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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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It was really hard to leave to go to the mountains with Eddie and Lone Wolf, I was sure plum tuckered out and Calico had made sure that I had gotten that way. The fresh morning air started working it's magic though and before we had gotten halfway to the mountains I was starting to think more and more about hunting. Eddie and Lone Wolf were trying to teach each other their languages, but I was lost in thought, it had been a while since I had hunted with a bow and was trying to get my past training into my head. I still had my Sharps and my Winchester with me, but only for an emergency, which I was dearly hoping wouldn't happen.

 

We made camp about noon and then we split up to hunt until dark, I found a spot over looking a small valley, and sat, before long I was soaring as an eagle, over and under the clouds without a care in the world....

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I don't know how long I had been asleep when I started dreaming that Calico was nuzzling my neck, I was feeling warm all over when I felt something lick my face. I opened my eyes to see something black about six inches from my face, a bear cub! Even with the shock of being awakened by it I knew not to startle the little critter because momma was surely near by.

 

The cub continued to lick and sniff me as I tried to search the surroundings for it's mother. Then I heard it, first a large dry branch snapping behind me, and then a low pitched growl. The old sow must have caught wind of me, I could only hope that see hadn't figured out just where I was yet. I was fighting with every inch of nerve I had not to jump up and spin around to see what the sow was doing.

 

Movement off to my right caught my attention, dang it, it was another bear and by the looks of it's coat it was a grizzly. Then I heard another loud snap, it had to bee within feet of me, then something lifted the cub off my shoulder, I couldn't wait any longer, the stench of the sow's breath was more than I could stand. I made sure I had my bow in hand as I jumped to my feet and ran a few steps before I turned to see what the sow was up to. She had dropped the cub and was starting to snarl and growl towards the sky. I was reaching for an arrow when I heard what almost sounded like the growl of a grizzly coming from where I had seen it. Lord, what had I gotten into now? Would they play tug of war with me, I knew I had absolutely no chance against two bears at once. I saw Calico and the kids standing before my grave dressed in black, a loud explosion from behind me suddenly took the scene of Calico and the kids from my mind. I saw the old sow's nose explode as she flipped backwards. I quickly sent an arrow into her heart as I heard a deep laughter behind me, I rolled my eyes as I turned in the direction of the explosion, the smoke was clearing just enough for me to see what I though was a grizzly, I was partially right, it was ol Grizz standing there with his Sharps him hand almost doubling over as he laughed from the depths of his round belly.

 

When Grizz finally was able to speak he blurted out, "Thought you were a goner didn't you?" Then he started laughing again as he walked over to the old sow and grabbed the two cubs before he started back down the mountain. "I'll be back for the sow later, I've got to pen these two younguns up first" he said as he headed down the mountain.

 

He was barely out of sight when Eddie and Lone Wolf came running down from their haunts. Their eyes looked like saucers as the saw the old sow with the arrow sticking out from it's heart. "But what made the explosion" they both shouted in the own tongues. I reached down a lifted the sow's head to show them the large whole in the bear's snout. The look on their faces was priceless, but having to explain what had happened twice wasn't so much fun. We made our way back to the camp for the night, I wasn't so sure that I was going to be able to sleep, but the warmth from the fire sure felt good.

 

We spent two more days in the mountains before heading back with our game. We had six deer tied to the pack horses as we made our way down the mountain and then across the plain to the ranch. I still had a chilling feeling within me, the thought of leaving Cali and the kids was something I was having a hard time with and it was leaving me feeling cold to the bone. I could only hope that I would be able to get warm again once I was in Cali's arms again.

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I left Biblepuncher at the church, he said he needed some time alone to think and to pray, and then I took both horses back to the corral. After making sure they were unsaddled and watered, I returned to the house to look for Cora. We sat out on the porch and I told her all about our meeting with Stands Alone, and let her know that I would respect whatever decision her and Biblepuncher made, but that I did think they should heed the old man's advice. She listened silently for a while, then said "Please excuse me for a while, I would like to do some praying of my own, for the Lord to guide us to whatever path He wants us to take." After she had gone upstairs to her room, I stayed on the porch for a while, thinking about how much the young woman had changed since she had come to stay with us. Gone was the flirtatious nature she had displayed before, and she had certainly matured into a warm and caring lady. I did some praying of my own then, that the young couple would be able to find as much happiness and peace as Cheyenne and I had.

Ok, maybe our lives weren't that peaceful after all, but I still had hopes that our lives would settle down at some point. Inheriting the ranch from his father was a huge responsibility for Cheyenne, and I was so grateful for all the men who were such a big help in keeping the place running, especially Karl. If this next child was a boy, I'd have to suggest to Cheyenne that we name the child after our good friend. The children were the main reason I hoped our lives would calm down, although I loved each and every one of them, I also felt such a great responsibility to provide all of them with as stable of a life as possible. Of course, Eddie and Little Flower shouldn't really be considered children anymore, but young adults, and Laura wasn't far behind. We were certainly blessed to have the three of them, but it was a reminder to make sure to enjoy the challenge of raising Tommy and Rose, as well as our own children, in the hopes that they would turn out just as wonderful.

It wasn't my intent to be so lazy, but I ended up spending most of the afternoon on the porch, just thinking. I was pleased with how the training program was going for my Clydesdales, and I hoped that by next year the breeding part of the plan would turn out to be just as successful. Hopefully within just a couple of years we'd be able to start selling some of them. As fast as Colorado was growing, good strong draft horses would be valuable. I also spent some time making more plans for when the orphans started visiting, as of now Cora was still intending to help with that but I knew that at some point we may have to consider hiring a different governess. Then my thoughts started wandering towards the new baby, was it going to be a boy or a girl this time? And just how many children were we going to end up with? I knew that since Cheyenne had been an only child, he did want a large family, but just how large I wasn't sure. Of course, thinking about that made me start wishing he'd hurry up and come back, I was sure starting to miss him....

My thoughts were interrupted by an approaching rider, I knew it had to be someone with a valid reason for being there, as we still had guards at the entrance to the ranch to prevent any unwelcome intruders. It turned out to be the son of the telegraph operator, the lad helped his father out by delivering messages. When I recognized him, I sure hoped it wasn't bad news, we'd had enough of that lately. I gave the boy a tip and sent him on his way, and then sat back down to read the telegram. There was no name on it, but it wasn't hard to figure out who must have sent it. The message simply read "Found witness willing to talk. Have evidence. Coming back to hunt real killer."

Coming back to hunt real killer? Did that mean the man who had committed the murder that Biblepuncher was blamed for was here in Colorado? The fact that a witness had finally come forward was good news, but the idea that the killer was around certainly wasn't. I would need to show this to Karl, to make sure he communicated to all the men not to let their guard down. As long as the real killer was still on the loose, we were all still very much in danger. However, before I got the chance to talk to Karl I noticed more riders approaching from the west, but they had pack horses with them, it must be Cheyenne and the boys. The telegram forgotten, I went running to greet them, and as soon as he saw me Cheyenne dropped the lead ropes of the pack horses and raced his pony towards me, reining up right in front of me and quickly jumping off to give me a kiss.

It was a good sign of Eddie's maturity that he didn't also race to find Little Flower, but took care of the pack horses and the deer they had brought back first. Lone Wolf gave him a hand, and so did Little Flower and Laura once the girls had noticed their return. Cheyenne and I should have been helping, but we were a little busy saying hello. After the three men had gotten washed up, we all went in for dinner, and Cheyenne told us all about the hunting trip during the meal. Once we finished eating, Cheyenne spent some time playing with the younger children until it was time to put them all to bed. After they were all tucked in, I grabbed a lantern and told Cheyenne I had something I wanted to show him.

I led him out back to the new little building that had been constructed in his absence. We went inside, and I let him check out the new oversized bathtub that took up most of the space in the tiny shack. It was really the only thing in there, besides a bench along one wall that already had a stack of towels on it. I had made sure that someone had come out to fill the tub with nice warm water while we were putting the kids to bed. I asked him, "Well, do you like our new indoor water hole?" He never did answer me that night, but after that we were both too busy to really care.....

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I had been happy to see Calico and the ranch in times past after a trip or such, but this day was different! Being caught between what I thought was two bears had put a chill in me that I never wanted to feel again. I had been shot, drug, and lost before, but none of those compared to being caught between two angry bears, even if one turned out to be Ol Grizz hisself. I didn't know it at the time and it would have been dreadful even if I didn't think he was and old grizzly boar ready to fight the sow for me or her cubs.

 

When I saw Cali running to meet me I was already starting to feel warmth flowing into my body and then when we grabbed each other the flood of warmth flooded into my very soul. I was home and in my love's arms, all was good again.

 

Eddie, Lone Wolf and I finally got to the barns and Little Joe was waiting for us to take care of our horses, Blackwater took the deer to butcher and treat the meat and hides and then the three of us got cleaned up, oh did that feel good. After playing with the little ones after dinner I had no clue why Cali was grabbing a latern and insisting that we go outside, what in the world was she up to now? I thought as she pulled me outside. At first I thought she had had a chicken coop built, but that close to the house, surely she was feeling the effects of too many bumps on her head. But, when I say that oversized tub filled with hot water and saw the look in her eyes I was the one that felt like I had been thumped on the head. To say that we enjoyed initiating the tub would be an understatement, and finally every last bit of chill had been chased from my body and soul.

 

The next morning Cali finally got around to telling me about the telegram, and that the real killer may be in the area. Never before had I wanted to let the sheriff handle a matter like I did this time, but, that thought didn't last for long. I called for a meeting of all the men and told them that if a rider approached the ranch proper or was seen any where on the ranch land and if he didn't disarm upon being told to that they were to bury him on the spot. We would ask questions later.

 

After the meeting Cali told me of the meeting with Stands Alone. It didn't surprize me that the old man had been given the gift of insight. My mother had told me of medicine men in her village that were different than others, ones that knew of a great river that had no begining and no end. They could see into the future and were never wrong. They were few and often at odds with medicine men that used the darkness to try to control the tribe, but they existed. I was looking forward to sitting down with Stands Alone for a long visit, I had never had the priviledge of meeting one of the medicine men like this.

 

It was time again for the great reaper to be put into action. The Clydesdales were almost giddy as Calico led them out to be harnessed to the giant beast of a machine. We would use it first to put in hay, and then after that the wheat would be harvested with the straw left over being put away for winter bedding for the animals on the ranch. The men weren't all that exited about having to be heavily armed while working, but not a complaint was made by any of them. Actually I knew that any of them would kill any man that would seek to do harm to anyone else on the ranch. Much less any of the women folk or children.

 

That afternoon Calico and I spent with the ladies of the ranch and the older children. While in Denver we had bought several pocket pistols and derringers for the women of the ranch and we figured sooner was better than later to make sure everyone knew how to handle them. It really didn't take much instruction, everyone of the ladies knew how to handle any of the firearms on the ranch, but Cali and Cora gave them lessons on how to carry the small pistols so that they would be unseen. I could feel my face turning red as the ladies started finding spots to hide their new "toys".

 

The children though did need some training in the use of the guns, but every one of them readily stepped up to line for their turn. Laura was the only one that didn't really seem interested, though that did change when Cali took her aside and explained what the bounty hunter and tried to do to Cali. It was cute to see the steam coming from Laura's nostrils as she took her place on the line and proceeded to empty the pocket pistol bouncing a tin can until she was pulling the trigger on an empty pistol.

 

Every once in a while one of the men, and even Eddie and Lone Wolf would venture close enough to see the women shoot, and then every one of them later wanted to know when it was the men's turn to take to the range like the women had. I quickly had to agree that we would soon be having a regular range time for the whole ranch. Even I was looking forward to that, but most of all I was looking forward to playing hide and seek with Cali and the pistols she had hidden on her.

 

By the end of the day I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going on the ranch. Cali was almost all healed up, but for how long? I had to laugh to myself. Biblepuncher was leaning towards staying on the ranch, for now at least. I was actually developing a distinct love for the ranch, much different than before when my father was alive. Something was different now, now I knew why my father loved the ranch and all that lived on it so deeply.

 

Ahh yes, life was good, and that new little building was making it even better, if it could actually get any better that is.

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The day of the county fair dawned cool, but clear, showing the promise of a lovely autumn day ahead. The kids were all up early, excited to get going, but I insisted on breakfast first, as the fair hadn't started yet anyway. Most of the men were interested in going, to check out the shooting contests, horse races, and rodeo. A rotating schedule was set up, depending on which event each man was most interested in, so that all could attend at some point without leaving the ranch unprotected. Most of the families were going to be going as well, and everyone was looking forward to it. Biblepuncher had wanted to go, but after much discussion it was decided that it probably wasn't a good idea. He did tell Cora that he wanted her to go with us, I would need her help and there was no reason she could not at least enjoy the day.

To our surprise, Lone Wolf asked if he could go with us. Running Bear wasn't really crazy about the idea, but as the younger man pointed out, it had been his older brother's idea for him to learn about the white man's ways, and this was a perfect opportunity. Cheyenne did pull the young man aside and explain to him that there might be some people there who would object to his presence, and that of Little Flower as well. Little Flower also took part in the conversation, and told him about her experience at the store. Lone Wolf said he understood, but that he still wanted to go, since he was just starting to learn the language he most likely wouldn't understand if someone said something rude anyway. He promised to stay close to us at all times, and not cause any trouble. Eddie volunteered to loan him some clothes, pointing out that if Lone Wolf was dressed the same as the rest of us he'd be less likely to draw as much negative attention. Thankfully the two were about the same size, and Lone Wolf gratefully accepted Eddie's offer.

Finally we were all fed, dressed, and ready to go. I was going to be showing two of my Clydesdales, so they were hitched to the wagon, and we started loading everything we were going to take. My quilt and Laura's embroidered picture of the foothills west of the ranch at sunset were carefully wrapped so they would not get dirty and placed in the wagon. We also made sure to find a good place to put Little Flower's apple pie that she had made for the baking contest, the apple trees we had on the ranch had provided enough fruit just in time. Having had one of her pies before, I knew there was a good chance of her winning. We also made sure to take the papooses that Ol' Grizz had made, the twins were getting big enough now that they sure got heavy after a while, and it would be helpful not to have to carry one of them in my arms the whole day, especially since my one arm had just healed.

We had wanted Karl to go with us, but he had a few things he wanted to finish before he left, so he told us to go ahead and go, that he would catch up to us later. The kids were all anxious to get there and didn't want to wait, so we all got in the wagon, except for Eddie and Lone Wolf, who were riding, and headed out. Along the way we talked about the upcoming events, Cheyenne was disappointed that he wasn't healed enough to compete in the evening's rodeo, but I told him he'd have to be content with winning the shooting competition in the morning. I was kind of disappointed that women weren't allowed to participate in that one. The ranch would still be well represented in the rodeo though, several of the hands were going to enter. Eddie wanted to enter the horse races in the afternoon, and Lone Wolf said he'd be interested as well, provided that he was allowed to compete. Unfortunately, we couldn't make any promises until we had a chance to talk to the judges about it.


When we arrived, we parked the wagon and the men unhitched my horses and made sure to get them registered for the draft horse competition, while us females went to deliver our goods to the various tents where the domestic events were being held. When we got to the tent where the baking competition was to be, we ran into a problem. Annie Wallace was there, talking to a woman named Dixie that I had seen a few times around town but didn't really know. When Little Flower handed her pie over to the woman in charge of the event, Annie and the other woman started raising a big ruckus. They tried to convince the woman not to let an indian enter the contest, and I almost wished I wasn't carrying Sarah on my back, so I could punch that biddy again. Thankfully, Sheriff Tom was there, he was one of the judges, and he told the two women to back off and shut up. The two stomped off, and Tom gave Little Flower a big smile, and told her not to worry, that he was sure her pie was as delicious as it looked.

Then I wanted to go watch Cheyenne in the rifle competition, but I didn't want to take Sarah, as I knew the noise would bother her delicate ears. Cora wanted to go as well, thankfully Little Flower and Laura volunteered to take over with the twins, and watch Rose as well. I told the girls to have fun, and we went our separate ways. Tommy had already taken off with Eddie and Lone Wolf, the older two promised to keep a real close eye on him. Cora and I walked over to the area where the shooting was to take place, there were separate areas set up for both the rifle and pistol events. It was kind of hard to watch them set up for the pistol shoot-off, I would have had a good chance if I'd been allowed to enter. But I knew that Cheyenne had a darn good chance of winning first place with his rifle, so I gave him a kiss for good luck and settled in with the other spectators.

When it was finally time for his turn, he stepped up to the line and got ready to shoot. Before he could though, we all heard a loud voice scream "Cheyenne, look out!" I quickly turned to see who had shouted, and noticed Biblepuncher, Karl, and Deputy Gibson were all off to one side, their pistols drawn and all aiming at the same spot. I turned a little more to see what they were aiming at, and within a second heard the sound of four shots, one from each of them and one more shot, where had that come from? Then I saw her, it was Annie Wallace, and she had a pistol of her own, aimed directly at Cheyenne...

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As I stepped to the line with my Sharps it was hard to keep my emotions under control. My father had spent countless hours teaching to shoot the rifle and how to adjust for distance and crosswinds. The last time I had competed here at the fair my father and I had taken first and second place. He was first and I was second, one thing he had always taught me was that anything that you wanted you had to earn it.

 

I was so focused on the challenge at hand that I almost didn't hear someone yell my name, but the tenor of the voice let me know that something bad was happening. As I spun around to try to figure out what was happening I saw the flash of fire from a firearm being fired in my direction, followed by three other shots. I heard the bullet whistle by my head and then I saw the woman who had fired at men twist and turn as the other three shots hit her. Her pistol nearly exploded in her hand as it was hit by a bullet and it was torn from her hand and jerking her sideways, the second shot found a leg and nearly knocked her off of her feet and the third round hit her in her posterior which I found curiously amusing.

 

It was all over before I had had time to react, several people were making sure the woman wouldn't be able to cause any more trouble and at the same time trying to tend to her wounds. That's when I saw Calico moving though the crowd making a beeline for the woman. I saw her reach into her corset and I knew I had to get to her before she got into trouble with that derringer she like to carry there. I got to her just as she started to aim at the woman, the fire in her eyes was so intense that I wasn't sure if I could stop her by just yelling so I had to reach out and shove her hand skyward. I wasn't none to fast because the shot barely missed the wench laying there wounded and screaming all sorts of obscenities. "Why did you do that?" Calico nearly screamed at me, "She had it coming!" She was lowering the derringer again and reaching to cock it with her other hand, that was when the sheriff arrived and put his hand on the derringer, blocking the hammer just as it began to fall. He winched in pain as the firing pin dug into the web of his hand, "Now that will be that last of that, Cheyenne take her and get her cooled off, before she does something I'll have to arrest her for too." the sheriff nearly shouted at me.

 

I got Calico to hand me the derringer and then put my arms around her and whispered in her ear how much I loved her and could bear being without her if she managed to wreck revenge on the woman. I was still trying to figure out just who this woman was and why in the world had she shot at me and in front of everyone. It just didn't make any sense to me.

 

Then I saw Karl, Biblepuncher and deputy Gibson, and the thought, why was Biblepuncher in town? What was Karl doing here too? I thought he had things he wanted to do at the ranch, and deputy Gibson, had he come with good news. Those thoughts quickly got lost in my mind as I feel Calico trembling uncontrollably and crying. But she still managed to say the she would kill the woman if the chance arose, and anybody that tried to harm me. I managed to finally start to get her calmed down, but while I didn't want her getting into trouble I knew exactly how she felt. I would have no qualms at all with killing anyone that would harm her or any of my family, or my friends for that matter.

 

We watched as the town doctor had the woman carted of to his office to care for her wounds accompanied by a deputy and sheriff Tom talking with Biblepuncher and Deputy Gibson.

My mind was so confused by then that I was having a hard time trying to figure out what was going on. But then I was lost in my thoughts hugging Cali....

 

Hey, it was my turn to shoot, nothing was going to stop me from finally taking that blue ribbon home this time!

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It took quite a while for Cheyenne to get me calmed down enough so that he could take his turn shooting. It took even longer for me to admit that he and Tom had done the right thing in preventing me from shooting Annie. How dare she try and shoot my husband, and in the back no less! But they were right, and I finally agreed to put my derringer back where it belonged and to stay away from Doc Baker's office. I did want an explanation as to why Karl, Biblepuncher, and Deputy Gibson had shown up, though I was extremely thankful that they had. I thought about what Stands Alone had said to Biblepuncher, turns out the old man had been correct. If Biblepuncher hadn't yelled that warning to Cheyenne....

No, I wasn't going to let myself think about that, at least not now. Karl stood with me to watch Cheyenne shoot, whispering to me that he would explain later, when he had the chance to tell us both at the same time. I had all the faith in the world in my husband's ability, and sure enough his shot hit the target dead center. As we continued watching, a few other men came close, but none of them came close enough, and as we left the area Cheyenne was proudly carrying the blue ribbon he'd waited so long to take home. I was equally happy for Prairie Dawg, who had taken second place, since only two ribbons were ever awarded he'd had to wait a long time to win something, he was good but had never managed to beat Frank or Cheyenne.

As we went looking for our offspring, we saw Biblepuncher and Deputy Gibson approaching, they had finished talking to Tom and had come looking for us. Cora had stayed at the shooting range with me and Karl to watch Cheyenne, but now she ran forward to give Biblepuncher a huge kiss, and the rest of us had to patiently wait until they were finished before we could find a place to sit down and talk. Then Deputy Gibson started telling us about what he had found out in Texas.

"Well, when I first got there, it wasn't easy getting people to talk to me about the whole thing, the old sheriff was gone but people were still afraid of old man Wallace. But with Sheriff Ryder's help, I finally got the doctor in town to tell me what he knew. He'd examined the Marshall's body afterward, and had tried to tell the old sheriff that due to the size of the wound that he was pretty sure the shot had come from some kind of buffalo rifle, at relatively short range. It was pretty well known that Biblepuncher didn't have a rifle, in fact no one working for Wagner had anything like that. Wallace, however, owned three Sharps and his foreman and assistant foreman each had one as well. The only guns anyone down there ever saw Biblepuncher with were his Navy pistols. He would have had to borrow or steal a rifle from someone else, and that didn't seem very likely. Turns out the sheriff told the doc to keep his mouth shut, and keep his guesses to himself."

"Then we heard a rumor that a couple of boys, two brothers that had been playing hooky from school, had witnessed the whole thing. Their parents didn't want to let the boys tell us about it, and it took Ryder threatening to arrest the father for obstructing justice before they'd agree to talk. The boys had been playing down by the little creek outside of town, when they saw the Marshall approaching. Not wanting to get in trouble for ditching school, the boys had hid, one up in a tree and the other behind it. As they were waiting for the Marshall to pass by, they saw none other than Annie Wallace ride by the Marshall. As soon as they had passed each other, Annie had turned and stopped her horse, then she grabbed a rifle out of the scabbard, and put one shot in the Marshall's back. Then she rode on like nothing had happened, didn't bother her one bit that she'd just ended a man's life."

"The parents were scared to death that something bad would happen to their boys if they talked, but with Ryder's help we got the family all packed up, and I brought them with me on the train to Denver. I arranged with the Marshall's office there for someone to escort the family down to the Golden Aspen, and sent a letter with them for Buick. He'll give em' a place to stay, and keep them safe until we can put Annie Wallace on trial. Then I headed straight for your place. I got stopped at the gates, but just then Karl came riding up, and I was sure glad he recognized me!"

Karl took over the story at that point, "I had finished up my paperwork and was heading for the fair when I came across our men holding Gibson at gunpoint. I had the men put away their guns, and Gibson told me his story, and we immediately went back to the house for Biblepuncher. Then we got down here as fast as we could, glad we got here just in time! I don't understand why that woman was trying to shoot you, Cheyenne, but I'm awful glad she missed!"

I was glad too, and I didn't really care why she had done it, as long as she paid for her crimes. I was also glad that the truth had finally come out, now our friend could get on with his life without having those false charges hanging over his head. We talked a little while longer, then decided to go try and find the kids, to get them all some lunch. The horse races were to be held right after lunch, and I wanted to make sure Eddie and Lone Wolf had some food in them before that started. I was also looking forward to the judging for the domestic competitions, I sure hoped at least one of us could win a ribbon like Cheyenne had done....

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We were making our way towards the starting line for the horse race after we had finished our lunches when Eddie came running to us. "They won't let Lone Wolf in the race because he doesn't have a saddle for his horse, and even if we had a saddle for him his horse isn't saddle broke!" The young man was nearly in tears as he relayed the news but he was doing his upmost best to hide his emotions from us. "Tell you what Eddie, if Lone Wolf can get on Blacky he can ride him in the race," I told the now smiling Eddie. "OUCH" I hollered as Calico hit me on my almost healed wounded butt. "What are you doing trying to get him killed, I remember that trick you played on Buick by getting him to try to ride Blacky, your just plain mean!"

 

I reached into the basket and pulled out the largest apple I could find and handed it to Eddie, "Tell Lone Wolf to give Blacky bites of the apple and talk with him while he feeds him, and then just before he gets into the saddle rub both of his ears, he'll be ok." I told him. Calico was giving me that "oh sure" look but managed to keep her tongue, which did surprize me a bit, but then Blacky was my horse. Well that was my best quess as to why she had chosen now to be silent. Maybe she was planning on my punishment if my advice didn't work for Lone Wolf, which I was sure hoping it would work!

 

Eddie ran and got Blacky to lead him to Lone Wolf who was still at the start line standing there dejectedly. Eddie was having a hard time with Blacky, who wasn't that sure that he wanted to be lead anywhere by Eddie. Lone Wolf's eyes got as big as saucers when he saw Eddie leading Blacky to him. Eddie handed the reins to Lone Wolf and told him my instructions and then he stood back, glad to be rid of the reins. Lone Wolf put the reins in his teeth and pulled his knife and sliced the apple into several pieces. After putting the knife away he gave Blacky a piece and starting whispering in the horse's ear and rubbing it at the same time. He took his time feeding him the pieces, almost to much time in fact, because as he finished the last piece the starter was calling the riders and horses to the line. Lone Wolf managed to swing onto Blacky just as the starter fired his pistol. Blacky reared back at the shot and "OUCH" I got it again! This time I thought I was going to have to throw water on Calico because her eyes were on fire. But then Blacky came down onto all fours and started throwing dirt behind him as his hooves clawed at the ground for traction. The other riders, including Eddie were several lengths ahead of them as Blacky finally found his stride. The one thing that Blacky hated worse than a strange rider on his back was being behind other horses and he was wasting no time in remedying the situation! As they entered the last turn the inside was all bunched up leaving the shortest way blocked, Blacky swung wide with Lone Wolf hanging on for dear life and as he entered the turn Blacky was leaning so that Lone Wolf nearly came out of the saddle, once through the turn Blacky straightened back up and cut in front of the other horses well before the finish line.

 

It took Lone Wolf some time to get Blacky to slow down and once he did Blacky was prancing like a fine Tennessee Walker and snorting all the way back to the finish line. I looked over at Cali with my best "I told you so" look and just said "SEE". I didn't want her to know that deep down inside I was tremenously relieved the Blacky had let Lone Wolf ride him.

 

Lone Wolf's eyes were still saucer sized as he was given the blue ribbon, poor Eddie had finished poorly, but then that was because he was so focused on Blacky going through that last turn that he had forgotten that he was still in the race too.

 

Doc Adam's broke up our little celebration because his curiousity finally had gotten the best of him. Karl, Biblepuncher and Deputy Gibson were standing there celebrating with us when to doc finally asked them, "How did you do it? She was in full draw, with others all around and you managed to not only hit her pistol but wound her with the two other shots without killing her. Who made that shot on her pistol?" he asked them. The three of them looked a little dumbfounded standing there, and finally they all blurted out together, "We were all aiming at her heart!" Calico grunted a little bit, then without a bit of humor told them, "I wouldn't have missed the b...." I covered her mouth quickly as the kids faces all were staring right at Calico. "Black hearted woman" I finished for her, much to her distain. The older kids just rolled their eyes while every one else was laughing.

 

Calico petted her derringer hidden in her breas...I mean her corset, "She ever walks freely again I'll not miss!" she almost snarled, which brought all the more laughter.

 

I caught a wiff of apple pie, we had to make a run for the pie judging and the quilt judging too. We had been so wrapped up in the race we had almost forgotten about the important competitions. See, I am learning.....

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After the races, we headed for the tents where the other contests were being held. The first one we came to was the tent were the baked goods where, but we saw that Tom and the other two judges were still discussing the entries, Tom had gotten there late because of having to deal with Annie, so we decided to move on and come back here later. Next in line was the needlework tent, we went in and started looking at all the entries. Some of them were really pretty, but I didn't think any of them were better than the work Laura had done. As we got closer to her picture, it quickly became obvious that the judges had felt the same way. Laura's face lit up when she saw there was a blue ribbon pinned to her work, she had won first prize, and against quite a few women much older than her. I knew how much work she had put into the piece, so I was thrilled for her. I had already told Laura that regardless of whether or not she won anything that I really hoped she would allow me to hang her picture up in the parlor so we could all enjoy it.

As we came back out of that tent, we saw two of the judges at the baked goods tent come out and leave, so we assumed they were finished. I knew Little Flower was really anxious, so I suggested going back there first, the quilts could wait. We walked inside, and noticed that Tom was still in there, talking to one of the ladies that had been running the event. Eddie grabbed Little Flower's hand, and the two of them headed straight for the table that her pie had been placed on. Little Flower looked really nervous until she got a little closer, then I saw her start to smile. The rest of us caught up to the pair just as Eddie gave her a big hug, and we heard him tell her, "I'm so proud of you! Can't wait until I can start eating your cooking all the time!" Well, I was kind of jealous to hear that, Cheyenne had certainly never said anything like that to me! But that thought was quickly replaced with my own pride in my daughter's accomplishment, she had won second place.

As the rest of us were giving her hugs, Tom came over to shake her hand. "Miss Culpepper, I must admit I really enjoyed getting to sample your entry. In fact, I thought your pie was the best, but the other two judges both like cherry pie better, so they both voted for Mrs. Johnson's pie. At least they agreed that your apple pie was really good too. In fact, I was wondering, if I give you a dollar would you consider letting me take the rest of your pie home? I don't get many desserts like this very often, and I'll return the pie tin after I'm done."

Little Flower smiled even more, and told him, "I'm glad you enjoyed it, and since there isn't enough left for all of my family to have more than a bite or two, go ahead and take it. Please accept it as a gift though, after all you've done for us recently it wouldn't be right to take your money." Tom agreed to that right away, but Eddie looked awfully disappointed until Little Flower promised to make a couple more pies tomorrow, for the family to enjoy. I tried to offer to help her, but everyone else quickly said no for some reason...

Oh well, it was time to move on to the quilts, so we headed that direction. As we approached that tent though, Lil was just coming out, and as soon as she saw me her smile turned into a frown, and she looked rather upset. I knew she had been one of the judges, so that was not a good sign, and I was immediately disappointed. She quickly walked up to me, and said "Calico, honey, I need to talk to you before you go in there. Can we step aside for a minute please?"


I could tell from her expression and the tone of her voice that I probably wasn't going to like hearing whatever it was she needed to tell me, but I didn't have much choice but to agree. We took a few steps around the side of the tent, out of the way of people walking by, then she started to explain what the problem was. "I feel awful about this Calico, I really do, and when it happened we tried to send someone to look for you but they couldn't find you. Earlier today some of the other ladies had finally finished getting all the quilts laid out for us judges to look at, but we all decided that we'd go to get some lunch before we started going through them all. It never occurred to us that we were making a mistake in leaving the tent unattended. But as we returned, I noticed that old biddy Dixie come out of the tent and quickly walk off. When the rest of us went inside, we found what was left of your quilt on the ground, someone had taken a knife to it and totally destroyed it. I have no proof it was Dixie that did it, but if it wasn't her you'd think she would have come and told us instead of practically running away. None of us judges had gotten a good chance to look at it before it was destroyed, so there was no way we could include your entry in the contest. I am so sorry!"

I was devastated, I'd put so many hours of work into that quilt, and to have it ruined like that was heartbreaking. As Cheyenne wrapped his arms around me, the kids all wanted to hug me too, and I could feel the tears starting to form in my eyes. I felt no ill will against Lil or the other judges, or the ladies that had done the work of getting the quilts ready, they were all very nice and I was positive none of them had anything to do with it. After what had happened with Annie, Dixie would have been the most logical choice even if she hadn't been seen coming out of the tent. For a moment I had thoughts of going looking for her, but only for a second. Beating the tar out of the woman might feel good, but it wouldn't fix my quilt, and I had promised Tom I'd behave. Still, it was hard to stay put, and even harder to tell Cheyenne that I still wanted to see the other quilts, so I could get an idea of what I'd need to do for the next fair if I wanted to win in the future.

Even though none of the men were really interested, they all went in with us women to see the quilts, and I had to admit that the two that had won ribbons were really good. Oh well, maybe next time. As we were walking through, Cheyenne was explaining to Lone Wolf what had happened, as the young man hadn't understood what Lil had said. When Cheyenne was through talking, Lone Wolf came over to me and told me in his language, "And yet they call me a savage? It is not right what that person did to your blanket," and he gave me a hug too, as he had seen everyone else do. I though that was really sweet of him, despite his initial hesitation about having anything to do with us he was starting to fit in well. As upset as I was I still gave him a smile, and thanked him for his concern.


When we were finished in there, Cheyenne put his arm around me and reminded me that I still had one more shot at a ribbon. While we were looking through all of the tents, some of the men from the ranch were over by the barns getting ready to enter my Clydesdales in the draft horse competition. I admitted I would be happy if they won a prize, but since training them had been a group effort between me and several of the hands, it would definitely be a shared victory if they won anything. All the same, I kept my fingers crossed as we headed that direction....

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I was infuriated when I heard that Calico's quilt had been destroyed, she had spent so many hours laboring on it! Dixie huh? hmmm.... they just might find themselves hurting when they ordered beef this winter. Lone Wolf wanted to give Calico his blue ribbon but Calico wouldn't have let him for she knew how much it actually meant to him.

 

I did know one thing though, we were going to have to get Laura to make more pies! We would need to get her to bake different kinds though, apples only stayed usable for so long, hmmm let's see, blackberry, blueberry, rhubarb, and anything else sweet that was already growing on the ranch, or that we could plant. I could just envision an eagle dropping out of the sky to lift a pie off of the kitchen window sill. Worse yet, some one like Karl getting a whiff and taking it for himself before I, I mean the eagle could get to it. Hmmmm, warm, fresh cobbler, oh my.

Maybe, just maybe I could talk Laura into spending the time to teach Calico how to make a cobbler like she did, it was worth a shot, after all Laura might actually leave the ranch some day, but not until she had taught someone how to make one of her cobblers.

 

As we headed for the corrals I thought back to when Calico first wanted to purchase the Clydesdales. I thought she was nuts, well I wasn't really that far off there, but I really couldn't see any use for the slow, eat everything in sight behemoths. And, what they ate came back out to be cleaned up. But, once they arrived I actually fell in love with them too, gentle, loyal, and they could pull anything anywhere anytime, they may not be the fastest around, but the sight of them pulling that giant reaper was more than enough to win someone's heart over to them. Besides, Calico was always in a "good" mood whenever she had been working with them. One other thing, Calico had earned the men's respect from the way she handled the giants, and that alone was worth having the hay destroying beasts on the ranch.

 

Calico had let me name them, I think she wanted to make sure that I was really vested in them and I thought long and hard before I came up with the names for the team. Samson and Delilah. Delilah could lead Samson around like a puppy, but it was Samson who had the most strength, and his mane was magnificent. Calico watched intently as the other teams were lead into the arena, but when Samson and Delilah from the Culpepper Ranch were announced she nearly jumped right out of the grandstands. I have to admit that I did feel an immense amount of pride swell up within me as the two were led around the arena and went through their paces without a misstep. Calico finally settled down and looked me straight in the eyes, " See, I told you! Aren't they just wonderful, their beautiful, why they're just divine!" My eyes almost rolled back into my head when I heard her use the word "divine", but then it did fit.

 

I thought she was going to crush my hand as we waited for the results, especially when the judges took an extra long time announcing the two top spots. They went on and on about how hard it had been, yadda yadda yadda, but when they finally announced that the winners were Samson and Delilah Calico layed one on me that I would remember for years. It was only interrupted when Calico heard her name being called to come down and accept the blue ribbon. The men had insisted on her being the one to accept the honor, but they had to wait to hand it to her because she hugged each horse for a long time before taking the ribbon. I think any thoughts about Dixie were long gone for now and Calico stood there beaming with a smile from ear to ear! hmmmm, I got to thinking about the new little building Calico had had built and soon I was smiling from ear to ear!

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I was thrilled when my two big beauties won the draft horse contest, all that hard work with them had finally paid off. I knew it wouldn't be long before we could start selling some of them, and at a premium price. The other men who had taken part in training the big horses were just as proud as I was, and I started right then making plans for a big victory celebration for all of them. Oh, and I also had plans for a more private celebration with just Cheyenne, to thank him for being willing to support my little venture!

It was getting late in the afternoon, and I was starting to get a little tired, and so were the younger kids. It was time to find a place to sit down and rest for a while, and maybe get some dinner, before the rodeo contests began. We wandered over towards the area set aside for the big barbeque that was being prepared, and it sure smelled like the food was almost ready. We found an empty table just barely big enough for all of us and sat down to wait until the cooks announced it was time to come and get it. While we were waiting one of our younger ranch hands, Ike, came by and asked to speak to me and Cheyenne in private for a few minutes, so we excused ourselves and followed him to a spot out of ear-shot of the table.

The young man seemed hesitant to speak, so finally Cheyenne had to ask him point blank what was on his mind. Ike took a deep breath, then said, "Well, sir, I was wondering...about the rodeo events...well, which do you think Miss Laura is most interested in, the steer wrestlin' or the bronc ridin'? We can only enter one event, and I'm having trouble making up my mind..."

Laura? I could tell Cheyenne was more than a little confused by the question, but I understood what Ike was getting at right away. So I told him, "Ike, I really don't think Laura is going to be all that impressed if ya get yerself killed trying to ride one of those wild horses they got for the bronc riding, those things have never even had a saddle on 'em before. If I were you, I'd stick with the steer wrestlin', or the roping contest, something you might have a chance at. Leave the broncs to the fellas that have some experience with them."

Ike looked kind of embarrassed for a second, then admitted, "Yeah, well, I know I don't have any experience with wild horses or anything like that, but I was hoping that if I gave it a try, Miss Laura might notice me. And how hard could it be? I mean, Biblepuncher is gonna do it, he already signed up."

That was news to me and Cheyenne, the preacher sure hadn't said anything to us about it. After advising Ike to go with the steer wrestling, the two of us returned to the table and Cheyenne asked our friend just what he was thinking, signing up for a contest like that! "Don't get all upset, Cheyenne, I know what I'm doing. Even though I haven't been working with horses for you, doesn't mean I haven't done it before. I did far more work for Mr. Wagner than just being a hired gun. Trust me, I've broke plenty of horses in my day, and all I have to do tonight is stay on longer than anyone else. I'll be fine!"

I wasn't too sure about that, and I could tell from the expression on her face that Cora wasn't sure about it either. Cheyenne just nodded, if Biblepuncher thought he could handle it, Cheyenne obviously didn't think it was his place to try and stop the man. Nothing further was said though, as the head cook started ringing the dinner bell, and we all got in line to get something to eat. All of us had to admit at the end of the meal that the cooks had done a fine job. We all ate til we couldn't eat any more, except for Biblepuncher, I don't think he wanted to get too stuffed considering his plans for the evening.

Once we were all finished, we started heading over towards the ring that had been set up for the rodeo. There were bleachers all around it, and we wanted to make sure to get good seats. As we were walking, I happened to notice that Dixie was quickly approaching from one side, and she had Sheriff Tom with her. As they got closer, I heard Dixie shout, "There he is, that's the little savage that I caught destroying Mrs. Culpepper's quilt, arrest him!" She was pointing straight at Lone Wolf, and I could tell Tom was hesitating to believe her. Lone Wolf of course didn't understand a word she had said, so Cheyenne quickly translated. The young man turned to me and said, "NO! I did not do it, I promise!" I started to try and tell him that I knew that, and didn't believe her, but just at that moment the old bat started running at Lone Wolf, and he immediately took off in the direction of the corrals, with Dixie chasing after him. Tom started to run after the both of them, but Eddie ran up and grabbed Tom's arm, yelling "No way, he couldn't have, he was with me and Tommy all day!", and Tommy quickly seconded that.

Cheyenne took off after Lone Wolf and Dixie, but there were a bunch of other people between him and the two of them, so it took a minute for him to make his way through the crowd. As the rest of us followed as quickly as we could, I saw that Lone Wolf had ducked through the corral fence where the wild horses for the bronc riding competition were penned up. Like a complete idiot Dixie ran up to the corral, threw the gate wide open, and tried to follow Lone Wolf through the corral. Tom tried to shout a warning, but the next thing any of us knew some of the horses panicked, some ran for the open gate and some started bucking. I couldn't really see what was going on, as I was trying to get the kids out of the way of the horses but I thought I heard the sound of someone screaming like they'd been kicked, and all I could do was pray it wasn't Lone Wolf.....

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I couldn't believe my eyes when Dixie swung the gate open on the corral and ran in among the broncs. She had to have been completely mad, no one in their right mind would do such a thing. The broncs went crazy, some made for the gate and others acted like they were trying to throw a rider. Then that scream, it was blood curdling. I made my way through the horses toward the scream to see Dixie laying on the ground with a bronc on it's hind legs ready to stomp her good. Then Lone Wolf came out of nowhere waving his arms in the air and yelling at the bronc trying to draw it's attention away from Dixie. Just as the bronc was about to stomp Dixie Lone Wolf jumped in front of it and as the bronc came down it caught Lone Wolf with a hoof across his forehead, slicing it like a razor. The bronc then broke for the gate as Lone Wolf lay there bleeding. By then Calico and the others had caught up with us and Laura and Calico were at his side tearing at their clothes to made bandages to try to stop the bleeding.

 

Eddie had already taken off to find the doc as Dixie was getting to her feet. She was rubbing her hip where the bronc had first kicked her, I had my fist ready to lay the bitty out when she pointed to Lone Wolf, "Did you see what he did? He saved my life, he, he, he, why would he do that for me?" I felt the muscles in my arm start to relax as Dixie began sobbing uncontrollably. Dixie's husband had come to see what the disturbance was when he found her standing there sobbing. "Just what have you done now" he softly asked shaking his head. Tom explained to him what had happened and he stood there just shaking his head. "I'm done, done I tell you, you'll be on the first train back east, I done" he told her shaking his head the whole time.

 

Dixie fell down beside Lone Wolf with tears still streaming from her face, "Forgive me, please forgive me" she asked Lone Wolf, and without understanding a word she said he just took her hand and smiled. Cali quickly interpreted what she had asked to which he replied. "Yes" and that was all he could say as the doc finally got there and started inspecting his wound. I helped Dixie up and pointed to her husband who was making his way through the gate, "you better go ask him the same thing" I told her. Before she ran off after her husband she turned to Tom and told him that she was the one who had destroyed Calico's quilt. She hung her head low and softly asked Calico to please forgive her if she could find it in her heart to do so, and with that she took off on a dead run after her husband.

 

The doc finally stood and told us that it wasn't as bad as it looked but we would need to get Lone Wolf to his office so that he could stitch him up. I knelt down and picked Lone Wolf up and carried him towards the doc's office. As I did people started clapping and reaching to touch Lone Wolf's arm as I carried him through the crowd. I could see the confusion in his face until I told him what it all meant. "Maybe now they will believe that my people are not savages" he told me. Then he noticed Biblepuncher walking beside us, he pointed to him and told him, "you need to go ride, show them for me that I forgive them" and then he finally closed his eyes and drifted off to where eagles soar.

 

Grudgingly Biblepuncher returned to the rodeo as Calico and I took Lone Wolf on to the Doc's office. The Doc was waiting for us and as I laid Lone Wolf onto the table the Doc looked at me and told me, "you better hurry if you're going to ride the bulls! I did see your name on the sign up sheet didn't I?" I could feel the heat from Calico's eyes before I could say a word.

 

Now how was I going to get out of this without losing face and without Calico locking the door to the indoor water hole? I guess I shouldn't have been waiting to surprise her......OUCH!

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Before I could get myself into real trouble Tom came into the doc's office looking for us. "I've got some troubling news for the both of you, Dixie was just putting on a show when she asked for forgiveness, her husband threw her out and she's in the saloon getting drunk and telling everyone what she is going to do to Calico. I know Lone Wolf had nothing to do with the quilt so you don't have to worry about that, but be careful. Dixie hasn't done anything I can arrest her for yet, but I'll try to keep my eye on her. By the way, did you know that she is related to Annie Wallace? I'm not sure just how, but Wallace is her maiden name. Just be real careful." With that advice given Tom walked back out of the doc's office.

 

Dang it, I knew I should have knocked the bitty on her keester! I didn't have time to mull on that because Calico was becoming unglued with the thought of Dixie and all the trouble she had already caused. If Calico hadn't been expecting I would have gladly let her go to find Dixie and give her the thrashing that she deserved, but she was and I couldn't let her. Cora though had heard the whole thing and as I was trying to calm Calico down Cora slipped out the door and it wasn't for a few minutes before we noticed that she was gone.

 

I had just gotten Calico settled down when Laura came rushing into the office. She could hardly speak but she finally managed to tell us that Cora had found Dixie in the saloon and had knocked her down with a left to the chin and then drug her by the hair all the way to the rodeo where she was commencing to tell everyone what Dixie had done and that she was going to make things right by the Culpeppers. With that said she had begun to thrash the biddy good. Dang it all, I knew I liked more than one thing about Cora.

 

Before I knew it Cali was dragging me back to the rodeo and all the while telling me that she didn't want to miss this!

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When I saw Lone Wolf laying on the ground, blood streaming down his forehead, I felt almost as bad as if it had been one of my kids that got hurt. I was mainly concerned about him and how badly he was injured, but I was also concerned about how we could possibly explain this to Running Bear. We'd given him our word that we would take good care of his younger brother, and now this? All because of that mean old shrew, how dare she accuse Lone Wolf of doing what I knew she herself had done? The indian lad hadn't hurt anyone or anything, he didn't deserve to be treated that way just because of the color of his skin. And I knew that he had spent the entire morning with Eddie and Tommy, the boys had been all over the fair.

I didn't really believe that she was at all sorry for any of it, but I was more worried about getting Lone Wolf back to the doctor's office to be treated for his wound, Dixie could wait. I sure hoped the cut was the worst of it, and that there would be no permanent damage aside from the scar I knew he would have from then on. Of course, my concern for Lone Wolf was soon replaced by concern for my husband....what the heck was that man thinking, signing up for the bull riding event? His wounds weren't completely healed yet, he had no business risking further damage to his posterior...I was kinda fond of it the way it was!

I was all ready to tear into him, when Tom interrupted with news that Dixie was getting drunk and threatening me. Even pregnant I knew I could take the old bat in any kind of a fight, I'd done a good enough job on Water Lilly and she had been a couple of decades younger than Dixie. I forgot all about the bulls and started for the door to go find her, when Cheyenne grabbed me and refused to let me go. He pointed out that I'd been having more problems this time around, and revenge wasn't worth the risk to the baby. Oh, I knew he was right, but obviously this woman was going to be trouble unless someone put a stop to her, and it wouldn't be right to have any of the men do anything, even if she did deserve it. I was starting to have thoughts about asking Little Flower for some help, I knew she wouldn't hesitate to stand up for me, when I noticed that Cora was no longer in the office with us.

While I was wondering where she had gone off to, Laura came running in to tell us that Cora was going after Dixie down by the corrals. I grabbed Cheyenne's hand and took off running in that direction, Laura shouting after us that she'd stay with Lone Wolf. That was probably a good thing, as the doctor would not be able to communicate with him without a translator, and while Laura only knew a few words of the Cheyenne language we had taught her enough sign to manage. It didn't take long to get down to the rodeo area, and as people saw us coming they moved aside to let us through.

Cora was obviously not having much trouble, though a slight red mark in the shape of a hand on one of Cora's cheeks told me that Dixie had managed to get at least one small slap in. There weren't many other women watching, and those that were didn't look like they approved...too much. The men that were there with their wives were watching silently, I don't think any of them minded what was happening but didn't want to appear too interested for fear of upsetting their women. All the other men though seemed to be enjoying the show immensely. All attempts at holding the rodeo had ground to a halt, everyone was watching the fight, and no one was making any attempt to intervene.

I had to admit, I sure wouldn't want to fight Cora, she was slapping and punching Dixie right and left, and if it had been anyone else I might have felt sorry for them. But Dixie, her I felt no sympathy for, she deserved the thumping she was getting from Cora, and all I could do was laugh my rear off. Even Cheyenne was chuckling, I think he was enjoying this as much as I was. Eddie and Little Flower had joined us, and they were carrying the twins, with Tommy and Rose following close behind them. Finally Little Flower leaned over and whispered to me "Do you think we ought to stop this soon? Not that I care about Dixie, but it looks like Cora is getting tired, and if she's not careful Dixie might get a chance to take advantage of that."

Well, I doubted Dixie was going to be able to do much of anything by that point, but Cora was starting to run out of steam. Little Flower handed Sarah to Cheyenne, then she and I stepped between the two other women. I told Cora she'd done enough, and Little Flower made sure that Dixie wasn't going anywhere but away from the rest of us. As soon as Little Flower hauled Dixie to her feet, the battered woman stumbled off in the direction of the saloon, not that anyone cared what happened to her. Most of the men started cheering and clapping, even a few of the married ones, and after Cora caught her breath she told me, "That felt good!" I gave her a big hug, and let her know how much I appreciated her doing that for me. "I did it for all of us, especially you and Lone Wolf," was her reply, so I gave her another hug, and said, "That one's for Lone Wolf, though I'm sure he'll have one of his own for you later!"

Finally things calmed down enough for the rodeo to continue, so preparations were started for the bronc riding competition. The horses had finally been rounded up, and all the men who were going to try and ride them drew numbers out of a hat to see what order they would go in. The Culpepper ranch would be well represented...Bob, Little Joe, and Biblepuncher were all competing. Little Joe was the second rider, and he lasted seven seconds, a respectable time considering how wild those broncs were. Several more riders went before Bob, none of them lasted very long, and Bob was able to stay on for eight seconds, which up to that point was the longest time. No one else came close, and it seemed like Bob and Little Joe would be the winners. But Biblepuncher was the last man to get a chance to ride, and finally he was climbing up on the horse he had drawn.

Cora was sitting next to me on the bleachers, and I could tell she was holding her breath. Not knowing how much experience the preacher had, all I was hoping for was that he would not be injured. As soon as Biblepuncher was settled in the saddle, the man holding the horse's bridle let go, and the wild horse wasted no time in starting to buck, twisting and turning in the air in a furious attempt to dislodge his rider. But Biblepuncher seemed to take it all in stride, as if he knew what the horse was going to do before the animal did. I started counting silently to myself, wishing I had a watch of my own, and I noticed that Cheyenne had taken his watch out and was glancing back and forth at the watch and in the ring. Finally the horse managed to send Biblepuncher flying, although the preacher landed hard he popped right back up, obviously unhurt. Cheyenne started yelling "Twelve seconds, twelve seconds!" just as the ring announcer starting shouting out the same thing.

Cora couldn't wait for Biblepuncher to climb out of the ring, and as he did she was right by his side, kissing him soundly. Everyone was cheering, no one louder than all the folks from the Culpepper Ranch. That was one
magnificent ride, and we were all proud of our preacher. One more thing for us to celebrate...though the celebrating would have to wait, as Cheyenne made it clear to me he was determined to go through with his hare-brained bull riding idea....

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I must admit I was thoroughly enjoying watch Cora putting a thrashing on Dixie, the old bitty deserved it in more ways than one and everyone at the rodeo knew it, and even if secretly, they were all enjoying it too. One thing had me concerned though, Dixie was related to the Wallaces. Annie was already in jail, merely because she had been extremely lucky that three of our best shooters had only wounded her instead of killing her outright. I knew that the old man had to be in town for this much trouble to be brewing constantly.

 

I couldn't be thinking about that though, I had a bull to ride! I knew that Calico really didn't want me to ride but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do! The Culpepper Ranch had never won bullriding before, although we had tried tirelessly for years. We had come close before, but close only matters in horseshoes and this wasn't a game. My wound had been healing nicely thanks to my mother's salve and I did have some hidden in my things just in case it re-opened, or I ended up needing it for something else.

 

The riders were all to throw they're names in a hat to see what bull they were to ride and I happened to draw El Loco Tanga, one of the wildest bulls in the region. Well, if I did manage to ride the beast the longest, no one could say that I had had an easy ride. Like Biblepunche,r I happened to draw the last ride, which was good, and bad. Good because I would see what I had to do, bad because I had to wait and waiting sure wasn't my strong suit!

 

I could see Calico and the others from where I was waiting, each time a bull and rider was let loose Calico would cover her eyes and only uncover her them when the announcer would say the time. Some of the rider's didn't last but for a few feet and were sent soaring through the air before landing in a clump on the ground protected by the clowns until the ex-rider was able to get to his feet and escape. Only two of the nine riders before me needed help getting out of the corral, something I'm sure that Calico hadn't missed.

 

Finally it was my turn to ride, they brought El Loco Tanga to the spot for me to mount him. The beast was nearly frothing at the mouth, snot dangling from it's nose and grunting like he had smeledl a cow in heat. I knew that I had to beat six seconds, an eternity on a bull. I quickly got settled on the bull that was becoming more and more agitated by the second. I finally got my hand the way I wanted it and nodded to the starter who immediately threw open the gate. Right away I knew why the bull had his name, I had no idea what he was going to do next, I was trying to count as I rode but as you can imagine I really didn't have much of an idea how long it had been since the gate opened. I did know that I felt like a rag doll. All I saw was either the blue sky or the turned up dirt of the corral. I had no thought about my wound because I thought my arm was about to come loose from my shoulder and my hand was on fire from holding onto the rope around the loco beast. Finally I couldn't take it any more and released my grip on the rope just as the bull kicked his rear high into the air which sent me flying head over heels above and behind him. I think I saw the sky twice as I summersaulted through the air landing not on my feet, but on my butt. Now, I felt my wound, I sat there dazed for a second or two before I heard the clowns hollering at me to MOVE! My eyes focused just enough to see El Loco Tango pawing at the ground still slobbering and looking right at me. Fortunately the riders there to help were able to push the animal off his track that was leading straight towards me. The clowns had to put their arms under my shoulder and drag me to safety because I was so dizzy I couldn't get to my feet.

 

I heard the announcer start to say something but his voice was drowned out by another voice that was calling my name, "Culpepper, you half-breed, I've come for vengeance for what you did to my cousin in Kansas!" My mind still wasn't real clear but I knew that this man meant what he was saying. Then I saw him climb under the fence into the corral. He meant business for sure as he had a six gun strapped low on his side. Before I knew it Biblepuncher was at my side facing off with the man. "I ain't go a fight with you son, it's him I want." I told Biblepuncher to give me his gun belt and then I strapped it on, and as it did I slowly pulled each pistol to get the feel of it. I looked at the man, shook my head back and forth and told him, "dying ain't much of a living mister." I had no sooner finishing speaking when I saw his hand go for his pistol, the next thing I knew both of my pistols had spoken and continued to bellow smoke and fire while following their target to the ground until they were just clicking. I'm not sure how many times I had kept tying to fire the pistols but for some reason I had dropped to my knees before I felt someone trying to get me back to my feet.

 

I couldn't remember getting kicked by the bull, but boy was I dizzy. I do remember Calico grabbing me and pulling me into her arms, but, well that's all I knew for some time.

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No way could I watch those men ride those bulls, absolutely no way! I'd help break wild horses before, so the bronc riding didn't bother me, but bulls were another story entirely. It seemed to me like getting on one of those things was just asking to get killed, and I sure wasn't looking forward to being a widow, especially like this! And yet my husband thought that I was the crazy one? It didn't help that Cheyenne would be the last rider, I was nervous enough and it seemed like an eternity before I finally saw him getting ready to climb on the bull he would have to ride. I quickly hid my face in my hands, and started praying.

It seemed to take forever, but Cora finally put her hand on my arm, and told me "It's ok, he did fine. In fact, I think he might have...who the heck is that?" When she said that I quickly looked up to see someone climbing through the fence into the ring, and from the looks of him I immediately thought 'gunslinger'. Biblepuncher was already on his way into the ring to back Cheyenne up. Fearing trouble, I quickly started pulling my derringer from it's hiding place, and Cora did the same. As we moved closer to the fence, I noticed an older gentleman with a cigar in his hand was standing a few feet from the fence, watching as the gunslinger challenged Cheyenne. After Biblepuncher had handed his gun belt to my husband, it was all over in a few seconds, whoever that man had been he just wasn't fast enough, thank goodness! At first I thought it was all over, then I realized that they had never gotten the bull out of the ring...

Cheyenne obviously had forgotten all about the bull as well, at least until the beast managed to put a hoof right between his shoulder blades. Biblepuncher and a few other cowboys immediately started trying to herd the bull away from Cheyenne, and I forgot my fear of the darn thing long enough to rush to Cheyenne's side. I tried to pull him up, but dang it that man was heavy! I was glad that Eddie had passed off Mathew to Tommy and rushed to my side to help. Between the two of us we managed to get Cheyenne out of there, and got him onto the bleachers without too much trouble. The doctor had just arrived with Lone Wolf and Laura, the young man had a bandage across his forehead but otherwise looked okay. The doc quickly checked Cheyenne over, and determined that aside from a possibly cracked rib, he should be fine in a few days, but would most likely have one heck of a bruise across his back before long. Doc advised us to stay in town for the night if we could find a place to stay, Lil overheard the comment and was quick to offer to let us stay at her place. She only had one spare room, so Biblepuncher and Cora volunteered to take the kids back to the ranch in the wagon, and Eddie agreed to leave his horse for me to use the following day. Cheyenne had brought Blackie, so we'd be able to ride home just as soon as he felt up to it.

I'd forgotten all about the man with the cigar until I heard him yelling at Tom, "Arrest that man! He just murdered my associate in cold blood! What are you waiting for, arrest him!" I couldn't believe my ears, that gunslinger had challenged Cheyenne, not the other way around, was this fellow insane? He looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't place where I might have seen him before. I quickly stood up and got between Cheyenne and Tom, and warned the sheriff, "Don't you dare, Tom! Everyone saw it, it was a fair fight the whole way and besides, it was that other man that started it!"

Tom just shook his head at me and told me, "You just calm yourself down and take care of Cheyenne, I ain't gonna arrest him for anything, you oughta know better." Then the sheriff turned to the other man and informed him in no uncertain terms, "Look, Mr. Wallace, your associate was the one that brought that on himself, and I have no doubt that he did it on your orders. If I had any proof of that, you'd be the one sitting in my jail tonight alongside your daughter! Now, I highly suggest you remove the body of your hired gun and take both him and yourself elsewhere. You start any more trouble in my town and I might not have any choice but to put a bullet in you!"

Mr. Wallace? So that's why he looked familiar, I could see the resemblance between him and his daughter. And I could also see where she got her temperament, obviously that whole family was nothing but trouble. With Tom there, I knew better than to try anything against the man, so I just let the sheriff handle him and started arranging for some help in getting Cheyenne back to Lil's place. Thankfully Mr. and Mrs. Olson were there, and they had arrived in their buggy. Mr. Olson offered to give me and Cheyenne a ride over to Lil's, then he would return to the fairgrounds to get Lil and Mrs. Olson. We had forgotten all about the bull riding until the announcer came over to us, blue ribbon in his hand. "Congratulations, Culpepper, it was a long time coming but you finally did it," he said as he handed the ribbon to Cheyenne. Even after everything that had happened, a huge smile crossed Cheyenne's face as he gratefully accepted the ribbon, and though I still thought he was crazy I was proud of him!

I kissed all of the kids goodbye, and got them loaded in the wagon for the ride back to the ranch, then helped Mr. Olson get Cheyenne into the buggy. He was still more than a little woozy, and I hoped Lil had some whiskey or something on hand, as I knew that the pain was starting to kick in. A nice long soak in our new tub was just what Cheyenne needed, but that would have to wait until we got back to the ranch....

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Later that evening the cobwebs finally were completely swept away, but then the whiskey I had been drinking for the pain finally started to replace the cobwebs. For a spell there I finally realized that I had won the bull riding event and every time I moved I was reminded of that too. I really wasn't all that clear on the shoot out either, I remembered it like it was a dream, a bad dream. Calico filled my in though and then told me that Mr. Wallace had been behind it all. That didn't surprise me a bit, I knew that there was going to have to be a show down with him if he wasn't going to leave town on his own.

 

Calico was pretty headstrong about me never bull riding again, but I had a whole year to work around that. I was just glad that my cracked rib hadn't come from the ride, or I never would have heard the end of it. I still couldn't figure out what in the heck that bull was still doing in the corral though, it should have been ushered out right after my ride was over. Oh well, I knew that bulls often had a mind of their own, and El loco Tanga proved to match his name!

 

I don't remember a lot of that evening except for a surprise celebration with Cali, I was glad that the whiskey had dulled the pain, even if it did mess with my senses.

 

I didn't rest well that night, the pain of course would often awaken me when I moved too much, but dreams wouldn't let me rest well even when I was asleep. I was soaring high above the clouds as an eagle, which normally came during a restful sleep, but there were pitch black clouds on the horizon laced with red hot lightning strikes followed by thunderous clashes of thunder.

 

Daylight was just starting to slip through the curtains when someone started to bang on the door to our room, followed by Tom's voice. Calico covered herself and told Tom to let himself in, which he did in a hurry. "Annie Wallace escaped last night!" was the first thing that came out of his mouth. I heard Calico mumble something under her breath that I can't repeat and then she nearly forgot why she had covered herself as she almost leapt from our bed. Tom's faced quickly reddened, followed by a quick smile which was replaced by a total look of embarrassment. Calico too turned beet red as she realized what she was doing and quickly duked back under the covers.

 

"I'm rounding up a posse already" Tom told us, "but be careful, I have no doubt that the three of them will be looking to bushwhack you both somewhere, sometime." Calico this time said some things out loud that I'd still rather not repeat and Tom agreed that he felt that same exact way. Tom excused himself and went out to continue rounding up a posse, closing the door as he went.

 

I sat up on the edge of the bed, feeling every pull on my rib, as Calico was up gathering her clothes that were scattered across the room. In my mind I was running through our options, all the men had returned to the ranch, or had they. I was getting pretty sure that some in not nearly all may have stayed in town to celebrate after the fair, but would they be any use, that thought was quickly replaced by the memories of all the times that they had come through, some times even falling down drunk. I was getting distracted though, the sight of Calico in all of her glory going around picking up her clothes made it very hard to concentrate on much else. Heck, we were safe for now, and Calico had noticed that I was watching her with great interest and well....

 

A little later after breakfast we ventured out onto the street, both of us heeled with our six guns. The town wasn't nearly as busy as usual, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stiffen a little. We made our way to the saloon and found Korupt Karl sitting at a table playing poker with a girl at each side and a nearly empty bottle of whiskey in front of him. "The rest of the boys went with Tom, I stayed here to uhhh, to watch your back when you finally came out of your room" he said with a laugh. I was feeling better about things now, even with me banged up I was confident we could handle an old man and two women easily. But then, who said that the gunslinger that they had brought with them was the only one? I saw Karl reach for the bottle but my hand was quicker as I grabbed it and threw it to the barkeep. Karl gave a sheepish grin, "ah shucks, that's what I was going to do with it" he lied.

 

Casey, the barkeep reached down under the bar and pulled out his scattergun and told his that we could count on him, after all the money our men had spent there last night he figured he owed us that much. Karl excused the girls and the four of us walked down the street to the sheriffs office to see if there was any new news about the Wallaces. My fears were well founded as we learned of at least two other men that had been seen with the Wallaces.

 

Now, the only question was, would they call us out on the street for a fair fight, or would they try to ambush us? That was quickly answered as I opened the door to leave the sheriff's office I saw something glisten on a roof across the street. I started to duck back into the doorway when the glisten turned into a flash, followed by a crack of a gunshot and splinters showering me as the bullet exploded in the wood above my head. Well, we knew where one of them was anyway.

 

The deputy in the office grabbed loaded Winchesters off the rack and threw them to Calico, Karl and I. We had a plan for the man on the roof, Casey would be aiming his scattergun threw the slit in the shutters and I would make a run for cover outside, with any luck the man would show himself long enough for Casey to send both barrels of buckshot his way. I ran through the doorway and headed towards a wagon hitched just outside. I was hardly behind the wagon when I heard the loud cracks from Casey's scattergun, followed by the sound of a man hitting the porch roof across the street.

 

One down and four to go, but where were the others? Cracks of a rifle and wood splintering from the wagon told me at least one more was close by, but where?

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I was glad to find out Cheyenne wasn't too badly hurt, either that or Lil had some pretty good whiskey in her parlor. Whatever the reason, I was in a pretty good mood, at least until Tom showed up. Finding out about Annie's escape sure changed that in a hurry, but Cheyenne had his ways of calming me down, and by the time we had joined Karl in the saloon I had relaxed a bit. The way things were, I needed to be able to keep my wits about me, and not let my temper get out of control.

I was glad Casey decided to go to the sheriff's office with us, the man had good reason to be supportive of the Culpepper ranch and I knew we could trust him. As we were starting to leave, a shot was fired from across the street, and thankfully it missed Cheyenne by a good eight inches or so, but Tom was gonna have to have that doorway fixed at some point. As the deputy grabbed rifles for us, the men started discussing what to do. I didn't really care for the idea of Cheyenne heading outside, but we couldn't hide in there forever, and there was no telling how long it would be before the posse returned. Fortunately Casey was able to take out the man on the roof across the street, but the sound of another shot after that proved that there was at least one more of them.

Karl and the deputy got ready to follow Cheyenne out and take cover, Karl would head for another wagon a little farther down and the deputy said he'd hid behind the water trough. I tried to ask them where they thought I should head for, but all three men shook their heads. I started to protest, but Karl turned and pointed at my stomach, and said, "Both of you are staying right here and that's final!" It didn't seem right to me to hide in the office when the rest of them would be in danger, but Karl didn't give me a chance to argue about it. One at a time, he and the deputy ducked through the doorway and ran for cover, each time shots quickly rang out, and this time we could tell that there had to be at least two more shooters, as the shots came from different directions.

Casey and I could hear our three companions yelling to each other, they had determined that the shots were coming from another rooftop down the street and from the second floor of the hotel. Unfortunately, none of our men was in a good position to return fire, as they could not see exactly where the shooters were. Casey didn't have any better of a view from the office window, but I had an idea of how to get to whoever was firing from the hotel. While Casey was distracted, I quietly ducked out the back door, taking the rifle with me.

I knew there was a two-story building on this side of the street that would give me a good view of the upper floor of the hotel, and I headed that way through the alley. The owner of the building referred to it as a 'ladies boarding house', but everyone was pretty much aware that it was a brothel. I knew Cheyenne wouldn't be too crazy about the idea of me going in there, but hey, it was the best place to get a good shot at whoever was in that hotel. When I got to the building, I raced inside the back door, only to find that most of the 'residents' were huddled together in the kitchen, as far as they could get from the gunfire out in the street. There was one woman standing there in a red silk robe, and I recognized her right away as the owner. Ignoring the shocked and scared looks from the others as I burst into the room, I asked the woman, Hattie, where the stairs were as I needed to use an upstairs window. I don't think she was all that thrilled about the idea, but pointed through a doorway and said, "Stairs are down the hall, in the front room."

I ran through the house and up the stairs, there were two doors up there that obviously led to rooms at the front of the building. I opened the one on the left first, only to find a young woman in only her corset and bloomers sitting on the edge of the bed, and a skinny older man in his long underwear, who was trying to put his pants on. As soon as he saw me and my rifle he fell over, either from shock or embarrassment, I couldn't tell. I quickly muttered "Sorry!" and headed over to try the other door. Thankfully that room was empty, so I kneeled down by the window and started trying to look through the lace curtain to see if I could locate whoever was shooting from the hotel. I couldn't see really well, but just well enough to see the glint of sunlight off a pistol, and the vague form of a body behind it. The person was looking down the street, and not at the building I was in, so it didn't take me very long at all to line up a shot. One quick pull of the trigger and that was one more adversary taken care of, but how many more were there?

I knew that from my present location I wouldn't be able to see the other enemy that was further down the street, so I headed back downstairs towards the kitchen. All the soiled doves and their madam were still hiding in the kitchen, and I remembered my manners enough to thank Hattie as I went through for the use of her window. As I went out the door, I heard a confused voice from behind me saying, "You're welcome?", but I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been to my surroundings. I hadn't taken more than two steps before I felt arms wrap around me from behind, and then Dixie rushed up to me from the side and grabbed my rifle away from me before I got the chance to tighten my grip on it.

From behind me I heard Annie's voice scream in my ear, "Now hit her, hit her good!" So it was Annie that had grabbed me, and although I struggled to get away, she was pretty strong herself and had me at a disadvantage. Dixie stepped up in front of me, and first she slapped me hard, but that wasn't good enough for her cousin. Annie screamed again, "No, really hit her where it'll hurt the most!" and before I could brace myself, Dixie was driving her fist as hard as she could right into my belly....

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I heard the shot above me but as I turned to see just where it had come from I saw a man fall through the window across the street, who fired the shot? Casey stuck his head out of the sheriff's office and hollered that Calico had slipped out the back. About the time that I came to the realization that the shot must have come from Calico I heard women screaming at each other from the alley behind me. I dropped the rifle, being more comfortable with my pistols in the close proximity that the alley would provide.

 

I pulled my pistols as I ran toward the voices, one of the voices was Calico's, the other two had to be Dixie and Annie. Just before I got sight of them I heard Annie scream to punch her where it would hurt the most. I came around the corner and there were the three of them, instinctively my pistols each found a target, one for the screaming Annie and one for Dixie who was driving her fist into Cali's belly and my child. The first shot found Dixie's chest throwing her back away from Cali, the other found Annie's face, lifting her off of her feet and then dumping her into a lifeless clump on the ground. Before I knew it a second round had found each woman, neither of them would benefit from a poor shot this time.

 

I hadn't yet lowered my pistols when I heard a man's voice, "Culpepper!" I spun around to see Wallace with his pistol aimed in my direction, both pistols found him before he could fire his pistol and they fired simultaneously, hitting the man in the chest and throwing him back into the brothel. He lay there bleeding out of the large hole in his chest, "When you gotta shoot, shoot, Don't talk!" I told him as I put two more rounds into his brain.

 

I turned back around to see Cali slumped to her knees, holding her belly and crying uncontrollably. I screamed, "Get the doc! Get him NOW!" and then I dropped to my knees beside Cali without a clue in the world what to do next.

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Tom and the doc got to us at the same time, the doc knelt down with Calico and asked her what had happened while Tom asked me the same question, I quickly told him and he asked me if I was sure that they were dead. "I don't know for sure" I told him. I rose from Cali's side and went to each of the bodies, I kicked each one, then put a bullet between their eyes, "Yup, I reckon I'm sure their dead" I told him and then went back to Cali's side. Karl and the deputy saw and heard what I had just done, they looked at each other and then they did the same as I had done, "Yep, we're sure they're dead" they each told Tom.

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The pain was intense when Dixie hit me, I'd been hit harder before but never in such a vulnerable spot. I almost wasn't aware of Cheyenne coming around the corner until I heard the shots, and as soon as Annie was no longer holding on to me I fell forward, I was in too much pain to keep my feet. I heard screaming and some more shots, but it was all just a blur, I didn't really care at that point what was going on. Next thing I really knew, Doc Adams was kneeling beside me, trying to get me to tell him what had happened. To my surprise, Hattie had come out the back door, and she quickly told the doctor everything she had seen, she had watched the whole thing from the kitchen window. She had tried to come to my aid, but just then Mr. Wallace had come running through her house and out the back door, blocking her exit. Fortunately for her she had ducked back out of the way just before Cheyenne shot the man.

"This isn't good, but I can't examine her here in the alley, I need to get her back to my office or something," Doc Adams said. Hattie quickly told him, "Take her in my place, the sofa in the parlor is a lot closer than your office." There was no way I could get up and walk in there, and for a second Cheyenne started to try and pick me up. Then Karl quickly shoved him out of the way, telling him, "Not with that cracked rib of yours, are you nuts? She may not be that heavy, but still..." and Karl proceeded to be the one to lift me in his arms. He grunted a little as he was doing it, but he managed to pick me up, while he was doing that Tom and the deputy pulled Wallace's body out of the doorway to the brothel. I vaguely heard the deputy telling Cheyenne that Casey and some of the other members of the posse had taken off after the last shooter, who had managed to get down off the roof of the general store and had fled on horseback.

Karl got me inside, and laid me down on the sofa as gently as he could, but I was still in a lot of pain and crying hysterically. The tears weren't from the physical pain, but from the terror I was feeling. How could any woman be so evil to do that, try and kill an unborn child? I knew that's what they had been trying to do, but had they succeeded? I was aware that the doctor was only trying to help me, but I went into full panic mode the second he tried to touch my belly. Cheyenne was on his knees next to the sofa, tears in his eyes as he begged me to please calm down and let the doctor examine me, but I was too upset. Finally the doctor stepped a little closer to my head, and started to put a cloth up to my nose and mouth, telling me, "Just take a couple of deep breaths, and you'll be fine," but I still tried to shove him away. Cheyenne finally had to grab my hands and hold me down so that Doc Adams could get the ether-soaked cloth up to my face, and it wasn't long before I blacked out.

When I came to, I was lying on a rickety bed with a thin mattress, and I figured I must be in one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the brothel. I muttered "Cheyenne?" and a young girl dressed in a flimsy robe, who looked no older than 16, quickly came to my side and told me "Hold on, he's downstairs, I'll get him for you." She stepped out in the hallway, and I heard her call out, "Mr. Culpepper, Doc Adams, Miss Hattie...she's awake!" Then I heard the sound of footsteps racing up the stairs, and in seconds Cheyenne was in the room, quickly followed by Doc Adams, who warned him, "Take it easy on her, ok?" Cheyenne gently sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up one of my hands in both of his, and I could see he was really upset. I was still feeling some pain, but that wasn't my main concern, I glanced over at the doctor and whispered, "The baby....?" Cheyenne bowed his head, and I was terrified, Doc Adams came closer and put his hand on my forehead, softly saying, "I'm sorry, but I just don't know yet. I can't tell just how much damage that punch may have caused, unfortunately all we can do now is wait and see what happens. Your husband has sent for Doc Eells and Sadie, they should be here soon, and you'll need to let Doc Eells examine you too and we'll see what he thinks."


The tears immediately returned, that wasn't what I had wanted so much to hear from him. Cheyenne moved around the bed until he could lay down next to me, and gently pulled me into his arms. "Shhhh, honey, as long as you get better that's what matters now, whatever else happens we'll deal with it together. I just want you to be ok," he told me, but I still kept crying, I was so scared and upset. It wasn't long before Doc Eells and Sadie arrived, and were shown upstairs by Hattie, who then went back in the hall and closed the door to give us some privacy. The two doctors and Sadie stood on the other side of the room talking, and I only heard a few words that Doc Adams was whispering, "Tenderness....bleeding....heartbeat...." I could tell that Doc Eells and Sadie didn't seem to like what they were hearing, and that only scared me more.

Then Doc Eells stepped over to the bed, and told me, "I need to check you out, missy, and don't you dare make me give you ether like Adams had to. I realize cooperation isn't your strong suit, but this time it's really important!" All I could do was nod, and I tried my best to not flinch when Doc Eells started feeling my belly. He felt all around, and asked me all sorts of questions about how much it hurt and how. Then he got out his stethoscope and moved it all around my abdomen, listening for several moments in each spot. It seemed to take forever, but finally he was through. He took a deep breath, then started telling us, "Well, I can still hear a heartbeat, it's rather faint but it is there. That's a good sign, but it's still too early to tell for sure, there is still a possibility that you will end up losing the baby. All we can do now is wait, there's really nothing else any of us can do. I really wish there was, I know this has to be agony for both of you. You'll need to stay here for a while, it's too risky to try to move you right now, so just try and get some rest. One of us will stay with you at all times, I promise."

Sadie volunteered to stay with me first, so both doctors left the room so they could talk some more in private without risking upsetting me even more. As they were leaving, Hattie came to the door and whispered something to Sadie. After Sadie had closed the door again, she let us know that Hattie had told her we were welcome to stay as long as necessary, and that she'd do everything she could to make sure we weren't disturbed. The woman had even gone so far as to turn away customers, and was going to keep the brothel closed as long as we were there. Although I didn't approve of her profession, and I certainly thought that the one girl looked far too young to be here, I did appreciate that the woman was willing to try and help me the best she could. To keep the place closed was costing her money, and I figured it would be the right thing to do to offer to pay her for letting me stay.

Cheyenne had moved out of the way when Doc Eells started his examination, but now he laid back down next to me and pulled me into his arms again. "All we can do now is pray that everything will be all right. But at least I can assure you that none of those three can ever hurt anyone again! Now just rest, Cali..." he told me, and it wasn't long before I had cried myself back to sleep. Then, as I started to dream, I saw myself and Cheyenne standing at the foot of the hill where Frank had been buried. As we were staring up the hill, Frank and Lives Again started walking down the hill towards us. As they got closer, I noticed Cheyenne smiling at his parents, but both of them stayed just beyond his reach. Lives Again smiled at me, and then I heard her say, "Don't worry too much, my newest grandchild will be just fine." Then both her and Frank slowly started walking back up the hill, fading away as they went. I looked up to the sky beyond the hill, and saw three eagles soaring beneath the clouds, two larger ones and one tiny one doing it's best to fly after it's parents....

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Cali finally went to sleep in my arms and I soon fell asleep also, the dreams with the eagles came to me again. I was soaring among the clouds searching, searching, searching. I finally spotted two other eagles, an adult and a young one, I swooped down under the small one and rose until I felt it weight upon my back and then flew alongside the other eagle and we continued to soar for hours upon hours.

 

I didn't sleep well that night, Cali would moan and cry in her sleep, my rib wasn't helping thins either, each time I tried to move the pain from it was like being stabbed. Morning didn't come a minute too soon, the sunlight sneaking through the curtains was sure welcome. As the room lightened I noticed someone sitting in the chair in the corner of the room, it was Running Bear. I rose to greet my friend but our conversation was brief. Stands Alone had told him to come and find me and that I needed him to finish something for me. I told him that one man had gotten away and that he had ridden north out of town before we could find him.

 

Running Bear told me that he knew what had happened to Calico and that he had a message from Stands Alone for me, "Seek the face of the Great Spirit." With those things shared between the two of us he quietly slipped out of the room on his was to seek vengeance upon the man that had escaped. I knew that the next time that I would see Running Bear that he would have a scalp to hang upon his teepee.

 

Calico awoke as Running Bear was leaving, wishing him Godspeed as he disappeared into the morning mist. Doc Eells arrived shortly after Running Bear had left and knelt down beside Calico and starting examining her again. He took quite a while and the whole time he spoke just loud enough for Calico to hear him. I almost got annoyed with him, but then I knew that he knew what was best. I was glad that Running Bear had come to track down the last man, now I could give Calico all of my attention, especially with this rib. Maybe I could ask the Great Spirit to take this rib from my side. As Doc Eells continued to examine Calico and knelt before the chair that Running Bear had been sitting and sought the face of God. As I prayed I understood why the Cheyenne often chanted and made all sorts of sounds, my soul was groaning as I plead for Calico and our child.

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When I woke up, I was rather surprised to see Running Bear in the room, but after he left Cheyenne explained why the brave had come, and I was thankful for his help. At least that meant Cheyenne wouldn't feel like he had to leave me to find the remaining gunslinger, I couldn't bear the thought of him being away from me at that point. I wasn't so happy to see Doc Eells, but at least his exam didn't hurt anywhere near as much this time around.

While he was checking me, he was speaking very quietly, and I could tell that was driving Cheyenne up a wall. I wasn't sure why the doc felt the need to whisper, unless he was trying not to worry my husband, even though that had the opposite effect. At least he was telling me what was going on, which made me feel a little better. He told me that the bleeding seemed to have stopped, that and the fact the pain was going away were wonderful signs, and that he wasn't having as much trouble hearing the heartbeat as he had yesterday. I tried to explain to him about the dream I had and what Lives Again had told me, but he just gave me a real funny look when I said that and didn't have any reply.

After he was finished, he included Cheyenne in the conversation, saying, "Well, so far so good, but I want you to stay here at least one more day. I know you aren't really comfortable staying here, so tomorrow if you're still doing ok we can see about possibly moving you to Lil's place. I'm not about to let you try and go back to the ranch until I'm positive that the trip won't cause any more harm. And I realize you hate being stuck in bed with nothing to do, so I will see what I can do about getting you something to read to help pass the time. If you'd like, I can send Sadie back to the ranch to help Cora bring the twins to visit you, as long as you don't try and lift them I don't see why you can't spend some time with them. Considering what this place is, though, I would recommend that the other kids wait until we get you over to Lil's house."

I did want to see my babies, so I was grateful to him for being willing to arrange a visit, and I wasn't about to argue with the rest of it either. What he had said made sense, even though I was anxious to get back to the ranch and to my family. If staying put was what I had to do for my baby, well, then so be it. Things could have been much worse...

Doc said he would go talk to Sadie then be right back to stay with me for a while, and Cheyenne went with him to arrange with Hattie for some breakfast for both of us. As they were leaving, Cheyenne didn't get the door closed all the way, and I could still hear them talking out in the hall for a moment. Doc informed Cheyenne, "She is doing fine physically, but I am still a little concerned. She tried to tell me that she has been talking to your mother, and that Lives Again had told her that the baby would be fine...I'm not sure what to make of that."

I could hear the confusion in Cheyenne's voice, "But Doc, my mother passed away before Calico ever came to the ranch, one of my biggest regrets is that they never got the chance to meet. How could Cali be talking to my mother?"

As they started walking off, I heard Doc say, "That's exactly why I'm concerned...." then their voices faded away as I heard them walking down the stairs. So Doc didn't believe me? I knew that in my dream she had in fact spoken to me, maybe it was just a dream but I still believed in the message that I had gotten. Did that mean there really was something wrong with me? I didn't think I was going crazy, but maybe that was the first sign that I was....

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I just couldn't tell Doc that I knew exactly what Calico was talking about when she mentioned my mother. Doc never did believe in something he couldn't much see, and I knew from past experiences and lectures from him, not to mention it to him. Hey, after all Cali loved me, how crazy could she be?

 

I had also noticed the way that Calico looked at the newest addition to Hattie's staff, Sally who at most was a young sixteen. I knew that this was no life for her in the "house", I was going to have to talk with Hattie about a change for the young girl. She wouldn't be the last young thing to join Hattie's "house" but I couldn't live with myself if I knew that I could have made a difference and didn't. Besides, if I struck before Calico brought it up, well it was just something that needed to be done.

 

Mean while, Running Bear was hot on the trail of a man called Johnny, the last of the back shooters that had been hired by Wallace. Running Bear was in his element, tracking, whether it was game or another man this was something he had trained his entire life to do, and he was good at it. It didn't take him long to separate the tracks of a horse in a full run out of town from the normal tracks. What was actually harder was keeping an eye out for those who may not take kindly to a lone Cheyenne brave, but that was something he was used to having to deal with. Not long out of town he could see Johnny's horse start to slow, he smiled to himself, it may be nightfall before he caught up to the man, but he would in his own due time. Each time he came upon water he could see where Johnny had sprawled out on his belly to drink, fool, he thought as he read that sign. The man was careless, a man that was aware of his surroundings would kneel on one knee and drink from his hand or some type of utensil and thus be able to keep an eye on his surroundings. This man had no clue that he was being followed, Running Bear knew that he couldn't become over confident and loose the edge that this man was giving him.

 

Just before nightfall he had gotten sight of Johnny at the foot of a rock outcropping, he knew the man would be making camp there for the evening. Running Bear waited off in the distance and as night fell he first caught a smell of wood smoke and then could see light dancing off the rocks in the distance. He left his horse and covered the distance to the man on foot. Midway to the Johnny's camp he stopped looked up at the vastness of the dark sky and the multitude of stars and asked for guidance from the Great Spirit. Should he kill the man as he sat around his fire and scalp him? Or should he take him alive and bring him back to Fort Collins? He so wanted to kill the man there, scalp him and mutilate him as a sign for others to see, but that was not what he felt the Great Spirit telling him. He almost tried to argue his point, but in all reality he knew he would loose anyway, so he laid a plan to capture the man and then return him to Fort Collins.

 

He felt for the breeze and then circled around so that the breeze was in his face, that way Johnny's horse wouldn't scent him and give his approach away. From above Johnny in the rocks Running Bear watched him as he bedded down for the night. Long after Johnny had been asleep he crept down and took the man's guns and knife and then waited for the sun to peek into the eastern sky. Just as it did he crept back into the mans camp, stirred his fire to life and then waited for Johnny to awaken. Running Bear found some coffee beans and threw them into the fire, he could see Johnny's nose start to twitch and soon his eyes opened, real wide like when he saw Running Bear standing of the other side of the fire. His hands searched for his long gone firearms and finally his knife.

 

Johnny didn't know just what was going to happen next, he sure didn't like being on the short end of this stick, he was used to being the one to surprise someone, this he didn't like at all. As he rose from his bedroll he tried to size up Running Bear, the indian didn't appear to be armed with a firearm, maybe he could take him barehanded. Running Bear too was sizing up his prey, but he knew his advantage, his Colt. He pulled it from under his buckskin for Johnny to see and then put a round not two inches from the man's foot. Running Bear could see the fear well up in the man's eyes as he fell to his knees and started begging for mercy. Running Bear wanted oh so badly to put the Colt away and pull his knife to do what he really wanted to do to the man.

 

Running Bear motioned for Johnny to go to his horse, which was unsaddled of course. As Johnny reached for this saddle Running Bear just said NO! and motioned for him to get on his horse bareback. The fact that Johnny also noticed that his horse was loosely hobbled didn't help him feel any better about his chances of an escape. In his heart Johnny was afraid the Cheyenne brave was taking him to his village, which terrified him all the more.

 

The ride back to Fort Collins was a dry one for Johnny, Running Bear steered them away from any water hole except for when the horses needed watering. Then he wouldn't let Johnny drink, by the time Fort Collins came into view Johnny was a mighty parched man, but he was relieved to see that it was not a Cheyenne village that he was being taken to. But why was his captor bring him to a white man's town. His neck started to itch as he thought about the possibilities that awaited him there.

 

The sun was setting as Running Bear led Johnny into Fort Collins, and it didn't take long for the news of a Cheyenne Brave leading a captive white man into town to reach Calico and me or Captain Baylor, who already had a patrol following at a distance.

 

I walked out into the street to greet Running Bear as he made it about midway into town. We spoke a few words in Cheyenne, I thanked him, and then he handed the reins of Johnny's horse to me. We exchanged words again and with a Cheyenne war cry rode out of town. Johnny was a sight to see, parched yes, but he looked like a scared pup who was used to being run off from every house in a town. I laughed to myself as I asked him, "how does it feel to be in your shoes now?" I like Running Bear wanted so very badly to kill the man as he sat on his horse. But deep in my soul I was tired of spilling blood, needed or not, I was weary with it.

 

Tom had arrived and I handed the reins to him, I told him I would talk with Calico about what we may want to do with the man, what charges or whatever. The thoughts of letting him ride out of town on a dead run while I loaded my Sharps came to mind. Had it been Wallace himself, Dixie or Annie there would have been no doubt. But like I said I was sore in my soul with bloodshed.

 

I left Tom standing there with Johnny as his prisoner, and rejoined Calico. I did turn back to Johnny and told him in no uncertain terms that he was lucky that I hadn't lost Calico or our child.

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Hattie managed to come up with a pretty good breakfast of pancakes and sausage, and with Cheyenne and Doc Eells's help I was able to sit up and eat. It tasted really good, and after realizing I was really hunger I ate everything on my plate. After that, Doc suggested I lay back down, so Cheyenne read to me for a while from a Bible that Doc had managed to find somewhere. I really enjoyed having him read to me, especially from the Good Book, and the morning passed quickly.

I was allowed to sit up again for lunch, and as we were eating, Cora and Sonora arrived with the twins. I had thought Sadie was supposed to come with Cora, so I asked about her. Cora explained, "Right after breakfast there was a knock at the back door, Stands Alone had walked all the way to the house to get help. Two Birds had gone into labor, and Running Bear was nowhere to be found. Lu Sing immediately went to see what she could do, and we were about to send back to town for either Doc or Sadie when Sadie came riding up. When we told her what was going on, she rode over to help. Sonora was nice enough to offer to help me bring the twins to town, I just wish we were visiting you somewhere else..."

Cheyenne spoke up at that point, "I know you both aren't comfortable being here, so I really appreciate your being willing to come here so Cali can see the babies. But I agree, she'd be better off at Lil's, I think I'll head over there now and make sure she'll be ready for us as soon as Doc agrees that Cali can be moved over there." He left on his errand, and I got busy paying as much attention as I could to Mathew and Sarah. My little girl was thrilled to see me, and was content to sit next to me on the bed while I hugged her close. My son, on the other hand, was too hyper to sit still for very long, and pretty soon he was trying to crawl all over me. Cora wasn't too sure that was such a good idea, as he was too young to understand that he had to stay off of momma's tummy, so Sonora put him on her lap for a while. Then he kept busy playing with the beautiful necklace she was wearing and trying to grab her earrings and her hair. He was being a handful, but thankfully Sonora just thought it was adorable, and didn't seem to mind.


While I was visiting with my friends, young Sally came in to get the dirty dishes from lunch, to take them down to the kitchen. I could tell from the looks on the faces of Cora and Sonora that they had the same thought that I had, what was a girl this young doing in a bordello? Sally was fascinated by the twins, so I asked if she would like to hold one of them for a while. Sarah was a little shy around strangers, but Mathew willing let Sally pick him up and bounce him in her arms for a few minutes, before he started getting wiggly again. As she was handing him back to Sonora, the older woman's curiosity finally got the best of her, and she asked the girl, "How in the world did you end up in a place like this? This is no where for someone your age to be!"

Sally looked embarrassed, and couldn't meet any of our eyes. "I ain't got much of a choice, not if I wanna eat. I had to leave home, I just couldn't take it anymore! My pa...well...my pa wasn't a good man, and he did bad things...no, I don't wanna talk about it! Hattie takes good care of me, and at least I have a roof over my head. There's worse things in this world...", then the girl grabbed the dishes and almost ran from the room. Obviously there were things that had happened in her life that she didn't want to discuss with strangers, and although I wasn't sure what that could be, I understood her need for privacy. All the same, I knew I needed to do something to help her, she couldn't be more than a few months older than Little Flower or Laura.

It wasn't much longer after that when Cheyenne returned with Doc Eells in tow, the two of them had gotten it all set up with Lil. As long as nothing else happened with me, after breakfast tomorrow Doc would arrange to have a buggy pick me up out front of the brothel and give me a ride to the other end of town to Lil's place. I would continue to stay there for a few more days until he felt it was safe for me to take the longer trip back to the ranch. Starting tomorrow the rest of the kids could come visit me, but for now Doc suggested that my friends take the twins back home, so that I could take a nap. It was hard kissing Mathew and Sarah goodbye, but I knew I'd be seeing them again the next day, Cora had promised.

Cheyenne's rib was still bothering him, so he laid down with me to rest. He had one arm around my shoulders, and his other hand resting gently on my belly. Having him so close helped me to relax, and it wasn't long before I drifted off to sleep. Again I saw myself and Cheyenne at the foot of that little hill, and like before it wasn't long before we were face to face with Cheyenne's parents. Frank was the first to speak to us this time, telling Cheyenne "The Culpepper ranch has always been a place where people could turn to for help. You would honor my memory best by not forgetting what I taught you." Then Lives Again spoke up, "You just worry about taking care of yourself for the sake of my grandson." Just like before, the two of them walked up the hill and faded from view. Again I noticed eagles flying above us, but this time there were so many of them that I couldn't keep track of how many I was seeing, but it was a beautiful sight. I awoke just before dinnertime, and noticed that Cheyenne had dozed off too, his arm still around me. I laid still for a while, not wanting to wake him, and thought about what my dream may have meant. I was sure Frank had been referring to Sally, though I wasn't too sure how we could possible help the girl unless she wanted us to. But I liked the sound of having another boy, that would give us an even number of sons and daughters. As for Sally, that was going to take a lot of thinking to come up with a way to get her out of this place and on the path to a better life.


The next day, as promised, Doc Eells arrived with a buggy to move me to Lil's house. He made me take it slow and easy going down the stairs, and then getting in and out of the buggy, but when we got to Lil's I was shocked that the doc didn't make me head straight to bed. He explained that the kids were on their way to see me, so I might as well just wait for them in the parlor, after a good long visit I could always take a nap when they returned to the ranch. It was wonderful seeing all of them, and I could tell they were all relieved to see that I was doing ok. The day passed much too quickly, and they left mid-afternoon, promising to return every day until I could come back home. After another nap, Cheyenne and I had dinner with Lil, and I almost felt sorry for the man, me and my friend spent the entire meal discussing quilts, not exactly his favorite topic of discussion. But Lil, like the sweetheart she was, promised that the next day she would run to the general store and get me some material, so I could start on a new quilt to help pass the time.


We had hardly finished eating when Casey the bartender came looking for Cheyenne. "Hey Culpepper, there's an indian riding into town, and he's got that fella we were looking for the other day held captive. Maybe you better come see what's going on!" Cheyenne immediately headed for the street, I figured Casey was referring to Running Bear but I knew I needed to wait where I was for Cheyenne to return and verify that. It wasn't long before he did, telling me that he'd told Tom that we'd let him know what we wanted done with the shooter. I thought about it for a while, and finally said to Cheyenne, "Well, I'm fairly positive that the man was just following the orders of his boss, and when our hands stick up for us we think that's the greatest thing in the world. I can't fault this guy for doing the same, I just wish he'd picked a better employer to show his loyalty to. As it is, he didn't kill anyone, in fact he didn't even wound any of you. I think that although some jail time is warranted, he's hardly guilty of anything that would be considered a hanging offense. I'm all for letting Tom and the judge know to go easy on this guy, maybe it will be a wake-up call for him to be a little more choosy in picking who to work for in the future."

I wasn't sure if Cheyenne fully agreed with me or not, but he did promise to speak to Tom in the morning. After spending some more time talking to Lil, we turned in a little early. For once Cheyenne didn't use that as a reason for a little misbehaving, in fact he was more concerned about me getting plenty of sleep. As I snuggled up to him, he whispered, "We'll just have to make up for lost time later on...once you're feeling better...after all, the new bath house isn't going anywhere!"

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As promised, the next day Lil got ready to head down to the general store to get me some material. We talked about what I wanted, and I had decided to get started on a quilt for the new baby. So I told her just to pick something that would be appropriate for a boy. Lil asked me "How do you know it's going to be a boy?" I tried to tell her about my dream and what Lives Again had told me, but she just gave me the same funny look that Doc Eells had, and then excused herself so she could get going. So she didn't believe me either? It had seemed real enough to me, but maybe they were right, and it was just my mind playing tricks on me.

It wasn't long before we heard a wagon pull up outside, and within seconds Tommy and Rose came running through the door, heading straight for me. Cheyenne managed to grab both of them before they could throw themselves at me, warning them that they could hug me but they had to be gentle. That calmed them down a little bit, but I could still tell they had missed me as they carefully wrapped their arms around me, and I was just as happy to see them too. It got kind of crowded in the parlor after that, as Biblepuncher and Cora had brought all the kids, even Lone Wolf, and Lil was with them too. Biblepuncher explained, "We stopped by the store on the way here, uh, I needed to buy a ring for someone," and Cora got a huge smile at that, "and we ran into Lil at the store. Since we were all heading down here anyway, I figured she might like a ride back."

Lil gave me the material she had bought, and I had to admit she had wonderful taste, the three fabrics she had bought would look really cute together. Then of course I had to see Cora's ring, it wasn't really fancy but I knew it was the very best that Biblepuncher could afford, and from the look in her eyes I could tell she thought it was the most beautiful ring in the world. I asked if they had made any decision about when the wedding would be, and Cora replied, "Oh, we have talked about it, and we're not in any big hurry. I've always wanted a spring wedding, so we're going to wait until then. That will give us plenty of time to get everything settled and arranged. Right now, we're more concerned about getting Eddie and Little Flower's ceremony taken care of, has Doc said anything to you about when you might be coming home?"


I could tell Eddie and Little Flower were both kind of holding their breath, but I had to tell them, "Well, he hasn't given me any exact date. He just keeps saying he'll let me go home when he's sure I can do so safely. I'm afraid that's not much help, but I don't intend to stay here even one minute longer than necessary. Not that I don't appreciate you letting us stay Lil, but my place is back home with my family." I knew Lil understood that perfectly, but I could also tell the two young lovebirds were a little disappointed. Eddie slowly said, "I know you need to do what the doc says, but we're not sure what to do...some of the men were over by the cabin yesterday and they told me that the leaves on the trees up there are starting to turn...."

I had a feeling that would be happening soon, and figured that we probably had about a week until the leaves were in full autumn color. The two kids hadn't wanted to invite a whole lot of people outside of the ranch folks, the town guest list only included Lil, Tom, Mr. and Mrs. Olson, and Captain Baylor and a few men from the fort. They hadn't been given an exact date, we simply told them we would keep an eye on the trees and send word the day before for them to come on out for the wedding. I was almost as disappointed as my two oldest, "You know, even if I can't make it, there's no reason Cheyenne can't come home long enough to give his oldest daughter away," I told them, trying my best to smile at Little Flower, "I don't want to be the one to ruin your big day for you, and the trees aren't going to hold off changing color just for me."

"No!" Little Flower almost yelled, "I won't go through with it if you can't be there with me, I need you there that day, even more than Cheyenne! If you can't make it, we'll just wait until you do come home, and if we have to we'll move the whole thing back to the ranch and do it there. Up by the cabin would be a pretty spot, but it's not as important to me as you being with us that day!" I wasn't sure which one of us was closer to tears, but we hugged each other tight and I told her how much it meant to me that she felt that way. Then Eddie hugged me too, letting me know that although he was getting anxious to get it over with, he agreed with his bride that they weren't going to have the ceremony until I could be in attendance. I promised them both that I would do everything that Doc told me in hopes of being able to return home in time to go through with the original plans.

We talked about other things after that, and Cheyenne told Biblepuncher all about Running Bear capturing Johnny and returning him to town. Biblepuncher admitted that he had known Johnny down in Texas, saying, "He really wasn't all that bad of a fellow, even if he was working for Wallace. Johnny was kind of in the same situation I had been, orphaned by the war and just looking for a place to sleep when Wallace hired him on. I can see how he felt the same kind of gratitude for that as I had to Mr. Wagner for giving me a job. In fact, if Johnny had worked for Wagner instead, I think he and I would have gotten along just fine. I think I'm going to head over to the jail, and see if Tom will let me talk to Johnny for a while. Maybe there's something I can do to help the guy."

Cheyenne agreed to walk down there with him, and the two of them left. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the front door, and Lil went to open it. I was rather shocked to see that it was Sally, the young girl from the brothel. Lil invited her in, and Sally nervously approached me, so I told her to sit down and join us. "Hattie said I could come down here for a few minutes, I wanted to see how you were feeling," she told me, looking very shy around my family. I wasn't sure I blamed her, I could tell by the way Little Flower and Laura were looking at her that they didn't approve of the way she was dressed. Sally's outfit was more than a little low-cut, and the skirt was almost up to her knees, decent girls just didn't dress that way. I was glad to see that Eddie's eyes never left Little Flower, but I wasn't sure if that was out of love or if the boy was just too smart to risk getting himself in trouble by looking at Sally. On the other hand, Lone Wolf's eyes were about to pop out of his head, which didn't exactly make Laura very happy.

I was actually glad to see the girl, it was nice of her to be concerned enough to come visit me, as it was a long walk to Lil's, and I knew that the soiled doves weren't exactly treated well when they went out in public. Not that anyone did anything to hurt them, but folks made it very clear how little they thought of women in that profession, even the men that gave them their business tended to look down on those women outside of the brothel. In a way I could understand it, but at the same time I didn't feel it was my place to really judge any of those women, as I didn't know just what circumstances had driven them to sell their bodies just to survive. Especially Sally, in her I just saw a frightened young girl that didn't really want to be doing what she did, but felt she had no other options if she wanted a place to sleep and to eat on any regular basis.

Sally only stayed a few minutes, saying that Hattie expected her back right away, but I did let her know that she was welcome to come see me again as long as I was in town, if Hattie would allow it. I didn't object to the company, and although I didn't tell her so I was hoping that if I got to know her a little better that maybe I could figure out a way to get her out of that place. Cheyenne and Biblepuncher came back from the sheriff's office in time for lunch, which Lil was nice enough to make for everyone. Tom had told them that the judge was planning on a trial for Johnny for the day after tomorrow, but was willing to consider leniency if that's what Cheyenne and I wanted. Biblepuncher was sure that Johnny would cause no more trouble now that Mr. Wallace was dead, but the man would still need new employment, this time preferably with someone who wouldn't expect him to go around shooting at innocent people. I suggested sending a letter to the Golden Aspen to see if Buick could use another hand, and Cheyenne promised to think about it.

After lunch Biblepuncher and Cora decided it was time to take the kids back home, I needed some rest and the twins were about to fall asleep anyway. They promised to return again the following day, so I gave hugs all around and then went to take a nap. No sooner than I had closed my eyes I saw myself standing not far from the cabin, staring at the aspen up on the slope beyond the buildings, the leaves just starting to turn gold. Then I noticed all of a sudden that Lives Again was right next to me, also looking at the trees. Then she turned to me and said, "Do not worry so much, you will be able to be with the two of them on their big day, you and my grandson. Everything will be just fine, trust me." This time I wasn't so surprised when she faded from view after having spoken, but I still knew that she had in fact been there, and she was speaking to me, no matter what anyone else thought. Cheyenne told me later that when he came to check on me, I had a big smile on my face as I lay sleeping....

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I was having a hard time forgiving Johnny for even being a pawn in Wallace’s plans, after all shouldn’t he have known what a worm Wallace
was? I was really struggling with the idea of him going free, but Biblepuncher did have a good argument for forgiveness, and each time I recited the
Lord’s Prayer I was sorely reminded of my need to forgive. How could I continue to ask for Calico’s and the baby’s health, and not do something
that was done for me? UGH! My spirit groaned within me.



My mind was torn between Cali, Johnny, and the need I felt to be at the ranch during harvest. I knew the ranch was in good hands with Korupt Karl seeing to things, but this was a struggle too, letting someone else be in control of something I loved so dearly. That’s when it hit me, I wasn’t in control of Cali’s health, not matter how much I loved her. I had to turn her over to the Great Spirit, as well as my hatred for Johnny. That night I went outside and stared at the stars, how could the Great Spirit, who had made the stars care so much for me? And I was one of the lucky ones to have accepted his gift, it was Johnny who needed it too. My thoughts went to the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter sliced off the ear of a guard of the Pharisee’s. He had been trying to take the man’s head off, and then Jesus picked up the ear and put it back, healed completely. Then when the Pharisee’s asked if Jesus was who He said He was, He answered, “I AM” to which the Pharisee’s and their guards were all thrown to the ground by the mere mention of the “Great I Am.” I here I was struggling with worry about Cali and the baby, and if I should forgive or not, I feel to my face and gave it all to Him.



When I arose I felt a great weight lifted from me. There were some things I needed to do though. Biblepuncher had known Johnny
for years and was ready to vouch for him. That would be good enough for me. Plus, he would be in close contact with Biblepuncher, something I knew
would be good for him.



Cali was still visiting with everyone when I went back to Lil’s, When I saw Laura and Little Flower I knew that there was something that I had forgotten, Sally! I excused myself and headed off to Hattie’s place. As I walked through the door to her place I felt several pairs of eyes on me, my eyes searched the room until I spotted Sally. I motioned to Hattie that we needed to talk. She said she had been expecting me, she had seen the way Cali and I had be watching Sally and knew that we felt the need to help the young girl. I offered Hattie $500 for the young girl's freedom. Hattie stepped back, shook her head no, “I wish I had had someone to wanted to take me in when I needed it. If she’ll go with you I’ll not stop her.”



Now for the hard part, I didn’t understand the least thing about women, especially young ones, how was I going to pull this off? I motioned for Sally to join me, the look on her face was pure terror, it calmed a bit when I asked her to join me on the porch outside. We sat on the step, and I asked her, “ if
there was anything in the world that she could ask for, what would it be?” Her eyes got real big, “I want to be little again, but with a good family who would love me.” Was her short answer. “We can give you half of that if you want, we can’t make you a child again, but we can offer you a family that will love
you unconditionally.” “Do you want to think about it?”



Sally’s eyes were still big as saucers but now they were full of tears, “How soon can I come to be part of your family?” was her quick reply. I told her we could go join them right now if she’d like, and then part of her childhood returned as she sprung to her feet and jumped off the stairs in one move. She looked down at her clothes and started to well up to cry. "Cali will make sure you get to go shopping in the morning for new clothes" I told her. "Now, let's go meet your new family."

 

That walk from Hattie's place to Lil's was one of the most enjoyable walks I'd ever taken, for as shy as Sally had been, you'd never have known it now. I didn't want our walk to end but I was sure looking forward to seeing everyone's faces when the two of us walked through Lil's front door.

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To my surprise, the family came back again right after dinner. Karl was with them this time, he had wanted to come discuss some things with Cheyenne and the kids wanted to come with him, so Biblepuncher and Cora agreed
to another trip to town. The only one that wasn't there was Lone Wolf. When I asked why, Karl told us, "Well, I had to take him back to his camp, and suggest that Running Bear keep him there at least overnight. He and Ike started fighting, or at least trying to, though some of the other men managed to split them up before either one was able to cause much damage. I told Ike he was restricted to the bunkhouse until he could calm down, and figured I'd let Lone Wolf's brother and grandfather deal with him."


Cheyenne immediately asked, "What in the world were those two fighting about?" but one look at Laura told me all I needed to know. "Those two idiots were fighting over me," the girl admitted, looking rather disgusted. "Ike asked me to go riding with him, and Lone Wolf got all jealous and didn't want me going off with Ike. Then Ike got mad that I was spending so much time with Lone Wolf...he says there's plenty of others that could help him with his English...next thing I knew they were going at each other. If they're going to act like that, I'm not sure I want anything to do with either one of them!"

"Oh honey, try not to be too hard on them, after all, they did it because they both like you. I don't blame you for not wanting them to be fighting, but in a way you should be flattered that they both obviously enjoy your company," I said to her. I understood her feelings, but she needed to get used to the idea of young men wanting her attention, I doubted this would be the end of that experience for her. Cheyenne agreed that Karl had handled the issue in basically the same way he would have, then the two of them continued to talk about the fall harvest for a while. After that, Cheyenne said he wanted to take a short walk, as he had things he wanted to think about. I knew he was missing the ranch, and felt the need to be there at such a busy time of the year. I decided that as soon as I got the chance to talk to him alone, I would suggest that he return home, and just come visit me in the evenings with the kids. No real need for both of us to be stuck in town, and I was doing fine so far, Doc had even said as much when he had come for my daily checkup. I also was aware that he hadn't quite made up his mind whether or not Johnny could be trusted, but I figured that if Biblepuncher was willing to give the man a second chance, that was good enough for me.

It was a while before Cheyenne came back inside, but he was only in for a few seconds, then he turned around and left again, muttering something about, "Forgot something, be right back." I had no idea what he might have forgotten, but I trusted it must have been important. Besides, Mathew had finally decided that he wanted mama to hold him for a while, and I was busy trying to get him settled on my lap. That wasn't all that easy, considering that Sarah was already there, and the two of them were getting big enough to not easily fit on my lap at the same time. But I knew that I wouldn't be able to hold them both on my lap at the same time for much longer, and by the time this baby was born the twins would be too big to hold both at once.

I was beginning to think that Cheyenne would not make it back in time to tell everyone goodbye, as they needed to head home, when the door opened again. It was Cheyenne, but he was not alone, he stood aside to let someone else come in first. I was shocked to see it was Sally, and at first she had a huge smile on her face, but as everyone noticed her and started staring, her smile faltered and she looked too shy to come any farther into the room. Cheyenne didn't hesitate though, he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into the parlor, saying, "I've got good news, Sally has agreed to come be part of our family. She needs a fresh start in a good home, and I know you'll all make her feel welcome."

I wasn't so sure about that, and I could tell I wasn't the only one. Part of our family...what was that man thinking? I knew he was as concerned about the girl as I was, but I had thought more along the lines of us helping her find a respectable job, something more suitable for a girl her age. I certainly didn't recall agreeing to the idea of us taking her in! Didn't we have our hands full enough already? Biblepuncher, Cora, Karl, Eddie, Little Flower, Laura, and Lil all looked as shocked as I felt, and no one seemed to be able to think of anything to say.

Cheyenne continued on, "I thought for now she could sleep on the larger couch in the parlor, then once the wedding is over and Eddie and Little Flower move into their new house, then Sally could take Little Flower's spot in with you, Laura. I'll talk to Schoolmarm as soon as I get a chance about seeing where Sally is in her schooling, and maybe you can help her get caught up if she needs it. And Karl, she'll need her own horse as well, can you see if we have any spare mares that are really easy to ride that might be good for her? Oh, and the most important thing, Calico, I told her that you'd see to it that she got some new clothes first thing tomorrow, if you don't feel up to taking her shopping yourself maybe Cora or Lil could give her a hand."

"Well, um, new clothes are definitely a good idea...." I started, but didn't know what else to say. Laura looked like she was about to explode, and I could tell the idea of having to share a room with Sally didn't exactly sit well with her. Little Flower had her arm around Eddie and was holding him tightly, I think to make sure he wasn't going to pay any attention to the now former soiled dove. I doubted that Little Flower had anything to worry about, unlike what the rest of us would go through if I couldn't convince Laura to accept the idea of Sally moving in. Finally the fact that the rest of us weren't as enthused about the idea as he was started sinking in to Cheyenne, though Sally had caught on right away and seemed on the verge of tears. When I saw the disappointment in my husband's eyes, I felt guilty right away. He was just trying to help her, and I realized I needed to try and trust his judgment on the matter.

"One of us will take you shopping as soon as you get here tomorrow, and we'll make sure you have some new clothes," I said, giving her a smile, "But for now, you might get rather chilly on the ride back to the ranch. Lil, do you by chance have a warm shawl Sally could borrow for the evening?" Lil said she did, and went to fetch one, so at least the girl would be able to cover up a little. Unfortunately I knew it would take more than just a shawl to help her adjust to life on the ranch, as well as for the family to accept her as one of us. I think the only one that didn't have any trouble with that was little Rose, who was more than happy to give her new "sister" a big hug, but then Rose and the twins were the only ones that didn't have a clue about Sally's past. I think even Tommy realized she was one of those women that decent people didn't want anything to do with, even if he didn't understand why.

After everybody had left (with Laura and Sally keeping as far away from each other as they could get), Cheyenne told me to go ahead and go lay down, that he would come join me in a few minutes. As I got changed for bed, I prayed that the Lord would help guide me in doing whatever necessary to help Sally put her former life behind her. I wanted to talk to Cheyenne a bit more about the whole thing, but by the time he finally came into the room I was already half asleep. As I started dreaming, I was again visited, this time by both of his parents. Frank told me "That girl needs both of you, don't be afraid to open your hearts to her, you may find that you will be blessed in ways that haven't occurred to you yet." Lives Again followed that up by saying "Trust that the Great Spirit will help see you through this, it will not be easy but it will be worth it."


After that I woke up for a while, but by then Cheyenne had fallen asleep himself. I snuggled up to him, and I felt a gentle peace come over me, and knew that I was going to be ok with the idea, I just needed to make sure to let him know that first thing in the morning. But we'd definitely need to have a long talk about how to convince Sally and Laura to get along....

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Well, I told you I didn't know a thing about girls, especially young girls. To say that I was disappointed with the reactions from Laura, Little Flower, and even Calido threw me a bit. Heck, I almost felt like I was back on that crazy bull again. Up and down, turn this way and that, what next? I finally got the idea that they weren't to happy with my idea of giving Sally a home, but where in the world did Little Flower and Laura think they may have wound up if not for the ranch.

 

Before they all started for the ranch I pulled Laura and Little Flower apart, and they didn't like leaving Eddie with Sally and the others, but you know what? I didn't really care! I asked each of them where they thought they may have ended up if it were not for us taking them in. They both started telling me of the path they would have taken, and everything would have been just fine. Really? I asked them. I reminded Laura that her father had been a rustler and had it not been for Calico seeing something in him he would have hung. No one would have hired the son of a cattle rustler to sweep a floor in a saloon and she may have found herself in the same predicament as Sally had been in. By the time I turned to Little Flower she had already lowered her head and I could hear her whimpering.

 

I then told them of how I expected them to behave with Sally, who had had it much rougher than either of them could begin to fathom. Then I hugged them both and told them how much I loved them and sent them back to the group for the trip home. Before they left though I got Karl aside and laid out what I expected out of the men as well, and in no uncertain terms either. Most of the men were on the ranch in the form of a second chance and I let him know I would deal with any indecent actions myself. I think Karl got my intent pretty clearing because all he said was, "You got it kemosabe!"

 

I waved them all goodbye as Biblepuncher and Cora were wrapping Sally in a blanket from Biblepuncher's bedroll. My heart lifted a great deal when I saw Sally between Little Flower and Laura, I could only hope! I was beginning to think that my father should have named the ranch The City of Refuge. I almost chuckled at that and made my way back to Lil's where I found Cali already asleep. I was pretty assured that she would understand, at least I hoped so.

 

I fell asleep easily that night, and it wasn't long before I was soaring as an eagle, but not alone this time. The updraft made it so that I didn't have to do anything by soar and as I did I began to notice that I wasn't alone. I started to count those around me, but then I just went back to soaring through the clouds. It wasn't long after that that I felt a small pair of talons touch down on my back, an eaglet not barely able to fly had managed to rest upon my shoulders.

 

The sun sneaking through the curtains awakened me, or was it the warmth of Calico hugging my back. What was that? A movement from her belly to my back, could it be the little one?

I felt a warm kiss on my neck and Calico's voice in my ear, he's going to be just fine, your parents told me so. I rolled over and the two of us laid there hugging for what seemed like an eternity. The ranch could wait.

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In the morning we laid in bed for quite a while, just holding each other and occasionally feeling the baby move. I told Cheyenne about my dream, and I was glad to find out that he believed me. It was mid morning when there was a knock at the door, it was Lil telling us, "Doc is here to see you, should I ask him to wait?" "No," I said, "might as well get it over with, he gets cranky if I don't let him see me right away." No sooner had I finished talking when the door opened and Doc came in. "Glad to see that you're finally starting to cooperate with me, especially considering how your two oldest won't quit bugging me about letting you go home. How are you feeling this morning?"

I told him I was doing just fine, and so was the baby, but of course he didn't listen to me and proceeded with his usual thorough examination. I wasn't thrilled about it, but Cheyenne just reminded me that I had promised to obey the doc's orders this time around. After Doc was finished with me he checked Cheyenne's ribs, and agreed that as long as Cheyenne felt up to it there was no reason he couldn't return to the ranch. Then he looked back at me, and informed me, "You, missy, need to stay here at least two or three more days. But I understand that your latest experiment in generosity needs new clothes, so I suppose as long as you take the wagon to the store and don't try carrying anything, a short trip won't hurt. But make it short, and don't hesitate to sit down if you start feeling any pain or weakness."

It wasn't long before I had more visitors, Cora had brought the twins, Rose, and Sally with her this time. Sadie was with her as well, she was going to return home that day but still had some time before she needed to catch the train. I asked about the others, and Cora explained, "Well, Eddie and Little Flower are so sure that you'll be home in time for the wedding they decided to go make sure everything is ready at the cabin, and said they'd ride in later this afternoon to visit you. I decided it would be best if Laura returned to school, if she wants to come with the other two afterwards that's up to the three of them. I was going to let Tommy come with us, but I guess there's some big test today that he had studied really hard for, so he decided to go with his sister and asked me to explain it to you. I told him I didn't think you'd object."

"No, of course not, that's fine, I should be home soon anyway," I said, but I had to stop myself from asking why Cora had insisted that Laura go to school. I had seen the look on Sally's face when Cora had been talking, and I had the feeling that things had not gone well after they had left. Cheyenne had told me about the talking to he had given Laura and Little Flower, but I knew that getting the three of them to get along wasn't going to be all that easy. I also knew that unless things got way out of hand, it would probably be best to let them work it out for themselves, any friendship that might grow would do better without interference from any of the adults.

We headed down to the new dress shop on Main Street, and went inside. Cora and Sadie carried the twins, and I let Rose hold my hand, Doc hadn't said anything against that. This shop hadn't been open for very long, and I hadn't been in it before. I was rather dismayed to find out it was owned by none other than Mrs. Dixon, I had never really gotten over the rude way she had treated Little Flower, but Sally needed new dresses, and soon. When Mrs. Dixon saw Sally, she turned up her nose and informed me, "I'm sorry, but I don't carry anything intended for someone like her, I run a decent establishment here. Maybe you would be best to go elsewhere....?"

"I'll be the judge of whether or not you have anything that's good enough for this young lady," I growled, "unless you don't like the idea of making any money? I can make sure that a whole lot of ladies never set foot in here...." Well, that shut her up right away, and Cora and I started helping Sally pick a few things that she liked, but that were a lot less revealing than what she had to wear at the brothel. It was kind of fun, the poor girl was so grateful that we were getting her even one nice dress, much less letting her pick several, that her excitement was contagious. While we were in there a couple of other ladies came in, and it was obvious from their expressions that they didn't think much of Sally. I just whispered to her to ignore them, they weren't perfect either, and there was no shame in doing what you needed to do to survive if you had no other choice. Before long we were heading back to Lil's with Sally's new wardrobe, and the hug she gave me for buying it for her was priceless. Underneath that soiled dove exterior was a shy, scared little girl that just wanted to know that someone, anyone, cared that she was alive, and I knew that Cheyenne had in fact made the right choice. Now, to convince everyone else of that....

We had a pleasant visit, then Sadie had to leave to catch her train. The others stayed until mid-afternoon, then left so that the twins could be put down for a nap. Later in the afternoon I heard the sound of three horses outside, so obviously Laura had decided to come with Eddie and Little Flower. After inquiring about how things were going at the cabin, I came right out and asked what was on my mind. "Ok, spill it, I get the feeling something happened this morning between you girls and Sally, and I want to know what." All three teens looked very uncomfortable, and the girls didn't seem to want to tell me, so finally Eddie had to speak up. "Well, these two were trying to be nice to her like Cheyenne told them to, but when we came down for breakfast this morning Sally looked out the window and saw the tipis in the distance, and then she got all upset. She started asking why we had indians so close, and weren't we worried that they would come and scalp us in our sleep, and crazy things like that."

Laura spoke up at that point, "I asked her if she didn't realize that Father is half-Cheyenne, and she said she did, but since he was half white she figured he was different. I pointed out that she'd been in the same room as Little Flower and Lone Wolf and that they hadn't hurt her any, but turns out she thought they were half white too, since they were dressed like the rest of us. We had to tell her that no, they weren't, and in fact Lone Wolf had borrowed the clothes he was wearing that day from Eddie, he normally didn't wear them. Turns out she's scared half to death of indians, kind of ridiculous if you ask me, considering that you and Father are letting her stay with us. Are you two sure this is such a great idea?"

"Yes honey, I still think it's a good idea. She may just not have ever been around any indians, and chances are that she was never taught anything good about them. How about instead of getting mad at her for it, you use this as an opportunity to help her get over her fears? Teach her something about them, and maybe then she'll understand that she doesn't have anything to worry about from Running Bear and his family. Sally hasn't had the best life up to this point, but there's no reason that we can't help her get past all that and learn to get along on the ranch, with everyone living there."

I wasn't too sure that I had gotten my point across to the three of them, but I knew that Sally's reaction to her new neighbors was probably very upsetting to Little Flower, so I understood both sides. Now to just figure out a way to find some common ground between them...but how? I did have one idea, I knew that Sally was totally fascinated by the twins, and Two Birds had just had a baby girl. Maybe once I got home I could go up there to pay a visit to her to see the baby, and take Sally with me. The girl was not as likely to be as scared of Two Birds and her children, so I'd have to talk to Running Bear ahead of time and make sure that he and Lone Wolf were elsewhere at the time. I couldn't very well ask Stands Alone to go somewhere else, but hopefully he'd let Sally and I visit with his granddaughter alone.

After cautioning the teens to please show Sally some patience, we went on to talk about other things, then they headed home. I had all sorts of thoughts running through my head on things to do to help Sally adjust. I also decided to see if Biblepuncher could have a few talks with the girl, I had the feeling there were a few stories in that Bible of his that just might help in getting through to her....

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I was torn between returning to the ranch or staying with Cali, but in my heart it wasn't really that tough of a decision. Karl had a good grip on running the ranch, but those kids were getting me to the point of praying for patience. I knew better than that though, the last time I had prayed for patience, I sure got it, after being taught it! I couldn't leave Cali in town alone, so the kids would have to get through this alone, maybe one of them had prayed for patience! I almost laughed at the lesson they would receive if they had!

 

I excused myself from Cali and went to see Captain Baylor at the fort. I had been hearing bits and pieces about some of the uprisings to the east and in the Powder River Valley that had me concerned. I had no fear of any local tribes, but I didn't have a clue if the troubles from those areas might work they way towards us. I wanted to let him know about Running Bear and his small party staying at the ranch and to assure him that all was well, which he had already heard and was impressed with the way Running Bear had tracked down and brought in Johnny and had watched the way that Lone Wolf had behaved in town during the rodeo. He did share my concern about the troubles to the east and northwest, but as of the present he wasn't to concerned with it spreading to us, unless.....

 

After sharing a few beverages with the captain I returned to Lil's to find Cali with the kids, which I decided that this I where I needed to be for now. With my rib I didn't need to be doing much anyway. I would just enjoy being with Cali and the kids, something I didn't often get to do.

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The next couple of days passed slowly, I was just too anxious to get home and the clock seemed to be standing still. It helped a little that Cheyenne decided to stay with me, I would have missed him terribly if he had returned to the ranch, even though I would have understood if he had gone back. I was glad that he had taken the time to go see Captain Baylor though, I had an errand to run that I wanted to do alone. While we had been in Denver, I had ordered a special present for Eddie and Little Flower for their wedding, and arranged to have it delivered to the general store here. So after Cheyenne left for the fort, I told Lil I was going for a little walk and headed to the store to see if the package had arrived yet. It had, and I was really impressed, it had turned out even better than I had hoped. It was a family Bible, with their names embossed in gold lettering on the front. It was beautiful, and I was really hoping that they would like it.

Lil had been a little concerned about me walking so far, especially by myself, but I felt the exercise might actually do me some good. I was feeling just fine, nothing else had gone wrong, and I was starting to get a slight case of cabin fever being cooped up at Lil's house. It was a fine fall day, and it was good to get some fresh air. I had some time to think on the way there and back, and I made up my mind that I was going to make it home in time for the kids' wedding to be held at the cabin, and I wasn't going to let Doc or any one else stop me. I had Lives Again's assurance that the baby was just fine, and that was good enough for me.

I had other reasons I needed to go home as well, not the least of which was missing all my kids. Karl had sent word that Lone Wolf had not yet returned to the house for his English lessons, and that concerned me. Karl had just wanted the boy and Ike to both calm down a little after their fight over Laura, and didn't mean for Running Bear to not let his brother come back. Karl thought it best to leave discussing it with Running Bear to me and Cheyenne, and I wanted to get that out of the way as soon as possible. It was normal for young men to get jealous when they liked a girl, and we certainly didn't want Lone Wolf to feel that he wasn't welcome at the ranch house any more. From what I heard from Cora, Ike was starting to show a little interest in Sally, which didn't exactly sit well with Laura, but might go a long way in preventing another fight with Lone Wolf. I was actually very thankful that Little Flower had fallen in love with Eddie, at least that was one daughter we didn't have to worry about!

Cora had also told me that Schoolmarm had talked to Sally, and had found out that the girl didn't know how to read or write, and that she had never been to school. I certainly understood that, I hadn't learned how until Cheyenne had taught me. I was determined that Sally would have the same chance I did, but since it might be a little embarrassing for her to attend the school when even the youngest students could read better than she did, Schoolmarm had suggested she work with Sally separately after the regular classes were over, until the girl could catch up at least a little. I was planning on helping her too, after all if Cheyenne hadn't helped me I still wouldn't know how. I was beginning to realize that Sally was going to be a lot of work for all of us, but in my heart I knew it would be worth the effort someday.

The next afternoon, though, I received a note that sent shivers up my spine. One of the other woman from the brothel had delivered the note to Lil's, but refused to stay any longer than necessary to hand the note through the door. Lil brought it to me, and to my horror Hattie had written a warning...a man claiming to be Sally's father had shown up at the brothel that morning looking for her. Hattie assured me that she had told the man simply that Sally had moved on, and that Hattie didn't know where she had gone, but the madam warned that she wasn't so sure that the man believed her. I knew that Lil would never tell any stranger that Sally was staying at our ranch, but I also knew that Mrs. Dixon and a few others had seen us shopping together, and could probably put two and two together and figure out where the girl had gone, but would that man find and ask any of them? There was always that possibility, so as soon as I could I knew I had to get word to Sheriff Tom about the situation. If Sally's father had abused her like I suspected he had, there was no way I was letting him anywhere near her, and if necessary I would make sure he'd never hurt another young girl that way ever again....



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After my meeting with Captain Baylor I went to the saloon, not for a drink but to listen to any gossip that may spring from the mouths of
the men drinking there. I had found trips like that to be exceptionally useful in garnering information not normally found around town. Liquor
certainly loosened mens' tongues.

 


One drunk did get my attention, seems like he was looking for his daughter, Sally. The hair on the back of my neck stiffened as I heard him talk, I dearly wanted to slide my knife between and upward through the man’s ribs. Casey motioned for me to the bar so that we could speak , and he told me that the man had been there all afternoon bragging about what a good father he had been. I told Casey to keep an eye on him and asked him to start giving the man watered down liquor until I could return with the sheriff.

 

To my dismay the sheriff wouldn’t arrest or even run the man out of town, saying he needed a reason to do so and that for now he didn’t have a reason to do so. I left the sheriff’s office incensed at the failure to have the man at least locked up, but I swore I wouldn’t let Cali know a thing about it for now. If we were all lucky the man would get in a fight in the saloon and die there. One could only wish!

 

Cali later told me about Lone Wolf, and I understood how the young brave felt. Even with the Culpepper name I had felt the wrath of those who only knew that I was a half breed. I did have some confidence that Running Bear would be able to deal with his young brother, but there was a small part of me that was worried about the young brave. I knew that it would be soon when we could return to the ranch and we could deal with it then, and hopefully nothing would acerbate the situation.


We had an enjoyable evening, and sleep came easily that night. Though during my dreams a buzzardkept appearing, constantly looking for an easy meal.



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When we went to bed that night, Cheyenne drifted off rather quickly, but I was much too restless. I was worried about Sally and Lone Wolf, and about getting the wedding off on time. All this forced rest and good behavior was starting to get to me, in a way I wished I could get in trouble somehow, maybe just a little anyway. I was so used to it that it seemed strange not to! But I knew that wasn't the greatest idea in the world right now, so I tried to relax and cuddle up to Cheyenne, but for some stranger reason he seemed to be trying to push me away when I did. That had never happened before, and it sure didn't help my mood any.

When I finally did manage to fall asleep, I again saw Lives Again. I was beginning to expect her, so it was no surprise. It did rather shock me when she warned, "Cheyenne sees danger approaching, and his instinct is to protect you however necessary, even if it means pushing you away from it. Do not be upset with him, as he is doing it out of love. But do not let your guard down, it may be that he can protect you, or it may be that you will need to protect yourself, as well as those entrusted to your care. You both need to be prepared, and do whatever is necessary for those you love. All will be well in the end, but it won't be an easy road."

 

I woke up rather upset, as I wasn't sure what she had meant about danger coming our way. Was she referring to Sally's father? Or was it a reference to the troubles that were popping up with some of the tribes that Cheyenne had told me about? Or maybe it was something totally unexpected, I just wasn't sure and that didn't make me feel much better. Yesterday, with Lil's help I had been able to send word to the ranch for Sally to stay put, and for Doc to get his rear to town and clear me to go home. Well, Sally listened to me, but when Cora arrived with the twins she let me know that Doc refused to come until tomorrow, so I was stuck for one more day. Oh boy, was I more than a little upset about that, and for a while I tried to demand that Cheyenne take me home anyway, and if Doc didn't like it, well, that was his problem!

Cheyenne, Cora, and Lil finally got me calmed down, but it wasn't an easy task for them. Cora tried to tell me that patience was a virtue, well, I told her I had never been that concerned with being virtuous before and I saw no reason to start at this late a date. Cheyenne refused to consider my request, and I was a little upset with him when I noticed that although he kept a straight face, his eyes betrayed the fact he was trying hard not to laugh. Later when we were alone I confronted him about it, and his reply was, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but wonder if it's the kids you're missing so much...or our new indoor water hole....", and then he did burst out laughing.

Oh, that man and his one track mind....I was going out of my mind being stuck in town, and all he could think of was.....oh, he was gonna pay for that one sooner or later! I was half tempted to tell him that I'd changed my mind about taking the one piece of Doc's advice that up til now I had refused to even consider, that Cheyenne keep his hands to himself until after the baby was born, and then some. Six or seven months of that just might teach him a lesson....

 

Needless to say I was still a little upset and a lot nervous the next morning when Doc finally pulled up in front of Lil's house in the buggy. Was he finally gonna give me permission to go home, or was I gonna have ta hurt him and anyone else that stood in my way....?

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