle out of the valley, and find some other range that's big enough for the operation you want to run. That would leave the way open for more homesteaders to settle in the valley here.'
Will leaned back in his chair, and awaited the rancher's reaction. Brent rose to his feet, his face flushing with anger.
'I want you out of this valley, Drummond,' he said. 'I don't want you meddling in my affairs. You're only one man. I've got twelve hands on my payroll, and I can bring help in from outside if I need it. Stay on here, and you'll regret it.'
He turned, and stomped out of the restaurant. Fuller, who had seen the rancher and Will at the table, and had heard Brent's raised voice just before he left, came over to speak to Will.
'It looks like you upset Brent,' he said. 'I ain't aiming to pry, just wanted to let you know he's a bad enemy to have. I've had a lot of trouble with his men getting out of hand in here, but I know it's no use complaining to Brent. Sometimes, I wish I'd never started up a business in Danford.'
Will felt sure that Fuller's resentment towards Brent was genuine.
'Has Brent got any family living with him?' he asked.
'None,' Fuller replied. 'I heard that his wife died a while back. And there's a son Luke. I met him only once, in town here, about two years ago. Not long after that I heard a rumour that he was wanted by the law, and as far as I know he ain't been back here since. Which don't mean, of course, that he's never spent any time hiding out on the Diamond B.'
'I expect you know Brent's trying to move the homesteaders out of the valley,' said Will.
'Yes,' replied Fuller, 'and that's another thing I ain't happy about. The settlers are all good friends of mine. I see hands from the Diamond B in here pretty often, and from what I've overheard, Brent's made his mind up that the settlers have got to leave.'
After getting some information from Fuller about the Diamond B, including the location of the ranch buildings in the valley, Will went to the livery stable for his horse, and rode to the Foster homestead. Ed, working on a repair to the corral fence, saw him coming, and walked to join Jane and Davy, who were working in the garden by the house. When Will reached them, he dismounted at Ed's invitation.
'Howdy,' he said. 'I had a visit from Brent this morning in Danford. Figured you'd like to hear what he had to say. He was offering me a very well-paid job helping him to get you homesteaders out of the valley. When I played along with him for a while, it turned out he would go as far as having some of you killed, if that was the only way to get rid of you. It looks like you and the others are in real trouble. And when I turned Brent down flat, he as good as said I was a dead man if I didn't leave the valley myself.'
'This is bad news,' said Ed. 'I never figured Brent would go that far. We're obliged to you for warning us. I've got to get together with the other homesteaders and talk about this.'
'I'd make it quick,' said Will.
'You're right,' said Ed. 'I'll start on it right now. You'll be leaving the valley, I reckon. No need for you to get mixed up in this affair.'
'I'm already mixed up in it,' said Will. 'I've been ordered by Brent to leave the valley. I don't like threats. I aim to stay and help you homesteaders if that's what you want.'
'We're sure going to be glad of your help,' said Ed. 'You stay here and I'll bring the others back with me. Then we can talk.'CHAPTER 2
When Ed Foster had ridden off to round up the men running the other three homesteads, Will had a talk with Jane. He could see that she was deeply worried about the situation.
'It don't seem fair,' she said, 'after all the hard work we've put in here. Brent shouldn't be able to threaten us like this. We like it here, and we own this quarter-section.'
'It's happening in other places where the law is stretched out pretty thin,' said Will. 'All it needs is a greedy rancher who was there first, maybe had some Indian trouble at first, and got round to thinking that the range he was using was all his by right. But maybe we can stop Brent from getting what he wants. I'd like you to tell me about the other homesteaders, before they get here.'
'All right,' said Jane. 'We're pretty friendly with all of them. Starting with the first homestead east of here, that belongs to George and Ruth Bellamy, about the same age as me and Ed. They have a young girl, about eight-years-old. George is a good man, but he has a pretty quick temper. He ain't like Ed. He's liable to act on impulse, without thinking things through.
'Next to them are Andrew and Grace Carter, a few years older than us, with a girl and a boy, ten and eleven years old. Andrew's a quiet man, and a hard worker. Grace does most of the talking.
'The last homestead is run by Hans and Greta Bender. They're a bit older than the rest of us, around fifty, I'd guess. I reckon they'd be the first to think seriously about moving out if Brent started stepping up the pressure.
Just over an hour later, Ed returned with the three homesteaders. They went into the house and sat down. Ed introduced Will to the others, then spoke to him.
'I've told my neighbours about your conversation with Brent,' he said, 'and they know you were a lawman for a spell. They'll be glad of any advice and help you can give them, but they're wondering if we can come up with the cost of hiring you.'
'I wasn't aiming to get any pay for helping you out,' said Will. 'Food and a bed from one of you is all I need. Brent ordered me out of this valley, which was one sure way of making me stay.'
'That's mighty generous of you,' said Ed. 'You're welcome to stay at our place.'
'Mr Drummond,' said Carter, a short, powerful-looking man, with a placid look about him. 'Ed says you've heard of this kind of thing happening in other places. What do we have to look out for?'
'It varies,' Will replied, 'and the name's Will, by the way. Generally, when the homesteaders have refused any offers of money for moving out, the rancher will start hassling them, first in small ways by getting his hands to ride up to the homesteads and shout insults and threats, and maybe fire off a few shots into the air. If that don't make any difference, the hands may start visiting the homesteads during the night, damaging crops and starting fires. If that don't work, then one or more professional gunfighters might be brought in to pick a fight and kill one of you, to throw a scare into the rest. Another trick is to pick out the homesteader who is most likely to give in under pressure, and concentrate on him. If he leaves, the morale of the others is likely to suffer.'
Excerpted from Drummond Takes a Hand by Alan Irwin. Copyright © 2008 Alan Irwin. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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