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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

THE SHERIFF'S SON

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35.  A MATTER OF HONOR

 

I recalled the Sheriff's words.

I recalled them as I drew that '76 rifle's crescent butt plate into my arm and taken a sight, I remembered his words as my finger just touched that flat steel trigger, I thought of his words as I held the sight steady, and of course the report and recoil knocked the thought out of my head.

I jacked the lever and fired a second time and the second bullet took the second man, the startled man, square between the eyes, which is where I intended it should go.

The first man, the one who insulted my wife and threatened me, had a hole in the back of his head.

Yes, I shot a man from the back, and I've done it before and I'll do it ag'in as need be, for I intend to live to go home to my wife.

That first man, the one I back shot from ambush, said things about my wife no man had ought to say.

I straightened him out, I did, I fetched him a blow to his nose that spread it over most of his face.

Matter of fact when I hit him, blood squirted left and right both, for I did like the Sheriff taught me and I hit him with the heel of my hand instead of my fisted knuckles.

The Sheriff taught me, "Jacob, a man's face is backed with bone and a man doesn't want to knuckle a man's skull.  You are a gunfighter and so am I, and neither of us can afford a broken hand."

"No, sir," I'd agreed, and he showed me how to strike with an open palm and my fingers curled, driving the heel of my hand into a man's nose, or the point of his chin from the side to break the jaw, and he showed me how to stick my bent fingers out so my middle finger joints made a sharp row, to strike upward and bounce my rising fist off a man's chest about the collar bone and strike into his wind pipe.

We sparred, in the barn and outside and some in the parlor until the maid come in with a broom and allowed as she was goin' to beat us both over the head with attair bresh broom for she'd just cleaned the rug and she was NOT going to explain to Her Ladyship how her good vase got broken, and she the maid would have to clean up the mess! – and so the Sheriff and I lowered our hands and stepped back from one another and the Sheriff give a fancy bow from the waist and said "As you wish, my Lady," and the maid swatted him acrost the back with the broom and we legged it out of there with the Sheriff laughin' and gettin' smacked over the head with the bresh end of attair broom and him laughin' just made her madder and we had to honestly outrun her.

Miz Esther told me quietly, later that day, she had to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep from shrieking with laughter.

I war't sure what a shriek was – strikes me it's some kind of bird – but I didn't argue with her for she seemed tickled by the memory of seein' her maid chargin' after the two of us, swingin' attair broom and screamin' somethin' in Irish that likely the fire chief would understand, and knowin' him he'd approve and likely laugh as well.

I git side tracked easy.

Anyway the Sheriff he said a man's honor was a touchy thing especially a lawman's honor and a man couldn't let a slight pass, especially if he was backing the badge, an affront had to be answered so when that feller allowed as what he'd like to do to Annette, why, I grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around and drove my hand-heel right into his beak and allowed oncet he straightened up he could fill his hand or he could take it for she was my wife and he would keep his tongue behind his teeth.

He allowed as he'd kill me and the man beside him said he'd help and I unbuttoned my coat and threw it open and allowed as they could fill their hand and do it now and funny thing when a man is lookin' at his own death he's quick to back down most days.

I warn't.

If he wanted to drag iron I was more than ready.

"All you had to do was wipe your chin," I said quietly, "and you'd be wise to do that now, unless you want to take that back and make your apology."

He didn't want to do that.

I allowed as he could leave right now, he could walk out of the Silver Jewel on his own two legs or he could be carried out boots first, and funny thing, everyone along the bar of a sudden found some urgent business elsewhere and him and his compadre stood alone.

They left.

I followed them out for I am not a trusting man, and I watched them ride off, and they turned and yelled that they'd get me, and that's all I needed to hear.

The Sheriff told me to take such from no man and I didn't.

Me and Apple-horse, we taken a trail that cut several minutes off their ride, we was waitin' ambush when they come in sight and I let 'em pass and I shot the first man, the one with the bloody nose, square under his hat from the back, and the other one who allowed as he was gon' ta help the first one kill me, why, I taken him between the lug and the horn.

Oncet they was dead I relieved them of their proud-ofs.

One had a half decent watch I didn't really need so I didn't take it, I taken both their gunbelts and scabbarded rifles, I relieved one of a well filled money belt and the other of a surprisingly generous purse, then I rode into town and told Digger to take the dead wagon and have them two carcasses dropped in the hole we kept open and waitin' in Potter's Field.

I am a thrifty man but I thought it wise to invest my gains so I hired my wife a maid and traded Yankee greenbacks for good gold coin and I put it in behint a rock in the stone pantry behint the kitchen.

The guns I tore down and give a good lookin' over, I cleaned 'em and oiled 'em up and loaded 'em and then I set them away in my gun case.

A man can always use more hardware.

 

I was tellin' this to my youngest grandson and he give me a funny look and said "Grampa, did he have a bloody chin?"

"Oh, I reckon he did, Caleb," I replied, leaning forward, my bony elbows digging into my skinny old man's knees.

"Is that why you told him to wipe his chin?"

I laughed and my voice was a reedy old man's laugh, and I nodded.

"Well, almost," I admitted.  "If I tell someone to wipe their chin it means to shut their mouth."

"Oh."
My youngest grandson had kind of a pleased expression, like he'd just heard something that could come in handy, and likely that was the case.

Boys is like that.

 

Now I didn't generally go around back shootin' people that aggravated me.

I did it when 'twas needful but that was it.

Nowadays the courts dislike a man tendin' a matter of honor in such a way but back then, back when I was yet a young man, it was the … oh, hell … how was it Mrs. Cooper put it?

The rule and not the exception.

 

Warn't long after that the Sheriff sent me to get a man who'd falsely accused him.

He wanted to fetch the scoundrel back and give him a fair trial before he hanged him, and he sent me to go get him.

I set down with His Honor the Judge and the Sheriff and we talked it all over and the Sheriff showed me the wanted dodger with his name on it, and then a secont one that allowed as the first one lied, and he said he'd sent telegrams to every judge in the territory so they'd know the Sheriff had been falsely accused of murder back East, and he'd found out who falsely swore the original complaint, 'twas a man he'd had bad blood with back in Sedalia in Ohio and if he went back East chances were good he'd get locked up.

I taken the warrant and I stood and said "I will bring him back, sir, peacefully or otherwise."

"I'm trusting you in this, Jacob," he told me.  "I need him alive so he can swear under oath that he lied."

"Yes, sir," I said, and I felt the flesh tighten acrost my cheek bones and the Judge looked away from me and shuddered and he told me later I looked right wolflike when I smiled.

I went home and packed a grip and kissed my wife and told her I was headed East to bring back a criminal.

 

 

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36.  THE BEST LAID PLANS

 

The Sheriff and I looked up as a red-faced little boy came stumbling and puffing into our little log fortress, his boots and shoulders snowy and his cheeks standing out like ripe apples.

"Some guy got burnt, Shurf," she blurted, "Doc says come quick!"

The lad disappeared like a scairt rabbit and the Sheriff and I abandoned our discussion of extradition of a prisoner and rose and recht for our Stetsons and coats, for it was cold out, and snowy.

The doctors were gifted with a new stone hospital, something of a luxury for the area, but it was still bein' built and their offices were still upstairs in the Silver Jewel, so that's where we went:  the wind was bitter, whistlin' down the street, but that was expected, and it warn't enough to knock us off our feet, and right glad I was that Cannonball and Apple-horse both was stabled out back.

They were both penned up so's they couldn't get to one another, Cannonball was comin' frash and Apple, bein' a stallion, was gettin' interested, so far he'd not tried to kick the place down to get to her but we both knowed it was likely to happen.

Anyway we went up the stairs two at a time and the Sheriff didn't bother to knock, he shoved right on into the surgery through attair frosty glass door with JOHN GREENLEES, M.D. and under it, GEORGE FLINT, M.D., and beneath that, SURGEONS.

A man was sitting in a chair and he looked plumb awful.

He used to have a good rich red beard, now 'twas pretty well burnt off but it didn't look like his face got burnt none, but Doc Greenlees was standin' back and watchin' whilst Dr. Flint lowered the man's hand into a dishpan of somethin' and I smelt burnt meat and I smelt yarbs of some kind and I knowed Dr. Flint likely had some Indian medicine that would work better than the goose grease most docs used nowadays.

Dr. Flint once told me people will butter a burn and he said that's like fryin' meat in butter, he said it holds infection ag'in that burnt meat and gives the infection a happy home and people die from infection, and he told me he'd ruther keep it clean and dry but at first it has to be wet with boiled and cooled water to keep the air off for it's the air that hurts a wound.

I was content to let Dr. Flint know all that, but I was also curious and I listened when he spoke, and I watched as he worked in attair water and Doc Greenlees held a cup to the man's lips and he taken a few sips and then a longer drank and directly he had that funny look about him that told me Doc Greenlees give him somethin' that was considerable stronger than the Water Clear and Not Over 30 Days Old he used to mix that stuff up. 

I think he called it Knockemstiff.

A worn looking woman was with him, she had a baby to her breast all wrapped up in a shawl and Nurse Susan was talking quietly with her and steering her over to a chair and the Sheriff went over to the woman and fetched off his hat and went to one knee, and commenced to talkin' quietly to her.

Me, I stood back, I kind of faded back ag'in the wall, and I warn't surprised none when one of Daisy's girls come in with tea like as if she was bringin' it up for Miz Esther.

Nurse Susan got that poor woman to drink some tea and she et a couple of them little finger-sandwiches Miz Esther likes so well, I stood there and watched and listened and the doctors examined the man's burnt hands and they cut off some burnt meat and got him wrapped up and the Sheriff he come over and said in a quiet and serious voice, "Jacob, they were going to set up camp about a mile or two east of here.  They tried to start a fire but couldn't get wet wood going so they used lamp oil and didn't know there was some fire left from their last try.  There are three children still there.  Bring them back if you can, set up camp if you can't."

"Yes, sir," I said, and swung my skypiece back onto my head, making a fast mental list on supplies I'd need.

Three young'uns and they'd be hungry.  He didn't say how old but I know how empty my own growlin' gut gets, so I went thunderin' downstairs and I swung around the end of the bar and Daisy was standin' there with her her hands on her hips, a drippin' spoon in one of 'em, and she raised attair stirrin' spoon and shook it at me and declared, "I can tell from th' look on yer face ye're wantin' somethin'!  Men!  Ye're all alike!  Ye're all mouth and hands!"

Her voice was loud, her tone was sharp and more than one man at the bar tried without any luck a'tall to hide his grin as she continued, her voice harsh and loud, and even the piano player eased off the ivories to listen.

"Ye're all alike!  Ye're all mouth and hands!  Ye've one thing on yer mind an' it's us puir women ye expect to get it from!"

"And what is it we men want from you women, Daisy?"  I asked, trying to look innocent and I don't reckon I succeeded much.

"What do men always want from women!"  Daisy shouted, shaking her spoon at me.  "FOOD!"

I was not the only man there to get a good healthy laugh from the woman's serious-faced, spoon-shaking address, and I nodded and said "Daisy, I’m headed out to either fetch in three children, or set up camp until the storm passes.  I don't know how old they are but I reckon bein' young'uns they'll be ready to eat the axle off a freight wagon.  Can you fix me up with a basket for 'em?"

Daisy came stomping up to me, shoved her belly into mine and glared up at me with Irish-green eyes and poked her stiff finger into my chest.

"YOU!" – poke – "will NOT!" – poke – "let those PUIR WEE CHILREN – poke, poke, poke – "SHIVER HUNGRY IN THE COLD!"

She snapped her hand down to her side, her arms were stiff, her hands fisted, she glared at me like it was all my fault and she snapped, "I'LL FIX YER BASKET!" – she whirled and stomped back to her kitchen, and a rancher laid a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and he chuckled, "Son, I hope never to get on the rough side of that woman's temper!"

"Yes, sir," I agreed, and I allowed myself a grin with the man.  "Scary part is, you just saw Daisy happy."

The man laughed and so did several others and the piano player started up again, and directly, why, I was headed east and hopin' to find where those pilgrims come from.

There were hungry bellies dependin' on me.

 

Apple-horse, he didn't have no trouble a'tall with the snow, warn't that much of it – yet – husband and wife come into town in a loaded up wagon and I had no idea why they hadn't brought their young with them.

I found out why.

The three were huddled ag'in a rock and least they had sense enough to stomp out a place in a snow drift and throw a blanket around 'em, Apple-horse either heard 'em or smelt 'em and I taken a look at where they was sheltered and allowed to myself as that warn't a bad place so I drew up and taken a look around.

'Twas startin' to snow ag'in and I was a couple mile from town by then and the flakes was big and fluffy and comin' down cross legged so I knowed 'twould be deep, and I thought to myself I'd have two of them on Apple, the youngest two, the biggest of the three and I would walk, and it would be a long and tiring slog.

I hadn't no idea how much snow was a-comin' but they needed fed and warmed up and I figured 'twould make more sense to stay the night, so I drew up Apple-horse and swung down and a little blond haired blue eyed boy looked at me and blinked them big blue eyes and I figured right there he'd be a heart breaker, likely the wimmen folks would just throw themselves at his feet once he got some growth to him, they was an older lad and a girl and none of 'em over about nine or ten years, turns out they was ten, eight and six, but we didn't get that fur until after I'd cut poles and laid down slash to get us-all off the wet ground, not until after I'd laid browse over the poles, knowin' snowfall would finish roofin' it for us, knowin' they'd accidentally picked a good shelter mostly out of the wind.

Attair shelter rock was big enough and the poles I cut was long enough, why, Apple-horse come in with us and I touched him behint the leg and he was pleased as anything to fold up them legs of his an' lay down with us and them young'uns cuddled up ag'in him, I used the saddle blanket and my bed roll and directly, why, with a little fire laid on bark and burnin' dead wood that made near to no smoke, we set ourselves down and et out of Daisy's basket.

I was right about them young'uns bein' hungry.

Apple-horse, he seemed right pleased when them three laid down and he was laid down with 'em and 'twas some better when a big black wet nose stuck itself ag'in the side of my face and snuffed and The Bear Killer commenced to do his level best to warsh the ear off the side of my head, and he piled up with them young'uns too, and I wondered if The Bear Killer was here, why, Sarah might just show up, but she didn't, and I set up through the night and kept that little fahr goin' whilst them young'uns slept with a full belly on a bed of pine slash.

Come daylight, why, they wakened, they tended their morning necessaries and so did I, I'd held back enough from Daisy's basket to knock the sharp edge off their hunger, and directly we was saddled up and headed for town.

Them children didn't talk much and neither did I, but I recall when that blue eyed little boy woke up and looked around and he didn't reckonize where he was, why, he got kind of scared, but then he recht over and laid his hand on The Bear Killer's flank and attair big black head come around and licked his hand and then he put that big black paw on the boy's chest and commenced to warsh his face and attair little fellow begun to laugh and after that 'twas all right.

The oldest was but ten but he was game, I had him carry the empty basket, I fetched out the red and white checkered cloth linin' the basket and wrapped it around his neck like a wild rag, I told him as I did that you want to fold it into a triangle – like so – then you fold it ag'in so it's long but not too wide, like so – then we put it around your neck like this, now let's work it in under neath your collar so it keeps the wind out, I helped him get it down around the back of his neck and tucked into the front – now take this tail and that's your standing end.  Hold that for me.  This-yere is the travelin' end, wrap it around your standin' end once, like this, now you throw the knot in it and see how it slides?

I tightened it up a little and then showed him if he gits a branch caught it under it or someone grabs it, I pulled gentle-like and the knot let the standing end slide right out.

He liked that.

I got it back in place and tied up just right and they was another napkin and it warn't long enough to wild rag but I got it wrapped around the next boy's neck and the little girl looked kind of disappointed 'cause she was already buttoned up around her neck and I told her don't worry, darlin', we'll find you somethin' once we git back to town, and had she ever rode a genuine wild Appaloosa stallion?
Her eyes got big and she give me them big innocent eyes that only a little girl-child has, and I turned back my lapel and showed her my six point star and I allowed as I was a genuine Western Sheriff's deputy and she was goin' to ride a genuine Western Sheriff's deputy's horse, and her mouth opened a little and made a little O of delight and I h'isted her up into the saddle and had her grab holt of the saddle horn and the other little one went on behint her and the oldest boy he walked with me and he packed attair empty basket and I made sure that fire was twice over dead and we left the shelter right where 'twas.

Might be next soul down the trail would need a place to rest.

 

We come a-grinnin' into the Silver Jewel, me carryin' that little girl, leadin' her brother by the hand, and the ten year old – he was the man of the pack, he near to strutted as he come in, he'd been a Responsible Big Brother and he couldn't wait to tell his Ma – why, we went in and 'course when you first come in, there's that nice big mahogany ho-tel desk, an' Tilly was behint it and she looked up and laughed and declared, "Why, Jacob, a family already?"  and I laughed and allowed as I worked fast, and she said "They're upstairs, she hasn't left the surgery," and so we-all went troopin' upstairs an' I didn't know it but Daisy followed us up.

The mother was tired, she looked like she hadn't slept none a'tall, her husband was layin' in a bed an' covered up, I saw his clothes were folded and that told me he'd been stripped down and likely Bonnie's ladies took them and at the very least brushed them out and more'n likely they'd warshed 'em and b'iled 'em if need be to kill any greybacks, his boots was cleaned off and they'd been daubed and I saw them soles was just thin as a Democrat dollar so I figured hell, I'll get him over to the Mercantile and get him another set of boots, and about then the Mama woke up and rose from her chair and opened her arms like a mama quail and her chicks went a-flockin' to her, all chatterin' at once, and I turned and near to run into Daisy.

She'd already picked up the empty basket and she was looking at the happy reunion, and she taken my arm and steered me outside and she bit her bottom lip and she looked up at me and she was near to ready to cry for some reason and I wondered what in the hell is it about me that brings women to tears and she never said a word, she patted my chest gentle-like with the flat of her hand and the she turned and went on downstairs with attair empty basket.

I stood there with my hat in my hand and finally I went on downstairs my own self.

The Sheriff was waitin' for me outside, and him lookin' like he'd had a good night's rest and a good breakfast, and he give me that interested look of his and said in his long-windy way, "Report."

I give him my usual long windy reply.

"Special mission accomplished, sir."

 

Oh yeah. 

I was right about that little boy with them big blue eyes.

He ended up down in Daisy's kitchen an' she plied him with a steady stream of whatever he wanted, she did her level best to fatten up them young'uns but that little blue eyed boy with blond hair just plainly charmed her seven ways from Sunday.

 

 

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37.  A CHAUNCEY AFFAIR

 

Apple-horse was perfectly at home in the stock car and glad I was for it, for we had some travelin' to do and the steam train was the only choice.

I had warrant in pocket and the Sheriff sent a telegram on ahead and I was expected at the Athens County Sheriff's Office and the Chauncey Marshal's Office both, and likely I'd run into the Athens police department as well though this was none of their affair.

I know men are curious creatures and I figured if a genuine Wild West lawman rode in on a good lookin' spotty stallion it would draw attention, and I reckoned I could turn that to my advantage.

That's one thing the Sheriff taught me, take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage.

We crossed from the Shining Mountains over to the Big River and we crossed it and I did not like lookin' out attair side door a'tall, and Apple-horse, he drowsed as we did and didn't pay it no mind a'tall.

Me, I kept feelin' like I was bein' drawed torst attair door an' somethin' would reach in and grab holt of me and flang me off attair big steel trustle an' into attair muddy water and I did not want to see if there was still a baby cryin' like Miz Esther described, 'sides this warn't the same river but rivers is hungry and they want to eat a man's soul, or so I have long maintained.

We changed trains in Cincinnati – that is to say, the private car and the stock car was kept coupled together but they got hooked onto another train and it drug out out of Porkopolis and on torst the risin' of the sun, and the brakeman that come in and allowed as he was goin' to peel me with attair brakeman's club ended up with a .44 barrel drove halfway to his spine and my blade acrost his throat and him bent backward over a hay bale and I allowed as he could go back to where he come from or his scalp would decorate my lodge pole and then I put the revolver away and turned over my lapel and he looked at attair six point star and felt the edge of my knife just slippin' through the skin under his Adam's apple and he felt that first trickle of blood runnin' warm and wet down his neck and he allowed as might be he'd just leave and I let him but I set up the rest of the night with my Winchester acrost the hay bale in front of me and I was off in a different part of the stock car.

Sure enough two railroad dicks come into the car and they both had shotguns and I eared the hammer back on that '76 rifle and allowed as they could get out on their own or I could send 'em to hell but one way or t'other they were leavin' and as I was behint 'em just a little they allowed as might be they were at a disadvantage.

I set to raisin' hell with them, for Miz Esther arranged passage and she was in good with the railroads since she owned the Z&W and when a railroad's owner makes arrangements people generally pays attention and I let them two leave and I moved to another part of attair car and this time someone knocked before they come in.

It was a fella wearin' considerable better grade of suit than them railroad dicks and he allowed as he was a wheel of some kind with that railroad and he said they-all was wrong to have Bully Ragged me the way they did and I allowed as I was right glad to hear that and could I expect any more of the same and he said no and I said good for I would shoot the next sawed off trouble maker that come either into my private car or into this-yere stock car and there was no josh a'tall in my voice.

He couldn't see me for I'd stacked my coat and hat off to one side as if I was behint some bales of hay and I stuck a pitch fork handle first out from between 'em just a little as if I had a rifle barl stickin' out between the two bales when I was actually on t'other side, and him talkin' to the hat believin' he was talkin' to me.

Miz Esther told me oncet I got back that one them-there Rail Road Dicks come to her with his hat in his hand for he'd heard how I'd dealt with unpleasantness and he knowed he was surrounded by all kind of folk from where-I-come-from, and he didn't want everyone and their uncle pilin' on him out of aggravation, and he found out in right short order that yes, Miz Esther owned the Z&W, that yes, that was MY private car, that yes, that was MY stock car, that yes I was a deputy sheriff and yes I had fully paid passage back to that dirty little coal minin' town, and Miz Esther was normally very charming and very pleasant but I was told by another who watched all this that she was frosty cold, she was stiff and formal and she never raised her voice, she never uttered a threat, but she let this fella know in absolutely no uncertain terms that she expected me to be treated very well indeed.

Lightning told me later the telegram attair railroad dick sent was the longest he'd ever pounded through his brass.

Anyway I could have changed trains again oncet we got into Athens.

I didn't.

I allowed as I would not be but a day and on that day I wanted my private car and my stock car on the siding in Chauncey a-waitin' on me and they-all allowed as it would be there, so I rode Apple-horse down the ramp and onto attair city street and I didn't like the way it smelt and it was crowded and I genuinely didn't like it and neither did Apple-horse.

I sighted me the cupola I'd been told about and me and Apple, we rode uphill on genuine hand laid brick streets at a fast walk – Apple would've ve been happy to trot but I reckoned we'd best not, least not here in town – we come to the Sheriff's office and I come down out of saddle leather and rubbed Apple's ears and whispered to him the way I always did and I'm lookin' around and them-there fancy college men wearin' their fine suits and carryin' books was a-lookin' at me.

"Apple," says I, "you want to kick them fellas over attair roof line, that's fine by me," and Apple bobbed his head like he understood, and I taken me attair warrant and I went on into the Sheriff's office.

They'd got my Bona Fides already and allowed as yes it was fine with them if I went and picked up attair prisoner and they knowed the dirty deal Don Douglas pulled, falsely claimin' the Sheriff to have murdered a man in Sedalia and havin' wanted dodgers printed up for that.  They allowed as Douglas was a mean one that broke into the village files and stole papers to keep his boy from bein' arrested for theft and by the time the constable got there, why, them papers was ash tumblin' acrost the back yard where he set 'em afire.

That private car had its own jail cell and I figured to put it to use.

Oncet I come out of the Sheriff's office, why, Apple-horse was in the middle of the street and his ears was laid back, they was two on the ground and two a-circle and my lariat was layin' on the ground and I picked it up.

The nearest fellow on the ground was tryin' to breathe, his eyes was bugged out, I come down on one knee and said "How bad you hurt?" and he grunted "Wind … knocked out of me," and I got up and went to the next one and he had a broke leg and another grabbed Apple's saddle horn and managed to get into the saddle and attair Appaloosa stallion just plainly come unglued.

Now I been on him when he's got impressive and I've seen the Sheriff buck out attair big golden stallion of his and that red Cannonball mare both, but I never stood back and admired just what a good horse can do to a poor rider.

This young fella come out of the saddle and I don't know how he done it but he done a summerset in the air and he come down on his feet and he summer setted ag'in and I was near enough to him by then I flipped the loop around his neck and give it a tug and whistled up Apple-horse and her he come a-trottin' up to me and I taken the slack out of attair line and up in the saddle I went and we went for the nearest lamp post with that fella draggin' by the neck and yellin' tryin' to keep up.

I tossed the coil over attair lamp and dallied it around the saddle horn and them young fellers was a-yellin' at me and allowin' as I couldn't do that and I fetched out my Winchester rifle and fired a shot into the air and that hushed the bunch of 'em.

I taken a pull on attair braided lariat an' brought that fella to his toes and turned back my lapel and allowed as they tried to steal a Colorado deputy's horse and that's a hangin' offense, and I walked Apple backwards another two steps and this fella was clawin' at his neck and he come barely off the ground and he was makin' all kind of awful noises but none of 'em loud.

I fetched another round into the chamber and the rifle's action was shocking loud in attair brick street and I looked around and they was an Athens police officer standin' there lookin' just awful pleased with hisself.

I allowed as horse thieves are forfeit but I was feelin' generous, if you trouble makin' sorts think all of you has learned your lesson I'll let this fella go.

They all allowed as they did and he did too, least as best he could with his tongue stuck out and his eyes a-bulge so I eased up on the line and got it out from around his neck and I backed Apple-horse with attair rifle up on my leg, then me and Apple we walked over to attair police officer with the square topped round cap.

"You got anythin' to say to me?" I asked and he looked up and said "Yes," and I set myself for a fight and then relaxed a little as he allowed as he'd waited for years to see one of these rich men's sons get his comeuppance, that he'd have paid admission to have watched what he just seen, and by the way he didn't see a thing, and then he turned and walked off whistlin'.

I figured 'twas a good time to get out of town so me and Apple-horse, we turned our noses up hill and rode torst the coach road.

It warn't far to Chauncey.

Now I'd allowed my railcars was to be at the sidin' waitin' on me the next night, that would give me a night and a day to find Douglas and get him in irons, and if need be I'd let them cars sit right there and wait on me.

I rode up into Wolf Plains and found me a place to eat and they was a livery there so I taken my rifle out of the scabbard and slung my saddle bags over my shoulder and paid the man to curry down Apple-horse and grain him and throw down clean straw for his stall and he allowed as he would and maybe that's because I had attair rifle in hand, I don't know and it don't matter much, and when I went into attair little restaurant I stepped in and slid to the side quick-like the same as I did comin' into a strange saloon to get a wall to my back, and I give things a good lookin' over.

It looked peaceful enough so I set me down back in the corner, I parked my rifle and set them saddle bags in the chair beside me and set my hat on 'em and that little hash slinger come over kind of uncertain and I turned over my lapel and allowed as I was mostly harmless and about starved out, what was good tonight?

She give me a real funny look but she allowed as they had chicken and they had cat fish and they had beef, and I said I've et my weight in beef but I never had cat fish in my life, I'd like to try it and by golly it was good but 'twas a different woman that brought me the plate than took my order.

I knowed that look she give me and I rose and said "Ma'am, there is a question in your eyes," and she said yes there was, and had I ever heard of Butcher Knife Joe?

I said yes ma'am, a pale eyed man killed him with a Navy Colt revolver some long years before, and she said yes, she was a little girl and she saw it happen, and she said I was the very image of the town marshal that done it.

She set down and we talked and I got her to laughin' for I described how the Sheriff was bein' talked about in the Silver Jewel Saloon and how men was sayin' how he was cold and hard and he'd kill a man soon as look at him and about then the Sheriff come a-runnin' out of the back room with his little girl ridin' his shoulders, him a-laughin' and her a-laughin' and holdin' his Stetson up at arm's length above her head yellin' "Faster, Daddy, faster!" and they was folks at a couple other tables that smiled to hear it, and the woman said she'd never felt at once any more afraid yet she'd never felt safer in her life, knowin' there was such a soul as would face down a Hob Goblin like Butcher Knife Joe.

I'd never heard of a Hob Goblin but it sounded like somethin' she must've been afraid of and I admitted yes, the Sheriff is my father, and she asked me in a quiet voice if I would tell him, for her, that a little girl slept better for having seen him put down one of her personal terrors.

Oncet I was done and paid up my bill, I went back to attair livery stable and had me a talk with the fella that run it, for he seemed a decent sort and I needed information.

He allowed as yes, he knew a clean place to stay, he said acrost from the village hall the Widow Hanson run a boadin' house, 'twas clean and not buggy a'tall and I allowed as that was good, I didn't want to bring home no greybacks, and he give me a funny look and said he hadn't heard that for an awful long time and was I related to a man with pale eyes that was Cavalry back durin' the War, and I commenced to wonder if everybody knew the Sheriff.

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38.  PRISONER

 

That pretty little school marm taken me around the waist like she was gon' to squeeze me in two and she let out a screech and I grinned and I knowed that grin was plumb wicked and Apple-horse, he laid his ears back and drove them steel shoes ag'in the brick pavin' the schoolhouse road and was it dark I'd bet good money we was a-throwin' sparks, attair Appaloosa stallion had his ears laid back and he was drivin' hard up attair hill and we come rip-roarin' up torst attair schoolhouse and the bell atop was ringin' like Doom on the Day of Death itself and they was school marms and schoolchildren out front and they was a-starin' at us and Apple-horse he come up on the flat in front of the school and I tickled him behint the front leg with the toe of my right boot and Apple-horse, he r'ared up and windmilled them steel-shod forehooves and screamed for the joy of it and if you never heard a stallion scream up close whilst he was cuttin' curlicues out of the air with them fightin' hooves you never felt cold water run through your veins, I tell you!

Apple-horse he come down on all fours just nice as anything and I sidled him over to them stone steps and that cute little school marm she dismounted like she was comin' down onto a mountin' block and she was a little pale and the color stood out on her cheeks but her eyes was shinin' and her red lips was parted a little and I backed Apple-horse up and lifted my Stetson and tickled Apple-horse ag'in and he come down on one knee and lowered his head til his damp nose near to touched the ground and I thought that poor little school marm was goin' to melt right in her moccasins.

I fetched Apple-horse hard about and we went a-clatterin' back down hill but considerable less energetic than we come up and I reckoned I could be forgiven, me bein' a married man and all, for I hadn't done nothin' improper, that cute little school marm over slept and her livin' in the Widow Hanson's boardin' house and all, and me and Apple-horse, we was already saddled and mounted and I allowed as I'd ride her up to the school house and she clumb up behint me kind of awkward and Apple-horse, why, he was tired of bein' cooped up in a strange stable and well … she was runnin' late, and Apple-horse set out to runnin', and the air was thicker and heavier here than in the mountains and oncet we topped out attair school house hill, Apple warn't even breathin' hard.

I went on down the hill and I taken me a look at attair street sign and navigated myself to a pa'tickelar street and I rode down it slow, lookin' left and right, knowin' word travels fast and I'd made myself known to the Marshal for it was polite to let another lawman know you was in his jurisdiction, and small towns bein' what they are, likely my bein' here was known and this Douglas fella he might not want to be taken into custody.

I drew up in front of a tidy little house and I looked around and I picked out the places I'd be hidin' was I to want to kill me and I didn't see nothin' out of the ordinary so I swung down and walked easy up the steps and a woman come out and she was one of those women you can't help but like the first time she opens her mouth.

They was somethin' about her, though, somethin' that struck me as almost sad, or very tired.

I fetched off my Stetson for it was the proper thing to do and said "Ma'am, I am lookin' for Don Douglas."

She nodded and held the door a little wider and I thanked her and taken a step inside and unbuttoned my coat button as I did.

My hat was in front of my belly and my hand was spread open and ready to slice under my coat and grab a handful of Colt revolver if 'twas needed.

It warn't.

She taken me into a side room and a man lay in the bed, a man roughly the Sheriff's age, a man unnaturally still, but a man with eyes that swung over to taken a look at me.

They was a doctor with him.

You can always tell the doctor, he was dignified and had a spade-cut beard, he had the look and the smell of a doctor about him, and I suspicioned things weren't quite addin' up so I said "Doctor, a word, sir, if I may."

He give me an irritated look and I turned my lapel over to show my six point star.

I looked down at Douglas.

He never moved, he just looked at attair star and he looked at me and his eyes changed a little but his face might as well have been cyarved out of sugar pine for all the expression he had.

The doctor politely excused himself from the woman, he laid a hand on the unmoving man's shoulder and him and me went out into the hallway and he drew the door shut quiet and careful the way the medical man does.

"Sir," I said, "my name is Jacob Keller and I am a deputy Sheriff with Firelands County, Colorado.  I have an arrest warrant for Donald Douglas.  Is that the man in the bed?"

"He is," the physician said, almost reluctantly.

"Sir, he appears to be under you care."

"He is."

I thought back to how I'd heard Doc Greenlees talk and come up with what I wanted to ask.

"Sir, what is his condition?"

The door opened and the tired looking woman came out.

"I am his wife," she said quietly. "My husband is dying."

"My condolences, ma'am."

"Mr. Douglas had an attack of apoplexy," the dignified old physician offered.  "He fell paralyzed and has moved not one muscle since.  I've tested him extensively and absent some basic reflexes, it is my professional opinion the man will never move again."

My eyes went to the closed door.

"He's still alive," I said slowly, "and his eyes come over to taken a look at me."

"He's still in there," the doctor admitted, "but he is a prisoner … a living mind inside an unmoving and unresponsive body."

I taken a long breath.

There was no way I could take an invalid back to Colorado to stand trial.

"He is more of a prisoner here," I said carefully, "than a well man would be behind bars."  I shoved my bottom jaw out and thought fast, and looked at the man's wife.  "Ma'am, I will trouble neither you nor your husband further."

"Thank you," she whispered, and she went back inside the sickroom, pausing at the door to take a long look at me before going back in.

The doctor watched her retreat to her paralyzed husband's bedside, then he turned back to me.

"What is this all about?" he asked.

"Douglas falsely accused a pale eyed man of murder," I said neutrally.  "I have a warrant to take him back to Colorado to stand trial."

"Who did he accuse?"

I raised my head and bored my pale eyes into his, and I felt the flesh tighten acrost my cheek bones and I knowed my eyes was cold and hard and just as welcoming as the Sheriff's when he was right unhappy and I said, "He charged my father, Sheriff Linn Keller of Firelands County Colorado, with murder.  He had wanted dodgers printed up and sent out and it's near to got the man killed twice."
The doctor nodded and I saw him take a long breath.

"I knew Mr. Douglas was …"
He frowned and considered and I reckon he was sortin' out what he could properly tell me and what he'd ought not.

"His mind …" he began, then he changed direction and said instead, "His son was accused of theft."

I nodded, once, knowing it was time to let the man talk without interruption.

"His mind began failing. I believe it was the thought of disgrace … his son shamed him and he couldn't stand the thought of a public humiliation in the courts …"

"Is that why he broke into the files and burned the papers?"  I interrupted.

He looked up, nodded, and I saw resignation in his eyes.  "Yes."

"I see."  I looked at the closed door.  "And now?"

"I believe his apoplexy was a result of all this.  The strain killed him."

I nodded, then said "Excuse me, sir."

I recht over and knocked on the door and then I pushed in.

"Mrs. Douglas," I said as the woman rose and turned, "forgive me, but this is official business."

I recht into my coat and brought out the warrant.

"Donald Douglas," I said, and I looked into the man's eyes, "I arrest you for attempted murder of one Linn Keller, Sheriff of Firelands County Colorado.  You are charged with falsification, tampering with evidence, false testimony and lying under oath.  I have here a warrant empowering me to bring you back to Colorado to stand trial, after which you will be imprisoned or hanged, at the Judge's good pleasure."

I slipped the warrant back into the inside pocket of my coat.

"The doctor tells me you will never move again."  I looked at his wife and looked back at him.  "The Doctor tells me you are a working mind trapped inside an umoving body.  You are already imprisoned more completely than if you were locked away behind stone walls and steel bars."  I looked down at the man and I saw his eyes on mine and I said "Sir, you tried to have someone else do your dirty work.  You nearly had my father killed twice.  I'd planned to put the noose around your neck with my own hands, but I can see you are more punished here than if I had taken a healthy man back in irons."

I turned to his wife.

"My condolences, ma'am," I said, then I turned my back on the man and I walked out.

I thought about that day for many years after and I thought of the talk the Sheriff and I had once I got back, and then and now I am convinced I did the right thing.

The Sheriff did not disagree with me, nor did he give me the least little idea he was displeased.

He expected me to use my judgement, and when I did, he trusted me, and I taken that not lightly.

 

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39.  BUSINESS

 

There I stood in the early morning dark, wearin' my red longhandles and boots and Stetson, I had my gunbelt around my middle and I am shaking hands with a fellow named Eichenbaum and arranging to purchase a rug and have it installed.

Behint me, the firemen were charging into the widow Hanson's house and the widow had her arms around that pretty little schoolteacher's shoulders and that pretty little schoolmarm drew the blanket tight around her and she shivered and cried and I turned to another man and said "You run the Mercantile."

He looked surprised -- he was just another face in the crowd, when a house catches fire the hull dern town turns out to spectate and he was a spectator -- he hadn't heard me talkin' to Eichenbaum, he hadn't heard me tell the short man in the long black coat and the Derby hat that I would pay him cash money to replace and put in that burnt rug.

He did say something really intelligent -- I think it was "Umm," and I said "I will pay you cash money for the paint and wallpaper to bring that room back up to snuff."

His gaze pulled away from me and back to the widow's house.

The fire was out -- it never did get terrible big -- but when someone come a-beatin' on my door I come out of the bunk like a scalded cat and I grabbed my gunbelt and whipped it around my middle and I taken two long steps acrost the room, wide awake and ready for a fight.

I yanked the chair out from under the door knob and about the time I recht for the door knob I heard a girl's voice screech somethin' about a fahr and I yanked the door open and 'twas that pretty little school marm and she was in her night gown and her eyes was the size of tea saucers and I smelt smoke so I come swingin' out of the door and her door was open and they was a broken lamp and burnin' on the floor so I jumped over some broken glass and grabbed the bedcovers off her bed and swung it over the fahr and let it settle.

Attair little schoolmarm was lookin' in with her hands up to her mouth and she was shiverin' like her feet was ankle deep in snow melt.

I come chargin' out of her room and back into mine, I swiped off the soles of my sock feet -- I commonly slept in my Union Suit and socks -- I shoved into my boots and clapped my Stetson on my head and snatched the bed covers off my own bunk.

I had to shove her out of the way ag'in to get back inside and I th'owed them blankets out wide and flat and stomped it down then I turned my hard and pale eyes on her and said in a quiet voice, "Alarm the household and get 'em out!" -- she pulled back and disappeared and I stomped around on attair pile of flat-out blankets until I was more than satisfied the fahr was plumb out and dead, and then I backed out as far as the door way and I picked up one foot and looked at my boot sole and then t'other one for I did not want broken glass to come up an' gouge me.

I went over to the next door and beat on it and yelled and then shouldered it open and 'twas nobody inside so I hit every door and cleared every room and I come outside and God help us, they was enough people gathered round about to get in the firemen's way.

Had I a merry go round and a popcorn machine I could have set up a county fair.

I grabbed holt of the constable and asked him who run the dry goods store and he pointed me torst a short little fellow named Eichenbaum so I went over to him and he looked at me like I had a fish stickin' out of my shirt collar and I don't wonder a bit that he did.

It ain't every day when a tall man with a Stetson hat and gunbelt, boots and nothin' more than his long handle underwear, comes up and starts talkin' business.

I arranged to have attair rug replaced for 'twas scorched pretty bad and then I told him she'd need two sets of bed covers, and he said I might want to replace the beds and curtains for the smell of fire gets into 'em and never does warsh out and I recalled the women talkin' with Daisy and her married to the fire chief and I said yes, fix me up with a price and I will pay you cash money, and he give me a dollar figure and I shaken his hand on it.

I went over to the fellow who run the general store and oncet I got through to him -- he was just a-starin' at the house, never mind the fahr didn't get no farther' the rug -- I got him to agree to have the room re-painted and re-papered, and I got the constable to witness it -- he couldn't give me a dollar figure but I didn't press him for it -- finally I went on inside the house and back up to my room and I got myself dressed and when I come back out, why, the sun was just streakin' the eastern sky and I was in my black suit with my necktie knotted up proper-like, and my saddle bags over my shoulder.

The Widow Hanson come torst me as I give that Eichenbaum fellow cash money -- it pleased the man I paid him in good gold coin and attair fella that run the general store was watchin' close, had he any doubts I reckon he realized I warn't stuffin' his boots -- and the Widow Hanson she come over torst me and attair little schoolmarm come behint her the way a chip of wood will float along behint a row boat on a still lake.

I taken off my hat and said "Ma'am, I am right sorry your –"  and she brought her finger up and set it gentle like on my lips to hush me and she said "You saved my house."
I nodded and she removed her finger.

"I heard what you are arranging with Mr. Eichenbaum and" – she tilted her head, her eyes swung as she looked at the other fellow, who was turned away and hustlin' likely for his own store, as there was cash money to be had – "Mr. Keller, I … you don't have to do this."

"Yes, ma'am, I do," I said gravely.  "Your husband was a Mason.  My father is a Mason.  Oncet I hit the right age I too shall be a Mason, and Masons swear an oath to provide for widows and orphans.  Besides" – I grinned and I felt the ornery coming to the surface – "my Mama took pains to beat some good manners into mmm –"

I stopped and clasped my hands and twiddled my thumbs and tried to look real innocent as I continued, "I mean, my Mama tried to teach me good manners!" and then I whistled a few notes and rolled my eyes the way I'd seen little boys do, and the widow Hanson laughed and laid her hand on my chest and then she leaned her head into my chest and I felt her shoulders heave a little and I wrapped my arms around her and held her as we stood there in the chill and dark of the very early dawn with most of the town millin' around us pretendin' not to watch as a grieving widow missed her husband terribly, and a tall stranger in a Stetson hat held her and let her grieve.

 

Apple-horse and I stood in front of the little square village building and the Mayor shook my hand and declared in fine language what a fine and upstanding citizen I was, and he genuinely regretted my not being able to remain and receive a commendation in a public presentation, and I thanked the man kindly for his sentiments and allowed as Apple-horse here missed his mountains and I missed my wife, and we'd best be on the steam train so they don't charge us rent for the cars just settin' on the sidin' like that, and he laughed and nodded and then he tilted his head a little and asked, "You wouldn't be related to a town marshal we had here some years ago?"

I laughed and said "Yes, sir, I am his son," and the Mayor just absolutely wrung my hand ag'in and he allowed as he'd grown up hearin' about that walkdown with Butcher Knife Joe, and how pleased he was that the man's son was such a fine and upstanding sort, and I wondered if he didn't just use hell out of that pa'tickelar phrase about being fine and upstandin', and when I finally got away from him, why, me and Apple-horse we rode down to the general store and I went in and the fella behint the counter had time enough to sharpen his pencil and figure what-all it would take to wall paper that room nice and frash and paint up the trim and such-like, and he allowed as he could have men to do the work, and he named a price and I paid it with no hesitation a'tall and then I slid a double eagle acrost the counter torst him for his troubles and he slid it back and he give me a long look and said "I heard you say your father is a Mason."

"He is, sir," I nodded.  "This year he's Junior Deacon, Firelands Lodge, Firelands County, Colorado."

He smiled a little and looked at the money I'd counted out and he slid back half of it.

"Chauncey Lodge," he said, and then he shaken my hand.

"With respect, sir," I said, sliding the boodle back acrost the counter torst him, "it would be my honor if you would accept this charitable donation toward Masonic relief for our widows and orphans."

He give me a long look and finally picked up the payment and put it in the drawer, and he was thinkin', I could tell that, and he finally looked at me and said "Your father raised you right," and I thanked him for that.

The Sheriff would be most pleased to hear it.

 

I made sure Apple-horse had plenty of straw for beddin' and plenty of grain and hay for eatin', his water was topped off, I cleaned his stall and put down frash and they was a half-dozen little boys a-watchin' me and I pretended not to notice them.

They watched, big-eyed and silent as I hung up my saddle and spread out the saddle blanket, I fetched out my Winchester and jacked out all the shells and stood them in a row on a plank whilst I wiped down the barl with an oil rag, I peered into the depths of the action and worked it slow a couple times, then I closed it up, brought it quick to shoulder, sighted on something at the end of the car and dropped the hammer on an empty chamber.

They watched and 'twas like they were holdin' their breath as I reloaded the rifle and stood it ag'in a peg I had set in the side of Apple's stall, they could not see the little hole I'd bored in the floor for the point of attair crescent butt plate to set in so she wouldn't shift nor slide, and I peeled off my coat and I heard one or two of 'em take a breath as I accidental-on-purpose flipped the lapel over to show attair six point star and then they taken a look at them engraved Colt revolvin' pistols on my belt.

I taken each one out and unloaded 'em like I had the rifle, I stacked the rounds in a neat row, one, then t'other, then I stood up and holstered two empty revolvers.

Now I would not tell this to the man for the world, for I wouldn't hurt his feelin's, but the Sheriff can out-draw every man in the Colorado territory, he is just flat forevermore fast, and no two ways about it … but I can out-draw the Sheriff.

He can hit a tin can tossed in the air twicet with one revolver or t'other and I can hit that same can three times with either hand.

I drew a few times with them empty revolvers, I snapped the hammers at a nonexistent mark on the far wall, my left shoulder was to the open slidin' door and them boys and they marveled and grinned and then I re-loaded them revolvin' pistols and holstered and I turned and looked at them boys and I said "Would one of you fellas go fetch me that empty tin can yonder?" and them half a dozen boys fair to tumbled over one another to be first one to get to that empty Arbuckles tin.

I kind of figured the constable would be somewheres near and I was right, he was a-watchin' when them boys come stampedin' up torst me and I thanked them boys for that can and he come up and look at 'em and said "Shouldn't you boys be in school?" and they reluctantly left, but they kept lookin' back, I reckon they hoped I would put on a shootin' demonstration or some-such.

Truth be told I was a-gonna do just that, I figured could I toss attair can high up I could likely hit it four times, two from each pistol, that would be easy enough and them boys would have a trophy.

Boys is like that.

Attair constable he had somethin' on his mind and I looked down the track and the train was backin' torst us dead slow, a fellow threw the switch to bring the string onto our siding and I said "They're comin' to hitch on and take us home," and I stuck out my hand and he taken it.  "Thank you for your hospitality."

He shook mine and he looked a little uncertain and finally he said "Thank your father for me."

"I shall, sir," I replied, "for anything in particular?"

He taken a long breath and said "I was a boy when he walked down Butcher Knife Joe and I knew I wanted to be a lawman like him."

His expression was soft and rememberin' the way a man's face will get when he's lookin' at somethin' right personal in his past, and I nodded, for there was no words I could think of that would be proper to reply.

The back of the train approached steadily but slowly, the brakeman walking ahead of it with a link and pin in hand, and I knowed an adapter was already in the safety coupler on both ends of my two cars and I looked back at the constable and said "Speak your piece, friend, the freight is about to pull out!" and he looked at attair tin can and admitted sheepishly "I'd hoped you were going to shoot that."

I grinned and handed it to him and backed up three steps and I seen them boys come a-runnin' torst us.  "Heave that can high up," I yelled with a grin and that blue Arbuckles can went whingin' straight up, spinnin' and wobblin' and them two Colt revolvers jumped into my hands and I got off six shots and then I pulled back and holstered my right hand pistol before the can hit the ground and I punched out them three empties and slung them off to my left for them boys would be just a-scavengin' after 'em and then oncet my left was reloaded and a-holster, why, I punched the three out of my right hand pistol and slung them torst my right for the other boys to find, and I was reloaded and holstered and attair constable picked up that can and damned if he didn't look like an excited little boy grabbin' up a prize.

I swung my carcass back up into attair stock car and whipped my coat around my shoulders, I shoved my arms in the sleeves and waved at 'em all with my Stetson and the car shivered and the engine whistled and we chuffed out of that little Athens County coal minin' town with the constable grinnin' and them half dozen or so little boys runnin' after us yellin', and Apple-horse, he warn't too terrible excited, for he lifted his tail and cast his ballot on the whole situation.

 

 

 

 

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40.  DOGS AND GHOSTS

 

Apple-horse and me, we rode on back home and we didn't have too much trouble.

Oh, there was them fellas that said for twenty dollars they could guarantee the stock car would not ketch fahr while 'twas there in the switch yard.

I reckonized them for what they was and only one of the two was able to walk when I was done and he kind of hobbled all bent over and the railroad dicks was happy to haul the pair of 'em off for me.

Then there was attair conductor that allowed as I was not a legal passenger and he would have me throwed off and he warn't happy a'tall when I showed him the business end of my Winchester.

I throwed him out when we crossed over some river or another.

Other'n that, why, warn't much happened, I was able to get Miz Esther a watch like she'd been wantin', one that pins on the bodice and I figured whilst I was in the business I'd get one for Sarah for that's the kind of thing a school marm might wear and I got me one for Annette and I was about out of money so I quit spendin'.

Oncet we got back into Firelands, why, the crew swarmed all through the private car and they was right surprised to find it pretty well the same as when they give it over to me except of course I'd et most of what they'd stocked but that's the only sign anyone was in there, I slept in the stock car with Apple horse for I knew he'd warn me if I was asleep and anythin' warn't right.

Right glad I was to get home.

The East don't smell near so good as home.

The mountains smells clean an' the only smell of coal was when the train went through and that blowed away and was gone, there was wood smoke and cookin' smells, there was the livery or the barn but the air was considerable cleaner and I liked that.

When I rode out of Athens up the coach road and through Wolf Plains, why, down hill from it – they called it Hocking-under-the-Hill – it looked like twice a dozen red eyes smolderin' in the dark, there was the heavy layerin' of coal smoke over ever'thin' and the sound of engines and hammers and smithies and men's shouts and cars rumblin' out of the drift and bank mules' slow and labored pace and mine ponies with their sharp little whinnies and Apple-horse, he didn't much like it neither but we got our necessaries tended and then we went on home where we belonged and like I said we was right glad for that.

I give the Sheriff a long and detailed report, I believe I said "Douglas is paralyzed in bed and his Doc expects he'll die of pneumonia inside of a year" and the Sheriff was quiet for a long moment and asked if he'd said anything and I replied "Sir, he can neither move nor can he speak, he can not so much as turn his head nor frame a whisper," and the Sheriff looked troubled and he looked away and there was a memory in his eyes he never did tell me about and I thought it wise not to ask.

I had me a pile of thinkin' to do and I asked the Sheriff if there was aught else and he blinked and come back to the here-and-now and he smiled just a little and he said no, he'd hired a man to tend my cattle and other needful chores til I got back, he was a steady man and he could recommend him and I thanked the Sheriff for that kindness.

I went home and bless Annette, she greeted me at the front door and she was as beautiful as I remembered her.

I didn't realize how much I missed my wife.

The maid was inside and she looked pleased when Annette met me at the front door and I recall how the maid cast her eyes downward to give us that privacy and I give Annette that brooch that caught my eye and she squeaked a little and bounced on her toes like a happy little girl and she hugged me ag'in, and I taken off my hat and hung it on the hall tree and Annette went over in front of a mirror and held attair brooch up work-wise and I looked at the maid and asked if I might have a bath for I wished to be a little less ripe, and she laughed and dropped a curtsy and said right away, sir, and I felt my ears redden up for I have long disliked keepin' such folk at a formal arm's length.

Hell, they become close as family, might as well treat 'em like family.

Oncet I was cleaned up and shaved, oncet I had ever'thing changed out and I set down and put a frash polish on my boots, why, the maid brought in a tray with tea and sandwiches and she had the good sense to have some decent sandwiches instead of them dainty little finger-sandwiches Miz Esther favored.

The maid hesitated and then settled into a chair when I begun tellin' them of my trip and I looked at her as I spoke so's she would know she was included and I looked at Annette and I painted me a word picture good enough they both said later 'twas like they were in the saddle with me, I told 'em of the widow Hanson and the fahr, I told her of smotherin' out that busted lamp's fahr puddle on the rug and I told her about Apple-horse r'arin' up and cuttin' the air with them sharp forehooves and how them schoolboys were just plainly delighted when I did, right there in front of that big brick school house.

I didn't tell 'em about givin' that cute little School Marm a ride up the hill.

I did tell 'em how she followed the widow Hanson through the crowd, and how the widow held her like a comforting mother hen would wing-shelter a frightened chick, and I got 'em to laughin' when I described standin' there right at sunrise when the sun started to open its red eye in the far East and there stands me in my red long handles, I'm wearin' boots and hat and gunbelt and arrangin' to have the dry goods store's owner replace attair burnt rug, and folks lookin' at me like I was maybe a circus clown or somethin' for I'd come out of the bunk like a wounded bull to the cry of fire and didn't have time to put on more than boots and hat and of course my gunbelt.

I'll admit I laughed a little too for there are times when I can make a donkey of myself and I reckon that night more than one got a tickle at my appearance.

Well, hell, there's worse things than to make people happy.

Anyway Annette just plainly glowed, she warn't gainin' no weight but she said she had to have some dresses let out and she'd have new made for she daren't lace her corset too tight with the baby a-growin' inside her.  She warn't showin' yet but she was thinkin' ahead and that was just like her, to think ahead, and at one point Annette asked me if I'd run into any pretty girls back East and I said yes I had and I looked her square in the eye with a solemn expression.

I told her I'd run into two of 'em I just plainly fell in love with.

She got real still and her face was real neutral like a mask and I saw a little fear in her eyes but I was ridin' the ornery train and I said "That first one had curves to draw a man's eye, I wanted nothing more than to run my hands over her, she looked at me and just plainly invited me to touch her and so I did."

I winked at the maid (she looked kind of shocked) and said "That was the best lookin' Morgan horse mare ever did I see," and Annette's jaw dropped and I didn't know if she was goin' to laugh or kick me right in the liver and she finally turned red and smiled a little and I continued "Then there was this one cute little girl."

Now I'd pulled her leg oncet already and she knowed me pretty well so she give me That Look as if to say You are full of it and I know it and she was right.

I said "She had blond hair and blue eyes, she had milk-fair skin and she didn't so much walk as she danced.  I have seen few women who were truly beautiful – you are one, Miz Esther another – but she drew my eye, she surely did."

I nodded and rubbed my palms slowly together and I hesitated a moment, and then continued, "I would judge her to have been about four years old, and she was just the prettiest girl!" and both Annette and the maid laughed.

 I was right content to prowl around my spread and I taken a good look at what that hired man done and I was more than satisfied, I sharpened my pencil and figured up my expenses and allowed as if he'd work for me, I named a wage and he allowed as that sounded good to him, and of a sudden we had both a maid and a hired man and had the Sheriff not hired him likely I would have struggled by without.

Next day warn't much goin' on for the Sheriff so I rode up into the high county well above the house, there's a place I go to consider matters and I had some considerin' to do.

I got me up there and I set me down on a folded blanket I'd brought for there was no sense in parkin' my backside on cold stone and gettin' my setter both dirty and chilled, and I was gazin' off for the horizon with Apple-horse near by and in sight, and I felt warm breath on my ear and The Bear Killer commenced to do his level bet to warsh the ear right off the side of my head.

I recht up and back and rubbed his neck and he closed his eyes and laid his ears back all happy-like and I  could not help but wonder about dogs and ghosts.

I'd seen The Bear Killer stare fixedly at the top of the wall as if at somethin' I could not see.

I'd seen him follow somethin' high up in a room, not alarmed, just interested, and I recall how my Mama used to tell me to warsh good behint my ears and The Bear Killer must be able to see shades and hear ghosts for he made sure I was good and clean behint my ears so I reckon maybe he was watchin' my Mama lookin' down on me and she told him to make sure I was good and clean behint my ears.

Now about the time I was thinkin' all this, I seen Apple's head come up and his ears swung for'ard and he warn't alarmed so I warn't neither and The Bear Killer begun to vibrate a little and I knowed that meant that big thick brush of a tail was a-swingin' and Sarah come ridin' up, only it didn't look like what most folks saw Sarah as.

Instead of a pretty girl in a pretty dress, she had her hair up under a broad brim black hat, she was in a black duster and knee high Cavalry boots, she had black drawers and shirt and vest and even her wild rag was black and so was her gloves.

She came walkin' up the path and turned and walked attair big black Snowflake-horse up to me and I rubbed the mare's jaw and said "Either that's a big horse or you're just awful small a-ridin' it," and she laughed and said "You'll bear me a bang for that!"

I looked at her kind of curious and she said "Shakespeare," as if that explained everything, and I nodded, for I did not want to appear as ignorant as I felt.

"Esther would like to see you," Sarah said, and I rose right away and picked up the folded blanket.

"Thank you.  Aught else?" I asked, swiping dirt off the blanket whilst I was a-standin' there.

"Yes," she said firmly.  "I'm glad you're back."

I grinned and nodded and headed torst Apple-horse.

If Miz Esther wanted to see me and 'twas important enough for Sarah to come fetch me, why, I'd best get started.

I swung up in saddle leather and turned Apple-horse with my knees.  "You headed anywhere pa'tickelar?"

"I'm going to cause some trouble," she smiled.

I walked Apple over to her and looked at her and I felt myself get right serious and I reckon it showed in my face.

"Sarah," I said, and my voice sounded an awful lot like the Sheriff's and that surprised me, "you be careful now, you're the only one of you that I have!"

Nor ordinarily when Sarah dressed all black like this in men's duds she had a hard look about her but she looked out from under that wide black brim and she looked all soft and girly as she said "That's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me!" – and then she turned and her and that big black Snowflake headed over the mountain, and The Bear Killer with them, and I turned me downhill and said "Giddup, Apple, we're goin' to see Miz Esther!"  and Apple-horse he pointed his nose down-trail and off we went.

 

Now I like my coffee, I surely do, but when Miz Esther sets out tea I drink it and I'm grateful for it.

She looked all prim and ladylike and she thanked Daisy's girl who brought it up on a tray and she waited until I'd stirred some honey in mine and she gave me a warm look and said she was so pleased with my report to the Sheriff.

My expression must've been as puzzled as I felt for she laughed and explained that when I told him about the constable, when I told him the man became a lawman because of what he saw in my father, that the Sheriff was quiet for a long moment and finally nodded and said maybe he'd actually done some good in the world after all.

I blinked a couple times and considered this and finally nodded and said "Yes ma'am," and Miz Esther watched as I pulled out the box and give to her and she was just plainly delighted with attair pin on watch.

I told her I'd hunted around until I found one with railroad jewels and she was pleased with that too.

She pressed the stem and it dropped open and she turned it to look at the engraving inside the cover and she looked at me and she didn't tear up which was good for I had need of her advice and I didn't want to bring her all softy on me.

She closed the cover and allowed as that was sweet and it meant much to her and I shifted a little in my seat and frowned some and said "Ma'am I would ask your advice," and 'twas like she turned a page in a book, she was the Miz Esther the rest of the world saw, she was all business and she was payin' attention with both ears and them gear wheels in between her ears were turnin' over steady and I pushed on ahead.

"Ma'am, I have brought women to tears many times.  I do not believe it is out of ill feeling nor out of bein' impolite, but it distresses me that I have that effect on 'em for it makes me think I have done something wrong."

Miz Esther shook her head and smiled a little.

"No, Jacob, you've done nothing wrong," she said quietly.  "I could have wept for the thoughtfulness of this gift" – she touched the watch, now hanging from her bodice like an award, a medal – "and I have seen you being nothing short of a perfect gentleman with women."  She smiled a little, that quiet little smile that said we two are sharing something no one else does.

"There is another matter."

She nodded and I was struck by the shade of her rich auburn hair, done up proper as is fittin' for a fine lady:  'twas a rich and healthy shade and I don't know why it caught my eye, 'twas the same color it had always been, maybe 'twas the light that made it look more … powerful, I reckon the word I'm lookin' for.

"We women are quick to allow our feelings to be seen," she said, then give me a knowing look and added, "but you will see women doing this to manipulate your feelings.  A woman might weep or appear sorrowful in order to persuade you to some action.  Be watchful, Jacob, you are a very thoughtful and considerate young man, but beware the woman who wishes to maneuver you.  A show of tears is one tool the unscrupulous might use."

This was new territory for me and I considered it carefully and finally said "Yes ma'am," and frowned some, and finally I drank me some tea and said "There is somethin' more."

"Oh?"  She leaned forward and poured some more tea in my mug and I recall how delicate and feminine her hands were, grippin' attair tea pot and holdin' the lid with one dainty finger.

"Ma'am, the schoolmarm come downstairs in the boardin' house I stayed at, she was late so I rode her up hill to attair big brick schoolhouse and I felt like an excited boy when I done it."

I smiled a little as I remembered her behint me, grippin' me around the middle, pressed up ag'in my back like she was.

"We went just hell-a-tearin' up attair brick road and them school children were watchin' and I swung Apple horse around side-on to the steps and she slid down as nice as if to a mountin' block and then Apple and me, we …"
I felt my ears redden up some.

"We showed off for 'em, Apple he reared and I waved my hat and off down the hill we went."

Miz Esther she give me a knowing look and she nodded and then she laughed a little, she leaned over and patted my knee and said "You are your father's son," and I must have looked surprised, and she laughed and said he'd done the same thing with her, and I reckoned I must get it honest.

I finished my tea and thanked her for her kindness, and before I left I looked up torst the ceiling where the wall comes up to meet it and Miz Esther asked if something was wrong and I said no, I'd seen The Bear Killer lookin' at the high corner like he was watchin' somethin' and I wondered if he warn't seein' my Mama lookin' down on me.

Miz Esther give me kind of a funny look but she didn't say a thing in reply.

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41.  AGENT BLACK

 

Let me see if I can describe just what she was a-doin'.

Set yourself down at the table.

Set the tips of your fingers ag'in the table top – the tips, not the pads – now hold your fingers together and lift away from the table top.

Walk over to attair kerosene lamp, the one with the square oil reservoir, and set your finger tips delicate-like ag'in opposite sides of the reservoir.

That's what Sarah was a-doin'.

Only she was tappin' the glass, light and quick, and her eyes was near to shut, and she looked like she was concentratin' and I had no idea what she was a-doin'.

Directly she said "One," and I commenced to count, which was not that easy for she was real fast with her tappin' ag'in the glass and when I counted a hundred she said "Two" and kept on goin' so I just set there and waited and sure enough she said "Three" and then "Four" and finally she said "Five" and she lowered her hands and looked at me and she looked pleased with herself.

"Mama said no one was to touch this lamp," she explained, "so I did."

I felt my left eyebrow raise and I don't recall tellin' it to h'ist up, it just kind of raised up of its own accord and part of me recalled the Sheriff was prone to doin' that and that pleased me and Sarah she smiled a little and come over and set beside me.

"Eight fingertips with each touch," she said, "eight times five hundred is how many?"

"Four thousand," I said without hesitation, and she nodded.

"Exactly right.  If Mama was to switch me for touchin' her lamp she'd have to switch from here until she died of old age."

"How many times have you done that?"  I asked.

"Twice a day for a week."

I laughed a little.  "Sarah," said I, "you are a troublemaker from the word go."

She give me a wise look and then she laughed too, and she laid a hand on my knee and said "Flattery will get you everywhere!"

I smiled a little and she tilted her head and give me a kindly look.

"I brought in Carsey."

"I know."
"His Honor the Judge didn't expect it."

"Nope."

"His Honor wanted me to find him, so I did."

I nodded and looked closer at her cheek, and her hand raised to what I was a-lookin' at.

"Yes, he hit me," she admitted, "but I hit him faster and harder and then I got him in irons and he stayed that way until the Sheriff had him in a cell."

I looked at the pretty girl settin' knee to knee with me and I felt a worry tighten up my belly and I leaned forward and I felt my bottom jaw slide out some and Sarah reached up and put a finger tip on my lips and I thought Now I make women cry and women shush me with a touch, what's goin' on here?

Sarah lowered her head a little and looked real direct at me and she said, "Jacob, the Judge will not respect me as effective unless I am effective.  I can go find out where someone is, but by the time I report back they can be gone.  He wanted Carsey and I brought him in, and all he knows is an Agent of the Court reduced him to possession and brought him to justice."  She almost smiled, but not quite.  "He knows it was Agent Black that did this to him."  She touched her cheek again.  "He did not wish to be brought in."

I taken her hands in mine, gentle-like, and I said softly, "Sarah, you are my only blood sister.  I don't want you to do this.  I'd just feel awful bad if someone you went after killed you."

She squeezed my hands back.

"We all die, Jacob.  If I die making the world safer then I die doing a good thing."

I grunted and looked down.

She had me there.

Matter of fact she had me with my own words.

I looked back up.

"Sarah … what was it the Sheriff said?  Play to your strengths?" 

I saw her eyes harden a little and I knew she'd just raised a wall but I pushed on.

"Sarah, your strength is that you are a woman and a good lookin' woman.  Men dearly love to fill a woman's ears with what they've done.  That's why the Judge recruited you.  Give a man them big lovely eyes and he'll spill his guts and you bein' an Agent of the Court, why, that makes anything they say legal tender for the court to use."

Sarah nodded.  "I do that, Jacob.  I do it well.  I've gulled men as a dance hall girl, as a young widow, as an unhappy married woman.  One man thought I was a lost little schoolgirl and he was the kindest and gentlest murderer I've ever met.  I testified against him, of course, and he was hanged, but when he thought me a scared girl who'd gotten off the train at the wrong stop …"
She bit her bottom lip.

"I've been wife, mother, sister, daughter, I've held men's hands while they lay dying, I've heard confessions that would curl the hair on a bald man's head."

I nodded and my eye brows pulled together for I'd not known all this.

I knew she was busy on the Judge's behalf but I had no idea a'tall she'd been this busy.

"Jacob … I know what evil is.  I survived evil.  I can't save the world but I can do some good, I can get these … monsters" – she spat the word – "behind bars or safely noosed and doing the hanged man's dance."  Her eyes were pale and hard now and her hands tightened on mine. 

"Sis" – I almost whispered the word – "I don't want to lose you.  I want you around to help me watch my young grow up.  I want you to counsel my daughters and I want you to lend an ear to Annette and" – I squeezed her hands a little, just before she pulled them away – "I want you around for a long time to come."

Sarah pulled her hands out of mine and she raised 'em up and she laid her fingers gentle-like on my cheeks and she looked real deep into my eyes, then she leaned in and kissed me on the fore head, quick and light, and she blinked a little and her eyes got real bright the way a woman's eyes will when she's about ready to cry and she said "That's the sweetest thing you ever said to me," and then she almost fell over into me for we was still both seated and she give me a hug and I pulled her over onto my lap and held her.

I set there and I held my sister and it felt good.

 

His Honor the Judge was of two minds when it come to Sarah.

He was right tickled she'd not only found the scoundrel, but that she'd brought him in as well, but he warn't happy that she'd put herself in hazard to do it, and he mentioned that cheek bone she'd covered with face paint to keep it hid that she'd been clobbered.

Me, I set there and listened as the Judge puffed out his strongly worded exclamations in great clouds of cigar smoke:  his voice would lower and he'd mutter as he shuffled papers around on his desk, he'd throw open a ledger book and pull the see-gar out from between his teeth and wave it like a conductor's baton as he spoke, he spit once or twice and regarded his forshortened stogie sadly and dropped it in the goboon and allowed as either his chaw caught fahr or his seegar was about drowned out and I smiled a little but did not laugh.

The Judge went over several cases with me and told me what he needed to secure convictions on particular cases and I considered them carefully and he give me two to go pick up and I did, and before I left he glared at three papers in his hand and he looked up at me and snarled, "Your sister is a surprisingly effective agent.  I suppose I shall have to give her a raise."

"Yes, sir," I said neutrally, and he looked down at the papers.

"I'll let her know these are ready for her attention."

"Yes, sir," I said again.  "Anything else, Your Honor?"

"Yes," he grunted.  "A meal."  He rose and reached for his hat.  "I'll be at the Silver Jewel."

"Yes, Your Honor."

I'd started to turn away when the Judge said "Jacob."

I turned back.

"Yes, sir?"

"Jacob, what do you think of your sister doing all this?"

My hat was in my hand and I turned it slowly, thinking fast.

"Your Honor," I said frankly, "she sees this as doing good in the world and I reckon that's the highest calling anyone can have.  I would not say her nay."

The Judge grunted.  "You sound like a Philadelphia lawyer."

"I've been listenin' to you, sir."

He grunted again and did not look altogether displeased.

"Doesn't answer my question, Jacob.  What do you think of what she's doing?"

I taken me a long breath and then I looked at the Judge and said "Your Honor, I have a bad habit.  If you ask me a question I will give you the honest answer, even if it's not the answer you want to hear."
"I know that," he snapped.  "Out with it, man!"

"Your Honor, people in hell want ice water and we know how well that works.  I want Sarah safe and happy, I want to set her on a high shelf with a glass bell jar over top of her like a rare and precious china doll so's to keep the world and all its hurts away from her.  That is what I want." 

I paused.

"What I want, Your Honor, don't count for a hell of a lot.  It's her life and her choices and if she thinks she can scrub evil's stain from her soul by defeating evil – or at least putting a dent in it – I reckon I won't stand in her way."

"She hasn't asked you for help."

"No, sir."

"Do you think she will?"

"I reckon when it's needful, yes, sir."

I was right about that. 

She asked my help that afternoon.

Now I ain't told you about Daciana, least not much.

I've told you about the Sheriff buildin' her that big round barn and how we-all held dances there and such-like and how it was big with a saw dust floor, it was built in under a natural over hang and 'twas mostly sheltered by the mountain.

He did this for a circus girl named Daciana and she was different.

Daciana was in a circus that come through on the railroad and there was some kind of a horn lockin' between the fella that run it and ever'one else, I gathered he kilt Daciana's mother and the strong man kilt him or such-like, whatever the case all that was done outside our jurisdiction so we didn't have to bother with it, 'cept Daciana come a-ridin' down the main street on that yellow trick pony of hers with the shiny gilt hooves and a silver mounted trick rider saddle that was flashy enough to make a man's eyes bleed, she was wearin' somethin' I think they call a leotard and that's French for she might as well have been buck nekkid for all it hid but she summer setted and danced and disported herself most shamelessly on attair trick pony, she did hand stands and tumbles and all kind of them acro-battic stuff a-ridin' down the main street and back and some of them-there churchy wimmen they hollered at the Sheriff that he'd ought to put a stop to such a shameless sight and he stood there with that quiet smile of his for he was watchin' the men folk with their tongues hangin' halfway to their knees and he knowed this was an advertisement for the circus.

They put on their last performance there in Firelands and then disbanded, somehow they made arrangements with another circus over in Denver to sell off their rail cars, live stock and everthin' else, they hired on with that other outfit and Daciana allowed as she'd had enough, her folks was murdered and she was gonna stay and she ended up marryin' the telegrapher's son, young Lightning, and they moved into the house beside of where the Sheriff built her that big round barn.

Sarah and Daciana became fast friends and Daciana could speak a handful of languages and Sarah, she delighted in l'arnin' all she could anyways, and she l'arned German and they was some German miners and they'd come and visit and Sarah she was always good with speakin' and she'd try and talk with 'em and they'd laugh at her attempts but they was real patient with her and she l'arned that language anyhow and she already had Mexican under her belt and me and the Sheriff we knowed a good amount of Mexican but if they was sometin' we couldn't quite figger out we'd pull her in and she'd get the straight of it.

Now I'd said Sarah asked my help and she did and it warn't at all what I expected.

I knowed she'd been workin' with attair watch maker that used to be a safe cracker and a lock picker and she'd paid him good money to teach her the same things.

She'd got good at it.

She'd matter of fact made a study of all the different kinds of locks she could find and there was a-plenty of 'em and she'd taken to slippin' into the Sheriff's office and she'd pick the locks on the jail cells and then she'd pick the locks on all the irons the Sheriff had and once he got a prisoner in from somewheres else and they didn't have no key for his irons and they was some different pattern and Sarah came in and got 'em open easy enough and damned if she didn't file out a key for that-there right surprised deputy that come with the prisoner.  She even pierced it and hung it off his watch fob which warn't a good idea for the prisoner could have grabbed it and made an escape and matter of fact he tried but he did not know the real key was in the deputy's vest pocket and that on the watch fob was a dummy and that added another ten years for escape on the prisoner's sentence.

I don't know what he did but I know Sarah hated the man with a deep purple passion.

Anyway Sarah pulled me aside and asked me a favor and I said sure what is it and she said come to Daciana's barn with me so I did and she had a set of the Sheriff's irons and she asked me to put them on her.

I give her a funny look but I did and she folded her thumbs into her palms and rolled her hands kind of long and round in shape and worked right out of them-there irons.

They wasn't no adjustin' to 'em so we got another set and even when this second set was cranked down to its smallest size, why, she was able to fold her hands little bitty and twist out of 'em and she explained that when someone gets nervous their skin gets oily and slick and that helps 'em slide out like she just done, so we sent off – I don't recall if it was Sears and Sawbuck or Money Wards or who 'twas, but they was irons made for children and we got a set specially for her and oncet I put them on her, why, she was happy, for she could not just slide out of them.

She picked the locks, though.

She had me take her up to a post and cuff her behind her back around the post and then she said to meet her in the Silver Jewel so I give her a long look and said I'd wait a half hour and I didn't no more than get acrost the floor than she was a-runnin' up behint me and she handed me them little bitty irons and then she taken my arm and said she was hungry and I was buyin' and she give me that real innocent look and I couldn't help but laugh.

'Twas a week later that His Honor the Judge come to a decision and he asked Sarah if she'd let him send her to attair Professor T. Joseph Hunt's School of Detection in Denver and she said yes, and it come in right handy to get out of a set of irons, but I'm gettin' ahead of myself.

 

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42.  TO RIDE THE DRAGON

 

I was beyond angry.

I was purblind madder'n hell.

I could have bit the horn of an anvil and spit railroad spikes, I was more than willin' to seize up the guilty and break them in two over my knee, I was rip roarin' mad enough to twist men's arms out of their sockets and rip their legs off and beat 'em to death with 'em –

Anger is a dragon or so I been told, and I was a-straddle of a big green one, an anger dragon with red eyes and it suited me just fine.

My sis had been set upon and I was out for blood.

Now the Sheriff he knew what that kind of anger was and he taken me by the back of the collar and give a good haulin' jerk and fetched me off my feet right smart and I landed flat on my back and I come up like a cork out of water and I was edge on to him for if I squared off to him why he might think I was goin' to tear into him and I wanted no part of jumpin' that long tall rangy war fighter, I'd seen him down men of impressive size and his shirt sleeve was full enough of long skinny arm I didn't want no part of his ill temper.

I reckon my eyes was pale and I knowed my face was tight but he looked at me almost amused and his eyes was a little blue and he warn't in no mood to fight but he was keepin' me from makin' a donkey of my own self and lookin' back, why, right glad am I that he did.

At the time I warn't happy a'tall.

He said "Jacob, set yourself down," and his voice was quiet and I set, and that's sayin' somethin' for I wished to be on my feet and headed for Denver, and I wished to part men's throats wide open and cleave their skulls from crown to teeth, and after all that, why, I wished to start gettin' mean with 'em.

But the Sheriff said set, so I set.

He come around to his side of his desk and he set down too and he looked at the several pages of hand writ letter in front of him and 'twas Sarah's nice neat hand writin' and he frowned a little and he said gentle-like, "Jacob, I'm sorry.  I should have read you this letter from the beginning."

My good right hand was wound up into a fist and in the quiet of our log office we both heard my knuckles crack – one, then another, and then I opened my hand and taken a long breath and closed my eyes and willed myself to calm.

It didn't work.

I was still ready to kick a hole in the wall and stomp holes in the ground you could have throwed a team of oxen into and not seen their horns.

The Sheriff set aside them neatly written pages and taken up another.

"His Honor the Judge brought me this bundle," he said:  he held up a sheet and began to read.

"This one," he said, "is from Professor T. Joseph Hunt, from Professor Hunt's School of Detection, Denver."

I glared at him and unclenched my jaw for I'd no wish to crack a tooth.

"It seems that our Sarah saved several lives."

He looked up at me and raised an eyebrow and damned if he didn't near to smile.

I didn't feel like smilin' none a'tall.

Someone tried to hurt my sister and I was inclined to hit the war path.

My dear Judge Hostetler, the Sheriff read aloud, I've had the understanding we discussed.

The Sheriff read and I set there and if I'd et scrap iron I would've passed molten metal out my kidneys into a glowing-red puddle on the ground I was so boilin' mad.

 

You warned me, Your Honor.

You warned me that I would have to prove myself.

You warned me I would be seen as a meddling busybody, a dreaming biddy, a troublemaking harlot:  they called me that and worse, some to my face, which of course earned them my backhand.

It is to the Sheriff's credit that I moved faster than they could see or expect.

I made enemies, to be sure, and I count but one friend in the class, and that is the gentlemanly Professor Hunt.

I surmised that I would have to better every man Jack of them in every phase of the class and I was right.

I did that, and more.

I have – so far – outrun, outshot and honestly outfought everyone that's squared off against me – again, credit to the Sheriff, and also to Daciana, who taught me to use my size, my stature, to my advantage.

I feared they would conspire to my grief, and in that I was right as well.

At some signal, I was set upon in the classroom, after the Professor's departure:  though I fought as best I could, and this time I held back nothing, to their cost of a broken nose, two bloodied lips, a cracked jaw, two of them will be singing soprano in the Pope's choir:  when a stampede of raw tonnage overwhelms even a fighting female and mashes me to the floor by sheer avoirdupois, however, there is no salvation.

They fought me into a set of irons and a blindfold, when I opened my mouth to snarl they stuff a wadded kerchief in it and tied another to hold that in place:  I was hooded, I was shackled to a chair, and I was left – the entire class trooped out for a triumphant beer, and they made the mistake of speaking of the tavern they intended.

You've seen my skills at lock picking.

Jacob has seen me pick the locks of a variety of hand irons.

I got out of my manacles, I hailed a cab, I made it to the tavern by virtue of paying the driver double and double again – but it was worth it.

I am known to the tavern owner, for I dance there; it is a useful disguise, and I was on stage, in a glitter-mask and a scandalously brief costume, and when the curtain opened, my entire class beheld me, and whistled and yelled and shouted their obscene approval, all without knowing who it was their words assaulted.

I danced well, Your Honor, I gave a truly scandalous, shocking, most unladylike performance.

You would've appreciated it.

I've seen your reaction to my dancing, and you never knew it was me.

The Sheriff looked up as he read those last words, and I don't know who was the more honestly shocked, him or me.

The Sheriff swallowed, cleared his throat and then looked back down at the neat, precise script, flowing in Sarah's usual controlled, feminine loops and swirls across the good rag paper.

I recruited one of the other dancing-girls to come back to the school with me:  I changed quickly into my black Agent's costume while she got into my gown.

I secured her to the chair the same way I'd been shackled, I slipped the hood over her head, but without the mouth-filling kerchief:  I wished her to laugh at their surprise, and while she held their attention, I would step out of my wooden closet I'd had installed in the room before the first day of classes with a shotgun and declare their error and their arrest, and I had the Denver Police Department's chief detective to help me.

"Enough," I grunted, I surged to my feet and I strode for the door.

I yanked it open – blindly, foolishly, a lawman must never, ever blindly haul open a door nor shove through it without circumspection – but I did not care, for blind I was, blind with guilt and blind with rage and blind with utter, unadulterated hatred.

I made my way as too many men do, I made my way to the saloon, I staggered up the steps to the board walk and hauled open the door and stepped inside, and there I seized upon a solution of sorts.

I approached the bar and set my boot up on the polished foot rail and leaned my elbow on the gleaming mahogany and looked down the bar.

There was only one other man there, and troubled though I was, I saw the distress on this kindred soul's face.

Mr. Baxter came over and began to polish the bar, as was his habit.

"Mr. Baxter," said I, "you see many men here."

He stopped polishing and looked closely at me.

"You," he said, "sound just like your father."

"Yes, sir."

"That worries me.  I don't usually hear you talk like that."

"Maybe it's because I'm worried."

"Ah," he nodded.  "And what would worry one of the fastest, deadliest sons of the badge?"

"I worry me," I said, and my throat was tight, my face haunted:  I felt like my eyes were staring out of my skull and ten thousand red ants were running around under my hide.

Mr. Baxter crossed his forearms and leaned on the bar and looked very square-on to me.

I looked right back at him and I crossed my forearms and looked right back.

"Mr. Baxter," I confessed, "I am madder than two hornet nests and unhappy as a backside-swatted mountain cat, and there is no reason I should be this mad."

"Hm."  He pressed his lips together a little and considered, then looked down the bar at the other fellow, the one gazing sorrowfully into the depths of his beer.

"Might be you two could help one another," he suggested, and I looked at the other fellow in surprise, and he looked at me the same, and we both looked at the barkeep with the neatly parted hair and we both said, "How's that?"

"You have something on your mind."

The other fellow nodded slow-like and he taken a long breath and he'd drug his beer mug with him as he come down the bar.

"I killed my wife," he said flatly.

"How'd you do it?"  I asked, and I didn't ask as a Sheriff's deputy, I asked as a man full of hurt, and he answered me as a man full of hurt, a man with haunted eyes and an utterly lost expression.

"She run off," he said, "she thought she found someone …"

He closed his eyes against the memory, then he tilted that beer mug up and drained what was left, which wasn't much, and shook his head when Mr. Baxter asked if he'd like a refill.

"She come draggin' back and she asked my forgiveness." 

His voice was dry and half strangled as he forced the words out a tight throat.

"I told her she'd left me and my door was forever closed to her, and I turned my back on her and went into the next room."

He closed his hands into fists and pressed them into the edge of the bar with his eyes squeezed hard shut.

"She had a little money hidden."

He swallowed, opened his hands, shivered.

"She … went to the whorehouse … and bought poison from one of the working girls."

He looked about as lost and as hopeless as any man I'd ever seen.

"They found her the next day.  She'd gone to the graveyard and she'd drunk attair poison and she lay on her back with her arms crossed over her breast and if I'd not been such a prideful fool –"

I gripped the man's shoulder and said "Friend, we both share a wagon load of grief.  Might be it would help if we'd both set down for a meal.  I'd admire to buy your supper."

We two walked back to the corner table the Sheriff favored and we set down and attair cute little hash slinger come sashayin' over and said "What'll it be, fellas?" and I said "Give my friend what he's havin' and what's good tonight?"

She fetched attair dish towel off her shoulder and swatted me over the head and said "You're supposed to flirt with me like the Sheriff does!" and she run her bottom lip out and pouted and I couldn't help but laugh so I run my arm around her waist and said "You good lookin' thang you, what's good for supper?" and she swatted me ag'in with the towel and said "You're a married man, shame on you!" and I looked over at that fella settin' acrost from me and I shook my head and declared, "I just cain't win," and then we all laughed and allowed as we'd take whatever the special was, and coffee, and she went swingin' back torst the kitchen and attair fella said "Is she always that forward?" and I said "Only when she's on her feet and breathin'" and then I looked up and raised my arm and beckoned at the newcomer who just come through the door.

Brother William come back torst us with that big heavy staff in his hand and a grin on his face and I taken his hand and said "You look like a man that could use a good square meal, will you join us?" and he allowed as he would and I said "We're in the mood for confession, Brother William – this here is a friend of mine but I don’t know his name."
"Vern Kales."  He recht acrost the table and taken the tall, suntanned monk's callused hand and each one sized the other up some, both with the grip and with the lookin' over they give one another.

"I usually hear confession separately," Brother William said, and I said "We're hungry and we're here."  I looked over at Vern and said "You start or me?"

"You already know my sorrow," he said, and his grief – forgotten for a blessed few moments – settled on him like a heavy cloak, and he begun to talk.

Now normally a man will keep his grief and his guilt and his sorrow to himself, least until it eats him all hollow inside and he's got no more keep-in to him, but this must have et at this Vern Kales for some time for he just plainly give up when he told me what he'd done.

I looked at him and I looked at Brother William and I allowed as it's time so I kicked open the flood gates and let 'er rip.

"Brother William," said I, "I got myself just blind full of hate and that scares me. I have never in all my young life hated, despised and just plainly ready to kill hated like I been before I come in here."

"Go on," he nodded, and I recall his voice was gentle and I felt that damned hatred come alive ag'in with me because I remembered what caused it and then it hit me like a mountain turned into an ocean wave and cascadin' down on me all tons of granite and I was ready to grab that table and twist it into splinters.

"Them … detectives … they jumped on Sarah," I said, and I recall how tight my voice was, "and I was not there to lay among them with the jaw bone of a jack mule!"

My voice got harsh and my fists got hard and the table shivered where I had my fists set down against it and I looked at Brother William and my face was tight stretched over my cheek bones and a voice not my own said "I couldn't save my Mama and now I can't save my sister!"

"And how does that feel?"  Brother William asked gently, and I looked at him and I felt my rage twist and rear up inside me like I was ridin' a big scaly snake with wings, a big powerful monstrous huge winged clawed fire breathin' … dragon.

My rage was a dragon and it was right powerful and I realized if I did not master it, why, it would master me, for there is a joy and a power in hatred and in rage and I tasted it and I liked the taste.

 

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43.  THE HAND

 

I recht across the corner of the table and taken my wife's hand.

Normally I set at the head of the table and she set at the far end but  I got up and moved around and set down pretty much beside her.

Annette always did like it when I held her hand and I always did like the holdin' of it.

She give me that wise look but she didn't say nothin' and I give her hand a delicate little squeeze and I said "I was mad enough to kick a freight wagon over the roof today" and she give me them big gentle eyes and nodded, oncet, and I told her that Sarah was set upon by her classmates and she bested them, that they chained her down to a chair and went off to the tavern and not only did she get out of her chains, she beat 'em to the tavern, disguised herself as a dance-hall girl and entertained 'em, but she recruited one of the other dancers, beat her classmates back to the Academy, had the dance hall girl in her gown and chained down, and her waiting in the closet with a shotgun and a police detective and when they come back and fetched off the prisoner's hood and found it warn't Sarah, why, Sarah stepped out with a double barrel howitzer and allowed as they-all were under arrest for assault, unlawful restraint, and kidnap, and kidnap was a capital crime, and she would be so kind as to give them each their choice of which noose of thirteen turns they wished to be hanged with, and attair police detective proceeded to give them the straight of it and just plainly showed the sinners the error of their way.

Annette give me the same look Brother William did and just like Brother William she whispered "There's something else," only she whispered the words where Brother William said them thoughtfully, and I nodded and leaned a little closer and put my other hand on hers as well, like I was cupping a little baby bird in my hands.

"I couldn't save her," I whispered back, and my throat was tight and I felt the truth turn over in my belly and I saw my Mama bloody and quivering and I heard the screams that I couldn't tell if they was from her throat or mine and I looked at Annette and I reckon I looked like a man haunted by ghosts for I surely was and I said "I couldn't save my Mama, Annette, and when the Sheriff read me them letters I couldn't save Sarah neither and it troubled me, it surely did."

Annette she didn't say a word, she give me them big lovely eyes and I felt like I could fall into them big gorgeous eyes and swim in 'em and I swallered for it felt like of a sudden I had this big sticky lump in my neck and I kind of wheezed, "Annette, I was madder'n I've been in an awful long time and it scared me."

She nodded, oncet, gentle-like, and she laid her other hand on mine as gentle as if she was draping a silk kerchief over my knuckles and I felt myself shiver and I realized I was feelin' the back half of all that rage.

I felt fear.

"Annette," I whispered and my voice was gone hoarse now, "I seen what men's tempers can do.  I seen a man beat my Mama to death and I seen men get all mad and beat one another plumb to death and I don't want to do those things."  I looked up at her and I reckon the fear looked out my eyes for hers widened a little the way a woman's eyes will when she realizes something terrible is in front of her.

"Annette, I am afraid." 

I closed my eyes and taken a long breath and then I grabbed my feelin's with a big hard claw and I shoved them down in an iron kettle and I screwed the lid down hard, fast and tight, and I opened my eyes ag'in and I was dead calm and I spoke in a normal voice.

"Annette," I said, and I felt an awful lot more put-together now, "I was mad enough to rip a mountain out by its roots and smack the moon out of the sky with it.  A man in such a state is not a thinking man, he is often a monster, and I do not wish to be a monster, most especially I do not want to monster you."

Annette's voice was soft and gentle and the sound of it was like oil on a wounded soul.

"Jacob," she said, and 'twas like a mother's cool hand stroking a child's fevered brow, "you have never been less than kind with me.  You have never been less than a gentleman with me.  I do not think you could ever be otherwise."  She slipped one hand free and reached up and stroked my cheek and I laid my cheek over into her palm.  "That you say these thing, Jacob, tells me you will never do them."

"God grant it," I whispered back, and then I slid out of my chair and went to my knees beside my wife, I wrapped my arms around her and held her, and she held me, and I shivered some and the shivers passed.

God knew what He was doing when He give me this wise woman.

 

Now that warn't the only reason I'd been mad enough to pull a mountain like a dentist pulls a bad tooth.

The Sheriff read the letter attair Professor Hunt wrote.

Sarah must've been workin' as a detective already and made enemies and she'd thought ahead apparently and she'd put some kind of a roll up ladder bolted outside the class room window.

Whoever she'd made mad bein' a detective tried to set the place afire to kill her and she got everyone out.

The Professor allowed as she'd gotten the class safely out and he was half crippled up with rheumatiz and gout and such-like and she'd got him out too, she got him out attair window and she'd got the last few out from her class and then the last ones panicked and piled on attair ladder and broke it and she had to scale out of there on a line like a mountaineer and had the Denver fire department not had one of them canvas jump-on-it things unfolded and ready she'd have been kilt hittin' them brick cobbles.

Knowin' Sarah kept her whole class alive and them selfish sorts near to got her killed is what made me mad enough to twist the head off a draft ox, barehand.

And I was more than ready to warpath ag'in whoever fired that building.

I didn't tell Annette these things. 

I'd give her enough trouble for her soul, her bein' the lightning rod for my troubles oncet already.

The rest could wait.

The maid come in and raised her chin all proper-like and announced, "Miss Sarah McKenna," and Sarah come flowin' into the room – that's the word to use, flow – she moved as smooth as water and her gown never swayed a bit as she did and I wondered if she didn't have wheels underneath of them skirts.

I let go of Annette and stood up and leaned ag'in the back of Annette's chair and Sarah laughed and said "Why, Jacob, you look like you've seen a ghost!"

Several smart answers come to mind but I looked away and felt my bottom jaw thrust out and all I could manage was "Yeah," and then Annette smiled and said "You are just in time for supper, Sarah, would you please join us?"

 

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43.  THE HAND

 

I recht across the corner of the table and taken my wife's hand.

Normally I set at the head of the table and she set at the far end but  I got up and moved around and set down pretty much beside her.

Annette always did like it when I held her hand and I always did like the holdin' of it.

She give me that wise look but she didn't say nothin' and I give her hand a delicate little squeeze and I said "I was mad enough to kick a freight wagon over the roof today" and she give me them big gentle eyes and nodded, oncet, and I told her that Sarah was set upon by her classmates and she bested them, that they chained her down to a chair and went off to the tavern and not only did she get out of her chains, she beat 'em to the tavern, disguised herself as a dance-hall girl and entertained 'em, but she recruited one of the other dancers, beat her classmates back to the Academy, had the dance hall girl in her gown and chained down, and her waiting in the closet with a shotgun and a police detective and when they come back and fetched off the prisoner's hood and found it warn't Sarah, why, Sarah stepped out with a double barrel howitzer and allowed as they-all were under arrest for assault, unlawful restraint, and kidnap, and kidnap was a capital crime, and she would be so kind as to give them each their choice of which noose of thirteen turns they wished to be hanged with, and attair police detective proceeded to give them the straight of it and just plainly showed the sinners the error of their way.

Annette give me the same look Brother William did and just like Brother William she whispered "There's something else," only she whispered the words where Brother William said them thoughtfully, and I nodded and leaned a little closer and put my other hand on hers as well, like I was cupping a little baby bird in my hands.

"I couldn't save her," I whispered back, and my throat was tight and I felt the truth turn over in my belly and I saw my Mama bloody and quivering and I heard the screams that I couldn't tell if they was from her throat or mine and I looked at Annette and I reckon I looked like a man haunted by ghosts for I surely was and I said "I couldn't save my Mama, Annette, and when the Sheriff read me them letters I couldn't save Sarah neither and it troubled me, it surely did."

Annette she didn't say a word, she give me them big lovely eyes and I felt like I could fall into them big gorgeous eyes and swim in 'em and I swallered for it felt like of a sudden I had this big sticky lump in my neck and I kind of wheezed, "Annette, I was madder'n I've been in an awful long time and it scared me."

She nodded, oncet, gentle-like, and she laid her other hand on mine as gentle as if she was draping a silk kerchief over my knuckles and I felt myself shiver and I realized I was feelin' the back half of all that rage.

I felt fear.

"Annette," I whispered and my voice was gone hoarse now, "I seen what men's tempers can do.  I seen a man beat my Mama to death and I seen men get all mad and beat one another plumb to death and I don't want to do those things."  I looked up at her and I reckon the fear looked out my eyes for hers widened a little the way a woman's eyes will when she realizes something terrible is in front of her.

"Annette, I am afraid." 

I closed my eyes and taken a long breath and then I grabbed my feelin's with a big hard claw and I shoved them down in an iron kettle and I screwed the lid down hard, fast and tight, and I opened my eyes ag'in and I was dead calm and I spoke in a normal voice.

"Annette," I said, and I felt an awful lot more put-together now, "I was mad enough to rip a mountain out by its roots and smack the moon out of the sky with it.  A man in such a state is not a thinking man, he is often a monster, and I do not wish to be a monster, most especially I do not want to monster you."

Annette's voice was soft and gentle and the sound of it was like oil on a wounded soul.

"Jacob," she said, and 'twas like a mother's cool hand stroking a child's fevered brow, "you have never been less than kind with me.  You have never been less than a gentleman with me.  I do not think you could ever be otherwise."  She slipped one hand free and reached up and stroked my cheek and I laid my cheek over into her palm.  "That you say these thing, Jacob, tells me you will never do them."

"God grant it," I whispered back, and then I slid out of my chair and went to my knees beside my wife, I wrapped my arms around her and held her, and she held me, and I shivered some and the shivers passed.

God knew what He was doing when He give me this wise woman.

 

Now that warn't the only reason I'd been mad enough to pull a mountain like a dentist pulls a bad tooth.

The Sheriff read the letter attair Professor Hunt wrote.

Sarah must've been workin' as a detective already and made enemies and she'd thought ahead apparently and she'd put some kind of a roll up ladder bolted outside the class room window.

Whoever she'd made mad bein' a detective tried to set the place afire to kill her and she got everyone out.

The Professor allowed as she'd gotten the class safely out and he was half crippled up with rheumatiz and gout and such-like and she'd got him out too, she got him out attair window and she'd got the last few out from her class and then the last ones panicked and piled on attair ladder and broke it and she had to scale out of there on a line like a mountaineer only it burnt in two and she fell and had the Denver fire department not had one of them canvas jump-on-it things unfolded and ready she'd have been kilt hittin' them brick cobbles.

Knowin' Sarah kept her whole class alive and them selfish sorts near to got her killed is what made me mad enough to twist the head off a draft ox, barehand.

And I was more than ready to warpath ag'in whoever fired that building.

I didn't tell Annette these things. 

I'd give her enough trouble for her soul, her bein' the lightning rod for my troubles oncet already.

The rest could wait.

The maid come in and raised her chin all proper-like and announced, "Miss Sarah McKenna," and Sarah come flowin' into the room – that's the word to use, flow – she moved as smooth as water and her gown never swayed a bit as she did and I wondered if she didn't have wheels underneath of them skirts.

I let go of Annette and stood up and leaned ag'in the back of Annette's chair and Sarah laughed and said "Why, Jacob, you look like you've seen a ghost!"

Several smart answers come to mind but I looked away and felt my bottom jaw thrust out and all I could manage was "Yeah," and then Annette smiled and said "You are just in time for supper, Sarah, would you please join us?"

Sarah sat beside Annette and I went back to my usual chair at the head of the table and the maid poured me a mug of coffee and I drizzled some frash cream into it and I brought myself to a full stop.

I was in my own home.

I was set down at my own table.

My beautiful bride was at the other end of the table and she was just that – beautiful – and she was alive and her cheeks glowed and she smiled as she and Sarah chattered the way happy women folks will, and I considered as the maid set one thing and then another on the table that I had no right to be unhappy, nor upset, nor mad enough to make a horse's hinder out of myself.

I taken me a slow drank of coffee and then I dashed the dribblin's off my mustache with a bent finger and wiped it on my pants leg and I studied attair coffee cup like it was right interestin'.

There was much I wished to ask Sarah, and she'd obligingly walked right into my dinin' room.

I said the blessin' and we started loadin' our plates and Sarah looked at me all happy and bright-eyed and said, "I suppose you heard about my falling from a burning building," and Annette give her a startled look and I give her an irritated look and the maid looked like she'd just heard somethin' she wasn't supposed to and she kind of hustled out of the room quick-like.

"I heard me somethin' of the kind," I admitted.  "How many of them class mates of yours would you like me to thrash?"

She gave me one of them looks that I didn't know what to make of and she said quietly, "Oh, yes, that."

"Yes, that," I said, just as quietly, and Annette looked at me kind of scared for she seldom heard that part of my voice and I throwed a damper on my throat right quick, for I've no wish to scare my wife, her bein' in a delicate way and all.

Sarah give one of them ladylike waves of her wrist as if she were shooing away a nuisance or a fly or some-such.  "It's taken care of," she said offhandedly, "but if you must know, a certain police detective was most happy to inform them of the error of their way."

"A detective," I said slowly. 

"Oh, yes, a fine fellow.  Plays a good hand of poker, he's fair at chess and miserable at checkers, he's seeing a girl from a respected family, and I helped him with a certain street gang he was trying to stop."

"I don't reckon you helped."

"My dear sir!"  she declared, dramatically raising a bent wrist to her forehead, "perish the very thought!" – she lowered her wrist, planted her elbows loudly on the tablecloth and said in a nasal twang, "Youuu betcher bottom dollar, feller!" – and then she and Annette both laughed and she added that she'd gulled the entire gang into the detective's ambush, and then convinced them that she'd been killed "which," she continued, "greatly reduces the chances they'll come looking for me!"

I shook my head.  "Sarah," I admitted, "I was ready to drag a lodge pole pine out of the rocks and use it to beat them fellers senseless and now I think I'd need a legion of cavalry at least!  How much trouble have you stirred here lately?"

"More than I can tell you," she admitted, "and frankly I will need your help three days from now."

I nodded and I felt that dragon stir inside me ag'in.

Right about then the maid set down that tureen with that real good smellin' gravy in it and I allowed as it was time for me to stop talkin' and start eatin' so I did.

 

That night I laid in bed and held my wife's hand the way I usually did.

It was not uncommon for us to go to sleep holdin' hands and wake up still holdin' hands and that was a mighty comfort to me.

I don't think Annette ever knew how much of a comfort she was, if only in that one way, but there were loads of others but that one I especially liked.

She didn't have belly enough yet to balance a Broom Straw so we didn't know if 'twas a boy or a girl but we'd find out in due time and in the meanwhile we lay there warm in our own bed under our own roof and I held my wife's hand and it felt good.

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44.  AND ON THE THIRD DAY

 

I don't recall seein' so many people readin' news papers all at oncet in all my life.

I never knowed there was that many news papers let alone ever figgered I'd see 'em all in one place and here they were, looked like just plainly ever'one and their uncle was a-readin' 'em, readin' out loud to one another, they was pinnin' papers down on tables and acrost laps and puttin' fingers here and puttin' fingers there and just plainly marvelin' at the goin's-on over in Denver.

Sarah sat acrost from me there in the Silver Jewel and she had three or four of them-there newspapers but she had 'em hid beside her and half under the table for like as not had someone seen she had more'n one, why, they'd likely try and snatch whatever one she didn't have a good grip on, folks was so eager to follow the goin's-on over in the big city!

Sarah asked me to meet her and she was sipping tea, dainty delicate little sips that I don't think would've half filled a Musquitter, I reckon she was tryin' to keep up an appearance ruther'n actually drank anythin'.

Me, I set there with my back to the back wall, Sarah on my left with her back to the Jewel's front wall, we was in the corner and I was a-watchin' folks as they ate and they drank and I don't reckon they realized how much they were puttin' away, a body does that when they're distracted by what they're readin'.

Sarah looked down beside her and quietly, carefully, turned her newspaper one way and then another and I think she was foldin' some back and finally brought it up and slud it acrost the table at me and said "Read that," and she had that quiet, ornery smile about her, and so I read, and then I looked up at her and then I read some more and then I looked up at her again and I finished readin' and went over it ag'in to make sure I didn't miss a thing and then I looked at Sarah and I swallered hard and said "That was you?"

She nodded, she leaned across the table, and if it's possible to plant your elbow on a tablecloth in a ladylike way, why, she done it and made it look easy.

"Let me tell you what happened," she smiled, and she spoke real soft and I shook my head and looked at the door into the back room.

"In there," I said.  "I can't hear your soft voice in here."

We got up – that cute little hash slinger smiled at me I tilted my head torst attair back room as Sarah gathered up her news papers and come along behind me – we went on in and I asked that cute little girl if I could have some more of those real good sweet rolls and she laid a hand on my shoulder and said "For you, darlin', anything!" and then she swung and sashayed out attair door and I don't believe she could have walked normal if she'd tried.

Hell, she probably sashays into church, or so I figured, but she went to Rabbitville to attair Catholic church Brother William's outfit run, so I had no idea if she did or not.

Oncet she showed up with a bowl full of them real good sweet rolls and some butter and I tore open three or four and buttered 'em good and set a couple over for Sarah, why, we waited til Sweet Thang was gone before she told me what she'd done.

She didn't give me all the pa'tickelars but she allowed as she'd put a serious crimp in one of them-there criminal gangs and they warn't happy and oncet they caught her they'd chain her down to a table of some sort and they made their brags on what-all they were a-goin' to do to her.

They had some kind of a patch pullin' worm they figured to wind into her eyes and rip them out by the roots and that was the mildest thing they was a-gonna do to her.

Now that's what they'd planned, that and worse, and Sarah knowed they brought protection money to the boss in a strong box so she hid herself in the strong box and she had herself loaded up and ready and them-there detective sorts they was in on it too and when she come b'ilin' out of that-there strong box, why, Katy bar the door the war was on and she was throwin' lead.

She'd got herself carried right into the heart of the gang's operation and warn't nobody there but high level bosses and she come out of attair strong box with that short scatter gun I blowed the barrels up on over at Carbon and then she come out with them bulldog .44s of hers and she reloaded the shotgun oncet at least and she went amongst them Philistines and they warn't expectin' an armor plated rattlesnake spittin' lead and fahr right in amongst their innermost, most secure and best defended heart room.

I reckon them fellas that brought that chest into the room was detectives for they cut loose as well but they didn't do half the killin' my pale eyed sister did.

She was all in black and she was movin' constantly and she didn't stop until every last one of 'em was dead or bleedin' hard and that included two of 'em that ate steel and Sarah smiled ever so gentle and innocent as she described two of the detectives gettin' sick and throwin' up when they looked close at two men with knives stuck hilt deep in their eye sockets where Sarah throwed two knives when her Bulldogs run dry.

I found out later they actually had caught her and they actually had tied her down on a table and they'd set dinamit booms underneath it with timers and spring detonators both so if someone come in and pulled her bleedin' carcass off the table it would go boom and if nobody come, why, oncet they was done torturin' her they'd leave her to scream in pain and after so many minutes boom it would go anyhow.  I didn't find this out for a month or so and oncet I did I told Sarah I had a good notion to throw her over my lap and fan her little biscuits and she give me that ornery look and said "Catch me first!"

Now oncet she'd told me all that happened, she went over them several news papers and the several articles in 'em and one one of them newspapers agreed with another, none of 'em had the Black Agent as a girl, one said the Black Agent was tall and slender with piercing blue eyes and a fine, flowing mustache, they was those that said the Black Agent was a gipsi or a European or some-such, for he wore a long black cloak and had immaculate manners and swept off a soft, broad-brimmed hat such as European highwaymen wore, and Sarah's cheeks colored a little as we read the absolute trash these news papers printed up.

The only thing they got right was that Sarah wore black, and she was an Agent, but them-there newspapers didn't know what she was an Agent of.

Sarah sighed and gathered the newspapers up into a bundle and when that cute little hash slinger come in with more coffee and hot tea, Sarah give her that stack and allowed as if she wanted to sell 'em to the highest bidder she might make some money and damned if she didn't, she went out and stood up on a chair and just plainly auctioned each of 'em off and them fellers might have had a copy of the same newspaper but when they got to biddin' ag'in one another why they just lost their good sense and everyone run the price up on everyone else and that girl made a month's wages or more a-doin' that.

I set there and chawed on a still-warm sweet roll and mumbled through a mouthful that it sounded like she had things pretty well in hand, what help of mine did she need?

Sarah looked at me real innocent and then she laid attair sawed off scatter gun acrost the table and said "I need you to sneak this back into the Sheriff's office" so I pulled a piggin string out of my coat pocket and tied it off ahead of the trigger guard and hung it diagonal from my right shoulder so it hung on the left and my coat covered it and Sarah said she needed me to provide an arm so she could walk around town and look respectable for she dare not be identified as The Black Agent.

I did that and Sarah's big black Snowflake horse was outside and Sarah had her mane braided and some flowers worked into the braids and Sarah petted the big mare's black-velvet nose and called her a good girl and bribed her with sugar cones, she touched Snowflake behint the fore leg and the big black Frisian knelt and Sarah whipped her leg over the saddle and damned if that warn't a divided skirt and it surely did not look it when she was standin' or walkin' and Snowflake got up and Sarah smiled real ladylike and thanked me for my kindness, and she rode off with her parasol up and warn't nobody lookin' at her would even have suspected 'twas the same horse that was rid by the seven foot tall Black Agent with a long blond mustache, piercing blue eyes, a deep voice and a booming laugh, and the ability to spit fireballs and sling lightning from his fingertips.

I went on acrost to the Sheriff's Office to park attair short little scattergun and the Sheriff was leaned back in his chair and he'd leaned it back ag'in the wall so's it wouldn't kick and dump him over backwards, he was a-readin' the news paper and laughin'.

Me, I let him laugh.

If he knew 'twas really about Sarah, all well and good, and if he did not, why, he would in due time, for 'twas notoriously difficult to hide much of anything from the man!

 

 

 

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45.  NOT KNOWIN'

 

Annette set on my left and we was both parked in attair double wide rockin' chair we favored and we held hands and we rocked.

We rocked slow and easy and 'twas always a special time when the two of us could sit there and look out acrost the pasture and let the quiet soak into us only there was never any whole quiet, there was always birds and generally bugs and the wind whispered secrets to tall pines and we'd hear a horse or a cow and oncet they was a shootin' star went screamin' past overhead real bright and then it was gone and I don't know if it burnt up or just disappeared, there's an awful lot about such things I don't know but it made a sight whilst it was still drawin' with a bright finger acrost the deep blue sky.

We often times set like that, neither of us sayin' a word, neither of us feelin' any need.

Annette was the dearest thing I knew, she was a sweet girl when I met her and she warn't no different after we got married and since she told me she had my child in her belly, why, she just got that much lovelier and the wimmen folks allowed as mothers do that when they're carryin' a little girl-baby and they got coarse featured and grew chin whiskers if they carried a little boy baby and Bonnie got big and birthed herself a set of twins but they was both girls and I didn't see much of her for that nine months, she was a proper lady and hid herself away at home or at the dress factory while she was a-showin'.

Me, I didn't see no sense in that but then what do I know, least I got to see my wife and that was good enough for me, Mayor Sapp allowed as it's the rare man who can satisfy his wife and a damned fool who thinks he can satisfy more than one woman and I taken his word for it.

I was content with the notion I was goin' to be Pa and I'd teach my boys to whittle and whistle and where to hunt for fish and frogs and how to skin out game and fetch it home for the table, I would sire fine strong sons who would laugh and labor like bronze skinned giants at harvest and we would laugh the good laughter of men as they grew –

I looked over at Annette and I don't think I ever saw her happier, and she give me that gentle smile of hers that just plainly melted the heart behint my breast bone.

I taken me a long breath and she squeezed my hand and she said real gentle-like, "What is it?" and I marveled again for women can do that, they know when a man is keepin' somethin' from her, and I don't reckon it's any good to hide it, they'll find out.

"I come close to killin' a man today," I admitted.

"But you didn't?"
"No."
"He deserved it."  It was not a question, it was a statement, and I nodded and allowed as he did.

"What happened?"
I smiled a little and run my arm around her shoulders and drew her in ag'in me.

 

Honor is a touchy thing.

Some fella allowed as I was a coward for havin' shot that one man in the back of the head and I grabbed his shoulder and brought him around fast and he dropped his beer mug and spilt beer acrost the floor and for a miracle that heavy glass mug didn't break.  Reckon that's why Mr. Baxter got good heavy ones.

I allowed as he could fill his hand or he could take that back right here and right now and he said "I ain't a-gonna take it back," and I throwed my coat tails back and ever'one at the bar kind of scattered out of the way and I tasted copper and said quiet-like, "Fill your hand," and warn't more'n six foot between us.

He looked down at my twin Colts and he looked up at me and I reckon his mouth went awful dry right about then.

"You're not shootin' me in the back?" he said sudden-like and I saw his eyes change the way a man's will when he realizes he's just said absolutely the wrong thing.

"You didn't say you was goin' to kill me and then left," I said and I never raised my voice a bit.  "Was you to say that and leave I would hunt you down and kill you and sleep good that night.  Was you to face me and try to kill me I would kill you and sleep good that night.  You ain't done neither one.  All you done is dig your own grave with your mouth.  Now take it back and buy me a beer or draw but do it fast, I'm not a patient sort."

He swallowed again. 

"He said he was goin' to kill you."

"He said that."

"I didn't know that."

"Might be you ought to find out before you go runnin' your mouth."

He looked at Mr. Baxter, a quick, fearful glance.

"I would admire to buy the deputy a beer."

Mr. Baxter drew a beer just as if nothin' was wrong, and I spoke up quiet-like and that fella jumped a little and I said "And I would admire to buy this man a beer as well." 

I managed a cold smile.

"See?  Just a misunderstandin'."

Mr. Baxter set the beers on the bar and he looked at me and I was wearin' two revolvers and he didn't know which one I would go for unless I went for both at once and he was wearin' his on the right so he wisely recht for his beer with his right hand.

I recht for mine with my left as it was closer and we both drank.

 

Annette's hand tightened a little on mine when I finished and we set there a little longer.

"Jacob?"
"Hm?"

"Jacob … please …"
She looked at me and she give me them big lovely eyes and then she laid her head over on my shoulder and I felt her shiver.

"Jacob Keller, don't you dare die on me," she whispered fiercely, and I hugged her in to me ag'in and laughed a little.

"Darlin'," I said, "the Sheriff told me oncet the first duty of any lawman is to come home alive."

She nodded a little and I held her and we set for some while longer whilst the shadows grew long and purple acrost the pasture.

 

Next day Sarah tried to get her gloves on before I saw but I saw her fingers had several fine cuts on 'em and I grabbed her wrist and I reckon my eyes was as cold as my voice.

"Who did this to you?"  I asked and my words were a dry hiss in my ears and Sarah laughed and worked the other glove off her other hand and showed me it was cut up some too – fine little cuts, none terribly big, but gleaming with Dr. Flint's Navajo salve he give us for such injuries.

"I've been knapping obsidian," she admitted.

I frowned a little and turned my head slightly and she laughed and started back into her gloves.

"Charlie Macneil is taking me out after elk," she explained, "and he intends that I should take one with a flint lance and use a flint knife to gut it and skin it and bone it out."

"If anyone can do that, Charlie can," I nodded, and I reckon I looked all kind of curious but I didn't ask no more questions and it warn't a week before Sarah and Charlie come a-ridin' back into town with a diamond hitched pack horse a-carryin' the wrapped-up meat and that hand made spear.

They was an old German in town, a natty dressed sort, real jolly and red-cheeked and Mr. Baxter had some dark beer the old German liked, and when Charlie and Sarah come back in, why, Sarah had war paint stripin' her cheeks only warn't a good bold color of war paint, it was stripes of dried elk blood, and she wore a sprig of evergreen dipped in blood stuck in her hat brim.

The old German took his beer mug outside like the rest of us and he admired the hell out of the caped out head and rack and he asked Charlie how much gun he'd used and Charlie laughed and gestured at Sarah and said that rag doll of a little girl got it and she used a spear and the German's eyes got big and he said somethin' that sounded like stuffed puppy, and he give Sarah another, more appraising look, and she fetched down that obsidian blade spear and stood its butt end into the dirt beside her boot and allowed as yes, sir, I used this and I made it myself, and that old German kind of hissed his breath in between his teeth, he set that beer mug down on the board walk behint him and he hefted attair spear and a man could tell he'd handled such things before.

They got to talkin' about wild boars in Germany and he handed the spear back to Sarah and pulled up his pants leg to show just an awful lookin' scar and she told me later he'd got chawed up some by a boar that got by his spear head and that was the only one he ever missed, and I figured at that point with that old German showin' a scar, why, he warn't meanin' no harm so I could go on my way.

Somethin' didn't feel right about the man and it was many years later – not long before my firstborn was killed in that damned War – that Sarah would be killed under this same old German's roof, back in the Hartz Mountains over in Europe, but that's gettin' way ahead of myself.

For now all I knowed was that there was somethin' I didn't know about the man and that troubled me.

I never did like not knowin' and like I said 'twas many years before I put it all together.

 

Bonnie come into town, her and that new husband of hers, he was another Rosenthal but this man was all right, he knew his brother was a wastrel and a gambler and the black sheep who fooled my Pa into thinkin' he was a good man and that was one thing that distressed the Sheriff just a-mightily, that he'd been gulled and fooled and Bam Boozled by this fella, but he was dead now and his brother was as good a man as his brother had been a scoundrel and their union was fertile and Bonnie she come a-fetchin' that-there withie basket into the Sheriff's office and she set it on the Sheriff's desk and Rosenthal he was standin' there grinnin' like a possum eatin' on a dead horse and Bonnie fetched the blanket back and damned if there wasn't two little bitty baby girls in there, I reckon they was girls for they had little frilly bonnets on 'em and the Sheriff looked at 'em and he looked at Rosenthal and he looked back and then he looked at Bonnie and me and back to them little girls and back to Rosenthal and he shook his head kind of sad and said "They don't look a thing like you," and Rosenthal's face fell about three feet and Bonnie looked at him all shocked and the Sheriff said with a straight face, "Just look at the two of 'em!  No sign of a mustache a'tall!"

Now Rosenthal he had a good black handlebar and his was forever waxed up and curled just so and he taken pride in that, and the Sheriff's handlebar was gone to iron grey and mine was still a good red shade, and Bonnie her mouth fell open and she looked at the Sheriff and she blinked and then she throwed that blanket over them little girls and she snatched up attair basket and she whirled and damn neart run out the door.

The Sheriff winked at Rosenthal and he grinned and then he tuned and followed his wife and the Sheriff and me we looked at one another and the man sighed and shook his head and allowed as he could get in trouble just a-settin' in his easy chair at home and I laughed and allowed as yes, sir, and then I considered that folks often times say that a baby will look like this or like that and I always kind of figgered as they looked like little babies and the Sheriff he stopped and then he looked at me and there was approval in his look.

"Jacob," he said, "I do believe you are right."

 

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46.  HOW TO LOOK INNOCENT

 

Now Sarah had a way about her, she surely did.

She could give a man them lovely pale eyes of hers and you could hear his spine crunchin' as she wrapped him round about that slender little finger of hers.

She got sweet on one of them-there firemen and she might as well have punched a ring through his nose and led him around on a cord like a love sick calf.

Now I don't want to give you the wrong notion.

Sarah warn't like some women I've seen that would play with men and make damned fools of 'em, I've seen women that played with men like they was a child's wheel toy pulled along on a strang or even a cat playin' with a mouse and Sarah never done that, she had designs on attair Cincinnati fireman and he might as well have been the babe innocent, he could not have got away if he'd tried.

Sarah knew how to get information from men, I already said that, but I'm minded of how she pumped him for information – but she had somethin' in mind and I didn't know what it was until her house caught fahr and until attair gang tried to burn her to death over in Denver and then I realized she was plannin' ahead.

She'd had him all through their house, lookin' at this and pointin' at that and her face was dead serious and she made sure she was in eyeshot of her Mama or the maid and generally both and she talked with him in his own language about fire progression and how a staircase became a chimney in a house fire and how heat rose and sometimes the only good air was in a space the width of three fingers down against the floor, and she set down and got to drawin' and him and her designed up some kind of an escape thang that she'd jerk a cord and it would open up and unroll a chain link ladder of some sort.

She had it built and installed on the upstairs windows and damned if she didn't have to use it, a few years later, her twin sisters were still young but they could climb down a ladder in good shape and they did and I found out later she'd gone down that ladder any number of times with 'em and them a-gigglin' like it was some happy game they was a-playin' but when the fire hit why they was out of bed and they went to that window and Sarah she kept it soaped up so it opened easy and they jerked attair cord and that ladder unrolled with just an awful clatter and they got down and no harm, they didn't even smell like smoke and I think 'twas the hired man rode hard for the firehouse and they saved the house.

That was the summer Sarah and her Mama had a big feed, I think 'twas by way of thanks for the Irish Brigade, I recall Sarah kicked out of them shiny black slippers she wore for dress and she ran stockingfoot down the middle of them big tables they'd set up with planks acrost saw horses and she put two fingers to her lips and whistled and I recall lookin' up and thinkin' how just plainly gorgeous she was, and I looked around and I had to laugh to myself at some of them church biddies lookin' all shocked to see it.

I recall Sarah allowed as the Irish Brigade saved her sisters and herself by virtue of good sound advice, and then she looked at attair Llewellyn feller and she said one in particular had her thanks for that very thing and then she took out a-runnin' and jumped off the end of the table right at him and he caught her easy as anything and they-all laughed but that's gettin' way ahead of myself, Sarah's sisters warn't yet walkin' and if I keep talkin' like this why I'll get myself all confused.

Now where was I.  I was a-goin' somewhere with this.

Oh yeah.  The Judge.

I don't think His Honor figured to use Sarah for more than a gull, a slicker, a good lookin' young woman who could get men to talk.

I don't reckon he figured to use her but kind of rarely but Sarah she liked it and she liked the excitement and she liked takin' the bit between her teeth and she liked gettin' right in the middle of trouble.

Just like I found out I liked the taste of blinding anger, she liked the taste of temptin' Fate, of gamblin' with her very life.

Good God, oncet our Irish Brigade got one of them round canvas jump-out-of-a-building things, why, they figured to toss a dummy out of the hose tower but Sarah went a-scamperin' up that-there tall brick hose dryin' tower and she come out the door and give a whistle and then she jumped and like to scairt all them men to death for realizin' 'twas Sarah and not a dummy whistlin' down at 'em.

They caught her, she bounced oncet, did a real nice summerset in the middle of her bounce and landed on her backside a-laughin', then she bounced ag'in and grabbed the wooden edge of attair canvas jump-on-it thang and rolled off of it, landed on her feet like an acrobat and come up on her tippy toes and raised an arm in a grand and showy gesture, for all the world like an acrobat performin'.

It warn't at all unusual for Sarah to go lookin' for a man for the Judge, she'd find him, she'd wire back if she thought he'd stay put but if he'd not, why, she'd like as not disappear as that pretty girl she was and she'd reappear as a black shadow that would bend a shot-filled sap over some fella's head and get him in irons and throw him in a wagon and haul him back.

Sometimes she got into a scrape and it come to a shootin' and damned if she warn't fast and deadly with that bulldog .44 she carried and the law was generally all kind of surprised when they found the shootin' was by an Agent of the Court and some of 'em didn't like it much that she out ranked 'em but His Honor the Judge made it awful clear to 'em he'd brook no challenge to his authority and he had to lower the boom on a couple of 'em to make 'em all understand.

His Honor was not a man to be trifled with.

Unless you were Sarah, then she'd trifle with him and he'd growl and snarl and he'd puff great clouds of cigar smoke and poison the air with his temper and his cigar, but she got results and he could not deny this and so Sarah remained The Black Agent.

She also knew when to turn invisible and more often than not the day after she'd been somewhere as The Black Agent, why, she was teachin' school and wearin' that mousy-grey schoolmarm dress with her hair pulled up in a walnut on top of her head and lookin' just awful innocent.

Me, I never could look innocent, I tried it a time or two but I reckon I'm about as transparent as window glass so I give it up for a bad job.

 

The greying old grandfather rocked slowly on his front porch.

He gazed out across the pasture and smiled as a young boy climbed up on the board fence and coaxed the long horned bull over to him.

Jacob's sons had done as much, years ago, they'd coaxed the bull calf and ridden him and laughed and the bull calf was a happy playmate for them.

They were boys, and the calf was young, and they'd foot race one another across the pasture, the boys would sometimes grab the bull calf's horns and push and the bull calf would push back and the boys would end up getting pushed over and they'd laugh and the bull calf would snuff loudly at them and they'd get up and play some more.

Jacob Keller smiled a little as he watched his youngest grandson swing carefully a-straddle of the bull's back, and the old mossy horn, descendant of the original Boocaffie – so named because the boys were too young to frame the name "Bull Calf" arightly – the old mossy horn walked slowly across the pasture, then as the laughing little boy laid out over his neck and grabbed at his horns, he moved at a faster walk and then a jogging, bouncing trot, and Jacob smiled again to hear a child's happy laughter echoing across his pasture.

Jacob sat at one end of the ancient, double wide rocking chair, as he always did, and his hand was at his side, open a little as it always was, as if hoping a cool, feminine hand would slip into his, and he felt again the ache a man feels when his wife of many years is no more.

His grandsons would often beg of him to tell him of how it was, before the skunk buggies and aeroplanes and telly-o-phones and "all that modern stuff we got."

They would ask, and Jacob would smile a little, and he would tell them.

 

It warn't but a day later things was considerable changed.

I ducked back as rock splinters cut through where my face had been a second before.

Whoever threw that shot at me just warn't friendly a'tall and that made me unhappy.

Now I didn't have no idea who was that wanted to be unfriendly but I didn't see where I'd give whoever 'twas cause to be so unkind, so I allowed as might be they just needed to meet me, so I give a yell and swore like I'd been hit and I screamed about my eyes and then I cat footed around back of that rock and clumb up above it, quick and quiet, and I snuck along on my belly and did my level best to keep dirt in between me and whoever 'twas.

Warn't a thing wrong with my eyes but I wanted 'em to think I was maybe helpless or passed out or some-such.

I taken a cautious peek oncet I got some grass and brush to hide my head and then I give a study and whoever 'twas thought they was hid but I'd got high enough above 'em I could see 'em.

I am not a trustin' man by no means so I just laid there and taken me a good look around and figured was I to try and Bush Whack someone where would I have another sneaky sort and how would I have 'em movin' and sure enough I seen one and he was on the far side of this first fellow and he was movin' quick and real light on his feet and I figured I might want to discourage him but I wanted to know about these two.

Was I to just outrightly kill this one, why, he'd be hushed up forever and wouldn't tell me nothin' and the other fella, he'd be warned off by my gun shot, and I thought a minute and then started sneakin' down hill and behint that first fella.

I warn't countin 'on findin' a third one but by golly there he war so I fetched up my rifle and drove him in the back of the head with that crescent butt plate hard enough to knock his eye balls loose and he hit the ground and them horses he was holdin' they walled their eyes and backed up a little and I grabbed up their reins and talked quiet to 'em and rubbed their noses and they quieted down so I tied 'em off to a handy branch and I taken me a look and that other fella he fired another shot and I seen that fella sneakin' around was standin' up and lookin' and this first fella, the one who shot at me, why he come up and yelled "Is he dead?" and about then I drove him a good one in the back of the gourd and I did my best not to drive the point of attair crescent into his skull.

I didn't want him dead, just quiet.

"Dead hell!" the other fella yelled back, "he ain't here!"

I tied this fella's hands behint his back, quick and tight and I didn't care his hands was startin' to turn color already, I taken up my rifle and taken a sight and allowed as that secont fella could come toward me and hold his rifle by its barl or I would drop him right there and he cussed me for a dirty cattle thief and I allowed as I was a deputy sheriff and he was under arrest and he spit and fetched up his rifle and I did the same and I genuinely did not want to punch his ticket for the Hell Bound Train but when a man brings up a rifle at me, why, he's bought and paid for.

I went back and made sure that secont fella was still breathin'.

He was but I reckoned he'd have a head ache.

I come ridin' into Carbon Hill after most of a day and them two fellas I'd clobbered was bent over their saddles and tied there and that dead man, why, he warn't complainin' a'tall and really I liked him better than the first two.

Law and Order Harry Macfarland was kind enough to lock 'em up in his Hoosegow until I could telegraph the Sheriff and let him know we'd be comin' over on the steam train.

Now Law and Order Harry Macfarland's calaboose was a railroad issue iron box.

That's all 'twas, just an iron box, 'twas bigger'n four jail cells for 'twas the only lockup they had, ever'one got locked up in the same box and it had a barred door on the front and one winda in back for light and a hole in the corner for an inside outhouse and it was generally dark and smelled bad and I did not care.

I pulled a chair up and set myself down and them two I fetched in was the only ones locked up that day and I asked them fellas what in God's green earth ever give them the stupid notion to try and kill a Sheriff's deputy and they both allowed as they thought I was the Spall Peen that was stealin' their cattle and they by God was a-gonna put a stop to it and was I to let 'em out they'd stomp me into the ground and I warn't no deputy and they'd have the law on me and about then I turned so's they could see my pale eyes and I turned back my lapel to show my six point star and I give them a cold look and what they said don't bear repeatin' in polite company but of a sudden them two realized they'd just made an awful big mistake.

Me, I did not pa'tickelar care if they did get their necks stretched.

I don't have much patience when someone's tryin' to kill me.

 

Oncet the steam train come into town, why, His Honor the Judge stepped off it and so did Sarah.

I reckon she was just along for the ride, though when they come off the train, she took his arm and he gallantly escorted her to the Mercantile, and he was the perfect gentleman when he was takin' her that-a-way, but when he come out of attair Mercantile he warn't happy a'tall and I reckon he was right unkind to attair see-gar he was chawin' on a-stormin' down the board walk torst the Marshal's office.

Oh, he was kindly enough to Brother Macfarland, but a body could tell he was just not happy a'tall, and Macfarland told me later he was right glad His Honor was irritated with someone other'n him.

His Honor talked some to ol' Harry and he talked with me and he asked me what they had on 'em and I told the Judge honestly they didn't have twice sixbits between  the three of 'em.

His Honor held court and them two was right unhappy for in their minds they'd done what was right and His Honor give it to 'em to understand it ain't wise a'tall to take a shot at a lawman and he glared at 'em fiercely when I described how the one was comin' around to Bush Whack me when they thought I was maybe blind.

The local hash joint warn't as fancy as the Silver Jewel and it sure didn't have Daisy over seein' the cookin' but it was fillin' and it warn't that bad and damned if I didn't run into Brother William.

There was a Catholic church in Carbon and an awful lot of them miners was from Europe and most of 'em was a-goin' to attair church and Brother William come and heard Confessions and said Mass and we run into one another the way men with empty bellies will and Sarah and the Judge come in too and we all set down together and we got to talkin' and I asked Brother William about that fella that we run into, the one that said he'd kilt his wife because he wouldn't take her back and she taken pizen and died.

Brother William allowed as he was with the Brethren down in Rabbitville, that the monastery was a good place for troubled men to stay and listen to the silence and hear the voice of God, he said this fella was living as one of the Brethren – at Brother William's recommendation – it was such an absolute change, he said, that was his words, an absolute change – anyway he allowed as it was helpin' the man and I said I hoped so, he seemed a decent sort and Sarah looked at me kind of funny.

Now Sarah is not the kind to not speak her mind and she did but least she waited until it was just her and me.

Oncet His Honor the Judge got back on the steam train and he'd wired for the jail wagon to come for these two for he'd sentenced 'em to some years in prison for tryin' to murder a Sheriff's deputy, why, Sarah taken my arm and we walked down torst the livery and by then I'd had my suit cleaned for I'd got it filthy belly crawlin' around attair hillside, at least I hadn't tore it nowhere.

Sarah she allowed as she was proud of me and I grinned kind of quick and I felt near to bashful and said "Why's that?" and she stopped and turned to face me square-on so I turned and faced her the same way and she was dead serious when she said she was afraid I might becoming a cold hearted killer who saw murder as the only answer.

I considered this, and whilst I considered, we walked ag'in and damned if she hadn't brought that big black Snowflake-horse of hers on the steam train, and as we approached, why, the hostler saddled hers and mine and fetched 'em out and I paid the man and we saddled up.

Sarah was wearin' one of them dresses that looks like a dress until she throws a leg over the saddle and then it's a ridin' skirt and she fetched out a parasol and opened it up all dainty and we rode up to the main street and we rode its length and then we pointed our noses torst Firelands and I reckoned that Sarah don't do a thing without a purpose and like as not she'd had Snowflake out as The Black Agent and she wanted to show the world her big black Snowflake horse couldn't possibly be the one that Black Agent rode, this was a sweet little horse and real gentle and rid by a dainty pretty lady and it just warn't possible for it to be the same horse.

Least I figure that's why she did.

I do know she drew up and spoke with people a couple times and they asked about that big black horse she was a-ridin' and she explained her dear Snowflake was such a gentle soul, she was a Frisian mare and she was barefoot, a Frisian was not shod unless it was ridden over rocky terrain (I held my peace for Snowflake was shod, the mountains are made of nothing but rock, but Sarah was playing her own game and damned if I was goin' to throw a sprag in her wheels!) and she gave some signal nobody saw and Snowflake went to her knees so Sarah could dismount, and she caressed Snowflake like a pet dog and fawned over her and damned if she didn't sound like an absolute feather head female for doin' it.

Now oncet she swung her leg back over the saddle and raised that dainty frilly parasol and Snowflake come up, one end then t'other, why, Sarah give me a look as if to say she'd just pulled one over on them folks, and I reckon she did, so I made note of what they looked like and figured I'd know 'em if I saw 'em ag'in.

I did have to admire Sarah.

She'd got that business of lookin' all innocent down pat.

 

 

 

 

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47.  RECKON I WAS SENT

 

I set down at the table and Annette looked at me with that knowin' expression and she asked quietly, "Jacob?"

Now when she asked like that, when she said my name quiet-like, I felt like a little boy who'd got caught at somethin' or usually I did but today it didn't … I didn't feel like that a'tall.

I set there with my hands on either side of my supper plate and I was shakin' just a little inside and I don't think it could be seen but women can see things men never do and I reckon she saw I was rattlin' some and the maid was busy settin' good eatin' on the table and I closed my eyes and shivered like someone stomped acrost my grave.

I look at that plate of meat and I smelt that gravy and I looked up at Annette and I felt right odd.

 

I'd been invited in for the noon meal and the rancher had his boys around the table and his youngest was a blond headed little fella with a big grin and a bigger appetite.

The boy was chewin' on a rabbit backbone and the rabbit was right good, they'd fixed up a mess of 'em and I looked up just as the boy got a real funny look about him and he turned that funny dusky color I'd seen before and his Pa didn't notice and I did so I was on my feet and movin' and I taken that lad by his crossed overall straps and hauled him out of his chair and I didn't know what to do more'n fly so I whipped him upside down and had him by his skinny ankles and I shook him hard – I raised him up and drove him down torst the floor and yanked him back up with a snap before he hit his head on the puncheons – I did that twicet and it didn't help none so I h'isted him up an' taken both ankles in my left hand and smacked him between the shoulder blades oncet with the flat of my hand and he coughed a little and attair rabbit backone hit the floor and I whpped the boy upright and set him down in his chair and I bent over and picked up attair backbone he just coughed out and I held it up and looked close at it and his Pa was lookin' at me and his eyes was big and he hadn't so much got out of his chair I reckon things happened kind of fast for him.

I looked close at attair back bone and them bones is bent back all pointin' the same direction and I reckon the boy inhaled or laughed or somethin' and it slid right down his Wind Pipe and when he tried to cough it out them points stopped it and I don't know why I got up and grabbed him like that.

I didn't have no idea what to do when somethin' like that hit but I reckon I never would fergit.

I looked up at Annette and allowed as I was where I was supposed to be today, and then I shivered ag'in, for I'd seen the Sheriff's grief when he would speak of his little girl dyin' in his arms and I know what it's like to watch my Mama die and not a damned thing I could do to help and I don't never want to feel like that ag'in.

The Parson one time said somethin' about them Evil Demons of the Air that listens to every word we say an' then uses 'em ag'in us – "A picnic, you say?  ZAP! Thunderstorms and red ants!" – and them Evil Demons must have been listenin' for I told Annette about what happened and she had taken a bite of meat and I don't know if she hiccuped or was goin' to say somethin' or what but she got that same funny look about her and damned if she didn't turn that same awful color and I was out of my chair and half way to her before my chair hit the floor over backward.

Now I didn't know what to do here neither and I sure as hell didn't have the hoist to grab her by her ankles an' shake her so I grabbed her under the arms and yanked her up and out of her chair, I run an arm around her and bent her over and smacked her hard between the shoulders with the flat of my hand and I tell you honest I hit her just as hard as I could and that chunk of meat flew out and hit the floor and I backed up a-stagger two steps and then I fell down on my backside and me still a-holdin' her and she was gaspin' and chokin' and we lay there on the dinin' room floor and the maid lookin' at us with big scairt eyes and finally I set up and pulled Annette up and she taken me around the neck and she was all a-shiver and I picked her up and carried her like she was a little girl and the maid set her chair back up and I set my wife down in it and I went to one knee and I taken her hands and she taken a napkin and held it to her lips and she was turnin' red and she looked at me and she started to giggle and damned if I know what was funny and she started to laugh and I laid my head down in her lap and I don't think I could have got up had the house been afire.

The strength just run out of me, kind of like when the Parson was readin' Scripture and said 'My strength is poured out like water,' that's surely how I felt.

I taken a long breath and Annette taken a sip of tea and she set her tea cup down and suggested maybe I'd ought to go set down unless I wanted my plate on her lap and of a sudden I felt kind of foolish so I got up and went back around to the head of the table and set my chair back up and parked my backside.

That's twicet in one day I was where I was needed.

I looked at Annette and of a sudden I had no appetite a'tall for I'd come just awful damned close to losin' my wife.

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48.  LOW TWELVE

 

I don't reckon I saw more than anyone else, so far as seein' things that troubled a man.

On the other hand maybe I did.

I cut down a cabinet maker who'd hung himself.

His wife was not well and she'd gone to Denver to see a specialist and she was gone over-long and we was in the office when a boy come a-runnin' and said he'd been found dead and the Sheriff he looked at me and I said "I'll go" and I did, and it was a man I knew and admired, and he'd left hisself a note propped up ag'in a row of chisels all neat-like on his work bench where he kept 'em and he said she was supposed to be back before noontime and she warn't home at sunset and that meant the disease was back and he couldn't face life without her so he tied off a noose to the rafters and set it around his neck and he taken a step off attair ladder into the Hereafter and that's how she found him.

Her and her daughter they went to Denver and they found out the disease was gone and they was so happy they went shoppin' an' they come back all happy and they went out in the shop to give him the good news and they found him hangin' dead and I reckon that's what killed his wife for she died not a month later all pale and drawn and lookin' like she'd aged ten years.  She didn't kill herself but Doc said like as not she died of a broken heart.

I've seen men killed many ways and that never bothered me much but what got to me was the grief of them that was left behint.

The Sheriff he helped as many as he could but women were scarce and a widow back East would be in black for a year and out here, why, she might be in mourning for a week or two and then there was men with their hat in their hand allowin' as she'd make a fine wife and inside of half a year they was generally married ag'in.

I said all this because when I could not sleep Annette couldn't sleep neither and she'd come down to the kitchen table and set with me and she'd look at me with them worried eyes and she'd hold my hand and ask if I wanted to talk and I'd hold her hand and I reckon I smiled like a bashful little boy for that's how I felt, she was my wife but God help me I could feel like a dirt kickin' schoolboy when the prettiest girl in the schoolroom set down with him, and this night I was up and couldn't sleep but 'twas not me that come out of the bunk first, she did so I went down and this time I held her hand and asked her if everything was all right and did she want to talk.

Turns out everything wasn't and she did.

I won't say that all women worry.

I will say that Annette was worried and maybe scared some.

She fixed tea and she was real quiet for she did not wish to wake the maid, the kettle was on the stove and the stove was banked and the water was warm enough yet and she brewed and we sipped and finally she looked at me with them big lovely eyes of hers and she whispered like her throat was all tight, "Did your father tell you about your mother?"

I blinked and I looked at her kind of puzzled and the look I give her must have been answer enough for she looked down and pressed her lips together not like she was mad but ruther like she was comin' to some decision.

She looked back up and whispered, "Esther lost her baby today."

I heard a woman's quick in-draw of breath and I looked at the maid, she was standin' there with her hair braided and throwed over one shoulder in front of her, she was wearin' her night cap an' her night gown and she had her hands over her mouth the way she did when she got surprisin' news that warn't good.

"You'd best have a set," I spoke up, "you look like you seen a ghost," and she kind of fumbled for a chair and Annette she must have figured she'd be gettin' up for she had a tea cup ready and she poured out some good warm tea for her and them two women got to discussin' it and I leaned back and listened and watched.

I liked doin' that, I'd do that when men was discussin' a subject I was interested in and I got more good out of leanin' back and listenin' to a good busy conversation than if I was doin' the discussin' unless there was some pa'tickelar thing I wanted to know.

She said somethin' about Miz Esther – I still couldn't hardly call her Mama and if I called her anything else it was Mother – she passed somethin' the size of a peach pit and it like to tore her apart, not that it hurt her or tore out her guts but more like it grieved her and I reckoned it would but I didn't say a thing, I looked at my wife and I considered that she carried our child and she was all happy that she was and she'd knit or sew or she'd be fixin' up the room for the child and I never seen her happier and was she to lose our child, why, it would just take the heart right out of her, and that troubled me, it surely did.

If it was up to the women I reckon they'd have made them little finger sandwiches or some fine little dainties but I'm not that delicate, I was hungry so I slabbed off some sour dough bread and laid cold meat between the buttered slices and I throwed them on a plate and set one in front of the maid and one in front of Annette and I fixed me one and we et and we talked and 'twas more like we et and they talked and finally oncet we'd et and drunk and the clock struck low twelve, why, I allowed as I looked in the mirror earlier and discovered that I'd best get my beauty rest for that looking-glass told me I needed all the help I could get and the women they laughed a little and we-all went back to bed and Annette laid awake holdin' my hand and she asked me if she lost our child would I still love her and I rolled over and pulled her in close to me and I nibbled her ear lobe with my lips and then whispered that I lost my pocket knife oncet but I found it and I reckon if she lost a baby she'd find it for babies was kind of noisy and she'd hear where she left it and she pushed away from me and swatted me on the shoulder and then we both laughed and finally we fell asleep.

 

Next day Mr. Garrison hailed me from the Mercantile and I rode Apple-horse up in front of where he was sweepin' off the board walk and he allowed as he had somethin' to show me and I dismounted and clumb up the steps and went on in and damned if he didn't have about a dozen little flower pots big around as a child's head and they was roses in every one of 'em.

He allowed as these was shipped to him by mistake and he was goin' to sell 'em and I allowed as I would take half of 'em and he allowed as he had an extra room he might use to grow more, for he had a good sunny exposure – funny word, I thought – and I grinned and allowed as why didn't I take two of 'em for I knowed where two of 'em should go right off and if he'd take the others up into that sunny room why I would be very much obliged, and I paid the man cash money and taken one and said I'd be back for the other, and I wrapped gunny sack around it real careful for 'twas cold out and I didn't want it to get frost bit.

Me and Apple-horse we rode on down to the Silver Jewel and Miz Esther she was upstairs in the railroad office like she usually was and I taken off that sacking at the foot of the stairs and Tilly she was just awful tickled that I had a little rose with them little bitty blossoms but they was bloomed out full and I told her I was takin' this one up for Miz Esther and she looked a little funny and said that would be very nice and then she pretended to get busy with somethin' the way she did when she warn't quite comfortable and I reckoned right there she knowed about Miz Esther losin' her baby.

I went on up and knocked and went in, I had my hat in one hand and them roses in the other and I don't reckon I could have tickled her any more had I give her a twenty dollar gold eagle.

I felt a little awkward and wasn't sure if I should say anythin' but there is times when sayin' nothing a'tall is absolutely the wrong thing to say and I thought maybe that was one so I allowed as I'd heard she'd had a terrible loss and I was right sorry to hear it and how was she holdin' up and damned if she didn't start to tear up.

She didn't cry.

Miz Esther was a strong woman.

I would not have been a'tall surprised had she got to cryin' and grabbed a-holt of me and just soaked down my shirt front but she didn't do no such thing.

She looked at me with them green eyes of hers and the waters rose and spilt out down one cheek and she come up real close to me and laid a hand on my chest and she allowed as I was a fine young man and my mama would be very proud of me, and she taken up them roses and smelt at 'em and closed her eyes and smiled just a little and she said "Sit down, Jacob," and I did.

Turns out Miz Esther used to raise roses back in the Carolinas, and she'd never been able to grow them little bitty roses like these I brought her.

I allowed as Mr. Garrison had my other four over in his upper room, with another half dozen, and she give me some coin and asked me to buy the rest, and I allowed as he figured to grow roses over there for he had a good exposure, and I could see the gears turnin' behint those lovely green eyes and directly she throwed a shawl over her shoulders and then she thought better of it and hung the shawl up and I he'ped her into her cloak and we went over and talked to the man and darn if Miz Esther didn't buy them roses and pay him to grow 'em in that room and they talked about the growin' of flowers there and from then on, why, Miz Esther and Mr. Garrison had a regular flower growin' business in that upper room.

No.

Not flower growin'.

She only growed roses.

In years that followed, roses was her signature, and she planted 'em beside the church and folks said they'd never winter over, they'd freeze out, they'd die off come frost and snow and every year damned if they didn't come back but that's gettin' ahead of myself ag'in and I could tell you stories about them roses but I'll only get a little bit ahead of myself by tellin' you that when Annette come to full ripe and shucked out our first child they was a rose beside her bed on the stand and warn't nobody come in to set it there and we-all was too busy with havin' attair new little boy-baby under our roof it was some time before we realized warn't no one come in to lay that dew-fresh rose on the stand and by the time I got around to wonderin' about it, why, 'twas too late to be concerned, but like I said that's gettin' ahead of myself.

 

Now I really have to laugh for I went over to see Sarah.

She asked me to get he another set of handcuffs and I did, I got a small set – child size they were, for she had small wrists and to be honest if I chained her up more often than not she could twist out of a set of irons without havin' to pick the lock, and she wanted somethin' she'd have to work at to get out of – I rode out and she was on the back porch and she looked up at me as happy as if she was a little girl ag'in.

The Bear Killer had this big doggy grin on his face and don't let no one tell you dogs cain't grin for he surely could.

When Sarah was growin' up she'd give The Bear Killer a bath and damned if he wouldn't stand and take it, or ruther sit, he'd set there in attair warsh tub like the King himself settin' on a velvet throne and Sarah would use bath salts or whatever sudsy stuff them wimmen folks put in their bath water to make soap suds an' smell nice and she'd scub him real good and rench out the soap suds and she was in the soapin' up stage for The Bear Killer was all over soap suds like a fur trimmed cloak and she had suds piled on his head like a pointy crown of some kind and he looked just awful pleased with hisself.

That's one of them pitchers a man carries with him for the rest of his life.

Sarah's cheeks were red for the water was warm and The Bear Killer looked just awful happy and she had soap suds all over him and a few on the porch floor and she was laughin' a little and The Bear Killer's tongue he run out a ways and you could tell he was enjoyin' the attention and I still take that good memory out and look at it when it's low twelve and I cain't sleep.

 

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49.  OUCH

 

They was four faces bent over me lookin' down at me and I thought to myself if they get one or two more someone ought to set up a popcorn machine and have a county fair.

I recall the sky was real blue above 'em and Apple-horse's nostrils looked just awful big and it looked like he was reachin' down to snuff at me like he was curious why was I a-layin' on my back on the dirty ground and the The Bear Killer dropped his muzzle a little and snuffed at my jaw line and the Sheriff's jaw slid out kind of slow and he looked real serious and he looked up and said "Sarah, run your fingers down beside his breast bone," and I'm tryin' to get some wind back in me and it warn't workin' too good.

Sarah unbuttoned my coat and laid it open, her fingers run down the buttons on my red and silver brocade front vest like they was schoolchildren skippin' down the street, she laid my vest open and frowned a little and then closed her eyes as she started takin' a close look at where my ribs bolted onto my breast bone down one side and then down t'other.

"I don't feel any dislocations," she murmured, and I realized she'd been l'arnin' with Doc most likely, that would not surprise me a'tall, she was forever l'arnin' stuff from a surprisin' number of people.

The Sheriff nodded and said all quiet-like, "Just lay there and get your wind, Jacob.  That was a nasty fall."

I barely had enough wind in me to grunt so I just nodded.

It taken me a few minutes to fight my innards enough to get a breath and then another and I frowned and tried to get up and the Sheriff taken my arm and run a hand behint my back and set me up and he brushed the dirt off the back of my coat with his hand and said "I reckon you might not want to serve that warrant just yet," and Sarah's pale eyes were serious and she looked hard into my eyes and she asked quiet-like, "Jacob, can you feel everything like you'd ought?" and I nodded and shivered in another breath and I taken a long deep breath to punish my guts for not lettin' me breathe easy.

I did ride home, Apple-horse he didn't try to throw me ag'in and he didn't really strut none like I expected he would, Annette was distressed when I told her Apple had r'ared up and throwed me off backwards like a green horn and her and the maid they set to brushin' the dirt off my suit and I put on my clean one and then I rode on out to serve attair warrant and when I got there I found the man I was after was already in Firelands and that didn't he'p my temper none.

I thanked them kindly and rode back and the Sheriff already had that fella locked up by the time I set foot in the office and he allowed as I'd ought to set down so I did and he warn't comfortable a'tall.

He looked up at me and said, "Jacob, do you know why I had Sarah run her hands down your front like that?"

I shook my head.  "No, sir."

The Sheriff's jaw slid out ag'in and he considered and then he nodded and said "Cannonball threw me once."

I nodded, slow, for I'd heard it said ain't no horse that can't be rode and ain't no man that can't be throwed, and the Sheriff continued that he'd landed on a rock the size of a man's fist and it busted a rib loose in back and broke it loose in front and Doc called it a dislocation and the Sheriff said Doc set the heel of his hand on attair stickin' out rib and shoved straight down and he recalled how it sounded and it hurt like he was shot and it taken the wind out of him and he didn't object none when Doc poured him a good belt of Knockemstiff.

The Sheriff stared at his hands as he told me this and then he looked up and he looked a little scairt.

He said "Jacob, I was afraid ... you were more hurt than just landin' hard." 

His hands closed and then opened and he pressed them flat down ag'in his desk top and he said "I didn't want you to know my hands were shakin'."

 

Later that day I had occasion to take a death bed deposition.

(Like that word?  "Had occasion"?  I'm tryin' to talk a little better, y'see, I want to sound more like the Sheriff and less like a clod kickin' know nothing)

Sarah come in with me and she was set up to write down whatever this man said.

He was in Doc Greenlees' surgery and Doc allowed as the man was dyin' and not a thing he could do to save him and so we went in and this fella was just awful weak and he'd been shot three times in the back just below the belt line.

"She didn't have no call to shoot me," he grated, twisting a little as he spoke.  "Gawd, I'm sick!"

"What happened?"  I asked, trying to sound kindly.  "I'm the Sheriff's deputy and you're dyin'.  You don't have much time, speak plain and tell us what happened."

"I was wrong," he gasped.  "I shouldna talked to that woman the way I did."

"Go on."

"I told her I was a-gonna throw her over my saddle and take her home with me."

I nodded.

"She said 'Please, sir, I am with child,' and the devil was in me I reckon."  He set his teeth and twisted ag'in and I reckon the pain was tryin' to fight through the poppy juice walls Doc primed him with earlier.

"I grabbed her wrist and yanked her into me and allowed as a good punch in the gut and she'd shuck that frog and about then someone shot me in the back."

He took a few quick, shallow breaths and grimaced and then he looked at me and squeezed my hand.

"I was wrong, Deputy," he said hoarsely.  "God forgive me, I was wrong!"

I nodded and squeezed his hand in return.

"Would you like a sky pilot?" I asked, and he shook his head.

"No time." 

He was more pale than he'd been and he was startin' to shiver,the sweat was poppin' out on his forehead and I knowed he was right next to steppin' off this earth so I spoke like I'd heard Brother William say, or as best as could I recall.

"Do you repent of your sins?"  I asked and he nodded and swallowed.

"Do you heartily repent of all your sins, spoken and unspoken, remembered and not remembered, are you genuinely sorrowful for your wrongs?"

He nodded again – this time it was a quick jerk – and I continued, "I am a man and I can forgive nothing, but as you have confessed your sins, God, who can forgive all, has forgiven you all your earthly sins."
I saw his jaw muscles bulge and he squeezed my hand again and then his hand relaxed and his last breath sighed out and you can tell when someone dies – you can just tell – and I knew the hand I held was that of a carcass.

I laid his hand across his belly and then I recht down and drawed the sheet up over his face, slow and respectful, and Sarah's pencil scratchin' acrost good rag paper was the only sound for several moments.

Doc Greenlees laid his hand on my shoulder and he said in that quiet and approving voice of his, "Well spoken, Jacob," and I rose up and said "Thank you, sir."

Sarah and I went back over to the Sheriff's office and His Honor the Judge was there.

I would've known he was there had I been blind for he was smokin' another one of them Cuban cigars and the Sheriff didn't smoke and I don't neither.

Sarah wrote a little more and give the Sheriff her work and he handed it to the Judge, and then he looked at me and said "Tell me what he said."

I did, as best as could I recall.

The Sheriff nodded, as did the Judge.

"Jacob," the Sheriff said, "you do realize it was Sarah that shot the man."

"No, sir," I admitted, "I did not know that."

"And you do know it was your wife who he grabbed and threatened to gut punch."

Now I taken them sermons serious when the Parsons gives 'em, and he'd give one that a man ought to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, but I was made clear through and I was mad instantly if not sooner, but I grabbed my anger and I shoved it down in that iron kettle and screwed the lid down on top of it and I taken me a long breath and blowed it out and then I said "No, sir, I did not know that."

"Sarah, your statement?"  the Judge asked.

"A man seized a woman against her will," Sarah said.  "He jerked her into him hard enough to bring her off her feet and he cocked a fist following a threat to punch her in the stomach hard enough to kill the child she carried.  This could kill both child and mother so I stopped one man from taking two lives."

The Judge nodded, his eyes half-lidded, and he taken a couple puffs on attair Cuban.

"I see no criminal act in your intervention," he said.  "Let the record show your action was in defense of innocent lives."

"Yes, Your Honor," Sarah said quietly.

 

Annette was just awful glad to see me that night.

I held her and let her shiver and let her talk and she told me about it and her words let me see it happen through her eyes, and I soothed her like a scared child and I set down in a rockin' chair and set her on my lap and held her and the maid draped a blanket over her and I wrapped her up and held her and rocked her and Annette clung to me and shivered and next day when I saw Sarah next I asked her why didn't she shoot that scoundrel in the back of the head and she said "I wanted to stop him but I wanted him to suffer."

May God keep me from the wrong side of a woman's temper!

 

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50.  SUNDAY

 

Annette was her usual ladylike self, quiet and smiling and her eyes generally downcast except when she was talkin' with someone but I noticed an awful lot of folks was lookin' at her and lookin' at me and I looked back like I always do and that put some folks off I reckon for I did not feel pa'tickelar charitable that Lord's Day.

Not after I found out that fella Sarah killed had MY WIFE by the wrist and he'd allowed as she was a sweet little morsel and he'd intended some things for her no married woman had ever ought to hear from someone not her own husband… well, not long after I found all that out, I could not help but recall what the Sheriff said about some folks he'd knowed was long dead but he'd pay good money to the Witch of Endor and have her resurrect their sorry soul so he could kill 'em all over again …

… very slowly.

This mornin' that's exactly how I felt.

From what I gathered later he'd said things to MY WIFE that no husband ought ever to say neither.

The Parson taken a long look at me and I raised my chin a little to him and he give the slightest of nods and Annette saw the look he give me and she looked up at me with her gentle expression and her soft voice and her gloved hand on my arm and she allowed as the Parson and Mrs. Parson was comin' for Sunday dinner and I allowed as that was a good thing.

The Parson give a good sermon and he liked to start it with a laugh if he could and that's better'n some sky pilots I'd heard, The Bear Killer came loafin' up the center aisle and turned around three times right there in front of the Altar, he flumped down and dropped his head on his fore paws and the Parson was a-goin' over some announcements and The Bear Killer commenced to snore and the Parson he never missed a beat, he allowed as all God's creatures worshipped after their own fashion and served His Divine Will, and it was His Good Will and Pleasure that this fine animal here be delegated to sleep through his sermon which meant nobody else had to, and that got a laugh out of us.

The Bear Killer went home with Sarah and her Mama and Sarah give me a look and raised an eyebrow and give a short nod and I swung my eyes over to Annette and give a tilt of my hand and that said as much between the two of us as five minutes of Jaw Bone:  my pale eyed sister asked if Annette was all right, and I allowed as she was hidin' it pretty good, and not a word passed between us but we each knowed what the other meant clear as day.

Now Annette she give the maid Sundays off and if she needed other days off, why, she warn't stingy a'tall, as time passed, attair Irish girl was more like family than hire help and we knowed she was bein' looked at by some eligible young fellas and likely she'd give her notice and git married and that's fine, her and Annette had set up Sunday dinner ahead of time so oncet we got home, why, Annette didn't have too much to tend.

Me, I usually turned a hand to help her and turns out the Parson done as much with his own wife so when they all come out with us, why, ever'one was busy and we was all laughin' about how men ain't supposed to admit how they spoil their wives and Annette and Mrs. Parson allowed as they didn't care if we didn't talk it around as long as we still did.

Now when the Parson and Mrs. Parson come out, why, 'twas an easy time and we talked easy and 'twas not the stiff and formal Sunday-go-to-meetin' set-down like I'd seen elsewhere, all formal and stiff backed, there was none of that, the Parson had calluses on his hands and he'd he'p a man put up hay or shock corn, he'd turned a hand when came time to poll beeves or trim 'em and he'd one time run out and grabbed the bridle of a runaway buggy horse and 'course him bein' a full growed man when he grabbed holt and hauled hard and attair horse fetched him off the ground and he swung up under its neck and then the two of 'em ended up on the ground and him with the wind knocked out of him but he stopped attair horse, why, folks tended to respect him, for it's one thing to stand behind attair timber pulpit and speak fine words, and it's somethin' else to grab holt of a situation and waller it down to the ground.

Matter of fact he spoke of it in his Sunday sermon, that's been most of a year ago now, but I recall his speakin' of it for he said there is times when you speaks a sermon with words and there is times when you speaks a sermon by grabbin' a double handful of sewed leather harness leather and run the risk of getting' beat up some and he admitted he was still kind of stove up and sore, and he got a laugh for that one too.

Anyway oncet we got things het up and throwed out and we set down, why, the Parson allowed as he was always the one to talk to his plate before folks et, would I save him the work and I allowed as I'd be pleased to talk to my plate for him, so I bent my head and said "Hello, plate," and he started to laugh and allowed as he'd never heard that one before and Annette looked over at me and scolded "Jacob!" kind of quiet and about then the maid come in all weepy eyed and I rose up and said "Scuse me," and I followed her into the next room and so did Annette and Mrs. Parson.

I left the women folks to tend her oncet I found out no one had laid hands on her nor had anythin' happened that would require my attention as a lawman, and the Parson and I allowed as them wimmen folks could j'ine us whilst the meal was still warm, or not, as they chose, and we commenced to eat and talk and he come over and set beside me so's we could hear one another and he asked how Annette was, he'd heard that fella was allowin' to kill her and I allowed as Sarah stopped him from it and the Parson asked how Sarah was handlin' that and I admitted it warn't her first time for such and she always slept good that night and I reckon she did this time too, and he nodded and there was more he was inclined to say but whatever 'twas, why, he kep' it to himself.

The ladies brought the hired girl out and set her down and the Parson and I rose up when the come in the room and we set her plate and loaded it some and she allowed as she didn't have no appetite and then she started to eat and turns out she had an appetite after all, and 'twas the Parson and I at the one end of the table and the women folks clustered up at t'other end and Annette whipped up some sweet cream and fluffed it all up somehow and put it on pie and by golly now that was genuinely good, and the maid didn't realize she had a streak of that white stuff like a skinny mustache until Mrs. Parson reached up careful-like and dabbed it off her and 'twas somethin' a kindly old grandmother would do and of a sudden I felt just awful lost, for I recalled my own Mama doin' that when I was just a wee lad and of a sudden I missed my Mama somethin' awful.

The wimmen folks allowed as they'd tend the cleanin' up so they shooed us out – I mean the shooed us, Mrs. Parson taken up a towel and made them shoo-go-away towel-flappin' that women folks do – so we did, and the hound dog he paced along beside us as we kind of sauntered generally torst the barn and then over to the fence, and Boocaffie come over and I rubbed his ears and give him some shaved off molasses twist like I always did.

The Parson he asked me about Annette and I allowed as she wasn't sayin' much about it but when I come home last night she hung onto me like a little child scairt of a nearby lightnin' strike and I just held her and let her cry and the Parson he nodded and allowed as I was wiser than most men, that's exactly what she needed, and he ast me how I was doin' and I told him I didn't know what-all happened nor what-all attair dead man said to her until the day after that fella died and I admitted I'd like to resurrect his sorry carcass and kill him slow.

The Parson and me looked out acrost the field and he allowed as it was well to be honest and he'd felt that way his own self and I knowed the man was in that damned War so it didn't surprise me much.

Parson Belden and his wife stayed for supper as well and that night we talked much good talk and laughed much good laughter and Annette played piano and we sang and by golly now that was a good visit.

 

Next day the Sheriff handed me a telegraph flimsy and said "Take care of this," and I said "Yes, sir," and then I looked at what it said and I didn't change my expression none but I knowed just what to do.

'Twas from Law and Order Harry Macfarland and he sent a lengthy and expensive telegram:  quotin' ever' last word, he said "Send Locksmith."

I knew who he wanted.

Sarah smiled a little when I come a-beatin' on her door, she allowed as she knowed I was comin' and that run a cold finger down my spine.

I'd heard of women that knowed things and I suspicioned Miz Esther was like that and I was right, and now Sarah was knowin' things.

I warn't particular surprised but I warn't terribly comfortable with the knowin' of it.

Anyway she excused herself and she went upstairs all girly an' skirts and she come back down considerable … tighter, I would say, the way a man will tighten his elbows in ag'in his ribs when he's gettin' into a knuckle fight and he'll duck his head down a little and just tighten up all over.

That's how she looked, comin' down in that long back duster an' that black wide brim hat, black drawers and vest and shirt and knee high cavalry boots an' she didn't look girly no more.

We saddled up and rode on over as the steam train warn't to run for another six hours and Harry wouldn't have sent a telegram if it warn't needful and by golly it was.

Some boys was a-playin' and they got into the Marshal's office and they got their sister in a set of irons and then they drug her out to the lockup and they throwed her in and they said they didn't mean to lock it but they did and one of 'em run off with the key and he said he lost it and then their old man got involved and he was more interested in usin' the belt than findin' attair lost key so Harry he knowed he could bust off the lock but they'd made off with keys to the irons and he figured 'twould be faster to fetch over the Black Agent than to take that poor girl in irons out in front of God and ever'body to the blacksmith shop to have him chisel off them irons.

We rode into town at a good trot and Harry he was leanin' ag'in the porch post in front of the Marshal's office and I don't think that man would look excited if a steam engine was comin' down the middle of the street without benefit of steel rails to run on an' the earth opened up to swallow it right in front of the man.

He looked up and I warn't sure if he was to speak or to fall asleep and he pushed his hat brim back with one finger and we drew up and he turned his head and thrust his jaw at the iron cell.

We turned and rode torst the railroad issue cube and Sarah come out of the saddle like she was black water flowin' downhill.

She swung like a shadow on two legs up torst that door and she crowded up close to the lock an' I didn’t see what she did but I heard attair heavy pad lock fall open and it scraped and rattled a little as Sarah pulled it free of the door and throwed it off to the side.

She hauled the door open and stepped inside and I heard a little girl's surprised voice and then 'twas all quiet and Law and Order Harry Macfarland come saunterin' torst us an' one set of irons come sailin' out attair open door and hit the ground like a dead snake an' I looked at them irons a-layin' in the dirt and I looked up at Harry an' he warn't nowhere near attair iron box yet when the secont set come out an' Sarah come out bringin' a girl out by the hand and she come a-past me and said "Hand her up," and then she touched Snowflake behint the fore leg an' that big black mare come down on her belly and Sarah swung her leg acrost the saddle and I handed that girl up to her and Sarah kissed at Snowflake and she come leverin' up off the ground and Sarah looked down at Harry and her voice was as cold and hard as her pale eyes and she said "Where are the ones who did this to her?" and a boy's pained yell come from the other end of the street and Harry looked that-a-way and so did Sarah and she touched her heels to Snowflake's ribs and I don't know what she did nor what she said but Harry told me later he didn't reckon them boys would ever try anythin' of the kind ag'in.

 

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51.  LITTLE BOY LOST

 

The Sheriff squatted slowly and regarded the lad with quiet and solemn eyes.

The little boy was at once interested and a little afraid.

He'd been found by the brakeman, the lad was clinging to the ladder on the end of the box car, grabbed aholt of it like a tick on a hound dog, and the brakeman managed to talk him into lettin' go, and he lifted him free and fetched him over to the depot platform.

The Sheriff come down to shoot the breeze with Lightning, them two was in the war together and when they set down and started to talk, why, it got real deep real fast and it was entertainin' to listen to the pair of 'em for each one was bent on toppin' the other either as to the size of the lie he could tell or how funny he could make it and many's the time I felt my face darken and I reckon I turned the color of a rotten strawberry for tryin' to hold in my laughter for them two was genuinely funny when they got to slingin' the bull roar.

The Sheriff, he looked up as the brakeman came carryin' this little boy up to the telegraph office, the door was open for it was unusually warm that day, 'twas winter but a man could get by with just his coat, he didn't have to lay on a blanket lined over coat or none such, and this boy was chilled so we fetched him in and set him down beside the stove and I give Lightning's boy some coin and had him scamper up to the Silver Jewel and fetch back somethin' to warm this little fellow with and I told him to let Daisy know this was a lad of maybe five years or so otherwise she might send a flask of Kentucky Bore Tightener and I don't reckon this little fellow was quite ready for that.

Anyway the Sheriff he went down on one knee and he give this little fellow a serious look an' that little boy looked back just as solemn as the old Judge and the Sheriff he tilted his head a little and that little boy he tilted his too, and I knew right there the Sheriff knew how to handle little boys.

He never cracked a smile but he tilted his head slow the other way and attair little fella tilted his over too just the same.

The Sheriff screwed one eye shut and the little boy watchin' him cranked up half his entire face in his attempt to imitate the Grand Old Man's wink.

The Sheriff nodded a little and said in a quiet and grandfatherly voice, "That's not bad a'tall," and the little fellow giggled, and Daisy she come a-swingin' in with a basket in her hand, scoldin' us for lettin' a wee child out on such a cold day and he wouldn't throw a decent shadow was we to stand him out in the noonday sun and he needed a good square meal and of course any time there's a little boy and there's food, why, boys just naturally gravitate torst what's edible and she throwed out a red and white checkered cloth and fetched out a covered pot and she ladled some steaming hot soup of some kind into a bowl and stuck a spoon in it and she went down on her prayer bones as well and draped another red and white checkerboard cloth acrost his lap and set the bowl on his legs and said "You eat now," and her voice went from loud and scoldin' to gentle and mother-like and that little fellow tried it and he must've liked it for he et that whole bowl and didn't get too much run down his chin and what little he did, why, the Sheriff mopped up with a drip rag Daisy handed him.

The conductor was in and out and him and the Sheriff talked quiet-like and the conductor went back out and made a pasear through the passenger car and nobody lost a little boy from there so the Sheriff had me go to some Back Trackin' and attair train just come out of Cripple so I had Lightning whip off a telegram to Cripple Creek's Marshal's office and he asked 'em if anyone was missin' a little boy with big blue eyes and blond hair and a good appetite.

The lad was a townie from the look of him but he didn't appear to be a mama's boy and that little fella he finished the soup and some bread and he grinned real big and his ears turned red a little when Daisy set a slice of pie on a plate on his lap and he looked at her all big eyed and said "For me?" and of course that little boy's innocent voice and the big grin and I reckon he just wrapped several of us around his little finger without knowin' it.

He et that pie and the Sheriff allowed as maybe we'd go to the office whilst we waited for Cripple to answer and he looked at that little fella and said gentle-like, "Son, have you ever ridden a horse?" and the lad's eyes got big and bright and he blinked a couple times and shook his head and Daisy swatted the Sheriff with one of them red and white checker board cloths she was foldin' up and puttin' back in her basket an' she give him hell about teachin' such an innocent young lad about the evils of horse racin' and gamblin' an like as not he'd have him drinkin' and smokin' cigars and the Sheriff should be ashamed of himself and she went a-cacklin' like a scoldin' hen out the door and we-all looked after her retreatin' backside and grinned but to be honest none of us was foolish enough to say a word.

The Sheriff packed the boy outside and he stopped at the end of the depot platform and the lad said somethin' to him and the Sheriff said somethin' back and they disappeared and I pretended not to notice, they come back in a few minutes and the lad looked relieved and the Sheriff told me later little boys have a fast digestion and he had to find the out house and I thought of the little one in Annette's belly, and I looked at the Sheriff, and I could not help but grin.

He would make a find granddad, I knew, watchin' him with this little boy he'd never seen in his life, treatin' him like one of his own.

He swung up on attair big golden stallion of his, the Paso Fino with that butter smooth gait, and he set out slow torst the Sheriff's office and Rey del Sol – that was the stallion's name, they named him down in the Border country at the Vega y Vega Rancho where the Sheriff knowed some people – attair Paso has a funny gait, he takes little steps real fast but it's the most comfortable gaited horse I ever rode and the Sheriff he liked to show him off 'cause it's funny to see that fast-gaited horse and I one time seen a Paso colt and someone had the little fellow on a board walk and 'twas comical to hear that fast clatter of them little bitty hooves.

Anyway we rode on up to the Sheriff's office and by the time we got there, why, that little fellow was wearin' the Sheriff's hat and a big grin and we went inside and I stoked up the stove and taken a look at the coffee pot and I didn't say nothin' but just took it outside and throwed it in the trash pile.

The Sheriff couldn't make coffee fit to drink if he had to and he had an absolute gift for rottin' the bottom out of a pot and by golly he'd murdered another one so I went up to the Mercantile and got me another one and Mr. Garrisson shook his head sadly and set out a bag of fresh ground coffee to go with it.

"Promise me you won't let him murder another pot?"  he said sorrowfully, and I grinned a little and nodded.

"I'll try, sir, but I cain't promise."

The look on his face could have been a professional mourner's, he looked like he'd lost his best friend, but he'd been in that damned war too and he knowed how precious coffee was to a man far from home and chilled with morning's damp.

The Sheriff, he wrapped the lad up in a blanket and he looked at me and looked at one of them cots so I taken it down and unfolded it and set it close to the stove and he laid that little fellow down with a folded blanket for a pillow and damned if that little fellow didn't curl up on his side and fall right to sleep.

The Sheriff walked real quiet torst his desk and motioned me closer and he brought his lips to nearly touchin' my ear and he whispered, "He's like an old b'ar.  Fill his belly and get him warm and he's ready for a nap!"  and I grinned and nodded, for I was much the same myself.

About an hour later, why, we got a return from Cripple and the lad was from there, all right, the Sheriff consulted the clock and then picked up the lad, blanket wrap and all, and he managed to saddle up with a sleepy little boy draped over him and his little head a-layin' on the Sheriff's shoulder and we rode on down to the Depot and the Sheriff he rode the steam train back over to Cripple and I heard later he let that little fellow sleep draped over him and that's how he carried him off the train oncet they got over there.

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52.   A QUIET MAN'S WISDOM

 

Brother William wore silence the way a man wears an overcoat.

He was quick to listen and slow to speak, he listened with more than his ears and when you had the man's attention you had his full attention and no doubtin' it a bit.

Now he had an ornery grin and he loved to laugh and he'd pull a man's leg quick as anyone and he was good at it, but when he'd git thoughtful, why, 'twas like you took a big bucket of silence and poured it over his head and it run over him slow like cold molasses only not as greasy.

I never was comfortable ridin' when he was walkin' so I clumb down off of Apple horse and Apple he followed us as we walked and Brother William he allowed as did I recall that fella that was so powerful unhapy with himself for tellin' his wife she'd stepped out on him and he wouldn't let her back in and she taken pizen and kilt herself in the grave yard and I allowed as yes I recalled, and Brother William said the man was tore up pretty deep over it so he allowed to sell everythin' and j'ine the Brethren at the Rabbitville monastery.

I knowed the man was movin' torst an idea so I stayed hush and let him talk.

Brother William allowed as attair fella was punishin' himself for what he saw as the reason his wife was dead, never mind before she pizened herself he was just as sure he was doin' the right thing, so Brother William he arranged for the town's attorney Moulton to buy the man's place and livestock and he bought it for next to nothin' and the money was to go to the monastery.

Brother William had an understandin' with Moulton and it taken a few months but he finally let the fella come to his own decision that he warn't to blame for someone else's decision, that he was to blame for his own and that was plenty, and he'd have to live with the knowledge that his hard headed and unforgiving spirit was enough to crush a woman who come a-sorrowin' back to him, but her decision to take that long step into the Valley was hers and not his.

He never was in no danger of followin' her, Brother William told me, but he'd seen men pine themselves to death for a bad conscience and lucky enough he come climbin' out of attair deep hole of blame he'd dug for hisself before he ended up buryin' hisself in it.

Now I was glad to hear it for he seemed a decent sort and might be, I thought, he'd l'arn from this and be a better husband next go-round, but that's just my notion and I didn't say nothin' of the kind to Brother William.

We walked a ways more and come to town and I invited him out for supper and he smiled that quiet smile of his and thanked me for the notion but he already had an invite by Parson Belden and his wife and he'd be guesting with them – that's how he said it, he'd be guesting, and that tickled my funny bone and 'twas all I could do to keep from a smile to hear it – but that was good, the man would be fed and under roof.

I know back when Christ still walked the earth, he walked amongst a civilized land with people and with towns and when he told his men to go forth without a purse nor a coat and fear not for what they should eat or what they should wear, they was more people there than there are here and if a man strikes out in territories where there ain't people to help him out, why, he'd have to be some kind of stupid to set out without a warbag of food and a dry pair of socks anyhow.

Brother William, he didn't mind none of that, I don't know what-all he carried in his warbag but he never seemed to lack none.

Anyway I rode on home after Brother William was in sight of the Parsonage and Annette was glad to see me and right glad I was to see her, and when we set down and et, why, she allowed as she'd like to learn dirty fightin'.

I near to drowned on that big gulp of coffee I was takin' in.

The notion of my pretty little wife and her with child, learnin' dirty fightin', why, that might be like the Parson askin' for instruction on how to drink and gamble and carouse with loose women, the notion of it was a shock to the system and I come up for air and coughed into my napkin and wiped my eyes and blowed my nose and bent over and coughed some more and Annette she looked somewhere between scairt and ready to laugh and I know my face was just awful red when I finally set back up and I kind of squeaked, "You want to l'arn to fight dirty?" and then her and the maid started laughin' and I went to coughin' ag'in and finally when all three of us kind of wound down and got some wind in us, Annette allowed as when attair fella grabbed her wrist and yanked she didn't know what to do but she knowed somethin' had to be done, fast hard and nasty, and had it not been for Sarah puttin' a few holes through his back plate below his belt, why, chances were right fair she'd have lost our child.

Now she asked me nice enough and I set back and considered this, for a man never wants to think he's less than able to keep his wife safe, but I am not so much a fool as to think I can be in arm's reach of her ever' moment of a day's time.

Matter of fact her l'arnin' to fight dirty struck me as a fine idea.

 

Next day I asked Sarah if she'd teach Annette and Sarah give me a funny look and asked what was wrong with me teachin' her and I said likely I could but girls learn better from girls and besides was I to mis-gauge my distance and bend her pretty nose over, why, I'd just feel awful bad, and Sarah allowed as I'd rather have her bend my wife's beak instead and I opened my mouth to make a reply and Sarah she put her finger on my lips and said she'd do it so that was taken care of and Brother William he give a whistle and I looked up and he motioned me closer.

He was in front of Attorney Moulton's office and I went on over and here Brother William needed a witness to sign the deed and all back over to that fella he'd took in.

He could have kept the man's spread and live stock but he allowed as it would be just an awful shame for that fella to be deprived of everything he'd worked for, he'd allowed as maybe he could live there ag'in since he'd had some time away from it and so I dipped the pen and signed my name and just that fast the property went back to its original holder.

Apple-horse he come head bobbin' over acrost the street to us and the three of us walked for a piece, Brother William was headed back for Rabbitville and he was of a notion to take his time down to the depot and we talked about that fella who'd beat up on himself somethin' awful after his wife pizened herself and Brother William's voice was quiet and gentle and he allowed as 'twas often easier to forgive someone else an offense than 'twas to forgive the man in the mirror and I allowed as yes, that was true, and Brother William stopped and turned square on to me and he allowed as that was a thing I ought to remember, for it was important, and it struck me that this quiet man was an awful lot smarter than he looked.

I'd heard or maybe read that wisdom is found in quiet places, and I found wisdom in this quiet man.

 

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53.  DO NOT TRY ME

 

I heard the Sheriff say one time that he was smarter than he looked, and Charlie Macneil looked squarely at the man and with an absolutely straight face deadpanned, "This proves that the Lord is merciful!"

I reckon I either inherited that or remembered it.

I'm not rightly sure which but it saved me some work.

Y'see, I was not in a kindly mood a'tall.

I'd taken off my coat and brushed it, I'd buffed my boots good and they shone like a buckeye or so the Sheriff said, I'd brushed my Stetson and I'd looked in the mirror – more like I glared at the mirror and a wonder it didn't crack, for the face that looked back at me was not friendly a'tall – and I very carefully knotted up my neck tie.

I did not generally take such precise particulars with how I looked unless I was either fixin' to go to church with my wife, or I was goin' some place special with my wife, or I was really, really unhappy, and today I was not goin' anywhere a'tall with my wife.

Matter of fact I went into the Silver Jewel and figured maybe if I had me a quiet beer it would be good for the soul, and besides that I was thirsty, and I did not pa'tickelar want to go find me a lonesome spring and drink Adam's Ale all by my lonesome.

Tillie looked up and smiled and then she looked concerned and I taken off my Stetson and leaned over torst her and whispered "Annette sends her greetings," and  Tillie's face lit up like an Aladdin lamp, for she was just absolutely delighted Annette was with child, and her and the other ladies just loved gossipin' about such things.

I set my skypiece back on my skelp and went on into the saloon and I taken me a good look around like I usually did.

Several fellows I knew, several I did not; I returned nod for nod, greeting for greeting, I stepped up to the polished-up-and-slick-as-a-gut mahogany bar top and asked Mr. Baxter if I could trouble him for a beer, and I asked him in a kindly and gentle voice.

Some fella I never seen before sneered at me, "Could I trouble you for a beer," and he curled his lip and turned to square off to me, one elbow leaned on the bar, and right off I could see he carried on the right and like as not had a boot knife.

I recalled how the Sheriff could turn them hard and pale eyes on a man and I recalled men who'd turned ghost white to see it, and this fellow kept on:  "Ain't you just the proper daisy now, all dolled up an' pretty," and someone behind him gripped his arm and tried to whisper wise counsel into his ear and he pulled his arm free with a snarl and I taken my beer in my right hand and I turned my head slow and I give him all the hate and all the grief and all the didn't-want-to's of the entire day and I put it into the look I give him and of a sudden he had a funny look to him and he closed his mouth and he turned to his beer and dropped his head a little.

"Mister," I said quietly, and of a sudden things got just real quiet and I don't reckon he had no trouble hearin' my words, "I just helped a man fish his only son out of a well.  His boy hadn't seen nine years on this earth and now he's dead.  Right now I am not feelin' kindly a'tall so if you'd keep your tongue behind your teeth I would be very much obliged."

He turned and give me a look that would have scared a rattlesnake and I didn't much care, for my coat was unbuttoned and I was close enough I could take him in either eye or have my choice of vest buttons to punch a half inch hole through, and I was more than ready.

It is not a light thing to drop to your knees with your arm around a man's shoulders as he clutches his cold wet and very dead son to his breast, it cuts a body to his very living soul to hear the man's grief as the throws his head back and a note of pure sorrowful grief slices a big gash in the blue sky above.

I'd heard it before and I hope never to hear it again and I remembered how it sounded and how it just tore me plumb apart to hear it and I wanted nothing more than to lay violent hands on someone, anyone, and rip their living limbs from their body and beat 'em to death with any parts that come off reasonably easy.

"Be real sure you want to play that," I almost whispered.  "Be real sure 'cause I'm in a killin' mood and I'm good at it."

I was in the mood, all right.

My soul was that dragon again, and it was made of hate and it was laid over itself and startin' to slither and when that happens I am ready to kill with absolutely no hesitation and absolutely positively no conscience.

It was up to him and for the second time he backed down.

That cold eyed glare must have worked, for he kept hush and finished his beer and he left, him and the soul who tried to tell him to pull in his horns.

I told Annette about it later that night, I told her I was more than ready to punch his ticket had he tried to punch mine, and she give me that gentle look of hers and she said I'd used my head and she was proud of me, and I don't think she could have made me feel any better had she give me a handful of gold reales.

 

The Sheriff run acrost some fellow who was too foolish for his own good, and whoever it was paid for their foolishness with the forfeit of their living soul, and the Sheriff ended up with the outlaw's black gelding.

I recall the stupid soul he was talkin' about, the man was inclined to beat his horse and that horse was just plainly terrified and spirit broke and when the Sheriff reached torst him to lay a hand on his neck the horse walled his eyes and throwed his head away and then fell over colder'n a foundered flounder.

Fainted, from sheer terror.

The Sheriff looked at attair horse and at the palm of his hand and he looked at me and he looked at attair horse and I don't recall ever seein' the man so just plain puzzled in all his life.

His little girl Angela was with him and her and her Mama was all dressed up like they usually was and I reckon she smelled of lilac water and them scented bath salts the girls like to use and she squatted down by the horse and I reckon the horse smelled someone different and heard a little girl's voice and felt a little girl's hand and Angela squatted there with her hem a-draggin' in the dirt, prattlin' to that shiny black horsie and right directly attair horsie woke up and Angela coaxed it to its feet and the Sheriff had Angela lead it some by the reins and darn if that shiny black gelding didn't follow after her just tame as anything.

The Sheriff couldn't touch that horse unless Angela was right with him – well, he could, but the horse would shiver and wall up and fall down all fainty, and it taken the man a while to get the horse to trust him, but he managed and the black turned out to be a decent saddle mount.

Oncet the man got his trust, he got that horse to fall over on command, and Angela thought it was funny, and I reckon it was, for she would walk up to it and point her little pink finger at it and yell "Bad horse!  Dead!"  and darn if that black horse wouldn't just fall over, he'd roll over on his back with all four legs in the air.

'Course when he did, he'd turn his head and look at Angela, and she'd giggle and rub his neck and call him a good horsie and the black would roll over and Angela would climb up on its back and then the black would lever itself up and Angela would laugh with delight as she got to ride her Daddy's horsie.

There was two times when the Sheriff made good use of that fainty horse, oncet he got the horse to understand it warn't gon' to get hurt, why, he'd wave a fist and yell at it and that horse would fall over on its side and just lay there.

It got to be a game with them and the Sheriff was settin' someone up I don't recall who 'twas for for what, but he wanted to establish that he had a fierce temper and he wanted them to think he was mad enough to rip the head off a beef cow and he shook his fist at that black gelding and yelled somethin' and that horse hit the ground and the Sheriff turned and looked mean at whoever it was and I honstly don't recall what they were tryin' to pull but I do recall they give up on the idea real quick.

I reckon that's kind of like that fella in the Silver Jewel that I didn't have to kill.

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54.  WORSE THAN FIRE AND BRIMSTONE

 

The Parson was a man of good humor and laughter.

I seldom knew the man when he warn't lookin' friendly and most generally he had a smile and when at all possible he'd laugh, but this mornin' he warn't laughin'.

'Twas the Friday service before Easter Sunday and the Parson said there was no way he would call it Good Friday for he'd had a conversation that showed him just how good it was not.

There was no flowers a'tall in the church, just the candles lit on the altar and smellin' of bees wax, and everyone was scrubbed clean in their Sunday-go-to-meetin's and the Parson stood up and said "This is the Friday before Easter, the Friday when the Christ was crucified."

He was a troubled man when he spoke these words and I didn't rightly know why but it come clear quick enough.

"I had a conversation with Doctor Greenlees and I asked him the nature of the injuries that would have been inflicted upon our Savior."  He stopped and swallowed and looked around and then he looked at Doc and said "Perhaps if you could enlighten us."

Dr. John Greenlees stood up and paced slow torst the front of the church and 'twas more than absolute silent, his boot heels were loud in spite of walkin' on carpet and he turned and lifted his chin and looked at all of us and the man proceeded to drain every bit of blood out of my carcass and replace it with snow melt.

I never in my entire born days heard a quiet man's words put more honest fear into me than our Doctor did.

He allowed as them Romans would commonly lay into a prisoner with a wire whip with bits of bone tied on the ends of the cords, or maybe pieces of metal like bolts and nuts and such-like, and he described just how it would tear apart hide and muscle and lay a man's back open down to the ribs:  women turned pale and some folks looked half sick as he described the exact effects on the human body, the shock and blood loss, and how it was not at all uncommon for a prisoner to die from the whippin' alone.

He went into detail when he started describin' about bein' nailed down.

He said he'd been shot and several men there had been as well and he knew how that felt but that square cut spike nail drove through the wrist was drove between the wrist bones and it grazed a nerve that pulled the thumb into the palm and how the full weight hung on that nail and stretched wrist and shoulder and the pain was beyond anythin' a man had ever felt until the drove in that secont nail and then the nail through the arch of the foot.

He had a command of words, I'll say that for him, he said how the victim could breathe in but not out, he described how cords stood out on the neck and he'd sweat blood as he'd go deep into shock and God help me that man's words hung me on the cross too and I damn neart felt what he was describin' and all I could think of was he done that for me, and I felt just awful small and ashamed that He'd have to do that for someone as worthless as I was.

He spoke of the women who watched, he spoke of the mother watching her child suffer and die under torture and not a thing she could do to help, he spoke of the feelin' of bein' pulled apart and I felt somethin' wet run down my cheek and Annette's hand tightened on mine and I looked down and I could not look up at that cross on the wall above the altar.

I couldn't do it.

Shame burned my ears and shame hung my head down and shame streaked hot and wet down both cheeks and I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the floor boards and slink off somewhere and die.

Doc quit talkin' and I set there and it felt like misery was a cloak and I had it draped over my shoulders and the Parson spoke up and allowed as this was the Dark Time, when all hope was lost, when Light went into the Tomb and was swallowed by the great stone and guarded by men with spears, and I knowed I was the cause of it, I'd sinned and for my sin my Mama was dead and for my sin I'd killed men and made widows of their wives and orphans of their children and I was a monster and a beast for I'd caused this, 'twas for me this all happened, I was to blame –

You made no wife a widow, a voice whispered, and the words were cool and smelled of mint, or a field after a spring rain, and 'twas Sarah's voice, and I felt her touch though she was nowhere near where I was set.

You made no child an orphan, the whisper came again, gentle and soothing as ointment on a burn.

You are not to blame, and you are not the cause, and of a sudden I could see her –

She was a twisted, misshapen little girl in a white dress and a white straw hat, by a black river and surrounded by rocks and darkness and a distant red glow –

I know what Hell is.

I have been there, and your father went in and showed me I could leave.

I felt the truth in her words and I realized maybe I was not the cause, and then I felt her approval as the notion come to me.

Evil will tell you you're not worthy.

Evil lies.

Evil will tell you you're the cause.

You are not the cause.

Evil will try to trick you into assuming guilt.

Evil lies to children when they assume guilt when something bad happens, but children can't tell evil from good.

I shivered as with a chill, and the Parson's words come through my misery like a shaft of sun light driving through a cloud.

"And after three days He rose from the dead," he intoned, "and so, my friends, go from this place and know that on Sunday, we rejoice together at His Resurrection."

I don't reckon I said more'n three words all the way home, and Annette didn't neither, and we et supper all silent-like and finally the maid blurted, "Did I do something wrong?"  and Annette and I looked at her and we looked at one another and then we started to laugh, for I realized just how morose a soul I must have been, to make her think she'd done somethin' to make us so unhappy we weren' talkin'.

"You've not done a thing wrong," I said, "I just heard a sermon today that was worse than fire and brimstone."

The maid's mouth dropped open and she stared at me like I'd just told her about a talkin' fish I'd shook hands with in the middle of the main street.

"Fun part was," I continued, reaching for the bread plate, "'twas not the Parson that preached it."

I taken up some butter on my knife and spread it slowly and looked at the women folk who was both lookin' at me.

"'Twas the Doctor who preached it and it scairt me good, and I am not ashamed a bit to say it!"

 

 

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55.  BRACING THE WISE WOMAN

 

It didn't surprise me much that Sarah was standin' out on her porch waitin' on me.

I never said word one to her about comin' out but she … she was there, and she said "I knew you were coming out," and I leaned back a little in the saddle and Apple-horse stopped and I looked at her and considered what I might say in reply and then I swung down out of saddle leather without sayin' a word.

I walked up them four steps onto her porch and Bonnie come out and she give me a look and somehow I knowed she was in on whatever Sarah knowed.

That did not stop me.

"Sarah,"  I said, "I heard the Sheriff say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and somethin' tells me I know just enough to get myself in trouble."

I saw Sarah's eyes change and I knowed there was a laugh hidin' behind 'em and I glanced up at Bonnie and she had the same look about her and I grinned and allowed as maybe that proved the Lord was merciful and the both of them smiled just a little and I don't care if they warn't no blood between 'em, they were mother and daughter and Sarah's quiet little smile was just the same as Bonnie's quiet little smile.

"What is it you don't understand?"  Sarah asked, her hands folded properly in front of her, and I fetched off my Stetson and frowned a little as I considered how I wanted to say what was on my mind.

"Church Friday," I said.  "You were settin' well away from me.  No way I could have heard you and there was no way in two worlds you could have reached me."

Sarah's pale eyes and Bonnie's violet eyes both regarded me steadily.

"I was troubled when Doc spoke as he did."

Sarah nodded, just a little bit.

"I was powerful troubled."

My voice was quiet, my voice was steady, my voice was serious:  I recalled how I'd shivered for fear and for shame, and I recalled the feel of Sarah's hand and the balm of her voice.

"I heard your voice plain as anything.  There was no way in God's green earth you could have … I could have heard anything a'tall you said but I heard you plain."  I felt my eyes tighten a little, just a little.  "And I smelled mint as you spoke."

"Did I tell you something … objectionable?"  she asked, almost conversationally.

I shook my head.  "You … your words … I recall how my Mama's hand was cool when I was fevered.  'Twas reassuring to the child I was, Mama's touch, and your voice was just that."
"Is that a good thing?"  she asked and there was a little amusement in her voice.

"It was," I said, as un-amused as she was amused.

"Was there something else?"

"You said you'd been to hell."

My voice carried more of an accusation than I intended and Bonnie's eyes widened like I'd just backhanded her daughter.

"I was," Sarah said offhandedly.

"The Sheriff brought you back."

"No."  She shook her head just a little.  "He showed me I could leave."

I raised one eyebrow and Sarah almost giggled.

"He did fight the hordes of Hell for my soul."

Now that scared me.

I know what it is to fight against desperate odds.

I know what it is to come close to dyin'.

Death don't scare me much.

Losin' my very soul … terrifies me.

Had the Sheriff fought in the Inferno itself …

"How …"
My eyes narrowed and I turned my head just a little as if to bring a good ear to bear.  I'd seen the Sheriff do that and I didn't set out to do it so I reckon I must've inherited it.

Sarah moved, quickly, unexpectedly:  her hands were flat on the sides of my head and we fell away from the earth on a long shining arc and then we fell back and we hit the ground and we drove down through the ground and I seen rocks pass by me imbedded in the dirt and of a sudden we dropped out into a cavern, a sandy floored cavern lit with distant red fire, 'twas hot and 'twas dry and an oily black river flowed not far away, and I seen a boat on it and someone in a ratty lookin' burlap robe pushin' it along with a pole.

I looked around and there was sizable rocks and I unbuttoned my coat and wished powerfully for my rifle but there was no help for it, I looked up and the roof was dark and rocks stuck down like stony teeth and I turned back to Sarah and she warn't there.

There was a little ugly misshapen child in a white dress and a little straw hat and I went down on one knee and this little ugly child had pale eyes and I knowed this was Sarah.

"Evil tried to take me," she almost whispered.  "They grabbed my soul and I pulled away and I tore in two.  They dragged part of me here to Hell and the rest of me stayed above and the Sheriff and Uncle Charlie came and fought the demon hordes so I could get away."

"Are we really here?"  I asked, looking around, and sure enough there was red eyes lookin' around beside a couple of them big rocks and I swept her behind me and drew my left hand Colt.

The sound of that triple-click when I fetched the hammer back was loud in the unnatural hush.

It was also an awful lot more powerful than I expected.

Just the sound of machined steel coming into battery was enough to send whatever them things were, screaming in fear as they run t'other direction.

The Sarah-waif waited until I eased the hammer back down and I loaded a sixth round and set the hammer nose down between the rims and then I did the same for my right hand revolver, and then she said "We can go now," and I holstered and she taken my hand and we shot out of there like an angel soaring through the earth ag'in.

We come down and set our feet back on the front porch and 'twas like we'd never left and now Miz Esther was standin' beside Bonnie and Sarah turned to me and she was still holdin' my hand.

"That was very brave," she said gently, and Bonnie and Miz Esther both murmured "Yes, it was," and I realized they'd seen what happened.

"Yes we did," Miz Esther said, and she stepped away from Bonnie and towards me and she caressed my forehead the way a mother will a fevered child, and I recall her whispered words as she said I was indeed brave, and it was vital that I live and sire children, that my son would make us all proud and my grandson would carry on our blood and she said some other things I didn't remember, but I do recall she said that Sarah was from a long line of Wise Women, and that in an earlier age she would have been hanged as a witch, for she could see things without seeing them, she knew things she couldn't possibly know, and she'd retrieved her soul from Hell because the Sheriff and Marshal Macneil stood shoulder to shoulder and stood between the evil that wanted to stop her bloodline, and her with all she stood for.

"You were to be killed," she whispered, and I could not have moved had I wanted.

"That's why you were whipped so terribly.  You were to be whipped to death."

I recall her eyes as she continued, "You were set upon by evil, and you stopped evil the only way you could, you did what was necessary, Jacob, and you are without blame, for you stopped Evil incarnate."

She removed her hand and Sarah took my hands and stood squarely in front of me and of a sudden we were on hot black sand again and two men stood shoulder to shoulder, two scarred warriors in leather kilts and leather-and-bronze breastplates and bronze, crested helmets:  each had a shield on his left arm, a sword in the right, each was set and ready and each was breathing hard, breathing deep, teeth bared:  carcasses lay in front of them, misshapen and disgusting creatures leaking black ocher into the hot, thirsty sand.

"They can't see us," Sarah whispered, "and they cannot hear us."

Two men shifted their weight, they took a half-step forward as another pair of monsters charged:  one swung his shield, hard, drove the boss into the enemy's out-reaching, clawed hand:  the other man, coordinating his move with his brother warrior's, his shield flipped edge-on and its sharpened edge sliced deep into the oncoming jaws, just before the leaf-shaped blade drove deep between the monstrous thing's ribs.

Sarah's hand tightened on mine and we were on the porch again and I threw my head back and took a long, deep breath of sweet, cool air.

"Your father and his brother swung swords in another lifetime," Miz Esther explained, and I looked at her and my brows puzzled together at her words, and she laughed a little and laid her fingertips on my forearm.

"No.  Not brothers like that."  I recall there was amusement in her eyes and the gentlest smile about her face.  "They two are living proof that not all brothers are birthed from the same womb."

"Yes, ma'am," I said quietly.

I didn't quite understand that last but I'd learned such matters are to be accepted and they would clear in due time.

I looked at Sarah.

"That does not tell me how you know I was distressed."

She turned her head a little to look at me, her hands still delicately, properly, folded:  she looked almost like a living, china head doll on a little girl's shelf, so perfect was her appearance, and was I not her brother I might have ripped the beating heart from my breast and laid it at her feet, and part of my memory recalled the Sheriff said that very thing about Bonnie and I looked at her and of a sudden she had that same beauty and I looked at Miz Esther and my breath caught for she too radiated that same absolute, pure, flawless beauty.

"She knew," Miz Esther and Bonnie said with one voice, their words perfectly intermeshed, "because she is a Woman of Power."

"And her words," I pursued, "she spoke without words and across a distance."

"She knew," they chorused again, their voices low, musical, their eyes glowing and hypnotic, "because she is a Woman of Power."

I turned and faced Sarah squarely and took a step closer and gripped her shoulders and I drove my pale eyed gaze deep into her pale eyed gaze and my grip tightened and then I leaned my head forward and my Stetson fell from what little grip I had with two fingers and it hit the floor and I recall how loud it sounded and I leaned my forehead in against hers and I whispered, "Thank you," and I recall her return whisper, "I knew you needed me," and then I felt her laughter bubblin' up like a clear and diamond-pure mountain spring, and then she giggled like a little girl and lifted her head.

"Now go to the Silver Jewel and look for a young man with nowt but five cents to his name."  She came up on her tippy-toes and kissed me quickly on the cheek and give me what I have to call the Sarah Look, half amused, half serious but all Sarah.

"Go on now.  Scoot!"

I bent down and plucked my Stetson from the porch and set it on my head, dust and all, and I stepped back and give a half-bow the way I'd seen the Sheriff do, and said "Ladies," then I stepped down them wooden treads and my boot hit the dirt and then Apple-horse he turned and I shoved boot leather into stirrup and just that quick, why, we was set off torst the Silver Jewel, for somethin' was there and I was curious to see what it was.

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56.  CAST A DECENT SHADOW

 

Apple-horse and I set a good easy trot for the Silver Jewel.

I puzzled over what-all them women folks told me there on the front porch and I considered that Miz Esther had a knowin' way about her but when them three got together and they all spoke as if their voice come out a common throat, why, that might be kind of spooky was I to let it strike met that-a-way, but these were all women I knew and loved and trusted, and I had to figure they was all good women, just … well, somehow they was united in purpose.

United in purpose.

I'd heard that phrase somewheres, maybe the Sheriff said it when he was talkin' about why men go to war.

He hardly ever talked about that damned War.

Him and Lightning sometimes did, him and Doc and rarely old WJ Garrisson, I gethered somehow Garrisson was in the Navy but I never did figure out which one he was in and it did not much matter.

I knowed he still had that LeMat revolver he carried shipboard, as he called it, and I admred that revolver, for it carried nine balls instead of six and it had a shotgun barrel to boot and that struck me as just an awful good close in fightin' weapon if you didn't have to wear it and shuck it like I did a Colt.

I blinked and thought ag'in of the women.

I hadn't seen Miz Esther's buggy out there and part of my mind wondered about how she got out there but her buggy might have been around behint the barn, might be the hired man was washin' mud off the wheels or some-such, and I looked up the main street and throwed a wave at the Irish Brigade polishin' their Steam Masheen out front, they liked to roll it out front and polish the bright work to a high shine and I didn't blame 'em a bit for showin' it off.

That was a fine lookin' steam engine and they kept it just absolutely spotless.

Apple-horse, he kind of hesitated and then stopped there in the middle of the street, he turned his big neck to the right as if he was lookin' down the alley beside the Sheriff's office torst that little stable in back where he knowed the Sheriff's Cannonball-mare tethered, and then he swung his head left, torst the Silver Jewel, and then he give me a grunt as if to tell me to make up my mind so I pressed my right knee into him a little and he turned and paced torst the Silver Jewel and there we stopped.

I slud off and hit the ground flat footed and told Apple not to get in trouble and he grunted ag'in and I went on inside and looked around.

I tend to look for patterns – that's another thing the Sheriff taught me – and I looked for what didn't belong and sure enough there was a boy there and he didn't have much to recommend him, he looked kind of lean and hungry and he was eyein' that free lunch and lookin' around so I went up to him and said "Son, how much money you got on you?"  and I turned over my lapel to show my six point star so he wouldn't think I was there to take what he had.

He swallowed and looked at me and said "I have five cents, sir," and I said "You are the man I am looking for, when did you eat last?"

"Two days ago, sir," he said sorrowfully, and I taken his arm gentle-like and steered him torst the back and we set down in the Lawman's Corner and I parked my hat on the peg overhead and Daisy's girl come swingin' her skirts back torst us and she sized up the lad and looked at me a little puzzled and I said "This young man has not eaten for two days.  I don't think he'd throw a decent shadow in the noonday sun and was he to turn sideways he'd just plainly disappear."

She looked at him and looked at me and she didn't say a word, she kind of turned real quick-like and she went back torst the kitchen on the Hot Foot and the boy looked at me and said "Did I make her mad?" and I recognized the voice, he was feelin' distressed and he sounded younger than what he looked and I shook my head and leaned my arms on the table and said "No, she gets that way sometimes," and then we heard her comin' back torst us and she set a bowl of some kind of brothy soup down in front of him and a plate of bread and a lump of butter and she laid a hand on his shoulder and looked at me and then him and said "Eat that slow, you don't want to get sick," and he swallowed and near to slavered at the jowls like a starvin' dog and he said "Yes ma'am," in almost a little boy's voice, and she turned to me and said "And I suppose you'll be wantin' somethin' else!" and I said "No, I reckon that same thing will do me fine," and she looked at me like she thought that was a good idea and right directly she come bringin' me the same stuff.

Chicken it was, cut up real fine, and short noodles, and I tore up bread and dropped in the broth and the boy didn't stand on ceremony, he picked up his bowl and drank about half of it and then he come up for breath and looked at me guilty-like and set the bowl down.

"Good?"  I asked, punchin' down my tore up bread with my spoon and he nodded and swallowed and lifted his arm as if to wipe his mouth and I nodded torst his napkin and he ducked his head and looked a little guilty and picked up the napkin and wiped off his mouth.

Now that cute little hash slinger had sense enough to bring him a fairly small bowl, no bigger'n two decent coffee mugs, for she figured if the boy hadn't et in that long he'd just plainly inhale whatever was set in front of him, and to his credit he didn't quite inhale it, but 'twas plain his ribs was a-clatterin' together when he walked and likely his stomach was wrapped around his back bone.

I had him come with me and I paid the girl and thanked her for her kindness and her eyes told me there was a story she was a-holdin' back and I figured to come back and find out what it was, but not just now.

We rode double out to the Yount place and there was still a black wreath on the door and Yount was glarin' at attair well his boy drowned in and I rode up and said "Mr. Yount, I need your help," and the boy slid off and so did I and I said "This young man lost his family and he hasn't another soul in the world.  He'd not et in two days and I just filled his belly but I don’t know straight up from go-to-hell about raisin' a boy."

Yount looked torst the ranch house and his wife come out and the poor soul was pale and drawn and she come torst us wringin' her hands in her apron, I reckon she was bakin', she did that when she was distressed and I'd brought her two sacks of flour and some lard knowin' she would be bakin' up a storm and when she come over to us the smell of fresh baked bread and pie crust come swirlin' up with her and I said "Mr. Yount, this young man lost his entire family and he did what the Sheriff did, he taken his broken heart and headed West with what he had." 

I looked at the rancher and said "He's got the clothes on his back and five cents in his pocket, and I just filled his belly."

Yount was a hard handed man with calluses and his shirt sleeve warn't bulged out with muscle like some of the Irish Brigade but he was a fair man and decent and he squatted down and said "Son, what is your name?"

"Patrick," the lad said faintly.

"Patrick, I am Mr. Yount, and this is my wife, Mrs. Yount."

"Yes, sir."

"Patrick, I want you to promise me something."

"Yes, sir?"

He pointed to fresh green lumber planks laid side by side.

"Promise me you will never, ever jump on a pile of boards."

"Yes, sir."

"Those boards are laid over a well and my son fell through the old rotty boards that used to cover it and he drowned."  He reached up and gripped the boy's shoulders.  "I don't want to lose another."

I pretended to to notice when the two of them seized each other in a crushing hug, that both of them had water leakin' out of their eyes.

 

Now Sarah had a way of … well, not exactly causin' trouble, but when interestin' things happened, she seemed to be somewhere nearby.

Brother William was passin' through, he brought gold up and fetched back a jag of goods from the Mercantile and he stopped and talked and he allowed as Sarah was down and she'd brought that big black bear killin' dog and them Mexican villagers they kept their distance and Sarah she was dressed like one of the nuns that lived in the Monastery, and them nuns all had a white silk veil over their faces.

The Bear Killer paced along beside her as she walked through the village and she was known as a healer and she'd just fever-broke a child and another in the household, a baby, got to cryin' and The Bear Killer turned and paced over to this noisy little red faced arm wavin' infant in a woven basket and he snuffed at the little pink hand and the Mama's face turned just pasty white and she was honestly afraid to dive in and snatch the basket away for fear she'd lose her hand up to her elbow, and the baby howled again and The Bear Killer raised his muzzle and give a gentle "Owwwwwww," and the baby stopped and blinked them Mexican-black eyes and The Bear Killer lowered his head and licked the child's hand and the child screwed its face up and turned red ag'in and give out a howl and The Bear Killer he sang "Owwwwwww" and the child stopped and blinked and laughed and The Bear Killer washed its little red face and the child giggled and waved its arms and The Bear Killer come back over beside Sarah and set down and after that, why, The Bear Killer warn't seen as quite the vicious killer they'd imagined he might be.

Brother William said in time the smaller children would wool The Bear Killer somethin' awful and ride him like a big furry pony and if they got too rough he'd pin 'em down with a huge paw in the middle of their chest and he'd give 'em a good face washin' and that was all that was needed, and Brother William said Sarah had a good reputation as a healer and she warn't afraid to get into some bad situations to help but he said it give him quite a turn when she come staggerin' back to the Monastery and her white habit was all bloody and she had her hand grippin' the shoulder fur of The Bear Killer to keep from staggerin' too bad and she'd come in and the other White Sisters stripped her off and soaked that white habit in salt water to get the blood out and Sarah taken a drank of some of the Daine boys' water clear and not over 30 days old and Brother William waited til Sarah was decent afore he went to make inquiry and he said she warn't hurt, he found out she'd come a-runnin' up on a boy that fell on a broken clay olla and cut himself pretty bad and she'd got the bleedin' stopped and she'd carried the lad to the train and she'd stayed with him until they got to a doc and the boy got sewed up and she fetched him back and only then did she come a-staggerin' back to the Monastery, and that big black Bear Killin' dawg with her.

I recalled squeezin' the arm of a man that got drunked up and punched a window pane and the dumb sort jerked his arm back out and that's what cut him so bad, I'd pulled out the pieces I could see and wrapped my wild rag around it and squoze with both hands and of a sudden he was just awful sober and I'd half drug half walked him down to Doc's and watched as they put him to rights, I think he died a few days later of some stupid action or another, I don't recall just what it was, I think he got likkered up ag'in and rode the train to Cripple and picked on the wrong man and got a miner's pick through the top of the head and out the front of his neck, and from what we was told, he had it comin'.

I considered all that when I laid in bed that night with my wife warm beside me and my hand in hers and she rolled up on her side and cuddled into me and whispered "You had a busy day," and I taken a long breath and said "Mm-hmm," and she smelled of sun dried flannel and lilac water and I rolled up on my side to face her and whispered, "Has the baby moved?" and she giggled and whispered that it hadn't and it wasn't ready yet and I run my arms around her and held her and I fell asleep like that and I recall thinkin' I didn't never, ever want to forget how it felt to lay in my own bed under my own roof and hold my wife.

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57.  COMFORT

 

I watched the Sheriff talk a man out of a fight.

'Twas a marvelous thing to see.

The day before I'd watched him take a man by the front of the shirt, he'd slammed his hand into the man's chest and grabbed up a good handful of material and yanked him torst him and then shoved him back, hard, ag'in the wall, then he stepped in and I watched the Sheriff's jaw muscles tighten up some as he lifted that fella off the ground, brought his boot soles off the dirt and fetched him up left handed and I seen thunder writ on the man's brow as he said real quiet, "Let me know when you get tired," and damned if he didn't hold him up like that 'til he allowed as he'd had enough.

The Sheriff knew when to talk when when to git impressive.

Now it was my turn.

I taken pride in polishin' up my boots.

I'd had so little growin' up I tended to take good care of what I had and I taken care of them boots and they showed it an' when that fella stepped on my foot, why, I had a choice to make and he knowed he'd stepped on the wrong man's foot when ever'one got real quiet and started drawin' back from the two of us.

Me, I give him a hard look and he didn't say nothin' and he was very carefully not movin' and I figured I could either put my fist through his face and out the back of his head or I could let him down easy so I winked at him and turned torst Mr. Baxter like nothin' happened and asked him for the time nice and quiet, and Mr. Baxter he looked at me kind of funny but then he looked at the clock and he looked at me and he spoke the time and I thanked him and turned back to that fella that stepped on my foot and then I left.

Warn't no need to cause him grief, had he intended his offense he'd have run his mouth when I looked square-on at him, and he didn't.

I heard a day or two later he'd been told he'd ought to play professional poker or at least run some dice that day, for Lady Luck was dumpin' her blessin's over his head by the bucket full.

Now me, I went on outside and I stopped and looked up at the church steeple.

I remembered me an' the Parson up there and that night when them reavers come in town allowin' to rape the cattle and steal the women, they figgered to steal what was worth takin', kill every livin' soul, burn down every buildin', plow the ground up and sow it with rock salt, and then proceed to get real mean with the town.

I remembered how it felt up there, how him and me placed lead with a cold and unforgiving precision, I recalled how it felt like that Sharps smacked me in the chest ever' time it fired, I recalled swingin' that octagon barrel of my own rifle and pickin' my spot on a man's high chest and down through their hats and I recalled the smell and the taste and then that sledge hammer drove into my shoulder and of a sudden I was weak and I pulled back and set down all surprised for I durst not lean forward lest I lose attair rifle and then I was spinnin' and I got no idea how I got down out of attair church steeple but by golly I was a-layin' on my back and the Sheriff and Duzy was vent over me and I recall he grabbed her hand and slapped the handle of a knife in it and then he pressed the knife down ag'in my shoulder and her hand with it and he told her what to say and then it felt like somethin' hot drove into me and my eyes rolled up and I had the feelin' ever'thin' would be just fine and I could relax and let go and I woke up between clean sheets in a clean bed –

I shook my head, rubbed my eyes.

"God help me," I whispered, I looked up, torst a particular mountain –

I recalled cold water, how I'd dove in that pool to get that boy out, he was a-layin' on the bottom and not movin', I grabbed him by the back of the collar with fingers a-losin' their feelin' that water was take-your-breath cold and I didn't care, I was going to get him peacefully or otherwise and I recalled how that cold air hit me like a giant's hand and took my breath and I made it to shore, sloshin' out of that cold mountain water –

I shivered and taken a long breath and looked around again and then I went down them three steps to the dirt street and crossed over diagonal to the Sheriff's Office but I didn't go in.

No, I went around, I went down the alley behint, I went into the little stable we'd built and Apple-horse and the Sheriff's red Cannonball was in there havin' a palaver or tellin' lies or whatever horses do when netiher of 'em is frash and The Bear Killer was in there with 'em and The Bear Killer stood up and swung to the side and I grabbed me a saddle blanket and tossed it over attair bale of hay and set myself down.

The Bear Killer he come up and looked at me with his head a-tilt and his ears half picked up and then he set his jaw down on my thigh and give a sigh and I recht my hand into his black curly fur and rubbed a little and The Bear Killer he give a groan and closed his eyes like he was real content and it helped me too.

I needed somewhere quiet and I needed that warm furry companionship and I think I begun to feel sorry for myself until Cannonball recht over and bit the hat off my head and backed up a little, slingin' her head up and down and wavin' at me with my own sky piece and I set there and laughed, for there's nothin' like a horse to show a man what a damn fool he's been.

I finally got up and traded her hat for tobacker and then me and The Bear Killer we went back down attair alley and into the Sheriff's office and I realized 'twas a day for makin' a fool, for the Sheriff was in there with some folks and he had a little boy under the arms and he'd swing him up fast torst the ceiling an' that little fella's legs would swing out and up and the Sheriff brought him back down and swung him back and forth a little and a little and a little like he was a leaf swingin' down from a tree and finally he skidded the lad's backside on the floor and bent over him grinnin' and the boy was layin' there laughin' and the Sheriff looked up at me and I don't think I've seen him that happy in quite a long while.

I reckon given his druthers, why, he'd druther have a dozen young'uns at least, and he was right tickled when I told him Annette was with child.

I reckon there's nothin' to bring out the damn' fool in a man like a little child, for he is not the first child the Sheriff played with like that and he warn't the last.

I warn't needed, this was more a friendly visit from some folks he knew so I went on out and I went on home and I set down on the front porch with my wife and we set there and held hands and I taken a great comfort in that.

We set there and didn't say much, I reckon Annette l'arned to read me like the news paper for she looked at me and I felt her hand tighten a little on mine and then she leaned her head over on my shoulder.

"I'm glad you saved me too," she sighed, and I smiled a little, for I'd been thinkin' about the day I kept her from bein' grabbed like them other girls had been.

Reckon I'm not the only one to draw some comfort that day.

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58.  TEMPERED STEEL AND WHALEBONE

 

Annette threw back her head and I saw her teeth, white and even, and it would have been beautiful but for she was somewhere between red faced and splotchy with the cords in her neck stuck out and she was half bent and half squat and she was grabbed hold of that barl and I saw her tuck her backside and she hauled that hogshead up off that drover and I got no idea how she done it for that thing was plumb full of molasses and that's what it felt like I was a-runnin' through for my mind was screamin' RUN DAMN YOU RUN RUN RUN RUN and I could barely move, I knowed I was runnin' flat out and my hands was open and bladed like knives like the Sheriff taught me to run and I knowed I was splittin' the wind but it felt like I was runnin' through molasses and Annette rolled that full barrel up and shoved it back and it fell back ag'in what was left of that wagon and tipped over and wobbled oncet and I would not have been surprised had she r'ared back and kicked it clear acrost the street.

I saw the Sheriff anglin' acrost the street but he was movin' slow too and him and me run just as hard as we could and he taken a runnin' jump at that dumped over freight wagon and slapped his hand on top of the side and he vaulted over it and made it look easy and I run in from the end and we got the rest of the cargo off him but that kag was crushin' his chest and he coughed a couple times and he spit up bloody froth and Annette was on her knees and his head in her lap and she had one of them little  dainty lacy edge hankerchiefs to his lips and he looked up at her and then his eyes rolled back and he was dead.

The Sheriff and me we tore that cargo off him like was was mad men but it didn't help none, Doc got there fast but 'twas not a thing he could do and Digger he come over with two men and a pine box and Annette she set there with the dead man's head in her lap and finally Digger he closed the man's eyes and whispered to her and she let him pick up the man's head and she stood up and she looked at me and she bit her bottom lip for it was a-quiver like a little girl's and then she kind of collapsed into me and I held her and she never made a sound, she just shivered and I held onto her and she give a funny little hiccup and Sarah come from someplace and gripped my arm and she taken Annette and steered her into the Silver Jewel and I found out they went back into the kitchen and Daisy she clucked like a settin' hen and they set Annette down and primed her with hot tea and I reckon they talked woman talk, I don't know, me and the Sheriff give Digger a hand gettin' the carcass into the box and we hoist it up to shoulder high and fetched it over to Digger's parlor.

I didn't find out til later that the women went back into the kitchen but right glad I am Sarah come and got Annette for women is a comfort to women in times like that and I didn't rightly know what I'd ought to say to her anyhow.

I taken a look at attair big hogshead of molasses and just out of curiosity I grabbed holt of the rim and tried to set it up.

Now I ain't puny by any means a'tall but God help me I could not bring that heavy thing up.

I set my boots and gritted my teeth and got my grip and finally got that thing up but it was genuinely all I wanted to do and I near to hurt myself doin' it.

It dropped up onto its square bottom and I was pained some from the effort of gettin' it up off its side and I looked at the Sheriff and then I looked at the front of the Silver Jewel where the women went in and I looked back at the Sheriff and I recall bein' surprised to hear the surprise in my own voice.

"Sir," I said, "how in the hay-il did she do that?"

The Sheriff considered this for a long moment, and then he looked at me and he said, "Jacob, I have seen women do such things.  They are strange and wonderful creatures and I can make neither head nor tails of 'em."

I looked back torst them fancy swirly-frosty-pattern in the glass door panes and the thought struck me that sometimes a doctor will cut someone apart to see what killed 'em.

I think it's called an autopsy.

"Sir," I speculated, "was Doc to autopsy Annette … I reckon he'd find her spine was tempered steel and whale bone."

The Sheriff nodded gravely and allowed as he figured I was right, and about then another freight wagon come up, an empty, and a crew of men, and they begun loadin' goods from the axle-broke wreck onto the new wagon.

 

If ever I needed a good dose of humility, all I had to do was square off with Sarah.

Didn't matter if it was barehand or with them rubber practice knives, or them fencin' Schlagers Miz Esther favored, them ones with the rubber tips so's we wouldn't really poke holes in one another.

Any time I squared off with Sarah, she genuinely took my measure.

I'd heard it said by a Chinaman one time that you should never give a sword to a man who cannot dance.

Wa'l now, Sarah could dance like a feather on the breeze, and sword, knife or barehand, she could genuinely trim my tail feathers, and  I think it tickled her that she could make me admit it any time she pleased.

It is to her credit (as the Sheriff would say it) that she never did, least never in public.

Sarah, she was good in a scrap and no two ways about it, but she was also the best dancer I ever partnered with and that's sayin' somethin' for I'd partnered with some really good ones and Annette was one and Miz Esther and Bonnie were two more, but Sarah was the pick of the lot.

I don't know if it's because we're brother and sister – we weren't twins, we were born of separate dams and near to a year apart – but there was …

She was easy to dance with.

There was a dance matter of fact that night and I'd been lookin' forward to it and Annette she was a little hesitant to go and after she brought that big heavy kag off that man, after he'd died with his head in her lap, had she said she didn't want to go I would not have though it poorly of her a'tall but no, she allowed as she needed to dance that night so we did.

Her exact words were, "I am alive and I shall celebrate being alive and I wish to dance with my husband," and so I put a good shine on my boots and I brushed off my suit and my Stetson and the hired man had our good carriage and the harness all polished up and off we went just a-shinin' and I know she was hurtin' from haulin' that tonnage off that man – a hogshead is a sizable big barrel and I was a damned fool to have set it up and to think what she must've felt, her bein' a girl and all –

No.

No, I cain't say that.

Watchin' her set that thing up …

I'd heard the phrase, "A Mere Girl" before.

Warn't nothin' a'tall mere about what she done!

Now Sarah she was a troublemaker in more ways than one, she'd arranged for them Kentucky fiddle sawin' sorts to listen to some of them fancy violinists from over't Denver, and I didn't get t' set in on that but they was kind of standoffish, both of 'em, but by the time the sun set and I reckon some of Uncle Will's Finest helped the goodwill, but by sundown why they was all fiddlin' together and them Daine boys l'arned how to play a waltz or two and them fellas from Denver they taken back some mountain music with them and I'd say both sides had benefit from it.

Now that night at the dance they played them waltzes they'd l'arned and Sarah and I waltzed before, turns out Annette was right good at it too.

She was sore and she was hurtin' but she still …

Hell, she didn't dance.

I danced and she floated, or so it felt to me.

There was some kind of a squabble over torst one end, we danced in Daciana's big round barn and off torst the one side Sarah was bracin' some women and they didn't much like it and I seen the Sheriff long-leggin' it torst whatever the fracas was and about then Annette and I got to whirlin' around and her holdin' her skirt up with one hand real dainty-like and it felt just awful good with her face tilted up torst mine and 'twas like she glowed from the inside and I don’t recall seein' her quite so honestly beautiful before.

I didn't know it but there was some old biddies allowin' as it was disgraceful for Annette to be out in public and her with child and all like she ought to be shut away and ashamed of and Sarah was givin' 'em a good straightenin' out how Annette held a dyin' man's head in her lap as he coughed his last and she'd near to tore her guts out gettin' that hogshead off him and she laid into them sour faced old bats with the rough side of her tongue and she fair to stripped the hide off their backs a-doin' it.

The Sheriff allowed in a quiet voice with one hand on Sarah's arm that Annette did what few men could do with a good meal and two belts of hard likker, that she'd grabbed hold of death with both hands and tonight she chose to live, and to celebrate livin' and if them sour old biddies didn't like it they could go boil their heads in fish guts or some other kind phrase I don't know what all he said but that's what it come down to and they didn't much like it from the looks they give us and I hadn't no idea what they was glarin' at us about and next day at church why they wouldn't talk to us a'tall, just h'isted their noses in the air.

Ever'one else, though, come up to us and pressed Annette's hand and said how proud they was of her, and then a worn looking woman come up to her and she wore a black shawl for it's the only black she had and she didn't hardly know what to say but Annette did, I recall how them two little boys looked up at me and clung to their Mama's skirts and her and Annette hugged and cried some and this was the dead man's widow and she was so thankful Annette was there to comfort her husband in his last moments and I just stood there with my teeth in my mouth not knowin' really what to do so I just stood there and turns out that was the right thing to do, for Anette did what talkin' was needful and finally they all ended up havin' Sunday dinner with us and a good thing her and the maid fixed plenty.

Women was scarce and it warn't a month before the window was sortin' out which of a half dozen swains was pursuin' her hand that she'd like to hitch up with, only 'twas more than her hand they was really after.

Annette, she was plenty stove up and sore but it didn't really hit her until two days after and then the poor girl was so stiff and hurt so much to move, why, she spent a whole day in bed and I don't blame her a bit.

 

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60.  YOU WON'T HAVE TO FIRE HIM

 

We heard the explosion.

It didn't sound like powder and it didn't have that sharp crack of dynamite and I looked at the Sheriff and he looked at me and we was on our feet and snatched up hats and coats and grabbed for our workin' tools and we run around the buildin' to the little stable in back and Apple-horse was already dancin' and eager to run and Cannonball's eyes was walled back and her nostrils was flared out and the Sheriff had a little gettin' her calmed down enough to saddle.

Apple, he stood stock still but he was still a-tremble whilst I spun the saddle blanket over him and h'isted the saddle up and over and cinched it down and he commenced to blowin' and I laid a hand on his neck and whispered to him and he grunted and threw his head around so I stepped outside and him right with me and I taken my hind hoof and stuck it in the stirrup and just that quick, why, Apple he taken out a-runnin' and if I warn't used to him doin' that I would've ended up rollin' in the dirt.

We was a hundred yards or better afore I got myself legged over and set down and found the other stirrup and I fetched him around for he was in a notion to run and so was I but it don't do much good to run if you don't know where you're runnin' to.

It didn't take long to find out.

The Z&W was the first railroad our side of the Mr. and Mrs. Sippi to use them safety couplers because Miz Esther said she didn't want none of her men losin' no more fingers nor hands to the link-and-pins and she replaced the rollin' stock with them Westinghouse air brakes and she replaced iron rails with steel and damned if she didn't make enough of a profit off them improvements she got all of it paid for in the first two years and many's the railroad man said she'd go broke with woman's notions and she proved 'em wrong.

I reckon she's the reason the smaller railroads went to the safety couplers before the big ones did.

I don't know that for a fact.  Miz Esther was always way better at business than me.

One thing she did that every railroad did, she had a portable telegraph set in the caboose and the conductor at the very least could run a key and when the boy come a-yellin' up from the depot the Sheriff he looked at me and I looked at him and we knowed this was bad and the Sheriff recht down and taken that flimsy from the boy and I flipped the boy a coin for the Sheriff set bolt upright and whipped out his spectacles and his face got real hard and kind of pale as he read the flimsy.

He looked at me and his jaw eased out a little and my stomach kind of shrunk down a little the way it will before I got into a fight and he said "Jacob, get the dead wagon headed towards Second Crossing," and I said "Yes, sir," and I knowed he warn't finished and he said "Then go to the Mercantile and get three skyrocket and make sure you've got dry Lucifers on you."  He folded up them-there spectacles and slid 'em back into an inside coat pocket and his eyes was pale and they was hard and I knowed the news was bad.

"Yes, sir," I said, and a little part of me was puzzled and the rest of me knowed he had plannin' in mind and in that knowin' I was content.

"Then meet me in front of the Mercantile and get ready to run."

"Yes, SIR!"

He turned and so did I:  he went down hill and I went up and I whoa'd Apple-horse at the behind of the Mercantile and I come out of the saddle and barked "STAY!" and Apple he come stock-still and looked at me and I knowed he'd be there when I come out.

I thunered in the back door and I knowed where them skyrockets was so I grabbed me four of 'em and a package of Lucifers, I shouldered through the door and long-legged it for the counter and set them Chinee sky sprinklers down and said "Account!" and JW Garrisson he taken a look at what I laid out and said "Go," and I snatched 'em up and shoved them Lucifers in my coat pocket and went back out back and up onto Apple-horse and we come around the front of the Mercantile just as the Sheriff come whippin' up and he come a-past me and yelled "WITH ME!" and he went back down the alley I'd just come up so we whipped around and taken out after him and Apple-horse, I reckon could I have seen him from the front, he'd'a been grinnin' for he loved a good run and Cannonball was leanin' out into that famous long legged run of hers and Apple he just laid back his ears and went hell-a-tearin' after her and I shoved my Stetson down on my head and stood up in the stirrups and laid myself down over his neck with them Chinee skyrockets bundled up acrost me and a handful of his mane in my other hand and I'm yellin' at him and he's just plainly splittin' the wind and that cold air was strippin' tears out the corners of my eyes and back along my cheek bones.

We ran along side the tracks, it was clear and easy runnin' and they was no gravel ballast rolled down into the trail and I reckon my guardian angel had to grab holt of my coat tail and hang on 'cause we was goin' too fast for angel wings to fly an' keep up and after a couple mile we come onto the sight of it and I quit yellin' at Apple and started addressin' the Almighty for there was ruin ahead and we could see it plain.

It's nothin' to see better than a mile in that clear air and we could see that steam engine was blowed up.

The tracks took a bend and we could see her – 'twas not The Lady Esther, 'twas one of the other two engines, the older of the two, she'd blowed up and bowed up and she was half off the tracks and them steam pipes in the boiler was blowed out and the middle of her was plumb gone and so was the cab.

We come coastin' up to the smokin' ruin and the Sheriff looked around, his eyes cold and hard, and after he'd sized it up he turned to me.

"Jacob," he said, "I told the Irish Brigade one rocket for the dead wagon, two for the doctor and three for all hands on deck."

"Yes, sir," I said, caressing Apple-horse's neck:  he was blowin', he was winded, he needed to stand and get his wind back and this looked like a good time to do it.

"Let's look around and see if anyone's alive."

"Yes, sir."

Now there was two alive we knowed of, the brakeman and the conductor, for we'd seen 'em a-ridin' up, and I turned and went back to the caboose and the conductor waved me over and there was the fireman, his leg was broke bad and he had some scald on the back of his neck and ears and they allowed as that's all there was so I swung down and told Apple-horse to stand fast and I went on down the tracks and taken a look back torst town and figured where they'd see them skyrockets best.

I gripped one amidships and scratched me a Lucifer ag'in a tie plate and lit off attair fuse and held up the first one and let it fire off from between loose fingers and then I picked up the secont one and fired it off as well and I waited til the first one was high up and started to arch over before I fired the secont, that way they could see plainly they was two rockets fired.

That give me two extry jist in case.

The Sheriff he scared up a couple boards from somewhere, I don't know if they was in the caboose or where he got 'em but we used our neck ties and the wild rag I had folded and stuffed in my inside coat pocket and we got attair leg splinted up and the Sheriff he give that poor fella – the fireman, he'd jumped, he said, afore that idiot engineer could water that red hot crownsheet, he'd run her dry and then put water to her and blowed her up – he was dead and the fireman was runnin' away for he knowed what would happen and he was right.

The Sheriff he fetched a hatchet out of the caboose and he set up a fire and boiled some water, he fixed tea and he fetched out some biscuits from his saddlebags and he fed the conducor and the brakeman and primed 'em with some tea and a shot of Two Hit John in the tin cup with it, and he set 'em down and was talkin' to 'em quiet-like, not as Sheriff and not as part owner of the railroad, but as a man who'd lost friends and comrades and who knowed what it was like to be near to explosions and death, and he was a comfort to 'em.

Digger he got there right after the Doc and we played hell findin' what was left of the engineer but Digger he got as much of him as we could find in attair box and taken it back to town and Doc he waited until the inspection car came chuffin' up and he got the injured man inside and they went back torst Firelands and I understand they had to stop and back up a little spur to let the work train a-past so's they could drag the empty cars back and then come back and get that dead blowed up engine off the line so's they could run.

The Sheriff and me we reckoned them railroad men could clear the tracks plenty good without our help so we went on home and I seen a fellow I knowed and I knowed he had two boys, cousins they was and looked enough alike to be brothers and I give him them other two sky rockets and them Lucifer matches and he allowed as he'd park 'em in his shed and maybe fire 'em off after dark and it tickled him to get 'em for them Sky Rockets was gew-gaws and foo-far-raws and he was a tight man with a dollar and saw no sense in touchin' match to good money and watch it burn off into the heavens and blow up and be gone, but if someone was to just give 'em away, why, he'd take 'em, and he did, with a grin on his face.

I talked to one of them newspaper fellas that was over from Cripple and I made sure he had the straight of what we knew and he went up and tried to find Miz Esther to see what she had to say as she was the Majority Owner but she was over at the Doc's new place, they was still workin' on attair new fancy little hospital and 'twas in business though not finished and she'd taken attair fireman's hand in hers and listened as he told her what happened, how he'd told that idiot engineer not to water that hot dry boiler lest he blow 'er up, and the engineer allowed as she was a good engine and he'd just trickle in a little bit so the fireman he jumped out of the cab and taken off a-runnin' and bang she went and he woke up with his leg all twisted around and the wind knocked out of him and it felt like a bad sun burn on the back of his neck and he was sorry, Miz Esther, I tried to tell him, and the poor fellow was near ready to cry for he thought the world of Miz Esther and he'd not ever want to let her down.

That's the way near to every one of them railroad men was.

Ever' one of 'em would taken off his hat when they spoke with her, they called her Miz Esther and there was genuine respect in their voices when they did, and I reckon that's because she actually listened to them when they spoke.

'Course the Irish Brigade was nosy as anybody and they sent that German Irishman over to the depot to see what Lightning knew, and they sent attair Welsh Irishman (that Llewellyn fella that finally married Sarah, you recall him – tall fellow, good lookin', fine singin' voice!) – they sent him up here and him and the Sheriff had a palaver and then the Sheriff went back to the fire house with him and I reckon him and Sean set down with the hull crew and had a council of war over what happened.

Them Irishmen was all of a mind that they ought to be in the middle of whatever was goin' wrong and the Sheriff knowed that and he used it to his advantage and when somethin' like this happened, why, he'd gone down and allowed as they might be needed, look for three rockets and come a-runnin' and bring ever'thing they've got.

Now they didn't end up goin' and the Sheriff he knew they'd want to know what happened and they set down and throwed out a sheet of butcher's paper and commenced to sketch and to draw and to lay plans and they agreed their Steam Machine would be worthless without a water source to draw from, that location had no pools nor ponds to draw from and they didn't carry a water tank with 'em and had they water to throw, why, they could prevent a wild fire should there have been one.

I left all that to them.

They know what they're doin' with that and I don't but I know they do so I figured let them figure it out.

Me, I had to go tell the engineer's widow, and that's one thing I did not look forward to doin', but do it I did, and between Miz Esther and the Sheriff and me, we made double damned sure she warn't fergot.

Law and Order Harry Macfarland oncet told me he'd been Chaplain and likely would ag'in and he said in a Line of Duty Death, why, for the first month or so folks is wearin' a ditch in the ground comin' to the front door with offers to fetch groceries or do the house work and after two months or so it drops way off and after a year you say the Widow So-and-so and folks say "Who?" – and I never fergot that – so we-all made sure that railroad widow was not fergot, even a year later, and then she remarried and moved away with her new husband.

It rained that night, kind of a drizzly miserable soak-your-shoulders rain and there was some lightning with it and damned if them two boys I'd talked about earlier, them cousins that looked enough alike to be twins, they found them sky rockets and they knocked together a V shaped sled to launch 'em with and they fired one off into them storm clouds and damned if lightning didn't come screamin' back down that smoke trail and blast a hole the size of a man's hat in the dirt between 'em and from that day forward they each had a white blaze in their hair, one on his left side and one on his right, and that's how they come to be calld the Blaze Boys.

 

Miz Esther, bless her heart, went to every last soul that was out there and made sure we and they was all right.

She come over to Digger's parlor and taken a look at what was left of that engineer and she allowed as she would pay for the preparation and the box as the widow didn't have much and she hadn't ought to be burdened with that final expense.

Digger he allowed as it was such a shame she'd lost a fine engine and she allowed as yes the expense would hurt and Digger closed the lid on the rough box and said at least she wouldn't have to fire him and she give him such a green eyed glare, I’m genuinely surprised she didn't backhand the man.

 

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61.  A MAN'S WISHES

 

It wasn't often the Sheriff let me see somethin' was botherin' him.

We stood at the bar, 'twas just him and me and Mr. Baxter was back in the back runnin' inventory and the Sheriff allowed as he genuinely regretted he hadn't come into my life some earlier.

This genuinely troubled him and I didn't realize how much.

He said I come to him young enough but I was hardened out like a man from all the grief I'd been give and I reckoned he was right, and he looked around kind of sneaky-like and he leaned in closer and said in a quiet voice that Miz Esther was with child.

I felt my face open up in a broad and genuine grin and I taken his hand and gripped his shoulder and I have not seen a man go from regrets to joy in a heart beat's space before but by golly he did and right glad I was he picked me to speak the news to.

We turned back to our beer and he'd changed from that hard lawman he let the world see to the father I'd seen several times but I hid that memory away for I did not want anyone else takin' it from me and he didn't want nobody else to see it neither I reckoned.

Oh, Sarah saw it now and again, and the Sheriff could act a damn fool if someone brought him a little baby child and he was quick enough to talk to little children and he'd ask 'em real solemn-like if they could wink – it tickled him they'd try it, he'd wink at them and they'd screw up half their face to accomplish the task, one time he showed a little boy how to polish up his boots and he buffed the boy's boots out to a fine gleaming finish and that little boy was plumb tickled, this was midday in the Silver Jewel and 'twas a sight men stopped to marvel at, that long tall Sheriff with hard knuckles and harder eyes, bent down polishin' a little boy's boots, and that little fella, when the Sheriff was done, that little boy would take a step or two and look at them shinin' boots and he'd walk up to a man and hold up a boot to show off that it was well polished.

I reckon he showed them boots to every last man in the Silver Jewel, and don't you know every last man stopped and regarded them boots and allowed as they was a right good lookin' pair.

The Sheriff, he allowed as we'd ought to ride up behint the fire house and we did and he was lookin' for some box elder and he showed me how to pick the right size branch and how to bruise off the bark and how to cut it and notch it just so to make a whistle and I grinned for he was showin' me this so I could show my own boy.

We knowed it was a boy for Annette she laid down with her belly poochin' out the way it does and I balanced me a broom straw on it and attair broom straw it wobbled a couple times and swung sideways like a compass needle and we knowed she carried a boy child, and I'd told the Sheriff, and that's when we got to talkin' and that's when he allowed as Miz Esther was with child as well and then we went off and started whittlin'.

The Sheriff was very much lookin' forward to bein' Granddad.

I reckon given his druthers he'd druther raise about half a hundred young but I reckon Miz Esther might have somethin' to say about that so he was goin' to have to content himself with my get and whatever young he sired.

Me, I paid close attention when he shaped out attair box elder whistle.

I'd l'arned quite a bit from the man and we teach our young as we were taught, we raise our young as we were raised.

Most of the time.

I spent quite a bit of time on my Prayer Bones implorin' the Almighty not to let me do to my wife or my young what had been done to my Mama and to me, and I taught Annette to handle a pistol and I made her promise me most solemnly and sincerely that if I ever, EVER hit her – even once! – she was to shoot me between the eyes with no more compunction than if she was shootin' a rabid skunk.

She knowed what happened to my Mama and to me and she told me because I was so afeared of it, I would never do it, but I am not a trusting man and I know what temper can do to a man's judgement and I made her swear and I did so in the most sincere hope that if I ever did, that she would.

So far, I ain't, and she ain't, and that suits the two of us just fine.

 

Sarah and me we still hid away in the back stair well of the Silver Jewel behint that hidden panel acrost from Daisy's kitchen doorway beside the back door that faced out torst the livery.

We'd set in them quiet hidden back steps and talk and warn't nobody else usin' them so we'd feel free to talk and we got to laughin' real quiet for I recalled when she got The Bear Killer and she'd dunk him in a tub of warm water and lather up them soapy perfumey bath salts and she'd work the soap suds into his black and curly fur, he'd set there with his eyes closed just a-soakin' up the attention and she'd ladle clean water careful-like over him and he'd not shake until she told him to.

I recalled how he looked when she piled up a gob of shinin' soap suds atop his head like a crown and damned if he didn't look like a black-a-moor king settin' there gettin' his royal ad-you-lations, like 'twas his due and he was pleased to receive the attentions, and I reckon he still looked that-a-way when she'd get him in that copper tub and lather him up ag'in.

I allowed as 'twas a shame we didn't know we was brother and sister way earlier and she recht over and taken my hand and allowed as that was sweet of me to say that and I asked her about attair detective school and she allowed as she was goin' and her studies were goin' well and she put her lock pickin' to good use and I grinned and allowed as I had somethin' for her and that's when I taken her hand and we slipped out attair secret panel and looked around and then we sneaked out and snuck out the back door, holdin' hands and feelin' like a couple ornery kids, and I taken her acrost to where I'd just picked up one from the freight office.

It ain't every day that a brother gets his sister a present that tickles her like a handful of wing feathers down the ribs but by golly she was pleased with me that day.

I had a cabinet made so's her sister could not get into it, for I know how curious children can be, it locked securely and hid the contents, and Sarah had to go clear through it and marvel and laugh and try every last set of hand cuffs and leg irons and thumb cuffs and I had about a dozen different pad locks and she had to try the lock mechanism on ever' one of 'em but she didn't try 'em on.

That was later, over in Daciana's barn, where she could work on 'em without interruption.

She told me later she'd work on them irons in her bedroom when ever'one else was asleep, she'd practice lock pickin' in the dark.

Her bein' able to pick locks got her into places and out of places without bein' knowed about and that was good.

It also near to got her killed.

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62.  BAD BLOOD

 

Sarah was bent over the Doc's table.

Her skirts was pulled up and her frillies was pulled down and her arms was crossed and her chin was on 'em and she was dead pale and she glared at me and said "Jacob Keller, don't you say a word!" and I didn't.

My jaw was out and my face was pale and the hide was drawed tight acrost my cheek bones and I felt that dragon inside of me hiss and slither and it wanted nothing more than to spread leathery wings and take over my soul and I was damn neart ready to let it.

Doc looked just as calm as if he was playin' Old Maid with the Parson, he recht down and Sarah grimaced a little but she didn't make no sound and Doc recht over and dropped a shot into a tin pan and it went CLANK awful loud in the surgery and he said "Seven," and I taken one and only one step tost her and I said "Sarah, who did this to you?"

"He's a-comin'," she whispered and her throat was tight when she did, "and Jacob, he's lookin' for the Black Agent, not me."

Doc looked up and offered, "She went home and changed clothes before she knuckled my door this morning."

I considered and then I reached up and unbuttoned my coat and I fetched out my left hand revolver and I flipped open the loading gate and eared the hammer back to half cock and I dropped the sixth bean in the wheel and I set the hammer's nose down between two rims and then I did the same with the right hand revolvin' pistol and I slud it back into holster leather and I recht behint me and made sure that hideout derringer was where 'twas supposed to be.

"Sarah," said I, "might ought you tell me what happened."

"She's not going anywhere," Doc said conversationally and dropped another shot into that metal pan.

I taken two more steps torst Sarah but a little to the side so's I could turn and face the door.

If anyone come a-lookin' for the Doc's office, here's where they'd come, and my only regret was that I had no shotgun in my hands.

I like a shotgun for its persuadin' power.

 

Sarah Lynne McKenna tasted the night air and smiled.

She was soundless in flat heeled cavalry boots, a black shadow invisible in black shadow:  there was a sliver of moon and darkness under the overhang was profound, and nobody saw her squat and feel the lock.

A scrape, another, a click:  she turned the lock, brought it out of its staple, reached into her pocket and brought out a little brass bottle:  she oiled the hinges with kerosine-thinned petroleum oil, she wrinkled her nose at its smell, then made fast the bottle's stopper and dropped it back in its pocket.

It did not take her long to find the evidence she was looking for.

The files were where they'd been earlier; she removed them, bundled them, tied them with a ribbon taken from a loose pile of ribbons in the file drawer, she slid them into a broad, flat pocket inside her long black coat, then she slid the drawer shut, slowly, until it was just shut.

She was almost out the back door when she heard the inner door open.

She'd made a sound, or perhaps there was a string tied to the back of the drawer as a telltale, something to pull an alarm of some kind, whether a swinging arm or a tin can or something – there was no more time for stealth, it was time for flight, and she took three quick, skipping steps across the room and out the door and turned and ran to her left, ran as hard and as fast as she could go.

She wasn't fast enough.

A shotgun has eyes in the dark and this one did:  she was hit with several pellets and she went down, hard, rolling in the dirt:  she got back up, throwing a bridle on her fear and hauling back hard on the reins, allowing it to power her into flight once again but not letting it stampede her into panic.

The documents, those precious sheets of evidence, were secure in the inner pocket, but if she were caught it would mean her life and she did not mean to be caught.

She scrambled down an alley, across a little opening, ran for the railyard and the train just chuffing out of station.

She caught a boxcar, seized the metal step, swung up between the cars, breathing through her mouth, willing herself not to feel the intrusive fists of those several heavy shot that hit her from far enough away not to kill her but close enough to put the hurts to her.

She knew once the adrenalin wore off she would collapse and so she let her anger slip her control just enough to shoot another charge of war-juice searing through her veins and she hung on and waited until the train passed a particular landmark, then she stepped out into blackness and fell.

The ground was hard and she hit and rolled, as she'd planned; her hat was on its storm strap, behind her and tugging at her neck:  she grabbed it and yanked and crammed it down on her head, then she looked around and her eyes tightened a little at the corners – not a smile, but close.

She was probably bleeding, she knew, but her wounds were on her back and backside and the back of her thigh and little she could do save get distance.

She ran down the mountain trail as surely as if she had the eyes of a great cat, she came to the clearing, she whispered to the black Frisian that waited patiently for her, and she touched her mare behind the foreleg.

Snowflake knelt and Sarah swung her leg over the saddle, her jaw locked against the pain she forbade herself to feel; she kissed to the mare and Snowflake rose, and they headed up the mountain, toward the rocks, where the Frisian's unshod hooves would leave no marks.

The maid was awake when Sarah rode up, as was the hired man:  Sarah paid them well for their discretion, and the hired man took Snowflake into the barn and got the saddle off, he struck a light and hissed his breath in between clenched teeth, then he pumped a bucket of water and began washing the blood off the saddle – quickly, for Sarah implied to him there may be pursuit, and there must be no sign.

Sarah changed quickly into an old dress and the maid helped her with what amounted to a diaper – the two higher wounds were not bleeding, at least not much, and a quick surcingle and pad was sufficient for them:  the others, the maid covered with a thick pad, and Sarah's corset sufficed to hold them in place, all but the two in the back of her thigh.

She did not bother with stockings, not with the wounds:  the maid hovered and fussed as Sarah went down stairs, her hands pressed against the wall to steady herself, and the hired man had the carriage ready at the front door:  he left Sarah at the surgery and returned home to finish his work, for if there was pursuit, he had to guarantee no trace of blood remained on her saddle, and Snowflake had to look like she'd never left the pasture.

 

The surgery door come open fast and I brought my Colt down on a man's wrist, hard.

His gun hit the floor and I stepped back and a man behind him yelled and I saw a pistol and I yelled "SHERIFF'S OFFICE!  DROP THE WEAPON!"

Doc looked up kind of irritated and he said mildly "Do you mind?  I'm a little busy here."

I hit the man's wrist hard enough to break the arm.

I'd intended to hit it hard enough to break it plumb off but all I did was bust the one bone and his hand was paralyzed from the hit and he was doubled over holdin' his busted wing and my second revolver was out and I said "Back up," and as I had one pistol lookin' at him right between the lug and the horn and the other pistol was lookin' at the fella behint him, why, he backed up some and his face was kind of splotchy like it couldn't decide whether to be angry red or pained white.

I kicked the second man's dropped pistol behind me and back heeled the surgery door shut.

"You set down," I said to the big man with the broke arm.  "You set down too and keep your hands where I can see 'em."

The other fella sat, slow, glarin' daggers at me.

I wanted him right there.

I didn't know if Sarah bled on her way in, I didn't know what happened, but I was sure as hell not goin' to give this trespassin' son of an illegitimate union anythin' a'tall.

"I'm Sheriff Allen," the man with the broke arm grated, "and you're under arrest."

The other fella started to move and I cranked the hammer back on my left hand Colt.

"I'm Deputy Keller," I said, "and you are in my county.  My authority exceeds yours and I don't need much of an excuse to send you home in a box.  Your man moves once more he's goin' home that-a-way.  Now state your business."

He didn't like that none a'tall.

"You're Pale Eye's boy."

"Yep."

Dislike filled his eyes and I didn't much care.

I holstered my right hand Colt.

The hammer nose was still down between the rims so I didn't have to worry about it.

My left hand pistol was still cocked and lookin' at that uncomfortable fella with him.

"And who the hell are you?" I asked quietly.

"Name's Bartlett."

"Heard of you."  I looked at Sheriff Robert Allen and I reckon my dislike was plain to see.  I ain't got much of a poker face and I disliked the man to start with.

"Now, Sheriff," I said, "suppose you tell me why you're in my county without my let-be."

He didn't much like that.  "You ain't Sheriff."

"I am when the Sheriff ain't here.  Now suppose you start talkin' or I'll just lock you up buck nekked without havin' that broke wing fixed."

If a man's poisoned glare carried the same authority as a poison arrow I'd have been dead several times over.

He looked over at Bartlett and then looked at me.

"My office was broke into tonight."

"Go on."

"I'm followin' whoever broke in."

"Go on."

"I got lead into him."

"Him?"

"Small fella all in black."

I grunted.

"When you kicked that door open, did you see anyone wearin' black?"

He blinked, shifted in his seat, grimaced, cradling his arm.

"Stand up."  I glared at Bartlett.  "Not you."

Allen stood and the pain was startin' to get to him.

I recht up and knocked at the surgery door before I opened it.

Doc was pulling Sarah's frillies up and her skirt down and she glared at us.  "Can't a girl have some privacy around here?"  she snapped.  "I've got more stitches in me than a quilt, I've got so many holes in me I'll whistle Dixie if I sneeze, and when I catch that idiot cousin of mine I'm taking his shotgun and –"

She stopped, red-faced; her words had come faster and faster and her voice raised in pitch and volume and she stopped and pressed her lips together and then she said, "And I shall do something most unladylike to him!"

I turned to Allen.  "Doc," I said, "have you seen a small man come in, shot in the back?"

"I've not seen anyone since Sarah came in after her cousin fringed her with a shotgun tonight."

"Where's the cousin?"

"His father had him by the back of the neck."  Doc picked up the pan, draped a bloodied towel over his arm.  "I understand he had a razor strop in the other hand."

"How old is this cousin?" Allen rasped, and I could tell the pain was gettin' to him.

"He's nine," Sarah snapped, "and if I can catch him he won't see ten!"

"You satisfied?"

I glared at Allen and he couldn't meet my eyes.

"Yeah."

"Doc, would you see to this man's arm.  I'll stand good for the bill." 

I smiled and there warn't no warmth a'tall in it.

"Courtesy of one lawman to another."

I saw that Bartlett fellow come fully into the room and kind of shrink back like he wanted nothin' to do with whatever he'd just seen and then the Sheriff come in and looked around.

He saw Allen was holdin' a broken arm and he looked at me and I reckon he saw I was less than happy.

I don't have much of a poker face and I reckon the Sheriff read me like a book.

"Jacob," he said, "why is this man in my county?"

The two reminded me of little more than two roosters all a-bristle, I figured the Sheriff would not rake into him as they were in the surgery and the other fella wouldn't because he had a broken bone, but otherwise 'twas plain there was no love lost between 'em – matter of fact from the look each gave the other, there was bad blood between 'em and I was right, turns out Allen caused trouble for the Sheriff twice before.

"Sarah," said I, "might I take you home and I'll have a talk with that boy-cousin of yours."

Sarah drew herself up like the Queen and she taken my arm and lifted her chin:  "Sheriff," she said to Allen, then again, "Sheriff," and the Sheriff nodded gravely as he always did, and I taken Sarah on out to her carriage, and oncet we were outside she whispered, "Tell Papa I got what he was looking for."

I turned and I taken both her hands in mine.

"Sarah," I said gravely, "I'll tell you what you told me.  I've only got one of you and I don't want you hurt!"

"Oh, Jacob," she said in a girlish voice, "that's so sweet!" – and she raised up on her toes and kissed me quick-like on the cheek and I helped her up into the carriage, and they clattered on back torst the Rosenthal ranch, and me lookin' after 'em wonderin' what really happened.

It was a few days before I found out.

 

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63.  THEATER OF THE DAY

 

Now last I'd seen Sarah, she'd been bent over facin' the door with the doctor removin' shot from her backside, and she did not look in the least little bit happy.

She wouldn't tell me about what happened and I did not like that.

A shotgun does not fire itself.

Someone did this to her and she was my sister and I was not in the least little bit content with that, but Sarah is just as hard headed and contrary as the Sheriff (and that's bad!) – so I went on about my business and that business took me to court about a week later.

Court was part of our local entertainment.

I'd heard it called "Theatre for the Common Man" – we get all kind of folks through here and many are well educated and when this man spoke, I listened, and I remembered that phrase.

He was right, I reckon.

When court was in session there was plenty of folks watchin' and lawyers played to the audience as much as to the judge, knowin' the judge would be influenced at least to a degree by the reactions of the people.

When I heard attair sheriff from out of county – the one whose arm I broke and I'd not hesitate to introduce his face to a hard-swung chair, just on general principles – when I heard he'd brought legal papers instructin' us to seize whoever had that big black horse someone said was rode by a small, slender man, why, I knew we had trouble so I went to Sarah and we had us a talk.

The Sheriff beat me there.

We-all set down to a council of war and the Sheriff allowed as he would be sawed off and damned if he admitted Sarah was the Black Agent and he sure as hell was hot was not going to bring Sarah into court in irons.

Sarah smiled a little and she give me a look and I could tell the gears was turnin' behint those big pale eyes and she looked at the Sheriff and said "Are you sure you don't want to?" and he looked at her and 'twas like he dropped a set of shades of his eyes – his eyelids was at half mast and he looked almost sleepy, and that told me the gears was a-turnin' behint his eyes too – he said "What do you have in mind?"

Well, what he had in mind, he brought out in court, and Sarah was part of it.

 

His Honor the Judge Donald Hostetler swung his gavel, the sound sharp and loud, and he glared through his cloud of Cuban tobacco smoke:  taking the fresh-lit stogie from between strong, stained teeth, he declared, "This court is now in session.  Owing to a jurisdictional dispute and owing to two Sheriffs having charges brought against each other and owing further to assault with injury to one Sheriff while the other Sheriff's representative was in pursuit of his duties, the investigation has been given over to US Marshal Charlie Macneil."  He hawked, spat in the polished brass goboon beside his boot, returned the stogie to his mouth and nodded to the bailiff.  "Call the prosecution."

The prosecuting attorney rose:  he was a city man in a fine suit, he wore an aggressively-thrust chin and slicked-down hair and he puffed out his chest importantly as he swaggered out from behind his table.

"Your Honor," he declared, turning to face the jury, knowing he was playing to them as much as the dignified jurist wreathing his white hair with a stratified nimbus of tobacco smoke, "we have as the injured party, the Government itself, in the person of our hard-working Sheriff, Robert Allen, whose impeccable reputation precludes any stain upon his reputation."

I looked over at the Sheriff and saw his jaw slide slowly forward and his eyes go kind of pale and I knew the Sheriff considered the prosecutor not just a liar, but a damned liar, and only the fact that he was in Judge Hostetler's court prevented him from standing up and saying as much.

"On the night in question, a miscreant, a skulker, a common thief, broke into the Sheriff's office and then broke into a filing cabinet – which, I might add, was filled with sensitive information that could damage good reputations statewide and beyond" – again, the Sheriff's silent glare – "when Sheriff Allen discovered the intruder was fleeing, he did make due attempt to stop the thief, but when he was fired upon he replied with both barrels of a shotgun, and he believes he did at least wound the scoundrel.

"The only means of flight was by train, and the only train moving was the night express to Firelands, and so the Sheriff very reasonably made his swift way to Firelands and did find the town's doctor removing buckshot from a backside."

He turned and wagged his head sadly at Sheriff Allen, looking like an emaciated toad behind his table, one arm in a plaster cast and slung across his chest in a great, white linen bandage.

"Upon entering the surgery, he was personally assaulted and his arm broken, and for this outrage the Sheriff is preferring charges against the guilty party, one Jacob Keller of Firelands."

His Honor never lost his scowl.  "Defense!"  he barked.

"Your Honor," Mr. Moulton, the Firelands attorney rose, "let us first address the matter of Sheriff Allen's injury."

He looked sadly at the injured man, then looked at the Judge – not the jury.

"Your Honor, Sheriff Allen did enter the new hospital without let and without permission; he came in almost at a run, he kicked the door open, splintering its latch, and thrust in with his revolver in the lead.

"As our Deputy Sheriff" – he emphasized the words – "as our Deputy, Jacob Keller, was present as the doctor was indeed removing swan shot from an individual's backside, he rightly believed himself under attack, and it is to his credit that he simply broke the man's arm instead of shooting him dead on the spot."

He turned, paced back in front of the tables, raising his fingers one at a time as he made his salient points.

"First, he was out of his jurisdiction; by rights, he is obliged to notify the jurisdictional law enforcement authority and have them present at any action he might take.

"Second, his correct action would be to swear out a warrant to empower the law in another county to act on his behalf.

"Third, he did kick through the door instead of knock, at no time did he identify himself, it was not until his arm was broken and Deputy Sheriff Jacob Keller introduced his own revolver to the attacker's face did he realize the man he faced, claimed" – he drawled out the word – "claimed, possibly falsely, to be a law enforcement officer.  It was necessary to establish Allen's bona fides."

"Objection!"

"Overruled!"  His Honor swung the gavel. "The court calls Deputy Sheriff Jacob Keller."

I rose and walked deliberately across the courtroom, stopped in front of the bailiff and got swore in, then I set down in the witness chair, and I felt my jaw slide forward.

"State your name for the record."

"Jacob Keller."

"Your rank."

"I am not rank, sir, I had a bath last week."

I said it with a straight face and I should not have said it a'tall but sometimes I open my mouth and my boot kind of drives in between the pearly whites and that was one of those times.

It taken that city attorney kind of by surprise and I did not have to look to know the Judge recht up to taken holt of attair see-gar to hide the smile he couldn't quite conceal.

"What is your position with the Sheriff's Office?"

"Chief deputy."

"And on the night in question, did you break Sheriff Allen's arm?"

"I did, sir."

"And why was that?"

"Because I did not have a clear shot at him.  I did have a clear strike at his arm and I caught him right behind the wrist just as hard as I could hit him."

"With what did you strike the Sheriff?"

"With the barrel of my Colt revolver."

"Did you give any warning of any kind?"

"I did not."

"You did not identify yourself."

"Someone kicked in the door and come in with a gun pointed at my baby sister.  Whoever that was has to figure he's bought and paid for."

I saw the man blink when I said "baby sister" and I felt a little satisfaction at that.

He warn't the only one who could use language as a weapon.

He went on to ask about my baby sister and I told him she helped out at the schoolhouse as she was near to graduatin' and she might well become a schoolteacher her own self only she was bent over with Doc pullin' shot out of her backside where her boy cousin got careless.

He asked about that boy cousin and I allowed as he couldn't be here because he still could not set down and attair lawyer wasn't happy with it especially when I challenged him askin' if he'd ever had a good hidin' with a razor strop and he allowed as he hadn't but I looked around and saw several who had from the look about their faces or their slow understanding nods.

Charlie Macneil got called next and his was a presence, I tell you! – the man inspires confidence just to look at him, he wore his good suit and balanced his hat on his knee and he listed an impressive list of credentials, and both attorneys agreed to accept these credentials as presented.

Right about then there was a racket outside and the Judge looked up, annoyed, he swung his gavel and again declared that owing to the serious nature of this trial he would brook no interruptions, and he told the Bailiff to discover the cause of the alarm.

Well, the Bailiff went out, Charlie looked absolutely calm on the stand and I think ever' head in the place turned to see an old miner come in wearin' an accordion and leadin' a jenny mule.

"Your Honor," the bailiff said solemnly, "I have found the cause of the alarm."

"Alarm!"  the bristle-bearded miner protested.  "Ain't no alarm!  I'se playin' music for my darlin' Jenny here!" – and so saying, he grabbed holt of attair squeeze box and proceeded to play a lively air, and his Jenny-mule she swung her ears aroud to him and then she stuck her neck out and her mouth come open and she proceed to grunt and haw and directly she was singin' with him and 'twas enough to inspire a man to stick his fingers in his ears, for it was both funny, and it was awful, and His Honor swung the gavel and allowed as he was satisfied that they had indeed found the cause of the alarm, you sir are dismissed with the thanks of the Court, and the Sheriff slipped the man a small poke on his way out.

"Marshal Macneil!"

Charlie Macneil looked levelly at the attorney and said "Wee-HAAAW!" and the whole place fell apart laughin', and His Honor brought his hand up to his see-gar again, and when things calmed down the city attorney frowned at everyone and said "What did your investigation discover, concerning the break-in at the Sheriff's office?"

"There was no break-in."

"What?"  The attorney stopped dead, clearly surprised.

"Nothing was broken.  No pry marks, nothing kicked in, the lock was not broken nor was the door frame.  The filing cabinet was likewise undamaged.  I interviewed multiple witnesses and only one shot was fired – the Sheriff stated under oath that he'd been shot at and this was not the case, he fired the only shot."  He fixed Sheriff Allen with a piercing glare.  "Frankly I would consider any testimony he might offer as clearly suspect."

"And what of the intruder?"

"I am not satisfied there was an intruder."

"What description did Sheriff Allen give?"

Charlie pulled a small notebook out of a coat pocket, consulted it. 

"He reported a small, active man, all in black, and he said a large black horse was seen in the area."

"A large black horse.  Are there any such in the area?"

"There is one I know of."

"And can you produce the owner of this horse?"

"I can, sir."  Charlie nodded to Mr. Moulton, who stood, put two fingers to his lips, whistled sharp and shrill.

A door opened and the sound of slow hoofbeats came into the courtroom:  a truly huge, absolutely black, rather enormous horse plodded in, a horse shining with good health, with long mane brushed and beribboned, with its furry feet brushed and feathered, with its tail decorated with ribbons, and leading it, a little girl.

It warn't a little girl, of course, it was Sarah, but she wore a young schoolgirl's short frock and little patent slippers, she was leading Snowflake and she had a rag doll locked in her other elbow and beside that absolutely immense horse she looked very much like a little girl.

Sarah was a master (or is it mistress?  I don’t know about some of them fancy titles) – she was good at disguise.

Real good.

She'd dressed like a jockey and rode the Sheriff's Cannonball-horse at two county fairs and won money for him, she'd dress in that mousy-grey schoolmarm dress and pull her hair up into a walnut and look just like a school marm and her not yet graduated, she'd get all gussied up with foundations and face paint and wear her Mama's fashions for the buyers in Denver and damned if she didn't look like a woman grown, matter of fact one fellow went to one knee and started to propose to her in the Silver Jewel the one night Sarah come in after a buyer's trip and she warn't but ten years old.

Now Sarah, she come in attair courtroom and the room was a good size and she led that Snowflake-horse right to the middle and her alone in that big room would make her look smaller but her with that absolutely HUUUGE black horse made her look like a little girl for sure and for certain and she give His Honor the Judge a little cutsy and then she put her finger to the corner of her mouth like she was bashful and she shrunk back ag'in Snowflake and damned if that Snowflake-horse didn't bend her head down and wrap her neck around Sarah much as she could.

"Young lady," Judge Hostetler said in a kindly voice, "could you tell the court your name, please?"

"Sawwah," she said, swinging round with her feet unmoving the way an uncertain little girl will, twirling a little in place to flare her skirts.

"And Sarah, tell us about your horse."

Sarah smiled a big-eyed innocent-looking smile and reached up and caressed Snowflake's velvety-damp nose and said "This is Snowflake.  She's my horsie and she's vewwy vewwy big!" – and when she said the word "big" she nodded her head for emphasis which set her little girl's finger curls just a-bounce.

I was laughin' inside and did my best to hold a poker face and His Honor was a-handlin' attair see-gar an awful lot to hide his own expression and he said "Now, Miss Sarah, I would like you to think very carefully before you answer this next question."

Sarah give him that big-eyed bashful look again and blinked and His Honor said, "Miss Sarah, did you dress all in black like a man, and break into the Sheriff's office and break into a file and steal some documents?"
Sarah blinked and her big eyes got bigger and she shook her head vigorously, swinging her finger-curls as she said "Nooooo," and then she wobbled a little and leaned against Snowflake again to get her balance back.

"Miss Sarah, did you run away from the Sheriff's office and get shot in the backside?"

Sarah blinked again and then she planted her free hand's knuckles on her hip and declared, "That would hurt!" – for all the world like an indiginant little girl – and by now everyone there who knew Sarah was ready to bust a gut laughin' and one poor soul could no longer contain his mirth, and that was all it took.

The courtroom fell apart with laughter and it taken a few minutes for ever'one to get it out of their system and order restored.

"Miss Sarah," the Judge said gravely, "thank you for allowing us to meet you and your beautiful Snowflake.  The Court thanks you for your testimony, you may go."

"Okay!"  Sarah chirped brightly and then blinked and thought better of it and dropped another curtsy and said "Yes, Your Honor," and then, "C'mon, Snowflake," and she and the huge, feather footed Snowflake exited the courtroom, to the general smiles and suppressed mirth of those who knew her.

Which was most of those present.

"Marshal Macneil," the Judge said, "did you find evidence of the perpitrator's horse at the scene?"

"I did not, Your Honor."

"Did you find evidence of any horse at the scene?"

"No, Your Honor."

"Were there evidences of a horse hidden at a distance?"

"I saw none, Your Honor."

"Sheriff Allen." 

The Sheriff stood.

"I understand your sworn statement is that the perpetrator made his escape on a black horse.  Can you say whether the perpetrator made his escape on a large black horse?"

Sheriff Allen turned a little as if to look after the door through which Sarah and Snowflake just made their exit.

"Not as big as the one just here, Your Honor."

"I see."  His Honor considered for a moment.  "Marshal Macneil, what is your further testimony?"

"Your Honor," Charlie Macneil said levelly, "there was no sign of forced entry.  There was no sign of breaking and entering.  I could find no sign that anything had been stolen."

"I TOLD YOU WHAT WAS STOLEN!" Sheriff Allen shouted angrily, surging to his feet, ignoring the imploring grip of his city lawyer as the latter plucked urgently at the man's coat-sleeve.

"I did find documents, however," the Marshal continued, picking up a ribbon-tied bundle from the table before him, "which were given to me by a commissioned law enforcement officer, who obtained them in the course of an investigation into certain allegations against Sheriff Allen."

"LIES!"

BANG went the gavel and the Judge said "One more outburst, sir, and it's thirty days for contempt."

"Your Honor –"

"Thirty days of bread and water."

Allen closed his mouth with the expression of a man who'd just bit into a sour pickle.

Attorney Moulton stood.  "Your Honor, I move for dismissal of this case on the basis of a lack of supporting evidence."

BANG went the gavel and His Honor boomed, "Case dismissed!  Allen, sit down, you're going nowhere!"

"Your Honor!"  the city lawyer protested, rising, and the Judge banged his gavel again.

"Councillor, you may wish to review the evidence against your client before we try him.  I assure you, sir, it is most damning."

And so it was that this crooked Sheriff – I'd heard he planted a grove of cork screws for shade and the Sheriff said they'd have to screw Allen into the ground instead of bury him – it warn't until the second trial, when the information came out from the files Sarah stole, just how crooked the man was.

 

 

Now I was not there to see it, but Sarah told me later that His Honor the Judge called her into his private railcar for a conference.

She did not go as The Black Agent, she went as herself, in a proper gown, with her hair done up and looking as lovely as any young woman should, and His Honor glared at her before he set his see-gar down in an ash tray, spit in the goboon and taken a long breath.

"Sarah," he said, "how badly were you hurt?"

"Your Honor?"

"Don't give me those innocent eyes."  He tried to glare at her and almost succeeded.  "Might I congratulate you on your performance in the courtroom.  Your acting skills are most impressive.  I might have been convinced, had I not known you to be you!"

"Thank you, Your Honor."

"Now."  He leaned forward, elbows on his desk, rubbing his palms slowly together with a little raspy sound.  "Sarah, I am going to tell you something that I quite probably should not."

"Yes, Your Honor?"

"Sarah, I would like nothing better than to stand before the good Reverend and put a ring on your finger."

He frowned, shifted in his seat.

"That will not happen, of course.  You are quite young and I am old and you deserve a fine young man who can do full justice to your married union."

Sarah was seldom surprised, but this frank statement took her genuinely by absolute surprise.

"That being said."  He frowned at his cigar, considered, then chose to leave it where it was.

"That being said, I would like little better than to set you on a high shelf and place a glass bell jar over you to keep you safe from the world and keep you safe and young and beautiful forever."

Sarah blinked uncertainly and then said in a small voice, "Thank you, Your Honor –"

"That's the nicest thing I've ever said, yes, I know, spare me."  He waved as if at a stray thought, or a persistent gnat.  "Sarah, I do not want you hurt!"

Sarah's eyebrows raised and she laughed a little.  "Your Honor," she admitted, "I didn't want to be hurt myself!"

"Sarah."  His voice was suddenly very serious.  "You are the only one of you that I have and I would really like to see the day when you are wife and mother and matron and I won't live that long but by God! I do NOT want you KILLED!"

His voice rose with each word until he was at a full-voiced roar and Sarah waited until the echoes died out in the closed railcar and then she nodded.

"Yes, Your Honor."

"You did excellent work, by the way.  You got in and got the goods and you got out and you almost got away."

"If he hadn't come back unexpectely," Sarah said, "I would have had the file drawer closed and locked again, the back door closed and locked and I would've been a puff of smoke on the night air."

"Hm."  He frowned.  "I will have need of your talents again, but please, Sarah."  He gave her a pleading look.  "If the word of a greying old grandfather means anything, be careful."

Sarah rose and came around his desk, she sat down on his lap like a little girl and leaned against his chest and closed her eyes, and the Judge wrapped his arms around her and rocked her a little, the way he'd rocked his own little girl, back when she was still alive.

 

 

 

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64.  A TIN BOX OF FISH HOOKS

 

Funny how fast a man's mind will run.

I thought me how I should have dallied the lariat around my saddle horn and used Apple-horse as an anchor.

I thought me how hard those rocks were goin' to be when I hit.

I thought of how futile it would be to flap my arms like wings to catch up with that boy as he fell and then I thought how cold that water was goin' to be.

I thought all that in well less than two heartbeats 'cause that's all the longer it took for me to slip off that mossy-slick rock with creek water runnin' over it bright and shinin' and then I hit that water and between the hit and the cold it knocked the wind out of me and I like to near suffocated til I finally got to surface and give a big gasping breath and then coughed out that little bit of water I sucked in.

I don't think I inhaled no fish but that little bit of water was a-plenty.

I sunk ag'in and I drawed up my legs and when I hit bottom why I shoved hard and stroked and come up at an angle and attair boy was just comin' out of the water and his brother was lookin' at him all big-eyed and I took me a coughin' fit and I'm not rightly sure which of 'em said it but one or t'other allowed as "That was fun!" and they laughed and I come sloggin' out of that water and I had full intent to bend that wet one over my knee and fan his backside and them two taken off a-runnin' and I genuinely couldn't catch up.

It taken me near to a half hour to climb back up to where Apple-horse was a-waitin' and I didn't have no dry duds to change into and I galded myself ridin' back wet like that so I just went on home and got myself dried off and the maid clucked like a settin' hen and Annette she was all concerned and I laughed and kissed her cheek and I waited until I was dried off and in a dry set of clothes before I wrapped my arms around her and allowed as 'twas all right, I just had my Saturday night bath a few days early, and then me and Apple-horse rode for the boy's house for he was a townie and I knowed where he lived.

His Pa worked over at the brick-works and his Ma met me at the door and her all anxious and wringin' her hands in her apron and I put her at ease for I'm sure she figured I was goin' to cloud up and rain all over her and him both and I had no such notion.

I did have just that idea when I set off a-sloggin' out of attair take-your-breath cold water but now that I was dried off and 'twas a memory, why, it was startin' to take me as funny and so I asked her if her boy told her what happened and she had some notion so I give her likely a different story than what he might've told her.

I gethered from when he poked his head around the corner, him and his brother and they taken a fearful look at me, they might have been told not to go up in the mountain and especially stay away from them deep pools for they generally ain't deep as a body would think and if you jump in and hit a rock that's a grand way to bust a leg or break your neck or otherwise just plainly ruin a perfectly good swim so I told her I seen attair boy out on that slick rock and I didn't want him to go over the edge and 'twas slicker than I'd thought, he went over and I did too and I told her the boy done a perfect dive, he went in clean as a knife and come out swimmin' like a beaver and laughin' and me I went over flailin' my arms and yellin' and I said my horse just was not impressed a'tall and looked at me like I had a fish stickin' out of my shirt front and I said when I come out the fish warn't peekin' out from between my shirt buttons, I had to peel off the shirt to get rid of the fish and I had her laughin' and red faced and I recalled the Sheriff had told me somethin' about usin' humor to smooth over what might have been a rough situation.

Oncet her and me finished laughin' she primed me with coffee and a thick slab of bread all frash and warm and laid over good with butter and I told her I had no notion of what her boy might have told her but I allowed as he was a good swimmer and I was okay and warn't no need to belt his backside or anythin' of the kind and that relieved her and next day I had the Mercantile take her a sack of flour and her boys a box of genuine factory made fish hooks and some line and a note that said it's easier to ketch fish with hooks than with shirt buttons.

I took some ribbin' about that over the next couple weeks but that was all right.

A week or so later the boy come and thanked me for them fish hooks and we set down and talked and turned out he got plenty scared goin' over the lip without meanin' to and even more scared seein' me comin' out of the water at him and I figured I was right, he didn't need no belt to the bottom.

Besides … well, that little round tin box of fish hooks was a treasure and more wealth than he'd ever had, and it felt kind of good that I'd give it to him.

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65.  FOR A SON YET UNBORN

 

Jackson Cooper was big.

He was tall enough he had to duck a little to get through the doorway, the Sheriff and I didn't but there warn't but a finger's breadth between the crown of our Stetson and the lintel and Jackson Cooper had to honestly duck to keep from bangin' his gourd when he come in.

He was broad enough acrost the shoulders I reckon 'twould take one of them-there big wall tents the Army uses to make a good broadcloth shirt for him, but I don't do much sewin' and besides I don't reckon tent canvas would really be mistaken for broadcloth so I hadn't ought to speculate none there, but 'twould take an honest pile of cloth to make duds for the man.

Was he to take a notion to pick up a horse and pack it acrost the street he could do it, he'd picked up and packed off an anvil on a bet and made it look easy and for all that he was one of the nicest easy goin' sorts you'd ever want to meet.

I will admit them Remingtons he carried looked just awful tiny in them big hands and speakin' of them hands they was powerful quick.

I considered myself slick with a draw but Jackson Cooper put me to shame, the Sheriff was a snake with a single action and Jackson Cooper made him look slow, and where me and the Sheriff we'd go down to the corral on the lower end of town of a Sunday and we'd toss tin cans up in the air and punch holes in'em and then we'd shoot washers and if anyone was foolish enough to toss up a silver dollar we'd do that too but warn't too many would  ruin good money that-a-way, only one time the Sheriff did so's he would have give-aways when some folks come out to visit.

I don't know who all they were but they was muckity mucks of some kind, I was out chasin' down a fella and me with an arrest warrant in my coat pocket and a set of irons in the saddle bag and attair fella found out I was after him and he come just a-foggin' into town and he run into the Sheriff's office and he come near to goin' on his knees in front of the Sheriff beggin' him to be locked up for that pale eyed depitty was after him and he'd stand a better chance if he turned himself in ruther'n let me come after him.

Now I'll admit that was one of the easiest arrests I ever made but it made me sound like I was Blood Thirsty and I don't reckon I am.

Now I was talkin' about Jackson Cooper and the man just plainly rose and set the sun in his wife and his wife was a genuine sweetheart, Emma Cooper was the School Marm and in an era when School Marms was old maids and a married woman was not even considered for teachin' the young, why, he was the School Marm and she was far from the withered Old Maid sort folks thought of when you said School Marm.

She thought the world of Jackson Cooper too and 'twas comical to see 'em at a dance and dances warn't that rare for we worked hard and we played hard and a dance was at least once a month and closer to once a week and when Jackson Cooper he looked at his wife why he'd get red faced and bashful and he'd taken that hat of his and twist it up in them big hands and with the fiddles playin' and the caller yellin' "Two more couples!" and folks pairin' off, why, he'd get all bashful like a schoolboy and twist that good Stetson into a felt sausage and I lost track of how many hats he ruint that-a-way.

Annette and me, we danced and had a good time and she was gettin' looked at by folks like maybe she should not be there and she warn't wearin' her corset tight for she was startin' to get a little bitty belly on her and she was a little short winded so after we danced us a set, why, we set down and watched and Jackson Cooper and Emma was a comical pair, he was more than head and shoulders taller than her and it pained him to bend over to dance her so he give up finally and just plainly picked her up and danced her that-a-way which did not work a'tall with the Grand Right and Left nor the Texas Star but it did get her to laugh and when Emma laughed she threw her head back and ever'one smiled to hear it for she was always a genuine sweet heart.

The Sheriff he danced with Miz Esther and we switched off and 'twas a wonder to see him dance with Annette for she danced really well with him but when he danced Miz Ester, why, 'twas a wonder and a marvel especially in a waltz, for she looked up at him and her face just a-shinin' and 'twas plain she was his Queen and she adored him and folks told me Annette looked at me the same way but I honest never saw it.

'Twas good to hear it, I'll admit.

I always did like watchin' Lightning dance with Danciana.

Young Lightning.  Old Lightning was a widower and he allowed as he danced like a step ladder but his boy was my age or a little older and he was good but God help us, Daciana wouldn't spin, she'd whizz around like a top – the other women would turn one graceful time around and Daciana would wind up and snap around three or four times with her hand over her head, holdin' his loose enough so she could spin and keep a-holt of where he was while she whirled – 'twas delightful to see – she one time spun and spun fast through an entire set and when the square stopped so did she and she was dead steady on her feet and not in the least little bit dizzy and God help me I have no idea a'tall how she did that, was I to try it I'd be a-layin' on the ground grippin' a-holt of somethin' to keep from whirlin' off the face of the earth!

Then there was Sarah.

Sarah was the kind of girl who'd go up to anyone, grab their hand and give it a pull and they'd find their feet came alive and she'd dance them as much as they'd dance her.

She would take the most awkward, bashful, clumsy schoolboy or ranch hand or even the Mayor who admitted he couldn't dance if he had to, and she'd take 'em in a waltz and damned if they wouldn't do right well a-dancin' with her, and when she paired off with that Llewellyn fella and him pretty good at dancin', why, they didn't so much dance as they floated like a curled dry leaf on a running stream.

Llwellyn, he would sing between square dancin' sets and a fine voice he had, I been told them Welshmen have glorious voices and he surely did, he'd sing in Welsh and none of us had any idea what he was sayin' but Sarah would sit on a bale of hay and look up at him with them big puppy dog eyes when he did and you could almost hear the man's spine crackle for that's all she had to do was look at him and she wrapped him tight around her dainty little finger.

I reckon he was singin' love ballads to her for he'd look at her when he sang and sometimes he went to one knee and sometimes he'd make big slow arm gestures and always torst her or like he was enclosin' her in his embrace and Annette would reach over and take my hand when he did and I'd pull her closer and run my arm around her shoulders and reach acrost and take her hand with my off hand and she'd lean her head in ag'in my shoulder and give a little sigh and most often Angela would come over and set down ag'in me and she'd scoot up close and lean over on me the same way and when attair red shirted fireman was done singin' I think ever' woman was lookin' at him just moonin' after how him and Sarah was lookin' at one another.

It warn't considered proper to show any affection in church and neither Annette nor I give a good damn for proper and neither did the Sheriff and Esther, nor did Sarah and attair Llewellyn fella, I reckon by rights she should have set with her family and give that red shirted Welshman no more than a couple looks acrost the distance but she'd come in and go set down with him and every one of us couples would hold hands.

Course with children 'twas different, time and again the Sheriff would retrieve a fussy baby from its Mama and walk slow and gentle up the aisle and down the aisle and sometimes The Bear Killer would come in and snuff loud and curious at a fussy little one and then he'd sometimes rest his chin acrost the baby's middle or give the noisy little one a lick or a cold nosed nudge and one Sunday when the Parson was tryin' to read off a list of announcements with the little one raisin' a howl, why, the red faced little one taken in a big breath ready to cut loose with a caterwaul and the Parson stepped into the silence and allowed as he had a death notice to read and the child cut loose and The Bear Killer r'ared his muzzle up in the air and give a big deep mournful "Oooooooooooo" and attair little one stopped and looked at him all surprised and The Bear Killer recht down and picked up the well wrapped young'un and packed it outside with the Sheriff a-followin' and the red faced mother about four paces behind, trying to catch up.

The Parson looked after 'em and then he looked around and allowed as children are very honest and obviously the child was very fond of the deceased, and he said it with a straight face and as he'd not named the dearly departed 'twas clear the man was funnin' us and we all laughed, and I didn't know it but the Sheriff was out there holdin' that little baby by its ankles and cleanin' up its bare little bottom while talkin' to the mother and tellin' her things that got her laughin' and he throwed some powder on them twin moons and whipped a frash diaper on the little one and made it look easy and oncet he got that little baby all clean and dry and wrapped up ag'in, why, he invited that young widow-woman home for Sunday dinner and him and Esther talked her into stayin' for about a week and 'twas what she needed, for she war a long way from home and no family a'tall and she'd been right about the end of her rope and no knot in the end to hang onto.

Of course The Bear Killer had to stick close to the little one, and the child slept better with that big curly furred dog curled up around it.

Angela she was a help but she was still a little girl and she got bored easy and she'd go out and she'd end up ridin' Boocaffie around the pasture and attair big longhorn bull was just as gentle as anythin' with her an' him big enough to plow with and mean enough to bust through about any fence he'd want to and fast enough to gut a good saddlehorse but he was like a plodding kitten when Angela was with him and attair young widow woman looked at Angela all sweet lookin' little girl in a frilly dress and white stockings and them shiny black slippers that little girls wear and she looked at her own baby smilin' up at her and she said "Does this mean Rachel has to ride a bull?"  and Miz Esther leaned over and laid her fingertips on the back of the younger woman's hand and laughed, "Heavens now, that's the Sheriff's influence on her!" and they both laughed.

Me, I watched and listened and paid good attention but I paid attention to the way men did their boys for I'd not much memory of bein' raised well a'tall and I knowed 'twas common for a man to raise his boy the way he'd been raised and there was things done to me I didn't never EVER want to do to my boys.

Now you might be wonderin' how I'm talkin' about boys and Annette not showin' enough to have to stay home, out of sight of decent society.

Annette she's great friends with Sarah and Daciana and Daciana she is one of them-there Romany Gypsies which means crystal ball and tea and yarbs for healin' and suchlike and I tried balancin' a Broom Straw on Annette's belly and it wobbled and tuned cross wise and I allowed as that likely means it's a boy and then Daciana come out and she looked in attair crystal ball and she went kind of pale and she laid a hand on Annette's belly and the rest of the color run out of her face and she looked at me and shivered and then she drew up into kind of a ball and wrapped her shawl around shoulders and drawed-up knees and hid her face in her skirts and Annette and I looked at one another and I wondered what did either of us do to hut the girl's feelin's and she stood up quick-like and said "I must go," and just that fast she was out the door and gone.

I found out later she went a-foggin' attair buggy of hers back into town and when the Sheriff warn't in his office she went a-whippin' out to his place and I don't know what she said to the man but I found out in the years that followed.

That was the day the Sheriff ordered a pair of revolvers from the Colt factory, a pair of engraved, copper plated revolvers.

They were a gift for my son yet unborn.

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66.  "STAY OUT OF THIS, BOY!"

 

I grabbed the man's wrist.

There's grabbin' and then there's a grabbin' with intent to crush the bones and break it off and that's how I taken holt of the man's arm.

Matter of fact oncet I grabbed his wrist I pulled hard and drove the side of my boot sole into the back of his knee and throwed him down backwards and I taken attair horse whip out of his hand on his way down and he hit the ground and looked up at me and he come up and I smacked him hard acrost the face with attair braided leather handle.

I hit him hard enough to stagger him and the fight was on.

I'd come between a man and his son.

He didn't much like that.

I didn't much care.

He started to roar somethin' and I hit him ag'in and I hit him hard enough to break his cheek bone I reckon and then he come at me and I made a little skippy side step and belted him acrost the back of the head and I hit him hard and he went down ag'in.

I did not give him a chance to get up.

I stepped in and stomped on his left hand and drove the toe of my boot into his ribs and then I dropped my knees into his kidneys and I figgered if I hit him right he'd pass out from the pain.

He didn't.

He tried to come up and I come off him and his boy come in with a chunk and belted the man acrost the head and I stepped back.

Was the boy to beat him plumb to death I was of a mind to let him.

He didn't, he backed up after that one mighty lick and then he dropped the chunk and looked up at me and I nodded, once, and the boy backed up another couple steps and he turned and run.

Boys will do that, I knew, so I let him go.

I'd talk with him later but when I saw that man takin' a horse whip to his own son it lit up every fire of hate I'd ever had ag'in that murderin' sort that whipped my Mama to death and tried to do the same to me.

I stood there and waited and then I shoved my boot under the man's shoulder and rolled him over and I did not do it gentle a'tall.

He was still alive but he was havin' trouble breathin' and I did not care.

He pulled a Derringer from someplace and I stomped his hand hard and I felt the bones break through the sole of my boot more'n I heard 'em.

"No man takes a horse whip to a boy," I said, and I was surprised my voice was quiet and steady and he looked up at me all full of hate and I did not care.

I squatted down and picked up attair little two pipe hideout gun and dropped it into my coat pocket.

"You murderin' snake," I said, "you whipped my Mama to death and you tried to whip me to death and I beat you fair and stand-up.  You ain't a man, you are a monster and I killed you."

He coughed a little and his cough sounded wet.

I reckon I broke ribs enough to bust his lung when I kicked him and that did not grieve me one little bit.

"Stay out of this, boy," he wheezed, and I smiled a little bit.

"No."

I looked the man in the eye and said "No," and I saw the hatred in his eyes but I saw somethin' deeper, I saw the realization he was hurt bad.

"You brought this in on yourself." 

I stood.

"Your boy belted you acrost the head.  That's why your head hurts.  You whipped on him and he hit you and now you are going to die and you know how many people will grieve you?"

I looked around, I made a point of turnin' clear around, my eyes was busy and me and him was all there was, his boy was gone and hid someplace.

"Ain't nobody will grieve the monster that whips a boy."  I looked down at him and my eyes was pale and hard and I spit.  "Hell, I might drag your carcass out in the middle of the field and let the buzzards chew on you.  You don't deserve a decent burial."

"No he doesn't," a woman's voice said, and she come from around the corner of the house and she had a shotgun under one arm and her other arm around the boy he'd hit with attair whip.

She come up on us and she looked down at the man and I seen women unhappy and she warn't in the least bit pleased.

"You … beast," she hissed, and the color was long gone from her face when she said it, her lips was bloodless and I'm surprised she didn't hit the ground in a dead faint she was so dead pale.  "You beast!"

She looked down at him and she looked up at me and she raised the shotgun but she didn't point it at me.

She pointed it at him.

I raised a hand to forestall her action and the sound of them two hammers comin' back to full stand was loud for in the moment before a man dies kind of a silence falls over the whole world and 'twas dead quiet, all but that quiet distinct click, click, and I looked at him and she raised up them two barrels and he looked at eternity lookin' at him out of two barls and it was the last thing he ever saw.

She didn't pull neither of them triggers.

She didn't have to.

His eyes got real black the way a man's eyes will when he's dead and his head falls back and he died knowin' he'd died hated and he'd died knowin' his name was hated more than anyone else in the whole world.

"Might be," I said mildly, "you could lower them gun's hammers, ma'am."

She nodded and swallowed and I stepped in and taken the gun from her careful and gentle and I opened the britch end and then lowered them hammers and brought 'em up to half cock afore I closed the action again.

I'd seen guns that would fire with the hammers clear down, that or it'd shear off the tips of the firin' pins and I hate to see a good gun broke without need.  Kind of like a factory converted Sharps from the tobacker cutter to center fire, if you drop the britch block without fetchin' the hammer back to half cock, why, she'll shear off the firin' pin.

I know, for I've done it, and I got pretty good at replacin' that crooked dog leg firin' pin but that warn't much on my mind.

"Ma'am," said I, "I don't reckon you bear this man any good will."

She looked up at me and there was bitter hatred in her expression and that was enough of an answer.

"Would you want him planted?"

"I want him burnt," she said and her cheeks stood out, bright red spots like they was painted.  "I want him burned!  I want him to burn in hell!"

I nodded.

"Ma'am," said I, "that can be arranged.  Once he's burnt, what do you want done with the ashes?"

"I DON'T CARE!" she shouted, and I nodded.

"I'll send for the dead wagon."

 

Now I won't deny anyone their revenge.

I know how good revenge feels and I know how to make revenge work for good.

It taken the woman some time and her and Annette became good friends and I l'arned that fella deserved worse than he got but there in the end, why, he did some good for the world.

You see, not many folks in those days would be cremated, as they called it, but Miz Esther, she run that brick works and Digger, he'd approached her about a crematory and until they got one made, why, she arranged to have bodies burnt in attair brick kiln and they'd grind what bone was left and I told her about this fella and she found out from his widow what he'd done and Miz Esther she come out with her face white and pinched and she rode out to the brick works and she had a talk with the foreman and they burnt that fella's carcass and ground his burnt bones and mixed 'em in a special run of brick makin' clay and baked 'em up into bricks and she had 'em freighted out to the widow's ranch with some brick masons and mortar and damned if they didn't use them pa'tickelar bricks to lay up a good solid out house.
Most of the bricks was under ground in the dug out chamber but they laid it up real nice, even a nice smooth brick seat and they mounted a wood pitcher frame over the hold and I allowed as that was a right and proper outhouse and his widow was the first one to use it.

Cast her ballot on the situation, you might say.

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67.  THREE BUNCHES OF FLOWERS

 

It was an extravagance, I know, but one thing the Sheriff taught me was the Parson was right.

We'd often set beside one another, him with Miz Esther and Angela on his left and me on his right and Annette beside me and I foresaw the day when my own young set beside us and preferably several of our young.

The Sheriff would like that, I knew, he'd like to have a dozen young of his own, given his druthers, though I reckon Miz Esther might have somethin' to say about that.

Anyway we was settin' in church and the Parson was holdin' forth on Scripture and he was expoundin' on Ecclesiastes and he allowed as there was a time for all things and a season for everythin' on God's green earth and I recall how fine his voice sounded for he was always a good speaker, and turns out that was the Sheriff's favorite passage and I taken a likin' to it too.

For all things there is a season, a time for every thing under the heavens:  a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted:  a time to laugh, a time to weep … it went on like that for some verses and I let myself relax a little to listen to those words, and when I stood in the Mercantile, I smiled me a little smile and then I followed Mr. Garrison up into the secont story, that room he didn't let nobody else into save only his wife and if he'd hired someone to help, they went too, for that's where he grew roses.

Roses have only so many days of bloom and he cut the ripe ones for me, Mrs. Garrison tied 'em with ribbons and I paid 'em in cash money and thanked them kindly, and I reckon a thrifty man might figure that was an extravagance and a waste of money but sometimes it's the right time to be extravagant.

I'd learned the hard way life was short and life was hard and I'd learned to grab holt of a moment of happiness and I knowed these roses was not long from goin' to wither but right now they was in full bloom and fragrant and I taken a bunch to Miz Esther and she made over them flowers like I'd give her a pile of gold or some-such and nothin' would do but that I wait until she trimmed the tip end off them rose stems and dunked the bunch in a vase of water and she put her hands on her hips and nodded oncet, the way a woman will when she's certain about somethin' and she allowed as that was lovely and she give me one of them approvin' looks a woman will – especially a mother, when she's pleased – and I felt like a bashful dirt kickin' kid with my ears all red and I could feel the heat in 'em and I went on home and give that secont bunch to Annette.

She give me a hug and I recall how her eyes shone and she turned a little pink in the cheeks and she looked up at me almost bashful-like and she looked like the girl she'd been, I recall how she looked at me the night after I'd got her the hell out of Frisco and she looked at me with them big eyes I could have swum in and that's how she looked at me when I give her those roses.

I did not tell her there was one more bunch yet to give and them hung on my saddle horn outside.

I kissed her and held her tight and whispered I'd be back shortly, I had one final errand and take care of our little boy for we was both sure she carried a boy-child and I hugged her fiercely and willed myself not to leak no water out of my eyes and I let her got and kissed her sudden-like and just as fierce as when I held her and I come up for air and turned and near to ran out the door.

Apple-horse he knowed I was troubled and he didn't hesitate none to drop his haunches and dig hard aga'in the dirt when I give him my heels and he stuck his nose out and split the wind and I had to hold him back some for he could feel my trouble, he always could, and I did not want to wind break a good horse for no need.

We run over the mountain and down that curve of a back trail that was well older than the Sheriff and me put together, I reckon 'twas worn in by moccasins when Columbus warn't  but halfway acrost the Atlantic, Apple he set a good pace down hill and he had eyes in the dark and I was grateful for 'twas a hell of a drop off down to our left and had he slipped we'd have both shook hands with Saint Peter and I didn't really care to die like that.

I thought me of Daciana and how she'd near to run off when she laid a hand on Annette's belly and she looked at me and she looked like she'd just lost her best friend and I knowed Daciana seen somethin' the way a mountain witch will and I never did fear me no witch-women for I always figured Miz Esther and that green-eyed, red-headed women with that narrow waist and that knowing look Charlie Macneil taken up with – I always figured she had the same blood in her but I never asked, 'twas none of my business – but when Daciana finally come back she looked all red eyed and her face was blotchy the way a woman will when she's cried a spell but her voice was steady and she set up ag'in with Annette and she looked at me and then she let go of Annette's hand and whispered to her to stay still and she'd be back and she come and grabbed my arm and hauled me into the kitchen.

All this I recalled whilst Apple-horse cat footed down the bare rock trail and the waters sang to me from well below, and I recalled how she'd hauled me into the kitchen and I was genuinely surprised how strong that skinny little woman was and she turned me around and she looked at me and there was fear in her eyes and she hissed, "There will be blood and war and he will die as he was born," and I shook my head and said  somethin' really intelligent like "Huh?" and I recall she looked half sick like she'd seen the bloody ghost of a murdered relative and she blurted "He will die screaming and covered in someone else's blood!" and then she spun around and run into the next room and she set down with Annette and I don't think she ever did tell her what she'd told me.

We come on down attair curve of a trail and crossed the crick and come acrost the two rail lines and then up behint the fire house, we crossed the main street and beside the corral where the Sheriff and I would shoot of a Sunday and I rode on up Graveyard Hill.

Apple-horse he warn't spooky a'tall and I was grateful for that.

We rode right on into the grave yard and I didn't have to hunt none a'tall to find what I was lookin' for.

There was one, and only one, white bronze marker in the hull graveyard.

Digger got paid by the monument companies for ever' good solid stone monument he'd sell the grievin' families and he didn't get no money for them white bronze markers but I liked the look of 'em so when a family come through and their daughter died why I paid for her preparin' and her plantin' and I paid for a white bronze marker and I had to take Digger by the shirt front and haul him off the ground and drive him down right in that crick that run around the bottom of Graveyard Hill and I held him under water til he was near to drowned and I hauled him out and let him cough and sputter and I asked him if he'd changed his mind and I shoved him under ag'in and when he come up the secont time, why, he saw it my way after all.

Now I set in attair saddle and I looked at the marker and I read the name.

Miriam, it said, child of God.

I recalled her, she was about my age and her Mama was laborin' and I delivered her of her child and Miriam, she was blind and couldn't help much, and I seen men go just all slack jawed over a woman and that was the nearest I ever come to it.

I reckon it's because I been hurt that I wanted to take care of her.

Turns out she could play the piano and make it sit up and sing, even that upright out of tune warped bent dried out piano in the Silver Jewel we had before the Sheriff replaced it, and that was the night she died screamin' in pain for she had somethin' in her head was pushin' from the inside and she died in pain and thrashin' and not one damned thing I could do to help nor to make her better and I never felt so guilty nor so lost since I saw my Mama whipped to death and she reached out torst me and I passed out and I have no idea what her last words might have been.

Now I set in saddle leather and looked at that white bronze marker and then I swung down and fetched that ribbon tied bunch of roses off the saddle horn and I walked over to her marker and I went down to one knee.

Part of me knowed I was alone in that garden of stone, was not one other livin' creature besides Apple-horse, but there was still that part of me that wanted to be able to talk to her and I laid a hand on the marker and I laid them roses on the ground in front of it and I said "I'm sorry," and I heard genuine sorrow in my voice and that surprised me.

I stood up and it would not have surprised me to turn around and see Annette standin' there but there was nothin' but Apple-horse.

I bribed Apple with some shavin's of chawin' tobacker and then I shoved my boot in the stirrup and pushed off and swung my leg over his hinder and set myself down in saddle leather.

Don't you know that bunch of flowers stayed fresh and fragrant for the entire week followin'.

 

Next day I bought me another poke of marbles at the Mercantile.

Sarah told me about them street urchin sorts over in Denver she was cultivatin' for sources.

That's what she called 'em.

Sources.

She knowed them street kids could go anywhere and hear everything and nobody paid 'em no attention a'tall and Sarah she organized 'em and bribed 'em but she got the best results from feedin' 'em and listenin' to 'em and she said them boys really liked marbles so I got me another poke from the Mercantile and I'd have got more but one was all he had.

I taken them out to Sarah's and Miz Bonnie waved at me from the front of her dress works and I lifted my Stetson to her and Sarah come out on the porch so I sidled Apple-horse up to the porch and handed it to her and I said I figgered they might come in handy and she give me that quick bright smile of hers she give when there was no pressure on her.

Had I knowed how deep Sarah was in foxin' around in the gangs over there and how close she'd come to gettin' kilt twicet that she never told no one about, why, I'd likely have turned her over my knee and fanned her little biscuits.

No, on t'other hand, was I to try she'd likely beat me about the head and shoulders with a large heavy object, like maybe the Overland stage, so maybe I wouldn't try that after all.

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68.  NOW WHAT IN TWO HELLS AM I LOOKIN' AT?

 

I rode out the road where Sarah shot the blue ribbon hell out of them wolves not two winters back, when she got the nickname I cain't pronounce from that Mexcan feller.

He's one of them Vega y Vega ellas from down on t'other side of the River and he's a man I taken a likin' to even if he did wear them screamin' yellow drawers with all that silver work down the sides but hell I reckon he could afford it so why not.

Now when Sarah an' Charlie Macneil come back with that elk boned out and wrapped up and attair German fella touched the evergreen sprig in her hat band, the one Charlie dipped in elk blood right before he taken two fingers and striped her cheeks with heart's blood to show the world she was a warrior in her own right.

He must've knowed more about her than I realized.

I never thought of her as a warrior.

Attair German fella called her a stofpuppe and that made her mad but she didn't show it, then he called her a walkure and she didn't really know what that was.

Not at first.

What that handsome young Vega y Vega vaquero called her amounted to the same thing, some kind of warrior goddess or spirit or some-such.

I warn't thinkin' about that when I rode out, though, the Sheriff wanted me to check on the Kolascinski family and truth be told I was lookin' forward to goin' out.

Inge Kolascinski was a red-cheeked woman that reminded me of a mama hen and a whole clutch of chicks around her, she had just the neatest, most tidy cabin I ever did see, reminded me an awful lot of Daciana's house and her young were just as tidy and she rode herd on ever' last one of 'em and I never saw such a bunch of children that all ever' one of 'em looked to be fresh scrubbed and their clothes warn't new but they were neat and the repairs was the neatest sewin' for repairs and that's not exceptin' Miz Bonnie's dressmakin'. 

Matter of fact I was takin' her out a half dozen dresses for her and her girls and I had shirts and drawers or the boys and this was from Miz Bonnie and her ladies and the Sheriff warned me not to let her try and pay for 'em for these was gifts and Inge bein' a prideful woman and Kohl – her husband – would accept the kindness and thank us for it but Inge she would insist on crossin' my palm and they didn't have much by way of cash money.

Ever' time Sarah come out through here she'd swear she smelt blood at a pa'tickelar point where one of them Kolascinski boys fell on his knife and bled to death and her not able to keep him from dyin'.

I looked up the bank where she drug him down and I taken me a long breath but I couldn't smell nothin' and hell it must've been her imagination so me and Apple-horse, we rode on and the pack horse followed.

We was spotted well ahead of gettin' there and the young was jumpin' up and down and wavin' the way they always did and Inge had her hand up shadin' her eyes and that worried me.

Normally she'd have clapped her hands twicet and started givin' orders and them young'uns would be sayin' "Yes Mama" and scamperin' on to whateer task she was puttin' to 'em.

Warn't none of that.

Inge had a serious look about her and she stepped torst me with her chin up and her shoulders back like maybe she was ready for bad news and I said "The ladies sent me out with some stuff for you," and one of the younger ones said "You ain't heard nothin' about Pa?" and Inge turned and give him THAT LOOK and the guilty party ducked his head and backed up a step.

Apple-horse felt my change and he stopped and stood just absolute stone carved statue still, he didn't swing his ears nor did I feel his tail swing nor nothin' and my gut shrank just a little and I looked at Inge and said "Ma'am, what do I need to know?" and Inge looked past me like she was hopin' to see something.

Or someone.

I felt my jaw slide forward just a little and then a little more and I said "Ma'am, is Kohl hurt?"
"I don't know," she admitted.  "He is late and he is never late."

Inge swallowed and looked around at her young and by then they were all lookin' to her, ever' last one of 'em, and she looked at me and taken another two steps closer and said quietly "There was an explosion in the mine," and I felt my heart drop down to about my boot tops.

Explosions warn't common a'tall in a gold mine and when they happened they was always bad.

"Ma'am," said I, and I swung down out of the saddle, "might out I give you these."

Inge blinked and I could see the change in her, she had a task and she had direction and she called her oldest two daughters over and give them one bundle apiece and the oldest two boys each got a bundle and they-all went inside and I reckon they got to goin' through clo'es and tryin' 'em on and I considered what I might be about that would be useful and I turned and looked up the holler and I seen movement.

Now there hadn't ought to be no movement there.

Looked like somethin' dirt colored and kind of flat and wide come slidin' out from under a rock shelf.
"Now what," I said out loud, "in two hells" – I squinted a little – "am I lookin' at?"

Apple-horse he sidled torst me as if to offer me access to my Winchester and I judged the distance to be about a hundred fifty yards and I narrowed my eyes just a little bit more and somethin' slid the rest of the way out from under a rock shelf on the hillside and it slid down a little and damned if it didn't look like a flattened out, wet and muddy… man … swimmin' down the side of the hill.

I taken me another look and realized that's because it was a wet and muddy man swimmin' down the side of the hill.

I watched as whoever this muddy soul was got up and managed to stagger down to the stream and he knowed the crick well enough to find a pool deep enough to waller in and he sloshed around enough and I knowed the bottom was sandy rock and not mud and he come out considerable cleaner than when he went in and damned if it warn't Kohl.

I went stridin' up torst him and Kohl looked at me and the closer I got the more scrapes I seen and he had kind of a stunned look about him and I spoke to him and he give me a blank look and I asked him if he was hurt and he looked a little funny and turned his head a little and I said "Kohl, can you hear what I'm sayin'?" and he blinked and shook his head and he said a little loud, "I can't hear much," and he was gittin' a little more pale and he started to sway so I bent over and run my shoulder into his belt buckle and went to my knees as he collapsed over me and I come up on my hind hooves and turned and headed torst the cabin.

I didn't want to go packin' the man into his own house, that would likely make his whole family kind of unhappy so I stopped and bent over ag'in in front of the tree nearest the cabin and I pushed him into the tree and then stood up and taken Kohl under the arms and braced him up until he looked at me and his eyes cleared some and he raised a hand and laid it on my shoulder and he nodded.

I backed up a half step and let my hands down slow and he turned and laid a palm on the tree and he taken a long breath and then he squared up his shoulders and taken a step torst the front door and he taken another and the door come open and Inge come out and Kohl stopped and it looked like the strength run into him instead of out of him and Inge walked up to him and she taken his hand and she said "I was worried," and then she grabbed holt of her soaky wet husband and he taken holt of her and they stood there and then Inge started to laugh and he did too and she said "You're wet!" and Kohl give me that funny look and said "I'm prob'ly wet" and he was talkin' a little loud and Inge taken his arm and steered him torst the front door and I figured that was a good time for me to head on out.

Somehow I didn't think she'd be tryin' to cross my palm for them duds I taken her.

 

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69.  KIND OF TIRED

 

I don't hardly ever dream.

Annette said I was dreamin', she said she saw my hands twitch and my eyeballs a-swingin' left and right under my eye lids but damned if I recall any of it.

Matter of fact the only thing I really recalled was how hard 'twas to climb out of attair tub of hot water I"d scrubbed off in and near to fell asleep in – the maid said I did but I don't recall that neither – anyway the only thing I recall after pryin' my long tall carcass out of that nice warm bath water was dryin' off and gettin' in a flannel night shirt and staggerin' torst the bed and I very vaguely recall Annette bendin' over me as she drawed them covers up around my chin and I thought she'll make a good Mama 'cause that's what my Mama used to do me and then someone blowed the flame off the lantern and I was asleep.

It had been a hard three days.

Oncet Kohl told us how attair gold mine blowed up and she collapsed some, how he was ahead of the other miners and he knowed a way through the old works that come out where he recalled air comin' in, why, he found a gap in the rock and slud out where 'twas wet and muddy and slick enough he could squeeze himself through but only just, he said had he et one bite more of his wife's good cookin' he couldn't have passed through that gap a'tall and from the scrapin' I saw on the back of his belt and the front of his drawers I reckon he warn't lyin' a bit.

I'd heard of mine explosions, mostly from coal miners from back East, we had a brown coal mine over in Carbon and then two and then three and four but they called that brown coal, wet coal, lignite or some such fancy name and warn't much about that a body could explode but back East that black coal gassed up the mines and some said the dust blowed up but I never put much stock in that.

Dust don't blow up, was that the case several houses I'd been in should have been blown to splinters.

Warn't a thing I could do there so I slid out and clumb up on Apple-horse and we set us a brisk pace torst town and when I got there you could smell things just warn't right a'tall.

Sarah's mama Bonnie come a-runnin' up to me and she had somethin' just awful anxious to tell me so I swung down off Apple and taken off my sky piece and tucked it under my arm and she grabbed aholt of my arm and her eyes was big and her lips was pinched lookin' and the red stood out in her cheeks only it warn't red, it's the rest of her face was scared white, and she allowed as she was joining Sarah and most of the women from town rollin' bandages and loadin' up to go to Cripple, they had a mine blowed up and men was hurt, Daisy was goin' over with a brand new cast iron stove the Sheriff had stored for just such a thing and I heard her out for she needed a friendly ear and I needed to find out what-all went on.

Town was not only pretty well emptied out, it even smelt like trouble.

I could not really put my finger on the smell and it didn't matter, I laid my hand on Miz Bonnie's knuckles and I looked her in the eye and I said "You're tellin' me the Sheriff already went over to Cripple?"

She swallowed and nodded quickly, nervously, and I asked "How many dead and how many hurt?" and she allowed as she did not know but Charlie Macneil's woman, that good lookin' gal with red hair and green eyes and that tiny little waist – he called her his pocket full of red dynamite, don't get her mad – she was a nurse and she'd been in the War and she'd handled these kind of things before and they called her the Angel of Something-or-another –

I recht up and laid my fingertip on Miz Bonnie's lips.

"Miz Bonnie," I said in a quiet voice and I tried to sound as much like the Sheriff as I could, "is there actual help you can give?" and she clasped her hands together over her stomach and then dropped them to her side and then rubbed her neck and I swear she was ready to jump straight in the air like a jack rabbit she was so wound up and she whispered "No," and she looked at me with them big scared eyes and I recht for her and taken her by the elbows and kind of cupped my hands and held her like I'd hold a little baby bird.

"Miz Bonnie," said I, "I reckon there are naked who need clothed. Do I recall your sewin' machines have a treadle to run 'em?"
She blinked like she was blinking a film off her eyes and she looked at me with genuine surprise.

"Was you to load up say four sewin' machines and you'd fetch along bolts of likely cloth and some notions you could set up to make clothes for whoever needed 'em over there."

She laid her gloved hand alongside my cheek, a quick, motherly cupping of her palm against my smooth, boyish cheek-flesh, and she said "I will," and there was purpose in her voice and she grabbed up her skirts and she taken off at a dead run for her dress-works.

I got back on Apple and we walked to the Sheriff's office and I tied off Apple to the front rail instead of the little stable in back and I went on in and then I stopped dead and stared.

The Sheriff left me a note which was not unusual.

He left me his badge which was.

I went over and circled around his desk suspicious as a curly wolf, I slud the paper out from under the badge like I was afraid to touch it and I laid the paper down and read it and then read it again.

 

                             Jacob –

                             Gone to Cripple.

                             Mine explosion.

                             You are Sheriff in my absence.

 

It was signed with his usual fluorished, looping capital L.

I stopped and taken a long breath and then I turned over my lapel.

I unfast my badge and opened the top right hand drawer, and dropped mine in, then I pinned on my father's badge.

I reckon if I was to recall them newspapers I've read, the penny dreadfuls I've read, the tales I've heard, my hands should have shook and I should have considered how big was the boots I was aflllin'.

I didn't do neither.

There was work to be done and I was going to go about it, and first off the top would be court, so I taken the ledger book out of that top right hand drawer and tucked it up under my arm and went out to Apple-horse.

I closed and locked the door behint me and after Apple-horse satisfied himself attair ledger warn't eatin' material, why, we went on over to Judge Hostetler's courtroom and I referred to attair ledger book to refresh my poor failin' memory as to who was arrested for what, and oncet I'd got all done , why, I went on over't the Sheriff's Office just in time for a young fella to come into town at a wide open gallop and slide and near to fall over when he come a-runnin' into the office.

I'd just caught up in the Journal the court room proceedin's and disposition on the only prisoner that was to be transferred out, and this young feller allowed as his Pa was hurt and he couldn't get him up from where he'd slid down the slope and somethin' didn't sound right.

I stopped and looked at him and said "I know every rancher in these parts, who is your Pa?" and he stopped and he blinked and he said "Frank Kolascinski," and I knowed right there he was lyin' to me.  There was only one Kolascinski anywhere around and that was Kohl and this young fella warn't none of his get nor none of his kin and I said "Whereabouts did he slide down that slope?" and he allowed as 'twas a place on the far end of the county and I looked at him and how he was rubbin' his nose and he kept lookin' back between the cells and I knowed he was lyin' to me.

I didn't know why but I reckoned I would find out.

I stood up and he come over and I turned a little then I spun back and shot my arm up in time to catch his arm and deflected it to the side and he had a shot filled leather slapper and it hit the desk and I hit him in the gut and the fight was on.

I hit him hard enough to bring his boot soles off the floor and he was young and wiry and that hit slowed him down but it didn't stop him and he swung at me and caught me in the ribs and I grabbed his arm and twisted and run him face first acrost the desk and drove my knee into his backside.

It warn't a hit that would blind a man with pain like I'd kneed him from the front but 'twas enough to shock him and I got his arm twisted up behint him – I'd a death grip on his hand and bendin' it down and crankin' his arm up and with the wind drove out of him, why, he run out of steam.

I got him by the back of the neck and allowed as he could fight me and I would twist his arm right out of his shoulder and beat him with it, or he could be a good boy and behave himself and I'd just lock him up and he wanted to fight but didn't have no go-ahead left after I hit him hard as I did and I went over 'im and pulled out several things a prisoner really hadn't oughta have and then I taken him back to the cells and locked him up well separated from the man that was to be transferred to the state pen.

Turns out his Pa warn't hurt at the bottom of a rock slide.

His Pa was the prisoner due to be transferred out.

That's how my day started out and it warn't twelve noon yet so I went on outside after the boy was locked up and him and his Pa was yellin' at one another and I went and spoke with His Honor and the Judge allowed as he could come over and hold court and might be father and son could get hauled off to the state pen together.

Him and me set down in the Silver Jewel and we et us a good meal and the Judge was solemn and dignified in court but settin' in the Jewel eatin' why he was right entertainin' and him and me laughed some and finally we went on over't the jail and His Honor he taken a look at the statement I wrote out and then he went back and rapped the bars one with his clasp knife and said "Court's in session!" and he allowed as the boy was guilty and was hereby sentenced to ten years in prison and the old man he was shakin' them bars and yellin' and His Honor strolled back torst the last cell and allowed as the old man was guilty of contempt and just earned hisself another six months in the state pen and the old man cussed the Judge and the Judge added another six months and by the time the two of 'em was done, why, the old man was lookin' at the rest of his life in prison and when he realized that why he got so mad he run his head into them bars and the pain must've cleared his mind for he staggered back and set down.

When them prison guards arrived we loaded the prisoners with irons and they warn't really happy to have two prisoners instead of one but they took 'em both and His Honor he sent the paper work with 'em but he had the boy that hung around the front of the Sheriff's office run a message down to the depot and had Lightning send the telegram on ahead in case them guards lost the paper work.

By then 'twas crowdin' supper time.

I rode out to help look for two boys and we found 'em, one was hurt and I ended up trimmin' down some branches and glad I was the Sheriff counseled me to have a hatchet in my warbag behint the saddle and we got one boy's leg and arm splinted and I laid a fire and made a reflector and boiled water for tea and throwed in some of Daciana's yarbs and a good tilt of Old Crud Cutter.

I knowed that would warm the boy's inside and the fire and the reflector would warm his outside and I got him wrapped up in a blanket and the poor kid was pale and shakin' and oncet that hot tea took holt why his teeth quit clatterin' and I figgered 'twas safe to cut poles for a travois.

Now I didn't want to haul him out of there on a travois for it would mean unwrappin' him from that blanket and usin' it as the sling but there warn't much choice, least until I got some help, they seen my fire and two men I knowed had another blanket and they made attair travois just as pretty as you please and we got the boy wrapped up and warn't pleasant for him even with them broke bones splinted.

Daciana's yarbs helped, they relaxed him some and numbed him up and we got him drug back to Firelands.

I got back into town just as the sun was comin' up and barely that so I set down in the Silver Jewel and them fellows who made up attair travois et with me, there warn't no way I warn't goin' to at least feed 'em. 

Western men are a proud bunch and had I offered them money they would have been insulted but settin' 'em down for a meal is hospitality and they taken that hospitality and was glad for it.

I didn't get no sleep the rest of the day and that night I had to go settle two bar fights and next sunup the Sheriff he come back into town and he'd slept good on the way over from Cripple and I handed him back his badge and put my own back under my lapel and he asked if anythin' exciting happened and I said no sir, not much, I'd written everything down and I was kind of tired and I'd like to go home and get some rest and he said go on ahead and he thanked me for holdin' down the fort.

That's when I went on home and the maid allowed as I fell asleep in the bath water and finally I got myself into the bunk and that's when Annette pulled the covers up around my chin and I let myself relax and someone blew the flame out of the lamp and things went dark.

That felt good and I don't recall dreamin' a'tall.

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