Clancy sidled his horse up next to his friend Potato. At first, neither spoke as the two riders looked over the gathered cattle at Morgan’s Creek. The large Morgan ranch was home for almost five years now for the two who were employed as permanent ranch hands.
Morgan’s Ranch lay nestled between Fort Laramie and Cheyenne thirty miles east of the Powder River. When it came time to drive the cattle to market, Clancy and Potato would be left behind to continue handling the chores a large working ranch presents at each sunrise.
At the ages of twenty, best friends and trail pards, Clancy and Potato had left Texas soon after the War between the states had ended. Texas had been placed under a cruel form of retribution by the Union known as Southern Reconstruction for their siding with the Confederate States. The financial outlook for the State of Texas and its populace seemed so bleak that many devoted Texan’s were forced to look elsewhere for their survival. The two, having followed the Goodnight trail north into Cheyenne where they found work and signed onto Jethro Morgan’s trail drive.
As cattle drives went, it wasn’t a difficult or prolonged one. Instead of driving the herd to the railway at Cheyenne, they continued the drive southeast using the Western trail to Dodge City. This saved the cost of sending their stock over four different railroads to their destination at Kansas City where the buyers waited. Having been raised on ranches and used to working for forty and found, the two were ecstatic to be chosen after the drive to stay on as full time paid hands on the ranch itself. This was a cowboys dream come true. Positions like these were usually filled by wranglers too old or busted up to ride the trail anymore. A cowboys years of experience on the trail was not to be wasted. A wise ranch owner found work for these older cowhands breaking horses and gathering another herd together for market. Still, there is always the need for young strong backs to handle an ornery herd and to do the grunt work in branding young calves on the ranch.
Potato, named for the lumps left on his head after being trampled as a child by his father’s spooked herd asked his best friend, “So you ever gonna tell me what’s on your mind Clance?”
Clancy let out a deep breath and looking down and shook his head in the negative. “I wish I could pard, but this is something I got to deal with all by myself. I don’t mean to shut you out but it’s no one’s business but mine. You gotta understand just this one time, let it alone, OK?”
Knowing Clancy had approached Mr. Morgan a couple days back to ask for his daughters hand in marriage, Potato assumed this was what was causing Clancy’s concern.“Well,” put in Potato, “asking for Sally’s hand in marriage sure complicated things a might. Not that I blame you! The two of you have had eyes for each other for five years now. Everyone on the ranch figured the day’d come when the two of you would confront Mr. Morgan about it. Heck, she’s a beautiful girl and her Daddy’s rich to boot! If I thought a woman could get past my looks, I’d a made eyes at her myself.”
“Aw come on Pot, don’t get goin’ on about your looks. You’re a better man than any I ever met. There ain’t a female that wouldn’t be happy to have you at her side.”
With eyes smiling, Potato replied, “Maybe, but all the same, I’m happy just being single. Livin’ on the ranch with you as my roomy is about as much cultivation as I can stand. I was secretly hoping you all would get married so I don’t have to put up with your dang snorin’ anymore!”
Clancy chuckled at the thought, “It ain’t me that keeps the windows shakin’ at night my friend. You all got the snores down so well tuned, you’d think I had a set of bagpipes as my pard…and that’s the truth!”
During the ribbing, Potato had sat higher up in his saddle watching the herd. “Look at them two,” pointing at two shorthorns snorting and butting heads. “I better go an break them two up before one looses an eye or worse.” Having rode down range to the herd below, Potato began wacking his lariat on the aggressive beeves rears, driving the two apart.
Clancy settled deep in his saddle. He sat atop the rise watching his friend manage the beast below and pondered the decision he alone had to make. What Clancy thought would be either a simple acceptance or rejection of his asking Mr. Morgan for his daughter Sally’s hand, had instead been answered in the form of a question… and a challenge to his upbringing.
Two weeks earlier, Clancy had finally built up the courage to speak his mind to Sally. It truly had been love at first sight for the both of them. Sally, whose fine reddish blond hair and powder blue eyes took second place only to her quirky wonderful smile, looked anxiously at the stammering young man sitting next to her on her father’s ranch house porch.
Holding her delicate hands in his, Clancy knew the two loved each other but the divide between them could not have been more evident.
She was a product of culture, having been sent East to Boston in her formative years for schooling. He, while attending school at his father’s demands, had only a one room schoolhouse’s education.
She was slender and finely boned. He was built thin at the waist but had a chest and arms wrapped in hard muscle.
She was to inherit a fortune someday. He would probably never own his own spread.
Still, with all the differences between them, they continued to fall in love.
“Sally, I know we are mountains apart in how we was raised. I haven’t a spread to offer and hardly have a savings to claim. Still, I just can’t shake the notion that somehow things would work out for the two of us if we was married.”
“Are you asking or telling me?”
“Oh, Gee, I guess I’m not real good at this Sally, let me start afresh here.”
Sally smiled and said, “Continue then Clancy, I’m listening.”
Clearing his throat, and twisting her fingers within his own he started again, Sally….”
“Owww,” She suddenly exclaimed looking at her fingers, “Clancy dear, there’s nothing gained in breaking my fingers off, is there?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry Sally, I’m making a fool of myself. Did I hurt you much?”
Looking somewhat solemnly at him she replied “No dear, now… you were going to ask me something?”
Starting one more time Clancy made sure not to crush his loves hands anymore. “Sally, I am going to ask your father for permission to marry you.”
Sitting there hand in hand, staring at each other for a good ten heartbeats Clancy finally said, “Surely you knew someday I’d ask you. Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
She continued to look at him darkly but the small turn of her lips and slight glint of a smile in her eyes spoke differently . “Shouldn’t you ask me first?
Looking down ande shaking his head he replied.“ I’m so stupid, of course! Sally Morgan, I want you as my forever wife…I mean my wife forever…shoot Sally, you know what I mean. I ain’t the best romantic speaking man but I will be there for you, loving you and trying my best to make each one of your days as happy as they can possibly be. Sally, will you marry me?”
“My dear Clancy, I could not ask for a more romantic proposal, and Yes, I will marry you, providing Daddy gives you his blessing.”
Noting the sweat beads that had formed on his forehead, she took her hand and gently wiped his brow with her fingers. Trying her best to calm the flustered lover, she told him. “He really likes you Clancy, I think he’ll give his blessing but one can never be sure. We do have as you say, ‘a mountain of difference between us’. It’s something to seriously consider. My family goes way back, across the ocean and back many, many generations in a country where honor and wealth were earned only by the strongest of men . Even so, my father is a fair and just man. Go, ask him and we will see what he says.”
The next night found Clancy dressed in his Sunday best knocking gently at the Morgan’s ornately carved wooden and frosted glass door. Marie, the Mexican house keeper let him in and said she would let Mr. Morgan know he was there to see him.
Standing in the large dark wood paneled foyer, spinning his hat in his hands, Clancy nervously shifted from foot to foot. Hearing heavy footsteps approaching, Clancy straightened his appearance as best as he could by licking his hand and plastering down his hair with it.
“Clancy! Come inside boy. Let’s sit down in the parlor, there’s a couple comfortable leather chairs in there. Let me light a lamp first.” Pointing to French provincial chairs against the wall he continued, ”I’m not too taken with those skinny French made chairs. I told Hanna when she brought ‘em back from Paris that they were too fragile for someone of my girth!”
Hanna was Morgan’s wife and as many women in those days let the man of the house entertain his own guest. Like many wealthy families, women traveling to Paris or London with her family was not the exception, but the rule. Hanna Elizabeth Morgan loved Wyoming as did her daughter now, but couldn’t quite accept the heavily built furniture that was so common in the West. Thirty years earlier in Boston, after taking the advice from an influential friend of the two families Jethro and Hanna were married. It was a marriage of convenience. Combining the two family fortunes, the Morgan’s moved west and purchased a number of smaller connecting spreads and their livestock. This made the Morgan ranch the largest in all of eastern Wyoming.
“What’s on your mind boy? Sally tells me you wanted to speak to me in private.”
“Mr. Morgan Sir, I’ve been working for the Morgan Ranch for over five years now. I’ve been blessed with the position here at the ranch and my gratitude for all you’ve done for me has not been unappreciated. What I’m about to ask of you and the answer you give me, may be the end of all this for me, so I need to tell you it hasn’t been easy on me coming here. “
Morgan resituated himself in his chair as if he was suddenly uncomfortable. “Son, then let’s get it out and say what’s on your mind.”
“Well Sir, as you know Sally and I have become close friends over the last few years. I’ve practically become family with all the outings and meals she’s invited me to. Why, I couldn’t imagine my sitting at church on Sunday without her being next to me in the pew. I’ve grown to have deep feelings for her. So deep Sir that I am asking for your blessing that we would marry. I know being just a hired hand may be an insult to your idea of who your daughter should marry, but I could not live if I had not risked everything I have in order to gain what I desire the most.”
Morgan sat with his fingers church steepled under his chin not speaking. Slowly closing his eyes as if resting, Clancy thought for a second that Mr. Morgan may have fallen asleep.
“You’re not the first to come here asking me for her hand. Did she ever tell you that? No? Well, she may not have even known because I never told her. A fellow Sally had met back east a few years back had his eyes on her. A rich boy, spoiled as sin but he had potential. He came all the way out here just two weeks ago to get my blessing. I sent him away.”
“I did not know that Sir.”
“Son, I’ll make you a deal. I’m in some dire straits financially. I’ve made some errors in judgment and all that I have I may losing if I can’t come up with the cash to repay a loan I secretly brokered with a pretty rough group back east. As you’re aware, the next herd to be driven to Dodge is being assembled and should be ready to hit the trail next week. Now I’ll make some cash from the sale but not enough to cover my loan repayment. What I need though is $60,000 in cash more than the sale will bring in. I have a way to get it, but it means riding hard for the brand.”
“I ride for the brand now Mr. Morgan, what more can you ask of me?”
Leaning forward in the great leather chair, Morgan told him. “I want you to hook up with the Flying T’s herd while on the trail, and run your beeves along with theirs. When you leave here with the herd, I’ll make sure the timing is right so that you’ll meet up with the flying T near the ford on the North Platte. When you get to Dodge, I want all the Flying T’s cattle under your riders control. My lawyer drew up a phony bill of sale. You hand that bill of sale to the Flying T’s trail boss when you first meet up at the ford, he’ll have no choice but to hand over the herd.”
“The flying T would normally load their herd at the railway in Cheyenne. But in this case I want you to drive the entire mix of herd on to Dodge. By the time you have reached Cheyenne, I’ll make sure Phil Tollard of the Flying T is dead and gone. He has no known relatives and with the phony bill of sale, there’ll be no questions asked about the money I gave him for the herd. The authorities will just assume it all burnt up in the house fire that killed Tollard. In fact I may start a rumor that he was despondent and had spoken of ending it all when he sold me the cattle.”
Morgan strode over to a small box atop a delicate French vanity. Opening the box he removed a cigar. He took his time nipping the end and lighting it. Satisfied it was well lit, he blew a cloud of rich aroma scented smoke at Clancy. “You ride for the brand and Sally’s yours, you don’t ride, then I suggest you pack up and get on out. So what’ll it be son? Ride for or ride against. The choice is yours. You have one week to give me your answer.
Clancy left the Morgan house feeling ill. He could not believe what Mr. Morgan had proposed. He needed to think.
After a sleepless night, he asked Potato if it would be alright if he didn’t join him rounding up strays for a few days. Clancy told him he needed to ponder on some things and wanted to be alone to think ‘em out. Potato agreed readily thinking it had to do with Sally. It did, but it wasn’t what Potato thought.
Riding north till he hit the Powder River, he found a place to set a spell and rest. He pondered, prayed and ran every possible scenario through his head.
The whole act of stealing a herd and taking part in the death of Tollard just couldn’t be defensible. Even with Sally’s love at stake, he couldn’t bring himself to take another man’s life for money, no matter how badly it’s needed. Anyway he turned it, it was still murder.
Thinking back to his childhood and the times his Pa sat talking to him, Clancy dug through the attic of memories and what his Pa had told him about being a man, a husband and a father. Could he bring his own sons up as being trustworthy men knowing he had been able to marry Sally only because he cheated a man out of his stock and his life? Could he be that hypocritical? And what of sally? Could he really walk away from her? Was he that self righteous that he could deny her the opportunity to finally marry the one she loved? Could he ever forgive himself for walking away leaving her alone?
What about his Church upbringing? Truth be told, he had only started going again to be next to Sally. Yet even while he may have attended for the wrong reasons, what was spoken from the pulpit had still sunk in and slowly confirmed the truths he had learned from his mother when she read the Bible to him as a child. If he did what Morgan wanted him to do, he might as well become a man of evil through and through. Once a man started down that path, he knew there would be little reason to stop.
Inside he had juggled enough in his head to know what he must do but he could not at this point in time admit it to himself. Somehow he imagined, things would work out and all would be claimed as a big misunderstanding. He just could not fathom the kind, generous and fair boss he so much looked up to, asking him doing this.
But the subject was approached, it was real and he knew he had to decide one way or the other.
Returning to the ranch, Clancy dove into his work to escape the torment of choosing between his dear Sally or his honor. He ate little and to those around him, said even less.
Potato gave him the space to think on things, figuring Sally’s father had turned down the blessing. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone he figured.
The week crawled by. Any slower and time itself would have stopped. But the day did come and Clancy was called to the ranch house by Sally for a dinner invitation.
Once again arriving dressed in his Sunday best he walked up the steps as a man does going to the gallows. In fact, he felt that may have been an easier choice.
Not bothering to slick down his hair this time, he approached the door and knocked. Sally opened it herself.
Staring wide eyed at Clancy’s appearance she blurted,“Why Clancy, you look absolutely morbid!” She commented, ”has father been working to too hard?
“No, I’m alright Sally, I just have a lot on my mind. “
Before any further conversation between the two could continue, a booming voice behind Sally bellowed, “Clancy, come in boy, get out of the chill. Sally, take the young man into the parlor, he and I have something to discuss before we sit down to dinner. We’ll be joining you shortly.
Stepping in the parlor behind Clancy, Jethro Morgan closed the two glass pained French doors behind him.
“Sit down Clancy, I hope you’ve come to the right decision. “
“Sir, Mr Morgan,I believe I have, but if you don’t mind, I feel the need to stand up. ”
With a wave of his hand as if dismissing the offered chair, Morgan sat down in his own and returned a hard stare at Clancy asking, “Well? Spit it out boy!”
Clancy cleared his throat and wished he were anywhere but where he was. “Sir, before I give you my answer I have to tell you that I have given this some deep and agonizing thought. Never before have I been given a choice like this. I could have everything I want by cashing in my honor and all that my parents and church taught me or I can ride away with the memory of Sally’s love eating me like a cancer in my bones until death finally calls on me. It was a hard deal you offered. “
Stepping closer to Morgan now, Clancy continued. Mr. Morgan Sir, I am walking away from your deal. There is no one I will ever love and cherish more than your Sally, but what kind of man would I be to her? How could I raise our children to be honest and proud of their heritage if they knew the truth of what their heritage really was? How could I ever be trusted by Sally, you or anyone else? In the end when I stand before my maker, how could I tell him I did it out of love? I was raised by a Quaker, did you know that? Truth and honor meant something to my Dad and he passed that down to me. I could no more steal a mans goods and murder him as I could raise my hand in anger against Sally. No Sir! I refuse to commit to your deal. I find it reprehensible to my being.”
Jethro Morgan sat for a minute, then yelled in a loud voice for Sally and her mother to come into the parlor. The look he was giving Clancy caused his stomach to churn. Clancy knew he was about to be shamed in front of those he had grown to love. Leaving Sally was unbearable but now he knew he would leave broken too.
Morgan continued to stare at Clancy as they waited for the women to arrive. When they did, Morgan spoke directly to Sally..
“I told your young man I was in a financial strait, that we needed cash and explained he would have to steal the Flying T’s herd. In return I would give him my blessing to your wedding. He refused me!” Turning to his wife, he continued in a loud voice.” He would rather have his so called pride and honor instead of our beautiful daughter here! “
Turning to face only Clancy now, he walked slowly, coming up to him almost nose to nose. “Son, I told you another man asked for Sally’s hand and I refused him! Why did I do that? He was rich, he had connections in Washington, he had potential! Why I ask again, did I refuse him, can you answer me that Clancy?”
“Because he wouldn’t do it either?”
“No Clancy, because he said he would!”
Clancy blinked, “What?”
“Son, the man who marries my only daughter will inherit all that my ancestors up to myself have worked hard for. He will rule over the only child my wife bore. His children will have enough money to be used for good or evil, depending on how they are raised.”
Still facing Clancy, Morgan placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. “It was a test Son. We had to know if you were good enough to rise from the saddle to the throne by honest means. You’d be running this place in a few years. If you would have cheated a man out of his life and his cattle, could I trust you not to do the same to me? No Son, trust comes by hard, it’s earned not given. You have earned our family’s trust and love Clancy, Welcome to your family Son, you have all of our blessing.”
“You mean it was all made up? Mr Tollard won’t die and I don’t have to steal nothing after all? Tarnation! I’ve been worrying myself sick this past week and all along it wasn’t real”
“You’re wrong on that account Clancy, it was real alright. If you had decided to go ahead and make that deal with me, you’d be saddling your horse right now and Sally would have been cut out of your life forever. But you passed. We all prayed you would. Sally here wouldn’t give up on you. She said you’d never take the deal. It seems she knows her man pretty darn well.”
Putting his arms around the young man’s shoulder, Morgan guided the family out of the parlor into the dining room. “Now, since we have all agreed that you and Sally can marry, from now on son, you eat your meals with us. After Clancy pulled the chair out for the waiting Sally, he began to seat himself next to her.
“No Clancy, a man’s place is at the head of the table, Pulling out the head chair for him, Morgan smiled and said, “Sit here Son, you might as well get used to it!”