by Carissa Bahner
It’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago I was worried to death about Chad. Now I’m furious with him. He knows very well that my wanting a quinceañera did not mean that I was done with ranching, but that's the way he’s been acting!
Standing at the bottom of the Carter’s grand staircase, Andi started at one hundred and counted backwards in Spanish. It was going to take a while for her ire to cool. She didn’t want to think about the possible consequences of stalking into the library and yelling at Chad. Ever since the big party Nila and Luisa had held for her, the entire family seemed to expect Andi to happily settle into ladylike occupations without giving ranch work another thought.
Don’t they know me? Andi stewed. After fifteen years, don’t they realize that ranching will always be a part of me?
It seemed not. The latest grievance had occurred at supper. After spending an hour working figures for Chad that afternoon Andi had given big brother a neat sheet of paper tallying the Circle C cattle. It itemized how many were in each pasture and would make it easy for Chad to decide what purchases he should make at the auction he planned to attend in the morning.
After I went to all that trouble, he thinks he can simply foist me off on Melinda and Lucy for an aid meeting? Andi gritted her teeth. Chad had been able to outmaneuver her every time she suggested a ranch job for herself the past two weeks.
Andi glared at the closed library door. Only weeks ago, Mitch and Chad had praised her. She’d carried her own weight on a difficult cattle drive. Why the sudden desire to curtail her ranching activities completely?
“Hey, Andi.” Justin’s voice caused Andi to start in surprise. His and Lucy’s presence in the dining room that night had been the one restraint that kept Andi from lighting into her brother. Now she faced him guiltily, but Justin had turned and was entering the library.
Andi dropped onto the wide steps. Dear Lord, I’m sorry I’ve been so upset at Chad lately. Please help me to quit feeling like this and forgive me. Taking a deep breath Andi went on, You know how I feel about the ranch…could you please guide me when I talk to Chad. Please help me not to get mad! Feeling better, Andi rose and stepped to the partially open library door. She lifted her hand to knock when Justin’s voice drifted out.
“Might I ask what all this mess is?”
Andi had to lean close to make out Chad’s low growled answer. “I don’t know what I did with all the figures Andi gave me.” There was a shuffling of paper.
“Why don’t you ask her to make you another sheet?” asked Justin. “She probably still has the paper she worked the figures on.”
“No way! Didn’t you see the way she glowered at me through supper?”
“I did,” Justin’s response sounded measured. “What’s up between the two of you?”
“Well…” Chad cleared his throat. Andi itched to fling open the door and demand an answer.
“What’s this?” The curious tone of her oldest brother's voice held Andi back. She inched the door open a few inches farther to see Chad take a yellow paper gently out of Justin’s hand. His features were etched with a mixture of thoughtfulness, sorrow, and a hint of pride.
“Father gave it to you?”
Chad nodded and the brothers fell silent. For a full minute Andi waited before easing the door open.
“Andi,” Justin motioned her over, “you’d like to see this.”
Placing his heavily muscled arm across the paper, Chad grunted. “I don’t think she’s interested in stuff like this anymore.”
Andi felt her shoulders stiffen; then the words of her prayer came to her. She responded in a soft tone. “I’m always interested in things to do with Father.”
Chad scowled, he had a low opinion of eavesdroppers, but Justin started chuckling. “She’s been standing outside the door for the past ten minutes looking like a thunderhead,” he told his brother. “I came in to referee whatever dispute is coming and hopefully give her courage to enter. I didn’t latch the door so of course she heard.” Turning to Andi, Justin picked up the yellowed sheet. “Father gave this to Chad.”
Andi felt a familiar ache as she took the page and read Father’s writing. For you Chad, and any others in the family who wish to become cowhands: these are the qualities that make the best ones.
“Father gave it to me when I was eight or so,” Chad said in a gravelly voice, his head averted. “From then on I worked on that list. Made a checkmark every time Father told me I had mastered something on the list.”
Andi ran her blue eyes over it. Be honest. A good rider. A good roper. Have animal sense…. Her face crinkled in amusement when she reached: be good at figuring. “There’s no mark by this one.” She pointed. Chad scowled.
A minute later Andi looked up again. “According to Father I seem to be pretty well qualified.”
Chad’s icy blue eyes locked with hers. “Andi, seriously, you’re a girl. You don’t want to be a cowpuncher.”
Dropping the list, Andi replied in as even a tone as she could muster. “Seriously, I do. Where did you get this notion that you could keep me from it?”
Justin flashed a questioning glance at his younger brother.
Taking a deep breath Chad began, “I know that you did super in the cattle drive, but you were so close to danger so many times. When you chose to have a quinceañera I was hoping you’d realized that ranching isn’t all fun and I figured if I kept you away from it for awhile you’d develop other interests. I don’t want you to get hurt, Andi.”
Other interests? Andi knew that only God answering her prayer kept her from verbally tearing into big brother.
Putting his hand on her shoulder, Justin gave it a fond squeeze. Andi opened her mouth. “Chad, I can’t give up the ranch. Unless God calls me to something else, I’ve just gotta ranch.” When Chad remained silent, Andi hurried on. “It’s what I want to do when I’m done with school, Chad, ranch with you.” She pointed to the list. “I’m just as qualified as you were at my age with most of those things but pick something. Choose something I need to do better at. I’ll conquer it if you’ll let me work on the ranch when school’s over.”
Justin's eyebrows went up a hair, but he turned to Chad. “She made some very good points.”
Mutely, Chad picked up Father’s list and ran his eyes over it. “I could choose, ‘be a good shot.’” He looked up, a glint of amusement in his eyes. “However since I cannot figure,” he cleared his throat, “I’ll be merciful and choose …. have first aid knowledge.”
Forcing her voice not to squeak Andi choked out, “How am I going to get that?”
I must have been too tired from the trail ride to think straight; entrusting my future at the ranch to such a scheme! I’d be lost without Justin. He's arranged for me to stay with him and Lucy at their little cottage until school lets out so I can walk over to Doc Weaver’s in the evenings. All went smoothly until tonight, the day after school closed.
“Andi, is that you?” Lucy’s voice stopped the fifteen year old in her tracks. “You’re back sooner than I expected. What happened?”
Inwardly Andi groaned as she turned to face her sister-in-law. “You’re whiter than the peaks of the Sierras!” Justin’s pretty little wife exclaimed. “Sit down.”
Andi sank onto the settee; seconds later Lucy placed a glass of water in her hand. Steadying herself, Andi lifted it to her lips.
“Are you ill?”
“No.” Andi swiped her hand across her forehead and drank some more water. The dizziness started to pass. Her eyes focused on Lucy’s concerned face. “I’ll be fine.”
Andi started to rise but Lucy pulled her back. “If you don’t tell me what’s the matter I’ll get Justin to drag the truth out of you,” she threatened.
Lucy’s jaw was set and there wasn’t any way Andi was telling Justin about this. She fell back. “Someone brought in a tiny little boy with a broken arm today. Doc was afraid to use ether on such a little tyke. I had to help him.” Andi squeezed her eyes shut against the memory. “I don’t ever want to do something like that again,” she moaned, “but if I don’t, there goes my chance of working on the ranch!”
“Wake up, sis.” Andi groaned and rolled away from the hand that shook her shoulder. “Come on!” Chad’s insistent voice at last forced Andi to open her eyes.
“What are you doing here?” she moaned. Lucy’s cuckoo clock sound eight AM. Andi squeezed her eyes shut again. She still felt exhausted, and no wonder, she’d dreamed of broken bones all night.
“What’s this?” Chad poked at a book beside her bed. “Broken Bones and How to Fix Them,” he read aloud.
Andi pulled the sheet over her head. The reading matter Doc had supplied her with had not benefited her rest any.
“It seems you must be learning something.” Chad chuckled and bounced the bed. “Get up and come to the kitchen. Mitch is here and we need to talk to you.”
As her brother's footsteps died away Andi stumbled out of bed. Must not be too bad of a discussion if her easy-going brother was a party. She dressed and headed for the stairs.
“What’s going on?” Andi dropped into the chair Justin pulled out for her.
Chad leaned back in his seat. There was a glint in his eye as he asked, “Feel like tackling another cattle drive?”
Andi gulped. Dust, grit and exhaustion or broken bones? Which was worse?
Grinning at her expression, Mitch explained, “It’s really not much of a drive. Just a couple days ride into the high country, pick up twenty-five head and herd them back to the ranch.”
“How do you plan to find these cattle in the Sierras?” Sleepy as she was, Andi knew this sounded strange.
“Ever heard of Miner Grizzly?”
“It sounds a tiny bit familiar.” Probably some conversation she'd overhead in Goodwin’s Mercantile. What does he have to do with cattle?
“Tales have been spun about the old guy for decades,” Justin told her. “In fact, when we were boys, Chad got it in his mind that he was going to find Grizzly's claim, which everyone made up to be the richest in the state, and convince the old Miner to let him stake on beside it.”
Andi snickered and arched her eyebrows at Chad. “What a scatter-brained idea.”
Ignoring her, Chad said, “Mitch and I did stumble across his camp, but I didn’t see any sign of a mine. There was a shack, surrounded by a fine meadow and a bunch of cattle.”
“What’s he doing with them in the winter?”
“That’s the intriguing thing,” Mitch replied. “He keeps them in his lowest pastures.”
Chad leaned forward, a gleam of excitement in his eyes. “Pastures that are higher than anything I’ve ever been able to get cattle to survive the cold weather in.”
“How’s he doing that?” Andi’s voice was skeptical. “Dress them in wool coats?”
“Grizzly says he started with the toughest critters in California and he made them tougher,” Mitch explained.
Chad’s blue eyes were still dancing. “If I can breed a bunch of hardy calves from the stock I’m buying I can increase the number of head we can run.”
“So where do I come in?”
Both Chad and Mitch turned toward Justin. “I got a telegram from Bakersfield yesterday,” he explained. “The district attorney is having trouble with the case against Toledo. He needs witnesses to his crime.”
Andi squeezed her eyes shut. She had no desire to mount the witness stand and face that cocky cowboy.
Mitch touched her shoulder. “Andi, since I was the trail boss, I am going down there.”
Forcing herself to look her brother in the eyes Andi pushed the words out. “But you didn’t see him steal the cattle or anything.” And I did!
“You’re right. I’ll need someone who saw everything to go along.”
This has got to be a bad dream! Something is not right. “So why did you come talking about a cattle drive?” Andi held her breath.
Chad spoke up. “When I arranged with Grizz to buy the cattle, I promised I wouldn’t bring any of the hands along. I’d have a trustworthy Carter.” Andi waited. “Levi saw Toledo’s crimes too and is excited about taking part in a real trial. Since you’re the better cowhand, we hoped you’d be willing to come with me.”
“Yes!” Andi bounced out of her seat.
Her brothers chuckled. Throwing her a wink, Mitch said, “You put in enough trying hours working for me this spring; be sure Chad goes easy on you this time.”
“Yes, sir,” Andi chirped back.
Chad shoved back his chair. “I want to leave the ranch by noon, little sister.”
After riding Dusty for a day I have completely forgotten my brief feelings of appreciation to him during the drive to Los Angeles. I think Chad is regretting his decision that we not bring our famed breeding stock on this jaunt, too. With Taffy and Sky we'd be a good ways farther. The meandering way Chad is leading us doesn’t help either.
“Can't you keep that animal moving?” Chad groused.
Groaning, Andi yanked Dusty's head away from a clump of tasty vegetation. With a rough kick in her mount's flanks, Andi moved up beside Chad. Her patience was as short as her list of beaus right now. “Are you trying to ride every trail in the Sierras twice?”
The words brought a withering glare from Chad. “I told Grizz I’d go a roundabout way to be sure we aren’t followed. If there’s no sign of anyone by noon, we’ll head directly to his pasture.”
As if anyone would have the patience to follow our tracks this far.
Andi smirked as Chad dismounted an hour later and put his ear to the ground. “Hear anything?”
“Shhh!” Chad put his hand up. He listened for another minute. When he climbed to his feet there was disbelief on his features. “There’s a horse on our trail.”
Although she wanted to argue, Chad’s face confirmed the impossibility. “Now what?”
“Evasion doesn’t seem to be working, so...”
Andi cut him off. “That’s an understatement.”
Chad ignored her. “We’ll try confrontation.”
“You’re just going to wait till someone shows up and try to talk him out of stealing Grizzly’s gold?”
“I won’t just talk.” Chad swung into his saddle. “Nor will we wait here. In another mile there’s a narrow gorge that gives way to a meadow. We’ll pick up our pace now so we get to the canyon a good bit ahead of our tail. First we ride through and stake the horses in the meadow. Then,” Chad dug in his saddle bag and pulled out an extra revolver, tossing it to Andi, “we each guard one end of the canyon from the rocks above.”
Eyeing the gun with a skeptical expression Andi asked, “After that?”
Chad shrugged. “We leave him tied to a tree. He’ll be fine till we come back tomorrow morning with the cattle. Being tied for less than a day won’t kill him.” Spurring his horse forward, Chad called over his shoulder, “Try to keep that nag moving.”
Easy for you to say.
The canyon walls loomed overhead, giving Andi the shivers. She fastened her eyes on the patch of green meadow showing at the end of the narrow corridor and urged Dusty into a fast trot. The ugly beast didn't seem to like the narrow space any better. For the first time on the drive he outdistanced Chad’s horse. Just as they passed her brother, a loud crack echoed from above.
Shock recoiled through Andi as she hauled in the reins. A gunshot! She looked at Chad.
Big brother’s grim face looked more unmovable than the canyon walls that his icy blue eyes were scanning.
Before Andi could collect her thoughts, a harsh voice sawed through the air from a ledge just above them. “Throw down your gun, Carter.”
His face paling, Chad hesitated. Another loud crack rang in Andi’s ears. Dusty tossed his head. Leather burned Andi’s palms as the reins slid through her hands. Then the horse reared. Andi felt the pull of gravity for a moment and gripped for the horn.
Her head snapped back the next instant; Dusty’s hooves struck the ground moving. He launched himself towards the meadow. A babble of sounds drifted after them.
“Stop that horse! We mean business.” There was more gunfire. Several bullets zipped just over her shoulder.
I would if I could, Andi thought. She offered a one word prayer. Help!
Dusty sailed over a small shrub without breaking stride. At that instant an explosion of pain slammed into Andi’s right shoulder. Her muscles went slack and she hit the ground like a sack of sand.
Andi struggled to breath, struggled to bring reality past her searing shoulder. The sounds from the canyon seemed to travel a great distance to reach her. There was a loud rumble, it reminded her of a stampede. A landslide!
Hoof beats were the next thing she heard. “Andi! Andi, are you alright?”
Chad’s voice caused Andi to start, but another surge of pain held her down. Wetness crept over her shoulder.
“I’ll be okay,” she whispered. “Just don’t touch my arm.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option, little sister.” Chad’s voice was ragged. He fumbled with his bandana. “Be brave for a sec, while I tie this.”
Pushing her face to the dirt, Andi tried to muffle a moan. “There.” She felt the makeshift bandage tighten.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” Andi shook her head. The only place with exploding pain was her upper arm.
Chad cleared his throat but his voice still came out dry. “The creek is not ten paces away. I'm gonna get a few things ready. Then I’ll patch you up.”
Andi didn’t want to think about what that meant. She lost track of time then; it could have been a minute or an hour later when Chad bent over her.
“I’m ready. Let me take a look, Andi.” At her brother’s touch the girl stiffened but made no sound. “There.” Chad tossed aside the bandana and used his knife to cut Andi’s sleeve away.
“H-how bad is it?”
“Simple flesh wound,” Chad said with relief. “The bullet passed through, so all you need is a good cleaning and a few stiches.”
A groan escaped her lips when Chad touched the wound with a cloth.
“Sorry, Andi,” Chad muttered, working away, “but I can’t skimp the cleansing.”
Images of Mitch and Chad, when they'd been wounded, flitted through Andi’s mind. She gritted her teeth. Chad was working with the same gentle touch she’d seen in him as he doctored animals, but even so, she couldn’t keep from jerking away several times.
At last Chad sat back. “There.” He drew a shaky breath. “A few stiches and you’ll be done.”
Squeezing her eyes shut, Andi buried her face in the dirt. She could hear Chad fishing around in a pot of water he’d boiled. A vision of the curved needle he would pull out made her shudder.
Resting a hand on her good shoulder, Chad whispered, “Five minutes, that’s it.”
He was as good as his word, but they were the worst five minutes of the ordeal for both Carters. Chad’s tone of voice equaled Andi’s feeling of relief when he announced, “Done.”
As the pain slackened, Andi turned her head toward the creek. Chad was cleaning up his makeshift doctor’s office. The sound of water made lick her lips. Setting her jaw, Andi pushed herself into a sitting position.
“Andi!” Chad yelled and almost dropped his doctoring kit. “What are you trying to do?”
Forcing her white lips into the shape of a smile, Andi said, “Getting into a position that I can drink in.” After eyeing her for minute, Chad fetched a cup of water from the creek.
It was gone in three gulps. “I’ll get you some more.”
Two cups later, Andi slowed to more ladylike sips. She eyed her brother over the rim when he spoke. “I need to go check what happened at the landslide.”
With a trembling hand, Andi set the cup aside. She opened her mouth but Chad cut in. “No buts. We’re lucky they didn’t dig themselves out while I was doctoring you.” He pulled his bedroll off his saddle and spread it on the ground. “You rest on that.”
Lying on her side, Andi waited. There was no sound from the canyon, no gunfire. Maybe they didn’t survive it.
It was a quarter of an hour before Andi spotted Chad moving her way. He was lugging something. It looked like a body.
Andi’s eyes widened when Chad deposited a man on the other side of the campfire. “Chad?”
Her brother turned toward her. “The other one didn’t make it, but this one needs some help.” Seemingly on cue, the man moaned.
“I hate to ask, but I need a hand.” Andi gaped at her brother. “He has a broken arm.”
“You’ve seen Doc set a bone, I bet, and I saw that book you were reading. You can do it,” Chad encouraged.
A shudder passed over Andi’s body. She turned away. “I can’t.”
Chad dropped to the ground beside her. “I can’t do it alone; he’s halfway conscious. If he starts thrashing around, he could hurt himself worse.”
“But he'll be able to feel it,” Andi moaned.
Every once in a while Chad will astonish me by sounding a little like Justin. This time I wished he'd kept on being Chad.
“Sis, can you remember a Bible verse with the words 'I can’t’?”
As Chad walked off and started chopping some branches from a tree, Andi’s heart seemed to squirm. The verse 'I can do all things through Christ,' had popped into her head without her wanting it. She couldn’t think of anyone who’d gotten away with 'can't'.
She closed her eyes. Lord, Your Word tells me I can do this, but is it telling me I have to? Would You heal the outlaw so I don’t have to yank on his arm? Shame flooded Andi even as she thought the words. That was hardly asking with the right motive and objective. I’m sorry Lord. Even if the man did wrong, please put love in my heart for him and heal him. She sighed before continuing, I know You heal through our hands and a doctor’s medicine sometimes. If that’s the way You want to do it this time, please help us.
When Andi opened her eyes she saw Chad beside the outlaw. “What do you want me to do?”
If Andi’s change of heart surprised Chad, he didn’t show it. “Grab his wrist with your good hand.” Chad maneuvered himself behind the outlaw. “We’ll have this set in a minute,” he told the groaning man. He used one arm to pin the outlaw's good one to his chest. With his other hand he gripped the broken limb above the elbow. “Go ahead.”
Andi stared down at the bulge midway between her hand and Chad’s. She lifted her end, handling it like a time bomb. The outlaw cried out. Chad’s forceful words overpowered her urge to drop the man’s wrist and flee. “Pull! Now!”
Disregarding that particular tone of Chad’s was a bad idea. Even Andi made a habit of obeying it.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she muttered and leaned back. She heard a snap, then the outlaw screamed. Once again Chad’s voice steadied her.
“Hold it just like that.”
Andi kept her grip, steeling herself for the next cry of the injured man. Everything was silent. Looking up she saw the Chad lowering the outlaw’s white face to the ground.
“Pain was too much, he passed out.”
“Thankfully,” Andi breathed. She felt sweat trickling down her face.
Grabbing some cloth left over from Andi’s bandage and the sticks he’d cut, Chad swathed the broken limb in a splint. As soon as Chad told her she could let go, Andi stumbled toward the creek.
Several minutes later Chad crunched up in his high-healed riding boots. He dropped onto a rock beside his sister. There was a minute of silence before Chad cleared his throat.
“I love you, little sister. You did a hard thing, and I’m proud of you. Father once told me, ‘True character shows when you’re pinched,' and you got worse than that today.”
Ignoring the burn it caused in her shoulder, Andi laid her head against her brother.
“That guy calls himself Rob,” he went on, “he told me he was aiming over your shoulder with his rifle but Dusty jumped just as he fired.” Chad took a deep breath and squeezed Andi’s hand. “Seemed to be telling the truth, but you helped without any idea that he wasn’t trying to kill you. I reckon I’m not the only proud one, I’m sure both your Heavenly Father and your earthly one are too.”
“Thanks, Chad,” she whispered. The love she felt pushed the pain far away.
“You’ve showed what you’re made of, little sister,” Chad cleared his throat. “I’d say you have what it takes to make a cowgirl.”
Andi knitted her eyebrows together and stared at her brother.
“I mean,” he held her gaze, “that when you graduate, if you still want to, I’ll take you on as a hand. Forget the checklist and all that, I have no doubts you can do the job.”
Andi’s jaw dropped. Chad was a Carter, he’d keep his word. She flung herself into his arms. The movement sent burning pain through her shoulder, but Andi hugged him anyhow. “I’ll always remember this day,” she whispered.
At that, Chad threw back his head and howled. “I still remember every time I took a bullet too.”
Despite Chad’s opinion, that day, plus the next three that we spent camped there, with him babying me twice as much as Mother would have, are still special memories.
On the third day Miner Grizzly showed up. He’d spotted our campfire. If he was thankful for the trouble we’d gone to keep his hideout a secret, he didn’t show it. He did insist on taking over the care of our outlaw and sending us on to pick out Chad’s new cattle.
The last time Chad talked to Grizz in Fresno he’d reformed the man and employed him as a cowpuncher. No mention was made of gold mining. I, however, found something more precious to me than gold on that trip and I think the outlaw did too.