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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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Well, that twinkle wasn't a twinkle at all, but a full blown fire a raging in her eyes! Dang it, it wasn't me who told Buford to pee on the captain's boots! What's more I could have shot him dead on the spot for flirting with my wife, whether she was liking it or not! Lu Sing then whispered in my ear, "It might be "the curse" time, I thought it was funny too."

 

Then I got to thinking about Calico riding off alone, in the past that never seemed to work out well when she had done that and I thought I might be able to head off serious trouble if I went after her before she got into trouble, again. I went out on the front porch to head for the barn to saddle Blackie to find that Karl had already saddled him and had him waiting for me. "I figured you would be needing to go for a ride to so I got him ready, even trotted him around the barn a couple times to warm him up for you" Karl told me as he handed me the reigns. I took off on Blackie and headed in the direction that Calico had taken and had only gone a few hundred yards when I heard a gunshot from the ranch. I swung Blackie around to see Doc Eells on the porch waving frantically towards me. I looked over my shoulder in the direction that Cali had taken and kept my gaze fixed there for a few seconds and then urged Blackie back towards the ranch at a full run. The stallion responded immediately and I was back at the house in a few seconds.

 

Doc was still on the porch and he quickly told me "It's your father, he said it's time to head for the mountain." I heard Karl swear under his breath and I handed him Blackie's reigns and asked him to go after Calico. The stallion stood nearly straight up as Karl mounted him and with Karl hanging on for dear life the two of them were but a cloud of dust in no time at all.

 

My heart was in my stomach as I walked into the den where my father was seated in his favorite chair with Hop Sing and Lu at his side. Through his pale lips he told me, "I hate to do this to you son, but it's time, they're already fetching you mother's buckboard for the trip." I knelt before him and taking his hand told him nothing else mattered right now and trying to hold back the tears kissed his hand as he rubbed my head with his other hand.

 

Sodbuster came into the den with news that the buckboard was ready and my Sharps and Winchester were in it too. Lu Sing handed me a sack of food as the men carried my father out to the wagon and gingerly laid him in the back. I stepped up on the front of it and sat into the seat in a daze. "It's going to be a lonely ride" I said to myself and urged the team towards the mountains. I had ridden a spell when I looked over my shoulder towards the ranch to see a column of riders following us, the men apparently couldn't bear the thought of us going alone, but respecting our privacy were staying back. Tears filled my eyes at the thought of the love that the men had for my father. If only Cali were here with me....

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It didn't take long for me to catch up with Jake, and I asked if I could ride with him a little while. The smile on his face was all the answer I needed, and as we rode towards town I started trying to apologize for what had happened that morning. I didn't get to say much, however, when he stopped me, saying, “You've done nothing to apologize for, Calico, and even after what went on I will still treasure the time I got to spend with you, short as it was. As for the men, I wish I had that much loyalty out of all my troopers, some I do but not to that extent. And your husband, well, I can't blame him for being so protective, and to be totally honest I'm more jealous of him than he is of me. He's the lucky one, he gets to have you in his arms whenever he wants...”


I could feel my cheeks growing warm, but I couldn't think of a thing to say. Before I got the chance to say anything, though, I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattle, at the same time my pony did. She suddenly reared up, and I wasn't fully prepared for it, and without a saddle I had nothing to hold on to, and fell off of her backwards. I heard myself scream as I landed hard on one arm, and Jake quickly pulled his pistol and with one shot that snake wasn't going to scare another horse again. Then he dismounted and rushed to my side, kneeling next to me he quickly told me, “Looks like your arm is broken, try not to move it. You think there's any chance someone is close enough to have heard that shot? I'm going to need help getting you back to the ranch safely.”

Even though I was in a lot of pain, I couldn't help but feel grateful to the man, as badly as he had been treated he was still willing to return to the ranch just to help me? If my arm didn't hurt so much I would have been grinning ear to ear. Just then we heard the sound of a horse approaching, and fast. Jake glanced over to see who was coming, just as I heard Karl yell “Get yer carcass away from her, NOW!” I struggled to try and sit up, but Jake wouldn't let me, telling me softly, “No, stay still, I'll handle this.”

Karl reined Blackie in a few yards away from us, and I could see he had his hand on his pistol, and I could tell he had no clue what was going on. I quickly tried to explain what had happened, but it wasn't easy to do with my teeth tightly clenched. Jake stood up and backed off a couple of feet, clearly keeping his hand away from his gun, and he simply told Karl, “Snake spooked her horse, she needs a doctor.” I could tell Karl still wanted to shoot the Captain, but he dismounted and came over to me, and I asked him “Can you please go get Doc Eells? I hurt my arm, and I don't think I can ride.”


Karl just shook his head, and said, “I doubt the doc is still at the ranch, by now I'm sure everyone is following Cheyenne. He's taking Mr. Culpepper up to the mountains. That's why he sent me after you.”

“Cheyenne's taking Frank to the mountains, what the heck for? Frank's in no condition to be going anywhere....”, I started to say, then it hit me. There was only one reason the man would be making that journey, a trip he wasn't going to return from. All of a sudden the pain in my arm was replaced with an even worse one, this time in my heart. I loved Frank dearly, and the thought of not seeing him again was devastating. I could feel the tears starting to fall down my cheeks, and I couldn't say anything else.


Captain Barton clearly had no idea what was going on, so he asked, “Are there any other doctors in the area? I could set her arm myself, but it's going to be very painful, and it would be better to have it done by a doctor, preferably one who could give her something for the pain.”

Karl replied that there was a doctor in Fort Collins, and Captain Barton asked Karl to go fetch him, but Karl refused. “No, you go get Doc Baker, and be quick about it, I'll stay with Calico. Cheyenne don't want you around her anyhow!” I could tell that the Captain certainly didn't like hearing that, but I was in no mood to listen to these two argue about that, or anything else, so I asked Jake to please just do it, so the man got back on his horse and galloped away towards town as fast as he could. Karl knelt down next to me, asking me “Can you walk? The sooner I get you back to the ranch, the better. I just hope that Barton fella has enough sense to just send Doc Baker out here alone, he don't need to come back too....that's the last thing Cheyenne needs to come home to!”

I could tell Karl was furious, and I was afraid of saying anything that might make him even madder. So I just agreed to try and walk back to the ranch with him, he grabbed the reins of both horses and then helped me to my feet. It sure hurt like hell to move, and this wasn't going to be pleasant, but I couldn't just lay there all day waiting for the doctor....as we headed west I tried to forget about the pain in my arm, but I couldn't forget the emotional pain I was feeling. Knowing I wasn't going to be there with Cheyenne when he needed me the most just about broke my heart....

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I was glad that the trail to the mountains was plain enough for the horses to follow on their own, the tears flowing down my cheeks were making impossible for me to see it. I heard the wailfull screech of an eagle overhead and could hardly make it out as it flew towards the mountain too. I was hoping that Karl had caught up to Calico and would soon be joining us on our lonely trip and as I looked over my shoulder to hopefully see them riding to join us they were no where in sight. But the men had formed two colums and were lined up on each side of the wagon, however they were much closer than before and I could tell from the gait of their horses that they would be along side of us soon.

 

I turned back to face the mountains trying to wipe the tears from my eyes and felt my fathers hand tug at my clothing. I turned to hear him say, "Take me to the cabin, that's where I came into this world, it's where I want to leave it too." Then he laid his head back down and closed his eyes. I looked up towards the men and without me ever hearing them the columns were now just off each corner of the wagon. I could see in their faces that they were feeling the strain of loosing my father too.

 

It wasn't long before we reached the cabin, and it as as if it had been all planned out, the men dismounted in unison and stepped forward to help my father to the cabin. At the porch though my father insisted on sitting in a rocker, facing the mountains. He thanked the men for the escort and told them if they wanted that they could return to the ranch before dark. To a man they each told him that they were there for the duration, if that was alright with him. That brought a faint smile to his lips, but then he looked around and his brow narrowed, "Where's Calico?"

"Well, it like this" I started, "she got mad because we didn't care for the captains advances towards her and rode off in a huff, Karl went after her and I would have thought she would have been here by now." Hearing that my father rolled his eyes back and said, "You've got a live one boy, I don't think you'll ever break her either, reminds me of your mother."

 

We had quite a visit there on the porch that evening, everyone telling favorite stories of life on the ranch, each one of them bringing a smile to my father's lips. "Just one more sunrise is all I want to see" he said as we were watching a spectacular sunset, with an ever watchful eagle sitting in the tallest ponderosa pine. I knew this was going to be a heartbreaking night, one that I didn't ever want to end. I kept searching the road that led back to the ranch, where could Cali be? It scared my deeply that I could lose the two of the most important people in my life at the same time, how would I ever....

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Karl and I had made it almost all the way back to the ranch house before the doctor caught up with us, and to Karl's dismay Captain Barton was with him. Jake was not real happy that we hadn't stayed put, and that Karl had gotten me to walk so far. They were starting to get into another argument when Doctor Baker told them both, “Hey, do you two think you can knock it off long enough to help me get Mrs. Culpepper into the house? I didn't come all this way to watch you go at each others' throats, and the sooner I can get that arm looked at, the better.”

Well, that shut them both up pretty quick, and it wasn't long before we were in the den, and Doctor Baker was looking at my arm, and asking me if I thought I had any other injuries. I told him I had a couple of minor scrapes, but nothing that needed treating beyond a good cleaning. All the kids were gathered in the hall, they were already upset about Frank and now they were worried about me, but I assured them I was gonna be fine.

The doctor examined my arm, then told me he wanted to take me upstairs before setting it, as he was going to give me some laudanum and it would be easier to get me up to my room before doing that. Both Karl and Jake leaped to their feet to assist me, and that set off another argument, but I quickly asked Eddie to help me instead, to shut the two men up. Both men insisted on coming upstairs though, and Doctor Baker said that would be ok as long as they both behaved, but I doubted that either one of them cared much what the sawbones thought.

After I had gotten settled in my room, the doctor got ready to treat my arm, and as he was doing so he told me that before he left, he would show Little Flower and Laura how to make some mush that would be easy for the twins to eat, that they were going to have to have their first taste of solid food. I didn't understand why at first, so he explained that he didn't want me nursing them again until after the laudanum was out of my system, like maybe tomorrow at the earliest. I wasn't real happy about that, but realized that what he was saying made sense. The girls both promised that they would everything they could to take care of the babies until I could do it myself, and I appreciated hearing that.

Before I drank the laudanum, I did ask Karl to promise that as soon as the doctor was finished, that he would leave and go after Frank and Cheyenne. “And leave you alone with the Captain? Are you insane, Calico? Cheyenne will skin me alive if he finds out....” Karl tried to say, but I cut him off. “Just what do you think is going to happen? I know you don't trust Jake, but how about trusting me a little? Besides, I got seven of the best little chaperones in the world to keep an eye on me! Cheyenne is gonna need you far more than I will,” I insisted, and he finally agreed to take Blackie and go looking for Cheyenne and Frank and the other men.


The laudanum tasted awful, but as it started taking affect I was glad for the relief from the pain in my arm. It only took a little while until I was feeling no pain at all, which was probably a good thing, because without it the pain probably would have been excruciating when Doctor Baker started working on my arm. He got it set, and put a splint on it, but I hardly knew he was doing anything, I was so out of it by then. My last two thoughts before I finally lost consciousness were how long was Jake going to stay, and just what was Cheyenne doing right now....

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Just after the sun set I heard the sound of a horses and a wagon coming towards the cabin. The men rose and starting walking toward the sound to greet whoever it was that was approaching, I stayed with my father but all the while I was sure as anything that it was Calico. I could hear Karl through the darkness, then Mr. and Mrs. Winchester voices, Hop Sing and his wife's voices, but not the voice I was so eagerly yearning to hear. Karl made it to the porch first and knelt in front of my father and said some things to my father that no one else could hear.

My father messed up what was left of Karl's hair then laid his head back and closed his eyes.

 

The Sings were next to make it to the porch, Lu had been balling her eyes out but somehow managed to regain her composure as she neared my father. She bent down and gave my father a long slow hug and kissed him on the cheek as she straightened up to make room for her husband who had been waiting patiently and wiping the tears from his eyes. He bent down and kissed my father on his forehead and then spoke something in Chinese that made my father quietly chuckle.

 

Meanwhile Karl pulled me off the porch to tell me that Calico was safe, but and then he hesitated. "But, But what?" I stammered. Well, she was thrown off of her horse and that soldier boy was bent all over her, I tell you I almost shot him dead, but Calico stopped me and explained about the snake and hitting the ground on her arm. I didn't want to leave her at the ranch with him, but she insisted that I join you and your father. "She was right Karl, she's a big girl and I'm sure everything will be alright," I lied slightly to Karl. But right then didn't have room in my heart to doubt Calico or worry about her behaving properly. She always had before I assured myself.

 

The Winchesters joined Karl and myself and as they started speaking Karl excused himself. Cora would have joined us but with Calico hurt she wanted to stay in case she could help in any way possible. But they were sure that she stayed because the captain had returned, however they weren't sure who she wanted to watch, the captain or Calico, or maybe both of them. I tried to act like I really cared why Cora had stayed behind, but in my heart I couldn't have cared less.

 

I took my seat next to my father who gave me a weak smile before he leaned his head back, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. The men had built a fire out from the cabin and were sitting in a circle quietly continuing to tell stories, of course Karl was embellishing how he almost had shot the captain.

 

I awoke just before sunrise, the sunrise that I didn't want to come. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes I heard soft hooves nearby, I strained my eyes to try to see who was approaching, it was a band of Shoshone braves and as they neared I could see the smudges of ash on their faces. They had come to show respect for my father. Apparently they had seen us on the way to the cabin the day before and had chosen sunrise to do so. One by one they approached my father, quietly spoke to him and moved out to the fire where the men were still sitting and then began a soul wrenching chant. The men all looked at each other and then began joining in the chant with the Shoshone.

 

My father looked at me and said, "It's going to be a good day to start walking on the streets of gold and seeing your mother again." Just then the sun broke the horizon in an amazing spectacular display of colors. We all watch it spellbound by the colors until I heard my father's breathing become rapid and shallow, and then a smile came across his face and he stepped onto the streets of gold to meet my mother again. The Shoshone's chant changed as they became aware and it turned into an even more soul wrenching sound than the night before that continued until the sun was above the horizon.

 

I could only fall to my knees and thank the Great Spirit for honoring my father's wish to see the sunrise from the mountain cabin once more, and then the realization that my father was gone finally sunk into my heart and I knew where the sour wrenching chants of the Shoshone came from.

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It was late afternoon when I finally woke up to the eerie sound of silence, something not often heard around here. I went downstairs, and at first thought that the house was deserted, until I heard a few noises in the kitchen. I walked in there, expecting to see the Sings, but instead found Skipper, she was starting to cook dinner. Noticing me, she asked “How are you feeling, hon?” Are you doing ok?”

“Yeah, I'm all right, I guess....arm still hurts but not as bad. Where is everyone?” Skipper explained to me that all of the men, as well as the Sings and the Winchesters, had followed Cheyenne and Frank west. “Everyone?” I asked, “Oh wonderful, they may be gone a while and those horses ain't gonna wait to be fed.....”

“Oh, don't worry about that,” she told me, “The Captain took all the kids out to the barns, they're getting the chores done. Even Rose wanted to go and try to help. Keep in mind, everyone who went west was either riding or in the wagon, so there's less horses to see to than usual. And don't you even think about trying to help! You aren't to try and ride after everyone either, not with your arm in that splint." I thanked her, and then said I was going to go out to the barns, not to help but just to make sure they didn't forget to do anything. As I walked out onto the front porch, Cora glanced over at me, then went right back to staring at Jake. That was fine with me, I had no interest in starting a conversation with her either. When I got to the barns, I went through every one of them with the Captain, but since Eddie was fully aware of everything that needed to be done, I found that they had all done a good job of getting all the chores done. I sent the kids to get cleaned up for dinner, then turned to thank Jake for all his help.

“It was my pleasure to help out, Calico, and I hope in some small way this helps make up for all the trouble I caused,” he told me, refusing to look me in the eye. “Now, I think I should head back to town. Your husband isn't going to want me here when he gets back, and I have to respect that. If you weren't married, I'd court you in a heartbeat, but I do realize that as things stand there can't be anything between us. It's best that I leave, and I wish you both nothing but happiness. I'm just sorry I didn't meet you a few years sooner.”


With that said he mounted his horse and rode off before I could say a word. It just about broke my heart to see him leave, but I knew he was right. I could never break my vows to Cheyenne, and although I couldn't help but find Jake attractive, nothing could ever come of it. I watched until he was out of sight, then returned to the house to eat. Cora was of course furious that the Captain had left without saying goodbye to her, but I didn't care. I was too miserable myself to really give a hoot what she thought! After dinner, the twins woke up, but Little Flower and Laura insisted on taking care of them, so I went out to sit on the porch for a while. My arm wasn't hurting too bad, but my heart was, so I drank a little of the laudanum, and that seemed to help me forget both the physical discomfort and emotional agony I was feeling. Eddie finally had to help me up the stairs at bedtime, and I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up just before dawn, and went downstairs to the kitchen. Little Flower and Laura were already feeding the babies some more mush, and I noticed that they had also started preparing some breakfast. Eddie came in and told me that after breakfast he and Tommy and Rose were going to feed and water the horses again, and that he intended to ask some of the other children to help. Normally we didn't expect the families of the ranch hands to help out with chores, as only the men were technically on the payroll (with the exception of Schoolmarm), but this was a special situation. I was proud of the way the kids were pitching in, it did help to ease my mind just a little.

We had just about finished eating when the sun came up, and all of a sudden an overwhelming sadness came over me. It was so sharp that it took my breath away for a second or two, and I knew right away that my father-in-law was no longer with us. I quickly glanced at the kids, but the only one who seemed to notice was Little Flower, she was staring straight at me and had turned pale. With tears in her eyes she asked me “Grandfather is no longer with us, is he?” I didn't understand how she and I could know that, but somehow we did. The other kids all quieted down real fast when she said that, except for the twins, who had both started crying the same moment Little Flower and I had felt Frank's passing.

“Yes, your grandfather is gone, honey, but you know he would expect us to take care of the ranch first, there will be time for mourning later. Out of respect for him, you all need to carry on with your chores today, I know it won't be easy but it still needs to be done. Just try and keep in mind that he's in a much better place now, he's no longer sick, and he's reunited with Lives Again. As hard as it is for us to let him go, we should be happy for him.”

The kids quietly went about doing their chores, and I went back up to my and Cheyenne's room. I needed to cry, and I didn't want the kids to see me do it. I couldn't believe how badly I'd screwed up this time, and all I could do was hope Cheyenne had it in his heart to forgive me for not being there when he needed me the most. I wasn't sure that this time he would, though, and as that thought hit me I noticed the laudanum bottle still sitting on the dresser. Last night it had helped me deal with the pain, maybe it would again, so I reached for the bottle one more time....

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Sodbuster Brown, Karl, Prairie Dawg and Blackwater emerged from the barn carrying something and motioned for me to join them. Dang it all but Ol Grizz must have made a wooden casket that was elaborately carved for my father and left it there for us to find. We hadn't seen the old coot for some time but he always had a way of keeping tabs on what was going on. It had mountains carved into the top and a sunset painted with magnificent painted colors. The men carried it over to the porch and after I had finished washing my father's feet and hands, combing his hair, and tidying his clothes we placed him into the casket. The casket was placed onto the buckboard for my father's final journey to one of his favorite places, a spot on a large hill where you could see for miles and you could watch the sunrise and sunset without moving except to turn around. He had prepared it for his burial years ago before I had left on my quest, the quest of which during I had found Calico. Oh how I wished she was with me, the ache in my soul from my father passing over was only compounded by her absence.

 

I took my place on the seat of the buckboard and turned around to check on the men, to my utter amazement they had formed the same two columns that they had on the trip to the cabin, but the Shoshone had also taken places on the outside of each column and all the while continuing their soulful chant. I urged the horses on and we began the final trip to my father's burial site.

 

The sun was directly overhead as we arrived, the men unloaded the casket and carried to the spot, large pieces of shale had been placed over the grave years before and those were lifted out of the way. Ropes were slid under the casket and then the men stepped back waiting for Biblepuncher to say a few things and then close in prayer. When he had finished the men lifted the casket with the ropes and then slowly lowered it into the grave and then throwing the ropes in beside the casket. I stepped up to the grave and threw a handful of dirt into the grave and told my father that I loved him and stepped back as the men started to fill in the grave and then slide the slabs of shale over the top of it. I wasn't sure what color the shale was because of the tears that were constantly welling up in my eyes.

 

As I lifted my head I watched as the men mounted their horses along with the Shoshone then I climbed aboard the buckboard and waved the others to go on before me and they all complied except for the four who had found the casket and they insisted on riding back with me. The Shoshone all filed past me on their ponies and motioned to me as they did and then just as silently as they had arrived they departed.

 

On the trip home each of the four men would take turns sitting on the buckboard with me and we took turns sharing our favorite stories again. Sodbuster though was interested in hearing about my quest because he had been hired on the ranch almost a year after my return. As I shared all that had happened and how I had fallen for Calico that just made my heart ache all they more. What would I find when we finally arrived at the ranch? I really didn't care if the captain was still there or not, I just wanted to see my Calico and to hear her voice.

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The morning passed by in a haze. I could hear Little Flower and Laura taking care of the house and the twins, but they seemed to understand that I needed to be alone, and respected my privacy. I knew I should be out at the barns, supervising Eddie and the other boys, but I just couldn't do it. I just sprawled out on the bed, tears occasionally running down my cheeks, thoughts of both Cheyenne and Jake running through my head even though it hurt to think about either of them.

It was a little after noon when Laura softly knocked on my door, and when I told her to come in she did and handed me a letter. “A boy brought this out from town, the postmaster thought you might want it right away,” she said, giggling, and I got the feeling the boy had been far more interesting to her than the letter. Normally we only got the mail once a week, sending someone into town for that and other supplies every Friday. I wondered why the postmaster would this was important enough to send out by messenger....until I saw that it was from Morning Star.

I thanked Laura then opened the letter to read it. I didn't figure it was anything urgent, otherwise they would have sent a telegram, but it had been a while since I'd heard from my friend and I was grateful for a little diversion. The letter was filled with news about the Golden Aspen, and all the things that had been happening to them, thankfully all of it good news. Jesse and Pete were going to be marrying the Barrett girls in a couple of weeks, they had decided on a double ceremony. For a moment I wished I could be there for them on their big day, I still thought of them as my brothers, but with Frank's passing I doubted we would be able to go. Morning Star was beginning to suspect that she was pregnant again, and she was thrilled, she and Buick wanted a big family. I said a little prayer at that, hoping that my friend would get her wish.

Then she went on to tell me all about improvements they were making to the ranch, and how they had bought another parcel of land from a neighbor that wanted to move to Texas. Buick wanted to hire a few more hands,
there would be too much work now for the men he had, and they wanted to know if we knew of anyone dependable looking for a job. I thought about that for a few minutes, we weren't exactly overwhelmed with extra hands, but I couldn't help but think it might be a good idea to see if perhaps young Jack Barton would be willing to move down there. Considering what had happened between his brother and I, it would be awfully uncomfortable for both of us for him to continue working here, but he was too good of a hand to fire over something like that. Maybe this would be a good solution that would work out for everyone. I told myself I would have to remember to talk to Cheyenne about it when he came home.....


Cheyenne! What WAS going to happen when he came home? Would he forgive me yet again for another mistake, this one the biggest I'd made so far? Or would he hate me? The uncertainty of it made me feel sick to my stomach. Just then I heard horses approaching, lots of them, so I went and looked out the window. I could see that the men were returning, and for once they were all pretty quiet. I hoped to see Cheyenne among them, I was dreading finding out if he was mad at me but wanted to get it over with. But to my disappointment, my husband wasn't with the others, and that terrified me. Did that mean he was so mad that he wasn't coming back to me? What the heck was I gonna do now?


I slowly backed away from the window, crying again, and sat down on the edge of the bed. I needed Cheyenne's arms around me so much, but he hadn't come home....I reached for the bottle of laudanum again, this time wanting it to help deal with the growing realization that I may have pushed my husband too far this time.....

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After telling Sodbuster all about my quest and meeting Calico I found myself pushing the horses harder to get home to Calico. Just as we caught sight of the ranch I saw two riders coming out to meet us, a woman and a man and at first I was hoping that it was Calico but then I remembered that she had broken her arm and wouldn't be riding anytime soon. Turned out that it was Doc Eels and Miss Cora. They pulled up along the buckboard one on each side and they both started talking at the same time, funny thing was they were saying much the same thing and I could understand each of them. They were both highly concerned about Calico and the use of the laudanum that the doctor from town had left with her to deal with the pain. They were worried though that the pain of her arm wasn't all she was using it for and she wasn't coming out of her room much at all.

 

I don't think that my mother's buckboard had ever been driven that fast as I did after hearing of Doc's and Cora's concerns. What in the world was Calico thinking about? Was she still mad because we had had some fun at the captain's expense? I neared the house hoping to see Calico on the porch waiting expectedly for my return, but no Calico and no kids either. I slid the wagon to a stop along side of the porch to the house and leaped from the wagon onto the porch searching frantically for a sight of my Cali. Hop Sing was just inside the doorway and seeing my frantic expression he just pointed upstairs towards our room. I never stopped moving as I swept past Hop Sing and bounded up the stairs down the hallway and into our room. I was relieved to find Calico there, but she was fast asleep. I saw the empty bottle of that laudanum, grabbed it and threw it out the window. I kissed her and started to shake her shoulders lightly trying to awaken her, then a little stronger but still nothing. "Doc" I hollered, "Get up here, Now!" I was getting frantic again. What was taking Doc so long, didn't he know that I needed him up here, now! It must have taken him almost a whole minute to enter the room and it couldn't have been too soon. He reached down and listened to her breathing and then took her pulse his brow furrowed the whole time. "She'll be out for a while" he told me, "you'll just have to wait until it wears off."

 

I was exhausted, the last two days had taken it's toll on me and I didn't have much left within me. I looked down at Calico sleeping there so peacefully, I laid down beside her and gently held her in my arms wondering what was Calico trying to forget that she would take so much of the laudanum. Cora appeared at the door and asked if she could enter. I told her of course and she brought one of the chairs to the edge of the bed. "You have no idea of what's going on do you?" she asked. She read my face quickly, "you've got to pay more attention to her, and going to the water hole isn't enough! She needs you to pay attention to her more of the time, she needs to know that you think the world turns around her."

 

"It does" I tried to start. "No, let her know that she means more to you than anything." Cora finished, and with that she disappeared out of the room and down the hallway passing Little Flower and Laura bringing the kids to see me. I had nearly forgotten them in my desperation to find Calico. I took turns holding them while Little Flower and Laura took turns trying to tell me what they thought was bothering Calico. Dang it, how could I have been so blind and so stupid all at once.

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As I swallowed the last of the laudanum, my only regret was that there was so little left in the bottle. I didn't blame Cheyenne for not coming home to me, but it still hurt worse than anything I'd ever been through. As the drug started taking effect I laid back on the bed and let the tears flow down my cheeks until I lost consciousness.

 

Next thing I knew, I was standing at the foot of a large hill out on the ranch, I remembered riding by it numerous times. I saw that there was a white man standing on the top of the hill, and he had his arm around an indian woman. When they noticed me, the woman leaned over and whispered something to the man, who then started walking down the hill towards me. When he got closer, I realized it was Frank, and that made no sense to me, I knew in my heart that he had passed away. The woman must have been his late wife, did that mean I was dead too?

 

As Frank approached me, I could see he was smiling, but at the same time he looked sad as well. I tried to step forward to give him a hug, but he raised his hand to stop me and just shook his head. "I know you're upset because you didn't get to say goodbye to me, but you don't belong here, not just yet. Please believe me that I forgive you, and so does Cheyenne," he gently said. "I will see you again someday, and I'll get that hug from you then. But for now, Cheyenne needs you, and so do those grandbabies of mine. There's also two young ladies that could use your guidance over the next few years, as well as three other youngsters that just need someone to love and care for them. That's where you belong right now, honey."

 

I shook my head as well, telling him "I'm not too sure I belong anywhere anymore, and Cheyenne didn't come home..."

 

"He will, trust me on that," Frank interrupted me, "You two can work this out, take my word for it. I told you before, there will be times when the two of you don't see eye to eye, and you'll have to learn how to work through those times and put them behind you. As rough as it is to do, it's more than worth it in the long run." Then he turned and smiled up at Lives Again, and she smiled back, then they both just sort of faded away....

 

Then I opened my eyes, and saw that it was dark outside, and pretty dark in the room except for one oil lamp burning softly. I turned my head, and noticed that someone was sitting in a chair beside the bed. It took a few seconds for me to focus enough on the person to tell that it was Doc Eells, and he was quietly watching me. I tried to ask him where Cheyenne was, but my mouth felt like it was stuffed full of cotton balls, and I couldn't get a word out. Doc leaned over and told me, "I'll go get Cheyenne in a minute, first I want to check you over and make sure you're going to be ok. You gave us quite a scare, fer cryin' out loud don't you ever try that again!"

 

"I won't, not as long as he still loves me...", I tried to tell Doc, but I was still having trouble talking and focusing on anything, although I could tell that the door to the hall was starting to open...

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I stayed with Calico and taking turns holding the twins until my stomach really started getting cranky and loudly reminding me that I hadn't eaten all day. I kissed her on her forehead and with Little Flower, Laura and the twins went downstairs to see what Hop Sing might have for us to eat. As the food was being prepared I excused myself and stepped into the den, it was then that it hit me that I was now in charge of the Culpepper Ranch, all of it. I felt a little weak as that knowledge sank in, I was just barely dry behind the ears and I was really wondering how that I was going to handle the responsibility.

 

Hop Sing came into the den and told me that supper was ready, then he reached up and put a hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eyes and told me, "You'll do fine, between you and Calico, and the men will find your way and continue what your father started." "I hope so" I told him and the two of us headed back for the dining room. Lu Sing took the twins into the kitchen so that the three of us could eat, I could sense the concern that the girl's were feeling for Calico and to tell the truth I couldn't help them much. We had never had Laudanum on the ranch before, we had always depended on Lu Sing's willow tea to take care of aches and pains. Well, that and a sip of whiskey now and then.

 

Doc came in out of the darkness and told us he wanted to check up on Calico and then he headed up the stairs. I looked into the girl's faces and I could see that they were doing their bests to hold back the tears. I took them into the den and as the three of us fell on our knees and laid out our heart's desires before God. After hearing the two of them pray the way that they did I would never be able to look at them as children any longer. We lost track of time as we prayed and were only aware of others that had joined us when Doc touched me and told me that Calico was awake.

 

I remember hitting two or three steps and then I was at the door opening it, the first thing I remember seeing were Calico's eyes, wide open, well more like squinting to see who was at the door. I didn't know whether to laugh to cry as I looked at her laying there, arm all bandaged up, her long flowing hair a mess, and squinting. She started, "Cheyenne, I'm so sor.." but I interrupted her thought with a kiss, told her that I was the one who was sorry, and then I told her, "No more going off alone when you're upset. It says to never let the sun go down on an argument and we need to promise each other to hold to that."

 

I wasn't really sure that she was actually understanding a word I said, so I did something I knew she'd understand, I kissed her!

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A voice in the hallway interrupted our kiss, it was Captain Baylor from Fort Collins, "I'm sorry to interrupt you Cheyenne" he spoke with a red face, "But, I heard what happened here the last few days and I had to come out and pay my respects for you father, and I brought Captain Barton with me, I reckon the captain has a few words he wants to say, don't you captain.?"

 

Captain Barton was even more red faced than Captain Baylor, as he stepped into the room I could feel heat in my face and Captain Baylor saw it too, "give the man a chance Cheyenne" the Captain quickly blurted out. I kept quiet, besides I was laying next to Calico, what harm could happen now?

 

I didn't hear much of the captain's apology except for the part about his wife and children! I looked down into Calicos face, oh my, her face had gone from a ashen gray to Cheyenne red! I swear I saw smoke coming out of her nostrils..

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The whole house shook from the force of a massive explosion, the sound was ear splitting.

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I don't know how long I screamed at Jake before both Captains made a run for the staircase and then the front door. I doubted I was even making much sense, and I struggled to my feet to try and follow them down, but I only got as far as the doorway before I couldn't go any farther, I was still more than a little woozy. As I grabbed at the door frame to steady myself I heard two sounds, the first was of the front door slamming, the second was Cheyenne letting out a little scream of his own, but his sounded like he was terrified....

I turned as quickly as I could, just in time to see him jumping up on the chair, and pointing to a spot on the floor in the corner. I squinted hard, and was just able to see that there was a little mouse sitting there, and I couldn't tell who was more scared of who, Cheyenne or the mouse! At first all I could do was laugh, my strong, brave husband frightened of a teeny little mouse? Little Flower had heard the commotion and came running, thankfully it didn't take her long to figure out what was happening, Cheyenne was too scared to say anything and I was too busy laughing. The girl managed to get a hold of the mouse's tail, and took the critter outside to let it loose. After things finally calmed down, Eddie volunteered to go out the next morning and fetch one of the barn kittens that was just getting big enough to hunt on it's own, and bring it in the house. I don't think Cheyenne really wanted a cat in the house, but he wanted another mouse even less, so he finally gave in.


After we went to bed that night, Cheyenne fell asleep rather quickly, but it took me a while to doze off. I had a lot on my mind, and I had gotten an idea in my head that I wanted to think through before mentioning it to him. The next day I spent some time talking to Laura, Tommy, and Rose, and then had a nice long discussion with Cora. The two of us had come to an understanding, she was welcome to flirt with any of the unmarried hands that didn't object, but she was to leave all of the married ones alone, and that included Cheyenne! Cheyenne was gone out on the ranch for most of the day, now that it was his alone he would need to pay even closer attention to everything that was happening, even though he already had been doing a pretty good job of that anyway. Eddie kept his promise to find us a good kitten for the house, a little black one I named Midnight.

After dinner I asked Cheyenne if I could speak to him alone. We went in the den, and he poured some wine for me and a glass of whiskey for himself. After we got settled on the couch, I started explaining to him the idea I'd come up with. I wanted to contact the orphanage in Denver that the Jones kids had been in, and arrange with them for some of the older kids to take turns coming up and visiting the ranch. We were now going to be living in the main house for good, and the house that had been built for us would stand empty, this would at least put the building to a good use. I thought it would be a nice break for the orphans to get out of the city for a while, and although we couldn't offer all of them a permanent home, we could at least give them each a few weeks of fun.


“Now, Cali, don't get me wrong, I think it's really sweet of you to want to do that, and I know the orphans would really enjoy it. But we'll have even more work to do around the ranch than we did before, and I just don't see where we can find time to supervise even more kids than we're already taking care of, and the orphans can't run around unattended,” Cheyenne told me, shaking his head.


“We'll be too busy, but there's no reason we can't hire a governess to stay with the visiting kids. Please at least think it over....”, I said, giving him my biggest smile.

“Well, ok, I'll think about it, but I'm not sure where we're going to be able to find a governess willing to take on a job like this,” was his reply, but at least he wasn't saying no yet.

“Oh, don't worry about that part of it, I've already got that covered,” I informed him, smiling again as I reached down to pick up Midnight and cuddle her on my lap. “I already told Cora she was hired if you agreed to the idea....”

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I was glad that Captain Baylor had dragged Jake back to the ranch and had made him apologise to Calico. I didn't quite understand though just why she had gotten SO mad, what was that all about? I wasn't sure that I wanted to know, but one thing I did know, I had never really made Calico that mad at me and I sure didn't want to either!

 

I spent the day out on the range, not that I needed to do anything, I needed the time to think. Here I was, a half breed, half Cheyenne and half white, and English at that, and I now owned one of the biggest racnhes in the newly crowned state of Colorado. They had wanted my father to get into the politics of forming the statehood of Colorado but that was one of the farthest things from his mind. I wouldn't have the problem of politicians hounding me, it would be interesting to see the look on their faces if I approached them though, but that wasn't going to happen.

 

One thing I had already taken care of was letting Jack go, and I didn't send him to the Golden Aspen either. I'm not sure what went on with Jake, but Jack had brought him to the ranch and for that he had to go.

 

As for Calico's idea of bring orphans out to the ranch and putting them up with Cora as their governess, I knew that it was indeed a good idea, but Cora? really? But then I hadn't told Calico about Cora's actions in Denver when she came into my room, and after seeing Calico explode I wasn't going to either. I had to make sure that Cora didn't open her mouth and let the cat out of the bag either.

 

Cats, the only thing I disliked more than cats were mice! I would bet that any one that was awakened as a child with a mouse gnawing at your toe that they would hate the little vermin too. I would have to tell Cali that the knot holes in the floor really weren't knot holes at all, but bullet holes from where I had shot at the critters.

 

Much of the day was spent in thoughts of my mother and father. Now I was in my father's shoes, and I wanted to make sure that I lived up to the Culpepper name and I wanted to make sure that I continued to treat Cali and the kids as well as I had been treated by my father. Big shoes to fill!

 

We had been getting word of hostillities between the tribes, settlers and troops, I wasn't sure what this was going to mean for us on the ranch. I had close ties with the tribes and the whites, but at the same time I was looked at with a great deal of distrust by each side too.

 

I was looking forward to a good meal and time around the fireplace with my family tonight, and boy did we have a lot to discuss, but I was smart enough to know not to bring up Jake, that would have to be on Cali's terms, if she ever was ready to bring it up. As far as I was concerned it was over. Now Cora, oh boy that would take a lot of care to prevent any problems there.

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I couldn't understand why Cheyenne was so hesitant to discuss Cora, but I was pleased to see that he seemed ok with my idea for the orphans. Cora kept her word about controlling her flirting, maybe she just needed some purpose in her life. At least everyone seemed to be getting along much better, well, except for Cheyenne and Midnight...and I didn't understand that either, the kitten was so cute and it was funny watching her play with the kids. Did he really think it would be better to have more mice in the house?

It took a couple of days for me to really feel better, but finally I felt good enough to take Little Flower and Laura on a trip to town. Summer was winding down, and all of the kids would need new clothes when cold weather arrived. I had promised the two older girls that they could pick the material they wanted, and I would teach them how to sew their own clothes. Since I couldn't ride with my arm in a splint and I also wanted to take the twins, Karl was nice enough to volunteer to drive us in the wagon. Tommy and Rose would stay at the ranch with Cora, if the nuns at the orphanage agreed with my plan, she would need the practice.

When we pulled up in front of the general store, Karl helped me down from the seat, then I held Mathew while he helped Little Flower down from the back. I handed Mathew back to her, and told her to go ahead on into the store, then I took Sarah from Laura so Karl could help her down too. As I was handing Sarah back to her, we all heard someone in the store scream "What are you doing with that baby, you savage? How dare you take a white child away from his mother? Give me that child, this instant!"

It took only seconds for both me and Karl to get to the door, and we almost knocked each other over trying to get in. Inside was a woman I had never seen before, and she was frantically trying to take Mathew away from Little Flower, who was holding her little brother as tight as she could without hurting him. The storekeeper and his wife were both trying to calm the woman down, but she kept calling Little Flower filthy names and demanding she let go of the baby.

 

I shoved the woman back away from Little Flower, and Karl stepped between us, and he kept the woman, whoever she was, from getting close to Little Flower and Mathew again. I yelled at the woman "How dare YOU? These are my children, and you have no business trying to take my son away from his big sister! And watch yer mouth, I ain't gonna tolerate you sayin' those things about my daughter!" I was furious, and I would have punched the ole biddy if my arm hadn't been in the splint. I had the feeling Karl would have liked to punch her as well, but was holding back because she was a female, even if she wasn't acting like a lady.


The woman looked at me in horror, saying "You have a filthy indian for a daughter? Why would you even be willing to admit that in public, much less bring that thing around decent people? Just who do you think you are?"

"That's Mrs. Cheyenne Culpepper, her husband owns the biggest ranch around, and she deserves much more respect than you're showing her, Mrs. Dixon," the storekeeper, Mr. Olson, said, he was as furious as Karl and I were. "By the way Calico, please tell your husband that I heard about Mr. Culpepper's passing, but I haven't seen Cheyenne to give him our condolences yet. Frank was a friend, and he will be missed."

Laura had followed me in with Sarah, and didn't hesitate one second to stick up for her best friend. "Ma'am, I have news for you, Little Flower isn't filthy, she had a bath just this morning, same as I did! And at least she has better manners than you, even if you are an adult!" I was kind of shocked, since Laura was usually really quiet and respectful, but I was proud of her. Mrs. Dixon, however, took one look at little Sarah and just about came unglued again, this time at me.

"You have TWO indian children? How disgusting...." she started, but didn't get to finish that thought, as Karl grabbed her arm and shoved her out the door, telling her "And don't come back, the Culpepper family don't need to put up with the likes of you!"

Both Mr. and Mrs. Olson tried to apologize for what had just happened, but I didn't blame them for Mrs. Dixon's behavior, and told them so. Mrs. Olson offered the two girls each a stick of hard candy, and then started helping us look through the fabrics they had for sale, while Karl started shopping for a few supplies for the ranch. Mr. Olson gave Karl a hand, while telling us "There's no real excuse for Mrs. Dixon's behavior, but I'm afraid there's a few new people around here that feel badly towards indians. Part of it is they don't know any better, and part of it is because of what happened to Custer and his men. But if she can't control herself any better than that towards innocent children, I certainly don't need her business!"

We had heard about the battle that had happened the end of June up north, but how could any sane person blame that on a 14 year old girl? Especially when she was Ute, not Sioux, Cheyenne, or Arapaho. I was starting to get the sinking feeling that this may not be the last time any of us would have to put up with bad attitudes like that. I could tell Little Flower was very upset, but all of us gave her hugs, and tried to convince her not to let it bother her.

Before we left, Mrs. Olson came up with one more idea to help Little Flower forget the unpleasant scene earlier. "Honey, here, take this flyer, and maybe you can convince your folks to let you bake something for the contest at the county fair." Mrs. Olson handed her a piece of paper, and Laura and I read it over her shoulder while Karl carried our purchases to the wagon. It was an advertisement for the upcoming fair, and it listed contests for baking, canning, needlework, and quilting, as well as judging of various kinds animals, and I noticed there would be a rodeo as well. The girls got excited, Little Flower had become very good at baking, and Laura had been taught to do embroidery at the orphanage, and she had several beautiful pieces she could enter in the needlework contest. I started thinking about entering a quilt, and maybe showing some of our horses. Somehow I just knew that the rodeo would be of interest to quite a few of the men from the Culpepper ranch....

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Before we left town, we stopped by the post office to send two letters, one that I had written to Morning Star, and the other was to the Mother Superior in charge of the orphanage in Denver, explaining my idea for inviting some of the kids to the ranch. On the way there, I noticed that a few people we passed didn't seem to be as friendly towards us as they used to be. Maybe it was just my imagination, so I acted like nothing was out of the ordinary, I didn't want Little Flower getting upset again. On the road back to the ranch however, I did ask Karl to please not mention what had happened in the store to Cheyenne. Karl wasn't too happy about that, but I finally got him to agree, Cheyenne was still trying to deal with the loss of his father and didn't need any more problems to worry about.

As I had figured, everyone showed some interest when they heard about the county fair, which was only a few weeks away. It did sound like a lot of fun, and everyone wanted to attend. The girls spent a lot of time making plans for entering the contests, and the rest of their free time getting started on a couple of their new dresses to wear for the event. I helped them the best I could, but I was glad to have Cora's help with it as well. Having worked in a dress shop in Denver, she knew more than I did about making the latest fashions, and although the girls were too young to wear anything too fancy I did want them both to look nice. Cora still seemed a little hesitant to talk to me very much, but aside from that she was getting along nicely with everyone else, and I was grateful for her assistance with the children.


A week went by, and we were all pretty busy, but things were going fairly well. The loss of Frank Culpepper was hard on everyone, and the mood on the ranch was rather subdued, but no one used that as an excuse to slack off. In fact I think the men worked even harder than usual for a while, out of respect for their late boss. They knew how much the ranch had meant to Frank, and how disappointed he would have been if they had let things slide. I was glad to see that all the men seemed to have as much respect for Cheyenne as well, at first I was afraid that some of them might decide to seek employment elsewhere, but not one of them did. Well, except for Jack, and although Cheyenne never mentioned it to me, I had the feeling it hadn't been Jack's idea.

After lunch, Cora and Little Flower took the twins upstairs for their afternoon nap, and I was helping Laura decide how to put some lace on her new dress when Prairie Dawg came to the door. It had been his turn to go to town for supplies, and he had brought me a letter he had picked up from the post office. After thanking him, I sat on the porch to read it, and was excited to see that it was from the Mother Superior. As I started reading my excitement quickly turned to disappointment, then anger. Oh, the woman was very polite about it, but she turned down my request to have the orphans visit the ranch, saying that "she felt it wasn't in their best interests". Then she went on to say that she had heard of Hank's death, and in her opinion it was high time for the Jones children to be returned to the orphanage, as we had no right to keep them here when we were not relatives. She even insisted that Eddie be sent to Denver with his siblings, that he shouldn't be made to work for us when there was a better alternative.

So the orphanage was a better alternative? My big, fat rear it was!! I knew for a fact that none of the four wanted to return to Denver, that they were perfectly happy living with us. Eddie was turning 16 in a few days, old enough to make up his own mind about it, and although he did do plenty of work with the horses, he had told me himself that he really enjoyed it. We didn't push him to do any more than he was capable of, and in fact he was only allowed to work half days, we insisted he attend school in the mornings with the other kids. Schoolmarm had told us that although Eddie was a good enough student, he did have a bit of trouble sitting still for too long, and that in her opinion he'd be far happier as an adult if he was working outdoors, that he would never be happy pursuing a career as a bookkeeper like his father had been, or anything similar. To send him to live in the orphanage in Denver would have made him miserable, and probably Little Flower as well. I just couldn't do it, no way was I sending those kids back to Denver!

I knew Cora would be disappointed, and I had the sinking feeling I knew why the Mother Superior had written what she did, that it had more to do with my husband being a half-breed than it did with what was best for the children. That made me really mad, after all the nuns didn't seem to have any problems accepting Culpepper money, Frank had made numerous donations. Our money was good enough for them but we weren't? That was just plain wrong, but I also had the feeling we hadn't heard the last of the subject from the Mother Superior. What she would do when we refused to send the children back, I wasn't sure, but I doubted she was just going to calmly accept the idea of them staying here.

I sat on the porch for a while, trying to think about how I was going to break the news to Cheyenne. I didn't want to upset him, not while he was mourning his father's death, but we needed to make a decision about the Jones children, and soon. I had a feeling we were going to have a fight on our hands to keep them here, but it was one I had every intention of winning. I loved those four like they were my own...





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Life was getting pretty much back to normal on the ranch, well for almost everyone else anyway. I was beginning to feel the weight and responsibility of running a large ranch and all the while mourning the loss of my father. All of the men were performing their jobs as expected and Karl had even stepped into an almost step-father role. After the trip to town I could sense that Cali was unsettled about something, but I had learned to let her find the time to tell me if something was bothering her, so I just waited.

 

After dinner the two of us went out the back porch to enjoy the cool air of the evening and that was when Cali chose to start unburdening her heart to me. She explained about the orphanage wanting the kids back, I said a few choice words under my breath and told Cali that I would send word to Mr. Winchester in the morning to start adoption paperwork immediately. Then she looked down at her feet and said it may be because of my being half Cheyenne that was the problem. I felt the blood rushing to my face as my anger began building, "We're heading for Denver in the morning" I blurted out to Cali, "I can play their game as well as they can." I called for Hop Sing to bring his scissors, but I quickly felt Cali's hand on my shoulder. "No, you've got to show them your heart, that's what will do it, you can't let your anger get in the way of making sure the kids stay here.

 

Then Cali got awfully quiet, "People in town are getting pretty riled up about the Custer massacre, we had a hard time with a woman at the store and we got some pretty ugly stares too.

This time I cussed out loud, "WHO?" I almost shouted. Cali quietly told me that it was Mrs. Dixon who had been so rude, I notice that Hop Sing disappeared from the porch when he heard the name only to reappear a very short time later carrying several papers. "You need to see these Cheyenne, I think you'll find them very interesting." The headline across the top of the paper said, Mortgage, and then the name of Mr. Richard Dixon. We held the lien on the Dixon's home and property! I felt a sinister smile growing on my face, and the one on Cali's face was showing an immensely evil look. I turned to the next paper and the top of it said, Deed, and then listed several lot numbers on a plat map of the city of Denver. Hop Sing leaned over my shoulder pointing at the paper and said one word, "Orphanage." I looked over at Cali and saw one of her eyebrows raise and her lips started to curl. "Can I go too?" was all she needed it say. Then she asked Hop Sing to bring the scissors, and with a tear in her eye asked Hop Sing to give me a "proper" hair cut.

 

A new hand stepped onto the porch, Sodbuster Brown's little brother, Crossfire Brown and volunteered to ride into town to tell the Winchesters that we would be coming into town to head for Denver and would be expecting him to accompany us on our way to Denver. We were going to have to plan our strategy for our trip, which of the children to take, Mathew and Sarah? or all of them and let them plead their cases as well. Or, should I do it all with legal paperwork? It would be a lot more fun to do it without threats or any thing like that, I was just hoping that we could changes the nun's hearts, after all, even the one thief on the cross finally listened.

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We were all pretty busy after that, getting ready to head to Denver. It was decided we would take all the children, of course I couldn't leave the twins behind but I would need help with them, and Cora couldn't be in two places at once. Plus the kids had the right to be involved in this as well, we weren't sure if it would help with the nuns for the youngsters to say they wanted to stay with us, but it might help with the judge. We just hoped we could get the same judge that had signed Little Flower's adoption papers, he had helped us before, and we kept our fingers crossed that it would work this time too. And it would be up to the judge anyway, the nuns had no more legal right to the kids at that point then we did.

Biblepuncher had heard about what was going on, and he stopped by to volunteer to go with us as well. That didn't sound like a bad idea to me, having our own preacher to speak up for us and our ability to give the children a good home. While we were busy packing, we asked Biblepuncher to go talk to both Doc Eells and Schoolmarm, and get them to write letters of recommendation to take with us. How could anyone think this wasn't an acceptable place for the kids, after all, we had our own school, our own church, and our own doctor, all right here.


Packing for the trip wasn't easy with only one hand, but with help from Lu Sing I finally managed to get everything into two trunks. I couldn't believe at first we needed two of them, but we weren't sure how long we would need to stay in Denver (though I promised the kids we'd come back in time for the fair), and it turned out that most of my new clothes took up a lot of space on their own. One trunk was just for me and the babies, I had to use the second one for Cheyenne and the older kids. No buckskins or work clothes on this trip, we all had to look our best. I did regret having to let Hop Sing cut Cheyenne's hair, I preferred it long, but it was necessary. He could only do so much to change the way he looked, but the more he looked like a proper white gentleman rancher, the better. I was going to have to remember to mind my manners and behave myself too, easier said than done!

When we went to bed, it took me a while to fall asleep, I was so nervous about the trip. If things didn't work out the way we wanted them to, I would be heartbroken. Then there was the trip itself, I had never been on a train before, and wasn't too sure I wanted to. I didn't want to admit it to Cheyenne, but I was scared of those things, they didn't seem all that safe to me, but I knew that with the children along it was the only method of travel that made sense. I knew trains were occasionally held up by outlaws, and I hoped that wouldn't happen to us, as although Cheyenne would be armed, I would be leaving my guns here. My gunbelt just didn't fit over all the fancy ladies' clothes I would be wearing. Not that I didn't trust him to take care of us, but I still felt kind of naked without my own pistols and rifle.


There was one other thing on my mind, and that was of course our "family". If we did get to adopt the four Jones children, that would give us seven youngsters. Cheyenne and I had never talked about how big of a family we wanted, but it seemed to be growing rather large already. And I was starting to get the feeling it wasn't going to be long before that number was going to change to eight...maybe it was time to seriously consider not making so many trips to the water hole.....

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My how my life had changed in just a few years, married, children, lost my father and mother, running the family ranch, and looking to adopt four more children, though Eddie was nearly 16 and by ranch standards and his work efforts, a man himself. One thing I was going have to come to grips with too what with Custer's massacre, was that I was fully half Cheyenne blood. It hadn't made that much of a difference before, but now, I really didn't know how to re-act to it.

 

Morning came all to soon, but it wasn't long and we were on our way to Fort Collins. I felt a bit strange sitting on the wagon seat in a suit! But, I didn't mind seeing Cali all dressed up, and I hardly recognized the Jones kids, it had taken some doing but all four of them were slicked up right well. From the looks of me you wouldn't have thought that I was going heeled, but Hop Sing had made sure that I was, there were now less than three pocket pistols hidden about my person, and even Cali had two hidden either in her purse or elsewhere, I would have to figure out where they were later. I did have my rifle and pistols and leather packed away in their own case, I didn't go anywhere without them, not even the big city.

 

We met the Winchesters in Ft Collins where we had lunch at the restaurant by the depot. I was getting an eerie feeling of being watched, no one would meet my gaze, but I knew something was quite right. I overheard a man behind me tell his wife, "they may dress up like whites, but that doesn't change the savage in them." I was on my feet before Cali could stop me and was standing over the man sitting at his table with his wife, to my supreme delight it was no less than the Dixons, yes the ones that we held the mortgage to their property. When they recognized me I don't know which one turned the palest first. I pulled up a chair to their table and sat down so that I could face them both. I pulled the mortgage paperwork from my jacket pocket and laid it on the table and said but this, "It's due."

 

The Dixon's started stammering and I let them go on for a few seconds before I interrupted them. "An apology is in order, my savage heart will be the judge if you are sincere, then I nodded towards Little Flower who was sitting quietly with the Jones children at their own table. I got up and returned to Cali's side and waited,

 

Just as the Dixons stood to approach Little Flower she was starting to lead the other children in prayer for their food, Cali nudged me nodding towards the children and the biggest smile came across her face. The Dixon's looked at each other and waited for Little Flower to finish, then they each got down on their knees and begged for her forgiveness. When they had finished she had the cutest expression on her face, "If Jesus can forgive me, I can forgive you."

 

Then the Dixon's came to our table and as I turned to see Cali's face I saw tears running down her cheeks, the Dixons apologized to her left the restaurant. If only the rest of the trip would go as well!

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Oh, I was proud of that girl, well, actually I was proud of all of them. That's what made this trip so important and necessary, though I wasn't looking forward to it. When we finished with lunch, we made our way to the depot to board the train. Bea Winchester and Cora offered to carry the twins, Biblepuncher held Rose's hand, and Eddie was trying to keep a close eye on Tommy, though as excited as Tommy was, that was no easy task. I wasn't excited, in fact, I was getting more and more nervous the closer we got. James Winchester had arranged for a private car for our group, and I was glad we wouldn't be sitting with a bunch of strangers, but that wasn't really my main concern. Trains just terrified me, big black monsters that they were, belching smoke and at times speeding along so much faster than a horse could go...

A couple of porters carried our luggage onto the car reserved for us, then one of them assisted Bea and Cora up the steps and inside. James followed the ladies, and Biblepuncher picked Rose up and carried her up the steps, it was so sweet of him to help out with her. The two older girls quickly followed, then Eddie had a bit of a hard time getting Tommy on board, the younger boy was too busy trying to look at everything around him. Trains just fascinated him, and he was asking everyone who would listen all sorts of questions about the subject, whether they might know the answer or not. Then it was mine and Cheyenne's turn, but I hesitated, I really didn't want to get on that thing! Cheyenne noticed my reluctance, and turned to look at me. "Cali, honey, are you ok? You're even paler than usual, you're not getting sick, are you?" he asked, very concerned.

"I'm fine," I managed to squeak, but I couldn't say much else, I didn't like having to admit I was scared. Cheyenne just looked confused, he didn't understand what was wrong. In the meantime, Biblepuncher had come back out onto the steps to see what was taking the two of us so long, and he figured it out right away. He came down to where I was standing, and told me, "Everything will be alright, you won't be alone on this trip if you know what I mean." That did help a little, and I knew I was just being silly, but all the same I still had to take a couple of deep breaths before I could force myself to walk up those steps and into the car.

I did have to admit, it was lovely inside. At the front of the car were several comfortable seats, each more than big enough for two people. The windows next to the seats had just been cleaned so we would have a good view of the countryside as we rode, though I wasn't sure I really wanted to see that. The back of the car didn't have any windows, just paneling on the sides, with tables and chairs for dining. We had already had lunch and would be in Denver before dinner, so we wouldn't be eating on the train, but I could see where on a longer trip that would have been nice. Everyone else was seated by then, I let Cheyenne sit next to the window and gingerly sat down next to him, trying not to let the kids know just how frightened I was of the whole thing. I don't think any of them really noticed though, I was thankful for that!


We had made it about halfway to Denver when all of a sudden the train started braking hard. At first we had no idea what was going on, and were too busy just trying to keep our seats to do much. Then the front door opened and the conductor pulled himself into the car, he obviously was having trouble walking as the train was slowing down so fast. "Sorry folks, but there's something blocking the tracks up ahead, and the engineer is trying to avoid hitting whatever it is at full speed. Just hold on as best you can..." Before the man got the chance to say anything else, we all heard the sound of gunfire outside. Taking a quick look out the window, I could see a bunch of men with bandanas pulled up over their faces riding up towards the train, firing pistols in the air.

Cheyenne saw them too, and quickly yelled "Ladies, please get the kids to the back of the car, away from the windows! James, grab my gun case, I think we'll be needing it!" As Bea and Cora herded the children towards the back, Eddie refused to go, telling Cheyenne he wanted to help too. Cheyenne at first tried to say no, then just nodded his head, we needed all the help we could get. I started unbuttoning the top few buttons on my bodice, and Biblepuncher saw me doing that and his eyes got really big for a second. Cheyenne turned to see what the preacher was staring at, and just started laughing. “So that's where you're keeping the derringer, I was wondering about that,” he said, shaking his head.

Well, I didn't want to keep both that and the other pistol in my reticule, makes more sense to split them up,” I explained, pulling the little derringer out of the top of my corset. I felt bad about embarrassing the preacher, but now was not the time to be worrying about that. James had gotten the gun case, and it took only seconds before he, Biblepuncher, Eddie, and of course Cheyenne and myself were all armed. Those men outside were obviously up to no good, and we had children and ladies to protect....

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As the train started to slow I knew immediately that something was wrong and when the conductor said something was on the tracks it came as no surprise when we heard gunshots. My heart had already started to race at the first slowing and my first hunch was that we would be attacked by one of the tribes in the area and I was relieved to see only eight outlaws riding after us. There could be more ahead, but even if the number was doubled that was better than 50 or so warriors to deal with.

 

I told Eddie to act as the loader for us, which wasn't something he wanted to do, but he nodded and knelt beside the case and started to open the boxes of shells. I looked towards the back of the car to see Cora lift her skirt and pull a small revolver from her pantaloons, I smiled at the sight. Then she made sure the kids would stay with Bea and came forward and told Eddie that she would load so that he could take a position at a window. I asked Cora if she could handle a shotgun, which her smile told me all that I needed to know and told her to keep an eye on the rear door and if someone tried to enter to put both barrels into it.

 

Then I hollered something that almost made me sick to my stomach, "Take out their horses, they're easier to hit!" and with that we opened fire from the windows. I couldn't bring myself to follow my own instructions but was still able to drop two of the riders quickly. I saw two more riders go down before the riders started to fall in towards the back of the train. I grabbed the shotgun and a box of shells and hollered for Cali to come with me and cover me.

 

We went through the rear door and I went to the right to peer down the side of the train, just as I did I heard Cali's pistol discharge. I spun around in time to see a rider grabbing at his chest and starting to fall from his horse. Then a gunshot and splintering wood above my head brought my attention back to my side. I was already raising the scattergun to my shoulder when I saw the rider aiming at me again. The scattergun spoke with authority bringing a massive red response from the man's chest as he went backwards off of his ride.

 

I heard Calico scream my name just before another blast from her pistol, one of the men had started to come through the door of the car behind us, her shot was true and the man fell do his knees trying to raise his pistol. The second barrel from the scattergun opened up nearly taking the man's head off. I reached into my pocket for more shells and as I brought my hand out it felt warm and wet. I looked down at it and saw red, what!? I thought, then I felt the pain in my glutimus maximus!

 

That had taken care of seven of the eight, where was the last one? Suddenly I heard four very quick shots coming from the door of our car, Cora had grabbed my Winchester and while standing at the door the cover the two of us had spotted the eighth man coming at us from the top of the rear car. Her shots were true and as the train came to a stop he fell down between the cars almost hitting us. I motioned Cali back into the car as I heard shots coming from the head of the train.

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Oh, why did it have to be my left arm that was broken? I just wasn't as good with my right, and as the fighting started, I couldn't seem to hit anything. Although Cheyenne's advice to aim for the horses was a good idea, like him I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I might have had better luck that way, but thankfully for us, Cheyenne managed to bring down two of the riders, and Eddie and Biblepuncher did take Cheyenne's suggestion and each of them managed to shoot one of the horses. One of the two riders ended up trapped beneath his horse, I couldn't see what happened to the other one.

I did much better when I followed Cheyenne out onto the platform at the end of our car. One outlaw had ridden up right beside the train, and another came through the door of the car behind us, at those distances I almost couldn't miss. I managed to wound each of them enough to give Cheyenne time to finish them off. Not fast enough though, when Cheyenne pulled his hand out of his pocket and I saw that it was covered in blood, I looked down and noticed that he had been wounded, but how badly I couldn't tell. At least he was still on his feet, hopefully it wasn't that bad. I did get the feeling he wasn't going to be too comfortable sitting for a while!


Next thing I knew, Cora was right between us, firing up towards the roof of the next car. One of the outlaws had managed to get up there somehow, but thanks to Cora he didn't get the chance to do any harm. As we went back inside, we heard more gunfire coming from the front of the train, obviously the riders we'd seen weren't the only ones involved. I tried to get Cheyenne to let me see how badly he was wounded, but he just shook his head, “Not right now, I'll be ok. We've got to go up front and see what we can do to help up there. Bea and Cora, please stay with the kids, I'll leave a couple of pistols here in case you need them.”

Neither of the women objected to that idea, but as I tried to follow the men out the front of the car, someone else did....little Rose. All of a sudden she jumped up and ran after me, throwing her arms around me and shouting “NO! NO! Mama, stay with me, please?!” Well, that sure stopped me in my tracks, none of the kids had ever called me that before, and I was torn between staying with the obviously terrified child and going with the men, but the train's crew would need all the help they could get. I looked to Cheyenne for guidance, but he seemed as dumbfounded as I felt. Then Cora came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder, telling me “Stay. I'll go with the others.”

Well, she had proven that she could shoot, and if she was willing to go...I quickly nodded, and she and the men left. I took Rose back to where the other kids and Bea were, and managed to get her to calm down enough to sit back down. Cheyenne had left the pistols sitting on one of the seats closer to the front of the car, and although I still had the derringer, I had dropped my other pistol when I had run out of ammo, I hadn't had time to reload. So I started to walk back down to get the pistols that Cheyenne had left behind, but before I got more than two steps, the rear door of the car flew open, and I turned back around. A man was standing there, right away I recognized him as one of the outlaws that had had his horse shot out from under him, obviously he hadn't been injured too badly when he fell.

The outlaw had his pistol pointing towards the children sitting there, and as soon as I saw that my blood began to boil. How dare he threaten MY children? I was too far away from Cheyenne's pistols to get to them fast enough, but I still had that derringer in my left hand. I immediately transferred it to my right hand, but was I going to be able to hit him before he could hurt the kids? And was it powerful enough to stop him? I wasn't sure about either one, but I had no choice but to try, I couldn't let him hurt my babies!

I quickly took a deep breath and raised the derringer, took aim at the center of the outlaw's chest, and started to squeeze the trigger...

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We were making our way through the forward car when I heard Cora cuss, I looked over my shoulder to see her pointing the Winchester back towards the other car aiming through the open doors. "What is she doing?" went through my mind quickly, then I heard two shots almost simultaneously. I strained to see through the smoke and as it cleared I saw Little Flower running her knife through the neck of a slumped over outlaw. For a split second I was ready to shot Cora, the only person I had seen in her sights was Calico, but by know I had complete trust in Cora, but she sure tried it that time.

 

Cora spun around to find me still staring at her and into the other car, "What are you staring at, haven't you seen a woman shoot before?" she blurted out as she started towards me. The sounds of shattering glass brought me back into the moment and I quickly moved for the front of the car and the door. I had almost reached it when it swung open and a masked man stepped into the doorway. The scattergun spoke with both barrels blowing the man back through the door and throwing him against the coal car where he slumped down onto the tracks, dead.

 

I stepped to the side to reload as another outlaw stepped into the doorway, I heard Eddie holler "Look out!" and then heard his pistol fire and a return shot from the outlaw as he fell. I saw Eddie grab his leg as he fell into a seat, in a flash Little Flower was on the man with her knife opening him like a slaughtered pig with blood spurting every which a ways, until he quickly bled out anyway. Little Flower went to Eddies side putting pressure on his leg to try to control the bleeding. James was at a window firing and cussing as he did. Cora came up behind me telling me she had my back as we stepped through the doorway towards the coal car.

 

I heard the whistling of bullets as we did, I found an outlaw in the sights of the scattergun and hit the man in the face. I heard Cora moan as I found another outlaw in my sights. I turned to see her grabbing at her shoulder and grabbed her and pulled her back into the car and slammed the door shut as the train lunged forward. I set Cora down into a seat and ripped the neck of her dress to expose her shoulder, she looked me in the eye, "Little late for that isn't it?" and then her eyes rolled back into her head as she passed out.

 

Two of the ladies in the car took her from my arms and I took a window and returned fire at the remaining outlaws as the train chugged forward. I heard Little Flower scream and looked to see her pointing at my pant's leg, which by now was soaked in my blood. My head began to feel strange and I tried to guide myself into a seat as everything started to go white......

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I don't know for sure how long I had been out cold, but when I awoke I smelled something awfully sweet and my face was up against something warm and soft. I tried to peer around me, there was Eddie, with one pant leg ripped from top to bottom and his leg wrapped in bandages and Little Flower holding him in her arms. I spotted Cora with James and Bea hovering near her and Bea was trying to repair her dress that I had ripped open to check on her wounded shoulder. She winked at me as she saw my eyes meets hers, "About time you woke up Pretty Boy" she said laughing. "Pretty Boy? What in the world are you talking about?" I must have said out loud.

 

Then the softness that my face was touching bounced a bit and I heard Calico laughing as she tried to say, "Look at your legs, you wouldn't let anyone rip your pants to doctor your, ah your, your rear end!" Frantically I felt for my pants that I knew I still must be wearing, my hand touched skin, my eyes went to where my hand was, OH MY, no pants and worse yet a large bandage that was almost covering one of my uh,,, my cheeks. The softness giggled again, then I realized where my face was, I remembered Calico unbuttoning to pull the derringer, I took a deep breath, I was hurting, both my pride and my, well you know, but I was happy. I relaxed a bit and, hey,,,, again? I had felt this softness like this before, it wasn't quite the same as usual. I looked up into Cali's eyes, "again?" I asked her, to which she answered with a little nod and a kiss on my forehead.

 

I went back to sleep as someone was finally covering me with a blanket, three children I was dreaming, but then the eagle appeared followed by a mate and no less than eight eaglets of various ages! I suddenly awoke almost screaming, "Eight?!" That didn't last long as Cali used her good arm to push my face back into the softness as she cooed, "It's going to be alright, Pretty Boy, just go back to the eagles."

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At first it startled me when I heard that bullet go by my head, missing me by inches, so I almost missed the outlaw I was shooting at...almost. I did hit him, and then noticed the other bullet hit him as well, I turned around to see Cora lower her rifle and nod at me, I was so thankful it was her and not someone else trying to shoot at me! Then Little Flower pulled her knife and made sure that was one outlaw that we didn't have to worry about any more. I dropped the derringer and went back to trying to calm Rose down, Bea and Laura had the twins, and Bea was also trying to keep a grip on Tommy, who wanted to follow Eddie. The younger boy made it very clear he thought it unfair that his big brother got to help with the fighting, but he couldn't. It took several minutes to explain to him that it wasn't a question of his courage, but of his age, he simply wasn't old enough and to let the adults handle it.


No sooner than I had told Tommy that then Little Flower jumped up and ran forward to the next car, and I could see she still had her knife. I couldn't see what was happening, but found out later that she had seen Eddie get shot, and went to defend him. Again Tommy didn't think that was fair, Little Flower wasn't quite old enough to be considered an adult, so I had to explain this time that at least she had some experience at defending herself and those around her, but it wasn't easy getting him to agree to stay put. Rose was still scared so much that she wouldn't let go of me, and the babies were of course screaming by that point, it was as chaotic trying to deal with all of them as it had been against the outlaws!


I don't know how much time passed before the train started moving again, and the remaining outlaws were left behind. Then Biblepuncher came back to our car, telling me and Bea that Cheyenne, Eddie, and Cora had all been injured, and needed us pronto. He volunteered to stay with Laura and the younger children, and had to almost pry Rose off me so that I could follow Bea to the next car. Bea and James tended to Cora, while a couple of the people that had been sitting in the forward car helped Little Flower with Eddie. A couple more helped me with Cheyenne, which I was grateful for, I wasn't feeling too good myself and even unconscious Cheyenne was fighting my attempts to rip his pants enough to treat his wound, we finally just took the dang things off entirely. Several of the women sitting in the car excused themselves to move farther back, I think the whole thing embarrassed them, though I didn't see where Cheyenne had anything to be embarrassed about, but maybe that was just me.

At a couple of points on the way into Denver, Cheyenne did wake up for a few minutes, long enough for me to know he was going to be ok. And long enough for him to figure out that at least one of those trips to the water hole was going to pay dividends again. I had been hesitating to tell him that, but he seemed to take the news a little better this time around....

When the train finally pulled into the station in Denver I did have one new worry on my mind, and that was how we were going to get Cheyenne and Eddie off that train. Since Cora had been hit in the shoulder, she wouldn't have too much trouble getting down the steps with a little help, but neither of the two men were going to be able to put any weight on one leg, and I couldn't figure out what to do about it. We couldn't stay on the train indefinitely, but I was going to need help, I couldn't very well carry either one of them down those steps, even with help from Biblepuncher. Thankfully the conductor came and told me that as soon as the train came to a stop, he was going to go arrange for all the porters to give us a hand moving Cheyenne and Eddie, as well as arranging for a wagon to take us to the hotel where we had reservations. He would also send for a doctor to come to the hotel, though I also asked him to wire the ranch and have Doc Eells come to Denver as quickly as he could. After my experience with the doctor from Fort Collins, I didn't really trust any doctor besides our own.

After getting everyone settled at the hotel and having the wounded checked out by the doctor, I had the two older girls watch the younger children for a while, while I asked Biblepuncher if I could talk to him for a while, alone. He graciously agreed, and then he and I discussed possible ideas for getting the nuns at the orphanage to withdraw their objections to Cheyenne and I adopting the Jones children. No way was I going to let them go now, not after Rose had called me mama. If necessary, I was willing to take the kids and leave the ranch to go somewhere where neither the nuns nor the law could find us, hopefully with Cheyenne as well, but I wasn't going to let those kids go back to the orphanage! It took Biblepuncher a while to get me calmed down after that statement, finally convincing me that trusting in the power of prayer may be a much better way of handling the situation than trying to run away from it. I knew he was right, and with his help I spent the rest of the evening praying for the Lord's guidance. As I returned to my and Cheyenne's room, I felt a strange peace come over me that I had never felt before, but it gave me the courage and strength I knew I would need to get through whatever the next day would bring...

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While I was snuggled into Calico I came in and out of my sleep, I kept getting glimpses of Eddie and Little Flower. Then a backup plan entered my mind, the two of them had more than proved themselves that day, why shouldn't they be able to get married if they wanted. Any young girl willing to risk her life to save another ought to be able to give herself to another if she so chose. That way if for some reason the nuns still had their minds set about Calico and me being able to adopt them, then they should be able to live with their married brother in his home.

 

The more I thought about the nuns not approving of Calico and me the madder I got. Because of the nuns we were on this stupid train and nearly were killed on it while making our way to Denver to meet with the nuns. But dang it, the madder I got the more my butt literally hurt, I could feel my heart beating faster and the faster it beat the more my butt hurt. I wasn't happy, until I took a deep breath and smell that sweet fragrance again.

 

The train started slowing and the porter showed up with my pants, he had washed them out and had hung them from a window to dry. They still had the bullet hole in them but at least I could wear them. Calico somehow managed to get buttoned back up, dang it! Anyway with help we all made it off the train and onto a couple of wagons the depot provided, I should think so, I would remember this the next time I needed something shipped via the rails again. One more thing I would remember, we hadn't gotten all of the outlaws that had attempted to hold up the train and who had wounded Cora and Eddie and put the rest of my family in danger. We may have to take another trip on the train again, but with a surprise.

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The sheriff showed up before we pulled away from the depot, he had some ideas on who was responsible for the hold up on the train. We set up a time to talk later, plus I wanted to ask him to speak for us before the nuns too. I asked him to contact Lt O'rouke from the post in Denver to meet us for breakfast before we all went to the orphanage too.

 

That evening Calico spent time with Biblepuncher, I knew that would be time well spent. I recognized the look on her face as she entered our room, I had seen it on my mother's face after spending time in prayer. Something the two of us did much more of that evening.

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The next morning we both awoke feeling really good about the situation. Mathew and Sarah though weren't nearly as content. I was sure hoping that the loaf in the oven was only a single loaf and not a double again! After taking care of the children we all met downstairs to have breakfast and talk about the coming meeting with the nuns. I really wasn't feeling to hospitable towards the nuns, and what bothered me most was their concern about me being half Cheyenne. It showed their complete ignorance in various areas, beginning with me!

 

I was and still am a Culpepper, son of a prosperous rancher and a Cheyenne chief's daughter. Raised as a white man, but with the understanding of both races. I had been on a quest where I had had fought not only renegade braves, but white outlaws as well. I had ridden alone, as part of a cattle drive and on numerous occasions with the army. What bothered me most though was that all the nuns saw was my red skin. They had no idea what was in my heart, they professed to know what God had written in his Book, yet they had not yet shown any interest in knowing about my knowledge of the Great Spirit that resided within my heart, and that I knew the Great Spirit's Son and had accepted his blood and forgiveness. Yet I still had little idea of how to deal with the nuns!

 

Our group meeting for breakfast had kept growing as we ate. The Winchester were there, all three of them, even Cora, who by now was really showing the pain and discomfort of her wound. Lt. O'rouke was also there, as were Smith and Jones, the two troopers I had ridden with in search of Black Dawg's brother. The Lt. also had written reports of other times I had ridden with the army. The sheriff was there with statements from folks on the train during the hold up attempt. The two people most important to me were there too, Biblepuncher, the young preacher that knew my heart well, and of course Calico, who knew me better than I did. At least it seemed that way at times.

 

While we ate I shared with Calico my idea about letting Eddie and Little Flower marry if they still wanted. Calico's brow started to frown until see starting watching the two seated at a table by themselves, their eyes locked upon each other and hardly taking the time to eat. Calico took a deep breath and her eyes rolled up into her head and then dipping her head a bit and exhaling slowly, she said, "Oh ok, I guess your right, they'll have a place of their own on the ranch too,,,,,". "We weren't much older Cali" I reminded her.

 

The ride to the orphanage seemed to take forever, especially on my sore behind. We almost looked like a parade as the wagons with our family, the Winchester's two seat buggy, the Troopers, and the sheriff all riding down the street together. I brought the wagon to an abrupt stop when I noticed Morning Star, Buick and their child standing at a corner waving frantically at us. They joined our little "parade" and we tried to catch up as we finished our trip. Morning Star was showing the results of a visit to their water hole real well and she could hardly help herself telling us of their plans for the Golden Aspen ranch.

 

I still wasn't comfortable around Buick since that happenstance that day at our ranch. This time though his eyes seemed to find their way towards Cora more than anyone else. For some strange reason I sure didn't like that either!

 

We all got pretty quiet as we pulled up to the orphanage, the seriousness of the situation sat on us like a large weight. Biblepuncher leapt from the wagon and took the bridle of the lead horse and lead us all in a time of prayer asking that God's will be done there that day.

 

The ride through the court yard nearly broke our hearts, the children playing there looked like little ragamuffins, and with a look of yearning and loneliness in the eyes. We could sense them wanting to go home with us, though they said nary a word to us, not with their voices anyway.

 

As we got down from the wagons I caught a glimpse of the troopers wiping tears from their faces, I knew that all too many times they had rescued children that had recently been made orphans, both whites and Indians. I knew that the troopers had the faces of children burned into their memories and seeing this many orphans at one time was hard on them.

 

The nuns came out to greet us, I felt a cold chill run down my spine. They escorted us inside, and their total surprise of the size of our little group was not hidden very well.

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It wasn't easy getting everyone washed and dressed, but we finally made it down to breakfast. Our group took up almost every table in the hotel restaurant, especially when Eddie and Little Flower decided they needed their own table. They had been almost inseparable since the robbery, but I had to admit that Eddie did need Little Flower's help getting around. During breakfast, Cheyenne told me that we should let the two get married, but I wasn't real crazy about the idea. Oh, I knew that after all they had both been through that they were far more mature than their ages, but all the same if they got married, it probably wouldn't be long before I wasn't the only one pregnant, and I just didn't feel Little Flower was quite old enough for that. Oh well, Cheyenne and I would have to have a nice long talk with the two of them when we got home.

I was shocked when we saw Buick and Morning Star on the way to the orphanage, but when we explained where we were headed they insisted on coming along. Libby was getting so big, and was absolutely adorable. Morning Star looked radiant, and she was thrilled when I told her that I was also expecting again, though I did tell her, “Gee, I hope it ain't twins again!” She just laughed, and said “With the brood you already have going, are you sure you'd even notice?” It was so good seeing them again, it took my mind off what lay ahead of us, if only for a few minutes.

When we got to the orphanage though, it was very depressing. All those children standing there, silently staring at us, just about broke my heart. If only we could take in all of them....but I knew that wasn't going to be possible. I'd have to settle for the four that had already been living with us...if we managed to pull this off! Having so many people willing to speak up for us gave me hope, at least until I saw the faces of the nuns. Talk about formidable opponents, this was not going to be easy. One nun stepped forward and introduced herself “I am the Reverend Mother Elizabeth O'Reilly, welcome to the Daughters of Charity Home for Children. Please, come inside so that we may talk.”


We all followed the Mother Superior inside, and she led us to a dining room with several long tables, and we all found seats on the benches. “I do apologize for the inconvenience, I was going to meet with you in my office, but I didn't realize that there would be so many of you. I'm afraid we won't all fit in the office, I hope you don't mind.”

“Of course not, Reverend Mother,” Biblepuncher told her, “This will be fine. Maybe we should have sent word ahead that it wasn't just going to be the Culpeppers, I'm sorry that we didn't think to give you advance warning. I hope the rest of us are not intruding, but all of us wanted to testify as to the worthiness of Mr. and Mrs. Culpepper as adoptive parents.”

Well, our preacher certainly saw the advantage to showing our best manners, but Cheyenne was still too upset, and I couldn't hardly blame him. “Yes, Mother Benedict, we brought all these friends with us to help prove to you how big of a mistake you're making, judging us as unfit just because I'm half indian...” he started to say.

The nun quickly held up her hand, and after begging Cheyenne's pardon for interrupting, told us “This does have to do with your heritage, but not my personal feelings about such. In fact, I do not in any way feel you are unfit to be father to these children. I knew both of your parents, and if they raised you to be half as good of a person as both of them were, and I'm sure they did, then I'm positive you are a wonderful father. Your mother came here several times in the two years before her death, to deliver donations of clothing and toys for the children. Your father also accompanied her a few times, and both told me many things about you. From everything I have heard, you are certainly a credit to both of them.”

“Then why are you objecting to us adopting the Jones family, Reverend Mother?” I asked as politely as I could, while the kids all spoke up as well, also asking why. That didn't make much sense, she admitted Cheyenne
would be a great father but didn't want him keeping the kids?

Mother O'Reilly sighed, and for a few seconds closed her eyes as if she was praying. “I'm not sure how to explain this, but my concerns have nothing to do with whether or not you two will be good parents. What I am concerned about is the reactions of other people, and what effect other peoples attitudes may have on the children. Unfortunately, there are many people who are prejudiced against indians, and although I don't share those feelings, I can't prevent other people from acting on their hatred, as misplaced as it is. There are those who will not want to accept the idea of a family of white children being adopted by someone with indian blood, no matter how upstanding of a citizen that person may be. That could in fact cause problems for these children, problems that I'm not so sure I wish to subject them to. And I'm afraid I can't do much to change the opinions and prejudices of other people.”

Well, that kind of shut us all up a little, Cheyenne and I just stared at each other, unsure of what to say. We had been so sure that it was the nuns that objected to him being a half-breed, but the nun did have a point, she might not mind but there would be others that did feel that way. Was it really fair to the kids, what kind of trouble might it cause for them?

Then Morning Star spoke up “But maybe you CAN help change peoples' opinions. When I first came to our ranch outside Hugo Springs, there were many people who did not want to accept the idea of an Arapaho woman living so close to them. But my husband and friends did not waiver in their insistence that I was just as good as any white woman living there, and eventually the attitudes of the others towards me did start changing. Now most of the people there have accepted me, and many of them have even become good friends. Having all these other people standing up for Mr. Culpepper is a good thing, it would be even better if you and the other nuns showed your faith in him as well by letting him and Mary Elizabeth adopt these children, who they do love and cherish. If you turn them away, you would just be justifying all the hatred, instead of helping to end it.”


The Mother Superior thought about that for a minute, then conceded “You do have a good point, and there is wisdom in your words. However, I would like to think about what you have said before I make my decision. If you all will excuse me, I would like to pray for a while, and ask the Father for his guidance in this matter."

Biblepuncher quickly spoke up, asking the woman if he could stay and pray with her and the other sisters, to which she did agree, though I could tell she was a little uncomfortable with the idea. The preacher quietly told us to trust his judgment, and to please return to the hotel. He would rejoin us later, hopefully with the good news we were wanting to hear. It was clear that our interview with the Mother Superior was over, at least for now, so we agreed to go back to the hotel. Cheyenne, Eddie, and Cora all needed to rest anyway, all I could do for now was take care of my brood, and do some more praying of my own...

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When we got back to the hotel, Doc Eells was waiting for us. First he checked Cora's shoulder, then Eddie's leg, and was satisfied that the other doctor had done a good job treating their wounds. Then he came to our room to see Cheyenne, and I could tell he was having a hard time not laughing about the location of Cheyenne's injury. Cheyenne failed to see the humor in it, but I had to admit, it was kind of amusing watching him try to sit down. After Doc had examined Cheyenne's wound and changed the dressing, Cheyenne asked if Doc could take a look at me too.

“You were hurt too, Calico? Where?” the doc asked, but I just shook my head. “No, I'm fine, nothing's wrong with me,” I tried to tell him, but Cheyenne insisted that I let Doc examine me. Doc just stared at both of us, then said “Not again...thought I told you to wait a little longer before doing that again...it's just not safe for you to be having too many babies too close together. Next time can you wait a bit longer before trying again?”

“Well, having another one wasn't exactly what we were trying to do this time around,” Cheyenne told him. Oh but did my face ever turn bright red when he said that...Doc just rolled his eyes and muttered something about “don't know what I'm gonna do with the two of ya”, then proceeded to confirm my suspicions.

After he was done, we had all of the children come to our room, we wanted to talk to them about what the Mother Superior had said. The nun had brought up a valid point, but we needed to know what the children thought. At some point they might have to face the unpleasantness of people's attitudes, did they really want to go through that? Laura had already seen it firsthand at the general store from Mrs. Dixon, and that probably wouldn't be the one and only time it would happen.


We were both very pleased when Eddie, Laura, and Tommy all told us that they still wished to be part of our family, and they were willing to stand up to anybody that didn't approve. Eddie told us "Hey, at the ranch we know that nothing matters beyond the fact you care about us. In town, well, if people don't want to like us, that's their problem, not ours!" Laura and Tommy quickly seconded that, little Rose just sat there with her arms around me, I don't think she was really old enough to understand what we were talking about. All I could do was hope that her older siblings would provide a good enough example for her to learn how to deal with it as she grew up.

We were just about to go downstairs for lunch when Biblepuncher knocked at our door. "I'm back, and Mother Benedict is downstairs waiting, she'd like to speak to the kids alone, if that's all right with the two of you," he told us. I couldn't tell from the look on his face if he thought the nun was any closer to a decision, but he didn't seem too upset with the idea of having the children meet with her. Cheyenne and I just looked at each other, saying no was not really an option, all we could do was hope that this would help our cause....

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I was ready for all out war with the nuns as we entered the orphanage, but they quickly let all the hot air out of me! I tried to tell myself that they had back tracked because of the back up that we had brought with us, but in my heart I knew I was wrong about that. It did surprise me when they said the problem was about the kids having to face people who didn't like a mixed family. Heck, I was from that setting and I had done alright, but then I wasn't raised around many other folks and I did almost have a silver spoon in my mouth my whole life. So what? I thought. These Jones kids would now have the same benefit as I enjoyed. I was really struggling with that.

 

I wasn't too happy with Doc Eels either, laughing at my wound! I couldn't help where I had been shot, at least it was just a flesh wound. Then he had the audacity to tell us we had been trying to have another child that quickly. We had cut down to maybe once a day, wasn't that a big enough sacrifice? What did he expect? Hmmmph!

 

We hadn't hardly finished with Doc when Biblepuncher returned with the top nun, I sure wasn't in the mood for bad news. I was surprised by the look on the nuns face though, it was really pleasant looking and almost apologetic. Then she asked to meet with just the children, I liked the sound of that, after all they loved the ranch and us, especially Calico. They were even taking to Cora real well, that had to help I kept telling myself and Cali.

 

I was surprised to hear laughing and giggling coming from the room with the kids and Mother Benedict. We were all trying to listen and were gathering around the door to listen better when the door suddenly opened. Mother Benedict was standing there with a big smile on her face and the kids were all jumping up and down and each one had smiles from ear to ear. Little Rose came running and went straight to Calico hollering "Mommy, Mommy, you're my Mommy!" Calico swept her up into her good arm as Rose kissed her face from her chin to her forehead.

 

Then the Mother spoke, "I'll agree to the adoption on one condition." The room hushed and you could hear the flies buzzing around our heads. "I'll agree if you set up a place for children to come to the ranch to visit." I thought Calico was going to float to the ceiling as the Mother's words sunk in. "You mean, that,,," Cali tried to get out, "Their ours now, and we get to have a place for others from the orphanage to come and visit at the ranch!" "Any restrictions?" I asked the Mother, "you do know that it is a ranch and not the city."

 

Mother Benedict put her hand on my shoulder, "your mother and father did a fine job with you, and I'm sure that you and Calico will do what's right for these children, and for the children that come and visit."

 

Calico and Cora took all the girls to the dress shop that Cora had worked at before coming to the ranch as a celebration. I have never seen happier girls before and especially after their foray to the store. I have to admit too that it was well worth whatever it had cost me, those smiles were priceless.

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I don't know what Biblepuncher said to those nuns, and he wouldn't tell us, but whatever it was it obviously worked. I was thrilled when Mother Benedict not only agreed to the adoptions, but the visitations as well. We'd have to do some work on the new house before we could start having the orphans come up, the building was perfect for it, but the furniture was not exactly what we would need. Oh well, it wouldn't be that hard to change things around, and there was room enough for about 8 children at a time. I just hoped that Cora would prove up to the challenge, after her shoulder healed of course.

After lunch, Cora and I took the girls shopping, we were going to be having a big celebration that night and of course we all needed something new to wear. It was fun helping Cora pick dresses for Laura and Little Flower, they were both old enough to start having an interest in the latest fashions, though both girls wanted dresses that I felt were a little mature for them. In the end I gave in, as long as they were happy that's what mattered, and I had to admit the dresses they chose were very pretty. It was hard to believe that it hadn't been that long since I had to teach Little Flower how to wear something besides the simple buckskin outfits she'd grown up wearing. She had come so far, now it seemed like she had been part of our lives a whole lot longer. I did manage to get Rose to agree to a cute little dress and pinafore outfit, she was just happy to be staying with us, it didn't matter to her what she was wearing. I decided I better enjoy that while I could!

I also arranged to have one of the tailors working at the men's clothing shop across the street to take some suits to the hotel, for Cheyenne, Eddie, and Tommy to try on. I explained their approximate sizes the best I could, but didn't want to buy anything without them trying the stuff on, and shopping would have been difficult for Cheyenne and Eddie. As it was, by the time us girls got back to the hotel, I was pretty tired, and Little Flower and Laura volunteered to watch the twins so I could take a nap. Rose, on the other hand, wanted to stay with me, but Cora finally got her to agree to let mama get some rest, I think I was really starting to like that woman!


James Winchester had not been idle that afternoon either. He had gone down to the courthouse and arranged for a meeting with the judge that had signed Little Flower's adoption papers. The judge was more than happy to help us out again, and it only took a little rearranging to find time to squeeze us into his busy schedule. James did explain that it would be too late to catch the train back to Fort Collins afterward, so we would have to stay in Denver two more days instead of getting to leave tomorrow. That was fine with me, I wasn't looking forward to having to get back on that train! Not after what had happened on the trip down...I sure wished we could go home some other way, but I knew nothing else made sense. At least that meant we got to spend more time with Morning Star, Buick, and Libby.

I may not have been looking forward to another train ride, but I was looking forward to getting home. It would really be home for the Jones children, now they would be returning as Culpeppers. We did give Eddie the option of keeping Jones for his surname, he would legally be our son regardless but at his age he was old enough to make that choice for himself. I thought I saw a bit of a tear in Cheyenne's eye when Eddie told us he'd be proud to take the name Culpepper.

I was also still looking forward to the upcoming county fair. Laura and I had already picked out what we were entering in the embroidery and quilt contests, and Little Flower had narrowed her recipe choices down to just a couple of ideas. I felt bad that Cheyenne and Eddie would have to miss out on the rodeo, but I doubted their wounds would heal enough in time. Cheyenne could still enter the sharpshooting contest if he wanted, and I was positive that he stood an excellent chance of winning. There would be plenty of other interesting things for everyone to do, and it promised to be a lot of fun. Now, I just had to get up the courage to get back on that dang train again.....

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I could have caught a mouthful of flies in my mouth the way my jaw dropped when the Mother gave us the good news. Cali about broke my ribs when she elbowed me trying to get my attention. I was thinking about the children left at the orphanage and their sad little faces, and we were going to get to something to try to brighten up their lives, if only for a few days at a time.

 

The women and children left to go dress shopping and that left just me and Eddie at the hotel. They hadn't been gone but for a few minutes when I told Eddie, aches and pains and all we're going shopping too, and off to the hardware stores we went. We had used up much of our ammo on the way there and we needed to replace that, and maybe they would have something "interesting" as well in the gun racks.

 

It took the two of us to get to the hardware store, but we were in no particular hurry. Since we weren't getting anywhere quickly I asked Eddie if he was still wanting to marry Little Flower. "OF COURSE I AM!" he nearly screamed, "but I don't know why we have to wait so long." "Well, just how long is too long?" I asked him. "Tomorrow!" was his instant reply. "Well, can you wait until we get back to the ranch and make arrangements?" I replied just as quickly. Eddie looked at me real uncertain like, "you're not teasing me are you, are you?" he asked.

"No" I replied slowly, "I know how you feel and what you're going through, Calico and I have talked about it, it's up to the two of you."

 

The rest of the walk to the hardware store I don't think Eddie limped one step. He was singing, and talking to himself and didn't notice the stares he was getting from everyone we even came near too. Yup, I knew that feeling, of course that's why number three was in the oven.

 

The owner of the hardware store recognized me immediately and told us he had heard to news about the train trip to Denver. Without hardly a word several boxes of ammunition were on the counter. I spied a new Sharps on the rack, and told the man to box it up, and I got a new glass to go with it. I didn't tell Eddie but this would be his wedding present. They had a pretty 1 of 1,000 Winchester 73 as well, that would be Little Flower's present, I was done shopping, well for the wedding anyway. I got a couple more shotguns for the way home on the train, as well as three more Winchesters and six Colts. We'd be ready this time for sure!

 

While we were still in the store when a little man came in gasping for air, "Finally I found you Mr. Culpepper, I've got suits for you to try on, and I was afraid to go back to the store without finding you. I knew your wife would have had me scalped if I hadn't done as she wanted." I left instructions with the shop owner to deliver the guns to our hotel and off we went to get measured for the suits.

 

I was thinking about the trip home on the train, it wasn't going to be much fun for sure, maybe I could get a berth for Calico and I and the kids. Still wasn't going to be much fun. Grud, I starting thinking about getting from the train to the ranch, ohhhh that was going to hurt, stupid outlaw!

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We had the whole hotel restaurant to ourselves that night for our celebration. Not only were we celebrating the pending adoptions, but Eddie's birthday was the next day as well. He thought it was a wonderful present, but Cheyenne and I knew that we were the ones getting the real gift. After dinner was over and we were waiting for dessert to be served, Eddie got up from his chair and walked over to where Little Flower was sitting. When she looked up at him, he slowly eased himself down on one knee (how he did that with his injured leg I never did figure out) and took her hand in his. "I love you and always will, please let me share my life with you....will you marry me?"

Little Flower gasped, then looked at Cheyenne, who was grinning from ear to ear. Then she looked at me, and I gave her a weak smile, it was her choice but I still had reservations. Then she looked at Eddie, and in a voice barely above a whisper, asked him "Weren't we going to wait a while, until we were a little older?"

Eddie was already rather pale, and turned even paler. "Yeah, but that's because Cheyenne and Calico, I mean Father and Mother, wanted us to wait, but Father said he changed his mind, we can marry whenever we want." I could tell he was getting really nervous, and I couldn't blame him.

"But, I'm not sure....I mean....I don't know if I'm ready for....can I please think about it for a while?" Little Flower blurted out, a look of sheer panic on her face. Eddie let go of her hand, and slowly nodded, then Little Flower jumped up and ran out of the room towards the stairs, followed quickly by Laura. Eddie was obviously crushed, and slowly got to his feet. Cheyenne came over and started putting his arm around the young man's shoulder, but Eddie shook him off, saying "I'd like to be alone for a few minutes, if you don't mind," and quickly walked out of the restaurant onto the front porch.

That kind of put a damper on the party, I think we were all a little shocked. As anxious as they had both seemed before to marry as soon as possible, it was strange that Little Flower had reacted this way. Morning Star and I looked at each other, and then excused ourselves, we wanted to talk to the girl and find out why the sudden reluctance to go through with it. We went up to the room that the three girls were sharing, and knocked on the door. Laura answered it, and when she saw it was us, looked over her shoulder and asked Little Flower if it was ok to let us in. We heard a soft "yes" from the room, and Laura stood aside to let Morning Star and I enter.


"You want to talk about it, honey?" I gently asked her, sitting on the bed next to her and putting my arm around her waist. Morning Star and Laura sat on the other bed, facing us. I could tell Little Flower had been crying, and it took a minute for her to start talking. "I do want to marry Eddie, really I do, I love him so very much," she stated, "but I'm kind of scared too...not of being married, but of....." and then she stopped.


"It's ok, honey, you can tell us, we won't tell anyone if you don't want us to," Morning Star told her. So Little Flower took a deep breath, "I want to get married, but I know I'm not ready to have a baby yet, but if we get married that's what will happen. If only there was a way for me and Eddie to be together, but wait for a while to start a family...."

Morning Star smiled at her, then reached over to pat her hand. "I've got an idea for you, after you all go back to Fort Collins the day after tomorrow, Buick and I will be returning home as well. When I get there, I'll have a talk with Sadie about her and Black Jack coming up to visit you all. Sadie knows some ways that might help you avoid having a baby, at least until you're ready for it." That came as a surprise to me, I had no idea that that was even possible, maybe I should be the one talking to Sadie...oh yeah, too late for that now! Morning Star continued, "I will warn you, she can't guarantee 100% that it will work, but if you really want to be together, it may be something for you to consider. And even if you do end up having a baby, with the experience you have with the twins, it may not be as bad as you think."

"Well, I do want babies someday, and I know Eddie does too, but I would rather not get started on that just yet," Little Flower explained, and I gave her a hug. "That's perfectly understandable, and I don't blame you one bit. But I do think you really need to tell Eddie that this is how you feel, and see what he says. If he understands, and I think he will, then having Sadie come visit would be a good idea. I was thinking that it would be lovely to have your wedding up at the old cabin, when the aspens start turning, which will be in about a month. That would give you plenty of time to hear what Sadie has to say, and get a dress ready, and everything else planned. Then you two could stay there for a few weeks alone, before coming back to the ranch for the winter. That is, if you decide to go through with this," I told her, and Morning Star and Laura nodded as well.

Little Flower took a deep breath, and agreed to go down and talk to Eddie on the porch, privately. The rest of us went back to the restaurant, and Cheyenne immediately wanted to know what was going on. "Women talk, nothing I can tell you," I let him know, "but I think we may have come up with a solution. Let the two of them work it out, they need to learn how to do that anyway. For now, let's just go back to celebrating the new additions to our family. Oh, and by the way, Sadie and Black Jack may be coming for a little visit soon, I hope you don't mind."

Cheyenne had no objection to that, and at that point a waiter came in with a bottle of champagne for the adults, and sparkling juice for the kids. We all had several toasts, but then agreed to retire early to our rooms, we needed to get an early start in the morning to make sure we were at the courthouse in plenty of time for our appointment with the judge. I hadn't heard any arguing from the front porch, which was a good sign, but when the rest of us went upstairs the two young lovebirds were still out there talking. They did need to learn to work out their disagreements themselves, without interference from me or Cheyenne. But as I drifted off to sleep, I was already planning the wedding, as I had a feeling that it would be occurring as soon as the aspen leaves started turning gold....

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