He lay on the dirt floor of the tool shed where they had dragged him. He had feigned unconsciousness, and it had not been far from the truth. In fact, after they deposited him in the shed he had to fight to keep from drifting off. But he knew if he did, he wouldn’t wake up for a long time, and that would be fatal. In the brief discussion the men had had after they stopped kicking him, believing him to be unconscious, Fogarty had made it clear they would kill Jeff after someone named Stewart returned. Fogarty also stated that in his opinion, Jeff would not come around before then. Perhaps that was the reason why they had not left anyone to guard the tool shed, a fact Jeff ascertained by peering through the cracks between the plank walls.
The old man trod lightly and kept to the shadows. He knew he was on Rafter 8 land and it was a dangerous place for him to be. He stopped often to scan the moonlight-bathed desert and then moved on followed by a horse, which he led by a rope hackamore. On a darker night he would have ridden, but in this bright moonlight a mounted man would make a tall profile. He was within a hundred yards of the river, which at this point marked the western border of the Rafter 8 Ranch, or the T. S., as it was now called. When he had crossed the river he would ride.
A week after the incident at the T. S., Tom Stewart rode into town, accompanied by Fogarty. He had several items of business to take care of, but his main interest was finding out what Jennings had accomplished in regards to locating Jeff Havens and evicting Julio Arroyo. Stewart timed his arrival in town to coincide with the hour when Jennings customarily went to the hotel for breakfast. Had Jennings known how closely Stewart had studied him and how well his habits were known to the man, he would have been quite uncomfortable and more than a little suspicious. Stewart and Fogarty were already seated at a table near the door when Jennings entered the hotel. Stewart, acting surprised, stood up and extended his hand.
The Mountain Range was vast, though from the desert it did not look so. The face of its front was a mere facade to the extensive labyrinth of peaks and canyons beyond. Few men knew these mountains better than Jeff. In his youth he, Amado, and sometimes John Havens had hunted and camped here often, and though he had not set foot here for many years, Jeff had not forgotten the trails and canyons and cloven hills of his youth. This gave him a decided advantage over the posse. Moreover, he believed he had never ridden a finer animal than the horse Amado had loaned him. By noon he was confident he had left the posse behind.
Fogarty frowned as he considered the situation. He didn’t know whether to wait for Sundust and Hatcherson, whom he had not seen in days, or to move ahead and try to meet up with them. The group had heard shooting the night before—distant, but clear—and were confident the manhunters had brought the hunt to a successful close. Morale in the camp was high this morning. After almost two weeks, they would soon be leaving these desolate mountains.
Anne lay on the bed in the guest room—which she had begun to think of as her room. She had been there for hours, thinking. The sun had set and the room was dark, but she had not bothered to light a lamp. Stewart was in town again tonight. He was spending more and more time away from the ranch and things were not right between them. She realized now they never really had been. Until recently, she had convinced herself her life was satisfactory. Now she understood it was woefully deficient in the things most essential to happiness. The fact she was expecting a baby gave her additional reason to reassess her circumstances. She wanted her child to be happy—she didn’t want its childhood to be like hers had been, and she realized unhappily, that her life was following a pattern which had been established for her by her parents.
Ted Walker strode briskly down the boardwalk of Main Street. He had a lot on his mind—not an unusual condition for a man who is mayor of a busy, growing town, but the matters which were presently causing him to furrow his brow and chew his lower lip in anger were matters that extended beyond the scope of the mayoral office. He crossed the street and tramped past the bank, preoccupied and paying little attention to the comings and goings of the people on the street and boardwalks.
Jeff rolled over and heard the rustling of pine needles beneath him and the patter of rain drops falling on the tarp that covered him. It had rained hard all night and all the previous day, but was only coming down lightly now. He had slept warm and dry in his blankets, sandwiched between a ground sheet and a tarp, but as he poked his head out into the gloomy, gray morning, he realized he was about the only dry thing around. The trees and grass glistened all around him, and the horses tethered nearby grazed stoically in the tall grass and dripped water, not appearing to mind.
It was mid-morning when Hank, Cracker, and a puncher named Reef Hodges rode out of camp, taking Jeff with them on Billy Dell’s horse. The other riders remained behind to drive the rustled herd back to the Circle M.
Winter came too soon, as it does in the high country, and laid its whiteness across the land. There was a small sawmill outside of town whose owner had become too ill to run it and had placed it up for sale. Jake Sharp bought it and hired Jeff to run it, with two other men to help him. The equipment and premises were in disrepair and it was slow going at first, but by spring, business looked promising. Jeff lived in a shack on the premises, which he had cleaned up and repaired. It was small, but warm and comfortable. One day a week he still drove a wagon to the mines with Sharp.
On their arrival at the Double T headquarters, Hank and Beeman rode up to the front of the house but did not dismount. Beeman had considered bringing the bodies of the dead Double T men out himself, but decided it would be a bad idea.
Jim Marcellin was trying hard to stay angry with his mother. She had a frustrating way of making him feel he was being unreasonable even when he was sure he was in the right. Hank had awakened him that afternoon when it was discovered Catherine and Reef were gone. On questioning, Felipe had disclosed that Catherine had left in the buggy during Shorty’s burial, and that Reef had left alone some time later, apparently following Catherine. Dolores, ever true to her mistress, had refused to say anything.
Jeff rode back to town, arriving there at about noon. He rode directly to Sharp’s Mercantile, dismounted and tied his horse in front. He dreaded what he was about to do, but he had no choice. The time had come for him to leave. It had happened unexpectedly and there had been no chance to prepare. Jake would not be happy about it, but if he didn’t move quickly his chance would slip by.
Jim Marcellin was in a foul mood. The day had turned gray and chilly, making his wounds ache. The leg wound was starting to look inflamed, and Catherine had poulticed it and advised him he had been doing too much and she was going to make sure he engage in nothing more strenuous than eating and reading for a solid week.
From his point of concealment on a craggy, brush-covered hillside, Jeff watched as Beeman lowered the pack, then the gun belt, and pistol to the ground. It was a gesture he had not expected, but one that brought him a great sense of relief. It was a long ride that was ahead of him, and he had not relished the thought of making it unarmed and without food.
Noon of the following day found Jeff back on his grandfather’s land, though miles from the ranch house. He skirted the edges of the flat-lands, keeping to the foothills where he had plenty of cover and multiple avenues of escape in case he was spotted.
Anne stepped out of the doorway of the shop and looked up and down the street, scanning the faces and rubbing her neck and shoulders, which ached from long hours of sewing. Seeing no one she recognized as being connected with the T.S., she turned and locked the door, above which hung a small, attractively painted sign that read simply, ”Dressmaker”.
Stewart awoke early but lay in bed for some time, mentally planning. He felt better about things this morning, partly due to the fact he had obtained the money from Willard Deering. He had never trusted banks, but now that his own safe had been robbed, he had some regret about that. If his money had been in a bank, he would still have it. He would recoup his losses—of this he was certain. Cattle were money; they merely had to be rounded up and driven to a buyer. There were still plenty of cattle on the T.S., and plenty more to be rustled from the ranchers up north.
Ollie Shepard had been nervous and worried all day and was vastly relieved when Jeff and his horse appeared out of the darkness and passed into the runway of the livery. Ollie closed the doors and demanded to be told everything. Jeff related briefly all that had occurred, after which Ollie clapped him on the back gleefully and said, “I’m gonna go get drunk.”
Jeff climbed the last few steps up the hill to Amado’s grave and turned to gaze out over the valley as Amado had loved so much to do. It was truly a beautiful place. The desert had shed the dry brownness of summer and was dressed in green, brought on by the cool weather and the recent rains.