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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Everything posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. Linn Keller 2-17-13 It was Sunday. Sarah sat proper and prim in her parents' carriage; the twins happily flanked her, cuddled up against her enveloping cloak -- which they knew Sarah would soon readjust by virtue of standing, and then draping over the two of them -- they each wore a matching cloak, just like their big sister's, but they like the feeling of Sarah covering them with hers. Sure enough, she did, and just before Levi flipped the reins and clucked at the mare. Bonnie sat beside Levi, the very image of a successful matron and a respected member of their society, and Levi, freshly barbered and shaved, with his neat mustache tightly curled, was the very image of a respectable landowner, husband and father. Sarah was well enough disciplined that she kept a calm expression about herself, in spite of the restlessness of her thoughts. Once at church, the ladies waited until they were helped from the carriage; they entered the little whitewashed church en bloc: the Welsh Irishman waited without, and offered his arm to Sarah: he entered the church with them, and sat with the family, instead of with the Brigade. Uncharacteristically, he wore his good suit: the rest of the Brigade wore their good uniforms, the set they kept hung up, clean, for such occasions: their good uniforms never saw a working fire, nor saw they housekeeping duties, nor anything but Sunday-go-to-meetin' duties: even their boots were gleaming, flawless, burnished: it was a point of pride that the Brigade cleaned up well, and indeed they presented a fine appearance that snowy winter's day, there in the little whitewashed kirk, an island of passionate red wool in a sea of black suits and colorful ladies' gowns. The twins plopped themselves down beside the Welsh Irishman -- one on one side, one on the other, their shining little faces looking happily up at the reddening fireman, at least until Bonnie, leaning over and whispering, moved Polly over beside Opal, and Sarah settled in between Bonnie and Llewellyn with a whispered "Thank you, Mama." Sarah turned to the firefighter, laid gloved fingertips gently on his forearm: "Mr. Llewellyn," she murmured, "I would speak with you after service." "Of course," Llewellyn replied, swallowing: he cleared his throat carefully, delicately, and looked down at Sarah's other hand, palm-down on her thigh. Sarah worked the gloves off her hands and made a little slight-of-hand move and the Princess ring gleamed on her finger, the ancient stone winking brightly at the Welshman. For a moment -- for just a bare moment -- he could smell his Granda's cottage and feel her gentle, wrinkled hands, and hear her laugh ... and he swallowed again, and Sarah's left hand, the hand with the Princess ring, floated through space and eternity and settled on his own, and gave it a gentle squeeze. Little Joseph strutted into the church, holding his Mama's hand, or rather, Annette held his wrist firmly, for she knew the lad was impulsive and might go scampering off to greet a schoolmate or loudly and happily greet an acquaintance: as it was, the Sheriff was just within, and stooped, and seized the lad under the arms: Annette released her grip and the Sheriff hoisted Joseph at arm's length over his head, grinning, and Joseph laughed, scattering a little boy's happy giggles over the congregation. The Sheriff squeezed Jacob's shoulder and winked, and then he looked at Annette and said "My dear, I am trying to think of something gentlemanly, proper and mildly amusing, but all I can think of is ... it's a good thing we are both married, otherwise I should be tempted to run off with you!" Annette laughed and laid a hand on her maternal belly: "Sheriff," she said, "if I were not married, I would do just that!" -- and kissed the man quickly on the cheek, and the Sheriff turned red like a schoolboy: it wasn't often that someone could do something that brought the man to a halt, and he was a man who could generally come up with a smart remark for any occasion, but this one brought him to a red-eared halt, and Esther colored a little: to her credit, she did not laugh, though it was a chore to maintain a dignified silence. "Gwampa," Joseph said, and the Sheriff grabbed the lad's ankle, held him at arm's length above his head which brought them almost nose to nose -- he reached up with his other hand, grabbed the inverted Joseph by the shoulder and brought him to en face distance -- "Yes, my son?" he said in a dolorous tone, which brought laughter to grandson and firstborn son alike. "Gwampa I rode Boocaffie an' we went to town!" Joseph declared loudly, wigging, and the Sheriff brought him to horizontal, then set his feet down on the floor. "Let's go have a seat," he said, "that's hard on an old man's back." Angela looked up at her Mama and over at Esther. "Daddy wouldn't do that with me," Angela said with a positive nod, her curls bobbing. "Oh?" Esther asked, following the Sheriff and the vigorous little grandson down the aisle toward their pew. "No. I'm wearing a dress." "I see." "But he can do that with Joseph because he's wearing pants." "I see." Esther slid into the pew as the Sheriff stood aside: he followed them in, sat Joseph on one thigh and Angela on the other. "Joseph," Angela said, "Daddy won't turn me upside down like that." Joseph blinked, big-eyed and suddenly solemn, and both children looked at the slender man with pale eyes and the iron-grey mustache, the man with an arm around each child and a look of absolute happiness on his face. Parson Belden stepped behind the pulpit and nodded to Annette, and the opening bars of the opening hymn brought the assembled to their feet. Sarah was holding the Welsh Irishman's hand, and the Princess stone gleamed from between their interlaced fingers. Bonnie leaned forward slightly, looked at her daughter holding a man's hand, and blinked a few times, remembering her own time of turmoil and first, passionate, fall-hard-for-a-man feeling of crushing romance: she gave her head a little shake and retrieved her straying thought. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said gently, "we would be pleased if you would join us for Sunday dinner." "Mrs. Rosenthal," the Welshman replied, his eyes wrinkling at the corners, "I am most pleased to accept your hospitable offer." Parson Belden was a good speaker. He spoke slowly enough to enunciate his words clearly, separately; he spoke loudly enough to be heard in the back row, but he did not shout, nor was he given to the showy, histrionic, passionate, pulpit-beating show popular with the "Fire and Brimstone" league: he drew his lessons from Scripture, teaching, not beating the congregation over the head with what he had to say. He also spoke relatively briefly, for he well knew the principle of good public speaking, exemplified in two observations the Sheriff made, when he and the lawman were enduring the histrionics of a circuit ridin' Methodist preacher a year or two ago: at some point the Sheriff leaned over and murmured to the sky pilot, "The mind absorbs until the backside grows numb," and the Parson agreed, noting with surprise that his own hinder went to sleep a half hour earlier and that's the last he remembered a word the pulpit pounder said: less than a minute after, the Sheriff added, "The longer the speaker's wind, the harder these chairs get," and fortunately it was not long after that the travelin' preacher ended his long winded delivery. Parson Belden tried to learn from everything he encountered, and from this he learned not to speak too long, a fact appreciated by the Firelands community. The Parson's ministry was not solely preachin' from the pulpit on Sunday; he was busy the week long, whether it was receiving troubled souls, listening while they poured out their hearts, or raged with anger at the unfairness of a life or a boss or a husband or a wife, whether it was to sit with a man as he watched his wife die, or as he held an old woman as she beat her tiny birdlike fists against his chest and cried bitter tears as she realized for the first time her husband of many years was indeed not going to wake up and speak to her as he always had for the past half a century. The Parson finished his sermon and passed the plate, they sang another hymn and a half dozen announcements were made, during which the sky pilot made eye contact with Jackson Cooper, there in the back row, and smiled a little, and the big lawman nodded and smiled back: the Parson refrained from overt comment, observing in passing, with the other brief mentions, that "Emma Cooper is considerably relieved now," and moving on: those who knew what he was talking about, knew exactly what he meant, and those who didn't, well, they just figured it was part of the messages. The Sheriff and Esther generally had Jacob and Annette over for Sunday dinner every other week; in the intervening weeks, they dined with Jacob and Annette: the intent was, as Annette went deeper into her pregnancy, they would then have every Sunday dinner with Linn and Esther, and Gwampa an' Gwamma would take care of little Joseph as necessary, for Annette was a strong and capable young woman, but Esther knew what it was to be gravid, and to bear the responsibility of a household, and she knew relief was most welcome. This week it was Jacob and Annette's turn to accept his father and mother's hospitality. The Rosenthal carriage rattled back to the Rosenthal ranch minus one passenger. A second carriage followed the first. The Sheriff looked long after the rented carriage that bore the Welsh Irishman and his daughter. Esther laid a gentle hand on his forearm and squeezed. "I remember," the Sheriff said quietly, "how terrified I was that night I came to your house, with you and the ladies ... you all fixed supper for us ... " He looked at Esther, raised a gentle hand, caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Esther," he whispered, "you are as lovely as the first day I saw you!"
  2. Linn Keller 2-16-13 Joseph's presence was not needed in court and so he rode out to Charlie's. He knew the scoundrel that put lead into Jackson Cooper's rib would meet with the gavel of justice, and for a moment, Jacob grinned at the idea of the good Judge Donald Hostetler smacking the defendant over the head with said gavel: God knows, he thought, the man's wanted to do that to two or three he's tried! Jacob rode easy and he rode his horse easy: neither man nor mount were in any tearin' hurry, it was a lovely day, Jacob was of no mind to interrupt that particular state of affairs, for he found it to his liking. When he finally came to the Macneil spread, he lifted his hat and waved at Cats Running, off in the far pasture, barely visible: Cats Running raised an arm in reply and Jacob grinned. He had a respect for the old Indian and his way of saying plain ideas plainly and sometimes unexpectedly bluntly. Fannie was packing a bucket of dirty water out and slung it off to the side as Jacob rode up; water hissed and splashed against cold earth, and Jacob took off his hat. "Miz Fannie," he greeted her; "Jacob," she replied, smiling up at him and working some magic -- with a bucket in one hand, the other hand on her hip, obviously a working rancher's wife engaged in labors of her own, she still managed to look attractive, saucy and smug, all at the same time. "Miz Fannie, thank you," Jacob said, looking directly at the woman. Fannie raised an eyebrow and laughed. "You're welcome, I'm sure, but what did I do now?" Jacob turned a little red and Fannie scolded him gently, "Now get down off that horse and talk to me! You should know better than to tease a woman and not let her know what you're thinking!" Jacob dutifully dismounted, dropping the reins; turning his hat a little nervously, he looked at the ground, and Fannie wondered for a moment if he wasn't going to draw back a boot and kick a dirt clod like an embarrassed and uncertain suitor who didn't know how to talk to a girl. "Miz Fannie," Jacob said, "I danced with four women the other night. "I danced with my sister, I danced with my wife, I danced with my mother, and I danced with you." He looked a little uncomfortable, then cleared his throat as if he'd come to some decision. "Miz Fannie, thank you for that dance." "Why, you're welcome, darlin', but it wasn't that much." "It was," he said flatly, and Miz Fannie saw something hard in the young man's eyes. "You see, Miz Fannie, any number of women would like to dance with me, but I durst not. Annette gets turrible jealous, but she could not object to my dancing with family." Fannie's eyes widened a little as two or three puzzle pieces fell into place, things she'd seen or heard or surmised. Annette is a jealous wife, she thought. I hadn't expected that As handsome a man as Jacob is ... she'd better not hold him too tightly ... he'll squirt out from between her fingers like a watermelon seed! "That was not the only reason, Miz Fannie." Jacob's eyes were troubled. "I see things ... I see things and I don't understand them but I accept them as fact. "You and Mother and Little Sis are of a like kind, ma'am." Jacob frowned a little. "It's not that I dance with any of you, it's like ... you flow like water, you dance like a feather on the breeze." He looked very directly at Fannie. "All of you do this." "That's the mark of a good dancer," Fannie smiled. Jacob nodded. "You may well be right, ma'am." "And stop callin' me ma'am, I am not that old!" Fannie's sharp words were softened by her smile and her laugh. "Ma'am! Like I was an old woman!" "Yes, ma'am," Jacob said softly. "I mean no ma'am -- I mean I'm sorry ma'am -- oh, horse feathers!" Fannie stepped up to Jacob and laid a gentle palm against his cheek. "Jacob," she said softly, "you're sweet. Annette is lucky to have you." Jacob closed his eyes almost painfully and nodded. "Thank you ma'am," he murmured, then he opened his eyes and asked, "Would Charlie be around?" Charlie and Fannie watched the tall, slender young deputy ride back toward Firelands. "What was it he wanted?" Fannie asked. Charlie's arm was strong around her shoulders, his work-warmed body comfortable against hers as he drew her into him. "He came to say thank you," Charlie said quietly. "For teaching Sarah the way I did. He said she listens to me but she doesn't listen to him very well." Fannie sighed and leaned her head against her husband's chest. "He thinks she doesn't listen to him?" Fannie echoed, shaking her head a little. "He still doesn't know her very well, does he?"
  3. I'll take 'em. I can either send a check or do PayPal, your choice.
  4. This! I use 160 grain bullets and a light load of Clays and it helps my poor aching hands and wrists to keep going!
  5. I would have to cordially disagree with this, sir. Unless you are shooting a category with strict firearms rules, just grab the guns that float yer boat and shoot 'em in whatever dang category you want to shoot 'em in (except those gun-specific categories I mentioned)...
  6. I did mine on a bench grinder. Very, very carefully. I use a 45 Colt shell plate, Lee 45 ACP dies and a Lee Factory Crimp die to load my C45S rounds on my Dillon 550. I'm loading Clays and 160 grain RNFP bullets.
  7. The Virtue Flat Shootist Society, nominally of Baker City, Oregon and the surrounding environs, held our first match a week ago yesterday at an undisclosed location... And yeah, it was a blast (so to speak)!
  8. Linn Keller 2-16-13 Bill and Mac slouched comfortably on upturned nail kegs in front of the Mercantile. Their checkerboard, scratched a little and faded but still quite serviceable, sat between them; red and black wooden disks marked their respective positions, and each man, hunched over with elbows on knees and hand meditatively cupping chin or covering mouth, gave close study to their respective tactical situations. On occasion -- and happy occasions these were -- Brother William took a hejira from the monastery and came back to Firelands; sometimes on business and sometimes not, and today, in boots and britches and a blanket lined coat, with a slouch hat shoved back on his head, he looked not a thing like his ecclesiastical self. Even the calluses on his hands were still there, a little more prominent if anything: the monastery prescribed a life of labor, and Brother William, though a ranking officer in the hierarchy, beleived humility was maintained by laboring with the enlisted, and so he pulled rocks and dug dirt, split wood and stacked kindling, shoveled muck and cleaned stables the same as any of the Bretheren, and as a result, had the respect of command and enlisted alike. Silence grew for several more minutes. Customers came and went, men stopped to talk, children called out and waved; the game was not solely a contemplative exercise, for there were irregular interruptions, one of which just happened to be a very large, very black, curly haired canine who insisted on thrusting his muzzle under Brother William's forearm. Mr. Bill straightened a little, feeling his spine crunch slightly with the effort -- he'd been stacking stones the day before, and that morning his bones reminded him it was some times since he was eighteen -- and he rubbed The bear Killer's ears and behind his jaw and marveled at how fast and how vigorously that sizable tail swung back and forth ... why, if an incautious child came up behind The Bear Killer, he'd get himself knocked on his backside by that enthusiastic, fur-covered air swatter! Mr. Mac looked up and grunted. The Bear Killer looked at Mac and discovered there were two perfectly good hands that were not paying attention to him, and so abandoned Brother William and jumped up a little, putting his big forepaws on Mr. Mac's thighs and giving the scowling man a good face washing. Mr. Bill seized the checker board and brought it quickly out of harm's way, for The Bear Killer's tail was putting their game in immediate jeopardy. Annette frowned a little. "Joseph?" she called, wiping her hands on a towel and walking quickly to the front door. "Joseph!" She looked around inside the house, as much as she could see from the doorway, then she stepped outside and looked around, shading her eyes. "Joseph?" Annette listened, expecting to hear a happy little boy's giggle, or a piping young voice calling "Here I am!" -- but ... nothing. Annette looked around, then she saw where a section of board fence looked like it had been exploded outward, and she looked into the pasture and saw Boocaffie was nowhere to be seen. "Oh, no," she murmured, then she darted back inside to bank the stove, close the draft, cover the bread dough, then she ran outside and to the barn, skirts flowing in the breeze, to harness up the mare. A moment later she was driving at a trot down the road. Jacob came back into the Sheriff's office with four small sacks: there wasn't much in each, but true to the Sheriff's instruction, Digger parted out the effects of the deceased. The Sheriff was satisfied Digger kept something, probably part of the money he found on the bodies; the Sheriff did not officially know, and it did not matter: he didn't think the county paid Digger enough for his efforts, and if a man wanted to make a little on the side ... besides, he had no proof, and he might need a favor from the undertaker sometime. Jacob put the sacks on the Sheriff's desk. "That was ... good shootin', sir," he said quietly. "Thank you." The Sheriff handed Jacob his written account, and the diagrams. "Look those over." "Yes, sir." Jacob drew up a chair, spread the pages out, read them carefully, quickly: he nodded occasionally, raised an eyebrow here and there, picked up the diagram, cupped his chin in his off hand and frowned a little, then leaned back in his chair and contemplated the long joint where the wall met the ceiling above the Sheriff's desk. Finally he looked at his father. "I take that back," he said in a gentle voice. "That was damned good shootin'. I did not realize you fired for their muzzle flares." The Sheriff nodded. "I got excited on that one. I meant to shoot just under them but I took that one fellow" -- he raised a stiff finger, thrust it slowly at the bridge of his own nose -- "right between the eyes, or near to it." "It worked, sir." The Sheriff nodded. "Your report refers to an injury." The Sheriff nodded. "I thought you might be just a bit stiff and sore." The Sheriff's jaw thrust out and he took a long, sighing breath. "Jacob," he said at length, "you're right." Jacob looked closely at his father, assessing the merriment in the Grand Old Man's eyes. "Esther keeps telling me, "My dear, you simply must consort with a better grade of outlaw." The Sheriff's words, uttered in a light voice and with a wave of a limp wrist, tickled Jacob's funny bone: he nodded and laughed quietly, pointing at his Pa, and admitted "Now that sounds just like her, sir!" The Sheriff was silent for a long moment ... several long moments, as a matter of fact. "Jacob," the Sheriff said, "Esther wants me to retire." Jacob's eyes were suddenly serious. "Sir?" The Sheriff nodded. "She said she doesn't want to become a young widow." Jacob looked away, looked back. "Annette said that same thing to me." The Sheriff nodded. "I told her no, that would put it all on your shoulders, and damned if I was going to see you killed before my grandsons were grown!" Jacob considered this for a minute. "What about you, sir? I sure as hell don't want to see you killed!" "Neither do I," the Sheriff admitted. "Gettin' killed would just plainly ruin my vacation plans. Why, Esther would likely never speak to me again!" He and Jacob laughed together; it was a line they both used from time to time. "I hated killin' 'em," the Sheriff said, his voice tired. "I genuinely hated it. The old man ... he said I'd come for his boys, and he didn't turn around, and that told me he was a-waitin' for somethin' like this, for me to show up." "That's why you threw that rock." "Yep. He thought that was me circlin' behind him, it's what he expected ... hell, I was a-gonna do just that." Jacob chose his words carefully. "Sir," he said at length, "I am most grateful the rock was there." "They were ready for me," the Sheriff said, his eyes bleak. "They figured I would come after them and I don't figure they thought I would come alone -- which is why I did." "Yes, sir." "I didn't see any sense in givin' 'em any more targets to shoot at." "No, sir." "I don't want to see Annette become a young widow." "No, sir." "Slide those papers back over here if you would, please." Jacob stacked the sheets, handed them across the desk to his father. The Sheriff placed them in a stack in the middle drawer. Standing, he reached for his hat; Jacob rose, as well. Those who were on the street marveled to see a long horn bull ambling placidly down the main street of Firelands with a grinning little boy astride its neck just ahead of those lean-muscled shoulders. Little Joseph caught up with Boocaffie, patting his foreleg and looking back -- fearful of discovery, for his Mama could hear through ten feet of rock and see through more -- and said, "Down, Boocaffie," and whether it was the words, or the hand on the foreleg, Boocaffie stopped and lay down as he'd done many times in pasture and allowed Joseph to scramble aboard. "Go, Boocaffie!" Joseph crowed, and the bull just lay there, blinking in the sun, contemplating the infinite and soaking up sunshine. "Boocaffie!" Joseph exclaimed. "Find Pa!" Boocaffie looked slowly around, calculating the relative velocity of the speed of light, or perhaps mentally constructing a learned treatise on the works of Vivaldi as an allegory for the Garden of Eden, or perhaps he was considering how it must be to have a harem of lovely veiled houris. We will never know if the broad beamed bull got so far as to wonder how one would maintain a veil on a heifer, for little Joseph threw up one leg and slid off and stomped around in front of Boocaffie. Perhaps the bull was amused by the fierce expression on the lad's visage, or perhaps the bovine was amused by Joseph's body language: knuckles on his hips, feet apart, bottom lip protruding, brow wrinkled. Finally the bull showed some sign of restlessness, and Joseph ran around and leaped aboard as the bull thrust up from the earth: having come to some decision, the bull proceeded to trot down the road, sniffing the cool air, blowing out big clouds of steam, looking around at this part of the country he really couldn't see from behind that board fence. "King me!" "You cheat!" "I cheat? What about you slidin' that checker over --" "I didn't slide no checker!" "You had two of 'em up your sleeve an' --" The two quarreled like peevish old men, thrusting fingers at one another, interrupting each other's accusatory diatribe, the the amusement of those listening; finally the checker was crowned -- "There! You satsifed?" -- at which point Mr. Mac crowed, "Now!" -- and seizing the crowned checker, proceeded to click-click-click jump every one of Bill's checkers. Bill raised his hands to the heavens,shaking his head. Mac laughed, then picked up their bent, hand-forged nail and scratched another line in the edge of the window sash. "Set 'em up ag'in! I'll trim your tail feathers this time!" Bill looked up to see Mac staring at something behind Bill's shoulder. Bill turned and he stared too. Boocaffie had never been ridden. Oxen have been used as tractors for centuries; oxen have drawn wagons, plowed, hauled, dragged -- but bovines in general are seldom if ever ridden. Horses, aye; to see a man afoot was an exception, especially in the West, where a cowboy would mount up and ride across the street rather than walk -- but the image of a grinning little boy riding a big monstrous long horned bull was just a bit out of the ordinary, even for Firelands. Boocaffie wasn't in any terrible hurry; little Joseph was laughing, urging his mount to a greater velocity, and his mount was not in much of a mind to pay any attention a'tall. Annette was not a tracker; she relied on intuition, on hunch, on lucky guesses. When her carriage came over the rise she ho'd the mare, hauled back on the brake: she stood, shading her eyes again, looking down the road as it meandered a little and then came into the main street of Firelands proper. "There you are," she murmured. The Bear Killer had seen cattle and plenty of them. Boocaffie, on the other hand, never in his young life, ever, had seen a Bear Killer. Each approached the other curiously. Joseph slid off Boocaffie's shoulder, landing on the ground and almost falling; he took a quick step to keep his balance, then scampered up to The Bear Killer and seized the big canine around his blunt, muscled neck, and The Bear Killer -- whose first blood (and nearly his last) was a wounded grizzly, who'd seized and sometimes killed man-flesh, who'd never come up against something he just plainly feared -- the fierce, ivory-fanged, deadly-jaw canine gave Joseph a happy ear laundering, right there in the middle of the sunny street, to the lad's happy laughter. Boocaffie regarded this placidly, making some rumbling comment deep in his bovine chest; The Bear Killer came over, sniffed the big wet nose: satisfied, each proceeded to ignore the other. Mr. Bill and Mr. Mac, their checker game forgotten, stared unashamedly at the scene; they positively goggled as Annette drove up, dismounted, walked around to the front of the bull and shook her Mommy-finger at it: "You, sir," she declared, "have been a very naughty boy." The bull gave a subdued, almost calflike mehhh and lowered his head a little. Annette reached down, ran a hand under his big jaw and pulled: Boocaffie raised his head and Annette shook her finger again: "I am not very happy with you, sir!" Boocaffie switched his tail and sniffed, suddenly hopeful: The Bear Killer, too, licked his chops: Annette pulled a sweet roll from her pocket, tore it in two, held half out, flat-handed. "Joseph," Annette said quietly, "get in the carriage." "But Ma," Joseph protested. "In," Annette said, "the," and she gave him a stern look, "carriage." "Yes, Ma," Joseph said reluctantly. "And you, sir," Annette said, stroking Boocaffie between the eyes with two fingers, "come with me." Annette was obliged to step well to the side to clear the spread of the bull's left hand horn: she stepped in, ran a caressing hand down his flank, then mounted the carriage and clucked the mare into a U-turn. Boocaffie fell in behind the carriage, trotting docilely behind Annette. The two lawmen emerged from the Sheriff's office, looking around as they always did. Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as the eye could see. Annette halted the carriage. "Joseph," she said, pointing to a hedge, "here is a knife. Cut me a switch."
  9. Linn Keller 2-15-13 "I'm not worried, Mister Mayor," Sean rumbled. "The man ... he was absent without leave, he --" "Had we an alarm, Mr. Mayor," Sean said, "he'd ha' legged it here an' been fit f'r duty." "That's not the point --" "Mister Mayor," Sean said with a patient sigh, turning to face the fellow, "you run your office an' you do a foine job of it. I am no' the grandest thinker i' th' world, but I know enough not t' tell ye how t' run yer office, for I don't know how t' run it well." He paused, letting this sink in. "I require th' same courtesy in return." The Mayor gave the Fire Chief a long, appraising look. Sean put a companionable hand on the Mayor's shoulder, steering him into the firehouse, talking as he went. "Th' man was gentleman eno' t' drive th' lass home. Aye, 'twas her buggy, an' aye, she can out ride, out shoot an' out drive him, an' likely out fight him, for she's smart enough t' fight dirty as any cheap politician." The Mayor stopped and looked squarely at the Fire Chief, and each studied the other's expression; each saw a twinkle of amusement in the other's eyes, for it was a phrase that Mayor Vess used himself. "No, th' man is bein' a gentleman, an' I'll no' interfere if it harms us not. "He'll get out there an' be invited t' supper, an' he'll ha'e a guilty conscience about him. She'll offer t' drive him back, an' he'll decline, an' he'll turn red as any poppy flower i' the process, an' he'll walk back kickin' himsel' for not stayin', but knowin' his place is here, at least until he's off." The Mayor was quiet for several long moments. "They made a fine couple at the Cotillion," he murmured. "Aye," Sean agreed. "They did that." "Took him long enough to do it." Sean laughed. "Was i' up t' him," he chuckled, "he'd ha'e been on one knee before th' lass a year ago an' more." "If I were a single man," Mayor Vess admitted, "I would have been on one knee before her a year ago or more!" The Sheriff looked up as Jacob came in, then returned to his work. Jacob's pace was near silent on the hard wood floor. He tilted his head a little, regarding his father's work: there were three pages of neatly lettered script, and two diagrams, all laid out with his father's characteristic, military neatness. Jacob knew his father's maps were to scale, or near as he could manage, and his crime scene diagrams were the same: these would be entered into official records, with the Sheriff's written reports, for he was a thorough man. The Sheriff shifted in his chair. There was something ... different ... either about the way the man sat, or how he moved, and Jacob wasn't sure which: he knew his father had what he called "the aches and pains of a wild and misspent youth," and Jacob knew there was weather a-comin', but he also knew his father was returned only a day earlier from having brought in four dead men, and he'd not spoken of it ... which meant he wasn't happy with bringing in carcasses instead of defendants. "Jacob," the Sheriff said. "Yes, sir." "Jacob, I am not ignoring you," the Sheriff said absently, his steel pen's nib scratching loudly on the good rag paper: "I am nearly done, if you can wait." "Yes, sir." "But I wannago wif Da!" Little Joseph said sadly, looking up at his Mama. "Your father has work to do," Annette said patiently. "Now come along, we have chores." Little Joseph's bottom lip ran out for an amazing distance, then he looked back at his beloved Boocaffie, who he'd been riding again, and he looked at his Mama walking back to their fine stone house, and little Joseph began strutting down the road after his Pa. Boocaffie watched the two of them go, then ... well, who knows what thoughts go through a bull's head? Boocaffie began walking after little Joseph, walking faster, and when he came to the fence, he put down his head and went through the fence with a little grunt. Boocaffie trotted happily after little Joseph. Annette was already in the house and did not hear wood splinter, nor did she hear the quiet exclamation of delight from down the road.
  10. Linn Keller 2-14-13 I worked my arm, grimacing now that Angela wasn't there to see it. I had urgent need to get my carcass out of the bunk, but I was stiff enough I realized I must've been sacked out for some time. Esther came in the door, closing it carefully behind her: she carried a towel and a bottle and I didn't like the look on her face. "How long did I sleep?" I asked. Esther set the bottle on the dresser and gave me a patient look. I didn't like the look of those patient eyes and I soon found out why. "You slept the clock around," Esther said. "I imagine you need the outhouse." My need was more than pressing; the chamber pot was near by, and a good thing, because once I was much less uncomfortable, Esther pulled up my nightshirt, bunching it around my armpits. "Doctor Greenlees had me pack you with a wet to dry dressing," she explained, unwinding a bandage wrapped around my chest and exposing rolled material packed into what had been a bloody groove cut between nipples and collarbone. Esther gave me a pitying look as she gathered the surcingle, carefully rolling it and setting it on the corner of the dresser: she opened the bottle and I smelled carbolic and I knew I wasn't going to like what was about to follow. Esther plucked at the end of the material rolled and stuffed into the groove in my hide, then she gripped it and ripped it out of the wound channel. It's a good thing I'd used that chamber pot before she yanked that thing free. I felt the color run out of my face and I know my knuckles stood out bone white as I crushed the edge of the bed in my grip: Esther picked up a bunch of wadding of some kind, dashed carbolic on it and with one smooth swipe down the length of that raw and bloody groove in my muscle meat, just plainly set me right on fahr. It hurt too bad to yell or even cuss. If I can't cuss it hurts bad and I couldn't cuss. Hell, I couldn't hardly breathe when she made that second and third pass. Her hand was steady; mothers are made of stern stuff, and Esther was doing what she saw as needful. "Why don't we leave this open to air now," she said quietly, and I blinked at the sting in my eyes, closing my mouth without saying a word. I recall Esther was still talking, her voice gentle, soothing; she said something about seeing infection in the bloody groove sawed through my shirt and my chest, and so she consulted Doc and he recommended a wet-to-dry bandage to absorb infection and drainage into the bandage, then when the bandage was removed, it would carry away all that dried up corruption. I don't recall as she said anything about him warning how bad it would hurt. It took a while before I was ready to come down for breakfast. I took the chamber pot downstairs with me. "Mister Llewellyn." Sarah's voice was quiet; her step was stealthy, and Llewellyn jumped, turning quickly. Sarah took his arm and steered him away from the bar and toward the front door. The rest of the Brigade exchanged nods, winks, grins; none spoke, none leered, but they were not far from it, and Mr. Baxter -- ever the astute observer of the human condition -- doubted not that the Welsh Irishman was in for his share of good natured chaffing once they got back to the fire house. Outside, Sarah steered the Welshman down the stairs, and to the corner, and down the alley between the Jewel and the municipal building. It was chilly out; Sarah wore a cloak over her schoolmarm dress, Llewellyn was in his red wool uniform shirt -- Sarah knew he would freeze to death rather than betray discomfort, and so determined to have him inside rather soon. They were past the back corner of the Jewel when Sarah stopped and turned, taking his hands in hers. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said formally. "Miss McKenna." "Mr. Llewellyn, if there is a fire, there is no doubt: it must be extinguished." Llewellyn waited, knowing Sarah was laying a foundation for the point she wished to make. "If there is bleeding, it must be stopped; if a child is drowning, the child must be drawn from the water." She looked directly at him and he felt himself falling into those light blue eyes. "Mr. Llewellyn, in each of those moments, we know what must be done. There is no doubt." Sarah blinked, swallowed, bit her bottom lip: Llewellyn watched closely, trying to learn what each of this marvelous creature's expressions meant. "I ... have never ... shared my life ... with anyone," she said, hesitating every few words. "This ... uncertainty..." She stopped, took a long breath, closed her eyes and gathered herself. To his credit, Llewellyn waited, his hand warm and reassuring as it gripped hers. Sarah seem,ed to come to some decision. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "I said at the Cotillion that I would be a fool to say no." She blinked rapidly, tightened her hands around his. "I am not a fool, Mr. Llewellyn. I am ... a little scared, is all." "Scared? You?" Llewellyn whispered, pulling his hand free and brushing her smooth cheek with the backs of his fingers. "I doubt me the Devil himself could scare you." "It's not the Devil I fear," Sarah said softly. "It's me." "Then let me carry the fear. I'll be scared for both of us." Sarah shook her head, frowned. "Mr. Llewellyn, I can run a household, I can manage a business. My mother saw to it that I experienced both. You know my other ... actions." He nodded slowly. "My fear ..." Sarah took a deep, fast breath -- too fast, it turned out, for she got to coughing -- she shook her head, cleared her throat. "I'm afraid of disappointing you." "You could not possibly disappoint me," he whispered. Sarah leaned into him,shivering a little. "Hold me," she whispered. "Hold me."
  11. Linn Keller 2-14-13 Sarah sipped her tea, a faraway look about her; the twins sat, silent, watching, as they often did: Levi industriously disassembled his breakfast, fueling his personal furnace with a single minded effort, and Bonnie looked at her daughters, and at her husband, and then looked at Sarah again. Sarah ate but lightly; she'd nibbled at a little toast, her eggs were cold, she'd eaten half a strip of bacon; now she was lost to this world, or at least to their breakfast klatsch, until Bonnie spoke her name twice and finally Polly said "Sawwah!" Sarah blinked, looked at her sister, alarmed. "Mama wants you." She looked importantly at Bonnie, almost like a bossy big sister might. Sarah looked at Bonnie, eyes guilty: "I'm sorry, Mama, what was the question?" Bonnie's eyes were big and gentle as she asked, "How are you feeling this morning, dear?" Sarah blinked, ran a fast inventory of her physical self: "Just fine, Mama. I feel fine." "You're not ... your feet dont' hurt?" "No, Mama, not a bit." Bonnie nodded, letting the silence build. Sarah immersed back into the invisible lake of her rumination, her eyes drifting down to about mid-table, considering an infinity on the far side of the china platter. "Sarah?" "Hm?" Sarah blinked, swam to the surface. "I'm sorry, Mama, what?" "Sarah, we need to talk." "Yes, Mama," Sarah said in the voice of a dutiful daughter: Bonnie saw Sarah closing an invisible shell of unseen armor about herself, as if readying her defenses against an unwanted attack. "We will talk tonight, after you are home." "Yes, Mama." Sarah's voice was quiet; she dropped her eyes, almost like a chastened little girl. Bonnie waited until her daughter was ready to go out the door before she stopped her again: she lay gentle hands on her daughter's collar bones, marveling at how tall she'd gotten, and she whispered, "You are beautiful, you know that." Sarah's eyes were almost haunted and she touched her Mama's cheek. "I'm getting scared again, Mama," she whispered back, and Bonnie felt the tremble in her daughter's fingers. Bonnie gave her a wise look, a gentle look, the look of a mother to a daughter, and she whispered again. "That's why we need to talk." She paused, wet her lips. "There are things you need to know." Sarah nodded, then suddenly, impulsively, seized her Mama in a crushing hug. Bonnie felt Sarah trembling and she hugged her back, hard. "It will be all right, dear," she said, fighting the tears that surprised the inside of her eyes: "It will be all right." The Sheriff opened his eyes. A pair of bright eyes framed by curly, honey colored hair were regarding his with an intensity possible only with a child's concentration. The Sheriff smiled a little. "Morning, Princess," he murmured. Angela's nose wrinkled. "You make funny noises, Daddy," she said with a child's tactless honesty. "How's that, Princess?" Sarah climbed up on the bed and laid her ear against her Daddy's flat belly, frowned a little. "It's not doing it now." The Sheriff slid one arm out from under the quilt, stroked his daughter's head. "What's not doing what, Princess?" "When I shook your arm your belly said 'Rowrowrowrow,'" Angela said solemnly, nodding, and the Sheriff laughed: the air smelled of bacon and of bread and he realized he was hungry enough to chew the end off the bedpost. "I think that means my belly is hungry," he said softly. Angela climbed up onto the bed, lay down atop her Daddy and laid her head on his chest: he pulled his other arm free and held his little girl and she said "Daddy?" "Hm?" "Can I have a princess ring?" The Sheriff chuckled, then he slid big strong Daddy-hands around her ribs and pulled her up until they were face-to-face: he tickled her nose with a twiddle of his muts-tash, which made her giggle, and for a moment he saw Angela as she used to be, as a little bitty girl, and he bent his head up until their foreheads touched and each saw a single, huge eye. "I see you," he whispered, and Angela whispered "I see you too, Daddy," and they both laughed. The Sheriff rolled over, dumping Angela onto the bed beside him; he sat up, still mostly under the quilts, and rubbed his face. "What about ringing the Princess bell?" he said, and Angela sat up and laughed. "No, Daddy," she laughed, flashing even white teeth, "a Princess ring! Like Sarah has!" The Sheriff rubbed the back of his neck. "Let me consult with your Mommy," he said. "I don't know about these things." "Okay." Angela's voice was a little disappointed, then she continued, "A Princess ring is really pretty." "Just like you are," the Sheriff affirmed. "Have you had breakfast?" Angela shook her head. "You'd best get dressed then. I'm kind of hungry." "Me too!" she declared, rolling over and flipping her legs up, landing on Esther's side of the bed: she scampered around the bed and ran out of the room and the Sheriff chuckled, flipping the covers back. "You know," he said to no one in particular, "a man just can't wake up in a bad mood when his little girl comes in to say hello!"
  12. Linn Keller 2-12-13 Sarah spun from someone's arms and was neatly caught by strong hands: a familiar voice murmured, "My turn, darlin'," and Charlie Macneil moved easily in the familiar steps of the waltz. Sarah flowed rather than moved -- it was as if there was a subtle link between dancers -- Charlie's every move was mirrored to perfection; Sarah made Charlie look like a far better dancer than he was, and truth be told, Charlie was a right fair dancer. Charlie felt Sarah's hand tighten in his as they turned; her face was tilted up to his, shining with happiness, and Charlie's tough features softened slightly to see it. Sarah opened her lips a little as if to say something, then closed them and smiled, and lay her head instead against the retired Marshal's chest. This, she thought, is the happiest I have felt in my entire life! The Sheriff clucked up the dapple. The horse knew the road; the Sheriff knew it would lead down to the coach road, and from there, to Firelands. He also knew it would be well after sunup before he got back to town with his fell cargo. Four carcasses lay in the back of the wagon. He'd taken pains to fold their arms across their bellies, then covered the four with a single bedsheet: he retrieved the watch with the broken chain, slid it in his pocket, gathered the guns and stacked them in the wagon as well: he hadn't bothered to look at the bullet burn across his chest, preferring to ignore it. Maybe I want to punish myself, he thought, then pushed the thought from him as irrational. He set the mare to an easy pace. Neither he nor his silent cargo were in any particular hurry. Jacob watched silently as the twins looked, big-eyed, up at the black-mustached Irishman as he kissed their big sister's knuckles. The Welsh Irishman cleared his throat, looked at Bonnie, then at Sarah, and said -- as if admitting to a personal fault -- "The Welsh are singers and fine speakers ... but I can't think of a thing to say." Sarah lay her other hand over his, her touch warm, light: "I think you just did," she whispered, "and I think you did just fine." The Welsh Irishman looked from Jacob to Levi and back. "Tis not a light thing I do," he said. "I intend to do well in this." Jacob nodded, his eyes tightening at the corners, the smile spreading slowly across his face as he lay an understanding hand on the Welshman's near shoulder. "I felt the same," he said quietly. Levi thrust out his hand. "Welcome to the family," he said. Polly looked at her Daddy and blinked, curious. "Daddy, is he living with us now?" she asked, and they laughed. "We'll see," he said, winking at the Welshman. The twins fell asleep on the brief ride home; Bonnie and Levi held hands, as they usually did, and Sarah sat between her sisters, an arm around each; she looked down at the stone on her finger, the royal Welsh stone, the Princess ring, remembering the moment it slid on her finger. Sarah very carefully placed the ring on her dresser when she undressed for the night: she slept little, in the few hours between home-going and sunrise, for she kept seeing the wall of manly firemen ranked behind Llewellyn, and the wall of femininity behind herself, shoulder to shoulder in support of that which was to happen. Sarah heard Llewellyn's words, his voice, as if he were speaking them again, and as her eyes reluctantly closed, she smiled, for she remembered how it felt to take his face in her hands, to thrust her face into his, to touch his lips with hers. The Sheriff loved sunrise. It smelled of sunrise, if such was possible; he maintained it was, and when possible, was outside to greet the sun with a silent, glorious shout: he'd done so as a lad and saw no reason to change as a man. Now, though, he was riding out of the sun; his shadow preceded him, casting its distorted umbra ahead of the mare. When finally he reached town and halted in front of Digger's, he sagged in the hard seat: slowly, like an old man, he climbed down from the wagon. Digger removed his top hat, shook his head sadly. "Sheriff," he said mournfully, "when you or your son ride in with a wagon, it means a wagon load of work for me." The Sheriff was too tired to glare at the man. "Work your magic," he muttered, "I get the effects and Shorty gets the team and wagon." The Sheriff unhitched Cannonball from the tailgate and swung into the chilly, smooth saddle: rifle propped up on his thigh, he rode across the street to the Silver Jewel. The Sheriff walked slowly, tiredly, up the steps, as if each step up was almost the limit of his strength: he paused, his hand on the doorknob, then slowly drew the ornately frosted door open. He paused inside the front door. The Jewel was nearly empty. He walked behind Mr. Baxter's bar, picked up a tall glass, uncorked a bottle of something red, potent and distilled, poured the glass within a finger of plumb full. He paced slowly back to his usual table, boot heels loud and hollow sounding on the hardwood floor -- the floor which saw dancers the night before, and now saw a tired old lawman -- he sat, lay his '73 rifle across the table in front of him and sat slowly, carefully, waiting until Daisy's girl came back and confirmed that he'd like breakfast, before beginning work on that tall glass of Old Stump Blower. He ate his breakfast slowly, savoring every bite, washing it down with liquid lightning instead of his usual coffee: when he was finished with both, he stood, walked to the bar and squared up his bill: he walked out, mounted Cannonball, apparently unaffected by the load he'd taken on. The Sheriff rode home, left his soiled coat on the front porch: he kissed his wife, hugged his little girl, smiled tiredly at the twins, then he went upstairs, got undressed and went to sleep so fast he honestly did not recall laying down.
  13. Linn Keller 2-11-13 The Sheriff was dreaming. Soldiers sat around their campfire and spoke of matters deep and matters shallow, as men far from home will: one offered the idea that all things were circular, and this was kicked around, cussed and discussed, and ultimately dismissed with an obscene jest. The Sheriff woke in the darkness, suddenly wide awake, listening. The Bear Killer, feeling the change in the man's breathing, was awake as well: he too listened, senses heightened, for he was at heart a creature of the wild. They two rose, slowly, carefully: the Sheriff looked slowly round about, breathing silently: hearing nothing, he rose to a low crouch, his rifle near to hand: it slept under then blanket with him, and so was free of frost: The Bear Killer stood, turned his head, moist black nose working in the cold air, gleaming in the faint starlight. Cannonball was almost arm's length away and appeared calm. The Sheriff spun the blanket over the mare's back, then laid down the rifle and picked up the near stirrup, placing it carefully over the saddle horn before hoisting the kak up and over and cinching it down. Something ... there was something that made him restless, and The Bear Killer shared that restlessness. The Sheriff was in the saddle in one smooth move. Cannonball looked around, ears turning slowly; the Sheriff's ears rang in the overwhelming silence. Overhead the stars turned, slowly, performing their eternal pirouette. Sarah pirouetted as well. She'd never studied the ballet, but she'd learned from Daciana, who had: she was naturally graceful and gifted with an ease of movement: she did not so much dance, when she was in a man's arms, as he danced and she floated: every man in the dance hall, and that was very nearly every man in the territory, wished to dance with this lovely Belle of the Ball, and did: and Sarah, for the first time in her young life, abandoned herself to the delightful feeling of being feminine, of being girly, off being ... of being womanly. The feel of a strong man's arms around her woke something she'd never felt before: intoxicating, alluring, she found something new in herself, and she liked it. Her first dance was with her brother, who danced in his father's stead: she was handed next to Levi, whose style was more stiff, more reserved: then a rancher of her acquaintance, a man who'd told the Sheriff once that he could happily adopt Sarah but he'd probably put her on a high shelf and put a glass bell jar over her like you would a rare and precious china doll: she did not know the man lost his daughter when she was quite young, and she was passed to another set of manly arms before the rancher's reserve failed, and he was obliged to seek a less prominent place, for he was obliged to wipe his eyes as he said a final goodbye to his little girl, and Sarah lived the rest of her life without knowing she'd helped this man make that final step. Gas lights and smiling faces, beards and mustaches and chins and jaws, the smell of tobacco and whiskey and leather and soap: as the stars wheeled slowly overhead in the cold and sterile skies, Sarah's universe spun in glorious and bright colors, and sang with rosined strings. Twice Sarah begged a leave, and retired to a table, to sit and laugh, and catch her breath; she retired to a private room, arranged for the ladies, where they might take their comfort, recently added to the ballroom for this very purpose: there she sipped a little water and listened to the women, but she herself said not a word, for she feared that uttering a single syllable might break the spell, and she did not want this evening to end. Upon her third return, as if on signal, the crowd drew back from the center of the floor, and she was dancing once again with Jacob: they danced a waltz, slow and stately, and pale eyes looked into pale eyes and Jacob whispered, "I am proud of you, Little Sis," and Sarah blinked and opened her mouth, and closed it, laying her head against his breast: she drew back, sensing Jacob's move, and spun once, and stopped. Her last spin revealed the ladies, in their matching gowns, ranked in a semicircle behind her, and the Irish Brigade -- a muscled wall of red wool and black mustaches, ranked in a semicircle, and before them, one of their own, and in his hand, a black velvet box about as big a square as the end of his thumb was long. The Sheriff rode up to the barn, dismounted. He walked silently along the shadowed edge of the structure, peeked quickly around the corner: he slipped around the edge, then within, where a single lantern glowed, and an old man milked a muley cow. Milk sighed in alternating streams into the bucket; barn cats miaowed and switched their tails, begging a drink, and on occasion the old man turned a teat and shot a stream of milk at a cat, and laugh as the cat batted and bit at the rich, warm stream. The Sheriff slipped into the barn, walking silent, looking around; he got behind the old man, then cocked the rifle. The single click was loud, coming as it did between the swish-swish-swish of milk in the pail. The old man froze. "You come for my boys." It was a statement, not a question. The Sheriff tossed the watch with the broken chain. It described a perfect arc, landing beside the bucket. The old man looked at it and swore. "I knowed it," he said tiredly, and took a long breath. "I told him not to wear that watch." He stood, shoulders bowed as if the weight of several centuries pressed down upon him. "I ain't been a good father," he said. "I tried but it ain't worked." He raised his head, looked over the cow's back, but did not turn around. The Sheriff squatted, picked up a rock half the size of his fist, tossed it about eight feet to his right, almost behind the muley cow. The old man spun, fired: his Remington squirted three feet of fire into the dark, the noise deafening in the barn's confines. The Sheriff's rifle was up and on the old man's heart and the grey bearded old man froze, realizing he'd just been had, the sound he heard was indeed not the man he'd hoped to kill. "M' boys are all I got," he said loudly, ringing ears screaming in the stillness. "Drop it," the Sheriff said, his voice harsh. There was a concussion from outside the barn, the Sheriff felt fire sear across his chest and he fired once, cranked the lever and spun, dropping to one knee: he saw two blooms of fire and shot for each, putting a .44 slug right below each one, then dove, rolling in cow manure and straw, coming up on the other side of the barn. The muley cow panicked, kicking over the lantern. The old man coughed blood and reached feebly for it, dragging it into the bare dirt and away from flammable straw; the muley cow pulled loose, her MOOOH loud and nasal as she kicked the old man, trampled him and ran out the open door and into the darkness. There was a horrible sound of something wild attacking, the sound of a massive and black hell hound ripping a human soul from its body, the terrified scream, suddenly cut off: the Sheriff stood, teeth bared, eyes pale, willing himself not to feel the pain that felt like someone laid a red hot poker across his bare chest. He went over to the lantern, stomped out what fire there was, picked it up: the glass was broke but the flame was still alive and he walked into the darkness, knowing the lantern made him a target, and frankly not caring. The Bear Killer snarled quietly, circling round behind the Sheriff, coming up and leaning on his leg. The Sheriff felt the black hound's snarl as curly-furred ribcage leaned against knee and thigh. The Sheriff set the lantern down where it would illuminate the two who'd tried a mean old lawman and come up short. One lay dead, a hole through the bridge of his nose; the other was shot through the dangling tag of his tobacker pouch, but it didn't matter; that one's throat was gone, and the Sheriff knew The Bear Killer would pace over to the horse trough and wash the taste from his mouth, and he did. "You might as well come out," he called conversationally. "Or I can come in after you. Either way you're coming with me." "Like hell!" came the panicked reply and the Sheriff kicked the lantern, hard, and dove. Shotgun pellets whistled through the darkness and the Sheriff pumped three fast rounds after the muzzle flash. A second detonation and the other barrel's shot swarm rattled through treetops; there was the sound of a falling body, the clank of gunbarrel on frozen dirt, then silence. Sarah's hands rose slowly to her face as the orchestra hummed a deep note, recognizing the opening bars of Ride of the Valkyrie: the French horn began to sing, spinning visions of Odin's daughters, riding ravens over a battlefield, warrior maidens searching souls of the dead to see who was worthy of Valhalla: the Welsh Irishman stepped forward, slowly, opening the velvet box to expose a gleaming diamond, a shining band. He went slowly to one knee and the orchestra faded, softening their notes, then halting altogether as Llewellyn did something he'd never done before. He felt a little weak. Clearing his throat nervously, he took a long breath, looked up at Sarah. "This ring," he said, "belonged to my grandmother." He swallowed something large and sticky and took another breath. "She was a Welsh princess and she made my mother swear the stone would only go to royalty. "Since that day it has never been worn. "I knew when I saw you that you were worthy of this royal stone. "Sarah McKenna, it's little I have in this lifetime, but what I have I pledge to you. "Be my Queen, Sarah McKenna. Rule my kingdom as you already rule my heart." Sarah turned, looking at the wall of womanhood behind her; she turned and looked at the wall of manhood behind Llewellyn. Sarah lowered her hands, swallowed, took a step forward. "The royal," she declared, her voice clear and distinct in the hush, "cannot partake of the common." She extended a hand to the side and a little back, and felt the wire-wrapped handle of a fencing blade placed in her grip. Sarah raised the blade in salute, the Solingen-made schlager gleaming in the gas light. She lowered it ceremonially to his left shoulder, then his right shoulder, then again to his left: "In the name of St. Christopher, St. Florian and St. Valentine, martyred by flame." Sarah drew back a step, swept the blade back up in salute, and extended her hand; the blade was removed from her grip. She stepped up to the Welsh Irishman. "Rise, Sir Knight," she said, extending her hand. His hand met hers, and both felt something shoot through them: a thrill, or electricity; Sarah pulled and the man came to his feet. Sarah grasped his hand in hers and drew him to the rank of Irishmen. She placed her hand flat on an Irishman's breast: her voice raised, pitched to carry to the furthest row, she looked at the grinning English Irishman and said, "This man's collarbone aches when the weather changes. Is he -- this man whose hand I hold now -- the one who came to your aid, when you were set upon in a dark street and the odds three to one, and in spite of his broken collarbone, fought in a most manly fashion until you were safe?" "He is," the New York Irishman affirmed. Sarah stepped to the next, placed her hand flat on the gold Maltese cross in the center of the German Irishman's bib front. "Is this man whose hand I hold, the one who held a child the night fire claimed the lad's home and family, and kept him warm and comforted until family arrived from across town?" "He is." Sarah stepped to Sean, placed her hand on his gold Maltese cross and asked, "Is this man whose hand I hold, the one you are minded of every time you touch the scar on the back of your head, the man who told the Chief to go to hell when he went against orders and into a fire structure, picked up a beam, kicked a block under it and dragged you out?" "He is." Sarah went to the last Irishman, the New York Irishman, placed her hand on his breast and asked, "Is this man whose hand I hold, the one in whom you put your full faith and trust, risking your life knowing he will bear all he has to get you out alive?" "He is!" came the shouted reply. Sarah pulled the Welshman's hand, hard, and she turned to Jacob. "Is this man whose hand I hold, the man who has not once, not ever, told a lie, to the best of your knowledge?" Jacob hesitated, then grinned, nodding slowly. "Yep," he drawled. Sarah turned to the ladies, looked them over slowly, then she sought the hands of Fannie and Esther and Bonnie, and lay them one atop the other, and on these, her own. "A heart is often blinded by the moment," she said a little more softly, "and so I ask the advice of those who are wiser than I." Sarah closed her eyes, shivered a little, then took a long breath, opened her eyes, and asked, "Does this man meet your approval?" Bonnie's eyes were as soft as her voice as she murmured, "He does." Fannie's eyes were bright and merry as she murmured, "Oh, yes," and there was something in her voice to stir a man's heart. Esther's reply, as she lifted her chin, was a tart, "Yes he most certainly does!" Sarah turned to Beatrice, the banker, and she nodded; Sarah leaned a little, made a gesture, and the ladies parted: she could see Mr. Baxter, grinning at her and called, "Mr. Baxter, have you known this man to be a drunkard?" "I'll answer that," Daisy called, snapping a towel and strutting to the fore: she lay a hand on the Irishman's shoulder and said loudly, "He'll ha'e no more than one beer, but he'll eat his weight in pie!" There was general laughter, even from Llewellyn, whose face turned a bit more red. Finally Sarah turned to Dolly, taking her hand and asking softly, "Dolly, has this man ever pinched your bottom?" Dolly put her hands on her hips and declared, "Honey, of every man that's put eye-prints all over me, he is the only one who hasn't! He's never said anything improper, done anything indecent" -- she placed her fingertips dramatically on her bosom, batting her eyes -- "why, he's given me an inferiority complex!" Again, laughter: Dolly turned a little red, stepped back, and Tom Landers rested his hands on her shoulders, squeezing his approval. Sarah and Llewellyn took three steps, back to the center of the room. She stopped and looked at the man, really looked at him, and bit her lip. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "you are a decent man, honorable and honest: you are not given to drink, nor to gambling" -- she looked over at Tom Landers -- "is he, Tom?" Tom grinned and shook his head. "I didn't think so. You are not given to wenching nor impropriety. "Your bravery is unquestioned; your decency is for all to see." Sarah stopped and swallowed, her hands tightening on his. "I would be a fool to say no," she whispered, then she looked up and looked the man in the eyes and said loudly, "I would be a FOOL to say no!" Then Sarah McKenna surprised even herself. She seized the man's face and planted a good one on him. Right on his lips. It's a good thing he had hold of her hand as he slipped his grandmother's stone on her finger. Sarah, after that kiss, was so dizzy she was afraid she might fall. Sarah raised her hand, marveling at how the stone glittered in the gas light, then the orchestra began again and Sarah felt the Welshman's strong arms around her, and she danced again.
  14. Sorry to hijack the thread, but that there's funny!!!
  15. I made a grocery store run yesterday. Many people were wearing masks. Many of them were wearing them incorrectly, i.e. with their noses above the mask. If you're going to do that, what's the point of wearing it in the first place? I've also seen two people come out of the store and get into a single vehicle, one wearing a mask and the other not. How is this helping? If one has issues requiring them to be masked, doesn't it follow that the other should be masked as well? Or is one of them paranoid while the other isn't? There was a mother with two little girls, maybe five and nine, in the store yesterday. All three were masked. The smaller girl was fiddling with her mask every time I saw them. She also tripped and both hands hit the floor, followed by her once again fiddling with her mask. How exactly is this solving anything?
  16. I generally pour my whiskey over ice. I like it that way... A good friend of mine is a Crown Royal drinker when his gout will let him. He keeps his Crown in the freezer.
  17. In bourbons, I drink Evan Williams black label (bottomest of bottom shelf) most of the time, other times I step up to a higher shelf. I find the Evan Williams Single Barrel quite smooth and tasty. When we travel, which isn't often, I try to find a local distillery to buy a bourbon from. Tried Neversweat Bourbon in Montana (there for a week and finished one bottle and bought another one to take home), Wyoming Whiskey from Kirby, Wyoming, which is quite good but a bit on the hot side, Two Bitch from Nevada (which I like a lot). My current favorite for these "imported" bourbons is Copper City, bottled in Tempe, Arizona. We brought a couple of bottles home from Winter Range but unfortunately I think they're either gone or almost gone. That is a very smooth and tasty bourbon! We have several small distilleries here in Oregon that make a fine product out of locally sourced grains, but they tend more toward ryes than bourbons. Steins in Joseph produces a nice rye, smooth but a little one-dimensional. I don't remember the name of the distillery in Madras but they make a rye that let's you taste each of the grains that it's made from individually as it flows across your palate. I like it a lot but it's far enough away, and not sold locally, that I don't buy it often...
  18. +1 to this. I think I actually like the Bulleit rye the better of the two.
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