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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Posts posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. And that, loyal readers, is the original story of the town and people of Firelands as told by a variety of folks over a long space of time both modern and old. I hope that you have enjoyed our small efforts in presenting a town and a group of people who have been, and continue to be, near and dear to our hearts. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

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  2. Linn Keller 1-25-14

     

    The Sheriff's son waited patiently as his father's pen moved methodically across good rag paper.
    A newspaper, folded and forgotten, lay on a chair against the front wall; bold headlines screamed of war, the date was 1914, but neither man had any care for the state of the world.
    The ache each man felt was too fresh.
    Final entries had to be made before the book was closed, he knew; work was yet to be done, the young deputy knew, and he was standing ready to do the work, but he ached ... a deep, a bone-deep ache, far worse than any physical exertion.
    The Sheriff's face was wooden as he wrote the final lines and let them dry, then he stood and closed the book, gently, almost reverently: his finger tips caressed the book's cover, then he took a black silk ribbon, wrapped around it longways, then crossways, tied it in a slip knot at the precise middle of the front cover: he opened the top right hand drawer and put it precisely where it always went, wiped the pen's leaf-shaped nib and set it away, then the bottle of good India ink, and closed the drawer easily, gently ...
    He closed the drawer with respect.
    Sheriff Jacob Keller looked at his tall, slender son, waiting at his side, his eyes quiet, tired-looking as a young man's eyes will be when the young man is in grief and trying to bear up under its crushing weight.
    Like his father, Joseph would grieve in his own way, and at his own time: for now, there was work to be done, and like his father, and his grandfather before him, he shoved his feelings down into a long-neck bottle and stoved the cork down hard after it.
    It took them some time to empty the Sheriff's office of its contents.
    The tornado and the fire had damaged much of the structure's outside; the contents were mostly undamaged, and Jacob intended they should remain so.
    He and Joseph knew of a mineshaft that underlay the town, a branch of the same shaft that collapsed under the boarding house some time ago: that branch was sealed off, but this one remained, and it was dry.
    It took them some labor but they got the Sheriff's desk and office chair, their contents, even the pot belly stove, packed into that mineshaft: they'd brought in sheets of lead and some tools, they carefully crated, then sheathed, these memorabilia of his father's administration here, underground, safe in an inert, sealed container: his revolvers, his rifle, even his double gun: both Jacob and Joseph held Linn's ivory-handled Colts, one last time, remembering the man who'd worn them.
    Father and son each pretended not to notice the other's face was wet.
    Before they closed up the wooden crate, Jacob opened the bottom right hand desk drawer one last time, withdrew two heavy bottom glasses and the bottle of whiskey, handed them to Joseph; only then did the pair crate up and seal the desk, they set these last tokens aside, and they finished their task in silence: finally they withdrew from this dead end, carrying their tools and the bottle and the glasses, and at the first bend, they began work again, erecting a wooden wall, here where the ceiling was low enough they had to duck a little: they built it stout and wedged the corners tight, and by the light of their two kerosene lanterns, Jacob painted "DEAD END" and under that, "PLAYED OUT" -- the common means used in that mine to let future miners know that the gold strata ran elsewhere.
    They were more than a mile underground; it took them a bit to walk out, and when they neared the mouth of the mine, Joseph asked, "Pa, what of the office?"
    "I have another desk," Jacob replied, "and a chair. What's left we'll tear down and rebuild, but I want to rebuild in stone."
    They stopped and looked around before emerging into daylight; they puffed out the flames, set the lanterns where they'd found them, in a little niche, whistled to their mounts.
    Joseph hesitated before mounting, running gloved fingers over his gelding's brand. He rode a good looking Macneil cross, a short-coupled, tough-as-nails cross between an Appaloosa and a Mexican-blooded copper mare that hated men and outran anything this side of the Rio.
    "I miss him, sir," Joseph said, his voice thickening.
    Jacob nodded.
    The two rode back into town, father and son, Sheriff and deputy: they rode in silence together, listening to the wind, to the distant scream of the ore train's whistle, they rode around town and in behind it and finally they made their way into the town's graveyard, and around a curving little roadway, and stopped at the raw earth of a fresh grave.
    They dismounted, ground-reined their mounts.
    The stone was broad and heavy and said KELLER in bold letters.
    On one side, a carved triplet of roses, and over these, ESTHER, and in more delicate characters, "Beloved Wife."
    On the other side, a Masonic arc-and-compasses, and the name LINN, and under that, "Beloved Husband."
    There were fresh roses, four on each grave; the Sheriff and his son knew that Sarah and the girls had been there earlier that day.
    Jacob uncorked the whiskey bottle.
    Joseph held out two glasses.
    Water-clear gurgled into the heavy-glass tumblers, two fingers' worth: Jacob turned and said in a loud voice, "Sir, we'd be pleased if you'd take a touch with us," and he poured a generous gurgle onto his father's grave.
    The two men tilted up their glasses and drank.

  3. Linn Keller 1-4-14

     

    The mare glowed a bright copper in the long rays of the early Colorado dawn.
    It was cold and the mare's breath steamed out in great gusting plumes; her hooves whispered as they crushed frost-brittle grasses, the cold saddle leather squeaked a little as it always did; her black bridle and the hand-chased roses graven into the bridle's silver furniture were perfect accents to the dancing mare's healthy pelt.
    She'd bucked herself out, giving the Sheriff a good wringing-out -- along with her spine -- and now, after shaking herself, she stepped out with a smooth and lively pace, pleased as punch and feeling good, the way a saddlehorse will on a chilly mountain morning.
    The Sheriff looked to the horizon with pale blue eyes, leaning forward a little: a hand that, in its time, grasped weapons of various kinds, or tools, a hand that knew how to caress a lover or seize a malefactor, how to guide a child's hand in forming its first wobbly letters on paper, or how to double into a tight fist and do violence to someone who deserved it, now patted the mare's neck with affection.
    The throat and lips that had screamed in full-voiced battle-rage, guiding troops in time of war, now whispered "Good girl" in soothing sibilants, puffing out on the Sheriff's orange-tinted breath-vapor.
    The long red rays of the sun set treetops on fire, trees heavily furred with frost, even painted the breath-vapor of horse and rider: the Sheriff always did love the morning, and when possible would get out for a morning ride, unless duty or unforeseen circumstance dictated otherwise.
    The Sheriff re-read a journal's page that morning, reading the words written in grief, speaking of the barkeep, an old and dear friend, who'd just crossed over into the Valley: though the Sheriff had been there and knew what it was like, he still wrote with the grief of a man bereft of someone he knew and trusted and befriended, for he was a man who did not give or take friendship lightly.
    The Sheriff looked back at the solid house, built for a long tall lawman and his red-headed bride, a house that knew laughter and grief, joy and sorrow, in which children had been born, and in which souls had departed: the house knew children and grandchildren, gain and loss, a house that stood as solid as the mountains surrounding.
    "Home," the Sheriff whispered into the morning stillness.
    The Sheriff rode Cannonball in a slow circle, then with a nudge of knees, a shift of weight -- for the Sheriff rode without using a bit or reins -- they set a cross-country course, as near a straight line as they could, for the graveyard.
    Cannonball leaned into an easy trot until she hit the downgrade, the the Sheriff leaned forward and pressed flat hands against the mare's neck.
    "Go, girl!"
    Cannonball didn't need to be told twice.
    She gathered herself and launched herself down grade, toward the creek that split the little hollow: there was a still, soaring moment, a moment where they rode the wind, then with a hammer of hooves up the other side, a clatter of steel-shod across the hard roadbed, the Sheriff rode into the graveyard.
    The Sheriff's six-point star gleamed in the morning sun, the Sheriff's engraved, yellowed-ivory handles glowed as only aged ivory can; the Sheriff rode back and forth a little, in the oldest section of the cemetery, until at last they stopped before a double stone.
    It bore one name, across the top; on the left, beneath a triplet of carved roses, it said ESTHER, and beneath, "Beloved Wife."
    On the right, LINN, and "Loving Husband."
    The Sheriff smiled at the memory of comments entered into the journal, something to the effect that he'd had a discussion with his son Jacob on the matter: how he thought the stone ought to say "Old Geezer" or "Long Winded Storyteller" or something of the kind.
    "It's odd, seeing your own name on a stone," the Sheriff whispered, staring at the deep-graven KELLER across the top of the stone.
    There were other stones nearby: one, a tiny one, a lamb carved on top: time and weather reduced the lamb to an almost unrecognizable blob.
    "I'll have that re-done," the Sheriff said aloud. "Maybe coat it with something so it won't melt."
    The Sheriff stared with pale blue eyes at the stone, then considered a multiple of stones surrounding, reading the names and remembering.
    "A lot of history here."
    Cannonball blew and shook her head.
    The Sheriff looked up at the sound of a train whistle in the distance, grinning and turning Cannonball with a knee.
    "Come on, girl, she's back!"
    Sheriff Willamina Keller looked down at her great-great-granddad's stone.
    "I got your steam engine back," she shouted, delight in her voice and a grin on her face. "She's back from South America, I had her rebuilt and she's going to pull a tourist train!"
    Sheriff Willamina Keller, wearing her Great-Granddad's six-pointed star and her Great-Granddad's twin Colts with the Masonic square-and-compasses graven into the antique ivory handles, shouted "YAAA! COME ON, GIRL, WE'VE GOT A TRAIN TO CATCH!"
    Cannonball didn't need to be told twice.
    The red mare, like her ancestress, born of fiery Mexican blood and crossed with the smooth-gaited Paso Fino of the conquistadores, launched herself like a ball from a field gun.
    A white wolf, sitting beside a stone, watched the pair disappear before it, too, disappeared, dissolving into mist in the morning sun.

  4. Linn Keller 1-1-14

     

    Given enough snow, the stage could be slowed or stopped; it took considerably more snow to stop the Iron Horse, unless it built up and began to avalanche.
    The Lady Esther was having little if any difficulty getting through the drifts; she came huffing easily into station, blowing pure-white clouds of condensation into the cold winter air.
    It is an unfortunate reality that bad men as well as good avail themselves of transportation, and so it was today: two men with ill intent, knowing the train's schedule, disembarked and made their way to the Silver Jewel.
    Jackson Cooper nodded pleasantly to the pair on his way out.
    The two watched after him as the big town marshal made his way out the ornate double doors, then they each slid a coin to the smiling girl behind the bar and accepted a beer apiece.
    They knew the ore train would be through in one hour; they knew the ore train usually drew a boxcar after the ore cars; they knew the ore train, heavily laden, would be moving slowly, until it made the break-over point a mile out of town.
    They looked at the Regulator clock, they looked at their beers, and they looked to the front door.
    "Just enough time," the one said quietly, and the other nodded.
    They drained their heavy glass mugs and headed for the front door.
    It wasn't until they were down the steps from the boardwalk that they saw the Sheriff.
    His back was to the pair.

    Angela looked at her Daddy with big and innocent eyes.
    "But I like him!" she protested, distress in her voice and grief in her expression, and the Sheriff leaned his gold headed cane against the side of the building and bent over a little, the heels of his hands on his knees as he spoke quietly to his daughter: "He's a wild thing, Angela. He's a wolf, not a pet."
    Angela ran her bottom lip out, then thought better of it and said in a small voice, "Okay, Daddy."
    She turned a little, as if to speak to the wolf pup.
    The wolf pup suddenly bristled and snarled, fangs bared: it went from cautious to attack in a tenth of a second or less.
    The Sheriff spun, his good right hand full of Colt revolver.
    He remembered seeing the blued steel finger of the revolver's barrel pointing toward the man on the right, he recalled seeing the front sight slicing up the man's body, he recalled the little dark spot that appeared on the man's coat, right before the black streak shot like a furry arrow past his arm.
    There was another gunshot and the man on the left fell back screaming as the wolf pup grabbed his exposed wrist, right behind his nickle plated pistol, and the two went over backwards.
    The first holdup coughed and dropped his revolver, alarm in his eyes and blood on his lips, and the Sheriff cocked his pistol and brought it back down level.
    He needn't have bothered.
    The first holdup sagged to his knees and then fell onto his face, unmoving.
    The second fellow, on the other hand, was not just moving: he was rolling, he was screaming, he scrambled backwards until he ran the small of his back into the wooden boardwalk steps; he fell over, his voice shrill, as something black and fast moving shook his broken arm back and forth like a terrier worries a rat.
    The Sheriff lowered his pistol's hammer and thrust it hard into its holster: he strode up to the wolf pup, ran one hand under its chest and the other seized the nape of its neck.
    "OFF!" he barked.
    Angela came scampering up and laid her hand on the pup's muzzle.
    "LEGGO!" she shouted, and the wolf pup released, wiggling and snarling, making it plain he wanted to do nothing more than to grab hold of this enemy and rip into him again: he sounded like he was the size of a grown pony, and he looked like a furred-up, mad-as-hell black wolf, a red-eyed, bloody-jawed emissary of death.
    Angela laid her hand fearlessly on the wolf pup's muzzle.
    "Bad Wolf," she scolded. "Now stop that!"
    "You got him?" the Sheriff asked.
    "I got him, Daddy."
    The Sheriff let the wolf pup go and Angela had her arm around the front of its chest, the other laid between its flattened-back ears.
    "Come on now, Bad Wolf," she wheedled. "Come on now. Come on."

    Jackson Cooper frowned as he looked at the dead man.
    "This one's Chris Rock," he said. "The other ... Rock usually runs with a fellow they called Eph."
    "Eph?"
    "Short for Ephesus. He hated the name."
    "Oh."
    "Once the doc figures out whether he'll have to saw that hand off or not I reckon we can talk to him."
    The Sheriff frowned, trying to resurrect the memory that was evading capture.
    "Chris Rock," he said thoughtfully, then realization dawned in his eyes.
    "They like to hit a bank at closin' time or near to it ... they ride in on the train ..."
    "That's why we didn't see any horses."
    "Townies," the Sheriff snorted. "You can tell by lookin' at 'em. I don't reckon they're Western men a'tall."
    Jackson Cooper considered this.
    "How do you reckon they figured to leave?"
    The Sheriff lifted his head, listening.
    "Ore train," he murmured. "Could they have caught ..."
    "They have a box car on the end of the ore cars."
    "Bingo."
    "Damned fools."
    "Hey?" Jackson Cooper frowned, leaning forward a little.
    "This high up," the Sheriff said, "an Easterner or a lowlander can't breathe so good."
    "Ah," Jackson Cooper said as he realized what the Sheriff was driving at.
    "The train slows a mile from here."
    "And they would never make a mile in time."
    "Mmm. Especially not with a couple sacks of loot to pack."

    Angela was squatted by the back steps of the Silver Jewel.
    She made no attempt to reach under, which was probably a good thing.
    The wolf pup glared at her as it gobbled biscuits and gravy, then polished the plate rather thoroughly.
    Angela sighed.
    "You're not much of a doggie," she complained.
    The wolf pup lifted its lips and growled.
    "You have very bad manners," Angela scolded, shaking her finger at the curly black lupine.
    The pup looked at her with gleaming black eyes, then came out from under the steps, and snuffed at her hand, then it thrust its head across her lap and growled.
    Angela laid a hand gently on the ruff of its neck.
    "Good puppy," she said quietly.

  5. Linn Keller 1-1-14

     

    Jacob looked across the table at his bride and said, "Dear heart, I am so glad for your cookin'!"
    Annette was finally set down; she had an infant under her shawl, slung and nursing, and was finally able to turn her attention to her eggs: she looked up at Jacob and admitted, "I don't know whether to thank you or throw my plate at you."
    Jacob laughed.
    His wife had an armful of fussy infant; rather than set down and expect his woman to wait on him, he and Joseph fired the stove, laid the table, sliced up bacon, fried the eggs, even warmed sliced bread before throwing groceries on warmed plates.
    "It is an awful lot more work than meets the eye," Jacob continued.
    Annette nodded, looking down at their little one: a chubby pink arm escaped the enveloping shawl and waved happily about.
    Joseph's head came up and his young eyes went to the window: he shot a delighted grin at his Pa and bolted from the table.
    Annette looked up at the sound of sleigh-bells; Jacob rose, curious, and grinned as he heard his son's delighed "Hi, Aunt Sarah!" just before their front door slammed shut behind his departing backside.
    Jacob went outside, shrugging into his coat, clapped Joseph's hat on his head before assuming his own broad brimmed skypiece.
    "Well don't just stand there," Sarah said, mock-glaring at her brother, "help me down!"
    "I can't reach," Joseph protested. "I'm too short!"
    Sarah laughed, standing and turning: Jacob reached up and took her hand, steadying her as she stepped down: Joseph offered his own hand as soon as Sarah was in reach, and she took his hand as well.
    "Thank you, gentlemen," she said with mock gravity, though neither missed the sparkle of delight in her light-blue eyes: "I have a basket to bring in," and Jacob reached over and swung the woven wicker out and down to his grinning son.
    "I'll tend the sleigh," Jacob said quietly, and Sarah seized him in a quick, crushing hug, then held him at arm's length and looked long into his eyes, a half-smile, a secret, knowing smile on her face: then she turned, plucked up her skirts and swung like a brigantine under sail toward the front door.
    Jacob chuckled and took the horse by the cheek-strap.
    "Come on now," he murmured. "Let's get you inside," and drew horse and sleigh to the barn.
    Annette smiled to see her visitor. "Oh, Sarah, do come in!" she exclaimed, then looked in distress at the half eaten breakfast: "Let me get you something," and Sarah swept around the table and pressed gloved hands gently around her sister in law's shoulders.
    "You will do no such thing," she said quietly. "Sit you still. These men don't know a thing about fixing a meal."
    "We do too!" Joseph protested.
    "You," Sarah said, pointing a gloved finger at the distressed lad, "are a volunteer. Roll up your sleeves now."
    Puzzled, Joseph did; he slid his red under-sleeves uncerimoniously up to his elbows as well.
    "Now sit and finish your breakfast." Sarah plucked at her fingers, removing her gloves and slipping them daintily into her reticule. "Do you have enough to eat?"
    Joseph managed to get a slippery forkful of fried egg into his mouth before nodding.
    "Good. Clean your plate and you're helping me. Your father's plate?"
    Joseph nodded.
    Sarah picked it up, set it on the stove. "We'll just keep it warm," she murmured. "I hate cold eggs."
    "We fried up bacon," Joseph offered.
    "Good. Bacon puts hair on your chest."
    Joseph stopped, drew the neck of his shirt out, tried to peek down at his breastbone.
    Sarah came around behind him, pulled the shirt out, took a look.
    "You need some more," she murmured, "but it'll come, just like your father."
    "Pa said Grampa's coffee will put hair on your chest."
    Annette shot a warning look at her son; Joseph's eyes were for his Aunt Sarah, who smiled and nodded and agreed, "Your Grampa's coffee will grow hair on a bald rock!" -- and Joseph resolved to sneak the coffee pot out of the Sheriff's office sometime and anoint one of the rocks at the edge of the board walk, for he'd never seen a rock grow hair.
    Jacob kicked the snow off his boots and slapped the snow off his hat brim.
    "Still coming down," he announced. "I'm glad you're here, Little Sis. This is sizin' up to be a good snowfall."
    Sarah released Joseph's shoulders and stomped up to Jacob: shoving herself aggressively against him, she poked a stiff forefinger in his chest and snarled, "Who you callin' "little," little brother?"
    Pale eyes glared into pale eyes; Jacob frowned, and so did Sarah; Jacob's jaw thrust forward, and so did Sarah; each slowly cocked a fist, turned their head a little, one eyebrow raised aggressively, until neither could keep a straight face any longer: they abandoned themselves to laughter and a hug.
    "Sit down and eat," Sarah said finally. "Your plate's still warm."

  6. Linn Keller 12-31-13

     

    Jacob stood bareheaded at the grave.
    It was night; it was dark; snow was thick underfoot and coming down hard, as was common this time of year.
    He looked around, nodded.
    "Snowing cross legged," he murmured. "Going to snow deep."
    He looked down at his mother's grave.
    "You taught me that."
    He swallowed hard, breathing against the tightness in his chest.
    "You taught me much," he whispered. "I miss you, Mother."
    Jacob blinked against the sting in his eyes, harrumphed and wiped his hand impatiently through his thick hair.
    "I'll take your leave now, if I may," he said, his voice still quiet; he turned, settled his hat on his head.
    Apple-horse waited patiently for him; Jacob swept the snow from his saddle with his coat sleeve, swung easily into the kak.
    He froze as Apple shifted his weight in preparation for that first step.
    A white wolf looked at him from across his mother's grave ... a white wolf, staring quietly at him, blinking slowly ... a white wolf that did not turn or stand or trot into the thickening snowfall ... the wolf dissolved into a mist and was gone, just that fast.

    Jacob paused at his front door, picked up the brush he kept there and brushed the snow from his sleeves and shoulders and the front of his coat, removed his hat and swatted it against his leg, brushed it as well.
    Annette opened the door, smiling, a little one bundled on her hip: she took the brush from him, made a little twirl-around motion with it, and Jacob turned to allow her to brush the snow from his back.
    He followed his wife inside, hugged her carefully, kissed her delicately, then he held her again for several long moments.
    "Come," she whispered. "I kept supper for you."
    Jacob did not release his wife: he laid his cheek against hers and whispered, "You are the sweetest thing I know."
    Annette knew something happened, to cause her husband's sudden and serious mien: she did not know what happened, only that it was something, and wise woman that she was, as her husband held her, so did she hold him, standing near the warmth of their cast iron kitchen stove, under their own roof, with family safe and warm within, their stock secure in barn and in pasture and their cupboards and wood boxes and stocks and stores proof against what might come.
    "It's the last night of the year," Annette whispered, and Jacob released her, kissed her on top of the head and drew her out a chair.
    He sat himself, sat slowly, as if wore plumb out.
    "New year tomorrow."
    "Yes," Annette nodded.
    Jacob sliced into elk back strap, stopping to savor its odor: eyes closed, he held the moment, willing it into his memory.
    "I'm done with this year," he said, his voice quiet, rich in the kitchen's hush.
    "Tomorrow starts a brand new one," Annette replied. "Shining, unsullied, new, we can make it as we please."
    Jacob chuckled humorlessly.
    "Nothing tarnishes quite so quickly as a new year," he muttered cynically. "I would like to be proven wrong, but ... nothing tarnishes quite as quickly."

  7. Linn Keller 12-29-13

     

    The twelve-string guitar filled the room with a rich melody; it was a larger-bodied guitar and sang a deeper note, a richer harmony; the guitar's player was skilled and had a good repertoire.
    An attractively dressed young woman sat in the back of the room, in the corner, beside a tall, well-dressed man with an iron-grey mustache: they were obviously a couple, though there was no overt sign of affection between them.
    The man drank coffee, in volumes enough to keep the Daisy's girl coming back with a steaming coffeepot to keep his mug filled; the younger woman beside him sipped delicately from her teacup.
    The Daisy's girl carried a note and a coin to the guitar player; he played for his supper as he traveled, sometimes making enough for a meal, if he was really lucky he could earn the price of a room as well: he didn't realize until late that night, when he picked up his inverted hat and took inventory of his take, that he'd inherited a double eagle ... more money than he'd seen in a very long time.
    So surprised was he that he forgot the feminine hand that wrote the note:
    Please continue playing, it read.

    In one of the intermissions, when the guitar player rested between songs, when he took a pull on his beer or accepted the sandwich that an appreciative patron paid for, the Sheriff conversed quietly with his daughter.
    "I wonder," he murmured, "if I will be chaffed again for being seen with a younger woman."
    Sarah sighed, squeezed her Papa's hand.
    "I'm an ungrateful slut anyway," she muttered. "I'm not parading tears and widow's weeds and that makes me a loose woman."
    "That was the old bat you belted outside church?"
    "One of them."
    "You belted more than one?"
    "I should have."
    She felt her Papa's suppressed laughter shaking his rib cage: he patted her hand and leaned her lips close to her ear: "I'm proud of you," he whispered.

  8. Linn Keller 12-29-13

     

    Bonnie smiled as she read the hand-written note:
    If it is not inconvenient, I will call today at one o'clock.
    I have need of your advice.
    Sarah

    There was no need to make a reply; it would indeed be convenient, or at least, not inconvenient.
    Bonnie considered her day's tasks, rearranged her mental schedule: it would be rather pleasant to have her daughter visit.

    Brother William broke the seal on his own note: he recognized the handwriting, smiling as he remembered the night not long ago when their great pipe organ sang with a power and a majesty he'd not often heard.
    He read Sarah's words, nodding, then folded the letter and tucked it carefully in a pigeonhole in his desk.
    He would consider his reply before touching pen to paper.

    It was Sunday; church had been that morning; Sarah was there, subdued in her manner, if not her attire: she absolutely eschewed any shade of mourning, save only for the white-jade oval given her on her wedding day, that necklace Bonnie could have sworn was as vivid a red rose as had ever blossomed under the summer sun, but was now a rose scrimshawed in India ink, shades of black, lines of India ink inlaid into the polished stone.
    She knew there were those who expressed scandal at Sarah's refusal to grieve publicly, to parade her grief for their entertainment -- as a matter of fact, Sarah confronted three of her most vocal critics, surprising them by thrusting herself in their face and addressing them quite frankly, informing them in words cold enough to freeze water that she did not intend to parade her grief for their entertainment, and she would grieve in her own way and in her own time, and she was not subject to their judgement, and they would kindly keep her good name off their forked tongues.
    Bonnie did not see it but she heard the sharp SMACK of a backhand slap, and she smiled to hear it, for obviously one of the gossips did not heed Sarah's warning words.

    The Sheriff sat in Sean's parlor with one boot on his foot and the other on his hand.
    He frowned at his boot, turning it slowly, inspecting it closely.
    Sean Michael regarded the Sheriff's actions, turned his own boot in like manner.
    The Sheriff was demonstrating for the young Irishman the fine art of blacking one's boots, and the young Irishman was an enthusiastic student: though he paid close attention to his Da's teachings, he subscribed wholeheartedly to anything the Sheriff said, or did, and so when the Sheriff replied to the lad's question, "How do you keep your boots looking so good?" -- why, it turned into a lesson, and the red-headed son of the fire chief applied himself with the enthusiasm of the most dedicated of students.

  9. Linn Keller 12-26-13

     

    It seems almost ... like a wild vacation, Sarah thought, staring up at the ceiling.
    A wild vacation.
    Something temporary.
    Glorious, happy ... and gone.

    She lay still in her bed, the woman of the house, the matron, the widow, Queen of her domain: she smelled breakfast, she heard the domestic sounds of her maid, she waited one moment more, then threw back her covers and sat up.
    I need to write to Brother William.

    "Sean," the Sheriff grinned, shaking the big Chieftain's hand, "how many young'uns do you have now?"
    Sean looked at the half-dozen swarming around him and laughed, bending down to take a young Irishman in each arm before standing again.
    "He's lost count, Sheriff," Daisy declared, coffee pot in one hand and an infant on the opposite hip. "I dona' recall mesel'."
    The Sheriff looked down at a big-eyed little boy and grinned.
    "Did you come to help?" he asked gently and the young Irishman reddened and got a bad case of the bashfuls and scampered around behind his Ma and peeked at the grinning lawman from around Daisy's skirts.
    "Have ye given any more thought to our idea?" the Sheriff asked.
    "Th' horses? Aye," Sean laughed. "'Tis profitable t' sell our fire horses t' back East, Sheriff, but if I start raisin' an' sellin' wholesale, why, I'll glut th' market! Nah, better t' sell a few an' make a profit than t' cut th' head off th' golden goose!"
    The Sheriff nodded, regarded the long-legged, red-headed little boy resting his head sleepily on Sean's shoulder.
    "I'll trust your judgement," Linn murmured.
    "Aye, an' well ye should!" Sean laughed. "I've been ever'where, I've done ever'thing, an' if ye believe that I'll sell ye the Crown Jewels!"
    They laughed at this, it was an old joke between them, and the Sheriff nodded.
    "What about yersel', ye long tall lawman?" Sean boomed. "Ye're gettin' a brood o' yer own!"
    The Sheriff nodded. "I've got a few."
    "I thought ye were gon' t' quit an' raise 'em."
    "Yeah, I thought so too."
    "Now wha' kind o' feyther --" Sean shook his head, grinning. "Nah. Ne'er mind. Ye're doin' a foin job, I can see that, but --"
    He looked out the door.
    Angela was riding up on her Rosebud-horse, wearing a sky-blue riding dress, holding a dainty, ruffled parasol, an absolutely beatific look on her face.
    "Sheriff, who is tha' long-legged lovely an' wha' ha'e ye done wil' Angela? Good God, man, she cuid stand flat footed an' si'down on a wagon's gate!"

    Jacob stepped up to the bar.
    He'd come in as he always did, holding station with his back to the wall for several moments, sizing the place up: he nodded solemnly to Tillie the way he always did, then ghosted the few paces over to the end of the bar, eyes busy, tread silent; he smiled at the girl behind the mahogany bar and winked.
    She nodded, looked down the hall: a silent signal was passed, and Jacob had a hot, steaming mug of freshly ground and brewed coffee.
    Jacob glanced up at the black crape draped over the bar, he considered the apron hung on the hook where Mr. Baxter always placed it.
    Daisy's girl laid a hand on his shoulder, then ran her arm around the long, tall deputy and laid her head on his shoulder.
    "I miss him," she whispered, and Jacob ran his arm around her slender waist and pulled her close, leaning his cheek over on top of her head.
    "I miss him too."
    It may have been improper, in this age of complex manners and elaborate etiquette, for a married man to hold another woman in such a way, but Jacob was not a man to be bound by proprieties, especially when he felt the girl shivering with suppressed grief.
    He felt pretty much the same himself.
    He was just better at containing it.

  10. Linn Keller 12-25-13

     

    Sarah adjusted her hat and nodded at herself in the mirror.
    She and her maid drove to their whitewashed church and joined the community for Christmas Day service.
    Sarah wore her emerald wedding gown; she had holly, bright green and festive, on her shoulder and on her hat -- a jarring note to those prudish souls who believed it proper to remain in mourning black for a full year.
    Sarah, quite frankly, did not give a good damn for their opinion.
    She spoke pleasantly to every one of those she knew to be nay-sayers, she went out of her way to speak kindly to every waspish soul she knew would gossip behind her back.
    She smiled as her father and brother approached her, and turned to see Charlie bearing down on her, Fannie on his arm and a grin on his face.
    Sarah laughed and ran her arm around her Papa's waist on the right, and around Charlie's middle with her left: looking from one to the other, she took a long breath and nodded.
    "Thank you both," she murmured. "Merry Christmas!"
    Charlie grinned, removed his immaculate, Sunday-go-to-meetin' hat and inclined his head, for Sarah was still considerably shorter than either the Sheriff or himself: "Merry Christmas, darlin'," he rumbled, and Sarah giggled and put a hand up to steady her hat.
    They formed a laughing knot: her brother and his wife, Charlie and his wife, a variety of children coming in for their share of hugs and laughter; Emma Cooper, easily insinuating through the crowd, Jackson Cooper slowly flowing through the assembled like a great ship through a sargassum ocean.
    Parson Belden, normally at the top of the stairs, worked his way down to them and found himself seized and squeezed around the low ribs, his hand wrung and his shoulder pounded: enthusiasm, it seems, rippled around Sarah like wavelets in a pool of shining water.
    "My dear Mrs. Llewellyn," Parson Belden gasped happily, "you are lovely this day! Green is very much your color!"
    "I refuse to be buried in grief, Parson," Sarah declared. "I could lie prone on my husband's grave and wail, but what good would it do? He is far beyond our poor powers to hurt or to help" -- she looked sharply at the sky pilot -- "and both of us know where he is now, is far better than this earth here below!"
    The Parson nodded, suddenly sober: he'd seen war and he'd seen slaughter, and he himself knew what it was to set foot in the Valley. So surprised was the man that he didn't think to ask how she knew, for he'd never spoken of these experiences to anyone.
    Anyone.
    Ever.
    Sarah reached up and patted the man's chest.
    "I choose to live, Parson," Sarah continued. "I believe in revenge and I'm going to practice it every day."
    "Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," the Parson murmured warningly.
    Sarah's smile was dazzling as Fannie came up behind her and laid her hands protectively on the younger woman's shoulders.
    "The Lord subcontracts, Parson," Sarah smiled, "and I am a subcontractor. Attend:
    "Death took my husband from me.
    "I avenge myself by living and by laughing, by seeing the glory of a sunrise and the beauty in the sunset. I smell flowers and eat good food and hug my Papa and I teach the young." Her eyes flashed defiance as she spoke.
    "I do good in this world, Parson. I teach. I laugh. I ... appreciate."
    She looked the man directly in the eye.
    "Vengeance is mine too, Parson."
    "I think I could make a good sermon from that," the Parson said thoughtfully.
    "Help yourself, Parson," Sarah smiled, raised up and kissed the man on the cheek. "Merry Christmas!"
    Sarah turned and grabbed Charlie's hand as he turned, looked at Fannie, who was studying her with those deep, glowing eyes.
    "Charlie, Fannie -- and you too, Papa" -- Sarah leaned a little, snatched at her Papa's hand.
    The four formed a closed circle and Sarah's face was suddenly serious.
    "I think I am going to need all of your help," she said, and three agents of the Law attended closely to the words of the fourth.
    Sarah's hand tightened on the men's calluses and she looked slowly from one set of eyes to another to another.
    She hesitated, suddenly uncertain: she swallowed, then pushed forward, knowing that of all the souls in the world, these were the ones upon whom she could always, most unreservedly, depend.
    "You two," she said, looking at Charlie and her Papa, "are brothers born of battle. If ever there were brothers not born of the same womb, you two are." She took a long breath, suddenly uncomfortable.
    "You two fought on the Red Plane for my soul."
    She was a little pale, her breath coming more quickly: Jacob slipped up behind her, concerned: he quietly assumed his station, knowing he might well be needed.
    "And Fannie" -- Sarah was a bit more pallid, her lips standing out brightly against the increasing whiteness of her expression -- "you sent me into the mountain ... and I thank you for helping me ... rejoin."
    Fannie's eyes spoke far more than words could have.
    "Here's why ... I wanted you to know ..."
    Sarah wobbled a little and Jacob thrust his bent leg under her backside, grabbed her upper arms, brought her back so her weight was on his thigh.
    Sarah swallowed, took a moment to steady herself.
    "I have no husband," she whispered. "I'm going to need some good men to help me raise our son." Her hand was flat on her belly.
    Jacob shifted his grip, spun her about, thrust his face into hers: his hard hands around her ribs, under her arms, were all that kept her upright.
    "What?" he whsipered, grinning.
    Sarah nodded, biting her bottom lip.
    Jacob hauled her off the ground, thrusting he up to arm's length, laughing: "YAHOO!" he yelled, his treble yelp echoing off the building-fronts opposite: he spun Sarah around, twice, then brought her down and hugged her, clearly delighted.
    "Sis," he said quietly, "come on up to our place, we've got your Happy Birthday cake and everything!"
    Sarah found herself enveloped by manly and maternal arms.
    This is turning out to be a pretty good Christmas birthday, she thought, as she was chivvied inside, for services were about to start.

  11. Linn Keller 12-23-13

     

    "They're all asleep," the maid whispered, smiling to see Sarah with her father.
    "Good," Linn whispered back, hanging his hat on its peg and relieving Sarah of his coat, wrapped around her shoulders. He'd made do with the blanket for the ride home.
    "Anything left from supper?"
    The maid laid her knuckles gently on Sarah's reddened cheek and then patted her hand reassuringly.
    "Sheriff," she scolded gently, "the poor thing's freezing! If there wasn't something hot I would certainly make something!"
    "Oh, bless you," Sarah said in a small voice.
    As the Sheriff drew Sarah's chair out for her, then scooted her in, Sarah leaned her elbows on the tabletop and her forehead against the heels of her hands.
    "Chilled?" Linn asked, his hands big and warm and strong and comforting on her shoulders.
    She nodded.
    "Tired?"
    She nodded again.
    "You can bunk here. You know that."
    Sarah nodded again.
    Mary lifted the lid on a kettle; fragrant steam billowed out as she stirred the rich, thick stew.
    "You'll like this," she said in a motherly voice, ladling one, then another bowl full. "I thought stew might be good on a chilly night."
    Fresh bread was brought and the Sheriff sawed through the golden crust with the serrated bread knife.
    Sarah smiled to hear how hollow it sounded, almost like a crosscut saw.
    The Sheriff smiled to see her amusement and pantomined a sawing motion in empty air: "Hee haw, hee haw," he said quietly, and Sarah smiled and nodded, for her Papa was being silly again, and she like it when he was silly.

    When Linn finally laid down for the night, it was with an odd feeling of contentment.
    He remembered their conversation, before they went to their separate bedrooms: he for his, and her for the guest room.
    He knew Sarah learned that good comes even of grief; her tears, hidden by the white veil, were prayers when she had no words to pray: her grief, her tears, sung through the great pipe organ, drew in another in grief, another soul who needed her help.
    "Life goes on," he said to her, holding both her hands in both of his: "we can choose to wall ourselves away from life or we can decide to live."
    "What do you choose, Papa?"
    The Sheriff smiled and his smile was as warm and welcoming as the bared fangs of the wolf pup he'd fed before they came into the house.
    "I choose revenge," he said quietly.
    Sarah blinked, unsure whether she'd heard him arightly.
    "I ... don't ... understand," she said slowly. "Revenge?"
    The Sheriff nodded, his eyes hard.
    "My wife was taken from me," he said slowly, "and I intend to avenge myself against death by LIVING."
    "I see," Sarah said uncertainly.
    "You made the same decision."
    "I did?"
    Linn nodded.
    "Your riding outfit. Rich, royal, dark purple. Hardly mourning black."
    Sarah nodded, still not sure of her father's intended meaning.
    "You may not have decided to avenge yourself against death by living, but you have chosen to live."
    His hands tightened very slightly on hers.
    "You chose to help a girl who needed help in a bad way.
    "You told me you took her in and fed her and got her a hot bath and clean clothes. You told me you got her to a place of safety. You told me she will be taken care of and kept safe and provided for."
    Sarah nodded.
    "You did these things," the Sheriff said, his voice barely above a whisper. "You."
    Sarah nodded slowly. "I did those things, Papa," she affirmed.
    "And will you go back to teaching school?"
    "Yes, Papa. I plan to."
    "Good."
    The Sheriff lay in the dark, remembering how warm, how real Sarah's small hands were in his big, callused paws.
    He remembered how slowly she walked, how she stopped in the bedroom doorway, how she turned and looked at him with the eyes of a hopeful little girl, how she whispered "Thank you, Papa," and then she withdrew and quietly closed the bedroom door.
    "Esther," the Sheriff whispered, "I wish you were here," and as he always did, he reached a little to his right, to where Esther's hand had been for all the years of their marriage, and he remembered how their last words to one another were always a whispered "I love you," and they would fall asleep holding hands.
    "I love you," he whispered into the bedroom's silence, and he closed his eyes.

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