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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

THE SHERIFF'S SON

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70.  "I KNOW I DON'T HAVE TO"

 

"Don't bother him, he needs his rest."

I heard the Sheriff's voice from a distance and that bunk felt so good I kind of sank back into the dark river of sleep the way a waterlogged timber will float up in the current, and then sink back down into the dark and muddy depths where it's comfortable, where it's at home.

I would have stayed there, too, but I realized I warn't comfortable and if I did not want to dampen the bed sheets I'd best get my long tall carcass out of the bunk so I did and oncet I come back in the house I still warn't entirely awake, I come through the parlor rubbin' my eyes and tryin' to get used to the idea I was standin' up ag'in and the Sheriff he looked at me and his expression was that of a man who understood entirely and I seen his eyes tighten a little at the corners the way they will when he's got a quiet smile he's tryin' to hide.

I nodded to him and went on into the bedroom and got myself into some duds and come out still a little less than wide awake and the Sheriff he shook my hand and thanked me in that quiet voice of his for doing "good work, square work, such as I have orders to receive."

I've heard him say that before and I knowed it was significant, and it warn't until some years later when I went through some higher degree work my own self that I found out where it come from.

Annette taken me by the arm and steered me torst the kitchen and she taken the Sheriff with her other hand and she swung him that-a-way too and she said somethin' about havin' two handsome, pale eyed men and I could hear the Sheriff's quiet chuckle for he was a gentleman first last and always and he taken pains to be absolutely unfailingly polite to the ladies and if he had a weakness it was the kind attention of a good looking, younger woman, and I'll be honest, Annette was a looker.

If we had dinner 'twas in the dinin' room at the big table but if 'twas just us why Annette she steered us into the kitchen and that's where she wheeled our wagon and she set the Sheriff and me down and her and the maid they started settin' plates in front of us and then I realized how good it smelled and she set down a steamin' hot mug of Arbuckles and that cute little white ceramic pitcher of good cold cream and I drizzled some in my coffee and the Sheriff did the same and I taken me a slow, careful, noisy slurp of coffee and closed my eyes and felt it warm my gullet all the way down and I set there with my eyes closed and I didn't know it but the Sheriff did exactly the same thing and Annette watched us and did her best not to giggle for she admitted later she was considering how much alike the two of us was.

I warn't at all sure how long I'd slept and it didn't matter, I think I got my rest out and when eatin' stuff set down in front of me why I spoke to my plate and then we tied into the meal they set down for us and they didn't set down no great amounts, Annette she knew the way of a hungry man and she kept me supplied with small amounts a steady stream and the Sheriff and I et and directly he begun to talk and I listened for when he spoke 'twas generally worth the hearin' of.

Annette she set down and paid close attention as well for the Sheriff he said "Annette, you might want to set down and listen to this," and she did, and I recall when she settled into her chair 'twas just awful graceful and feminine and I marveled yet again at how dainty the female could appear and I wondered was we to have a little girl if she would be as dainty a woman as my wife or if such a thing was even possible.

"First of all, Jacob, thank you," the Sheriff said almost formally, and he smiled a little – this time with more of his face that just the corners of his eyes – "Bonnie was most distressed at news of the mine explosion.  She is no stranger to disaster but she was …"

He frowned a little, considered.

"She didn't know what to do, Jacob.  Her mind kind of froze up like a dry axle will drag and screech."

I nodded, for I'd seen people in that condition, and that was a good likeness of what I'd observed.

"She said she come up to you and she was ready to address her concerns with you in the saddle and her a-lookin' up at you, but when you stopped and dismounted, when you took off your Stetson and you gave her both eyes and your absolute undivided attention, you gave her the message that she was important, that you were paying attention to her."  He looked squarely at me and I knowed this was a lesson so I looked squarely back at him and listened with both ears.  "It is important to a woman to know she is listened to."

"Yes, sir," I said, nodding a little, and I took a quick glance at Annette, and she had a satisfied little smile on her face and she looked at me with quiet approval and nodded a little at me.

"You were wise to listen and to consider what she said.  She said you were a great comfort to her in that moment, and you suggested she clothe the naked."

Annette's eyes were shining and I would have laid a chain around a granite mountain and hitched it onto a team of steam engines to drag it out by the roots to have seen that look on her face.  It is a powerful thing for a man to have the adoration of his wife, and to see it from the Sheriff's words and know that his words were from my actions meant a great deal to me.

"Bonnie did indeed take women and machines from her dress works and clothe those who were needful.  As a matter of fact I think she expanded her business.  Everyone makes clothes but in a mining town it's faster and easier to buy clothes off the shelf and she's just gotten orders from their mercantiles and their company stores."

I nodded and buttered up some still-warm sourdough and sprinkled a little fine ground salt on it, I do love salt bread.

"It took a little time but I think I got the full story on your filling in for me."  His smile was gone and 'twas a look of satisfaction now.  "Tell me about the younger man who said his name was Kolascinski."

I chuckled and chewed down that mouthful of salt bread, I warshed it down with another slurp of coffee. 

"Sir," said I, "you recall you said when a man tells a lie, his nose itches?"

He nodded, his pale eyes steady on mine.

"His did.  He looked shifty, he didn't want to look at me when he was a-tellin' me, he said he was one of the Kolascinski tribe and I knowed that was a lie, and he kept lookin' back down the row of cells and I gathered from all that he was lyin' to me."

The Sheriff nodded, slowly, looked up and smiled and thanked the maid for the pie she set in front of him.

"You read him right."

"Yes, sir."  I frowned.  "There was something else I noticed."

The Sheriff nodded, slowly, not yet reaching for his fork:  he did love his pie and for him to hesitate meant he was very interested in what I had to say.

"His … the way he stood …"  I frowned, searching for the word.

"His posture?"  the Sheriff suggested.

I snapped my fingers.  "That's the word, thank you, sir.  His posture wasn't right, 'twas a little stiff and his one arm was just a bit … unnatural, not like he was hurt or crippled, more like he was tryin' to hide somethin' either up his sleeve or behint it."

"Aha," the Sheriff said quietly, and there again, that quiet, approving smile, the smile of a father when he realizes the son actually listened and put his teaching to use.

"He had a lead filled slugger and he was goin' to peel me a good one and likely set the prisoner free."

The Sheriff nodded.  "That's exactly what he'd intended," he confirmed, which I already knew but the Sheriff he liked to be complete on such things.  "Men talk, Jacob, and the pair talked on the train ride and I understand his old man gave him hell for such an idiot idea and the younger one said he didn’t know you were my son else he would have tried something else."
He looked across the table at Annette.

"Mrs.," he said gently, "do you remember we discussed your interest in the silver mine?"

Annette nodded; I had only the vaguest recollection of an investment, so I taken up my fork and cut into the pie and marveled at the flaky crust as I cut into it with the edge of my fork.  My Mama could not make a flaky crust had her life depended on it and both Annette and the maid could and made it look easy.

  "I sold your interest for a very good profit."  The Sheriff withdrew an envelope from his coat and handed it across the table to Annette; she lifted the flap, withdrew the two sheets, read them, read them again.

I watched her eyes grow large and her mouth drop open.

She looked across the table at the Sheriff and he was grinning now, grinning like an ornery little boy who just got his Mama a big bunch of flowers and saw the delight in her face when he did.

"I, my, we, it," Annette stammered, then her hands kind of sank into her lap and she looked at me and blinked and I tried to look innocent and that Innocent Expression hasn't worked for me yet but I still tried.

"Jacob," she said in a small squeaky voice, "you don't have to work anymore."

I grinned.

"I know I don't have to."

We worked on our pie and when the Sheriff was done with his he taken a noisy slurp of his coffee and then dashed the droplies off his mustache with a bent foreknuckle.

"Mrs. Keller," he said, "how is little Jacob Linn?"  He patted his own belly and nodded to her and she turned the most delighted shade of scarlet and dropped her eyes with one hand across her maternal belly.

"There is no quickening yet," she admitted, "but I can feel the changes."

The Sheriff nodded a little.  "My Esther said very much the same thing."

Annette's eyes snapped wide open and the Sheriff was grinnin' like a possum eatin' on a dead horse.

"Jacob, I come back from Cripple and I rode with a heavy heart."

The Sheriff looked at me and he still looked ornery and he had that storytellin' sound to his voice and I grinned and leaned forward a little, for I knowed he was about to yank the rug out from underfoot, so to speak, and I was right.

"I come back from Cripple with the hard news that Kohl was lost in that explosion and cave-in.  They dug out the roof fall and could not find him and allowed as he was deader'n a politician's promise and they give it to me to tell his widow so I rode the steam train back as far as Dead Slow and Cannonball and I jumped off and rode down the back trail to their cabin."

I nodded, for I'd taken that same dodge myself, I'd jumped Apple-horse out of the stock car onto the flat as the train struggled up-grade at a slow walkin' speed and rode that same trail down past their cabin.

"I went up to the cabin with my hat in my hand and I raised my knuckles to beat on the door and Kohl opened it and I looked at him and he grinned at me and I said something really intelligent" – he shook his head and laughed a little – "I think I said 'Kohl, I got some bad news, you're dead!' and he cupped his hand behind his ear and said "Eh?" and Inge came out and said he'd been caught in an explosion and it was hard for him to hear."

I couldn't help it, I laughed and the Sheriff did too.

 

 

 

 

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71.  A FAVOR

 

I looked up at the sky.

'Twas clear and blue with some wispy mare's tails here and there but not many of them a'tall.

I lowered my gaze a little and could not help but marvel at the gorgeous shade of yellow where nothing ought to look gorgeous, for the hangman's rope run three times around the beam before it come down into a noose of thirteen turns.

I'd gone over to Denver to follow up on a case that so far had been a whole lot of nothing a'tall and their hangman got a bad case of the cold willies and they asked me as a favor if I'd take over and I said sure.

I knowed the condemned was young but I didn't realize how young, it taken me for surprise when I seen what looked like two boys in irons bein' brought up the thirteen steps to the gallows platform.

One was sullen and snarling and mad as hell and he tried to kick but he was in irons and that didn't work so he spit instead and got the hangman's hood over his head soon as he come to the top of the stairs.

I won't have someone spittin' on the law.

The other one looked young and scared and the older one was seventeen and this one was twelve and they'd beat a man to death for the gold he carried and I read in the news paper how their attorneys pled youth and impulsiveness and begged the court to recognize that mere boys make foolish decisions and with the seasoning of age they would straighten up and be productive citizens and the court would have none of it, a jury convicted them and the judge passed sentence and now they stood here waitin' to drop through a square hole in the timber deck and die.

The gallows was built high enough that even the younger boy's skinny frame would drop far enough to break his neck, least that was the plan.

I heard it called the English drop.

It's supposed to be a humane means of execution.

I never cared for humane or not, maybe I seen too much in my young life but if someone commits a capital crime I don't care how they die.

The third one up the scaffold steps was screamin' and thrashin' and pretty much had to be gut punched and drug, he was not entirely sane when he kilt two women and I reckon he wanted the world to think he was a Lunatick and he shouldn't be kilt because he was not in his right mind and the news paper said that was the defense his lawyer used and the Judge declared Dutchman's Justice, he was so insane he killed those two women and he was too dangerous to be let live, bang went the gavel and the hangman's rope was shorter for him as he was a man grown and considerable heavier than them boys.

The hangman he'd set the length on each of the ropes accordin' to the weight of the condemned and accordin' to the tables he was goin' by, the drop on each ought to break their neck and kill 'em instantly if not sooner but not snap their head off like happened with too long a drop sometimes.

I stood each on a trap and kind of flipped the flour sack hood over their heads and then the noose and the crazy man he fought and I punched him in the kidneys to quiet him down and the crowd didn't much like that and I didn't care because it worked and oncet the noose was on him why he was done for and he knew it.

That one kid kept fightin' and it taken two good punches, one to his wind and another to his tenderloins, to quiet him down and the youngest one he just stood there and looked kind of numb and maybe that was a blessing.

I set the noose just so, the thirteen turns a-layin' on their shoulder, I stepped back and the Parson he allowed as he was goin' to say a prayer for the salvation of their souls and I seen the one was startin' to straddle the hatch so I walked over and kicked his feet back and then recht for the lever and give it a yank and down they went.

It did not bother me in the least little bit that my hand sent three souls to their reward and their reward might well be the fires of Hell.

They earned wherever they were goin'.

A wiser man than I said "God plays fair if He plays a'tall" and I reckon that to be true and I do my best to be ready to meet Him ever' day for I've learned the hard way there's no predictin' when a man's life will end.

As far as hangin' these three, we done it in public, right out in front of God and everybody, and the entire crowd could see the result of committin' what the Judge called a capital crime.

Now it didn't happen as fast as I just said here.

There was the usual speech makin' with each one bein' named and his crime bein' read off and the fine and fancy language the courts use to justify killin' someone, I just shortened it up some because I hate all that long winded foolin' around.

If you're goin' to hang someone, just hang 'em and get it over with, ain't no sense in showin' 'em off like a prize steer, ain't no sense in singin' their death song for 'em.  Let it be known why they're bein' hung and the drop 'em and let ever'one see 'em kick their last and realize if you do somethin' terrible, the law will be swift and it will be without mercy, and folks will remember that.

Nobody wants their neck stretched.

They had two doctors underneath the scaffold and they grabbed the bodies as they swung a little and they put their ear to the hanged prisoners' chests and when their heart quit, they consulted their watch and let 'em hang another ten minutes before they was brought out of the noose and laid in a pine box.

The two boys didn't have no one to claim 'em, I heard later both their families were so ashamed they struck the boys' names from the family Bible and forbade anyone to speak their name ever again, and they did not claim the bodies, they got shipped to a medical school to be cut apart so young doctors could see what the insides looked like and the pretend lunatick was claimed by the family and planted somewheres and they moved off and changed their name for nobody wanted to be stained by what he'd done.

Now there was some soft headed sorts in the crowd that yelled "Murderer!" at me for hangin' those boys and the news paper allowed as maybe it warn't right to hang a Lunatick but the newspaper caught such hell for that they printed a retraction and I paid no attention to them that was unhappy I hanged two boys that young.

It did not trouble me none a'tall.

If they want to be upset, that's on them, not me.

I done this job as a favor to the hangman, whether he was half sick at the thought of hangin' what he saw as mere boys or whether he was genuinely ill did not matter.  He asked me for help and I give it.

 

Now I did not talk about this to the Sheriff and I surely did not say a word about it to Annette oncet I come back into Firelands, I did not know it but Sarah and Miz Bonnie rode over to Denver that same day before the hangin' as I went, and they come back the evening after the hangin' the same as I did, and Sarah, she was always curious and adventurous, and she excused herself from her Mama in the passenger car for she'd seen the Judge's private car was hitched into the train and she come back for the Judge allowed as I should use his private car he lived in and him and me told lies and laughed and played a couple games of checkers and then Sarah rapped on the window glass and we had to behave ourselves.

That kind of disappointed me for the Judge allowed as he would teach me some of them marchin' songs they used to sing, the kind men will seing when women ain't around and they are what you might politely call "Kind of Naughty" and then Sarah showed up so I never did learn the Ballad of Sondra Mae, darn it.

She come in and the Judge rose and bowed gravely and Sarah extended her hand and His Honor took her hand and brought it to his lips and kissed it with a perfectly serious face, and Sarah dropped a flawless and most ladylike curtsy, and she turned to me and put her knuckles on her hips and looked at me with them bright and pale eyes and said "Aren't you going to tell me I'm gorgeous today?"

"All right," I said, "you're gorgeous today."

"I do love it when we agree on important matters," she said with a perfectly innocent expression.  "Your Honor, have you noticed any disagreeable streaks in my brother's demeanor?"

I thought for a moment maybe I'd set down on a painted stick and had a stripe of paint across my backside or somethin' and then I realized what she meant.

I warn't as good with fine language as she but then she was helpin' teach school and if you wish to learn a thing, the best way is to teach that thing, so 'twas natural she was better with language than me.

"No," His Honor said, looking at me speculatively:  "is there some reason he should?"

"He just hanged three men today, and two of them mere boys."  She give me the sidelong look of a troublemaking little sister and I wondered how badly she would tear me up if I tried to throw her over my knee and fan her little biscuits, then I give that up for she'd be wearin' a corset underneath and likely a set of cast iron bloomers knowin' her, for she'd have planned her foray long before comin' back here.

She was like that, she was:  a planner from the word go.

Sarah looked over at the Judge and then back at me.

"My, my," she said softly, "you can just see the gears whirling behind those pale eyes."  She batted them long eyelashes at me ever so pretty-like and she sounded like her Mama, or like Miz Esther, with that lovely trace of the Carolinas in her words:  "My little brother was considering an action and decided against it!"

"The mark of a good soldier," the Judge grunted.  "I'd say he considered a campaign and decided the casualties would be too great!"

I looked from one to the other and I was genuinely surprised, I'll admit that to no shame.

"I seem," I said slowly, "to be as transparent as a window to the two of you."

I think the look the Judge give me was approval, maybe because my speech was a bit finer than I usually use, and Sarah looked at me and laughed and she laid gentle finger tips on my forearm.

"Little brother," she said, and the smile come wellin' up from her very soul, "you are as transparent as a window!"

I taken a long breath and shook my head.

"Reckon I'll have to work on that."

His Honor consulted his pocket watch and allowed as he had an appetite and he had some cold beef for sandwiches and would we be interested and shortly we had us a meal, Sarah sipped rich purple wine from a dainty, long stemmed glass and the Judge and I each had a bottle of beer with ours, we et good beef between buttered slices of a heavy bread and I never had cheese in a sandwich before but His Honor suggested I try it so I throwed a couple slabs on and by golly it was good.

 

The Sheriff was laughing with one of the hangers-on that tended to loaf in front of the Silver Jewel and the two of them looked at me as I rode up.

Me and the Sheriff we adjourned to the Sheriff's Office and he asked me how the hangin' went and I allowed as I sent three of 'em to hell with an English drop and he nodded.

"I don't reckon we'll do that here," he said, "pushin' 'em off the wagon bed at the lip of the drop off is drop enough."

I nodded, remembering the rope tied to the heavy branch of our hangin' tree and how I'd watched the Sheriff set his boot against a condemned prisoner's backside and kick him into eternity.  There was enough drop to kill a man and we never had no complaints from our clientele, or so Doc Greenlees said one time when we was workin' on some water clear and not over thirty days old, as the Sheriff called the distilled sledge hammer he got from the Daine boys up on the mountain.

"I did not know if hangin' someone that young would trouble you."

"They beat a man to death, sir. The penalty is clear. If they warn't hanged they'd do it ag'in and others would see 'em get away with it and they'd figger they could too.  If the law will hang them two that young, the law is sayin' nobody gets away with it."

"Quite right."  He frowned, considered.  "Were Sarah and Bonnie on the train?"

"Yes, sir, they've only just driven out to their place."  I was making a concious effort to speak better.

The Sheriff never let on like he noticed and maybe that was for the best, might be the message there was that I sounded so normal he taken it for granted.

"Esther would like to have them for supper."

Now sometimes I open my mouth and somethin' stupid falls out and sure enough it did, I said "She wants them for supper.  Boiled, fried or baked?"

The Sheriff looked at me and it's hard to surprise the man and I cain't say he war surprised but he war amused.

"Stuffed with sage dressing and baked with an apple in their mouths," he said with a perfectly straight face, and both of us held a straight face for about a minute and then we both laughed.

 

Now I done them over in Denver a favor, and Sarah she done me a favor, and I know I done her several but this one was important to me for I was hidin' somethin' from my wife which warn't easy to do a'tall.

Annette she could tell when I was hidin' somethin' from her, she never did tell me how she knew but she surely could tell so I never told her about my coat.

You see, I made a mistake and it near to got me kilt and I l'arned from it and I made sure to teach my sons about that same mistake for it could keep them alive or keep them from bein' kilt like I nearly was.

The pa'tickelars of how it all started aren't important, what I wish to teach them is to watch the whole man and not just his strong arm.

When a man is goin' to make a move he'll drop his shoudler, that holds true whether it's for a punch, whether it's to make a slash or a stab or to go for a gun handle.

I made the mistake of knowin' a man was right handed and my world narrowed down to his right arm and shoulder and hand and that near to got me kilt.

He's layin' dead in Potter's Field and the Judge allowed as 'twas justified and the courts had no further interest in it and warn't no family as we could find, likely he come West like many a man and changed his who-he-was to start over and for whatever reason he went wrong instead of right.

However the case, him and me braced off just the two of us and I allowed as I figured to take him in peacefully or otherwise and it didn't much matter to me which was he chose and I stood loose and ready and I watched for him to drop that right shoudler and he didn't.

Matter of fact I shrunk down my lookin'-at so far when I realized his shoulder moved, he'd already drawed a little .38 out of his off pocket and he was punchin' slugs at me and it taken me by surprise.

I felt slow and clumsy as I drew and part of my mind thought it felt tugs at my coat material and the rest of my mind was busy tellin' the first part to shut up, we had work to do, and I drove a .44 through the bridge of his nose and ended the fight but I am a curious man and before I went over to relieve his dead carcass of its proud-ofs, why, I reloaded my revolvin' pistol and then I taken off my coat and taken a look and damned if he didn't get three holes through the coat material.

Oncet I had Digger haul in the carcass with the dead wagon I rode out to see Sarah and she was a-waitin' on the front porch the way she did when she knowed I was a-comin' and I have no idea how she did that neither.

She taken my hand and then she laid her palm warm and firm against my cheek and she looked at me with them big pale eyes of hers and she looked kind of sad and she whispered, "Jacob Keller, I wish you would be more careful, you're the only one of you I've got!" and then she hugged me hard and sudden the way a woman will when she's geninely afeared and I held her for a long couple of minutes and finally she raised her head and said "Come inside," and she taken that coat off me and handed me another just like it and she said somethin' about havin' made a number of them absolutely identical and not to tell Annette for I did not wish to worry her with the child inside of her, it might get birthmarked from her fear and I nodded for a man oncet told me his Mama got scairt and near to bit by a Rattle Snack and he was born with a snake shaped birth mark on his ankle right where attair diamond back would have nailed his Mama had she not jumped back when she did.

Sarah she patched the coat I'd been wearin' and she give it to me a few days later and the work was so cleverly done you would be hard pressed to know where the holes were and Sarah she taken my hand and raised it to her lips and she didn't kiss my knuckles but she whispered so I could feel her breath puffing against the hair on the backs of my fingers as she said soft and gentle, "Jacob Keller, please be careful, you will be needed long after I'm gone" and that run a dipper of cold water right down my back bone and I went to gather her up in my arms for I wished to hold her and ask her what she meant about her bein' dead and gone and she twisted away from me and snatched up her skirts and run out of the Sheriff's Office and out the door and I heard her big black Snowflake mare turn and commence to canter down the road and the Sheriff he looked at me and I turned and looked at him and I said "Sir, is there any figurin' out to women folks?" and he smiled a little sadly and admitted, "Jacob, I been tryin' since before I could shave and I have not made any progress a'tall on the subject."

I nodded, blinking as I thought, and felt the weight of that .38 revolver in my off pocket.

That was actually a good little gun and I saw no sense in lettin' it get away from me.

Might come in handy.

You could say Sarah did me a favor that day and so did that dead man for I did use that selfsame dodge some time later but that's another story altogether.

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72.  SURPRISES, DISLIKES AND KNOWLEDGE

 

There are always surprises and some of 'em are disappointment surprises and I do not like those.

The Sheriff is a man I admire and respect but the moment I realized his feet are made of the same clay as my own was a terrible moment.

I reckon a boy wants to think of his Old Man as the very foundation on which the Universe itself is laid.

I know I did.

I had him so far up on a pedestal it's a wonder he did not get nose bleed.

That was a surprise and one I didn't particular like gettin' for I know how falliable I am and I know the clay of which I am made and to know he is just as prone to bein' human was not a good moment.

Another was when he admitted Miz Esther is not the flawless angel I'd always adored her as.

She's scairt of wasps.

I don't mean scairt.

I mean she is lily white to her very soul TERRIFIED of anything that goes buzz.

It don't matter if it's a hummin' bird or a horse fly or a honey bee or a whiteface hornet, if it goes BUZZ she is instantly scairt-white-to-her-shoetops terrified but to her credit she don't scream nor wave her arms nor go into hysterical bubbles.

Now the Sheriff he has a sincere and monumental dislike of cities.

I wondered why he detailed me with trips into Denver and turns out he's scairt to travel in a city.

He admitted that one dark night when 'twas just him and me and a campfire and we was well up in the mountains and he spoke of it as he generally did in quiet voice and he admitted about the only thing he was genuinely afraid of was gettin' lost in a city.

He'd been shot, stabbed, cut, run into, run over, he'd been blowed up and trompled and beat on and he'd faced up to and faced down large and angry people with a variety of weapons, he'd led men into battle and run joyfully toward the sound of gunfire, he's been charged by live stock of several kind, he's been kicked and bit by horses, he'd been throwed and he'd had to gentle 'em down with a singletree a time or three and I didn't figger there was nothin' a'tall that man feared.

Now I ain't afeared of the city, I don't pa'tickelar like it but I ain't afeared of it, and him and me was talkin' quiet-like over attair little camp fire and he was troubled and turns out Miz Esther was twistin' his arm to go to a weddin' in the city and he was goin' to go but he admitted to me he was ten kinds of terrified.

That honestly taken me by genuine surprise but I never give no more comment than to nod and say "Yes, sir," and I let him talk for oncet I could see inside of him, I could see he was wound up like an eight day clock.

It warn't really right for Miz Esther to bully him into goin' and I was right disappointed in her but then she's a woman and I don't understand women and I considered the Sheriff never oncet bully ragged her about her bein' afeared of flyin' bugs that buzz and he never disagreed with her wantin' to do this or to go there but she warn't the least bit bashful to ignore his want-to (or rather his don't-want-to) just because she wanted.

Now he could have back handed her a good one I reckon, he could have got stern with her and allowed as he was going to do no such thing, but the Sheriff is a gentleman and he would not do anythin' of the kind and I honestly don't think Miz Esther ever did realize how blind selfish she was bein'.

I went home the next day and me and Annette we set out on the front porch in that double wide rockin' chair and helt hands and we talked.

"Darlin'," I said, and her hand tightened a little for I reckon she could hear the question in my voice, "is there anythin' you've not wanted to do that I made you do?"

We rocked for some time and she stared off into the distance, considerin', and then she said "Well, there was the time you made me dance naked on the roof of the funeral parlor," and we both laughed, for the thought was itself so ridiculous as to be funny, and then she sighed and shook her head and allowed as no, I never have, and then she looked at me and squeezed my hand ag'in and she asked me if she'd ever pushed me into doin' somethin' I didn't want to do an' I allowed as I didn't much like dancin' naked on the roof of the funeral parlor neither, I'd much ruther have danced on the Mercantile, and we laughed ag'in and she sighed and laid her head over on my shoulder.

"I was invited to the wedding, you know," she said softly.

"I didn't know," I said and I was honestly surprised.  "Dear heart, if you want to go, we'll go."

She looked up at me with them big lovely eyes and said "It's all right?"
I laughed and allowed as yes, if she felt like goin' and her with child I would most certainly go and she laid a hand on her belly and said she didn't think it would be decent with her expectin' and all and I said "Darlin', if you want, we'll go and no two ways about it," and she looked up at me and wrinkled her nose a little and said "I don't really want to.  I just … I suppose…"

She laid her head over ag'in my shoulder again and give that long sigh of hers.

"I suppose I just wanted to hear you say you'd go with me."

I put my arm around her shoulders and hugged her in tighter and considered just how much I don't know about women.

I think it was Charlie Macneil who allowed as he was goin' to publish a comprehensive and encyclopedic book on all he knew about women.

It would be at least a hundred pages, he said, and ever' last page would be blank.

I was beginnin' to consider that the man just might be right.

 

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73.  BEFORE YOU REAP, YOU MUST SOW

 

A man tends to consider when he learns somethin'.

A considerin' man is generally a quiet man and Annette noticed I was just awful quiet when I come home.

Quiet I might have been but I taken her in my arms and I held her and I held her tight and I kissed her under the ear the way she likes and she molded herself to me and give me that wise look of hers and then she said, "Out with it, what happened?" and I taken her by the hand and we walked over to attair double wide rockin' chair the Daine boys made for us and we set down and I held her hand and considered.

'Twas a powerful thing I'd l'arned that day and I nodded a little as I ranked my thoughts and marched 'em past the back of my eyes for review before I allowed 'em out as words and Annette waited patient-like and finally I taken me a long breath and leaned back and she knowed I was about to speak and she give me those big lovely eyes the way a woman will when she's givin' you ever' bit of her attention.

 

You see, a couple years earlier, Sarah was modelin' her Mama's fashions over in Denver and I'd gone along for they'd asked me to, and I didn't do anything to make anyone think I was guardin' 'em like a detective or somethin' but I noticed nobody offered to act up when Sarah was goin' to the stage or from it.

I found out later my suspicions were correct, there were those that wanted to treat her to dinner and drinks and unwanted attention and long as I was there still and unmoving with my hat brim low over them pale eyes, why, nobody said hi yes or go fly a kite to her.

There was a dance later in that same hotel and Sarah and me went and she was still gussied up and painted up and she looked considerable older than she was but she was honestly of eligible age.

I noted there was a little girl – I think she was maybe nine from the look of her – she was dressed for the dance but she had trouble walkin' for she was in one of them Bath chairs I think they call 'em, it had big spoked wheels in front and caster wheels in the back and she was lookin' at the dancers just awful longin' and I looked at Sarah and I felt my bottom jaw run out and then I turned and I strode straight for her and I went down on one knee and taken her hand and I recall 'twas soft and small and kind of cool and I said "My Lady, may I have this dance?"
The woman behind her said "She can't –"

I run my hands under the girl's arms and hoist her out of attair chair, I brought her up like I was to toss her in the air and I caught her behint the legs under the bottom with my left arm and I still had holt of her hand with my right and I stood up and said "I'll dance for us both," and we whirled out on the dance floor right when the waltz started and damned if we didn't run us a dance, her weight on my arm and her hand in mine.

I don't honestly recall as I've ever danced any better.

The other couples saw what I was a-doin' and I found out later they all knew the girl and they didn't have to make no room for us for I danced in the area that a couple would normally take, and once the waltz was over, why, we paced back over to her chair and I eased her back into her seat.

I made sure she was set comfortable, she had a pillow to set on and I saw it was without fold or wrinkle so I eased her down and went back down on one knee and I taken her hand and raised it to my lips and the woman behind her had not stirred out of her foot prints since I come and picked up the child and she had tears bright a-glitter in her eyes and I kissed that girl's knuckles and said "My Lady, I thank you for that wonderful dance," and then I went back over to Sarah and we-all left.

I spoke of that and I squeezed my wife's hand and she tilted her head a little and give me that quiet smile and said "That's not all, is it?" and I smiled a little too and she knowed that no, that wasn't all.

I taken me another long breath and looked at her.

"That girl and her Mama come to see me today."

Annette looked absolutely delighted at my words, she gripped my hand with both hers and whispered, "What happened?"

I grinned like a schoolboy and my ears turned red, I could feel 'em warmin' up as I got ready to tell her some more.

"She come lookin' for me out at the dress works, her and her Mama, and Sarah recognized her and she got 'em in her good carriage and drove 'em to the Sheriff's office.

"I was there and so was the Sheriff and we come out and I recht up and brought that girl out of the carriage and she stood on her own two feet and when I let go of her she taken both my hands and stood and looked at me with them big dark eyes of hers and I grinned and I said "I don't see wheels," and she giggled a little and the Sheriff helped her Mama out and her Mama allowed as that night her daughter stood for the first time since she'd been hurt and she said "I will dance again, Mama," and she wanted to come and thank the man who brought her to standin' on her own.

"I'm not very good," she said and her hands tightened a little on mine and I run one arm behint her and held the other one out and I proceeded to dance, slow, without music, and damned if she did not follow me.

"She followed a little clumsy and a little uncertain but dear Lord! Annette, her face lit up like an Aladdin lamp, and her Mama stood there with her hand over her mouth and the girl tired out right quick, I don't think we turned around more'n three times but she sure enough danced ag'in with the man that brought her to her feet!"

Annette nodded and laid her head over ag'in my shoulder and whispered, "I am so very proud of you," and I laughed and run my arm around her and hugged her into me and I said "Don't be too proud, darlin', word around town is I been carousin' with strange women right out in front of God and everybody!"

Annette laughed a little and looked up at me ag'in and she patted my chest and said "As ye sow, so shall ye reap," and she sighed a little and laid her head ag'in me once ag'in and she wondered aloud about all the good I did, when would we get to reap the benefits and I said "You have to sow before you can reap, darlin'.  I'm still sowin'."

"I'm glad." 

We set there on the front porch until the maid called us in for supper.

 

Now I talked about Sarah and she and her little sister were laughin' and I don't know what they were laughin' at but 'twas good to hear the two of them, they sounded so very much alike and it never occurred to me to consider Sarah was no blood relation to 'em, for she was sister for fact and for sure, as much as she was daughter to Bonnie.

Sarah was lovely and she was intelligent and she was deadly and no mistakin' that.

She'd practice with me with a gutta-percha knife and she would "kill" me fast hard and nasty and she was not gentle a'tall when she did, and try as I might not to get cut I'd end up with chalk dust on my arms or my neck or my face and a time or two I jumped back with a yell for she'd come awful close to my eye and steel or not steel didn't matter, my eyeball was somethin' I did not want harmed, and I seen the look of satisfaction when I did that and she used it ag'in more than just me.

There was … there were, I'm tryn' to speak better, there were two … occasions (that's the word!) where Sarah used a blade to defend her honor and her virtue both, and that's when she was modelin' her Mama's fashions and she'd gone out the back to slip over to the opera house or the play house and I found out some time later she had a good enough voice she'd sing in that opera house and she learned more about makeup and changin' her appearance from them actors and she learned better about usin' tricks an' slights about foundations and clothes to make herself look different.

That much is all well and good but apparently there was unsavory sorts out back who figured a gussied up woman comin' out back was either steppin' out on her husband, or was workin' for one of the fancy houses, and when she was grabbed the first time she didn't hesitate, she drove that blade right through the man's coat sleeve and out t'other side, I don't think the blade come through the far side, warn't long enough, but she drove him three times afore he could get away and she kicked another just below the knee and on his way down she laid his face open and then she begun to scream bloody murder and she let out a Whoop Baroo enough folks come runnin' thinkin' she was getting' murdered slow on a bed of broken glass or some such and she'd danced back when she laid that fella's face open and she was sceamin' and pointin' and yellin' somethin' like "They grabbed me and he laid into him and I pulled away and oh my God" and she went to screamin' ag'in and then she turned and snatched up her skirts and legged it down between the buildin's and she got out front and dropped her skirts down and sidled over to the entrance and then she just sort of slid in with the patrons comin' out of the play or the opera or whatever 'twas and she moseyed along with 'em like she was one of 'em and she hailed a cab just as ca'm as anythin' and paid the man once she was to the ho-tel and the feller drivin' the cab asked how come she wanted such a short ride, she paid him enough to travel acrost the city and she said she'd heard a woman was attacked behind the theatre and she didn't want to take any chances and she didn't tell him about the bulldog .44 she had on her that her Mama didn't know about and likely Miz Bonnie would have had a case of the vapors had she knowed Sarah was practicin' enough with a .44 she could hit a man's face at twenty paces, every shot, one handed with that blocky little revolvin' pistol.

She told me later oncet she stepped out of attair cab, why, the door man at her ho-tel lifted his hat like he would a fine lady with all kind of money and Sarah give him a smile and sashayed right in like she owned the place and ended up standin' beside her Mama, who turned and smiled as if she warn't surprised a'tall she was there.

I wondered – once she got some more age on her and His Honor the Judge sent her off to attair detective school – I wondered why she was so well thought of amongst them Pinkerton sorts and the hull darn Denver PO-lees department.

Started out with her snaggin' a rifle from some fella's scabbard without his let-be and drivin' a round through the back of a man's head who was tryin' to kill one of their policemen, and somewhere in a park a fellow thought he was  recognized when he warn't but when he fetched out a pistol and brought it up torst attair policeman why Sarah put a .44 through him and then she grabbed attair copper's pistol and pulled two rounds out of his gun and dropped her two empties in their place and shoved the gun back in his holster and when a Sergeant come a-runnn' she said the policeman was facin' down a gunbarrel and he put two rounds into the bad guy and the Sergeant reckonized the deceased and knowed him for a murderin' no-good and of a sudden attair copper with the dry mouth was a hero.

 

There is times when a man's mind will wander and I was most of the way to Silver's Mine and I was bound and determined to find a man I was lookin' for and my mind wandered about Sarah and I come around a bend in the trail and run face to face with two strangers that warn't expectin' to see me.

I am a known man and I know it.

I have pale eyes just like the Sheriff, I wear a suit and I ride an Appaloosa stallion:  they knowed me the moment they saw me and they warn't terrible happy especially as I reckonized both of them.

They weren't wanted for nothin' serious and another time if they'd come into Firelands and cause trouble, why, I'd likely take 'em in but I was not after them and I said as much.

Matter of fact I spoke loud and I spoke firm and I called them both by name and said "I am not after you today.  I am after a man with a scar runnin' down his face from the corner of his right eye."

"How bad you want him?" Van Dyne asked and I looked at him and I give him the cold out of my eyes and said "I want him," and my voice was flat and I sat loose and them two knowed I had no funnin' in me.

They looked to one another and Doyle said "Tell him," and VanDyne looked at me kind of uncomfortable and said "He's in Silver Mine."

I nodded.

"Thank'ee kindly," I said, and Doyle almost smiled and I knowed somethin' was up.

"You fellas didn't just come from there by any chance?"
"Yyyooouuuuu could say that," Van Dyne said, and they eased their horses up and rode on past me and I let 'em go.

I found out why them two was smilin' up their sleeves.

I rode on into Silver Mine and of course the first place a man looks is the saloon.

Silver Mine had a half dozen waterin' holes and I knowed somethin' was up for men was quiet and watchful like they knowed I was comin' and nobody was sayin' much and about the third beer joint, why, I looked around and my gut told me somethin' was up and then I saw it.

A man with that scar from the corner of his eye down his cheek.

"Dewey Hashman," I said firmly and the man turned.

So did half a dozen more, and then everyone in the tavern turned.

Every one of 'em had a scar down the corner of his eye.

I looked around and my lower jaw slud out and I felt my eyes tighten a little at the corners and then I started to laugh.

I could not help it.

Somehow every man Jack in that whole damned tavern, every'one but the bar keep, had a scar from the corner of his eye down his face, and ever' one of 'em was lookin' me square in the eye and every last one of 'em from the look on their face knowed they just put one over on Old Pale Eyes' oldest boy.

I could not help it.

I raised my voice so everyone could hear me and I knowed it would cost me but 'twas worth it.

"I will pay for drinks for the house," I declared, "if someone will kindly tell me how in two hells all y'all pulled this one off!"

Well, they laughed and I laughed and they fessed up.

A photographer was in town and someone was talkin' to him and he allowed as he had somethin' called Collodion and he taken a fine brush and painted a streak of this Collodion stuff down a man's face and it dried and puckered up and damned if it didn't look like a scar.

The idea spread fast and turns out most of the town was in on the fun, it cost me good coin to buy drinks for everyone there and it was worth it, they'd put a good one over on me and we all got a good laugh out of it and finally I said "All right, you all got me, now which one of you fellas is Dewey Hashman!"

"I'm Hashman," one fella said, and things got real quiet, and I said "Hashman, you are not a wanted man."

He about fell through the floor.

I know his jaw dropped down about belt buckle level and kind of swung and creaked like an old sign in the wind.

"You heard about the murder."
He nodded.

"The murderer confesses and we got two others who seen it done.  You're off the hook."
He staggered a little as the relief washed over him.  Had he not grabbed a chair and set down I think he would have hit the sawdust covered floor.

"We also found out who accused you and if you want to bring charges I got him locked up."

Hashman was the color of wheat paste and I turned to the bar keep and he already had a shot of something amber and potent poured so I set it down in front of Hashman and said "You need this" and his hand shook somethin' awful and he near to spilt it but he got it inside him.

I looked around and turned to the barkeep, I paid the man and then allowed as I'd had a long ride and a good laugh, how about a beer, and hell you would have thought I was everyone's best friend.

 

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74.  A WOMAN'S HAIR

 

Sarah smiled a little as she climbed the narrow path.

An exceptional saddlehorse could make it, and Sarah had known very few horses capable of this rocky trail: she preferred Shank's Mares, and her moccasins were not only soft and silent, but sure footed.

She moved, a black shadow against the shadowed cliff face, carefully not seeing the world that fell away a hand's-breadth from the edge of her foot, carefully not regarding the sheer and precipitous drop.

She absolutely forbade her imagination from considering the effect of falling thrice a hundred yards onto the rocks below.

She labored steadily, patiently, and finally came out on a rock ledge, a secret place with a narrow undercut, a place the Sheriff knew, a place he called High Lonesome.

It was an ancient place, a secret place, it was a place no man was ever supposed to know.

That he knew was not surprising, somehow – just as unsurprising as the face that turned toward her as she stepped onto the shelf.

Daciana had a crystal ball on a thick, folded, black-velvet pad; she rose as Sarah approached.

Sarah extended her arm and Daciana delicately took the crumpled kerchief, carefully unfolded it, placed it on a bed of interwoven twigs.

 

I frowned at my hand, at the healing scratch still tender:  I'd raked myself on a splinter and Sarah was there with a kerchief, pulling the pieces out of my palm and pressing her balled-up kerchief against the wound.

She had me form a tight fist and I looked at her, curious.

"Sarah," I said, "I've been wondering."

She looked at me and gave me that Innocent Expression that I've tried and had no luck a'tall with, she managed to look absolutely guileless and she whipped them big long eyelashes up and down and asked what that might be, and I frowned a little and said "When you're the schoolmarm, you've got your hair up in that walnut on top of your head."

She blinked, listening closely, but made no reply.

"When you put your hair up under your hat, none of it shows.  None a'tall, just what you'd normally see under a hat."

She regarded me patiently, waiting, knowing something was coming.

"When you braid your hair and wrap it around your throat so no one can throat slash you in a knife fight, you've got two thick braids and they're just the right length."

She put her fingertips delicately to her bodice as if to say "Who, me?" but made no reply.

"And when you brush your hair out it's down to your waist."

She blinked a few times and finally asked, "Jacob, what is your question?"
I stopped and considered and I reckon I looked confused but she waited all patient-like and I finally said "Sarah, do you have a wind-up somewhere that you can run your hair down or up as you need?"

Sarah laughed – when she laughed it bubbled up from way deep inside her and she showed it with her face and her … well, her very being.

"Jacob," she laughed, and she laid them delicate fingers on my fore arm, "don't you realize?"
Now I was confused, for sure and for certain.

"Jacob," she explained, as if to a slow child, "we women do magic with our hair!"

 

Sarah, squatting beside Daciana, watched as the Romany Gypsy threw the black shawl back from over her head and tilted her head back, regarding the full moon as it went behind the thick black cloud she'd called up.

"Ve haff not much time," she whispered.  "Ve must be quick, the Moonshadow will not last!"

She passed a hand over the crystal ball and it began to glow, and both women set to work:  their preparation was simple and quick, and with a few passes, Daciana coaxed the image to life in the ancient, polished-quartz sphere.

Generations of Wise Women had called forth the secrets it held, generations ancient and wise had coaxed it to reveal what they wished to know, and for good and for ill, the crystal had shown what was, or what could have been; what might be, and what must not be, and tonight … tonight, woven hazel twigs twisted and curled and enveloped the kerchief containing the life's blood of Sarah's pale eyed brother Jacob.

The women held their hands over the wood-embraced kerchief and over the crystal.

"I have seen my death," Sarah whispered, "and my end will be that of my ancestresses.  I must know that Jacob holds the land safe, that his get continue our blood as well."

Daciana picked up the sphere, wrapped it carefully. "It is time."

The two women turned and walked through the face of the stone cliff.

 

I looked out our bedroom window at the full moon and wondered how many men had stared at that big silvery white circle and thought of all the eyes that must be doing the same thing.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"  Annette said softly, and I turned and smiled a little at the sight of my wife sitting up in bed, one hand on her belly.

I blinked and looked closer.

Her cheeks were wet and she was smiling.

 

Sarah raised her arms to the silvery-white sphere overhead.

Moonlight glowed off her ivory skin, seeming to set her afire with an unearthly energy:  beside her, Daciana, arms raised, was just as naked, glowing in the selfsame manner.

As one, they moved:  they bent, they slung their heads, and their hair, as free of encumbrance as the rest of their bodies, hissed quietly through the utterly silent air.

Beside them, the cliff they'd stepped through:  here, too, was an ancient place, and their bare feet sank into the still-warm sands; the cliff face glowed slightly, and as they swayed, as they danced, as they wove their spell, their charm of women's magic on the night air, shadows danced across the cliff, almost human in appearance:  the natives to this place believed them the images of the Ancient Ones, and perhaps they were right:  ancient or not, the shadows moved as did the women.

The crystal sphere nestled in the sand and the pair danced a sunwise circle, their moves lithe and boneless, and the sphere glowed and brightened and suddenly a flower of light blasted from the sphere and bloomed above it and Sarah and Daciana danced back, eyes wide, marveling at What Was To Be, or one of its possible paths.

Sarah saw Jacob kneeling beside his wife, gripping her hand, and then pacing in the kitchen, chewing on a knuckle while the Sheriff sat, sipping coffee and looking patient; they saw an infant's face, red and angry, a newborn uttering its first declaration to the world that it wasn't happy at being evicted from what had been a warm and enveloping home:  Sarah's eyes stung a little as she saw Annette's face, damp with labor, crying for joy, as her newly delivered child found its first meal.

Sarah saw Jacob, older now, leading a horse, and on it, a girl-child and a boy-child, both very young, both laughing; Sarah saw Jacob on his belly, shouting down a stone-lined well, then leaping up to crank a windlass, and a very wet, very cowed little boy that looked very much like his pale eyed Pa hanging onto the well rope, both feet standing on the bucket, and Sarah saw Jacob, his face angry and red, speaking sternly with a tall young man who looked just like his pale eyed Pa, a young man who turned and stalked off, arms stiff and hands fisted, and then Sarah saw Jacob's hands tremble as he received the black-edged letter and she saw the words FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT and she saw Jacob throw back his head and scream in utter anguish, his fists raised to the heavens and shaking, and then the world spun underfoot and Sarah saw that same young man who'd walked away from his Pa, only the young man was bloodied and engraged and had a revolver in each hand, he was screaming and charging an onrushing enemy and laying death before him, and he wore what she recognized as a uniform that had yet to be seen.

Sarah saw Jacob, collapsed in grief, his pale eyed Pa beside him, an understanding hand on his son's shoulder, a tear running down his own lined face, and Jacob's several sons and daughters gathered solemnly about, and then she saw time, swift-running like a snowmelt stream, and she saw more of his line, some with pale eyes and most with not, and she saw threads, scarlet threads of their life's blood, weave and grow and intertwine and join and part and she saw what she had to know.

She saw herself as a mother, a fierce protectress of her only child, hers a critical link in What Was To Come, taking the only choice, the only chance she had, sending her baby, her pale eyed girl, with her maid across the dark ocean, back home to America, back home to Firelands, and to cover their escape, she dressed for the last time as the Black Agent, and slung her gunbelt about womanly hips, charged her shotgun with as many rounds of military buck as it would hold, her knives in boot-top sheaths and swords cross-sheathed at her back, and as the crowd of Anarchists drove their log ram through the ornately-carved doors of the Baron's Schloss, they charged and so did she, and she advanced through her hard-driven wall of buckshot and pistol balls and when these were empty, she laid about them with steel and utter, unforgiving ferocity, and so fierce was her attack, so determined was she to prevent them from finding the hidden passage down which she'd dispatched her living legacy, that only one survived her onslaught:  Sarah saw her own death, and she saw how many of the enemy she took into Eternity with her, and she was satisfied, for she and her ancestress-sisters were all warrior-maidens when desperate need arose.

The white-fire bloom surged and spun and of a sudden Sarah saw a bed, and bedsheets, she saw a maternal hand laid across a belly, and a woman's face, smiling through tears, and Daciana gripped Sarah's hand with delight and the two women, their spell woven and complete, triumphed in the silvery moonlight, for here too was the answer they sought.

 

I crossed the room and went to one knee beside my wife.

"Jacob," Anntte whispered, "I felt the baby move!"

I couldn't help it.

I taken Annette and picked her up and I spun around, laughing, and she laughed with me and I reckon we looked kind of silly, me spinnin' her around and her hair braided and swingin' in the breeze with the bed sheets trailin' but by God! she'd felt our child move!

Our child!

I swung her back around and gentle down on the bed and I straightened out them bed sheets and blankets I'd just got all confused up and then I went to one knee beside her and I raised my hand and whispered, "May I?" and Annette she taken my hand and put it on her belly but I reckon Short Stuff was still too little for me to feel.

Annette felt him move.

That was good enough for me.

I lowered my head against her upper arm and thanked God Almighty and then I considered how much of a wonder it was that new life grew in her belly and in time would be birthed as a living creature that would grow to fine adulthood and I had to consider that this was woman's magic.

Part of me thought of Sarah's hair and I figure that must be magic too and I didn't worry about it ag'in.

 

Sarah smiled as she came out of the cliff, back onto High Lonesome, and then she laughed.

Daciana looked at her dear friend curiously.

"Jacob asked me about my hair," she explained, "and I put my fingertips on his cheek bone and said 'Why, Jacob, didn't you know?  A woman's hair is magic,' and I stared deep beyond his eyes and he'll be satisfied with that answer for the rest of his life."

Daciana laughed as well, for she'd used that same trick of woman's magic to satisfy inquisitive men herself.

 

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75.  MUSH

 

I've spoke of how the Sheriff can't make decent coffee to save his sorry backside.

I have to be fair now.

He can fix most anythin' else and fix it good.

We were out on the trail and we'd decided we'd best start the day with a good breakfast and the Sheriff allowed as he'd fix corn meal mush.

Now I like mush.

The Sheriff he was b'ilin' up mush and I was fryin' bacon and we'd bedded the eggs in corn meal so we fried up them eggs too an' the Sheriff he allowed as he could fry and stir at the same time so I mixed up some trail bread and wound the dough around a stick and set it to cookin' beside the fahr.

Now the Sheriff he looked at me kind of funny when I sprinkled a little salt on the bread dough but he never said nothin' sour about it and he had some honey in a bottle, he'd put the comb in a cloth and squeezed it out so's he could separate out wax from honey and he sweetened up that corn meal with it and we et good that mornin'.

Matter of fact it smelt so good, what with bacon and bread smellin' up the mornin' air, the fella we was after he was cold and he was hungry and he was tired of runnin' and he come and hollered at us and allowed as if we'd feed him he'd give up and the Sheriff he allowed as he could come on in and we'd feed him and good Lord he et more than I did on a good day and that's sayin' somethin'.

He was good as his word, he rode back with us and never give us the first minute's trouble and oncet we got back to Firelands, why, we set him down and fed him ag'in and then went over to see His Honor the Judge.

Now the Judge he had information we didn't and him and Moulton the attorney and this fella we left them a-palaver and the Sheriff he allowed as Miz Esther would admire to see me so I went on up to her office and sure enough she was tickled to see me and she asked how Annette was carryin' and I knowed Miz Esther was with child too only she warn't showin' none a'tall but her face was real fair and I recalled Annette she said that meant likely she was carryin' a girl child.

Miz Esther she set down with me and she didn't even look over at her desk where I could see she had business she was workin' on, 'twas like she just put the whole world away from her and paid attention all to me and that's a flatterin' thing.

We talked some and I recall she asked me about the first years I lived under their roof and she said "Jacob, there is something I've been wondering," and I said "Yes, ma'am?" and she give me that patient motherly look of hers and she said "Jacob, you've always … you've never called me Mother, nor Mama."

Now that taken me by surprise.

I set there and my eyes stung a little and I cleared my throat and finally I managed a quiet "Yes ma'am," and I looked up at her and I had to try two or three times but I finally found my voice.

"Ma'am," I said, "I'm afraid to."

'Twas her turn to be surprised.

I cleared my throat ag'in, it didn't need cleared but I was nervous but I taken a breath and pushed forward anyhow.

"Ma'am," I said, "I have a bad habit.  If you ask me the question I will give you the honest answer even if it's not what you want to hear."

She nodded slowly and that's the first time I ever saw her look a little uncertain, like a young girl all uncertain when her favorite fella was sparkin' her and he made a suggestion she was not sure about.

"I … prefer honesty," she said, and I leaned forward and set my elbows on my knees and I taken both her hands in mine and I could not help it, I … I hurt inside somethin' awful and the hurt spilled out my eyes and I kept my voice steady and I said "I called one woman Mama and she's dead.  I don't want you dead."

"Oh, Jacob," she groaned, and she pulled a hand free so she could raise it up and stroke my cheek and she cupped my cheek bone in her palm and her hand was soft and cool and I closed my eyes and remembered my Mama doing the same thing and I laid my hand against hers and then I looked up at her and swallowed a lump of something I didn't know was in my throat until that moment.

Miz Esther smiled a little bit and she whispered, "Do you remember our practice?" and I nodded, for we'd crossed blades many times in practice, and I never in my young life have ever been "killed" so fast nor so efficiently as when we practiced.

"And do you remember when the Reavers came and I put one of your father's '73 rifles to good use?"

I nodded.  "I do recall, ma'am."

She lowered her hand and give me that patient and motherly look again.

"I think I will be rather hard to kill, Jacob.  I've made it my business not to die easily."

"Yes, ma'am."

She patted my hand reassuringly.

"You are a son to be proud of," she whispered, "and I am very proud of you!"

"Thank you, ma'am."

"You are a good husband and I am very certain you will make a fine father."

"I do hope so, ma'am."

"Angela thinks very highly of you as well."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"She misses you, Jacob."

I smiled a little and remembered the blond haired, blue eyed little girl that followed me around with that rag doll locked in the bend of her left elbow, and 'twas almost as if I could hear her giggle.

"She is becoming quite the young lady, Jacob."

I could not help but laugh.  "Ma'am," I said frankly, "with you for her Mama, she could not help but!"

She nodded, she liked that.

"I shall have to be careful," I said thoughtfully, and Miz Esther tilted her head a little the way a woman will when she's paying close attention to what a man says.

"The young …"

I considered what I wanted to say.

"The young pay close attention," I said slowly, "and they learn how to be … "

I looked at Miz Esther and blinked.

"Ma'am, I … know I had … a father and a good one but I don't recall him."

She blinked but did not make reply.

"The Sheriff … showed me … how to be decent and honorable."

I considered this, surprised that I'd never looked squarely at it before.

"Had he not … ma'am, had I not the Sheriff for a pattern … I might not have … done … become … as I am."

"Then I am very glad he did, and that you have."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Though I do hope you make better coffee."

Her expression was one of quiet amusement and I laughed a little.

"I make better coffee, ma'am, but he makes better mush."

 

That night I laid in bed and Annette and I held hands, the way we always did.

It'd rained that night and I vaguely recalled thunder, but that didn't trouble me none.

It was not uncommon for us to fall asleep holding hands, and to wake up still holding hands.

That's how we went to sleep.

That's now how I woke.

I woke up like a scalded cat.

I come full awake and I laid there with my breath caught in my throat and straining to hear and I remembered hearing Sarah scream and I looked at the memory again and heard her scream again and then I remembered hearing her scream "GET OUT!  GEEEET OOOOOUUUTTTTTT!" – she was screaming as loud as she could and it sounded like she was desperate and I was not completely awake but I was getting dressed and I was wasting no time a'tall.

Now when I'm workin' as a deputy I wear a suit just like the Sheriff but I did not get into my suit, I throwed on a flannel shirt and called that good, drawers and boots and my vest, I slung my gunbelt around my waist and cinched it good and I clapped my Stetson on my head and I was out the door and headed down the stairs.

I recall the night was just clear as a bell and them stars was close and bright and I strode out my front door with my shotgun slung acrost my back and my '76 rifle in hand and I headed for the barn on the hot foot.

Apple-horse come trottin' up and into the barn and he knowed somethin' was up, he was shiverin' a little and his breath shot out his nostrils in two plumes as he bobbed his head and waited for me to screw the saddle down good.

I shoved the rifle in the scabbard and shoved my boot into the dog house stirrup and give one shove and Apple was on the move while I was still throwin' my leg acrost the saddle and he done that when he was excited and he knowed I wanted to cover ground and he did too.

It taken me about four minutes to get to where I could look acrost over top of Firelands and I felt my belly shrivel some for I could see the sky glow of a fire and it warn't a little one neither and I pointed Apple's nose torst it and I said "Go, boy," and Apple-horse, he laid his ears back and he taken out and he allowed as he warn't goin' to waste no time a'tall gettin' there.

I leaned back and yelled "Ho!" and Apple he leaned back and dropped his haunches and skidded a little and he come back up and I grabbed that wagon bolt and laid into that scrap metal gong that hung outside the Irish Brigade's firehouse and I hit it maybe twenty times it seemed like before a door throwed open and 'twas Sean himself runnin' out yellin' "Whither away?" and I thrust an arm torst the glow and yelled "Rosenthal!" and Sean he disappeared so fast it looked like he'd been yanked back inside and I dropped that wagon bolt and Apple he whirled around like he was spinnin' in a cyclone and off we shot torst where I knowed Sarah was in trouble.

If there was a fire I cain't fight that but I'd rolled out the men that could and I was sure enough goin' to see what good I could do.

 

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76.  FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE

 

The Bear Killer was like a black wall of fur, with long ivory fangs and eyes as hot and red as the conflagration behind him.

Sarah was screaming at the horses, hauling at bridles or manes or anything she could reach, she seized a double handful of Butter-horse's bridle and got swung clear off the ground, she was screaming language that would have made a tracklayer stare with amazement and it didn't impress that horse one little bit.

Horses can be unbelievably stupid creatures, they'll head for where they're safe and in their little pea brain that's in a barn and God help us they don't realize when the barn's afire they don't want to go back in but they sure as hell want to.

I rode Apple-horse into Butter and hit her hard amidships and that stallion run chest-first into her, he reared up to catch her square but he didn't take his hooves nor his teeth to her on the first hit and The Bear Killer was snapping at Jelly, the other matched grey, and Jelly turned and I slashed at Butter with my lariat and Sarah was screaming and kicking and her flannel nightgown belled out and I thought her legs was goin' to swing to the side and go CLANG and she let go and fell and I kneed Apple around and when we come back to bear on Butter-horse, why I had a loop in hand and floated that gentleman just as nice as you please around Butter's neck and I got two turns around the saddlehorn before that line come tight and I'll say this for that old grey, she might be long in the tooth but she's a pullin' fool and Apple damn neart come over sideways but the loop around her neck was enough to wake her up some and Apple he got his legs under him and he whipped around and pinned my thigh against the saddle and it hurt like homemade hell but I got my heels into his ribs and he dug in and it felt like he was cuttin' my leg off and I remember how that burnin' barn was scorchin' the side of my face and neck and we got that idiot horse headed away from the barn and Jelly come with her and long as them two was together, between The Bear Killer ragin' at 'em and me tryin' to drag 'em along why they finally trotted off and we got 'em out of sight of the barn and I tied off Butter and got a loop tied in what was left of the lariat and throwed it over Jelly's neck and I said "Bear Killer, keep 'em here!" and I whipped Apple-horse around and went a-runnin' back just as the Irish Brigade started throwin' water and damned if Sarah warn't on her feet and yellin' at Sean and tellin' him to hell with the barn, it was lost, save the house, so the Brigade they wet down the house and let the barn go.

I don't recall as they lost any live stock, a couple chickens maybe, Sarah said she'd woke up after lightning hit the barn and she run out and 'twas afire and she had the Devil's own time gettin' them idiot horses out and keepin' 'em out, she got every last glue hoof oat burner out and had it not been for The Bear Killer keepin' 'em at bay, the whole bunch would've gone back in, and Butter and Jelly was the last pair out and they wanted back inside in the worst way.

Idiots.

Bonnie she was frettin' from the front porch and Levi – she'd remarried, she married the brother of that gamblin' no-good that near to ruined them – Levi, he was dressed and outside and he got Bonnie inside and I reckon she was soaky wet for the Brigade was right generous in gettin' water just all over attair house, they had a plenty big cistern to draw from and I think 'twas fed from a spring or some-such.

Sarah, she was bristled up like a Banty hen and just as mad as a wet one and she was stalkin' back and forth with her arms all stiff and her hands fisted up and she'd turn and glare at that burnin' barn, or what was left of it by then, and of course when the Brigade come hell-a-tearin' out of attair fine brick firehouse of theirs, why, folks is goin' to come and spectate and I would not have been surprised to find some bringin' their picnic baskets an' settin' up on spread-out table cloths on the wet ground or the like.

Sarah she told me later when she got the horses out she bent double at the waist she was screamin' so hard at 'em and there is no way I could have heard her over that distance but maybe I did.

Somethin' brought me out of it like I'd been clap boarded across the backside.

Now Sarah she said later that I'd floated that lariat just as nice as you please and she said how it glowed in the fire light against the night sky from where she was lookin' up at it and I laughed for I'd never been much of a hand with the hand throwed loop but by God! for once in my life it worked!

 

 

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77.  MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE MERCANTILE

 

I saw that quiet look come over the Sheriff's face and I knew he was rememberin'.

Just what, I warn't sure, but he was a-remember.

We were standin' in the Mercantile and he'd just placed an order for somethin' or another and he was leanin' back ag'in the glass top counter and lookin' around and I could see the muscles tighten in his jaw and I seen his left hand twitch just ever so slightly and his right opened and dropped not half a finger's worth and his eyes was gone to pale and I knowed he was recallin' somethin' serious and I turned slow and unbuttoned the middle button on my coat and the move woke him to the here-and-now and he turned and looked at me and give a slow, approving nod, his hat brim didn't dip more'n a half inch but 'twas enough, he knowed I'd been paying attention and I was ready to back whatever play he made.

The proprietor peered through his round spectacles at the catalog open before him and nodded.

"I can get those, Sheriff."

"Order me enough for two barns and the house."

"I'll have quite a shipment coming in."  He looked over his spectacles at the back of the lawman's head.  "Quite a shipment."

The Sheriff turned and set good coin on the counter.  "Make sure that's right," he said quietly, "I've not had my coffee this morning."

Now I knowed he'd had his coffee but that was his way of sayin' I am payin' you for my order and you'd best not lose it because now we both know I paid it and here's a witness, but without puttin' it into words.

The Sheriff was … I reckon the word is diplomatic, like that.

We went on out the front door and the spring hung bell went ding-a-ling as we passed and he stepped left and I stepped right as was our habit, we each had a wall to our back and we'd looked the street over before we stepped out but our move was automatic, we'd do that comin' out a door or goin' in.

We went into the tavern over in Carbon Hill that-a-way oncet, I was some years younger but I'd worn my suit and taken the double gun and Law and Order Harry Macfarland he went into this yere bar fight and the Sheriff and me we went in right behint him, old Harry he went glad handin' his way right through the suddenly still crowd and he's slappin' backs and how's the boy and I heard your wife won first prize with that quilt of hers and you old dog you're a granddad ag'in, you'd have thought old Harry was runnin' for office or some-such.

Me and the Sheriff, we just stood there, silent, not movin', I had attair shotgun in hand and the Sheriff he had his engraved '73 rifle that Miz Esther give him and they was fellas told us later that we looked like the twins of death standin' there not sayin' a word and not movin', just them cold pale eyes under our hat brims a-watchin'.

Now oncet the Sheriff and me was out of the Mercantile, we went on over't the Silver Jewel and the fellow loafin' ag'in a porch post hailed the man most cheerfully and allowed as "Hey Soapy!  You know if the Mercantile has any of them Franklin glass ball lightnin' spike things?" and the Sheriff stopped and regarded him with amusement and he said "Why, I do believe he's got a whole rail car of 'em comin', do you need one?"

"One?"  came the exclamation.  "One?  Soapy, we're goin' to need a few hundred anyway!"

"Do you intend to wear them?  You'll look like a porcupine with glass balls," the Sheriff warned, and the hanger-on stopped and blinked and then laughed.

"Nah, Soapy, not me, we'll need 'em for ever' buildin' and ever' house and good Lord we'll have to spike 'em down the spine of the church and on the steeple, we might have to have one on each corner of attair bell tower and all that's gonna cost a sight of money –"

The Sheriff endured the man's aggravating blather with more patience than I had, and for good reason.

Professional loafer the man might be, but he listened and often times he'd let slip somethin' he's heard and that was good information the Sheriff and me we both come useful of time to time, and in between declarin' how dangerous roof work was and how many men he'd known had broke legs or broke their neck fallin' off a barn, he managed to name a half dozen folk who'd placed orders at the Mercantile for lightning rods.

He even mentioned which ones paid ahead like the Sheriff just had and he implied which ones wouldn't pay a'tall and them rods they ordered would likely get sold to someone else and that's a pity for their house will ketch fahr and burn down come the next lightning storm.

Now after this fella run down like a cheap clock, or maybe he run out of wind which was a wonder in and of itself for to be real honest this man was windy as a sack full of politicians, we went on inside the Silver Jewel and sure enough most of the talk was about the Rosenthal barn burnin' down and speculation was just thick as cigar smoke in a den of thieves and if a man put much stock in what he was hearin', why, ten horses run out of attair barn blazin' fahr and they run off a cliff and dove in the river to put that lightnin' fahr out that was a-burnin' the hide off bone and muscle both and the barn burnt down and took two outhouses and the shack with it but they saved the house only 'twas hot enough it melted glass out of the windows and scorched wallpaper inside the house on the farthest wall.

Rumor is an amazin' thing.

We each had Mr. Baxter draw us a beer and we et a back strap sandwich apiece and until I bit into Daisy's good cookin' I didn't realize just how hungry I was already.

They was a commotion outside and runnin' feet on the Boardwalk and a shout and somethin' hit the door like someone who forgot it opened out instead of in and he maybe run into it and sure enough oncet he hauled it open he was holdin' a hand to his forehead and he come staggerin' in and I warn't sure if he was havin' a case of the vapors, or if he had a knot in his guts and he was terrible constipated or maybe he had a bad case of the can't-thinks, but he stumbled in and he looked around and his eyes was wide and his face was pale and he come a-stumblin' up to the Sheriff and he said "My Gawd! Sheriff! Susie just had three babies! They're all girls! My Gawd, Sheriff, three of 'em!" – he pawed at the Sheriff's coat sleeve like his hands was numb and the Sheriff turned square-on to him and seized him under the arms, he picked the man up and swung him a little and set him down in a chair and went down a-squat in front of him and he taken the man's hand in his own and he said quiet-like "Is Susie all right?" and he said "She's fine, Doc an' attair fat nurse of his is with her" and the Sheriff nodded slow-like and he said "Let me ask you this, then."

By now everyone in the Silver Jewel was hush and listenin' me included.

"We know Susie is all right.  Are three babies all she birthed?"
He swallowed and nodded, jerky, sudden, but he managed to nod.

"All three babies are alive and well."

Again he rattled his head up and down and I'm surprised the rocks in his head didn't clatter so's a man could hear 'em.

"Your wife is fine, the children are well, and you're here."

He nodded.

"Mr. Baxter, could I trouble you for a good five cent cigar, please, and something to wet this poor fellow's throat."  He stood, swung around beside the pale, shaking fellow starting to sag in his chair, and he raised his voice. 

"My friends," he declared, "today we celebrate!  Drinks on the house as we recognize the man with such potent loins that he sires his young in litters!"

There was a general, confused hubbub of general approval, and the Sheriff bent down and murmured, "Once you get your feet under you, go on over to the Mercantile and speak for a set of lightning rods, my gift to your newborns, and I'll pay to have 'em installed!"

The man straightened, patted the new father on the shoulder and added sympatheticall, "You might find yourself coming here more often, friend.  Three girls at once and I'd say you're outnumbered!"

 

"Sir," I asked once we were outside and alone, "back in the Mercantile you appeared to recall somethin'."

"I did," he nodded, his pale eyes narrowed and he looked up the street towards the place I'd just named.

"I remembered my very first night as deputy Sheriff here, under Tom Landers."  He looked at me and there was a smile hidin' in the corners of his eyes.  "Sarah and Bonnie were in there and so were some fellows up to no good.  I ended up feedin' one my boot knife and shot the other but not until I was on the floor and shootin' at a steep uphill.  I'm kind of superstitious that way."

"Sir?"

"I think it's bad luck to shoot level-on when there are other people behind.  Garrisson can fix a leak in his roof easier than Doc can fix a leak in an innocent party from a wayward pistol ball."

"Yes, sir," I agreed.  "That is so."

The Sheriff considered for a moment.

"Jacob, would you ride out to Bonnie's and let her know Susie is delivered of her young, and they are three, alive and well?  She'll want to set the Ladies' Tea Society on 'em.  You know how women are."

I grinned.

"Yes, sir," I agreed, and I turned and clattered down the wooden stairs to the dirt street, and right directly, why, Apple-horse and I was ridin' out to Miz Bonnie's to give her the glad news.

 

 

 

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78.  THE ANCIENT ORIENTAL

 

I considered my advantages.

Apple-horse was mountain born and mountain bred and here in the East the air was thicker, richer, heavier; here, Apple had more endurance, more raw strength, he was a shade faster in his reflexes and right now I needed every shade of an advantage I could get.

The Sheriff sent me back East to fetch a strongbox he didn't trust with the common carriers of the day and I don't blame him.

Gold is like a compass needle and it draws a man's soul and them that knowed what was in the chest wanted it, and them that didn't know, knew only that 'twas of value.

Apple-horse and I, we signed for attair gold in an Eastern back, back in the Ohio country where the Sheriff still had some investments and they'd paid handsomely and for what ever reason the banks didn't want to ship it by an armored express, or maybe they wanted too much money – whatever the case, the Sheriff allowed as I would have a better chance gettin' it home was I to fetch it my own self.

I did not like the look of that banker's assistant.

The Sheriff taught me early and well "When in doubt, son, follow your gut," and my gut told me that assistant was nothin' but trouble, but there was no help for it, I had to let him watch while I fetched them cloth sacks of gold out of the strongbox and transferred 'em to my saddle bags.

He didn't like me much when I throwed a set of saddle bags over his shoulder and said "Here, make yourself useful," I was the younger man and he did not a'tall like bein' give orders and his eyes was hot and he'd have liked to put a knife in my back if I'm any judge and I did not care.

The banker had two trusted men fetch in pigs of lead and set in attair strong box and carry it out to the carriage I had waitin' and when I went out I fetched the shotgun off my saddlehorn where I had it hangin' by a piggin string and about then one of them town cops he come swaggerin' up and said "See here! Explain to me –" and I drove the flat gutta percha buttplate ag'in his forehead just as hard as I could hit him.

I stood in front of Apple-horse and fetched back them twin hammers and normally a shotgun cocks back to full stand with a nice quiet click, click, and somehow – standin' beside attair bank's brick wall – why, it sounded like the world held its breath and them twin metallic clicks was more like two thundering heartbeats from a monstrous clockwork for the sound of 'em.

I turned me a full circle and I was ready and more than willin' to blow a hole in any man's belly you could pass a hat through and I reckon my eyes showed it and as I catfooted around, why, Apple-horse, he sidestepped around behint me nice as you please with his nose lined up with the spine between my shoulder blades and I felt him grunt and there was the sound of hooves hittin' a man and there was another grunt and the sound of another body hittin' the ground.

That banker's assistant he looked kind of sick, seein' what I figured was his accomplice layin' on the ground doubled up and holdin' his gut, he'd got caught square in the belt buckle and I don't reckon he could have but considered had that hoof caught him lower down he'd be singin' soprano in the Pope's choir.

Brother William said that oncet when him and me went back-to-back ag'in a half dozen fellas that allowed as any man that wore a dress didn't have parts about him and they was goin' to prove it and we left the six groanin' on the ground and every man Jack of 'em didn't get up for some time and most had at least two broken bones to remember us by.

I swung up on Apple-horse and taken that nag by its reins and I drawed that carriage and its decoy load down to the livery and I knowed that fellow I did not trust would get word to whoever, that I'd transferred the gold into my saddlebags and the chest held a lead decoy, and in the livery I switched lead for gold and when we ended up at the depot, why, that chest that was supposed to hold gold, held gold, and them saddlebags was full of lead and sure enough oncet we was on the train in the stock car and I pretended to sleep with attair strongbox beside and behint me and attair shotgun acrost my lap and them saddlebags hung casual-like over the side of Apple-horse's stall, why, they disappeared when we was not movin' and waterin' and that fella cat footed his way out and out the far door and as the train pulled away I heard men arguin' and a couple shots and I found out later one accused another of pulln' a slicker and tryin' to switch lead for gold and one killed the other and one of the railroad detectives who didn't know nothin' about it killed the survivor so they was dead and couldn't talk but it was just as well as the train was movin' west and that suited me fine.

Them was old saddlebags anyhow and my good ones was hangin' ready and empty and I waited until we was on the good side of the Mr. and Mrs. Sippi before I loaded gold into them saddlebags and stacked bricks in attair strongbox.

Now I count myself a lucky man.

Miz Esther bein' the owner of the Z&W Railroad meant she had weight with other railroads and when she asked a thing be done, whether 'twas those lovely green eyes, that gentle Carolina voice of hers, or her skill at doin' business, why, if she asked it, it got done, and we was one of four stock cars buttoned up together and all of 'em held horses and men and that made mine less easy to pick out.

I disliked usin' a chamber pot so I taken advantage of what I taken to be a cleanout at t'other end and then it occurred to me that might make a good place for someone to slip in on the sly, so I stacked a couple hay bales on it and stacked a hay fork ag'in it so if anyone tried to muscle it open attair hay fork would fall over and sure enough, someone tried, and I was layin' down at the time and all I had to do was roll over with that Colt revolver in hand and had they come on through I would have sent 'em back the way they come with a hole in 'em but after attair hay fork fell over everything was real quiet and attair Colt went clickety clatter and just for funzies I had the butt hard ag'in the floor so's it could be heard well and proper and it worked, whoever tried to come through attair hole didn't try no more.

'Course after that I stacked bales of hay to sleep on so's nobody could see where I was a-layin', didn't want nobody to shoot up through the floor at me, was they to do that in station 'twould draw attention but was we stopped for water out in the lonesome, why, they might shoot me, rush in, grab the gold and go.

Hell of a way for a man to get a chest full of bricks.

I slept a little but I sure as hell did not rest a damned bit for two days and I was short tempered and proddy when I heard attair engine whistle and 'twas not its regular whistle and my gut told me that meant trouble so Apple-horse come backin' out of his stall and I got him saddled up and attair gold on him and I slung the side door open and we was slowin' on an up grade and we looked out, Apple-horse and me, and the track curved some to the right as we looked ahead and just before a screen of trees blocked it why I could see a timber barricade on the tracks and me and Apple we allowed as they was slow enough we could jump and jump we did.

Apple was used to comin' off a movin' train so he landed sure footed and he wanted to run but I held him back and we curved around them trees and then we seen them fellas swarmin' the engine and when they just out and out shot the engineer that was enough for me.

I taken me a good look around and didn't see no one else so I fetched up attair shotgun in one hand and I gigged Apple in the ribs and we taken off a-gallop right torst 'em and they was some fellas shootin' out of the passenger car and I went chargin' up just hell-a-tearin' and I stood up in the stirrups and shoved attair shotgun straight out and Apple he slung his head to the left and I drove a charge of swan shot in amongst 'em and taken two with the first shot and then we was in 'em and they was six men on foot and I put two down with my first shot and Apple he grunted when he rammed into a third and we come around a-skiddin' and they was shootin' at me and I stood up ag'in and felt somethin' hit me in the side down low and it felt like I been kicked and I was mad clear through and I commenced to yellin' and I give the man that looked like he was the one that shot me the contents of my left hand shotgun barrel and we ran down another one and Apple he dropped his haunches and skidded a little and I dropped attair shotgun string over the saddle horn and we come around and that last fella, he didn't want no more of that fight so he dropped under the passenger car and scrambled off somewhere and Apple, he wanted him too and I rode the length of the train and we scrambled up over ballast and ties and over them rails and come out t'other side and he was a-leggin' it and I aimed between Apple's ears like Apple was the gun and I let him go and Apple he drove into that third man and he come around and I let him rear and stab down with them steel shod hooves and I let Apple dance and jump on him and I'm yellin' encouragement and when we was done I don't reckon nobody could have reconized him a'tall and Apple he raised his tail and cast his ballot and I fetched up attair shotgun and opened the britch and recht in my coat pocket and fetched out two loaded hulls and I dumped out the empties and dunked in the frash and I held that shotgun overhead and throwed my head back and yelled for the hatred and the fury and Apple he spun around in a circle screamin' and I reckon Hell itself rejoiced to hear it for hate absolutely filled me and we sent one of them sinnin' sons of Perdition back to the fiery lake that sent him here to give good and honest men grief.

They was two Texas cowboys amongst them in the other stock cars and we all got our heads together and then we all rode around and scouted good and made sure was no one else layin' ambuscade on us and then we put on our gloves and we got that timber off the tracks and the conductor he got out them long poles and set onto them telegraph wahrs and he beat on attair telegraph key and let the line know we was stopped and don't let no one run into us, we laid that dead engineer out in the stock car and I kivvered him with a blanket all decent and I was still mad but not a thing I could do about it.

It warn't until Apple-horse and me we got the ramp down and Apple up and one of them Texans allowed as I was hit and bleedin' and I realized my side and most of one pants leg was wet and I swore pretty good but one of them Texans he had a poke of salt and they got some creek water in attair combinet I didn't use and soaked my bloody drawers in salt water to get the blood out and one of them fellas allowed as I'd got clipped right on the front edge of my pelvis, whatever that is, I know it felt like I got hit with a club but that didn't stop me none, he said it splintered up some bone and it looked bad but was I to keep it clean it should be all right.

It was tender but it was only pain and pain won't kill me so I ignored it.

We got to the next town and 'twas built near to a military post and I don't recall which one 'twas but I do recall one of them-there sojer boys taken our report and he allowed as there was rumor of gold and damned if he didn't fetch a strongbox off one of them cars and he didn't more than get halfway to the fort before they was into it with someone so Apple-horse and me we jumped into the fight and so did them Texans for we was still mad and more than willin' to kill however many someones it took to make things peaceful ag'in, and none of us much cared how many that was.

That fancy young fella with the real stiff spine was one of the first ones shot and he had one of them cavalry swords on him like the Sheriff had hangin' on the wall there in the Sheriff's office and Miz Esther and I practiced with long blades and she one time allowed as I'd ought to try that curved Cavalry sabre for it was an edge weapon and she figured I should be more of an edge fighter instead of a tip-fighter, or that's the way she put it, and I don't know how many of them fellas there was but we was pulled in around that gold and them sojer boys was fightin' for their pay and I was fightin' because my blood was up and we got rushed and I taken that sojer's sword and I went screamin' in amongst the Philistines layin' about with the jawbone of curved and sharpened steel and I recall seein' streaks of light where that blade went whippin' through the air, splittin' the wind and cuttin' holes in the air and in men's bodies and I rejoiced – if you take a look at that word you'll see "Rejoice" sounds like "Joy" and that's what I felt, I felt joy – JOY!! – at splittin' a man's body open and cuttin' off a hand or takin' a head near to clear off and of a sudden wasn't nobody left, they throwed down their guns and backed away or run off and got shot in the back and of a sudden I am standin' there breathin' hard and I looked at that red blade with men's lives runnin' off of it and I looked around and Sarah she come walkin' up to me with her own rifle in hand and she was dressed like the Black Agent and she turned the lapel over on my vest to show my six point star and then she looked down and said "You're bleedin'" and everything kind of caught up with me and I reckon that's when my eyes rolled up and I hit the ground.

 

Sarah was settin' beside me when I woke up.

She was dressed like the schoolmarm and she looked all proper and ladylike in that mousy grey dress with her hair pulled up in attair walnut with a whittled pencil stuck through it, she had her spectacles run well down on her nose and she was readin' a little book she was holdin' one handed about her knee and she looked just ever so dainty and proper.

I found out later that she'd changed out of her Agent's black and into a dress and an apron and she'd been the regimental surgeon's right hand, he took her for a nurse and ordered her around like she was one and she was all "Yes, Doctor," this and "Yes, Doctor," that and she was everywhere at once and she was handin' him workin' tools when he called for 'em and she was wipin' a wounded man's face here and slippin' a bite-on-this stick between another's teeth whilst the Doc cut out a bullet there, and when all was settled down and she'd sloshed buckets of water acrost tables and floor and scrubbed things clean, why, the Doc he poured himself a good belt of Knockemstiff and poured one for Sarah and she taken it and downed it and handed the glass back and went back to moppin' the floor clean.

I understand the man tried to hire her for he allowed as she was the one best nurse he'd ever worked with and he'd been a surgeon all his entire career.

When I woke up, though, she was a-settin' beside me and she looked over top her spectacles and smiled.

She had my saddlebags draped over her lap, and she had her .44 bulldog revolver layin' in her lap atop of 'em.

"You're awake."

"You noticed."

"Are you hungry?"

"I could eat the north end of a south bound skunk."

Sarah shook her head.  "Jacob, Jacob, Jacob," she scolded me gently, "you are a naughty boy!"

"Okay, Little Sis, you twisted my arm.  Beef instead of skunk."

"I think we can arrange that."

There was a knock at the door and Sarah turned to look, her hand laid over the handle of her revolver.

The man that came in had the look of experience about him:  his face was lined and weathered, but his uniform was flawless, he moved easy, the way a fighting man will, someone who's seen war and knew it too well.

"I understand," he said, looking at me with almost a fatherly expression, "that you know a certain Colonel."

"I might well, sir," I said, "which one do you mean?"

"A man with pale eyes," he said, and he smiled just a little under his neatly trimmed mustache.

"I reckon I do, sir."

"Is he well?"

"He is well, sir."

The officer shook his head.  "You look just an awful lot like him."

"Thank you, sir."

"You helped save our paymaster's shipment."

"I reckon so, sir."

"The military owes you a debt of gratitude, Deputy."

"I'll take a meal and my horse, sir."

"Your … horse," he said thoughtfully, and I saw something that amused the man in the way he looked at me, then he grabbed a chair and drug it up and he set down with his hat turnin' in his hands the way a thoughtful man will.

"Your horse," he said again, then he looked up at me and said "Do you know, not one of my men could get anywhere near your Appaloosa."

"I reckon not, sir."

"My daughter did."

I couldn't help but grin.  "Apple-horse, he does like the women."

"He certainly must," the officer nodded.  "Your nurse here" – he nodded to Sarah – "can do anything with him, and my daughter has been riding him and laughing."

I grinned.  "How old is your daughter, sir?"

"She just turned four."

"My little sister is little more than that, sir.  She rides him often."

"I have never seen a horse kneel for its rider.  That could be very useful for a wounded trooper."

"I reckon so, sir."

He frowned a little.  "I am sorry I did not ask your permission before my daughter began riding your horse."

"Does she laugh when she rides him, sir?"

I saw his eyes go soft and so did the corners of his mouth, just a little, and he nodded.

"She does," he admitted.  "She does indeed."

"That is a good thing," I said, and my voice was gentle.  "I have seen much grief in my young life, sir, and if I can bring some good about I will do that.  I have nothing but what I can carry in two hands, but the memories I hold will be with me for a lifetime and" – I couldn't help but grin at the memory – "the recollection of my little sister ridin' Apple-horse and laughin' for the happiness of it, why, that's a memory I'll hold onto with both hands!"

"Tell me, Deputy," he finally said, "were you on that train to guard our gold?"

"No, sir," I admitted, and I looked at Sarah, and she nodded, and I knew I could trust the man.

I told him why I'd gone East and why I was headed West, and he allowed as he could detail me a squad of troopers for escort and I thanked him and allowed as might be 'twas best to let the world think the gold got lost in the confusion of attair robbery.

Wouldn't be but one or two men know otherwise and that would be the one or two that made off with that strongbox full of bricks that wasn't there when I went back after my change of clothes.

That's gittin' ahead of myself, though.

You see, Sarah listened carefully to everything I'd been through, from cold cockin' that city cop that wanted a part of that gold – I'd heard they was all lookin' for a payoff and I reckon he was too so I put a stop to it, fast hard and nasty – everything from that to where we was now, and she frowned a little and pulled down the covers and lifted my night shirt and peeled back the bandage and allowed as the doc taken out some splinters and I didn't recall it a'tall, she said I muttered a little but I must've knowed 'twas all right to let him work so I didn't smack him or anything – and finally after my tales was all told, why, Sarah allowed as "You've had an interesting time of it."

She smiled a little as she said it and I kind of grunted.

"Yeah."  I shifted a little and frowned for I was stiffened up some.  "Interestin'."

"There is an ancient Chinese curse, you know."  She closed that little book she was a-readin' and turned her chair a little to face me square-on.

"How's that?"

She laughed a little.  "The ancent Chinese curse?  'May you live in interesting times.'"

I laughed a little.

"Sounds like I made that ancient Oriental kind of unhappy, don't it?"

The officer stood and saluted me.  "Deputy," he said, "you have a friend in the US Cavalry."  He offered his hand and I taken it and he had a proper man's grip, and he fetched off his glove to do it and he had calluses on that good right hand of his.  "If you could tell your father that Nelson Bell says hello."

"I will do that, sir," I said, "and glad for it."

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79.  SIR, I NOTICED

 

The Sheriff considered the saddle bags I set down on his desk.

He looked up at me and raised one eyebrow.

He generally did that when he knew he wasn't seeing the whole picture and I couldn't help it.

I grinned.

The Sheriff is a hard man to surprise and he was even harder to fool and I can't say I'd done either.

"That looks … like less than I'd expected," he said cautiously, and I nodded.

"It is, sir."

His eyebrow climbed up his forehead ag'in and I said "The rest of it is over at Digger's, sir."

"Digger's."

"Yes, sir."

"Digger's."  He shook his head, looked at me and he looked honestly surprised.  "You didn't bring the rest in a coffin …?"

"I did, sir."

"And did you just happen to have a carcass in with it, by any chance?"

"Nobody you know, sir," I deadpanned, and I could tell from the expression he was tryin' hard not to let slip, that he was ready to look shocked.

He had a good poker face, I'll give him that.

"Should I go over and get it before Digger helps himself?"

"That might be a good idea, sir.  You know Digger."

Now Digger wasn't even in and I knowed that but the Sheriff didn't and we went over and relieved the box of about ten bags of gold and the lumber I'd used to block it:  I'd set them ten bags of gold around the edge and I used about one inch by one inch stock to hold it in place and cross ties to brace everything and keep it from shiftin' any and it worked and that much gold was heavy enough it felt like a carcass and the Sheriff he didn't say anythin' until we got the gold loaded in his carriage and he turned to me and said "Jacob, thank you."

"You're welcome, sir."

"I am truly grateful that my bags of gold don't smell like a rotten carcass."

"I was goin' to sprinkle 'em with lilac water, sir, specially for you."

The Sheriff laid his hand on my shoulder and chuckled a little and there was approval in his eyes.

 

When the Sheriff come back into the office after he'd taken the gold home and parked it in his safe (I reckon he did anyway, hell he could have buried it for all I knew) he found me starin' at his cavalry sabre.

He stopped and he stared at it too and finally he said "If that could talk, Jacob, it could tell you some tales."

"Yes, sir."

"I understand you used one recently."

"I did, sir."

"Captain Bell was most impressed."

"He was impressed by you, sir."

"Did he say much about how he knew me?"

"He did not, sir."

"I'm not surprised."

I looked at the man and he looked at me and he knowed I had a question just by my face.

"Sir, I've noticed you don't talk about the war."

The Sheriff looked away and his jaw slid out and he frowned a little as he considered and finally he looked squarely at me and said "Reckon not."

He set down slow and heavy and his eyes stared through the log wall like he was lookin' at somethin' a mile or two distant.

I reckonized the look, I'd seen it before but rarely in the Sheriff.

"I saw too much, Jacob," he said slowly, his voice kind of whispery like he was afraid to get his voice box workin'.  "I saw good men and true killed for no good reason.  I saw men become animals and I found myself shouting for joy when I ran a sword through a man's guts or cut off an arm or a head with my sabre.  With that sabre."  He nodded to the scabbarded slicer hung on the wall yonder.  "I keep it there so I can look at it every day and every day and remind myself just how bad war can be."

"Yes, sir," I said, not really sure what to say, and he looked at me and he looked … wounded.

That scairt me for there was neither man, beast nor the Devil himself I'd ever thought could knock the confidence out of the man's eyes.

"I watched a man with one arm and no legs," he said almost like he was dreamin', or maybe half drunk, "I watched that man roll over and fall out of his bunk into the aisle and then drag himself the length of the passenger car to the back door.

"I watched that man stretch and waller and finally fight his way upright and grab the door knob and crank it around and open and we all of us … Jacob, every last one of us watched, and not one voice rose to protest and not one man came from his berth to stop him." 

He closed his eyes in a grimace, opened them.

"We watched as he rocked and fell and dragged himself to the edge of the platform and then he overbalanced and went over the end and we knew those steel wheels would just cut him apart and they did.  There wasn't much left once the rest of the train ran over him."

He rubbed his closed eyes, his head hung down some, and he talked like he was addressin' his own wrist.

"My Lieutenant – a fine young man – was killed when a cannon blew up, his chest was at once caved in and torn open and he lived long enough for me to hold him and his last words were of his mother."

He raised his head – threw it back, mouth open like he'd just come up from a deep mountain pool and he taken a big gasp of air like he'd been underwater too long – "Jacob, I pray to God Almighty that you never, ever have to go fight with the military.  I … remember … much."  He shivered.  "There is a wonderful camaraderie and that is what I honestly miss.  We were young and we were right and there is nothing more powerful or more addictive than knowing you are absolutely, inarguably right in a thing."

"Yes, sir."

"I do know this, Jacob."  His voice was dry, like his words were squeezin' out through a tight throat.

"I do know I've given you as many lessons as I can draw from my own lifetime, lessons that God willing will keep you alive."

"Yes, sir."

"Should God Almighty favor me with enough lifetime to see your sons born I shall teach them after the same fashion."

"I would take that kindly, sir."

Little did I know he would teach my firstborn son well indeed, and I would die before I knew just how well he'd taught my son, but that's getting' well ahead of myself.

We were both hungry enough to weigh our ought-to's … had we ought get somethin' at Daisy's kitchen and eat now, or had we ought to wait and eat at our own table.

We did both.

 

 

 

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80.  LONG TALL MARSHAL

 

Now I've not said much about our town marshal.

I could and I'd really ought.

You see, he's kind of hard to miss.

I am tall and the Sheriff is tall but we are tall and lean … hell, was the Sheriff to turn sideways he'd not throw a decent shadow even if he'd et a good healthy meal first and I'm much the same, but Jackson Cooper – Marshal Jackson Cooper – was a full head taller than either the Sheriff or myself, and half ag'in broader acrost the shoulders.

I recall one time Shorty had his anvil set up on a stump and it warn't quite level and I don't know what happened but the whole cob house fell over and Shorty was cussin' and getting' some poles and pulleys so's he could try and set it back up and Jackson Cooper he leaned over and grabbed attair anvil by the lug and the horn and he set it back up and made it look easy.

I don't reckon there was much the man couldn't pick up and walk off with was he to set his mind to it.

Now Jackson Cooper was big and Jackson Cooper moved slow, and that's how he wanted folks to think of him, big and slow and maybe he wanted 'em to think he was stupid, but stupid he warn't, not by a long shot:  was a man to study his face and especially those hazel eyes of his, they'd realize that mind never did quit runnin'.

He was fast – he was faster'n any skinny man I ever met – I don't know if he was faster for the first draw, shoot and hit than the Sheriff or not and I never braced off ag'in him for no contest my own self, I just know he could move those big hands of his fast enough you didn't see nothin' but where he was when he started and then where he was when he did whatever he was goin' to do, and he had long enough arms I seen him set his hand ag'in a man's face and hold him out whilst the man swung at him with both fists and ended up gettin' his Saturday night bath a few days early when Jackson Cooper changed his grip and fetched him off the ground by the nape of the neck and dunked him in the nearest horse trough.

Jackson Cooper rode a plow horse of some kind, 'twas the only one big enough to haul his sizable carcass and the plow horse warn't fast a'tall but he was steady and that suited Jackson Cooper just fine.  He tried not to get in a hurry – "My Pa tried to teach me at a tender age that hurry up was brother to mess it up," he told me once, "and you know it's plumb amazin' how often I proved the old man right!" – we both laughed at that, for I'd got myself in Dutch more times than one from bein' in a hurry.

He give me a start one time when he come packin' the Sheriff into the Doc's office – I'd gone in with a boil right at my belt line on the left hand side and it was painin' me quite a bit and I knowed I could have cut it open and squoze it out but I figgered Doc would have what it took to heal it faster and I was right, he did, and about the time Doc packed it with whatever the hell that stuff was that would have burnt like the coals of hell but I was already pretty numbed up from all the pain it already gave me and he'd got it stuffed full and laid a folded cloth over it and I got my drawers back up and my belt cinched up good and here come Jackson Cooper a-packin' the Sheriff and he said "Doc, his horse threw him and I think he's broke another rib," and I recall how much like a rag doll that long tall Sheriff looked with Jackson Cooper packin' him in front like he did.

He married Emma Cooper the school marm and 'twas a marvel to see the two of 'em together.

I genuinely did enjoy seein' 'em at a dance.

Jackson Cooper was tall and Emma Cooper … warn't … and he'd get tired of bendin' over to dance with her and he'd run his arm around under her backside and he'd straighten up and haul her feet a yard off the ground or so it looked, and when he was yet a single man he'd go and court her and he'd get all nervous and he'd take his hat and twist it in them big hands of his and he'd plumb ruin a good beaver hat twistin' it up into a felt sausage.

I'd spoke of Jackson Cooper packin' the Sheriff into the Doc's office.

Now I'll admit the Sheriff is a good man in the saddle, fact is he's better than most, but I am better and that is not stretchin' the truth one little bit.

The Sheriff had that big golden stallion and I never did think much of that horse.

Oh, he rode butter smooth and he was a fine lookin' animal and he was braggin' stock and no two ways about it, but there was no luck in him, none a'tall.

Attair big golden stallion r'ared one time and dropped the Sheriff on a rock the size of two fists and it popped a rib loose, back and front, and the Sheriff admitted it hurt like homemade hell when Doc set his palms crossed over it in front, where 'twas loose from the breastbone, and shoved down to pop it back in, front and back both.

I reckon since he reset both ends of the rib at once it hurt twice as bad and I know it pained the man for years after especially when the weather changed.

Another time the Sheriff come backwards off attair horse and he fell right atop a rattle snake that I reckon might be the reason attair stallion reared in the first place, but the snake struck at him and he landed on the wide open mouth and drove them fangs hilt deep and Charlie Macneil was able to cut them fangs out and he opened up where they'd bit in and he laid frash chawed tobacker in the knife cuts and the Sheriff never did realize how much Charlie thought of him but Charlie he couldn't stand chawin' tobacker a'tall and I don’t blame him one little bit.

Chawin' tobacker always tasted bad to me but might be 'cause I chawed too much my only try and I got sick and how.

I don't see how them idiot horses likes it so much neither but me and the Sheriff, both of us carry us a twist or a plug of molasses cured and we'll whittle off some thick shavin's and bribe us them horses with it.

Nor Sarah, she uses peppermint stick candy.

Attair big black Snowflake mare and them other horses – Butter and Jelly and the others – why they'd do anythin' a'tall for that striped stick candy she bribes 'em with.

The Sheriff liked to show off for little boys especially and he was rearin' that big stallion up and he'd windmill them hooves and put on a good show and that worked real well until the Sheriff come off attair saddle backwards and hit the ground and knocked the wind out of him right in the middle of the street, right in front of God and everyboy and he hit the ground and give a grunt and laid there tryin' to get some wind back in him and his eyes a-bulgin' and attair horse he turned around and give the Sheriff a look as if to wonder what ever are you doin' layin' down in the street and the Sheriff recht up and rubbed the stallion's nose as the horse leaned way down and snuffed at the man tryin' to figure it out.

Attair little boy that was watchin' with great big eyes come over kind of hesitant and he leaned over too and he said "Sheriff?" and the Sheriff told me later he said somethin' really intelligent back at him.

I think he said 'Ow.'

Or somethin' like that anyway.

I would have said the same thing, I think.

 

Now I was talkin' about Jackson Cooper and there's another thing that does bear mention.

The man was an absolute gentleman.

He dearly loved to whirl Emma Cooper around, there on the dance floor, but when her feet was on the ground he was absolutely a gentleman and a proper one, and he was the same with the other women of Firelands.

There were some workin' girls and decent folk wouldn't have much to do with 'em but Jackson Cooper, he didn't never but see the good in 'em same as any other woman and 'twas a marvel, when he'd come stridin' down the board walk and they was comin' t'other way, why, he'd lift that skypiece of his and say "Ladies" in that deep and poweful voice of his and in his presence, the most hardened streetwalker became a lady.

I seen it happen and not a few times and to this day I marvel at that man's gift, and a gift it was, for there was times when the women was havin' a hard time or a bad time and he'd give 'em that gentle look and speak in that gentle voice and them women would become ladies and they'd believe in themselves.

 

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81.  MARSHAL'S FAILURE

 

The bullet smacked into the seasoned white oak between Jackson Cooper and Marshal Linn Keller.

The pale eyed Chauncey marshal not a moment before was looking sorrowful to the point that Jackson Cooper wasn't sure whether his old and dear friend would start leaking salt water from his eyes.

Jackson Cooper was big and Jackson Cooper was strong and a large and strong man is often picked on by those of a small spirit and sure enough, he'd been set upon by the local riffraff.

Jackson Cooper had a background they didn't know about.

Jackson Cooper and the pale eyed Chauncey marshal served together in that damned War, and Jackson Cooper became world famous (at least in his own regiment) when he hauled a shattered carriage apart, stood the cannon barrel up on end, bent and got it on his shoulder and then tucked his butt and grunted a little and stood with the machined bronze tube on his shoulder, and he packed it just over a quarter of a mile to where it was needed, and legend had it he come up as silent as a passing cloud and asked the ranking officer, "Where do you want this thing?" and the shavetail gave a dismissive wave of his hand and said "Just anywhere," and Jackson Cooper dropped it off his shoulder and walked away without a word, and without commenting on how high the officer jumped and how pale the man turned when he saw what one man had just packed all by himself.

Admittedly this was a small cannon, but it was not light by any means, and it took four men to muscle it up off the ground once Jackson Cooper walked away.

When the riffraff confronted Jackson Cooper, he put his easy speed to good use:  two of them he cracked heads together, he hauled them off the ground and slung them like flails, using them to knock their fellows to the ground:  he threw one, then the other into the nearby creek, seized the second two by the backs of their coats, and gave them each the same casual toss, and for his kindly treatment of these bullying sorts who wished to cause him harm, they raised a false accusation of murder.

Plant an evil seed and too often it takes root.

Jackson Cooper found himself looking at a wanted dodger with his name and description on it and he considered his options.

He was too well known and too easily recognized, he reasoned, to remain in the territory, and he was ready to ride off when his old and dear friend, town marshal Linn Keller, caught up with him, and begged him to come with him, that he would straighten this mess out, that it would work out.

Jackson Cooper shook his ponderous head like an old bear and said "Linn, I trust you but I do not trust these courts.  There are more Dirth Suth'n Politics in Athens County than in all the old South and I cannot trust my neck to this crooked judicial system.  You know how it works.  The lot of 'em will plant corkscrews for shade trees and they'll have to be screwed into the ground when they die!"

"Jackson –"

The .44 slug spatted against seasoned white oak planks and stung both men:  Linn jerked back, twisted, raised his Navy Colt, fired at the smoke, fired again:  he turned and saw Jackson Cooper's retreating backside, astride that big horse of his, and faced with the choice, he charged the unseen ambusher instead of his old friend.

It was years before they ran into one another again, and Linn greeted his old and dear friend with a glad voice and a firm grip, and the delight on the man's face told the over-cautious Jackson Cooper that he was in the company of his old friend and not a pursuing lawman.

They sat down together and busied the cook terribly, Jackson Cooper had never been to Colorado and it was random chance that lay his path through Firelands; he'd never heard of the Silver Jewel, but he was a man with an appetite, and Linn insisted he sit and eat his fill, and just as he remembered, Jackson Cooper ate enough for three men and a boy, and a growing boy at that.

"You're Sheriff now?"  Jackson Cooper asked, and Linn grinned almost like a bashful schoolboy and allowed as yes, he was, and he looked Jackson Cooper square in the eye and said "We need a town marshal and I would take it as a personal favor if you'd take the job."

Jackson Cooper's surprise was evident.

He'd run the Owl Hoot Trail for better than a year, getting distance between himself and the false accusations back East; fortuntely, the West was big and he was but one man, and he managed to lose himself in the new land's expanse, at least until he'd crossed paths with this familiar, and most welcome, face.

"You are sure you want me," Jackson Cooper said slowly.

Linn nodded.  "I am."  His answer was decisive and with neither hesitation nor doubt.

"How's the pay?"

"Poor, like any lawman's."

Jackson Cooper laughed and thrust out his hand.  "Then I am your man!"

The two shook and grinned and then sobered.

Linn looked long at his old friend.

"Damn, it's good to see you again," he said softly.  "That night south of Sedalia … when that fella took a shot at us? – I was so afraid I'd never see you again!"

Jackson Cooper was unsure how to answer, so he didn't; it was just as well, for Linn's eyes were distant, and drifted a little to the side, and he murmured, "That had to have been my greatest failure as town marshal!"

He looked back at Jackson Cooper and considered their empty plates.

"I reckon there is pie," he said, and they both grinned again.  "Then we'll fix you up with a room upstairs."

Jackson Cooper considered his sudden turn of fortune.

He'd slept on a hard bed many a miserable night and frankly he hoped for little more than a grassy spot and his blanket, and Linn saw the man's brows wrinkle up and crowd together and finally the big man said slowly, "I don't reckon I'm fit company for much of anyone."

"I reckon you are."  There was no doubt in the pale eyed Sheriff's voice. 

"Might ought I'd find me a horse trough somewhere out of sight and get some of this dirt off me."

"I can offer you a genuine hot water bath and a factory made shave and a haircut."

He could tell from the hopeful look in his old friend's eyes that the idea sounded quite appealing.

"And I don't reckon the Mercantile has what it'll take to fit you with duds but I just happen to know some ladies that specialize in making clothing of about any kind.  I'll send 'em around first thing in the morning and we'll get you fixed up.  How you set for boots?"

Jackson Cooper opened his mouth to make reply and Linn interrupted him.

"I failed you once," he said.  "I do not intend to fail you again."

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82.  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A WOMAN

 

Sarah warn't in a happy mood a'tall.

She was polite and she was ladylike and she was pretty and she thanked attair long tall mountaineer for his patience when she handed back his curly back fiddle, and he listened with his usual grave courtesy as she said she very much appreciated his patience, but she believed the fiddle would be happier back with its own people than under her roof, and I think I saw understanding in the man's eyes.

Sarah come drivin' back into town with her chin in the air and something I'd not seen before.

She looked defeated.

She grabbed holt of my coat sleeve and drug me back the hallway in the Silver Jewel and she slud open that panel and we taken a few steps up them narrow hidden stairs and she slud attair panel shut and she set down of a sudden and then she slud her backside off to the side and I set down beside of her and looked at her and I near to whispered, "Out with it, Little Sis, what happened?"

Sarah's head snapped around and she give me them hard pale eyes and she stuck her fist up under my nose and hissed "Don’t call me that, little brother!"

I laughed and kissed her knuckles and said she was pretty when she was mad and she picked up my hat and rapped my skull with her knuckles and then dropped my hat back down over my eyes and it hurt but 'twas funny and I laughed and then she did too and she leaned over ag'in me and give a sigh and shook her head and I knew she was near to tellin' me what troubled her, and she did.

"Jacob," she said sorrowfully, "I tried to learn the fiddle."

I nodded.

I knew she was going to give it a try and I had every confidence she'd do well at it.

"I gave up."

I blinked a few times and turned and looked at her and them pale eyes that was hard as a granite ridge not a minute ago was soft and girlish and I didn't want nothin' more than to bundle her up in my arms and hold her, so I did, and she laid her cheek over on my shoulder and she let me hold her.

I'd seen her embroidery and her stitch-work, I'd seen her split a playin' card edge wise with that bulldog .44 she favored, I'd crossed blades with her and I knowed how fast and deadly she was, and the notion that she'd not find the fiddle to her taste honestly never occurred to me.

I tried the banjo my own self and it taken me some time to learn a roll but I done it, I never considered myself good enough to play one in public and I kind of drifted away from it but it surpised me Sarah allowed as she'd give up on her try.

"I took it back and gave it to Charlie Daine and thanked him for his lessons and for the loan."

Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, my arm was around her shoulder and she was still leaned into me.

"Jacob, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fail!"

I held her and rocked her a little and whispered "I cain't engineer The Lady Esther."

I felt her stiffen a little so I added "So far I've not been able to toss a loop over the full moon and drag it down neither."

Her voice shook a little as she said "Jacob Keller, are you making fun of me?"

"Little Sis" – I turned and looked at her square-on, or near as I could in that terrible narrow staircase – "there's things I cain't do. Likely was I to set my hard head to it I could engineer attair steam engine and give me a long enough rope and time enough I just might sling a loop around the moon and haul it down and give Angela a shining play-pretty to roll around the back field like a ball.  Is it likely I'll do either one?"

I smiled a little and recht up and brushed back a curl of hair from her cheek bone where it fell down.

"It ain't likely a'tall so I give up on the notion."

She looked a little confused and darn if she didn't sound like a little girl when she asked "You're not disappointed with me?"

I hugged her ag'in and held her and whispered "I ain't never been disappointed in you, Little Sis, and I ain't gonna start now!"

It still hurt when she punched that sharp little fist into my ribs and she hissed "Don't call me little sis!"

"I love you too, darlin'."

 

Now the Sheriff, he had some dealin's with them Mexes down in the Border country, they was a rancho – the Vega y Vega and somethin' or other else, they fancy long names down there – they're good people and all but fancy, them vaqueros dress bright an' flashy but dear God those men can ride! – anyway them and the Sheriff, they had some business dealin's and they thought just awful highly of the man and he come home with a golden stallion that walked funny.

Gold he was and descended from the Conquistadores' mounts, he had the Paso Fino gait which looks like real fast little bitty steps and it's funny to look at and I seen a Paso colt one time on a plank walk and them little tiny hoofies just a-clatter and I couldn't help it, I laughed, but I'll admit that's the nicest gaited horse I ever rode.

The stallion.

Not the colt.

That colt was way too small for even Angela to ride and if she'd seen him she'd have wanted him and like as not she'd have made a pet out of him, you know how little girls are.

Anyway the Sheriff he'd come acrost a black gelding that a dead outlaw didn't have no more use for, him bein' dead and all, and the Sheriff he taken a shine to that black Outlaw-horse and he found out attair horse had been Mis Treated and 'twas deathly afraid of raised voices.

The Sheriff he gentled the horse and he got attair black horse to understand he was safe, and he taught it some tricks and darn if it didn't turn out to be just an awful good saddlemount.

Now 'twas comical the first time attair black gelding saw Angela.

I don't think it ever saw a child before or maybe it never saw a little girl before and Angela was workin' on a stick of pepper mint candy, that red and white stripe kind, and attair black gelding come rubber lippin' over and Angela giggled and offered it a bite and darn if he didn't nip off attair pepper mint stick real delicate and Angela giggled ag'in and that's all it took, attair black Outlaw-horse followed her around just tame as anythin'.

Now the Sheriff he never quit workin' with attair horse and the more he worked with it and the more tricks he taught it why the better attair horse liked him and one fine day they was trouble a-brewin' in town and the Sheriff he rode in with thunder on his brow and that Outlaw-horse underneath of him and I seen he was usin' his old saddle and I knowed somethin' was up and they was some trouble makers givin' him the dark eye and the Sheriff he come up in front of the Silver Jewel and he swung down out of the saddle and he throwed the reins over the hitch rail and he stomped around a little and he faced attair horse and shook his finger at him and allowed as he was a jug headed pig eared glue hoof that needed a good dose of single tree and attair horse shook his head back and forth and blowed loud and the Sheriff he taken down his finger and made a fist and allowed as he was gonna knock attair horse into the middle of next week, did he want to wake up Wednesday or Thursday and attair horse he rubber lip blowed at the Sheriff and the Sheriff he give a roar and swung that fist and damned if that black horse didn't hit the ground deader'n a hammer.

The Sheriff he looked at that bunch of trouble makers and he give 'em the cold eye and his blood was as up as his voice and he allowed as any of 'em that wanted to could step right up here and now and he'd tend their detail and of a sudden warn't no one wanted to get hostile.

They-all kind of drifted off and Angela she come patterin' up in them little flat soled slippers of hers and she bent over and stroked Outlaw's neck and said "Okay horsie!" and Outlaw-horse, he raised his head and then he heaved hisself up off the ground and the Sheriff he flat palmed half a pepper mint stick and that's how he bribed attair horse, Outlaw liked that stripey pepper mint better'n molasses twist tobacker so that's what the Sheriff used for a bribe.

Now Angela she come ridin' into town all pretty and giggly an' she warn't but six years old or so I don't think or maybe eight but when a little girl rides a big stallion she looks that much smaller and she was wearin' a frilly little ridin' outfit an' she even had a matchin' hat and darn if I didn't see her Mama's hand in dressin' her for that's the kind of outfit Miz Esther would wear, and Angela she rode in and attair big gold stallion never did wear a bit and she rode him right up to the Sheriff's office and said "Whoa horsie" in that little girl's voice and 'twas a clear mornin' and her voice carried real well and I don't think there was a man on the street that didn't smile at least a little bit to hear it.

Angela she turned the stallion – them Mexicans named him Rey del Sol, King of the Sun – but Angela called him Goldie – hell, she could have called him Ugly Old Rock and attair horse would've just plainly adored her – she turned him to face the Sheriff's office and hollered "Daddy you better come out here an' get me down 'cause I'm just a little girl an' it's a really long way down!" and I heard a couple fellas laugh quietly and I was one of 'em, the meanest outlaw or the crookedest politician would never even consider givin' attair pale eyed Sheriff an order but this little girl rode right up and made her demand plain, and darn if the Sheriff didn't come out with a grin splittin' his face undernath attar iron grey handlebar mustache and he recht up and hauled his little girl down off attair man sized saddle, and he kissed her when he did and she giggled and she allowed as his muts-tash tickled.

They was a Bone Cracker over in Denver and I honestly wonder that the Sheriff didn't have him a reg'lar weekly appointment with the man, what with how tight his little girl had him wound around her pink little finger.

Never underestimate the power of a woman, no matter how young.

 

 

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83.  PUNISH THE RIGHTEOUS

 

The warrant arrived by express messenger on the morning train.

We passed it from hand to hand, Jackson Cooper and the Sheriff and me and we took it acrost to the Silver Jewel and showed it to Tom Landers and Mr. Baxter.

A saloon is where everyone eventually ends up and we'd take this down to show Shorty as well, for everyone needed a place to eat and if they had a horse they'd pass through the livery and it was right unusual for a warrant to be issued for a woman, but here it was and if we saw her we'd nail her.

From the warrant and the hastily written note that come from it, a dance hall girl in Denver killed a man – a rather prominent man, which meant whoever killed him was in for an uphill fight no matter how righteous the killin' – anyway we was lookin' for a skinny dance hall girl that might look a man in the chest between his shirt pocket and his collar bone, and she'd be dressed like it at least she was when she left and she was all painted up accordin' to what we had in our hands and sure enough there was a strange girl come into the Silver Jewel all a-sneak and she went into the stage entrance and I had Jackson Cooper fade back to the corner of the bar where he could grab her if she tried to run out front, the Sheriff he allowed as he'd go in the stage door and I'd wait back at the back door in case she tried to bolt the back way.

I heard Sarah's voice yell "No, it's a mistake!" and then the Sheriff he yelled somethin' and the man just never, ever raised his voice and then he yelled "JACKSON!" and I heard Jackson Cooper grunt and there was the meaty sound of someone hittin' a wall and Jackson Cooper yelled "I GOT HER!"

The Sheriff knelt down beside the unmoving form of a dance hall girl, all legs and stockings and frilly short skirted red spangle dress, he hauled her arms behint her and got them little bitty irons on her we kept in case we'd have to put a woman in irons, I'd practiced gettin' Sarah in irons and when she didn't want to be it was a rasslin' match and three times out of five she won but this girl was not with us a'tall, Jackson Cooper he said he'd grabbed her arm a-goin' past and steered her into the wall and she run into it face first hard enough the whole wall vibrated and she just plainly cold cocked herself.

I was a-runnin' up the hall and recall seein' Sarah come a-boilin' out of the stage door only she was headed for the back and I had no idea why but maybe she was mad but she'd grabbed her skirts and she was just a-foggin' it a-past me and her head down and I twisted to let her pass and I run up on the Sheriff and Jackson Cooper and that girls' wrists was in irons behint her back and the Sheriff he put a set on her ankles for she'd tried to run and Jackson Cooper he picked her up and packed her over to the Hoose Gow and the Sheriff he started for the stage and I said "Sir if you're lookin' for Sarah she run out the back" and he nodded and turned to follow us over to the calabozo.

Jackson Cooper he packed her back to the very end cell and he laid her down on the bunk and the Sheriff he allowed as he'd just leave her in irons for now, if she woke up behint bars and in irons it would impress upon her that she was well and truly captured and it might take some of the fight out of her, and he said "Jacob, clean up her face, I'd like to see who we're dealin' with," and his voice was a little tight and I knowed he didn't much like the fact that she'd got steered into a solid timber wall but nothin' he could do about it, Jackson Cooper he hadn't done it deliberate and the two of them went for the front of the office.

I got me a dish pan and some clean rags and I went back and I got the blood off, she'd turned her head before she hit so she'd split her scalp just enough to bleed on the left side and her cheek bone was puffed up and startin' to color and once I got some of that face paint off and I'd peeled off that spangly mask she was a-wearin' my heart just hit my boot tops.

I worked some more and got more of that face paint off and then I recht down gentle like and lifted one eyelid and my worst fears seized me right around the gizzard and squeezed cold and tight and I wishpered "Oh my God I am so very sorry!" and then I went down the walkway between the cells feelin' sick and Bonnie was in the Sheriff's office and they was a-talkin' for Sarah had sent Bonnie a note that she needed her help and I interrupted, I laid a hand on Bonnie's shoulder just as the Sheriff said they'd brought an escaping murderess over in irons hand and foot and I said "That's Sarah back there," and 'twas like the world stopped.

Everyone froze and looked at me.

Bonnie's eyes grew hard and there was frost in her voice as she spoke first.

"Sheriff," she said, and there was a flaked-flint-edge to her voice, "Sarah sent me a note that a woman was wrongly accused, she needed to clothe her and disguse her until the investigation could prove her innocent.  She said she'd changed clothes with her and she'd keep her safe but she needed my help to hide her and here I am, and now you're telling me YOU HAVE MY DAUGHTER CHAINED UP IN YOUR JAIL?"

Bonnie Rosenthal seized the Sheriff by his lapels and jerked him hard and the Sheriff he looked like he'd just been told his best friend in the world was dead and Bonnie shook him and I recall his head wobbled and Bonnie pulled his head down and her nose was an inch from his and I recall how her face was line and tight and pale and how sudden old she looked and she was screaming and her voice just FILLED that Sheriff's office and HOW DARE YOU CHAIN UP MY DAUGHTER LIKE A CRIMINAL and I looked around and saw the ring on the peg so I grabbed Jackson Cooper's arm and pulled oncet and then I let go and hot footed it back to that end cell and twisted the key in the lock and I got to Sarah's ankles first and I got them irons off her and they hit the floor and I bent over and grabbed her manacled wrists and got one free and Sarah just plainly come unglued.

She'd been layin' there waitin' and she'd done what I'd do in that situation, she'd done the same as the Sheriff has done, she laid wait and ambush and she'd gathered up all her strength and when that iron come off her one wrist she twisted and kicked and caught me in the chest with them dancin' girl shoes and I think she cracked a rib when she hit me and she drove me up off her and she launched under Jackson Cooper's descending left hand (he told me this, her two legged kick just plainly took all the fight and two days' worth of wind out of me!) – anyway I heard her run a-scamper down the hallway, I heard Bonnie's despairing "Sarraahhhh!" – I recall the front door was open, the Sheriff saw me comin' full bore down the hallway and I just seen one stockinged leg against Cannonball's flank and she was gone, she'd just jumped a-straddle of the Sheriff's red mare and she was gone.

I drove on past the Sheriff and Bonnie and I slapped one hand on the hitch rail and vaulted over it, I twisted and grabbed attair saddle horn and I jumped and throwed my leg and I was in the saddle without benefit of gettin' my hind hoof in the stirrupt first and Apple-horse he loved to run and he was inclined to run right after Cannonball and when I come a-boilin' out of there all in a lather why he was dancin' and bobbin' his head and he was ready and I warn't deep in the seat before he taken off right after the both of them and he stuck his nose straight out and he laid his ears back and I found me them stirrups and I stood up and laid down over his neck and I laid my hands flat on his neck and I'm gruntin' as he was, "Run – run – run – run!"

We just plainly split the wind fair and honest, I reckon we ripped a hole in the fabric of the air itself and my guardian angel was hard pressed knittin' it up behit us whilst he hung onto my shirt tail with one hand, I'm a-yellin' and Apple-horse he's hammerin' at the earth and the wind was strippin' tears out of the corners of my eyes and Sarah she was kickin' at Cannonball and whippin' at her and Sarah she had the rein and she was usin' it to lace that red mare hard and Cannonball she didn't like it, she dropped her hind quarters and she spun and Sarah she went backside over tincup and parted company from the saddle and Cannonball she skidded a little and come up on her hooves and she looked right pleased we was comin' at her and I ho'd at Apple and he done some skiddin' and some butt droppin' his own self but by golly he got stopped too and I was out of the saddle and a-runnin' for Sarah and she was layin' on the ground with that tiny little manacle tight on her wrist and she warn't movin' and I run up and I laid a hand real gentle on her shoulder and I did not care that she might come up like a mountain cat and knock the daylights out of me.

She was my sister and she was hurt and I'd had a hand in the hurtin' of her and whatever she did to me I would take as my just due and punishment.

She did not move.

I lifted her eyelid ag'in and looked at attair pale eye and she did not react a'tall.

I could not help myself.

I felt hot water rush to my eyes and I throwed my head back and I screamed, I screamed with all the power in my guts and I was told later the mountains shivered for the power of my sorrow, an old man told me that some weeks later and I have no reason to doubt the truth of the man's words but I genuinely don't remember nothin' but feelin' more ashamed of myself than I'd ever felt in my entire young life.

I picked Sarah up and she was limber as a rag doll and I got back in the saddle somehow I have no idea how and me and Apple-horse and Cannonball taggin' along with us we paced on back to Firelands and me holdin' Sarah and I've got her rolled up ag'in my breast with her head lollin' limp ag'in my shoulder and I'm cryin' like a lost child for this was my sister and she was my blood and I'd had a hand in her hurt and I reckon the Almighty knows the language of a man's heart for I had not words.

I could not have come up with a single word to speak if I'd had to.

Parson Belden one time said tears were the language we use when we have not words to express our sorrow.

I reckon if that's so I made a fine speech on the way back.

 

It was a full week before Bonnie would speak to the Sheriff and she has to this day no idea how that hurt the man.

He'd always been just and up right and honest and decent and if someone was innocent he'd fight the legions of Hell to prove it and the thought that he'd brought an innocent down as if she were guilty laid like a brand ag'in the man's heart.

Jackson Cooper was even worse, I think he ruint two hats that day and another one when this all come to court, and the hell of it is, thanks to Sarah's investigation 'twas proved that dance hall girl kilt that rich influential man before he could kill her like he'd done others and Sarah proved it and there ended up hush money paid to keep it out of the papers and the official investigation was quietly closed and like anything else money talks and that dance hall girl got paid off too, she made a frash start in Montana and last I heard she was a decent woman with a good husband and family and she sang in the church choir and nobody knowed she'd wore short skirts and frillies and danced for the men in Denver.

Sarah she broke an arm bone when she come off Cannonball and she told me later all she knew was she had to get away, she said she was less a girl than an animal, a wounded animal that would hurt or kill anyone or anything it had to, and she said she'd been – how was it she worded that?

"I was reduced to my basest instincts.  I did not recognize my own mother when I pushed her to the floor in order to escape, I did not regard that stealing a man's horse is a hanging offense.  I knew only that I was wounded, and that I must make my escape, and with a desperate haste."

Always did enjoy listen to her talk when she was talkin' fancy like that.

We set down, the bunch of us, and we figured out what happened from beginnin' to end.

Sarah was investigatin' somethin' in Denver and she'd disguised as a dance hall girl her own self.

She was good at it – both disguise, and bein' a dance hall girl, she was really good at it, she could sing and dance with the very best of 'em – Sarah knowed what happened with that rich fella that like to torture women upstairs and hurt 'em and he'd got to killin' some of 'em and Sarah allowed as if that girl hadn't kilt him she would have, she'd have give him sometin' in his drink to pizen him and then throwed him off a balcony and left a nicely forged suicide note.

That didn't happen.

Sarah switched clothes with the dance hall girl and dressed her all respectable in Sarah's gown and that's why I thought 'twas Sarah just a rim-skinnin' a-past me goin' down the back hall in the Silver Jewel, runnin' from the stage door torst the back.

That warn't Sarah.

That was that girl, escapin' like Sarah told her to.

'Twas Sarah's voice we heard but the Sheriff couldn't tell 'twas a girl in a dance hall costume that had Sarah's voice, she dove out the curtains and acrost the tables and she hit the floor and tumbled like an acrobat and didn't knock over more'n two or three men in the process, she shot for the front door and had Jackson Cooper not had them fast hands of his, why, she'd likely have made it and bird dogged all of us away and when we finally caught her, she said she'd planned to peel off that mask and laugh and say "Gotcha!" and figured we'd get a laugh out of it.

Instead she ended up cold cocked and all the sense knocked out of her pretty head and her in irons and locked behint steel bars.

The Sheriff he set there lookin' as numb and as miserable as if he'd just murdered his best friend.

Bonnie McKenna looked troubled and thoughtful and she recht over and laid her gloved fingers on the Sheriff's arm and give him a long look and he never looked at her, his ears was all flamin' red and he looked as plainly ashamed as he felt.

Jackson Cooper and me, we left that back room there in the Silver Jewel and left him and Sarah and Bonnie and Miz Esther and they all worked it out, they talked long into the night and the Sheriff come out lookin' a little less sick than he had but when he watched Bonnie leave on her husband's arm, he still had the look of a man far less than comfortable.

I give Sarah them irons she was locked up in, when she asked for 'em, and I heard later she and Bonnie and Bonnie's husband Levi they put them irons in the forge and got 'em near to white hot and taken a hammer and chisel and cut 'em up and buried the forge-burnt cut-up chunks in chicken manure and that's how they put that whole unpleasant experience behint 'em.

It taken the Sherff some longer to get over it, for the man had a conscience tall as a shot tower and big around as a church, and it hurt him right deep that he'd hurt Sarah direct and he'd destroyed Bonnie's trust all in one well meanin' move.

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84.  HOW TO BE A FATHER

 

Annette give me that patient look of hers and I warn't in a mood for it but she is my wife and I love her dearly so when she said in her soft voice, "Jacob …?" I stopped eatin' and I set down my fork and I looked squarely at her and I couldn't help but smile, I don't reckon I could stay irritated at her more'n a minute and that's with some practice, and she said "Jacob, dearest, you are terribly quiet tonight," and I considered and realized I hadn't said more'n a half dozen words since I come home.

Women put stock in talkin' and women talk an awful lot and women are happy when they're just talkin' up a storm, when the Ladies' Tea Society gets together I get myself somewheres else.

Now the Sheriff and me, we're just as happy in one another's company if we don't say a word.

I seen him and Charlie Macneil set and not say a word for hours at a time and they're right happy with that.

Matter of fact I learned more from them two when neither of 'em was talkin' than most men in a classroom or a lecture hall.

I warn't with the Sheriff, though, I was at home under my own roof and my wife hadn't seen me all day and I owed her my time, bless her, so I looked at her and said "Yes ma'am, you're right," and then I opened my mouth and somethin' I had not planned on a'tall fell out.

"Annette," I admitted, "I have no idea how to be a father."

Annette stopped and blinked and looked like I'd just surprised her to no end and then she smiled a little and she taken up that delicate china tea cup and sipped at it, I reckon 'twas to try and hide a smile or some such, and she followed the tea cup down with her eyes and then she looked at me and said "Jacob, I fully expect you will be a fine father."

Now I'd surprised myself when what had been worryin' at me for some time fell out of my mouth and hit my plate so to speak.

I had no more intent to burden Annette with that than fly but there it was, set out for everybody and their uncle to admire, and I tilted my head a little to the side and closed one eye and considered for a moment and then I said "Boys generally learn how to be a father from the way they was raised up."

I looked at Annette and a deep seated shiver tried to rattle my frame and I did not let it.

I had killed the evil that killed my Mama and close to killin' me and that evil would never plague the world again, unless it come through me and that's one thing I was dreadful afraid of, and Annette she knew me better than I know me and I taken a long breath and leaned back as the maid took my empty plate and I said "Dear heart, could I trouble you for some more coffee, and Annette will need some more tea for I reckon we're goin' to set and talk about this," and she give me a look and then she looked over at Annette at t'other end of the table and she didn't say a word, she cleared off them plates like she always did and she come back with the coffee pot and the tea pot and she filled us both up and then she drew back a little and I looked at Annette and said "You know how my back looks."

Annette blinked and turned a little pale and she nodded.

She'd seen me buck naked, hell we're man and wife, she knowed what I look like, but she'd been absolutely horrified the first time she saw the whip scars on my back and she asked about 'em and I told her and she cried for a while and shivered and hung onto me and I felt just awful bad about that so much as I could I didn't show my naked back to her but I didn't have to.

"Annette, I do not ever want to do to you what that –"

I hesitated, for the term that came to my lips is not one that's polite to speak across the dining room table, and I fished a little for the right term, and I come acrost what Sarah called him.

"That monster."

I nodded.

The word fit.

"I don't never want to do to you what that monster done to my Mama, and I don't never want to do to any child of mine what that monster done – did – to me."

I'd been trying to improve my language but I found it a slow going task.

I taken a long breath and wrapped both hands around that thick ceramic coffee mug, then I drizzled some cream into it and frowned at it, then I looked up at Annette.

"I'm afraid," I said slowly, "that either I'll … get mad … and be that monster …"

Of a sudden a chill run through me and I shivered it off.

"Or I won't do nothin' for fear of … monstering, is that a word?"  I smiled a little, but only a little, for I realized I was trying to side track things with a laugh.

I tended to do that when I was not comfortable with something.

"I think," Annette said carefully, her eyes going to the sugar bowl and then going back to me, "that when you said boys learn how to be a father from their father…"

She blinked several times and I leaned my fore arms harder into the edge of the table and I listened with both ears and listened close.

"I think you have the Sheriff."

'Twas as if she'd come to a decision when she looked up at me.

"You see how the Sheriff treats with Angela."
I nodded, once.

"You see how the Sheriff has always treated with you."

I nodded again.

"Has he ever struck you?"

"He has not."  My voice was flat, it was a statement of fact, inarguable.

"Has he ever struck Angela?"

I considered for a moment and then nodded slowly.  "He has."
Annette's eyes widened with surprise and I had to laugh.

"He had a shed with a window over a work bench and the window had about eight little panes of glass in it.  Angela taken up a hoe handle and she was poking it through those panes of glass and laughing and he snatched her up and smacked her little bottom twice and she went a-runnin' for the house hollerin' and holdin' her backside."
Annette raised up her teacup again to try and hide that smile, for she'd heard little girls distressed by a swat on the backside before, and we both knew the Sheriff's swat was more a slap to her dignity for she'd had enough layers of dress material and the like to prevent any real pain.

"He never struck you."

"Never."

"He has spoken to you."

"He has, and that was enough."

"I see."

I frowned and of a sudden felt kind of foolish, for Annette was right.

I had that father to use for a pattern.

 

Now I'm not the brightest candle in the chandelier and I was studyin' on Annette's growing belly and how she'd lay a hand on her middle with a surprised look about her and I knowed – knew – the child moved or kicked or somethin' and there was a marvel and a wonder to her face when she felt that.

I felt the same wonder just lookin' at her.

I felt wonder and I felt worry for women died in childbirth and women died after childbirth and she'd already whispered to me in bed alone and holdin' my hand to please, please don't let a doctor, not even our beloved Doc Greenlees nor the dignified Dr. George Flint, please don't let any doctor birth her child.

I kissed my wife and I held my wife and I whispered through my wife's hair into her ear that I promised, that 'twould be Bonnie and Daciana and probably Sarah with her and Annette cried a little for she was fearful and I held her and let her cry, for women tended to be fearful and I was not going to forbid her that, and she told me some years later that it was of such a comfort to her that I held her and let her cry and I let her speak her fears and I never tried to keep her from it.

I went to talk to the Sheriff the next day.

We'd rode out to the Rosenthal ranch for Levi had got one of them new McCormick reapers, he'd planted a strain of wheat that grew this high with our short season and he had a horse drawn sickle bar cutter too and Sarah put that gentleman to use when a grass fire come up and she cut swaths ahead of it and slowed it and men with shovels got ahead of it and smothered it out with sweeps of good Ames steel slud along the ground right at the fire line but that wasn't for some time yet though we did see it working, Levi wanted to see it operate kind of like a kid with a new toy and it was a marvel, all right.

I spoke with Bonnie and told her Annette did not want no doctor birthin' her baby and asked if Bonnie would have a hand in bringin' our first child into the world and you'd think I just give her Solomon's diamond or some such.

Her and Levi had twin girls by then and they stood solemn and big-eyed behint their Mama, holdin' hands – well, they weren't twins, not exactly, I think more like half sisters, one looked kind of Chinee with slanty eyes and dead straight black hair and t'other was blond haired and blue eyed but they still looked alike and they dressed alike and you never saw one without t'other right there and they looked at one another and looked at their Mama and you could tell they were plannin' on bein' there too.

The Sheriff and me we rode back and we drew up halfway from here to there and I finally spoke my piece.

"Sir," said I, "I would counsel with you."

The Sheriff turned Cannonball and walked her up beside me and we was stirrup to stirrup, he faced east and I faced west and he give me that serious look and normally I would have looked away but I looked square on at him and said "I do not have any idea a'tall, how to be a father."

The Sheriff he nodded, and frowned a little and then he said "Come with me."

We ended up ridin' over't Parson Belden's place and Mrs. Parson she was on the back porch when we rode up and she was right tickled to see us and we went in and the Parson was just comin' in from cuttin' and stackin' wood and he warshed up outside and come on in all clean and damp and smellin' of sawdust and the Sheriff allowed as we were lookin' for some good sound advice and the Parson recht for his soft backed Bible he'd had open and shut so many times the cover was beat to death and dead soft and the Sheriff said "Jacob has come to me with a quandary and I would have your wise counsel."

"Wisdom," the Parson said, "is often found in the book of Solomon."  He flipped quickly to the named chapter and looked up and said "Wise counsel on what subject?"

"Parson," I admitted, " I have no idea a'tall how to be a father."

The Parson he closed his mouth and then he closed his Bible and Mrs. Parson she started to dealin' plates like a gambler deals cards and nothin' would do but that she slab off some pie for each of us, she taken a frash baked pie and sliced it from north to south and she turned it and cut it east to west and then each of us got a fourth of a pie and a frash mug of coffee and by golly that was a full meal for a hungry man.

We got to eatin' pie and drinkin' coffee and talkin' and when we set down at the Parson's table conversation was straight forward and it was easy and we spoke without reservation but we was still kind of reserved for Mrs. Parson was right there and he was the sky pilot but he was a man with calluses on his hands and he could out work about anyone he set his mind to and a time or three had, he warn't the kind to set back and tell the sinners how to live their lives, he lived his and I think he set it out for folks to see as much of a sermon as he could have give from behint the pulpit.

Anyway we talked about fathers and we talked about the young and I talked about lookin' at Annette and seein' the changes in her as she grew with new life and how she'd get that surprised look when the baby moved and Mrs. Parson's hand moved to her own belly and she had a soft look about her like she was rememberin' and I spoke of my genuine fear, not that I would become the monster, but that I'd be too lenient, and by not bringin' up my boy in the fear of the Lord I would create another monster.

Now I'm like most men.

If I get sick I hide, if I've a weakness I don't let folks know, I've always had good eyes but was I to need spectacles I'd wear 'em as little as I had to for fear of bein' seen as weak, but this was somethin' that was a-burdenin' my heart and I knowed I could speak of it here, in this place, with these men, and it would go no further.

The Sheriff he listened close and he listened with the same grave courtesy he'd listen to any man; the Parson, he listened in exactly the self same manner, and Mrs. Parson, she kept us supplied with pie and coffee but after that first big slab I was mostly full and she come over and laid her hand on my shoulder and I recht up and laid my hand atop hers and 'twas a comfort, her touch was, and I give a sigh for I recalled my Mama's touch and I missed her somethin' awful but I put that back in its box and returned to the work at hand.

The Sheriff he looked at the Parson and the Parson he looked at the Sheriff and then the Parson said "Linn, do you recall how we'd talk about our families over a fire of a night?" and the Sheriff he nodded and I seen that far away look about him and the Parson he looked at me and said "You sound so very much like Linn here.  When we were in the War and far from home, he would tell me of his wife back in Ohio and how she was with child, and how he wished for the wisdom to be a good father to the child she carried."  He nodded slowly, remembering the night, and I doubt me not part of him was some younger and set on a log or a chunk and smellin' b'iled chickory and wood smoke and hearin' men's tread and voices in the dark, and thinkin' of home and hearin' a friend's soft voice, shared in a distant place.

He looked at me and said "If I didn't know already that you were father and son, what you just told me would mark you plainly, for your words were almost identical to his."  He smiled a little.  "Except for the monster part."

I couldn't help but smile for every boy wishes to be someone his father admires, and to be compared to the Sheriff was to be honored indeed.

Years later I would look back on that talk and I would realize how lucky I was to have such men in whom I could confide, for this was a rare thing.

I did not take it for granted then, and I do not take it for granted now.

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85.   MISUNDERSTANDING, AND A ROLLING PIN

 

Annette used to have a good marble rolling pin.

Most folks had rock maple rollin' pins but Annette had a real nice marble rollin' pin and the maid favored it and that thing was heavy as a sinner's heart and slick as a gut and I don't think the maid realized the handles were just stuck in the ends and not fast in place for she swung it torst my head and I twisted some and taken it acrost the meat of my shoulder but good Lord it come near to puttin' me on my knees and 'twas a misunderstandin' which didn't help when it hit the floor and broke in two and Annette let out a wail and the maid stood there with the handle in her hand and lookin' distressed and I come up and then dipped down ag'in and picked up my knife and then I set down for my shoulder hurt like thunder and I said "Now what are you goin' to do about them hornet stingers I can't get now that you clobbered me?"

Annette's face screwed up and she commenced to cry and I recht out and gathered her to me and I rocked her a little and I know them hornet stings was hurtin' her and I said "Holt still now, shhhh, darlin', just holt still for me," and I switched hands and I taken that shaving sharp blade in my off hand and set it ag'in her face real gentle and I drew it acrost one of them welted up stings like I was a-shavin' her and I caught attair stinger and pulled it out and I got out the ones I could see and then I said "What more are there?" and Annette's hand went to her bosom and she turned just awful red and her eyes was watery and she sniffed and I couldn't help myself, I set attair knife down and turned her so she was set on my knee like a little girl and I wiped her eyes and put my hankie over her nose and pinched it just a little and said "Blow," and she give a honk and I wiped her pretty little beak and the maid she picked up them pieces of rollin' pin and I don't reckon she was over her confusion yet but she seen I was not goin' to cut Annette's throat or some-such and I reckon that's why she come at me with that polished marble dough flattener like she did.

Annette's bottom lip was a-quiver and I whispered and murmured as if to a fretful chld and I worked the stingers out and I told the maid to mix me up a paste of bakin' soda and we daubed them nasty lookin' welts with bakin' soda paste and that helped and then Annette she commenced to cry ag'in and I held her and there-there'd her and she drawed back a little and sniveled and then whimpered, "But Jacob, you don't understand," and before I could make any reply she wailed "I burned down the outhouse!"

The poor darlin' looked so utterly woebegone and she sounded absolutely heart broke and I could not help but laugh and hug her some more and I laid my cheek ag'in hers and whispered into her hair, "I didn't like that outhouse anyhow!" and that just made her cry harder.

Now oncet her tear storm passed and she quit soundin' like a steam engine with the vapors, she told me what happened, and the maid fussed about and looked distressed for I reckon she figgered she'd get fired for takin' a rollin' pin to me and I set that out of my mind much as I could, what with that big deep bruise a-throbbin' like it was and I reckoned my right arm wouldn't be much good for a day or two and Annette allowed as she'd gone to the Out House and there was a young hornet nest in there and they nailed her once and she run for the house and got nailed ag'in so she grabbed the Coal Oil and come back out and give attair nest a drank and there was hornets outside the nest didn't get a drank of Old Settler so she taken a News Paper we'd read to death two months before and she twisted it up and lit it off and she run out to the Out House with attair flaming hornet killin' torch of death and she'd forgot completely about havin' just give it a good splash of Coal Oil.

Now I already knowed 'twas burnt up when I rode up to the house, 'twas still smokin' and I taken a look at it and figgered well it won't take much to knock together a better one, I didn't like that seat anyhow,'twas made of two planks and even though it was sanded nice, it still pinched if I warn't careful when I set down and Annette teased me when I said as much and started callin' me Tendercheeks so I figgered since attair Out House had the courtesy to burn down, why, I'd make me a good one piece seat that wouldn't pinch a'tall.

'Course I didn't tell her that.

She was too distressed with havin' got Hornet Stung several times, for when she run out with attair News Paper twisty torch thang, why, they was layin' ambush an' they come down on her like Samson amongst the Philistines and they smote her ever'where they could punch in a sting and warn't every sting had the stinger still in it but enough of 'em that me shavin' at 'em was helpful and them that didn't have a stinger got opened back up so attair Baking Soda Paste could work.

Annette she didn't have much of an appetite but she set up the table and she drank some cold tea with honey and a little rum in it and I et with a good appetite for I was a hungry man and had been active all day, 'twas one of those busy days when I ddn't do much of anything really spectacular but I never quit movin' til I come home and set down and pulled out that shavin' sharp knife and taken my wife's face in my hand and told her to hold very still and then attair made clobbered me.

I noticed that night she was real quick to fill my coffee cup and she slabbed me off some good Sunday-go-to-meetin' pie and I finally asked her if she thought I was goin' to cut Annette's throat and she said no, she figured I was going to lay a big cut down her fact to spoil her looks and I reckon I turned a little pale for I'd seen that very thing done and I kilt the man that did it but 'twas too late for that poor woman whose face he laid open the way he did.  She joined the White Sisters at the Rabbitville Monastery and wore the white veil over her face like the other Sisters only she had a reason different from the others.

I told the maid I had no intent to fire her and I'd see about gettin' Annette a new marble rollin' pin tomorrow when I went back into town and I was full as a tick but by golly 'twas good eatin' and Annette, she quietly worked on her tea and rum and as she warn't none too steady when she stood up, why, I picked her up and packed her off to the bedroom and I laid her down nice and gentle for she was not used to strong drink and I didn't get much sleep that night for she was right sick after bit.

 

 

 

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86.  ONE ACCURATE SHOT

 

I flinched as the bullet kicked rock spalls off the rock beside me.

I have no idea what ever possessed the idiot shootin' at me to try and rob a bank out here, everyone is either an old soldier or a hunter or a fighter of one nature or another and generally ever' last one of us ws armed and good with what we carried, but there was always someone shy on brains that tried to hold up a bank and generally someone got shot and that tends to cause misunderstandings.

This fella, whoever he was, got shot and shot at and he was hurt but not bad hurt and he was headin' for tall timber with most of Carbon Hill bayin' after him and somehow he managed to lose 'em but the hull county was like a kicked hornet nest and ever'one and their uncle come out to find this bank robber.

Once he saw me, why, he didn't want no lawdog gettin' close to him so he allowed as he'd sling some lead torst me and that really didn't make me happy a'tall.

Apple-horse laid down when I told him to, he was down between two rocks and he had rock left, right and behind, and long as he could see me, why, he was just fine. I reckon he took himself a nap.

I would have.

I didn't, I was too busy anglin' for a shot.

That fella he had a magazine rifle and he drove ten at me and there was a gap whilst he reloaded and I worked my way around the rocks and over the top and I dropped down into a depression but he didn't shoot at me, I reckon his head was down lookin' at his reloadin' and sure enough just before I dropped, I saw him head down and I knowed I had my chance.

I come up and slud my rifle out in front of me and by golly there he was and he tried to get one round too many into the magazine and he was shovin' at the hull with his thumb and I reckon he was cussin' and I eased my best eye behint the back sight and I felt the crescent butt plate drop into that little hollow between my shoulder and my arm muscle and I had him dead to rights.

 

Law and Order Harry Macfarland was never known to run.

He didn’t run now.

He strolled across the street, angling on a diagonal toward the bank, and when the bank robber come out backwards shootin' into the bank, Harry raised his long barrel Colt and fetched back the hammer and allowed as he would put a hole through this fella's boiler room and he damn near did, but he pulled it just a little as he pulled the trigger, the bullet burned across the man's chest and he flinched and pulled back and drove three wild shots at Harry before he turned and he ran across the street and then he remembered his horse was in front of the bank so he turned around and run back and Harry he fired ag'in and pulled low and the round burned the back of one of the running man's thighs but not deep enough to clip a tendon or nothin', he got into the saddle and kicked that poor horse in the ribs and committed that classic military maneuver known as the Advance to the Rear.

The Sheriff called it somethin' else but I'm tryin' to be polite so I won't call it what he does, it's kind of like gettin' out of Dodge.

When Harry told me how much that bleedin' bank robber kicked attair horse gettin' out of town I felt sorry for the horse.

Harry reloaded his revolvin' pistol as he strolled on torst the bank and he went inside and looked around and the people looked at him and gun smoke was hazed in layers and Harry said "Well?  Who's hurt?"

 

I'd got word from the boy runnin' the flimsy up from the telegraph office and the Sheriff allowed as if I wanted to go, why, go on ahead, Apple-horse might like the run and sure enough he did.

I figgered if he was hurt he might try and get to Firelands and get to Doc before word reached us, he forgot entirely the telegraph runs faster than any horse, he seen me ridin' at him and the fight was on and now with Apple horse safe and hid and him duckin' behint a tree with a little depression, why, I'd give him his chance to give up, otherwise he'd taken a shot at a lawman so my conscience wouldn't hurt me none a'tall if I saved the hangman some trouble.

I come up out of that little swale on top of the rock and run to the right and behint another rock and I reckon he expected me to keep workin' my way to the right but I went left instead.

He fired three times where he expected me to come out.

"You can give up now," I yelled, "or you can give up when I put a hole in you."

"You ain't gonna kill me, Pale Eyes!" came the defiant shout and I knowed he'd heard of me or maybe he thought I was my Pa, didn't really matter.

"You like coffee?" I yelled.

There was kind of a long silence and I worked my way downhill and stopped just shy of rock's end and that's when he bounced a bullet off the side of the rock and I flinched back.

He warn't as stupid as I'd hoped, he'd shot at the other end of the rock once he saw I warn't at the one end, or maybe he thought he was stampedin' me.

I stopped and grinned and then I fetched off my Stetson and scaled it through the air and it come out the other end of the rock and I yelled OW and then I come out from around the rock and sure enough he picked up movement, he saw the hat and heard me yell and figgered I'd run t'other way and he didn't see me come out and he warn't there.

My jaw locked down tight and I run back halfway and scrambled back up top and seen him, he was down on one knee and he was tryin' to shove that last round into his magazine and I had him dead to rights.

"DROP IT!" I yelled and that was the last warnin' he had and that was the last thing he heard on this earth.

He fetched attair rifle up and he seen me and I give that trigger its last half ounce of pressure and I sent a sinner to hell on a .44 caliber rifle ball.

 

I am not as fine a writer as the Sheriff but I do all right and I thought about what to say and how to say it before I wrote it into the journal we kept there in the Sheriff's office, and His Honor the Judge he looked at attair journal and he talked with me some and allowed as I done right, the courts would have no objection, the deceased had shot at two lawmen and in the eyes of the law he was bought and paid for.

That's how I saw it too.

The Sheriff and me talked it all over and he listened careful to my account and he said in that quiet voice of his he used when he approved of a thing, "One accurate shot will often settle the situation," and that told me there was times he'd used that one accurate shot his own self.

 

The Sheriff and I talked this over ag'in and I said "Sir?" and he said "Yes, Jacob?" and I said "Sir, how do we let those idiots back East know this ain't a healthy place to come and rob banks?" and the Sheriff he allowed as Miz Duzy tried startin' a news paper until it got burnt out by them two drunks that got the wrong town – they was supposed to burn the news paper over in Cripple, it made a politician mad – Sarah was instrumental in havin' the burnt ruin tore down and cleared out and rebuilt and damned if she didn't put in a library, course I hadn't ought be surprised, her bein' a schoolmarm sometimes and all – anyway, the Sheriff he allowed as if we had a workin' news paper might be we could print up how ever'one out here is fast and accurate with a sixgun and more so with a rifle and how bank robbers generally ended up cold and stiff and lookin' at grass from the under side and I could tell he'd been thinkin' about this for some time and he allowed as maybe 'twas time to put in another news paper.

Duzy had been dead some years, I recall when she passed away, the Sheriff he never did give me the particulars but even years later there was an awful deep hurt to the man, he loved that cousin of his even if she warn't blood related.

I'd like to have known her.

 

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87.  COFFEE!

 

I stepped back as something that used to be a blue granite coffee pot came a-whistlin' out the front door.

I taken a cautious look inside and said "Permission to come aboard!" – I'd heard WJ Garrisson use that one and it seemed a good idea and the Sheriff said "Come on in" and his voice was not a'tall pleased and I reckoned the rest of him warn't too happy neither.

I looked out at attair flattened out coffee pot rockin' to a stop in the middle of the street and then I stepped inside and seen the pot belly stove was wet and it smelt of stale coffee and I reckoned the bottom fell out when the Sheriff went to pick the thing up and I was right, that's what happened.

Now the Sheriff he had a temper and his temper was a thing he honestly feared.

I one time set down with him and allowed as I was afeared of my own temper, for I know how hot and harsh my own soul can flare, and the Sheriff he genuinely surprised me when he admitted his own.

He said he was a boy at home and he'd gone fishin' and he had a brand new genuine bamboo cane pole and they was a thing to be wished for but by golly he had one and they was some boys from up town fishin' too, it was on Fisher Creek and one of 'em grabbed him an' rubbed Cat Tail fuzz in his face and it filled his mouth and nose and he commenced to strangle and they was laughin' and he fought free and coughed out attair fuzz and he looked at his tormentor and he broke attair genuine cane pole in two and it splintered with a sharp end and he charged allown' to spear his tormentor through the guts and could he have caught him he'd have done exactly that.

Now when Pa was a boy he lived in town and he knowed how to get back to town faster than the rest of 'em and he laid ambuscade with his Pa's double barrel shotgun and he hid in the dark and he fully intended to do murder to the one who filled his wind with cat tail fuzz and near to strangled him with it.

He said his tormentor must have figgered somethin' was up for he stopped out of gun range and hollered for him and Pa yelled "Step up here and I will cut you in two!" and his tormentor allowed as how he was wrong and he was sorry and they longer them two held palaver the cooler Pa's temper got and finally he allowed as the other fellow could go his way and sin no more.

Funny thing, nobody much troubled Pa after that.

Now Pa, he hadn't no likin' for what he called "Equipment that Works Ag'in Me" and that's one of the few times when his language was like mine, kind of coarse and uneducated, the Sheriff he tried to speak as an educated man and I'm tryin' but it ain't workin' so very good but the Sheriff he had a temper and when attair coffee pot rotted out the bottom and he picked it up and the bottom fell out and dumped old coffee and grounds all down attair pot belly stove why the Sheriff he throwed it down and stomped it oncet to flatten it and then he slung it out the door when I hauled it open.

I waited, for I knowed the Sheriff would cool down and then we'd likely go over to the Silver Jewel and have our morning council of war, or least ways we'd listen to the talk, what there was this time of day, we'd figger out what needed done today and make our plans for later in the week and we done this every morning for whenever we made plans a week ahead, why, somethin' come in to bust up our good plans every time so we made a week's worth of plan every mornin'.

When the coffee pot didn't make him mad anyway.

Pa he oncet told me his Pa had the same kind of temper.

He allowed as his little brother and his little sister got to throwin' rocks at him and his little brother was fast and good with slingin' rocks and it hurt and Pa he hid behint a water barl and they was laughin' and keepin' him pinned behint attair barl and he recht down and picked up one piece of slate big as his hand.

Slate is flat and slate often breaks off smooth and he picked it up and slung it edge-on right torst his tormentor and attair slate whistled through the air fair and true and straight for his little brother's nose and he'd put his weight behint the throw and then the wind caught attair flat slate rock and peeled off and caught his little sister right down the scalp and she went down cryin' and his little brother took off runnin' for the cabin to tattle and he come out from behint the water barl for there would be hell to pay and much worse if he tried to run or hide.

Sure enough his Pa wound up his good left arm and belted him hard enough to bring him off his feet and him not eight years old and he piled up ag'in the side of the cabin and slud down to the ground and wet himself for fear he was goin' to get it worse but that one man sized blow was all he got.

He never forgot that and he allowed as he would never, ever treat his young that-a-way and he never did, and oncet he told me about that one why I was right glad he'd never done such to me.

I'd never deserved it but I'd been beat for no reason and once a child is beat without reason they figure they can be beat at any time for no reason a'tall and that fear lives with 'em forever.

Might be that's one reason I had the Sheriff teach me his slights and tricks for beatin' the livin' hell out of a man fast, hard and dirty, and I taught ever' one of 'em to Sarah and by God! she taken to them lessons and she was deadly with fists, feet and elbows, and they was some grips and twists Charlie Macneil taught me and her both, tricks like grabbin' a man's thumb and twistin' his arm backwards to put him on the ground and dislocate the thumb if he fought you and that genuinely hurt to have it done and it works, and they was any number of other dirty fightin' tricks I was not a'tall bashful of usin'.

But this mornin' we spoke of none of those things.

We discussed the fool's gold strike on Kolascinski Creek and how some fellas came into town just a tarry hootin' about how they'd found gold and they dumped it out on the bar there in the Silver Jewel and they was a half dozen nuggets and Mr. Baxter he fetched out his gold scales and a knife and he tapped one of 'em with the edge of the knife and it didn't cut and he picked up the nugget and raked it hard along the back of the knife blade and it threw sparks enough to scare a man and someone said "Fool's gold" and them fellers, they grabbed them nuggets and they tried to cut into ever' one of 'em and their shoulders sagged and you could just see the happiness drain out of 'em both like someone pulled a cork out of their boot heel and drained all their joy out on the floor.

I have no idea where the Sheriff found enough fool's gold to salt that creek and maybe he just salted the one place someone was most likely to look.  I know Kohl had been all through attair creek pannin' out and pullin' nuggets and the Sheriff he told Kohl to strip attair creek bare nekked for if anyone else found gold it would not matter that Kohl had both lawful ownership and minin' rights, the locusts would descend and he'd not be able to keep 'em from stealin' ever' last fleck of Kohl's gold.

We went over't the Silver Jewel and Tom Landers warn' there yet and there was a slicker dealin' cards and the Sheriff he set down and taken a hand in the game and he got to lookin' at them cards and he started pointin' out them finger nail marks in the corner and how sometimes fellas would mark the cards – "Like this," he said, and showed how easy it was to put them marks on the pasteboard and not be obvious – and soon as he started markin' up them marked cards, why, attair fancy fella dealin' didn't much like it and he said "See here! You are damaging my property!" and the Sheriff turned over his lapel and give him them pale eyes and he allowed as he did not much care for cheats in his saloon and things got just dead quiet of a sudden and men shied back from ahead and from behint, clearin' a path for bullets where they wouldn't hit anyone but the intended.

"I just called you a cheat," the Sheriff said, and he stood and flared open his coat.  "If you wish to do something about it, go right ahead."

I was ready, my coat was open and Mr. Baxter came over top the bar with attair double gun and the quiet click, click of the barroom howitzer coming into battery was just ever so loud, and you could see that card sharper's mouth go bone dry just all of a sudden.

"You may wish to play cards with a better grade of clients," the Sheriff said easily.  "It may be that someone else marked them without your knowing, but it still makes you look like a cheat."

The sharper opened his mouth but no sound came out.

"Why don't you take your marked cards and pull your freight.  There is nothing for you here."

The sharper was quick to accept this charity.

I heard later once he got to the depot and bought his ticket, once he got into the passenger car, he just plainly collapsed and he was the color of wheat paste and the conductor honestly wondered how he'd had the strength to make it up the cast iron steps into the passenger car in the first place.

We followed the sharper out of the Jewel with our eyes and oncet he was gone, why, the Sheriff he slud the chairs back under attair green topped cyard table and him and me went on back to the Lawman's Corner and we set down and hung our Stetsons on the pegs above, and we held us attair plannin' session and Daisy's girl set them big mugs of coffee down for us and the Sheriff he never said as much but I knew he like the Silver Jewel's coffee better than anythin' he made.

Truth be told, so did I.

 

 

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88.  SEIZE A LIVING SNAKE

 

The dude thought he was a sure-enough cowboy.

He might have been, was he back East and didn't know no better.

I reckon he was a nice enough fella and I was polite enough not to laugh at him as he lay there dead.

I give him a good lookin' over and I recall thinkin' them fancy engraved Colt revolvers might do to l'arn Sarah's sisters or maybe the Sheriff's little girl how to shoot, and then I squatted down and unbuckled the dead man's gunbelt and wallered it out from under him.

I buckled it back up and slung it off my saddle horn, I went through the rest of his pockets and taken a look in his wallet, I stuffed these in my saddle bag and Apple-horse, he looked kind of bored but that's fine, when an Appaloosa, especially a stallion, looks bored, that means the rest of him is lookin' for somethin' interestin' and would anyone try to Injun up on me, why he'd let me know.

He'd done it before and I bragged on him afterward and he liked that.

I taken a look at attair clatterin' mess of a mess kit and read the story in the tracks.

I reckon he must've tied all that tinware on his saddle and then clumb aboard and that sorrel he'd rode was a skittish short, it taken me a bit to soothe the gelding to where I could snatch up his reins and then fool with him and I bribed him with part of a striped candy stick and that done the trick.

I taken a look at the lariat for no pa'tickelar reason and then I taken a closer look and picked it up off his saddle horn and flipped it over on mine.

Brand new it was and the honda didn't show no wear a'tall and I never carried me a reata but somethin' told me this might come in handy so it was mine now, he sure didn't have no more use for it.

I looked around at the flat terrain and curled my lip.

A man that didn't have mountains around him, I was convinced, was a man without part of his soul.

I was returnin' home and glad for it, I'd caught the men I was after, two of 'em I taken to the local court in irons and the third one got planted at that Kansas county's expense:  they'd laid ambuscade for me and it was a close thing, but I l'arned what the Sheriff meant when he talked about his walkdown with Butcher Knife Joe, when he marched down the street with a 32 inch pace and that military man's purposeful stride and the ghosts of every man he'd served with marched beside him, and I did the same thing, I walked right up on these three and they was a-shootin' at me and I didn't even draw until I was about thirty feet away and I smelt my own death and welcomed it and that pale cold fingered reaper didn't show no interest in me a'tall.

I reckon he prefers his victims scared and I warn't.

I've had worse than bein' dead and I was goin' to walk right up on these three and either deliver 'em to Saint Peter or to the local court, for they'd tried to kill a lawman in this county and that made this county's claim greater than mine, at least until they'd served their sentence here.

My coat bore holes as well as my hat and that made me unhappy for that was a good hat.

Now oncet I got them fellers disposed of, why, I pointed Apple-horse's nose back for home and off we rode and we was still on that dreadfully flat ground and I knowed it would take longer than I liked to come to the railhead and ketch an armful of boxcar as the hobo called it, but I was young and I was full of vinegar and then I come acrost the dude and he was deader'n a hammer.

I already told you about him, though.

I rode on back into town and give the Sheriff the location of attair body and I give him the effects from the body and I handed him attair fancy cyarved double gunbelt and them engraved .22 Colt revolvers and attair Kansas Sheriff he snorted and said "Now what use in the world is them little pip squeak things?" and I allowed as I would buy 'em off the county for a fair price and he named a dollar and I paid it and so they ended up wrapped in my possibles behint my saddle and him and their Under Taker they taken the dead wagon and headed out to where I'd described.

I didn't say nothin' about attair lariat.

Now I am not a hand with a loop and I'll admit that.

I am not as bad with a loop as the Sheriff is makin' coffee.

Matter of fact I am not as bad with a loop as the Sheriff is with a loop.

As best as I can recall, the only time in that man's life he ever, EVER made a decent cast, he was standin' up in the bow of a rowboat on ... hell, I forget which river ... Miz Esther she sliced up the man that tried to rip attair brooch off her throat, she pulled that long thin blade out of her fan and made a long slice down his forearm and two or three more cuts acrost the upper part of his arm and chest but he stiff armed her and she went over backwarts and she pushed off and missed the lower deck God only knows how and she went into the water and all she could think of was that big paddle wheel thrashin' the water and she dove and it went over top of her and she near to drowned comin' back up and I recall she said she heard a baby cryin' and I don't know what to make of that but she come up and she had to fight current and wake both and them heavy petticoats was pullin' at her and she said 'twas like a thousand river demons were swarmin' her tryin' to pull her down and she barely broke surface and raised an arm and she said this genuine Whale Boat was just plainly splittin' the water comin' at her and she said them oars was like a Water Skipper's legs and the Sheriff he was standin' up in the bow like Saint Hoosegow or some-such and damned if he didn't float that lariat just as pretty as you please down over her arm and underneath her armpit and she grabbed attair rope and he hauled her in and one of them big fellers that was rowin' an' she said he was genuinely a Boston whaler, he seized her around the waist and turned her around and broke her over his arm like a shotgun and she throwed up at least ten gallon of river water and oncet she started to cough and choke why he give her to the Sheriff and allowed as she was not dyin' today and they'all went back to the river boat an' ever'one but the Sheriff and Miz Esther why they got rip roarin' drunk and that's the only time the Sheriff ever made a decent cast with a lariat.

I'll tell that tale to my own young and they'll look at Miz Esther and likely they'll ask "Gran'ma, did Grampa really do that?" and she'll give 'em that gentle look of hers and she'll say "Yes, dear, he really did," and she'll gather 'em to her like a mama hen gatherin' her chicks.

Like I said I'm better'n the Sheriff when it comes to a loop.

I ain't that good but I ain't bad.

The wind shifted and 'twas a little cooler, they was clouds tryin' to clabber up like milk a-sour and they was startin' to build real tall and I figgered 'twas a good thing I had my rain gear with me for we'd have a wet and miserable ride here directly and then I smelt smoke and it warn't near dark yet otherwise the sky glow would have give it away and I heard a child scream.

When a child screams it's more of a high pitched whistle.

A woman screams and it sounds like someone is rippin' the living soul out of a wildcat by its bloody roots, but a child's scream is more of a whistle and Apple-horse he laid his ears back and I leaned into him and locked my heels into his ribs and he p'inted hisself torst attair scream like he was a rifle barl and fired himself through it and we come over the rise and God Almighty there was a wall of living fire comin' at us and I knowed there was no way we could out run it but there was a holler below us and we heard another scream and I seen a little child lookin' at attair fire and then down into a hole and we come borin' in just as hard as that mountain stallion could run and Apple he swung a-circle around attair hole, it looked like maybe someone tried to dig a mine shaft twenty foot acrost and got it about ten, twelve foot deep and give up and there was a boy down in there and a little girl lookin' at me with great big scairt eyes and I looked over and seen where we could get into a natural holler to keep from bein' burnt up as attair fahr come through the grass and I figgered we could all jump in attair sandy bottom mine hole and none of us git out afterward or I could try and out run Hell itself comin' on blisterin' legs.

I snatched up attair lariat and it come alive in my hands.

I recall 'twas smooth and I felt ever' braid as it passed through my fingers and Apple he drawed up and r'ared and windmilled them forehooves for he didn't like that fahr a'tall but he was with me and he warn't goin' to bolt long as I was in the saddle and long as I had a seat I warn't goin' nowheres and I lifted my arms and spun attair lariat and 'twas like graspin' a living snake, a snake that flew, a snake that did my bidding.

Attair loop opened like a mouth and dropped over attair boy and I give it a twitch and a dally around the saddle horn and 'twas no time to be delicate, I wanted Apple-horse out of there and I heldt the tag end of attair hand plaited reata and I come way down over the side of my stallion and we run torst that little girl and she looked like a scairt rabbit and I recall she lifted her fingers torst her mouth the way a little girl child will and I snagged her around the waist and hauled her up and I turned Apple-horse and we spun back to attair boy and he'd popped over the edge of attair hole like a cork out of deep water and I bailed out of the saddle with that little girl under one arm and I throwed her up a-straddle of Apple's neck and I snatched up attair boy and we swung into the saddle and him behint me and I yeld "HOLD AROUND ME!" and them little arms they seized me around the middle and I don't think you could've pried him loose with a crowbar and Apple he turned his backside to them flames and we swung around and shot into attair rocky holler and spun in a little cove in the rock and Apple he stood there all a-shiver and his eyes showin' white and his nostrils a-flarin' and that smoke it rolled in like a blanket might roll over into a ditch and we stood there and just that quick attair prairie fire was burnt over top of us and gone and the wind a-comin' behint it blowin' the smoke after it and the wind smelt clean and it smelt of rain and we rode slow out of that holler, with that little girl scairt and shiverin' and I picked her up and turnt her around and brought her in and she was hangin' onto me from the front and attair little boy he was hung onto me from behint and I got that draggin' lariat looped up and back on the saddle horn and we come out into the black and dusty ruin just as them first cold drops of rain come a-spattin' down at us.

We rode into the yard of a house the fahr missed and a woman shaded her eyes from the front door and when she seen us she give a screech and her and a man come a-runnin' torst us and the three of us on Apple-horse by then was soakin' wet and cold from the rain but it drowned out attair fahr and they didn't waste no time gettin' them young ones inside and stripped down and dried off.

Me, I rode for their barn and I got Apple-horse unsaddled and I found me some sacking and rubbed him down and I bribed him with some tobacker and I rubbed his nose and told him he was a good boy and he done good and he nosed my middle for he wanted the rest of attair red-and-white stripey candy I'd bribed the dude's gelding with so I laughed and give it to him and the man he come out and he shaken my hand and thanked me kindly, he said he'd seen attair prairie fahr but he didn't know where his young'uns were, they went a-wander the way children will.

I laughed and allowed as we've got a pair of boys back in Firelands that was forever gittin' in trouble, they'd fired a skyrocket into a thunder cloud and got hit by lightning and they each had a white blaze in their hair to show for it and he laughed and then he got real serious and I told him how I'd found the boy in that hole and the little girl scairt and not knowin' what to do.

He asked about the fahr and I allowed as yes, it was comin' at us but there is a rocky cleft and we sheltered in that, and he turned a little pale and set down hard and he looked at me and his throat sounded like 'twas dried out when he whispered, "Don't tell my wife," and I allowed as I'd not.

I give 'em all the coffee I had, half a pound of beans, they hadn't been neither roasted nor ground and I apologized for that, and they were all kind of tickled to get such a bounty, and they set me down and fed me and I made a note between my ears to send 'em a sack of flour and prob'ly a crate of chickens for they could use some eggs, they were tryin' their best to make a livin' and oncet I got myself pretty well dried out and I taken my leave of 'em, why, I rode off with attair lariat over my saddle horn and ever' now and again I would reach down and caress it with my finger tips, and oncet or twice I picked it up and it warn't but braided leather and I tried to spin me a loop ag'in and it just fell down and wouldn't do nothin'.

I ended up givin' it away.

I give away the lariat but I never give up attair memory of handling a living snake, and how it popped that little boy out of attair sandy bottom hole like a cork comin' out of deep water.

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89.  A QUIET VOICE

 

Apple-horse's ears swung around and he looked but he didn't alarm.

Didn't figure he would.

I come up here time and again.

It was a high and lonely place.

The Sheriff had his High Lonesome.

Mine was some west of there and not as high but 'twas easier to get to and sometimes I'd overnight here if the need arose.  Not often, you understand, I'm a man who's learned to appreciate the comfort of my own bed under my own roof and goin' to sleep holdin' my wife's hand.

There's times, though, when a man wants to get out and kind of dump his head off to the side and let all them clatterin' voices and all that roilin' confusion pour out his ear and hit the ground and soak into the dirt and be gone, and then listen to the silence.

This was one of them times.

I never looked over as a silent figure all in black approached.

I didn't have to.

Sarah settled down beside me, her in all black like she was when she worked a case for the Judge, and we set there and neither of us said a word, and finally she leaned a little ag'in me and I leaned a little ag'in her and we recht for one anothers' hands and each of us give a little squeeze.

"You smell like smoke," she whispered, her voice surprisin' loud in the silence, and Apple-horse's ears swung around torst her like he was surprised, then he switched his tail and dropped his head and snuffed around for some graze and I give Sarah's hand just a light little squeeze and said "I had my Saturday night bath a day early."

I felt her shiver.

"I hate fire," she whispered.  "It's hungry and it wants to devour the entire earth.  We think because we put it in an iron cage and heat coffee over top of it, that we have it controlled."

"That's why I built out of stone."

She nodded and whispered bleakly, "That's right," and I turned my head and looked at her and she was staring into the distance and her eyes were real wide and real pale and I shifted and said "Sarah, what's wrong?"

She blinked and it looked like her soul fell back into her body ka-whump like she set down fast and unepected on a stone seat and she grimaced a little and said "Nothing," and I said "You're as bad a liar as I am, Little Sis, now out with it!"

Normally if I called her Little Sis she'd bristle and come right back at me but she didn't.

Matter of fact she cowered into me and dropped her head and whimpered and I turned a little more and taken her in my arms and she damn neart climbed in my lap and started to cry a little and I had no idea what I'd done nor what went wrong and I sure as hell didn't know what to do so I pulled her into me and wrapped my arms tight around her and rocked her a little and whispered "There, now, shhhh, there, shhh, you're here, you're safe, shhhh," like I was soothing a child just woke up from a nightmare.

I rocked her and held her for a while and finally she relaxed a little, 'twas like rocking a ball of wound-tight rawhide, wrapped tight with piano wire and dried in the desert sun, she was wound up like an eight day clock and I had no notion a'tall how come, but a quiet voice and a gentle hold-her-on-my-lap and in time, why, she come out of it and she pulled out a black hankie from somewhere and wiped her eyes and blowed her nose with a loud and most unladylike HONK and she whispered all husky voiced, "You must think me a weak and foolish woman," and I turned the rest of the way around and crossed my long legs Indian set and I leaned forward and I taken her chin between thumb and forefinger and I looked – I bored my look – I bored my pale eyes deep into her pale eyes and I said real quiet, "Sarah Lynne McKenna, blood of my blood and get of my father, you are neither weak nor are you foolish," and there was a harder edge to my voice than I wanted but it was out and no recallin' it and Sarah nodded and bit her bottom lip like Miz Bonnie does and I can see why the Sheriff wanted to rip his beatin' heart out of his breast and lay at the woman's feet, Sarah was Miz Bonnie's daughter and no two ways about it and was we not blood relation and me married, why, I'd be payin' court to her my own self.

Sarah nodded, she taken a long breath and then another and then she looked at me and she taken both my hands in both hers, a light grip for she was polite and she never would hold my gun hand – neither of 'em for I carried one on my left hip and one on my right – but she would take a light grip I could slip out of easy.

"Jacob," she said quietly and her voice was a little less than steady, "you remember when I was attending Professor Hunt's School of Detection in Denver."

I nodded.

"You remember I was investigating two gangs that did not wish to be investigated."

Again, my slow, single nod, my eyes never leaving hers, my hat brim never dipping far enough to break our eye to eye link.

"You remember they carried bales of straw into the basement, they soaked the area with coal oil and they fired the building, and they cared not that the building was occupied and had office workers and our entire class above."

I felt my face tighten and I kept my hands from enveloping and tightening over hers.

"I recall."

"I fought part of my class down the stairs, I got everyone out of the building, I had to force and push and threaten them but they got down the burning staircase that was the only escape and finally the Professor and I tried to make our escape and the staircase collapsed."

My jaw muscles bulged up and my bottom jaw tightened and I give that one slow nod.

"I got the Professor back into the classroom.  I'd prepared an emergency escape but classmates gang-swarmed the ladder and broke it and all we had was the silk rappel."

"You … were sayin'."

"Jacob, I was … I was scared but I was ecstatic."

Her breathing was quick now, shallow, her shoulders lifting and dropping the way a woman's will when she's reliving some passion – the Sheriff carefully explained to me that "Passion, Jacob, is not the feeling for a man and his lover.  Passion is any strong and uncontrolled emotion, and we must learn to subdue our passions" – I think that was part of a fancy phrase I'd heard him say when he thought himself alone and doing some Masonic memory work.  I found out in later years, when I myself became a Mason, that was the case, but that warn't yet.

Sarah shivered and whispered, "Not long before Levi came into Mama's life, we had a fine new McCormick Reaper and … that man" – she never spoke the scoundrel's name that bankrupted them and arranged to sell wife and daughters into white-slave whorehouse duty in Frisco to pay his debts – "had plans to raise winter wheat and make a fortune he could gamble away."

"I recall."  My voice was low, even, quiet … just like the Sheriff's, I noted absently, and Sarah looked up at me, surprised, but she continued.

"Jacob, I saw the fire coming at us and I knew I was the only one that could stop it, so there I am, a pretty girl in a pretty frock and patent leather slippers, hitching Butter and Jelly to the sickle bar cutter and off we went, a pretty young girl with ribbons in her hair, charging like a knight-errant to fight the legions of Hell itself." 

Her laugh was less a sound of amusement than a bark of irony.

"I paid attention to its operation and I saw how to lower the sickle bar cutter and run it alone and I did, and I mowed down a fire break and cut a second one, and then the Irish Brigade and half the men from town came from somewhere and they were all rakes and shovels and shouting voices and they raked the cut hay back from the advancing fire and I cut a third pass and I saved us, Jacob, I saved us, but I was so very scared!"

I recalled the day.

I was one of the men with a rake and I'd blessed the Providence that bade me ride with an extra pair of gloves in my belt, for I'd give 'em to a townie who had no calluses on his hands, I don't recall who 'twas but he give them gloves back afterward with his thanks and we both knowed he'd have blistered them soft hands for he did a man's work that day and no two ways about it.

"Jacob, there will be fires and there will be more fires and they will kill people I love."  She looked at me and her eyes were glitter-bright.  "They will happen and I am prepared as best I can.  The house I plan will be of stones as is your own.  I am consulting with Mr. Llewellyn on its design and its construction.  He knows fire better than anyone."

I nodded.  Daffyd Llewelln was the Welsh Irishman, one of the red-shirted firemen the Sheriff imported from Cincinnati when he bought the town's first steam fire engine.

"I reckon he does," I agreed.

"I've installed fire escapes over our bedroom windows," Sarah whispered dryly, "and I shall practice their use with my sisters.  Mother … declined … to have such an ugly appurtenance over her bedroom window and so if the house is fired, she may not escape."

"Do you see her dying in a house fire?"  I asked bluntly, and Sarah looked at me, somewhere between surprised and shocked and I'm surprised she didn't blurt "How did you know?" – but she didn't.

She shook her head.

"What else have you seen?"

"My husband will die, Jacob.  He will die in he saving of an important life, of someone who has to live and raise another generation.  It's important and I don't know why" – she shook her head a little – "but it is.  Just as your son will die but not in vain."

My mouth went dry.

This business of women and their Sight was something I accepted.

Women are creatures of magic and of incredible strength and this was part of Women's Magic and I said "Sarah, what of my son?" and my voice rasped out of my dry throat like a diamondback's belly scales rasping over a dry rock.

Sarah rolled out of my lap and came up on her knees, she seized both my hands in hers, she squeezed hard and she burned her eyes into mine and she hissed, "Jacob, teach him to fight.  Teach him every trick you know about killing.  Teach him the knife and teach him the pistol and teach him to kill with elbow and the edge of the foot, use every trick and slight and train him young and well!"

I was honestly surprised.

I had never seen Sarah so intense in all her life.

I nodded and said "I will, Sarah.  I will that."

It was not for many years after that I learned what she meant, and when the War Department missive landed in my shaking hands, I remembered her words, and glad I was I'd heeded them, for the communication was delivered by diplomatic representatives of the German government, but that is another story altogether, one that involves the enraved, copper plated revolvers the Sheriff had special made for my firstborn son.

 

 

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90.  TAKING CARE OF THEIR OWN

 

The Bear Killer was not small by any means.

I'd heard dogs less than half his size pulled milk carts in Holland.

Now I'd never seen a milk cart and all I knowed about Holland was it was somewheres acrost the big salt water and they had windmills and I couldn't figure for the life of me why they didn't just hitch up a good horse to a reg'lar wagon but I l'arned a long time ago different places have different customs and so I was content to set in the shade and rub The Bear Killer's belly, and The Bear Killer was content to let me.

They was a good knock down drag out in court that morning and of course I baled right in the middle of it, I slung one fellow acrost the room and run him head first into the opposite wall and another one he got a good one landed on my cheek bone but I made him regret it, he went to the Hoose Gow with cracked ribs and that taken the fight out of him and the Bailiff he had his hands full with another fellow so I grabbed the back of his britches – that fella he was a-fightin', not the Bailiff – I grabbed me a good hand full of waist band and I hauled him off his feet and he give a screech like I was tearin' out feathers or some-such and I introduced his face to the floor and that settled his hash.

Now His Honor the Judge, he enjoys a show as much as any man, and he set on attair bench and watched whilst we resored order and he allowed later on as he'd enjoyed hisself for he said the bailiff was good but I was amongst the Philistines like Samson on a snake and he admired the way I brought the sinners to heel.

Now 'twas just after twelve noon and the Sheriff and I we rode out to his place and Miz Esther she was lookin' just awful womanly and she had that smoothness of face and a girlish complexion that comes when a woman is carryin' a girl child and she was showin' a little belly on her too and I hugged her careful-like and told her how lovely she was and she laughed and said she felt like a whale and I don't rightly know what a whale is other'n what I'd heard Parson Belden talkin' about when Jonah got swalleredup only I've read Scripture and it says he was swallered by a great fish and it says nothing about what kind so I doubt me seriously if he got et by a whale, somethin' else had to have happened but Miz Esther didn't look a thing like a fish and I said so and she was plumb tickled by that and the Sheriff he was tryin' hard not to laugh and we set down and et and we et well.

Miz Esther she asked about Annette and I told her the Ladies' Tea Society taken to meetin' out at our place and with that many wimmen folks under roof why I was plumb out numbered and Miz Esther smiled aga'in and allowed as she didn't feel comfortable travelin' since she was In A Family Way and I said "Yes ma'am" and we turned our noses torst our plates.

Now I et with a good appetite but the Sheriff he of a sudden stopped eatin' and sipped a little at his coffee and finally he excused himself and he didn't look right and he warn't movin' right.

The Bear Killer, he'd been drowsin' off to the side but when the Sheriff rose, so did that big black curly furred mountain dog and he follered the Sheriff out of the room and if I needed anythin' to show me ill was in he wind, why, that was more than plenty right there, for dogs is fine judges of people and The Bear Killer's fur was startin' to bristle up acrost his shoulders and down his spine.

I looked at Miz Esther and she rose up and followed him and the maid she kind of drifted that-a-way so I finished cleanin' my plate and I downed the rest of my coffee and then  went around to t'other end of the table and drank the rest of the Sheriff's coffee as well, for it was good coffee, and about then the maid come in the room and her face was the color of wheat paste and she opened her mouth and her eyes was the size of tea saucers and I didn't wait for her to speak.

Hell, the way she looked, I don't think she could have put two words together.

I come in the next room and the Sheriff he was a-waller on the floor and his jaw was locked shut and he looked at me and he was halfway between Ungodly miserable and madder'n hell and Miz Esther was right  there with him and The Bear Killer was settin' beside her and he looked at me and give a little whine and I knelt down beside him and said "'Scuse me" and run my arms under neath the Sheriff and I rocked back and tucked my butt and leveraged the man up to my knee and I reset and then I come up and rolled back on the balls of my feet and stood and the Sheriff he let out kind of a strangled hiss and Miz Esther she got up and snatched up her skirts and the maid she scampered ahead of us like she was scairt and I reckon she was from the look on her face and I packed the Sheriff up to his bedroom and 'twas not easy for he is lean and he is solid and he is all muscle and whipcord and 'twas genuinely all I wanted but he was my Pa and I was goin' to get him in his own bed and tended and I didn't care if 'twas peaceful or otherwise.

We got him upstairs and I recalled Charlie Macneil describin' pickin' the man up when he'd got hurt before and Charlie he said "I'm gettin' too old for this" and by the time I set the Sheriff down on his turned down bed I was inclined to agree.

The Sheriff he laid there with his hands fisted up and his arms stiff and him burnin' holes in the ceiling with that cold eyed glare and we got him stripped down to his long handles and I allowed as that was good enough, I drawed up his bed covers and I taken his left fist in both my hands and I looked at the man's eyes and said "Sir, your orders?" and he looked at me and his throat worked and then he rolled over and he was tryin' hard not to throw up.

"Fetch me a dish pan," I said to the maid, "and a towel if you would, please," and she was out of that room on a dead run.

The Bear Killer he'd come to t'other side of the bed and he'd laid his chin on the bed and he was a-lookin' at us and he looked right worried.

I laid my hand on the Sheriff's shoulder and said "Sir, I'll fetch Doc straight away," and he barely managed a nod and I saw sweat beadin' up on his fore head and I give his shoulder a little bit of a squeeze and I turned and looked at Miz Esther and said "I'll be right back, ma'am," and she looked at me and there was an icy calm about the woman, she'd taken holt of her feelin's with an iron claw just like the Sheriff described himself doin', she was goin' to do what ever was needful for her husband and I reckon was a man to have looked inside her, why, her spine would have been made of wrought iron and whalebone in equal parts.

The maid she come steamin' back into the room all awkward and almost a-stumble, she near to fell when she come to the doorway and she drove her shoulder into the door frame and she bit her bottom lip and come upright and I stepped over and taken the wash pan from her and the towel from off her arm and I cupped my hand over that shoulder she'd just hit and I said quietly, "Mary, are you hurt?" and she shook her head and I knew she was a-lyin' to me but 'twas not the time to argue about it.

I turned and set attair wash pan down on the floor and laid the towel over the edge of the bed, folded in thirds to make a sluice in case the Sheriff heaved it would channel down into attair pan and not splatter all over the floor, I hoped anyway.

I turned and I recall thinkin' how loud my boot heels were on attair broad and solid built stair case, and Apple-horse he knew somethin' was in the wind for he was dancin' when I come out the door and I come off the steps and taken one long legged pace and h'isted myself into the saddle in one jump and we spun around and pointed our noses torst that fine stone hospital they was a-buildin' for the Doctors Flint and Greenlees.

Oncet Doc was there with him and Miz Esther she had the hired man hitch up the carriage in case she'd have to send the maid out, why, I went on back into town so I'd not be a-clutterin' up underfoot and I spoke with Jackson Cooper the town marshal and inquired if anyone had been around needin' us and he allowed as no, nobody had, which suited me just fine.

Until the Sheriff got straightened up, why, I was actin' Sheriff and I taken that seriously.

I rode on out to my place and the ladies was a-clatterin' and a-gossipin' and havin' a high old time and I come in and taken off my hat and Annette she taken one look at me and she rose up and come around and we went into a side room and I filled her in on what's happened and I said "Do not let the ladies know," and Miz Bonnie she taken hold of my shoulder and said "Don't let us know what?" and I turned and looked into them lovely violet eyes and I considered carefully and then I nodded and said "Doc Greenlees said the Sheriff is passin' a kidney stone.  The man hit the floor and he's sicker'n I've ever seen him."

Miz Bonnie's face paled some but she raised her chin and looked at Annette and considered, and then she turned and put two fingers to her lips and gave as loud and un-ladylike a whistle as Sarah has ever give as a saloon girl, and she began to organize her troops, and right directly, why, the Ladies' Tea Society headed for the Sheriff's big tall log home with covered dishes and kettles and willin' hands, all set up in divisions and brigades and companies and organized all to hell, and the household suddenly had the Ladies' Tea Society present in shifts, and Annette was right in there with 'em, helpin' with washin', cookin', cleanin' and I don't know what-all, and at one point Miz Bonnie she come over and bit her bottom lip and considered and then she raised her chin and she spoke plainly to me.

"Jacob," she said, "if your father was not a married man, I would have set my cap for him long ago.  I had my chance when we first met and I have regretted with my every breath since, that I did not."  She spoke in a proper voice, with her hands properly folded in her apron, then she set all this aside and she taken me by both shoulders and she looked at me with them violet eyes and there was steel in her voice as she said quietly, "Jacob Keller, don't you ever, EVER try to keep something like this from me again!" – then she kissed me sudden-like on the cheek and she spun around and she was back with the other Ladies, and I'm standin' there with my teeth in my mouth wonderin' what just happened.

I will make no secret of my not bein' able to figure out women folk, but this I will say.

When one of their own was needful, they taken care of their own.

 

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91.  MIZ ESTHER'S ROSES

 

Miz Esther always was just pretty sharp in her business dealin's.

Miz Bonnie was too and them two was the very best of friends and the Sheriff he give Miz Esther the Z&W Railroad but it warn't called that at first.

I'm gettin' ahead of myself.

The Sheriff he was pretty sharp at business his own self and he seen – saw – the Silver Jewel would make more money if it had a good kitchen an' he saw what a genuine gem Daisy was in runnin' it and he just give her the restaurant end of the business and he was right, she got a good income and he made money and it all worked out real well.

He saw the struggling short line railroad and he saw the mines just might see a greater economy to freight ore to the refinin' mill than to move the hull dern mill so he married Miz Esther and give her the railroad.

Them fellers at the mine figgered Miz Esther was a mere woman and they could pull a good one over on her and she out haggled 'em and she got them to foot the bill to lay a secont track and good steel rails to boot instead of the iron rails that was common, they laid questions at her about goin' to the expense of them new fangled knuckle couplers instead of the link and pin everybody and their uncle was usin' and them board of director fellas just about wet themselves when she went to the expense of them brand new Westinghouse air brakes but damned if she didn't show 'em on paper and in real life both that her way meant more profit for her and less expense for them and since she owned the railroad 'twas her say and they could go pound sand if they didn't like it and attair mine kind of made a face but they saw Miz Esther was runnin' that railroad like a fine watch and their ore got moved faster and more efficiently and for a lower dollar and by golly all of a sudden they was all behint her.

Miz Esther she always did love roses and so she had roses for her insignia and the Sheriff he'd named their first locomotive The Lady Esther and 'twas lettered up in shadowed gold leaf all fancy on the side of the cab and they kept attair engine all polished up bright and good lookin' and she had three roses painted for her insignia, one upright and two others, their stems crossed and all three in bloom.

One was for her, one for the Sheriff, and one for me.

When she found out she was with child she had a rose bud added to the spray on the locomotive.

Every railcar had the three roses but the engine showed the increase of her family, there was rose buds added and then these was repainted as blossoms when the children were born, Angela had her little rose added as well, and Miz Esther she found some roses from New England where it's cold most of the year and she gardened herself up a rose bed the length of our little white washed church and she had roses bloomin' there long as 'twas not freezin' and her and Mr. Garrison at the mercantile, and then ever'one else that run the place after he was beat to death, why, they had a room upstairs with lots of windows and they'd raise roses in there year round.

Miz Esther she'd show up at someone's door bearin' a rose and a quiet smile on her face and she'd give it to the woman of the house and ever' time, why, that woman was bearin' a child, and there was no exceptions, ever' time a woman was with child even before she knowed it why there was Miz Esther with a single red rose for her and it got to the point that women would rely more on Miz Esther showin' up with a flower ruther'n go't the doc to find out.

'Twas the same with a death but Miz Esther would not show up until the family knowed of the death.

Roses was her trade mark and the Sheriff did not offer any objection a'tall for Miz Esther was well loved by just ever'body and I was a-settin' in the office when there come a knock on the door and then it opened and a blond haired trooper come in and cracked his heels and saluted me.

I was already on my feet and I returned his salute and said "At ease, have a set," and I judged attair young blond haired troop to be about my age but he looked younger, or else I felt considerable older.

He didn't budge, he said "Sir, I am looking for Sheriff Keller."

I nodded slow and said "You've found him."

He looked kind of surprised.  "I'm sorry, sir, it's just ..."

He frowned and said "I thought you would be older!"

"I'm Sheriff Jacob Keller," I said.  "Might you be thinkin' of my father, Linn Keller?"

"Yes, sir.  He is not sheriff now?"

"Oh, he's Sheriff and will be ag'in when he gets back."  I shifted my hips and set down on the corner of the desk.  "What brings you to Firelands, friend?"

He had a package under his arm and he come torst me and fetched up attair package.  "Sergeant Finnegan's compliments, sir, and this is for the Sheriff."

He laid it on the desk and I slud off and turned to take a good look at what he was unwrappin'.

'Twas a bridle and a good lookin' one, 'twas made without a bit, for the Sheriff and I both knee trained our mounts, but the silver work is what caught my eye.

"Sir, I understand your father and mine served together in the War."  He reached down and almost caressed one of the engraved roundels.  "The Sergeant thinks very highly of the Sheriff."

I picked up the bridle and turned it a little, admiring the workmanship.

"That stitching," I said, "is even and tight, and that engraving is absolutely gorgeous."  I looked at the blue eyed trooper and said "Your work?"

"Yes, sir," he admitted, and his ears turned red.

I nodded.  "My thanks to the Sergeant," I said, "and my complements, and thank you for this absolutely beautiful work."  I couldn't help but grin.  "I reckon Cannonball will just strut when she wears this!"

"Cannonball," the trooper said thoughtfully.  "That's the Sheriff's red mare that ran two counties south of us."

"She is."

"I recall the jockey ... small, athletic, almost acrobatic," he said thoughtfully, "with three roses embrodered into his scarf."  His grin was quick, boyish.  "I knew your father's Cannonball was not known to them so I bet all I had on her."

Sarah, I thought, but said nothing.  Sarah rode Cannonball in that race.

"Did you win?"

"Yes, sir, I did!" he exulted.

I nodded and laughed a little, for the trooper was likeable and his delight was contagious.

"Trooper, have you eaten?"

"I did earlier, sir."

"If you've an appetite, the Silver Jewel is just across the street and I'm buyin'."

He came to attention and declared, "Sir, it would be bad manners to turn down such a generous offer!"

When I taken attair bridle out to the Sheriff, I told him that trooper was a walking appetite on two hollow legs but by golly I'd filled him up and the Sheriff he approved of that, and Doc Greenlees give him some laudunum or somethin' of the kind and he was kind of happy drunk and his eyes was big and black and that looked so terrible odd for I was used to the man's pale eyes and he didn't have much strength so he let attair bridle lay on his lap and closed his eyes and I looked over at Miz Esther and we cat footed out of the room and Nurse Susan stayed with the man and Miz Esther she closed the door behint her and said, "Dr. Greenlees said he's passed another one of those murderous kidney stones," and I nodded, for I'd heard of how painful they were but seein' the Sheriff hit the floor like that a-wallerin' like a worm on a fish hook genuinely put the uncomforts upon me.  "We're straining his water as he makes it. So far we've caught three of them.   We're giving him something to ease his pain."

"I figured, from his eyes," I said faintly.

Miz Esther taken my cheeks in both hands and give me a motherly, understanding look.

"He will be fine, Jacob," she said firmly but quietly.  "I will not countenance otherwise."

"Ma'am," I said honestly, "I would not presume to doubt your word!"

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92.  IT'S DANGEROUS SO I SHOT IT

 

Sarah wanted me to come to Denver.

She said she was performing at their Opera House.

Now Miz Bonnie would likely be mortified plumb to death to think of her darlin' daughter as one of them face painted stage performers, they was generally regarded amongst decent folks the same as fan dancers and the like, unless maybe you was in New York or back East.

Sarah can be persuasive and Sarah can blanny up a man and bat them pretty eyes of hers and wrap damn neart anyone around her cute little finger but all she did was ask me and then she said "I may need your help" and there was no doubt a'tall that I would go.

We didn't go until after the Sheriff blowed attair medicine bottle all to hell and gone.

He'd shed them kidney stones and he was still sore and walkin' kind of hunched over but he was too hard headed and contrary to stay in bed one more day and I went to report to him the day's doin's and he was out of bed and gettin' dressed and Nurse Susan she was a-flutterin' and a-cacklin' around like a Banty hen and that was kind of comical for she was big as a haystack and the Sheriff he had his drawers on and was just thumb hookin' his galluses over his shoulders and he stopped and he taken her by the shoulders and he looked into her eyes and he give her the full cold power of his silent granite glare and then he pulled her in and kissed her quick-like and let her go and she fell back and her eyes was big and the back of her hand went to her lips and she looked at me and I said "My turn?" and she snapped her mouth shut and snatched up her skirts and out the door she went and the Sheriff shrugged into his vest and he said "I'll need your help," and I said "Yes, sir," and together we got his boots on him and his gun belt and I fetched his coat down and unpinned his star from underneath my lapel and put it back under his where he kept it and then he turned around and we got his coat on him and I handed him his hat.

He picked up attair brown bottle and I knowed it was that juice Doc give him and he said softly, "Jacob, I'm likin' this stuff reeeeeal well."  He looked at me and I saw his eyes go hard and he said "Fetch along my shotgun."

"Yes, sir."

We went on down stairs and we went out the back porch and The Bear Killer come along with us and the Sheriff he taken a long look at attair bottle and I saw him swaller like his mouth was a-water and then he tossed it in his trash pile where they burnt trash and such-like and he stepped back and then he turned around and he give attair brown bottle both barls and he just plainly blowed it into spray and dust.

He stood there and his bottom jaw run out and then he broke open the double gun and dunked in two frash hulls and dropped the fired brass into his coat pocket and we went on into the house and he parked the shotgun back on its rack and we went out on the front porch, two tall men in black suits and black flat brim hats and we went on down to the barn and he put attair brand new bridle on Cannonball and I was right.

She just plainly strutted a-wearin' that fine hand chased engravin' roses bridle.

We rode back up to the house, him on Cannonball and me on Apple-horse and the Sheriff he drew up in front of the porch and me with him and Miz Esther come out and she give him a concerned look and then she looked at Cannonball's bridle and she come down them stairs like the Queen descending from her throne and she taken a close look at attair engravin' and she smiled quiet-like and allowed as that was exquisite work, and she reached up and laid her fingers ever so delicate on the back of the Sheriff's hand and he bent over and taken up her hand and kissed the back of her knuckles and said "Later, my love," and then we turned and rode off torst town.

 

Next night I set in attair opera house and not likin' it much but Sarah she said as she'd like to have me there.

I was set next to the aisle about a third of the way back from the stage and 'twas a good seat, I could see the stage real clear, and they was a boy in a funny lookin' round red cap and red jacket scampered acrost and lit them lime lights and as the heat warmed up the lime, why, it shone so bright a white as to hurt a man's eyes was he to look at 'em and oncet they was all lit, why, he disappeared behint the curtain on t'other end and attair fella in what Sarah called the "orchestra pit" raised a skinny stick and begun to beat it ag'in that little tin table ahead of him and then he raised it up, I reckon he wanted to see if he'd broke that skinny little stick, and then them musicians begun to play and 'twas a lovely thing to hear.

They played for less than a minute and the curtains opened kind of quick and Sarah stood there in the middle of the stage all alone and she lifted her chin and I seen her shoulders come up as she taken a good breath and then she half closed her eyes and she begun to sing.

That don't do it justice.

It don't do her no justice a'tall.

"Sarah begun to sing."

'Twas more like Sarah taken the beauty of sunrise over the mountains and seized it with both hands and wrung it out into a dish pan, she taken the grace of a galloping horse and a soaring eagle and she sang that.

She sang power and speed and the feel of a good horse under you and the ease with which a hungry hawk can turn in mid air and tear down on a runnin' rabbit, she taken the taste of good coffee and the feel of a wife's hand in your own and she taken the laugh of a child and she sang all that and it soared like a porcelain wing sea gull over top of us and I could not breathe.

I could not breathe.

I heard Sarah sing any number of times in church and 'twas gorgeous but an opera house is built so's ever'one can hear ever' thing that's said on attair stage and we was gettin' the full benefit of her voice.

Sarah she looked off well above us and she sang to whoever was in them balcony seats and she taken a half step forward and raised her arms as if to a lover and I felt somethin' warm and wet dribble down my cheek and she was Sarah, my Sarah, my sister and blood kin, but God help me I never EVER saw her that beautiful and I never heard her that beautiful and part of my soul ached to be the one she was a-reachin' for, and then two silver ghosts glided out on stage with her and they circled around her and they spun kind of slow and faced us and they raised their arms as well and began to sing and they had holt of me right around the guts and I could barely breathe and I could not move and that was genuinely the loveliest thing I'd ever heard.

They was a commotion behint me and Sarah she stepped up torst those lime lights and shaded her eyes from 'em with her hand and then she dipped her knees and fetched up her rifle and I heard that Winchester action shuck-shuck real loud as the other two women turned and glided away and I dove out of my seat and hit the floor facin' torst the back and my Colt was in my hand and I come up on my side a little and Sarah fired and so did that fella in back and his shot went high and wild and mine did not and Sarah fired a secont time and he fell back and I saw the pistol fall from his hand and I was up and running and my cocked pistol in the lead and I come up on him and he was deader'n a politician's promise so I reloaded that spent round and holstered and when the first Denver policeman come a-runnin' in I turned my lapel over to show attair six point star and said "It's all over, friend," and I lifted my boot to show the pistol I'd stepped on to guarantee nobody would make off with it.

It taken the audience a little to realize this warn't part of the show and when they did realize, why, they wanted to crowd around and gawk and them police sorts they throwed the body on a litter and packed it out of there and someone throwed a canvas over the blood and me and Sarah went with them there town cops for we'd be obliged to give a statement and likely be subpoenaed into court after, but I still managed to find two people who heard the dead man's brags when he come in all likkered up that he ws goin' to shoot down a chandelier.

When a man comes in intendin' to shoot up a crowded theater, he's puttin' ever'one at risk and he's too dangerous to let live.

Just like someone claimin' to be insane when they kill someone.

Dutchman's Justice.

If they're insane to the point they kill someone, they're too dangerous to let live.

 

A day or two later, Doc asked the Sheriff if he was still usin' that pain killin' juice he'd give him.

"No," the Sheriff said.  "It was dangerous, so I shot it."

I considered that he just might be right.

 

 

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93.  "NEVER AGAIN, JACOB!"

 

The Sheriff he give me that wise look of his and he laughed a little and he said "People in hell want ice water, too, and you know how well that works out!"

I had to laugh a little my own self, for he was right.

We'd been ridin' and talkin', more the ride than the talk truth be told, but somehow we got to discussin' distressin' things that we could not do a damned thing about.

The Sheriff he told me about that damned War and how he'd held a young man, a member of his staff, someone he referred to as "a fine young Lieutenant" and he never did tell me the man's name, his eyes was at once distant, and very, very hard, when he spoke of holding him as he choked out his last breath, whispering for his Mama.

He told me of seein' men gut shot and wallerin' like a worm on a fish hook and not a damned thing he could do to help them and all he could do was continue his advance on the enemy.

He'd watched houses set afire before he got there and he heard a woman screamin' to death in one and his voice was flat and quiet and absolutely without emotion of any kind and I listened for 'twas rare when he'd speak of such matters and when he did it's because it was talk or bust and I did not want the man to bust.

He'd come close to it a time or three, oncet he was Bush Whacked and a fellow taken a shot at him and the Sheriff he had attair cavalry saber of his with him and he kicked Cannonball into a gallop and he taken off screamin' torst the man that shot at him and swung attair shining crescent of honed steel and fetched the bush whacker's head off with one clip and then he come out of attair saddle and snatched the head up by its hair and he stomped around in a circle slingin' blood and screamin' and then he looked at the Bush Whack's pardner and he pointed attair curve bladed slicer torst the second man and I don't reckon he quit runnin' til he hit the Mr. and Mrs. Sippi River, he run his horse plumb to death and when it fell under him he taken off runnin' his own self.

I spoke of seein' Annette in pain and how 'twas a-frustrate for me to see it and not be able to fix it, and the Sheriff he nodded and allowed as he felt the same way when Esther got clubbed and it stove in part of her skull and she lost a child and a near thing for had Doc not gone in and prized up what he called attair Bone Window, why, she would've died sure as not.

"That's why I became Sheriff, Jacob," the Sheriff said slowly, like he was comin' to realize somethin' his own self.  "I don't never want to be able to do nothing about a situation."  He looked over at me and half his mouth was drawed up in a half grin.  "Of course thing will happen that I can neither help nor hinder, but I got into law enforcement to begin with because I wanted to keep bad things from happening."

"Yes, sir," I said quietly.

The Sheriff he looked off into the distance, well beyond Cannonball's ears.

"I don't ever want to feel helpless like that again," he said softly, so soft I almost didn't catch it.  "Never again, Jacob!"

I nodded.

Didn't much feel kindly torst the feelin' my own self.

 

I'd drug a boy's body out of the water and I broke him over my fore arm like a shotgun and he threw up about five gallon of water and I laid him face down over my saddle and run alongside Apple for a distance tryin' to bounce some life into his cold carcass and 'twas no good a'tall and not a damned thing I could do to change it.

Didn't like how that felt.

I'd faced down a fellow that should have knowed better and he got ambitious and tried to out draw me and he come out in secont place and that was nothin' short of a damned waste for he was otherwise a good man 'cept if he was drinkin' and figgered he'd been slighted and he didn't want no boy deputy as he called me tellin' him anythin' a'tall.

I put lead into him knowin' if I did not he'd punch my ticket and I warn't goin' to let that happen and he fell back with a hole through his left eye and a big hole out the back of his gourd and I walked up to him a-layin' there dead and I cussed him seven ways from Sunday for bein' a prideful fool.

That didn't help none neither.

I knowed what the Sheriff meant by them situations I could not help, I'd run into 'em and I was never in no War so I figgered 'twas just the way life went.

Course what do I know, I'm just a boy deputy.

 

I was careful to keep them hornets chased out of that new Out House I'd built.

I oiled the inside and them hornets they don't like to nest on oiled wood and long as nobody tried runnin' a fire over the inside I was all set and Annette she had me set a stone shelf in attair outhouse for her to set a lantern or whoever went out there at night and I stood flat stone behint it for 'twas set in the corner and that-a-way no lantern could get close to attair wood side.

Annette she liked that slick settin' on board, I'd chamfered the hole and sanded it down slick as a gut and shellacked and then varnished it and finish sanded and by golly it was nice.

Cold in season but you can't get around that.

I'd even painted it up nice and painted the trim dark green and Annette she liked that, I added some scroll work supportin' the crescent moon on the door and then I got ambitious and painted some flowers and di'monds and such-like on the Scroll Work and made it look like they was blossomin' out of vines and Annette she liked that too so I called that good and quit decoratin' and she was kind of disappointed, she allowed as she'd been lookin' forward to seein' what I was goin' to come up with next.

Now our house was built up ag'in the side of a rock face and for the most part 'twas just that, one of them-there Eye-talian stone masons was talkin' things over with Doc and he allowed as it was what Doc called a "Monolithic Block" which meant 'twas one piece of rock and warn't likely to spall off nor break off, and we never had no trouble a'tall with that.

Now atop the cliff above, why, there was some loose rock and one of these come just a-whistlin' down and landed beside attair out house and put a dent in the side but that was between the Out House and the house and 'twas not easily seen but I fetched out the paint and repainted the frash paint damage.

It's not that I want my Out House to be flawless ... it's more like I did not want to listen to Annette if she'd seen the damage.

I'd built a solid roof on the thing and then shingled over that and I reckoned a rock that size hittin' the roof would make a loud BANG and scare whoever was inside but chances are if it come through it'd be slowed to almost a stop but more likely it would hit and bounce off.

 

Now Annette she was gettin' kind of short tempered and of a sudden she'd just take off cryin' and I didn't know what to do so I'd bundle her up in my arms and hold her and I was awful surprised the first time she r'ared back with them sharp little fists and beat on me and scolded "Jacob Keller you let me go!" and before I could she collapsed into me just cryin' up a storm and the Sheriff he told me sometimes women do this and I done just the right thing, holdin' her, and it right puzzled me how she could change like that but maybe it's because women change when they're carryin' a child, I dunno.

I ain't got women figgered out.

I spoke of this to the Sheriff and he laughed and clapped me on the shoulder and allowed as I was in good company, for in all the history of mankind, no man ever, EVER managed to figger out wimmen!

 

Miz Esther she was gettin' a belly on her and Annette warn't far behint but they both still looked like fine ladies.

Miz Esther she still run the Rail Road and did a right fine job of it, she come out to the Round House on occasion and them fellers they'd come around and allow as Miz Esther you'd ought be home with your feet up and Miz Esther can I fetch you some tea and Miz Esther this and Miz Esther that and hell the Sheriff should have had her a velvet throne made for she was like the Queen in a beehive and all them men just a-swarmin' around her.

She had their loyalty, she had their loyalty to a man, she had them absolutely positively a-favorin' her and ever' man Jack of 'em was convinced he was her personal favorite and worked accordingly and the Z&W Railroad turned a profit as a result.

Now Annette, she pretty much stayed home, 'twas almost a disgrace for a gravid woman to be seen out in public, 'twas only because Miz Esther was such a power in the local business world that she didn't get shredded – oh, the local harpies tried to, they was old wasps that liked nothin' better than to shove their noses in someone else's business and their knives into someone else's back and you'll have that about everywhere I reckon. Them is the same women who made their bitter comments if Miz Esther or Miz Bonnie wore the same dress twicet to any occasion.  Now men folk wouldn't say hi yes or go fly a kite about that but women tend to be vicious that-a-way so Miz Bonnie and Miz Esther they come up with an idea and them and Sarah and Daisy and hell about all the good women in town all got their heads together and they-all wore the same dress every time to go marketing, the same dress to go to church, the same dress to go to the Ladies' Tea Society, and then they got ambitious and had their dresses made alike and of a sudden all the ladies in the Tea Socety wore the same dress, ever' last one of 'em, for every Tea Society get-together, they'd all had the same style dress made up to go to church, they had the same style dress made up for every social occasion, and at first why them old wasps was just a-buzzin' about it and then they got uncomfortable and then they asked for them same kind of dresses.

That kind of fell apart and the women went back to wearin' whatever they damn well pleased and them wasps sung kind of low for a while, least until they saw some way to get their knives in someone else.

 

Now Sarah she had a good bit of the Old Scratch in her.

She liked to torment them old wasps any chance she got.

She had 'em all up in a lather for she was disguisin' herself as a dance hall girl and that's just like bein' a lady of the evenin' in most cases and often they were both, Sarah she was gettin' information over in Denver and surroundin' parts and she was over in Cripple all frilly short skirts and stockings and long lovely legs and she was painted and disguised enough nobody knowed her, she come back to Firelands and just for fun she danced on stage at the Silver Jewel and she even posted a schedule – they was reg'lar entertainment and she became part of it – but never under her own name, and always in disguise, and then she started to whisper it about kind of indirect that 'twas Sarah dancin' on stage and oh them wasps just cackled and buzzed and they was a-likin' that for hadn't Miz Bonnie been a working girl back when the Silver Jewel was a dirty whorehouse and beer joint?

Wa'l this one day the whisper come around ag'in and them sour faced old wimme come into the Silver Jewel and they was watchin' that girl dancin' on stage and just disportin' herself somethin' shameful and they began to raise a shout and "Shame! shame!" and callin' her by name and the front door come open and Sarah she put her fingers to her lips and give a shrill whistle and attair piano player he quit beatin' on them ivories and the dancin' girl she quit dancin' and ever'one turned and Sarah raised her voice torst them-there sour faced wasps and called, "Yoo-hoo!  Did I hear my name called?" and you'd think ever' one of them-there disagreeable women just bit down on a sour pickle and swallered it down with lemon squeezin's.

Now truth be told, and Sarah turned red and buried her face in my shoulder with the tellin' of it, she had been dancin' on stage when them old biddies come in, and she'd put on a fine and absolutely shameless show for 'em but she was workin' in company with another dancin' girl her same size and they wore the same costume, when Sarah whirled back into the curtains at the back of the stage, why, this girl she come a-whippin' out and it looked like the same girl a-dancin' and Sarah she changed real fast and scrubbed off that face paint and she got into a respectable frock and she ran out the back and around to the front and waited for them disagreeable old women to raise a fuss and then she as much as dumped a barl of cold rain water all over 'em.

I never seen women slink out before but by golly they did and when Sarah turned all red and muffled her laughter in my shoulder as we sat in that hidden back stairway and talked like we often did, Sarah just plainly got short winded she was laughin' so hard and I had a grin on my face broad as two Texas townships, for I love it when the rug gits yanked out from under like that.

I'll say this for her, she got an awful lot of good information gussied up like that.

She could set on a man's lap and look into his eyes and give him them long lovely lashes and she'd half veil her eyes and I know when the Sheriff is feelin' kindly his eyes will go a light blue and Sarah's was just a shade darker – hers would get just as ice pale when she was mad but when she was feelin' kindly they'd go blue – and she knowed if she give a man them big lovely eyes and just hung on his every word, why, a man would spill his absolute guts, he'd reveal his deepest secrets, and she'd plainly adore every word he spoke and he'd say that much more.

I reckon she heard a-plenty that didn't amount to much and likely some that was less than polite but she sieved through it and picked out what was useful and she had a really good memory and she made the most of all of that.

Now I did not have to pay admission to see her put the shame to them disagreeable old biddies but I'll tell you honest, I would have. 

I would have paid good money to have seen that, and I seen it for free.

 

 

 

 

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94.  HAT TRICK

 

Now a man's hat is a good workin' tool.

His skypiece keeps off sun and rain, he can use it for a fan to coax a campfire into greater enthusiasm (the Sheriff said that oncet and I never forgot it), a man can pack a hatful of water to his horse or elsewhere as needed, at least if he don't mind losin' the hat's shape.

I learned that one the hard way.

I'd got caught out in a good soakin' rain and I was dog tired and I set attair soaky wet hat on a broom handle to dry and when I woke up most of a day later – I'd got home and I'd got dried off and I'd crawled into my own bunk and I was well beyond wore plumb out so I wallered in the bunk for a good long while – anyway oncet I finally drug my carcass out from between them clean smellin' sun dried blankets, attair hat was dry and 'twas peekid up in the middle and just plainly ruint.

I ended up cuttin' it into strips and usin' it for wads for the percussion revolver.

Now a hat is also useful for shadin' a man's eyes if he wants to take himself a nap.

The Sheriff was fond of that for them short little Cat Naps, he'd kick his feet up on attair desk and lean back iffen the chair was trust worthy and time and again, why, them chairs has throwed him and that warn't very good for the man has a temper about him.

I seen more than one chair get slung out into the street and I seen the man take a Broad Ax to the offending seat and his temper was a fearful thing to behold for he's usually just awful soft spoken and easy goin'.

Might be I'm kind of like that black Outlaw horse of his, I don't like loud arguin' voices neither but I reckon attair black horse and me was both beat so I'd say that's probably natural, only I've waded right into the middle of a yellin' fightin' knot of men and laid about with whatever was handy, I'd creased hats with a Single Tree and I'd slapped off hats and belted a man over the head with a lead filled Slap Jack and I reckon they saw stars when I did for I didn't hold back much.

No, I don't like raised voices neither.

Anyway I was talkin' about hats.

Sarah she met me at one of them fancy HO-tels in Denver, she never stayed at no place that warn't just first rate and by golly she got treated like the Queen herself and oncet we'd et why she wanted to take in somethin' they called Vaudeville and she said 'twas supposed to be funny so I went with her and she taken my arm and she kind of glided along ruther'n walked.

I know I was well dressed but by golly when Sarah got all gussied up she genuinely looked good, and many's the man that looked kind of envious at me, and one or two of 'em I didn't like the look of so I give 'em them pale eyes of mine and they looked away.

I don't know but I believe there's somethin' about a man who's killed and I'd killed with a clean conscience, kind of like a wolf can tell whether a critter he's sizin' up is likely to kill him or is likely to give up and just die.  Either that or they heard about a pale eyed lawman bein' a bad man to tangle with.

However 'twas they didn't give us any grief a'tall and that suited me just fine.

Now Sarah she was relaxed and animated and she smiled and chatted and spoke with anyone who spoke with her, and 'twas genuinely an amazing thing, kind of the reverse of the Sheriff – y'see, the Sheriff could address any woman, whether a girl or a matron, a woman of blood and breeding and a woman of the soil and not sophisticated a'tall – but in his presence, every last woman became a lady.

No.

Not a lady.

A Lady.

With a capital L.

Sarah had that same effect when we went to attair theater.

She was as a Lady Born, hell she could have passed for royalty had she the notion, but in her presence I seen men of every stripe become a gentleman.

That's a good thing.

I'd seen Sarah when she warn't a'tall ladylike and I know she had the same volcanic temper as her pale eyed sire and I'd seen her tear into an outlaw with boots and blades and I'd seen her tear down a man's meathouse barehand and she's genuinely a marvel to watch once her fuse is lit, but tonight she was an absolutely flawless, gorgeous, courteous, genteel, Lady.

She loved to laugh.

She loved being able to relax and let her guard down and she absolutely positively loved allowing her walls to dissolve and let her enjoy a moment, and tonight, she did and they did, and that fella on stage was pretty good with his hat, he wore a Derby and he rolled it down his arm and he spun it around on a finger tip like it was a child's top, he flipped it into the air and landed it neatly on his pomaded hair and did a little dance around his curve headed walkin' stick and I couldn't help myself, I laughed some too.

Not out loud, you understand, but Sarah's arm was touchin' mine and she could feel me laugh and she give me that sidelong look that told me she knowed what I was about, for she had a knowin' way about her.

It did feel good to laugh but I never did let them walls down, and when Sarah she excused herself and I went out into the lobby with her and she headed for the ladies' necessary, why, I did my best to turn invisible.

I've found I can make myself very noticeable and I can make myself very unnoticeable, and I can do it without movin' a muscle, and I chose to turn into wallpaper, and sure enough trouble come a-lookin.

Sarah she come out of the ladies' necessary and a fellow started movin' in torst her and another one was backin' him, I could tell, and I taken one step forward and I was inside so my hat was in my hand and the one behint he recht into his pocket sudden-like and I dropped my hat off to the side and of a sudden he was lookin' down the business end of my engraved Colt revolver and I eared attair hammer back and I don't know if he could hear that clickity-clatter a'tall but he seen attair cylinder roll around and he knowed what it meant and he looked up at my eyes and I seen his eyes change and his hand come out of his pocket empty.

Sarah, she grabbed holt of that fella movin' in on her and she was fast, God help me she was fast, and she was a naturally good dancer.

I say that because a Chinaman oncet told me you never give a sword to man who cannot dance.

Sarah was fast and she was graceful and she moved with power when she wanted and she powered her knee up hard and she run her knee into his wind.

He was no stranger to an up close disagreement and he bent back to get his delicates away from an attack but Sarah she drove her knee into his wind and she danced from one foot to t'other and she got her knees one-two-three and he begun to regret he'd allowed to grab holt of her.

I had to admire her speed and her grace, there she was dancin' on the balls of her feet and she got her knees into his gut and just plainly knocked all the want-to out of him and she yanked him off balance and stepped back and to one side and he hit the ground and he was turnin' a funny color and he'd lost all interest in everything but getttin' some wind in him.

That other fellow he was starin' with his mouth open and his eyes wide and Sarah she looked at him and she smiled and attair smile was not pleasant a'tall and she come up with a pair of blades and each honed Damascus was half a yard of sharpened edge and she wove a silver web of shining steel  and then she froze and her head was ever so slightly lowered and she was givin' that secont fellow the look of a hungry woman, a woman who wants the man's very soul, and of a sudden he didn't want no part of what he was lookin' at and he turnt around and run into someone and he shoved 'em aside and he run like a scairt little girl.

Sarah spun those blades once more and they disappeared and I raised my hat just enough to conceal my lowerin' the hammer on my revolver and then bringin' it back to first notch and I slud it back into leather.

I settled my skypiece on my head and Sarah she stepped over that fella who was still chokin' on the floor and she glided over to me and taken my arm light and delicate and we walked out of that place with no one a'tall offerin' us any trouble a'tall.

Oncet we got back to the ho-tel, Sarah was already packed up and ready to go, we had the porters load her two trunks and we made it to the depot with no trouble a'tall.

We watched the trunks loaded onto the freight car, we clumb up into the passenger car – Sarah smiled at the porter and he touched the shining black bill of his round cap – I followed her in, and just as casual as anything, why, we walked the length of the car and out the back door and clumb down t'other side and went on over to another set of tracks where the Judge's private car was waitin' on us.

Once Sarah got settled in, she looked at me and laughed a little and said, "I do like what you did with your hat.  That's a good trick."
I was busy lookin' out the windows as we pulled away:  we'd not lit any lamps and wouldn't, not until we were up to speed and down the tracks, so I warn't listenin' that close to Sarah:  I turned around and said "What about a hat trick?" and for some reason she thought that was kind of funny.

 

 

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95.  A MAN OF SOLEMN DIGNITY

 

The Sheriff was a man who could size up someone with one long, pale eyed look.

He could often stop a fight the same way.

I reckon his reputation might have somethin' to do with it, at least a little.

Many of my memories of the man have him wearin' a quiet and solemn face but sometimes he warn't neither one.

Sean – that big red headed Irish fire chief – I think the man was determined to sire his own private Irish Brigade and Daisy she was goin' right along with him and damned if they didn't have a squad of red headed little Irishmans and girls and he come packin' his youngest in to show him off and the Sheriff he stood up and walked up to the man and he looked closely and carefully at the little red cheeked lad with milk fair skin and real fine hair and he give that little fellow an awful good lookin' over and he shook his head sadly and said "Sean, he don't look a thing like you," and his voice was as full of sorrow as his expression and Sean's face it fell about three foot and the Sheriff looked at the man and there was that trace of ornery in his eyes and he said just as solemn as the old Judge, "He don't have no trace of a mustache a'tall!"

Sean he blinked and then he laughed and then he laughed some more and that little Irishman he was a-holdin' he squealed the way a happy baby will and the Sheriff he recht up and taken that little fella and held him the way a man will when he's held babies before and he grinned like a damn fool and that little Fitzgerald he waved his arms and squealed ag'in and the Sheriff he crossed one leg over the other and then squatted down and he was settin' cross legged on the floor like Big Chief Mug Wump and that little Irishman recht up and grabbed holt of the Sheriff's handle bar mustache and the Sheriff he didn't do no more than laugh and let 'im and the lad let go and he kind of rubbed his fingers together and I knowed 'twas because the Sheriff waxes his mustache and that little fella prob'ly never grabbed holt of nothin' greasy before and right directly, why, this dignified man wearin' a tailored suit was on his belly on the floor laughin' with that little baby boy and Sean, he was on his belly too, and these two grown men was busy makin' damned fools of themselves and I couldn't help it, I stood there and grinned like a possum eatin' on a dead horse.

Annette will have one of those, I thought, and I grinned some more, and the Sheriff he looked up at me and I seen how blue his eyes was and I knowed he was enjoyin' hisself and he said "Jacob, what do you think?"

Now sometimes I'll open my mouth and somethin' I don't plan on, kind of falls out, and this was one of those times.

When the Sheriff said "Jacob, what do you think?" I opened my mouth and heard my voice say, "I was one of those?"

 

Now that warn't the only time the Sheriff shed off his dignity like a man will take off a coat and hang it on a peg.

I'd seen him on the floor playin' with his daughter before and she was lookin' at him with them big Kentucky-blue eyes of hers and she'd tilt her head a little and then she'd smile real big and laugh and he'd bundle her up in his arms and was she to have asked him for a granite mountain set in a ring to wear on her pretty little finger, why, he'd have had it set in fine gold and sized to fit her to perfection, snow cap, trees and all.

I reckon she was about seven when I first seen her jump a horse over that white washed fence.

I seen her bent low over that little red mare's neck, she was the get of his Cannonball and that big gold stallion of his and my God! that horse could FLY! – Angela was squintin' a little and she was standin' up in the stirrups and I recall her little white teeth was shinin' and she was a-yellin' "Go, horsie!" and that little red mare didn't stop much short of snappin' out a set of wings when she lifted her forehooves off the dirty earth and she went a-sail through the air like that's where she belonged and I heard Angela's voice go from "Go, horsie!" to a shrill scream of absolute, utter DELIGHT! – and damned if the Sheriff warn't right behind her on Cannonball, just as fast and just as easy to lift over attair white washed board fence, and him grinnin' just as broad as her, and I know they warn't no blood relation but damn them two had the same face!

Little Red loved to race and no two ways about it, she was big enough – Angela didn't weigh no more'n a cake of soap but the Sheriff he was pa'tickelar about his horses and more men than one asked him if he was from Texas, for only a Texan cared for his horse the way the Sheriff did – anyway little as Angela was and big as Little Red was, 'twas like a field mouse ridin' on an elephant and Angela absolutely positively loved to ride and Little Red loved to be rode and I think was she able why Angela would've had Little Red sleepin' in her bedroom and once or twice why she fell asleep in the barn and damned if that little red mare didn't pile up beside of her like a hound dog and Angela might have smelled like horse but I reckon that's why Miz Esther had bath salts.

The Sheriff was ever a man of dignity and he mastered the solemn face but I recall when Angela went a-flowin' over attair whitewashed board fence on a red waterfall and the Sheriff right behind her and there was not one single solemn thing about him in that moment.

His face warn't a'tall ashamed to show the delight he felt and that is a good memory.

 

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96.  TWO SHADOWS

 

Two shadows moved as if mirrored.

One rose from behind a rock and the other from behind a low scrub.

Each took one long step forward, and each moved quickly and decisively.

 

Now I didn't really want Sarah along.

I know she's good at findin' men and I know she's really good with a blade or a bullet and I know she's got skills I may never realize and that's all well and good but she is my sister and I know the harm that can come to a lawman for my young carcass already had more than its share of scars on't from men and women both who wished me great harm or death.

That was a thing I kept to myself, for someone tried to kill Law and Order Harry Macfarland and we taken exception to that.

It was a rare thing when someone actually came in with stated intent to harm a lawman.

That was the stuff of penny dreadfuls and pulps.

It happened, but 'twas a rare thing, and Harry he sent word by a boy who swung barefoot onto the train and tugged on the conductor's coat tail and handed him the note and then swung back down, and the conductor looked up in time to see a span of wire was down and draggin' the ground and he knowed the telegraph to Carbon was deader'n a post election political promise and so we saddled up and headed over, the Sheriff and me and Sarah and she was all in black and wearin' drawers instead of a dress and not one of the three of us looked in the least little bit kindly.

Harry he met us just outside of town, he was not a fearful man and he is not a man to be run out and he was followin' somethin' him and the Sheriff come up with years before: he met us in a pa'tickelar place and he give us what he knowed and he warn't happy a'tall but 'twas a cold anger and I knowed whoever 'twas come to town, had come to their own end, for Harry didn't have no sense of humor about such things and neither did we.

Now Carbon Hill was in a little bit of a bowl and we Injuned up on two fellas that was outside the rim of that bowl and Sarah she snuck up on one and tunked him in the back of the head with a hard throwed knife only she hit him with the butt end and her throwin' it and that was a marvel to see, when that fella come to an' woke up why he war hog tied with his wild rag stuffed in his mouth and tied in good and tight and t'other one, why, I slud through the brush and Cat Footed up to him and he turned around and of a sudden why he was lookin' down the muzzles of my Two Pipe Shoot Gun and I allowed as he could raise up his hands and not try nothin' or I could spread his brains all over the ground.

He allowed as he wanted to try and grab my gunbarrels and I didn't want a gunshot to alarm the rest of 'em so I whipped my gun end for end and knocked his hands aside fast and hard and then I tunked him between the eyes with the butt of attair double gun, and I didn't hit him a'tall gentle.

Two down.

More to go.

Oncet attair second fella come to, why we persuaded this pair to tell us what-all they knew and it took some doin' and I don't reckon His Honor the Judge would approve of what Sarah and me done to get 'em to talk but neither of us really cared about such things, they knowed things and we needed to know them things and oncet they told us, why,  we drove the point of a slender knife hilt deep into the back of their skull where the Back Bone comes up into't and  that saved us the trouble of givin' 'em a fair trial and then hangin' 'em.

The Sheriff he never offered one word of protest, he just stood there and them pale eyes was hard as winter ice and just as cold and we left our horses with that fella that lived just outside of town for he was Trust Worthy and we satisfied ourselves there was no one else around to influence him otherwise.

The Sheriff and me was wearin' our black suits like we gener'ly did and Sarah she was all in black and she had her black Wild Rag pulled up over the lower half of her face and she had that little short stubby shotgun slung acrost her back with the handle stuck up over her shoulder, that was that little shotgun that had barls about a foot long or so and the stock cut along the curve of the Pistol Grip and then smoothed nice and round and checkered, she called it her Horse Pistol and she had a scabbard made for it an' ever'thing, she had other things on her and I reckon was she to have fell in deep water why all that hardware would've drug her deep and drowned but we warn't nowhere near water and she was young and strong and no worries about carryin' the weight.

Me, I had my rifle in hand and a shotgun slung acrost my back and the Sheriff he had his Winchester and his Colts and word spread quick through town that a Death Wind was blowin' and folks was pulled back inside and some mothers went so far as to load up their children and pull back into one of the Mine Openings and we seen folks watchin' us from them mine portals and I saw at one of 'em they was a-pointin' torst the General Store and so we started there.

Agent Sarah Lynne McKenna, Firelands District Court, slipped to the right, light and quick as a dancer, running on the balls of her feet.

Her flat heel, knee high Cavalry Boots were silent in the dry and macerated dust, and she angled toward the front corner of the Mercantile, knowing the watchers within were fixed on the two tall, lean, black-suited lawmen walking abreast like Death's trowel, ready to scrape men's souls from the suddenly empty street.

She ducked and scuttled under the big window and stood, the short section of wall just enough to shelter her slender black-clad form from window on one side and doorway on the other; she turned, reached over her shoulder, her fingertips just touching the checkered pistol grip of her stubby double barrel howitzer.

Her fingers lost all interest in seizing the handle of her weapon when the door opened and a rifle barrel thrust quickly out:  her spatulate, artist's fingers, surprisingly strong for such feminine digits, seized blued steel in a death grip, twisted, pulled down and then yanked, hard.

She was aware, if distantly, that the lean, black-suited lawmen were suddenly moving, and moving fast.

Sarah she went around front and I went for the back and the Sheriff he walked right down the middle of the street and when the door opened and a gun barl stuck out Sarah she grabbed it and pulled and she stuck attair Horse Pistol inside and there was an explosion and she pulled the rifle out and tossed it out into the street, she reloaded and swung inside and I kicked the back door and I went in the back and I heard a commotion torst the front of the store and I shoved past the sleeve gartered Proprietor and his wife and I run gun barl first into a fellow who was comin' t'other way and I didn't know but what he might be a local tryin' to git away so I kicked him hard in the gut and he didn't stop but he did raise up a long barl shotgun like he was goin' to try and' bring it to bear so I sent him to hell on the contents of my right hand shotgun barl and Sarah she come back torst me and they was no one left here so we went on out the front and us two and the Sheriff formed up shoulder to shoulder and commenced to walk down the street like a line of black death come to harvest the souls of the unrighteous.

Agent Sarah Lynne McKenna deflected the shot and drew the short  hand cannon quickly, efficiently, thrust it through the gap in the door and yanked the front trigger.

She was suddenly in possession of the contested rifle, and its former owner was suddenly without any interest at all in its continued ownership.

Agent McKenna shouldered through the door, black eyes of death sweeping the interior of the Mercantile:  lacking a clear target, she reloaded, turned, thrust the stubby double back into its over-the-shoulder scabbard, locked eyes with the pale eyed Deputy coming out of the back room.

They emerged into the street and joined the Sheriff's steady progress down the gunman's sidewalk.

Now Harry he come a-runnin' up and he j'ined us so we put him torst the middle in between the Sheriff and Sarah, this was his town and this was his fight and Harry he allowed as they was one might be in the HO-tel and about then Sarah she fetched up an arm and pointed a pistol about the time Harry he fetched up his rifle gun and they both shot at the same time and a fellow kind of folded up and fell through that upstairs window in a burst of shattered glass and splintered wood and out onto the roof he fell just a-tumblin' and dern if he didn't make a Summer Set on them shake shingles and come a-rollin' off that roof that stuck out under neath them up stairs windows and I recall blood was a-squirtin' out of him and it looked kind of pretty and wet on them unpainted shakes and then he hit the ground and he moved no more.

We hunted down the half dozen that come in to kill Harry and oncet we'd cleaned house and drug the carcasses out into the street so's we could study on 'em why Harry allowed as he'd knowed two of 'em from back East and they bore him ill will from way in the past and turns out whoever'd accused him, accused falsely: from what them two we'd caught first off told us, why, the others believed whatever Hog Wash they'd been told and they swallered a lie to their own grief.

Of six that come in, six were dead, and Harry he studied on the two faces he knowed and he shook his head and allowed as they was fools and damned fools to come out after him like they done.

I reckon the Parson would say somethin' like the wages of sin is death and that's what these fellas found when they come lookin' to kill a lawman.

Besides that, Harry was a friend and I taken it not kindly a'tall they tried to bring harm to a friend of mine.

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97.  WHISKEY, AND A LITTLE GIRL WHO TALKED

 

The Sheriff sat at his usual table in the Silver Jewel.

The man's eyes were hard as the granite mountain outside and just as cold as its snow capped peak in the dead of winter's frozen heart.

He'd laid his engraved '73 rifle across the table in front of him.

He'd come in and he'd come in and 'twas like he wore silence laid over his shoulders like a cloak, and death walked in with him and laid its chill mantle over everyone in the Saloon.

He walked up to the bar with his rifle balanced in his left hand and he looked at Mr. Baxter and Mr. Baxter taken a long look at the Sheriff and neither one of 'em said one single word and neither did anyone else.

Someone picked up the spinning marble from the roulette wheel, another grabbed the clatterin' gamblin' wheel and stopped it, the piano player lifted his restless fingers from the ivories and every voice stilled, suddenly dusty in dry and tightening throats.

The Sheriff killed a man and everyone knowed he'd done it and he'd gone out intendin' to kill the man and he had and now he was back.

Mr. Baxter he uncorked a bottle of distilled sledge hammer and he poured a tall glass to within a half inch of the top and the Sheriff he taken the glass and he turned and men drew back as he did.

He paced slow and powerful torst the back, torst the corner, the Lawman's Corner where we set, he set down that glass of Two Hit John and he hung his hat on the peg overhead and his coat was unbuttoned and it opened just a litle, just enough to show one of the two engraved Colts he wore, showed six ways of dyin' for just a moment, and then he looked around and he looked from hard left around and the length of the Silver Jewel and he looked hard right and he looked back and warn't a man there but didn't feel somethin' cold pass through him, like the hand of the Reaper reachin' in to caress his beatin' heart.

The Sheriff he set his boots shoulder width apart and he picked up that glass of hell's breath and he hoisted it up and looked through it and I saw anger in his face and hate in his eyes and he taken himelf a deep breath and no one much ever heard the man raise his voice but he shouted and he shouted right powerfully, "I SENT ANOTHER ONE TO HELL TODAY!" and he upped attair glass of go-to-hell and he drank it straight down, enough corn squeezin's to lay three men out stone drunk and he taken it down on one breath.

He SLAMMED that heavy bottom glass down hard enough to bust it was it not good heavy stock and not a few men flinched at the sound and he snatched up his skypice and set it on his head and he picked up attair engraved rifle with his wife's love carved in scrollwork on the side, TO MY BELOVED HUSBAND, SHERIFF LINN KELLER, FIRELANDS COUNTY, COLORADO, and he set his jaw and he strode out, and he went down apast the bar and down the hallway and nobody moved as the hard cadence of his boot heels departed down the back hall and they heard the back door SLAM open and SLAM shut and 'twas a full minute before anyone taken a breath.

I went out the front whilst ever'one was a-starin' down the back hall and I taken pains to make as much fuss and noise as a cloud sailin' over that granite mountain.

I watched as Sarah cantered up the street and turned quick-like down the alley between the Jewel and the city building and I wondered why she was a-ridin' the Sheriff's red mare and then I dismissed the thought, for she did that sometimes, and I went on around back of the Silver Jewel knowin' was nobody darin' to go there.

No one but me and Sarah.

The Sheriff he was pumpin' more water in a tin cup and he drank and drank deep and then he bent over and stuck two fingers down his throat and made an agonized noise and throwed up that whiskey he'd just drunk and Sarah she swung down off attair red mare and I frowned a little for 'twas not like Sarah to wear britches unless she was all in black and here she was in blue denim and a flannel shirt and a vest and somethin' didn't look right but she pumped more water and wet a rag and she wiped the Sheriff's face and handed him another tin cup of water and he grunted something and closed his eyes and drank that one down and she pumped him another and he throwed up ag'in, and her with her hand between his shoulder blades and her other hand around his upper arm and after he'd emptied himself a second time he coughed and spat and gasped "Thank you," and she pulled him up right and wiped his face again and then she leaned in quick-like and kissed his forehead and somethin' inside of me went cold for this pale eyed woman was Sarah's height and she was built like Sarah but that warn't Sarah's voice and she had short hair no longer'n her ear lobes and she looked at me and winked and then she swarmed back up on Cannonball and give that red mare her heels and Cannonball she stuck her neck out and she was off and I went on over to the Sheriff and I looked back to where the alley come down beside the Jewel, where Sarah just rode off on the Sheriff's mare, and then here come Sarah a-drivin' the good Rosenthal carriage and her old dapple grey Butter-horse a-pullin' it and she drew up and looked at me and I was a-starin' at her with my mouth open and Sarah knowed somethin' warn't right and she set the brake and clumb down and come over and taken my arm.

"I heard he found him," she said, and I didn't have to ask to know who the hims was she was talkin' abou.

"Yeah," the Sheriff rasped, then he coughed and spat again.  "I found him."

"You drank?"

"I drank."

"Good."  There was something hard in Sarah's voice and I knowed she taken a satisfaction in knowin' the Sheriff killed the man.

The Sheriff he straightened up and picked up his rifle and come over to us.

"Thank you," he said gently.

Sarah raised an eyebrow and looked genuinely surprised.

"Forrrr ....?"

"For wipin' my face like you did," the Sheriff said, and there was somethin' in his voice that surprised me, for he sounded ... grateful?

This was an age where people generally did not smile in public and they sure as hell did not smile for a portrait, for a smile was often taken as a sign of weakness.

Matter of fact I'd had to straighten out some fellas who taken my smile for weakness, and I made sure they honestly regretted that decision, and the Sheriff in his time done much the same.

Sarah looked at the Sheriff, then she taken his face between both her hands and she looked direct into them pale, cold eyes of his and she whispered, "What did I look like?"

He blinked, surprised, and I said "You had short hair –"
"How short?" she snapped, and I touched the bottom of my earlobe, and she turned pale.

"You were in blue denim drawers and a flannel shirt and a vest," I added, "and a matchin' brown Stetson, and you were on Cannonball –"

Sarah let go of the Sheriff and she seized my coat front and jerked me close.

"Where did I go?" she hissed, and her eyes were wide, wide and dead pale and I nodded torst the alley and said "Down that same alley you come down," and she let go and backed up a step and almost staggered.

"Your Cannonball is still tied out front," Sarah whispered, and she was white to her lips.

"I know," a voice said, and the three of us turned.

I've said before that sometimes I'll open my mouth and somethin' stupid falls out and this was one of those times.

"You ain't Sarah."

The woman laughed, that easy laugh that reminded me of the Sheriff more'n it did of Sarah, but it did sound like her too.

"No," she agreed.  "I'm not Sarah."

The Sheriff squared off to her and took two steps toward her, and he removed his Stetson.

"You seem to have the advantage of me," he said formally, and the woman swung down from what I saw warn't Cannonball but she was sure as hell of the Sheriff's red mare's line.

Matter of fact the mare stepped forward and snuffed loudly at the Sheriff's middle and he chuckled and rubbed her muzzle and then he recht into his pocket and shaved off some molasses cured twist and held out flat palm and attair red mare taken it with a delicate rubber lip and he rubbed her neck and murmured, "You bum," and I looked at this woman who could be Sarah's twin sister and them two women was lookin' at one another, halfway with admiration and halfway like two cats ready to start a-bristle.

I knew I was missin' somethin' but likely what I was missin' was starin' me right in the face.

The woman turned from Sara and taken the Sheriff by the arm and turned him and they walked away from us for a few paces and stopped.

I looked at Sarah and she taken my hand and laid her other hand on my arm and she whispered, "Something is not right here," and then she looked back and she let go with both hands and I taken a half step to the right and I slid my bladed hands under the opening of my coat and got ready to swat material back for a clean draw and Sarah stood easy and relaxed and as sleepy and harmless looking as a cat sunning itself on a window sill and I knowed she was like a coil spring all wound up.

That woman that looked so much like Sarah laid a hand, gentle-like, ag'in the Sheriff's cheek and her eyes was real bright like she was ready to cry and she come up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek and then she half-run and half-skipped over to her red mare and she give one bounce and I realized that's how I often went a-saddle, one bounce and a hoist and an oversling and my own leg was over the cantle and that's just how she went aboard and she spun attair red mare and she r'ared up and windmilled her hooves like she was a-wavin' at us and she spun around and taken one leap and she was gone.

Just that fast.

She didn't gallop off, she didn't turn and go around us and down she alley, she was just ... gone.

The Sheriff he frowned a little and he turned toward us and he looked past us and he saw something and I saw his eyes change and that's how I knowed he saw somethin' and Sarah and me we turned and I didn't know what we'd find and I am not easily surprised but I genuinely was.

There was a little girl there, a little girl we knowed, she never said a word that we ever knowed of, nobody figured she could talk and she come a-walkin' down the alley and turned torst us and she had a big bouquet of daisies and she come walkin' up to the Sheriff and she stopped and held out them flowers to him and he squatted down and then dropped one knee to the ground and she looked at him all solemn and she said just plain as day, "Thank you, Shew-wiff," and then she jumped up and give him a big hug around the neck and he run his arm around her and hugged her to him and he taken that bouquet of daisies and he looked at them and he let go of her and she let go of him and she run a-gigglin' back torst the alley and she was gone just as fast as that Sarah-lookin' woman did.

The Sheriff he looked at them flowers like he'd never seen daisies before and then he looked up at us and he swallowed and he looked away and Sarah and I both knowed somethin' important just happened but damned if either of us had the foggiest what that might have been.

The Sheriff he cleared his throat and he said "Come with me," and he started walkin', and we did.

He come to the street and him and me both stopped and satisfied ourselves 'twas safe to go out and he curled his lip and whistled and Cannonball she pulled loose from the hitch rail and come head bobbin' along with us and so did Apple-horse, and Sarah she run back and let off her carriage brake and snapped her fingers and Butter come pullin' the carriage and followin' Sarah like a pet dog, and we all crossed the street and the horses they stayed at the hitch and we went on inside.

He picked up two pages of somethin' hand written on his desk and read it, then he handed it to me, and me and Sarah we leaned into one another and read it together, and then we looked at the Sheriff and handed it back to him.

He folded the octavo in half and drew open his top right hand desk drawer and he pulled out his personal journal and he stuck this inside and then put it back in his desk drawer and shut it.

He hung up his Stetson and I shoved mine back on my head and Sarah said tightly, "Will someone KINDLY tell me WHAT IN THE NAME OF TEN HOT HELLS JUST HAPPNED?"

The Sheriff looked at Sarah, then at me.

"Did either of you notice her bridle?"

Sarah blinked; I closed my eyes and went back, back into my memory, I looked at that red mare when it come around me and I looked again and I saw hand chased roses.

I saw the same hand chased roses as the Sheriff had on his and I opened my eyes and then I turned and went out the door on the Hot Foot.

Cannonball she shied her head up and I did not care, I seized her bridle and I pulled her head down and grabbed aholt of her mane and I said "Holt still," and she did, and I studied them hand chased roses and they were the same ones as was on that woman's mare's bridle and somethin' cold poured a dipper of snow melt right down my back bone.

I went back inside and I set down and I did not care that Sarah was still on her feet.

"Same bridle," I said.

The Sheriff nodded.

I looked at Sarah.  "Warn't you."

"Wasn't her," the Sheriff agreed, then he came around the desk and he took Sarah by the upper arms and he looked at her all hard and serious.

"Carry you a child this day?" he asked, his voice tight, and she shook his head, surprised, her mouth falling open.

"You've said you will be marrying Daffyd Llewellyn."

She blinked, rapidly, confused.  "That is my intent."

"Good."  He nodded, then looked at me.

"Jacob, you have sired on your mare."

I nodded, slowly.

"Do not stop there, Jacob."  He reached over, laid a hand on my shoulder.  "You ... Jacob, I ... we ..."

He snapped his jaw shut, considering, then he drew back, looked around, went to the cupboard and opened it, reached into a high shelf.

He pulled out a glass vase, drew it out.

I'd never seen it before.

From the look on his face, neither had he.

He poured in water from the bucket, set them daisies in it, and set this on his desk.

"Daisies," he said.  "What is the significance of the daisy?"

Sarah raised her chin.  "Daisies, given to man," she said, her diction crisp, precise, like the schoolteacher she was at times, "are a message.  They tell the man he is a perfect gentleman, he is noble, honest and upright."

"And a little girl who never spoke, gave me these."

He stopped again, then sat down, stared at the far wall, then looked at us.

"Have either of you seen ghosts?"

I shook my head, slowly; so did Sarah.

"I have," the Sheriff said.  "I saw ghosts walking through smoke after a battle, ghosts of men I knew, men I recognized ... men I knew to be dead."

He stopped, breathing quickly, his mouth open, then he taken a steadying breath and closed his jaw.

"Ghosts ... are not always from the past."

He laid his finger tips on the desk top as if to caress the pages he'd put in his journal.

"We just saw my four times great granddaughter."

Sarah and I looked at one another and I reckon my jaw hung down about my belt buckle.

"She is descended from young that you each have yet to produce."

"And the mare, sir?"

"Is the ... blood ... of my Cannonall."  He smiled, a little crookedly.  "That's her name, too.  Cannonall.  She's wearing my Cannonball's bridle."

He looked at the daisies.

"She said she found a written account from the woman whose life I saved.  I killed a man today and by killing him, I kept him from killing ... others ... and that little girl that gave me these daisies ..."
His voice faded off and he looked at the far wall, then he shook his head.

"She's never spoken before that I know of, but she spoke to give me those." 

He nodded at the bouquet and I thought again of their significance.

Sarah's hand sought mine and squeezed a little, and I squeezed back, and it felt good, for in that moment I felt just right uncertain.

"That woman, sir," I asked, "your ... very great granddaughter ..."

The Sheriff looked at me, raised one eyebrow.

"Will she be back, sir?"

He shook his head.

"I don't know, Jacob," he admitted.  "I honestly don't know."

 

 

 

 

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98.  I RAN LIKE A COWARD

 

I've rid horses that didn't want to be rid.

I've been throwed and I got back on, I kicked out of my stirrups to keep a horse from rollin' over on me or r'arin' up so fur it fell over backwarts and tried to crush me between saddle and ground when it landed on its back bone.

I've faced up to and faced down men bigger'n me, I've tore into 'em with fists and feet, with elbows and every dirty fightin' trick I knowed, some I whipped and some whipped me but I never backed down, not once.

I've waded into a fight knowin' to my very soul that I was goin' to get killed and I went in anyway, sometimes I come out hurt or bleedin' or hurt bad enough I was near blind with pain but I went in anyway and I come out and warn't nobody could say I lacked sand.

This ain't braggin'.

This is honest fact.

That's why I ain't ashamed to admit I turned yeller right down my spine and I run.

I don't reckon I was supposed to see Sarah and that other woman settin' cross legged in the sand, talkin' to one another.

There was some kind of a funny glassy silvery curtain thing surroundin' the ... well, hell, 'twas a place the Sheriff said he went to when he wished to know a thing, and he'd talked of them tall dancin' shadows that worked acrost a cliff face like spirits of ancestors or some-such and it felt old, it felt like an old place, and that's where Sarah and that woman was set cross legged facin' one another and I walked through attair curtain and I didn't know it but they'd throwed some woman's magic around so's nobody could walk in on what they was doin'.

I wisht it had worked.

I reckon it's because Sarah and I are blood related that it didn't keep me out.

I set foot through it and 'twas almost like walkin' through a waterfall only it felt like the water run through me instead of over me and of a sudden I seen what they saw.

They warn't settin' cross legged no more on that sandy arena.

They was standin' in a place surrounded by tall red rocks, it was red sand floored and I looked around and seen there was an awful lot of Sarahs.

One of 'em come over to me and she wore a long dress but 'twas not like ... it was ... I seen that kind and that funny puffy cap she wore and she taken holt of my hand and I saw her runnin' around a tidy little house and she had a Brown Bess musket.

I felt the breath, cold and quick in her throat, she pulled back the big flint clamped striker and she fetched up attair musket and 'twas too long for her and she did not care.

She did not care.

She lined up that long barl on a British officer's chest and she yanked that trigger hard and vicious like she wanted to break it off and attair musket shoved hard ag'in her and she fell back and around the corner of the house and she loaded fast, she loaded desperate fast, she'd snapped the hammer back to half cock and snapped the frizzen shut and she dumped the powder and rammed the ball and she got the ram rod back under the barl and she raised up the musket  and throwed attair battery piece forward with her thumb and then turned the gun and thumped the stock with the heel of her hand to set the powder back ag'in the touch hole, for it primed itself as she'd intended, she hauled attair hammer back and when two British troopers come a-runnin' around the corner of the house she shoved that long musket barrel right into one man's gut and pulled the trigger and I felt her scream and the scream come out of my throat and the other one drove his bayonet into her and I felt steel spear through me and I knowed I was dead I was I was dead ...

Another hand, I dizzied and fell through space and sun and blue sky and I stood and gaped for Sarah's hair was black and curled and on top of her head and held with a gold band and she wore a white flowing gown off one shoulder and she'd drawed back attair bow she held but 'twas like no bow I'd ever saw, it curved backward at the ends and I could see 'twas laminated and her eyes was cold and pale and hard as flint and I turned and saw a line of men in armor and bare legs and metal on their shins and they had swords in hand and shields on their arms and the first row fell with an arrow drove through the T-shaped opening in their face-covered helmets.

Sarah looked at me and smiled that smile I knowed so well and it warn't Sarah but it sure as hell looked like her and I fell again and I was in a seat and somethin' held me down like I was tied and I was in some kind of a glass cage and the world turned and spun outside it and there was a screamin' clatter and Sarah was settin' beside me and she had holt of a stick or somethin' and I realized I was in a flyin' machine of some kind and they was an embrodered patch or somethin' sewed on her shoulder and she wore a funny buggy helmet and I saw her lips move and I heard her voice in my ears and she yelled "HOLD MY BEER AND WATCH THIS!" and she done somethin' with attair stick and she was shovin' somethin' with her feet and there was a noise like a belch an I looked where she was lookin' and that was forward through curved glass and I seen a stream of red fire and I knowed 'twas a gun of some kind she was flyin' and I realized we were flyin' and she was firin' from whatever this was and I wanted nothin' more than to get the hell back where I belonged and that warn't enough, no sir it warn't, one of her stepped up and she taken my hand and she said "Come with me" and I was standin' in front of what looked like a flattened out bird of some kind – if the bird was made of tin, I reckon – and this Sarah wore a white suit that might as well have been painted on her, all but the six point star that said SHERIFF and the ground underfoot was rusty red and I looked up at the sky and 'twas black and the stars were hard and bright and they didn't twinkle a'tall and this Sheriff she wore a close fitted smooth cap of some kind and glass over her face and 'twas Sarah but it warn't Sarah and she turned and give some kind of a hand sign to someone in attair flattened out tin bird and it lifted up like it was jumpin' scared and I heard a woman's voice scream with delight as attair tin bird of a sudden streaked across the red plain and I shook my head and I was standin' on that sandy arena ag'in and Sarah and that woman was settin' there cross legged and Sarah was wearin' a dress like she usually did and that woman was wearin' blue denim britches and a flannel shirt like she had earlier, and a vest and she had a Stetson shoved back on her head and she had a six point star on her vest and it said SHERIFF and I felt like a bucket of water all stirred up by a restless hand and she looked at me with those pale eyes and she said "So that's what you look like," and she rose and she reached for my hand and I did not want her to take it and I could not move.

I could not move a'tall.

She taken my hand and I seen a man, a man with black eyes and broad shoulders, he looked an awful lot like Dr. George Flint only he had a six point star on him too and he didn't wear neither a neck tie nor a coat and not even a vest, his star said DEPUTY SHERIFF and he had a tin rectangle on t'other side that said BARRENTS and he was lookin' at me with a grin and he said "You ready, boss?" and I seen that pale eyed woman hoist up what I reckoned was a shotgun and she yelled "PULL!" and he slung what looked like thick tea saucers into the air, a half dozen of 'em at oncet, and damned if she didn't fetch up attair funny lookin' shotgun and WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM she proceed to drive holes through the sky and blow them thick edge saucer things into dust.

I dizzied a moment and I was settin' in somethin' ag'in and I grabbed holt of whatever that was ahead of me, 'twas padded a little like the dash of a carriage and that pale eyed Sheriff woman she was settin' beside of me and she had holt of a wheel an' she was turnin' it just a little bit one way and t'other and we was drivin' acrost what must have been a road but 'twas smooth and looked to be stone of some kind and we was goin' well faster'n a horse can run,and smooth, and I looked at her and she grinned at me and damned if she didn't grin just like the Sheriff and look as ornery as Sarah and she said "My horses are under the hood instead of under a saddle," and I didnt' have no idea what a hood was but she sure did and then I was back inside that glassy curtain and the two of them was lookin' at me and they both wore the same expression and I do not mind admittin' one little bit I ran.

I ran like a coward.

I ran like a scared little girl and had Apple-horse not been right there I would have run ever' step of the way back to Firelands.

I caught me a handful of saddlehorn and I throwed my leg up and I just plainly jumped up into attair saddle and somewhere in the first quarter mile my boots found the stirrups and we pointed our noses back torst home and Apple-horse he loved to run and he was ready for a good run and I let him and I kept lookin' back and I don't know what I expected to see, was maybe I thought them women would be after me on brooms or that flat black tin bird thing I seen or whatever glass front clatterin' monster that one was ...

Was what?

It ain't possible to fly.

Cain't be done.

God Almighty never invented nothin' faster than an express locomotive on level ground and second place was a good saddle horse, 'twas not possible, not POSSIBLE, for someone to make a machine fly through the air.

It couldn't have been, thought I.

I leaned back in the saddle and Apple-horse slowed some and I straightened up some more and Apple he kind of coasted to a stop and he looked around and walked over to a stream and drank some and I considered and maybe them women fooled me somehow ...

I didn't have no idea how.

I had no idea a'tall I felt attair musket shove hard on my shoulder only 'twas a woman's shoulder and that Redcoat drove that bayonet hilt deep through my ribs and I felt it and I felt sun hot and bright on me when Sarah drew that double curved bow back and let fly and her shaft drove clear through a man's skull and hit the back of his tin helmet.

I smelt the salt water and felt the sun and seen the row of pretty young women with tanned skin and black eyes and curly black hair with a gold band holdin' their hair like they was all royalty or some-such and ...

I swallowed hard and shivered.

How?

"Women's magic?"  I asked out loud, and neither Apple-horse nor the mountain wind was inclined to give me an answer.

I thought some more and the more I thought, the madder I got.

I don't take kindly to bein' played like that.

They'd played me and they'd made me scairt of somethin' and I didn't like that so Apple and me, we rode on back.

I knowed right where them spirit cliffs were.

I been there before.

You know, I could not find 'em a'tall.

I hunted around for most of the day and damned if I could find 'em.

I finally give up and headed home and next day Sarah was teachin' school and I waited until school let out for the day and I went into attair little white washed school house and her and Emma Cooper smiled at me when I come in, for I'd been a student there my own self, and I spoke plain and said "Sarah, how did you do that yesterday?" and Sarah she looked at me kind of surprised and she taken off them round spectacles from where they was run down her nose and she said "Excuse me?" and I said "Yesterday.  At the Spirit Cliffs.  When you and that other woman that looks like you showed me –"

Sarah blinked and looked uncertainly at Emma Cooper and then back at me.

"Jacob, I'm sorry," she said, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

I opened my mouth and I was all ready to speak in rather a harsh manner and Emma Cooper spoke up.

"Jacob," she said in that gentle schoolmarm's voice of hers, "Sarah was here all day, teaching school."

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99.  AN APOLOGY

 

My hand was hard around the grip of my Colt revolver and my finger was hard back on the triger.

When I turned, I turned easy and fast.

I'd felt that slight shift of air that a blind man will feel when someone comes near, that same shift of air I'd felt walking through the woods in full dark and I come up on a tree.

I felt that shift of air and maybe I heard a little somethin' and I turned by reflex, I whipped around and my Colt was an extension of my hand and I don't recall fetchin' back the hammer as she come out of holster as I practiced and I drove the muzzle torst the middle of whoever snuck up on me and I mashed the trigger only a forearm was faster than I was and knocked my gun muzzle up and to the side and when she went boom the ball went high and wide and I looked into a set of honestly surprised eyes.

Pale eyes.

Pale, like mine.

Like mine, like my Pa's, like the Sheriff's ... like that woman who looked so much like Sarah she could have been her twin sister.

She looked at me and she looked at me with the expression of a woman who was genuinely surprised and she didn't have no weapon in hand and I pulled back, fast, my other Colt was in hand but I didn't have it up and level, she didn't present no reason but I knowed she was pretty damned fast so I got distance and I never taken my eyes off her.

She had one hand up to about her middle and her other hand was still up and she opened her mouth and I eased the hammer down on my left hand Colt and slud it back into gunleather but the right was still gripped tight in my good right hand.

"I owe you an apology," she said, and she spoke plainly, and that was a mark in her favor.

"Yes, ma'am," I said automatically.

I did not trust her, not one little bit, but there's no sense in bein' rude.

"Where might we talk?"

"The Silver Jewel," I said automatically, and she smiled a little – a funny smile – I can generally read people pretty well but I didn't quite know what to make of the look on her face.

It was somewhere between sad and the anticipation a child might feel when they're told they're goin' to the circus or some-such.

She recht over to the side and picked up a rifle and it was old, it had wear to it, and she carried it balanced in her left hand.

Just like the Sheriff.

I stopped and so did she.

"Ma'am," I said, "do I recall rightly that you are Sheriff?"

"I will be," she said, "but not for a very long time."

I felt my bottom jaw slide out some and I frowned and I seen them pale eyes studyin' me and I taken a look at her and she wore somethin' squarish and black on her black leather vest and I wondered at what it was but I didn't ask.

"Why the question, Jacob?"

"Ma'am, I am not sure quite what to call you."

"You could call me troublemaker."

"No, ma'am," I said, and I felt humor twist with mirth in my belly but I hid it as best I could.  "Troublemaker would be my little sis."

"And she would poke you with a stiff finger and call you little brother."

"Yes, ma'am, she would."

"I read about that."

"Yes, ma'am."

I gestured toward the Silver Jewel and we both paced off on the left and I wondered about that.

The Sheriff he paced off on the left because he'd been a sojer and I paced off on the left because the Sheriff did and I was not sure if she was left handed or not.

She wore a pair of Colt revolvers and they were ivory handled and I stopped and she did too and I taken me a good look at them revolvers and they warn't Colts.

They looked ... an awful lot like 'em ... but they warn't Colts.

The carved holsters were a mirror for what the Sheriff wore.

I frowned and paced off on the left again and she did too.

I did not wonder at the rifle she carried, 'twas an engraved '73 rifle but it was old, considerable older than I would expect but I figured might be it had seen an awful lot of use.

I was right, but not the way I expected.

Now when we went into the Silver Jewel, she hesitated at the door:  I hauled it open for her and she raised her hand and she caressed the door the way a woman will caress a lover and her lips opened a little and she give me a look and damned if she didn't look like an excited little girl meetin' someone famous and she whispered "It's beautiful," and I felt my eyebrows twitch a little at that, and then she went on inside and stopped, she shifted to the side enough so I could come on in but she stopped and she looked around the way a lawman will and when she was satisfied she looked at Tillie behint the hotel counter and smiled a little and Tillie smiled at her the way she always did, Tillie was always real good natured ,and she – this woman whose name I did not know, this woman who said she would be Sheriff her but not for a very long time – she swung on into the Silver Jewel and she walked back through the tables like she owned the place, she moved like a cat, she was suddenly ... she all of a sudden ...

Damned if she didn't have that same walk of authority I've seen in the Sheriff.

In my Sheriff.

She went on back to the Lawman's Corner and she parked that rifle just like the Sheriff did, and she hung her Stetson on his peg just the way he did and she waited for me to come on back and then she picked up attair rifle and laid it on the table and said "I want to show you something, Jacob."

She had her hands on the rifle's receiver and the britch end of that octagon barl and she said "Anyone can claim any thing.  Words are cheap and I've run into so many liars as a badge packer that if someone's lips are moving, my first thought is 'You are lying to me, I see your lips move.'"

I laughed a little for I'd been lied to a-plenty my own self.

"I needed to prove my bona fides, Jacob."  She kept her voice down, knowing there were those who looked at us curiously.  "We can go into the back room if you wish, unless the Ladies' Tea Society is meeting."

I considered a moment and then stepped a little to the side, for I'd not yet set down.

She rose and she taken that rifle around the receiver and we went on into the back room and I drew the door shut and she said "This is my four times great grandfather's rifle, Jacob.  You preserved it after his death." 

She handed me that rifle.

I blinked, for I'd not expected her to hand it to me, then I looked at it and I felt my blood cool by several degrees.

I knew that engravin' on the receiver.

I knew the One of One Thousand engraved on the octagon barrel.

I knew the scrollwork and the roses and I knew the words engraved in attair scrollwork.

To my beloved husband Linn Keller, Sheriff, Firelands County, Colorado, from your loving wife, Esther.

 I opened my mouth and I closed my mouth and of a sudden I tried to swallow and my thoat was dry and I looked at her and she turned over the lapel on her vest and there was that six point star I knowed so well, that six point star with wear and scratches and obvious age, the same star the Sheriff – my Sheriff – wore.

She drew her left hand revolver and laid it on the table.

I handed her back the rifle and I taken a look at that revolver and I frowned and looked closer at it and I knew that engravin' ... 'twas not identical ... but it was the same ... someone used my Sheriff's revolver as a master and chased engravin' into blued steel same as his, and inlaid it with gold just like my Sheriff's.

There was the same roses and scrollwork and the ring around the muzzle just behint the front sight, and I turned it over and there was that same spray of roses on the side of the frame.

"I am not a Mason," the woman said, "otherwise I would have the Squrare and Compasses on this pistol, and on this one" – she drew the other revolver, laid it by the first – "I would have the Arc-and-Compasses."

I swallowed something thick and sticky and I taken a less than steady breath and then I set down.

She holstered her revolvers and she picked up the rifle and parked it near to hand.

Just like the Sheriff.

Just like my Sheriff.

"My name," she said, "is Williamina.  I have a twin brother, William, who is town marshal.  He looks enough like you to scare a body."

"Yes, ma'am," I said carefully.

"This is your father's rifle."

"I see that, ma'am."

"You are wondering how this is possible."

"Yes, ma'am."

"It's ... complicated."

"I expect so, ma'am."

"Jacob ..."

She laced her fingers together, leaned her hands on the edge of the table, bent over a little more toward me.

"Jacob, I wanted badly to come back to Firelands as it had been."
"Yes, ma'am."

"In my day the Sheriff's office is where it is now, but of stone."

"Yes, ma'am."

"The Mercantile is where it always was, and I own the Z&W Railroad."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Do you know the High Lonesome?"

I looked at her with honest surprise and she knew the answer was yes.

"I go there, Jacob.  I go there to be alone and to think and to puzzle out what I don't know."

"Ma'am?"

"I found your father's journals in a hidden compartment in his roll top desk.  Those journals gave me enough of a look into the past ..."

She smiled again, that funny smile I could not quite figure out.

"I've long known there was more to me than my lifetime, Jacob, and I ... had to see ... where I came from."

"Did you come from here, ma'am?"

She nodded, slowly, and I seen the curtains draw shut behint her eyes and I knowed she had somethin' she did not want to turn loose of.

"Ma'am, you came here for a purpose."

There was a knock on the door and one of Daisy's girls come in and raised her eyebrows at me.

I beckoned her closer. 
"What's good today?"  I asked heartily, and then I looked at this Sheriff and said "Give her what she's havin'," and I figured if I fed her I might find out more.

Daisy's girl recited the day's special and I allowed as that sounded good to me and this Sheriff said it sounded good to her and oncet we had coffee hot and steamin' in front of us and we started on our meal, why, she come to the subject at hand.

"Jacob," she said, "I made a mistake."

"I've made mistakes myself," I admitted.

She smiled a little.  "Confession is good for the soul, eh?" and I smiled a little, for that sounded an awful lot like my Sheriff.

"I almost said that," I admitted.

"I saw it in your eyes."

I considered that maybe she did, her bein' blood kind and all, and then I seized holt of myself for this was a stranger to me and she just might be tryin' to pull a fast one of some kind.

She'd already scairt me more than I'd ever been scairt in all my born days and there was no reason I should trust her, or so I said to myself.

"Ma'am," I said, "tell me why you had those revolvers engraved like the Sheriff's.  They are not Colts.  I do not recognize the make but they are not Colts."

"They are not," she admitted.  "They are the best made, but they are not Colts."

"You could have had Colts and you could have had them engraved to be more exact."

"I could have."

"You didn't."

"I wanted better."

I raised an eyebrow.  "Better?"

"These," she smiled, and the smile was pure Sarah, "are Ruger tanks."

"Ma'am?"

"Never mind."  She turned her head, thrust her chin at the rifle.  "That is the rifle.  I have another like it but new manufacture."

"Then why carry that wore out old slay?"

She laughed and it was an easy laugh and I felt her relax for the first time, and she give me a warm look like of a sudden she'd dropped a curtain or a wall from between us.

"I had to show you I was the genuine article, Jacob."

I frowned and set down my fork.

I'd been makin' steady progress into my plate and Daisy had loaded it up good and I stopped eatin' and I looked square on at her and said "Why did you take me to them places when I come up on you and Sarah a-palaver?"

Her fork stopped in mid air and she set it down and she quit eatin' too.

"That," she admitted, "was not supposed to happen."

"Maybe it warn't, but it did."

"You weren't supposed to even see through the curtain."

"I walked through it."

"I'm thinkin' that was not supposed to happen either."

"I know."  She frowned a little and slid her plate to the side.  "As near as I can tell, Jacob, it's because you are a four-pure."

"I've been called a lot of things," I said quietly, "but never that."

She looked at me and I seen her ears turn a little red.  "It's ... it refers to bloodlines, Jacob.  It means..."

She frowned a little, considered.

"Jacob, we each have talents, skills, abilities.  For some reason and I don't pretend to know why, our bloodlines are coming together and bringing those gifts with them."

"I don't quite follow."

"Jacob ..."

She frowned and considered again.

"Do you remember the Grecian maiden?"

"I'm not sure which one that would be, ma'am."

She raised a hand to her shoulder. "White gown over the right shoulder, left shouler and arm bare.  Gold band around curly black hair, recurved hornbow –"

"She shot that fella through the eye."

"She's the one."

"I remember her, yes, ma'am."

"And you remember the woman in the Colonies, during the Revolution."

"The one that was bayonetted."

"Yes."
"I felt the bayonet go though my chest."

She turned a little pale.  "My God," she whispered, "pure is right!"

I give her a hard look.  "Ma'am, there's questions a-plenty and damn few answers so let's start over.  Why exactly are you here, right now?"

"I am here," she said, her hands flat on the table, "to apologize to you."

"Go on."

"I caused you great discomfort."

"You scared the blue hell out of me."

"That's ... not how I wanted to put it, but yes."

"Ma'am, what-all did you show me and why did you show them to me?"

"I showed you what Sarah wanted to see."

"What?"

"Sarah is why I came back.  She wanted to know and so did I and we ... together ... we went into our past."

"Whose past?"

"Ours, Jacob.  Hers, mine and yours, the Sheriff's ... and Daffyd Llewellyn's, and even Sean and Daisy's."

"Ma'am?"

"In future, Jacob, all these blood lines will come together. "

"Never mind that.  What the hell kind of machine was I in?"

She stopped, blinked, and the laughed a little.

"You were in several, Jacob."

She considered for several long moments, then she pulled out something flat and squarish and it looked like it had a glass plate with a black gutta-percha frame.

She touched it and then run her finger acrost it and she turned it and 'twas some kind of little lit up picture maybe the size of a playing card or bigger.

"This," she said, "is my daughter."

I taken a look at her and saw two women in front of something glass and steel and curved and bulb-like and one had that painted on white suit I'd seen and the other had that buggy lookin' helmet and that sacky green uniform thing with that embroidery on its shoulder I seen before and they had each other by the shoulder and they was in mid jump like they was jumpin' up and down screamin' and she touched somethin' and that picture suddenly come alive and them two sure enough was jumpin' up and down and screamin' and she touched it ag'in and it froze and was still and she turned it torst her and did a few more touches and brushes and she turned it ag'in and showed me somethin' that looked kind of like ...

I'd read in Revelations of locusts in war and that's what this looked like.

A big steel locust flyin' over an ocean, with a big steel boat behint it.

"This," she said, "is a Sea Stallion.  Your ... descendant ... will fly it."

"That is a stallion?"  I asked. 

"That is a Sea Stallion.  It's one of the best birds to fly off a carrier deck –"

I held up a hand.  "Whoa, slow down.  I know steam engines and I know horses and I dont' know a thing about flyin' and I dont' have the least notion what a carrier deck is."

She touched that rectangular glass thing some more and turned it and I seen that same rust-red plain with them bright stars in a black sky and that black whatever it was that near to jumped up off the rust-red sand and went scalin' out acrost the plain well faster than any horse I've ever rode.

"My daughter will be the second Sheriff of Firelands."

I looked at her and come close to believin' her until she said "That's in the second Martian district."

"Whoa, hold on now."  I frowned.  "Martian?"

"The planet Mars."

I leaned back.

"Planet."  My voice was as skeptical as the rest of me.

"Given time, Jacob, we will colonize the moon, then Mars.  I doubt me not we'll find a way to travel faster than light –"

I reckon my expression come close to callin' her a liar.

She stopped, closed her mouth, considered, started up again.

"Jacob, I don't know why our blood lines are coming together again but they are, and I think it's because –"

She stopped and looked off to the side a little, she swung her eyes instead of turned her head, and she bit her bottom lip, and that's somethin' Sarah did, and I waited.

"Jacob, I don't know this, but it's the only explanation that fits."

I waited.

"I think," she said slowly, "that there is one hell of a war coming."  She looked at me, looked directly at me, and I saw no guile in her eyes.

"I think that all of our skills and all of our talents are in our blood and they are coming together to build a band of warriors.  I don't know when and I don't know why but I believe God will need His Chosen and we are it."

She considered and turned back to that rectangular glass thing.

"Jacob ... your son."

I raised an eyebrow.

"You will raise him as a warrior and you will teach him to kill."

Her words were flat, her words were fact, her words were truth: I could feel it and my gut told me this was knowledge and not speculation.

"He will wear these."

She turned that glass rectangle and I looked at a pair of copper plated Colt revolvers.

She put thumb and fore finger on the glass and spread the apart and the picture enlarged and so did what was engraved on them blackened copper revolvin' pistols.

I studied it and my bottom jaw slid out.

"The Thunder Bird," I said, and looked up at her.

"There is more."  She slid her finger back and forth and showed me the rest of the enravin' and then the handles.

They were ivory, old age-yellowed ivory, they were engraved:  one with the Masonic Square and Compasses, the other with an Arc and Compasses, and beneath this, a number, and I recognized the number:  'twas the Masonic lodge here in Firelands.

"Your father," she said, "will have these made.  These" – she showed me another image, that of old, dried gunleather – "are his holsters.  He will save a life, Jacob."  She bored her pale eyes into mine and I shivered for I felt the truth of her words, I don't know how but I knew this was truth she spoke and I listened with both ears.

"He will save a man's life and he will lose his own and this will never be known until almost a century later."  She bit her bottom lip.  "Jacob, I have those revolvers.  They are in the Firelands Museum, with his uniform."

"My son's ...uniform?"

My voice sounded cold to my own ears.

God knows how harsh it sounded to her.

She reached across the table, quickly – I'd slid my plate to the side like she did – she seized my hands and her voice was tight – "Jacob, you have to teach him to be the fastest draw alive, the surest shot, trust Sarah, she'll teach him the blade and he will need that, teach him the rifle and teach him the shotgun and Jacob, please, as you love your son" – her hands tightened on mine – "as you love your son, Jacob, teach him to be fast and strong and utterly, absolutely without mercy when it comes to killing, but teach him mercy and kindness when mercy and kindness are needed."

I tighened my hands on hers, just a little.

"Ma'am," I said slowly, "my son is not yet born and I do not want him to see ..."

I frowned.

"You said his uniform.  Will there be war?"

"There will be war, Jacob, it will be called the war to end all wars and it won't be."

I shook my head.

"I've seen what war done to the Sheriff. I won't have that scarrin' on my son's soul."

"You will not have a choice, Jacob.  He will go, with your blessing or without it."

I leaned back and I felt myself grow cold and hard inside.

"He will not have my blessing." 

My voice was tight and hard and I reckon my eyes was cold.

"He will have your father's blessing, Jacob.  Don't let his last memories of you be –"

She stopped, bit her bottom lip.

"Jacob, has Sarah had her son yet?"

I looked at her, surprised.

"Hell, she ain't married yet!"

"She will marry Daffyd Llewellyn."

"She's said as much."

"Their son will be named Daffyd and he'll have his father's singing voice and he will be a Welsh archer like his father's ancestors.  Sarah will be invested with the Ring of the Princess and she will teach her son the bow, and he will shoot like that maiden-archer you saw in ancient Greece.  He will have a screaming fight with Sarah and he will leave without her blessing and her last memory of him will be that fight, and his last memory of her will be that terrible fight.  He will become fire chief in Cincinnati and Sarah will die in battle before he can come home and be reconciled."

I waited.

"Jacob, you will see the sorrow Sarah feels and you will know they had that fight and you will remember my words and you won't want your son's last memories of yours –"
I raised a hand.

"Enough."

She reached under her vest, withdrew a copper-plated, tarnished-black Colt revolver, laid it on the table.

I stared at it.

"He will die in a foreign land, he will die as he was born, screaming and covered with someone else's blood.  He will die fighting to keep a man alive."

She tapped the Square and Compasses on the yellow-ivory grip with a neatly-trimmed fingernail.

"He will do this because the man he saves will be wearing this same insignia."

My mouth went dry and I was not able to reach forward to touch that copper plated revolver.

"I have to leave now, thank you for a lovely meal."  She rose, picked up her Stetson, slid that glass rectangle back into a pocket and attair engraved copper plated Colt into the shoulder rig under her vest.

"Remember my words, Jacob.  I came back to apologize to you but you deserved to know the rest as well."

I rose as well and she stuck her hand out and I extended mine and I closed my hand on

-- nothing.

I stood there and my mouth went dry as hundred year old dust and Daisy's girl come in and I paid her and then I went on out and I went to the only man I knowed who might answer a question I had.

I went on down to our new stone hospital and I asked to see Dr. George Flint.

Dr. Flint was educated back East, he was a Harvard man, but he was pure blood Navajo, and he was one of the wisest men I knew.

He come in and shook my hand and tilted his head a little as he looked at me and I thought of that picture that Sheriff woman showed me, of that Navajo chief deputy of hers, and then I shoved the memory aside and Dr. Flint said "You don't appear to be bleeding and you don't look ill.  Are you here to waste my time again?"

His voice was easy and he had a way of pulling a man's leg, but them polished obsidian eyes was sharp and they did not miss a thing.

"Dr. Flint," I said, "I just talked to the ghost of a woman who won't be born for more than a hundred years."

His expression never changed but his eyes did and he was lookin' deep into me and I said "I need to know about the Thunder Bird."

 

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100.  I SAID NO!

 

Annette had ever a gentle way about her.

I don't recall she ever raised her voice or panicked, not even in the dark moments where I found her in the hands of the slavers and I laid about the Philistines with the jaw bone of a jack mule and got her and them other girls to safety.

Matter of fact when she run into a tight place she generally handled it with a good nature and when needed, sudden and decisive action, and she always did it ... she always did it, ladylike.

Now I had a place to take care of.

I raised hay and I cut hay and I throwed hay and set fence and run fence and there's always somethin' needin' worked on and I taken care of my place, me and my hired man, and he knowed I was out of sorts for I done the work of two men and I reckon I did not look none too pleasant and finally he stopped and staked his pitch fork in the dirt and asked me if he'd done somethin' wrong.

I stopped for that taken me honestly by suprise and I told him he'd not done a thing wrong, he'd done good work, square work such as I have orders to receive and that was relievin' to him and that night at supper Annette she was kind of quiet and I put that to her bein' with child and finally she quit nibblin' at her plate and sippin' at her tea and she laid down her fork and she put her hands in her lap and she said "Jacob," and her voice was quiet and she drawed out the word some and I knowed she had somethin' on her mind.

Now when my wife's voice is troubled and she speaks direct to me like that, I pay close attention so I set down my fork too and I looked squarely at her and I give her both ears and she said I'd been just awful quiet and I'd been workin' myself to a frazzled nub and that caused her concern.

This taken me by surprise.

I'm not the kind to trot my grief out for someone else's entertainment and I'm not the kind to show much of anythin' else that'll tell the world I am troubled, and I'm generally really good at keepin' things hid and it genuinely surprised me she'd speak up as she did.

The maid refilled my coffee and my wife's tea and she set out a slice of pie with frash whipped up sweet cream on top and that's genuiely one of my favorite desserts but I never so much as looked at it and neither did Annette and the maid she slipped out and left us our privacy and Annette she considered her pie like it held some secret and then she looked up at me and said "Jacob, I heard you talking."

I got real quiet and never taken my eyes off her.

"Jacob, you were attacking straw in the barn like it was a personal enemy."

I recalled I had been mutterin' to myself but I didn't think I'd been all that loud.

"You were saying no son of yours will ever go to war and you didn't care how important no unknown man was."

I nodded again.

"Jacob," she said, and laid a hand on her belly, "what do you know about our child?"

I taken a long breath and run my jaw out and considered.

I'd not said a word about that Sheriff woman, not to Anette and not to no one a'tall, but it genuinely troubled me that pale eyed – intruder -- prophesied about my son and I seen how much grief and pain the Sheriff, my Sheriff still carried, and I didn't want my son -- my son! -- to have that hell in his heart.

Now Annette she asked me a direct question and I never once lied to my wife and I warn't about to start.

"Annette," I said, "have you ever seen a ghost?"

She looked at me and she blinked once or twice and she whispered "No."

I swallowed and looked at attair pie and I didn't have no appetite a'tall.

"I been talkin' to the Parson," I said, and I taken me a drink from attair coffee mug for my throat was dry, "and he allowed as Scripture says God is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow and that means time ain't the way we see it." 

I considered a long moment and looked at the clock and said "We see time – the Parson said it better than me – we see time as past and now and future and it runs forward at a steady rate" – I smiled a little – "defined by each metallic tick of the Regulator on the wall."

I saw Anette's face change just a little, I think she relaxed a little, for she put a great store by the Parson and his wife, and when the man spoke from the pulpit she paid close attention with both eyes wide and bright and she just plainly hung on his every word like he was the wisest man in the world.

"The Parson said God is the same then and now and always and that means time isn't linear" – I frowned a little, for I didn't really think in such terms, these were his words, not mine – "time exists now and everything that's ever been, exists now" – I stabbed my finger into the table top, harder than I intended – "and so does everything that ever will be."

I looked up at Annette and she was payin' me right close attention.

"I don't understand that, darlin', but that's what the man said."

Annette nodded carefully.

"Now all that," I said, "is like the foundation of a house and I'm buildin' up to the answer what you asked me for."

Annette nodded again.

I swallowed and slid attair pie to the side and slud my empty plate off to t'other side and I folded my hands on the table top and taken another long breath and said "I asked you about ghosts."

She nodded again and I recall she looked kind of like a worried little girl and it troubled me that I'd troubled my wife but I'd started down this slope and I was goin' to skid right down the mountainside until I hit a stoppin' point.

"Annette, I didn't just see a ghost, I talked with her for a good long time."

When I said "her" I seen alarm in my wife's eyes but I'd started and I warn't goin' to quit.

"This ghost was from a woman that won't be born for a hundred years yet."

Annette's hand drifted up to the base of her throat and her finger come up over her lips and her eyes was real big and she was a little bit pale.

"This woman is Sheriff of this county.  Her name is Willamina and she is my Sheriff's four-great granddaughter."

I taken another long breath and realized I was pushin' the edges of my hands into the edge of the table, hard.

"She said she'd found my Sheriff's journals and she'd read where our son went to war and was killed but he'd saved the life of someone that had to survive."

I felt myself trembling, ever so slightly, and that was unusual for me.

Very unusual.

"Did this ... ghost ... tell you anything ... else?"

I looked up at my wife and I probably looked as troubled as I felt.

I nodded.

"We will have more children, Annette, and they will have children, and I will become Sheriff after my Sheriff dies." 

I bit my bottom lip and stared at the empty space where my plate had been and then I looked up at my wife and I heard misery in my voice.

"Sarah's son."

Annette was trying to hide her alarm and she nodded really carefully, as if she was afraid her head might fall off if she did.

"Sarah and her ... Daffyd ... she'll name her son Daffyd."

"Her son?"  Annette asked, then she pressed, "Not their son?"
I looked up at Annette and my voice was dry.

"Daffyd."

I had to stop and take another drink of coffee and I leaned back and I felt kind of lost, rememberin' what that ghost woman told me over beef and beans there in the Silver Jewel.

"She'll marry the Daffyd that we know and he'll be killed and she'll raise her son as a Welsh archer and they'll have a big screamin' fight and he'll run off to Cincinnati and he'll be fire chief and when he finally comes back to patch things up between 'em she'll be dead and she'll be killed in a bad and bloody battle of some kind."  I looked up at Annette and her fingers were just coming up over her mouth and her eyes were wider, as big as I've ever seen 'em, and I said "She'll die gettin' her baby daughter to safety and she'll come back here to Firelands."

I smiled with half my mouth and shook my head.

"A ghost."

"From the future," Annette almost whispered.

I nodded.  "I never knowed ghosts could come back from the future."

I looked back up at her.

"I reckon when the Parson said time is the same now as future and past ... well, that might explain why a ghost can come from what ain't been yet."

Annette's hand lowered to her belly and then she looked down and she whispered, "Killed?"

I nodded.

"She told me to teach him ..."

Annette looked up at me and I seen her eyes were bright and about to spill over.

"She told me to teach him to be fast and deadly and to kill fast and without mercy and he would need every bit of that and Sarah would teach him the blade and he'd need that" – I felt half sick, knowin' what I was sayin' – "but she said to teach him mercy, when mercy is needed."  I clenched my jaw for a moment.

"I'll need your help with that, Annette.  I am not merciful."

Annette wiped at her eyes and then she smiled, just a little.

"You are merciful, Jacob," she whispered.  "You may not realize it, but you are a man of kindess and of mercy."

"I don't want no son of mine goin' to war," I muttered.  "I seen what it's done to my Sheriff."

"This ghost" – Annette's voice was quiet, but I would have heard it in a boiler factory – "this woman ... Jacob, what exactly did she say?  What were her exact words?"

I closed my eyes and remembered, and my jaw shoved out and I knowed that meant I was bein' contrary, but my wife asked me a question and she asked so I was goin' to answer.

"She showed me the ... she showed me one of the copper plated Colt's revolvers my Sheriff will have made for him and she said they and his gun belt were in the museum."

"Museum?"

"It will be in the great stone house Sarah and Daffyd have yet to build.  It'll have his revolvers and it'll have the uniform he wore.  I asked her if he would be a soldier and she said yes, he'd be in the War to End All Wars that wouldn't be anythin' of the kind and I said no."

I heard my voice tighten some.

"I said NO and she told me ..."

I closed my eyes and shivered.

"She said, "He will die in a foreign land, he will die as he was born, screaming and covered with someone else's blood.  He will die fighting to keep a man alive."

Annette rose suddenly – she come to her feet and she was upset and I recall her chair fell over backward behind her and she mule kicked it back and then she come around the table and said "Jacob, stand up."

I rose and Annette she come up to be and she looked up at me and she taken my hands and she gripped my hands hard and she whispered, "Jacob Keller, if our son is to do this thing and if it's important enough to send word a hundred years to let us know, then teach him well."  She let go of my hands and laid her palms on my chest and she looked at me – the word I'm lookin' for is pleading, that's how she looked at me, I don't reckon she wanted our son to go to wore no more than I did and she might have been lookin' for a way out – "Jacob, teach him well and teach him with my blessing."

I gathered her up in my arms and laid my cheek over on top of her head and said "Annette, I said no."

"You also said Sarah's son will have a hard and screaming fight with Sarah and" – she pulled back and looked up at me – "Jacob, don't let that be our last memory of our son, a fight and hard words.  If he is to go and he is to die, let him go knowing he has our love."

I looked at this stranger, my wife, this strange and contradictory soul who just showed me a facet of her gem I'd never thought was there.

I brushed her cheek real gentle with the back of my bent finger and nodded.

"Dearest," I murmured, "you are younger, smarter and better lookin' than me, and I have benefitted several times by listenin' to my beautiful bride."

I nodded.

"I'll teach him."

"Thank you."  I remember how her lips framed those whispered words, right before her face kind of crumpled and she buried her face in my shirt front and started to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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101.  TWO WOMEN, IN BLACK

 

I looked at the Sheriff – my Sheriff – and I was a little worried, for he looked kind of drawn.

Worn, tired, dark under the eyes, he moved like a man on short sleep.

"Sir," I said, "is all well?"

He looked at me with them tired pale eyes and he smiled just a little and said "Does it show that much?"

"It does, sir."

He nodded slowly.

"You didn't sleep well, sir?"

He considered before answering, as he often did, and he finally admitted, "No.  Not well."

"Is it Miz Esther?"

He looked sharply at me, then nodded.

"Yes."

I nodded, remembering how Annette had to sleep on her side now to be comfortable, how her moods were changing and tended to be sudden and then she'd get upset for bein' abrupt with me and she'd cry a little and that was different but I put it down to bein' with child and I said "Is she cryin', sir?"

Now I did not know it but that kicked the prop out from under the wood pile and ever'thing just come tumblin' out and that warn't like the man and that told me he was troubled.

"Jacob," he said, "Esther woke up hangin' onto me like a drownin' man will embrace a floatin' chunk."

It was my turn to nod and believe you me, friend, I was a-listenin' close!

"She ... when Esther cries hard she's nearly silent and she was ... that."

"Sir?"

One word, but I heard the alarm in my voice, and he did too.

"She tried to talk and choked and then she started to cry again and I held her to me and she clung to me and dampened down my nightshirt for a while and when she was cried out or so I thought, why, she taken a long breath and she rolled out of the bunk and fetched a hankie and blew her nose and then she set down and started cryin' all over again.

"I knew something happened so I rolled out and set right beside her and I held her and she leaned into me like she was worn out tired and she said 'Papa's dead.'"

Now that give me cause for serious thought.

I'd run into the future Sheriff's ghost and I'd been bounced around like a billiard ball when I come up on them women workin' woman's magic or whatever they was a-doin' on the Spirit Cliffs sands and now this ... too many things too fast and too close together, my gut told me it was related.

The Sheriff considered for another moment and then looked at me and contiued.

"She got up and lit the lamp and commenced to sortin' her dresses and she found a mourning gown and she started to cry a'in and I got up and rubbed her shoulders and asked what was wrong, and she turned and thrust her belly into me and said that gown would never fit her with this gut on her and she got to diggin' some more and come up with a black skirt and then she commenced to get into her notions drawer and she come up with one of them sharp little seam rippers and she laid 'em down and went for the door and I heard her scamper downstairs and knock on the maid's door and that took me by surprise, I tell you!"

He winked to emphasize the words and continued, "She never troubles the maid.  Never. 

"I heard the maid's voice and she sounded scared and likely she thought Esther might be havin' cramps or maybe the baby was comin' way too early, whatever the case the women come up and commenced to rippin' into that second skirt she found and sewin' up a storm and they fitted Esther with a proper gown of mourning black that fit her belly and 'twas crowdin' daybreak so I went ahead and got dressed and I told the maid not to bother with breakfast, she'd put in a day's work, to have the hired man go ahead and harness up the grey and we'd all eat in town for breakfast."  He looked at me with a wry, half-his-mouth smile.  "That poor maid works herself to death and if I can make her life easier, I will."

"Yes, sir."

"Your mother ate with us and she ate with a good appetite but she was drawn and she was worried and she finally told the two of us what-all she'd seen.

"She went upstairs to her office to tend some railroad matters that needed her attention and I turned to the maid and told her to go out to Bonnie's, that her expertise was needed, that Esther would need mourning attire."

"Sir?"
He nodded.

"Sir, how did she know her Pa had just died?"

"Good question, Jacob.  That's a damned good question and I don't have the answer."

"Yes, sir."

Silence grew long there in the Sheriff's office until finally I said "Sir, you said she knew.  Was there a telegram?"

"There was not."

"No word from the Carolinas."

"No."

"But she knew."

"She knew."

"'Twas not a woman's fancy, she warn't actin' out of a fear."

"No."

I taken a long breath and blew it out through pursed lips with puffed out cheeks.

"This won't help any a'tall, sir."

He raised an eyebrow. "Annette is well, I take it?"

"She is, sir, never better."

"Does she act this way?"

"Near to it, sir."

"What has she seen?"

"Nothing, sir, but her feelin's live on her sleeve."

"Ah."  He nodded his understanding, then frowned again.

"There is ... something."

"Sir?"

"Jacob, my mother ..."

He hesitated and smiled a little, as if at a cherished memory.

"Had she been born a generation earlier they might've hanged her as a witch."

"The Sight?"

He nodded.

"She knew things."

He nodded again.

I recalled something that Sheriff woman told me.

"Sir, I am given to understand" – I proceeded carefully – "that ... if you take ... let's say one remarkable individual.  He marries and his children are half his blood."

The Sheriff nodded.

"Each child marries and what was the father is now one-quarter, and then an eighth, and so on."

He nodded again.

"The blood branches out and gets diluted.  Now let's say somehow it goes backwards, that the ... blood ... let's say the streams come together instead of forking apart."

The Sheriff turned his head a little as if to bring a good ear to bear and I knew I had his attention.

"Sir ... I don't reckon you know if Miz Esther would be blood kin."

"Not that I know of, Jacob."

"Sir, if the blood is coming together instead of diluting out, might a Woman of Power have a child even more ... with more of the Sight than the mother?"

He nodded slowly.  "That ... might be reasonable, yes."

I taken a long breath, debating whether to tell him about that Sheriff woman.

I didn't have to.

"Has Willamina visited you too?"

I about went through the floor.

I'd not said a word about that Sheriff-woman's future ghost for fear of being thought soft in the head and here the Sheriff was tossin' it out casual-like as if 'twas nothin'!

He smiled a little.  "Don't look so surprised.  She's been to the roundhouse and she's been to the depot."

Soon as he said the word "depot" there was runnin' feet on the board walk right outside and we both turned torst the door and sure enough young knuckles rapped hard on the heavy timber door and shoved it open and a breathless boy shoved in with a telegraph flimsy in hand.

The Sheriff accepted it and give the lad some coin for his trouble and then he spread the yellow sheet out on his desk and read it, and read it again, and then he handed it to me.

Lightning's print was regular and blocky as it always was.

I read JAMES WALES DIED IN SLEEP LAST NIGHT X JUNE and looked up at the Sheriff.

"She was right," we said with one voice.

We headed for the Silver Jewel to give Esther this grave confirmation and found the Ladies' Tea Society was already assembling, and like as not they'd adjourn for the back room, least they would when Bonnie got done takin' her measurements, 'less'n they all went out to the dress works which was also likely.

The Sheriff went on upstairs and I stayed down, Tillie was curious and so I leaned an elbow on her desk and said quietly, "Miz Esther's father died in his sleep last night," and Tillie scooted her chair closer and whispered "I wondered why she was in mourning, and out in public in her condition!"  She put her fingertips to her mouth and then said "The poor thing, so far from home and ... it's a hard thing to lose a father!"

I nodded.

Miz Esther come down with Sarah, she was on the Sheriff's arm and Sarah and the ladies behind her, and Miz Esther's chin was up and she was pale and she looked kind of wooden and they went on outside and I heard the carriage drive off and Miz Bonnie thanked the ladies for their kindness and allowed as she'd get the mourning gowns ready right away, and they all went on out, and then Miz Bonnie she come over and give me a quick hug and kissed my forehead and caressed my cheek with her gloved palm and whispered, "I am so very sorry, Jacob," and then she was gone too.

Now I heard later that Miz Esther and Sarah drove off together in the Sheriff's carriage and I don't rightly know what Miz Esther and Sarah went nor what they done but I reckon they went out to them spirit cliffs and had themselves a palaver and a powwow and a cornference of some kind, for I found out better'n a year later that when they was gettin' ready to go into the parlor for to pack the coffin out to that fancy glass sided hearse to haul it to the church for the funeral, there was two women in the parlor that no one saw go in.

One, all in black, had pale eyes – the other, also in mourning black, was very obviously pregnant.

The pregnant woman laid a single red rose on the long box and laid a black-gloved hand on the lid like she was sayin' goodbye and then they both disappeared and no one could figure it but they buried Miz Esther's father with that rose laid acrost his breast.

I reckon I might know what Sarah and Miz Esther was about after all.

 

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102.  A LOT OF BULL

 

I let it be known in plain language that if anyone caused harm to my bull, I would cause harm to them.

One fellow allowed as them Texas long horns carried tick fever and he'd kill me before he'd let any long horn bull infect his cattle and I beat the man to a bloody pulp right in the middle of the street.

I beat him so bad he was crippled up for about a year.

When a man allows as he'll kill me, I do not let that pass, and I give it to him to understand if he ever showed his face where I could see it, he had best have a gun in his hand for I would kill him on sight, and after the beatin' I give him, he believed me.

I testified to the matter in court and said plainly and witnesses was called up to swear that they'd heard him allow as he'd kill me and His Honor the Judge allowed as I had a good case ag'in him and did I wish to press charges.

That feller and his lawyer they protested some but His Honor swung attair hammer of his and allowed as they was in the wrong and 'twas nothin' but luck that he still drew breath for utterin' a death threat ag'in a lawman was generally a fast way to get his name cyarved on graveyard granite.

Now long horn beef warn't that rare a sight further south and on torst Kansas, for the drives come up from Texas and to the railheads and beyond that they war known but they warn't common a'tall.

When the train come in and attair beef come walkin' slow and powerful down off the ramp, why, they was plenty of folks watchin' and pointin' and talkin' amongst themselves.

I recall them long tall Kentucky moon shiners was admirin' them powder horns bull and cow both wore.

Now we got attair bull and four cows to my place and they warn't mean a'tall and that kind of surprised me, I was thinkin' I might want to stand ready to head shoot 'em if they got too fractious but they seemed happy enough to be in attair pasture.

Now I taken pains to be in amongst them Texas beeves and I reckon it's because they was one of me and three of them and I never tried to part the bull from the cows but they didn't get mean with me a'tall.

Matter of fact they'd let me touch 'em – no more than that, least not at first – and the more I fussed with 'em the better they seemed to like me.

Now nature follows its course and them cows was with calf and attair bull he was protective of 'em and I was careful around 'em and Annette she got curious about them and she come out an' damned if that bull didn't come trottin' up to her and snuffed at her belly and she recht up and rubbed that big Texas beef between the eyes and then she went over to them cows and they come over and they sniffed at her and I reckon they figgered she was havin' a calf too so she was welcome amongst 'em.

Damndest thing I ever seen.

Now oncet they had calves, why, I taken pains to be amongst 'em and get 'em used to me and by then Annette had her little one but I'm gettin' ahead of myself there.

Let me go back to attair long horn bull.

Him and me we got used to one another but he warn't never tame.

Matter of fact Sarah come out and she was lookin' at attair bull and he was lookin' at her and she taken out a-runnin' torst him of a sudden an' he dropped his head and taken off torst her and she grabbed his horns and give a jump and he throwed his head and she did a flyin' summer set over his back and she hit the ground and tumbled oncet an' come up on her feet laughin' and I'm standin' there with my teeth in my mouth and my jaw loose and swingin' down about my belt buckle for the surprise of it.

Attair bull he stopped and looked around and snorted and he turned around and Sarah give out a yip-yahoo and taken off runnin' torst him ag'in and attair bull he dug in and come at her ag'in and I knowed if they was fightin' they'd swing them big sharp horns  and he didn't swing nothin' a'tall, Sarah she grabbed them big long powder horns and she went whipsaw over his back ag'in and she lit and tumbled oncet and she come up laughin'.

I didn't tell no one about this.

I didn't want no one to think I'd lost what little sense I have.

Now Emma Cooper she showed me a book and it had engravin's from Greek pottery that showed Greek youths a-doin' this very thing but they was short horn Greek bulls an' they warn't no Texas longhorns and Sarah is a girl anyhow and it wouldn't be right for me to let her do that her bein' a girl an' all but she didn't really care what I thought anyhow so she done it and I watched her run torst attair bull and vault over his back and I kept quiet about it.

Now Firelands they had a brass band, it warn't very big but it was really pretty good and we had parades every now and ag'in and folks would get all cleaned up and they'd show off what they had given any excuse a'tall and I'm no different, I fetched along that longhorn bull and the Sheriff's little girl Angela she liked that big long horn bull and she run up and grabbed it around the leg an' give it a hug and yelled "Boocaffie!" – I reckon she was tryin' to say bull calf but this fella warn't no calf by a considerable amount – she ended up ridin' Boocaffie and attair bull followin' Sarah like a lovesick dog an' she'd stop ever' now and ag'in and rub its nose and feed it a piece of attair peppermint stick red stripey candy and call it a pretty boy and she could have called it hogwaller and it would have been just as happy.

Wa'l, attair bull we turned into the corral and folks was hangin' on the top rail with their arms crossed and their chins on their arms and a boot up on the bottom rail and they was allowin' as that was a lot of bull and yes he surely was and someone asked about Texas fever and Doc he allowed as Texas fever was carried by a tick and attair bull had been kep' in a dirt lot for just shy of a year an' any ticks was long since dropped off and dead an' attair bull was free of the fever an' Doc is well respected and right glad I am he spoke up as he did.

Folks respected Doc and they looked to him for fact and for help and for the straight of it and looked at him as an educated man who'd never once lied to 'em, and when he spoke, they listened.

Now Angela she'd run up an' hugged attair big bull's leg an' attair bull he swung his head around and snuffed at her an' when he brought his head around them sharp pointy horns they cut a swath of death through the air and 'twas no one near enough to get hurt but after that why ever'one an' me included kep' fur enough away to keep from gittin' poked.

I reckon that would hurt.

 

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103.  DON'T CROSS A QUIET MAN

 

Takes all kinds, I reckon.

I've seen men all blow and bluster that never got a thing done more'n make noise.

The men I seen that got things done was generally the quiet ones that didn't say much and you didn't notice 'em and generally they didn't get noticed until folks realized just how much of a mountain they'd moved whilst ever'one was lookin' at the Blow Hards.

The Sheriff is generally like that, though he can be plenty talky when the mood hits.  He's a right good story teller and when he sets down at a table and someone finally primes his pump and gets him to talkin', gener'ly folks will lean back with a glazed look about 'em, not because they're bored to death but because the story he's a-tellin' pulls them into the story and they become part of it and through nothing more than his soft spoken voice, they can see and smell and feel it happen as he tells it.

I ain't that good.

Oh, I notice such things.

I notice how Annete smells like soap and lilac water behint her ears and she giggles when my mustache tickles her nose or the side of her neck, and I notice how the sun light shimmers on that one silk dress she's got, the one she don't wear too often for she complains it shocks her when she wears it 'specially dry winter days, she wore it one time and I recht out to hold her hand and the blue fahr just flew and we both jumped and I said "I reckon that means we still got it," and she swatted at me and then laughed.

I notice these things but I just ain't that good about describin' 'em.

I ain't goin' to cyarve this in stone now, our big red headed Irish fire chief Sean is big and he's loud and he's forever shoutin' like he's hard of hearin' and maybe he is, I don't know, but he kin be quiet when need be, it's a marvel to see him with his young ones.

I never seen a man with such gentle hands as his when he was tendin' that little one that needed its backside changed and Daisy was asleep and plainly exhausted and Sean he cleaned up that little red headed Irishman and got a clean diaper on the little fellow fast and easy and he packed the lad around a little and whispered to him, tellin' him soothin' words about how to grind coffee or some-such – I've knowed the Sheriff to pack a little one around tellin' it in a soft and soothing voice somethin' about a section of a degree and pillars and posts and Ephramites and I don't know what-all, but it must have been just as boring as Sean tellin' his little Irishman how to grind coffee, for both them little ones was asleep just awful quick.

Now speakin' of goin' to sleep, I taken pains not to when I set in church, for the Parson he'd gone to pains to come up with somethin' worth sayin' and I allowed as if the man was goin' to the trouble to speak it I was goin' to hear it.

I admired the Parson, I surely did, and still do, rest the man's soul, he lived his life out here in Firelands and was buried in the graveyard up on the hill where he'd said the final words over many a long box, and 'twas me said the words over his, and that was a hard day for me for it reminded me much of the day I said that final goodbye to the Sheriff, but that was a long time ago too.

Anyway I was talkin' about the Parson.

The man had a fine speakin' voice and he could pitch it to hit the back wall and come sailn' back to him, he said if he could hear is own voice in echo he knew they could hear it plain in back and 'twas not too loud for in front and I reckon it's a good thing our little white washed church warn't terrible big.

He could make himself heard outdoors too but that was more effort.

He did tell me with a wink one time there is tricks and slights to public speakin' just like there are to Bull Doggin' a steer or ridin' a vigorous horse or gettin' a saddle cinched down good when the horse don't want saddled all that much, he said there is two secrets to bear in mind and I kept them two in mind ever after that, for the man had wisdom in his words:

First, the mind will absorb until the backside grows numb, and

Second, the longer the speaker's wind, the harder them chairs get.

Considerin' the pews in attair church was bare wood less'n you brought a pillow like some of the ladies did, and I made sure Annette had one, her bein' with child and all, why them wood pews could get right uncomfortable in short order.

The Parson said more times than one about that very thing and he said that's why he stood, for his feet troubled him and if he stood too long his heels ached like a tooth ache and if he spoke long enough to benefit our souls but not long enough to belabor our backsides, he was close to doin' it right, and that got him a laugh ever' time he brought it up.

The Parson was an even tempered and patient man, just like the Sheriff, but just like that pale eyed lawman that sired me on a tornado-scairt woman back in Kansas, the Parson had a temper to him, and 'twas not wise to light off the man's fuse.

I seen him one time take two men, he'd been sized up as someone a couple strangers could Bully Rag somethin' fierce and the Parson he knowed they was sizin' up for a fight and he was about to slide his chair back and leave when one of them fellers picked up the Parson's beer and dumped in the sky pilot's lap.

For all things there is a season, Parson Belden taught us, a time for every purpose under the heavens, and he recht for a napkin with his right hand and then shot out his left fist without lookin' an' drove his knuckles into this fella's gut just under his soft ribs on the side and his pumch was not a'tall gentle.

The Parson cut his own wood and he had calluses for he did not believe in settin' back and dependin' on the community to provide for him, he said he preferred to lead by example and he was one of the hardest workin' men I knew, him and the Daine boys would split a stack of shingles and he could froe with the best of 'em and he'd be handin' up shingles and helpin' nail down stringers and more roofs than one was built with Kentucky men and a sky pilot, laughin' and tellin' lies in the Colorado sun.

Now when the Parson started he didn't finish until 'twas done and over with, his first punch taken this fella by surprise and the Parson he shoved up out of his chair and off to the side and drove into this first fella with his shoulder and knocked him into his grinnin' partner who'd been eggin' the man on and he raised up his hands and the Parson's good right hand come up fast and vicious right under the secont man's wind and I swear he run his fist into the skinny feller's belly damn neart up to his chin, I'd be ready to lay my hand on the Book and swear I seen his arm up to the elbow in the man's gut.

It warn't, of course, but he hit that secont man hard enough to fetch his boot soles off the ground.

Now that first one he didn't cotton to bein' hit but about the time he cocked a fist the Parson he spun around with his elbow up and taken that fella in the jaw with he back of his elbow and the heel of his right hand close behint an' caught the fella under the ear with the heel of his hand and like to snapped his head off his shoulders.

Now I stood there with my teeth in my mouth and my elbow half way up my sleeve, standin' just a-marvel at the sight, for the Parson was known as soft spoken and easy goin' and it was notoriously difficult to get a rise out of him but these two managed and we followed him outside, me and about ever'one else we emptied out of the Silver Jewel for the Parson had each of these fellas by the back of the coat and he was carryin' 'em like luggage and Tillie run forward of the man to haul open one door and someone got t'other and the Parson he packed them two outside and down the three steps and he hauled one up and this soft spoken man just absolutely ROARED, "I BAPTIZE THEE IN THE NAME OF HORSE TANK AND WATER!" and he shoved the one in face first and the secont one went in t'other end face first and he grabbed their heels and held 'em up and them two commenced to struggle and claw and he finally let 'em go and when they come out a-chokin' the Parson he drove a sledge hammer fist into each of their guts and then grabbed their heads each in turn and pulled their face down into his rising knee.

He stood there and I recall how the water in attair horse trough sloshed and reflected blue sky and the Parson looked down and plucked at his pants legs and considered his wet down front and he looked at them two a-layin' in misery and blood in the mud before him and he looked up at me and grinned a little and said, "Jacob, have you heard of St. Francis of Assissi?"

"No, sir," I admitted, "I have not."

"St. Francis once said to preach the Gospel constantly," the Parson declared in a loud voice, and there warn't a single set of eyes on the street that warn't lookin' square at the man, and his voice fairly rang off the fronts of the buildings.  "He said preach the Gospel constantly, and if necessary, use words."  He looked down at this pair, wet and muddy on the ground, and looked back up at me.

"Jacob, do you suppose I need to use words here?"

"No, sir," I laughed.  "I reckon you have given them to understand the Word, and I'd be pleased to buy you your pleasure!"

"I will take you up on that!"  the Parson said in a loud and firm voice, and him and the rest of us poured back into the Silver Jewel, and Jackson Cooper, the town marshal, allowed as it was worth the trouble of packin' this pair over to the Hoose Gow and lockin' 'em up for the show the Parson put on.

Matter of fact most of the town talked about little else for a time, and the Parson was looked up on with a new respect.

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104.  "YE'LL DANCE WITH AN IRISHWOMAN!"

 

I know death like most men know a good friend.

I can smell it on a man and I've smelt it on men and sure enough they were dead right shortly after and I've smelt it God help me on women and I've smelt it on two children and that was hardest of all for they were still alive when the knowing was on me.

Most folks hereabouts know how hard life is, nearly ever'one has lost someone and generally someone dear to 'em and some of us has seen wholesale death and destruction and we don't talk about it a whole lot, wouldn't do no good, we just put our heads down and bull right on through watever 'tis.

Consequently when we play we play hard, when we celebrate we light the fuse on the skyrocket and we let the badger out and sometimes this all happens kind of unexpected.

The Daine boys was like that, they was the hardest workin' folks I knowed of, sometimes they'd come to town and generally to deliver lumber or do carpenter work or deliver some Moon Likker they'd just brewed off and Mr. Baxter he'd sometimes add a little charred-up Brown Sugar and maybe a drop or two of Glycerin so's if you put some in a fancy glass and swirled it, why, it would have the amber of fine bourbon and it'd cling to the sides of the glass, and some he'd keep as white dog and if the Daine boys had extry it was generally the firsts or the lasts of their distillation run and they didn't figger 'twas fit to drink for it had fusel oil and that's the part that gives the big head and the bad belly.

Good moon won't give a man a day after, low grade moon will, ever' time, and the firsts and lasts from their run why they saved that up and sold it to the Mercantile and Gary he'd either use it to mix paint or make paint thinner or he'd mix up shellac he got in dried in cans and then the Daine boys they got to orderin' their own shellac and mixin' their own but Mr. Garrison he'd already built up his shellac business and he'd sell it to folks and generally ever' train headed for Denver had crates of the stuff, a few at least, packed in sawdust and goin' out to who knows where.

The Daine boys also could play anythin' with strings, didn't matter what 'twas.

More often than not if they'd come into town and they'd haul in them jugs of Two Hit John, why, they'd end up on the stage fiddlin' and when that happened if there was wimmen folks around, tables and chairs got pushed back and folks would get to dancin' and once or twicet why we had dancin' girls on stage and they was just a-whippin' them skirts and kickin' them long lovely legs  an' attair long tall hillbilly with the broke brim hat stood stone still in the middle of the stage, wrist fiddlin' like his elbow was set on the back of a chair, and them lively lovelies a-spinnin' around him like cyclones in petticoats and stockings whippin' around a fence post.

I recall a bunch of US Cavalry rode into town and they was just dry as a powder horn and the Sheriff he had a standing invitation that if they came into town why they was welcome at the Silver Jewel and he generally paid for their food and drink and I know it had to be a considerable pile of money for the food was good and the beer was cool and frash and them cavalry boys was ever' one of 'em a walkin' appetite on two hollow legs and they'd put away a scandalous amount of groceries apiece and Shorty he'd be takin' care of their mounts and rubbin' 'em down and talkin' to 'em and spoilin' 'em and I recall Shorty was bent over workin' on a hoof and another horse was a-watchin' him and when he straightned up why that other Cavalry horse it come over and laid its neck over his shoulder and run his fore leg around poor old Shorty and Shorty he recht up and patted the horse on the neck and said "I love you too, darlin'," and damned if attair horse didn't just folla him around like a lost puppy dog.

Now oncet them Cavalry boys was in town, why, the Irish Brigade gener'ly come up and they'd get loud and they'd get to tellin' jokes and they'd be havin' just an awful good time and Sean the fire chief and Mick the grizzled old Sergeant they knowed one another, Mick he served with Sean's father and when attair fiddler thowed up a chair on attair stage and the clumb up with his fiddle the shout went up and men pulled chairs and tables back and they got to lookin' around all long faced for it looked like they'd have to dance with one another when Daisy she come stompin' down the hall with attair wooden spoon of hers in hand and she shoved attair paddle headed knuckle cracker into Sean's grip, she seized Mick by the Necker Cheef and yanked him in close and she declared in a voice that brooked no disagreement, "YE'LL DANCE WITH AN IRISHWOMAN!" and Sean he throwed his head back and laughed and Mick, he got drug out into the middle of the floor and I reckon Sarah had to have somethin' to do with it, for the back room door opened and the Ladies' Tea Society came out a-swarm and they descended on attair hot, dusty Cavalry troop and damned if they didn't have theirselves a right nice Virginia reel right in the middle of the floor.

Sean and me ended up side by side, leanin' back ag'in the bar, beer in hand and grins on our faces, for he knew what it was to see his men entertained and when the cavalry came into town he and we went out of our way to make them welcome for they did not have a particularly pleasant life and damn few people especially back East knew how rough they had it.

Mick he taken a good swaller of beer and then he leaned down and said "Lad, do ye suppose they know they're doin' an Iriquois dance?" and I laughed and allowed as I didn't reckon they had the least notion.

It didn't matter.

They danced fast, they danced slow, they waltzed, there was magic on the floor, for them bashful and clubfoot young fellers that was way more comfortable in saddle leather than in a woman's hands, found that of a sudden, this beautiful and sweet smellin' creature they had holt of made them look good.

Mick told me later when he was dancin' with the fire chief's wife that it wasn't so much he was dancin' with her.

He said it was more like he danced and she floated, so naturally did she follow anything he did.

 

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