Payment for a Water Hole
by Diana Pierce


 a Lancer short fan fiction story…


The ground is wet with a much needed rain.  Before this the creek bed had barely enough water to satisfy a tadpole, let alone the thirsty livestock roaming around Lancer. Every water source is below average and this drought is taking its toll on everyone. Now the creek is starting to run free, so Murdoch decides to dam up a water hole sizable enough for watering cattle and horses.  After getting a few of his hired hands busy at this, the project is complete in a few of hours. Murdoch says to his foreman, “This will probably take awhile to fill up. Maybe you can convince the herd to drink up stream until it does.  Hope we get some more rain soon, but we sure are lucky we got what we did.”

In the meanwhile, Johnny and Scott are coming back from town with their supply wagon when they come upon a strange looking wagon enclosed with wooden sides.  It has a set of steps at the back of it.  It is parked not far from the road near a stream. The canopy over the top of the wagon is nothing more than a huge black umbrella and it certainly looks nothing like they are accustom to seeing. Grazing beside the wagon is a team of oxen which is another rare sight for California. 

The two brothers pull their wagon beside the strange looking sight. Johnny calls out, “Hello. Is anyone in there?”  Out of the wagon come a young dark haired woman and an elderly couple.  The old man smiles at them. “Hi. What can we do ya for young fellas?”  Scott asks, “Are you lost, sir? We haven’t seen you in these parts before.”  The old man taps his cane on the side of the brother’s wagon, “You two able to spare a sack of that there flour? I is short on cash, but I reckon I could swap ya something for it.”  Johnny shakes his head, “What ya got to swap, sir? Where ya headed?”  The gray haired man says, “Oh, we just drifting. Come out this way to help make it rain. Thought folks would be willing to toss a few coins in my hat for that. Had it started good too, but the clouds got away from us.  I can swap ya a dandy of a hammock my grand-daughter here made. What ya say fellas?  Good trade isn’t it?”  As the boy’s eyes catch the attention of the girl stretching the multi colored hammock out for their view, they can’t resist making the trade. Scott laughs, “Good trade for sure, sir. I’m Scott Lancer and this is my brother Johnny.  What’s your name, sir?”  The man reaches for Scott’s hand, “Call me Poppy. Everyone does. This here is my wife, Belle and that there is Emma.  We just shot us a rabbit. Sure will make a good stew with dumplings in it.”  Johnny looks at Scott, “Did you hear him say he made it rain?”  Scott says, “Yep, that’s what he said. Saw a sideshow once in Denver. They made it rain.”  Johnny grins, “Really?  Poppy, is this true? You’re a rain maker?”  Poppy smiles, “I sure am. You come back tomorrow and bring your friends. I’ll show ya.”

Later as the brothers are unloading supplies from the wagon. Scott takes the rolled up hammock to where Murdoch and Teresa are standing near the house. “Got something here I think you’ll like Teresa. We swapped an old gentleman a sack of flour for it we meant on the way back from town.”  Murdoch stares at him, “What, you swapped our supplies off? I’m surprised by you Scott. You usually use more sense than that.”  Scott frowns, “I thought it made perfect sense, sir. This fella has is wife and young grand-daughter with him. He claims they came out here to make it rain. It’s quite possible we can thank them for the little drizzle we just got.”  Teresa stretches out the hammock, “It’s beautiful. I think you made a good trade, Scott. A lot of work must have gone into making this.”  Murdoch shakes his head, “And I suppose you believe this guy sent rain to us. Getting more gullible everyday aren’t you?”  Scott ignores the comment and heads back to help Johnny unload the wagon. “Murdoch wasn’t too pleased with our swapping deal. Pretty much hinted I was stupid. Johnny, I hope old Poppy causes a cloud burst. Call me gullible, will he.”  Johnny laughs, “Well, ya got to admit it does sound far-fetched. I thought we were just trying to be friendly. Did ya see the way Emma looked at me?”  Scott puts the last of the supplies into the store room. “No, but I saw how you looked at her.”

The next morning at breakfast the Lancers are discussing their water shortage. Murdoch says, “We should have a good water hole by now. I’ll tell the foreman to let the cattle in there today.  We better keep on going sparingly on water here. It’s hard to say how low the well has gotten. It’s deep, but not sure it makes much difference with it being so dry this long.”  Johnny looks at him, “Scott and I thought we’d go watch Poppy make it rain. How do you think he does it?”  Scott replies, “I think they send smoke from some kind of stuff they burn up into the clouds.  That man in Denver took a lot of teasing before he was successful. The jokes stopped when it started raining.”  Murdoch shakes his head, “Well, don’t be gone all day. Things to be done around here you know.”  Teresa grins, “Can I go with ya. I never saw anyone like that before.”  Johnny looks at her, “Sure you can go with us. Poppy said to bring our friends. Murdoch, you and Jelly ought to come along.”  Murdoch thought it was a waste of time, but agreed to let Jelly and Teresa to go with them.

Later as Teresa and Jelly pull their wagon to a stop near the rainmaker Jelly grins. “Look at there. It’s been awhile since I saw a team of oxen used for hauling anything, but from the size of that wagon they would need more than two horses to handle it.” Teresa is curious, “What, you saying cows are stronger than horses?”  Jelly chuckles, “These are.” 

Johnny and Scott were already off their mounts talking to Poppy. Poppy smiles at them, “You fellas got ya a couple fine looking horses there. I keep telling my Emma one of these days I’ll buy her a horse. Bet you’d never guess, but she ain’t never rode one.”  Johnny grins, “Really? Reckon I could teach her if you’re here a spell.”  Scott looks at his brother, “Yeah, bet you could teach her, little brother.”  

It’s not long before a large group of spectators are watching Poppy as he places several pipes into the small stream pointing them toward the sky. He then stokes up the fire under a huge black kettle. The steam from the kettle can be seen for miles.  Scott asks, “How you getting all the steam, Poppy?”  Poppy explains, “Boiling water, kid, how else?” Scott knew there had to be something besides water in the kettle to cause the steam to raise this high. “You’re not going to tell me are ya?”  The old man smiles, “Have faith, Sonny. You must believe. The rain will come.” While Scott is curiously watching Poppy’s every move, Teresa and Johnny are getting acquainted with his grand-daughter, Emma.  Emma is sitting under a shade tree making a colorful hammock, “We plan to sell some of these. Think people around here will want one?”  Teresa smiles, “I’m sure they will. I love the one the boys brought home to me.”  She smiles, “Granny Belle gave me the idea for them. She said there is no better color to dream by than a rainbow. When Poppy has his kettle boiling for his rain making, I have pieces of rope in there with whatever I can find to make me a good color. Today’s it’ll be violets.”  Teresa grins, “Rain makes rainbows. What a clever idea.”  Johnny looks at Emma, “What’s making all the steam? Rope and violets wouldn’t do that.”  Emma laughs, “Poppy has his secret ingredients. It’s a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Reckon he’d skin me if I told you.”  They look at the clouds as they begin to take on a grey tint. They can smell the rain in the air.  The excitement builds as the clouds appear to get darker. 

Back at the ranch Murdoch and his cowhands are watching the cattle drinking at the water hole they had dammed up. There seemed to be plenty of water as long as they controlled how many were drinking at one time.  Murdoch says to his foreman, “Better keep watch they don’t cave the dam in.  Get too many in there that’s just what will happen.”  The foreman motions for the cowhands to keep a bunch out until he has made room for them. He chases fifty or so out of the water hole and the cowhands let more in so they can drink. It takes forever to satisfy a herd of nearly a thousand at this rate.  Lucky for them most of the cattle are grazing on the far end of the ranch with a mountain spring and a pond nearby.  Murdoch starts to head back toward the house when the foreman suggests, “We move these up with the others if we see no rain tomorrow, si senor Lancer. You want us to?”  Murdoch shakes his head and calls back to him, “I don’t see another way out of it. Only thing is you’ll be two days doing it. Not sure they’d last on a two day drive without water. Darn we need more rain.”

Murdoch has no more than returned to the house, when he hears a rumble of thunder.  He looks over the hill in the direction of town and can’t believe the dark clouds he sees forming. He smiles. “Maybe we do have a rainmaker.”  The only one to hear him is his horse waiting to be tended to. He’s so pleased about maybe getting some more rain he can’t resist whistling a tune as he takes care of his companion.

Back at Poppy’s wagon, it begins to down pour.  The old man dances and laughs as he passes his crumpled hat around his guest. A nickel here and a dollar there sure made Poppy happy.  He hands the full hat of money to Emma, “Count it girl. They like us here.”  Emma laughs, “Everyone likes you Poppy and you really out did yourself this time.”  Emma runs to take the hat to her grandmother who sits inside the wagon. Teresa and Johnny follow her. Johnny smiles at Emma, “I’ll be around tomorrow to take you horseback riding if you want to go. Poppy said you never rode one. I’ll be glad to teach you.”  Emma looks at him and smiles, “I’ll take a ride with ya, but you got to know Poppy is a bit of a fibber sometimes.  I can ride a horse. We had to sell ours on the way out here.”  Johnny grins, “He sounded so truthful. He made me believe we would see rain and look I’m soaked and so is everyone else here except for your Granny Belle who is the only one with enough wits to get out of the rain.”  They laugh loudly as the thunder booms and the small stream begins to rile as it churns a wider path. 

Poppy heads out to get the metal pipes out of the water before they get washed down the stream. Poppy no more than grabs on to one when they see a bolt of lightning strike the pipe Poppy has a hold of. Down the old man goes and spectators run to his rescue.  Scott helps get Poppy to the wagon.  Amazingly he is still alive let alone conscious. “I’ll be okay, Sonny. I had this happen plenty of times.”  Belle looks at Scott and shakes her head, “Twice, he’s had this happen.  This makes three times. The last time a doctor told him he probably wouldn’t be as lucky next time.”  Poppy looks at his wife and gives her a wink. “See I told ya, woman.  Doctors, they’re all talk.”  

Later that evening back at the ranch the Lancers sit out on the front porch listening to the steady rain.  Murdoch says, “I guess I should have believed your friend could bring some rain.  Johnny, I want you to pick out a gentle riding horse and give it to Poppy as payment for the water hole. Never would have thought I’d be doing something that foolish, but that water hole may be the only thing between us and losing a good bunch of our cattle.”  Teresa runs to Murdoch and gives him a hug, “I knew you had a soft spot. It got to you when we told you about them having to sell their horses coming out here and poor Poppy getting struck by lightning.  Johnny, that mare you broke for me last fall.  Emma will love it. Take that one, please.”  Johnny nods his head and smiles, “Okay, if you want me to, Teresa.”  Scott speaks up, “Payment for a water hole is one horse?  I better write that down.  You never know what things are worth nowadays, do ya?”  Scott grins at Johnny and they both decide to call it a night.  Teresa follows behind them.

Jelly dips a bucket of water from a rain barrel nearby. “Yep, time for me to hit the hay too, but first I just got to wash up. Can’t say as I’ve felt this scurfy in awhile. This saving water business can leave a fella quite crusty after going this long. Ya think maybe tomorrow we can spare water for a bath, Murdoch?”  Murdoch looks at Jelly, “You mean you haven’t even washed up since I told you to spare the water?  Yes, I’ll see to it you get some water for a bath tomorrow.  It’s a good thing everyone else doesn’t take me as seriously as you do. It might have got quite smelly around here.”








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