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The sounds of the ranch as it came to life, filled the air. The women went about their work as they prepared breakfast. Even on Sunday, ranch work never stopped. There was still stock to feed and chores to do. Cassie headed to the barn to start her chores, with her dog by her side. She opened the barn doors and closed the inside gate so the horses would not get loose and end up in Maude's garden. The first thing she did was to drop several bales of hay from the loft. She fed and watered all the horses that remained in the barn before she opened the door that led to the pasture. The horses would be able to go in and out of the barn during the day. The stallion in the end stall became restless and acted up as the mares walked by.
"One of these lovely ladies coming into season, big fella?" She asked him. He eyed her as she leaned on the stall door. Cassie cut an apple and held it out to him. He took it gently from her hand. She scratched his ears as he chewed. She opened the gate and added food and water to his troughs before she opened his outside gate. After the barn chores were finished, Cassie went to the chicken coop. The dog waited patiently outside the coop as Cassie scattered food and collected eggs. Once finished, she headed back to the house for breakfast. She handed the eggs to Maude and accepted a cup of coffee in return. Cassie smiled at Victoria as she helped Granny cook.
"Good morning, dear. Is everything quiet?" Maude asked.
"Pretty much. I think one of the mares is coming into season. Chobo acted up when they went past him this morning."
"Goldie?" Her mother asked.
"I don't think so." She replied.
"Is Chobo that brown stallion?" Victoria asked.
"That's him. He is the sire of all the foals on this ranch."
"He is a beautiful animal. His name is interesting. Did you name him?"
"No Ellie did. She said she named him after some ancient weapons that Amazons used way back when." Cassie replied.
"It could be Millie that is coming into season."
"If it is, do you want to see what develops? She has good bloodlines, they would make a nice foal. Might even get a champion from them."
"Yeah. there is race track in Saratoga, about ten miles from here. Racing season will be starting in a few weeks. Every years we take a day odd and go watch them run."
"That sounds like a lot of fun."
Maude listen to them talk. She found it hard not to say something to warn them of what to come. Granny caught her eye and shook her head. She knew what Maude was thinking. Maude cleared her voice when her voice caught in her throat.
"Victoria was just telling us about her job at The Settlement." Granny said.
"It is a great idea. Those children have a hard time getting into town if we have a hard Winter." Maude said when she could trust her voice. She place a full plate in front of Cassie. She took a minute and caressed the dark head. "I know every one pitches in, but it is not the same as having a real teacher."
"Speaking of that? When will you be able to show me around The Settlement?"
"How about next Sunday?" Cassie replied. "The men will all be here. We can take off early and make a day of it."
"What are your plans for today?" Maude asked. "You don't have to worry about the milking. The men took care of that earlier. Mike was in about an hour ago and said he was going down to the lake to check things out."
"Not very much. I have some tack I need to clean. The stalls need to be raked and new straw laid down, then the water barrels need to be filled."
"I thought you said you did not have a lot to do? That sounds like a lot." Victoria joked.
"Nah. No more than a couple hours work. But it is typical Sunday work. You how work is on a ranch or farm. It never ends. Just Sundays are not as much as other days. At least we do not have to haul hay to the cattle. Want to take a ride with me?" Maude jumped at her question.
"Sure. Where are we going?"
"To fill the water barrels. Give me a few minutes to hitch the team up to the sled."
"The sled. It is a very low wagon on wheels. That thing that you got on when you poured water over your head. We call it a sled because it is so low to the ground. We keep the water barrels on it and the horses pull it to the pump. Saves a lot of time hauling water by hand. I eventually want to have a pump installed in the barn. The pump would feed off the river that runs behind the pasture. This way it does not put any strain on the well. I had a pump installed in Mama's garden so that she did not have to haul water. Maybe next year we can get the pipes laid to hook one up in the barn. That is if we salvage anything out of this year and show a profit. We are lucky in that we have been able in the past years to put some money aside to cover the cost of the project. We may have to use that money to get by this year. I really do not want to touch the profits from past years for something so frivolous. Getting a pump in the barn right now is not essential. I mean it only take an hour or so twice a week to fill all the barrels."
The finished breakfast and left the house. Maude watched them enter the barn with a lump in her throat. Granny put a reassuring hand on her arm.
Cassie showed Victoria how to use the sled. They placed the empty barrels on the low bed and hooked the team up. Cassie tied a third horse to the back of the sled.
"What is the third horse for?" Victoria asked.
"We have a wind driven pump that brings the water from the river to the pipe. On days like today when there is no wind, the horse is hooked up to a turnstile and walks around in a circle which turns the windmill and get water into the pipe. Does the same thing as the wind. It take a bit longer, but it is worth it."
"That is really smart. Was that your idea?"
"My daddy and I both had a hand in it."
"I think I would have liked your daddy."
"He was quite a guy." Cassie said as her eyes filled with tears.
"You really miss him, don't you?"
"Yeah I do. He was, in my eyes, a great man and had some really good ideas about improving the ranch. Everything is ready here. Lets head out."
They climbed onto the sled as Cassie directed the horses out of the barn.
"Tell me about him. I bet you got your height from him."
"I did. He was well over six feet. It was funny to see him and mama together. He had blue eyes also, but thick blonde hair. He was a smart man who always looked for way to improve the ranch. Looking for ways to make it easier for me to run the ranch. Especially after my brother..." Cassie stopped and changed the direction of the conversation. "This ranch has been in my family for over a hundred years. I hope it still is for the next hundred years. But unless I have children, that will not happen."
"Cassie, I don't know anything about your brother, but if you ever want to talk, I am a good listener."
"Thanks, I may take you up on that offer some day."
They rode the sled the short ways to the river. Once there, Cassie tied the horse to the turnstile and left him turn the windmill. She moved the pipe to the first barrel, turned the lever and watched the barrel fill. She did the same with the rest of the barrels. When all the barrels were filled she unhitched the horse and they walked back to the barn. She gave the horses an extra treat before letting them out into the pasture.
"The barrels stay on the sled until they are empty. When they are all empty, we load them back up and do it all again. Usually twice a week we do a water run."
"What do you do in the Winter? Doesn't the river freeze up? Victoria asked.
"We can get a good thick layer of ice on it, but it never freezes completely. The pipes run deep where the water doe not freeze. Keeping the track clear of snow can sometimes be a problem."
The hands walked into the barn as they talked. "Hey guys we were just getting ready to rake the stalls and lay new straw. Go up to the house for breakfast."
"Just came from there Cassie. We will take care of the mucking out. I was out by the lake this morning. Water level is still dropping but we are still okay. Midnight has brought his herd down from the hills."
"Really? Any nice looking ones?"
"Several. He has been a busy boy. I counted seven little ones in the herd. A few of the mares look pregnanat."
"Who or what is Midnight?" Victoria asked. "Didn't your mother mention him a couple weeks ago?"
"He is a stallion that runs a herd of mustangs. We call him midnight because he is pure black. He is a beautiful animal. He does not come down too often."
"I would love to see him. Do you think we can go?"
"Sure we can. You go get some water while I saddle the horses." Cassie told her.
"You be careful out there, Cassie. I saw some riders on the ridge and found a place where some one has been camping out." Mike told Cassie. "Want me to go with you?"
"No we will be fine. The lake is not that far."
"What about the riders?"
"Probably just someone passing through and used the area to camp out."
"Take your rifle." Mike told her.
Cassie nodded as she went to saddle the horses.
To be continued...
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