The boys mounted up after Gypsy received an apple slice and a pat on the neck from Drew.
"We’ll take the trail under the highway so you can see where the other riding stable is," Bobby told Drew.
"It’s on our land but Grampa has leased it to the same family for a long time."
"So how much further does your place go?" asked Drew.
"It stretches about five miles further west to the base of that mountain; and about two miles north on the west side of the road. It also stretches all the way down to the house on the west side. On this side it ends at the cut, that’s where the State Forest Reserve starts. Then it runs east to the peaks that form the canyon and valley. Great great Grampa bought it in the 1890’s; it’s tied up in a trust so it can’t be broken up or developed beyond a certain amount. There are several people who lease land on the property; small ranches and such. Mostly getaway places," explained Bobby.
"Wow!" Drew said, "It’s like the Ponderosa."
"Hah, wait till you see the place in Nevada, it's a couple million acres," Bobby chuckled.
"That’s a big place, Grampa told me that they raise cattle there and horses too."
When they reached the gate of the riding stable Bobby wheeled Sherpa and let him lope back under the bridge and down the cut with Drew and Gypsy in hot pursuit. They had reached the first summer Lodge when Bobby heard the first distant shot followed closely by a second. He reined Sherpa to a stop and dismounted. He leaned against his horse and wept. It was all senseless to him. Stupid trespassers and careless campers had forced his hand and made him kill an animal that should have been relocated. He felt Drew’s arms wrap around him and he sobbed even harder.
After a short while Bobby thanked Drew for holding him.
"Anytime you need me I’m here."
"I really love you Drew."
"I love you too."
"Let’s eat lunch on the porch of that Lodge." suggested Bobby.
"Is it yours?"
"No, the property line doesn’t follow the cut exactly. The Forestry service leases these out to people by the week or month during the summer. They’re all vacant now though." Bobby explained. "This is the one where Monty stayed that summer I told you about."
"Well it looks like a good place to eat but I gotta go first," Drew said.
"Oh, there’s an outhouse around back or if you just need to pee anywhere will do," offered Bobby. If you need the outhouse I’ll get you some paper. Be sure and make a lot of noise and bang the outside before you open the door. Sometimes there’s a wasp nest or bees."
"Don’t worry too much," Bobby chuckled "This is the one the rangers use so it’s probably okay."
"Will you stand outside please?" asked Drew nervously.
"I’ll be close by, I’m going to pump some water in the trough for the horses and let them graze," Bobby soothed.
While Drew was taking care of his toileting Bobby primed the pump and refilled the milk bottle by the base of the pump. He was briefly startled by the King snake that zipped away from the trough. He retrieved a cloth and a bar of soap from his saddle bags and led the horses back to the trough to drink. Meanwhile he washed his face neck and hands and waited for Drew. When he emerged from the outhouse Bobby pumped water so that Drew could wash up. They opted to lunch on the shady side of the veranda and dozed a bit once they had eaten and drank their fill. Bobby leaned against the newel post of the stairs while Drew rested his head in Bobby’s lap. Bobby woke to see the peaceful face of the boy he adored. He tenderly brushed the wispy hair from his face and the patted his belly to rouse him. He heard hoof beats on the trail and shook Drew awake.
"We’ve got company," He told Drew.
Bobby clicked his tongue to summon Sherpa who had already begun walking over. He bobbed his head in a gesture of recognition and Bobby relaxed. It was Ron leading Rich’s horse up the trail.
"Hi Ron, where’s Rich?" Bobby asked.
"He rode back with the brush crew to get the flat bed," said Ron, not elaborating, Bobby would know it was to retrieve the bear carcasses.
"I see," said Bobby. "We just stopped by to eat lunch and use the outhouse. There’s water in the trough and the pump is primed."
"Good man, I think I will water these guys before I head on, thanks."
Bobby turned to Drew. "We should push off if we’re going to make it by sunset. Just give me a moment to pee and we can get going."
Bobby began to walk toward a tree and Drew followed. "Where are you going?" Bobby asked.
"I thought I’d stand guard, I don’t want anything happening to you besides I like seeing your wiener," answered Drew.
Once mounted the boys headed east down the cut. They waved at Ron as they passed.
"The far East trail will take us down to the head of the valley and then it’s an easy ride back to the stables," Bobby informed Drew.
"I’m really sorry you didn’t get to enjoy the falls. We’ll come back soon though. Next time you stay over okay?" Bobby promised.
"It’s okay," Drew said "It wasn’t your fault. Don’t feel bad about that okay? I love this place and I want to spend as much time with you here as I can."
"I wish we could live here and be together all the time."
"That would be really nice, but I’d miss my Mom."
"I know; it’s just a nice thought until you consider the details."
The boys rode on and other than spotting a feral pig and her litter they saw only lovely landscape. When they reached the head of the valley it was still reasonably light. Bobby dismounted and checked to see if everything was tied down on both horses. He had a treat in mind for Sherpa.
"I’m going to let Sherpa run a bit, follow as fast as you like but don’t try to keep up. We’ll be back after a couple laps up and down the valley. Will you be okay?"
"Sure", "Gypsy and I will trot along behind."
With that Bobby goosed Sherpa gently and slackened the reins to let him have his head. Sherpa ran like the Devil was on his tail. After a few minutes of this the gate came in to view and Bobby reined in his horse, they made a sweeping arc and ran full speed back towards Drew. They repeated the course three times and then slowed down to walk back the rest of the way with Drew and Gypsy to cool both horses.
"He looks happy," Drew said of Sherpa.
"Yeah, he loves a good run. He doesn’t get enough of that to suit him."
The boys set to work unsaddling the horses and brushing them out. Bobby pitched fresh alfalfa and a portion of oats for both horses and then hung up the saddles and tack.
Dolly, who had been watching patiently said, "I guess you don’t need me do you."
"Hi Dolly, no we’ve got it. I enjoy this part as much as the ride," said Bobby.
"I wish my customers had your attitude, some of them treat the horses like bowling shoes. Most are pretty good but none of them see to their own mounts like you do except a few boarders," Dolly griped.
"Well he is my horse and Gypsy’s a sweetheart and deserves good treatment too. I think horses are smarter than people in general. We’re mostly just too dumb to take their advice. But they deserve to be cared for when they do a day’s work."
"I enjoy taking care of them too. They do so much for us. If I could do this all the time I’d have muscles like Bobby."
With both horses in their stalls for the night, Bobby picked up his rifle and unloaded it. He grabbed a couple saddle bags and asked Drew to carry the others and they headed up to the house from there, bidding Dolly good night.
"She’s really nice, and she appreciates the work you do. Oh crap! I forgot the pistol. Do you want me to unload It.?"
"Sure, that’s a good Idea. We’re not supposed to bring loaded weapons into the house."
Drew opened the saddle bag and pulled out the revolver making sure to point it at the ground. He repeated the procedure for opening the action and ejected the live rounds. He re-inspected the cylinder and closed the action.
"What do I do with the bullets?"
"For now just put them in your pocket. I’ll find the box when we’re inside."
They entered the house by way of a service porch adjacent to the kitchen. In the kitchen they found Bobby’s Grampa chatting at the table with a man in a Forestry uniform. Both men looked up as they entered.
"Bobby, this is the Chief Ranger for this district, he’s here to get a statement from you about what happened today."
"Hello Bobby, my name is Sam, I just need you to write out a brief statement like your Grampa said and then we’ll go over it and you can sign it when you’re satisfied with it. Will that be okay with you?"
"Yes sir, it’s pretty simple but I’ll write it out for you."
When he had finished he passed the pad back to the Ranger. When he read the entry regarding Drew calling for help with the revolver he asked Drew if he had anything to add. Drew indicated that he did not.
"May I see the rifle you used?" asked the Ranger.
"This is it here" said Bobby. He levered open the action checked to make sure it was empty and handed to the Ranger.
"The Ranger looked it over and said. "This is a beauty; what caliber is it?"
"It’s a .40/72 sir. We load them here," Answered Bobby
"Do you have a round handy, I’d like to see one?"
"Yes sir, if you’ll hand the rifle to my Grampa I’ll give you one to examine." Bobby answered. "It’s a rule here sir, we never handle weapons and rounds at the same time indoors."
The Ranger handed the rifle to Mac and Bobby handed the Ranger an empty case and a live round.
"That’s a heavy duty round, and it explains why we found no empties on the ground, "The Ranger commented.
"Habit sir, I don’t leave my brass behind, it’s hard to get in that caliber, besides, it would be littering and I don’t like that."
"Duly noted young man, I support your view," The Ranger said.
"Now I’m told you gave the Father of the family a bit of dressing down. I’m leaning towards having him prosecuted for trespassing on State Property, Criminal negligence and whatever else we can think up. Plus your Grampa should probably charge him with Trespass to protect himself legally. The State attorney General’s office will decide on prosecution though. Do you have any questions?" the Ranger finished.
"I do," said Drew "Is the little boy okay? I think his name’s Dennis."
"They’re all fine physically, the woman had some severe bruises on her leg, and the little girl just had a few scratches from the rocks. The little boy Dennis is the only one injured by the bear and he’ll be fine. He may need a little counseling to get him over the rough parts."
"Thanks" said Drew, "It was a pretty deep laceration."
"Well you did a good job taking care of him. His Mother sends her thanks to both of you," He continued.
"Bobby, I know from talking to Mac that what you had to do today was distasteful to you. I’m glad for that. It’s good to see someone who respects wildlife the way you do; but recognizes what’s necessary in a situation like that. There are a lot of adults that could learn from your experience. You did what you had to do, so don’t be hard on yourself about it."
"I’ll be fine sir, I know I did what’s right; she was dead the moment she attacked. I just happened to be there with the right tool. I’m upset but I’ll get by," Bobby answered with an understanding far beyond his years.
"I do have one more question," The Ranger said, "How did you know to shoot her through the mouth like that?"
"Jim Bridger sir or one of the other Mountain Men described it in a book. After I read it I looked at a bear skeleton at the museum and verified that it was true. Grampa taught me to prepare for any possibility however remote."
"That’s impressive coming from someone so young. I believe you’re on the road to being one heck of a man," The Ranger said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes sir, next time they want to film a TV show or Movie on State land; get them to do a short film about proper food storage when camping. I think it could save some lives, Human and otherwise."
The Ranger nodded, "Well I have to be going," The Ranger said. And standing, offered Bobby and Drew his hand. Both boys shook his hand and then Mac shook it as well. "I will present your idea to the head of our department."
"Why don’t you lads head upstairs and put away your gear and get the trail dust off yourselves. I’ll walk out with Sam."
Bobby stuck the cartridges back in his pocket and picked up his rifle. The two boys went upstairs to clean up.
"That’s quite a boy you’ve got there," said Sam. "He’s destined for great things I suspect. I got quite a report from my senior men. I suppose he’ll be going into the family business with you?"
"There’s no telling what he may decide to do, when he does decide I know he’ll make his mark," Mac said with more than a little pride.
"Good night Mac, it was good seeing you again," said Sam.
"Same here," said Mac. "Have a safe trip down the hill."
Mac watched as the Forestry vehicle backed in to the turn pocket and then headed out the drive and on to the road. He continued watching until the gate was fully closed and then stood to appreciate the evening breeze and the smell of the wisteria.
Upstairs Bobby and Drew pulled off their boots and jeans to put on some shorts. Bobby set to work opening the gun locker and breaking down his rifle for cleaning. He dipped a brush in a bottle of Hoppe’s gun cleaner and ran it through the bore. He followed that with three cotton patches. He cleaned the chamber in a similar manner using a crooked rod. When he was finished he placed the unfired rounds in the box in his saddlebag and then cleaned the revolver. Placing the weapons in the locked cabinet and the ammo in a locking drawer, he turned to look at Drew.
"Sorry I’m not that great for company right now. Don’t think for a minute that it has anything to do with you though. I just need to work some things through. Maybe a quick rinse and a swim would help?" Bobby looked at Drew and noticed he was about to break down. He grabbed Drew in a tight hug and Drew dissolved into tears. He wept for a solid five minutes with his face buried in Bobby’s chest.
"I’m so sorry Drew, through all of this I never thought to ask how you were doing. The whole thing must have knocked you for a loop," Bobby cooed.
"I’m fine; I was just so scared when you rode off to help those people I didn’t know if I’d see you again," Drew rasped.
"Well here we all are again, safe as houses like Grampa says. I’m sorry I didn’t notice you were upset though."
"It’s okay, I’m over it mostly. But you’ll need to sleep extra close tonight," Drew said bashfully.
"Just try to keep me away," said Bobby and planted a kiss on Drew’s lips.
They stripped and rinsed off in the shower. Then the two of them clad only in towels headed for the pool. They swam for half an hour before fatigue got the best of them. As they dried off Mac appeared and asked Drew to come in and talk with his Mother on the phone.
"Crap, how am I going to explain all this?"
"Start with Hi Mom I’m fine. And take it from there. Tell her the truth," said Mac.
"Yeah, I’ll tell her I’m staying with John Wayne and Audie Murphy," Drew joked.
Bobby looked at Mac and asked, "which of us is which?"
Mac responded by picking Bobby up and tossing him back into the pool, "Does that answer your question Pilgrim?"
Bobby sputtered, "A man with your accent shouldn’t try to do John Wayne." He floated on his back for a bit and then crawled out and dried off again.
"Joo gonna have some splaining to do Lucy! When my Mom gets back she wants a proper account of our activities."
"All of them?" Bobby grinned.
Drew blushed crimson, "Uh, no. I think not. But I think I will talk to her about my feelings for you when we get home."
"I got a pretty good read on your Mom. I think if you were green with horns and a tail she’d love just the same."
"I’m sure you’re right but I still have worries about telling her. Either way she’ll be back here tomorrow with your Gramma Katey."
"You’ll like her, she’s great. And she’s going to adore you." Bobby laughed. Let’s go up and get dressed and maybe play some music.
After a hot shower the boys dressed in light clothing and played the piano and sang until dinner was ready. At dinner they were surprised to find Davey’s Fiancé Polly sitting down with them.
"Oh, now I’m disappointed, Davey assured me you boys always ran around naked."
Both boys blushed. Bobby stopped himself from commenting on what he had seen in Davey’s room that morning. No mention was made of the bear, the boy’s only volunteered that they went riding.
Mac would later tell Davey about the events of the day; if for no other reason than to save Bobby from having to recount them. He knew his Grandson was torn up inside about the loss of mature bear and her cubs.
Bobby and Drew turned in early, not surprising given the day they had.