by DiVoran Lites
It was time for fall round-up, and Aldon was anxious to move the cattle down the mountain before they decided to move themselves. The three-year-old cows had such a strong homing instinct that if no one came for them by the end of summer they’d start down on their own. He knew if that happened the cattle could fall off cliffs, get caught in brush, or be attacked by predators. He had taken the foreman’s job so it was his responsibility to get the cattle safely back to the ranch.
Checking to see that everyone was equipped for the trip, he looked first at Ellie and his heart did cartwheels. She wore her new Stetson and a pair of jeans that would fit a young lad. She had on her dainty leather gloves and Aldon was glad to know that her violinist hands would be protected from the rough work of riding, roping, and carrying kindling once they arrived at the line cabin. All riders had multi-purpose bandanas around their necks. They could use them for carrying freshly caught fish or wild strawberries — not both at the same time, of course. A bandana would keep dust out of their noses or double as a washrag, also it could be handy as a bandage or tourniquet.
Aldon wore his Colt 45s in their holsters slung at hip level and his bullets snugged into the slots of his ammunition belt around his waist. His rifle fit snugly in its case under the stirrup fender.
“You look ready for anything,” Aldon said, as he watched Ellie gracefully mount Summer. He was proud of her. She had learned so much and so had he. She neither looked at him nor smiled. He’d heard of broken hearts, but he’d never had a taste of what one might feel like before.
Aldon never got tired of heading out after the cattle when the air was as crisp and pure as cold apple cider, and the leaves on the aspens twinkled silver and gold. As they climbed, he saw more wildflowers than he’d ever seen before. A small patch of snow in perpetual shade had glacier lilies growing near it, while a stump at the top of a rise grew Columbines at its base. He must remember to tell Ellie they were the state flower – that is if they ever really talked to each again. They passed Mirror Lake where mountains reflected in the lake were perfect duplicates of the ones that towered above. The day passed quickly and by the time they got to the line cabin it was almost dark.
Aldon built up the campfire and stood watching while Ellie hooked a pot of beans onto the trivet that straddled it
“Will you walk up to the beaver dam with me?” he asked her. “It’ll take a while for supper to get warmed up. Kenny can stir the beans and keep them from burning.
Ellie sighed, but still wouldn’t look at him.
“Come on, please.” He tugged on her jacket sleeve. “I need to talk to you.”
“Oh all right,” she shrugged. “Let’s go.” She followed silently as he led up the trail.
When they got to the pond she looked around and he could tell she was remembering the last time they were here. They sat down on the clean, flat rock that was still warm from the sun.
“I don’t think the rattler would have struck at you, so my action might have been too impulsive.” Aldon said. “I’ve always had a hair-trigger when it comes to looking after people. It’s a bad habit and I want you to know that I’m asking God help me to change.”
“I agree, but don’t over-do it. Sometimes people need protection, especially around poisonous snakes.” She still didn’t look at him, but at least she was talking.
“The thing is,” he said, feeling he hadn’t made his point. “I’m praying hard about developing some self-control.”
“You don’t have to do it on my account,” Ellie said. “I’m not going to be around here that long.
“What?” he jerked his head toward her and stared. His felt as if his heart had stopped circulating. “You’re leaving?”
“I don’t want you to feel like you did something wrong. You were trying to keep the peace in the dance and that was part of your job as a community leader. I’m not exactly pleased with the idea people have of me now, but Enrico has treated me respectfully since then. You didn’t think I did anything to encourage him, did you? I didn’t mean to.” She pressed her lips together.
“No! He didn’t need any encouragement. He thought he should have everything his way — we all think that sometimes, I suppose. But I want to know…am I driving you away?”
“No. I’m going partly because of the weather. I don’t want to be here in the wintertime. It’s cold enough in Chicago to freeze your toes off, and I hear it’s as bad in this place. The ranch won’t need me. I’d just get in the way.”
“But where are you going? Winter’s pretty common most everywhere.”
“I’m thinking about heading for California.” She ran her fingers through her hair and then smoothed it down.
DiVoran’s Promise Posters, Paintings from Go West as well as other art can be purchased as note cards and framable art