For Whom the Rooster Crows
Posted on Sat Oct 28th, 2017 @ 10:03pm by Jess Harper
Edited on on Sat Nov 11th, 2017 @ 11:00pm
Time & Location: Early AM, Monday, 07/12/1875; Main Barn, Snowlight Basin
Tags & OOCs: Open Scene; Multiple Responses Allowed.
Jess had gotten to bed very late the night before. He'd spent the time after dinner and before the twins' bedtime in getting to know them a bit. After the twins went to bed, the adults stayed up talking about the status of the ranch and filling in Ezra and Kate on what had transpired during the journey from Wyoming to Montana. When he finally returned to his bed, Jess expected one of two things. He would be restless and, even though he was exhausted, he would get very little rest due to the strangeness of being back home. On the other hand, Jess had gone without regular rest for several days and had not slept at all the previous night making it a real possibility that he would oversleep.
Having been taught that a person only laid in bed if they were seriously sick or injured and the habit of a lifetime had Jess stirring just before sunrise. He rolled out of bed, shivering a little in the coolness of the predawn morning, shaved, washed up and dressed. Stopping back by his bed, he pulled his gunbelt off the peg he'd hammered into the wall next to the headboard the night before. Before fastening it on, Jess remembered Nettie's warning about no guns at the table and grinned. He was likely up and about long before breakfast would be served, but just in case, he looped the belt over his shoulder instead of strapping it on.
To Jess's surprise, he was not the only person awake and stirring around the house. Lamps, affixed to sconces along the walls, had been lit in the hall, the family room, and its adjoining dining area. Jess had learned the night before that the family rarely used the breakfast room that was across from the family room. It had been turned into a lady's parlor for taking tea with guests. The kitchen was also a blaze of light, and the smell of baking bread emanated from the area of the large cook stove. A woman was seated at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Her strong face with its wide, slightly flattened cheekbones, suggested she had Indian blood in her background. Hair, the color of rich peat, hung over her shoulders. Two sleepy looking children sat at the table, sipping hot chocolate and watching the woman peel potatoes.
The woman rose to her feet and wiped her hands on her apron. Despite wearing flat-soled moccasins on her feet, she stood taller than Jess. She wore dark brown trousers and a cream colored blouse. Jess guessed her age to be somewhere around forty, but she had the kind of timeless features that made it hard to tell. Besides, he was hardly an expert at placing a woman's age.
"Mr. Harper, I'm Mary Hannaford. I cook and manage things for Mrs. Kate. Before that, I worked for Mrs. Regina." She offered her hand and gripped Jess's firmly. "These are my young'uns, Ellie and Noah."
Jess was initially surprised that she knew his name but then realized that if Mary had worked for Regina, she likely knew Quentin. By the process of elimination, she could've guessed who he was. "Ma'am," he touched his hat brim respectfully, "Please just call me Jess. Mr. Harper doesn't feel quite right...here."
"Then Mr. Jess it is. Please call me Mary. The twins call me Miss Mary even though I'm a widow, so that's fine too. Breakfast won't be for about two hours yet, but there's fresh coffee and rolls if you like," Mary told him, resuming her seat and her task.
Jess had learned from Kate the night before that, as a general rule, the ranch's employees did not work on Sundays or holidays. The hands rotated doing essential chores such as feeding and watering the livestock. Mary and the other women employed at the house had voluntarily given up part of their Sunday to help Kate get things organized for their arrival but had not stayed. He turned to the large stove that took up most of the wall that divided the kitchen from the family room. The coffee pot sat on the side that was coolest where it would stay hot but not scorch or burn. He snagged a large cup from the cabinet next to the stove, filled it and took a sip. The liquid was close to heaven in a cup. According to Ezra, Chance and Regina had expanded the importation of high-end coffees and teas from Celeste and Diego de Sylva's plantations in Brazil. Celeste was one of John Caleb Harper's younger sisters and their aunts. Over the last few years, they had started supplying local shops and general stores along with buying a supply for the ranch. The difference in taste was phenomenal. Jess inhaled the fragrance of the coffee and smiles appreciatively.
Just as he finished the coffee, Jess's stomach let out a low growl. He grinned sheepishly, "Two hours, huh?"
The woman laughed, and both children giggled, "Take a couple of rolls with you and don't be late. I don't hold up breakfast and let it spoil because you men can't make it to the table on time." Mary split open two rolls and spread them with butter and honey before wrapping them in a napkin for him. "There are metal cups up there too. Take some coffee with you but remember to bring my cup back, you hear?"
"Yes, ma'am!" Jess fixed himself another cup of coffee and took the napkin wrapped roll Mary handed him. He set the items down on the counter and slid the gunbelt off his shoulder, strapping it snugly around his hips and securing the holster ties around at mid-thigh. In the foyer, he had to set the coffee and rolls down again so that he could pull on his jacket. Finally, he stepped out of the house and walked out of the courtyard and down to the main barn.
Inside the barn, he shrugged out of his coat and took a moment to eat the rolls and gulp down the coffee. He used the napkins to wipe his mouth and wipe out the cup and hung it on the peg with his coat so he wouldn't forget it. The last thing he wanted to do was get off on the wrong foot with the cook! Next, Jess took a walk down the barn's main hall, noting what was there and where everything was. He had entered through a large tack and feed room. Presumably, the doors at the other end opened into a paddock or yard. Box stalls lined both sides of the barn, stopping well short of the other set of doors. At the end of each row of stalls, large frames held fresh feed hay and straw for bedding. Pitchforks, shovels, and rakes hung on the wall. Just inside the barn door, on the left, was a flagstone area with a watering trough and hand-pump. Next to it was a bin filled with water buckets. At the tack and feed room end of the barn, there were several stalls designed for grooming and saddling. Jess had noted heavy rings affixed to the posts. Lightweight chains with snaps on both ends were attached to the rings. A person simply backed a horse into the open fronted enclosure and clipped the chains onto the animal's halter. They could then easily walk around the horse to groom and saddle it or go clean the empty stall.
All of the stalls were occupied. The ones down one side held Harriet's team, Stahl's bad-tempered gelding, Paladin, and Lakota. The stalls on the far side held several more horses including a striking red-roan Appaloosa gelding, a beautiful rose-gray mare, and a big black and white gelding with Medicine Hat markings. In the largest stall on the far side, the one closest to the doors, two milk cows stood, idly munching on hay. Brass holders had been affixed to each stall. Cards with the animals' names neatly printed on them had been slid into the holders. A milking station had been built next to the stall between it and the hay bins. Jess assumed the main herd of milk cows was housed in the big cow barn in the valley. Two cows would take care of most of the main house's needs. The barn had looked much bigger from the outside, so Jess looked around, finally finding a door behind the hay bin that led into a large shed attached to the side of the barn where wagons and buggies were kept. There was another huge shed on the other side of the barn. The rear of it was fenced and could be used for livestock if needed while the front was open to a large grazing paddock. Having satisfied his curiosity, Jess returned to the inside of the barn, rolled up his sleeves, and headed over to the stalls.
The concern he'd felt at having broken the Cowboy Code by not taking care of his horse before taking care of himself the night before was assuaged somewhat as he entered Lakota's stall. The big smoky-dun stallion made a soft whuffling noise at him as Jess ran his hands over the horse's neck and shoulders. He ran his hands down Lakota's legs, noting with satisfaction that they were cool to the touch. Jess then performed the same check on each of the other horses to make sure they'd taken no harm from the hard journey. He'd had just pulled on his gloves and started toward the watering trough with the buckets from two of the Gypsy horses' stalls when the main door to the barn was rolled open, and Ezra walked in.
The older man set his mug of coffee on a upturned wooden barrel and grinned at Jess, "Miss Mary said you were already up and out. I thought you might sleep in."
"In that house," Jess said with a wry note in his deep, gravelly voice, "I wouldn't dare. I'll take care of the stock, Ezra. Not enough time to groom all of them before breakfast, but I can get 'em fed and watered. Come back and groom 'em after. We always used to take care of the Snowlight stock ourselves."
Ezra scratched his head and thought for a moment, "Nothing's changed there, Jess. Unless one of us is down sick, we don't ask the hands to take care of the stock up here. The older man smiled at Jess, "Okay, boy. Guess you might as well jump back in. I'll do the milking. Don't forget the chickens. Their coop is just beyond the paddock, closer to the house. Glad for the help."
"Might need to borrow a couple of saddle horses," Jess told him, "I'd like to give ours a few days of rest."
"The Appaloosa is mine, and the rose-gray mare is Kate's. That big paint belonged to Chance. He'd make a real good remount. Good stock horse, but strong-willed and spirited. Not to everyone's taste." Ezra said and nodded to the big gelding, walking with Jess down to the stall to take a closer look.
Jess glanced at the name affixed to the door, "Harlequin. Quite a mouthful," he said and grinned, admiration in his voice as he looked at the horse. It was like Chance to have chosen a flashy mount like the paint.
"We call him Harle," Ezra told him, pronouncing the shortened form of the name as har-lee. "Good animal. Spanish Mustang and Quarter horse cross. The dappled-gray over there," Ezra nodded at the next stall, "was Regina's. Good stock horse too, but a little light-boned to carry a man's weight. Arabian. Thought I'd offer him to H.G."
Curious, since Arabian horses were rare in the west, Jess slid open the stall door to look over the gray. He couldn't help admiring the animal's beautiful delicately-shaped head with its slightly concave face. The horse was around fifteen and a half hands in height, light-boned, and a mottled dark and silver gray. His long, flowing mane and tail were silver. Definitely a stunning looking horse, but as Ezra said, he was more a lady's mount. Even though Jess was not a big man, the gelding wouldn't hold up under his weight out on the range.
Jess turned to the stall that housed Chance's gelding. Speaking quietly to the big gelding, Jess slid the door open and stepped into the stall. The horse was big, standing just over sixteen hands. That was fine with him. He'd always liked a big horse, finding that most of them had better temperaments than smaller animals. The gelding's mixed blood wasn't readily apparent. His conformation showed the powerful hindquarters, strong shoulders, and shorter back of the Quarter horse breed. His neck was slightly longer than usual for the breed and held a bit of an arch, traits inherited from his Spanish Mustang bloodlines. Harle's head, however, was less refined, a bit larger than was characteristic of the average Mustang.
Harlequin's base coat was white with black markings and black points including a flowing black mane and tail. His head was white from just below his eyes to his muzzle. The white continued on his face, ending in a point at the center of his forehead. From his eyes up, he was black, giving him the distinctive markings that made it appear he was wearing a hat. Hence the term Medicine Hat marked paint. Harle's left eye carried a distinctive blue ring around the iris, making the eye appear blue. A blue eye was uncommon, but not detrimental. A horse with blue eyes could see just as well as one with normal dark eyes and was no more prone to eye disease than others of their kind.
Jess peeled the horse's lips back and looked at the teeth. No sign of Galvayne's Groove, a dark brown mark that appears and fades at predictable ages, meant the horse was under ten years of age. The teeth were starting to slope and meet at an angle instead of at the verticle, so he was likely over four years old. He slipped his hands in and pulled the horse's mouth open, looking for cups, marks, and stars, as well as wear on the teeth. Jess glanced back at Ezra, "About seven or eight?"
Ezra nodded, "Just turned eight." Jess had always been an incredible horseman. It seemed that the years had not changed that.
Jess smiled, "I like him, and I'll need a spare once I get to workin' the range. Left my bay in Wyoming with the Shermans. Brimstone was gettin' on in years." A wave of homesickness for the Sherman ranch hit Jess, but he pushed it down. "Best get to work. Miss Mary warned me about being late." He let go of the horse's head, gave him a pat on the neck and stepped out of the stall. "Alright if I claim Harle as my remount?"
Ezra laughed, "Oh yes, Mary's a stickler about being on time for meals." The older man shook his head, "You don't have to ask me, boy, but yes, consider him one of your string." Ezra patted Jess on the shoulder, "I best get to the milkin', so Mary doesn't shoot us both." He turned and headed off to take care of his chores leaving Jess to the business of getting the horses fed and watered.
From outside the barn came the sounds of two roosters heralding the start of the day. Jess grinned and turned to start the job of ferrying water and feed to the impatient equines.