Read The Return of Caulfield Blake Online
Authors: G. Clifton Wisler
THE RETURN OF CAULFIELD BLAKE
THE RETURN OF CAULFIELD BLAKE
G. CLIFTON WISLER
Published by M. Evans
An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, M aryland 20706
10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by National Book Network
Copyright Â© 1987 by G. Clifton Wisler
First paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The hardback edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Wisler, G. Clifton
The return of Caulfield Blake / G. Clifton Wisler.
p. cm. â (An Evans novel o f the West)
I. Title. II. Series.
PS3573.I877R4Â Â 1987
ISBN: 978-1-59077-267-6 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-268-3 (electronic)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements o f American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
The Bar Double B spread itself out over a thousand acres of prickly pear and buffalo grass amid the rolling sandstone hills of West Texas. Carpenter Creek cut a broad flood plain through its center, giving birth to stands of live oaks and cottonwoods. Several small springs flowed from the boulder-strewn hillsides, showering the landscape with wildflowers from March to September. It was a good place, near perfect for raising cattle and horses, for building families and futures.
Five or six miles to the north the Colorado River churned its way relentlessly toward the Gulf of Mexico three hundred miles downstream. In summer the river receded, forming great bogs of quicksand that could suck whole wagons under the surface, erasing them forever. In times of heavy rains the river would surge over its banks, sweeping away anything and everything in its path.
No, it was not a tame land. There were always the challenges of drought and flood, heat and cold, birth and death. It produced a hardy people, men and women who survived the worst that nature could throw at them, who thrived where others faltered, and who found it possible to nurture in their children the courage, the strength, and the endurance that allowed them to prosper when it came their time to rule the range.
The original Blake ranch house had been built of stone, a precaution against the Indian raids that had plagued the early settlers of the Texas frontier. In the early 1860s a two-story wooden section had been added to provide rooms for children and a small sitting room. After the war against the North, a further expansion had been made on the west end, a long elbowlike expanse featuring an indoor kitchen, a fancy parlor furnished with a Nashville piano, and a wide veranda for sitting in the cool evening breezes of spring and autumn.
Old Calvin Blake had located the house on a small hill amid a grove of tall white oaks. Several of those trees had yielded the lumber for subsequent additions. A spring formed a small pond behind the house. That pond was the perfect source of drinking water and an ideal spot for a refreshing summer swim. Carpenter Creek lay at the foot of the hill, offering a shield against marauding Indians and water for the vegetables and fruit trees that had been planted along its banks.
Normally in summer the creek lost its power, slowed so that a boy of fourteen might easily cross on foot where he would have been drowned in April. But never had the water fallen so low in early June as it had of late. Hannah had been worried for better than a week about the creek. Only last week there'd been the unmistakable roar of thunder from the southeast, from the granite hills where the creek first emerged from the earth and began its winding, twisting journey to the Colorado. Even so, the creek had continued to evaporate under the relentless Texas sun, shrinking until there was little more than a trickle of water remaining. In some places the creekbed was dry, and the stream had become a series of unconnected puddles.
As she stared at the muddy stream, the creek that was the lifeblood of the ranch and its people, Hannah heard the sound of hooves coming from the dusty road that led from the far side of Carpenter Creek into the huddle of wooden buildings that constituted the town of Simpson. In another time she would have rushed to the house, taken down the shotgun from its resting place atop the fireplace, and sent one of the children for Marsh. But now she only shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun and tried to make out the face of the rider.
For a moment there was a stir inside her. The man rode a tall brown horse, a stallion by the wild nature of its movements. The rider wore the long gray coat of a Confederate cavalryman, a coat she'd grown familiar with since '62. But as the horseman approached, she felt a sigh wriggle its way through her being. It was not, could not be the one she'd imagined. No, he was far away.
Dixon Stewart slowed his horse to a canter and splashed his way through the shallow remnant of the creek. He drew the stallion to a halt, then waited for Hannah to speak.
“Good afternoon, Dix,” she said, managing a smile. “You appear to be in a Yankee hurry today.”
“It's old man Simpson,” Dixon said, frowning. “He's gone and built a dam across the creek. It's makin' a lake out of Siler's Hollow. In another month, we'll be bone dry.”
“I don't see how that's possible,” she said. “Dix, you can't build a dam out of this fool sand we've got here. Marsh tried digging an irrigation channel off the Colorado. It just won't work.”
“Marsh didn't have fifty men workin' on it. He didn't move rocks, whole wagons full of 'em.”
“It doesn't make sense. The Simpson ranch doesn't use the sections that border our ranches. The range along Carpenter Creek's no good to him. A hundred gullies must lie in the way. He'd lose more cows the first week than he could get through a summer's grazing.”
“Not if he joined our land to his.”
“Now how's he going to do that?”
“By dryin' us out.”
“But why? He's got more acreage than he could ride in a month of Sundays.”
“Maybe he's grown tired of neighbors.”
“After all these years?”
“Maybe it's not all these years he's thinkin' on, Hannah. Maybe it's only the last seven.”
“He wouldn't bear a grudge that long.”
“He's near seventy, and he's had little more to think about. I've seen those eyes of his. I've read death before.”
“So what do we do? We've got a right to the water.”
“Right? Hannah, when you and I and Caulie . . .”
She frowned, and Dixon coughed away the rest of the sentence.
“Well?” she asked.
“Before the war, when we were both a whole lot younger, old Judge Harper sat the bench. We could count on justice. But since that carpetbagger Derry got himself shot, all we've had on the bench is one thief after another sent up from Austin. Now there's no one at all.”
“You can ride to the capital yourself. Marsh and I'll look after Rita and the children.”
“And what will I plead? Simpson pays more taxes than the balance of the county combined. You think the governor'll even see me, much less listen?”
“We have to do something.”
“We should have,” Dixon said, sighing. “A long time ago. We should have been a little stronger seven years back when it would've been easy. All Simpson had on his side then was public feeling. People were swayed by sentiment. We might have changed all that. Now it seems like the old man's got a hundred hands on his place, cash in the bank, and a hunger for more.”
“A bit. Haven't I been preachin' about everybody stickin' together? Didn't I tell you when the Mexicans got run off Simpson wouldn't stop there? And what about the Carlsons and the Brocks?”
“That's history, Dix. What do we do now?”
“I don't know,” he said, throwing his arms up in despair. “I guess find a market for my horses and cattle. Hope maybe that dam springs itself a leak and the flood won't take my house.”
“There has to be something more.”
“Like what? Maybe you think Marsh and I ought to ride out and ask Simpson if he'd please let a little water down the creekbed. Or maybe we ought to hire somebody to shoot the old man. But then we'd have to deal with his grandson Matt, and I'd rather wrestle a mountain cat.”
“What are you getting at, Dix? I know you too well. You aren't going to give up without a fight.”
“I can't do it alone, Hannah. Marsh won't be much help. We need someone with experience, someone who won't buckle under.”
“Or didn't?” she asked, trembling as the vision of a face appeared in her mind, a tall man with broad shoulders and bright blue eyes that always sparkled when she was around.
“He'd come if you wrote him,” Dixon said, his eyes growing solemn. “If you said you needed him.”
“It's been too long,” she said, looking at her feet.
“Think about the boys. Wouldn't hurt to see their father.”
“Marsh is their father.”
“I'll admit Marsh's done right by 'em, but it's not the same as bein' their blood father. Hannah, I know it's hard. It hurts your pride. But do it for us all, for Marty Cabot and me and, yes, even for Marsh.”
“Marsh'd die before he'd ask for help from . .
“I know that. Don't you think it pains me to bring up the subject to you? But, Hannah, I don't see we've got any choice.”
“It's what Simpson expects. It's why . . .”