Another Journey Begins
The Long Road Home
Location: Sherman Ranch, Laramie, Wyo., Road North
Timeline: Late June 1875
:: Early Morning, Sherman Ranch ::
Marianne had expected everyone to be somber and depressed over Jess's imminent departure. But, much to her surprise and thanks in large part to Jess's determinedly cheerful demeanor, that had not been the case. She was still half-asleep and in her dressing gown because she and John had been up late discussing Jess's suggestion of buying the Grossly property. John had decided to recommend waiting a bit longer. The railroad had approached both him and the bank about acquiring property for a new rail line and rail head in Laramie. John thought they'd be better waiting for a few months before making any definite moves. In the meantime, he'd put an option on the Grossly place, so he had the first bid.
Jess and John had lingered long enough for coffee and then rousted Andy and Mike out of their beds. They were all outside doing the routine morning chores which included feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, and milking the cow. Marianne was in the kitchen working on breakfast. She planned on making it an epic meal with all of Jess's favorites. He enjoyed dinner with the family but had always said that breakfast was his favorite meal of the day. Everyone was fresh from a good night's sleep instead of being tired from a long day's work.
Marianne stoked the cookstove with fresh wood and set it alight. While it heated, she slipped off to her bedroom and donned her trousers and work shirt, pulled her hair back and secured it at the nape of her neck in a pretty clasp John had gotten her, but left her feet bare. By the time she returned to the kitchen, the stove was hot. She placed sausage patties and bacon in a skillet to fry and began mixing up the ingredients for biscuits and flapjacks. This would be a breakfast to remember!
Cantrell inhaled and rolled over on his back. A second deep breath made his eyes open. He took the third breath and then sat up as his stomach growled. Cantrell shifted around and sat on the bed, rubbing his face a few times before he reached for his shaving kit...
Shortly after, Cantrell walked into the kitchen and stretched. He reached and looped his gunbelt on the wall rack beside some coats. "My my...I must say this breakfast smells even better than your supper did last night. I did not think that was possible."
"Why thank you, kind sir," Marianne smiled and dropped a curtsy. "John and Jess both say breakfast is my specialty. They are outside making sure the morning chores get done, and Jess wanted to check the horses over again. Water's hot if you'd like tea. I need to get the biscuits ready for the oven. Make yourself at home."
Cantrell moved over and made himself a cup of tea from the cabinet. "Before I leave I will leave you a box of my tea. It's a blend I have made near my hotel in San Francisco. It's the least I can do for drinking from your supply." Cantrell stayed out of the way and sipped from the cup. "Is there something I can do to help? I am a pretty decent cook, and no, that's not a delusional lie..."
"Again, thank you. I love tea. John and Jess won't touch it unless they are so sick or injured, they can't protest, so I rarely drink it," Marianne laughed, her eyes sparkling with humor. "Jess can manage a trail meal. John burns water. If you wouldn't mind managing the bacon and eggs, I can get the biscuits in the oven."
Cantrell nodded. "More than fair..." He set the tea nearby and washed his hands, then set to work. He sliced off plenty of bacon for the group, taking into account the fact that the others had been up working for a while. He hunted up a skillet and greased it before laying the bacon across the bottom spaced close together. He set it on the stove to begin frying, then found another pan and began cracking eggs into it. Cantrell played it safe and just mixed the eggs into one huge pile, scrambling them while adding some random spices from the rack nearby. "Anything special they like about their eggs?" Cantrell stepped back over, flipping the bacon over and also adding a few spices while keeping their frying even.
"Spice 'em up, Quentin," Marianne said with an engaging grin. "Both of them have decided Southwestern tastes. They like their food spicy." She watched for a moment as Cantrell expertly turned the bacon and began adding sausage patties to the skillet. From what little she knew of him, he seemed to be a man of contrasts. She couldn't help wondering how Jess would cope with someone that seemed to be infinitely more worldly than the former drifter.
"Spice, got it..." Quentin sprinkled more portions of spices over the eggs while stirring, then he moves to the other pan and even sprinkled some spices on the sausages. He then fished out a slice of bacon and held it up, giving it a shake, nodding as he took a bite. "Mmm...perfect. Not too crunchy." Cantrell stirred the eggs again and shook the pan, inhaling above the eggs. "These are almost ready..."
"And," Marianne carefully pulled a large cast iron skillet out of the oven, "so are the biscuits. If you dish it up, I'll set the table and ring the bell."
Marianne got out her best serving dishes and china. She wanted this breakfast to be special. She placed a pretty table cloth over the larger dining area table rather than the breakfast table in the kitchen. Still humming cheerfully, she set a place for each person while Quentin carried in the serving dishes loaded with the morning's repast. Standing back, she admired their efforts and nodded at Quentin. Leaving him to put the finishing touches on the table, she went outside to ring the gong, calling everyone in for the meal.
Jess heard the summons for breakfast with relief. His empty stomach protested its status in collusion with the sound of the dinner gong. He patted the big buckskin gelding's glossy hide. He had pulled one shoe and replaced it, but otherwise, the horse was ready for the journey. "Paladin," he said the horse's new name quietly, "a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry. Let's see if you can live up to the reputation you've been saddled with."
A moan from behind him made Jess grin. John had heard the joke as he passed by, slapping his younger friend's shoulder, "C'mon before Marianne breaks the bell."
By the time John and Jess had washed up, Andy, Mike, Marianne and Quentin were already at the table. They usually did not stand on ceremony for breakfast, but this morning John asked they link hands so he could say grace. Jess bowed his head slightly, listening as John spoke, strongly and quietly, "Dear Lord, bless this table, the food upon it, and all those that sit here. Watch over our friends as they ride north and keep them safe. See that they know that time and distance will not break the bonds of friendship. Amen." There was a soft chorus of amens, then John said, "What are you waiting for, tuck in."
"Planned your route yet?" John asked as he dished scrambled eggs onto his plate, appreciatively inhaling their fragrant and spicy scent.
Jess nodded, following John's lead and loading his plate. It might be awhile before they could take a midday meal break, so it was best to be slightly over full. "Looking at following the road north through Jackson and the Yellowstone, on to Butte, skirt the Nez Perce lands, and into Missoula. From there, it's another two days minimum to the Kalispell. If we run into trouble, we might have to try the Lolo."
"Hmmm," John mentally reviewed Jess's planned route. "Tetons are tricky even at this time of year. But, there's not a better main route. I've got some old survey maps of the Lolo. You should take one of them, just in case..."
Cantrell shrugged as he busied himself with buttering a biscuit. "I will bow to the superior knowledge of Jess. The last time I did this much cross country riding I was in a uniform, and I don't think deepest darkest Virginia quite compares to this place."
Jess chewed his bite of bacon and eggs slowly, savoring the flavor. He indicated the plate with his fork, "Marianne, you outdid yourself this morning. You did something different with the eggs."
Marianne grinned and gestured toward Cantrell, "Not me. Quentin helped with the cooking since Andy and Mike were helping you."
Both John and Jess looked at the other man, their expressions showing they were impressed with his prowess in the kitchen. "All that and handy with a shootin' iron too. Maybe the trail grub won't be quite as bad as I was anticipating," Jess stated with a friendly smile in Quentin's direction.
"We have to start with good stuff before it turns out good...I can only do so much." Cantrell continued after devouring the biscuit. "...just don't get us lost."
Jess grinned at the implied challenge to his hunting prowess and skills as a guide and scout. It would keep the journey interesting.