Western Short Story
From the Sea to the Land
Jim Bryson

Western Short Story

The wind lashed the sails that snapped and cracked noisily as Mac Travers slid across the slippery foredeck to loosen the row of ties on the jib sail. Huge dark waves were splashing over the tall gunwales of the clipper ship. They had been trying to outrun the violent storm for several hours but it was gaining strength and speed and the captain had men hurrying here and there across the deck preparing the ship for the even heavier wind and rain that was sure to come. He stood middeck, hanging onto a hawser and shouted orders to each man as they slipped and slid by on the wet deck.

Mac wrenched on the slippery ratchet and it finally came loose, letting out the jib sail a little more so it would not be torn apart in the fierce wind. He held onto the cable and began to pull himself step by step back toward the center of the main deck. At that moment, a sudden shift in the wind tilted the boat to port just as a large wave crashed over the foredeck. His safety line snapped and Mac Travers felt himself lifted away from the deck and thrown high into the air and over the side of the listing ship!

He hit the water hard, going down deep before beginning to churn his legs and arms furiously and swim upward. He surfaced, gasping for breath and began to fight the pounding waves that slapped against him, turning his head away from the wind to see the clipper ship, still listing slightly to port, rapidly disappearing into the darkness of an even heavier pounding storm.

Something hit him from behind, almost knocking him out. It was a huge wooden crate, one of many such that had tumbled overboard with the tilting and listing of the ship, snapping their lines in the violent wind. He clung to the crate for buoyancy, letting the waves carry him and it along, hopefully to shore somewhere, though he knew they had been far from shore when the storm hit.

After a time, he was able to pull himself up and drape himself over the large crate, resting on it as he moved his body for balance to keep the crate from tipping over. Sometimes he would doze off for a short while only to be awakened by ocean spray or when he slipped off the crate into the sea and had to chase the crate and pull himself back up on it again.

This went on for what seemed to be a very long time and he quickly lost his sense of minutes and hours. He was thankful that he had drifted away from the storm and into calmer waters but still there was no land in sight. Well, he thought to himself, you wanted an adventure and now it may cost you your life. Another in a long string of life's misadventures that had been pushing him toward that still unfulfilled wish to see Alaska.

Then, about a half-hour later, he saw a coastline, still in the distance but with some certainty that he was drifting slowly toward it on a current that should take him within swimming distance before too long. He began to kick his legs, turning the crate toward the shore and in forty more minutes he was able to stand or at least attempt to stand, for he fell over from exhaustion with the attempt and ended up crawling to the edge of the shore and falling asleep with his feet still in the water. But he was safely ashore and that was a start.

It was dark when he woke and he was cold, bitterly cold, lying on the sand in clothes soaked in the salty water of the ocean. He forced himself to his feet and made his way to the nearby forest, stripping off his clothes as he walked, despite the cold. When he reached the trees, he hung his clothes on branches to dry and pulled the lace out of one of his boots. Taking the knife that he always wore in a covered sheath on his belt, thankful he had not lost it in the sea, he cut a small thin branch a foot and a half in length and another six inches in length, tapering the smaller one to a point. The he found a flat piece of bark and scraped a shallow bowl in the middle of it. He found another dry piece of bark and used the edge of the knife to scrape tinder onto the small bowl. Then, fashioning a small bow with the longer piece of branch, using the shoelace as a bowstring, he set to starting a fire. He began spinning the smaller pointed piece of wood into the tinder as he had been taught as a child. It took a long time, made longer by his shivering, but eventually the friction produced a small wisp of smoke and then the tinder caught fire. He nurtured it carefully, adding bits of leaves and larger tinder until he had a flame. He added small bits of wood and then larger ones until he had a stable fire burning at the edge of the forest. The warmth of the fire was incredibly soothing and unbelievably comforting, as it has been for ages.

He sat back to consider his situation. He was lost ashore somewhere in northern California or southern Oregon. He was not really sure which. The clipper ship had been moving quickly on a northward voyage from Los Angeles to Sitka in Alaska and had hit the unexpected storm near the end of second day on the wide ocean. His sailing adventure and his dream of visiting Alaska had lasted exactly forty hours. Not the trip he had planned. At thirty years of age, he thought, this was not what he had in mind when he travelled from New Mexico to California to work his way north.

Alright, he said to himself. You are ashore, you are lost and those left on the ship, if the ship even survived the violent storm, will probably assume you drowned at sea. There will be no organized search because they would not even know where to begin. You have no food, one set of wet clothes, a good knife, a compass and your wits and experience.

The crate! He had forgotten to drag it ashore in his exhaustion. He looked toward the shore and saw nothing there, berating himself for his carelessness. It had no doubt been washed back out to sea.

Well, he thought, there is nothing to be done about it now.

He pulled on his clothes, rough and caked with dried sea salt, and his boots, checked the compass and decided to head south, staying close to the shore. If there were inhabited areas to the south between himself and California settlements they would be located near the ocean, or so he reasoned.

He used his knife to cut a staff, sharpening one end. It would be both a walking staff and a weapon and he did not want to travel without some means of defending himself against whatever might come his way. It was the way of men, he thought, to always expect trouble and to believe that trouble would mean combat and so they must have weapons. As sad commentary on society and civilization, he decided, but still he prepared himself.

Then he squared his broad shoulders and started walking. Food and water, those would be the basics. He knew that many freshwater tributaries roared, splashed and trickled from the forests and mountains into the ocean so he was not concerned about finding potable water. He lamented that he had nothing in which to transport it and that meant water would dictate direction and pace.

Food he could hunt, and while he had little in the way of weapons, he was uncommonly accurate in throwing stones and could, he reasoned, bring down some smaller game with that skill or his newly made spear.

He found the early going along the beach a bit stony but quite passable and walked for almost an hour before stopping to rest. Then, staring at the sea and beyond, he saw the crate! Or, at least a crate, for he knew that many such crates had been washed overboard from the clipper ship. He trotted down the beach toward it and tumbled it over and over out of the shallows and onto the beach. He used his knife to pry open one corner and then used his strength to lift the lid off against the brads that held it in place.

And then he stepped back and laughed, long and loud.

It was woman's clothing, dresses and undergarments, and Mac Travers could think of nothing less valuable to him in his present situation. He sat down on the beach, not certain whether to laugh again or cry. Shaking his head, he thought enough to check the rest of the crate. He pulled out item after useless item and then paused, staring at the remaining contents. There were four metal cases neatly fitted into the bottom. He knew passengers had been among the well-off and perhaps these cases might yield something he could use.

And they did, beyond his expectations. At least three of them. The first he opened contained nothing but woman's make-up supplies and was set aside. The second, however, contained a pair of pistols, small in caliber, but in an interesting setup where both holsters were on the right side, one below the other. Mac had never seen this before and noticed that on the left side were two smaller holsters, again one below the other, holding eight-inch knifes of exquisite design and quality. What woman would have such, he wondered. He tried the belt on and found that it fit surprisingly well. This was, then, not a woman's piece of weaponry, but a man's, safely stored in the woman's shipping crate below the clothing.

The third case yielded contents that were not as useful in his current situation but of considerable importance as he worked his way back home. Money! The paper bills were soaked but would dry and there were three pouches of coins amounting to more than two hundred dollars alone. And three ornate rings, two for a woman, with small jewels, and one rather ornate man's ring that would only fit on Mac's middle finger. There were also letters, smudged beyond legibility by the ocean water but he could make out the name Martin Castleman on a leather wallet. He gave silent thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Castleman for this wonderful find.

The fourth case was smaller than the others but held precisely what he most needed right then, a good supply of ammunition for the two small caliber pistols. He would have been a lot more comfortable with his forty-fives, those being lost with the ship, but these smaller pistols, thirty-two or thirty-eight caliber he guessed, were deadly, especially to someone with his skills.

He dumped the expensive woman's shoes from two large, sturdy leather shoe bags, stuffed the smaller one, the papers, money and ammunition into the larger one. Then he hung it over one shoulder and turned away from the crate, striding away with more confidence in his chances for survival.

In the late afternoon he swung toward a grove of deciduous trees where he thought he might find water. He did find it, a small stream that gurgled noisily over loose gravel and headed toward the greater ocean. He drank and then stripped off his clothes and washed them in the clear water, hanging them on trees to dry and hoping he had gotten most of the salt out of them. He bathed in the cold water, shivering, but glad to get more of the salt off his skin.

He was beginning to feel the hunger of twenty plus hours without food and he knew he had a decision to make. With the pistols he was no longer worried about killing game to eat. His concern was the noise they would make and who might be in the vicinity to hear the sound. Potential friend, likely enemy or no one at all? He could not be sure but to find a high enough landmark to climb and observe the area would take him away from the comfort and familiarity of the shore which he was still certain would lead him toward civilization. He decided that if he could kill a smaller animal with a rock or the spear he had fashioned he would do that, lowering the risk of discovery.

An hour later found him in almost-dry and far more comfortable clothes, heading inland into the forest and hunting for small game. Within a half-hour he spotted a small pig-like animal and was successful with the first spear throw in pinning it to the ground, killing it with the knife as it lay there. He carried it back to the shore, started a fire in the same manner as the day before, a tedious task that again made him commit to always carrying flint, but one at which he was again successful. He roasted the meat on a spit above the fire, realizing the smoke and scent might bring others along as much as the sound of the pistol shot might. He shrugged, for done was done and he was hungry.

And now he was armed.

An hour later, on a full stomach and with another deep, long drink of the fresh water he was ready to move on. From habit, he cleaned up the area, leaving it as found, slung the bag over his shoulder and headed south, walking parallel to the shoreline. The bright sun was shining above, the air not too cool for an April day and things were definitely beginning to look up.

That night he camped where shoreline and forest met and slept soundly, though again hungry. In the morning he was able to kill a couple of birds resembling partridges, one with the spear and another with a large rock expertly hurled. Again there was the task of creating a cooking fire so he could satisfy his hunger. He also found some hanging fruit he did not recognize. He chanced a couple of small bites, reasoning that even if it were dangerous he would probably survive a small amount. Foolish, he later realized, but his thinking was not showing its usual care and thoroughness. As it turned out, nothing untoward occurred and the next morning he found some bird eggs in two nests among the shoreline rocks and cooked those on scraped slabs of bark.

He retrieved the small bag from within the larger one and placed a half dozen of the fruit into it for snacking along the way. Then, with it being midmorning, he shouldered everything and strode southward.

It was midday when he saw the distant plume of smoke deeper in the woods. He left the shoreline and entered the forest, making his way easily through open woods and flat ground toward the smoke. It took more than an hour to reach the spot and as he neared it he circled downwind so their animals, if there were any, would not detect his scent.

It would be dark within a couple of hours and he could hear voices, loud and gruff voices, talking. He crept into a large tree where he could see into the camp. There were ten or twelve men in the group, a rough looking lot, and even at this point in the latter part of the day, they were drinking. Their loud talk and movement revealed the effects of the alcohol and there were arguments breaking out among them.

A lawless bunch, Mac Travers decided, determined to avoid them. It appeared the camp was two days old and there did not seem any activity aimed at packing to leave. He lowered himself from the tree and decided to give them a wide berth before continuing on his way. He was moving through the woods, intending to circle past them toward the ocean when he heard sounds approaching from his right. He ducked behind a clump of bushes just as three men came toward him, two supporting a third who was obviously too drunk to walk on his own and who was becoming belligerent. He struggled with the other two and finally they simply gave up and dropped him to the ground.

"You're a mean and foolish drunk, Samson. One more bout like that and Tabor will kill you for sure. Sober up and then come back to camp," one snarled and the two men continued on their way to the camp.

The other man lay on the ground unmoving. Mac did not make a move either, waiting to see if anyone else was about or would come along. No one was, it appeared. He saw the man on the ground attempt to lift himself and immediately collapse back onto the ground unconscious.

Too good a chance to miss, he thought. He left his bags and moved to the man, poking him with a boot without any reaction. He rolled the man over and went through his pockets. The usual things he left alone but he found an almost new flint, a real find! The man also had a beautiful fourteen-inch hunting knife in a sheath and Mac decided to take it as well. It would be more useful than the knives he had and he hoped the man would blame others or his drunkenness when he found it missing. There was, unfortunately, no canteen.

He picked up his bags, moved deeper into the forest and around the noisy camp. He passed a row of horses and considered taking one but thought the wiser of it. Even if the horses did not raise a ruckus, letting the men know he was about, they would know someone took the horse and might be after him in short order. Better to stick to walking.

He travelled another hour, angling back toward the shoreline until it was too dark to continue. Using the flint, he got a fire going easily and roasted another bird that he brought down with a well thrown rock. His aim was improving, he thought wryly. The meat, and the last of the fruit, made a most satisfying meal and he was asleep soon after.

Another two days of uneventful walking passed slowly. He finally had to use a pistol shot to bring down another of the small pig-like animals, though he did so reluctantly. Nothing untoward resulted from the decision and he felt as though there must be no one within miles of him.

Two mornings later he saw smoke ahead, several plumes of it, signaling an encampment of some kind or perhaps a small village. He quickened his pace, automatically turning toward the smoke.

It was, as it turned out, a small native fishing village. Fires were being used to smoke meat and fish. Mac watched from the safety of the forest and though he was tempted to enter the village he was held back by stories of white men tortured and killed by Indians. Even though these did not look like any Indians he had ever seen on the American plains, he decided to forgo any attempt.

But he was hungry. When the natives left the work area, Mac crept down to the nearest piles of smoked meat and gathered an armful, taking small amounts from several piles and then melting back into the woods, working his way around the village and continuing his journey south. He stopped in the afternoon near a running stream for a quick meal. He started a small fire and went into the woods for more deadwood. When he came back to the campsite carrying an armful of wood he suddenly stopped short!

An Indian was standing on the other side of the fire watching Mac.

Mac reached for one of the pistols with his free hand but the Indian put up a hand and spoke. "No enemy you." Then he sat down cross-legged on the other side of the fire. Mac came forward, added more wood to the fire and sat on a small log he pulled over as a seat. He looked at the Indian.

"You speak English."

The man nodded. "Some. Big ships come. We trade many times with English and I learn words for trade. I am Two Rivers. I am Bannock."

"I'm Mac," Mac replied. "Did you follow me from the village?"

Two Rivers nodded. "You take meat from village. I see tracks and follow. Do not know if you bad mans. Bad mans kill Bannock sometimes. I follow."

Mac explained being thrown into the sea and his week of travel southward. "I saw a camp of about a dozen men a few days north of your village. I didn't talk with them. I thought them to be bad men."

Two Rivers nodded. "We watch them. They go away from the big water. We not follow. But they come back. We wait and watch."

He got up and went over to a birch tree, took out his knife and carefully sliced a piece of bark eight inches wide and about a foot long. He twisted it into the shape of a cone, dipped it into the stream set it on the fire, supporting it between two burning logs. Mac watched with interest as the water heated.

"Keep fire always below water," Two River said, then reached into one pouch and sprinkled something into the hot water. "Tea," he said, simply. "From trade with English ships. You like?" he asked.

Mac nodded and Two Rivers sliced off two more pieces of birch bark, forming them into smaller cones, and twisting the points tightly to close that end. "Cup," he said, handing one to Mac. Then he poured the tea, carefully leaving the grinds in the larger cone of bark. They sat and sipped at their drinks.

"Why do the bad men come here?" Mac asked.

Two Rivers shrugged. "To hunt and trap for meat and skins. Much money for meat and skins far from here."

"Do they bother you?"

Two Rivers shook his head. "They try trade long ago, we say no. They no talk to Bannock. Is fine. But they kill and take from whites. Good you no talk them. They take what you have and kill you."

"That's why I avoided them," Mac said. "Are there white villages near here? I have been travelling for many days and haven't come across one."

"Two more days walk," Two Rivers said, pointing south. "Town Gardener up river near big water. You get horse there maybe, maybe not."

Two Rivers stood to leave.

"Thanks for the tea," Mac Travers said. "And your help."

Two Rivers nodded, turned and was gone.

How interesting, Mac thought to himself. Did he follow from the village from concern, to be helpful or from some natural curiosity?

Mac was cleaning the site when he heard the shots. Three, then silence, then another, coming from the direction in which Two Rivers had gone. He tossed his bags behind a bush and ran toward the sound, pulling out a pistol.

Before he came in sight of the action he could hear two horses moving about. Then he saw them. Two men were riding back and forth across a small grove of trees. Within them, Mac could see Two Rivers lying behind the trunk of a fallen tree, his bow out and an arrow notched.

The men were focused on Two Rivers and did not see Mac. He ran toward the horses and when twenty feet away braced himself and shot the nearest man in the shoulder. The cry of surprise warned the second man and he turned and raced his horse toward Mac, firing as he came.

Mac felt two bullets pass near him and then he fired twice, both shots hitting the man in the chest, knocking him from the horse. The first man had recovered his balance and turned toward Mac and Mac shot him with two equally well-placed shots. Mac checked both men as Two Rivers emerged from the forest. They were dead. Their horses stood nearby, reins dangling.

"Thank you," Two Rivers said. "Mans want kill Two Rivers, no reason."

"Well, there will be more of them around," Mac said. "We better bury these bodies quickly and get rid of the horses."

Two Rivers nodded. They carried the bodies into the forest, dumping them into a shallow depression between trees and covering the bodies with dirt, branches and stones. Mac took the money the men had but nothing else. He offered some to Two Rivers but he shook his head. Mac asked Two Rivers if he wanted the guns or knives and Two Rivers nodded and gathered them.

"Want nothing more. Better not."

"You take horses," Two Rivers continued. "Leave in woods at Gardener but not ride into town. Hide saddles in forest."

Mac nodded. Surprisingly, Two Rivers put out his hand and they shook. Then he turned and once again was gone into the forest.

Mac found that his hands were shaking, now that the danger was past and the adrenalin was ebbing. He led the horses back to his camp, got his goods and mounted the larger horse, riding south toward Gardener.

The trip was uneventful and when he was in sight of the town some two miles inland from the ocean, but still far enough away, he turned toward a large meadow. He cached the saddles and tack high in a coniferous tree where they would not be seen and turned the horses loose in the meadow where they wandered about, beginning to eat the long grass. He kept the newer of the two rifles and carried it in one hand.

Then he walked toward the town.

There were the expected stares as Mac Travers walked down the central street of the small village of Gardener. It could hardly be called a town, but then again he thought, it was not much smaller than western towns in Utah and Nevada where he had worked as a cowhand and deputy marshal. Then he realized how he must look. Several days growth of beard, dirty, longish hair and filthy salt-caked clothes must have made him quite a sight.

He saw a sign for a hostelry and livery and headed there, ignoring the looks of those he passed. He walked into the lobby and strode to the desk where a stocky middle-aged man with a perpetual smile watched him.

"Rough trip?" the man asked.

Mac smiled back. "You could say that," he replied. "But it yielded a great story, so it was almost worth it. But first I need to get cleaned up."

"Cross the road to the barber shop," the man said. "He'll offer you a bath, haircut and shave. You've the coin?"

Mac nodded. "I'd like to leave my things where they're safe."

The man nodded and pointed to a row of small units against a far wall. "Two bits rents one of those for a week. Each has a lock. Someone's always at this desk, day and night, to watch over them."

Mac nodded, handed over the money and stowed his things in one of the spacious units. That done, he headed across the street. First, he stopped at a small general store and bought two complete sets of clothing, a new pair of riding boots, a canteen, ammunition for the rifle and a large set of saddlebags. Then he went to the barber shop where the bath was so refreshing he soaked until the water was cool. A shave and haircut later and dressed in new clothes and boots he felt better than he had in years. His old clothes and boots, all well beyond repair, were discarded gratefully but without regret.

He checked into the hotel and found a small diner on the main street where he had the first good meal in more than a week.

He was halfway through the much-appreciated and excellent meal when a large man stopped and sat down in the booth across from him. He was dressed in a dark uniform and wore a silver badge on his lapel.

"Welcome to the town of Gardener," he said to Mac affably. "I'm Tom Philips, the local constable. I always check on newcomers."


"Like a western town marshal," Philips clarified, "But with a large English stock here the town preferred the title constable. I like the sound of it."

"I must say reaching this town was a relief." Mac explained about being tossed overboard from the clipper ship and his adventure in reaching Gardener, leaving out the altercation in which he had killed the two men and not mentioning Two Rivers, the Bannock Indian that he had met.

"Sounds like you've had quite a time of it," Constable Philips said. "Mind answering a couple of questions for me?"

"Depends on the questions," Mac said, smiling.

"Did you see a group of men during your trip? Ten or fifteen of them. There's a couple of bands of hunters and trappers moving about in the forests north of here and along the shoreline. A bad bunch. So far they've avoided Gardener but I like to keep apprised of their whereabouts."

Mac shook his head. "Nope. Didn't see any groups of men. I did pass by an Indian village a few days ago but gave it a wide berth."

Philips nodded. "Fair enough. Had to ask. That was a Bannock village and they would have treated you fine. Will you be staying long?"

Mac shook his head. "I'd like to purchase a horse and tack and then continue south. The shipping company may not know I was lost overboard but if they do then they must think me dead. I have to let them know I'm not."

"You may have a problem," Philips said. "I'm not sure there's anyone with a horse for sale around here. Might be, and I'll ask about, but we're not an affluent community and folks generally have no more than they need."

"I'd appreciate it, Constable. If not, then how about a ship south?"

The constable smiled. "Now there you'll be far more fortunate. Ships come and go here every month, most on a fairly predictable schedule so we can be ready with goods to trade or shipments to load onto them. In fact, we're expecting two in the next couple of weeks, one heading north to Alaska and another south toward San Diego in the central Californias. Would that do?"

"It may have to if I can't find a horse to purchase," Mac said.

The Constable excused himself and left, promising to get back to Mac that day or the next about available horses. Mac finished his meal and returned to the hotel, took his bags out of storage and carried them to his room.

He dumped the contents on the bed and went over them. He had more than two thousand dollars in paper and coin, the rings and some papers, all belonging to the Castlemans and all of which he would leave with the steamship office when he returned to Los Angeles. He did not think they would miss the small amount he had spent to get himself and their things back to them. He also had the flint and hunting knife taken from the drunken man in the forest and the rifle. He packed his things into one of the saddlebags, folded his remaining clothes into the other and sat down to think things through. He did not relish the idea of waiting up to two weeks for a boat to take him further south.

Then he remembered the horses. Two horses, with saddles and gear that, for all he knew, were still munching contentedly in the meadow where he left them. It was a little risky to be riding a horse that might be identified as stolen but if he was careful and if he had a good story it might work.

He found the constable the next morning after breakfast and was not surprised to learn from the man that there was not a horse to be bought in the small community. He nodded in understanding.

"Well," he said, "I've decided that I'm not willing to wait another two weeks. How far to the next town going south if I walk?"

"You'll get to Hartsfield, walking, in about five days," Tom Philips replied. "I suppose with you now being better provisioned you might enjoy it. We're early in the season and the bugs haven't yet begun to show themselves or any night in the forest, even near the ocean, can be quite a nightmare. Hartsfield's a bigger place and you should be able to purchase a horse without trouble."

"Then that's the plan," Mac Travers said. He gathered his things, checked out of the hotel and with saddlebags and canteen over his shoulders and feeling refreshed he shook hands with Tom Philips and left Gardener on foot, heading south. A mile south, he turned north and east and in about two hours came to the meadow where he had left the horses. They were there, standing calmly in the meadow watching him.

He chose the one whose brand, a simple circle with a line through it, had been almost grown over with winter hair, got down one of the saddles and gear from the tree where he had cached them and saddled and bridled the horse, arranging the rifle boot so it covered the brand. Then he turned south and, skirting Gardener, heading for the town of Hartsfield.

It was a two-day uneventful trip. As before, as he neared the town he left the horse in a field, cached the saddle and gear and entered on foot. This time, he was better dressed and cleaned up and he attracted little attention. He found the livery stable and explained that he had come from Gardener and that the constable there had told him he might be able to purchase a horse.

"Tom Philips," the liveryman said, "Know him well. Sure enough I can sell you a horse. I've got four or five for sale most times. A bit pricey this far north but beggars can't be choosers as my mama used to say."

He showed Mac the available horses, two of which were surprisingly fine animals. Mac purchased a large roan and paid with more of Castleman's money, the livery man appreciating the cash sale and providing a bill of sale.

The liveryman, Colin Forest, drew Mac a map for the balance of the trip. "You're in California now," he said, 'though it ain't marked on a map. It's straight south for you. Number of towns along the way if you stay near the ocean. They trap, fish and trade all along the coast. Pretty easy travel except for the mountains so I'd pick up a coat, was I you. Up there on top for a day or so you might still see snow this early in the spring.

Mac purchased a warm coat, cap and mitts from the general store and within the hour was leading the horse out of town. He found the meadow and retrieved the saddle, gear and rifle and soon was once again riding south. It took him five days to reach Los Angeles. The trip was without further trouble and provided a number of opportunities to see new towns and meet new people.

And so, more than a month after being lost at sea, Mac Travers strode into the Limington Shipping office to the surprise of Murdoch Limington, the owner. "Damn good to see you, boy," he said with emotion, hugging Mac. "Captain Tillman sent word to us by another boat coming south that you'd been swept over and lost at sea north off the coast of Oregon. Three others lost, too. Still missing. We thought you'd been drowned and gone. Shocked me when you walked in but it's done me heart a lot of good, too."

Mac related the story of his trip south, leaving out the trouble parts and turned over the money, jewelry, papers and weapons to Limington, asking him to return them to Martin Castleman and his wife. Limington looked puzzled then picked up a book and flipped through its many pages.

"No Castlemans riding that clipper ship north, Mac," he said, then flipped a few more pages studying the lists of names. "Nope."

He picked up another thick hard-cover ledger and flipped through it. "Ah, here we are," he said finally. "That crate you came upon wasn't on the clipper. It had been lost at sea two weeks earlier from a ship that was coming south. Hit a sudden bad storm and lost six crates. We figured folks on shore had found them and walked off with them, including the Castleman's goods."

"Do you have an address where we can send their things?"

Limington consulted a stack of forms on another desk. "Not far to go, Mac. They live in Bremerton and that's less than a day's ride from here."

Mac considered that. "Then maybe I'll take their things myself, Murdoch. I can explain spending some of their money and arrange to pay them back."

"I'm doubting they'll care, Mac, but good for you. Do you good to take a couple of more days off before getting back on a ship. I've no ship for another four days, another clipper ship heading for Alaska. Interested?"

Mac smiled. "Book me on it. I'm determined to see Alaska."

Early the next morning he saddled the roan and headed for Bremerton. It was a pleasant ride and he stopped on the way for a swim in a river and a cold lunch. He rode into the town mid-afternoon and found the marshal's office. He asked for directions to the Castleman's home. The marshal smiled.

"Not a house or farm, Mr. Travers. It's a big ranch, a real big and real prosperous one too." He drew a map on a sheet of paper and handed it to Mac, looking past him at the window.

"If you leave right now you might just get there about dinner time and their cook makes some of the best food around. Could get yourself an invite, especially since you're bringing back their belongings."

Mac did just that, riding over flat country in mild weather and spotting the collection of ranch buildings just as the light was beginning to fade. He rode into the shallow valley and up to the gate, dismounting, walking the roan through and then closing the gate securely, as any western man would do.

He tied the roan to the hitching rail and crossed the wide yard to the Spanish style house, knocking on an immense wooden door with an inlaid knocker. He could hear the sound echo inside the large home.

A minute later the door was opened by a pretty young Spanish woman, no older than in her early twenties.


"I'd like to speak with Mr. Castleman," Mac said.

She looked puzzled but waved him inside.

"Please wait," she said, pointing to a row of chairs. Mac stood rather than sitting and the young woman disappeared down a long hallway.

A few minutes later she reappeared, followed by a tall, slim Spanish man in range clothes. Mac rose to meet them.

"Mr. Castleman?" he asked.

The man shook his head. "Tomas Acosta," he said. "Ranch foreman."

"And Mr. Castleman?"

"Mr. Castleman died six months ago," Acosta said. "In the wilds of Alaska. You are not from around here or you would know. What is it you want?"

Mac explained about being tossed overboard in the storm, finding the crate and his long journey south. "The things I found are in the saddlebags on my horse outside. I wanted to return them. I'll go get them," he said. He went out, crossed to the roan and took down the saddlebags, returning to the house.

He laid out each of the contents on a table against one wall including the holster with the twin pistols and knives.

"I've spent about two hundred dollars of the money I found in the crate in order to get myself back to Los Angeles. I'll find some way to pay Mrs. Castleman back the money once I find work. You have my word on it."

"That will not be necessary," a smooth voice said from the stairway. Mac turned to see a woman descending the stairs. She was tall and slim, a mix he thought, of English and Spanish, striking in appearance. The young Spanish woman was with her and had obviously told her about Mac's arrival.

She reached out to shake his hand. "I am Dia Castleman. Christina has explained why you are here, Mr. Travers. I would like to thank you for returning my husband's things. It was good of you to go out of your way to do so. It is the mark of a caring and honest man, I believe. You owe me nothing, I assure you. I am only glad you are safe and that these things are returned to us. There is little enough left for us to remember him by."

"You're welcome, ma'am," Mac said. "I'll be heading back to Los Angeles."

"It's getting too dark," she said. "Please join us for dinner and spend the night and you can be on your way first thing in the morning."

"That would be most hospitable," Mac said.

"Were you going to Alaska on business?" Dia Castleman asked.

Mac shook his head. "No, I'm simply following a dream that I've always had of visiting the far northern lands. I'm told they're beautiful and breathtaking and I wanted to see them for myself."

"My husband felt the same. Would you stay there?"

He shrugged. "That's possible, I suppose, but not too likely. I might stay for a time, but I believe I'd always return to California or New Mexico. I have friends and family in both places and I'd miss them."

"And settling down?"

"That will come sooner rather than later," he said. "I've held many different types of jobs and I think I'd like to settle in as a law enforcement officer, a sheriff or marshal in a western town. I like towns as much as I like open spaces and I'd like at some point to have somewhere to call home."

"Speaking of homes, you have a lovely home," he said. "I understand from the town marshal that this is a prosperous ranch."

She nodded. "We have been fortunate. And my cousin Tomas," she said, nodding to Acosta, "is one of the reasons for our success. He is a good man, good with stock and with the vaqueros and cowboys. We raise cattle, sheep and goats and have many grain and vegetable fields. And we produce fine wine."

"Still," Acosta began but she waved him to silence.

"Mr. Travers need not be bothered with our difficulties," she said.

"Please," Mac said, "What's the problem?"

"Greed," she said, "as is often the case. There is a man, Colum Thatcher, who wants our land, or at least a large portion of it for himself. He claims the original Spanish land grants are not valid in the America of today and he intends to remove us from much of this land by legal means, or otherwise."

"He is bringing in the kinds of men that use violence as their means, not the courts," Tomas Acosta added. "It is clear what he really intends."

"We know we can eventually win in the legal process," Dia Castleman said. "But it will be a long process, of that we have been assured by our lawyers. And during that process we believe Thatcher will try to use other means to force us off more and more of our land. It has been done before to others."

"Even now we have heard he orders supplies of fencing and we know what that may mean for us and this ranch. He owns two small adjoining ranches and if he begins to put up fences that intrude on our land we will have little choice but to fight. Our men, willing fighters, may not be sufficient."

"Who does Thatcher have to do his fighting?" Mac asked.

"Most are simple cowboys of little repute but some of the newer hires are those who enjoy intimidation and killing far too much. He also has Juan Torres and Mitchell Palin. Torres you might not know, not being from this area, but Palin has, I believe, been known in Texas and New Mexico."

Mac Travers nodded. "He can be a dangerous man but that's made more so because of two others who usually trail along with him. Willie Sutton and Marcus Pope do whatever Palin says and they're dangerous too."

"As I said, this is not your problem," Dia Castleman said. "It is ours. I thank you again for the pleasurable company and conversation. Tomas will show you to the bunkhouse where you can sleep and you can be on your way in the morning. Would you care to join me for breakfast before you leave?"

He nodded and she rose and left the room, followed by Maria.

Mac followed Tomas Acosta outside and toward the bunkhouse. As they walked, he asked the obvious question.

"Tomas, how do your men stack up against those of Thatcher?"

Acosta shrugged. "We have men who are willing to fight with their guns but only one or two who might be a match for a real gunfighter, Mr. Travers. They are vaqueros and they ride for the ranch, as do the cowboys."

"Please call me Mac."

He hesitated, and then decided. "Tomas, I've had some experience in dealing with men such as Mitchell Palin and the others. Would it be alright if I stayed a couple of days? I think I'd like to have a chat with Palin, if you know where to find him. It might make no difference, it might make some."

Tomas paused and stared him up and down. "You are a gunfighter?"

Mac shrugged. "I've been many things, Tomas, gunfighter among them. It's not a label I like very much but it would have been accurate time to time."

"These men would know of you?"

"Palin would, though we've only met once. The others, well, maybe."

Tomas Acosta looked at the gun Mac Travers was wearing. "You wear one gun and it does not look like the gun of a gunfighter, Mac."

"I have others," Mac said meaningfully, "when they are necessary."

At breakfast, Mac raised the issue with Dia Castleman. She shook her head at him immediately. "This is not your problem, Mac." He had asked her to call him by his first name and she had reciprocated in kind. "There is risk enough for those of us for whom this is our land and livelihood. I will not risk the lives of anyone who is not so invested in this."

"But your men, your vaqueros and American cowhands, they're not similarly invested, Dia. And yet they're prepared to fight for this land. Perhaps my presence can prevent some of this trouble. It's something that I'm familiar with and these are the kinds of men I've dealt with before."

"But why would you do this for us?"

He shrugged. "Perhaps it's nothing more than a need to challenge the bullies of this world. My father told me once that I'd done so since a small lad and it resulted in my being beaten many times when I was at school. Still, he said I never quit. Besides, as I said, I have skills and experience that may be helpful. And I like this ranch and wouldn't want to see it fall into Thatcher's hands."

"What about your trip to Alaska?" she said, smiling.

He laughed. "I've had that dream for almost twenty years. I don't see why it can't wait a little while longer. Besides, I've had my fill of riding the waves for a little while and I think I'll enjoy having solid land beneath my feet."

She turned to Acosta. "Tomas?"

He waggled his head side to side, thinking. "Senora, I am thinking this Mac Travers is a foolish man to do this, but I welcome his foolishness."

"Then you are hired," Dia Castleman said. "What do you need?"

"I need to return to Los Angeles to get some of my things. Other than that I need Tomas to find out where we can run into Mitchell Palin and the others. It might be that my presence will have him rethink things. We shall see."

He returned the next afternoon with a pack horse carrying large travelling saddlebags and rode directly to the bunkhouse to unload and unpack.

Acosta came into the bunkhouse while Mac was putting his few things into a large wardrobe. Mac was wearing two guns, Acosta noticed with approval.

"Now, Mac, now you look as a gunfighter."

Mac frowned. "That's not the compliment you think it is, Tomas. Believe me, I rethought my offer many times on the way to Los Angeles and back here. I came to the conclusion that you're right. I'm being foolish. However, it's not the first time and hopefully it won't be the last."

"We have some of our men watching Thatcher and his men," Acosta continued, "They are heading into Bremerton for supplies later this afternoon. No doubt it will include a visit to the local saloon as well."

"Then let's ride."

Bremerton was a busy town on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, with farmers and ranchers coming and going, shopping and doing town business. Mac and Tomas rode in from the west and walked their horses down the main street, looking around for Mitchell Palin and his partners.

Tomas pointed toward a large building. "The general store," he said. "The wagons in front no doubt belong to Thatcher."

They dismounted a short distance up the street and walked toward the wagons. Four of Thatcher's men were loading supplies into them, including large rolls of wire fencing into the second larger wagon.

At that moment, Colum Thatcher, Mac assumed from Tomas' description, walked out of the store, putting his wallet back into his jacket pocket. He was an imposing man, tall and wide with a broad handlebar moustache and thick dark hair under his hat. He was well-dressed and wore a gun in a shiny holster that had seen little use. Mitchell Palin was a little behind and to his left.

"Afternoon, Mitch," Mac said, deciding to start things himself.

Mitchell Palin looked, then took a closer second look and smiled. "Hey, Mac, didn't know you'd left New Mexico."

"Headed for Alaska," Mac said, "Didn't make it."

Palin noticed Tomas Acosta standing a little behind Mac Travers. "You with this guy?" he asked. Mac nodded.

"Not a healthy place to be, Mac. They got trouble coming."

Mac shrugged. "Trouble is as trouble does, Mitch."

Thatcher interrupted. "Palin, who is this fellow?"

"Mr. Thatcher, this is Mac Travers. He's from down in New Mexico by way of Wyoming, least the last I heard that's where he was."

"Is he a gunfighter?"

"He shore as hell is, Mr. Thatcher. One of the best."

Thatcher smiled. "Then Mr. Travers, I'm very happy to meet you and I'd like to offer you a job working for me."

Mac shook his head. "Thanks, but I've already taken a job."

Thatcher looked confused and Palin clarified. "What he means, boss, is that he's already working for the Castleman woman."

Thatcher frowned. "I see. Mr. Travers, I think you're being foolish not to take my offer, more foolish still to be on the Castleman side of things."

Mac smiled and nodded. "That seems to be the consensus, Mr. Thatcher. And you're probably right. Still, I've taken the job and given my word that I'd help them prevent losing any of their land to anyone."

"You ready to go up against me, Mac," Palin said.

Mac looked at him and smiled. "Any time, Mitch. How about right now? The street's empty and folks might enjoy watching me kill you."

Palin evaded smoothly. "No need yet, Mac. Stay out of my way."

"I'm going to be staying on Castleman land, Mitch. As long as you stay off of it there's no need at all for me to get in your way or for you to get in mine." He turned and walked away, Tomas walking beside him.

Behind them, Thatcher turned to Mitchell Palin. "This a problem?"

Palin nodded. "Could be. He's that good, boss. But we outnumber him so I'm not getting too steamed up about it just yet."

Thatcher nodded. "Good. I want some fencing strung tomorrow and I want you to send Manson and Patten to guard the men putting up that fencing."

"Where are they going to be putting it?"

"On the western border of the ranch, a half-mile onto Castleman's range. That ought to show them who's the boss here."

Palin hesitated, and then spoke. "Boss, you sure you want to do that right now. This Travers ain't easy and he don't back down at all. But he won't stay around long either if we don't prod him. How about we wait a couple of weeks, let him get bored and he'll move on. Then we can begin the fencing."

"He's only one man, Palin. You afraid?"

"Hell yes I'm afraid," Mitchell Palin said. "You should be too, boss. He's not going to go easy and if he gets us, who'll protect you from him?"

Thatcher snorted. "There's three of you and half-dozen on my payroll. I'm not going to worry about one man. If you're afraid, send three or four of the others to gun him down. He can't outshoot four of them, can he?"

Palin shook his head. "He can't but he won't be alone, boss. Some of the Castleman crew can be feisty, especially the younger vaqueros."

"I don't want to hear any more about it!" Thatcher said in frustration. "Your job is to make this work and you're being well paid to do your job! Do it!"

He climbed into one of the wagons and headed to his ranch. Mitchell Palin stood on the boardwalk a long time before following. And he was no less disturbed when they reached the ranch. Still, he had a job to do, as Thatcher had said and he was being well paid. But was he being paid well enough to go up against Travers? He decided he would first give that task to Sutton and Pope.

Mac and Tomas were in the horse stable when the rider raced across the nearby field and into the ranch yard, sliding his horse to a stop and asking the nearest worker where to find Acosta. He ran to the horse stable.

"Senor," the vaquero said. "There are men crossing onto our land with wagons of fencing. Near to where the Plaice creek meets the pens."

Tomas frowned. "So it has begun."

"Will it take us long to get there?" Mac asked.

"Four hours," Acosta said. "The message came quickly by Paulo changing horses often, much like the Pony Express. He could tire one horse, knowing he could switch to others."

"Can't we do the same?" Mac asked.

Acosta smiled. "Indeed we can. There are horses at stops along the way. We keep a remuda in various locations across the ranch."

They let Dia Castleman know what they had planned.

"I know it is silly," she said, "but I have to tell the two of you to be careful. I will be worrying until you are safely back here."

The smiled at her, put together what they would need and were in the saddle with two other vaqueros, heading to the western border of the ranch.

By midafternoon they were close enough to the spot where Paulo had indicated the fencing was headed. They slowed down and kept to the lower hills out of sight. Four vaqueros had joined them from one of the line cabin.

From a vantage point at the edge of a gully, Mac studied the scene through his telescope. There were two wagons and eight men, six of them working on digging holes for fence posts and two on guard with rifles. They already had a long length of fence standing.

"No time to waste," Mac said.

The six of them spread out and, rifles in hand, rode slowly down the slope toward the men and the wagons.

The six men who had been putting up the fencing stood quietly, holding their shovels and hammers. The two guards stood unmoving, their rifles down. They realized they could not make a fight of it against six armed riders.

Mac, Tomas and the others ranged in front of the wagon.

"If you want to live, don't start anything!" Mac called.

The six workmen put their hands in the air. The two guards lay their rifles gently into the back of one of the wagons.

"Now remove the posts you put in the ground and roll the fencing," Mac ordered. He turned to the two guards. "You two can help. When you've done you can all leave here alive, if you behave."

There were thirty posts already planted in the ground, fencing stretched between some of them and they came out of the soft earth a lot easier than they had gone in. Mac had them load all the fencing supplies to one wagon, emptying the other. Once that was done, Mac pointed toward Thatcher's ranch.

"Get going," he ordered. "Tell Thatcher he can personally come and pick up this wagon at the Castleman ranch house any time he wants. Tell him he can come armed or unarmed and that we'll be waiting. And tell him if there's any more of this nonsense we'll take the fight to his ranch. His buildings can burn as easy as can any others. Tell him Mac Travers said so."

The men said nothing, simply turned the remaining wagon and headed back toward the Thatcher ranch. It would be a long hard ride.

Tomas ordered two vaqueros to trail the wagon at a distance to make certain it kept moving off Castleman land. Then, as it got dark, they were to take up their stations at a line cabin at this end of the ranch.

Tomas tied his horse to the back of the wagon and drove it on the way back. They went to the line cabin. They had a late meal, a good sleep, especially once the two vaqueros returned safely from shepherding Thatcher's men.

They started back from the line cabin before daybreak and were at the ranch by noon. The fencing was left in the wagon, stored behind their equipment shed and the horses were rubbed down and fed. Then they waited.

To say that Colum Thatcher was angry would have been an understatement. "I want him dead!" he stormed, pointing at Mitchell Palin. "That Acosta, too. And now! Take whoever you want but kill those bastards!"

Palin waited several long moments before replying. "As long as Travers is at the ranch we can't get to him, boss. You know it. We've got to wait until he leaves. I've sent a couple of men to watch the ranch and they'll let us know when he leaves alone or with only one or two others. Then the numbers will favour us. I told them if they can get a clear shot at him, or at Acosta, to kill either."

Thatcher was unhappy but reason sunk in. "Alright, but I still want Sutton and Pope near that ranch so if he heads to town they can take him out!"

Palin nodded and went to talk with his two partners.

Things were quiet for a few days but neither side dropped their vigilance. Then Dia Castleman informed them she had to go into Brereton to meet with her lawyers. She asked Mac to accompany her and Tomas provided two additional men with rifles to travel with them.

The ride into town was uneventful, though Mac could feel they were being watched. When Dia Castleman went to meet with the lawyers, Mac stationed the two men in front of the office with orders not to let her out of their sight and to find him when she was done. He headed for the marshal's office.

"See you're still around," Marshal Pete Waller said. "And alive, and that's saying something around here these days."

Mac shrugged. "So far it's not been much, but I have the sense things are going to heat up shortly." He relayed the story of the attempt at fencing.

The marshal looked thoughtful. "Now what?"

"We're on the defensive so I guess we'll just wait and be ready to react to whatever Thatcher decides to try next," Mac said.

"You know Palin and them other two?"

"Know of them."

"Can you take Palin?"

Travers nodded, then rose to leave and check on Dia. And stepped right into the middle of trouble.

Dia Castleman was walking down the street, a vaquero on either side of her. Heading toward them from across the street were Willie Sutton and Marcus Pope, hands over their guns.

Damn, he thought, and stepped down into the street.

"Sutton and Pope!" he yelled and they turned.

"Ride or go for your guns! Now!" Mac Travers said, pointing out of town.

They looked at each other, laughed aloud and went for their guns.

"Guess we can charge Mr. Thatcher the cost of burying them," the marshal said, looking at the two bodies on the ground. Both had managed to draw before being killed and Sutton got off one shot that came close to hitting Mac. But now they were dead and this was going to get a lot uglier.

Mac reloaded his guns and slid them back into their holsters.

"Never saw a real two-handed draw before," the marshal said. "Most who wear two favour one or the other."

Mac shook his head. "No point having two if you don't use them. Does tend to surprise folks, though when the second one comes out nearly as fast."

Dia Castleman had been shocked and had paled. The vaqueros had taken her into the marshal's office and off the street to avoid the gathering crowd. Men arrived to carry off the bodies and Mac accompanied the marshal back to the office where he signed an affidavit about what had happened. The marshal had been a witness and so there would be no further proceedings.

The colour was returning to Dia's face and she looked up at Mac. "I am so sorry my presence made that necessary, Mac. You would not have intervened if they had not been heading toward me, would you?"

He shook his head. "No, but done is done, Dia, and it's far better to have them dead than circling around the ranch like buzzards. This may give Mitchell Palin something more to consider. He's an intelligent man and he might decide it's not worth the risk to stay on with Thatcher."

"We should get back to the ranch," she said, rising.

As they left town Mac saw two riders on a hill parallel to them. Angry, he took out his rifle and fired a couple of shots near enough to startle them and was pleased when one of the horses bolted and the other dumped its rider. Dia Castleman laughed, the first time he had seen her laugh and he liked it. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Word got back to Mitchell Palin quickly from two of their cowhands who had been in town. Their story was unsettling.

"The two of them went for their guns first," one man said. "Pope barely cleared leather and Sutton only got off one shot. That Travers, he pulled two guns and used both of 'em at once. I ain't seen many gunfights, but I'd never go up against that hombre!"

Palin dismissed them and considered how he would relay this news to Colum Thatcher. No matter how he put it, it was disastrous. Not only had they lost two valuable guns but the impact on morale would be devastating. He knew because it had been devastating for him. Secretly he thought Willie Sutton at least as fast as himself, and hearing that Willie barely got his gun out was disconcerting. He had no plans to go up against Mac Travers on his own.

Juan Torres! Of course, he thought! He would convince Torres to challenge Mac Travers. Even if Torres could do no more than get a slug into Travers it would be of some help. He crossed the ranch yard, heading to the bunkhouse looking for the man but he could not find him. He asked a cowpuncher who was working on a corral fence nearby.

"Gone," the man said. "He heard about Sutton and Pope and said he wasn't being paid enough money to die. Then he up and cleared out his gear. Said we was on the losing end anyway and it was just a matter of time."

That set Mitchell Palin back almost as much as the deaths of Sutton and Pope had done. Maybe it really was time to go himself. But he was not Juan Torres. He would quit face to face before he headed out.

For Palin, decision was action. He crossed to the ranch house and found Thatcher in his office. He relayed the deaths of Sutton and Pope and the sudden departure of Juan Torres in a calm manner, belying how he felt.

Thatcher was shaken to his boots. "What do we do?" he asked.

"We, that is, you back off and thank your lucky stars the Castleman woman hasn't sent Mac Travers after you. At least not yet. But if you keep this up, boss, she will. Or he'll just decide to come after you on his own and you'll be a dead man. And dead men don't care how big their ranches are, do they?"

"What about you?" Thatcher asked. "Can't you take him?"

Palin shrugged. "It'd be a close thing, boss, and I don't aim to find out because I'm not going to go up against him. Not for you, not for this land that you want for yourself. You're done and you just have to realize it. My suggestion is that you ride over to the Castleman ranch, unarmed mind you, and apologize to the lady. And do it quickly. They might just drop it with that."

"What about you?"

"I'm moving on, boss. There's nothing for me here and if you don't change what you're doing there'll be no one alive to pay me anyway. I'm paid up to date as far as I'm concerned and I'll be on my way sometime today. You've a nice ranch, boss. It'd be a shame to die and leave it for someone else to enjoy."

Palin turned and walked out, leaving Thatcher open-mouthed. Palin crossed to the bunkhouse, packed his things, took Willie Sutton's horse as a spare pack animal and was gone within the hour. He thought again about friends in Utah and decided it was time he visited them. He headed northeast.

Colum Thatcher sat alone in his office staring at the pictures on the wall for more than an hour. Then he nodded to himself, calmly stood, took off his gun and set it on his desk. He walked into the yard and asked Simon Taylor to saddle his horse. This would not be an easy ride, he thought, but Mitchell Palin was right. This ranch of his would be of no value to him if he were dead.

Things quieted down after Colum Thatcher's apology to Dia Castleman, which she accepted with grace, demonstrating class he knew he did not deserve. They had an outdoor celebratory dinner that night at the Castleman ranch and the cowhands and vaqueros were all invited.

In the morning, Dia Castleman found Mac Travers working in the corral, moving around some of the stock from one pen to another.

"A beautiful day," she said.

He nodded. "Indeed it is. And you can enjoy it, knowing that your ranch is safe. So are you and your men."

"I'll be safe," she said. "We'll all be safe, thanks to you, Mac."

He smiled at her. "Well, your boys had a lot to do with it too."

"And now, it is off again to Alaska?"

He smiled and nodded. "I think I'm ready for another try at riding the waves north and with a little luck we'll not hit any more storms."

She held out her hand and he took it. "I wish you well, Mac. You are welcome here anytime." She turned and walked back toward the main house as Tomas Acosta walked over from the bunkhouse.

"Heading out?"

"I've still not seen Alaska," he said, "and I'm not getting any younger."

"This is true," Acosta said. "I envy you the trip. But my place is here."

An hour later Mac Travers rode out to start that trip to Alaska one more time.