Chapter Two—Deals and Decisions

Tuesday, October 22, a little later in the day…
          The whole circumstance stank to high heaven, as far as I was concerned. I did what I could to put Kelly and Gail behind me. That was over, no sense dwelling on it. I shifted my mind and attention back to the settlers and their situation. I was going back to see them, I had to, I felt a sense of responsibility towards them, so I couldn't just disappear and leave them in the lurch. Plus, there was Ben. He was resilient, he would make do, he certainly didn't need me. But just the same, I wanted to see how he landed on his feet. Plus, I couldn't just leave without saying good-bye to him. I'd come to like that big fellow quite a bit. Who knows? Maybe when I rode off, he'd come with me. I could do worse as a traveling companion, and we could have a lot of fun together when people tried to boot him out of restaurants.
          I arrived back in the settlers' camp just about dark; evening and night were coming earlier now that the year was moving closer to an end. There seemed to be a spirit of jubilation, which I took as a positive. I hoped so.
          Before I had a chance to say anything, Clem Everett came over to me and said, "We got some good news, Mr. Conners. We talked to the banker, Kragan, and he was really reasonable. He had his lawyer there, a man named Dryer, and he was a swell feller, too. They had a land agent with them, but I forget his name--uh, Yancey, that's it.  Nice guy.  He’s the one with the geographical survey of the valley. Anyway, as soon as we choose some land, the lawyer’s goin’ to write up our contracts and we'll sign them. He said it shouldn’t take but a few days."
          "What kind of deal did you get?"
          "Well, like I said, we thought Kragan was on the up and up and willing to give us a good deal. Said he'd sell us each a half section of land--half, not quarter--and that we could give him whatever down payment we could afford at the moment. We told him we was wantin' to sell about half our cattle to help make the down payment, but he said not to do that 'cuz beef prices were really low at the moment. We don't really have much to give him unless we sold some beef, so that kinda discouraged us, but then his lawyer feller came up with a suggestion. Kragan would let us have the land with no down payment, but we'd use all the cattle for collateral. So, if we have to default--which we don't never intend to do, o' course--Kragan gets his land back, plus all our cattle, includin' any new stock that's born. He’s going to give us a seven year note. Inter'st rate was a little high, but we know he's got to protect hisself some. We thought that, fer gettin' the land for no down payment, he give us a real fair deal."
          So Kragan gets all the cattle when these tinhorns default. If he waits three or four years before he does it, he's going to have a nice herd to sell. And if, by some chance, these people don't default, he gets his money back, plus a hefty rate of interest. The guy's slick, that's for sure. But I said to Everett, "Well, that sounds good, Clem. I'm happy for you." I certainly didn't want to discourage him. "Did you all have time to decide on your plots of land?"
          "No, we's all gonna do that tomorrow and the next day. LIke I said, the land agent, Yancey, has a geographic survey of the land, what's available and what's not, so we's gonna go out and look over what he's got and decide." He grinned, a grin that would make a Cheshire cat envious. "We may be able to move our cattle and wagons by the weekend, or fust of next week at the latest and get started on home buildin' and such. It's all workin' out perfect-like. We's shore thankful fer yer help in gettin' up here. No tellin' how many cattle we'da lost if'n you and Mr. Baker hadn't come along."
          "We were glad to help, and we sure wish you the best."
          "Are you gonna stay up here, Mr. Conners? From what that lawyer, Dryer, says, they's lots of good land still available."
          "I'm...thinking about it." I'd give it two more seconds, for his sake. "Not sure what I'm going to do yet." Then, I asked him, "Do you know where Mr. Baker is?"
          "Out with the herd. He and the youngest Pickens boy been watchin' 'em most of the day. Two of them Reese men been with 'em."
          I nodded. They should be in camp soon, so I'd just wait. I'd put in a good 40 miles in the saddle today, and didn't want to ride any more. I'm sure Ol' Paint felt the same way, though I could have taken a fresh horse from the remuda.
          On cue, the cook, Demars, shouted, "Supper bell in ten minutes."
          "I'm going to go over to the creek and get cleaned up," I told Everett. "I'm glad things went so well for you today and I hope that continues."
          "I'm sure they will. Mr. Kragan and Mr. Dryer didn't see no obstacles. We's all excited about lookin' over the land and pickin' our plots."
          I'd done that before, and it was exciting. I felt good for the settlers, though a little uneasy, given what Fred and Kelly Atkins had told me about Kragan's shenanigans with other people who had moved in. But, as long as these people made the payments on their notes, there wasn't a thing Kragan could do to touch them. It was making the payments that was the concern.
          But it wasn't my concern. I had done my part, getting them up here. Beyond that, there really wasn't much I could do. Maybe help them move their cattle onto their land, but they really didn't need me for that, either. I couldn't think of what I considered to be a good a reason to stay around here, so I decided that I'd just pack up in the morning--not that I had anything to pack--and head...somewhere.
          "Where are you going?" Ben asked me after supper.
          "I don't know. What are you going to do?"
          "I don't know. Hang around here, maybe. Do you think that's a good idea?"
          "I don't know. You want to ride along with me?"
          "I don't know. You want me to ride along with you?"
          "I don't know. I don't need a haircut or a bath, do I?"
          "I don't know, I'm not in that business any more. Do you need somebody to watch your back?"
          "I don't know. What do you think?"
          "I don't know."
          We were smiling at each other by now. "Neither one of us know very much, do we?' I said to him.
          "I don't know," he replied, and we laughed.
          "Well, take care of yourself, big fellow," I said to him. "I do know whatever you do, you'll land on your feet, and you'll do it well."
          We shook hands, and met each other's eyes. "I know you will, too. And I pity anybody that gets in your way."
          "I'm serious about you riding along with me, if you want to. I really don't know where I'm going, but maybe I'll know it when I see it."
          He hesitated. "I'll sleep on it. It's nothing personal, Rob, believe me, I'm just not sure what I want to do, and I'm kinda tired of moving around. I didn't like Windy, but I like what I see of this area, at least the mountains, valley, and such. And these people here have accepted me so that's something to build on." Then he gave me a half smile. "I could do worse than ride with you, though."
          "And I could do worse for a riding partner."
          Anyway, enough of the mush between Ben and me. I was going to leave in the morning whether he went with me or not.
          Something changed my mind, however. A simple something.
          But it changed the rest of my life completely.