NEW BEGINNINGS

 

By Deborah Dyess

 

 

It was June in Arizona and even though it was only ten o’clock in the morning the day was already sweltering. Buck Cannon of the High Chaparral ranch and his brother-in-law, Manolito Montoya, were in Tucson to pick up supplies and mail for the ranch, which was owned by Big John, Buck’s brother.

 

They placed the supply order and were told it would be ready, and loaded on the wagon Mano had driven, in one hour.The men stood outside the General Store talking and smoking. They watched as two horsemen rode slowly down the street and pulled up at a nearby water trough.

 

Buck poked Mano and commented, “Those are some fine horses. That stallion, he’s a whole lotta horse.”

 

Indeed they were. One rider sat astride a seventeen hand steeldust stallion and led a copper bay pack mare. The other rode a black gelding and led a blue roan pack mare. The horses were blooded Morgans, crossed with a larger breed, probably Percheron.

 

The riders dismounted and loosened their girths. The stallion rider pumped water into the trough, then took off his jacket and hat and hung them on the saddle horn. A long braid of copper hair fell free, the rider was a woman! She stood slightly over five feet, slim but with a mature figure that he faded man’s shirt, blue jeans and black vest, failed to hide. She appeared to be on her middle twenties, several years younger than her companion, a stocky, dark-haired six-footer about thirty. Both riders wore four fives with shell belts and carried Winchesters on their saddles.

 

As the High Chaparral duo admired the horses, they heard the man say, “I will order our supplies and ask about somewhere to stay. The hotel is out of the question, Anderson can trace us there. You stay with the horses.” He stepped onto the boardwalk and walked into the General Store, nodding at Buck and Mano as he passed them.

 

The woman took off her neckerchief, wet it under the pump, and washed the dust from her face and neck. She talked to the horses, especially the stallion, as they drank their fill. She looked slowly around the area, taking in her surroundings, and her deep blue eyes stopped on the Chaparral men.

 

Mano, ever the ladies man, smiled and bowed to her. Buck tipped his hat, staring at her intently. She smiled, nodded, her gaze lingering on Buck. She then returned her attention to the horses.

 

The man came out of the General Store and rejoined the woman. The High Chaparral duo heard him tell his companion. “The man inside said the hotel wasn’t fit for a woman anyway but there are some ranches where we might find a few days lodging.”

 

She nodded, “I hope so. The horses are worn down and we need rest too.”

 

Buck and Mano stepped forward and Buck introduced himself. “Howdy! The name’s Cannon, Buck Cannon. This here’s my brother-in-law Manolito Montoya. The hotel ain’t fit for a decent woman ma’am. But mebbe we can help you. My brother John owns a ranch some miles west of Tucson, he and his wife would be glad to put you up for a while. Victoria would especially welcome another woman to talk to. Mr Hansen, the General Store keeper, can vouch for us.”

 

The pair looked at each other, then the man spoke. “I’m Jameson Russell, this is my sister Belle. We’re from Denver, my Uncle Pete’s Box-R, a few miles outside the city. If you’re sure it will be alright, we will take you up on your offer. We will pay our own way, however.”

 

“You’ll hafta take that up with brother John. We’ll leave whenever you’re ready. If you want you can load your supplies and packs on our wagon and tie your mares behind,” answered Buck.

 

Mano, who had remained silent, now spoke. “Are you planning to raise horses? You have some fine animals, especially that stallion.”

 

This time it was Belle who answered,” We hope to buy a ranch around here and raise horses and cattle. Our horses are Morgan/Percheron cross and they’re registered stock. The mares are in foal to Rio.”

 

“Ah’m sure you’ll find what you want around here. Mano, why don’t yuh give James a hand with his supplies, it looks like ours are ready to go.” Buck said.

 

Mano agreed and he and James went into the General Store.

 

Belle turned to Buck. “We appreciate your offer, Mr Cannon, but I better be honest with you. We got trouble following us and your brother may not want us on his ranch. We will not bring our fight on anyone.”

 

“The name’s Buck and we on the High Chaparral face trouble everyday. Apaches, dust storms, banditos. Trouble ain’t nothing new to us. If you’re a guest we will help you if we can,” he assured her, “looks like everything’s loaded. You ready to go?”

 

She nodded and he helped her tighten the cinches, she on Rio and he on James’ gelding. They then led the four horses to the wagon, placed the packs in it, and tied the mares to the back. The group prepared to leave for the High Chaparral, riding out of town at a steady pace. James rode beside the wagon and he and Mano talked quietly in Spanish, which the High Chapparal men discovered James and Belle spoke quite well.

 

Buck and Belle rode ahead and he asked, “This trouble following you. Is it the law?”

 

“NO! Just a man who likes to ride roughshod over other folks. I guess I’d better start at the beginning. Our mother died ten years ago when I was fifteen and James was twenty. Dad moved us onto Uncle Pete’s ranch so my Aunt Louise could help look after me. Dad owned a freighting business with this man, Anderson by name. Dad caught him embezzling and, in order to avoid jail, Anderson sold out to Dad. But he wasn’t happy and tried to destroy Dad, harassing his drivers, trying to get customers not to use Dad’s wagon, whatever he could think of. But Dad’s clients were loyal. Six months ago Dad died of heart failure and left the freighting to James and me. Anderson then tried to court me but I refused him. When he included Uncle Pete in his campaign James and I knew we need to leave. Uncle Pete has his own family to think about, my cousins Marla and Rachel and Miles, his son. We left the business under the care of a good manager, Dad’s lawyers, and came out by train as far as we could. We then rode the rest of the way to Tucson.”

 

Buck rubbed his chin, then commented. “Mr Anderson sounds like somebody who needs to be told about hisself. You sure he’d come after you?”

 

Belle sighed. “He wants the operation and he wants me. He is not a man who likes being denied. But, no matter what, we have come as far as we’re going to. We’re going to make a fresh start here in Arizona even though James will have to return to Denver to check on the freighting. Enough about us. Tell me about the High Chaparral.”

 

Buck grinned and answered. “It’s a fair-sized place, 2,500 acres, good water and grass and we have a fine herd, horses too. There’s also Blue Boy, John’s son by his first marriage and about ten of the saltiest hands you ever wanna meet. Mebbe I can carry you for a ride and show you the ranch while you’re here. Me and Mano also got us a little place, the C-Bar-M, and we run our own cows with John’s herd. So you see you’ll be welcome.”

 

They had stopped to wait for the wagon and Buck asked. “That stallion of yours, do he run?” He reached to pat the horse but Rio pinned his ears and snapped. Buck jerked back hastily. “Touchy, ain’t he.”

 

Belle laughed softly. “He runs. Rio only lets my brother and me handle him, but I am his only rider. Your horse looks like he could move a bit. Maybe we will see who’s faster.”

 

Just then James called. “Hey, you two, come here.”

 

When they had joined him and Mano, the handsome Mexican told Buck, “We have company, mi amigo. Three, maybe four, Apache.”

 

“Well the ranch is just ahead, maybe two miles. Do we make a run for it?” asked Buck.

 

The Russell’s and Mano agreed and Belle smiled at Buck, “Looks like we’ll see whose horse is faster a little sooner.”

 

At a yell from Buck the wagon team bolted, with the mares running behind. Buck and the Russell’s galloped ahead, aiming for the High Chaparral gate.

 

One of Big John’s hands, Reno, was on guard on the roof. He yelled “Riders coming!” then, firing a rifle shot, another yell, “Apaches!”

 

Instantly the ranch erupted into motion. A wagon was pulled in front of the gate, men ran to defensive positions and began firing at the Apaches.Pedro Carr, on guard at the gate, crouched beside the fence while another, younger, hand, Ira Bean, threw himself into the dust and added his shots to Pedro’s. John Cannon left his wife in the house with Vaquero to guard her and he and his son ran outside just as Buck, the Russell’s and Mano came pounding though the gate. John and Blue stopped as Mano pulled the wagon to a rattling stop and Buck and the Russell’s struggled to control their rearing, plunging, horses. The firing died down as the Apaches retreated and Buck jumped off Rebel to join his brother. The Russell’s dismounted more slowly and stood beside their horses, waiting.

 

Buck grinned at John, “Howdy, big brother. This here’s James Russell and his sister, Belle. They’s from Denver and need a place to stay for a while. I kinda told them we would put them up for a while, if it’s all right with you.”

 

John spoke, “Welcome to the High Chaparral. We don’t have guests here often and we will make you as comfortable as we can.”

 

Victoria, who had emerged cautiously from the house to join her husband and stepson, added, “Oh yes, please stay. I do not have another woman to talk to as much as I would like.”

 

James said, “We thank you, Mrs Cannon. But Buck and Mano know our story and it’s only fair that you hear it too. We would like to tend our horses first, however.”

 

“Sam, show them where to put their horses and gear, then you come inside with them and we will talk,” John ordered.

 

“Yessir, Mr Cannon. James, Miss Russell, come with me. The rest of you, back to work, starting by unloading those supplies,” answered Sam Butler, the ranch foreman.

 

Buck volunteered to help and soon the Russell’s horses were bedded down and their packs carried into the barn also. Then the group went into the house, the Russell’s’ carrying their rifles and saddlebags along with some personal possessions. They joined John, Blue, Mano and Victoria, who had produced coffee and sandwiches. Everyone settled down to hear the Russell’s story.

 

When they had finished John sat thoughtfully for a while then said, “You are still welcome as our guests. If this Anderson shows up we will help you deal with him.”

 

Buck and Mano grinned happily and Buck chortled, “Yeah, the boys ain’t had much excitement lately. They would like nuthin’ better than a good fight.”

 

“Sam, how about you?” John asked.

 

“Me and the boys stand behind you, Mr Cannon,” was the foreman’s answer.

 

Belle spoke quietly, “Mr Cannon, we thank you, my brother and me.”

 

“Then we will see all of you at dinner. Belle would you come upstairs with me?” asked Victoria. Belle agreed and rose to join her hostess.

 

Mano, Buck and Blue volunteered to show James where he could clean up and James asked to bed down in the bunkhouse. This was agreeable to Sam and he and John went outside to inform the crew and discuss the next day’s tasks. James and Victoria saw how Buck watched Belle walk away and how she smiled at him.

 

When all were assembled for dinner the men stared at Belle. She had changed into a lacy green dress, had brushed her hair and coiled it at the back of her head. James had washed, shaved, and changed into a clean shirt and jeans. They made a handsome pair. John offered his arm to Victoria as Mano did the same for Belle. Everyone moved to the dining table, seated themselves, and James asked to say grace. Then the meal began. Full justice was done to Victoria’s roast beef, corn, mashed potatoes and biscuits. Flan, a type of custard, was served as dessert. After dinner Belle insisted on helping Victoria clear up. Once the dishes were done they joined the men for coffee in the salon.

 

Belle asked, “Buck, could you go with me to the barn? I need to check on the horses.”

 

“Shore I will,” Buck answered and together they headed out the door.

 

Everyone looked at James who stared thoughtfully after his sister, a slight smile on his face.

 

Inside the barn Buck and Belle made sure the horse had food and water and were bedded properly. Belle rubbed Rio’s neck as he nickered and lipped her skirt.

 

“Buck, I think Rio will accept you as a friend. Come, let him smell you,” she coaxed.

 

“Yuh shore? Kinda like my fingers where they are,” he said guardedly.

 

Belle laughed and urged him closer. Hesitantly he reached and patted the stallion’s neck. Rio sniffed Buck’s shirt, snorted, then butted him playfully and whinnied.

 

“See, he liked you. He knows a good man when he meets one,” Belle smiled.

 

“At least he ain’t takin’ a piece of me. We better go back inside,” Buck grinned at her.

 

Once inside the house, Victoria saw the weariness in her guests’ faces and insisted the retired. James and Mano headed to the bunkhouse. John, Victoria and Blue said goodnight as well.

 

Buck told Belle as she headed upstairs, “We’re mighty glad you’re here.”

 

Belle smiled, said her goodnights, and soon the house was quiet, as morning came early on the High Chaparral.

 

 

 

In the days that followed Russell’s quickly made themselves at home. The two women worked together in the house, airing mattresses, cleaning, laundry. Victoria found that Belle enjoyed baking and helped her make donuts and pies for the family and crew. Pedro, who cooked for the crew, was more than happy to take this bounty to the hands. But Belle wanted to ride with men, also. She coaxed James to speak for her and John reluctantly agreed to let her join in the herding.

 

She and Rio seemed of one mind as they chased steers, dragged unbranded stock to the branding fire and helped wherever she could. Everyone noticed the growing relationship between Buck and Belle. How he rode with her everywhere, sought her out whenever she worked in the house, and helped her tend the Russell’s horses. Her face lit up whenever he spoke to her and his eyes followed her everywhere she went. Mano teased his friend good naturedly about his friendship with Belle. Buck denied there was anything between them.

 

One day in particular, Buck stated hotly, “Mano, ah’m too old for her! She wouldn’t look at a man old enough to be her pa! She needs a younger man, like Reno or Ira,”

 

Mano laughed, then sobered and said, “Amigo, the senorita does not look at you like a father. She sees that she cares for deeply.”

 

Buck just shook his head and walked away, muttering.

 

Meanwhile James cornered his sister and asked, “What is going on between you and Buck? I have never seen you act this way about any man before.”

 

She blushed, “I’m not sure, but I think I love him. But I can’t tell him until after we deal with Anderson.”

 

James nodded, “If he is what you want, don’t wait too long.”

 

Belle hugged him and walked away, fighting tears.

 

That evening at dinner James asked, “John, may I go with you to Tucson tomorrow? I’d like to check with the bank about properties for sale.”

 

“That’s fine with me. Mano and Blue are going with me and Victoria will be glad to introduce you to Mr Wills, the president. He’s a fair man and will direct you to a good area.”

 

Buck spoke up, “John, I told Belle that I would show her some more of the ranch, that is, if you still want to go Belle.”

 

“Yes, I’d like that. Can we leave after breakfast?”

 

Buck agreed and the meal ended on a pleasant note.

 

Buck and James played poker after dinner and Belle asked to join them. Right away she won hand after hand until Buck folded.

 

James laughed, “Our father taught us to play poker years ago and Belle has always been lucky.”

 

Buck grinned and said, “I guess I don’t mind losing to such a pretty gal.”

 

She thanked him, blushing, as she pocketed her winnings.

 

 

 

The next day John drove the wagon out the gate with Victoria beside him on the seat. Mano and Blue rode alongside.

 

Buck and Belle packed coffee and food in their saddlebags and rode towards the hills. They travelled in companionable silence most of the morning, until they came to a small stream. Dismounting to let the horses drink, Buck asked, “Iffen your brother finds a ranch, you think you’ll still like living around here?”

 

“Yes, I will. Anywhere we can raise our horses and live peacefully will be okay by me. Shall we make a fire and fix coffee?” she responded.

 

He agreed and they gathered dry wood and soon had a small fire going and coffee boiling. They sat down to enjoy their meal.

 

After eating they sat quietly drinking coffee. Finally Buck broke the silence, “How come a pretty woman . . .  a good woman, like you . . .  ain’t married with a couple of kids by now?”

 

Belle looked at her boots; then finally answered, “Guess I haven’t found a man I cared enough about yet.”

 

Buck started to speak, then got up and walked a few steps to lean against a rock. He looked at Belle, cleared his throat, then finally face her and blurted, “Listen, ah know ah’m old enough to be your daddy and ah ain’t got much to offer you but I . . . I want you to stay here . . . on the High Chaparral. I’d like you to stay with me . . . forever and a day.”

 

Slowly Belle rose to her feet and crossed to him. Tears glistened in her eyes as she whispered, “You are not too old. And if you want me, I will never leave you.”

 

Buck reached out and took her in his arms, his mouth crushing hers. When he released her she was gasping but her eyes shone and she was smiling.

 

“Hadn’t we best be getting back? I would like to tell James.”

 

Buck grinned, “Yeah, the rest of them will want to hear about this.”

 

Together they doused the fire, stowed their dishes and mounted up. They held the horses to a steady lope as the rode towards the ranch. As they came in sight of the ranch Belle suddenly drew rein and pointed at four strange riders in the front yard talking to John.

 

She said, “He found us. That’s Anderson on the big dun, I’d know that horse anywhere. Those must be some hired guns he picked up.

 

Buck answered, “If’n he’s looking for trouble he’ll get it. Don’t worry, you got me now.”

 

They continued riding toward the gate and heard Reno call, “Riders coming! It’s Buck and Miss Russell, Mr Cannon!”

 

Belle and Buck dismounted, tied their horses, and walked to join the rest. The tension fairly crackled as the Russell’s faced Anderson.

 

Anderson was a tall man, well dressed, with thick brown hair and green eyes. He got off his horse, glared at the Cannons and Russell’s and stated, “Belle, James, I’m here to get what’s mine and I’ve come for you too, gal.”

 

James said angrily, “Dad bought your share legally Anderson, so you have no claim. And Belle will see you in hell before you get her.”

 

John spoke up, “Anderson, the Russell’s are my guests and under my protection. Take your hired guns and get off my land. Sam, if Mr Anderson does not leave in five minutes you have my permission to start shooting.”

 

Sam Butler, standing with his brother Joe, Ira and Vaquero answered, “Yessir, Mr Cannon. You heard the boss, boys.”

 

Anderson turned beet red and screamed, “You cannot stop me!” He snatched his gun, drew swiftly, but Buck and James’ guns moved first. Anderson stiffened, clutched his chest, and fell.

 

The other riders kept their hands in sight, covered by the guns of the Cannon’s ranch hands.

 

John ordered, “Take your boss and get off High Chaparral.”

 

They dismounted, loaded Anderson’s body and rode out the gate.

 

James looked bleakly at John and said, “I never meant to bring our fight to you and your home. John, I’m truly sorry. I hope this won’t stop us from being neighbors especially since Belle and me will be moving to the Carter place.”

 

John smiled, “Someone would have dealt with Anderson eventually. You are our friends and we will be glad to have you as neighbors. The Carter place is close, so we will see you often.”

 

Just then Buck spoke up, putting his arm around Belle, “James, John, the rest of you, Belle and me got something to say. Ah cain’t afford it, but we’re gonna get married. She’s gonna stay on the High Chaparral with me.”

 

Everyone stared at the couple. Victoria was the first to recover and squealed happily, “This is wonderful news,” she went up to Buck, kissed his cheek, then hugged Belle and said, “You must let me help you plan your wedding.”

 

Mano and Blue started grinning and the hands erupted into whistles and cheers. One by one they came up to shake Buck’s hand, pound him on the back, and offer their best wishes to Belle.

 

John finally called for quiet, “This is good news, Buck. Belle, welcome to the Cannon family.”

 

She smiled and thanked everyone, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

 

James, who had remained silent until now, walked up to his sister, stared at her and asked, “Are you sure, Belle?”

 

“Yes,” she said softly.

 

Turning to Buck, James told him, “Take care of my sister, Cannon, or you’ll answer to me.” He grinned, clapped Buck on the shoulder and spoke again, “You have a good woman Buck, but she’s a handful. Welcome, brother.”

 

Belle hugged him and did not try to hold back her tears.

 

 

 

The next weeks were busy ones; a date was decided for the wedding, July 10th, so as not to conflict with the 4th of July festivities in Tucson. Belle and Buck did not want anything fancy but Victoria insisted that a small fiesta would be perfect. The crew dug pits and planned to slaughter six steers and barbecue them. The preacher and an organist from Tucson were contacted and agreed to come to the ranch. Neighbours were invited and long table and benches were assembled to be set up in the ranch yard. Belle asked Victoria to attend her and Victoria, honoured, agreed happily, Belle already had a dress and slippers but Victoria gave her a white lace mantilla and loaned her a necklace. Giggling, the two women took turns sewing a pair of lacy blue garters.

 

James cornered Buck one day and told him, “I need to discuss Belle’s dowry with you.”

 

“What in thunder is a dowry?” was Buck’s reply.

 

“My father left five thousand dollars to Belle in his will to be given to the man she marries. You can use it to build a small house, buy more cattle, whatever.”

 

“I don’t want your money,” Buck said hotly, his temper rising.

 

“It’s not my money; it’s my father’s money. According to his will only Belle’s husband can touch the money. Or, if she does not wed, she receives it when she turns thirty.”

 

Finally Buck agreed to use the money for a house, more cattle for the C-Bar-M and leave the rest in the bank. James arranged to have his lawyers and bankers transfer the funds immediately.

 

The forth of July arrived and everyone, except the hands herding or on guard duty, headed for town. Belle entered the horse racing with Rio and Buck, Mano and the crew took part in the turkey shooting, saddlebronc and bareback riding and target shooting. Belle won her race on Rio, Buck took second place in the saddlebronc contest and the rest of the men did well in their events. A good time was had by all and it was a tired but happy group that headed for home.

 

The next week flew by as details for the wedding were completed. The house was compact and neat. The furniture, handmade by local craftsmen, was installed, and everything needed for a couple was stored away; blankets, linen, provisions, lamps, candles, dishes. The house was a short distance away from the High Chaparral hacienda and a small barn had been constructed for Rio, the mares and Rebel. There was even a chicken coop inside the barn containing a rooster and eight hens.

 

At last the day dawned bright and hot. The ceremony was scheduled for one o’clock but after breakfast Victoria banished the men from the house and confined Belle to her room so she and Buck could not see each other until the ceremony. Buck, who had celebrated with Mano and the hands the night before, was hung-over, but John and James set out to make sure he was ready on time. They poured coffee down him and dumped him in the horse trough. After a hot bath, a shave and much good-natured teasing, he was dressed and waiting.

 

Inside the house, Victoria and her friend, Violeta, had finished dressing Belle.

 

When James came to escort his sister he stood staring at her, “You look beautiful, sis. Ladies, she makes a pretty bride. Are you ready to go?”

 

At her nod and with Victoria leading the way, he led Belle out into the yard where the guests, the hands, John, Mano, Blue and, most of all, Buck, stood waiting.

 

Belle only had eyes for Buck as James escorted her to him and placed her hand in his. He stared at her, unable to speak.

 

James kissed his sister’s cheek, grinned at Buck and took his seat. Thus the ceremony began.

 

When the minister asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” James answered, “I do. Take care of my sister, Buck, I wouldn’t want to shoot you.”

 

Laughter sounded and then quieted as the minister asked first Buck, and then Belle, to repeat their vows. Buck glanced at John when the minister asked for a ring and John handed him a wide gold band, which he placed on Belle’s finger. The minister pronounced them man and wife and told Buck to kiss his bride. He pulled Belle close, kissed her firmly, then took her hand and faced the company. Cheers, hoots and whistles filled the air as they walked through the yard.

 

The celebration that followed was small but noisy. Many of the neighboring women had brought food and the barbecue was abundant. There were kegs of beer, and punch for the ladies although one or two of the ranchers’ wives too a small glass of beer at their husband’s urging. People visited, ate, danced after the newlywed couple had taken their turn on the floor. As the celebration wound down, some people packed up and departed, until only a few families were left in the late afternoon.

 

Belle sat talking with Victoria until she felt eyes on her. She looked up to find Buck staring at her intently. She blushed and asked Victoria, “Will you walk with me to the house?”

 

The two women rose and, with Mano escorting them, made their way to Belle’s new home. Belle bade them goodnight and went inside to prepare herself. She undressed, bathed, donned her nightgown and brushed out her hair. Then she sat down to wait for Buck.

 

Later, Buck came in and knocked softly. Belle’s gentle invitation prompted him to open the door where he found Belle waiting. She stood in a patch of moonlight, her hair flowing to her waist, her feet bare beneath the gown that clung to her body.

 

Buck crossed to her, pulled her into his arms and whispered, “Tonight I reckon I’m the luckiest man on earth.” He kissed her, then picked her up and carried her to bed.

 

In a shaky voice Belle told him, “I have never been with a man. Please be patient.”

 

“I’d never hurt you,” was his answer. Thus began their married life.

 

 

 

In the following days Belle worked hard to make a home for Buck and herself. She cleaned, cooked, did laundry and cared for her horses and chickens. James came over from the new ranch, Triangle R, and presented his sister with a milk cow. Belle urged Buck to ride Rio often because she preferred to be at home and did not want her stallion to become unfit. For his part, Buck couldn’t wait to get home at day’s end and took a lot of good-natured teasing from Mano and the hands at his eagerness to be with his new wife.

 

November rolled around and with it, Buck’s birthday. Belle asked Victoria, “Will you help me plan a small party for Buck. Just the family and the bunkhouse boys.”

 

Victoria agreed and the womens’ plans were quickly made. A special dinner was cooked, a big cake baked, presents bought or made.

 

On the day of the party everyone gathered at Buck’s house to celebrate. After dinner a huge cake was brought out and Buck cut the first piece. After that Belle made sure everyone received a slice. There were gifts for Buck too. From John he received a new rifle and ammunition. Victoria gave him a pair of gloves and Mano a hand-tooled belt. Belle’s gift was three new shirts and, from the crew, several bottles of redeye and two new scarves.

 

After the hands had departed Belle asked, “Could I have everyone’s attention please? Buck, I have one more gift for you but it will not arrive until next April.”

 

He said, “Is it one of your colts? Those are your horses.”

 

“No it’s not that. Come next April there’s going to be another Cannon on the High Chaparral. You’re going to be a father, Buck.”

 

Stunned silence greeted her words. James, who had ridden over from his ranch to help celebrate, and had given Buck a new rifle scabbard, stared at his sister.

 

Victoria clutched her husband’s arm, whispering, “Oh, John. Is it not wonderful?”

 

Mano grinned and slapped Buck on the shoulder, “Hey, mi amigo, this is good, no?”

 

John smiled at his wife and said, “That’s great, Buck.”

 

Buck sat staring at his wife, his mouth open in shock. He blinked, shook his head and finally blurted out, “Are you sure? I’m gonna be a pa?”

 

She answered, “Of course I’m sure. Are you happy?”

 

At last Buck recovered, let out a loud yell and grabbed Belle, kissing her soundly and spinning her around.

 

She gasped, “Okay! Okay! You’re happy! Put me down, I’m getting dizzy.”

 

Amid the laughter from the rest of the family Buck gently set her down and said, “This is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

 

Soon after, everyone left and Buck and Belle sat quietly talking. He said, “I cain’t rightly believe an old man like me is gonna be a daddy.”

 

She laughed, “Evidently you’re not too old.”

 

The next day when Buck rode up to the bunkhouse the hands and Blue were waiting for him. Blue had spent the night at a neighboring ranch and now presented his uncle with an engraved belt buckle. But the hands surrounded Buck, pumping his hand and pounding him on the back.

 

Sam spoke, “Buck, Mano told us about your news and we all think it’s great that you’re gonna be a father.”

 

Blue grinned and added, “Me too, Uncle Buck. I’ve always wanted a cousin.”

 

That night, after supper, Buck asked Belle, “Are yuh happy . . . I mean . . . are you happy with Old Buck?”

 

She smiled, took his hand and stood up, “Come with me. Our happiness, yours and mine, is just beginning. We have a life time ahead of us. Come with me and I will show you how truly happy I am.”

 

 

 

 

THE END