An indifferent sun sat in the endless stretch of Montana sky, blazing down on the confused and bawling steers that jammed the cattle pens next to the railroad track. The chugging hiss of the motionless locomotive could barely be heard above the bewildered lowing of the steers and the clatter of cloven hooves on the wooden ramp of the loading chutes. The noise was punctuated by shouts and curses from cowboys as they poked the steers with long prods to force them up the chute and into the rail cars.
With one cattle car filled to capacity, the locomotive rumbled out of its idle snoring to pull its string of cars ahead so the next one could be loaded. Plumes of smoke rose from its stack as the lumbering train's clanks and rattles added to the existing cacophony. Loading cattle destined for the slaughterhouses in the East was a tedious chore, made more unpleasant by the noise and the collective stench of penned animals.
Benteen Calder watched the proceedings from the sidelines. The wide hat brim shaded his sun-creased features and partially concealed his restless, assessing gaze. His dark hair was shot with silver and the middle fifties had put some weight on his big-boned frame, but there was no mistaking that he was of the kind that produced the cattle kings. Piece by piece, he had carved out the Triple C Ranch with his sweat, his blood, and his cunning. He'd fought outlaws, renegade Indians, and greedy neighbors to keep the ranch. Therewould always be someone wanting it. And the man christened Chase Benteen Calder knew that.
The cattle being driven up the loading chute carried the Triple C brand, marking them as the property of the Calder Cattle Company -- his ranch. The dry summer had left the steers in less than top condition for market, but the weather in eastern Montana was seldom ideal.
After nearly six weeks of roundup, Benteen was conscious of the soreness in his aging muscles. Absently, he rubbed at the stiffness in his left arm. He picked up a movement to the right and shifted his head slightly to identify the figure approaching him. The corners of his mouth lifted in a silent greeting as Benteen recognized the railroad man, Bobby John Thomas.
"Oughta be through loadin' here in another hour," the man observed without any preliminary greeting.
"More or less," Benteen agreed with a faint nod.
The local railroad man's sharp eyes spotted a steer with an odd brand among the penned cattle. "I see you picked up some estrays. Diamond T." He read the brand and frowned. "Don't recall seeing that brand around here."
"I think it's a Dakota brand." It was impossible to know the various brands of ranches located outside of the state, and Benteen didn't try. "All told, we've got fourteen estrays in this shipment."
A description of each was listed on the shipping manifest. Given the wandering tendencies of cattle and their lack of respect for boundary lines or fences, it was inevitable that a beef roundup would include cattle owned by other outfits. Reps from neighboring ranches were always on hand for just that reason. If there was no representative for a given brand with the crew, the animal was always included in the market shipment. Left to roam, the estrayed cattle would eventually die of old age, benefiting no one. More important, it would eat grass that could have supported the range owner's cattle.
When the estrayed steer arrived at the terminal market, a brand inspector would spot it and payment for its sale would be forwarded to the animal's rightful owner. Such a practice, by both the rancher finding the estray and the brand inspector, was regarded as a courtesy of the range, observed by all and rarely abused. It was the Golden Rule put into practice -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Another railroad car had its load of steers and the door was slid shut. The train's engine began a racing chug to bring the next car into position. During the short respite in the loading operation, one of the cowboys stepped down from his perch on the chute and removed his hat, wiping his forearm across his brow, then jammed his hat back onto his nearly black hair all in one motion. A brief glimpse at his angular features, the color and texture of richly grained leather, was enough to hint at a similarity between the young cowboy and the owner of the penned cattle.
Bobby John Thomas looked at Benteen. "Is that yore boy Webb?"
There was an imperceptible tightening of Benteen's mouth as he nodded an affirmative answer. A troubled light flickered in his eyes, put there by a gnawing worry that wouldn't go away.
"He sure has growed since the last time I saw him," the railroad agent remarked.
"Yeah." The abruptness of the response seemed to carry a negative connotation. Benteen didn't volunteer the information that, so far, Webb had only grown in size. The promise his son had shown in his early years hadn't yet developed in adulthood.
There was much about the tall, huskily built youth for Benteen to be proud of. At twenty-six, Webb was one of the top hands on the Triple C Ranch. He could ride the rankest bronc, rope with the best of them, and turn his hand to almost anything. Webb never shirked from hard work, so Benteen couldn't fault him for that. It was responsibility that Webb avoided, accepting it only when it was forced on him. On those rare occasions, he handled it well, making few wrong decisions. But it was that lack of interest in assuming an active role in the management of the ranch that troubled Benteen. The more he pushed Webb about it, reminding him that the Triple C would be his someday, the less interest Webb displayed.
Lorna didn't help the situation by insisting that Benteen was expecting too much from their son. It was her opinion that Webb was still too young and needed time to sow his wild oats before taking on any responsibility in running the ranch. Maybe she was right, but he'd been the same age as Webb when he'd driven the herd of Longhorns north from Texas to found the Triple C Ranch. It worried him to think he'd raised a son who was content to take orders instead of giving them. The future of the ranch depended on his son.
Moving his attention from the leanly muscled frame of his big-boned son, the source of his vague anxiety, Benteen half-turned toward the agent. His face showed none of his inner disturbance.
"Ya been keeping busy, Bobby John?" he inquired.
"We've been busy, but we haven't been makin' much money," the agent declared on a rueful note.
Benteen's mouth quirked in a dry line. "That's always the railroad's complaint. And it gets harder to swallow every time I see the freight rates go up."
"It's a fact." Bobby John was a loyal company man. "We may haul a lot of cattle out of Miles City in the fall, but we don't haul enough in or out on a regular basis. We just ain't got the people here, or the goods."
"I suppose," Benteen conceded.
"That might all change, though." The comment was made, then left to lie there like a baited hook allowed to settle near a submerged log where a big fish rested.
Benteen's interest in the conversation was no longer idle, his curiosity aroused by the remark. "Why is that?"
"Some fella plowed him some ground up around the Musselshell River and planted him some wheat. Rumor has it that he harvested forty bushels to an acre." He saw the skepticism in Benteen's dark eyes. "He used that dryland method of farming like they developed in Kansas."
Benteen had a sketchy understanding of the principle involved in such a method. In arid land where there wasn't a local water source to provide irrigation, crops were planted on only half the acreage while the other half was left fallow. This idle land was plowed and harrowed so no plant life would consume any moisture that fell on it. The next year, that half would be planted to crops. It was a way of conserving the moisture from rain and snow for the next year's use.
"It won't work here," Benteen stated flatly, regardless of the evidence just given to the contrary. "This is cow country. That's all it is good for. Besides, I've never heard of a farmer yet who could make a living on just eighty acres." That was half of the one hundred and sixty acres entitled for homestead, and the only part that was productive at any one time under the dryland method of farming.
"That may be true," Bobby John admitted. "But I've heard talk that there's a proposal bein' presented to the Congress to double the amount of acreage allowed under the Homestead Act."
Benteen's chin lifted a fraction of an inch in reaction to this new information. An uneasy feeling ran through him as he looked beyond the cattle pens of the railroad yard to the grassland.
In the autumn afternoon the stark Montana landscape looked like a sea of tanned stalks. It was the best damned grass any cowman could hope to find. The idea of its being ripped up by a plow and replaced by wheat was more than he could stand. A lot of things were different from the way they had been when he had first arrived in the territory, but this was one change Benteen wouldn't accept. He'd fight any attempt to turn this cow country into farmland.
"They'll never be able to push that bill through Congress." There was a steely quality to his voice, but the prospect of a battle, political or otherwise, added its weight to the tiredness in his bones.
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Bobby John Thomas warned him. "It ain't just a bunch of land-hungry farmers that wants to see it pass." But he added no more than that.
Benteen silently cursed himself for speaking without thinking through the opposition. Farmers were the least of his worries. It was the railroads. They were land-poor in this part of the West, owners of thousands of square-mile tracts of land along their right-of-way, deeded to them by the U.S. government for laying track. The railroads would use an enlarged Homestead Act like a carrot to lure the farmers out here and end up selling them land for farms or townsites. They'd create a land boom that would bring settlers in, tradesmen as well as farmers. People needed products, which meant more freight generated for the railroads.
It didn't take much intelligence to figure it out. The railroads had done the same thing in Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado, where that prairie sod was now sown with some Russian strain of wheat. But this land wasn't the same. Methods that worked there couldn't work here.
The proposal coming before Congress had to be stopped, and stopped swiftly. Benteen knew in his gut that he couldn't waste any time, yet the six-week-long roundup had left him in a state of fatigue. Even if he looked the physical equal of his son, he no longer had the resilience of his youth.
"Guess I'd better be gettin' back to my office." Bobby John Thomas shifted his position in a show of reluctance to put his words into action, but Benteen said nothing to invite the railroad agent to stay longer and chat. "Give my regards to your missus."
"I will." An image formed in his mind of Lorna waiting for him at the hotel in town. He suddenly felt an overwhelming need to be with her. Benteen barely noticed the agent move away, his attention already traveling down another channel. His glance swept the cattle pens and loading platform in an effort to locate Barnie Moore, then came to a stop on his son. Dammit, it was going to be his ranch and his land someday, Benteen thought with a frown of irritable concern. "Webb!" There was an edge to his voice as he raised its volume to make himself heard.
With a turn of his head, Webb looked over his shoulder and saw the single motion from his father that indicated he wanted to speak to him. He swung down from the loading chute onto the platform and handed the long prod to another cowboy to take his place. As Webb approached his father, he experienced that strange feeling of pride and resentment -- pride for the man that Chase Benteen Calder was and the wide swath he'd cut across this land practically singlehandedly, and resentment for the same reasons.
He didn't want to be his father's son; he didn't want to be singled out from the other hands because his name was Calder; he wanted to earn his right to command, even though he was born in the position to inherit it. He would rather have been born Webb Smith than Webb Calder, so his was a quiet rebellion -- never overt, always subtle -- denying himself the right to claim what was his by birth. Webb made it a practice not to assert himself or his opinions with the other ranch hands. In spite of that, all the cowboys, except the older ones who had come north with his father, turned to Webb whenever there was a decision to be made, deferring to him because he was a Calder. That angered him, although he seldom let it show.
Webb knew his father was disappointed in him. He'd been lectured enough times about accepting responsibility. Only once had Webb tried to explain the way he felt, his determination to be accepted because of his ability, rather than rest on the circumstances of his birth. His father had brushed it aside as a foolish whim, needlessly reminding Webb that he couldn't change the fact that he was born a Calder. Rebuffed by this lack of understanding, Webb had taken the lonely path, not able to be just one of the boys and refusing to assumethe role his father wanted for him. More than once, he had considered tying his bedroll on the back of his saddle and riding away from the Triple C; then he'd think about his mother and he'd stay, hoping something would change.
"Yes, sir?" Webb stopped in front of his father, letting the inflection of his voice question why he had been summoned. He hadn't addressed him as Pa in more than six years.
There was nothing in his son's attitude or expression that showed more than casual interest. Benteen probed, hoping to find more. He never knew what the boy was thinking -- or if he was thinking. A father should know what was going on in his son's head. Benteen knew he didn't.
"I want you to go to the telegraph office and send some wires for me," Benteen stated. "One of them goes to Frank Bulfert, the senator's aide, in Washington. In the wire, I want you to ask him the status of the proposal being brought to Congress to enlarge the Homestead Act and what kind of preliminary support it's getting. Ask for the same information from Asa Morgan in Helena. The last wire I want you to send to Bull Giles at the Black Dove Bar in Washington with the same request for information." The lack of interest Webb showed made him feel weary. "Have you got all that?"
"Yes, sir." Behind the smooth exterior, his mind was running over the possible significance of the information being sought and how it might affect the ranch. "Is there anything else?"
"No." His lips thinned into a tired line. "Don't you want to know why this information is important?" Benteen asked, and had the satisfaction of seeing his son's steady gaze waver briefly.
"I figured you'd tell me when you thought it was right for me to know." There was no hesitation over the reply, and the invitation to ask the question wasn't accepted.
Frustrated by his son's behavior, Benteen half turned from him, muttering, "Go send the wires, and have the replies directed to the hotel."
As Webb moved away, spurs rattling with each stride, the aching numbness returned in Benteen's left shoulder and arm. He rubbed at the soreness, kneading the muscles with his fingers.
"What's the matter with your arm?" The voice asking the question belonged to Barnie Moore.
Benteen let his right hand slide down the arm and shrugged aside the nagging ache. "Too many nights sleeping on cold, hard ground, I guess."
"I know what 'cha mean." Barnie arched his back, as if flexing stiff muscles. "Neither one of us is as young as we used to be." His gaze followed Webb. "I remember when that one was just a pup, playin' around with my boy. Now both of them is full-growed men."
Benteen sighed irritably. "I wish I knew where I went wrong with him."
"Webb?" Barnie frowned at him. "There isn't a better cowboy on the ranch than him."
"It isn't a cowboy I want," Benteen replied, but didn't confide the doubts he had about Webb's ability to become the ranch's leader. "How many more carloads of steers do we have left?"
Barnie took the cue to change the subject. "About eight or nine, I'd say." When he noticed the haggard lines etched in Benteen's features, he concealed his concern by casually rolling a smoke. "No need for you to stick around. We can handle the rest."
Benteen hesitated, but the constant din at the railroad pens grated on nerves that were already raw. "I'll be at the hotel if you need me."
Barnie nodded acknowledgment, although he didn't look up as he tapped tobacco from the pouch onto the trough of cigarette paper.
When Benteen stopped at the hotel desk to pick up the key to the suite, there was a message waiting for him. "Your wife said to tell you she'd gone shopping, Mr. Calder," the clerk informed him.
Annoyance flickered across his expression as he closed his fingers around the key and clipped out an automatic "Thank you."
"Be sure to let us know if there's anything you need," the clerk offered, not wanting the hotel to be responsible for the displeasure of a guest as important as Benteen Calder.
"Have someone bring up a bottle of your best whiskey," he ordered.
A quick smile spread across the clerk's face. "Your wife has already seen to that, sir. It's waiting in your room."
As he climbed the stairs to the suite, Benteen made a silent wager with himself that there would be a fresh cigar waiting for him in addition to the bonded whiskey. He won the bet. It was his wife's thoughtfulness that softened the hard curves of his mouth more than the cigar and the sipping whiskey. Shrugging out of his jacket, he dropped it and his hat on a chair in the suite's sitting room and sat down in the second chair, stretching out his legs full length in front of him.
Although the whiskey he'd splashed in the glass was barely touched, the cigar was half-smoked when Benteen heard the soft laughter of female voices in the hotel corridor. A key was turned in the lock and the door was pushed inward. His instinct was to stand, but a lethargy seemed to have control of his muscles as Lorna swept into the room with a rustle of skirt and petticoats.
Her arms were laden with packages. The young, blond-haired girl who followed her into the suite was similarly burdened. Benteen couldn't help noticing that Lorna didn't look that much older than the teenaged girl. She claimed there were gray strands in her dark hair, but they were so few that they didn't show. Her figure retained its slim, youthful curves and her complexion was china-smooth, showing only fine hairline cracks of age -- thanks to the lotions she used to combat the effects of Montana's harsh climate. No one looking at her would guess at her inner strength, or the hardships she'd suffered in the early years. Her struggle to come to grips with this land had been as great as his own. With Lorna at his side, Benteen felt there was nothing he couldn't handle.
"I hope Daddy won't think I spent too much," young Ruth Stanton declared with a trace of apprehension.
Neither woman had noticed Benteen yet. He didn't mind. He liked the opportunity to watch Lorna unobserved. After setting her packages on the table just inside the room, she was unpinning the feathered blue silk hat.
"Your father wanted you to buy nice things for yourself," Lorna insisted, still addressing the daughter of her late friend. Since pneumonia had claimed Mary Stanton's life last winter, she had taken Ruth under her wing. Benteen suspected it filled a void in both lives, easing their grief. As a surrogate mother to Ruth, Lorna had acquired the daughter she had always longed for, while Ruth had an older woman to act as adviser and role model.
Ash was building on the end of his cigar. Benteen tapped it off. It was either his movement or the smell of cigar smoke, or both, that suddenly attracted Lorna's attention to the side of the room where he was sitting.
"Benteen." Lorna set the blue hat atop the packages as she crossed the room to greet him, her dark eyes radiant with delight. "No one at the desk mentioned you were here. Why didn't you say something when we came in?" Bending, she brushed her lips against the roughness of his cheek, then straightened, letting her hand rest on his shoulder to maintain contact.
"I knew you'd notice me sitting here sooner or later." A smile touched the corners of his mouth. "It looks like the two of you bought out the town."
"We tried." Lorna winked at Ruth in mock conspiracy.
An attractive girl with curling blond hair and quiet blue eyes, Ruth Stanton was innately shy. Even though Benteen had been the closest thing to an uncle all her life, she wasn't able to directly meet his gaze. Her glance skipped quickly back to Lorna.
"I'd better take these packages to my room." She almost pounced on the excuse to leave.
"We'll meet you in the dining room at six." Lorna didn't attempt to detain the girl. "Webb will be there, too. Why don't you wear your new pink dress?"
"Yes, I will." The suggestion brought a flush of pleasure to Ruth's cheeks. With a circumspect nod to Benteen, she slipped out the door to cross the hallway to her room.
When they were alone, Benteen tipped his head back to eye his wife. "Are you sure Webb's joining us for dinner?" With the roundup over and the cattle on their way to market, most of the Triple C riders would be doing the town. And Webb counted himself among them.
"He'll be there if I have to drag him out of the saloon myself," Lorna stated with a determined gleam in her eyes.
His mouth crooked in a wry line. "Maybe it won't be a saloon he's in," he suggested dryly.
"It won't make any difference." She moved away from his chair, recrossing the room to the table with the packages. "Do you mind if I ask you something?" She sounded too casual.
"What?" Benteen was instantly alert, prepared for almost anything.
"Is it true that Connie the Cowboy Queen had a dress embroidered with the brand of every outfit from here to the Platte?" When Lorna turned to look at him, there was a beguiling innocence about her expression that made Benteen shake his head.
"Where do you hear about these things?" Even after all these years, she still managed to surprise him now and again. Connie the Cowboy Queen had been one of the more notorious prostitutes in Miles City in its heyday.
"Women do talk about things other than sewing, cooking, and children. I promise that I looked properly shocked," she assured him with a mocking glance. "Was the Triple C brand embroidered on her dress, Benteen?"
"How should I know?" Amusement glinted in his eyes.
But she wasn't buying his attempt at ignorance. "A man can frequent such establishments without sampling the wares. Or maybe you just never saw her with a dress on?" Lorna pretended to accuse him of infidelity.
"When I had more woman than I could handle at home?" Benteen countered with a lift of one eyebrow; then it straightened to its natural fine. "As for the dress, there was such a thing. And it wouldn't have been complete without the Triple C brand on it." His gaze narrowed on her with wary censure. "I hope this isn't the sort of thing you tell Ruth. The poor girl probably hasn't been kissed yet."
"No, I haven't gotten around to discussing any intimate topics with her." The implication was that the day was coming when Lorna would. Turning sideways to keep Benteen within her vision, she began untying the strings around the packages. "I'm certain Ruth is more than a little in love with Webb."
"Is that why you're going to make sure he comes to dinner tonight -- and why Ruth is going to wear her new pink dress?"
Lorna paused to gaze wistfully into space. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if our son and Mary's daughter eventually married?" She barely controlled a sigh as she resumed the opening of her parcels. "It seems only fitting to me."
"I wouldn't hold out much hope." Benteen bolted down the half-jigger of whiskey in his glass in an effort to burn out the sour taste in his mouth. "You'll probably have about as much success trying to marry Webb off to Ruth as I've had trying to turn him into a rancher -- which is zero."
"You're too impatient." Lorna gave him a mildly critical look. "You grew up in a different time, under different circumstances, so you can't judge Webb by your life."
The glass was abruptly set on the table next to the chair as Benteen pulled his feet under him and pushed upright. "Maybe that's the problem," he declared grimly. "I haven't been hard enough on him. I've let you spoil him."
"Me?" She stiffened at the challenging statement.
But Benteen was following the thought through aloud while he prowled restlessly around the sitting room. "Everything's been handed to him since the day he was born. He's been fussed over, coddled -- the center of attention. Everyone's always smoothing the way for him. He's never had to fight for anything in his life."
"That isn't true." Lorna's maternal instinct rose with a rush as she confronted Benteen and forced him to stop his pacing, "Just look at how hard Webb has worked to earn the respect of the other riders. He's never let them treat him any differently because he's the boss's son."
"Why doesn't he work that hard to earn my respect?" Benteen insisted, his dark brows puckering together in a wistful line. "I can buy a dozen cowboys as good as Webb is at working cattle for thirty dollars a month and found. I don't need another workhorse in harness; I need someone who can hold the reins."
"Give him time," Lorna argued.
"There isn't that much left." He sighed and turned away from her. Defeat was tugging at his shoulders, but he kept them squared. "He doesn't give a damn about the ranch." He was beginning to believe that.
"Yes, he does." Her voice was steady, firm in its conviction. "It's his home."
"I'll take your word for it." He wished he hadn't brought up the subject. Long, stiff strides carried him to the table, where he crushed out the cigar. "I'd better shave and get washed up for dinner."
Before he'd taken two steps toward the adjoining bedroom, there was a knock at the door. He paused, waiting to find out who was outside, while Lorna walked to the door, the exaggerated bustle of her dress wig-wagging huffy signals at him.
"Hello, Mother," Webb greeted her as the door swung inward. A gentleness softened the hard edges of his rawboned features, giving them a warmth of expression they usually lacked.
"Webb." For an instant, Lorna faltered in surprise and sent a darting glance over her shoulder at Benteen, hoping Webb's arrival on the heels of their discussion wouldn't precipitate a second and, perhaps, angry one. She didn't like being caught in the middle, her loyalties divided between husband and son.
The ease went out of Webb's expression as his gaze traveled past her to his father. The atmosphere seemed thick with tension, strong undercurrents running between his parents.
"Come in, Webb," his father stated in a voice that sounded grimly resigned. "Your mother and I were just talking about you."
When his mother's glance faltered under his silent inspection and she moved out of the doorway to admit him, Webb stepped into the room. Obviously he'd been the subject of disagreement between them. He didn't want to be the cause of disharmony for his parents. He just wanted to live life his way, on his terms.
"Yes, we were," his mother agreed with commendable aplomb. "I was just threatening to drag you out of whatever saloon or bawdy house you were in so we could all have dinner together tonight. Now that you're here, your father can be spared that embarrassment."
"I came by" -- Webb paused to direct his explanation to his father -- "to let you know that all the wires have been sent. The replies will be coming to you here."
"Wires?" Lorna sent a questioning look at Benteen, mildly curious because it seemed a less quarrelsome topic, and because he hadn't mentioned telegraphing anyone. "What's this all about?"
"Nothing that needs to concern you."
"Someday I hope you'll explain to me why you always insist something is none of my business when other people are around, and then tell me about it later when we are alone," she lightly taunted him. "Men seem to think the only place they can talk to their wives is in the bedroom. But it isn't true, Webb," she advised her son.
The corners of his mouth deepened with a hidden smile at his mother's daring. Webb noticed his father was wavering between irritation and amusement.
"I'll try to remember," Webb murmured dryly.
"I thought I married a quiet, tractable woman." Benteen shook his head in affectionate exasperation. "I hope you have better luck, son."
"That reminds me," Lorna inserted. "We'll meet you at six this evening in the dining room." She ran a mother's critical eye over his dusty, smelly clothes and beard-roughened face. "That will give you time to bathe and change clothes. Ruth came to town with me to do some shopping, so she'll be joining us for dinner, too."
The last bit of information left Webb feeling a little unsettled without knowing why. He liked Ruth. She was practically family -- a younger sister.
Yet his mother had been quite insistent about him cleaning up and changing clothes. Surely a man didn't have to make a special point about that for a girl who was like a sister. Unless his mother didn't want him to regard Ruth as a sister. A glint of amusement appeared in his eyes at her subtle maneuvering.
"It was good of you to bring her to town, Mother," he commented. "I know it hasn't been easy for her since Mary passed away. She needed to get out and away from the house."
"That's what I thought," his mother agreed with a pleased smile.
"I'd better get cleaned up." Webb started to turn toward the door to leave.
"Oh, Webb -- " She called him back, faltering for a second. "Be sure to notice the dress she's wearing tonight. It's a new one."
"I will." He was smiling as he left the suite. A compliment was expected to be issued about the new gown. It didn't seem to matter how old he got; his mother still felt obligated to remind him about his manners and gentlemanly behavior. Or was it another attempt to arouse a more personal interest in the woman wearing the new dress?
Lorna closed the door and leaned against it, chewing thoughtfully on the inside of her lower lip. When she became aware of Benteen watching her, she straightened. "While you're washing up, I think I'll help Ruth fix her hair."
"Matchmaking is like leading a horse to water. You can't make him drink," Benteen cautioned.
"No, but maybe he'll remember where the water is and find it again himself when he's thirsty," Lorna reasoned. She wasn't sure if it was the fading afternoon light or whether she simply hadn't looked at him so closely before, but Benteen suddenly looked tired to her. "Maybe you should lie down and rest a bit before dinner."
"I'm fine." An impatient frown deepened the lines already carved in his face. He started once again for the bedroom and stopped. "The last address we had on Bull Giles after he left Denver -- was it the Black Dove in Washington?"
"Yes." It was her turn to frown.
"That's what I thought." He nodded absently.
"Did you have Webb send a wire to him?" She had already guessed the answer was affirmative. "Why?"
"He may have dropped out of the political scene, but he's bound to have some connections yet. There's a bill coming before Congress that has got to be stopped," Benteen explained vaguely. "It would throw this whole state open to homesteaders and plows. I don't want to go into it just now, not until I find out the particulars."
"That's what's been troubling you, isn't it?"
"Partly." He rubbed a hand along the side of his neck. "And I'm tired. Tired of struggling to keep what we've got. It wouldn't be so bad if my son was fighting with me. It's battling alone -- "
"You're not alone." She glided quickly across the space that separated them and curved her hands around his forearm, tipping her head back to look at him.
"No, I'm not alone," Benteen agreed, but there was a sad light in his brown eyes. "I don't really mind the fight. But I'm not getting any younger. What happens when I'm gone, Lorna? I worry about you and how you'll manage on your own. I can't depend on Webb to look out for you anymore."
She caught her breath on a rising note of fear. "You're just tired, Benteen." She made a desperate attempt to dismiss his remarks as exaggerations. "Things will look better after you've rested a couple of days."
"Yeah." But he didn't sound convinced as he patted her hand and moved away toward the bedroom.
Copyright © 1983 by Janet Dailey