"This is Riley," Father said. "He's come to live on the ranch and play with you until his mother is feeling better. He'll stay in the bunkhouse with Sid, and he'll eat with the hands in the cookhouse."
Riley stared at me, and I stared right back. He looked kind of scared, like he'd never been on a ranch before, which I found out later he hadn't.
Sleeping in the bunkhouse with the cowboys and eating in the cook shack sounded like fun, but helping grouchy Cook did not sound fun at all. It sounded terrible. Our ranch cook in those days was a big Mexican fellow, with dark eyes that glared at you if you crossed him. Which I didn't . . . much. Riley had no idea what he was in for.
Father prodded me in the back, so I said, "Howdy." It came out like a squeak. I didn't really know what to do. Riley was the first kid my own size I'd ever met. Up until then, I always played with my big sister, Melinda, or tagged along behind my big brother Mitch and his friend Peter. I'd never had anybody close to my own age to play with before.
Riley smiled at me then and said "howdy" back.
"Do you like horses?" I asked, twirling one of my braids around my finger.
"I love 'em!" he shouted.
|Riley and Midnight|
Riley had been allowed to bring his big, black gelding "Midnight" when he came to the ranch, and I found out that boy could ride like the wind.
"I rode the army horses back at the fort," he explained. "And some of those jug heads were meaner than all get-out."
From then on, Riley and I were best friends. We got in and out of more scrapes than you can shake a stick at. The only thing that annoyed me was the fact that he was big enough for his own horse, and I was stuck with that slow-poke pony, Coco.
Early the next spring, a few months before I turned six, Father was killed in a roundup accident. That was terrible, but it helped me understand how sad Riley was sometimes to not be with his mother and father.
Riley's father, Captain Robert Prescott, was stationed at the Presidio, the army fort in San Francisco. Riley, his father, and his mother had lived at the fort until his mother got sick. With his father away from the fort so much, they decided it would be better if Riley lived with relatives for a few months, and Uncle Sid took him in.
Riley lived on the Circle C ranch for a little over two years, until he was ten. The second Christmas after he'd come, his mother was well enough to surprise him by showing up on Christmas Eve. Sid picked her up and brought her out to the ranch. Since she was on the mend but not totally ready to care for Riley on her own at the fort, she stayed on the ranch until spring. Captain Weaver was transferred to Fort Hall in Idaho, and he picked up his family on the way to his new posting.
I cried when Riley left.
* * *
Jump ahead eight years. I was totally unprepared when Riley returned to the Circle C ranch. I did not even recognize him. Chad hired him on to work with the young colts, Shasta included. I'll say no more about that, but let you read The Last Ride to find out what happens.