One year later
Seven month old Emmy Stone was crawling around in her Gran’s living room. Granny and Mom were having a break and a drink.
“The house will be ready soon,” Maddie said. “I will really miss being here all the time. We will have to have a system of riding back and forth to both places.”
“I think I will just use the little carriage all the time. I like that better than riding.” Emmeline picked up the little one and jiggled the youngster on her knee. “She is a delight.”
“Mmm,” Maddie replied. “When she is on her feet, it might be harder to keep an eye on her.”
“The new house will be really special,” Emmeline remarked. “The size of it has sort of grown as you went along.” Maddie smiled and nodded.
“I blame that Reggie and his fancy ideas from England. Their house is a mixture of old English furniture and American western living. He has those tapestry wall hangings that are very special and they are alongside patchwork quilts and crocheted blankets.”
Carter came in and poured himself some coffee. The baby started to hold her arms out as soon as Dad appeared. He put down the cup and picked her up.
“I will drive you over to Jessie’s if you like, and you can bring Emmy with you.”
“I was going to see the new baby, but it would be lovely to have you and Emmy along. Thanks.”
Method in my madness. I want to arrange with Reggie when we will do the joint drive to Laramie and the cattle sales.”
“I will start the meal now, and then you can get away straight after.” Emmeline went to do as she said in the kitchen, and Maddie took her daughter and started to feed her.
“She is moving onto solid food now, thank goodness.” When she finished, Carter took his daughter, expertly put her to his shoulder, and walked the floor until the baby brought up her wind. “You are much better at that than I am,” Maddie said.
“Go and find the crew, Carter,” his mom told him and Maddie laid the baby in a crib and said that she would just go and check on Lightning because Reggie would ask about him.
“It is good to have him back again for a short while,” Carter said as they walked over to the corrals.
“Reggie does everything for the stallion himself, and he wanted to be there for Jessie.” The stallion in question came trotting over to see them and looked pointedly at Maddie’s pocket.
“He never forgets anything.” She laughed and found a treat for him. “I will treat myself to a ride on him later on. It is like riding on a cloud. He is a truly wonderful horse.” She talked to the stallion as Carter went to tell the others that dinner was ready, and then she went back to eat as well.
Afterwards, the carriage was hitched up, and little Emmy was changed and held in her mom’s arms as Carter drove them to the Braithwaite ranch. A hand came and opened the gate, and they drove to the ranch house.
“Ye gods, it looks even bigger, and I was only here two weeks ago,” Maddie exclaimed as Reggie came out to see who it was. He grinned and took them inside.
“Congratulations,” Carter said and shook the man by the hand.
“It is wonderful,” Maddie added, and he kissed her on the cheek as she was carrying Emmy.
“Come into the bedroom. We made one downstairs as that is easier to manage.” He knocked on the door and asked if she would have visitors.
“Yes. Yes. Come in.” Reggie opened the door and let Maddie go in ahead of him. Maddie turned and pushed her daughter into her dad’s arms and tiptoed to the bed to sit and wrap her arms around the new mom. There were tears and laughs, and Jessie lifted a small baby from the crib beside the bed. She handed him to Maddie.
“Oh my Lord, Reggie, he is the model of you. What a beautiful baby. Oh, I am so glad you are all well and safe.” She looked around at them. “You would think I have enough of holding babies, but a new one is just so special.”
“Will he be the next Lord Braithwaite?” Carter asked, and Reggie said that he would have to kick the bucket before that came about.
“Lady Jessica Braithwaite and her new son. It could be in one of those society pages,” Maddie said. Reggie shook his head.
“I grew up with that rubbish and out on the ranch is much better.”
“He keeps the title because his dad would have wanted it,” Jessie told them, “but Reggie and Jessie is what we are, I guess.”
“And how is my special boy doing?” Reggie asked, and they all laughed because they knew he meant Lightning.”
“He is looking for treats as always. I’ll take him out for a ride later. He is a splendid animal. I love riding him.” She paused. “I do wish my brother Matthew had seen him. He is as mad about horses as myself. He is good at training and breeding. My older brother sees to the cattle side, and Matthew raises horses.”
“When they visit, you must bring them over here,” Jessie said and took back her new son.
“Is he to be Reginald as well?” Carter queried.
Reggie shook his head and grinned,.“I don’t mind keeping the title, but the name is awful.”
“Joshua,” Jessie told them. “Josh Braithwaite.”
“I like it,” Maddie said.
The woman Reggie was employing as a cook until Jessie was up and about brought in cakes and drinks that Reggie started to demolish with his usual enthusiasm. The four talked about the latest news and plans and said they would meet up again very soon.
“We will let you feed the baby and get some rest,” Maddie said. They said their goodbyes and climbed back into the carriage.
The trail was quiet, and they only passed one wagon carrying logs to the timber yard.
“Whose carriage is that?” Maddie wondered as they came inside the yard and saw there were people in the house. “Who on earth is …?” Then she screamed as on the steps of the house she saw the very brother that she had just been talking about. Then her older brother, his son, and her mom and dad all came down the porch steps to meet them.
Carter held his hands out for the baby, and his wife ran to her family and threw herself into their arms.
“Oh, Mattie, I was just talking about you to Reggie. Alan, I miss you all so much and young Jake. What a grown up boy you are. You must be ten now.” Her mom and dad had been over when the baby was born, and it was not such a long time since she had seen them.
“Give me Emmy,” her mom asked and took the baby from Carter. It was an excited reunion with lots to talk about, and Emmeline passed around drinks as she planned where they would all sleep.
“You have to see the new house and the canyon, and we are nearly ready to move there.” Then Maddie looked at Mattie and held out a hand. “You have to see Lightning and Snowdrop and the others. Bobs will have her foal soon, as well. Come on.” Mattie stood up, and she tugged him away to see the horses.
“Let them go,” Jimmy MacDougall said, “they have always thought the same way, those two.”
Outside, they headed for the corrals and went to see Lightning first.
“I thought he was Reggie’s,” Mattie said.
“He is, but here as Jessie was having the baby. Watch how clever this boy is. He will look at my pocket for a treat.” She called to the stallion and heard her brother gasp as he saw how good this animal really was.
Lightning did eye the pocket and was given a treat. Mattie laughed and held out a hand to the stallion who looked at the pocket again. Mattie laughed and took one of his sister’s pieces of carrot. The stallion then came to the outstretched hand and was stroked.
“We used him on Bobs, and she is ready at any time to give birth. That will bring the two lines together, Mattie, yours, and ours. I am waiting to see what she produces.” They moved on to see Bobs, who was in with Roma and the youngster. Milan still followed his mom around but had grown a lot in a year.
“I like Roma,” Mattie said and slipped in beside her to run his hands over her.
“She was the one that was left behind, and we brought her home. Thankfully because she would have died having the foal in the wild.” Mattie made friends with Milan and talked to Bobs. Then they moved on to see Snowdrop.
“I have trained her like Bobs,” Maddie told him.
“My Lord, you made the right decision to come here,” her brother told her. “She is marvelous.”
“And a dream to ride. As well as that she has taken on being a working horse like a duck to water.” She looked at him. “I’ll get two saddles.” He came with her, and they saddled Roma and Snowdrop. Then they mounted up as they had done in all the days when they were growing up and put the two horses through their paces. They were in the yard having fun and remembering days when they practiced together. The two mares responded beautifully and neither brother or sister realized that they had an audience of family from the house and crew from the bunkhouse.
Mattie could not help himself from trying his old trick of standing on the saddle and then laughed as he gained a round of applause. The two riders dismounted, and she took Mattie to meet Curly.
“My horse crazy brother, Mattie. Mattie, this is Curly who is as bad as you are.”
Let me take Snowdrop for you,” Curly said as he and Mattie took away the two horses and were already deep in conversation about the rest of the horses.
The family went back inside, and Emmeline handed over Emmy.
“She had some spoon food but needs a drink,” she said, and Maddie took the baby away to the bedroom. Her mom followed and sat talking.
“We have a week if you can put up with us all,” she said.
“We have a second bedroom in the bungalow now, and Emmeline has space for the boys. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is.” They put the baby into the crib and went back into the living room.
Mattie put his head in the doorway and asked if young Jake was allowed outside. He said it with a grin, and the lad jumped up to go with his uncle. Mattie put his head back in.
Maddie you need to see this lad on a horse.” She needed no second telling and went out to join the men at the corrals.
Curly and Carter were chatting away to Mattie about the stock and the plans for breeding, and she saw Ginger come out and join them. He had a saddle over each arm and Curly took one and put it on Snowdrop. Young Jake could not contain his excitement, but he did take time to talk to the mare before he was helped on board. The second saddle went on Lightning, but they let the lad try out Snowdrop without distraction.
“Go on, Jake. Show them what you can do,” Mattie called. Jake waved a hand and wheeled the mare around. He did a series of exercises in the yard and then Mattie took a chair out from the kitchen and put his Stetson on it. He stood back.
Jake took time to circle and get up some speed, and then he swooped past the chair and the hat was on his head in a blur of movement. The audience clapped, and Jake dropped the hat on the floor. He made a little speed again and steadied the mare. Snowdrop did exactly what she was asked to do as he made a straight line for the hat, dropped himself under her tummy, and flicked the Stetson off the ground. He swung back to an upright position, threw the hat at his uncle, and jumped to stand upright as Mattie had done. Then he sat down, whirled the mare around on her hind legs, and left the saddle with a flying jump. Snowdrop stood still as she had been trained to do.
The whole crew was out by that time and clapping enthusiastically.
“Nearly as good as you, Curly,” Maddie challenged her helper. He grinned and took the saddle himself. The day turned into a rodeo for the family and the ranch. Maddie took a turn on Lightning, and he looked magnificent. She stuck to his obedience and kept things simple. Carter and Davey did some rope throwing, and they all watched as little Milan did his circling on a lunging rein.
Emmeline brought around beers, lemonades, and whiskey, and the whole ranch relaxed on hay bales that some of the men brought out. Brian came and joined in as he said his back was a lot better these days and young Jake felt like one of the grownups.
“Oh, this is such a treat,” Maddie said. “What a wonderful afternoon we have had.”
“Tomorrow would your brothers like to ride out and see if we spot the stallion?”
“Make it the day after because I want to show Mom and Dad the house tomorrow.” She grinned at her dad. “Did you think the money would make us start a whole new ranch?” He shook his head and smiled.
“My folks matched your gift, and we have paid the second payment,” Carter told him.
“Davey is getting married soon,” Maddie said. “He is having the bungalow when we move to the canyon.”
“Another woman around. I like that,” Emmeline added.
They sorted out the sleeping arrangements, and Jake came out to help move the horses to the stables. He was very taken with the young Milan, and the colt had learned to behave over the last year. Maddie let the young lad take Milan on a long lead and send him around in a circle. He had obviously learned the technique from Mattie and would be an excellent trainer when he grew up.
They stopped to talk to Bobs when he brought the pony back to the stable, and he looked at Maddie.
“She won’t be long,” he said, and his sharp eyes had spotted the slight shiver on the sides of the mare.
“You are right. I had not noticed that. Thanks, Jake.” She paused. “We used Lightning as the father, and I am waiting to see what happens between a black coated mare and a dappled sire.”
“I am glad we came this week. I will see what she has as well.” Maddie went down the stalls and told him they thought the wild stallion was the sire of Milan and Snowdrop. “We don’t know who was the mother of Snowdrop, but Roma seems to have chestnut children no matter who the father is.”
“I wonder what Milan would produce when he is older to a dappled mare?”
“That is a very good question. I guess we will find out in the end.”
“Do you hate it when they are sold?” he asked, and she nodded.
“It is the job, and you have to tell yourself that it will happen right from the start. Lightning was going to Reggie, and that made it easier.”
They fastened the horses in for the night and went back to the ranch house.
“Enjoying yourself?” Alan asked his son.
“Love it,” he said. He looked at his Uncle Mattie. “Bobs is shivering down the side like Meg did.”
“Really. Get me a lantern, and let’s have a look.” Maddie and Carter both went with Mattie and Jake to the stables, and Mattie slipped in beside Bobs.
“Remember me, girl?” he said to the horse as he examined her and looked at Carter. “Ready to go. I will sit up if you like.”
“We can take turns,” Carter said. “I will get some blankets and drinks. If you take first watch, I will grab a couple of hours and relieve you.”
“What about me?” Jake asked.
“You sleep on the straw there, and you can run to get me if anything happens,” Maddie told him. The lad beamed and ran to tell his dad. Maddie left them to it and went to make sure the baby was fed and ready to sleep through the night. She settled her mom and dad in the spare bedroom, and she and Carter tried to grab some sleep.
She woke and found herself alone a few hours later, checked the little one was sound asleep and pulled on some clothes. Then Jake arrived to tell her to come. Mattie and Carter were watching from the stall door, and it was pretty obvious that the foal was about to enter the world.
“No problems so far,” Carter told her. They all leaned on the stall and waited. Maddie bit her lip and worried. This was her precious Bobs that was soon to be a mom. She gripped Carter’s hand and almost held her breath.
“Now,” Mattie said and stepped forward. He was not needed as the foal slipped easily into the world and landed on the straw. Maddie came in with a cloth and wiped the eyes, nose, and made sure the airways were working, and then she stood back to let Bobs and the baby do the rest.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Mattie said and rubbed his eyes. Maddie was letting tears flow down her cheeks, and Jake was pretending he was not affected. Carter held up the paraffin lamp.
“Maddie, have you ever seen a dapple as dark as that?” He stepped forward with the lantern held high, and they all looked at the new arrival.
“Never,” she said.
“It is beautiful,” Mattie told them. “We will see better in daylight.”
“It is a mare. Bobs is yours, so what will you call the baby?” Carter asked his wife. She shook her head.
“I will think about it.”
“Jake and I will sleep on the straw. You two get back to the baby,” Mattie said, and Maddie kissed her brother on the cheek.
The morning saw a steady stream of visitors to the stable, and Bobs was standing proudly by her beautiful daughter. When light flooded in, Maddie gasped at the color of this newborn.
“Very black dapples over her hindquarters and lighter toward the neck. Absolutely marvelous.” She slipped in beside Bobs and told her how clever she was. The filly was standing on quite firm legs for a one day old, and Maddie ran a hand over the colors of the coat. “Welcome to the world, Blackberry.”
She went to the main house and joined everyone else for breakfast.
“We can visit the new house today,” Carter said.
“And maybe see the stallion as well?” Mattie asked.
“Sometimes he is out there and sometimes not. It’s a lucky day if he just turns up,” Carter told him, “but we can ride out and see.”
“I will pack a picnic, and we can make it a day out,” Emmeline said. “We can take the carriage.”
The men went away to sort out horses for everyone to ride, and as Emmeline drove the carriage, Celeste sat in the carriage and was handed the baby. Maddie mounted Snowdrop and rode alongside. Even Brian climbed into the carriage and came along as well.
Maddie and Carter, who saw the buildings being made almost every day were still amazed at the changes they had made. The bunkhouse was finished with a kitchen area, and in both the bunkhouse and the house, the water was pumped directly into the buildings. The well was outside and could be used for water for the animals.
They stood on the veranda having seen the whole house and looked across at where the barn and stable were being erected.
“Ollie actually did us a favor,” Carter said. “He widened the entrance, and when we cleared away the rocks, it gives us a better entrance.”
“And my leg is fine. The nasty man is inside for a very long time,” Maddie added.
“Let’s have the picnic, and then Celeste and I can sit on the porch and you can all go stallion spotting.” Emmeline started to unload the food. The men working in the barn came to eat as well and heard all about the filly born to Bobs.
Then Carter, Maddie, Mattie, Alan, and Jake all set off for a ride to see if Thunder was out there. The baby was fed and left with her two grannies.
“We will look in Crow Canyon first. That is the most likely place to find the herd. If we find them, he will not be far away,” Carter suggested, and they enjoyed the ride into the lush green of the canyon.
“Horses ahead,” Mattie called, and they slowed to see what was happening.
“They look wonderful,” young Jake said as they rode slowly ahead to where the ground rose slightly. The herd moved away from them but did not panic, and then Maddie gasped and pointed to the trees at one side. They all stopped riding and waited to see what the stallion would do.
“Normally, he follows the herd and stays with them,” Carter said quietly. Then he held a hand up to stop anyone moving.
Thunder, the stallion of Crow Canyon came toward them. He was not fierce or aggressive, and he was not moving fast. He stopped about twenty yards away, lifted his nose in the air, and shook that unbelievable white mane. The dappled coat was glistening, and they were all close enough to see the strength in the animal. This was no ordinary stallion or even one that could fight off any contenders for his crown. This was almost a magical being. Before the others could say anything, Snowdrop and Maddie edged forward toward the wild animal. She stopped before she reached him and told him quietly that he was magnificent.
“That Ollie Mason is in jail and won’t be coming back.” She felt Carter move beside her and saw the stallion glance at the man and then back to Maddie.
“We won’t catch you, fella,” Carter said. “Enjoy your freedom.”
Young Jake came along the other side of Maddie and stopped his horse.
“Your granddaughter was born yesterday,” he joined the conversation. It was as if the stallion heard every word they said and knew what they were talking about. He stretched his neck forward and Maddie urged Snowball gently another two steps toward him. The stallion snickered and blew at Snowball’s nostrils. She breathed a little breath back at him, and they were all frozen in position for a matter of seconds.
“You are master here. You are Thunder, the stallion of Crow Canyon,” Maddie said.
“And we will protect you,” Carter added.
“One day, I will have a horse like you,” Jake said.
The stallion put his head high in the air. He swished his tail, turned on a dime, and went from standing motionless to a full gallop in seconds. They watched him call to the herd, and they followed him into the distance and out of sight.
There was silence in the group of people. Then Maddie breathed out and held out a hand for Carter. Mattie and Alan came alongside Jake, and they took in what they had all just witnessed.
“I have never seen anything like that before,” Mattie said quietly. “And probably never will again. What a privilege.”
“He knew what we were saying. He did, didn’t he, Uncle Matt?”
“I think he did. I think he knew we were friends, and he seemed to understand.”
“You succeeded, Carter,”Maddie told him,“you wanted to protect him, and he is wild and free and happy. We are lucky people to meet that horse today.”
“I know what I want to breed,” young Jake told them.
“I am with you there, Jake,” Mattie said and turned his horse. “Race you to the entrance.” Jake laughed and tried to catch his uncle. The others followed at a more sedate pace, and they had a lot to tell the rest when they arrived back at the house.
Later, when Maddie had been to see the new filly, she settled into Carter’s arms and smiled in the darkness.
“We are lucky, Carter. I think we have Thunder’s blessing for the house and the ranch.
“Happy ever after in our new home,” he told her. “I love you so much, Mrs Stone.”
“Love you right back,” she said and settled herself against him.