Dan Durbin urged his beloved dappled gray mare up the gently sloping land and halted near a huge sycamore. Waited in the cold gray dawn for his neighbor to show up for their prearranged meeting. This early-morning ‘springtime cowboy conference’ had been going on for six years, ever since Earl Jackson bought the small ranch on the west side of Dan’s modest spread.
Years ago, the two owners had agreed to share the grazing land that lay between them. Now it was time once again to make plans for the annual round up. But there was no need for the same ground to be covered by both ranches. They would simply divide the land between their men, who would bring in all the cattle they found. Then the cattle would be separated, according to the brand found on their hips. An unbranded baby calf born that winter would stick close to its momma, and both would then be delivered to their rightful owner.
Earl drawled a cheerful “Mawnin’ there, Mistah Durbin” and broke the peaceful silence as he pulled his own horse up to stand beside Dan’s.
“Waal, look who decided ta’ sleep until plumb middle of th’ day, like a little lady of leisure,” was the reply.
“Huh! I sho’ ‘nuff may be a little late for this heah meetin’, but my horse stalls done been mucked out. How ‘bout at yore place? Betcha that ol’ rooster of yer’s don’t even bother wakin’ up til’ ‘bout noon.”
The good-natured insults continued for a few minutes, then Dan brought up the reason they were meeting.
“So. Which part of th’ range ya’ want yore little pansey-boys to ride this year, Earl?”
Earl spit out the ever-present toothpick he had in his mouth, “Pansies?!” Tell ya’ what, my ‘pansies’ will take th’ north half, with all those canyons to search thru. Let you and yo’ tenderfoots have th’ south, where it’s smooth ‘n simple ridin’ thru those trees. Ya’ jest mite git halfway done ‘bout th’ time we’re done sittin’ down to supper!”
But finally, the last abusive remark was flung and the search boundaries were set and understood. Then the direct and unflinching gaze of both men met, as strong hands simultaneously reached out for a firm handshake.
Their successful sharing of grazing land and returning mommas and babies to the rightful owner relied solely upon trust and integrity. Trust that each would be honest. And both would have the integrity to keep only what belonged to his ranch.
No lawyers haggling over written contracts. No court needed to force a neighbor to obey the law. Just two men with integrity before God. A solid handshake and a direct stare into the eyes of his neighbor. Both men believing the other would do just what he said he would do.
That handshake was a binding contract. Oh, for the old days.
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