By A. H. Holt
Genre – Western
Time Period – 1920’s
Location – Colorado
Description – Kendrick is thrown into a battle for the survival of himself and his family. A twisted tale of betrayal, intrigue and violence set in the early 20th century American frontier.
#Sequel #Western #Classic #Cowboy #Betrayal #Twins #Frontier #Loyalty #Thriller #Horses #Mining #Colorado #1900’s #Orphans #Gold #Gold Mine #Mountains #Family #Gunfighter #African American #Kidnapping #Slavery #Romance #Crime #Mystery #Suspense #Adventure #Historic #Family Friendly
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I filled the stove with kindling and added a couple of chunks of sap-filled pine to heat the place up fast. In minutes the sides of the heater glowed red from the roaring fire. By the time it calmed down I was warm and nearly finished making entries in the ranch books.
I suddenly heard running footsteps on the path from the house.
“What the devil….”
The office door flew open to crash back against the wall and Meg fairly jumped through the opening. Her face glowed a pasty white and her hair tumbled down on her shoulders. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Sobbing between every word, she shrieked, “Oh Ken—Ken—you—you have to come up to the house–now—please hurry.
“You have to hurry. It’s Sheriff Collier–the town sheriff from Belden—the sheriff and two other men are in our parlor. They say we have to give them the boys—right now–today.”
Startled by her tears and mystified by her crazy sounding words, I stood up and leaned over the desk —, “What in the name of Heaven do you mean—what are you talking about. Meg?”
Meg didn’t say another word. She just looked at me through her fingers, tears streaming.
I pushed my chair back and hurried around the desk to grab my wife’s shoulders with both hands. “Stop that crying Meg, for Pete’s sake—calm yourself—I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say to me. Take your hands down from your face and tell me what in the world you’re babbling about.”
Dropping her hands so her whole body took on a defeated look, Meg looked up at me, tears streaming and wailed, “It’s true, Ken—it’s true. It’s what that Sheriff Collier told me—just now.
“One of the men with him claims he’s Trent and Tyler’s real blood uncle and the sheriff says we have to give him the boys.”
“Well, you just stop your crying. It won’t do any good and you know it. Come on. We’ll go back up to the house and see what they have to say—somebody’s out of their mind—I just need to go find out who.”
Taking my hands away and stepping around Meg, I rushed out of the office and stretched my legs as I strode toward the house.
Meg ran to keep close behind me, still crying aloud. “You can’t let them take the boys Ken—you can’t.”
“Don’t be silly Meg,” I said over my shoulder.
“Of course they can’t take the boys—don’t be ridiculous. You just calm down—I’ll talk to the marshal.”
Crossing the back porch, I threw open the kitchen door letting it slam back against the wall, crossed to almost run down the hallway and rush through the parlor door.
I stopped in the middle of the room and stared first at Collins then at the two men sitting nearest the fireplace. A slender young man in a boiled collar and a slick looking head of black hair perched on the edge of the seat of Mother’s rocking chair. He frowned up at me.
The fattest man I ever laid eyes on overflowed my dad’s easy chair. My easy chair.
Collins tried to stand a little taller as he stepped closer to me, his hands out as if to stop me. “You just take it easy now Wayne Kendrick–don’t you go getting yourself all upset and excited. These here men are out here on legal business. I come with them because I figured you was likely to get yourself all riled up and try to cause them some trouble.”
Collier turned to wave his hand at the fat man. “Mr. William H. E. Stinson, Jr. here showed me clear proof in writing he’s brother to them there poor little boys own real father, Mr. Hal Stinson. He come here all the way from back east in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to get them boys and fetch them home with him.
“Mr. Stinson’s ready to give them boys a fine home and a future you can’t never hope to match, Kendrick. You got to turn them boys over to him today.
“It’s only right. The man’s their only blood kin.”
I took a deep breath to calm myself down. “Collier, take these two men and get out of my house.”
“I was afraid of this, Kendrick—I been warned about you and your ways by a lot of folks around Belden. You needn’t come on all proud and stuck up with me. You can’t be talking to me like that anyway. You know I represent the law.”
“You don’t represent any law around here, Collier. You’re nothing but the Belden town marshal, not the county sheriff. Nobody but the county sheriff or a sworn federal marshal can represent the law out here and you know that without me telling you.
“You take your friends here and get the devil out of my house.”
The fat man leaned forward in my chair.
“Mr. Kendrick, please–please calm down and listen to what my lawyer has to say about this.
“I do have proof I am Hal Stinson’s older brother and blood uncle to those two poor little boys. I want to take them to my home back east and provide for them. I lost my only brother. I want to give his sons a fine education and the life they deserve.”
Mad enough to fight, I turned to face Stinson, trying to keep my voice down and sound a lot calmer than I felt.
“To start with Mister, my boys are living the life they deserve. They’re well provided for and loved as much as any children can be loved. I don’t know what notion you might hold about the kind of life my boys live here with me, but they are fine and happy and have everything they need.”
“But they’re not your boys, Mr. Kendrick.” The fat man grabbed both arms of the chair and straining, sort of oozed forward to sit on the edge of the seat.
“You must admit that, Sir. You simply took those poor little babies over without leave from anyone but that so-called marshal over at the Springs.
“You brought them back here where nobody knew where they came from and convinced a poor ignorant country judge you and your wife would provide a fine home for them.
“Marshal Collier here suggests to me that people in Belden tell him you only wanted the boys as extra hands to help you run this ranch.”
I had to take me a deep breath. I felt about ready to explode. In fact, I was so mad my whole chest sort of jerked when I heard the fat skunk say that.
I took one long step forward and leaned forward to be closer to the fat man before I managed to say, “Mister, you get up out of my chair and say that again and I’ll break your head for you.”
Collier rushed over to push himself between me and Stinson.
“Look here Kendrick, you calm yourself down now. If you hit Mr. Stinson I’ll have to arrest you.”
“I’ll say this again Collier—you do not represent the law here. Now I’m going to leave this room to get my shotgun. I’ve asked you to leave. That’s all I intend to say. Now you get out of my house before I get back and take these two with you.”
Without giving Collier time to answer, I turned and legged it out of the room, grabbing Meg by the hand as I went by to pull her along behind me. Without speaking I stomped down the hall to the kitchen.
When we stepped through the kitchen door and stopped Meg turned to look back down the hall, her eyes wild. When she stopped sobbing and opened her mouth to say something, I slid my right hand over her mouth and shook my head to keep her quiet.
Leaning forward close to the kitchen door, I listened carefully, but could only hear a dull murmur of whispered conversation from the front room—no words I could understand.
After about one long minute, the three men moved into the hallway and left by the front door, closing it softly behind them.
As soon as I dropped my hand Meg looked up at me with an expression of pure terror on her white face.
She finally managed to choke out, “What are we going to do, Ken? Tell me what we’re going to do?”
“I don’t know, Meg. Please try to calm down.
“I’m certain this isn’t the last we’ll hear of those three. I just don’t know. If that little one with Stinson is really a lawyer, I expect he’ll swear out a warrant trying to make a legal claim to the boys as soon as he gets back to Belden.
“I’ll go to town first thing in the morning and talk this mess over with Adam Fletcher. He’ll know how to deal with Stinson if he does take us to court.”
“Oh no—oh no.” Meg began sobbing aloud again.
“You don’t think a judge would—surely no one would give that horrible man our boys?”
“Of course not—there is no possible way Judge Montague would give our sons over to that man. The whole thing is downright foolish. We adopted Trent and Tyler like we were supposed to, with the judge’s say so. Don’t be silly about it, Meg—use some sense and stop taking on so.
“Look, go wash your face and put your hair back up. The boys and Katie will be home from school in a little while. I’ll catch them at the barn and explain what happened here, but I don’t want them to see you like this.”
“I can’t help crying Ken, I’m so scared. You always think I can stop crying just because you say I should, but I can’t—I can’t help it.”
“You’ll have to help it this time Meg—that’s all there is to it. I can reassure the boys and Katie, but if those children see you crying and carrying on like this, it’ll scare them half to death.”
“I’m so frightened, Ken. Trent and Tyler are almost twelve years old. How could that horrible man come here trying to take them away from us now—after almost twelve years?”
“I can’t explain it Meg, it does look strange for him to wait so long, but you just stop your crying and worrying over it. I’ll see Adam Fletcher tomorrow like I said I would and do whatever needs doing if that Stinson fella pulls the law into this. The boys will be fine.”
“You can’t know that Wayne Allen Kendrick—you always think you know everything. You always say everything will be fine—but it is not fine always—it’s just not—no matter what you say. You know it’s possible the law might give those boys to that man.
“I’m taking Katie and Trent and Tyler and going home right now. My father will protect us.”
“Meg, you are not to go to your father about this. I’ll take care of it. If I’ve told you once I’ve told you over and over—our business is our business. I don’t need Major Cason sticking his nose in.”
“Darn you and your stuck up Kendrick independence. You should be glad my father’s willing to help us instead of acting so prideful.”
“Well maybe I should, but I don’t want your father’s help. I’ve told you that hundreds of times and I mean it. I want you to stop running to Major Cason with every little thing.
“Try to have a little confidence in me, Meg.”
“This is no little thing Wayne Kendrick—it would kill me if I lost my children. I mean it—it would kill me.”
Meg stared up at me through her tears for a long moment and then turned to run into the hall, sobbing wildly. I could hear her feet pounding the steps as she ran up to our room.
I stood where I was and stared after her, my thoughts buzzing around in my head. I finally shrugged and left the house and hurried toward the barn.
My head filled with pictures of Meg today and Meg ten years ago—the Meg I married. I can’t help but think she will surely drive me crazy one of these days.
After almost twelve years of marriage she still thinks of her father before me—every time we have a problem.
Sometimes I wish she’d go on back home to the Major permanently and leave me in peace.
I guess I don’t really mean that, but Major Cason has the idea he ought to rule just about everything—including my life.
He and I just strike sparks—it was like that even before I married Meg. I try to hold back, but the old scudder’s stuck his nose in my business more than once since Meg and I got married.
I don’t know what in the world he’ll say about this. He never wanted us to adopt Tyler and Trent in the first place even though it was Meg’s idea—well, I guess it was Meg and Aunt Letty’s together to begin with—but Meg sure went along with it—she even pushed it.
Katie met me at the barn door.
“Daddy—Daddy, Trent pulled my hair and I told him I would tell you and you would punish him good for being so mean to me.”
Lifting my daughter in my arms, I tousled her mop of yellow curls and laughed as I snuggled her close.
“What did you do to make Trent pull your hair, Miss?”
“Daddy—I didn’t do nothing to Trent. I’m a good girl.
“I didn’t do nothing to that big boy—he’s just mean to me—he’s always mean to me.”
Tall for his age, his head almost up to my shoulder, Tyler stepped into the bright sunshine, settling his hat atop his overlong blond hair.
“Little Sister, I saw you poke at Trent with your pencil over and over before he turned around and yanked on your hair to make you stop.
“We rode at least half a mile while he let your devilment pass without doing a thing. Shame on you for telling Dad and trying to get your brother in trouble.”
“Aw, Tyler, don’t tell on Katie. Dad knows how she is.”
Trent followed his brother out of the barn.
Once they stand side by side, it’s almost impossible to tell the twins apart.
I gave Katie a gentle shake and stood her on her feet. “You stop telling things on your brothers’ young lady, or I’ll have to send one of the hands to take you to school and bring you home every day.
“If you can’t tell the truth you won’t be allowed to ride with the boys.”
“I’m sorry Daddy. Please don’t do that.
“I won’t do it again—I promise. I like to ride to school with Trent and Tyler.”
“Go on up to the house and help your mama, Honey. She’s not feeling too good today. She’ll be glad to see you.”
I watched a moment as she ran toward the house, bright curls flying. Turning to the twins, I hesitated a moment, trying to get my thoughts together.
“What’s up Dad? What’s wrong? You look kinda upset.”
“I knew I couldn’t hide anything from you, Tyler. You’re right. I am upset, seriously upset. You boys come on up to the office and I’ll tell you about it.”
I returned to my chair, stretched my legs under the desk and rested my arms on the open ledger. Trent perched on one end of the desk and Tyler took the only other chair in the room.
After inspecting the top of my desk for a least a full minute as I tried to gather my thoughts, I cleared my throat. “We’ve never really talked about this boys, but I’ve never tried to keep it from you—you know you’re adopted, don’t you?”
“Of course we do, Dad.”
Trent laughed and stood up to parrot Major Cason. “You may call me Grandfather children, although you must understand and always remember, I am not your grandfather by blood, only by a verdict of the county court.”
Tyler broke in– “You stop mocking our Grandfather, Trent. He’s a bit silly, but he’s a good old duffer. He doesn’t mean anything by what he says.”
“I get your meaning Tyler, but I don’t think you should refer to Major Cason as an old duffer, either.”
I put my hand to my face to hide the beginnings of a grin.
Trent stood up straight and sort of announced. “Okay Dad. We know we’re adopted–so what’s going on—what’s got you so upset?”
I wished I didn’t have to tell them at all, but I stopped wishing and figured there was nothing to do but say it flat out.
“Sheriff Collier brought two strangers out here today. One of them is a Mr. Stinson. He claims to be your real uncle, your father’s brother.
“He doesn’t look a bit like Hal Stinson to me or either of you for that matter, but Sheriff Collier claims the man can prove he’s really your uncle.
“Stinson says he’s here to claim you boys, take you back east to live with him so he can give you the kind of life you deserve.”
“Tell him to—.” Trent sounded furious. He stopped talking but took off his hat and ran his hands through his hair.
I knew his actions meant he felt scared and upset. He only acted that way when something got too close.
“Easy son. You’ll have to keep calm. I know this is a shock, but you just take it easy.
“This visit today was most likely just the opening gun of what may be a real problem for us. I figure we’ll probably be going to court over your adoption before many days pass.”
Tyler looked down at his hands a moment before he leaned forward to stare into my face. His voice was soft. “Can this man claim us Dad? Can he take us away from you? Can he make us live with him?”
“No son–no, I won’t hear of it. We’ll fight him in court as long as it takes to prove you belong to me.
“The marshal who looked after you boys when we found you tried his best to find your family. Your mother and I advertised in the Denver paper and when no one answered our advertisements, we went to court and the judge signed adoption papers making you legally our own children.
“You’re legally my sons and I’ll go back to court as many times as I have to go to court to prove it. I just plain won’t let him claim you.”
Trent moved close to his brother.
“Don’t be getting upset now, Ty. You know Dad won’t let anybody take us away from here.”
“Maybe in the end Dad won’t have the say, Trent. Maybe some fool court will say we have to go with this Stinson.”
“Well I don’t care what a court says. I just won’t go. I’ll go hide in the timber or somewhere so they can’t find me.”
“You talk like a little kid, Trent. This is serious. Look at Dad’s face.”
Both boys turned to look at me with such a grim and half-scared expression I began to feel guilty.
“I’m sorry boys. I don’t mean to look downhearted about this—I’m not really downhearted.
“To be truthful I’m just plain angry and concerned. It’s a serious thing of course, and it troubles me to have to go through it. It troubles me to see you upset about it, but we’ll come out fine.
“I’m going into Belden first thing tomorrow morning to hire a lawyer and we’ll figure out how to defend ourselves against this.
“Don’t you two go around worrying about it–this mess has upset your mother badly, but it will upset her even more if she sees you two acting like you’re scared that man might win.
“He won’t win—you boys remember that.”
“We’re not scared Dad. I’ll get Ty to wipe that glum look off his face and we’ll make Mama think we’re not even concerned—that we think the man’s silly. I know you’ll take care of us—we’ll make her understand.”
Trent turned to his brother. “Come on Ty. Get a smile on your mug and let’s go get something to eat—I’m starved.”
As soon as the boys walked out of the door, I dropped my head on my arms. I felt wrung out. Each boy reacted exactly as I expected. Trent made light of everything and Tyler always saw the serious side.
Poor boys. What an awful fear for them to bear. I’d like to hurt that overgrown pig of a Stinson—hurt him terminally.
This mess is almost more than I can take in. To wait around almost twelve years. Then to come here demanding my sons as if it would mean nothing to me to turn them over—and daring to say I only wanted them to work on my ranch.
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