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is an historical story.
No one was surprised at the change in Ralph as time went on, especially Rusty and Jim, who became quickly aware of the situation. They were happy with the outcome, knowing how important it was for men to be connected to someone, not matter how tenuous the connection was.
The winter was finally over, and the snow gradually disappeared from the yard near the main house and the bunkhouse. Scattered drifts could be seen in the range beyond, and the mountains still had their covering of the white stuff, but spring was definitely around the corner.
It was manifest in other ways too. It seemed as though everywhere they looked among the cattle they could see newborn calves nursing at their mother's side.
Seth was happy with himself and his crew. Things were beginning to turn around. With the extra cattle brought in during the winter his herd had almost double in size in one year. He looked with pride as he saw how pretty his daughters were becoming as they grew. It was time to be thinking of marriage for them, perhaps an education in the East, although he didn't really relish letting them go for that long a time.
But his sister had written that she hoped that he would consider sending at least one, if not both, to stay with her while they went to school in New York where she lived. Now widowed and with her own only daughter safely married, she had the room and the time to spend with them.
He also knew that no matter how much the younger girl like Howie, he would likely never be so inclined. And even if he were to marry her, he'd never be more than a cowhand or foreman at best. He wanted more for his children. And he finally reckoned it was time to see that they got it.
After a month's preparation, time enough to get some clothes, to write to his sister to warn her of their coming, and for letting the weather settle to make their journey more comfortable, he bade goodbye to his two daughters. There were tears for everyone who saw them off on the train that stopped especially to let them get on. Jessie was almost distraught when he learned of their leaving. He knew that it was best for them, but he would miss them enormously. He also knew that nothing could change his father's mind once he had decided to do something.
As the time grew closer he began to be excited for his sisters, almost wishing that he could go himself. But when the time to say good-bye came, he too shed tears.
He knew that he was going to be lonely without them around. He'd be alone in the house with his father, unable to be himself, and unable to get away without hurting his feelings.
And now with Calvin "out of circulation" as he referred to him, Jessie was really alone, no one the love him. He had thought that Calvin would eventually come to know and love him. But it was not meant to be.
He decided that he would have to get away for a while. Somewhere where he wouldn't feel so alone. He knew that it couldn't be right away or his father would be too upset.
As the summer passed he finally brought subject up to Ralph, so see what he thought about it. Ralph he felt knew his father better than anyone.
"How long are you planning on being gone?" Ralph asked.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully, "maybe six months or so."
"Where you plan on going?"
"I've heard that San Francisco is a pretty wild place. I think I need something like that now."
"So I've heard too. Well, you'd better make your plans now, and get across the mountains before winter. You've experienced a bit of how a winter can be in the mountains."
"That's for sure," Jessie recalled the big storm and knew he didn't want to go through anything like that again. "I was planning on leaving the beginning of September, and maybe coming back in the late spring."
"Well, I wish you lots of luck," Ralph said, adding, "At one time I'd have asked if I could go with you. But now I'm too old for that kind of trip."
"Awww, you're not too old," Jessie said smiling at him, "You're just in your prime. If'n you'd decide to go along, I'd be happy to have you."
"Tain't likely," Ralph smiled, "Don't think that Calvin would take to my going away, even for a little while."
"No I suppose not." Jessie grabbed him and hugged him tightly, "I'm happy for both of you."
"Thank you, Jessie. I hope you have a really good trip. I know that Calvin had a thing for you at one time."
"Yeah," Jessie smiled, "I guess I was too slow and let him get away."
Ralph didn't respond, what could he say?
So it was the Jessie packed up a few things and loaded a packhorse for the trip. Seth gave him some money to tide him over until he got settled, and would send him more if necessary.
He was sad to see his son go, but knew that it was time for him too. He'd been expecting it ever since he turned eighteen. He'd done the same thing when he was that age; only it was from Pittsburgh way out to Chicago then. He recalled him Momma cried up a storm when he left.
He felt badly that she never got to see her grandchildren. She was too sick to travel that far by the time that the first daughter, Cynthia was born. She died soon after, and a year later his father died, he was told, of a broken heart.
Everyone gathered around as he set off on his journey, with hugs and kissed from Rusty, Jim, Calvin, and Ralph. Even Jed came down from the house with Howie to say good-bye.
Jessie almost wished that Howie had taken a shine to Diana, he kind of like Jed himself. But Howie knew a good thing when he saw one, and stuck by Jed.
Jessie set off on his trek the first week in September just as he'd planned and rode off to the Northwest, headed for the coast, and then down to San Francisco by boat if he could get one.
It sure is quiet around the ranch with him gone, Rusty thought one afternoon as he walked up to the ranch house to speak to Seth. Ralph had asked to be relieved of the responsibility of being the foreman shortly after Jessie left. Even though Jim was older, Seth thought that Rusty would do better at the job, and offered to him. At first he refused saying that there were better men then him for the job. But after Seth explained to him all the reasons, Rusty finally agreed. He made Seth promise to talk with Jim before he told anyone else, and he wouldn't say anything at all until he made the announcement to the whole crew. Seth promised him, and the day that he decided to make the announcement, he called Jim into his office and explained his reasoning. It turned out the Jim wouldn't have taken the job even if he'd been offered it. Jim was so excited about Rusty getting the job he almost jumped for joy.
"I suppose you all wonder why I've called this meeting," Seth began as he stood on the front porch of the ranch house, with all his men standing in a group in front of him. Ralph was standing beside him.
"I don't know if you all know that Ralph here, has decided to step down as foreman, but he has. I know that you all have done right by him, and carried out his instruction whenever possible.
"Before I tell you who I've chosen to replace him, let me explain a few things to you so there won't be any hard feelings." He paused to let everyone get used to the idea that they wouldn't be getting the job.
"The person I wanted to take over the running of the ranch in the absence of Jessie, has to be strong in muscle, and strong in will and character; and to be responsible as well.
"Now you all know that last spring we lost a lot of good men on the ranch, some of them were all of these things, as some of you are too.
"Last summer we had four men join us here on the ranch. They have worked hard to make this place work again. One couldn't ask for a better cook and ranch hand than Jed. Howie is so charming and such a hard worker that I hesitate to say the just isn't old enough yet, but some day I'm sure he will be.
"Jim and Rusty have worked as a team, almost inseparable," he knew he shouldn't have said that, and the pause he took didn't help matters any, as a few giggles rose from the crowd. "They have work tirelessly to get things back on track. Last winter they risked their lives in the great blizzard to bring back a herd of cattle we didn't even know we had. It doubles the size of our herd and brought us back to where we have never been before. And you've all shared in that with the increases in wages you've been given.
"So I'm sure you won't be surprised that I have name Rusty as the new foreman." He waited as the cheers began, especially from Jim, Jed, Howie, Calvin and Ralph. The other quickly joined in. "It's not that I didn't consider Jim, or the rest of you. When I told Jim about my choice told me he wouldn't have taken the job for any amount of money." There was laughter among the group.
"I'm sure that there are more than a few others of you that feel the same way. Especially those of you who have been around long enough to hear the way I yelled at Ralph and even Jessie when thing didn't go right.
"I hope that all of you will treat you with the same respect as you have Ralph, and me when the occasion arises. I know that he will do a fine job, and I expect you all to do the same."
Seth turned to Ralph and said, "I'm glad that's over."
Ralph turned and spoke to the men, "Rusty, come on up here and say a few words."
Rusty as much as he hated to do so, stepped forward and climbed the steps to stand beside Seth and Ralph.
"Any of you who know me well, know how much I hate being up here. So I'm only going to say this. I'm proud to accept the trust and faith that Mister Carson has placed in me. I know I'm practically the youngest one on the ranch beside Jessie. Since he's gone west right now, I guess I am the youngest." There was a little laughter when Howie waved at him.
"Sorry Howie, I forgot about you." There was more laughter, and he continued.
"I only hope that you work as hard in the futures as you have in the past. And everything will turn out fine." Everyone applauded as Rusty tried to leave, but was restrained by Ralph's firm hand. The three of them on the steps shook hands and Ralph stepped down from the porch signifying the end of his tenure as foreman.
"The meeting is over!" Seth called out, and the men dispersed back toward the bunkhouse. Some of them talked among themselves, wondering if there'd be major changes in the way things were done. From what they heard, most figured not.
Jim and Ralph walked back together while Rusty stayed a moment longer chatting with Seth.
"Good luck, Rusty," he said and shook his hand warmly again.
"Thank you, Sir," he answered, "I'll do my best."
"I know you will, Son," he said without thinking. For in fact he looked upon the young man as though he were his own son.
They separated and Rusty walked back to the bunkhouse more than a little awed by what had happened, and by the kind words Seth had spoken. He hoped that he could live up to them.
There were no major changes in the procedures on the ranch, except that instead of Jessie being second in command, although technically he had been first, Jim's word was the same as Rusty's. Most took it as a matter of fact, rather in something different from what they expected. There was a couple who withheld comment openly but were not too excited to be taking orders two of them as they referred to Rusty and Jim.
Again as the fall and winter roundups approached plans were made for the effort. Supplies were brought in from town, and the other preparations were made at the ranch house site. Fences and gated checked, and repaired as necessary. Harnesses and other equipment checked so as to be ready for the extra stress the roundup would impose on them.
And so it began. Everyone except Seth went on the big fall roundup, the same as always. They divided into smaller groups that fanned out across the hills to gather up the herd, and drive them toward the center pathway back to the ranch.
Ralph headed one group, Jim another, Simon another, and Rusty the fourth. Simon was about the same age as Ralph and been with the ranch almost since it began. He like Jim had no desire to be the foreman, and was relieved when he wasn't asked. Jed and Howie brought up the rear with the chuck wagon for the ample meals that the men required.
As the groups found cattle the herded back toward the center where Jed and Howie would keep them in line and moving. As the day moved on toward evening the four groups brought in the cattle they had garnered from the hills. The herd was getting larger. The men pulled in around the wagon, allowed the cattle to settle down for the night, by a couple riding around the front and turning them back gently. The two men continued riding slowly around the herd to keep them in a group, not wandering too far a field.
The evening meal was served and the men bedded down after tethering their horses, and posting a watch. Everyone would get their turn at watch, even Howie who enjoyed the responsibility it gave him, and the feeling he was growing up.
The weather was cool but pleasant and the night air was beginning foretell of the change in season. The men comfortably fed and bedded for the night soon were asleep. The watch passed each other, occasionally stopping to stoke the fire and get a cup of coffee if they wanted.
With not a cloud in the sky and nearly full moon, it was a bright as dawn except in the shadows of the cliffs that ran along one side of the valley. Scarcely a creature disturb the night. An occasional owl would swoop in an effort to find an errant field creature feeding on the abundant seeds in the dried grasses.
In the distance the call of a coyote broke the silence to be answered by echoing call of another. The moon set and the night became black for a brief time just before sunrise.
During the next two days the herd grew until the estimated number was over twenty-eight hundred, which Ralph calculated was fifteen hundred more than last year, and five hundred more than last year plus the strays which Rusty, Jim, and Jessie brought during the storm. Seth would be pleased with the increase.
With the strays yet to be rounded up, they could be over three thousand before winter.
The main roundup completed and a weeks rest, Rusty sent out Jim, Simon, and Calvin to do the strays. This year the weather, although beginning be frosty in the mornings remain pleasant enough. Within a week and a half they returned with six hundred head.
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