Welcome to a look at book two in my Stringbean Hooper Western series. Small Feet's Many Moon Journey is now in large print. I've supplied the excerpt from the back of the book and the first chapter. Back of book Fay Risner has brought Stringbean Hooper to life again with this second story in the Stringbean Hooper series about his adventures in the West. Looking forward to a journey across country to San Jose, California, Stringbean and his wife, Theo, have no idea just how much trouble they would get into. Mishaps like upset Indians, a flood, a mad bear, a crazy woman with prairie fever and more happen to the Hoopers. Through it all, Stringbean meets the challenges with his usual sense of humor, but he notices as the journey drags out Theo is getting crankier by the minute. He sure hopes she lightens up by the time they get to her brother's wedding in San Jose. It didn't help to have warning advice freely handed out to Theo, known as Small Feet, by Indian shaman Matilda Vinci about being careful around Stringbean, Sioux name Walking Dead, so he doesn't get her killed. Next is Chapter One of Small Feet's Many Moon Journey. Enjoy and to continue reading buy the paperback book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and ebooks at kindle and nook along with all my books. Also found on http:www.smashwords.com ONE Stringbean Hooper cupped his hands around his mouth. “Look right smart, men,” he shouted at the four cowboys across from him on the opposite rim of the coulée. “Cows in the brush below. I'll run them out into the open.” The cowboys kicked their mounts in the ribs and raced parallel along the top of the coulée. They had to be in position when the excited cattle burst out of the brush. The idea was to surround the cattle before they scattered off across the flats and escaped. At the brink of the coulée, Stringbean, a long legged, lanky cowboy in his thirties, held onto the saddle horn with one hand as he gave his black and white speckled appaloosa gelding his head. Good old reliable Freckles braced his feet and slid down the steep, clay bank, sending rocks and clods avalanching to the bottom. Stringbean ducked and held his free arm over his head to keep from being beaten by the cottonwood saplings Freckles took him under. The horse zigzagged around the underbrush. With his eyes on the cattle, Stringbean didn't pay any attention to the stickers on wild rose and gooseberry bushes that dug in and tugged at his leather chaps. Four Hereford cows popped their heads up from behind a clump of newly leafed rose bushes and stretched their necks to stare at the rider coming at them. Four newborn, white faced calves peeked from behind their mothers back legs. When the cattle realized their hiding spot had been discovered, they wheeled around and sprinted away. Kicking up a cloud of dust, they hightailed it toward the end of the coulée The calves gave squeaky cries, frightened by the invasion into their peaceful world. Ever so often the concerned mothers craned their long necks to the side and bawled crankily to the offsprings to keep up. The minute the cows reached open pasture, they cocked their tails high in the air and trotted across the open space, expecting to make a run for freedom. Lifting their back ends off the ground, they kicked both back feet high, flaunting their escape. When they caught up, the Rocking T cowhands surrounded the cattle, bunched them up and headed them across the grasslands toward the rest of the herd. Stringbean tapped the top of his black hat to set it tighter on his head and raced after them. He closed the distance, slowed down and followed at the flank until the men pushed the cattle into the box canyon corral. Extending his lean frame in the creaking saddle to take a few kinks out of his spine, he felt every inch of his tired, achy six feet four inch body. His joints and muscles told him this had been a long day. As soon as the lodgepole pine gate was dropped back in place, Stringbean yelled to the nearest cowboy, “Smiley, let's call it a day. We've done a right smart amount of work for today. Be about dark afore we get back to the ranch.” The cowhand drew his roan horse along side Freckles. He brought his leg up and cocked it over the saddle so he could lean his elbow on it. Taking off his hat with the other hand, he wiped his sweaty brow with his shirt sleeve. Before he spoke he took the time to turn his head to the side and spit tobacco amber as far as he could fling it. With his mouth empty he managed a slight grin that creased his dark, leathery cheeks as he drawled slowly, “Aw, I'm ready anytime you are, Boss.” Stringbean turned away from the spent sun that rested on the snow capped mountain tops. He lifted his arm high in the air and waved a circling signal to the other cowhands. The riders headed his way and followed him toward home. Twisting to take a look back at the mountains, Stringbean watched the sun's fiery glow turn the white peaks a bloody red. Take your pick. Any time of day, Montana had to be the prettiest place he ever did see. Just above the peaks, the color of the sky had changed as well. He loved to watch the western sky aflame from the setting sun. At dusk, the blue horizon streaked with long fingers of pink and purple. He never tired of the changes in nature as the seasons moved from one to the other on his ranch. Though if asked, he reckoned spring was his favorite. After a long, hard winter, he saw the promise of warmer days just around the corner. Although the chilly breeze did send a chill through him as he rode near Raspberry Creek. He shuttered and felt Freckles flinch under him. The snow fed creek, once covered with a layer of thick ice, now was bank full with ice chunks bobbing in the cold, bubbly water that flowed down from the mountains. On the mountain sides, stately pine trees had taken on a brighter green in the last week, trying to out do the once naked cottonwood and birch trees now dressed in full bud along the creek. Everywhere lush, emerald grass sprouted and grew fast. The bright pastures made a rich contrast, growing through dead thatches left from last year. The renewal of life after the long winter gave him hope that spring was really here, alive and pulsating with ever changing, expectant beats. The season announced to all who cared, humans and animals, this was a great time to be alive. In the last few days while looking for cattle, Stringbean flushed out several does and elks hiding in the gullies. Their gangly babies raced along side the mothers, keeping up on stick like legs as they disappeared from sight over a knoll or into another brush filled gully. It was always a thrill to see new birth whether it be his cattle or wildlife. When the crew neared the ranch buildings, Stringbean separated from the hands. While they made their way to the bunk house, he headed for the grand two story house he called home. The four white column porch that ran the length of the house always reminded him of the plantation houses he saw down south during the four years he fought in the Civil War. Stringbean was born in a log cabin in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri in Vernon County to be exact. When he was a kid, he didn't know houses so grand existed until he battled the blue uniformed soldiers in cotton fields that surrounded the buildings. After he moved to Montana, he heard tell Theo's first husband, David Sheffield, built the house to resemble his childhood home in Kentucky. No wonder Theo thought a lot of her first husband. For one thing, he thought enough of her to give his bride a beautiful home. Stringbean had looked real close at a picture of the man on Theo's dresser. Sheffield was a handsome man and from all accounts a go getter. He had intended to be the first governor some day when Montana became a state. Probably would have made that goal if he hadn't been caught in a cattle stampede during a lightning storm. He was knocked off his panicked horse, and the cattle trampled him. Stringbean shook his head slowly in wonderment. That man sure was the opposite of Theo's new husband, namely himself, Stringbean Hooper. He still wasn't sure what Theo saw in him that made her want to take him for her second husband. For a long spell, he ran from her advances like the devil was after him. Now all he knew was he was glad she consented to marry him. Life had changed for the better for him from the moment they married. No more wandering over the west, ducking trouble. He had a home. No more working in Sully Town as the sheriff and being under the strong arm of cattle baron, Mac Sullivan. That man told everyone within his reach to jump when he commanded and expected them to ask how high. Stringbean wasn't that kind of man. He couldn't knuckle under to the old man. That made his job as sheriff mighty touch when things wasn't going Mac Sullivan's way. Eventually, Stringbean's principles cost him the sheriff's job. Yip, I'm a lucky feller. I'm a rancher now. My life is takin' on an old married man routine since I settled down with Theo on her ranch. I pretty much know what's around the corner, and I like it that way. At my age that's a good thing even if I still get itchy feet once in a while. I've learned to ignore the yearnin' to travel, Stringbean thought as he rubbed his achy lower back. That subtle pain was some times hard to put up with when the night chill sank into his bones. Right then, he longed for home looming in the distance dusk ahead of him. He was getting closer by the minute. It sure would feel good to get out of his saddle until morning. After a few long hard days on the range, he knew how his horse felt by the end of the day. Stringbean felt like he too had been ridden hard and put away wet. He could use a hot bath, and a belly full of his wife’s ornery Mexican cook’s good grub. After supper, he'd go to bed early. Nights seemed awful short during roundup and branding when the next day started before daylight. Being a rancher was a lot more tiresome work than being sheriff of Sully Town, Montana, but the security was better. Besides, being part owner of a successful ranch was a sight better for his health. He actually liked herding cattle for a living. He didn't make as many enemies when he was stuck out in the sticks with his cowhands. That meant he didn't have to watch his back. Now that he thought about it, he didn't think he had any enemies if he didn't count Maria, Theo's cook. He couldn't figure out why she didn't like him. Was she jealous of Theo's attention toward him? Perhaps, Maria thought she might lose her job because of him. It was a fact, her wicked feelings toward him started the moment she met him. Maybe she had a low opinion of him. She probably thought he was no account and not a good husband for Theo. Whatever her problem, the mean looks she gave him made him think she'd just as soon kill him as put up with him. He had to admit he didn't help matters any by irritating her in return. When her hackles were up, that woman sure made a believer out of him that she was the wickedest cook in the West. Stringbean halted at the hitch rack, dismounted and tied Freckles. After hours in the saddle, he stood for a minute, trying to get his stiff knees to bend and hip joints to swivel so he could walk. Theo’s black thoroughbred, Midnight, stuck his head out the barn’s half door. The stud whinnied at Freckles. The appaloosa nickered a hello back. Good. His wife had made it home before him. It didn't always happen that she got home first. For days, they had been riding out in opposite directions, splitting the hands between them to do the spring head count. Looked like most of the new calves were on the ground now. Once they had the herds rounded up and the calves branded, they could drive the cattle to the high country pasture for the summer. Bowlegged Smiley Wenndt trudged toward the barn, leading his horse. He took a cigarette out of his mouth and said through the smoke, “See you in the mornin', Boss.” “Bright and early, Smiley Hey, want to take my horse to the barn as long as you’re goin’ that direction?” Stringbean led the horse over to him. “Sure thing, Boss,” the rangy cowhand said in his twangy voice as he accepted Freckle's reins. Stringbean bounded up the porch steps with a renewed burst of energy. He was after all a changed man. Never did he think he'd be the type to live under a roof for very long or within fences. It surprised him as much as everyone else in this country when he married. After years of being shiftless, he settled down to become a respectable rancher. At that moment, he pictured in his mind the way his beautiful wife looked as she waited for him to come home. He stopped at the front door and removed his black stepson to beat his jeans. Puffs of dust floated off in the gentle evening breeze, but not nearly enough dirt turned loose to keep his jeans from standing alone. When his plaid shirt was clean, the material was a bright red and white, but the day's cover of dirt dulled the red blocks to the color of clay soil and the rest to a dingy white. In the entry hall, Stringbean tossed his hat on to a coat hook. He stalked down the hall. As he ran his fingers through his dark thatch of hair to flatten it in place, he bellowed above the clunking his boots made on the hardwood floor. “Theo, I’m home. Where ya at?” Faintly, he heard her say, “In the parlor, Stringbean.” That she was. Already bathed, smelling of verbena and dressed in a fancy, blue house dress that brought out the brightness in her aqua eyes. Her silky, golden hair, fluffy and clean, hung loose in curls that framed her face. When in the house, Theo always dressed like she was about to have company. At first, it bothered him to see her spruced up so fancy for no seemly good reason, because he figured ever little whip stitch she'd expect him to get dressed that fancy, too. Being gentry just didn't fit his personality. It wasn't his style. Thank goodness he didn't have that worry anymore. Theo never complained about the way he looked or dressed. Finally, he'd gotten used to the way things were done in Theo's house. He could relax and appreciated that he had the prettiest wife in Montana. He respected her for the strong woman she was. After all, she owned a large ranch and was highly thought of by all the men ranchers there abouts. They knew Theo wasn't just a ball of cottonwood fluff. She could ride and handle ranching chores as good as the hands. When the moment came for her to make a tough decision, she did it. Sometimes, she faced down men that stood in her way with a grit that Stringbean had to admire though her use of a gun scared the daylight out of him. She had a quick temper, a fast draw and a good aim. For her own safety, her guts and skill worried him. Now that he had her in his life, he didn't like the nagging feeling that he might lose her someday to a bullet. With pride, Stringbean stood in the parlor doorway and considered his wife, all freshly scrubbed and soft looking. Nestled down in a blue stuffed chair, Theo glanced at him as he approached her. Stringbean bent down and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. He sniffed at her neck. “Howdy, Ma'am. Well, you sure smell fine.” When Theo didn't answer, he braced his back with his hand and slowly straighten up. Frowning, she dropped a paper into her lap with some other sheets and a couple of envelopes. She focused over his shoulder. Stringbean had the impression that his wife's thoughts were worrisome. He asked, “What's wrong, Honey?” Sadness crossed Theo's face. She sighed and paused to licked her lips. “Maria brought the mail from Sully Town when she went in after supplies. I received a couple of letters. When it rains it pours, and these couldn't have come at a worse time while we're busy with spring roundup.” Her eyes glistened with tears as she picked up one of the sheets of paper again. “This is from a lawyer in New York. Uncle Jackson Claymore, Father's brother, died. He left his estate to my brother, Brock, and me. Since he never married, we're his only living relatives. The lawyer enclosed a document for Brock and me to sign so we can collect the estate.” “I'm right sorry to hear about your uncle. Was you close to him?” Stringbean asked, sinking down on the brown settee across from her. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs as he waited for her answer. With a weak smile, she remembered her uncle. “I haven't seen Uncle Jackson in years since I moved to Montana. Brock and I lived close to him as kids. He always treated us as if we were his children. Uncle Jackson spoiled us rotten, giving us anything we wanted that our parents refused to buy for us.” She bowed her head and picked up the other letter from her lap. She glanced at it before she continued disbelievingly, “The other letter is from my brother, Brock. He lives in San Jose, California. He says he's met a girl he in love with. They're going to get married. He wants me to be at the wedding. Since we need to sign this paper for the lawyer at the same time, looks like I going to have to go ----.” Her voice trailed off at the sight of the cook glaring at Stringbean's back. Theo finished faintly, “to California.” Her voice took on renewed strength as she addressed the cook. “What is it, Maria?” Stringbean looked over his shoulder. When he saw the bedeviled look in the cook's eyes directed at him, he moved faster than he really wanted to and darted behind the settee out of Maria's way. He felt safer with that large piece of furniture between him and her. The heavy set Mexican woman, in her mid fifties, glided into the parlor and stopped in front of her boss. As an added measure of insult, she made sure to position herself with her back to Stringbean. She clasped her hands in front of her and said formally, “The evening meal is about ready, Senora Sheffield.” Hearing his wife addressed as Senora Sheffield caused Stringbean to stiffen indignantly. His dark eyes blazed hotly as he glared at Maria's broad back. With all his might, he wished the cook would turn around and see his irritation. “Thank you. I’ll be ready soon,” Theo assured her. Maria nodded approval and hustled out of the room, keeping her eyes averted from Stringbean. As far as she was concerned, he wasn't in the room. Tarnation! The way she acted, he was on an extended stay in this house, just visiting. “Theo, when is that woman gonna realize I ain’t leavin' any time soon. In her book, it’s as if I don’t live here permanent,” complained Stringbean. “David hired Maria. She was very attached to my late husband. I suppose she's trying very hard not to be disloyal to his name,” replied Theo absentmindedly, sighing deeply as she stared at the letters in her hands. “That's all fine and good, but cain’t she at least make an effort to call you Senora Hooper. After all, she knows your name changed when you married me. You really should have a talk with her about her place in this house. She's just the cook,” Stringbean groused. With a wry smile, Theo waved her hand at him. “Me talk to her? Oh no, String. Unless you want to have a talk with Maria you might be better off to let this ride for awhile until she gets used to you. You know how Maria can be when she gets mad. Frankly, I'd hate to lose such a great cook, and she is devoted to me, too. It means a lot to me to know that I can count on her. Isn’t it enough that I know you’re here to stay?” She got up, walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She stretched up on tiptoes and gave him a kiss. As nice as the gesture was, that kiss didn’t take Stringbean’s mind off the hurtful stings he felt every time that Queen Bee cook flew by him. “Maybe it should be enough,” he relented slightly. “But how much longer is Maria's gettin' used to me gonna take? I’ve already been here almost a year now. That seems like a right smart spell to me.” Hands on her hips, Theo stepped back and arched one eyebrow. She slanted her head over her shoulder and asked dryly, “Does it now? To you it seems like you've already spent a long time living with me?” “Hold yer horses! You know what I mean. Don't twist my words to put me in a hot camp fire. None of this problem with Maria is my fault. I've tried hard to get on that woman's good side. I'm talkin' about your mean tempered cook makin' me edgy every time I'm near her. Don't have nothin' to do with how long I've been livin' here with you. You know that,” he said, feeling put upon with both women against him at the same time. Pushing a lock of golden hair off her shoulder, Theo started for the door. “Perhaps, but obviously you haven't been here long enough to suit Maria so be patient. You don’t want to make her mad enough to quit do you?” She turned to give him a knowing look and grunted. “Not the way you like to eat. Shall we go to supper?” “Give me time to wash up and change clothes. I got to get rid of some of this trail dust before I sit down to food,” Stringbean said, following behind her down the hall. Theo twisted around. “All right, but don’t take too long. You know Maria doesn’t like her food to get cold,” she warned, tracing his cheekbone with the tip of a finger. “How well I know,” he snorted. “Think she has hot water on the stove for a bath, or do I have to get up my nerve to ask her to put some on?” “I put a couple buckets on the cookstove for you myself after my bath. I thought you might want to clean up. I’ll go get them and bring them upstairs to you,” Theo said as she walked away. “Much obliged. Better you go in her kitchen than me. She might not let me back out alive. From the way you talk sometimes if there was to be a tussle between me and the cook, I don't think I could even depend on you to come in her kitchen to save me,” Stringbean said sarcastically to his wife's back. Theo laughed uncontrollably all the way down the hall like his problem with her cook was some kind of hilarious joke. She always seemed to find it funny that he had no control over the cook in what he considered his home now. Worse yet, he felt that Mexican woman had the notion that she was boss around there. It didn't help that Theo let her get away with it. He wasn’t sure it was safe to turn his back on Maria. She kept a kitchen drawer full of sharp knives. Who knows what other weapons she stored in the cupboards just in case she needed to defend her kitchen from him. Sitting in the tub full of extra warm water eased his aches some. The bath felt so good Stringbean could have soaked long enough for the water to grow cold if he'd had his way about it. Not that he had any say around there between those two women. Theo would be waiting for him to get to the table. Maria was probably chomping at the bit to feed them. When he thought about the cook, he scrubbed faster. He best make it a hurry up bath. Otherwise, Maria would be coming after him, swinging her butcher knife, because he let her supper get cold. That crazy woman sure had a real viperous temper. For the life of him, Stringbean couldn't figure out why Theo seemed to think it great fun to let the cook threaten to torture him. Maybe Theo just hadn't thought through what could happen if Maria tried to attack him. He feared his wife would be no help to him if the cook really did decide he wasn’t worth keeping around. Who knows how Theo would react if he got in a fracas with Maria and wound up dead. His wife thought so highly of that cook, she'd probably help Maria bury him out back. They might just tell everyone he took off for parts unknown. The ranchers would believe his wife since he'd been known to have a wanderlust nature. Besides, no one would question such an honest woman as Theo. Maria and her could get away with his murder, because that's just how women were. They stuck together. Suddenly, a picture of how Theo looked when he entered the parlor ran through his mind, all soft and pretty in her fancy dress. His feelings of distrust faded away. Theo loved him as much as he loved her. He had to remember that when he got these crazy ideas in his head. He could trust her with his life. She'd already proven that last year when she stood up against Mac Sullivan's bunch to protect him. He scowled when another thought scrolled through his head about what happened right after he walked into the parlor tonight. What was it about the letters that Theo dropped in her lap? He had been so distracted by Maria he forgot about the hang dog look on Theo's face until now. Hold yer horses! What had she tried to tell him about those letters when Maria showed up? Did Theo say she was going to California all by herself? That meant she'd be leaving him home alone to run this big ranch during spring roundup. On top of that, he'd be stuck alone with Maria every night. No way was he going to let that happen.
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