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Continued from The CX Ranch

Meanwhile, there were chores to do. George fired up a rickety old pickup with wooden fence slates sprouting from the bed. “Jump in,” he commanded. “I’ll show you the lay of the land.” Now she saw the bunk houses and a guest house nestled in the cottonwoods by the creek. The guest house was closed up for the season and the bunk houses were all but empty, thanks to the war time man-drain. He showed her where the milk cows pastured, pointed out the hay meadow and the well. She saw large black birds clustered in the air and pointed them out. “Ya,” George muttered. “We probably lost another damned heifer over there. Dal will tell us when he gets back.”

Dumbfounded, Yry discovered that George and Claire owned and leased more land than could be traveled in a day! Not all spreads in Johnson County were as elaborate and well maintained as the CX Ranch. George had retired from a lucrative sales position, which was, of course, how Yry’s parents had been acquainted with the Cormacks. He was a sharp, well-educated, and curious man whose expertise and diplomacy were recognized by the community. She would learn that he was also involved in politics and was running for county sheriff in the November elections.

Back at the house again, he told her to go to the chicken coop and grab as many eggs as she could and bring them up to Claire in the kitchen. “Claire will have lunch about ready, I reckon. Then we’ll get you up on a horse and see what you can do. Ah . . .  you have some other clothes, I hope.”

“Oh yes,” she gushed. “I brought my riding clothes. That’s probably why my trunk was so heavy. The boots, you know . . .”

She struggled with the latch on the chicken coop and nearly gagged when she stepped in. The hens quackled at her intrusion, flapping a tornado of fine dust in the dim light and pecking at her attempts to reach for exposed eggs. Timidly, she prized away four eggs, one of which was slick with hen poop.

She tumbled into the kitchen and exuberantly reported, “I brought the eggs, Claire,” as she plunked down the coffee can with four lonely eggs rolling around the bottom of it. Claire glanced dismissively at the bounty and exchanged a glance with Netti who sat on a tall stool at the counter, shucking peas.

“I think those ol’ biddies are holding out on you, Yry. I’ll go with you next time and show you a few of their little tricks.”

The kitchen table was piled with food: thick slabs of homemade bread, a crock of butter, preserves, thick slabs of bacon, sliced tomatoes and onions, a bowl of potato salad, and a plate of oatmeal cookies, and of course, a big pot of perked coffee. She wondered how anyone could be hungry so soon after that big breakfast. But George thundered in, followed by Dallas and two teenaged neighbor boys. The men washed up and crowded around the table. Bedlam ensued as food traveled every which way and everyone kidded one another.

After lunch Yry helped clear the table but Claire encouraged her to run along and change her clothes. “You need some riding clothes, dear. I think they want to fit you up with a horse or two and some tack.”

She bounded upstairs, intent on not missing a thing. A few minutes later she emerged, wearing woolen riding breeches that flapped loosely around her hips, narrowed at the knee and disappearing into tall, shiny, low-heeled boots. She wore a long-sleeved white blouse and a pair of black, kid-skin leather gloves.

“Whoeee! Look at you!” exclaimed Netti, once again exchanging a look with Claire whose lips seemed intent on restraining a smile.

“Hurry up now,” Claire murmured. “The men hate waiting on women, you know.”