At first she had intended to bathe in the hot spring as she usually did, in her camisole and bloomers. But then her underwear would be wet and clammy for the ride back. She looked around. There was no one there. The area was deserted. So, she thought, why not? She doffed her clothes, stripping down to her bare skin. To her delight she found it not only comfortable, but liberating. It was a warm day to begin with, and as the sun rose in the sky, flooding the canyon with golden light and warmth, her nudity felt just as comfortable to her as it must have felt to Eve in the Garden of Eden. It also felt deliciously naughty, being outdoors and totally naked like some nubile wood nymph of ancient lore. The warm pool beckoned, so she slipped in, found a rock to sit on, and let the water from the creek, heated by the hot flow from fissures below, warm her body.
The gurgling of the stream masked all sound, but hair on the back of her neck stood up as if some sixth sense told her someone was coming. She turned in alarm. Her eyes fell on a tall rangy man on horseback. He wore a duster and a broad brimmed hat that hid his face in shadow, but she could feel his eyes on her, appraising what he saw. And here she was, totally naked!
“Well, isn’t this a picture?” the man said. “A bathing beauty out here all alone, swimming naked in the creek. There’s probably a law against this, you know,” he said as he dismounted.
The woman froze. She could see that he wore a badge. What was he going to do?
“Get up,” he said.
She gulped. What else could she do? She rose from the pool, water dripping off her naked body, glistening in the sunlight that filtered into the glade. He approached and her pulse quickened. He stood by the side of the pool and held his hand out. She took it, then stepped out of the creek as he pulled her by the wrist.
He stood there for a moment clutching her wrist and looking all around. “Hmm,” he said finally. “I think we’ll do this over here.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked as he headed for a fallen log by the side of the creek and tugged her along behind him.
“Just this,” he said, sitting on the deadfall and toppling her face down across his knee. She found herself in a very vulnerable position, face down across the man’s knee, her bare backside waving in the breeze. “I am the town marshal, ma’am, and this is just a little punishment for public nudity.”
“What are you doing? Let me up!” she yelped. Panic took hold. How dare he do this to me! She felt his rough palm resting on her bottom and renewed her wriggling. No! No! He can’t possibly intend to spank me!
But spank her he did. For the next several minutes the canyon echoed with the staccato sounds of the man’s hand delivering a sound spanking to her naked bottom. His palm landed on alternate cheeks of her behind in steady rhythmic cadence. It tingled at first, then stung for real. The man kept spanking her, and the sensation grew more intense. It was like being attacked by a swarm of bees that had landed on her backside. Occasionally his rough palm would land a hearty spank square across the cleft of her bottom that would make her throw her head back and her feet up. She protested and squirmed, but the man was determined. The heat rose in her hindquarters as he smacked her bottom briskly and scolded her for bathing naked in a public place.
After a time he let her up, and her hands flew to her backside and rubbed it, trying to take the sting away. She pouted for a minute, then throwing her arms around him, she drew him close, melding her body to his, and planted a big kiss right on his lips. “You’re late,” she said.
“And you’re one wanton woman,” said the man. “I told you to wait for me. And what do you think you’re doing, swimming in the nude out here in the open?”
She pouted again. “You’re an old fussbudget… and you didn’t have to spank me.”
“Yes, I did, and I’ll do it again if I have to.”
She smiled mischievously and wriggled out of his grasp. “You’ll have to catch me first,” she said, skipping away and laughing.
And the chase was on…
One year earlier.
When Colonel Nathan Bradford walked down the street, it was with a slight limp. He still had a piece of shrapnel in his knee, courtesy of exploding ordnance at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. He’d been only in his teens then, just a raw lieutenant riding with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, Lee’s eyes and ears of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, he’d returned to Virginia and tried to farm, but he soon grew restless with farm life and decided to seek his fortune out West. Since he’d been pardoned after the war, he signed up with the US Army and ended up, ironically, under the command of his foe at Yellow Tavern, General Phil Sheridan. By 1896 the colonel had been in the US Army for twenty-six years and in the Army of Northern Virginia a few more than that. At the age of fifty-two he was ready for a change, so he had resigned his commission and decided to make his way north to a place he’d often heard about, a mining town called Ketchum, in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.
But on his army pension he had little money, and that is why on a late Saturday afternoon in mid-May he found himself making his way to the boarding house of one Emma Weston, a widow who supplemented her income by taking in boarders—so far only young ladies. Room and board was in tight supply, but someone in town said she might have room for him. He just needed something to tide him over until he could see a man about a job. That was his other connection. An officer with whom he had served had turned out to be a friend of the sheriff of Blaine County, and Nate understood that a job could be his if he came to Ketchum.
Ketchum was a lively place in 1896, even with gold, lead, and silver mining on the decline. Although the Union Pacific had brought industry and opportunity to the once remote town in 1894, Ketchum remained in many ways the Wild West, or what was left of it. Bars and saloons defined the facades of both sides of Main Street. The Sawtooth Club, Whisky Jacque’s, The Casino, The Pioneer—they were all lined up, one after another. But with them came other elements not so savory.
Bradford was on foot as he approached Gem Street, just across Trail Creek. He had left his horse at the livery stable and had taken some time to quench his thirst with a drink, but now he needed to find lodging. He finally saw the sign for Mrs. Weston’s boarding house, and he had a moment of misgiving, hoping the bartender at the Sawtooth hadn’t steered him wrong. Given the lateness of the hour on a Saturday afternoon, he wondered if the woman would even be willing to open her door to him, much less take him in as a boarder.
Even in the fading light, however, the house made a positive impression. It appeared to be a well-kept two-story wood framed dwelling with a broad front porch that was tastefully decorated with flowering plants. It even boasted a swing that hung from the rafters. The roof might need some work, he speculated, but it was a house that looked as though it would do just fine.
Emma Weston gazed out of her front window and fretted as afternoon shadows grew longer. Her young tenants were not back yet. Running a boarding house was a new endeavor for her, but since Jim had died last year, she had to make ends meet somehow. Taking in boarders had seemed like a good idea, but now she wondered. She had taken in three girls as tenants, all of them between eighteen and twenty one years of age, and thus old enough to be regarded as adults. Nevertheless, she worried about her girls. The miners and wildcatters were mostly gone, but Ketchum was still a rough town, having the usual growing pains that came with an expanding economy. At this very moment the girls were downtown shopping and had yet to return, which to Emma, who had assumed the role of surrogate mother, was cause for concern
As she moved the curtain aside and peered through the window, hoping against hope for some sign of her girls returning, she spied a man making his way down the street. A tall and solidly built man wearing a duster and a wide-brimmed hat, he carried a traveling bag and walked with a slight break in his stride. It took a moment for Emma to realize he was heading straight for her front door. As he drew nearer, she was able to see him better. An older man with a stately bearing despite his limp, he appeared respectable, at least as far as Emma could tell. His weather-worn face seemed pleasant enough, even as the lines in it suggested a hard life lived outdoors. He wore a mustache but no beard, and appeared to be in his fifties. Nothing about him suggested trouble, so when he knocked, She opened the door.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” he said, having taken off his wide brimmed hat to address her. “They said you might have rooms to let. I’m Colonel Nathan Bradford, US Army—retired, that is.”
That got Emma’s interest. The fact that he was a military man put her at ease.
“Good evening, Colonel Bradford. I’m Emma Weston, and yes, this is my house. Come in, please. In here where we can talk.”
Bradford nodded appreciatively. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, and entered Emma Weston’s foyer.
Inside she was able to get a better idea of the man. Yes, he certainly did have a military bearing. His dark hair had prominent streaks of gray in it, but he seemed robust and moved with the litheness of a much younger man, despite the limp. The eyes were an intense blue, so much so that Emma caught her breath and blushed when she noticed him studying her intently. He seemed pleased with what he saw.
It occurred to Emma that it had been a while since a man had looked at her in that way. It would be nice to have a man around, she decided. But where could she put him? All the rooms in the house were full. Then an idea came to her.
They sat in the parlor across from each other. Emma explained that all she had was a room out back over a shed.
“The house came with that shed as a work area, but now I just store firewood there. There is an upstairs room, though. It is a little rough, but it is roomy and the roof is good. There is a stove in there and I could fix up a bed. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got right now.” She did not allude to the fact that she might have a lot more room if her girls did not start behaving themselves.
Bradford smiled, relieved that she was willing to take him in.
“It will be fine, ma’am. Whatever you have will be fine. I’m an old army man, and I will make do. You are very kind.”
He had a nice smile. She brushed a lock of hair out of the way and returned one he found equally pleasing. “Follow me, Colonel,” she said. “Let’s get you situated.”
She lit a lantern and led the way out to the shed. As she had indicated, it had a large workspace on the ground floor with a room above. There was a cot along one wall, a washstand with a basin, and a small table with chairs in the middle of the room. An ancient iron pot-bellied stove rested on a brick hearth in a corner.
“As you can see, it’s not much. I do have a mattress in the attic I can fetch…”
“Don’t bother yourself, ma’am. This will do. I can build a bed frame. The cot will do fine for now.” He set his bag down and proceeded to explain a bit more about himself.
“I’m retired Army, ma’am. Been in the Army for twenty-six years as a tracker and scout. So I’m looking for something a bit more peaceful. I wrote to a man about a job here as a deputy lawman and I intend to follow through on that.”
“Oh,” said Emma. “You know our sheriff, Mr. Slocum?”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ve corresponded. I told him about some of my experience. I rode escort for wagon trains; I’ve chased bandits and renegades and conducted special missions for General Phil Sheridan. I even helped them track down Geronimo, so you could say I’ve been around. But an army pension is not much, so I need a job—and of course, a place to stay.”
Emma was impressed. He had quite a resume, and she decided that it would be nice to have a man around, especially one who could provide protection for her all- female household. “I have supper cooking, Colonel. And I expect my other boarders back directly. Will you dine with us this evening? I usually serve supper promptly at six o’clock, but the girls are late.”
The colonel noted a worried frown on her brow as she peered out the window.
“Is something the matter?” he said.
“My girls. There are three of them. I do hope they get home before dark.”
Fortunately, the girls appeared at sunset, just as Emma returned to the house. They had come back from their sojourn into town just in time.
“Girls, you had me worried. It’s almost dark,” she said.
Laura Lee, the oldest, regarded Emma with a bemused smile. “Why Mrs. Weston, it’s perfectly all right. We are not children. We can take care of ourselves.”
Cora and Jenny echoed Laura Lee’s affirmation.
“It is not as if we require supervision, Mrs. Weston. We are grown women and have jobs here,” said Cora.
Emma might have disagreed. Even at their ages, which ranged between eighteen and twenty, they were very young, and, in her estimation, somewhat naïve.
“But ladies,” said Emma, “this is a rough town, especially at night. I worry and I know your parents do as well. That is I why I have rules and I insist that you follow them.” She appeared nervous, as if pleading with the girls. “Please tell me you will abide by my house rules.”
All three grumbled something under their collective breath, but Emma did not pursue it. Instead, she changed the subject.
“We have a new boarder. A man.” That got their attention. “He is a retired army officer, Colonel Nathan Bradford. He will join us at supper.”
“He is to live here in the house?” asked Jenny.
“No,” said Emma. “He will be in the room over the shed. He will not be a disturbance to the rest of you, if that is your concern.”
The women were all in the parlor when Nathan Bradford made his entrance. He’d had time to freshen up and change out of his traveling clothes, which were dusty and grimy from days on the trail. To Emma, he seemed considerably more presentable in a clean white shirt, string tie and coat. She introduced him around and then they repaired to the dining room.
“Colonel Bradford rode with General Crook in New Mexico Territory pursuing the Indian chief, Geronimo,” she said.
The girls sat up and took notice of him now. They were suitably impressed.
“Not for a while, ma’am,” said Bradford, smiling with some amount of self-deprecation.
The girls were fascinated by this news and peppered him with questions. Indeed, Emma found it fascinating, too. But the colonel downplayed his role, offering an account that made it sound like chasing the infamous Indian was more tedium than excitement.
“Chasing renegades isn’t all it’s made out to be,” he said.
“Well, what did you do, Colonel? Ride after them shooting and hollering?” said Cora.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “Most of it was tracking. Trying to find a trail in the meanest hell holes on earth. Days and days of it, all the while hoping you weren’t riding right into an ambush. Going without water at times and freezing at night. And hoping they didn’t find you first,” he added.
After supper the girls repaired to their rooms upstairs to try on the clothes they’d bought. The Colonel joined Emma on the porch. Night tended to fall quickly as the sun dropped below the high ridge of Mount Baldy, the mountain peak that dominated the town. Ketchum nestled at its base, just beyond the Big Wood River.
“I must say, it’s quite beautiful here, Mrs. Weston,” he said.
“Yes, it is, Colonel. The winters can be hard, though. We do get snow and that can be a bother.”
“After sweltering in the Arizona deserts I suppose I can tolerate a little snow, Mrs. Weston. I’ll be glad to help you with it.”
He gazed up to the top of Baldy, still covered in white from late spring snowfall. “I’ll bet you could start at the top there and slide all the way down that mountain,” he said.
“Why colonel, however would you do that?”
“On boards,” he said
“On boards?” Emma was now totally confused.
“Strap ‘em to your shoes and down you go,” he said, illustrating the action with his hand mimicking a gliding motion.
“Well, I never heard of such a thing,” said Emma in amazement. The man was full of surprises.
The pair sat there in silence for a moment, drinking in the sweet spring night air, watching the stars appear over the eastern horizon. Bradford regarded Mrs. Weston, studying her out of the corner of his eye. She appeared to be in her mid thirties and was, in Bradford’s estimation, a very attractive woman. Blond hair with a few streaks of light grey wound up in a bun framed a pretty face. Fair facial features included large green eyes and a delicate nose. Some facial lines were evident, but those naturally came about as a result of a life lived on the frontier. Of medium height and build, she moved with a girlish grace that bespoke a taut body. Her bosom was ample without being overly large, and she had a trim waist. As they enjoyed the quiet, Bradford had to chide himself for where his thoughts wanted to wander with respect to the Widow Weston.
“These young gals, these boarders of yours—you were worried earlier. Why is that? This seems like a peaceful place.”
“Oh, Colonel Bradford, so much is going on. They worry me. The saloons on Main Street, for one. Do you know that unaccompanied young women are frequenting those places now?”
Bradford raised his eyebrows.
“And this women’s suffrage movement. They are all agitating for the vote now. In Boise and Twin Falls there have been marches, young women carrying signs, shouting out slogans. They say there will be a vote this year. I don’t know how it is all going to end.”
She turned the conversation back around to her current dilemma. “I do have house rules,” she said, “but the girls ignore them. I just don’t know what I’m going to do. Their parents expect me to make them behave properly.”
The Colonel chuckled at that. “I had half-sisters growing up in Virginia, and some cousins lived with us too, for a time. They’d act up too, but my pa knew the cure. We had a woodshed out back, and in that shed pa had two things—a short strap that hung on a peg and a cut down butter paddle that hung right next to it. After a trip out to that woodshed, you better believe those girls would be on their best behavior, at least for a while. Of course,” he added, “pa also had a razor strop he’d carry out there when it was my turn for a learnin’ session in the shed.”
“Oh, my,” said Emma, “that sounds severe. I was raised in Philadelphia. No woodsheds there, but my mother did have a stout hairbrush.”
“Well, I guess we all learned our lessons one way or another,” he said. “I was the oldest, and once pa died, my mother turned the disciplinary chores over to me. So I’ve seen the woodshed from both sides, if you get my meaning.” He kept silent for a moment. There had been other incidents, too, but he didn’t mention those—escorting wagon trains, women under his protection at various forts and postings—he’d been called upon to dispense discipline in a number of situations. Life on the frontier was dangerous and you obeyed the rules, or else. Bradford rose and announced that he should turn in. “Been a long day,” he said. “Good evening and thank you for your hospitality. I’m in your debt.”
As Emma watched him stroll off toward the shed, she turned that last bit of information over in her mind. He had ‘dealt’ with his half-sisters and cousins at his mother’s request? It wasn’t that unusual for the older brother to take over as head of household, she decided. And if discipline was due, well, what had to be done had to be done, she supposed. Then she had another thought. The colonel was old enough to be these girls’ father, and as an army officer he certainly projected an air of authority. Could she enlist him to help her enforce her rules? She had to admit, he presented quite the commanding figure, and the way he had seemed to appraise her… well, it made her just a bit wobbly in the knees. That dark craggy face, those intense blue eyes—her body shivered reflexively. I’ll just bet he could make these girls mind. I’ll bet he could make ME mind. She put her hand to her mouth. Where had that last thought come from?