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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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  1. Linn Keller 3-3-13 Sarah sat very properly, beside her Mama on one side and beside Mr. Llewellyn on the other, and she held hands with Mr. Llewellyn. She listened with close attention to the sermon, to the announcements; her voice carried, pure and sweet, when she sang, and Mr. Llewellyn's heart was the heart of a singer born and it wept within his breast to hear the beauty of his bride-to-be's throat. Sarah knew her Papa sat two rows back and almost directly behind her, and she knew his green-eyed wife sat with him, and their bright-eyed little girl, and she knew Angela would be trying to sit very still, but at some point her little legs would begin to swing, and she would begin to look around, and her Papa's big, strong hand would settle, gently, carefully on her little pink hand, like a winter-dried leaf floating down on a soft little butterfly, and he would turn his head and regard her with a solemn expression, and then he would wink, and Angela would see the sparkle in his eyes, and she would giggle and lean against her Daddy, and he would pull her up on his lap and she would fall asleep, her head laid back against him and his arms around her waist, her little hands laid on top of his big strong ones. Sarah knew her mother looked over at her occasionally, regarding her with the mixed feelings of any mother who knew her daughter was ripening and maturing and changing and was soon to be a woman grown, and Sarah knew her Mama would have conflicting feelings, but she would still manage to look dignified and she would still be listening attentively to the Parson's words. When the assembled stood and received the benediction and the Parson marched solemnly down the center aisle, Sarah stood, still holding Mr. Llewellyn's hand: in their turn, they filed out of the pew: Sarah hesitated as they came abreast of the Sheriff's pew and Sarah whispered, "I will join you in a moment," and Llewellyn, puzzled, considered and then nodded: she could almost read his thoughts as they scampered across his eyes: I could stay and wait with her. She said she would join me momentarily. She wishes a confidence. I will respect her wish. Esther gave Sarah a knowing look, and turned to stand beside her: the Sheriff raised a questioning brow, but there was some subtle communication between the two: Angela was drowsy in his arms, her head laid over against his collar bone; she opened her eyes far enough to see Sarah and smile, then her eyes closed again, and the Sheriff proceeded with the departing congregation, down the aisle toward the Parson's clutch in back. "Aunt Esther," Sarah murmured, "I would counsel with you." Esther gave Sarah a warm and affectionate look and tilted her head a little. "There are things you must know," she whispered back, "things a woman should know. I have the sword with me." Sarah's face paled and her eyes went wide as she reached out and seized the back of the pew to steady herself.
  2. Linn Keller 3-2-13 The sun moved far enough the Sheriff moved to the other bench in front of his office. There would be sun there for a little bit and he didn't want to sit inside. He felt her animal warmth beside him and her hand in his was warm, and soft, and everything a beautiful young woman's hand should be. "I heard what she said to you," Sarah said quietly. The Sheriff squeezed, very slightly, but made no other reply. "She is wrong, you know." He squeezed again, but made no other reply. Sarah sighed patiently. They sat together, unmoving, deceptively relaxed. Only the uninitiated would be fooled by their seeming stillness; only the utterly suicidal would think of challenging either of them. "I had a dream last night, Papa." The Sheriff stiffened, then twisted in his seat: he sat up very straight, then slowly, slowly turned to face his daughter. Sarah was looking straight ahead, her chin elevated a little; she still wore her severe grey schoolmarm's dress, her hair drawn up into a tight walnut on top of her head; her expression was a little less than calm, and the Sheriff saw the discomfort in her eyes. "I dreamed," she said, "that I went to Denver." She looked directly at the slender lawman with the iron grey mustache, a hint of rebellion in her eyes. "I went with my husband." He nodded, once. "It wasn't Mr. Llewellyn." The Sheriff's eyes shifted once, but only once, from her left eye to her right. "When I go to Denver," Sarah said, licking her lips, "things ... happen." The Sheriff nodded. "It did." Her eyes refocused into the here-and-now and she saw the serious look in her father's eyes. Sarah shivered a little. "We went to a concert in the same hall where my mother's ... where he was murdered." The Sheriff nodded, once. "It was ... moving." She closed her eyes for a long moment. "The ... music ... I was ..." Sarah took a long breath to steady herself. "I must have slept but the music carried me. I don't know where it took me but I remember it clearly." Sarah bit her bottom lip and her hand tightened on the Sheriff's. "I was a warrior-maiden in a white silk battle gown and I wore a silver helmet with white wings. I stood before a throne, a simple throne of heavy wood, and an old man ... a dignified, powerful, old man sat in the throne. He held an ax, a great two-bladed ax, and beside him a shield." Sarah stopped, breathing quickly, turned her head away, closing her eyes but gripping her Papa's hand desperately, tightly, as if afraid she would be torn from him. "A crow rested on each of his shoulders and he looked at me with his pale eyes and he told me to ... fly over the field of battle, and find those warriors' souls worthy to share his board." She choked once and a tear escaped her eye. "A goddess came from behind his throne and drew a sword. "She said that I must know some things, things that women know, and she held out the sword and bad me take it. "I did." Sarah bowed her head and the Sheriff went to put his arm around her shoulder, the move of a Daddy comforting his little girl. "No," she whispered, pulling away, but never releasing his hand, and he withdrew his arm. "I ... laid my hand on hers, upon the grip, and upon hers on the back of the blade and she slipped her hand away so I grasped the ... so I held bare steel." The Sheriff nodded, once. "I saw all that she knew, Papa. I saw all of time and I saw all that she'd seen, and I saw her death." Sarah's face screwed up and the whip-lash started to darken, a diagonal stripe down her face. "Papa, she had red hair and green eyes and she wore an emerald gown, and I heard a child's cry, an infant, new born, crying for she had no mother to hold her." There was a flapping of wings and a crow settled on the Sheriff's left shoulder. "The ... he ... on the throne ..." Sarah raised a hand to her Papa's face. "He had your eyes, Papa." A second crow flew in, landed on the Sheriff's other shoulder, cawed harshly, and Sarah heard a step behind her. "Sarah." Sarah's face went dead white and she turned. Esther drew her fencing blade, slowly, steel whispering from scabbard as she raised the schlager in salute. "There are some things you must know," Esther said, her eyes as green as the shimmer of her emerald gown. "Take the blade." Sarah came bolt upright in bed, eyes wide, breathing like she'd just run a mile and a half in the thin Colorado atmosphere: her eyes strained in the dark, swinging left, then right: she threw back the covers, her bare feet found her slippers, she staggered to the window, clutched the frame on either side, leaned her forehead against the window frame, her breath fogging the cold glass. What am I looking for? she thought. It's winter. There are no crows this time of year. She looked out into the darkness, searching methodically, finding nothing: finally she realized she was searching for some sense to what had just jerked her out of a sound sleep. "I won't find the answer there," she whispered, turning: "the answer is within me." She worked the slippers off her feet and lay down again, willing herself to return to her Papa, remembering how pale his eyes, remembering the crow on each shoulder, remembering Aunt Esther and the psychic shock as she grasped the blade.
  3. Linn Keller 3-2-13 Brother William smiled a little as he picked up a can of peaches. One of the children he knew loved peaches, and he knew he'd best get two cans, because if he got just the one can, this child was of such a sweet and generous nature that he'd give away its contents before he took the first taste, and that meant he would have none for himself. Brother William's ear twitched and he froze, turning his head very slowly, listening. "He doesn't have but one arm," a voice whispered. "What's he gonna do, run us down and kick us to death?" "It ain't right," whispered the other. "Yaah, yer yella. Yer yella as a daisy!" Brother William hefted a can in each hand: he felt his face tighten and his scalp tingled and he wished most sincerely that he had some way to summon the Marshal. He looked between the shelves and saw one of the pair stuffing something into his shirt: he took three quick, quiet steps toward the end of the shelf, came around the end as the proprietor said "I hope you intend to pay for those." One of the men was backing toward the front door, his eyes big: his hands were in front of him, he was shaking his head, he had the expression of someone who didn't want to see what he probably was going to see. Brother William swung out, intentionally positioning between the thief and the front door. "You might want to pay the man," he said mildly. "I ain't afraid of no man that wears a dress," the thief blustered and shoved toward Brother William. He met a can of peaches headed the opposite direction: Brother William drove it sideways right across the bridge of the man's nose, just as hard as he could hit him. Blood and peach juice squirted in both directions and Brother William twisted, drawing his right knee up to his flat belly and driving the side of his foot into the thief's belt buckle, folding him up and knocking him backward and down the narrow hallway: he slid on the oiled boards, purloined goods scattering out of his shirt. Brother William's eyes were hard, his jaw set, lips apart a little and he turned, thrusting the other can of peaches toward the shocked stranger standing with his back to the front door. "You," he said, stiff finger extended, "told him you would have nothing to do with his theft. You are blameless. Go fetch the Marshal and report back to me." The one-armed proprietor wiped peach juice off his cheek and grimaced. "Do you really think he will be back?" he muttered. "Yes," Brother William said shortly, holding up the dripping can. "I need to pay for three of these." "You only have two." Brother William held up the ruined can. "I need to replace this one." Jacob reined up as Jackson Cooper carried some fellow out of the Mercantile. Jackson Cooper carried the man by the back of his belt: he wasn't unconscious, and Jacob leaned forward a little, crossing his arms over the saddle horn, taking in the spectacle: the prisoner shook his head, elbowed Jackson Cooper in the leg, and Jackson Cooper picked him up and dunked him in a horse trough. Of course this meant he picked him up a little and dropped him onto the inch of ice a couple times until it broke, then he held him under the cold water for a minute. Hauling him out, he continued walking toward the lockup, casually, as if nothing were out of the ordinary: it was a testament to the man's strength that he was able to hold the soaking wet, dripping, coughing prisoner far enough away from his leg not to get his britches wet. "Jackson Cooper," Jacob called, lifting his hat. "I see you have a new carpet bag." Jackson Cooper laughed, his big booming laugh as sizable as the mountain of meat that generated it: "Carpetbagger, more likely!" he declared. "I knew too many of their kind!" "I ain't no carpetbagger," the prisoner protested, coughing again. "I was a-gonna bury him but he said he was alive," Jackson Cooper continued good-naturedly. "'Course you know how them carpetbaggers lie." Jacob nodded. "I heard tell they couldn't tell the truth if they had to," he agreed. Jackson Cooper looked around, considering. "You know," he said conversationally, "I'm feelin' a bit lazy today. Might be I'll just drop this trash off for the Sheriff before I toss it in a hole someplace." "He'd ought be home," Jacob said, looking down-street a little. "I see smoke out of the stove pipe." "Well, good," Jackson Cooper said, resuming his ponderous pace. "It's a bit frash out here and that-there stove will feel kind of good." "Don't drink the coffee," Jacob offered, lifting Apple-horse's reins. Jackson Cooper laughed again, his great booming laugh echoing off the building fronts. "This is ugly you see, not stupid!" he declared. "I don't want to stunt my growth!" Jacob laughed as well, laying Apple-horse's reins against the stallion's neck: habit was a hard thing to break and though his Appaloosa was knee-trained, he automatically used the reins a little bit, though not enough to bear pressure on the bit. "Customer," Jackson Cooper called cheerfully as he came through the door. The Sheriff looked up from the Colt revolver that lay disassembled on his desk; he had a brass bristle brush in one hand, spectacles halfway down his nose: he looked over the lenses and tilted his head toward the hallway. "Key's on the peg," he said, "you might want to fire the stove back there if he's wet as he looks." "Nah, I'll let him freeze," Jackson Cooper growled for the prisoner's benefit as he threw a wink at the Sheriff. "As you wish," the Sheriff said, turning back to his detail cleaning job. "The frost ain't too thick back there. If you find any froze up carcasses let me know, the dogs is hungry and I need to cut up some meat for 'em." Jackson Cooper, being unable to top his friend's comment, carried the prisoner back to the cell nearest the back stove. Brother William frowned, leaned over a little and studied the floor. "That's got the floor," he murmured. "Did any splash back of the counter?" The proprietor turned, looking again. "No," he said. "Just the counter top." "I'll get that. Let me dump the mop water." When Brother William came back from dumping the bucket out back, the proprietor had three cans of peaches in Brother William's basket, set on the end of the counter. Brother William hung up the mop so it would dry, laid the bucket on its side, open end toward the stove. "Here, pass me that wipin' rag. I'll get the front of the case." Brother William labored steadily, cleaning not only the mess from the most recent disagreement, but a general cleaning, over and above what was needed: he saw a few areas that needed his attention, gave it quickly, efficiently, rinsed out the cleaning rags and dumped that water also. After washing out the cloths, washing his hands and making sure things were to his satisfaction, he pulled the drawstrings loose on his purse and said "How much do I owe you?" The proprietor shook his head. "No charge." Brother William laughed and made a quick mental calculation. "The Brethren of my order take a vow of poverty," he said, "but in business it tends to come unbidden." He counted out the necessary coins, intentionally paying twice what the take was worth; he had more than the three cans of peaches and his conscience would not allow him to accept the shopkeeper's charity. "You take that," he said quietly, "and you have the thanks of a soft headed old man." The proprietor blinked, puzzled. "I don't follow," he admitted. Brother William reached into the basket, hefted a can of peaches. "These," he said, "will bring smiles to a dozen children's faces." He looked at the proprietor and the one-armed man saw a deep sadness in the gently smiling clergyman. "I saw too much in that damned War," he said softly, "and in what they did afterward." He closed his eyes for a long moment. "These days I try to ..." He swallowed, picked up the basket. "The children will be happy," he husked, ducking his head and pulling up his habit's hood: bowing, he turned and headed for the door. The one-armed proprietor watched as the door shut behind the tall priest in the Cistercian-white robe, then he looked down at the double payment, blinked, frowned and counted it again. "Well I'll be damned," he whispered. The Sheriff closed one eye, squinting at the box elder twig: tilting his head, he took an experimental cut, took another, the sharp edge of his boot knife whittling neatly through the green wood: he nodded, notched it, put it to his lips, blew. A single sweet note hung on the cold air. A big-eyed schoolboy watched, awe-struck, as the Sheriff turned a short stick into a magical device. The Sheriff handed it to the lad, smiling, turned the boot knife in his fingers and slid it into his tall boot-top: the handle was just visible behind the dog ear pull, and only if you knew where to look: the blade was thin, a belly to it from years of whetting, but it suited him: there was plenty of steel to the blade yet and he figured to use it until there was nothing left to sharpen, for he was a thrifty man. The sun slanted under the overhang, barely enough to reach him: he knew shortly the sun would climb and shadow's chill would overtake his seat, but for the moment he was warm, and out of the wind. The Sheriff rose, lifted his hat as one of the town's ladies came up the boardwalk. "Mrs. Rokh," he said pleasantly. "I saw what you did, Sheriff," Mrs. Rokh hissed, stopping, disapproval radiating from her like a bristling corona: "you were bribing that little boy so he wouldn't think of you for what you are." "Yes, ma'am?" the Sheriff said mildly. "You're a killer," she snapped. "You're just a gunfighter, you're a hired killer, you're a thug and you're trying to twist an innocent young mind!" "And which mind," he asked quietly, his eyes veiled, "am I twisting?" "Every child you talk to! You taught that poor schoolteacher to kill, you taught your son to murder, he's no better than you are now, your own son!" -- her voice was like sandpaper -- Heaven knows what you're teaching your little daughter! The poor child! Now you're teaching schoolboys that you are just a kindly old man who makes whistles!" The Sheriff nodded. "I thank you," he said slowly, "for the candor of your comments." "Hmph!" Mrs. Rokh hoisted her nose in the air, whirled on her heel and stomped off, disapproval in the set of her shoulders, disdain in her spine and in three steps, she fell face first off the end of the board walk, missing the step and landing full-out in the fresh snow. The Sheriff sighed, shaking his head, then he helped Mrs. Rokh roll over: her nose was bloody and probably broken, so he bunched up his silk wild rag and helped her hold it a-bunch on either side of the nose, he picked her up, and he carried her across the street to the hospital. Mrs. Rokh did little more than groan, though tears of shame burned her cheeks and stung her eyes, and she was grateful for the generous amount of silk held against her face, helping disguise her identity, for she knew the Sheriff's wordless kindness and the gentleness of his touch proved the lie of her words and heaped coals of shame on her head.
  4. Linn Keller 2-28-13 The Sheriff swung the ax in a tight arc. Wood clove cleanly, the chunks splitting away from the double bit ax. Linn picked up one of the chunks, set it back on the stump, swung the ax again: things were not particularly demanding in the Sheriff's office and he was a believer in having plenty of supplies on hand, and so he was looking to his stove wood. He'd sawed these to the right length: the Daine boys found a standing dead hardwood somewhere that wasn't worth much for lumber, so the Sheriff bought it off them for fire wood and they bucked it up into workable lengths and hauled it down for him. The Sheriff paused and looked up, his eyes tightening a little at the corners. He was warm enough, cutting wood warms a man, and he was grateful for the heat he was generating, for the sight of snow coming down again was enough to throw a chill at a man. He set up another chunk, swung the ax. The Kolascinski young applied themselves studiously to their lessons; their Ma saw to it they valued learning, and the woman set an example for them to foster a love of reading in them: Papa Kolascinski once told them, "All the knowledge in the world is contained in books," and the children took his words to heart. The family took the Sheriff's quiet recommendation to heart and filed gold claim on their entire property, and a good thing, for shortly after Inge's husband was trapped in a gold mine cave-in and barely found his way out, wallowing out a wet hole in rock strata and scraping most of the hide off his front and back both and emerging by happy accident out the mountainside not terribly far from their cabin -- well, the man decided someone else could dig gold out of a dark mine, and he quit, and Inge found nuggets in the little falls up-hollow from their cabin. It was a secret the family guarded. They laid claim to the stream as far down-mountain as they could, until they hit the Baxter claim; they were greatly tempted to pan the creek as fast and as vigorously as they could, but they did not. Nuggets, when found, went into a sock, the sock went into a hole in the fire place and the concealing stone fitted back into place, keeping their wealth secret: in addition, Inge had three secret nugget stashes about their property. Kohl, her husband, devoted himself to providing for their family as best he could, farming and tending their milk cows and two mules -- there had been three more beeves, two heifers and a bull, until a grizzly decided it wanted fresh beef: a fence is small impediment to Griz and a heifer and the bull escaped, running panicked into the mountains, never to be seen again: one was killed and partly eaten and Kohl drove a rifle ball behind the grizzly's little pig ear, dropping it with one shot. This most recent snow fall, though, was a few months after all that unwanted excitement: the family knelt on their rough floor, rag rugs little help padding knees from wood floor, but none of them minded, for the stove was warm, they were together and fed, and Inge held the green-glass Rosary before her, and the family prayed together. Little Joseph waited until the light, fluffy snow built up some before slipping outside: laughing, he found a drift, burrowed into it, tunneling through the white, fluffy stuff, jumping up in a spray of snow when it all collapsed on top of him. Shaking the snow off, he slogged over to the fence and reached through to pet Boocaffie: the broad beamed beef snuffed loudly at the apple-cheeked little boy, just before Annette ran an arm around the lad's belly and picked him up with a grunt. Swinging him up on a hip, Annette held out a sweet roll. "Now don't you get any ideas," she warned Boocaffie. "I don't want to have to patch fence today." She looked up, looked across the pasture. "Not in this snow!" Angela laughed as she ran for her Daddy's waiting hands. The Sheriff snatched her up and hoisted her arm's length overhead and Angela, arms wide like wings, threw her head back and yelled "Wheee!" Sarah smiled at the pair from the top of the schoolhouse steps and Angela pointed up at the big, fluffy, slow-falling feather-flakes and declared, "Tssno!" The Sheriff brought her down and Angela seized her Daddy's Stetson and clapped it on her head. "Angela, that's sssnow," the Sheriff said gently. Angela hoisted the hat above her head, holding it at arm's length. "I know, Daddy," she agreed, nodding. "Tssno!"
  5. Linn Keller 2-27-13 Cold holds little terror for the young, and for the young at heart. It may still be winter and there was still snow on the ground and it was still blue cold but the children were outside, running and laughing and somehow a pickup game of baseball got started. Sarah bent at the waist, glaring at the batter, the ball held behind her: Emma squatted behind the plate, her spectacles on top of her head, punching her glove in anticipation of the hard-thrown ball. "C'mon, Miss Sarah!" a boy yelled, "put some pepper on it!" Sarah straightened, bringing glove and ball down together, elaborately going into her set, then she stopped and pretended to fish something out of her pocket and pretended to shake some pepper from a non-existent pepper shaker onto the ball: wrinkling her nose, she fake-sneezed once or twice, to the laughter of the children, then she wound up, leaning waaaaaay back on one foot, whirled her arms and pretended to lose her balance, then came down and fired the ball across the plate and squarely into Emma's glove. "STEEERIKE THREE! YER OUTTATHERE!" the Welsh Irishman yelled, straightening: he'd been drafted by noisy acclaim of the children when he ... accidentally ... came wandering over as the children formed up their pickup game. Sarah handed the glove to a grinning little boy who scampered ahead of her, pausing only to kick the snow off his shoes before charging up the clean-swept steps. Sarah walked over to the Welsh Irishman, smiling, and he took her hands in his own. "Oooh, your hands are warm," she said. "I'll have to hold hands with you more often." "I'd like t' arrange that," he admitted, taking both her hands firmly between both of his. "You can throw like a house afire!" Sarah smiled and dropped her eyes, smiling a little. "A shame it is that ye're a girl. We cuid use a guid pitcher when we play." Sarah looked up at him, mischief bright in her eyes. "I can arrange that," she whispered. "I dressed like a boy to jockey a race at the county fair. Nobody knew the wiser until I got home and the Sheriff asked me about it." "I thought you said nobody knew," Llewellyn said as they turned and walked slowly toward the schoolhouse steps. "He finds things out," Sarah said. "Like I do." "Ah." "I have to go in now." "I know." He gave her hands a little squeeze. "Thank you for coming over," Sarah smiled. "We needed an umpire." The Welsh Irishman turned a remarkable shade of red and Sarah would not have been surprised if he'd kicked at the snow like a bashful boy kicking dirt. Sarah turned and glided up the steps and into the schoolhouse, and the Welshman didn't have to worry about his footing, about occasional slick packed snow between himself and the firehouse. The man was walking on air and smiling to himself, remembering those eyes and the feel of those hands in his own.
  6. Linn Keller 2-27-13 There was the corpse, the Parson, the mourner and myself. Digger and his two, the Parson and I, were on the ropes as we eased the box down into the hole, and Digger's men shoveled in the dirt. My arm was around Forrest's shoulders when we walked away from the hole. I have seen many men in grief but I never saw anyone who looked so ... hollow. Like he was a shell. A walking shell of a man. After the funeral, once it was just him and me, Digger and I dickered and argued and slickered and swindled one another for maybe an hour over how much he was going to pay for that funeral parlor I bought and we finally came to a deal, both of us muttering darkly about how badly each of us got cheated, but once we shook hands we looked at one another and laughed, why, realized that he made a good buy and I made a good sale, and Digger dry-washed his hands happily as he prepared to go freight his goods back. Young Forrest arranged for a marker -- he asked for one of those white bronze markers, and Digger made a face, for they were considerably less expensive than good Vermont marble, but the deal was struck and Digger filled out the order and had Forrest double check the dead woman's name's spelling, and her dates of birth and of death. He had Digger add "Infant child, stillborn," underneath. I did not know it for a week but when Digger went over and began emptying out that funeral parlor, he found the infant, or what little there was of it, wrapped up and in a tiny little box. I think it was a little wood shipping box of some kind but whatever it was he brought it back and planted it in the grave with its mother and that was decent of him. I closed the journal just as someone knocked on the door. It was Forrest. He'd gone over with Digger and gathered all his worldly good and he had his lifetime's total accumulation of wealth and material in a single carpet bag, which he set down beside the door. I rose and crossed the floor to meet him and we shook hands. He still looked sick and lost. "Thank you, Sheriff," he said. I nodded. "I'm heading out. There's a gold strike out Montana way and I reckon I'll go there." I laid a hand on his shoulder. "Forrest," I said, "don't get gold fever. Let someone else dig out that yellow metal. Wealth is in the miners' pockets. A man who takes a wagon load of picks and shovels will get rich. Sell a two dollar shovel for twenty dollars and you will be blessed as a saint. Take fresh eggs and sell those for a dollar apiece or in winter for five dollars apiece and you will be a generous benefactor. Supplies are where the money is, not in the ground." Forrest nodded. He picked up his grip and we went up to the Mercantile and I had the one armed proprietor package up a dozen shovels and break down a dozen picks and he crated those too, and I paid the man extra to stencil Forrest's name and the destination on the crate so there would be no mistaking whose it was: Forrest and I carried the crate down to the depot and I saw him on his way, and damned if he did not send me a hundred dollar bill six months later and said I was right, and he was starting a dry goods store and doing well. But that was six months hence and I don't want to get ahead of myself.
  7. Linn Keller 2-26-13 The undertaker just got the corpse's face powdered and looking somewhat less ghastly, and he got that backless gown on her and tucked in, and she was layin' in that box all presentable, covered up to her waist and a few flowers tucked into her one hand, when another woman came in. I recognized her. Laurel, I think her name was, or Laura, I'm not sure which. She had not an easy time of it, if I'd heard rightly, and out of need she'd pursued the "horizontal refreshment" trade: men talk, and her skills were legendary in certain ... well, her skills were rumored to be legendary. Cousin Frankie called her by name when she came in the funeral parlor. She walked up to the box and looked long at the still figure within, then she reached in and laid a hand on the corpse's hand for a long moment. I stood there with my hat in my hand, watching. I'd seen so much of death it don't bother me that much when it's a stranger. When Jacob was shot that time, when that wagon run over Sarah and I thought she was dead, when my little Joseph quit breathin' and I grabbed him and screamed him back to the land of light and life, why, it bothered me somethin' terrible, but a stranger ... no, I'd seen too much of it, and I reckon that part of me was kind of dead too. Something still touched me, though, the way Laurel looked when she turned away. "She took something, didn't she?" she asked Cousin Frankie. "Why would you say that?" I asked. She turned to me, too sorrowful to take offense. "She asked me what she could take for ... female troubles." "What did you tell her?" "I told her I ground a few dried pennyroyal leaves and brewed a tansy for female troubles." I nodded, withdrew the bottle from my pocket. "Could you identify this smell, please." Laurel came closer, frowned a little as she looked at the bottle, then her mouth opened: she reached for it, sniffed, handed it back. "Forrest got her this, didn't he?" "I'd like to find out." "Pennyroyal oil," she said, shaking her head. "No, no, no ... I told her a tansy, grind three dead leaves at a time and brew them ..." She brought the back of her hand to her mouth, looked back at the coffin as the Sergeant closed it slowly, respectfully. "Sergeant," I said, "do you plan on staying in business?" "No," he admitted. "The town is dead. There's no ... " He shook his head. "You need a healthy population to have a dying population, Sheriff. This is my last customer and I don't know who's going to pay for her." I considered a moment. "How much to buy you out?" Burcher looked up, greed pushing the surprise off his face. It was early evening when I beat on Digger's door. He looked at the wagon behind me and shook his head. "Sheriff," he said, "every time you or your son bring me a wagon, it's a wagon load of trouble!" "This one's already boxed up for you," I said, handing him an inventory sheet. "I just bought you a funeral parlor that went out of business. Look this over and tell me how badly I got skinned." I hooked a thumb over my shoulder. "Might have this box brought in. I'll let you take a look at the take here while I return the wagon and go check on the mourner." Daciana frowned as she considered the small, square bottle. "Aboutdt an ountce," she said in her delightful accent, then sniffed at the open neck. "Pennyroyal," she frowned, then handed it back, eyes bright and sharp: "Vhat happendt?" "I'm trying to put it together," I said. "A lady of the evening said she told a dead woman to make a tansy of a few pennyroyal leaves, dried and ground, for female troubles." Daciana nodded. "I usse to regulate the moon-time," she said. "Idt helpss mitt cramping." "What about this ... oil?" "Very strongk. Iff she drank all diss ..." -- she nodded at the bottle -- "it vill miscarry a baby undt kill da mother." She raised a hand to her right rib cage. "Isst giffen for vorms uff de liver but too much ..." Daciana shook her head. "Idt may haff been accident," she said slowly. "Vass no instrucktionts mit dis?" "I don't know," I admitted. "I did not find the body." "I voot say possibly accident," Daciana nodded. I turned the bottle in my fingers, considering. "Thank you," I said, nodding. "You have been most helpful." I rode over to the hospital to check on that skinny young fellow we'd taken over there. Doc and I had a quiet conversation; the young man had not been benefited by his ordeal, but he was somewhat improved, and Doc figured I could ask him some questions. It was not a pleasant interrogation. Apparently the fellow -- considerably younger than I thought at first -- blamed himself for the woman's death. He admitted to buying her the ounce of pennyroyal oil. He said there were no instructions with it. He said neither he nor she knew how to use it and she did not want to go to the trouble of grinding leaves and brewing a tansy and so she tilted up the bottle and slugged down the whole ounce and chased it with some whiskey to cut the taste. He came back a few hours later and she was dead with that bottle still in her hand. He panicked, ran: I listened to his voice tighten, I saw fear in his eyes, I felt the self imprecations with which he flagellated himself, and after not terribly long I was convinced that he honestly had no idea just how potent this stuff was, and that what happened was a terrible accident. I told him as much. I pulled a chair up hard against the bed and set myself down and I took his hand in both of mine and I told him frankly and in so many words that what happened was not deliberate. I told him he had no intent of killing the woman. I told him "You told me neither of you knew she was with child. She wanted to regulate her monthly ... her time," and he nodded and gasped, "That's right." "You knew where to get oil instead of grinding and brewing." He nodded. "I was the general store's last customer. He sold it to me out of his wagon just before he drove off." I tightened my grip on his hand. "Listen to me," I hissed. "What happened was an accident. Neither of you intended this to happen. Neither of you knew any better. Neither of you are to fault!" I could see a flicker of hope and I knew I'd just thrown a drowning man a life ring. It might not ease the storm right now but it would be something he could hold onto. "Would you like to see her?" He nodded. "She's over at our funeral parlor. Would you like her buried here or back there?" "Not back there," he gasped. "Neither of us liked it there." I nodded. "Doc?" I asked, raising my head. "Is this man strong enough to walk?" It was sundown by the time I wiped my pen clean and put it away, closed the ledger book and locked the office. I rode home slow. I considered all that happened that day. I hugged Angela and I hugged my wife and I looked long at the twins and then I picked them up and held them too, and that night I loved my wife fiercely, almost desperately, and that night I dreamed Esther was dead and I was alone like young Forrest, and blaming myself for her death.
  8. Linn Keller 2-25-13 "Your Honor, I don't believe I'll be in court this morning." His Honor paused, looking up from bacon and eggs. I stood there, hat in my hand, uncomfortable: I do not like to disturb a man at his meal, especially not a man as influential as the Judge, but it was necessary -- time, tide and the Z&W Railroad wait for no man, and I had a train to catch. "Oh?" His Honor asked mildly, leaning back and regarding me with that little light of amusement in his eyes, as if regarding a restless lieutenant who wished to gallop after the enemy. "A young man came into my office," I explained, "pretty badly used up. I thought he'd been beaten, stabbed or shot. He claimed to have killed a woman -- Scarlett the name -- over in Sandoc. If he has committed a murder and came in with a confession on his lips, then I have a case." "If you have a confession," the Judge said rhetorically, "why bother?" I smiled a little. "As distressed as the man is," I said, "I have to make sure this Scarlett is dead, and that her death was a murder, and not the words of a man in grief." The Judge smiled at Daisy's girl as she refilled his coffee. "Thank you, my dear," he murmured, and the girl smiled and dipped her knees, for the Judge had a kindly way of speaking with folks unless he was being his official self. "A wise move, sir," the Judge said after a moment as he drizzled honey into his coffee. "You've made me soft, you know that." "Sir?" I asked. The Judge chuckled. "Remember what stuff we used to drink around a camp fire? Chicory, half-roasted coffee, bark, root or horse dung boiled up?" I nodded. "It was ... pretty bad, all right." "You mentioned a young man." "I don't recall as I said he was that young, sir." His Honor chuckled and I heard the man relax a little. "At my age," he observed, "just about everyone else is a young man or a young woman." I nodded, considering that I too was becoming rather august myself. "Find out, Sheriff. Find the truth." "Yes, Your Honor." A couple hours later I stepped out of the passenger car onto the Sandoc platform. Sandoc was dying and it looked it. Matter of fact Sandoc looked like it was ready to dry up and fall off the face of the earth like a scab off a healed wound. I led Cannonball out of the stock car and saddled her, I bridled her as more a formality than anything else, and we walked up the street to what passed for the Marshal's office. I was wrapping Cannonball's reins around the hitch post when a voice said "There's only one lawman rides a red horse hereabouts." "Hello, Cousin Frankie." "Hello yourself and be damned, how the hell you been?" I turned and stuck out my hand. "Yeah, God loves you too." We shook. "Now what in the hell brings you over here? The bank closed after 'twas robbed last week, the general store is fixin' to fold up ... hell, I ain't been paid for two months, I'm so poor I can't afford to pay attention!" I shook my head. "Frankie, you'd complain if you was hanged with a new rope!" "Yeah, trust me to cause trouble." Frankie tilted his head, regarded me with a skeptical eye. "Now why you here, cousin?" "Dead woman named Scarlett." Frankie looked uncomfortable and I felt like a hound that just hit a hot rabbit track's scent. "Yeah, she's dead all right," he said, "but howinell did you know it?" "What can you tell me about a long tall and real skinny fellow named Forrest?" "Forrest McCabe?" Cousin Frankie looked puzzled: he reached up under his hat and scratched his head, then reset his worn Stetson at something of an angle. "Forrest?" "He's the one fell into my office, so done up he could barely move. We had to carry him over to the horse pistol." "Hell, you even got a horse pistol now," Frankie muttered, shaking his head. "If the ore hadn't played out we'd be big as Cripple now." I waited. "We found Scarlett dead. Turns out the girl miscarried and that's what killed her. Never found no Forrest, didn't look like anythin' ..." Frankie's voice trailed off and he blinked a couple times, then jerked his head and set off across the street. He led the way to the funeral parlor. A dolorous fellow with a thick black mustache looked sadly at us when we come through the door. "Bad business, Marshal, bad business," he said in a voice that seemed to weep from a deep sepulcher. "Not enough people dying to make a living." "I know that, Sergeant," Cousin Frankie nodded. "Sergeant Burcher, this is Sheriff Keller from Firelands." "Oh, yes, Pale Eyes," the undertaker said sadly, shaking my hand with a grip that had all the character of a wet dish rag. I'm willin' to swear the man's hands were as cold as his clientele. "Sergeant, what can you tell me about Scarlett?" "Bad business, bad business," he replied sadly, shaking his head. "This way, please." He led the way to his preparation-room in the back of the building. A naked female form lay on his wooden table; her eyes were almost closed, she was the ugly color of someone who'd been dead for a while; she was clean, he'd obviously cleaned her up, he had a backless burial gown hung up behind her and a box settin' beside the slab. "As soon as I do her hair and paint her face," Burcher said gloomily, his eyes as dolorous as a basset hound's, "she will be presentable for the family." "Sergeant," I said, "was there anything unusual when you found the body?" "Only this." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a bottle. "This was beside her in the bed." I frowned, accepted the bottle, sniffed at its open neck. "Sergeant, you see quite a bit," I said slowly. "What do you think happened here?" The Sergeant picked up a sheet, snapped it once, draped it over the deceased. "Cause of death," he said, "was miscarriage." "Miscarriage?" the Marshal and I said together. Burcher nodded. I looked at the little bottle again, then I sniffed at it again: I went to the sheet, uncovered the dead woman's head, pulled her lip down, sniffed again. I looked up at the sorrowful-looking ex-Sergeant. "Suicide?" I don't think the man would look happy if you'd give him a hundred dollars in gold: he looked at me with the expression of a man whose heart was in the dirt and nodded, once. "Tell me again where this was." "It was in the bed with her." "Where in the bed? What position was she in?" "She was on her back, Sheriff, twisted a little." "Exact position." "Her head was turned to the ... right ... and both arms were crossed over her belly." I nodded. "Has she any family?" "No, Sheriff. She was a woman alone." "Her profession?" "She was engaged to a man named Forrest." Frankie and I looked at one another and I drew the sheet back over the dead woman's face. "Thank you, Sergeant. You have been most helpful."
  9. Linn Keller 2-24-13 The Sheriff looked up, frowning. He heard something out front ... his right ear pulled back a little, the way it did when he almost-heard something. The man's eyes narrowed and he rose, silent, nostrils flaring a little, reaching automatically for his Stetson on its peg: he eased across the floor, quietly, carefully, drew back the latch, then hauled open the door, pulling hard. He automatically thought of the heavy door as a shield and he knew that by keeping its angled surface between him and the opening, an incoming slug would bounce off the wood and not penetrate. It wasn't a bullet that hit the door. The Sheriff drew his right-hand Colt and stepped over the fallen body, sweeping left, then right, looking for anyone outside: running light and running fast, he half-skipped, half-strode to the right, then the left, peeking quickly around the corners of the little log fortress. Turning back, listening, smelling, he saw nothing, heard nothing: thrusting his revolver back into its floral carved holster, he stepped inside, squatted by the fallen man. Lean and practiced fingers sought the pulse in the neck: the man was alive, at least, but he looked like two hells ... something had this fellow distressed to the point of fatigue and exhaustion, something laid a grown man low, something collapsed this otherwise healthy specimen on the lawman's puncheons. The Sheriff rolled him over, pulling his shirt tight, looking for holes, tears, blood. Nothing, he thought. Decent grade of linen shirt. Mostly clean. Smells like he's had a bath fairly recently. He looked down the length of the man, assessing the cut of his trousers, his townie shoes. Fairly new material. No wear at the knees. Shoes are worn but not excessively. Looks like he's taken care of them. "Where you hurt?" he asked, his voice rougher than he intended. The man's face screwed up, grief in his eyes and pain in his voice. "I killed her," he gasped. "Scarlett. She's dead." "Where is she now?" the Sheriff asked. "Sandoc. I found her. She's dead." His face contorted, eyes squeezed tight shut, tears leaking out the corners. "I killed her." "What's your name, son?" the Sheriff asked, his voice deep, kindly, reassuring. The tall, dreadfully skinny fellow curled up tight, tight in a ball, so tired of crying he barely made a sound as he grieved. The Sheriff's gut told him things weren't quite how they appeared. The American Civil war saw a number of new innovations: among them, income taxes and the draft. The Sheriff had a low opinion of taxes, but he had never been bashful about recruiting from the Unorganized Militia, and he did so now. Two stout yeomen packed the litter and the Sheriff walked beside it; the stranger was still curled up in a ball but he was wrapped up in a blanket, for his flesh was cool to the touch and the Sheriff knew he'd have to warm up or he'd be in trouble. They packed him diagonally across the street and down a little to the fine stone hospital, and rang the good Doctor from his breakfast: the Sheriff gave the studiously frowning physician what little information he had and, to which Doc nodded and pursed his lips. The Sheriff waited until the nameless stranger was transferred to a hospital bed before retrieving the canvas stretcher; he thanked the litter bearers, folded the stretcher and said "Doc, I'll stop by in a few hours," and carried the litter back across to his office. Nurse Susan and Dr. Greenlees undressed the shivering, nearly catatonic patient. Nurse Susan frowned a little, took the man's wrist, examined his right hand. She leaned her head down, sniffed tentatively, looked over her spectacles at the physician. Doc Greenlees, curious, sniffed the man's clawed fingers and gave his nurse a puzzled look. "Pennyroyal?"
  10. Linn Keller 2-24-13 Forrest bent over, breathing hard, a trembling hand against the boxcar: he was sick to his very soul, his legs burned, his vision was spotty. Cold air stripped moisture from his throat, seared his laboring lungs; his ears ached, listening for the shouts of pursuit, of running feet. Wide and panicked eyes started from their sockets -- his fear was soul-deep, his horror absolute -- lights and lanterns stood out in stark relief and even stars overhead lanced down, pointing with silvery and accusing fingers at the fleeing man, pointing him out that Justice might find him and bring the full weight of Justice to bear upon his guilty soul. He'd been running -- at first in grief, then in blind panic, then in guilt: each successive goad was as a whip laid across his back: he ran and ran and ran again, and finally Forrest could run no more. Try as he might, Forrest McCabe could not outrun his own guilty conscience. Her name was Scarlett and she was dead, and he, Forrest, was convicted of her demise: the court was merciless, the jury without pity, the judge hard-eyed and harsh, the sentence immutable and terminal, and Forrest ran, ran from his own conscience, ran from the terrible, horrid, awful thing he'd done. Forrest clutched the open boxcar door, lungs burning, throat raw, weak: he tried to heave but his stomach was empty, and so he stood, and trembled, and realized he was about to collapse. He could not fall. If he fell he would surely be too weak to rise. Forrest looked into the open boxcar. It was mostly empty. Somehow -- how, he knew not -- he manged to wallow into the open car, where he lay on the floor for a long moment until his stomach rebelled again: though there was nothing to throw up, he still rolled over, groaning, and belly crawled with a painful, exhausted slowness, to one end of the car, where he found a tarp and rolled up between two crates. Judge Donald Hostetler slept as well: warm in his narrow but comfortable bunk, he slept dreamlessly, rolled up on his side. Old age and old war wounds reminded him of changes in the weather; like most men of his vintage, he was a prognosticator of precipitation, more reliable than any of the current meterological sciences or their instruments: tonight, though, scars and calcified bone-knits slept as well, and the pillow between his knees eased the ache that sometimes slowed the dignified jurist's gait. The Judge's breathing changed almost imperceptibly as the rail car shivered; distantly, shrill in the night air, came the short whistles from The Lady Esther, and the first train of the day -- still in morning's very early dark -- leaned into her burden and began hauling the train toward Firelands, some hours away. Lightning acknowledged the message that the train was enroute and on time -- dit dit, two distinct and separate clicks on the key -- noted the time in the log, then he stood and rolled his chair back. Stretching, he grinned: he was a happily married man and he enjoyed the natural use of his wife, and his wife, Daciana, enthusiastically and very joyfully enjoyed the natural use of her husband. As a matter of fact they celebrated one another that morning, and Lightning was still smiling inside. He added wood to the stove and shook down the ashes, wondering absently if he was throwing sparks into the dark above: the stove pipe had a cap on it but he kept threatening to put a screen on it like he'd seen on some locomotives, a screen to catch sparks, for the roof was hand split wood shakes, and he admitted to being a superstitious man. Lightning thought it very bad luck to set the place on fire. Forrest slept, exhausted: though exhausted, he was tormented: he clutched the rough tarp about him, groaning at times, his face lined and taut: some moments he relaxed, his breathing slowing, growing deeper, then he would groan or cry out and he would curl up like he'd been stabbed in the belly, and at times would weep, though not awake or even near to it. Forrest was a man under torture, and his torture-chamber carried itself along within him. Judge Hostetler tended his morning ablutions, shaving with quick, efficient little strokes of his straight razor: the man's mustache was trimmed, tidy, unlike the curled handlebar style that most Firelands men affected, even the Sheriff. His Honor had been in the Cavalry, as had the Sheriff, and both men affected facial hair during that damned war, partly out of fashion but mostly out of practicality: it was easier to trim a beard and a mustache than it was to lather and shave every morning: if a man didn't trim his beard for a week, it was scarcely noticeable, but a man who shaved, and shaved not for two or three days, was generally spoken to by someone in authority, and that was to be avoided. His Honor's scissors chattered happily as they brushed his upper lip, returning his cookie broom to its usual military precision. Forrest's eyes widened and he stiffened at the feel of boards shivering underfoot: heavy footfalls nearby fired his skinny frame from half-relaxed to fully-panicked: he tried to get up, but abused legs and overworked muscles failed him, and so he fell back, teeth bared and face contorted as pain blazed through him. His abortive attempt at rising was unnoticed, for the workmen were at the far end of the car, hauling out crates and bundles: they were loud, profane, their efforts were those of men at hard and honest labor, their attention solely upon their own work. Forrest waited, trembling, for they were surely emptying the car so they could seize him and lay hard and violent hands upon him and deliver him to the law, with kicks and curses and hard-swung fists: it was no more than he deserved, he knew, and when the far end of the car was empty, the men departed, and Forrest crawled -- painfully, his body screaming with the agonies he himself inflicted upon it -- elbows and belly and knees and toes propelling him across the floor of the car, inch by pained and painful inch, until he lay across the open doorway. Forrest tried to slide a leg out: turning over, he fell instead, landing face-down on the rocky ground. The Irish Brigade rose, thrusting into boots and hauling up trousers, hooking galluses over squared and muscular shoulders: rubbing faces and waking up, they staggered a few steps as waking men will, drawn by the good smell of coffee and frying bacon, for their designated breakfast detail was up an hour before the rest, and the smell of a good breakfast drew them all. Sarah sat with her family for breakfast, listening to conversation, watching as she always did: Bonnie smiled as Sarah bade Polly open wide, and examined the crater in her gum: nodding, Sarah laid gentle fingertips under Polly's chin and whispered "Close up now, catch flies," and Polly put her little hands on her nonexistent hips and tilted her head sideways a little and scolded, "Sawwah, there are no flies, it's winter!" The Sheriff closed his stove's door and picked up the ash-scuttle. He packed ashes outside, walked halfway into the street and carefully laid a broad stripe of wood-ash right down the middle of the street, as was his habit. It would be scattered soon enough, he knew, and because he was placing it carefully, there was minimal ash to settle on his freshly polished boots. He straightened and backed away from his work: looking up, he raised his chin in greeting, and Jackson Cooper raised his, just before the mountainous town marshal went into the Silver Jewel. Lightning did not see the stranger hobbling painfully along the depot platform; nobody saw the skulking figure fall heavily against the side of the building, apparently in some serious discomfort, before making his staggering way toward the main street.
  11. And politically, at least as far as Oregon is concerned...
  12. Linn Keller 2-23-13 It was night. Distant in the cold air, the ore train's steam whistle shivered its solitary, mournful note against sheer granite walls; wolves in the distance yodeled in reply, one mountain peak, then another. Stars glittered bright and hard against a smooth black silk curtain laid over the earth; frost glittered back from the ground, unseen but from the stars themselves. Jacob's eyes were closed, his lean body relaxed, his arm laid over his wife, warm and comforting, and her arm over him: behind Jacob's closed eyelids, the gas lights in the Jewel were bright, as were the ladies' eyes, and he turned at a measured pace, his step light and sure, and Sarah danced with him. The Welsh Irishman, too, slept, warm in his narrow bunk, with woolen trousers carefully dropped over waiting boot-tops; like the rest of the Brigade, he slept in his long handles and socks, so that at a moment's notice they might all thrust sock feet into boots, haul up their galluses, and be mostly dressed before moving one step from their bunk. The Welsh Irishman, too, dreamed: Sarah was in his as well, and he smiled in his sleep, for in his dream she was dancing with him as well, and when the music ended, she dipped low in a deep curtsy, then rose and raised her face to his. The Sheriff's breath caught as he slept and he heard the bugle again, and felt the earth shiver under the impact of half a hundred horses' charge: he felt the wind of a passing Minie ball on his cheek, heard the angry freight-train bumblebee as it drove past his ear, and he could not raise his sword, for he was held in a vat of invisible honey: he fought to move, his breath coming more quickly, until Esther slid a comforting hand up his belly and midway up his breast bone: the Sheriff's nocturnal tremors ceased, and she felt his breathing ease, and the groan, half-born in his throat, dissolved in the hiss of exhaled air. The Bear Killer, too, dreamed, his pink tongue momentarily slipping from between black lips, his big paws a-twitch ... but who knows what dreams a great, black-furred Dawg would have, save only that it must have been pleasant, for The Bear Killer's tail wagged as he slept. It was night: stars and frost and black silk sky, and a world immersed in its dreams.
  13. Linn Keller 2-23-13 The Brigade was like a bunch of boys in several respects, and Sarah saw this when it came time to clean off the table. With a pretty girl on kitchen duty, every man Jack of them wanted to be there with her: wash, dry, stack, it did not matter, the Brigade wanted to be in the company of this lovely creature: not because she'd just fixed them supper, not because she was to marry one of their own, but because she was young, she was pretty, because one curl of hair escaped the severe walnut on top of her head and twisted down the side of her face, unheeded, as her face turned pink from hot steam rising from the sink: Sarah washed with a will, dunked soapy dishes in the rinse bucket: the rinse bucket was dumped and refilled a number of times, not because it had to be, but because men will make fools of themselves for a pretty girl, and at one time or another Sarah was obliged to step back as a big-muscled Irishman insisted on handling some detail or another. Sarah was as smart as she was pretty, and part of her realized she had the entire firehouse wrapped around her pinky, and part of her whispered wickedly that she should take advantage of it: she gave in to it, momentarily, when she raised up on her tiptoes to give the English Irishman a quick peck on the cheek and a whispered "You're sweet" when he relieved her of a wobbly stack of dinner plates: she was careful to dispense just that very favor to every last Irishman, saving the Welsh Irishman for last: whether by design or by accident, they ended up together as the sink was emptied out, scrubbed, the dish cloth hung on its bar to dry, the towels hung: Sarah stopped, wiped a soapy wrist across her forehead, and looked around. The long table was clean, wiped down and dried, a fresh tablecloth laid. The chairs were all shoved back in, they too were wiped down and dried and in good order. The floor was swept and mopped, all but the little patch she stood on, and she took a quick, dancing step to the side to allow the man-powered mop its lavage, and in so stepping, nearly fell, and a strong pair of arms caught her, and she allowed herself to be caught. The Welsh Irishman held her, and looked at her, and looked into her, and Sarah felt herself changing some more ... becoming something she'd never been, and part of her, deep inside, realized she was healing, healing from terrible things that were done to her as a child: she was learning what it was to open her heart, to trust, to let herself be vulnerable. The Welsh Irishman was feeling a confusing mix of strength and uncertainty, of resolve and responsibility, and a little fear ... he'd never been responsible for more than himself, not in his personal life; he'd given no thought to getting a house or land, for his life was the firehouse, his bunk was with his mates, his lot was with them: but now, now as he held this warm and solid and puzzling and very, very feminine creature in his arms, he realized his world was expanding and expanding fast. Sarah took her time getting her feet under her. She decided she liked the feel of a man's strong arms around her, and part of the hard shell-wall she'd built around her heart cracked, and flaked, and fell away. Sarah looked up at Llewellyn, and he saw her eyes close slowly, slowly, her lashes sweeping almost audibly through the air as time slowed and his heart swelled and he realized God Almighty, I am going to MARRY this woman! and he saw the pulse of her pupils and felt her breath on his cheek and this manly man, this fighter of the Devil himself, this muscled, red-shirted, black-mustached, Welsh-bred singer of ancient songs and teller of ancient tales, felt an overwhelming sense of awe and delight. There is no love like one's first love, and the Welsh Irishman was falling, and falling hard. As a matter of fact, Sarah was too.
  14. Linn Keller 2-22-13 Sarah snatched up her wrap and fairly flew out the schoolhouse door, laughing. Emma smiled to hear it. She has been long indeed since I heard her thus, Emma thought, walking over to the gas heater and reaching down to turn off the valve. Emma straightened quickly, her eyes widening as a clatter and a yell, a whistle and the snap of a blacksnake whip rushed through the still-open door: she looked out the window to see the Irish Brigade and their steam-wagon galloping up the street, Sean standing in the driver's box, swinging the whip overhead, smoke rolling out the blunt, polished mouth of the steam-machine, and the Brigade holding onto railings and riding the trailing ladder-wagon, and at the foot of the stairs, Sarah, waving like a schoolgirl, kerchief fluttering in her hand: she was bouncing on her toes at the sight of their brave firemen, charging ahead to battle the Devil's own breath! Emma felt a giggle begin to bubble up from deep in her memory and she remembered what it was to be young and giddy, and to be able to let herself feel giddy at such a sight... what a wonderful freedom that had been! The Brigade felt their bellies tighten at the sight of smoke surging skyward: like boxers tucking their elbows, they prepared themselves mentally for the fight ahead of them, peering, craning, straining to see the involved structure so they would have an idea how to fight this old enemy that ever presented a new face. Sean hauled hard on the brake as he profaned the mares to a stop; the engineer flipped open the firebox door and threw in three quick scuts of coal, straightened to tap the steam-gauge, checked the water level. Running feet hit the ground, Irishmen shedding from the machine like rats from a sinking ship: muscled arms and strong backs hauled the rigid suction line from brackets on the ladder wagon, a callused pair of hands spun the strainer on the end, two Irishmen charged the stone-walled well and thrust the hard-line down into the subterranean reservoir, swearing terrible oaths at their sloth and slovenly brethren who followed with another length, and a third, enough to span the distance between the well and the steam machine's suction. Hard hands spun the final connection and brazen throats screamed at the engineer: the engineer spun open the valve, then eased open the steam-valve: the pop-off hissed like an angry snake, squirting a pure white plume of steam into the chilly air and the engine began to shiver a little as it always did as it pulled prime into the pump, then the hoses began to swell and Sean swore, "St. Florian, St. Christopher and Aunt Penny's billy goat, LET'S GET IT!" and the Brigade seized hoses and brass nozzles and drove streams of water into the structure's windows, aiming straight-stream lances into the conflagration, shattering the stream against ceiling, then walls, breaking the water into finer particles which then turned to steam in the intense heat, smothering the fire. "NOW FOR IT, LADS!" and Sean hit the door with his shoulder, shattering its lock: heat drove them back, until they brought a hose-line to the doorway and fought the heat, foot by reluctant foot, back into the house: men in black-rubber-coated fire coats squinted against heat and steam and hot splatter, coughing as they breathed the hot, high-carbon atmosphere, eyes stinging and burning until their watering eyes ran black snot out their nose and down their chins, affording welcome relief from the searing, smoky air. The Welsh Irishman half-waddled, then proned out and crawled, skinning ahead of the hose team, running his rescue search: turning right, always turning right, searching under beds, finding a closed closet door, hauling it open and searching within, reaching with long and practiced arms instead of looking: heat and smoke banked down to knee high, then ankle high, and he had to turn his face sideways to breathe what little air was near the floor, and always, always he had to remember where the door way, in spite of his several turns: they practiced this, hooding one another with a pillowcase back in the firehouse, or crawling about Sean's house, where they searched for Sean's children, who were hidden under beds and in closets -- as children commonly did, trying to hide from a fire. The Welshman felt something soft, something that wasn't blanket or doll -- he squeezed -- The cat yowled and swatted at him and he jerked his hand back as the cat streaked out from under the bed, screeching and spitting, and shot out the front door, between the German Irishman's legs and disappearing across the street, looking three feet long and three inches high as cats will when running from a fire. "Bloody hell!" the Welsh Irishman swore, then reached under again and found a leg. A small leg, a child's leg, and he grabbed and he pulled, hard. He heard a frightened whimper. "WHO ELSE IS IN HERE?" he shouted. The child coughed and tried to say something but could not. "God and Saint Christopher," the Welsh Irishman breathed, then rolled over, unsnapping his fire coat: he thrust the child inside, took several quick breaths, coughed, took a few more and gathered himself like a sprinter. Yelling, he surged to his feet and ran for the door. If all of Firelands turned out, the population would not be enough to interfere with the Brigade's work: turn out they did, for generally in the high country, a wood structure dried out quick and burned quicker once alight: to see a fire fought was a unique experience, for theirs was one of the few towns that had its own fire brigade, let alone a fine steam engine! They heard a roar from within, an answering bellow from Sean, then the Welsh Irishman charged out the front door, hugging something: he ran into Sean, ran into him hard, knocking the big Irishman off his feet: they ended up in a pile on the ground and the Welsh Irishman rolled away, throwing his coat open, and in the crowd a woman screamed a name and ran for the frightened little girl in the pink paisley dress that rolled out of the Welsh Irishman's fire coat, crying. The Welsh Irishman came up on all fours, coughing; he spat, swore and scrambled to his feet, tugged at filthy gloves, slung them off his hands and snapped his coat shut again: snatching up the gloves, he squared with raised fists, as if going after a boxing opponent, and charged back into the burning house. Sarah watched, hands clasped against her high belly, breathless with the bravery and the heroism of their beloved Brigade, and of the man who just brought a little child from the living breath of Hell itself ... the man who proposed to her, the man who would be her husband. Sarah breathed a little quickly and felt a little fainty, and part of her realized she was allowing -- she was permitting -- she was finally letting herself feel ... feel like she imagined she should feel. Sarah watched the mother and the child: she plucked the kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it against one eye, then the other, and then she turned and ran, ran as hard as she could away from the scene of bravery and heroism, ran from the sight of strong men doing what strong men did, ran from the sight of her husband-to-be. Sarah ran crying, ran for the firehouse. Sarah ran into the tall, narrow brick structure, sniveling, then stopped to wipe her closed eyes and blow her nose with a rather unladylike HONNK that echoed in the empty equipment bay. Sarah stopped and leaned against a wall, remembering the sight of Mr. Llewellyn, charging out of the doorway, a black figure silhouetted by flame, a man running at the top of his lungs, alarming all without that he'd found a living soul, that he was getting an innocent from harm's way, and Sarah felt light headed, giddy, as if her belly was soaring over the highest mountain peak. It took her several long moments to calm down. Later that night, after overhaul, after the structure was searched and explored and every trace of hidden fire discovered and killed, the Brigade returned to their firehouse and scrubbed hoses, washed and polished their beloved steam masheen, took on water and coal and loaded fresh, dry hose from the drying-tower, folding it in precise accordion fashion with the nozzle attached and secured in its spring-steel clip ... after coats were scrubbed down, boots cleaned and ranked in the heat to dry and the dry pair brought out, after feet and faces were washed, clothes changed, clean dry socks and clean dry boots and clean dry clothes put on, after they were made ready for the next response, only then did they sit down for supper. Only then did the Irish Brigade sit down to the meal Sarah had ready for them, at places set with tableware Sarah laid out, drinking fresh coffee Sarah brewed for them, and when they were finished with their meal, Sarah brought out four pies and proceeded to cut and serve good fresh still-warm-from-the-oven, dried-fruit pies, crusts golden and flaky, and even those with the fullest bellies found they could not even think of declining dessert. Later that night, as Sarah admitted to her mother (as her cheeks pinked to the saying of it) that she'd gotten the pies from the Jewel, as there was no time to fix supper and pie both, the German Irishman and the English Irishman were strictly enjoining the Welsh Irishman that he should waste no time at all in marrying the lovely Miss McKenna. "Man, if she can cook this well wi' no advance warning," the English Irishman declared, "she'll make a fine firehouse wife!" The rest of the Brigade, recognizing a good leg pulling when they saw it, shouted their encouragement, to the Welsh Irishman's red-faced but good-natured embarrassment: Sean stood, laughing, raised big, work-reddened hands for silence. "Lad," he said, his voice big and gentle, "answer me this." The Welsh Irishman nodded. "Ye ha'e seen her mither." "Aye, I have." "An' ye ha'e eaten her mither's cookin'." "Aye, I have." "An' ye still wish t' marry th' lass." "Aye, I do." Sean nodded. "Lad, when ye sit doon across fra' her mither an' take a good look a' her, ye'll see wha' yer lass will look like in twenty years. "When ye eat the mither's cookin' ye will know wha' yer lass cooks like, f'r they learn fra' their mither. "Now' -- he looked around, grinning -- "ye ha'e eaten her cookin', wha' she made on short notice an' not knowin' what we had on hand." The Welsh Irishman raised an eyebrow; the rest of the Brigade nodded, or leaned back and rubbed contentedly-full bellies. "Do ye still figure ye're makin' a guid choice?" "You're damned right," the Welsh Irishman said quietly, and there was certainty in his voice.
  15. Linn Keller 2-22-13 I am a fish. Sarah stood in the doorway to the schoolhouse, looking out at the rapidly retreating children. She stood and watched, eyes busy, a thoughtful and almost distant look about her face. Emma Cooper was at the front of the schoolroom, tidying what little was needed; she and Sarah were both quite neat, and their example carried over a little to the students. Sometimes. Sarah stood in the open door, then blinked and dropped her eyes. I am a fish. What was it that man from Chicago told me? ... He was a petty hood and he was in jail and awaiting transport back East, and we conversed through the bars. Oh, yes. "Being a big fish in a small pond is dangerous. "Being a small fish in a big pond can be very profitable." Profit ... I have no wish ... ... yes I do ... profit is necessary ... Sarah drew the doors closed, turned slowly, walked thoughtfully up the center aisle. I am not really a big fish in our small pond ... but I am ... a very noticeable fish. She brought clasped hands up to her mouth, looked up at Emma Cooper, her eyes bright behind her round-lensed schoolmarm spectacles, and Emma saw a smile in that look. The older woman smiled. "Thinking of your beau?" she asked quietly, and Sarah shook her head, smiling into her hands. "No," she murmured, "but perhaps I should." Sarah sat slowly on one of the student benches, her eyes drifting toward the window. A closed mouth gathers no hooks. "You are taking a very big step," Emma Cooper said, straightening a small pyramid of books on the corner of her desk and walking over to Sarah: smoothing her skirt under her, she sat beside the pretty younger woman with the severe hairdo. "I know," Sarah whispered. "It was ... a little difficult when Jackson Cooper and I married," Emma said quietly, and Sarah looked at Emma, surprised. "Oh, yes," Emma nodded. "I was ... a maiden lady and a woman of my years usually does not marry." "But you did." Emma laughed. "Oh, yes, dearie ... and I am so very glad I did!" She gave Sarah a warm look. "Even if he does snore and hog the covers!" The two women laughed. Emma took Sarah's hands. "When I met Jackson Cooper, I met my best friend." Her hands tightened on Sarah's to emphasize her words. "I married my best friend and that is the very best thing I have ever done in my entire life!" Enjoy your life, girl, she heard, as if a whisper, and the voice was Charlie's. Sarah smiled and hugged Emma, quickly, impulsively. "Thank you," she whispered, then she jumped up and ran, laughing, for the schoolhouse door.
  16. Linn Keller 2-21-13 The three of us rode the steam train to Denver. The three of us rode it back. I don't recall as we passed more than a half dozen words on the way to. On the way from we weren't nearly as anxious. Sarah did a fine job of testifying at the inquest. She scrubbed off the ointment and made herself look school-marm-ish as she could. Mr. Llewellyn wore his good suit. Sarah said she'd smeared ointment in it when he held her but I could not see the least sign of a stain so I reckon one of the ladies worked her laundress's magic on it. Sarah was sworn in and she seated herself, holding a kerchief to one side of her face like it hurt. "Miss McKenna," the presiding judge said, "could you please tell the court what happened on the night in question." Sarah nodded, her eyes on the floor. She looked considerably less comfortable than when she seated herself. "My fiancee and I," she began, "brought my little sister on the train. My sister -- Polly -- had a tooth ache and I wished to gain her relief as soon as could possibly be done." She closed her eyes, took a composing breath. "When we ... I looked around from the depot platform and espied a cab. "I gave the cabbie the address and we boarded and were immediately enroute. "It was several minutes before I looked out the window. "It was full dark, of course, but I did not recognize the area. "I addressed the cabman in a loud voice and demanded to know where he was taking us." Sarah lowered her kerchief. The whip-strike stood out, angry and red, the length of her face. There was a murmur from the assembled, a collective intake of breath. "The cabbie slashed down with his whip and cut me here, as you see." She turned her head to give everyone the full benefit of the angry red stripe, even the Judge on his elevated platform: I looked around, reading the audience, and saw shock, anger and sympathy for the slight-built, pale-skinned young schoolmarm on the witness stand. "I drew my Bulldog pistol and put a shot through the man's hat, intentionally missing the crown of his head, and I ordered him to throw away the whip and stop the cab. "He did not. "He whipped up the mare. "I knew on that moment he wished to bring us to a dark and nefarious end and so I acted to keep myself, my fiancee and my little sister, alive." Sarah's eyes were bright and glittering; her hands were in her lap, the kerchief clutched in her hand. "I fired three shots into the man's rib cage, beneath his right shoulder blade. "We assumed the reins and brought the cab about as another robber ran out to seize the mare's bridle. "I recognized the area from previous discussions with the Denver Detective's Bureau, and knew this was the place where a notorious murderer was in the habit of bringing fares, where they would be murdered, robbed, their bodies dumped in a ditch or an open grave. "I fired a shot into the ground and so dissuaded the second robber from any further action, save only his hasty retreat." Sarah's chin was lifted; her words were calmly, slowly, clearly spoken, that she may be heard to the furthest row: I nodded a little, for it is no easy task to speak thus when one's freedom rides on how the court will view one's actions. "We steered our course for the nearest police-station, where we enlisted the assistance of the duty Sergeant and the detective whose testimony I believe follows my own. "With their invaluable assistance -- for by this time I was quite lost" -- her smile was faint, and I saw sympathy in the looks she was given -- "we gained the dentist's office. The man was good enough to see my sister on the moment and she was relieved of the offending tooth." "And can the detective corroborate the dentist's activity?" the Judge asked. "The detective remained without," Sarah replied. "I do, however, have the tooth, and should the Court so desire, I can not only produce the dentist, I can produce my little sister, and my fiancee sits not twenty feet from me." The court was soon satisfied with her testimony; Mr. Llewellyn was sworn, deposed, and dismissed, immediately following the detective; the Judge and the coroner both examined the tooth, and I smiled later when Sarah told me the Judge's words: "Yes, that's a tooth, all right," before the coroner identified it as a baby tooth, and pointed out the cavity which no doubt caused its former owner considerable discomfort. I spoke with the detective, afterward, and thanked the man for his kindness: he looked directly at the arc-and-compasses stick pin in the middle of my necktie, and I considered the cane-and-two-spheres pin on his lapel, and then we exchanged a grip, and a nod: Sarah saw this exchange, but offered no comment. Sarah restored the ointment to her face before we left the courthouse; she'd brought a veiled hat, and wore the veil down for the trip home. I suspected her keeping the kerchief pressed to her face was to keep the wound-line warm and make it stand out; her reveal of the injury, at the right moment in her testimony, was a bit of theater ... one which worked well for her. We ate before boarding the train for the trip home, and I found Llewellyn to be an interesting fellow, with more about him than his profession, which pleased me: we were on our way home before dark. I did notice Sarah was considering something carefully; there was thoughtfulness in her eyes, consideration in her brow, and in an unguarded moment I saw her profiled lips, through the hat's veil, trace the words, "... can't save the world ..." and I could see her eyes were busy, which told me she was thinking hard on something. I was minded to inquire, but decided against it.
  17. Linn Keller 2-21-13 I opened the schoolhouse door and stepped inside. It was warm, it smelled of chalk and paper and ink, it smelled of soap and children and boot polish the way a schoolhouse always does. My hat was in my hand, I stood relaxed; several of the young turned as I entered, and I grinned and winked at them, and they grinned back and returned to their studies. I knew my presence would prove a disruption and I wished to minimize the trouble my presence would cause. Sarah was bent over, speaking quietly with a lad; I could see little hand-motions as she worked with him on his individual, hand-held slate; I saw the tilt of her head, the patient smile, the flash of satisfaction as she realized her student just grasped what she was teaching him. I have known such moments and they are good memories. Sarah straightened, still looking down at the student: he tilted his face up and I saw the look of satisfaction and I knew Sarah just got a big dose of that one rewarding moment teachers live for. She caressed his unkempt hair, then slid out of that row of benches and paced back the center aisle to me, her heels brisk and businesslike in the studious hush. More little faces turned toward us. Sarah looked up at me, looking every bit the efficient schoolmarm; Emma Cooper gave me a concerned look and I smiled and winked at her, and she nodded, satisfied, and went back to the lesson she was presenting to a small clutch of older students in the front of the room. "I saw your expression," I said quietly. "You were at the window." "I was looking for you," she admitted. I looked at the broad stripe of greenish ointment running diagonally down her face. "How's the whip?" Sarah gave me a frightened look; she took my arm, pulled me into a corner. "Last night," she whispered, her eyes big. "You were the Hellwalker again." She nodded. "They tried to get you." "Not last night. Earlier. They ... " Sarah looked away, bit her bottom lip, then she looked back and I could see the old Sarah and the anger in her eyes. "They tried to trick me." "They always do." "I can't ... Papa, I can't ..." "You can't save the world," I completed. "Sometimes you can't even save the one closest to you." She looked up at me and she was Sarah-the-girl again, biting her bottom lip, a little pale now, nodding agreement. "You," I whispered, laying my palm carefully on the uninjured side of her face, "do the very best you can but you are finding it's not good enough." Sarah nodded again and I saw tears starting to pool up. I plucked a kerchief from my sleeve -- a habit from my days in the Cavalry -- and she crushed it gratefully in her hand, pressing the balled up linen against one eye, then the other, using my bulk to shield her action from young eyes. "How do you do it?" Sarah whispered. "When that cannon blew up and you blamed yourself for the Lieutenant's death ... how do you let that go?" "Experience, I reckon," I said tiredly. "Or maybe I just got tired of hurtin' and I quit carin' for a while." "I don't want to do that." "I don't think you could. If you did you wouldn't be Sarah." Sarah leaned her face tiredly into my hand. "They still want me." "Hell?" She nodded. "They always will, dear heart. Hell rejoices at the soul of an innocent. That's why you were brutalized as a young child. That's why terrible things are done in wartime and behind closed doors. Hell gets a-hold of someone's heart and makes them black inside and they do evil to the innocent and that's like trickling honey into a grizzly bear's mouth." Sarah's eyes snapped up to mine and they were a shade more pale. "Your soul is still innocent, Sarah. You have never chosen to surrender to evil. You know the taste of passion" -- I held up a finger, like a teacher making a point -- "what is the definition of passion?" "Any uncontrolled strong emotion," she replied without hesitation. "Correct. There is no feeling like having your blood up and knowing you are right. That's where so many lawmen and soldiers both go wrong. They get turned loose with the supreme authority of the land and at first they are operating in the Right, and they know it, and they get drunk on it. "Getting drunk is a very good feeling at first but it turns dark fast. "Drunk on power is even worse. It gets dark and they try using more power, more authority, to try and capture that early feeling of glory and it does not work but they find something else. "They find they can lord it over everyone simply with authority and they decide they like that feelin' and from there on it's down hill. "You" -- I bent my head a little and burned my glare into her wide-open eyes -- "you have always been strong enough to pull away from that pa'tick'lar fahr!" Sarah nodded. "Now I recall you were spanking yourself for not keeping Polly safe." Sarah nodded. "And you swatted your own backside for not keeping your fiancee safe." She nodded again. "But you told me that Llewellyn kept Polly safe while you took care of the situation." Again her double nod. "You have learned the secret of successful administration, which is delegation." Sarah frowned a little, a puzzling frown, and she tilted her head a little. I knew she was listening, she was digesting this, she was absorbing it. "You have two very talented hands but only two. There is only one of you. You cannot be in all places at all times. You did what you saw as the right thing for you to do in that moment." Again her nod, slower this time. "Hell will always want you, Sarah. They tasted your innocence and they want it back. Hell hates to lose but they've lost. They will do their level best to swindle you and trick you and lie to you and they'll try your spirit time and time and time again because they want to stain it and scorch it and make you as black-evil inside as they are." I leaned down and kissed her forehead. "But you know what?" "What?" she whispered. "They will not succeed." Sarah rolled her lips in, uncertainty in her eyes. "You have been there. You've seen the place from the inside. You lived for years listening to their whispers and they couldn't turn you then. You've had plenty of chances to go evil here and you haven't." I gripped her shoulders and gave her a fatherly look. "If they could turn you they would have had you take a hotel room instead of coming home late like you did, and likely they would have lit your fire and you would have shared a bed with Llewellyn and ..." Sarah's eyes were wide and shocked, her cheeks flamed red and her hand went to her mouth, then her eyes grew a little distant and the color drained out of her face like red ink out of an eyedropper. My hands gripped her shoulders more tightly and I held her against the wall. Her knees almost buckled and I knew I hit on something she'd just almost done. "Walk with me," I whispered, running an arm around her, under her off arm, and I steered her toward the door. Once we were out on the steps and the door shut I picked her up and carried her down the steps and around the side of the building, away from the windows. I didn't want her students to see her as anything but the strong and capable Miss Sarah they'd known. We sat down on a bench and I held my little girl as she gained her composure. Sarah covered her face with her hands and she shivered. "I almost did," she admitted. "I almost ... oh God ... what was I thinking ..." "You were thinking of the best way to keep your people safe," I said roughly. "You were thinking of what was best for Polly. You were thinking of your people!" "Papa ..." Sarah dropped her hands in her lap and she looked at me with darker eyes, frightened eyes. "Papa, if I ... Papa, I kissed him, but ..." "But you have done nothing else." She shook her head. "And why have you done nothing else?" Sarah saw through the question, saw it as much deeper than the mere words. Her eyes followed some invisible trail on the ground, tracking a drunken field mouse or some-such, then she looked up at me and swallowed. "Papa, you spoke of strong feelings." I nodded. "And how they are ... intoxicating." I nodded again. "Papa, I feel like ... like a stove with a fire laid ... but no one has touched match to the fire." I nodded, slowly, taking her left hand in both of mine. "And if ... when ... a match ... if the fire ..." Sarah's breath was coming faster, more shallowly, and she looked up at me and I saw that light in her eyes, that moment of realization. "Papa, if I light that fire it will never go out and I will want to stoke it again and again --" My hands squeezed hers gently; once again I nodded. "I must ... the first fire ... it's like that first drink ... that first kiss, that first real kiss," Sarah said quickly, her words almost tumbling over one another in their haste to keep ahead of her thoughts: "that first fire is special and will be ... Papa, it has to be with ..." I nodded, smiling a little. Sarah yanked her hand from mine, threw her arms around my neck and I thought she was going to squeeze me til I passed out, so I hugged her back. Sometimes a Papa gets to feel really, really good, and that was one of those moments. "Thank you, Papa," Sarah whispered, and we held one another for a long time, sitting there on that bench right out in front of God and everybody. She finally let go and so did I and I asked her again about that whip-welt and she said, "It's almost healed, Papa. You can barely see it now." We both turned out heads at the sound of running feet, approaching us from just down the street. It was the boy from the telegraph office, waiving a flimsy. Sarah and I looked at one another. "Denver," Sarah groaned.
  18. If you don't mind a novel by somebody who was there, Common Valor by Curtis Rich, otherwise known as Captain George Baylor, is pretty dang good.
  19. I am indeed well, and hope that your are as well. Really busy at the moment.
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