Cattleman's Lament

by Lubrican

Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6-13 Available On

PLEASE NOTE: This is a preview of this novella. It is available for purchase in its entirety via

Author's Comment: Both bestiality and rape are mentioned in this story, and there is some violence to move the plot forward. None of these elements are significantly described, but the reader should be prepared to be confronted with these concepts.


Chapter One

Sarah Jean Collins lay back and stared up at the dark blue sky, filled with fluffy white clouds. She felt the sun on her face and smiled. She wasn't out in the sun quite as much as her father and brothers, and didn't yet see it as a pain in the behind that one just had to deal with during the work day. Her body rocked, as the horse under her kept walking in the direction she had last urged it to go, but her muscles automatically took the horse's gait into account and shifted subtly to keep her from sliding one way or the other. Her thighs, draped around the horse's neck helped too.

She felt Daisy's haunch muscles bunch and move under her back as the mare stepped gracefully over the scrub, heading for home, and the pan of oats she knew Sarah would provide her when they got there. Sarah loved riding bareback, in direct connection with the magnificent animal that carried her, and she rarely used a saddle unless she was working on the trail, or doing other work with cattle.

But today she was just enjoying being with her friend, as the summer breeze swept across the plain. She had ridden over to visit Mrs. Settleton, on the ranch "next door", and the new dress Beatrice Settleton had made for her was in the saddlebags connected by the wide leather strap that currently made a hard pillow for Sarah's head. It was a red and white checkered gingham dress, and Sarah was going to wear it to the dance that was scheduled in just two weeks. Travis Woods would ask her to dance, and as they swirled to the tune of the fiddle and washboard, he would fall madly in love with her and beg her to become his bride. And then ... she'd find out what made her mamma moan so loud when she and Pappa were alone in the dark of their bedroom at night.

Sarah had heard that moan clearly on a lot of nights since she was a little girl. The first time she'd been aware of it as a real sound was the first time it had awakened her. Her parents' room was right next to hers in the big house her pa had built in the shelter of a geologic disruption in the mostly flat land they ranched. Her brothers had shared that room with her, but had recently been installed in their own newly added room across the house.

She had only been eight or nine that time, when her mother's agonized sounding moans had come through the wall clearly, and she had awakened. Unused to being alone in her room - it was her room now - and used to the noises her brothers made while they slept, her mother's voice had sounded like she was in pain. Sarah had been instantly frightened, thinking of Indians, or some other danger that had overtaken her mother. Those piteous moans had broken into an agonized plea of "Pleeease Jonas ... don't tease meeee."

Jonas was her pappa and the noises that had followed had made her get out of bed and pound on her parents' door. She would never forget the sight of her pappa's huge body, holding the lantern as he opened that door, a pistol in his hand. He was stark naked, something Sarah had never seen before, and his gaze was over her head, searching for the cause of the pounding.

Then his eyes had fallen to see Sarah, somehow huddling, even though she was standing alone in the dark of the hallway.

"It's just Sarah." he said over his shoulder.

Her mother had appeared, concern on her face, closing a robe around her, but Sarah could see that she too was naked under that robe as it closed and was belted.

Then there had been the questions about what was wrong, and Sarah's tear-filled complaint of the sounds she had heard, as if her mother was being killed.

Her pappa had laughed, standing there like he was proud to be buck naked, instead of ashamed, like all decent people were if they had on no clothes. Even at eight Sarah had been taught that.

"Send her back to bed, Molly." he said roughly. "We're not finished yet."

Mamma had shot her husband a look that would have sent Sarah running, had it been aimed her way, but Pappa had just laughed louder and turned away, back toward the bed.

Mamma had taken Sarah back to her bed, and sat there in the dark, telling Sarah that what she had heard was nothing bad, but what husbands and wives did sometimes that was what they were made for during creation. She tried to convince Sarah that those sounds were pleasure, not pain, and that she must never interrupt them again when she heard them.

And so, over the years, whenever Sarah heard those noises again, her mind tried to come up with some scene that would account for them. She tried to think of her parents dancing, since that was fun, but who would dance naked? And why? When she started to bleed between her legs and her mother instructed her on what to do about that, she asked again about the sounds for some reason. Her mother simply said that, once she was married, she would understand. That was all she had ever been told.

Well, perhaps not all, though she didn't know it. At various times she had been scolded for wrestling with a boy ... Junior Ridgemont, to be precise. She was fourteen at the time and he had said something she didn't like, so she took him down and sat on him. He had cried, lying there in the dust under her, his eye already swelling where she had punched him. They were in town at the time, getting provisions, and her mother had seen from not far away. Her mother's anger had been vitriolic, and full of talk about how civilized people didn't behave that way, which was purely puzzling, since Sarah's brothers acted like that all the time, as did most of the cowboys around, and nobody ever yelled at them about it.

Her mother had made her wear dresses after that ... all the time. You couldn't fight or wrestle in a dress. You couldn't move quickly in a dress. And your legs got tangled up, so you couldn't kick. You could still stomp, but the soft soled shoes her mother made her wear weren't any good for stomping. Now, the only time she could put on pants, or boots, was when she had to ride a horse.

Which was one reason Sarah Jean Collins was riding Daisy on this sunny summer day. Anybody could have picked up her new dress from Mrs. Ridgemont, but the excuse to be able to wear pants was too much to pass up. So, Sara was dressed in pants, and one of her brother's cast-off blue checkered shirts, lying on her back, stretched out on the firm, swaying rump of her best friend in the world, riding along without a care in the world.

Then, her best friend stopped.

That was odd. Daisy wouldn't stop on her own. She was too well trained for that. About that time Sarah heard a deep voice ... one that raised the hackles on the back of her neck.

"Well, looky what we got here." growled the voice.

Sarah knew that voice. It belonged to one of the men who should not be anywhere near where she was currently located. It belonged to a man who would be beaten and dragged through the scrub if he were caught on her father's range. It belonged to Buford Smith.

And Buford Smith was one of the men who worked for Brad Rocklin, who was, if not at war with her father, at least most unwelcome in this part of Wyoming. Brad Rocklin was a sheep man, and that made Sarah Jean Collins shudder.

Sheep were domesticated 10,000 years ago in Central Asia, but it wasn't until 3,500 B.C. that man learned to spin wool. Sheep helped to make the spread of civilization possible. Sheep production was well established during biblical times. There are many references to sheep in the Old Testament. Sheep farming is man's oldest organized industry. Wool was the first commodity of sufficient value to warrant international trade.

In the 1400's, Queen Isabella of Spain used money derived from the wool industry to finance Columbus and other conquistadors' voyages. In 1493 on his second voyage to the New World, Columbus took sheep with him as a "walking food supply." He left some sheep in Cuba and Santo Domingo. In 1519, Cortez began his exploration of Mexico and the Western U.S. He took with him sheep that were offspring of Columbus' sheep. These sheep are believed to be the descendents of what are now called "Churros." The Navajo Churro is the oldest breed of sheep in the U.S. Despite efforts by the U.S. government to replace them, the breed is still raised by Navajo Indians.

As useful as sheep were, though, they were also the cause of much contention during American history.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, England tried to discourage the wool industry in the American colonies. Nonetheless, colonists quickly smuggled sheep into the states and developed a wool industry. By 1664, there were 100,000 sheep in the colonies, and the General Court of Massachusetts passed a law requiring youth to learn to spin and weave. By 1698, America was exporting wool goods. England became outraged and outlawed wool trade, making it punishable by cutting off the person's right hand. The restrictions on sheep raising and wool manufacturing, along with the Stamp Act, led to the American Revolutionary War. Thus, spinning and weaving were considered patriotic acts. Even after the war, England enacted a law forbidding the export of any sheep.

George Washington raised sheep on his Mount Vernon Estate. Thomas Jefferson kept sheep at Monticello. Presidents Washington and Jefferson were both inaugurated in suits made of American wool. James Madison's inaugural jacket was woven from the wool of sheep raised at his home in Virginia. President Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the White House Lawn.

The sheep industry started in southern Wyoming in the 1870's along the Union Pacific rail line. The coming of the railroad also led to large sheep drives from Oregon to the Wyoming along the old Oregon Trail. On some drives in the 1880's as many as 20,000 sheep would be trailed to Rawlins. Even after the construction of the Oregon Short Line, sheep would be trailed from Oregon rather than be hauled on trains. Even within the state, trailing sheep remained the general means of transport. In 1928, as an example, a herd of 1500 sheep purchased from the Yellowstone Sheep Company was trailed from Hudson to Douglas even though the railroad was available. The reason was simple. One sheepherder with a dog and a sheep wagon, could herd as many as two thousand sheep. By 1910 there were over five and a half million sheep in the state.

But in the late 1870's during what came to be called the U.S. range wars, violent conflicts erupted between cattle ranches and sheep herders as both competed for land to graze their livestock.

Which brings us back to Sarah Jean Collins, who sat, more or less, her horse, on a summer day in 1877.

Sarah was a cowman's daughter, and, at age sixteen, was tougher than most men five years older than her nowadays would even hope to be. Her five foot six inch frame, which was undeniably as female as any man could hope for, belied that toughness. Her hands would have convinced anyone that she was a hard worker, but her thrusting breasts, unfettered by undergarments that women in later years would wear routinely, drew a man's eyes away from her hands. From there it was difficult to decide whether to look at those obviously sweet soft humps under her shirt or dress, or at the pretty feminine face that was surrounded by a wild halo of bright yellow hair. That hair constantly got in her face when she wasn't wearing a hat, or had it tied up in ribbons like floppy dog ears. Of course it would be normal to let your eyes linger on her hips too, as they swelled out from a tiny waist, and smoothed into legs that looked too long to fit the rest of her body.

A man's eyes could get eyestrain, looking at this girl, from his eyes jerking all over the place trying to find a place to light.

"You're not supposed to be here." she said, sitting up. Her voice held command. Among the men on her pappa's ranch, she was untouchable, and her word held sway. Men who looked too long at her, or spoke roughly towards her didn't last on the Circle C ranch.

"Y'hear that Chaps? We ain't supposed to be here." said Buford, sneering. "This here is open range girlie, and you nor any of yore high fallutin' folks cain't say otherwise."

It was then that Sarah saw the sheep. While they were still in the distance, they were everywhere, heads down, doing what she knew destroyed the range ... her father's range ... HER range!

"This is Circle C land and you know it." she sneered back. My pappa has ranched this land for years. You turn those dirty beasts around and get them OFF OUR LAND!" she yelled.

Buford smiled widely, unaffected by her outburst. Then, in what was obviously supposed to be a lightning quick, smooth, and impressive maneuver, he jerked the pistol out of the holster he was wearing and pointed it in the direction of Sarah.

The only problem was that, while it was quick, it was by no means smooth, and as far from impressive as drawing a weapon could get. In the first place, Buford had been practicing that draw while shooting at tin cans, and meant only to draw the weapon to impress the girl. His muscle memory, however, caused his thumb to cock the hammer back. Buford's brain realized that something was wrong, and he looked at the pistol, as his forefinger held the trigger back and he took his thumb off the hammer.

It might have been a comedic moment, as the Colt fired, and flipped out of the startled man's hand, to spin, now gracefully, backwards as it headed for the dirt.

But the bullet grazed Daisy's neck, where her mane erupted from the skin.

Daisy was a well trained quarter horse, who would turn on a dime, stop or start in an instant, and who would go up against a longhorn with not a care in the world. Gunfire did not faze Daisy. But Daisy had never been shot before, and she reared at the burn of the bullet that removed a .44 caliber patch of her mane.

Sarah Jean Collins slid helplessly off the back of her horse and landed square on the top of her head as Daisy scampered and bucked, and then ran for home at a full gallop.

Sarah saw stars, and then everything went black.

Both Buford and his even less intelligent sidekick, known only as "Chaps" stared at the girl on the ground.

"Yuh SHOT her Buford!" gasped Chaps. "What'd yuh do THAT fer?"

"I didn't shoot her you idiot." said a very pale faced Buford. "The gun went off and skeered her horse."

"She looks pretty dead to me." said Chaps, taking his hat off and scratching his head. I don't think yuh ought to have done that Buford."

Buford sighed, once again, as he wondered why he had been saddled with this man. True, Chaps was probably the only human on earth who would call Buford his friend, but putting up with him was like putting up with sheep. It just rankled a man.

Buford thought hard, which meant it was quiet for fifteen seconds, other than the distant bleating of the sheep, and the occasional bark of Queen, the dog that actually did all the work when the sheep were being handled. Buford couldn't talk and think at the same time.

"We got tuh get her to a line shack somewheres." he finally announced. "You know, hide her away." His cretinous brain ground on further and his excitement grew. "We can hold her for ransom! And make that damn pappy of hers pay for her, to get her back. And then we'll have a stake and we can light out of here and live like kings. Yeah! That's what we'll do!"

Chaps screwed up his brow and put his hat back on. "I don't know Buford. That don't seem right to me somehow. Won't her pa be all upset?"

Buford looked at his ... friend ... and scowled. "Whatta you think her pa's gonna do if he comes along and finds her here like this, and with us here too? You think he'll ask any questions? He'll gun us both down Chaps, fer sure. An she knows who we are now. If'n we just leave her here they'll come lookin' fer us fer sure. Takin' her fer ransom is the only way out of this. Now get her up on behind me and let's get the hell out of here before that horse of hers gets back to the barn and they know somethin's up."

Sarah woke up confused and in pain. Everything hurt. Her head ached abysmally, and her stomach and chest hurt. She felt her wrists painfully too. Then the musty odor of burlap filled her nostrils. Her eyes blinked open to a dim light. She couldn't tell what she was looking at until her nose reminded her that it had to be burlap. There was a burlap bag over her head. It was stifling, and she tried to move her hands to get it away from her face. But her hands wouldn't move and the pain in her wrists increased. Her shoulder joints were on fire too. Clarity seeped into her head as she realized she was bound. Then movement under her resolved itself into the knowledge that she was tied face down on a horse that was walking.

She opened her mouth to take in a breath to complain, and the bag sucked into her open mouth. Spitting it out she moaned uncomfortably.

"I think she's awake." came the voice she suddenly realized belonged to Chaps.

"Don't matter. Not much further now." came another voice, that of Buford. Memory flooded back into her mind and she wiggled again, subsiding with another moan at the pain in her raw wrists and shoulders.

"Be still" barked Buford and she felt a hand slap her upraised bottom. It was a hard slap, and she gave a muffled squeak of outrage.

Despite what she'd heard, the ride seemed to go on forever. She bit her lip as tears streamed from her eyes. The pain was almost unbearable. The only thing that pushed past that pain was the feel of a hand, on her buttocks, rubbing and pinching.

That was when she began to get scared.

Frank Collins was oiling tack when Daisy cantered into the yard, riderless and without a saddle. He knew instantly that something was wrong, because he knew his sister, Sarah, had taken off on Daisy that morning. He whistled, and Daisy veered toward him, tossing her head and snorting. She looked angry, or scared. When she nuzzled him, he felt the dried blood matted in her mane before he saw the thin dark stain that ran down her chocolate brown neck.

Molly Collins was baking bread, and thinking about what her husband had done to her last night. She still felt, or imagined she felt, the warmth of the spend he'd left in her womb after riding her for almost an hour. Their lovemaking had always been a wild and torrid thing, since the first night Jonas had brought her to the ranch as his bride. She had been a frightened girl back then, but he had transformed her that night, and the next day people looked at her twice, trying to figure out what it was about her that was so completely different. What had transformed her was the gentle love of a man who, while he didn't know a thing about women, understood scared foals, and bawling calves better than he understood himself.

He had taken his time, hard though that was, and had coaxed his young bride along until she was the one who was pushing and pulling at him, demanding more, laughing and crying so much that he was almost ashamedly glad that the men had stayed in town that night.

Since then it had been like that almost every time they coupled. And they coupled a lot. He knew every inch of her body, and she was just as familiar with him. It didn't embarrass her to inspect each dark and hidden place about him.

One time she had sat on his back, while he pretended to be the horse. She was facing his feet and laughing as she spanked him gently, grinding her wet sex into his back. When she leaned over and parted his buttocks, curious to see what he looked like between them, he became wild, cursing as her finger probed. That was the night she had taken him into her mouth as he lay, agog, unbelieving as his virginal wife did things to him he hadn't even imagined before.

Since then she had made him her slave, demanding that he do the same kinds of things to her. He had resisted mightily, thinking that no normal man would stoop to put his tongue where she wanted it. But, once she had bullied him into it, he found her taste to be intoxicating. After that, there was almost nothing he wouldn't try if she was curious enough to ask for it. He would die a thousand deaths before admitting some of the things they did, but he looked forward to each and every night with Molly.

She had become even more wild and demanding after he impregnated her the first time, and sometimes she went much longer than he could. Still, she had a way about her that made it clear that what she needed most was ... him. She needed his soul, his essence, and she drank that in through his body when they made love. She made it impossible to feel less than a man who could compete with the mythical gods.

He had given her two more babies before a long horned steer snagged him in the crotch with the tip of a needle sharp horn, and threw him fifteen feet like he was a rag doll.

After she was assured he'd live, and would recover to walk and work, Molly had been almost as anxious about his recovery as he was. It had almost killed him to lie abed for a month, but the first time he got up and took a few steps he couldn't wait to get back to the hated bed again. Still, he was back on his feet a week later, limping around and doing what he termed "wimmens work". As to whether his sexual equipment would recover, Jonas had wanted to know sooner than the doctor said was wise, and it was Molly who pushed her delicate face into his grizzled one and snarled that if he ruined himself by trying too early, she'd cut it off and save him the trouble.

Conversely, after making him wait an entire month past when Doc Granger said it was OK to "test out the Bull", her tenderness and patience had been exactly what he needed to be soothed enough to let things happen naturally. The upshot was that his penis still worked, but the babies had stopped after that.

Molly rolled out another crust, thinking that it was too bad. She'd wanted six or seven children to assure the future of the Collins line. She was comforted by the fact that both Peter and Frank were strong young men. Sarah was the essence of motherhood too, though she resisted taking up that mantle. Molly sighed as she thought she'd have to have another talk with Sarah. At least she'd been excited about the new dress, and about going to the dance. That was an improvement, at least. If only she wasn't so picky about the boys she could have her pick of.

Frank's scream stopped Molly's movements as if she'd been frozen instantly, and the cold ran straight to her spine. That scream had the sound of panic, but not pain to a mother's ears, and she turned, looking first to the shotgun on the wall by the door. Frank yelled again, and this time she could hear the drawn out and panicked "Mawww" in it.

She grabbed the gun off the wall, broke it open to make sure it was loaded and then snapped it closed again while reaching for the door. Only the sound of Frank's boot heels on the porch gave her enough warning to step sideways as the door burst open and Frank rushed through, heading immediately for the kitchen.

"FRANK!" she shouted.

He spun, overbalancing, and his shoulder hit the wall hard enough to shake her collection of rare plates displayed on a shelf that ran the entire length of the wall up high. Molly's eyes darted toward the plates, but then snapped back to her son. The plates weren't as important as whatever had set him off. Frank was the calm one.

"Sarah's horse" he burst out. "It came back. She's not on it and it's bleeding."

Molly's existence as a rancher's wife had tempered her in ways that made her tough as nails. Clamping down on her own panic, she opened the door and pointed, not needing to say anything. She took the shotgun with her, even though it probably wasn't needed. It made her calm to feel its weight in her hand.

Daisy was standing at the stock tank, head down, drinking. Frank patted her withers and Molly saw the blood at the same time he pointed it out. As she parted the blood matted hair at the base of the mane, Daisy snorted and stepped sideways until Molly cooed at her. A quick look-over found no other injuries.

"You father is in Ford's gulch, rounding up strays. Peter and Buckshot are with him. I'm going to start backtracking Daisy. You ride Widowmaker and go get them."

Frank was off at a dead run as Molly yelled after him. "BE CAREFUL!"

Widowmaker was the fastest horse on the ranch. Jonas, and sometimes one of the boys, rode him at local fairs in the races the stockmen threw together and bet astonishing amounts of money on. His temperment belied his name. He was a sweet horse, who loved to run. He worked cattle pretty happily too, but he purely loved to run. Molly heard the clatter of hooves as she went into the house, skinned out of her dress and pulled on leather pants, and a bright red and white blouse. She stomped on her boots and grabbed a hat before getting a few things she hoped she wouldn't need when she found Sarah and packing them into a set of saddlebags she had tooled herself.

For her own mount Molly chose Vixen, a quarter horse mare who stood almost fifteen hands high. She wanted Vixen because she was voice broke, and would follow spoken commands. She could also see farther from Vixen's back, rather than her own horse, Tulip. She took Tulip along too, but not to ride.

Jonas, like most stockmen who shoed their own horses, made every set of shoes in recognizable patterns. With a quick look at Daisy's left front hoof, Molly saw the V shaped notch at the toe and knew that all four shoes would exhibit the same sign. She cursed under her breath for forgetting to ask Frank what direction Daisy came in from, but started looking towards the North, the direction Sarah had left in that morning. It only took her five minutes to pick up Daisy's back trail. She could see it easily even from up as high as she was.

Molly Collins set Vixen a mild canter and let the horse watch where they were going. Molly kept her eyes in the ground, looking for more of those notched hoof prints. They were there, dug in and far apart. Daisy had been at a dead run when she approached the ranch. That was odd. Horses usually only stayed scared for a short while, and then stopped to nibble. They'd come home, but they usually took their time about it. Whatever had happened to Sarah had scared Daisy enough to make her run for miles, unless, of course, Sarah wasn't far away at all.

Frank, besides forgetting to tell his mother which direction Daisy ran in from, also forgot, or maybe didn't think to take Daisy with him when he went to get his father. Had he been a little older, he'd have known that the first thing his father would do was examine the horse's hooves, to see what color of dust was on the fetlocks. It wasn't a sure fire piece of information, but Jonas Collins knew his range well, and he knew what soil types belonged to what areas.

Had Jonas known that Daisy's hooves were stained with red dust, he'd have known immediately that Sarah had cut through Ute Canyon, and he would have ridden straight there. But he didn't know that, and the only way he could determine where to look was the same way his wife was currently using.

Jonas was unhappy about all this, whatever it was. He and his foreman and son had collected thirty-five strays and had them bunched up and ready to move when his younger son came flying toward them on Widowmaker. The horse, after a mere five miles, didn't want to stop, and danced under Frank as he tried to tell his father what had happened. Jonas hated to leave the small herd; because he knew they'd fragment and have to be rounded up all over again. He also believed, in that way that strong men have of thinking, that there was probably nothing wrong. Sarah had probably gotten off of Daisy to water the flowers and something had spooked the horse. Daisy could work cattle, but she was lazy about it, and that colored Jonas' opinion of her worth.

So they had to return to the ranch first, to get more information from Sarah's horse, and to find her back trail.

His attitude changed instantly as he peeled apart the mane hairs and examined the wound on Daisy's neck.

"Bullet!" he growled.

"Buckshot" Anderson, so-named because of the small pieces of lead still residing in his buttocks, and placed there when he was much younger, by the father of a girl who'd objected to his attentions toward her, crowded up and pushed his boss out of the way. He peered at the crusty raw wound that was a perfect semi-circle into the flesh of the horse, right where the hair should be growing out of the neck. He idly thought that that hair would never grow there again, but then sobered as he realized Jonas was right. Peter, Jonas' elder son, tried to see what the older men were looking at. He knew not to speak. Questions could come later, but when his father was busy, or thinking, you didn't bother him.

The men examined the rest of the horse intently, at which time Jonas saw the red dust on her fetlocks.

"She used Ute Canyon." said Jonas shortly. "Peter, get your Winchester." he ordered without looking at the boy. "And extra ammunition." he added. He glanced over at Buckshot. "You think you can find that telescope you got hidden away?"

Buckshot nodded and moved off. Jonas got another box of bullets for his own rifle, which he carried with him habitually, and stuffed them in his saddlebags with an extra canteen as well. He saw that Buckshot also brought extra water, along with a short brass tube that he was wrapping in a piece of cloth. Jonas mounted his horse as he saw Peter running toward him, excited, as usual. At least he wasn't yammering ... yet. Frank came tearing out of the house belting on the double holster and Colt pistols he had won riding Widowmaker at a Rodeo a year ago. They were garish guns, with pearl handles ... sissy guns to Jonas' way of thinking.

"Frank, you stay here and keep an eye on the place." he ordered tersely.

"Paaa!" complained the boy. "I want to go with you!"

"We don't know what's going on." said Jonas, as patiently as he could. "There's a gunshot wound on your sister's horse. Could be Indians ... could be bandits ... could be those damn sheep farmers. Trouble's been brewing ever since they invaded the range. I don't want this place left unguarded. You do what I say, boy." he finished.

"Yes, Sir." said the dejected teenager. He kicked the dust with his boot toe.

"See to that wound on Daisy." said Jonas. "And rub down Widowmaker. You rode him hard today." He nudged his horse with one knee and the animal turned instantly away from the nudge. Over his shoulder, as the horse stepped out, Jonas yelled "AND DON'T SHOOT YOURSELF WITH THOSE DAMNED TOY PISTOLS!"

The other two men mounted up and the group moved directly toward the same path that Molly had taken. Now they galloped, knowing where they were going, and eager to get there.

Frank looked around, waited until his father was out of sight, picked a knothole in a fence post in the corral and, in a draw that would have left his father standing slack-jawed, fired one shot. The knothole burst outward as the hard wood was displaced by a .44 caliber bullet that struck dead in the center of the target. Frank stood and looked at what was left of that target, while his fingers automatically opened the loading gate of the pistol he had used, ejected the spent case, and loaded a fresh round into the cylinder. Almost idly he spun the pistol backwards around his trigger finger and let it drop back in the holster. He had secretly been practicing with his guns for a year, and, though he didn't know it, he had become amazingly good with them.

Then, kicking the dirt with his toe again, he went to take care of Daisy and Widowmaker.

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