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In half an hour, the twelve forty-five from Lincoln and Points East would be pulling into the station.
Tying his buckskin to the hitching rail behind the depot, Will Brandt slid one hand across its flank as he limped around the animal to catch the reins of the second horse and secure them also.
He was a tall, blond man, posture still straight in spite of being past the bare edge of fifty, his blue eyes appearing startlingly pale in a face tanned to a leathery sheen by the harsh Nebraska sun.
Taking a deep breath, he looked up Front Street.
Town was looking pretty good these days, he decided. Seemed to be prospering. From where he stood he could see the Sheriff's Office, Painter's Mercantile and General Emporium -- run by the original owner's two sons -- a haberdashery shop, and next to it, the milliner's.
Though they were out of his line of vision, he knew that the offices of the Wolf Creek Gazette , the Wells Fargo Bank, and Rosita's Eatery -- great place for an after-sermon breakfast on a Sunday! -- as well as the Lucky Shamrock Saloon, which had replaced the old Wagon Wheel when that establishment had closed fifteen years before -- lined the main thoroughfare, plus a dozen other buildings on side and back streets.
Across the street and a few buildings down from the Shamrock, its rival, the Daisy Belle Bar, was already open for business with faint but beautiful music coming from its unlocked doorway. Something surprisingly classical -- a Chopin waltz, if he wasn't mistaken -- rendered by Karl Neuschafer, a German immigrant and former music teacher who'd discovered there was more money to be made byplaying the piano in a Western saloon and dancehall than trying to drum musical knowledge into stubborn little minds.
Will sighed. Good man, Karl -- from near Will's old home in Germany. Sometimes he'd stop by when his former countryman was taking a break and they'd share a drink and reminisce about the old country, talking quietly in their native language to ensure they never forgot it.
One of those new-fangled horseless carriages clattered by and he turned to look at it with barely concealed amusement. The motor sputtered and coughed and, with a backfire like the crack of a rifle shot, died.
The horse threw back its head and snorted, eyes rolling wildly, and Will put a hand on its muzzle, speaking to it quietly, soothing its fright.
"Shh -- It's all right, don't let that infernal machine scare you! Quiet, liebling . Whoa, now…"
Cursing silently, the driver reached under the seat, then slid out of the contraption, duster flapping in the breeze. He removed his goggles and stamped to the front of the automobile where he fitted the handle he carried into a slot in the front of the engine and began to turn it vigorously.
Behind him, hooves sounded. Two of Will's riders trotted their ponies down the street, nodding to their boss as they passed.
They saw the stalled auto and pulled their horses to a halt, conversing quietly a moment as they watched the driver struggle with the handle. Abruptly, one of them pulled off his hat, swatting his horse on the flank, making it leap forward. His companion copied his action and they thundered toward the car, circling it twice, hats waving. "Yee-haah! Get a horse!" Then they galloped away amid whistles and jeers, leaving the driver staring after them and working the lever angrily.
The horse looked after them and neighed a short, distressed cry, signaling its dislike of the sounds of civilization flowing around him. It missed the open plains and fresh air, free of the smells of people, smoke, and internal combustion engines.
It was a range horse, a blanket Appaloosa, its coat blue roan with a raindrop spotting of color on its white flanks and rump. Will had bought the animal from an old trapper who had lived a while on the Oklahoma reservation of the Nez Perce, credited with originating the breed. He had been on his way to the Dakotas and had needed the money and Will knew the minute he saw the animal, that it was the one he wanted for Shadow, as a welcome home present for his son.
Making certain the reins were tied so the animal couldn't pull free and make good its escape, he left both horses and went around the building, trying not to favor his bad leg.
Jehosaphat ! The long ride to town had aggravated it, sudden needle-like stabs radiated from his thigh downward. He paused a moment, waiting for the pain to pass.
He hoped the placidity of his own horse would quiet the Appaloosa. It appeared to be temperamental -- that was another reason the trapper was willing to part with it -- and was probably a one-man horse, a challenge Shadow would accept with pleasure.
Stopping at the steps leading up to the depot platform, Will dug into his vest pocket and extracted a large gold watch. Opening the case, he held it at arm's length as he peered at the face before looking down the tracks.
Blasted eyesight isn't getting any better .
If he didn't watch it, he'd be wearing spectacles pretty soon, and once that happened, it was only a hop, skip, and a stumble to rheumatism, and rocking chairs and hot milk before he went to bed at night.
Confound it ! Once a man started getting a little age on him, it was downhill all the way.
Well, he wasn't ready to lie down and die, although, at fifty-one, he sometimes did feel a mite stiff after riding all day, and once in a while, would like to stay in bed a little longer after the sun came up, and often, his bones did ache before a rainstorm. Still, he supposed that a man with a grown son -- a college educated son who was now on his way back home, a son he hadn't seen in nearly six years, since he'd sent the boy Back East to school -- well, a man like that ought to ease up a little …let the younger generation do some of the work.
Copyright © 2007 Toni V. Sweeney.