Home > A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)(3)

A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)(3)
Author: Janet Dailey

“Dad, can I be excused?” Chase had waited for a pause in the conversation. “Buck and me are going down to the cattle tank to hunt frogs.”

“All right. Just be back before your bedtime. Don’t make me come out looking for you.”

The boy hurried away, leaving his father to continue where he’d left off. “Yes, the land. As I said, for the past couple of years I’ve been buying up everything that borders the Triple C. It’s not for cattle—those damned wheat farmers plowed up all the good grass. It’s mostly for protection, to put a safe distance between this ranch and anybody who fancies our being neighbors. That means, among other things, protecting our water and our fences.” Webb dabbed his mouth with a napkin. “But I have another reason for wanting the Anderson parcel. I can show you better than tell you. Come on into the study.”

Getting up from the table, Logan followed his host down the hall. The Calder study was the heart of the Triple C Ranch, and it was suitably impressive—from the ornate walnut desk and leather seating to the fireplace, which was crowned by a mounted pair of massive horns from Captain, the longhorn steer that had led herds of Calder cattle along the trail from Texas to Montana.

Above the mantel a giant, framed map displayed the full expanse of the ranch. The acreage was even more vast than Logan had imagined. “Pretty impressive,” he said.

Webb picked up a billiard cue that served as a pointer. “Let me show you why I’m so keen on buying the Anderson property.”

He ran the tip of the cue along a dark line that defined the eastern border of the Triple C. “I’ve bought almost all the properties along here for cents on the dollar—but I haven’t bothered with this ranch in the foothills.” He tapped a section at the top of the map. “It’s owned by a scum of the earth Irishman named Angus O’Rourke. He lives up there in a shack with a wife and two scraggly kids. I don’t trust the bounder, but as long as he doesn’t steal from me, I leave him alone.

“Now here—” Webb tapped the cue point lower on the map. “This is the Lars Anderson property. The original homestead didn’t touch my ranch. But when Anderson’s neighbor to the west moved away, Lars bought it to expand his own acreage. Now that big stubborn Swede is my next-door neighbor. And even if he needed to sell, he’d starve before he’d do business with a Calder.”

“I suppose I should ask why,” Logan said.

“It’s because his daughter’s married to that hell-damned water-stealing Blake Dollarhide.”

The connection clicked in Logan’s mind. He remembered the beautiful, dark-haired woman who’d claimed to have no use for the Calders. Kristin Dollarhide. Doctor Kristin Dollarhide.

“I met one of the Dollarhides this morning,” Logan said. “Prickly as a blackberry bush. She pulled a gun and accused me of stealing your horse. When I mentioned that I was related to the Calders, I could feel the chill from ten feet away. She must’ve been Blake Dollarhide’s sister.”

Webb frowned. “That’s all we need around here, one more Dollarhide. I heard that she was back, and that she’s a doctor now. If I get sick, remind me not to go to her. She’d be liable to slice open a vein and let me bleed out.”

“So tell me more about the Anderson property.” Logan steered the subject back on track. “Why are you so interested in it?”

“It comes down to one thing—water,” Webb said. “When the drylanders, including the Andersons, settled here, they dug wells. But the water was too alkaline to be of any use. They ended up having to haul water from town for drinking and washing. The farmer who owned the parcel behind the Andersons’ was a latecomer. He didn’t bother with a well because he’d seen that it would be a waste of time. Now here’s where the story gets interesting.”

Again Webb pointed to the map. “Last year, I needed a well dug near the eastern boundary of my ranch, so I called in a team of experts. They put down a borehole and brought up good, clean water. While they were here, I asked them to do an analysis of the land around the new well. They dug more boreholes and tested rock samples. It turned out there’s an aquifer—that’s a layer of water-bearing rock—that lies under my land and extends partway into that second Anderson parcel. If anybody had bothered to dig a well close to the property line, they’d have found usable water.”

“I see,” Logan said. “So if you owned that land, would you dig more wells?”

“No. But a well on that property could pull water from the one on my land. What I want is to keep any more wells from being dug. I need all the water from that aquifer on my ranch.”

“Does Lars Anderson know about the aquifer?”

“No. But he could sell the land to somebody smart enough to figure out that it’s there—somebody like his son-in-law, Blake Dollarhide, who’d put down a well and maybe poison it just to spite me.”

“I get the picture.” Logan did, and he didn’t much like it. “But while we’re on the subject of land, I’d like to know more about that ranch property you picked for me to buy.”

“That can wait till tomorrow. When it’s light, we can ride out and see the place. You’ll like it, I promise. If not, you can choose something else. But for now, I’d like you to think about a favor you could do for me.”

“Name it,” Logan said. “I certainly owe you a favor for your help and hospitality.”

“Just this. Lars Anderson would never sell that parcel to me. But as a man he trusts—his son’s commander who was kind enough to bring him the boy’s last letter—I’ll bet you could sweet-talk Lars into selling the land to you.”

* * *

After dinner was over and the children were getting ready for bed, Kristin walked out onto the broad covered porch of the Dollarhide family home. With her hand on the log railing, she watched the risen moon cast cloud shadows over the landscape below. The fields and pastures were dark, but here and there, dots of light glimmered like distant stars. To the north, the town of Blue Moon glowed like a faint beacon in the night.

Joe Dollarhide, her father, had built this sprawling log house on the crest of a high bluff to command a view of the prairie with its meadows, pastures, and farms. Kristin had always loved this place. But some things had changed in her absence. Joe was gone now, and his wife, Sarah, with him. Both had been lost in the past year to the ravages of Spanish flu, which Sarah had brought home after going out to deliver a baby.

Kristin mourned her parents, whose deaths had left a hole in her heart. But at least her brother and his young family had been spared. Blake, his wife, Hanna, and their three children were all in good health. And Blake now helmed a family empire that included land, horses, cattle, and a lumber mill.

As if summoned by her thoughts, Blake came out to stand beside her. “Are you cold?” he asked. “I can bring you a shawl.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “It’s good to be home. But I’d forgotten how quiet it is here. After the war and the chaos of the hospital, the stillness seems almost unreal.”

“You’ll get used to it. Maybe the peace and quiet will help you forget what you’ve seen and heard for the past two years.”

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