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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

THE SHERIFF'S SON

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105.  "YOU WANTED THEM ALL"

 

His Honor the Judge shifted his cigar from the left side of his mouth to the right side of his mouth.

Those of us who know the Judge, know that is not a sign of his approval.

If he switches it one way, it means he is pleased, and if he switches it t'other way ... he ain't.

He warn't.

I can't blame him.

It is not ordinary courtroom procedure for six men to pack a coffin into the court room at shoulder height.

Now in fairness there was two others in irons, and they looked like they'd been beat pretty good, probably because they had been, one of the two had been beat by a girl and he'd been just plainly beat to a bloody standstill and he still warn't really recovered.

Had I not been in on the situtation from the word go, I would have needed only to look over at Sarah to know she had a hand in it.

Her face was still pale and pinched and she wore gloves but I knew them daintly little hands showed signs of having been used to knock the dog stuffing out of one of them two fellas, and I had no sympathy a'tall for either one of 'em, probably because my dainty and feminine wife shot and killed the man in the coffin.

"Sheriff Keller," the Judge said, and his voice was serious, "can you tell me what a carcass box is doing in my courtroom?"

I rose, as did the Sheriff.

"Your Honor," I spoke up, "you said you wanted the entire gang before you for judgement."  My jaw was out a little and I looked at the rough box and then back to the Judge.  "This is in obedience to your order, sir."

The Judge laced his fingers together with a sudden thrust.  "I do not recall passing judgement on the dead," he said, glaring at me.

"Your Honor," I said, "had the deceased behaved himself, he might be standing before you on his hind hooves.  If you have any disagreement, I suggest you hire the Witch of Endor to raise his shade and have a discussion with him."
The Judge's expression was hard but his eyes were amused.

"Deputy," he said slowly, "you are probably the only man in the world who can pull this stunt and back talk me in my own courtroom and live to tell the tale."

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Let's start at the beginning.  Bailiff, read the charges."

 

Annette looked up, startled.

The man looking through her kitchen window had a rock in hand and an unpleasant expression on his face, and she reacted as any mother protecting her young will.

"Mary," she said, her voice low and urgent, "cover the baby's ears!"

The maid, startled, looked up, saw the attacker's arm drawn back, the rock ready to shatter the glass:  she bent quickly, pressed her hands firmly on either side of the child's head, turned her face away with a grimace, knowing what was about to happen.

Annette's hand went into the slit in her dress and seized the checkered walnut handle, and as she turned, she drew, thrust out her arm: her fury focused through her arm and drove out her hand and focused through machined steel.

She never heard the shot that stopped the man from busting the window to gain entry.

 

"Your Honor," I said, "I was riding up on my house and saw a stranger standing outside my big tall kitchen window."

I'd ridden up on Apple-horse and saw a stranger, and hospitality is a given hereabouts:  a stranger who presented, would be given a meal, if need be a place to bed down, but if a stranger tries to force his way in, he's bought and paid for and this fellow had a rock in hand and his arm drawn back.

I saw the window break.

It was just a small hole but there were ... oh, hell, a whole handful of little bright shivers blew out, and this fellow flinched and fell back a step, and I didn't have to kick Apple into a run, he laid his ears back and dug in his hooves and I was leaned forward and my Colt was in hand and muzzle up so I could chop it down like I was throwin' a rock and Apple he shot across the space between and the fellow staggered back a step and there was another burst of bright sparkles out of that window and he didn't react a'tall and Apple drove into him and 'twas like the noon freight hittin' a sack of feathers, Apple hit him chest-on and knocked him just plainly flat.

We come around and Apple he was screain' and 'twas all I could do to keep him from jumpin' on this fella and I had my hands full with a stallion out for blood underneath me and Annette she come a-boilin' out of the front door and she had a bulldog .44 in her hand and her face was white and pinched and her lips was pressed together and real thin and she walked up on this fella layin' on his back and she hauled off and kicked him in the ribs and she bent down and screamed "YOU LEAVE MY BABY ALONE!" and she fetched up attair revolvin' pistol and I yelled "ANNETTE!" and I come out of attair saddle and I shot my hand forward and drove the web of my hand down between hammer and frame and I looked at my right hand and eased my right hand Colt's hammer down to half cock and holstered and let me tell you when Annette tripped that trigger and attair sharp edged hammer bit down on the web of my left hand it pinched some and I yelled OW! and I looked into the eyes of my gentle wife who'd almost never raised her voice and I seen a black fury I'd never seen before and she yelled "HE WAS GOING TO HURT MY BABY!"

I looked down and I looked up and I said "I don't reckon he will now" and Apple-horse he shoved me in the back and I fell over that fella's carcass and me and Annette hit the ground and she turned loose of that bulldog revolver and I run my arm around her on the way down and we twisted around and I hit on my back and her on top of me.

The maid come out with the baby and her eyes got big and she put the back of her wrist to her mouth and turned away real quick and I grunted and pushed Annette off me and set up and Annette she come up on all fours and then stood up and I opened up her pistol and pulled out the empty hull and my hand went automatically for my belt loop and then I realized my .44-40s wouldn't do a bit of good in her revolver.

 

"Your Honor," Sarah said, "I saw a stranger outside my front door.  I did not like the look of him so I brought the shotgun down off the rack and told my little sister to get in the back room.
"He knocked and I shooed the maid back and when no one answered the door he drew back and kicked it open.

"I received him at the end of a double gun and I walked him back out onto the porch and then ..."

She looked at me and her eyes dropped and I recall how long and lovely her lashes were, and how she bowed her head just a little and damned if she didn't look just all dainty and girly and completely different from her next words.

"I tossed the double gun to my Mama and I jumped him and beat him to an absolute bloody mess!"

His Honor raised a finger.

"My dear," he said carefully, "why ever would you commit this level of violence upon the man?"

"First off, Your Honor," Sarah said firmly, raising her chin, "he broke into my HOME" – her voice iced over with that one word – "and then he told me I didn't need all that I had, and I knew if he would steal my goods he might steal my virtue, or that of my mother or even my sisters."

I recall how pale her face got and the color stood out bright on her cheek bones, how she stood absolutely straight, with her hands folded in front of her.

"Besides, Your Honor," she added tartly, "if he is so incompetent an outlaw as to be beaten by a little slip of a girl, he deserves it!"

His Honor passed his hand in front of his mouth, cigar in his other hand, and he looked at the prisoners in irons.

"And the last man?"

"He's mine," the Sheriff said.

"Tell me what happened."

 

Sheriff Linn Keller knew something was wrong.

Two horses were looking at the barn and he heard Cannonball, inside the barn, muttering.

There was the sound of hooves hitting the side of a stall, and then Cannonball came out of the barn at a dead run, her ears laid back, she came out and turned and she laid hard over to make the turn and a stranger was on her back.

The Sheriff put thumb and forefinger to his lips and whistled, shrill, high and pure, and Cannonball spun, dropped her head, kicked, twisted, shivered, sunfished:  her rider fell, still gripping the reins, jerking the red mare's head to the side, bringing a scream from the soft-mouthed mount:  Cannonball had never been bitted and she did not like a bit and now the bit tore her mouth and she slung a spray of blood and the Sheriff saw her head rear up as the rider's hands released the reins.

The Sheriff curled his lip and whistled again.

Cannonball came trotting to him, slobbering blood, and the Sheriff unbuckled the hated bit and bridle, stripped it off, threw it to the ground, and then he stalked stiffly over to the man on the ground.

"Mister," he said, his eyes hard and pale, "if you have a weapon, please pull it now.  I want an excuse to kill you."

His voice was slow, tight, controlled, and spoken at a conversational level, and somehow his cold, calibrated syllables were more terrifying than if he'd screamed, red-faced:  the horse thief knew anger, but he did not know a cold man's fury, and this scared him.

 

His Honor considered what he'd heard, rubbed his chin:  he thrust the cigar between yellowed teeth, puffed thoughtfully, then he picked up the gavel and turned it slowly between his fingers.

He looked at the Sheriff and he looked at me and he looked at Sarah, then he looked at that rough box set up on saw horses and he looked at the prisoners and he nodded.

He took the cigar out from between his teeth and turned and spat a flake of tobacco leaf into the polished brass goboon beside his leg, then he looked at the rough box and said "It would do no good to hang a dead man."

You could see the color run out of them prisoners' faces like squeezin' red ink out of an eye dropper.

He raised the gavel and bounced in the air a few times.

"I'll hear the prisoners' testimony now.  Counsel for the defense, speak your peace."

 

They had a fine hangin'.

 

 

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106.  THAT WHICH IS HIDDEN

 

Now I've skipped over a chunk of time and I did that deliberate.

Some things happened that troubled me, they genuinely did.

I had a nightmare, y'see, with Annette big and pregnant and her complainin' she looked like a cherry spitted on a broom straw, and she had trouble sleepin' and that little one inside her all restless and she woke up cryin' one night about the time I woke up terrified for I'd dreampt she was a milk cow only with Annette's face and she'd birthed and then prolapsed and she was all hangin' out and I woke up like I'd just been clap boarded acrost the back side and Annette she was all in tears for she knowed her time to deliver was close and she was gittin' scairt and I held her and brushed her hair with my fingers and whispered to her and she didn't never know I was not doin' it to comfort her.

I was doin' that to comfort me.

I've skipped over her laborin' and birthin' that fine little baby boy, our firstborn, a man always wants a son to carry on his name and his birthright and I reckon I swole up til I was ready to bust buttons off my shirt and hell my head prob'ly swole up three sizes as well.

The Sheriff he was all kind of tickled too and he come over, him and Miz Esther and their young, and Miz Esther was gettin' ready to hatch her own self and I reckon by rights she should have stayed under their own roof and ripened up some more but by golly she come over all a-fuss and a-flutter like women folks are and me and the Sheriff we went into my study and we had us a snort of brandy and we set and talked and 'twas just the two of us and he had a grin on his face as broad as two Texas townships and I spoke to him of how uncertain I felt, for of a sudden here he was, a brand new baby boy, and I didn't have no more notion of how to be his Pa than flap my arms and fly around in circles.

Angela she come in rubbin' her eyes for she was tired and she come up to me and raised up her arms and 'course Uncle Jacob had to pick her up and set her on his lap and I'd parked my backside in a rockin' chair and Angela she laid her head ag'in my chest and I had my arms around her and was rockin' her and daggone if she didn't just plainly pass out sound asleep as I rocked, all relaxed and girly and smellin' of her Mama's lilac-water and soap and sunshine, and I looked up and the Sheriff he was givin' me that wise look of his and he asked quiet-like, "Now what's that about not knowin' how to be the boy's Pa?"

We talked some and the Sheriff he spoke of memories, and he spoke of me hunkerin' down and drawin' a circle in the street with the local boys and playin' marbles with 'em, he spoke of teachin' women and boys how to shoot and how patient I was when I was ridin' Angela on Apple-horse and her laughin' and yellin' "Go horsie!" and me walkin' along beside her with one hand grippin' her belt in back and t'other swingin' free and he allowed as he had every confidence I'd be a good Pa to that fine little baby boy.

Of course oncet the little fella was shucked out and dried off and he'd had a chance for his skin to cure, why, I packed him into the Silver Jewel and set him on the bar and allowed as drinks was on me and it's genuinely amazin' how many hard handed, rough edged men with salty tongues and frowning brows, become damn' fools when it comes to a little boy-child.

'Course it didn't hurt none with attair little fella laughed and squealed all happy and he stayed that-a-way and he got passed from hand to hand to hand and Mr. Baxter he kept attair beer tap busy, for when I allowed as drinks was on me, why, everyone sudden-like developed a Sin-Cere and Mon-You-Mental Thirst.

I considered some after we left, this little lad in his woven withie basket all wrapped up in a hand stitched quilt, I packed him acrost to the Mercantile and I taken me a long look in the gun case for my son would need shootin' iron and I considered the future and how best to start him out.

The Sheriff he come in with me and him and Mr. Garrison kept lookin' over at that little red-faced arm-wavin' lad and I caught scraps of their conversation but not much ... somethin' about the Sheriff havin' ordered a pair of copper plated Colts.

I never paid no attention but I remembered that evening when the copper Colts was presented to my son not many years later.

Too few years.

He was old enough when the Sheriff wrapped attair gun belt around his lean middle and them revolvers looked pretty big on the tall boy he was and the Sheriff he got to workin' with him right reg'lar and Hind Sight is just an awful lot clearer than 'tis beforehand and it warn't until that damned War coaxed my boy away that I realized just what happened there, and why the Sheriff he taken such pains to teach the boy tricks and slights of breakin' a man's hold on his wrist, or how to draw from the seated or the saddled, from the walk or the run or the ground.

Hell, I thought he was teachin' him this because he figgered my boy would be a deputy like I'd started.

I wisht that was the case.

It is no light thing for a father to lose a son.

It is worse when there is no body to mourn over.

But there I am gettin' way ahead of myself.

An old man tends to do that.

Let me back up ag'in to before the lad was born.

I think I was happiest then.

I had my own roof over my head, I owned it free and clear, my wife was young and beautiful and I was where I was supposed to be.

Oh, other things happened.

Sarah's house caught fire and she got her little sisters down attair chain sided ladder she'd had installed above their bedroom window, she got herself out and to safety and she let attair Llewellyn fella shine up to her, Sarah would disappear and I'd hear about the Black Agent doin' this and the Black Agent doin' that, and nobody knowed it was my own Little Sis a-doin' it, they figgered 'twas an Arizona Ranger or some-such, for the Agent was fast, deadly, inescapable and absolutely unpredictable.

 

Now it warn't all sweetness and light.

Never is when you have a new baby in the house.

Stern command will not persuade a colicky baby to not cry; spoken orders won't keep the little one from spittin' up all over a man's shirt front, and I l'arned the trick of wearin' a spit rag before drapin' him ag'in me with his face over my shoulder.

Many's the night I would walk the floors, or wrap him up good with a corner of the blanket hooded over his soft little head with that real fine hair, I'd walk outside, I'd head out and Apple-horse, he'd come pacin' along right with me, and I recall the first time he snuffed curiously at this blanket-wrapped bundle of wiggle and grunt.

He kept close to me as I walked outside, seemed like Apple was worried and protective of this new arrival to his herd.

Even attair longhorn bull come over to say howdy.

Now I'd like to tell you that little boy-baby crawled out of them-there blankets, scampered up the bridge of the bull's nose, jumped a-straddle of his neck and gripped them big powder horns and yelled Yip-Yahoo and rode him acrost the county line at a dead run.

I'd liket to tell you that, but I'd be lyin' to you.

 

Miz Esther she had her labor a few days after Annette, and damned if she didn't shuck out a set of twins, a boy and a girl, and the Silver Jewel rang again to men's rough-edged congratulations and the sound of beer mugs stackin' up side by side on the bar, for the Sheriff declared drinks were on him.

 

I was up in the graveyard with my hat in my hand, starin' at that white bronze marker I'd had Digger set at the head of Miriam's grave.

Miriam was the first girl I ever had feelin's for.

I didn't know her two days but I'm satisfied had she been in better health I would have ended up marryin' her.  She was blind and Doc said she had somethin' growin' in her head that killed her but she played piano like an angel and I reckon I was feelin' protecive torst her, maybe because I could not protect my own Mama from what happened to her, and when Miriam die, I paid for her buryin' and for this marker. 

Digger warn't happy a'tall I had him get her a white bronze marker, he got a Kick Back from them fancy firms that made fine marble slabs and cyarved 'em, and he didn't get no graft money from these, so he called them Poor People's Markers and regarded them with disdain.

I didn't care.

Often times when I was troubled, I'd go to Miriam's grave, and I was genuinely troubled, and I did no want no one to see it.

I'd come to realize just how much I depended on Annette – not for the work she did, but more ... more for what she did for inside of me.

I realized how much I loved her and depended on her and of a sudden we have a son and was anythin' to happen to her, I'd have to be Mama as well to a little boy, and I reckon I was fearin' a possibility instead of somethin' real.

Sarah quoted Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare and said "You fear a painted devil," and that's as may be.

The Sheriff he come up and dismounted and he stood beside me with his hat in his hand.

"Rey del Sol was killed today," he said quietly.

I nodded.  "Heard tell."

"I got the man that did it."

"Good."

"He tried to kill me."

"I reckoned that from the shot."

"Me and that horse has been through some."

I nodded.

I know the big golden stallion was his favorite, and 'twas a butter smooth ridin' horse, Miz Esther delighted in ridin' him for that reason.

He wiped at his eyes and I knowed the man was tryin' to hold his grief so I did not look at him.

"I been thinkin'," I said slowly.

I felt the man's hand lay down warm and gentle and strong on my shoulder, the way a father's hand will.

"Sir, I'm ... realizin' ... just how big a job this is goin' to be, to raise a son."

The hand tightened just a little, to show he understood.

"I'm realizin' how much I rely on Annettte."

Again that slow, understanding squeeze.

"I was right fearful she'd die of childbirth fever or prolapse."

"I feared the fever with Esther," came the quiet voiced reply, the words edged as if his throat was tightened a little.

"Annette did not want a doctor, just Daciana.  Of course the Ladies' Tea Society was all there."

I felt my Pa's hand shift a little and I knew what I felt was really his head a-nod in agreement.

"He is a wise man," the Sheriff said slowly, "who knows the value of his wife."

I swallowed, considered.  "I believe the Parson said something about a pearl of great price."

Again that fatherly squeeze, then he lifted his hand.

I looked at him and he looked at me and we both grinned a little.

"The world's nowhere near as predictable as it was, is it?"

"No, sir."

"If it's any help, Jacob," he said slowly, "I feel exactly the same way."

I must've looked surprised, for the Sheriff had Angela and he had another one and I'd figured he'd be an old hand at all this and then he pushed his bottom lip up and looked away and said all husky-like, "I'm sorry, Jacob.  I ... Rey del Sol ..."

He turned from me then, and swung into the saddle, and him and Cannonball paced down the gravel road between the tomb stones, and he was gone, a man who chose to be alone with the grief he felt.

He was like that.

Fresh grief brought back all the old grief he carried, and that was a considerable amount, but he's like me.

He'll go off alone and he'll keep it hid.

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107.  JUST ANOTHER DAY

 

Now this I'm about to tell you about, all happened before Annette got ambitious and shucked out our son.

She was big and pregnant and she leaned back a little when she walked and she was tired of bein' cooped up in the house so she taken herself a walk and I didn't pay no attention for I had problems of my own.

Y'see, I was tryin' to build a shed roof over where chickens went in and out of the chicken house and I was makin' good progress until the little bull calf decided he wanted attention.

I've told you about Boocaffie and he was a busy fellow, he'd sired on the longhorn cows that come with him and them heifers was right fertile and I think ever'one of 'em was fixin' to gift us with more beef on the hoof, and the first of the bunch was a little bull calf and he didn't have no horns yet but he had all the want-to and I didn't know it until I was bent over settin' the level ag'in a post and somethin'  big and broad and blunt h'isted itself up under my backside and I went whippin' up in the air and over on my side and I hit the ground and there was that little longhorn calf lookin' at me and it didn't more than surprise me so I got up and it come over and rubbed its head ag'in me and I rubbed its ears and called it a rudder and allowed as I had work to do, go pester someone else, and I turned back to my work.

Attair bull calf wasn't havin' none of it.

He liked attention and he come back and shoved his head up ag'in me and pushed me face first into the chicken house and I barely caught myself and I come off attair chicken house so I set my feet and set my hands ag'in his neck and shoulder and pushed and he backed up a few steps, surprised-like he was, and then he come back thinkin' this was a grand game and he shoved me again.

I heard Annette laugh.

I shoved attair bull calf ag'in and he come at me dancin' and over I went into the dirt ag'in so I come up and pushed him harder and he thought that was just an awful good game and Annette started to hiccup she was laughin' so hard and she was leanin' ag'in a fence post with one hand on her big belly and I taken attair bull calf around the neck and I thought you know I just might bulldog this rascal down to the ground and then I seen Boocaffie and the mama cow both lookin' at me and I figgered maybe that ain't such a good idea and then attair little bull calf he fetched up his neck an' brought me off the ground and taken off a-pacin' acrost the field and here come them other longhorns right after us and I didn't want to throw a leg over that energetic little beef, I don't like to ride horses when they're too young and I didn't know but what a beef spine is the same as a horse's spine but I did not want to find out.

I slapped my boot soles hard ag'in the ground and let go and kicked away from attair bull calf but my balance was off and down I went ag'in and here come Boocaffie so I got back on my feet and he come at me and then dropped his head and I figgered he's too close to hook me but he can stomp me into the dirt only he didn't and I taken holt of one horn and ducked under and then swung up on his back, he was old enough I had no fear of ridin' him so up on his back I went and he went a-bouncin' over torst the fence.

Friend, if you ever get a chance to ride a Texas longhorn, get'cherself one of them there well fitted saddles with thick fleece under't and a good thick blanket besides for the backside of one of them bony long horn bulls ain't kind a'tall to a man's backside.

Annette she was arm hooked on attair plank fence for she was laughin' so hard and wipin' tears from her eyes and she stood up and pointed at me and absolutely howled with laughter.

I taken another two steps torst the fence rails surroundin' the corral and attair bull calf come up and shoved his nose in under my arm and then his whole head and I stood there lookin' down at him and him just as pleased as anythin' so there warn't no help for it, I give up workin' on that chicken house roof and give attair bull calf some good high grade ear rubbin' and back scratchin' and you'd think he was eatin' pepper mint or cat nip or whatever cows eat that makes 'em all happy.

Hell, he laid down and rolled over to have his belly rubbed and I ain't never seen nothin' but a cat or a hound dog do that.

Annette, she was beyond laughter, I think she had the vapors or some such, she was squeakin' a little with her face all red and tears rollin' down both cheeks she was so tickled and was it not bare dirt underfoot likely she would've slud down attair fence post and laid down and howled.

 

Now I did not know it, but that was about the time two fellas was loafin' in front of Digger's funeral parlor an' they heard a sharp BANG from inside the Sheriff's office and about a minute later why this-yere office chair come a-sailin' out the front door into the street and they seen the Sheriff come out and go round back to the wood pile and come back with the Broad Ax and proceed to reduce attair rollin' office chair to kindling, and they solemnly regarded the pale eyed lawman, not uttering a sound, but his eyes real white and real cold and real hard and his face was the color of bleached out parchment and when the man was done reducin' the offending device to shivers, why, he gethered 'em up and packed 'em inside for the wood box and he taken attair broad ax back around to the wood pile and he looked at them fellers in front of Digger's plantin' parlor and allowed as he had no tolerance for machinery that worked ag'in a man, and he said it so ca'm and solemn, why, it struck them two as funny but they was polite enough not to laugh until he was inside.

Of course there was the perpetual hanger-on, propping up a porch post in front of the Jewel, the one who hailed the Sheriff later that day:  "Soapy, you rode any good bronkin' chairs lately?" and the Sheriff he stopped dead and looked right square at the man and said quietly, "Just one in the past week," and then he went on inside.

 

 

 

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108.  INCREASE

 

Now I jumped ahead of myself and told you about Annette havin' her little one already, and Miz Esther and her twins, and that is my fault gettin' in a hurry so let me square things up.

Annette she got a letter edged in black and that's what threw her into labor.

Women are like that, they'll get some hard news and that's when the pains seized her and that's when the Ladies' Tea Society descended on our fine stone house like a whole herd of chickens, a-flappin' and a-flutterin' and a-cluckin' and me and Apple-horse, we got crowded out so we held us a palaver and a powwow and a corn-ference out in the barn for 'twas Annette's first birth and I'd been told a woman's first took time and hers did, so me and Apple we scraped out the barn and forked straw and I dollied Wheel Barrows of Muck out to the manure pile and I worked on attair chicken house some for it needed a shed roof and I got it laid out and dug in where I wanted to set stones that I'd put the roof posts on and I kept lookin' back at attair house and that little bull calf he come over and snuffed at me kind of curious, he hadn't got familiar enough with me to butt at me like he did later and he found out he liked bein' rubbed around the ears and he liked it when I scratched his back and me and him we leaned ag'in one another and he chawed some cud and I pulled me a weed stem and chawed kind of delicate at that, and I didn't see him come around but The Bear Killer he come over and he begged for some belly rub and the three of us we parked ourselves and didn't get no more chicken house work done, me I stared off a the blue horizon line and them two they got fussed with and finally The Bear Killer's head come up and his ears picked up and he looked at me and muttered and then he went a-gallop for the house and I stood up and attair bull calf wandered off and I figured might ought I go hit the warsh pan and sure enough I got myself all lathered up to the elbows and renched off and I warsht my face and finger slicked my hair back and got my hands and arms all dried and my shirt sleeves rolled back down and Daisy she come out my front door and set her fingers to her lips and whistled like Sarah and she looked at me with them Irish-green eyes and called, "Shame be wid' ye, wastin' time gamblin' an' drinkin' out here while yer puir wife is laborin' t' deliver yer son!" and I felt me this-yere grin start to stretch my face and I stood up straight and I paced off on the left and my boots took me inside on the Quick Step and I don't recall my hind hooves hittin' the floor a'tall, I taken them stone stairs two at a time and the ladies they was all real quiet and red faced and they was all lookin' real pleased with themselves like they'd done somethin' grand and they drawed back as I come into the bedroom and Annette was propped up on ever' pillow we had and settin' upright and she had somethin' all wrapped up and held to her bosom and she looked at me and her hair was damp and she'd been cryin' some and her face was red and she looked just awful pleased and she looked up at me with them shinin' eyes and said softly "His name is Joseph," and then she drew back a little and I bent down a little and I kissed my wife and I said "You are beautiful," and I taken a look at the little fellow latched onto her and I didn't have the heart to part the two of 'em.

Hell, the little fella hadn't had a meal in most of a year, far be it from me to interrupt his supper!

I grabbed me a chair and I set down and the ladies they filed out silent as ghosts and I heard 'em talkin' downstairs and I paid them no mind a'tall, I set there with the most beautiful woman in the world and a little boy named Joseph and I don't reckon either of us said more'n two words in the hour that followed.

I do recall the ladies parted for me when I come thunderin' down stairs and charged out the front door, I throwed my head back and my arms wide and screamed "EEEYAAAHOOOOO!" and then went a-chargin' back upstairs, havin' delivered a father's triumphant yell to the blue heavens, and The Bear Killer, he come swarmin' up the stairs with me and he come into the bedroom right on my heels and he set his big square backside down beside me and then he got curious and stood up and snuffed at this newcomer, he give Joseph a lick or two and then he turned and looked at me kind of funny and made a little noise deep in his chest like he warn't sure what to make of it and I rubbed his back and allowed as attair was our son and The Bear Killer dropped his jaw a little and give me that grin of his and attair big tail swung to and fro and I reckon he understood for he was smarter than several men I'd known.

Annette she was wore out, she sipped a little at the tea and soup the ladies brought up but she fell asleep settin' up in bed holdin' that little one to her and he did too and in time I got to hold him and he looked at me with them bright little eyes and chawed some on his fist and he was real wobbly in his moves there at first and I think that's normal.

I ain't had much truck with them frash little baby-critters and this was all real new to me but somethin' told me I'd l'arn fast enough and sure enough I did.

Now whilst Annette was a-sleepin' and the ladies fetched me up sandwiches and coffee and the like, I taken the time to read that letter edged in black, 'twas on the floor like it got dropped and forgot about, and I read it and I won't tell you what-all it said, only that she and her family had some kind of a fallin'-out and now her father was dead and his name was Joseph and I reckon that's why she named our firstborn: I was inclined to name him Linn but she beat me to it and after readin' attair letter I was not goin' to disagree with her, so when the maid fetched up our family Bible, I dipped me a quill in good India ink and I wrote "Joseph Keller, firstborn," and the date, and Daisy she stood beside me and laid a hand on my shoulder and when I was done scribin' I looked up at her and she bit her bottom lip and nodded.

I reckon Annette filled her in on what happened, them two talked like women will and they was fast friends and when she nodded to me like that I knowed I'd done good in her eyes anyway.

Now I considered, when I started tellin' you about me and Apple-horse gettin' crowded out, I didn't have Apple in the house.

He was close by but not in the house.

Him and me we went over to the barn, so the two of us didn't get run out, they just run me out and glad I was to get somewhere more peaceable, even if it did mean I was restless as a soiled dove at a tent revival and busyin' myself with work to settle the stir-up I felt inside.

I will say I never cleaned the barn that well or that completely in all my born days.

 

Miz Esther she had twins and the Sheriff was corn gratulated as a man of potent loins, siring his young in pairs, 'cept for them wimmen that cackled and scolded him for puttin' Miz Esther through it at her age and shame be with him for forcin' his lust on the poor woman and Miz Esther she put a stop to such talk, I'm not sure how but it quit and it warn't unusual a'tall for her to be tendin' two young'uns up in the office above the Silver Jewel whilst she run the business end of the Z&W Railroad, she generally had a maid with her and sometimes a nurse and by golly she set right back to work and attair railroad run like a fine watch under her hand and I recall the Sheriff standin' on the depot platform watchin' a fella with a soft cap very carefully, very precisely, painting an opening rosebud a-sprout from the main rose painted on the side of The Lady Esther's cab.

Matter of fact attair artist fella was busy for some time, for every piece of rolling stock on the Z&W carried that rose insignia and ever' one of 'em when he was done had a rosebud added.

 

Come Sunday, we-all was set in our reg'lar pew, and when the Parson come to the announcements, why, the Sheriff and I both stood up with our wives and we introduced Firelands to our increase.

It was more of a custom to wait a year to make sure they'd live long enough but we allowed as now was the time and besides I felt like a kid with a new toy and I wanted to show off what Annette had done.

I don't recall the Sheriff lookin' that pleased in a very long time.

Hell, I don't recall grinnin' any broader my own self!

 

 

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109.  A LACK OF TRUST

 

Now I've not said much about Miz Esther's earlier child.

People don't often talk about a baby that don't live.

Part of the reason – I wasn't sure if I should say anythin' about it or not – but Annette named our son Joseph after her Pa but also by a child the Sheriff and Miz Esther lost,  a child that went to sleep in his crib and never woke up.

I hadn't seen the Sheriff look so lost and haunted in all my days, and Miz Esther she quit eatin' for a little and she looked like a walkin' ghost she was so pale but they both come out of it and now they had twins and I have a son and the Sheriff he had a grin and he walked with a little bit of a bounce but the poor man looked just awful tired and I asked him how much them twins was sleepin' of a night and he allowed as they'd sleep as much as babies did, understandin' they needed changed right along reg'lar and they was forever hungry and him and Miz Esther they spent their nights settin' up and sleepin' a little in a chair and I asked him how come he was sleepin' so little and he got real quiet.

The Sheriff he said he cut down the legs of a pa'tickelar chair so it set closer to the floor and he could reach into the crib and have a hand on the babies and make sure they were breathin'.

He didn't often talk about such matters so when he did I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and I listened close for this is how I learned about the man's past and a man's past makes him what he is now and he told me for the first time how he'd been married when he was young, about my age, he'd married a girl from Shalagatha, an Indian city originally the white man called Chillicothe.

He'd met her in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf and he'd had to kill one of her brothers, cripple another and bring her Pa very ungently to understand they were not to bend their daughter over the wood stack and hold her while the old man beat her bloody with a razor strop.

Her injured Pa and the crippled leg brother lived long enough to be hanged and he – the man who would become Sheriff-- and Connie they pointed their horse north and ended up on the shores of what the native Erie called the Sweet Sea and they built themselves a cabin and a barn, they grubbed stumps and rocks and plowed the deep black soil and raised a crop fit to scare a man, and that's when he went off and fought that damned War.

His voice was quiet and warn't nobody bothered us, the sounds out on the street, what little there was, grew distant as his words spun a world around the two of us, a world of raw recruits and a skilled orator that recruited them, troops that formed Volunteer Cavalry out of patriotism and young men's adventure and not a one of 'em but the Sheriff and attair silver-tongue knowed how to ride a horse.

In them days people didn't ride horses, not unless you were from Kentucky, or a Texian, or a Californio:  no, people didn't ride, people drove.

Drove carriages, drove buggies, drove wagons, but nobody rode.

Now the Sheriff, he was raised up in Ohio's hill country and he rode and he rode well, so them two taught these men how to ride, and they had to teach their horses how to be rode: they built cabins, for winter was comin', they all went from one farm to another for harvest, then back to drill and train and march and they built their own kitchen – attair silver tongue called it their "mess" but 'twas quite tidy, or so the Sheriff said – they had local leather workers make saddles and local women sewed their flag and they was armed mostly with hand me down smooth bore flint muskets from the war of 1812 and the Sheriff allowed as he figgered the Government saw it as a handy way to get rid of what they saw as obsolete weapons without goin' to the money and trouble to convert 'em to percussion.

Anyway oncet attair war was over with, why, he'd come home oncet and 'twas a few weeks after his wife birthed their baby girl and he had to go back to the fight and he come back after 'twas ended and 'twas his little girl's second birthday and he bought her a china head doll and he hoped she wouldn't be scairt of a man she might not remember and when he got home they was a black wreath on his door and no chickens and no live stock, not but his old faithful Sam-horse and they was a note on the door and he fetched it off and read it and his grip fell from his suddenly numb hand and hit the ground and he just stood there.

Connie, his auburn-haired wife, Connie of the bright eyes and the quick smile, Connie, the lighthouse that kept his sanity, to whom he anchored his hopes and his thoughts through the years of insanity that is internicine warfare, Connie was dead a week now, and his daughter was taken with the Small Pox and was at a neighbor's farm.

I listened to the man's sorrow, unspoken but running under his words like a dark river, how he brought his dying, fevered daughter back, how she'd died on her birthday, in his arms, there in the silent cabin.

He spoke of burying her in a small box he knocked together in the barn while she lay blanket wrapped in the wagon bed, still, unmoving, dead; he spoke of digging out his wife's grave and lowering their daughter's box down atop his wife's, and then filling the hole, and how his Ma told him graveyard tears grow lilies and he allowed quiet-like as they was probably a whole thicket of 'em sproutin' from attair grave.

He scraped the last of the dirt onto the grave mound just as the sun grabbed holt of the rim of the world and h'isted itself up into the sky.

He looked at me and said all that come back like the noon freight and hit him right between the lug and the horn when his Joseph died, and that he set up all night with his hand on the twins to make sure they was still a-breathin', and I nodded, for he had the look of a man who was et up with hard memories, a man who fought ghosts all night, a man who would burn out his own candle with a clean conscience to make sure his young stayed livin'.

I know the Sheriff trusts the Almighty, but I also know the Sheriff is a man who depends on himself in just as much as he can.  Some might call that a lack of trust, sleepin' with a hand on the twins to feel 'em breathe, but I don't blame the man one little bit.

Now the Sheriff he'd finally go home and get some sleep and I'd run the show while he got his rest and that worked out pretty well, he got rest and didn't look near so g'anted out and he got to feelin' so much better after a few weeks, why, he allowed as might ought I take Annette out for a picnic in the mountains for he knew how she loved such-like and I said yes sir, for that's what a man says to the Sheriff, and besides I knowed it would please Annette and she'd been doin' a whole lot of nothin' but bein' a new mama and I reckoned she might like a change.

Besides, I'd get to show young Joseph what the mountains looked like and maybe even teach him to whittle and whistle and spit and when I allowed as much Annette she allowed as I was full of second hand soup beans and we both laughed.

Now I had a place in mind, it had a good view all around and we'd have rock to our back and I could see every approach and Annette she wanted another place we knowed of and 'twas in a hollow and 'twas grassy and sheltered from the wind and we set up there and the maid was with us of course, we brought enough for ever'one and little Joseph he looked around with them big and wondering eyes and when I'd pick him up he'd grin and squeal and reach for my mustache and I only oncet made the mistake of lettin' him grab holt of my lip broom.

Only oncet did I make that mistake.

Joseph he liked it and Joseph he laughed with absolute delight and right glad I was I waxed my mustache for it let me pull out of that chubby little fist.

We'd got the checkerboard quilt laid out and we'd started layin' out the eatin' goods and of course Annette she packed table ware and the like and I didn't see where 'twas needful but women put stock by such things and her and the maid got bowls set out and good mountain air does things to a man's appetite and I realized I could probably chaw the horn off an anvil, smellin' that good cookin', and of a sudden the clouds come over unexpected and fast.

'Twas like a man drew a heavy grey blanket overhead and that give me some worry.

We'd drove up with the carriage for the way was easy enough and then come a clap of thunder and the horse run off, she pulled her tetherin' wrap loose of the tree limb and she went a-gallop back up the way we'd come and there the buggy set and there I stood for my gut started to tighten and I begun to think of what-all do I have to work with and then it commenced to rain at us and I looked up hill and realized we war in trouble.

"Annette," I said and my voice was tight, "get Joseph bundled up and ready to run."

"What?"  Annette blurted and the maid looked at me with big and scared eyes and I run over to the drop off, there was a narrow, steep ravine and safety was across it not ten feet away and attair ravine was every bit of twice that deep and I looked back up the mountain and it started rainin' like pourin' dried peas on a rawhide and I knowed it was goin' to come a Gully Warsher down attair cliff face right torst us.

I run for the carriage and dug in under the seat, I grabbed a good Mexican made reata and run back to the edge of the ravine and shook me out a loop.

Now the Sheriff he's not a hand a'tall with a loop and I won't go braggin' on how good I am, but when I fetched my arm back and let fly, attair loop floated acrost and grabbed holt of a different tree branch than what I wanted but it looked good so I give it a good haul and 'twas solid so I turned to Annette and said "You got a good holt on Joseph?"

Annette looked at me with big scairt eyes and tightened her embrace around our gettin' wet and unhappy little boy and I grabbed her under her backside and stood up and she grabbed me around the chest with her other arm and I spun my arm to run attair plaited leather line a-spiral down my arm and I gripped it and I taken three runnin' steps and off we went just a-sailin' through space and I heard a woody CRACK and felt the ungodly awful feelin' of oh my dear God we're fallin' and about that my boots hit on t'other side and I surged forward and twisted and down we went, Annette she landed on top of me and her elbow took me just under the collar bone for she'd braced herself to keep from crushin' down on the baby and she rolled off me and I stood up and I looked up at attair loop and said "Annette, draw back into the trees, get ag'in that big split rock and hunker down," and I wiped the rain water out of my eyes and taken a good look at attair branch.

No help for it, I thought, I run kind of diagonal and swung over attair gulf and scampered my hind hooves right quick to get away from the edge and Mary stood there lookin' like a Jack Rabbit facin' a Rattle Snack and I grabbed her same as I taken holt of Annette and she give a little squeaky whimper and she run both arms around me and I shortened up on attair line and gritted my teeth and Whoop-Jamboreeho we went a-sailin' out into space and acrost that ten foot gulf that felt a mile and a half wide and I got her over on t'other side and of a sudden I tasted copper and I twisted out of her arms and planted my hand ag'in her shoulder and shoved hard and yelled "RUN!" and I spun my arm out of attair reata and the world blew up underfoot.

 

Annette told me later that when Sarah come a-screamin' down attair wide flat trail we drove down, that big black mare of hers was a-runnin' flat out with her ears laid back and she run like she was barely touchin' the earth and when she lifted them forehooves and sailed acrost that gap she made it look easy and she landed light and she come dancin' around and Sarah she looked down at me and said somethin' about sleepin' on the job.

Now I don't know about any of that, it's what Annette said but that does sound like Sarah.

I do know I come to with my eyes a-burnin' for I was layin' on my back face up with attair rain comin' down in my face and I opened my eyes and frash water in the eyes burns and I made an awful face and set up and I was just dizzy as hell and I seen big blue blobs in front of me and my ears rung somethin' fierce and Annette she grabbed holt of my Neck Tie and she shook me and said "Jacob Keller, don't you EVER scare me like that again!" and then she throwed her arms around me and shivered and Sarah she laid a fire and found dry stuff to start it with and directly why she had a shelter and a fire and the three of us drawed close up to it and Sarah she fetched out a dry blanket to wrap Joseph in and Sarah she come back from wherever she'd gone off to and she said "Just how did you-all get here?" and Annette she described what it was to see her husband lasso a tree branch and Sarah give her a skeptical look and finally she asked "And where is the lariat?" and Annette said "It's right over heerrrrrrr...."
I was too far from her to ketch her when she turned around in her tracks and her eyes rolled up in her head and she just plainly passed out cold.

I reckon that might have somethin' to do with the scorched black smokin' threat danglin' from attair splintered and blown apart tree.

Now once my head quit ringin' so much and my vision cleared, Sarah taken me by the elbow and showed me attair ravine petered out a hundred yards to the left and we all could walk back over to where we'd come from and if we hung to the uphill side we wouldn't get in any of attair water barrelin' down over the cliff, hittin' the rocks and spreadin' out in a broad fan that explains why there was no amount of sand and rocks warshed down from above.

She even fetched back our runaway horse, turns out the Jug Head seen Sarah and Snowflake and give a whistle and went a-trottin' right torst 'em, reckon 'twas lonesome and wanted to buddy up to a familiar face.

The Sheriff he was interested to hear what happened and of course ever' time the tale was told, it grew, and by the time it got back to me, why, I had a noose around Pike's Peak and went a-sailin' in a big arc clear around Texas and back, with that little boy baby hangin' on the back brim of my Stetson, laughin'.

 

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110.  A FISH IN MY POCKET

 

The Sheriff did admit he felt kind of guilty 'cause 'twas his encourage that pried my skinny backside away from home and hearth and taken his grandson and my pretty young wife up into them mountains and got us all soaky wet.

Not to mention attair bolt of fry-your-liver that come screamin' out of Heaven itself and turned that good Meican reata into a smoking black thread that fell apart soon as I looked at it.

Daciana she was waitin' at our front door when we come a-drivin' up and her arms was crossed and she had her shawl pulled up over her head like an old peasant woman but 'twas nothin' old woman about how she glared at us and patted that one foot of hers.

She made sure Annette and Joseph were inside and she helped 'em strip down and dry off and then she come at me, God help me! I never, EVER seen that soft spoken woman with her Irish up!

Now she ain't Irish and I know that, she's Romany Gypsy and she cut loose at me with the rough side of her tongue and she was a-pokin' at me with attair stiff finger of hers and punchin' me in the chest and I abolutely do NOT take that from any MAN but by the Lord Harry! she backed me acrost my own livin' room until my back was solid up ag'in my own closed door and she was givin' me what for and I genuinely did not undertand one single word she was sayin' and she kind of run down like a clock and when she stopped and she caught her wind back up why she stood there glarin' at me and I'm lookin' at her and she got a funny look about her and she said "You didt not understand a vord," and I shook my head for I couldn't speak.

I was too afraid I would laugh and after the temper she just showed, why, I was honestly afeared had I laughed at her that would be like Annette throwin' coal oil on an outhouse fire, the result would not have been much good a'tall!

She crossed her arms ag'in and I heard attair little nervous foot of hers tappin' on the stone floor and she looked up at me and then she grabbed aholt of my arm and hauled me off into the kitchen and she made herself just awful free with Annette's stove and dern if she didn't have hot water for tea fastern' I ever seen it done.

She kept lookin' over at me, a-standin' behint my chair and holdin' onto it and I reckon it looked like I was holdin' it betwen her and me and come to think of it ... I think that's exactly why I was a-holdin' onto it.

Was she to come a-tearin' at me ag'in, why, I suppose I'd have tried to keep attair chair between us.

Finally she stuck a wooden spoon in the ceramic tea pot and stirred it some and then she picked it up and poured through a strainer and she poured out four big mugs of tea.

The maid come in and she was in her night dress and I pretended not to look at her for 'twould not be decent to notice but I'd seen her like that before but with Daciana there why I wanted to at least act proper.

The maid she taken two steaming mugs and glided out and didn't make no more noise than a passin' ghost and Daciana she come over torst me and I always did look at how folks walked and she walked torst me with a hard headed purpose that would not be denied.

As she had a mug in each hand I figured if she wanted to throw the tea on me, why, I'd got soaky wet and still was, and if she wanted to belt me with attair mug I figured I could block her arm and get the hell out of the room for somethin' told me I wouldn't want to try and grab holt of her and she set down my mug and then she set down hers and she dropped into a chair and dropped her head into her hands.

I did not expect that.

I come out from behint attair chair and set down nice and easy and Daciana she had her fingers run into her hair and she was grippin' her head like she was afraid it might run off and git lost and she said "Chacob?"

Her voice was quiet, low, musical:  I knew she could sing, her and Annette and Sarah sang together and 'twas beautiful when they did, and I leaned forward a little with my elbows on the table and then I taken up attair mug and taken me a noisy slurp.

"Chacob," she said again, "you haff no idea."

She dropped her hands to the table top and turned her head and her expression was hard to read.

Women are like that sometimes.

"You haff no idea!"  Her voice was a hiss, an accusation, and I said "Daciana, I can shoot a tin can off a gnat's head with either hand at half a hundred yards.  I can fetch a buffalo rifle ball through a coffee pot at five hundred yards off hand.  I can whip most men barehand, I can throw a knife through the Ace of Spades at twenty feet and anywhere closer and I can fix better coffee than the Sheriff."

I saw the ghost of a smile, for Daciana knew just how bad the Sheriff's coffee was.

"I can bake trail bread and I can witch water with a peach fork, but for the life of me, Daciana, I cannot read your mind, so no.  No, I have no idea a'tall."

I didn't have no trouble a'tall readin' her honest glare.

"You," she said, pointing her finger at me, "soundt chust like your vatter!"

Vatter, I thought.

Father.

I felt my eye brows raise up just a little.

"I'll take that for a compliment," I said sincerely.

She shook her head, then considered for a long moment, cradled her tea in both hands.

"I prefer ze bigger mugks," she said, "zey keeps tea varm."

I nodded, for I preferred them myself for the same reason.

She took a long drink, set her mug down, looked at me.

"Chacob, you zafet your zon."

Now she's really upset, I thought.

She don't usually have that much of an accent.

"It vass a near t'ing," she blinked.  "Haff you heard uff der Norse godts?"

This puzzled me and I let my face show it.

Daciana sighed.  "Ze godt uff dunder undt blitzen ... lightnink."

She smiled a little and I made the connection.

She called her husband "Blitzen" in private moments, and I figured that must mean lightning, and I was right:  I don't think much of anyone knew the man's given Christian name, he was our telegrapher and a telegrapher was automatically "Lightning" because that's what he slung over them copper wires.

"This god ... his name is Lightning?"

"Nein."  She shook her head.  "Nein, non, nyet."  She took a long breath.  "Thor."

"The god of thunder and lightning."

"Ze godt Thor iss a varrior undt carries a great hammer zat only he can pick up.  He slings his Mjölnir – his hammer – undt it vill bust through granite mountains undt noddink can standt up to it."

She looked at me.

"You did."

Now I was confused.

"I what?"

"Thor's hammer," she explained patiently, "vass thrown at you but you vere not zere.  Mjölnir – Thor's hammer – can not miss."

"He threw it at me?"

She nodded and she was kind of pale now, as if the full weight of what she'd told me sunk in.

"Hadt you holdt uff der la reata, you vouldt be dedt."

I nodded slowly.

"You ... could say that."

Her hand shot out and seized my wrist and her eyes blazed.

"Chacob," she hissed, "don't you realisss how much important you are –"

Her hand tightened and I was honestly surprised at her grip.

"Chacob, you must liff, ist more important zan you know –"

"He knows," a familiar voice said, and Sarah slouched against the door frame, cleaning her nails casually on a knife I knew to be sharp enough to shave with, for she'd had me shave with it to make sure.

"He vass nearly killdt!"  Daciana hissed tightly.

"I know."  Sarah smiled, slid the knife back into its boot top sheath without looking.  "He let go in time."  She smiled knowingly at me.  "Barely, I'll admit."

I raised an eyebrow and Sarah laughed, that delighted, little-sister laugh I knew so well, so at odds with black britches and her black flannel man's shirt and the broad-brimmed black hat tilted rakishly on her head.

I recalled feeling like I'd got sledgehammered from six directions at once, and the taste of copper, and Sarah looked at me speculatively and laughed again.  "You were flopping on the ground like a fish!"

"Yeah, God loves you too," I said uncertainly.

"Chacob."  Daciana stood and swung over to me and she grabbed me by both shoulders and shook me.  "Damn men!  You don't know –"

She looked helplessly at Sarah, then she taken me genuinely and absolutely by surprise.

She laid a kiss on me that genuinely curled my toes in my well polished boots and I reckon when she come up for air I looked like a man that had just found a fish stickin' out of his shirt pocket.

"You are more importandt zan you realissssssss, Chacob," she whispered, drawing out the word in a dry snakebelly hiss.  "You must teach your zzzon mutch.  Zzarah vill help you but you must, Chacob!"

Her eyes watered up and she let go of my shoulders and she run out a-past Sarah and I set there with surprise on my face and my teeth in my mouth and Sarah finally said "Close your mouth, Jacob, you'll catch flies."

"What just happened?"  I asked, and Sarah came over and dropped into a chair opposite of where Daciana set.

"I think she was trying to tell you something important."

I raised a hand, rubbed the backs of my knuckles slowly across my still tingling lips.

"God help me," I whispered, and I felt a little scared.

"Felt good, didn't it?"  Sarah smiled, and my mouth felt dry as wood ash.

It did feel good, and that frightened me.

 

 

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111.  A BEER

 

I set a well polished boot up on the brass foot rail and nodded a silent thanks to Mr. Baxter.

His eyes shifted to my left and behind and my eyes went to the fine, big mirror behind the bar.

Now most places had a mirror the size of a schoolbook and sometimes they hung a woman's full length mirror sideways but this was a big elegant mirror and it was plain knowledge that Mr. Baxter kept an abbreviated ten-bore under the bar with full intent to use it on anyone who harmed the Silver Jewel's mirror.

So far no one had, and therefore so far he hadn't neither, but the Sheriff and His Honor the Judge both allowed as it would be a justifiable homicide and they let that be known too so nobody threw no beer mugs and nobody taken no shots at it.

The Silver Jewel was mostly a peaceable place but sometimes drink and stupidity combined to railroad an otherwise sensible man right down the path of destruction and I never did like to see that, but the stupid and the evil understand only one thing, and that is either gettin' beat down flat into the dirt, or killed.

It is a sad thing that a man must speak the language they understand.

I taken that beer mug in my left hand and then let go of it right quick for a fellow pretended to accidental-like jostle my shoulder.

I turned around slow and my coat was unbuttoned and my face was tight and I was ready for whatever he might throw at me and when I stood tall and he found I was bigger than him why he started to run his mouth ruther'n his fists.

"You're just a kid," he sneered, "you ain't old enough to drink!"

He never saw my punch.

I drove my fist into his gut and hit him ag'in in the same place with the other fist, my secont come up and lightened the burden on his boot soles and then he kind of lost track of what he got hit with for I introduced him to my rising knee and my lowering elbow and they warn't movin' slow in the least little bit.

A man stood up from a table and he had the look of a man in authority and he said "You had no call to do that to my man," and he flipped his coat tail back and I flipped mine and men drew away from the both of us and Mr. Baxter he come over the bar with that short howitzer and allowed as he would cut the fellow in two unless he either left or set down and kept his mouth shut.

Now oncet them twin black eyes of bottomless death was a-lookin' at this fella, why, I recht up with my left hand and turned over my lapel and showed him my six point star.

"Your man," I said, "is under arrest.  He is charged with assault on a law enforcement officer and if he has anythin' more than a hankercheef on him I'm chargin' him with armed assault."  I let the corners of my eyes smile a little, no more than a tightening, and I added "Had he spilt my beer I would have got right unhappy with him."

Now that fella didn't look happy with me a'tall and he started to open his mouth ag'in and I continued "If you want to press the matter, mister, I'll be happy to charge you as an accessory."

"He's not joshin' you, mister," Tom Landers said, and several heads turned to see an older man with a '73 Winchester leveled out, "and neither am I."

"You're welcome to stay and finish your beer," I said, "or you can leave, your choice.  Or you can start somethin' and it'll be finished and you'll sleep forever in a long box.  Your choice.  I genuinely don't give a good damn."

"Boss," a cautioning voice spoke up, "that's Pale Eyes!"

I saw uncertainty come into the man's expression.

"I am not Pale Eyes," I said quietly.  "Pale Eyes is the Sheriff.  I am his firstborn son."

"By God he's got them pale eyes too!" someone else blurted, and 'twas like a breath of frosty air blew through the room, and of a sudden warn't nobody wanted no trouble a'tall.

I got the troublemaker locked up and later that day a fellow come into inquire how much it would take to get that fella out of jail and the Sheriff he allowed as they were in luck, the Judge would be in town the next day, and sentence would either be jail time or a fine or both, but as he did not speak for His Honor, why, if he'd come around next mornin' he was welcome to set in court and find out.

 

That is not the first time I run into trouble at a waterin' hole.

I reckon I grew up fast, killin' that man that whipped my Mama to death when I was ... oh, that Sopris fella told the Sheriff I was about ten and the Sheriff he allowed as he figgered I was some older, and I will go with the Sheriff's notion, for I am the get of his loins and he knowed when he taken the comfort of that scairt woman in Kansas.

Now I bless the name of that Sopris fella.

There was an awful lot more to him than met the eye and folks called him Reverend so I did too, least until they night when some riders come in and they all figgered I was sound asleep for I'd worked hard that day and after supper I laid down and usually I was sound asleep but I lay there breathin' quiet and listenin' and they called him Agent and somethin' else, I forget quite what, but their conversation is nothin' I expected to hear with a sky pilot.

No, I pegged him for a lawman but not of no ordinary stripe.

He pointed me to the Sheriff and he give the Sheriff to understand that a man needed a son and a son needed a father and each of us needed the other and that pale eyed Sheriff was a hard man and I seen the scars on his soul standin' out plain as the whip scars on my back but he listened careful to what that Sopris fella had to say and he taken me in and I worked for him, I surely did.

He had to slow me down a time or three, he said I was doin' the work of two grown men, warn't no use to put a third out of work, and he was genuinely impressed by how hard I worked and how well I worked – there's workin' smart and there's workin' hard and the two ought to go together – anyway he let me spend what I earned and I bought me a horse and made a trade and throwed in some boot money and got me a better horse and a fella over in Carbon he liked that horse real well so he named a price and paid me cash money and I bought me another one and after a year why I had backed me up a decent stake and that kind of worried me.

I'd never had money before and I'd never had to spend much by way of money and I knowed that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing and I very likely knew just enough to get in trouble but I figgered if I held onto what I had I couldn't go too wrong.

Now I run a string of horses over to Carbon for men would come in and find 'twas a coal minin' town and they were lookin' for the gold mines and them was over in Cripple and some of them men wanted horses and when I fetched in a string of pack animals why I found myself lightened by several hundred pound of horse and mule flesh and my purse fattened by good gold coin so I split the take between about four purses and a money belt and had a little in my pockets, not much, and I had that same .44 Army revolver on my belt as I'd used to kill that man that killed my Mama.

The day was hot and I was dry and I went into the beer joint and I laid down a nickle and got me a good five cent beer and a fella sneered at me and allowed as that big .44 would knock a little boy like me right on his butt.

I got mad.

Now I knowed it did little good to get mad, I'd seen too much ill come of a hot temper already, but I warn't goin' to let that stand so I fetched out two double eagles and slapped them hard on the bar and allowed as this said he was wrong and he could either take it back or stand up to it and he looked around and spoke to another fella and someone sided him for a pair of 'em and I fetched out three more and slapped 'em down on the bar and said "I have a hundred dollars says you are a liar.  How many times you want that?"

I knowed I'd just gone too far when the place got dead quiet and folks started to driftin' away from the both of us.

My blood was up and I tasted copper and I knowed I could die right there.

He stood away from the bar a little for he was right handed and his right hand was nearest the bar and he looked over my shoulder and I saw his pupils dilate so I dove right and rolled, I come up and I had a fist full of walnut plow handle and a man was just yankin' the end of a knife out of the front of the bar and he froze when he heard that big stand up percussion hammer come a-clatterin' back to full stand.

"That's enough," a voice said.  "Deputy Keller, stand down."

Now I warn't no deputy yet.

I was a tall boy not growin' my own face fur and the Sheriff he never allowed a word about makin' me a deputy, that would not come for a few years yet, but when Law and Order Harry Macfarland – a man I'd met, a man the Sheriff respected and admired – when he said to stand down, I eased that hammer down a little and real careful-like I pointed it torst the floor and set attiar hammer on a pin between the percussion nipples and then holstered.

"Now I understand we have a bet," the town marshal said conversationally.  "Has the bet been covered?"

Now that fella looked at my five double eagles like he wanted to eat 'em and I don't know why but he said "He stole that money," and Macfarland shook his head sadly.

"Do you want him to call you a liar?  Is that what you really want?"

"Hell, ain't no way a little boy like that could make that kind of money!"

"Deputy Keller," Harry said, "if you want to call him a liar, I will clear the street so you two can settle the matter."

I looked at the man.

"Mister," I said, "I don't like doin' unnecessary work.  Was I to call you a liar I'd have to say it twice and then I'd have to kill you.  It would be easier if you was to take back what you said."

I had him between a rock and a hard place and everyone there knew it.

Pride and honor are touchy matters and a man who just run his tongue into a corner couldn't git it out without admittin' he'd lied and he couldn't do that but neither did he want to say as much and get killed for his efforts, for he'd heard Macfarland call me "Deputy Keller" and I doubted me not he'd seen my pale eyes and he'd realized I was blood kin to Old Pale Eyes and was he to come after me he'd end up with the Sheriff after him and that would be his death sure as the sun rose in the East.

He recht slow and easy for them coins on the bar and he slid his torst him and let mine set.

I taken that as good enough.

I taken my five double eagles and slud 'em back into my pocket and then I spoke when I likely should not have.

"Mister," I said, "I do not trust you and I will not have you at my back.  Why don't you leave now and ride off and I'll wait'll you are far enough away to cause me no harm."

He didn't like that a'tall for 'twas as much an insult as callin' him a liar but he stalked out to the laughter of most of the others in the Carbon Hill saloon and me and Harry we went out afterward and sure enough the fella was ridin' off.

Now I'd sold all my live stock for I'd figured to ride back on the steam train and so me and Harry we crossed the street and went into the Mercantile and out the back and up the alley and we made our way to the depot and I got on board just in time.

I run acrost that man about a month later and I'd shamed him bad and he made the mistake of comin' at me.

It was his last mistake.

Now all that was a long time ago, understand, but it comes to mind every time I set foot in a saloon, and it's not for nothing that the Lawman's Corner lets the Sheriff and I set with our backs to a wall and able to see the doors in and out.

Now that fella that insulted me when I was younger, that man that said a .44 would knock me on my backside, that fella that made the mistake of crossin' me one time too many, was laid out in Potter's Field and I knowed which grave was his for I had a round rock set at its head, level with the ground, and I went out there with a beer to pour over his grave so his eternal soul would know how I felt about him, and I did pour out that whole beer.

I run it through my kidneys first.

Didn't want no mis-understanding, y'see.

 

 

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112.  HAT TRICK

 

Now one thing a man never does ... not unless he wants to be guest of honor at a good old fashioned knock down drag out fist fight ... a man just doesn't never, EVER so much as TOUCH another man's hat.

Notice I said a man never does this.

If you're a pretty girl you can get away with an awful lot.

I watched a pretty girl not just touch the Sheriff's pearl grey Stetson, she picked it up off his head and dropped it on her own brushed and shining curls, and as the hat came halfway down Angela's cheekbones, she gave a happy giggle, and as it was right after the choir finished and before the Parson spoke up, why, there was several folks (the Parson included) that couldn't help but smile at the sight of a pretty little girl wearing her Daddy's big hat.

That, and her happy giggle.

Hell, I laughed a little my own self.

The Sheriff he pulled the hat off her head and kissed the top of her head, he set his hat down on the pew as he picked Angela up and he pulled her onto his lap and she looked at the Parson, all bright and innocent eyed, and I reckon he might have got some inspiration for another Sunday sermon, I don't know.

I didn't pay much attention of what the Parson said but I'll never forget how happy Angela looked, settin' there in her big strong Daddy's lap, lookin' around with them bright Kentucky-blue eyes, just as happy as anything.

I looked at her and laughed again, quiet so nobody could hear me, rememberin' how she snatched up the Sheriff's Stetson and claimed it for her own, and I let my mind wander around a little bit and I recalled that funny sound a hat makes when you flick the brim with a finger.

Now there I was settin' in the house of the Almighty, settin' in a place of peace and tranquil spirit and attentive listenin' to the Word, and my mind recalled how I'd got in between two fellows who were in a serious disagreement because one did snap the other's hat brim and when the secont fellow turned around, the first one slapped it off his head and the fight was on.

I dismissed the memory, for recallin' how I was obliged to beat the both of 'em some to get 'em to stop and listen to me was not the kind of memory I really wanted to consider settin' here.

Not settin' in front of the Parson, and not settin' beside my wife.

I set beside my wife and our son and Annette she held Joseph the way a Mama holds her baby and she looked at the Parson and I don't recall her lookin' more genuinely beautiful and she must have felt me lookin' at her for she lowered her one hand from holdin' Joseph and recht over and taken my hand the way she liked to do in church and I liked holdin' her hand in church and we looked back to the Parson and then I looked back at Joseph and he yawned real big and opened his eyes oncet and then he acted like they was too heavy to hold open and he laid his cheek back ag'in his Mama and went back to sleep.

I looked back to the Parson and listened politely to what he had to say and I reckon he spoke well that day, he always had a fine speakin' voice and he was educated so's a man could put stock in what he said, but I honestly don't recall one word of what he said.

I recall Angela and her Daddy's hat, and Joseph all sleepy and cuddly like a wee boy-child is.

 

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113.  AN UNEXPECTED TEXAN

 

There was somethin' about this stranger that did not set right.

Maybe 'twas because he wore a heavy long duster when the day was warm.

Maybe 'twas the way he kept his hat brim down and didn't look no one in the eye.

Now I am a curious man and I knowed this stranger had done us no disfavors so I run a bird dog out a-past him by comin' into the livery as he was unsaddlin' his horse and lookin' over his horse and pickin' up his horse's hooves and tendin' the horse's needs and that-all struck me as just amighty familiar so I sent in the bird dog in the form of a question.

The Sheriff showed me that trick.

I asked, "You ain't from Texas by any chance?" and the stranger froze and the stranger lowered his horse's hoof and the stranger wiped that short bladed knife on his duster and slid it into a hidden sheath and that stranger said "I have not heard that voice in a very long time."

Now I did not recognize the soft spoken voice and I did not recognize anything about this solitary soul and somethin' told me he was less than comfortable and I do not know quite why but I said "I'll be in the Silver Jewel.  Come on back to where I'm settin', I'd be pleased for company for supper."

The stranger was quiet for a long moment and then nodded, and bent, and picked up his horse's hind hoof.

Shorty give me an odd look and I figured he knowed somethin' I did not but I was not inclined to draw him out on the matter, my gut told me this stranger was not entirely comfortable but it also told me this stranger was not trouble, so I figgered an offer of a meal would be a kindly thing and if need be, why, I'd stake him to a room upstairs.

I've known several folks that really appreciated a clean bed to sleep in.

I'd not got set down when the stranger come in the back, I seen him come out the end of the hall by the end of the bar and pass behint the fellas standin' boot-up on the brass rail, the stranger rounded the end of the bar and over to Tillie's desk and I saw the gesture and she handed him a key and he went on upstairs.

Now I set down and I fetched me out a little note book I carry for there was some numbers I wanted to stack on top of one another and figure what my expense would be was I to buy another stallion for breedin' stock and I wanted to think about this long and well before I parted with any gold, and I got absorbed in figgers and makin' notes about how to breed and when, and there was a rustle of skirt material and I looked up and then stood up for a man rises when he's approached and addressed by a lady.

I'm like the Sheriff.

A woman is a lady until she proves herself otherwise.

My hat was already hung on the peg and the woman looked at me kind of surprised.

"Ma'am," I greeted her.  "I'm Jacob Keller, Chief Deputy here in Firelands County.  How can I be of service?"

Now I never spoke like that before I met the Sheriff but I'd l'arned he was a good man to pattern after and she looked at me with surprise and she blinked a few times and she looked down and away and I was afraid she was goin' to leave and I knowed she'd come to me a-purpose and I said "Ma'am, there is somethin' on your mind," and she stopped and seemed to consider for a moment and then she turned and said "I'm sorry.  I thought you were the Colonel."

"Old Pale Eyes?"  I asked, smiling a little.

This was not the first time I might have been mistaken for my father.

We are of a like height, we are both broad of shoulder and narrow of waist, I am told I walk like him and carrry myself like him, and I won't speculate on whether I sound like him – I don't, he's more educated and speaks better and his mustache is iron grey and mine is some darker and Angela said mine is softer.

"Old Pale Eyes," she said slowly, and I could see her eyes were looking at something long in the past.

"Yes.  Old Pale Eyes."

"Ma'am, I would be pleased to hear what you have to say," I said gently.

"You offered me a meal," she said.

"Ma'am?"
"In the livery when I was tending my horse."  The woman looked up at me, almost hopefully, almost fearfully.  "When you asked if I was from Texas."

Now I was some surprised.

I hadn't placed this stranger for a woman a'tall but that would explain the duster, to conceal womanly hips, the hat brim low and not looking at anyone's face, for her features were sun-darkened but her skin was fair and healthy.

"I knew ... the Colonel."

"Yes, ma'am?"

"He ... I fought beside him."

"Ma'am?"
She smiled sadly.  "I enlisted under a boy's name."
The Sheriff come in about that time so I rose and raised my hand, gave a sign:  he came straight back and the woman rose, hidden heels cracked together under the long skirt and she raised a hand in a correct military salute.

"Colonel," she said, "Corporal Curtis Frazee, reporting."

The Sheriff is not often surprised, but he genuinely was.

He returned the salute as a matter of long habit and he stared openly at this woman with auburn hair and an uncertain expression and I spoke up and said "Sir, I believe the back room is open," and he nodded and the three of us retired to the back room, the one the Ladies' Tea Society used for meetings, the room that was used when a matter of confidence was to be discussed.

We went on in, I hung my Stetson and parked my rifle and we three set down at a table and the Sheriff nodded slowly, thoughtfully, and I could tell from his eyes that he was not seeing the clean tablecloth in front of him, and I could only imagine what facet of That Damned War he was looking at.

"I saw you hit," he said slowly.  "The stretcher-bearers packed you off."

She nodded.

"I was hit," she confirmed, her hand moving low to her left side, "and the surgeons found I was not the boy I pretended to be."

"I thought you died."

"I took someone into my confidence and after they sewed me up and wrapped me up and told me I would be taken under arrest, I managed to find a dress and change into who I'd been before I enlisted."  She smiled sadly.  "Even then I could not get away, I was pressed into service tending the sick and wounded."

The Sheriff shook his head. "Dear God," he whispered, then looked at her.  "What shall I call you now?"

"Connie," she said simply.  "Connie Frazee."

"Connie," he nodded, "may I present my son Jacob."

I rose and gave her a courteous half-bow, and she inclined her head in response, smiling a little.

"I thought he was you," she admitted, "until he turned and spoke and I realized you couldn't still be that young."

I held my tongue.

I could have told the Sheriff she'd come into town still pretendin' to be a man, but the feline was out of the burlap, as the Sheriff said once, so her disguise was of no more use:  I did not have to speak of it, for she did.

"I came ... life has been difficult."

The Sheriff nodded.

"I became Connie again and found my family shunned me, I was outcast and so I moved west.  I married a man and found I had no ... liking ... for womanhood.  It was just as well" – she raised her chin – "he got drunk and tried crossing a trestle with a train oncoming. He stepped off the ties into the water and was never found and so I was a widow, childless and more alone than I'd ever been."

She looked up.

"Since then I've done what I had to ... I've been laundress, cook and fixer of worn miner's britches ever since, and I'm tired of it.  I gathered what little I had and became a boy again and" – she shrgged – "here I am!"

I was inclined to speak up, but decided not to, for I knew what the Sheriff's words would be.

He was predictable that-a-way.

"You are welcome here," he said in a gentle voice, and she nodded, and you could see the tension run off her like water off an oilskin.

I half expected her to start crying but from the look of her, she decided not to.

"Thank you," she said simply.

 

 

Sarah and I sat in the hidden stairwell like we often did, hips and shoulders touching.

"You were the subject of some discssion," Sarah said offhandedly.

"Trust me to cause trouble," I sighed.

She reached over and squeezed my hand.

"Another woman kissed you, Jacob, and kissed you very well."

I nodded, and my ears warmed as I remembered how Daciana laid a good one on me.

I'd honestly never been kissed by a woman other'n Annette and I recall how the lust-fires roared into life deep in my belly and I blinked and nodded again.

"You've seen Daciana since then."

I nodded.

"You've not made a move toward her."

I nodded.

"That was a test."

"I ... suspicioned."

 

'Twas the next day, after Sarah taken Connie out to the dress works and Bonnie got her fixed up with several new outfits, that I run into Connie unexpected.

I fetched off my hat for we was out on the board walk right in front of God and everyboy and neither of us knowed quite what to say and then she managed a hesitant "Thank you."

"'Twas my good pleasure, ma'am," I said, "what did I do to get in trouble now?"

She smiled a little and then laughed.

"Nothing."  She tilted her head a little.  "Some people ... do not like it when a woman wears britches."

"You've heard of the Black Agent?"

Puzzled, she nodded.

"You have trusted me with ... yours, ma'am.  Now I shall entrust you as well."

She turned a little red and almost giggled and then said "You don't look like a woman in britches."

"There is one nearby," I said.  "The Black Agent is actually my twin sister."

Now Sarah warn't my twin but she could have been so I warn't lyin' to her, at least not much.

"I never knew," Connie whispered.

"You did right coming West," I said.  "Folks leave who they used to be, back East. I heard Sarah singin' one time, 'What Was Your Name in the States.'  She heard it somewhere and recalled it and that's how it is. Whoever you are, out here, is what you make of yourself, out here, and who you was back there, is dead and gone back East."

Connie closed her eyes and nodded and I thought she was going to water at the eyes some and matter of fact she did pull out a little lacy hankie and wipe at her eyes.

"You wouldn't be from Texas by any chance?"  I asked in a quiet voice, it's all I could think of to say, and she laughed a little and looked up at me.

"I heard any number of men ask the Colonel that," she said, then smiled just a little and said, "My Colonel.  Your Sheriff."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Yes.  Yes, I am from Texas."  She lifted her chin.  "My brother was killed in that damned War and I set out to find the man who killed him.  I couldn't do that as a woman so I became a boy, and the war swallowed me up and I never did find the murderer." 

"Yes, ma'am."

"I ended up as one of the Colonel's staff, a courier, and he admired the way I could ride."

"He always did have an eye for the horses, ma'am."

"I suppose I gave up on my old life.  I sold all I had and went west, and here I am."

"Where will you go now?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "I don't want to work in a bordello and I don't want to do any more laundry."

"I don't blame you there.  How are you at sewing?  Miz Bonnie might have need of you."

She smiled just a little. "I've never run a sewing machine," she admitted, "but I'd like to try!"

"If I may" – I paused – "I'll arrange an introduction with Miz Bonnie."

Connie looked down and her face reddened a little.  "That's ... very kind, thank you, but ..."

She looked up, blinking.

"She already hired me."

 

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114.  DID YOU SEE HER EYES?

 

Sarah did not often dance at the Silver Jewel.

She loved to dance and she was really, really good at it, the Sheriff said she dances like a feather on a breeze, and he's right – I dearly love to dance with her, it's kind of like I dance, and she floats.

It don't matter what I do, she matches me move for move.

I don't know how she does it but she does.

Now when she danced on stage, when she was a dance hall girl, wearin' them scandalous short skirts and showin' a low neck and bare arms, why, she was veiled or wearin' a glitter mask or some-such, so no one could reckonize her.

Sarah just kept surprisin' me, she was even on stage – which I did not know for a long time, she was rubbin' elbows with them actor sorts when her Mama had her modelin' in Denver, them actor sorts taught her about makeup and disguise and constumin' and that – least I think – is why she got so good at turnin' herself into someone else.

In a day's time I seen her as a nun with folded hands and downcast eyes, as a severe, strait-laced schoolmarm with her hair up in a walnut on top of her head and looking dour and disapproving (which lasted about thirty seconds before she give up and busted up laughin'!) – she turned into the Black Agent and looked like what the Sheriff called "a remarkably active young man" (I quote the Sheriff an awful lot, don't I?) – so it warn't no surprise when she did dance on stage there in the Silver Jewel, no one reckonized her.

There was one fella – now Sarah had a trick and the Irish Brigade was in on it but they didn't know 'twas her neither, all they knowed was when she put her fingers to her lips and whistled and yelled "Hey Firemen!" why they come to their feet and formed two lines, 'cause about then she was going to do some kind of a fancy spin-and-high-kick and then she'd take two runnin' steps and swan dive off attair stage and they'd ketch her and set her down on her feet and she'd take one's hand and turn like a top underneath of it, and then she'd skip out amongst the men seated and watchin' and she'd drop into his lap and trail her fingertips alongside his jaw and say sometin' like "Hello, handsome," and then she'd pop up and spin her way back to the stage, she'd do some kind of a throw-up-her-leg turn and damned if she wouldn't just absolutely flip back into the stage and do a few backflips and she was gone.

Generally about then the place would plainly come unglued, men would whistle, stomp, pound callused hands on tabletops, knock beer mugs to the floor and toss hats in the air, not necessarily in that order.

Now this one time, when she landed in that one fella's lap I thought his eyes was gonna bug right out of his head, he was a visitin' banker and frankly he come into town thinkin' Firelands was one of them dried out dirty little fallin' down places he'd read about in them penny dreadfuls, he was expectin' dried out beans and fricaceed boot leather for meals and here he come into a tidy little town with painted up buildin's and the best cookin' in the territory, he'd laughed when Daisy come a-scoldin' her way down the hall with her wooden spoon held up before her like a scepter and he laughed ag'in when she glared her way around the bar and allowed as she was right unhappy because there wasn't a single thing to complain about today and then she stomped her way back down the hall to her kitchen, followed by that big red headed Irish fire chief who yelled "Daisymedear, give us a kiss!" followed by the sound of a wooden spoon whacking him someplace, her protesting "Ya put me down, ya big Irish –" followed by a prolonged silence ... when Sean came grinning his way back down the hall, Dasy was scolding after him, waving that spoon:  "Now don't think ya can get away wi' that ever' day, ya big Irish scoundrel, an' I'll be here the same time tomorrow!" – the knowing twinkle in her eyes was unmistakable and she flashed the grinning visitor a knowing look, snatched up her skirts h'isted her nose in the air with a contented "Hmph!" and skipped back down the hall like a happy schoolgirl.

Now back to Sarah.

She sized up the audience from the stage and she was good at it, she come a-balin' off attair stage in her swan dive and I thought attair banker fella was goin' to swaller his chaw when she did, and then when she did her music-box turn, she looked at him and come a-skippin' over to him, draped herself bonelessly in his lap, bent way back until toes and fingertips just touched the floor, snapped back up, run her arms around his neck and whispered "I always did like a man of means!" – she picked up his Derby, kissed his shining scalp, replaced the hat and giggled her way back to the stage.

When attair fella finally come to his feet, I was loafing against Tilly's hotel counter, having seen the whole thing.

"Well, Mr. Blair?"  I grinned.  "What do you think of our entertainment?"

He stopped, he blinked, he turned back to the just-closed and still-swaying curtains, then he looked at me and said "I have seen many women in my day."

I nodded, carefully harnessing my knowledge that he was about to speak of my own blood kin.

"That dancer ..."

His voice trailed off and his eyes grew distant for a moment – no more than that – as he looked at her again, saw her from his own seat in front of and a little to the right of the little stage – "she ... her ..."

He looked at me and I saw confusion in his eyes.

"Deputy, I started at her ankles and I positively devoured that tender little morsel with my eyes."

I nodded again; this was no more than other men had told me.

"I ... she ... "

He spread his hands helplessly, shook his head, started again.

"Everything was there and in the right amounts, she is beautiful, she is flawless, she is a Venus come to life" – he stopped, breathing through his mouth, frowning a little like he was searching hard for the words.

"Deputy, she is absolutely gorgeous, I have never in my LIFE seen a woman as honestly beautiful, even with her feathered mask ..."

He looked up at me and he almost looked helpless, and his next words explained why.

"And then I saw her eyes."

His expression saddened and his shoulders sagged.

"I don't know what hell that poor girl has seen in her lifetime, Deputy, but she has the eyes of a carved marble statue.  I don't know what happened to her, but I think she could kill every man in this room and make it look easy, and I think she could sleep well that night."

He shook his head, blinking, lifted his Derby to rub his bald and shining scalp, and then he replaced the hat, covering the bright red impress of Sarah's lips in his bald and shining scalp.

 

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115.  THEN THERE WAS THIS DOG

 

Angela happily dunked the little black puppy in the tub.

The maid was a little girl once, and the maid knew how little girls thought, and the maid knew how little girls behaved, and so she only put a hand's-breadth of water in the tub.

It was sufficient for the task at hand, even if Angela had to lean waaaaay down to give her fuzzy little black puppy a baffie.

She'd watched her beloved Sawwah – aunt or cousin, she didn't really know, and she didn't really care, she was Sawwah and that was fine with her and with her older relative both – Sawwah gave The Bear Killer a baffie and The Bear Killer obviously relished being doted over and Angela could not figure out why the fuzzy little black puppy screeched and yipped like it was bein' beat.

"Now you stop that," Angela scolded it, dipping water over the furry little fellow, "you're supposed to like baffies!"

The pup didn't bite, nor did it snap, but it wasn't happy a'tall, and finally quit struggling and suffered in silence as Angela prattled and anointed and soaped and massaged it, and finally when the puppy realized it wasn't going to be drowned or worse, and when the puppy realized it felt pretty good to be warm and soap-sudsy-slick and when it realized the little girl with the big blue eyes really did know what she was doing, the pup relaxed, and in due time – and with enough of a watery, soapy mess on the floor – Angela got the pup rinsed off and wrapped up and dried off, and she carried it into the parlor all wrapped up like a favorite doll and she lay down on her belly where the sun came through the window and she and the pup decided it was a good place to just lay for a while.

The maid, to her credit, planned to mop the floor anyway, and the wet floor made her work a little easier, or at least a little more efficient:  while Angela and the pup stretched and yawned in the sunlight, the maid tended her duties, and cleaned and emptied the tub, and while the pretty little girl and the rolled-over-on-his-back pup snoozed on the floor, the maid slipped in and left a silk ribbon to tie around the pup's neck.

She'd seen Sarah bathe The Bear Killer as well, and Sarah tied a ribbon around the mountain Mastiff's neck and finished it with a cleverly knotted bow, and the maid thought perhaps Angela would wish to do the same.

She was right.

 

Sarah lay on her belly, but not on a clean parlor floor.

She lay on a flat rock, her breathing silent, not because she slept, but because she watched, because she was a predator, because she was fixed on her prey.

Angela's pretty red lips curled up in a little-girl's smile as she slept, her pink, clean-scrubbed hands relaxed in the window-filtered sunlight, a few stray black puppy-hairs between her fingers.

Sarah's black-gloved fingers were relaxed around the barrel of her spyglass, and beside her, a black canine, also rolled over on his back, sunning himself.

Unlike the puppy, The Bear Killer did not sleep.

There would be time enough for sleep.

He could smell his beloved Mistress's contained excitement, he knew she was a fellow predator, and he knew the moment her scent changed he would be rolled over and on his feet with his fur a-bristle, but for the moment, it felt good to roll over on his back and let the mountain sun warm his belly.

Sarah began to move:  slowly, carefully, backward; an inch, another, a foot:  the ground dropped away at the rear of the rock and she got her legs under her, turned, scanned round about before moving again:  The Bear Killer and her black Snowflake-mare scanned as well, though their intake of information was more instinctual than deliberate.

 

I knew the man I followed would not surrender peaceably.

I dislike just out and out killin' a man.

I've done it.

I've gone after men with a dead-or-alive on their head and just shot 'em from ambush, a .44 through the head makes a man right peaceable and he don't fight much when you fetch him back to see the Judge, and if you shoot him right you don't ruin the face so's no one can claim it warn't him.

I don't really like doin' that but some times it's needful.

I didn't reckon 'twould be needful today.

For one thing I warn't goin' after him alone.

I knew Sarah wanted him fetched in and if Sarah was after him she'd have The Bear Killer with her and somehow when a hound dog big as a pony stands up and bristles and gives that big ivory tooth grin that says he'd plainly like to have a man for supper, and likely as the main course, why, I've generally had my .44 on 'em to keep 'em from puttin' lead into the dog.

I'm superstitous.

I consider it bad luck to inherit holes in my hide.

I consider it much worse to have holes in The Bear Killer, for Sarah prizes that fellow, and I genuinely would not wish to be in the same county with her when her fuse is lit, and hurtin' that big black dog would be just an awful fast way to get her just a-mighty unhappy.

I had me a set of binoculars and I was puttin' 'em to good use.

The fellow I was after had himself a good spot and I had about the only hide that could lay eyes on him.

I was part way down the grade in a little holler, shadowed by brush and long as I held still there was no way in God's good earth I could be seen:  the sun was from up behint me so there would be no reflectin' off them there big German field glasses – but I also knowed this fellow warn't stupid a'tall and though he had rock on three sides and the only approach he knowed of was from his straight-ahead, he likely would know where could a man watch him from.

I had to consider that.

Now I knowed Sarah was after him as well and I figgered she was somewhere close.

I figgered this because I could not see her.

When she is about and she is huntin' a man, not seein' her is what a man will see, especially the man she's seein'.

I commenced to move and I moved to the side and down and around.

I knowed I would come on this fella from above and I'd have to work my way around to the right to get down on his level to lay hands on him.

I eased through some low brush and willy wormed through some shortgrass and finally come out about ten foot from the rock lip and I considered I might make a runnin' jump and land on the man and about that time I seen Sarah's hat, or ruther she let me see it – damned if she couldn't plainly turn invisible when it suited her, or so it felt like, she was sneaky but women are naturally so – I looked under the hat and I seen them pale eyes and she was laughin' and she brought up her hand and pulled it out of her black glove so I could see her white hand ag'in her black shirt.

She made a sign and she made another and she turned her head ever so slightly and I seen her lips purse up and I knowed it was about to get interestin' so I r'ared up and yelled "SHERIFF'S OFFICE!" and that fella he jumped like a scalded cat and he whirled to face me and he was half bent over and swingin' his hand down for his rifle and there was this God-awful cross between a scream, a roar and a steam whistle and somethin' half the size of a grizzly b'ar with a mouth three foot open and teeth a foot long up an' down came just a-blastin' over attair rock lip opposite me and he startled and whirled and The Bear Killer landed him full in the chest and over they went and Sarah and me we both jumped and 'twas about ten foot down but sand on the bottom and I landed and rolled and come up with a handful of plow handle justice and there was The Bear Killer standin' on this fella and them big black forepaws on his shoulders and he was a-givin' this wanted murderer a good face washin' and Sarah she come up off the ground with her rifle in one hand and she looked over at me and I worked my Colt's cylinder back around and set the nose down on the empty chamber and shoved 'er back in gunleather and we walked up on The Bear Killer and Sarah said "Off" and The Bear Killer he come off just as nice as you please and that fella looked up at us and he had a very, very clean face.

'Twas a face the color of wheat paste but it was really clean.

I looked down at him and Sarah looked down at him and he looked up at us and he knowed the three of us had him dead to rights and he kind of swallered real hard and then 'twas funny to hear, for he was a big man and he squeaked like a schoolboy all nervous at askin' a girl to the dance, he kind of squeaked, "Bear Killer?"

Sarah and I both nodded and the man's eyes went wide and had he not been layin' flat on his back I reckon he would have hit the ground in a dead faint.

I don't reckon 'twas necessary to get the irons on him for the trip back to town.

Long as The Bear Killer was in sight, why, he never took his eyes off Big Black and Curly, and he never offered to so much as sneeze.

 

The Arapaho County deputy told me later that big fella – the one wanted for murder, robbery, arson and general unpleasantness – was real quiet on the train ride back to Denver.

Attair deputy told me he got curious and asked this fella if he tried fightin' a'tall when we apprehended him.

He said that big fella stared at the floor for about a minute, then he said "I was all set to."

He looked at the deputy and said "I was all set to kill whoever I had to, an' then ..."

He spread his hands helplessly, at least to the limit of the chain joining them, and said "Then there was this dog."

 

 

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116.  THE DOG KNEW

 

I was restless and that was not a good sign.

I don't often get that-a-way but by the Lord Harry! I was as comfortable as a streetwalker at a tent revival, had someone recht out and twanged me anywhere – you've probably seen a little cat, more than a kitten but not growed yet, they'll stalk a knot in the floor and pounce on it, they'll roll and swat and back off and they'll hunker down and it looks like they're windin' up, their tail will switch and then it'll lay out straight and just the tip will quiver and of a sudden they'll pounce on attair knot and just swat the hell out of it.

If you reach out and twang that cat's tail when it's stiff and quivery on the end, why, attair cat will snap straight up in the air and flip over and land big-eyed wonderin' what just happened, and that's how I felt.

All wound up and about to snap.

The Bear Killer he shoved the door open there at the Sheriff's office and he looked at me and give me that big grin of his and I've seen grown men go pasty faced and near to pass out when The Bear Killer grinned at 'em and me I went over and rubbed him under the jaw and squatted down and allowed as I'd ought to thump him and The Bear Killer he picked his head up and laid it on my shoulder and rumbled like an old b'ar shook out of his good rest by an impatient cub.

I patted his ribs fearlessly and stood and The Bear Killer he come right with me, I don't know why but I needed to be outside and I whistled and Apple-horse he come pacin' down the alley torst us and I could tell he warn't none too happy neither.

I'd left him saddled for I figgered to be in the Sheriff's office no more'n ten minutes and I was in for less than three and Apple he r'ared back his head and walled his eyes and I grabbed his cheek strap and hauled his head down and said "You ugly jug head, what ails you?" and I rubbed his neck and murmured to him and told him he was a glue hoof oat burner and I'd ought to run my arm down his throat and grab his tail and jerk him inside out and he nosed my middle and I give him a broke off chunk of pepper mint stick and wrapped the rest up in wax paper and stuck it back in my pocket.

I got a hoof in the stirrup and I was halfway from earth to saddle when Apple's head come up and I felt him mutter deep in his chest and I knowed we needed to move and move now and my back side set deep in good leather and I found t'other stirrup and Apple he paced out right quick and The Bear Killer he bristled up and give out a bay and I was right glad my rifle was in its scabbard for my gut told me 'twas goin' to get interestin'.

There is times when I hate bein' right and this was one of 'em.

Now I warn't a'tall sure what was about to happen nor where so I give Apple his head and he followed The Bear Killer for the big black b'ar killin' dog he took out lopin' and then he leaned out into a flat out run and that feelin' things were gettin' really bad gripped me around the chest like the hard claw of doom and we come around a turn at little short of a gallop and this was a street that run back torst Daciana's big round barn the Sheriff built in under the cliff and the boarding house was the only other buildin' on that street and 'twas halfway between the big barn and the main street and I leaned back and yelled "HO!" about the time one of them boardin' house windows busted.

It didn't break like someone threw somethin' through it.

It broke kind of diagonal and big chunks of glass broke free and fell and turned and flashed bright in the morning sun and I heard wood groan and I yelled "BEAR KILLER! BACK!" and I give Apple my knee and leaned and Apple he snapped hard over and dug steel shod hooves into the dirt and he come around like the cuttin' horse he was and we was of a sudden runnin' from it and The Bear Killer he started to yammer and I could hear him bristle up and he started that choppin'-jaw, fightin' scream and Apple he come clear around and we was twenty yards further than when I give him my knee and attair boardin' house give a groan like it was bein' tortured and I seen the roof line start to sag and I said somethin' right impolite and I give Apple my heels and he launched torst attair boardin' house and I come balin' out of the saddle and I hit the ground wrong and rolled, I tucked my shoulder and tubled over oncet and come up on my feet a-runnin' and I hit attair front door hard and bounced off.

I grabbed the door knob for 'twas never locked, it was a boardin' house, I shoved and I kicked and someone inside beat on the door and I stepped back and taken three runnin' steps torst it and I fetched up my boots and I hit it with both boot heels right aside of the door knob and I hit the ground but attair door busted loose and I come back up on all fours and I drove into that door and it did not want to open but I figgered 'twas comin' open peacefully or otherwise and I did not much care which.

The landlady was there and her eyes was big and I grabbed her arms and yelled "IS ANYONE ELSE INSIDE" and her eyes rolled up torst the upstairs and I taken off runnin' two at a time and I run at the top of my lungs, I started kickin' doors for I was wound up like an eight day clock and the first one I kicked in, a scairt lookin' saloon girl in her night dress was pulllin' at her window and it warn't comin' open and I taken two long strides acrost the room and grabbed her arm and pulled her back just as attair window busted like that first one I'd seen.

I pulled her into the hall and I yelled "GET OUT NOW!" and went on to the next and about then we felt the floor sag underfoot.

The only other closed door come open of a sudden and a drummer come a-runnin' out, his hat was half cocked and his neck tie warn't tied, he had his grip in his hand and he near to run right over top of me and that poor girl both.

I spun around and grabbed her hand and pretty much drug her downstairs, I went a-runnin' downstairs as fast as a man can run on level ground and I don't reckon she hit more'n one or two steps on the way down, I reckon she kind of trailed along behint me like a white flannel kite tail.

The land lady was still inside the front door and I recht out and snagged her around the waist and there warn't no way the three of us was goin' to fit through attair doorway and I did not care, I had my speed up and I was movin' like the noon freight on a down hill and we went sailin' outside and I kept a-runnin' and I heard ruin and timber a-splinter behint and when I figgered 'twas safe I turned and we looked and damned if attair boardin' house warn't showin' a serious sag and then she collapsed in the middle and my arm was still around the landlady's waist and my other hand was still around the dance hall girl's wrist and we stood there and watched that house collapse slow and horrible and it went from what used to be a strong and square buildin' to ... well, when it finished fallin' in, we could see a section of mine shaft open under neath of it and them timbers bridged off and the whole cob house looked like it was goin' to collapse the rest of the way, least until we saw smoke startin' to drift up and then I remembered the kitchen had a cook stove in it and that or a lamp or some such and directly she started burnin' serious.

Turns out it was pullin' air out of the mine and makin' a hell of a draft when it did, the mine didn't know what was a-goin' on, only there was of a sudden a good wind and 'twas carryin' dust away from the miners and it warn't until the Sheriff fired off a telegram to Cripple that anyone knowed really that a shaft they'd cut too close to the surface and abandoned because they weren't supposed to be workin' underneath the town – nobody cribbed nothin' up because they didn't want timber goin' to where they warn't supposed to be – that shaft was cut better'n two years before and it just took that long for the ground to give way and the boardin' house had the ill fortune to be built over that weak ground after it had been cut out from under and then give up on.

The mine ended up fillin' that hole and gradin' it over with dirt and the Sheriff he owned a good amount of stock in attair mine so his word was listened to at the stock holders meeting and I heard later his words were less than kind for there was another sink hole come a week later after a rain and 'twas over in Miz Bonnie's pasture and the mine they left it open but they fenced around it good and proper so's live stock and curious children would not be fallin' down into the shaft.

I'm gittin' way ahead of myself ag'in.

The Sheriff he tells a tale better than me, I side track myself somethin' awful.

When I come chargin' out of attair front door with the land lady a-fillin' one arm and attair dance hall girl trailin' in my Slip Stream, we come out at a dead run and we didn't stop for half a hundred yards and when we did I slowed some for I had that girl by the wrist and I did not want to Crack the Whip and break her wrist or some such and the three of us kind of coasted to a stop and we turned and looked and attair Land Lady she clapped her hands to her face the way a woman will, only she didn't know if she wanted to press her palms ag'in the sides of her head to keep it from floatin' off in the wind, she warn't sure if she wanted to cup her hands in front of her mouth to keep from sayin' somethin' that warn't quite Lady Like, she was kind of unertain whether she wanted to press her fists into her high stomach and bug out her eyes so she kept tryin' one an' then another and I didn't pay much attention to her as she did, I was too busy watchin' what used to be a pretty nice boardin' house collapse into a pile of ruin and then ketch fahr and then I asked attair Land Lady if there was anyone else in there and she shook her head and it wouldn't have mattered if there was for no one could get into it now.

The Bear Killer he come wanderin' up and stopped and then looked up at me and tilted his head a little and then he give attair dance hall girl a loud sniff and she was starin' at attair pile of burnin' splintered timber and her eyes was real wide and she was real pale and the red stood out on her cheeks like you'd painted them on and her hands kind of floated down and worked her long slender fingers into The Bear Killer's shoulder fur and The Bear Killer he give me that big toothy grin of his and attair big brush of a tail clubbed me acrost the thighs and he didn't care much about anythin' but he was gettin' his back scratched and that made him happy.

 

I l'arned later about animals and Earth Quakes and how Live Stock will run around in circles before the earth shivers and the Sheriff he said Crazy Hermey back home in Ohio used to use Nitro Glycerin to blow oil wells – "shoot the wells," he called it – somethin' to do with blowin' a reservoir at the bottom of the bore hole so's oil would have somewhere to gather, kind of like a cistern I reckon – anyway he'd make a Torpedo out of thin pipe and Nitro Glycerin with a fused stick of powder in each end and he'd drop attair Torpedo down the water filled bore hole and he'd walk away with his hands in his pockets just as ca'm and he'd look at his pumper's egg and when he reckoned attair fuse was about to hit the powder why he'd raise his hat and about then the earth would shiver underfoot and you couldn't hear nothin' but ever' horse's head threw up and ever' cow's head threw up and so did the cows' tails an' dogs run in circles barkin' and then you'd hear this rumble and then they was this big squirt of dirty oily water a-blowin' out of attair bore hole and the Sheriff said it would blow rocks out attair bore hole too big to fit back down the hole, he knew for he'd tried hit – anyway I reckon The Bear Killer he heard that mine startin' to subside and the mine they had quite a bit of fill for there was none of it timbered or cribbed and all of it could possibly fall in and the Sheriff he made double damned sure they fixed it for he did not want his town – his town! – fallin' in!

 

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117.  DRY WORKS

 

The Sheriff's voice was quiet as he held up the lantern and we went into the drift.

It was an opening he had made for him and it come out in the back of Daciana's big round barn.

It led down into them mine works that warn't supposed to run under town.

Them mining engineers looked at 'em and allowed as they sloped down hill and what was above was solid and no danger of it comin' down into a collapse and they taken a look at where it fell in under the boarding house and they said that was a chimney of bad overhead – bad top, they called it – and they allowed as 'twas a wonder it did not fall in soon as it was dug out.

Now the Sheriff he could see possibilities.

He taken me into attair drift and down slope and he set down on a rock and me on another and he set attair lantern down and we talked some, or ruther he talked and I listened.

He allowed as these were dry works, and he talked about puttin' his money in Eastern coal mines and how that was profitable for him and he was still makin' money from those investments even havin' sold the Zig Zag and Wobble back in Palos so's he could buy Miz Esther her own railroad here.

He said them mines back East was damp and most of 'em dripped water and they all had to be pumped out constantly so's they didn't flood but these was dry works and there was no water in 'em and was a man to have to hide somethin' here is the place to do it.

I frowned a little and I recall my head turned slightly as if to bring a good ear to bear and then I remembered that's what the Sheriff did when he was listenin' right close and believe me I listened and I did listen close for there was more to his words than was he was sayin'.

I just didn't know what.

Not yet, anyway.

He said if a man wished to keep goods like books or leather or oiled gunmetal safe for a very long time, was he to crate 'em up and sheath them in lead, he could either batter the seams or solder the seams if he was confident of not over heatin' what was inside and I nodded and he looked around and said this was the most geologically stable section of the mine and this would be ideal to put something for very long term storage.

I am not the brightest candle in the chandelier so I looked squarely at the pale eyed Sheriff and I said "Sir, I shall remember all this –"

He cut me off with a raised hand.

"No questions, Jacob," he said.

I blinked a couple times and closed my mouth.

He knowed I was goin' to ask him why he was showin' me this.

He held up his hand and frowned at it and the lantern bein' on the floor didn't show me much.

"Esther told me I have such pretty hands," he said thoughtfully, then tilted his head and regarded a particular finger.

"I one time pulled on a string too hard and cut into the skin over this one little finger joint. Ever since, why, that joint has got ugly and it's startin' to knot up."  His lips pressed together and then he spoke again.

"I recall my Mama suffered so with them knotted up finger joints."

I waited.

"She played piano, Jacob, and she sang like an angel."

I nodded, considering this might be why he admired Sarah and the ladies' singing' and piano playin' as he did.

"There torst the last, when I was fixin' to leave with Connie, she played piano and cried for the pain but she played anyhow."

His voice stopped and there was a little ketch in his throat and he looked away and I knew he was goin' to swallow hard and he did and he harrumphed and wiped at an eye and taken a long breath and it warn't often the man let himself be seen so, he gener'ly kept a wall around him, he built that wall of general good-fellowship and laughter and sometimes a stony silence but it was a wall anyhow and it was gone now.

"I have arranged my affairs," he said slowly, "so if I fall over dead today, Esther will be provided for, as will the children."  He harrumphed again and said "Consult with Mr. Moulton. He will set you up in the same manner.  I have left you a third of all that I have and that will make you a wealthy man."

It's a good thing I was set on a rock for otherwise I would have fell through a wood floor.

I had me just this terrible feelin' for a son builds his universe on the solid rock that is the Grand Old Man and I had done just that and now he was givin' me signs that he might be checkin' out right here directly and that made me far less than comfortable.

"Sir," I said, and he raised that flat palm again.

"No question, Jacob."

"Yes, sir."

He looked down the shaft, into darkness and silence, and his voice was hollow as his expression.

"I recall when I was young.  The day I realized my Old Man's feet were made of the same clay as my own was a terrible day indeed."

"Yes, sir."

"I am a flawed creature, Jacob.  I have a temper and you've seen it. I've killed men and as needed I'll do it again.  The Parson and I talked about that and he allowed as in wartime we are forgiven for it's war and we are under orders, and he quoted Scripture and we looked 'em up together where a man of authority can kill under color of his office and it is not murder."

"Yes, sir."

"I am telling you this, Jacob, for you will be Sheriff after I am gone."

"Yes, sir."

This did not surprise me. It's what I'd always believed, it's work I'd been doing and doing well, and it was accepted that a son followed his father's trade.

"Work with Mr. Moulton, Jacob. And with Esther. They are both very good at business and they will help you keep your accounts in order and they can advise you well on investing."  I heard his voice lighten a little and when he looked up at me, though his cheek bones shaded his eyes, what with that lantern between his boots, "and making money without sweating for it is always a good thing."

"Yes, sir," I agreed, for I'd invested in silver futures and then in the mines later discovered and I'd made a right decent fortune my own self, I just kept it really quiet, even from my wife.

"Might ought I consult Mr. Moulton," I said, "for I have some to leave to Annete."

"He can fix you right up."

The Sheriff rose, twisted his hips a little, bent and picked up the lantern, and I rose with him.

"That rock just doesn't do a thing for my poor old backside.  Let's go have some coffee."

"Yes, sir."

 

Sarah and I set on them hidden back steps and my one hip was touchin' varnished wood and the other was touchin' Sarah's hip and I was hunched forward with my elbows on my knees and my lips on my clasped hands.

Sarah leaned over ag'in my shoulder and tilted her head over and her little purple hat pressed into my ear and she sighed quietly.

"If you think much harder," she whispered, "your hair will catch fire."

She felt me laugh – I held it in but she felt it – she raised her head and rubbed my back and whispered, "Out with it, cowboy.  What's troubling you?"

I taken a long breath, dropped my forehead onto my interlaced fingers.

"The Sheriff is going to die."

"Of course he's going to die, silly," she said, curling her fingers and scratching my back.  "Take off your vest so I can do this right."

I straightened and unbuttoned my vest, worked it off, hunched forward as she tugged off her gloves, one lacy finger at a time, and laid then daintily across my knee, and then she begun to scratch my back and I arched like a cat and closed my eyes and groaned with pleasure.

"The Sheriff taught me to be a champion back scratcher," she said, and I silently blessed the man, for few things feel better than a good back scratchin'.

When she was done I put my vest back on and she pulled her gloves back on and she set there patiently and finally I said "The Sheriff spoke of investing and providing for Esther after he's gone and how I could provide for Annette ..."

I looked at my pale eyed sister.

"You can see things, Sarah."

She started to answer and I interrupted her.

"I'm not askin' you to.  I'm askin' you if the Sheriff can."

She closed her mouth and considered, she frowned, she hunched her back and planted an elbow on her knee and wrapped her hand around her mouth, tapping her cheek with a finger, and she frowned for all the world like an old schoolmarm considerin' just how much punishment to levy on a naughty student.

She finally lowered her hand, straightened, placed her palms flat on her thighs and said "To the same degree that you do, Jacob. You both have an instinct for what will happen in the near future."

I frowned and nodded for I'd nothing along the lines of what she had.

"He knows he's going to die."

"He's known that since he went to war."

"He took me into the dry works under town and said this is where to store what needed hid away, he said to crate it and wrap it in lead."

"I have lead sheeting on order."

I stopped and I turned my head and I looked at my pale eyed sister and I am not the least bit ashamed to admit it felt like she'd just trickled a dipper of cold water right down my spine.

 

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118.  PERCIVAL SIMONTON BENTWHISTLE THE THIRD

 

I eased my backside down onto a handy rock and added a couple sticks to the fire.

It warn't laid the way a man will when he's used to layin' a fire and I ended up takin' two chunks thick as my arm or a little thicker and bringin' 'em up on either side of it, lined up so the wind could draft it some.

It also give me someplace to set the fryin' pan.

This fella sharin' the fire with me was ... well, he warn't from around here.

He didn't look much different from anyone else, considerin' there was all kind of people to be seen one time or another:  I've seen Chinamen with them little round hats and funny quilted jackets, I've seen bearded Russians with billed caps, hell, I've seen just about any nationality one time or another I reckon, 'specially since folks was forever passin' through on their way to Cripple for gold minin', and gold was a draw from all over the world.

This fella he looked like he might have started out lookin' like what the world thought cowboys looked like only maybe a year later: his clothes were worn, he looked tired, the fellow was settin' starin' at my fryin' pan and somethin' told me his stomach knew what it was to wrap itself around his back bone so's it wouldn't be too awful lonely.  Matter of fact he started swallerin' like a slobberin' dog when I commenced to shave bacon into attair fryin' pan.

I had plenty and ended up feedin' him most of it, includin' coffee – he taken a sip and leaned back with his eyes closed and he give a sigh of genuine pleasure as he let it trickle down his swaller pipe – we et a passel of sweet rolls and all that bacon, I fried up all the eggs I had bedded in flour and had we not already them sweet rolls, I reckon we'd have fried up some trail bread in attair bacon grease out of the flour them eggs rode in.

I come on him kind of unexpected, least he didn't expect me, but I'd been followin' him for better'n five mile and when I smelt wood smoke, why, I figgered I'd caught up with whoever belonged to them tracks.

Now oncet he got some grub behind his belt buckle he loosened up a little and I knowed he was maybe British and I was right, he talked like an educated man and I do enjoy cornversation with an educated man – I'll learn somethin' from anyone, but I taken pains to speak with the educated for I wished to sound less ... coarse.

Now this fella oncet he figgered I warn't goin' to bend a club over his head and take what little he had, why, he turned out friendly enough, and he was kind of interestin'.

Turns out he'd left jolly old England and come over to partake of them gold paved streets and he l'arned in a hurry British nobility didn't cut much ice with most folks.

I reckon he didn't have no one he knowed in New York, there's plenty of swells there and I reckon was there family or acquaintances a-waitin' why he'd have had a right good time, but he ended up workin' his way West – workin' for the first time in his life.

He was intelligent and not just educated and the two ain't the same thing.

He'd l'arned from some fellas to look ahead – we spoke of lawmen he'd met, outlaws he'd run into, he spoke of places he'd been and things he'd seen, and he asked me what lay on to the west, what would he run into next.

Now I hadn't introduced myself yet and my badge was under my lapel where I usually wear it, so he didn't know I was a lawman, I reckon that's why he talked so easy and open.  Folks generally get kind of close mouthed when they find out you're a badge packer, unless they're really stupid and God knows there's plenty of those, I've run into my share and more.

This fella he asked what lay to the west and I said if he stayed on this trail another five mile or so he'd come to a fork, the left fork went on over the mountains but the right fork went into Firelands.

He give me a sharp look when I said Firelands and he said, "I say, isn't that where Old Pale Eyes rules like a king?"
I laughed, for I'd never heard the Sheriff referred to as a king, and I figgered maybe it was a good idea not to let him take too close a look at my eyes ... matter of fact it struck me as a little bit funny.

"Well," said I, "Old Pale Eyes is Sheriff, all right."

"I understand there is an ... honest ... gambling-house as well."

I nodded.  "I heard tell," I said neutrally.

"The Silver Jewel."  He frowned a little.  "An honest gambling-house is a bit of a rare thing, I've found."

"You've run into blue spectacles."

"To my poverty," he said ruefully. 

"There's also shaved cards – cut on a taper so they can be stripped out of a deck – thumbnail marks –"

"I say," he interrupted, "you seem to know a little too much about this kind of thing, old boy!"

I laughed.

"Let's just say I know the Silver Jewel," I said, pouring him another tin mug of hot, steaming coffee, "and Tom Landers knows what to look for."

"Landers," this fella said thoughtfully, frowning, as if searching his memory for some reference.  "I fear we've never been introduced."

"Tom Landers was first Sheriff of Firelands County.  When the current Sheriff took over, Tom Landers stayed on to keep the Silver Jewel peaceable."

"A tall chap, is he?"

"He's about half a hand shorter than me, he's still as skinny as he ever was.  Trims his mustache even with his lip, I think he was regular Army and still keeps himself awful neat about his person."

"Quite right, quite right," this fella nodded.  "And this pale eyed Sheriff ... I understand he is ..."

He looked at me like he was uncertain about a phrase.

"A bad man?"

I laughed a little. 

"Yes, sir," I nodded, "you are absolutely right.  He's a bad man to tangle with.  I don't reckon I'd want to tangle with him and –"  I did my best not to smile – "why, I'm young enough to be his son and I would not want to run cross wise of him!"

"I have heard this before," he affirmed, and I added a few more sticks to the fire, for there is somethin' about a fire to make men feel companionable, and somethin' told me this fellow could use a friend.

"I'm headed that-a-way myself," I said.  "I know some people there can put you up.  You lookin' for work?"

He lowered his head into his hand and rubbed his forehead.

"I thought I could," he admitted, "and I've had to do every sort of low task ..."

"You speak like an educated man."

He nodded sadly.  "I scored well in maths.  My family was well placed and ..."

He chuckled, then shrugged.

"I suppose I could have been a banker, or a bookkeeper, but I never had ..."
I considered, remembering a scrap of conversation I'd heard from a man I knew from over in Cripple.

"Tell you what."  I'd set the fryin' pan to the side, we'd mopped all the bacon grease out of it with our sweet rolls and it was clean enough I could pack it away, and I picked it up and wrapped it in the rag I kept for that purpose.  "I sleep good on a full belly and was we to get a good night's rest, why, we'll ride on over to Firelands and see about some of Daisy's cookin'"

"Daisy's," he said wistfully.  "I have heard of her establishment."

"You'll like it."

His face fell.  "I fear I'm rather ... impoverished."

"Buy me a beer when I'm 99," I replied, thrusting out my hand.  "Name's Jacob."

"Percival Simonton Bentwhistle the Third," he exclaimed, returning my grip with a surprisingly strong clasp.  "Though I don't ... go by that."

"Reckon not."  I considered for a moment. 

"Percival, are you ... do you speak other languages?"
"The classical languages, of course, French, a smattering of Greek, why?"

"The Mexicans say it well."

"Eh?"
"A Mexican will not ask what is you name," I explained, "they will ask 'How do you call yourself?'" 

He blinked, surprised, and something told me this was new to him – that, or it rung a bell of some kind, might be he'd run into that in some other lingo.

"Percival Simonton Bentwhistle the Third," I said, "como se llama?"

He laughed a little and then thought and said "I don't suppose Percival would ... it might attract attention."

"Wouldn't be my first choice," I admitted.

"Simon, then.  Simon."

"Fittin'," I agreed. "Good enough, Simon.  Get some rest, I'll have an appetite by the time we hit Firelands."

Now Simon he et Daisy's good cookin' and he et with a good appetite and I stood him to a bath and a shave and a haircut, a suit, and I sent him on to Cripple to talk with a man I knew of, this fella was a banker and he owned two mercantiles and he'd been lookin' for help and turns out Simon was just what he needed, and Simon he taken pains to pay me for what he'd et and for attair bath and all.

I don't know if Percival Simonton Bentwhistle the Third ever found gold paved streets, but a year and more later I run into him and he told me there was money to be made in the gold fields, that he'd made a good amount from the men who came to find gold.

Last I heard he was fixin' to marry a rancher's daughter and he was just as happy as if he had good sense.

 

 

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119.  TEATIME

 

Miz Esther gave me an approving look.

Now I was no stranger to little ones and Annette helped take care of little ones when their mothers needed relief and I kind of got drafted and truth be told I did not object to it for there is something magic about a wee child.

I especially marveled at their hands.

It speaks strongly of the genius of the Almighty that He can make a child so tiny and so absolutely perfect and I am not the brightest candle in the window but I am not entirely stupid.

Doc Greenlees set down with me and he had some well written books that discussed human anatomy and I recall we talked for some long time about hands and the two of us studied the illustrations and I recalled these when I looked at them little bitty hands and then I picked up the little bitty pink foot and studied on it and there is times when a man feels reverent, some times it's in church and some times it's when he's sitting down with a wiggly little baby.

Now Miz Esther she had me come up to her office over the Silver Jewel and she managed to run the rail road and handle the accounts and the customers and still take care of her young, she had a proper looking young woman to help her with her new little baby and we all had tea and Miz Esther handed me my littlest sister and I sit there with this big idiot grin on my face and that little one looked up at me and recht up kind of wobbly and touched my chin and I laughed a little and I looked up and Miz Esther she had a look on her face the way a mother will when she sees somethin' she wants to remember.

Simon Percival, as he'd come to be known (somehow, I don't rightly know how Percival got tacked on but it did), was doing well over in Cripple and word got back and sure enough word got back to Miz Esther and God forgive me I thought of her as havin' a spider web flung out far and wide and when somethin' happened that was worth knowin' why it twanged on attair web and she felt it, and she'd heard how well Simon was doin' with attair banker and had she not already a good book keeper I think she would have tried to hire him away for her business.

I set there with that little one in my arms and she was fed and freshly changed and she give a big yawn and closed her eyes and I grinned like I'd been give a hundred dollars for there is few things as comfortin' to a man's soul as to hold a sleeping baby.

Miz Esther she sent down for tea and Daisy's girl come fetchin' up a tray and the nursemaid she opened the door when the girl tapped on the door with the side of her shoe sole and directly they had them little dainty sandwiches laid out and I taken that cup of tea and sipped at it but I was careful for I did not want to disturb the little one.

Miz Esther she was discussing somethin' about hauling ore and maintaining that second track and the cost of a replacement locomotive should it be needful and I had a long couple of days and I was set in the rockin' chair and I leaned back and I finished that delicate teacup and I recall someone gently removed the cup from my grip and my arm was around the little one and my other arm come up and I relaxed some and I did not realize I fell asleep until I opened my eyes and saw how late the sun on the mountain looked.

Miz Esther she was tendin' columns of figures but she must have heard my breathin' change when I woke up and so did that little baby for she started to wiggle and her face darkened and she screwed up her face and Miz Esther she come glidin' over and taken the child up and I excused myself for that tea was comin' through me so I went down them back stairs and tended the Out House before goin' back up for it wouldn't be proper to just leave, and by the time I got back, why, that little one was cleaned up and changed and havin' a feed and Miz Esther was settin' in the rockin' chair with a shawl over her and she looked so natural and I recalled that same expression on my own dead Mama's face when I was but a wee lad, but it was a frament of a memory and gone like a spider web blown on a breeze.

Now our visit warn't all hold the baby and go to sleep, we talked some and Miz Esther she was right proud of my bringin' Simon Percival in an' gettin' him set up.

She spoke of how a man feels considerable better about himself when he's had a bath and a shave and got his hair cut, I sent him on his way with a new suit and a new pair of well polished boots and he presented to attair banker with a letter from me and that's what got him hired on – he looked good and he knowed someone.

It did not hurt anythin' that the banker fella was a friend of mine and I'd done him a couple favors.

Now I taken a flyer on Simon Percival but my gut told me he was not a liar nor was he inclined to exaggerate and turns out I was right, he was just plainly a Cracker Jack with them books and figgers and Miz Esther she approved of what I'd done.

That meant quite a bit to me.

She'd gone out of her way to say as much and that meant somethin'.

 

I went home that night feelin' pretty good for we'd gone out and talked to two fellas who had some disagreement and the Sheriff and me we got 'em to talkin' and we got it taken care of without involvin' legal charges and court appearances and such-like and when I went home that night by golly that was good work well done and I was doin' just fine until Apple-horse he shied at a shadow or somethin' equally dangerous and right there in front of Annette and my own front porch, why, the horse went up and I went down and I landed flat on my back with all the grace of a dropped lump of bread dough and it didn't help none that Annette she turned pink and she turned red and she held her kerchief in front of her mouth to try and keep from laughin' and she give up and ended up leanin' on the door frame red faced and cryin' she was laughin' so hard, especially when Apple-horse he come over and snuffed at me while I was tryin' to get some wind back what was knocked out of me and damned if that spotty stallion didn't rubber lip that striped candy stick out of my vest pocket and crunch it up and then wander off all unconcerned and the hired man got him unsaddled and brushed down and taken care of while I grunted my way to my feet and told Annette she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

One thing about it, the Almighty has seen fit to keep me humble.

A man has to be humble when he's just kissed his beautiful bride while his entire back is filthy from bein' unsaddled right in front of her.

 

 

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120.  GYPSY WISDOM

 

I talked about that big round barn the Sheriff had built for Daciana.

Now the Sheriff he had a weakness for the womens, he surely did, he didn't go beddin' 'em understand – no, his weakness was almost ... I reckon he was more of a bashful schoolboy at heart than a womanizin' rake, I don't ever oncet recall he was improper with any woman unless she deserved it, then he was cold and hard and generally didn't hit 'em unless they were doin' their best to cat-claw the billy Hell out of him, he told me oncet that every woman is a Lady unless they prove themselves otherwise, and I've seen even a burnt out streetwalkin' slattern become a lady in his presence, just because that's how he treated 'em.

There was women had quite the crush on the man and I honestly don't think the poor soul realized it.

Might be he did and he chose to act like he didn't, I don't rightly know, he was awful deep sometimes.

I do know he could have tore the beatin' heart out of his breast and I do know he could have laid this living organ at Miz Bonnie's feet but he kept that hid too and he only admitted as much to me one time, after he told me I done good standin' up to three men who allowed as they were goin' to kill me and I'd coldly, precisely, deliberately fetched out my left hand Colt and allowed as they could drop their irons and surrender or I could send them to blisterin' hell and I did not care which it was, and they didn't so I did and when the thunder rolled acrost the valley and the smoke drifted off on the evening's downhill breeze, the three of them laid dead with big holes out the backs of their heads and there I stood with my jaw stuck out and I don't think you could have pried my hand from around attair cyarved walnut plow handle had you a pry bar.

Y'see, oncet we got Digger out there with the dead wagon and hauled 'em back in and taken care of all them agger-vatin' dee-tails that comes in a civilized society when you have to punch some fella's ticket, why, me and the Sheriff we set down and talked it all over.

I think he l'arned if he talks about these things right after they happen – I've known him to set down the Marshal and I've known him to set down and talk like this with Law and Order Harry Macfarland and I've known him to set US marshals from other places down and talk with them this same way, when they had to come into our bailiwick and things got unpleasant – I think the Sheriff found out it helps somehow, he said it keeps a man from gettin' the guilties afterward.

I know we talked about what ...

'scuse me a minute ...

Was you to be lookin' at me instead of this hand writ page you would have seen me look off to the side and consider some before I dipped my quill again and wrote some more.

I got in the habit of writin' because the Sheriff does it and Sarah, bless her heart, when she was gussied up as the schoolmarm she told me it helps a man order his thoughts because they have to be ordered and ready to march before they can go on paper, other wise it don't make sense to read after it's wrote and I figgered someone will read this and they'll judge me for how I wrote it so I had to stop and line up them thoughts ag'in.

The Sheriff he asked me in that quiet voice of his what I was a-thinkin' and I allowed as I warn't, there was more a smooth flow of do-what-I-had-to, but the more I thought the more I frowned and I cupped my hands around that big ceramic mug and hunched my shoulders over and I looked into attair big mug of hot steaming coffee and I considered and then I said no that warn't right.

There was that smooth flow on the surface but there was streams flowin' under neath of it just like in a creek the water looks smooth on top but under neath there's several different directions the water is travelin' all at the same time and the Sheriff he nodded, slowly, like he'd knowed that same thing.

I considered and said one of them deep hidden streams allowed as I was not going to make Annette a widow nor my son an orphan, and another stream allowed as if these fellas found they could kill a deputy and get away with it they'd be like a sheep killin' dog, oncet they get the taste of blood there's only one cure and that's a bullet and the Sheriff he sleepy blinked them pale eyes and I let go of that coffee cup and rubbed my chin and I was surprised how warm my hand was and then one of them streams underneath the smooth flow of what I was thinkin' recht up and smacked me one and said hey dummy your hand's warm because you been grippin' attair coffee mug and I smiled a little.

I looked up at the Sheriff.

"I reckon I wanted to hold my wife ag'in," I said.  "I was not about to make her a widow."

The Sheriff he smiled, just that little ghost of a smile of his, 'twas quiet in the Saloon – least 'twas like it was quiet around us, there was plenty of noise up front, what with men dealin' cyards and spinnin' attair clatterin' wheel and laughin' and drinkin' Mr. Baxter's beer – the Sheriff he allowed as he'd thought the same thing, when thoughts sear across a man's mind fastern' summer lightning, one right after another, in that moment his soul lights up and he makes that last tenth of a second decision whether to put that last tenth of an ounce on the trigger.

He said he'd always been like that, he never thought of the law or his office or his oath or the Judge nor none of that, his thought was always for his people and then he taken a long slow breath though his nose and he swallered and allowed as when he first come to town, Miz Bonnie was the first woman he seen, he allowed as she looked so tired and worn out and skinny he wanted to take her away and fatten her up and set her in a fine home and set her up on a high shelf with a glass bell jar over top of her like she was a rare and precious china doll and he seen that skinny worn looking girl with her, holdin' her hand and lookin' at the Sheriff like she'd seen Hell itself and evil couldn't touch her no more for she'd seen the worst there was and survived, and the Sheriff he said he could have laid his immortal soul out for an offering if she'd consent to let him take care of them both and provide for them and protect them, and then he blinked and shivered a little and I knowed he just pulled his soul back into himself and slammed the door shut and I just saw somethin' I don't know if Miz Esther ever saw.

He never spoke of it ag'in and neither did I but I realized I felt that same way about Annette, and now that she's had our son, I felt the same about her and Joseph both, and that's why I kept myself alive.

 

Now the Sheriff he had a likin' for the ladies, he surely did, when Daciana come to town he found she was just newly orphaned and she was hard – she'd seen evil her own self and she was bound and determined to take care of herself and he respected that, but then he tilted his head and looked at attair Buttercup-horse of hers, Buttercup was pony sized but she was a horse and not a pony, and he frowned a little and then he run his hands down Buttercup's legs and he lifted her hooves and taken a good look at how she was shod and then he looked at her teeth and sniffed her ears and fooled with her and they was men ast the Sheriff time and ag'in if he was from Texas for only a Texan cared for his horse the way the Sheriff did and I don't know as Daciana even knowed where Texas was, least not yet, but she knowed the Sheriff knowed horses and he allowed as she'd need a place to stay and attair circus train was still on its siding and he knowed Daciana was livin' in one of them caravan cars and the train was fixin' to pull out and she allowed as she was stayin' and he said she couldn't just pitch a tent up on the moutain, she'd need a good stable for Buttercup here and Buttercup wouldn't be happy unless she could perform, and he said he seen somethin' in Daciana's eyes for she loved performin' and damned if he didn't build her that big round barn in under the over hang of the mountain, it was big and it was round and it had a sawdust floor and she rode around that big round floor and she did her flips and tricks and she laughed and I recall the Sheriff lookin' at her as she rode and I was surprised to see sadness in his eyes.

He'd lost a wife and a little girl back East and I reckon that's why he was kind of soft torst the wimmens.

Daciana was Romany Gypsy, I don't know rightly what all that means but I do know she was a yarb woman, she knowed her yarbs and she made yarb tea for damn neart anythin', I one time had me a tooth ache and she had some yarbs she packed around the tooth and then she laid the backs of her fingers ag'in my cheek bone and she looked into my eyes real deep and she whispered "Chacob, you gets zat t'ing pulledt, zis vill holdt ze pain off til you can gets it oudt," and she smacked me on the backside and said "Scoot!" and I did, I left out of there and got on the steam train and had that thing pulled out and the doc used carbolic of somethin' else just as vile but by golly it didn't infect nor did it Dry Socket so I went back to Daciana a day or three later and thanked her for her kindness.

She was starin' into this-yere glass ball and I could see somethin' movin' deep inside of it and she made one of them hand motions a woman will when she's busy with somethin', 'twas like her hand sort of turned real graceful on the end of her arm, she never took her eyes off attair shiny glass rounder thing and she wanted me to set down and set down I did and she whispered "Giff me your handts," and I was kind of puzzled but I stuck out my hands and she turned them palm up, laid them down on the table and scooted them in close to attair glass ball and she slid my hands close so two fingers just barely touched its base and it was warm and that surprised me, I figgered 'twould be cool, and them shadows turned red like someone poured it full of blood and Daciana's expression was just like a hawk comin' in on a mouse and she leaned forward and breathed and I blinked and there was a rollin' blue cloud and I felt a silent concussion ag'in my face and then it was all gone, it was just a round ball of shining glass and Daciana looked up and nodded.

"Zycie jest kopiejką," she said quietly, and I puzzled a little at that, and she smiled and said "Life is a kopeck," and that didn't make no sense neither and she sighed and straightened up.

"Chacob," she said, and it surprised me a little she knew my name, I'd seen her but we hadn't had no real conversation, "you are a goot man."

I puzzled a little and thought maybe this was how them furrin women talked when they didn't know quite what to say.

"Chacob, life is a kopek. Zere iss a time to zpend idt undt a time to keep it safe like a precious t'ing."

I reckoned a kopek must be money of some sort, from the way she said it, turns out I was right – a kopek is kind of like a Russian penny, or a Polish penny, or somethin' of the kind – anyway I never forgot that and the next day I had to decide whether my life, my kopek, was to be saved or tossed into the pot whilst I played the hand of poker life deals at you.

I'd l'arned from the Sheriff life is a poker game, you are dealt a hand and good hand or bad you have to play it, there's no re-deals, and I could have snuck away but I didn't, I tossed my coin into the pot and faced up to a man who wanted to do very bad things and when the concussion of my pistol and the blue smoke went a-rollin' in a big doughnut torst that fella and when I considered just how much blood was runnin' out of his dyin' carcass, I recalled the day before when I touched attair crystal ball Daciana the Gypsy-woman was starin' into, and I heard her whisper in my ear again, Zycie jest kopiejką.

The Sheriff and me we set there in the Silver Jewel and talked 'er all over and my tongue felt that hole in my gum where attair tooth used to be. 'Twas healed now and 'twas an unconscious habit when I was in a thoughtful moment and me and the Sheriff we set there and talked about how the both of us did what we did because we loved our wimmens, and then the both of us smiled a little kind of bashful like neither of us really intended to let that particular feline out of the burlap, and we both gulped down the rest of our coffee and we left.

 

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121.  SOME WON'T TAKE THE HELP

 

It was a rare thing when I referred to the Grand Old Man as anything but The Sheriff.

It had to be like that.

He was Sheriff and that made him the chief law enforcement authority in the county and his word over rode the Governor if need be and I am grateful for there never bein' a horn lockin' with state nor Federal government for the folks hereabouts considered The Sheriff to be Their Sheriff.

More times than one when there was a tight situation, why, ever'day folks would casually come out and let it be known they were sidin' with Old Pale Eyes and in such situations every one of them was heeled and I recall 'twas one such situation when the first one to reach his side was Miz Esther and 'twas just as the sun was easin' down headed for bed and 'twas paintin' the mountains red the way it did and Miz Esther's red hair was just plainly afire with them long red rays of the evenin' sun and she walked up beside her husband with her double gun and she was holdin' it muzzle down a little but she held it the way a woman will when she knows how to handle a gun and I come pacin' up on t'other side of him with my '76 rifle and the sun warn't in our eyes but I recall feelin' just a little of the warmth it held for the mountain breeze was started to run down hill and Digger come out with that little nickle plated .32 of his and the street populated itself surprising quick with just plain everyday folks that come out with fightin' tools in hand and funny thing when evil is confronted it tends to sulk off and this one did.

I caught up with them two days later and brought one back acrost his saddle and the other two in irons.

Sarah was unhappy with me, she wanted just to head shoot all three of 'em and I allowed as men talk and if we bring 'em back and stand 'em in front of the Judge and they get sent off to prison the word would get out that you don't come to Firelands to cause trouble and she allowed as I was right but she still didn't like it and she asked me if she could shoot their ears off and I allowed as His Honor might frown on that but I said it real quiet so's they couldn't hear it and all the way back them two that was alive to worry about it was kind of jumpy, waitin' for Sarah to lay that bulldog .44 of hers ag'in their skull and blow a half inch hole through their ear flap from behint.

Now when I went lookin' for a man most times I was in my suit.

Matter of fact I preferred it for a man in a suit tends to get more respect and I have long held that a body ought to respect the law.

There have been lawmen I did not respect and there have been lawmen that I had no respect for a'tall and one of them kind I managed to beat to the ground and stomp pretty good, 'twas the only way I could get him in irons and in front of the Judge and His Honor asked if 'twas really necessary to toss this fellow in front of the noon freight he looked so bad, but by the time the charges was read and evidence ag'in him presented, why, the Judge allowed as it was a shame the court could not sentence him to be tossed in front of the noon freight.

There was times, though, when I didn't wear a suit and I looked just like about anyone else and one of them times I shared a fire with a fellow that was runnin' the Owl Hoot trail and he was just awful jumpy and afeared the bushes was goin' to sprout lawmen who was goin' to throw him down and waller him somethin' terrible and turns out the poor fellow was touched in the head, he was innocent as the babe unborn but he was corn vinced ever' law dog in three states was bayin' after him and gettin' close.

I made coffee and he hadn't had none in a while and he was grateful, I had plenty to eat in my saddle bags and he hadn't had much to eat of late neither and we got to talkin' and I allowed as we was holed up in a pretty good place and I slung my cup gentle torst Apple horse and allowed as he was better than ten men on sentry duty, was there anythin' meaner than a field mouse he'd let us know and likely he'd tear into it his own self for he liked eatin' trespassers and had a hell of a set of teeth on him and attair fella he ast me how mean that spotty stallion was and I told him about old man Fitzgerald who only had the one hand, they was an Eastern woman come to town and her little boy was wearin' knee pants and a sailor suit and one of them round white hats we usually put on little girls, the kind with them Swallow Tail Ribbons in back and 'twas a shame she was makin' him dress like a sissy, hell, he even had curls like a girl and he wanted to pet the pretty horsie and attair Eastern woman she turned her nose up and asked if he was a tame horse or did he bite and old Fitz he held up attair stump where his hand used to was and he said "He bites" and attair woman give out a screech and snatched up attair little boy and she took out for the stage coach and I don't reckon she'll never come back and that fella acrost the camp fahr from me he got to laughin' and oncet he got all the hee-haws out of his system why he wiped tears from his eyes and then started to cry some for he'd not laughed in better than two years anyway and he allowed as he was much obliged to me for that.

We talked some and talked quiet, for the night was comin' on us but it felt comfortable just to set there and talk with that little fahr between us and he got to talkin' about lawmen the way a man will when he's runnin' the outlaw and he allowed as attair Law and Order Harry Macfarland over in Carbon he'd been told was a quiet and easy goin' sort and he'd let folks let the badger out some long as they weren't tearin' up Jack but if they was too fractious why he'd bent the barl of his Colt over their head and drag 'em off to the Hoose Gow to l'arn better manners and he'd heard old Harry was so quick to bang a man over the gourd his pistola had a bent barl and he had to aim three foot over a man's head to hit him in the knee cap and I laughed a little and so did he.

He ast about attair fella in Firelands and I said "You mean Old Pale Eyes?"

He nodded and looked troubled and 'twas like he pulled way deep into himself so I said "What have you heard about the man?"

"He's Death with white eyes," he whispered, and his throat sounded just awful dry all of a sudden so I moved nice and easy and poured him another shot of coffee and he taken it in his hands and held it and stared over the rim like he was haunted or some-such.

"He don't say much and he's fast, Lord he's fast, the Devil allowed as no man was that fast so he set up a fast draw and damned if that pale eyed lawman didn't out-draw a bolt of lightnin' in a thunder storm and attair lightnin' bolt was so ashamed of itself it turned into a rain cloud and cried itself to sleep!"

"I know he's a deadly shot," I said and recht into my vest pocket and fished around a little.  "Take a look at this."

I handed him a lead slug big as a silver dollar.

'Twas round and flat like a coin but blank and it had been shot edge on and about a third of its diameter was gouged out and gone.

"I said 'If you're so damned good hit this!' and he drew and fired as this went a-spinnin' through the air," I said casually – now I'd kept my hat brim low enough I don't reckon he got a good look at my eyes and when my brim was up so's I could keep an eye on him why my lids was closed enough I don't reckon he could see 'em then neither – he handled attair slug and shivered some and handed it back to me.

"That depitty of his," he shivered, "he's faster'n the old man!"

"The old man is steady," I said, knowin' it would be like primin' a pump.  "I've seen him walk into a gunfight like a man walkin' through the park with his sweetheart.  I seen him walk up on a man shootin' at him and he waited until the man's pistol was shot dry and empty and then he backhanded him a good one and took attair revolvin' pistol from him and gut punched him a good one and shamed him so bad attair outlaw had to go back acrost the Mississippi for ever'one heard right quick how Old Pale Eyes just walked up on him and slapped the ambition right out of him."

He nodded – a quick, jerky double-dip of his head – he swallowed and his hands were a-tremble and he said "I heard about that one too!"

He looked at Apple horse and then he looked at me and the color ran out of his face like you'd squeeze red ink out of an eye dropper and his jaw dropped open and I knowed the jig as up so I pushed my hat brim back with one finger and I give him my pale eyes and I said "My name is Jacob Keller.  Old Pale Eyes is my father –"

The poor fellow's eyes rolled up in his head and he fell over backwarts in a dead faint.

When he come to I had his boots off him, I had him laid out on his bed roll and covered with his blanket and I was still settin' by the fahr lookin' at him.

I seen his eyes open and he blinked a couple times and then he looked at me and jumped like a scalded cat and I raised a hand and said "Friend, I have shared a meal with you and we have a fire together. I have no claim on you and I don't recall seein' your face on a wanted dodger."

"They're after me they're after me they're after me," he whispered, looking around like he was afraid the rocks was goin' to grow arms and grab him and I allowed in a hard voice that anyone comin' after him would have to come through me first.

I got him convinced that night I warn't goin' to spit him on a stick and roast him for breakfast, he got a little sleep anyway and I trusted Apple-horse to warn me if he tried to sneak up and brain me with a rock and next mornin' we coaxed the fahr and made coffee and heated a bite to eat and we went our separate ways.

I'd invited him to Firelands and allowed as he could use some new duds and the Silver Jewel had pretty good grub but he paid me no attention a'tall, he rolled up his stuff and tied it with a desperate speed and slung it off his shoulder and near to run off away from Apple-horse and me.

I let him go.

If a man wants to live alone in the mountains, that his his business, not mine.

I heard he wandered for a little less than a year and they eventually found him come winter, he was backed up between two rocks froze solid and the look on his face was one of a man seein' somethin' terrible comin' for him so I reckon what ever demons he carried inside of him finally caught up with him.

 

 

 

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122.  TIMING

 

I did not want to face this man.

I knowed this was nothin' short of trouble with a capital don't-do-it and I did not care.

He'd made his brags he was goin' to kill a pale eyed lawman in a fair fight and he seen me and I seen him and I turned and started walkin' torst him.

I knowed if I did not put the big thumb down hard on him, right now, he would keep runnin' his mouth and I would likely have to kill him.

I knowed when I started torst him he might realize his battleship mouth just might have over rode his tadpole backside and that might stampede him into shootin'.

I did not care.

I had to brace him and I had to brace him now and I walked steady torst him, I did not hurry and I did not find any trace of panic or anxious inside of me.

This was just somethin' I had to do.

I was some agger-vated as I dislike fools and it's a fool that decides he can take someone else.

I think'twas a Chinaman that oncet said "Before you ride on the veneance trail, dig two graves," and that's kind of how I felt.

There might be two graves dug before sun down.

 

A fashionable young lady with her marketing basket on her arm smiled and hummed a little as she came out of the Mercantile, for she'd the knowledge that a certain young man was going to ask her a certain question that very day, and she'd come to town with her hair just so, with just the right hat and just the right gown, she'd gone into the Mercantile knowing she would have a certain number of purchases to make and this would take her a certain amount of time, and she knew a certain young man was very prompt and very regular in his habits, and she knew this young man would be walking up the street with his fellows, intent on the Silver Jewel Saloon, and she intended that she be seen by accident – or as accidentally as a woman can contrive, for sometimes a young man must be helped in the asking of certain questions.

The young woman with a smile on her lips and a song in her heart stopped and her throat was suddenly silent, for she read the street the way a businessman might read a newspaper, and she smelled death in the air.

The marketing-basket fell to the boardwalk, forgotten, and a paper of pins flew up and turned in the sunlight and fell to the dusty, warped boards.

 

I paced up to within twenty feet of the man and he sneered at me and yelled "Hey Pale Eyes!  Can you do this?"

He drew but not to shoot and I knew it.

I took a little step to the side so there was nothin' behint him but empty street.

I did not want any of my rounds to go into a buildin' and I figured to stop him before he could throw any careless lead torst me but my gut said don't shoot and I didn't, I tasted copper and I knowed I had just walked into his trap.

He fancied himself a gun hawk and he brought out his nickle plated Colt and it flashed bright in the sunlight as he spun it and flipped it and 'twould be easy to mesmerize (I think that's the word Sarah used) but I knew if I did he could stop and shoot me any moment and I knew there was another gun lookin' at me and I figured my best move was fast so I started left, I ducked and rolled and a rifle barked and I come up with a handful of Colt revolver and put one into the gun hawk's belt buckle or intended to, it hit that spinnin' Colt and I rolled ag'in and there was a heavier concussion and I thought Bless you Sarah for nobody but her carried that short stubby bulldog .44 and it speaks with a deeper voice than a longer barrel pistol and I saw the rifle barl still pointed torst me and I fired the same time my pale eyed sister did and then I turned and that fancy gun spinnin' sort he was tryin' to aim at me and I put one through the bridge of his nose and he lost all interest in causin' trouble instantly if not sooner.

 

The fashionable young lady on the boardwalk slung her arm down hard, freeing it from the withie basket's woven weight: her hand ran inside a concealed pocket of her McKenna gown's skirt and came out with a tight-gripped handful of bulldog .44 revolver.

She saw the man step out with a rifle, a man behind and to the side of the deputy, and she aimed for his belt just above his hip, and the pistol's concussion was magnified as it echoed off the boardwalk's shake-shingled roof overhead and came back up at her from the warped decking and off the building to her side but she did not care.

She turned to the street, eyes busy, searching, and she saw a man in a red shirt running toward her, a man with Welsh-blue eyes and an engraged expression, a man with gleaming-black, knee-high boots driving toward her as hard as he could run, leaving his red-shirted fellows in a confused knot behind him.

Her thumb automatically brought the hammer back for a follow up shot: somehow the rifleman was still on his feet, though leaned hard against the building, and he was bringing his weapon up again to try and put a second shot into the intended victim.

Deputy and Lady both fired, and neither one missed:  the deputy and the lady both turned, but the lawman was faster, and the last threat on the street fell back, dead.

Sarah Lynne McKenna broke open her pistol and replaced the fired rounds, closed it and slid it back into its hidden holster, just as Daffyd Llewellyn  ran up to her, eyes wide with concern:  he stopped, he looked at the dead man in the street, the pale-eyed deputy calmly reloading his left-hand Colt:  he turned and looked at the other dead man, crumpled in an awkward pile, a bright smear of blood on the corner of the freshly-painted building marking his slow descent.

Daffyd Llewellyn swallowed and he raised a hand and brushed shivering fingertips along her cheek and looked deep into her pale eyes, his mouth suddenly dry.

He knew what he was intending to ask her, and now she stood before him, her eyes big and innocent and her face lovely and she blinked a few times, her lashes sweeping the air as she folded her hands very properly in her apron.

Daffyd Llewellyn sank slowly to one knee and he took her hand in both his.

"Sarah," he said, "I have long dreamed of a woman that would be the proper wife for a Welshman.

"My ancestors were warriors and we've Viking blood and Viking women knew what it is to run into battle wi' their men, and you are such a woman."

He released her hand and he reached into a pocket, his normally-sure hands suddenly palsied.

He brought out a chip-carved box well older than he and his father combined and he opened it.

"This," he said, "is the Ring of the Princess."

He swallowed hard and continued.

"My Grandam was half Viking and of royal blood, and she ruled wi' fairness and wi' sword."

He pulled the ring free of the box and set the empty box down, and he lifted Sarah's hand as he raised the ring.

 

Didn't take long for Jackson Cooper, the town marshal, to get there, nor for the Sheriff.

They taken statements from the several witnesses.

I didn't pay much attention.

I was rememberin' how the Sheriff said oncet a man ought to fight shy of that fancy gun spinnin' and so I had.

His advice was sound.

'Twas a good distraction to hold my attention whilst that other fella tried to Bush Whack me.

That ain't what I was thinkin' most about.

I looked over and saw that Llewellyn fella on one knee puttin' a ring on Sarah's finger and I thought now ain't this just the damndest time to ask a woman to marry him.

 

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123.  LITTLE SISTER

 

The Sheriff started his little Angela riding when she was ... oh, I think maybe five years old or six, somewhere in there.
She would stand flat footed on the saddle skirt behind the Sheriff and she'd cling to his coat and laugh the delighted laugh of a little girl rejoicing in being with her big strong Daddy.

She did the same thing with me.

Now little girls are generally regarded as sweet little creatures and Angela was that, little girls are generally seen as harmless little play-pretties that no man would harm.

Few men really realize how much a little girl will see or hear or remember.

Angela came and went as she pleased, mostly because nobody offered any protest, and she come a-skippin' into the Sheriff's office and she looked at me with them bright Kentucky-blue eyes and that big bright smile of hers and she tilted her head a little and I could feel the giggle she hadn't turned loose of yet, and then she come over torst me and blinked them big innocent eyes and she recht out and stroked my mustache with the back of her bent finger and she looked a little puzzled.

I opened my mouth and my father's words fell out.

"There is a question in your eyes," I said and my words were gentle on my own ears and Angela giggled and she blinked ag'in and she said "The mans in the Saloon said you're a hard man and your soul was hard and your knuckles were hard and your heart was hard and he said likely your muts-tash was hard too."

She tilted her head and frowned a little and then she stroked my handlebar again and said "Your muts-tash is silky!"

I laughed and normally I would have play-bit at her finger but I couldn't do that, I gethered her up in my arms and held her close and I felt her giggle and I felt her breathe and I thought of Annette all big with child and then all sweaty with labor and that little funny colored baby she just shucked out and how Joseph was now lookin' like a baby and not a frash birthed calf and I thought Angela was one of those and when my father's voice fell out of my mouth 'twas a surprise and when I thought of Angela as she must have been, why, that was another surprise, and I reckoned these was things I knowed all along but just now got to realizin' 'em.

The Sheriff talked about such moments.

He said somethin' he knowed here – he knocked on his fore head with his bent finger knuckle – but he said 'twas somethin' different altogether to know it here – he thumped his breast bone with the back of his thumb – now he's said things in the past that I realized was powerful true, like hurry up is brother to mess it up and God knows I've proven the man right any number of times – but them sayin's, they tended to be just awful correct and I reckoned when I realized Angela once was a little thing like Joseph was, why, that was one of the Sheriff's moments.

Now I knowed it behint my breast bone.

They was a quick step on the board walk and some fella hit the door and near to fell in and yelled "SHERIFF YOU BETTER GIT OVER TO THE SILVER JEWEL QUICK!" and I stood up with Angela under my arm like a bedroll and I taken out a-runnin' and didn't give no thought to that curly headed blue eyed little girl I was a-totin', there was somethin' in his voice that dropped my stomach down to my boot tops and I reckon my arm must have tightened some around Angela's middle when I heard Sarah screamin' and I realized about the time I hit the top step and hauled that heavy door open and that wall of woman's scream hit me in the face that I'd best dispose of this little sister so I swung her legs up and dropped her over onto Tilly's ho-tel counter and Tilly she was already on her feet and her face was the color of wheat paste and she grabbed holt of Angela and Angela she stood up and her face was red and she was mad and she started to open her mouth to say somethin' and I went borin' in through standing manhood and I shoved in between two broad shouldered fellows and I stopped.

It ain't terrible easy to surprise me but I was genuinely surprised at what I saw and I figgered 'twas time to figger out what in the cotton pickin' was a-goin' on.

You see, one of them Irish Brigade firemen was bent over Sean's lap.

Someone looks to have kicked the table away from the man for there was dishes and breakfast and coffee splattered about and silverware and coffee mugs and beer spilt all underfoot and Sarah she was bent over that anonymous fireman's backside and I seen her hands come up and come down flat on his back and she was a-hittin' him hard, both hands, SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT and I shoved for'ard and 'twas Daffyd Llewellyn and I wondered if this was one of them lover's quarrels I'd heard of until I realized his face was dark and lookin' like a frash corpse and he coughed out a chunk of somethin' and Sarah she straightened up and she run around and grabbed the man by the shoulders and she heaved him up and Sean he recht up and grabbed a big handful of Daffyd's red wool bib front and held him up and Sarah she slapped Daffyd hard and her nose was an inch from his as she screamed "BREATHE, DAMN YOU, BREATHE!" and she belted him again and I seen him cough out some chunks of somethin' small like maybe scrambled egg or the like and he taken off breathin' like a steam engine runnin' under no load and Sean he stood and fetched up Daffyd one handed and looked torst the front door where Doc Greenlees was comin' in with his usual long-legged pace – he was a tall man and had no need to run, once he started reachin' out with them long legs of his, why, he could cover ground right quick – they set that dumped over table up and laid Daffyd on it and Doc he bent Daffyd's legs up and then he went and got to lookin' at the man and he fetched attair listenin' thang out of his coat and stuck them ear tips in his ears and he listened to the man's chest and Sarah was standin' there and her fists was balled up and she bent over and she laid her hands on both sides of Daffyd's face and she's lookin' at him upside down for he was layin' on his back on attair table and she bent down and she screamed, she just absolutely SCREAMED  in his face, "DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN!" and then her face got real red and screwed up and she started to cry and Daffyd he looked like he warn't sure quite what happened, I reckon if the steam train come bustin' through the wall and run into him he might have a similar look about him.

Doc pulled up a chair and set down and got to talkin' to Sean and to Saran and to Daffyd and finally he nodded and stood up and grabbed holt of Daffyd's legs and swung 'em down and hauled him upright, and after about a minute, why, he pulled him off attair table onto his hind hooves and give him a good lookin' at and then he turned and pointed at Mr. Baxter and said "A belt of Old Soul Saver if you please, sir, a soul is saved from an untimely death!" and Mr. Baxter he fetched over a good belt of water clear and not over 30 days old.

Once the smoke quit rollin' out of Daffyd's ears and the dust around us settled and I could talk with Doc without ever'one crowdin' in around us to either offer or eavesdrop, why, he told me Daffyd got to eatin' in too much of a hurry and he inhaled when he should have swallered.

Sarah she seen what happened and she up and kicked attair table plumb away from Sean and she grabbed Daffyd and throwed him acrost that big red headed Irish fire chief's lap and she commenced to pound flat handed on his back and screamin' for she didn't know what else to do and I recalled somethin' similar happened and old Sullivan he taken his little boy by the ankles and turned him upside down and hit him between the shoulder blades with the flat of his hand for the boy had inhaled a rabbit back bone instead of just chawin' the meat off it and damned if attair spine didn't shoot right out and hit the table and Sarah she must have recalled it but she didn't have the height nor the grip to grab a grown man by the ankles and haul him off the ground so she could slap hit his back so she done the best she could.

Angela she was standin' up on the HO-tel counter watchin' with big eyes and I come over and run my arm around the back of her thighs and picked her up and carried her over to Sarah and Angela she put a finger kind of uncertain to the corner of her mouth and she looked at Sarah and Sarah was wipin' the tears off her cheeks and Angela she looked at Daffyd and he was lookin' all red eared and embarrassed and Angela she asked in that innocent little girl's voice of hers, "Were you a baaad boy?" and Daffyd he looked surprised and he laughed, and Sean he recht up and rubbed her back and he laughed and Sarah she started to giggle and hiccup and she started to cry ag'in and Daffyd he recht out and bundled Sarah up in his arms and he got to laughin' and Angela frowned and planted her knuckles on her belt and then she recht up one hand and shook one pink little finger at him and scolded, "That's not funny!  I'm ser-ri-ous!" and she was concentratin' hard on her Rs where she usually let 'em out soundin' like Ws – which only got us all to laughin' that much harder.

 

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124.  PATRICIA GRACE

 

It's not a terrible surprise when I find critters in the barn.

It's quite a surprise when I find a little girl curled up in the corner cryin' the way a child will when she's mad and she's scairt and she's not sure quite what to do.

Now I went in fit to saddle up Apple horse and head for town for the day's work and somethin' told me my work day started the right here and the right now so I set me down beside of her and then I considered and I recht over and untiled my blanket roll and flipped it over her for it was still a little chilly and she was leaned back ag'in a stack of hay bales and then I pulled down a saddle blanket and said "Lean forward," and I dropped attair blanket flat behint her for I reckon that hay was prickly some and I draped attair bed roll blanket over her and she snuggled into it with her knees drawed up under her skirt and she looked straight ahead with her bottom jaw out and her bottom lip pouted out and her cheeks was still wet and her eyes was glittery bright with the recurring flood waters her soul was sheddin' and I set there and looked around and finally she said "I better go."

"Outhouse ain't far off," I said quietly and she looked at me surprised and then she said "That's not what I meant."

"Why'nt you come inside, Annette'll likely feed you."  I looked at her and didn't allow no smile a'tall on my face.  "She feeds me right reg'lar."

She looked at me and then her face softened a little and she got up and I did too.

"I'm Patty," she said.

"I'm Jacob."

She grabbed the sides of her skirt and dropped a pretty good curtsy for a girl, I reckon she was maybe ten or so, it's hard to tell, them Daine girls gets some height to 'em at a young age and they're wiry – they have to be, their brothers wool 'em terrible and them girls they get real good at dirty, merciless, knock-down drag-out hurt-em-bad fightin' and them Daine boys learn early and well that there ain't much mere to a mere girl – least not a mountain raised Kentucky girl.

It taken me a while and it taken Annette some good vittles but we finally got out of her what happened and it did not make me happy a'tall to hear it.

 

Patricia Grace sat up in bed, terrified.

Fear seized her young heart and clutched at her guts and she looked to the black-glass mirror of her nighttime window.

She did not see the mountains nor the barn yard, she did not see moonlight nor stars.

She saw the ridge road at high twelve with the sun bright and the air clear and she saw the chestnut runaway and the woman screaming and clutching the seat, she saw the man sawing desperately at the reins and she saw the axle bust and the buggy dropped and dug and flipped and man and wife were thrown into the air and fell, she saw the branch catch the man across the throat and blood spray from his mouth, he saw the woman fall a distance farther and hit and roll a backwards summerset and she come up ag'in a rock with the back of her head and the blood sprayed and the light went out of her eyes and young Patricia Grace felt the life leave their bodies and she heard the chestnut scream and fall and tangle and she felt its leg break and she threw the blankets bacck and she ran crying downstairs, crying fo the comfort of her mother's arms, and her mother switched her bare legs every step of the way back up to her bedroom, shrilly calling her a liar and telling her it's just a girl's silly dream and she didn't see a thing and the girl cried for the pain and for the welts that burned her backside and the welts that burned across her soul.

Twelve noon that day came and went and her Mama was vigorously kneading the bread dough and thinking to herself that nothing happened, her daughter was addled to have such an idiot nightmare, she must be soft in the head, she'd heard of such things happening, and one of the boys run in all out of breath and blurted, "Mama, Calvin Embree and his wife just broke a buggy axle and went over the break of the hill, he broke his neck and the back of her head is stove in and she's deader'n a hammer and the deputy he just shot their chestnut with the broke leg!"

Patricia Grace wiped her hands on her apron and glared at her Mama and her Mama felt the blood run out of her face and she looked at her daughter and hissed "You witch!" and Patricia ripped the apron off her dress and threw it on the table and ran out the back door.

 

I dislike killin' another man's horse, I surely do, but that chestnut's leg was broke bad and its joint above as well and it was thrashin' and screamin' in pain and I put my pistol barrel between its eyes and drove a hole and it dropped and moved no more and I hated that.

I don't know if animal healin' will ever come close to what we have for people but I do genuinely hope it does.

It just went all through me to have to kill that horse.

Now when Patty set at our table and we finally pried the story loose from her 'twas like pryin' the cap off a shook up bottle of beer, oncet 'twas off you could not have kept her from comin' out with the contents if you'd had to.

Her Mama switched her good and called her a liar and then when what she saw come about, why, her Mama called her a witch and she knowed when she got back her Mama would try and beat the Sight out of her and I didn't hold with that but 'twas somethin' I could not stop, for 'twas not my family and not my place but I did tell Patty that I could use her help with that Sight of hers.

I told her she was not alone.

I told her Miz Esther had a knowin' way about her and her sign was a rose and when a woman was birthin' a child, why, there was a rose and nobody knowed how it got there, and every bride had a rose in her bouquet of flowers even if nobody seen who put it there and before a death there was a rose and Patty she listened with the big eyes and serious face of a child that knows they're bein' give somethin' that few adults are told and fewer would believe, and I told her that when she seen somethin' she was to come to me for I was the Law and 'twas needful that I know these things.

I taken her little hands in mine and I went down on my knees and her set in the kitchen chair and likely no man had ever spoke to her like that and I looked her square in the eye balls and I said dead serious that any time she seen something she could come here and she would be safe and she nodded.

She did, too, and what she had to say come in right handy a few times, and I arranged for Sarah to talk to her about it – Patty knowed Sarah as Miz Sarah the school marm and I think Sarah she talked to her like 'twas secret girl talk or some such, I don't rightly know.

I do know Patty wished she could sing like Sarah, and I do know she got mad at her brothers and their teasin' her and she kicked one in the shin and taken his fiddle away from him and damned if she didn't learn how to play better'n most of the boys, her Uncle Welker he taught her to wrist fiddle and Sarah told me later that Patty wished to sing and inside she could hear herself sing but her voice would not cooperate but she could let attair curly back fiddle sing for her and damned if she didn't do a right fine job of it.

Patty she come to me some time later, I recall, for she told me of another dream that troubled her quite a bit.

She said she asked one of her uncles that forged their steel, she asked him to make her a good Damascus knife with checkered maple handles for she'd seen it in a dream and she would have need of it and he taken a long look at her and nodded and he forged her out a fine Damascus blade and he checkered the handle and oiled it and he sized it to her hand exactly and she fetched me that knife and she set down all serious and she said she'd had the damndest dream that she was flyin' a big black Snowflake only 'twas a machine and 'twas ridin' on a tin boat out on the ocean and she'd never seen the ocean but she smelt salt water and she said she was a-runnin' torst attair big black flyin' machine with a white snow flake on its nose and she said someone was yellin' about General Quarters and he must have been someone important to be a General and she got real quiet and then she looked at me half scairt and half haunted and she whispered, "There was ... it was real shiny and I saw my reflection as I ran toward it."

Her eyes were big and her breathin' was quick and her hands tightened up and she looked up at me and I've seen that look before, Sarah had it when she'd seen things that come about later and Patty she said "I was wearin' some kind of a hat that come clear down my head all around and down to my eye brows and acrost the fore head it said GRACIE and she said there was a horse painted on the side of that big black flyin' machine and 'twas a black horse with big white wings and it had a woman a-straddle of it wearin' a pointy tin hat with wings and she had a long spear in her hand with a shiny bright tip like she had a pointy silver star on it ..."

The look on that red headed Daine girl's face ... I recall it clear.

She looked at me like she was tellin' me of a ghost she'd seen.

"I flew that big black Snowflake machine," she whispered, and then she quit talkin' and she shivered some and not one more word would she say.

 

 

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125.  PERSUASION

 

I rode out in the pasture.

No.

That don't do it justice.

No, it's more like I come up off the ground like I was fired out of a pan of popcorn, I landed a-straddle of the saddle and both boots drove into the stirrups and I had that Winchester rifle in both hands and Apple-horse, he laid his ears back and he taken out and he hit a pile of bed springs or somethin' the way he come up off the ground and went over attair board fence and I laid down over his neck a-yellin' and he commenced to drive ag'in the ground and grunt the way he did when he was runnin' flat-out and my binoculars was layin' on the ground well behint us now and I did not really give a good damn for they'd told me that new rancher was layin' a rifle up ag'in my fence post and pointin' it at my bull and I taken exception to a man fixin' to kill my beef.

Apple-horse he was just plainly splittin' the wind and we come around in a big turn and Boocaffie he looked up as we made a big swing and we was ridin' straight for attair newcomer and I was set up some now and I had attair rifle ready to go and Apple-horse he come to a fast and skiddin' stop and he throwed his head down to the right and his back end was down on the ground he'd dug hisself to a stop so fast and I was standin' up in the stirrups and I drove a round into the fence post attair stranger was shyin' back from and he yelled a-startle and Apple he come back up and we come torst him and I was still r'ared up and attair fired hull spun shinin' and smokin' into the air and I yelled at him to stop or I would stop him and he stopped and turned and I come down off attair stallion and I never left the dark eye of attair octagon barrel off him.

I walked up on him and I had him dead to rights and he knowed it and I said "Park that rifle and we'll talk," and he did and he moved slow and careful and that's a good thing for if a man will trespass on your round and line up to shoot your prize beef he's likely to have tendencies for other misbehavior.

Now we had us a palaver and he did not like it a'tall when I flipped my lapel over and allowed as he could take up residence in the Hoose Gow for a variety of his sins and he tried to bluster up and accuse me of fetchn' in them Texas Long Horn tick carryin' beasts and he warn't goin' to let my cows kill his with attair Texas Tick Fever and I allowed as this yere bull had growed up with me and he'd come on the ranch when I was a little boy followin' my pale eyed Pa around and any ticks would have long ago dropped off and tick fever warn't nowhere around here and he was new here and my family had been here for three generations and so had these Long Horn Beeves and was a man to trespass on a less patient soul's spread he might never leave 'cept in the belly of a carrion bird and he didn't like that neither but I give him to understand I was not happy with him a'tall.

Now this was personal between him and me and I didn't see no need to involve the Judge nor the court, was he to behave himself and stay the hell off my ground we'd get along fine, but the way he looked at me I knowed it warn't settin' well a'tall with him that he got caught in his wrong doin' and I was right, I had to kill him just shy of a month later and far as I know he ain't never left that abandoned air shaft where I dropped his dead carcass in.

I dislike a man tryin' to back shoot me and when he's so stupid he lets himself get caught and his intended victim Injuns up on him from behint ... well, when he turned, he inherited a belly full of heavy shot and I stood there and watched him gasp and flop and finally quit breathin' and he didn't have a thing on him worth removin' so when he went to hell he went with his belt buckle drove clear in to his back bone and all his clothes on him.

It's easier for old Nick to reckonze him if he ain't buck nekkid.

No one come lookin' for him and no one come askin' about him and matter of fact that poor girl he married, the one that looked so pale and drawn and jumpy like she was afraid of gettin' hit, why, she started comin' to town and she taken up with a fine young man and she sold attair ranch and the price was right so I bought it and held it for just shy of a year and resold it and turned a fine profit, and I give her and that enterprising young townie she shined up to, I give 'em one of them Non-Naminous Wedding Gifts and last I heard they'd moved off and opened a store  in Denver and were doin' right well for themselves.

 

I set this away and read it ag'in some years later and I cain't help but wonder about that fella that went out of his way to cause me grief.

He had no call to come trespassin' and line up to shoot my Boocaffie and he had no call a'tall to try and Bush Whack me when I caught him and run him off.

Some folks is just born stupid, I reckon.

I re-read this when I had time to sit and ponder on't and I recall how he said he didn't want attair Texas Tick Fever plaguin' his beef cows and for that I don't blame him but damn he didn't have no call a'tall to sneak onto my ground and try and put lead into my herd.

Right glad I caught him.

Better him dead ruther'n him dead and my longhorns as well.

 

 

 

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126.  LESSON

 

I knowed there was trouble when I seen the Sheriff hit the ground.

I'd just rode into town and I could see over the crowd for I was in saddle leather and they warn't.

The Sheriff he come back up off the ground like a child's gum rubber ball throwed hard onto a board floor and he tore into the other fella there by the hitch rail and there was no hold back to him a'tall.

Some good while before I come to Firelands, the Sheriff he taken over from Tom Landers and whenever you get a new badge packer in town they're always tried and sure enough they tried the Sheriff and they found out in short order there was no backin' up to the man.

Matter of fact there warn't no flexibility to him oncet he made up his mind.

He'd proven with no doubt a'tall that if someone wanted to try him, fists or feet or guns didn't matter, he'd beat whoever tried him and when he beat 'em, he beat 'em sound enough the never wanted to try him a secont time, and that word got around.

Now I had no idea what happened to bring these two growed men to a good old fashioned knock down drag out street fight but I know evil seldom travels alone and I was right and evil often times ain't terrible intelligent and this warn't.

I don't know what disagreement these two men had but I could tell from lookin' that there was another who was just itchin' to put a bullet in someone's back so I shucked out my '76 rifle and eased the lever down so's I could take a quick peek and sure enough attair cartridge brass shined up bright and smilin' at me so I eased attair lever back shut and I laid my thumb on the hammer spur and I went cat footin' on the quick step up torst the man that looked like he wanted to cause further harm.

Now I practiced that cat foot quick step and I was just under an honest run, I can skip along fast and just as noisy as a cloud overhead and I realized in short order this fella had no idea I was in the county and nobody else did neither and I was close enough to head shoot him like a slaughterhouse beef and then I was close enough to powder burn his hair so I just kept on a-goin' and instead of puttin' lead through the back of his head why I r'ared back with attair rifle and allowed as I was goin' to drive attair crescent butt plate right acrost the back of his head so the p'ints was on either side and someone must have seen me comin' for ever'one was watchin' the Sheriff and this fella hammer and tongs just beatin' the dog stuffin' out of one another, all but one lone soul who looked surprised at me and he give a yell and pointed and attair fella that was rasin' a carbine to punch the Sheriff between the shoulder blades he turned and I was too close for him to do much and instead of hittin' his face why I pulled down a little and I was movin' at damn neart a full run and I put my weight into the hit and I hit attair crescent butt plate acrost the front of his throat and I intended fully to kill the man with the blow and I hit him hard enough to snap his chin down on gunstock walnut and he fell back coughin' blood and he fell into men's backs and I turned attair rifle muzzle straight up and I fetched back the hammer and held the trigger and slipped the hammer spur and BANG she went and this fella and the Sheriff they pulled back from one another and their hands was up that other fella had his hands in fists and his knuckles was raw and bloody and the Sheriff's hands was open and I knowed he fought with his hands open, he got in close and beat the livin' hell out of a man with elbows and knees and he was fast and he was dirty and he taught me at a tender age ain't no such thing as a fair fight and if a man is goin' to get into it knuckle and skull you want to beat the other man so bloody bad he'll cross the street or turn around and run when he sees you next and this fella he was facin' his nose was spread over a good part of his face and his ear was split and he was splittin' blood and I knowed the Sheriff hadn't turned his wolf clear loose on the man otherwise he'd been on the ground now ... now, just that quick look told me the Sheriff wanted to draw out this beatin' and make this fella a public lesson.

"I JUST KILLED A BACK SHOOTIN' COWARD!" I yelled as I jacked another round into the chamber.  "NEXT MAN TO SHOW A WEAPON DIES!"

The fella the Sheriff was squared off ag'in he rushed the Sheriff, I reckon he wanted to ketch him by suprrise, I seen sunlight off a blade and the Sheriff he was faster.

I don't know if he was expectin' a blade and it don't matter.

He taken that man's wrist and his arm and he cranked 'em up behint the man's back and I seen his face and his eyes was dead pale and the flesh was tight stretched over his cheek bones and damned if he didn't look like a sun dried corpse with his teeth a-showin' and I seen that other fella's face twist up in pain and the Sheriff his expression never changed none and damned if he did not look like death itself in a black suit.

I heard a wet crunch right before that other fella's face twisted up and he screamed.

That scream genuinely run cold water right down my back bone.

I've heard men in pain before and there is a particular pitch that shivers glass, Sarah she told me she'd shattered a fine wineglass oncet with a high soprano note on stage in Denver, there's a note like that shatters a man's soul to hear it and I've heard it before for it come out of my own throat when I was whipped damn neart to death and it'll make a strong man weak in the knees and this fella he screamed like that for what I heard sounded kind of like if you take a good handful of wet swamp weeds and twisted 'em.

The Sheriff he tore that man's wrist apart and broke his elbow, right before he run his head hard into the side of the horse trough, hit hard enough to splash water up in the air and I reckon he either broke the man's neck or caved in his skull, I never did ask which for it did not matter, the Sheriff he hauled him back and dragged him into the middle of the street and he taken him by the back of the coat and the back of the belt and he hauled him high up and then throwed him down in the dirt and then he spit on him and he kicked the dead man in the ribs, hard, and I could hear bones break and the Sheriff he glared around, he turned a slow circle and he turned them cold pale eyes on ever'one there and then he throwed his head back and his fisted arms out and he let out a yell that was pure rage and pure insane hatred and I reckon that hard man's fightin' scream shivered Heaven itself and I doubt me not the angels hid their faces to hear it and I doubt me not it put the fear into the devil himself to hear it.

He stood there and he breathed hard for a few long seconds and then he bent double at the waist and he screamed into the dead man's face, "IF YOU EVER SMACK A WOMAN AGAIN YOU BLACK HEARTED MONSTER I WILL DO WORSE THAN THAT!"

He straightened up and staggered a little and I could see he'd caught a fist to the side of his face and one to his cheek bone and he was breathin' like a man with a hurt chest and I suspected me he had a cracked rib or two and he looked the crowd over like he was lookin' for someone.

He looked at me.

"JACOB!"

His voice was still at a shout, sharp as a horsewhip snapping a hole in the air.

My reply was just as strong a shout, just not as sharp.

"SIR!"

"DID YOU GET HIM?"

"YES, SIR!"

The Sheriff turned, thrust a summoning chin towards a familiar figure.

"DOC!"

Doc Greenlees he turned his skinny frame sideways and slipped as best he could between the gawpin' crowd, he always did look awful neat about his person and the Sheriff he looked like he'd rolled around in a rock crusher for his suit was dirty and he showed the effects of havin' had a good brawl and I was struck by that contrast, the neat and tidy physician, versus the bloody and mean as hell and mad as hell lawman.

Dr. John Greenlees squatted, tilted his head a little, then reached down with long, immaculately clean fingers, rested them on the man's neck:  he turned the bloodied face upward and it turned with an unnatural ease:  the medico never changed his quiet, thoughtful expression a'tall, he might as well have been examinin' a pretty posie or a rag doll or a field mouse for all you could tell lookin' at him.

He worked a little more, feeling the top of the skull; here he frowned, he took the head in both hands, wiggled it a little, I reckon he was satisfyin' himself the man's neck was broke or some-such; he nodded, drew back the darkening face's eyelid, tilted his head, studied the dead eye with a cold and detached expression.

He stood, spoke quietly to the Sheriff, turned, raised a summoning arm to Digger, who raised an arm in acknowledgement from the front of his funeral parlor.

Apple-horse he come shufflin' up and nudged me in the back and I stepped to the side and run my arm up under his neck and he laid his head over my shoulder and grunted the way he did when he felt things warn't right and I recht up and rubbed his nose and Apple-horse he pushed away from me and shoved  through the crowd and I followed behint and went on into the Silver Jewel.

When I come out of the Jewel, my own face was pale and tight and was that fella the Sheriff kilt still alive I reckon I would have tore into him my own self.

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127.  STORIES TOLD IN THE MOUNTAINS

 

I got to callin' that little Daine girl with the auburn-red hair, Gracie.

Her name was Patricia Grace and I got corn fused one day and called her Gracie instead of Patricia Grace and she liked it, 'twas somethin' different and 'twas uniquely hers and she liked it so I kept it up.

She'd come around now and again, just show up like she stepped out of a shadow and sometimes that's how she left, just disappeared and I never seen how nor where she come or went, they was no trace a'tall on any of the paths comin' or goin'.

Didn't really trouble me none, I warn't trackin' her and I warn't about to follow her, wouldn't be proper me followin' after her less'n there was a good reason.

Gracie she showed up in our parlor and she set down on the floor cross legged with her skirt coverin' her folded up legs and she hunched over with her elbows on her knees and both fists under her chin and she watched me on the floor on a spread out blanket and little Joseph was down here too and he had this happy laugh about him and I was on my belly and the baby was too and he wallered and stretched and recht out to grab holt of my mustache and he pulled fit to bring water to my eyes and Gracie she smiled behint her hand and I pretended to lip bite his little pink hand and he give that happy high pitched laugh little babies will when they're especially tickled.

"I saw those men die," Gracie said quietly and I rolled up on my side.

I blinked and taken Joseph in both hands and rolled over on my back and h'isted him above me and he give me that toothless baby smile of his and he squealed ag'in and Annette she come in and she give me that look – she tried to look stern and she couldn't, she laughed too, for she loved it when I played with our little bitty son – she come over and said somethin' about time for him to eat and her and Joseph went into t'other room and I set up and looked at Gracie.

Was she to say what she did, meant she had more to say and I'd l'arned as a lawman, if someone wanted to talk, I should let 'em, I often times got something useful when folks did.

 

Sarah looked down at the little girl looking up at her and caressed the child's red-auburn hair, thinking it was coarser than she expected; she was used to the silk-fine, carrot-red hair of Sean's Irish Brigade he was busy siring on Daisy, children who had the same Irish-blue eyes and milk-fair skin of mither and feyther baith.

The child looked at her with absolute trust and a complete lack of guile, and Sarah was grateful for this.

It made interrogation easier.

"I saw my re-flec-tion," she said, pronouncing her syllables carefully, for part of her still thought of Sarah as Miz Sarah the schoolmarm, and Sarah smiled a little to hear the child's precision.

"What did your reflection look like?"  Sarah asked, her voice gentle, and the little girl blinked as she remembered.

The little Daine girl giggled.

"I had a funny hat," she said.

"Was it roundy and looked like a shiny bubble that came down over both sides of your head?"  Sarah asked, and the surprised Patricia Grace looked up at her with delight in her Kentucky-blue eyes.

"How did you know?" she asked, and Sarah bent down and kissed her forehead.

"I'll tell you a secret," she whispered, and Patricia Grace's bright and innocent eyes shone as she nodded.

"You wore a sacky one piece overalls kind of thing only it didn't have a bib like Bill the engineer's bib overalls."
Patricia Grace shook her head in agreement and then she nodded, her brow wrinkling a little.

"What was shiny?"  Sarah prompted.  "Tell me where you saw your reflection."

Patricia Grace's forehead wrinkled a little and she wrinkled up her nose and she blinked rapidly.

"It smelled like salt water," she said, "but I never ... I mixed some salt with water and sniffed it and it didn't smell like Big Salt but it was all salt water and big but I wasn't looking at it 'cause it was always there like I was used to it."

Her blue eyes were sincere and a little confused.

"Somebody important was hollerin' loud."

"What was his name?"

"I think he musta been lost," Patricia Grace speculated in a small voice.  "He was a general.  His name was Quarters.  Maybe he was lost an' someone wanted to find him."  Her eyes grew distant as she remembered.  "It was ... I was on a big tin boat but it was real flat and real big an' there was somethin' roundy and black in front of me only it wasn't roundy only on the front an' it had branches on top that spun round and round real fast an' it was kind of like a big box with a tail and a spinny thing ..."
She blinked as the memory cleared.

"Snowflake," she said.  "Its name is Snowflake."

She looked at Sarah and giggled.

"Your horseie is Snowflake!"

"Yes she is," Sarah whispered, caressing a curl of auburn hair from the little girl's forehead.

"I got in the boxie and I flew it," she whispered and she remembered how funny her stomach felt when the black Snowflake boxie got all noisy and shivery and the flat tin boat fell away from under her and she was flying.

"Come," Sarah whispered, taking the child's hand. "I want to show you something."

Gracie marched industiously alongside Sarah's rich, shimmery-blue skirt, resolutely keeping up with the pretty woman who had something to show her.

Snowflake swung her huge head around as the woman and the child approached, then folded her legs and lowered herself to the ground as she had countless times before.

Sarah swung a leg over, revealing her stylish McKenna gown was divided, and Gracie climbed up behind her:  their combined weight was insignificant to the big Frisian, and Snowflake came easily to her feet.

Sarah reached back and found Gracie's hands, brought them around her waist; she put her hands flat over Gracie's little knuckles, guiding the huge, gleaming-black mare with her knees, and they paced easily out of town, up a mountain trail that twisted to a dizzying height:  it took them some little while to achieve the height Sarah wanted, and by then they were on the back side of the mountain, on the other side of the heights from Firelands.

Sarah turned a little and spoke.

"Gracie," she said, and Patricia Grace leaned a little to the side so she could see Sarah's face a little better.

"Gracie, would you like to fly again?"

The little girl with red-auburn hair took a quick breath and her eyes got really big and she nodded, quick-like, and Sarah felt the child's arms tighten a little.

"Snowflake," she said quietly.

The big Fisian, bred to carry armored knights into battle, hard-muscle and mountain-raised, had no difficulty at all in the thin, high-mountain air, and Patricia Grace's arms tightened with a surprising strength around Sarah's middle as her stomach screamed and the earth fell away from under her.

There was no one to see, none to confirm or deny, but somehow there were whispers, tales told in the dark, stories of those mysterious goings-on in the mountains, things not explained.

Men knew what it was to ride horses, and some horses, like the Sheriff's red Cannonball-mare, were remarkable and renowned for her speed and for her nimbleness, and it was said that such horses could fly, but everyone knew that horses ran, and they never left the earth except for short leaps.

When the whispers came that a horse had wings, that a winged horse was seen soaring among the mountain peaks, that a little girl's happy scream echoed off the high granite peaks, it was put off to a drunken sighting of a great bird, that someone heard an eagle scream, perhaps.

Horses don't have wings.

Birds fly.

Not horses.

 

"I'm gonna have babies," Patricia Grace told me, her Kentucky-blue eyes serious:  "an' they'll have babies an' they'll have babies an' when there's enough babies one of 'em will –"

She stopped, as if she realized she was talking with an adult, and adults often told her not to go storyin', but she'd come to me when she was distressed and she looked like she was torn between sayin' and not sayin', so I waited and that was the right thing, for she decided she could tell me.

She bit her bottom lip and I set up cross legged and looked at her and nodded, oncet, and rocked a little  and she leaned forward and said "Promise not to tell nobody," and I nodded.

She took a long breath like she was going to take a long dive into a deep mountain pool

"A hunnert years from now," she whispered, "my granddaughter will fly a Snowflake!"

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128.  HOLDING COURT

 

When His Honor the Judge held court, 'twas in the court room and it was a formal affair.

The Sheriff, now, when he held court 'twas not near so formal but when he spoke, men listened.

Often times this was on a bench in front of the Sheriff's office, under neath whatever wanted dodgers we had nailed to the front: the Sheriff was a gifted speaker and could weave a spell that drew the listener into the story and made them part of it, at least in their listening imagination.

There was discussion and he warn't the only one to speak; he loved the learning of new things, and when one of the Daine boys was a-showin' the Sheriff a flint rifle he'd just finished – I knowed the man was workin' on it for two year and more – 'twas curly maple and inlaid silver furniture, flawlessly proportioned, he said the first he'd built was late Bedford County pattern and 'twas light and delicate and if a man fell with it he'd likely break that dainty little wrist but this – he handed it to the Sheriff – this was late Pennsylvania pattern and to my eye looked more Hawken.

It was full stock and man sized and 'twas robust in its construction, I'd seen that dainty rifle he was talkin' about and I recall even the lock plate was long and slender, but this lock plate was blunt and rounded and it looked Hawken as well.

The Sheriff looked it over carefully and well and I could tell from his insepction and his fingers he was lookin' close at the inlettin' and when he handed it to me I did too, and I couldn't help but grin when he passed it over to me, for there is a particular kind of rifle that feels right and this one did, it come to shoulder like 'twas made for me and I looked 'er over carefully and well and attair Daine gunsmith he allowed as this was his masterpiece and I nodded and grinned and said "This is indeed your Master's Piece."

Now him and the Sheriff they both looked at me and the Sheriff he half closed one eye and I knowed he was listenin' close for he'd heard somethin' he didn't expect.

"Back in the Middle Ages, when men rode into battle a-wearin' tin suits and fightin' dragons and such-like," I explained, "trades were organized into guilds, there was a carpenter's guild and a jeweler's guild and there was one called Freemasons."

I looked square at the Sheriff for he was Master of the Masonic Lodge and had he been an elk his ears would have swung both onto me for 'twas clear he was interested in hearin' this.

"In the Guilds you had apprentices who j'ined up to l'arn the work," I said, looking at the Sheriff, "like the Entered Apprentices."

He give the slightest of nods and I looked at attair gun smith and he was listenin' close too, matter of fact ever'one around me was listenin' for 'twas a rare thing for me to speak up here, 'twas always the Sheriff that spoke.

"Then you had the journeymen – the men who journeyed to the work if need be – a jeweler would work in his shop but if you were buildin' a great stone cathedral, why, you couldn't build that in the shop and then freight it overland to where 'twas needed, you had to journey to the work – these were Journey Man, or" – I looked at the Sheriff ag'in – "fellows of the craft."

Again that slightest of nods, and I knowed why, such matters were not commonly discussed outside the Lodge, especially not in public, but I warn't a Mason yet so it warn't no violation.

"Now you had to have men who knew how to do the work and who could teach the apprentice and the fellowcraft, and these men who were really good at what they did were known as the Masters – like a master shipbuilder or a master carpenter" – I looked at the Sheriff ag'in – "or a Master Mason."

I seen the slightest of smiles tighten the corners of his eyes.

"In order to become a Master, you had to make something that showed Master's grade work.  This was presented to a Board of Masters and if found worthy, why, it would be laid up in the archives of the Guild as your Master's Piece, and stood witness to your becoming a Master of that Craft."

I caressed the butt stock with my palm and traced my fingers over that complex inlet job on that fancy pierced patch box and I handed that fine rifle back and said "This is indeed, your Master's Piece."

He liked that.

Now we set down on attair bench and I commenced to listen for I l'arned an awful lot listenin' when the Sheriff held court, attair gunsmith he stayed for a bit and then he was off and some schoolboys come and one of 'em had a rooster and the rooster was half tame and half mean and them boys would carry it under an arm and pet it and 'twas content to be held and petted and then they'd set it down and they'd take an old boot and sling it a-boucin' along the ground and attair rooster it'd feather up and run the inside of its wings down and it'd run up and flop that boot somethin' fierce and them boys would laugh and the Sheriff he warned 'em about makin' that rooster mean but 'twas fun for 'em to torment that poor rooster and they warn't about to quit and a couple days late the Sheriff he was holdin' court and a fellow set down beside him and they got to talkin' right directly and come to find out 'twas the father of the boy that packed that rooster around and he said his boy was right down in the mouth, he'd had to kill attair rooster for it got to spurrin' the women's shoes as they was a-walkin'.

The Sheriff he nodded and offered no comment and this fella's face got kind of long thinkin' of it and he finally said "The worst part, that damned old rooster was so tough we couldn't hardly eat it!"

 

Patchbox detail.jpg

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129. THAT WHICH WILL BE

 

Pale eyes read the hand written page.

This book was found in another chest, sheeted in lead as had been the Old Sheriff's desk, found when part of the wall cascaded away and revealed a recess in the rock.

As had been the lead sheet sheathed desk, this chest was opened with a conservator's care.

Lead sheeting was delicately chiselled under one soldered edge, preserving the long soldered joint, then another:  work was slow, careful, precise, until they were able to peel the sheet back, peel it away.

There was no lock to be picked:  the chest was meant to be found:  crudely pecked into the lead, in the front, apparently with a chisel, the words "J KELLER HIS CHEST" and a date, and this would be displayed in the museum with other artifacts from the era:  "J. Keller" was hopefully one of the Sheriff's pale-eyed line, and when the chest was opened, this was confirmed.

The contents inventoried as they were brought to light for the first time in well more than a century.

There was a glass plate photograph of a tall, slender man with pale eyes, a man in a well-fitted suit and a broad-brimmed black hat, a man with a Winchester rifle muzzle-up in his left hand, and beneath pale eyes, a curled handlebar mustache, but owing to the emulsions of the day, the only thing the observers could really tell was that the mustache was dark.

"Not iron grey," a woman's voice murmured, raising a magnifying glass to study the photograph.

The man sat with a child on his lap with the Winchester apparently butt-down on the floor beside his chair, and it was not a typical photograph of the day, with everyone stern and stiff and formal:  no, the man with the manicured mustache had shoved his hat back a little to expose his face, and he was grinning down at the child and the child, possibly a girl owing to the dress it wore, held a ball with a zig zag pattern at its equator, a star at one end.

Behind them, standing, a woman, her hands on the man's shoulders, her head tilted a little to the side, looking down at the pair with the expression of a Madonna.

One observer's hand came to her mouth as she read the label, faded but legible, pasted on the bottom of the frame:  she reached for the leather bound journal as it, too, was unwrapped, opened its cover carefully, gently, cautiously.

"Jacob," she breathed, her voice barely audible in the reverent hush of discovery:  a camera's strobe fired, and the pale-eyed Sheriff's photograph was on the front page the next day, holding a just-discovered artifact with white cotton conservator's gloves.

It was not the artifact that caught the readers' eye.

It was the Sheriff's expression, a mixture of delight, of astonishment, of a child's absolute wonder at beholding what must indeed be a treasure.

It was a full week before the museum and the specialists were finished with the journal, a week in which the pale eyed Sheriff chafed with impatience, for she'd opened the hand written work enough to read a page, and on that page her lips parted and her breath hissed in between startlingly-white teeth as her eyes widened and she looked up at her amused husband.

She waited until the reprint hit her desk to page quickly through this reprinted volume of Sheriff Jacob Keller's personal journal, to the page that caught her eye:  one hand held the pages open, the other reached for something wrapped in dark blue velvet, something heavy and angular and itself fortuitously wrapped in waxed paper before being inserted into what was now old, dry, cracked, leather.

 

I set on the back stairs with Sarah and she didn't say much at first.

I laid my hand on her back and just let it lay there and finally she turned and run her arms around me and dropped her head on my shoulder and just set there and we was too close for me to get a good look at her but I reckon she must have been miserable, to say nothin' a'tall and just hang onto me like that.

She held me and I held her back and sometimes that's the best thing you can do with a woman even if she is your sister.

She finally fetched up her head and let go of me and I let go of her, she set up straight and brushed a stray of hair out of her face and clapped her hands down onto her knees and said "He hit me."

I felt my bottom jaw start to crowd out and Sarah's eyes were pale and her face was hard.

"He said I was an uppity wench and he hauled off and slapped me across the face."

Her face was goin' steadily more pale and the color stood out over her cheek bones and that was not a good sign, I'd seen her do that when she was ready to go to war and right about then I was feelin' that might not be a bad idea.

"The Sheriff," Sarah said, then she took a long, shivering breath and her hands closed and then opened ag'in, and she laid them over her knees like she wanted to keep 'em from shakin', "got him before I could."

I nodded once, slow.  "Go on."

"He caught me by surprise," she said, her voice tight, and she looked at me with them cold hard eyes and it felt like she was swingin' a pair of pack howitzers to bear when she did.  "Jacob, I will never, EVER be caught by surprise like that again!"

Her hands fisted up and drawed up a good gob of skirt when she did and I don't reckon she realized it, she was madder'n I've seen her in a long time and it warn't a good sign that she didn't have enough control to realize she'd gobbed up dress material in an iron grip.

"I was a woman, Jacob," she said.  "A woman.  He took me by surprise and when he did, I was – a woman!"

She spat the word, she hated herself in the saying of it, but I knowed enough to say nothin' and nothin' was the right thing to say.

"I stood there with my hand to my face and I was frozen, Jacob, I was a feather headed woman and I was scared like a rabbit facing a rattlesnake and I, could, not, move!"

"There's women and there's women, Sarah," I said quietly, and she glared at me and then looked away.

"The Sheriff," she said, lifting her chin, "stepped in and discussed the matter."

I raised an eyebrow and part of me recalled the Sheriff raised an eyebrow too.

"Discussed?"

Her expression softened just a little and she nodded.

"What," I asked carefully, using my father's words, "was the nature of his discussion?"

"He backhanded him to start with," Sarah said quietly, "followed by the other fist to the same point of impact."

My eyebrow clumb halfway to my scalp line.

"Backhanded and punched 'im both," I murmured admiringly.

She nodded.

"After that, he ... they ..."

She dropped her head, her cheeks flaming with shame.

"It's my fault, Jacob.  He should never have been able –"

"He took you by surprise," I interjected.  "Ambush is the coward's tactical weapon."

"Now you sound like Mick," she smiled. "That's what a soldier would say."

"The Sheriff, actually."

"He was a soldier."

I nodded.

"They ... men pulled back and let them fight and the man who slapped me ... he pulled away and tried to run and the Sheriff was right after him, he seized the back of the man's collar and pulled hard and dropped him on his back and I couldn't see what happened then, they ... I ..."

She shivered.

"I waited inside, Jacob."

Her voice was a whisper and tears rolled over the dam holding her eye-flood in.

"I ... waited ... and I heard the man scream ... and then I heard Papa ... oh, Jacob, it's all my fault!"

She dropped her face ag'in the front of my shoulder and she never made a sound and I held her and she sorrowed in silence and I soothed her like I would a child, I said quiet little words and rubbed her back and she grabbed holt of me like she was drownin' and I was a floatin' chunk and then she got to cryin' really hard and finally she stormed herself out and sniffed and blowed her nose on a dainty little hankie with lacy edges and embroidery in the corner and she looked up and taken another long breath in and said hoarsely, "That's not all."

I nodded. 

However long it took for her to get things out, I'd set right there and listen.

"War, Jacob," she whispered, and she looked at me and she was near to spillin' tears ag'in.  "War is coming and it will hurt us clear out here."

I felt my face harden and I nodded.

"When?"

"Soon enough.  Too soon."  She barked a little laugh, shook her head.  "Years yet, but years that will fly."

She dropped her forehead onto her knuckles and groaned.

"It's hell to have the Sight," she whispered.  "I heard of a woman who could see things like I do.  She gouged her eyes out."

"Did it help?"

"No."  She wiped savagely at her cheek bones.  "She saw all the more clearly for not seeing the world.  She took poison to stop the visions."

"And you?"

"I'm needed, Jacob, as are you.  No, if I punch my own ticket it'll be a straight ticket to hell and I've been there already.  No."

There was coviction in her voice and when she told me this, I believed her.

"This war," I hazarded, "this war ... will it be here?"

"No.  There will be no fighting here.  It will be entirely in another country.  Our troops will hold the enemy before they can cross the salt water."

"I see."  I frowned.  "Our troops?"

"Our strong young men, men who should stay home and sire fine, tall sons instead of charging enemy shot and steel."

Had I known what she was telling me I would have been more alarmed, but I had no idea that the Sheriff's son would see his own son go off to war, and never return:  I could not know that Joseph, my Joseph, would have a red-faced, screaming argument with me, that I would forbid his leaving, that he would leave anyway, and that it would be with my father's understanding.

I did not know that for a very long time and it put a rift between the Sheriff and I, a rift that nearly split us apart for good.

You see, the Sheriff had a pair of Colt revolvers made, custom Colts with a higher front sight, a wider front sight and rear notch than standard, Colts with roses engraved around the muzzle and on either side of the frame and he had 'em copper plated, and the best gunleather to boot, and when my son reared up on his hind legs and made noises like a man, the Sheriff buckled that gunbelt around his middle and stepped back and saluted him, and my boy left Firelands on the steam train and never came home.

 

Sheriff Willamina Keller read Sheriff Jacob Keller's hand written journal, long into the night.

She called up the print sent to her computer by their museum, the print of Jacob, his infant son Joseph, and his wife Annette:  there was a glass plate of Jacob in the Sheriff's Office, but he was stiff and disapproving, there in front of the Sheriff's Office, with his father the Sheriff and his sister Sarah: the Sheriff looked tolerant, almost amused, but Sarah glared at the camera as if she wished she could call down a mountain giant to crush it with one stomp of a mighty brogan.

No, this photograph was truly unique for its era, and Willamina bit her knuckle as she studied it.

She turned back to this newly discovered Journal as her husband Richard gripped her shoulders, bent, nuzzled her neck.

"Mmmm," she hummed.  "I'll give you a week to stop that."

"Nice picture."  He tapped the monitor's screen with a clean, trimmed fingernail.  "His?"

"Mm-hmm.  Jacob, his infant son Joseph, wife Annette."

"Nice looking family."

"Nice hell," Willamina laughed.  She's gorgeous, he's drop dead handsome, and I'm glad I never put our boys in dresses!"

"It's practical," Richard shrugged, "especially when diapers –"

She swatted at him and he swung out of reach, dropped onto the couch.

"Read to me," he said, and Willamina smiled and turned back to the Journal.

"You saw these," she said, laying a hand on the blue velvet covering beside the journal.

"No."

"Sit still.  Let me read this first."

He leaned back, nodded.

Sheriff Willamina Keller, descendant of Sheriff Linn Keller and his son, Sheriff Jacob Keller, mother of the second Sheriff of the Second Martian District, a community that called itself Firelands, read aloud from her ancestor's journal.

" 'Sarah told me before she left for Germany there was something for Joseph in a trunk in the bank's vault, but I was not to get it until after she'd left.  She run off to Germany and married a man who run off and left her and she had his girl-child and lived with his father.

"The old Count thought Sarah was wonderful and declared her his daughter, and days before that damned War started in Europe, a mob broke into the Baron's estate and tried to start the war early by killing the old nobleman.

" 'They were not expecting the Black Agent and they were not expecting war to be handed right back to them.

" 'Sarah obliged them and she killed all but one of the attackers. 

" 'We were told she killed seventeen and the last man alive she'd cut bad enough he died two days later. 

" 'She got her daughter to safety, her infant daughter and the maid, they got back here to Firelands and we taken them in as family.

" 'I retrieved the trunk from the bank after we got word Joseph was killed.

" 'She'd' " –

Willamina stopped reading, looked over at her husband.

"Richard, you remember when the old German died and his family brought me Joseph's copper plated revolvers."

He nodded.  "The ones in the museum.  Yes, I remember."

"Sarah –" 

Willamina referred to the journal again.

"Sarah didn't trust Jacob to let his son make his own choice."

Richard's eyebrow quirked up a little.

"She thought he might try to intercept his son, and so she had a second pair of Colt revolvers made for him."

She unfolded the blue cloth, withdrew a .44-40 Colt with a custom front sight, hand chased engraving, an unfired, copper plated revolver that gleamed, untarnished, under a hand rubbed layer of beeswax.

"Jacob's revolvers bear the Thunder Bird."

She held the Peacemaker up, studying it closely.

"The Sheriff knew what war was and he knew how important it was that people have an anchor, something to hold onto so they could come home.  For him, it was the Masonic Lodge, and so he had ivory grips made with the Square and Compasses on one and the Master's Arc-and-Compasses on the other."

"I remember," Richard nodded.

"He told Joseph to come home and become Master of the Lodge like his old Grampa."

She traced delicate fingers over the black handles.

"These grips are the original gutta-percha."

Richard nodded again.

"These" – she turned it one way, another, catching the light, blinking as it flashed her green banker's lamp painfully into her eyes off its mirrored surface.  "These have the vining and the roses, but they lack his totem."

"His totem?"

"He'd gone to Dr. Flint –"

"Oh, right, right, I remember reading that.  The Thunder Bird, wasn't it?  Can't say as I blame him.  Better than a rabbit's foot!"

Willamina stood, walked the revolver over to Richard, handed it to him, paced back and picked up its twin.

"None here either," she sighed. 

"Do you want them put on?  You have it on all of yours."

Willamina shook her head, laid down the second revolver; it made a woody klunk on the ancient rolltop's wooden surface.

"No," she said slowly.  "No, we'll keep them as-is."

"Collectors or shooters?"

"For now, collectors.  The way the world's going ... we have family in the Navy and on Mars, the world is tearing itself apart, who knows, we may have to use them!"

Richard's expression was bleak.

"You may very well be right," he whispered, and Willamina shivered a little, for Richard was still contracting for the Bureau, and he was privy to information that most people ... weren't.

 

Sarah felt better for havin' set there and ...

I nearly said for havin' set there and talked.

'Twas more like she poured herself out like you'd pour grease over an axle stub, it made a mess but it slickened up the works and she felt the better for it.

"More than one war is coming, Jacob," she finally said, and stood up.  "Wars and wars and rumors of wars and then a truly terrible –"

She turned, bit her bottom lip.

"We will both be long dead before that happens, but Jacob, our blood will be at the last war and our blood will be most desperately needed!"

"Is that why we're here?"

She nodded.

"Just like a soldier is trained before going into battle ..."

Her voice trailed off, then she looked at me again.

"That's why we're here on this earth, Jacob.  To learn particular things that'll be needed when we rise again and go to war."

She turned and went down the last two steps, she listened at the panel and slid it aside and she went out the back hallway and closed the panel ag'in and I heard her hard little heels as she walked slowly down the hallway back into the Silver Jewel.

I just set there for a while.

There was nothing I could do about the future.

Whatever was a-comin', would come right on down the pike with or without my let-be.

I considered about them wars she talked about.

There was always trouble somewhere.

Indian wars or riots in the city or some country or another gettin' into it, the fightin' never stopped and I considered that was we to put an end to the fightin' here – was our wars to burn themselves out ocean to ocean – what then?

Are we doomed to fight, to fight someone, are we condemned to shed blood forever?

Is that the perpetual curse of Cain?

I considered that for a time and finally allowed as them that wanted war generally warn't the ones who fought it.

The best I can do, I thought, is to be ready if someone attacks me, or attacks my county, and my sons will be ready as well.

Evil understands only one argument and that is immediate, overwhelming, devastating violence – whether it's the schoolyard bully, whether it's a back shootin' coward, whether it's a man bent on arson or rapine or worse.

If you beat a man, the Sheriff told me once, beat him so bad next he sees you he'll turn and run t'other way, and he's right, that is the only solution if you're attacked.

If the attacker is tryin' to kill you, kill him, fast and dirty and final.

If he's not tryin' to kill you, hurt him so bad he'll never try it ag'in, and if that leaves him crippled, that's on him, he started it.

I turned my hat in my hands and taken me a long breath and listened to the muted sounds from the Saloon and I realized I was thirsty, and I considered the mahogany bar and a cool beer, and then I smiled just a little and stood up.

I went down them last two steps and listened for a bit, I slid open attair panel and slipped out into the hallway near to Daisy's kitchen, I slid attair panel back until she clicked, and then I turned and went out the back door.

I pumped me some water into the tin cup that hung on the green painted cast iron pump and I taken me a drank and that was good so I taken me another, and as I did, my eyes was busy and I was lookin' around.

You never know when someone might take exception to your breathin' the same air as them.

 

 

 

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130.  GRAMPA

 

The Sheriff's jaw eased out a little and he bent at the waist, a little to the side the way he always did, and he shucked out of his coat.

His hands went to the buckle and he fetched off his gun belt, laid it off with the coat.

Pale eyes regarded the other fellow and directly there came the sounds of confusion that always resulted, and Annette blinked and glided into the room.

Sheriff Linn Keller lay on his back, grinning, with little Joseph in his hands, pressing him up at arm's length, which brought squeals of laughter from the lad:  he lowered the happy, wiggling boy, who promptly tried to seize the man's nose:  Linn hoisted him again to arm's length, to Joseph's delight, lowered him down again.

This went real well until Joseph did what excited little boys of his age always do, and the Sheriff showed a surprising agility for a man of his vintage:  he never surrendered his grip on the suddenly damp and dripping grandson as he came around, up, and onto his feet, and Annette laughed as he looked at her with the distress of a man who realized he'd just caused something unplanned to happen.

Annette gave him a sympathetic look and took the dribbling lad; little boys did this, and until he was housebroken, he'd continue to wear the cloth diapers, but that wouldn't be for some time for he was still a toothless child that discreetly dined at the topless restaurant.

Jacob lounged indolently against the doorway, grinning; his father turned, red-faced, plucking at his damp shirt and vest, and Jacob hitched his head a little:  "Come on upstairs, sir, we're the same size!" – and in short order the Sheriff was washed off, his shirt and vest replaced with clean and dry, and Jacob promised faithfully he'd have the Sheriff's shirt washed, dried and ironed, just as soon as their maid could tend that detail.

"Don't put her out on my account," the Sheriff protested.  "I can take this home –"

Jacob's eyes were a little distant and the Sheriff knew from his son's soft smile that there was a memory come to surface, and Jacob blinked and said "I'm sorry, sir, what was that again?"

The Sheriff laughed a little.  "You were a few miles away," he observed, and Jacob nodded and laughed quietly.

"Yes, sir," he admitted, "I was dandlin' Joseph on my leg last night – I was set down and ridin' him on my thigh like a horse, I had his hands and I was just button bustin' proud and I was sayin' 'My son!  My son!' and Joseph he got all tickled and wet all over my leg and I picked him up and handed him to Annette and said "Here, woman, take yore kid!"

Father and son laughed together, and Annette, having just washed and dried the little round bottom, smiled as she powdered and folded and pinned with a mother's dextrous ease.

 

As hard and uncompromising as the Sheriff could be with wrongdoers, he was quite the opposite with little boys, whether those of his own line, or the lads that tended to gather underfoot when he was in town:  he was known to sit down and listen with a serious face as breathless lads told him whoppers of fish they'd caught and those they almost caught, he nodded solemnly at exaggerated accounts of foot races, he'd taught them how to carve whistles out of box elder (which got him spoken to by more than one annoyed mother and the schoolmarm as well)

The Sheriff even made so bold as to borrow young Joseph, secure him in a papoose pack, and take the lad for extended horseback rides:  Annette received reports of how the Sheriff was seen jumping his Cannonball mare while wearing the lad on his back, and she expressed her dismay to Jacob, but that afternoon when the lad was cranky and noisy, why, she welcomed the Sheriff taking him a-horseback, and to her delight when he returned less than a half hour later, young Joseph was peacefully asleep, and the Sheriff left him in the snug carrier, packing child, pack and all into the house, where he sat down in a rocking chair and leaned his head back and relaxed.

Annette sat across from the lean, pale eyed lawman and knitted, marveling that he was asleep, or appeared to be so, and still maintained a slow, languid rhythm in the rocking chair he preferred.

It was obvious that her little boy approved; he was sound asleep – for which she was most grateful – she was short on rest because he'd screamed a good part of the night before, and it was crowdin' bedtime.

Annette knew the lad would need another feeding before bedtime, and she tended that detail, and the Sheriff returned to the rocking chair, and his nap:  he'd perfected the ability of sleeping anywhere, back during that damned War, and the rocker was comfortable on his poor old back.

The Bear Killer was clean and sweet smellin' and he come paddin' into the room and laid down beside the Sheriff and give a big sigh and closed his eyes and just that quick he was asleep, and when he did, the Sheriff he relaxed a little more and breathed easier, like he didn't have to keep part of himself awake.

That big black b'ar killin' dog was a comfort to me when I was grieved, I never told no one and I don't reckon no one knew but there was times when the hurt was on me and I remembered Mama and I remembered that blind girl Miriam, and I'd go off by myself and The B'ar Killer come with me and I set down in a lonely place and buried my face in his fur and I absolutely forbade myself to cry and it didn't work none a'tall and I'd fall asleep with that big hard muscled mountain Mastiff leaned up ag'in me and keepin' me warm, didn't matter if we was out under the stars with a blanket over the both of us or we'd made a nest in the straw in the barn.

I warn't the only one that found comfort from Old Curly Fur, Sarah she'd done the same thing since the day Charlie Macneil run his hand in his coat pocket and pulled out a black ball of fur with beady-black eyes and a wet black nose and give to her.

I set down in my own rockin' chair beside the stove and I looked over at the Sheriff and his lean face looked a little less drawn and I was grateful to see that for he was a man that demanded much more of himself than he ever did anyone else and he drove himself harder than anyone I knew, and to see him relax, really let himself relax ... well, he done that under my roof, and I was somewhere between right pleased and right humbled that he could do this, in my house.

I reckon the big part of it was knowin' The Bear Killer was layin' beside him.

I looked up and come to my feet for Annette was comin' down the stairs in a runnin' hurry and that warn't like her and I knowed somethin' warn't right, I could smell it and Annette she hit the bottom of the stairs and whipped around and into the room and Joseph in her arms and her face was the color of wheat paste and she pointed back behint her and I was acrost the room and I don't recall takin' a step but I must have and I taken her shoulders and I looked at Joseph and at my wife and she opened her mouth and closed it and swallered and then she tried ag'in and she said in kind of a strangled voice, "The wolf," and that's all she could get out.

I let go of her shoulders and I taken them steps two at a time and I went rip roarin' upstairs at a dead run and I shoved into our bedroom and warn't a thing out of place.

I looked out the window and didn't see a thang couldn't nobody get to that secont floor window without a ladder and warn't no ladder outside I knew of, I come back downstairs and Annette she was set down in my rockin' chair and tryin' hard not to shiver and I come over to her and went down on one knee and she was holdin' Joseph to her like she was afraid Old Nick hisself was goin' to come stompin' in on cloven hooves and try and snatch the boy and I whispered "What was it?" and she swallered hard ag'in and she looked at me with big and scared eyes and she whispered back, "It was the white wolf," and I said "Where?" and she said "Looking in the window."

Now attair window is upstairs and no ground nowhere near, it faced off torst the fall-away of the grade, but she'd sure as thunder seen somethin' that put the Fear into her so I come to my feet and recht for the shotgun and for my hat and I was headin' for the door and I felt the air move behint me and I knowed the Sheriff was right behint me.

We come a-boilin' out the front door ready for a young war and we swung around, was anythin' even remotely threatenin' it would have met a wall of lead and a set of fighting ivory fangs, but warn't a thing but moonlight and darkness and shadows.

We swung around the house the way we practiced and practiced and practiced ag'in, and you might not believe it, but we've done that and each of us knowed where the other was, each of us could see with the other's eyes and each of us felt the ground under the other's advancing foot and when the Sheriff got his sights on a man I could see it with the whole house between us.

'Twas like that this night, only there was not a thing to be seen.

Nighttime and shadows and moonlight and not a single solitary else.

The Bear Killer sniffed around but he warn't findin' a thing that interested him so we went on back inside.

Later on that night once the Sheriff went on home and we-all went to bed, why, I laid there warm and safe in my own bed, my hand in my wife's – before the baby, we'd often times fall asleep holdin' hands and wake up the same way – anyway I slept and I dreamed and it ain't usual that I recall a dream but I did this one.

Sarah was standin' on the train depot and she had a handful of somethin' fizzy and sparkly, like you'd taken sunlight and froze it and shattered it and it was light and glittery like ten thousand lightning bugs, only gold ... bright, golden and somehow I knowed this was alive, but then dreams is funny thangs.

She looked at me and said "We must teach him," and then she was gone and I woke up, or thought I did.

It felt for all the world like I slud out from under them bed covers and went cat footin' bare foot over to Joseph's little bed under the window and I taken a look at him in the moonlight.

Or I started to.

There was just enough moon light that I made out 'twas The Bear Killer sittin' up beside his bed, lookin' in.

That is not what stopped me in my tracks.

There was a white wolf at t'other end of the bed, settin' there in exactly the same position as The Bear Killer, lookin' at Joseph just as serious.

I stopped and my hand automatically went to where my Colt rode, only I was in my night shirt and I didn't have no more than dirty looks to fight with, and then I opened my eyes and I was layin' in bed yet and my hand was in Annette's and I come up on my elbows right quick and looked over at Joseph's bed.

There was nothin' there but bed and window and a little moonlight.

 

 

 

 

 

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131.  MERELY A GIRL

 

Now I'd long ago accepted that men are the strength and the strong right hand and the good back bone of a community, that men do the wage earnin' and the hard workin' and the runnin' of the show.

Was I considerably less intelligent I would never notice how ladies like Miz Esther and Miz Bonnie run businesses and make it look easy and do ever'thing that women do besides that and make it look easy.

Was I doubtful a'tall I would need look no further than my pale eyed sister.

I called Sarah Little Sis and she called me Little Brother and when we were younger she decided to tear into me and she taken me by surprise and I knowed I could not hit her even though she was givin' me a good knucklin' so I got to blockin' her swings and punches and I kept ahead of most of her kicks but let me tell you Mister! she landed some good ones – but I seen her eyes was pale and she was fightin' mad and she hadn't made me mad and fightin' mad ain't good for the thinkin' stops and the animal comes out and the animal can be predicted.

She got madder 'cause of a sudden I was blockin' her hits and she tried to punch her hand in to claw for my eyes and that didn't work neither and then I set to stop her.

When she come at me ag'in instead of swattin' to the side – and when I knocked her punch or her claws aside I'd hit 'em hard, I reckon her fore arms were goin' to be bruised some – this time I twisted a little and grabbed her wrist, I kicked her behint the knees and she went down and I shoved and I was atop of her with her arm cranked up behint her back and I wrapped my legs around hers when she tried to back kick me flat on the ground and soon as I got holt of her other hand and got a forearm down acrost her elbow she warn't goin' nowhere but it was generally like pinnin' a wild cat to the ground, I knowed I had just all I wanted holdin' her down and was I to let her go, why, she'd likely come up off the dirt with all four legs a-clawin'.

I did not know it but the Sheriff and Bonnie was a-watchin', the Sheriff he was holdin' Bonnie's wrist and he looked at her and put his finger to his lips and them two was a-watchin' and I did not know it.

Sarah she grunted and snarled and damned of she didn't sound like a mountain cat and that didn't make me feel good neither but she was tired and I was near to wore out and sweat was runnin' acrost my eye brows and drippin' off onto her dress and I was tryin' to breathe quiet so she would not know how much she'd wore me out and she was makin' no pretense of breathin' quiet, she was still a genuine double handful of fur covered blastin' powder with the fuse burnt down and the stick comin' unglued.

She was breathin' hard and so was I and I said "Sarah, you cheated!"

"Cheated!"  she snapped.  "You let me go, Little Brother, and I'll cheat your eyes out!"

"You tried that," I said and that was a mistake, she nearly twisted out of my grip for my smart aleck rejoinder was like tossin' hot grease on a cook fire and it taken me a little to make sure she warn't gettin' up.

Finally she quit fightin' and held still.

I did not slack my grip a'tall.

"How did I cheat?"  she mumbled, her forehead in the dirt.

"You're a girl," I said and let her go and I clumb off her and set my backside down.

Sarah brought her cranked-up arm back around, worked it a little, then rolled over and set up and looked at me with open surprise and said "WHAT???"

we looked at one another and the fight was over.

"Just how did I cheat!"  Sarah demanded, pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around her knees.

"You're a girl."

She blinked twice and stared and her jaw dropped open and I begun to wonder if I didn' have a duck settin' on my head or some such.

"Stand up.  I'll show you."

Sarah and I both got up and we dusted ourselves off for we were both filthy.  I know my back side was just covered with dirt and hers was too but there was no way in God's creation I was goin' to reach around and swat dirt off her bottom, I'd as leave stir hornets barehand.

'Twas a big enough risk gettin' in arm's reach of her.

"Now." 

Oncet we were done knockin' a couple acres of real estate out of our duds and back onto the ground, I raised my hands, but hands open.

"Here's what I'm sayin'."  I consided a moment, then slowly extended a hand just a little bit.

"You're a girl so I can't hit you in the face."

"WHY NOT!"  Sarah demanded.  "I hit you!"

"I know," I admitted ruefully, and I was beginnin' to feel it, for she'd got me a good one on the cheek bone and she'd laid a couple scratches acrost my face to boot and the sweat was stingin' 'em but I paid them no mind.

"Sarah!"  I exclaimed and I was honestly shocked for 'twas plain to me.  "Sarah, you're a GIRL.  I cain't hit you in the face!  Dear God, your Mama would take a fryin' pan to me and drive me into the ground like a fence post and then she'd get MEAN with me!"

Sarah's arms were folded and she was glaring at me and we were both still young at the time and I could just see her pattin' her foot impatiently under that skirt oncet she got older but I didn't see no movement so I didn't reckon she was doin' it yet.  That was somethin' Miz Bonnie did but Sarah didn't do it yet though I reckoned she would.

I lowered my hand, my fingers was splayed and my palm down, I went down to her bodice level and said "I can't hit you THERE, dear God, you can't hit a girl in the –"

I stopped and I felt my ears get real red and Sarah she looked at me steady as if darin' me to name the part and I lowered my spread fingers to her middle and said "And if I gut punch you it'll knock the wind out of you and your Mama will grab my ankles and tear my miserable carcass plumb in two and then beat each half to death around the corner of a buildin' and then she'll get mean with me!"

I taken a breath and said "And God have mercy if I EVER swat your bottom!"

"Oh?"  Sarah asked archly, raising an eyebrow, and I described runnin' my hand through the side of a hornet's nest was I ever to try and smack her fanny and Sarah tried hard not to smile.

"Back hittin' ain't fair and hittin' below the belt anywhere ain't fair – Sarah, there's nowhere I CAN hit a girl!"

"But I can hit you."

I nodded.

"Yes."

Now I still had no idea Miz Bonnie and the Sheriff was close enough to hear, and they was both a-watchin', and they both pulled back and the Sheriff and Miz Bonnie they talked it over and they knowed Sarah started it, for Bonnie talked to her ahead of time and spoke of how to manipulate men-folk and this was the result, only Sarah decided to manipulate with a punch instead of with words and I reckon Miz Bonnie would talk to her about that, and she did.

Matter of fact the Sheriff he talked to me about it and he allowed as I done right not hittin' her and holdin' her down til she calmed some and then settin' and talkin' with her and he taught me folks want to have their say and I should listen when they're troubled.

I kept that in mind in the years that followed and found the Grand Old Man is right.

I l'arned to give everyone in a disagreement, their say, and I listened when they did, and they often times told me more than they realized and that's a grand way for a lawman to get information without workin' for it.

Later on when His Honor the Judge seen Miz Sarah was gettin' some height to her and he saw how good she was at a quick change – her Mama took her to Denver as model for her fashions, Sarah would wear her Mama's gowns and model the on stage for the buyers – why, the Judge allowed as she would be good to recruit as an agent.

He figured a pretty young face and men would spill their guts to talk to her and impress the hell out of her with what they'd done and he figured she could change her duds and either be a dance hall girl or a rich man's daughter or just about anyone a'tall and he ended up sendin' her to Professor TJ Hunt's School of Detection in Denver.

That's where things got interestin'.

Now you recall how much of a double handful of I-can't-hardly-handle-it Sarah was when we were younger.

She come to me and she was gettin' some shape to her and she was genuinely pretty and she asked me to help her escape and I stopped and hung the lariat back on the fence post and Apple-horse he hung his head over the top rail and begged for attention and Sarah she caressed his nose and whispered to him and then she looked at me and said "I need a pair of handcuffs."

That ain't the thing your sister usually asks for.

Turns out when she'd model for her Mama she had time to her self over there in the big city and she'd got to associatin' with actors and performers and she'd l'arned makeup and fashion and quick change and such-like and she'd even appeared on stage without her Mama knowin' it and I knew she'd taken voice lessons and she had an absolutely beautiful singin' voice  and when I handed her a set of irons she recht up into her fancy hair do and come out with a pick and three twists she opened up them cuffs.

Now these was brand new irons I'd just got from the Sears and Sawbuck catalog, they didn't take the screw key like the old ones we had – these used an actual key – Sarah smiled and handed 'em back to me, then she turned around and put her hands behint her back and I put them on her wrists and she turned around and faced me and she smiled real pretty and she said she wanted to be ahead of the rest of the class for she was merely a girl and she would be in a class full of boys and she knew they'd give her a hard way to go and then she handed me them irons and she'd got 'em off her wrists behint her back and I nodded and taken them cuffs and set 'em away.

I pulled out another set, some smaller, and said "The Sheriff got these specially for women prisoners," and I got 'em on her without lettin' her look at 'em ahead of time, and then I taken me another set and bent over and shackled her in leg irons and I taken her back to the back jail cell and put her in and locked the door.

I walked away and went about my business.

Somehow it did not surprise me none when she laid them irons on the desk and told me she was hungry and I owed her lunch.

That afternoon we tore into one another ag'in but we was in the barn and the only way I even come close to gettin' ahead of her was when I snapped a gunny sack over her head and that didn't last long.

Next we tried that, I run a string around the gunny sack and tied a noose knot – a tight line hitch – when I dropped it over her head I give the string a yank and she tried to get it off and it wouldn't come off and I swatted her across the backside, one open handed slap and the fight was on.

I knowed it would be and I was right and damned if she didn't still find me and just beat the livin' snot out of me fightin' blind.

Whoever said somethin' about mere girls never fought this one.

Mere, she ain't!

 

 

 

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132.  EDUCATOR

 

Now I've told you how Sarah was schoolmarm from time to time, matter of fact there for a while it was right reg'lar and she was good at it.

She could make things plain to even them who couldn't l'arn too well, she had that gift, y'see.

I have to give the Sheriff credit, though.

He likely never knew how much he taught me nor how well.

I l'arned how to behave toward the ladies by watchin' the Sheriff and I l'arned how to treat my wife from watchin' the Sheriff and Annette said when I was a-layin' on the floor playin' with Joseph 'twas the same way the Sheriff played with him and I'd seen the Sheriff play with his own young in the self same manner so I reckon I got that from him too and that was a lesson.

I realized whatever my son saw me do, he'd do.

Sarah once told the Ladies' Tea Society – they traded around who was goin' to speak and she got picked, I don't know if they drew straws or hell they might've dealt poker hands and whoever got the good hand or maybe the poor one – I dunno – whatever the case I recall she said "A child's parents are their first, their best and their most influential teachers," and I considered on that mightily.

I cain't say that beast I deprived of most of his brains, he warn't no father to me.

I don't recall only really vague and real dim a man holdin' me and packin' me around and I recall a voice and strong hands and little else but them is good memories.

I allowed as was I Joseph's first and best and most influential teacher, why, I'd be just the very best I could, and I thought myself of the Sheriff and how he treated Miz Esther and then I studied on that and realized he was like that with nearly every woman he run acrost.

No.

No he warn't.

Miz Esther he'd run his arms around and hold her in close and he'd kiss her and such-like and out in public why he wouldn't lay hands on a woman unless 'twas necessary but it was a marvel to see, when he'd walk down the street he'd touch his hat brim to ever' last lady and it didn't matter if she was four years old in a child's short frock, it didn't matter was she crowdin' sixty and wearin' a dowager's weeds, he'd give 'em them pale eyes and a touch of the hat brim and in his presence I seen even hard eyed soiled doves soften and become ladies.

I cain't claim to be that good.

Annette says I am so I'll take her word on it but I'll not claim it.

Now Joseph he was growin' fast and I marveled at how his legs straightened out and started growin' and Annette she allowed as he would be tall like me and I laughed and said I hoped he turned out better lookin' and Annette she said I was a right handsome man and 'twould not surprise her a bit if Joseph did not turn out to be just as good looking and Joseph he looked at me and smiled and I blinked and Annette she smiled to see my look and she said yes those are teeth and I parted his lips and looked at them first two teeth just startin' through his gums and that's why he was chewin' on my fingers and the rockin' chair and anythin' else he could and that's why Annette she'd dip her little finger in some whiskey and rub his gums, she said her Mama used to do that and it worked and by golly it must have worked and that's why he was fussy and cryin' at night.

I'd have to remember that, thought I, that's another thing I'll need to teach him.

 

Now I was talkin' about what-all I've l'arned from the Sheriff.

I considered on that matter and was I to list ever'thang I'd have to step up on a peach crate and talk all day and all night and well into the next day and not even have a good start.

About this time of my life Joseph was real young yet and Sarah not yet gone off to attair School of Detection, Miz Esther was alive and Dana warn't born yet.  She's another sister and she's a pretty little thang but I'm tryin' not to side track myself. I do that too easy.

The Sheriff he taken me off into the mountains and we'd sneak up on elk and watch 'em, he'd fetch along his field glasses and hand 'em over to me and I'd marvel for the usin' of 'em and soon as I could why I got me a set, won 'em at poker off a fellow with a run of hard luck and I paid him for 'em over and above the poker win for he was hard up and he never forgot that kindness.

Anyway we'd look at them elk and he'd whisper somethin' to me on occasion, he'd ease over and lay an arm acrost under my shoulder blades as the both of us was belly down lookin' through brush or through grass and he'd ease his lips up beside my ear and he'd whisper somethin' and I'd nod and sometimes it was to take a look at a particular doe or torst a calf and oncet we seen wolves sneakin' into the bowl they was in and the Sheriff he seen 'em about the time attair bull elk did and them elk they committed that classic military maneuver known as Gettin' Out of There and them wolves looked kind of disappointed or so I figgered.

Wolves I was never scairt of, they generally left men alone, I never took me no chances but I never went after 'em neither, they was wild and I liked 'em that way.

Now a mountain cat, they're mean and I'll shoot one soon as see it.

I'll not go chasin' after one but 'ginst I see one I'll nail it for I seen what a cat did to a grown man and warn't kindly a'tall.

The Sheriff he taught me was I to go after man or beast I should go with full intent of puttin' their chin on the ground and the rest of 'em with it, he dealt fair by all men but he taken no guff from no man.

I patterned my own self accordingly.

 

 

133.  THIS IS NOT A SECRET OF A MASTER MASON

 

I taken a long hard look at my little sister's eyes.

She taken a long hard look right back at me but there was no challenge in 'em.

There was ... mischief.

"You," I said slowly, "are a troublemaker."

"Yes," she said.  "I know."

"You've told me something that could ruin your mother."

"Have you ever heard of a Secret of a Master Mason?"

I raised an eyebrow and that's all my face showed but my stomach tightened up several notches.

The Sheriff he taken his Masonic duties seriously and I was not yet old enough to be a Mason but if he taken it solemn and serious I did too.

"I have," I said slowly.

"Well," Sarah smirked, "this isn't it!"

I blinked and shook my head. 

"Your own mother," I said slowly, "dances in Denver?"
Sarah nodded, looking like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

"She dances in that big fancy dance hall where they've got that big fancy orchestra."

Sarah nodded again and damned if she didn't look like she'd just got away with somethin' and she was plannin' somethin' more.

"And she dances the –"  I swallowed, trying hard to imagine Miz Bonnie in those great white-frilly-lined skirts – "she dances ... the can-can?"
Sarah nodded again, and then had I not been settin' down I would've gone right down onto my backside on the puncheons, for she added, "And so do I!"

She laughed at my expression, or maybe at the color runnin' out of my face, and I felt my jaw open and shut a few times and 'twas like every thought turned to smoke and blowed out my one ear and whistled away on the breeze.

"You can't tell anyone, of course," Sarah smiled.  "Imagine the scandal!"

I shook my head and tried to collect up somethin' between my ears other than loose sawdust.

"I'll tell you what," Sarah smiled, looking at me like I was a morsel and she was a hungry cat:  "Mama and I are going to Denver, and I'd like you to come along.  You can see just what kind of a scandalous, salacious, sinful sort Bonnie Lynne McKenna Rosenthal really is!"

And shortly I found myself in the private car and Miz Bonnie was her usual cheerful and talkative and very proper self, I couldn't for the life of me imagine her throwin' her legs up in the air for men folk to gawp at, nor to show her frillies – I'd begun to think maybe Sarah was playin' me for a fool or seein' just how big a hook line and sinker I'd swaller.

That didn't last long.

I set me down in a velvet seat close to the stage and there was mostly men around but some women too and attair orchestra it struck up and I'll admit I do love good music well played and this was, and 'twas the first I'd really heard what they call an Introduction into the music, and 'twas kind of nice hearin' it complete like I'd never heard it, then the women started to flow in two red and white streams out onto the stage.

They was all wearin' glittery half masks like Sarah often wore when she was dancin' and truth be told I would have been hard pressed to say which of the ladies was Miz Bonnie and Sarah she was in there somewhere too and them women they high kicked and they slung left leg right leg and throwed them white ruffly petticoats back and forth with the music and I think the phrase is "They disported themselves most shamelessly." 

Shameless it might have been, but I found myself all a-smile, for these ladies were good at what they did, and what they did, was to dance very well indeed.

Now it turns out Miz Bonnie was better at that high kick than I'd realized, for when we walked back to the hotel – her and Sarah was lookin' respectable, they was wearin' their McKenna gowns and not the dance hall girl outfits – why one fella he come a-runnin' up and the way he was comin' he was intendin' on snatchin' her reticule and Miz Bonnie she whipped up one leg and caught him under the chin with a high kick and his head snapped back and Miz Bonnie she brought her leg down under her skirts and did a quick little step to keep her balance and she didn't lose holt of her purse neither and I looked at attair fella layin' on the ground and me, I figgered he'd got what he was deservin' and I'd not waste time on him.

Besides, there was other street rats lookin' at him – street Apaches, a Frenchman oncet called 'em – and they-all was undecided whether to fleece him as he lay there, or point and laugh oncet he woke up and I reckon they done both, but we was long gone by then.

Miz Bonnie she said that high kick was a right handy thing to have, she stood balanced on one foot once we were back in the room and she fetched her leg up and then unfolded it out from under her skirt, slow, controlled, graceful, and yes sure enough she danced attair Can-Can for only a practiced dancer can stand on one leg and unfold the other one like a jack knife and then fold it back up ag'in that easy.

Turns out Sarah needed someone to practice with when she was l'arnin' somethin' she called Savate she'd l'arned from some Frenchman over in Denver, and Bonnie, she didn't want to end up an old woman stove up and sore and arthritic so her and Sarah they practiced their kickin' and then Sarah got to teachin' her them scandal dances in the big round barn with Daciana and ... well, I'd just watched one of the most prosperous business women in the mountains disport herself most shamelessly and she looked really, really good a-doin' it!

Sarah she didn't say any more about keepin' Masonic secrets but it give me quite a bit to ponder on as I laid there and relaxed myself to sleep, and I considered they were trustin' me with this so I'd keep it faithful in my breast, and as I slid under the dark waters of the Lake of Slumber, part of me wondered where I'd heard about faithful breasts before and then I recalled accidentally hearin' the Sheriff recitin' some memory work for Lodge and he'd said somethin' along those lines.

 

 

 

 

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134.  NOW JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY

I considered for a few days before I went any further.

The Sheriff told me once, "My father tried to teach me at a tender age that hurry up is brother to mess it up," and then he stopped and give me that wise look of his and admitted, "and it's truly amazing how often I've proven him right!" – we both laughed a little at that, and he'd taught me that if it's an important decision it's worth sleepin' on and so I considered why Miz Bonnie might have engineered me goin' to Denver with her and Sarah and learnin' the two of them was not just dancin' that Can-Can but they was performin' elsewhere and finally I rode out and asked her.

She received me as she always did, with that smile and those lovely violet eyes and she was a perfect lady but she was also the kind you like to be with, and she invited me in and we went into her parlor and set down and she tilted her head a little as we both parked ourselves and she looked at me with that quiet, knowing smile of hers and as the maid withdrew Bonnie said "You're wondering."

She didn't have to say what I was a-wonderin' about.

I nodded slowly.

"Yes, ma'am."

She blinked and she was listenin' and I admired that, she knew how to get me to talk without makin' it obvious.

I've done as much when gettin' information out of folks but she did it natural and easy and I considered if Sarah did that same thing, why, she could likely prime a man like a pump and find out everythin' he knew without half tryin'.

I frowned a little and considered and finally said, "Ma'am, it does not surprise me that you dance."

I chose my words carefully, for she was one of those people I would go to great lengths to not offend.

It didn't surprise me that she danced – hell, everyone danced, some better than others, the Sheriff was known to be a fine dancer and the ladies taken pains to pair off with him when we'd have a barn dance in Daciana's big round barn – I'm not that good but Sarah now, Sarah and Miz Esther and Miz Bonnie all three could dance light and easy and it didn't matter what a man did, they could match him move for move and they could make an awkward and clumsy man look good, and did.

"It does not surprise me that you dance," I said carefully, "but it does surprise me that you would take pains to show me you ... perform."

She blinked and looked at me with that gentle look of hers and she almost laughed.

"Performers don't have a good reputation, do they?"  she asked, and I shook my head, for actors and the like were commonly seen as in the same league with ladies of easy virtue, folk with whom no decent sort would associate.

She'd been settin' there all proper, her back straight and her feet flat on the floor and her hands very properly in her lap, and she got up and picked up attair chair and come over and set it close up to me and when she set back down, our knees was touchin' and she hunched over with her elbows on her knees and she taken both my hands in hers and she looked at me like she meant it.

"Jacob," she said, "truthfully now, am I a woman of easy virtue?"

I reckon the look I give her was as shocked as I felt, for Miz Bonnie was as high up on a pedestal as I held Miz Esther.

I managed to shake my head.

She nodded and squeezed my hands just a little.

"Jacob," she said, "a woman likes to feel as if ... as if her man wants to watch her."

I turned my head a little and just a little it was.

I'd seen the Sheriff do the same thing, as if to bring a good ear to bear, and I stopped my head from turnin' any farther and nodded just a little instead.

"I've seen how you look at Annette, when you think no one else is looking," Bonnie said, her voice low, almost whispered.  "You've looked at her the way a man looks at a woman when he wants her, and she's seen it and I've seen her drop her eyes and lower her lashes and turn red, and then she'll look back at you and I can tell she feels the same."

I shifted in my seat for that made me a bit uncomfortable.

I do desire my wife, aye, but I didn't want it to be seen so easy.

"I ... want to be ..."

It was Miz Bonnie's turn to pick her words carefully.

"Jacob, when all those men are looking at me, I know they want me."

There was the barest shiver to her voice, to her grip.

"A woman wants to know she is ... desirable."
I looked up at her and raised an eyebrow just a little.

"Jacob, I am going to tell you something I've not told anyone else."  She looked at me real direct and added, "Ever."

I looked right back at her and nodded, once, slowly.

"Jacob, your father told you once he could have laid his beating heart at my feet the first night he saw me."

I nodded slowly, for the Sheriff had indeed confided that in me, and I'd told no one.

Miz Bonnie taken a long breath and bit her bottom lip just the way Sarah does when she's kind of uncertain.

"When my first husband" – I recalled she'd never spoken the man's name since his demise, I'd understood she'd struck his name from the family Bible and as many legal documents as she could arrange – "was killed—"
She swallowed, closed her eyes and shivered a little, and I recalled that difficult part of her life, and everything that followed, includin' her discovery that her darlin' daughter Sarah was a hell of a lot more complicated than she'd realized, when she come downstairs dressed like a little girl with a rag doll in her arms, a rag doll that hid my old .44 Army revolving pistol, and she shot that fellow who'd come to collect on the Rosenthal debt her dead husband owed.

We found no fault with Sarah's action as the collector intended to take Sarah and her Mama and Sarah's little sister to boot, and sell them into white slavery on the coast, and Sarah give him six pistol balls up close and started the legend of the Ragdoll.

I recalled all that when she shivered and spoke of her first husband without sayin' his name.

"When I was widowed," she started again, "your mother" – she smiled a little, then framed her name gently with her lips – "when Esther came out and was of such comfort to me, to us ... had she died, I would have thrown myself at your father."

She looked at me again and said in so many words, "Jacob, I have loved your father since that first dark night when I walked the street a free woman again.  I love him to this day and I always will, and I would never wish to do anything that would bring disappointment into those pale eyes of his."

It was my turn to squeeze her hands, ever so gently.

"I wanted to show you, Jacob, and I wanted to have you there with us, and I wanted to sit down and dine with you afterward, because you and your father are so very much alike."

"Ma'am," I said cautiously, "I am not my father."

"Of course not," she smiled – a little sadly, I thought, then she added, "You are younger, smarter and better looking than he.  And" – she raised a finger to stop my protest – "you are also left handed."

I stopped, confused.  "Ma'am," I finally hazarded, "he's left handed too."

"Most of the time," she agreed, then she tilted her head again and asked, "Are you disappointed that I shake my trotters in public?"

Now that did confuse me for I warn't familiar with it and the maid, she'd come in with a tray and she set it down and then she said "It's an Irish phrase," in that lovely accent of hers, "and it means t' dance on stage."

"Ah."  I nodded and the maid poured tea for the both of us.

I waited until Miz Bonnie taken up her teacup and taken her first sip before I did too, and I lowered the delicate eggshell china teacup halfway to its saucer, cupping it in both hands, appreciating its warmth.

"Miz Bonnie, I am not disappointed in you," I said frankly.  "Matter of fact ..."

I wasn't sure quite how to say what was on my mind but I tried anyway.

"Ma'am, I do admire how well you dance." 

I recalled looking around as the women were all flounce and high-kick up on attair stage.

"I watched men lookin' at all you ladies and I thought they'd have to roll their tongues back up to get 'em in their mouth.  I seen men get so wound up and sweatin' hot lookin' at you I figgered I'd have to grab 'em by the shirt collar and dunk 'em in a horse tank to get 'em cooled back down.

"Your dance was beautiful and I did enjoy it but them men I watched were less than pure thinkin' when they was a-watchin' you."

Miz Bonnie she colored a little and she lowered her eyes the way Sarah does and I recall how long and gorgeous her dark eyelashes were, and how pleased she looked with herself.

"A woman does want to feel ... desirable," she whispered, then looked at me and she looked kinda sad again.  "Especially an older woman."

I looked at her and protested, "Ma'am, you're not an older woman – older women are ... well, old."

Bonnie laughed a little and her maid smiled and glided toward the door.

"You don't think I'm terrible?"  Bonnie whispered, rising, and I rose as well.

"No ma'am I don't," I said firmly.  "I respect you and I admire you and I see no reason to change."

Miz Bonnie's eyes glittered up and she blinked quick-like and then she taken my face between her hands and she kissed my forehead and she whispered "Bless you," and I wanted nothin' more than to run my arms around her and give her a big hug, so I did, and she hugged me right back.

 

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135.  AND HE LAUGHED

 

I give an awful lot of considerin' to the next day.

Annette was tired, poor thing, I let her sleep and when Joseph got fussy I changed him and cleaned him up and powdered his shining little moon and then I throwed that frash diaper on him and got it pinned up without bringin' blood.

Neither his, nor mine, which was a welcome change.

Them damned diaper pins hurt and my thumb was not happy a'tall with me most times but this one things worked like they were supposed to.

Me and Joseph, we taken us a walk.

He didn't walk much, he laid there in the bend of my arm all wrapped up, I laid his blanket out like a diamond and laid him in the middle, then I fetched up the bottom point of it over him and brought in the left and the right, and the top point I brought down over his head but I didn't have him centered and it didn't cover his face.

It did come up around his head and that was good enough.

He looked up at me with them bright eyes and we cat footed down stairs and outside and when that cold night air hit him he give a happy baby noise and wiggled a little and I grinned down at him and then we went on out into the dark.

It smelled clean, the way it does at night, it smelled of baby and of barn and the night, it smelled of mountains and stars and the secrets that flow over the earth where no man's eye may see.

Joseph give a little baby sized sigh and I seen his eyes shine with starlight and I looked up into the dark and something bright drew a finger of fire across the sky, a fine silver line, gone as soon as it arrived.

Indira's Arrows, Sarah called them, and she said somethin' about a horse ridin' goddess in India shootin' arrows of fire at whoever 'twas she was mad at, I don't exactly recall, then another one stabbed almost straight down, bright green and just as brief as the first one and I set down with Joseph on my lap and him and me considered them bright glittery stars.

Off in the distance, a furred throat vibrated, a black-nosed muzzle rose to salute those same stars with an ancient song, and my son and I sat in the night and listened.

There was no one to see a tall lean-waisted man in his night shirt and moccasins, with his back side parked on a chunk and a blanket wrapped baby boy on his lap, and no one to see me just about come out of attair night shirt when one of them howls cut loose about three foot behint me.

Do not ever, EVER let ANYONE tell you that wolves cannot laugh.

When I quit flailin' around in midair and my hind quarters set back down on attair smooth sawed chunk, why, attair white wolf was settin' there with them slitty eyes and that red tongue hung out and he looked just right pleased with himself, and then he was gone and there was this little twist of wolf colored fog that kind of screwed itself down into the earth and disappeared.

I set there and willed myself not to shake, willed my heart to quit hammerin', I grabbed my feelin's and stuffed 'em into the iron kettle and cranked the lid down tight on top, and when I figgered I could stand up and walk without a case of the clanks, why, me and Joseph we went on back inside the house and up the stairs.

Joseph he allowed as he was hungry so I eased the covers back and laid him at Annette's breast and she never woke up, her hands knew their work without her comin' awake, Joseph he allowed as he liked what he found and me, I figgered if I went down and ratted me up somethin' to eat, why, by the time I was done Joseph would be too and I could get him changed and back in his crib and Annette she could get some rest.

I set there at the kitchen table and I slabbed off some cold back strap and buttered a thick slice of bread, I built me a sandwich and by golly it was good and about the time I was about 2/3 of the way through it, I thought of attair white wolf scarin' a year's growth out of me and likin' it and I set there and laughed and shook my head.

I would give a month's pay to have seen the look on my face when attair white wolf cut loose behint me.

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136.  IN THE DARK, A SECRET

 

Annette's hand was warm and firm on my breastbone and my eyes snapped open.

She never did that unless I was in a nightmare and it happened again.

I could tell.

I was layin' flat on my back and the wet run out the corners of my eyes and down into my ears.

It was clearer this time, it was more real and my eyes was open but it still had holt of me and I flipped the covers back and Annette rolled up on her side and 'twas full dark, I could not have seen a plow horse in the bedroom with us but I did not need my eyes to know that worried look she was a-givin' me.

I sat up on the side of the bed and wiped my eyes on the bed sheet and grief rotted my heart and turned my guts to corruption and pushed down on me with a black hand of dissolution and death.

I shoved bare feet into fur lined moccasins and picked up the double gun I kept parked by the head of the bed and I went on downstairs and I went outside and the cool night air was welcome on my face and in my lungs, it felt like I was suffocatin' with black rot and I threw my head back and my eyes was closed and I listened to the night with more than my ears.

There was nothin' a'tall around me to pose a danger but I kept a grip on attair double gun anyways, it was a good and faithful friend that had argued most powerfully and persuasively on my behalf more times than one.

It is not for nothin' most lawmen favored a double twelve-bore.

Unless they could get a double ten-bore, which this was, Annette called it my howitzer and that's sure enough what it sounded like when I tripped it off, I one time seen an entire saloon full of bar fight come to an absolute froze solid stop from me pullin' the left hand barl into life.

That was entertainin'in a way, this was a good old fashioned knock down drag out ever'one was beatin' on ever'one else, the piano player had some fellow by the throat and he was happily beatin' the man's head ag'in the end of the piano and the bar keep he was layin' about like Samson with a jaw bone of a jack mule, only attair barkeep had a bung starter, and when the ten-bore went boom why ever'one just plain froze and daren't move a muscle.

Now part of my mind taken a sidewise look at this memory but the rest of me was still wallowin' in the black lake of sorrow and 'twas because of that nightmare, that damned dream that haunted me, that horror that crawled up my back bone and clung to me with bony fingers and gibbered through lipless jaws behint my ear.

I felt shame.

Shame!

I felt shame and I felt death rottin' me from the inside out and I smelt the grave and I felt the red fingers of damnation reachin' up like roots runnin' backwards up through the earth, comin' up after me to drag me to the fiery hell I deserved, and Annette she laid a gentle hand flat on my back and I turned around with attair checkered walnut wrist in my left hand and Damascus barls pointed down beside my foot and I run my right arm around her and I lowered my face into her shoulder and she held me while I locked my choking sounds of grief behind tight-gritted molars and grimly forbade my sorrow its voice.

It was our secret, her secret, it was a thing she never spoke of and neither did I, it was my private hell I wore like a cloak, a torturer's cloak that flayed my living flesh with glowing-red-hot wire whips, tormenting me in the darkness, in the solitary night where no man's eye might see it.

I held my wife tight with one arm and grief tore me apart and Annette she held me as I choked silently against her shoulder, she had no idea what I lived with, I never told her and she never did ask, bless her.

She held me and that's what I needed.

I raised my head and sniveled like a little whipped boy and I seen she didn't have Joseph with her so I done the best thing I could do to get rid of the pain and the sorrow and the hell that tore me apart inside and I r'ared up and threw my head back and I screamed, I raged, one long tortured yell that made the stars in their distant firmament shiver for fear.

I saw my Mama whipped to death and not a thing I could do, I was hurt too bad to move and I seen the pain in her eyes and she was lookin' at me and one hand acrost her belly and the young life she tried to preserve and I heard my breath in my throat and my scream ran for at least a year out of my throat and then I  sank to my knees and laid attair double gun down and bent my face to the dirt and this time, this time the salt water run out of my eyes and I watered the earth with my grief.

It happened less often these days, this was the first time since Joseph's birth the grief hit me, and oncet it was gone I knowed I would sleep as a man exhausted – dreamless, unmoving, and for this I was grateful, but not for me.

Annette she worried terrible for me and we went inside and I shucked out of attair sweat damp night shirt all dirty from me collapsin' down onto my prayer bones the way I did, and I was grateful I would sleep as if dead, for that meant she would sleep and not worry about the nightmare hittin' me ag'in.

It was our secret, it was a secret kept in the dark, and I never ever let it see the light of day.

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137.  ADVICE FROM THE NAKED MAN

 

It warn't often Daisy come out of her kitchen and decided to let her badger out and 'twas my luck she did it today.

I was not in a mood for laughter nor song and when she began singin' "Ho, ro, the rattlin' bog" in that fine voice of hers, I knew she'd taken her apron in both hands and was tossin' it back and forth while dancin' among the tables and directly she had the whole damned saloon singin' with her for there was a right fair percentage of Irish in the community and from the sound of it the hull damned fire department, every red shirted man of our own Irish Brigade was in the house, callused palms were pounding tabletops and brogans and boots stomping the floor and voices raised in riotous accord, and I was settin' on the back steps, them hidden back stairs me and Sarah would set in and talk quietly and I had need of her and she was nowhere to be found so I set there alone and tried to sort out my ill temper and when Daisy's voice smiled through the wall and everyone singin' with her, why, I got up and slipped unseen out from them hidden back stairs and I left by the Jewel's back hallway door and very carefully shut the door quietly behint me.

Was someone to have seen it and was that someone to have known me well they would know that was not a good sign, for when I shut a door slow and careful I am either tryin' hard not to wake the baby, or I am near mad enough to bite the horn off an anvil, and there was no baby nowhere near so you can figure how I was temperin'.

Apple-horse he stepped out and we set ourselves up the mountain and rode a ways and I dismounted and led Apple to a stream and he watered and so did I, and I stood there and listened to the wind and Apple, he swung his ears forward and dropped his head just a little and he was awful intent on somethin' so I figured 'twould do well to find out why he was curious.

He warn't alarmed, he was more curious, so I shucked out my '76 rifle and we cat footed up the crick a little and come around the bend and there stood a fella buck nekked in the sunlight, happily warshin' off and me and Apple, we turned around and went back to where we'd been and I counted myself lucky we'd drank when we did for his soap suds and whatever he was scrubbin' off his scarred carcass hadn't time to get down stream to us yet.

I reckonized the man, 'twas Brother William – no, that ain't right, Abbot William.

He run attair monastery now and I never could figger why he'd take out on foot ruther'n put someone else to it, I'd understood the Abbot stayed put and sent ever'one else out into the territory, but he did his own travelin'.

I was wise enough to leave the particulars to him.

Kind of like the old timer, someone asked how he got so old and he said "When it rains, I let it," and I taken that for a maxim: was it not my dog in the fight, I'd have no worryin' of it.

I scared up enough wood for a small fahr and I caught me some clean water from another branch from that same crick and started heatin' for coffee and by the time he'd finished up and got his long tail night shirt back on and attair rope belt tied around that lean waist of his, why, coffee was smellin' pretty good.

He come down torst us with a grin on his face and he stopped and leaned on that walkin' stick of his – locust it was, cyarved with what he called runes, 'twas a gift from somene back East, or so he'd told me – he asked if I'd been admiring his scars and I motioned torst the saddle blanket spread out on a rock for him and said "Mine's got yours beat," and his face got real solemn and he said "Yes, you're right," and I poured coffee for him and me both and set out them sweet rolls Daisy wrapped up for me that mornin'.

"I reckon," I said, "I could use your wise counsel."

The Abbot, he laid down attair long tortured wood staff and crossed one leg over t'other and set down on attair saddle blanket, he taken the coffee I held out and thanked me for it, he taken one of them sweet rolls and raised it to his nose and taken a reeeeal lonnnnnnggggggg sniiiiiiffffffff as if he was to suck all the smell right out of it, then he looked at me and grinned and said "I don't have to say a blessin' to smell it," and I laughed, for I'd been known to take a good long sniff of such my own self.

We bowed our heads and he spoke to his plate and then we et them good sweet rolls, Daisy she'd split 'em and laid in good beef and she'd ground up some Horse Radish and trowled on 'em and some mustard besides and the Abbot he groaned with pleasure as he chawed and we set there and we et up all them good Sweet Rolls and drank most of the pot of coffee and the sun warmed our backs and Apple he grazed some and looked around and went and got another short shot of water and come driftin' back to us and the Abbot he looked at me and them eyes of his knowed more than he was sayin' and finally he allowed as "You wanted to talk to me."

I nodded.

"A medicine man once taught me," I said, "that my dreams are my own and I control them."

The Abbot nodded, slowly, knowing this was foundation for whatever I built on top of these first words.

"You already know how that man near to kilt me and he did whip Mama to death."

Again that slow, careful nod, that serious look; the man was listening with both ears.

"Here some time back I dreamed he was comin' at me so I allowed as this was my dream and I come at him."

I seen somethin' move inside his eyes and he held just awful still and I knowed I had the man's full attention and somethin' told me he'd had his share of nightmares his own self.

The Abbot was a seminarian – I think that's the word, he was a larnin' priest in attair priest school in New Orleans, before that damned War – he was sweet on a girl and he'd just enlisted, he said he'd made a fine and dashing figure in that gold sash uniform, him and that girl was at the Catholic Academy she was attendin' and they was a big dance and the last time he'd seen her alive was that night.

He'd rode out with his troop and he'd rode up into Kentucky and Tennessee and he'd got hooked up with Morgan's Men somehow, the Sheriff warn't the Sheriff yet, he was a Captain with the Union cavalry and them Kentucky horsemen played their Yankee counterparts for bumbling fools, there was nobody could ride like Southern cavalry, and of all the cavalry in the South those from Kentucky were inarguably the best there were, and William he'd somehow got mixed in with them Kentucky horsemen.

He'd been hurt a number of times, and them was the terrible scars I'd seen on his nekked hide, holes from rifle balls and bayonet and what-all else he never did go into detail, only that he'd admitted to bein' hurt a number of times and captured and him and the Sheriff – I mean the Captain -- they struck up a friendship, least until William was able to escape, and they didn't run into one another until William showed up in Firelands.

He'd abandoned the priesthood, his girl was dead, he wandered like men did after that damned War; he was known to Miz Bonnie and Miz Esther, and how that was I don't rightly know, but Sarah was a little girl when him and Mac set acrost the nail kag from one another in front of the Mercantile playin' checkers and she'd greet them as Mr. Bill and Mr. Mac and more often than not she'd give William a sack of coffee and someone asked her one time what the man's name was and she said "William Coffee" – which another nearby child, much younger, kind of mangled her answer into "Woom Coffee," which tickled William to no end.

Anyway this was the man settin' acrost from me listenin' awful patient as I told him I'd taken a-holt of that early nightmare and when that black hearted murderin' monster come at me with attair black snake whip why I allowed as I warn't that scairt little boy he was goin' to whip plumb to death, I r'ared up on my hind legs a man grown and I fetched out my knife and I tore into him, I taken attair whip and grabbed it and pulled him into me and I proceeded to cut him north, south, east, west, up to the Texas moon and down to oil, I laid fillets off his hide and split him top to bottom in ten slabs and then I stepped back and give a whistle and them red demons from Hell come crowdin' up between the floor boards and each one of 'em grabbed a slab an drug it back down to Hell.

"Now I dreamed me that dream some years back," I said, "but last night he warn't there but all the guilt was."

The Abbott's brows wrinkled some and pulled close to one another and he leaned torst me just a little the way a man will when he's interested in what you're sayin'.

"What did you dream, Jacob?"  he asked and I was struck by how blue his eyes were and how gentle his voice.

"I felt every bit of guilt that I could not keep him from whippin' my Mama to death, and her with child."

He nodded, considering my words, then looked at me again:  "Your wife had a child not long ago."

It was a statement, not a question.

"She did, yes, sir."

"You are afraid of your own temper."

He already knew this; we'd discussed the matter before, and I'd discussed it with the Sheriff, and he confessed to me he was afraid of his own temper for he knew how it raged within him, and it had slipped its leash before, to his regret:  he and I both knew that a hurt was not uncommonly passed on by the generation that had been hurt, and I told the Sheriff I wished not to turn that rage loose on my own son.

The Abbot knew all this, so when he said I was afraid of my own temper, 'twas not a surprise to me.

"I would say," he continued slowly, "that you fear harming your own son – there is no way you would hurt him now as he is a babe in diapers, but as he grows, as he tests you, as he tries you ..."

He looked at me and we both remembered the day we stood in front of the Sheriff's office and watched a father and son get into it in the middle of the street:  the son held all the prickly pride of a young man standin' up on his hind legs and makin' his first man-noises, and the father was not about to let slip any authority of what he saw as his property, sired from his loins, still a wet behint the ears kid:  words were spoken, voices raised, the old man slapped the boy an the boy gut punched the old man and the fight was on.

I reckon every man sometime or another figgers he can whip his old man.

I have not come to that point yet and I reckon I might never, and that did not trouble me greatly.

Anyway I needed to turn the conversation back to where I'd started.

"I need to figger a way to turn that dream back on itself."
"How's that?"

"Last time ... last time I had someone" – I emphasized the second syllable – "that I could focus on, someone I could whip, someone I could defeat."

The Abbot nodded, frowning.

"These nightmares I've had here of late..."

I shivered.

"There's not that monster nowhere to be found, there's my guilt and my Mama lookin' at me with dyin' eyes and her arm acrost her belly tryin' to protect the child she was carryin'."

I taken a long breath and blew it out.

"How do you kill guilt, Padre?  Can you kill it with a knife?"

The Abbot considered for a long moment, then he stood up and started to h'ist up his long tail night shirt, he un-knotted his belt and hauled it up to his arm pit on the left side and turned a little, reached under and ran his finger along a long scar with an ugly pucker at the front.

"This," he said, "nearly killed me."

I nodded.

"Bayonet.  I went down and could hardly breathe. I watched men die, my men – my men!" – his hands drew up into fists and his face darkened and I saw the same torment in his eyes I'd seen in the Sheriff's, when he spoke the same words, remembering hurts in that damned War.

"They died and I could not get to them, I could not help them, they died alone because I could not crawl twenty feet to get to them."

He closed his eyes and taken a long breath, blew it out.

"I was honestly not able to move, Jacob.  I was too badly hurt." 

He looked very directly at me.

"So were you."
I swallowed and nodded and he could not help but see me shiver for the memory of being a child, hurt too badly to cross the room to my dying mother.

"Could I have crossed that room," I said slowly, "could I have lived through the whip-storm to cross the room" – I reckon the look I give him was as haunted as how I felt – "there's not one damned thing I could have done to save her."

The Abbot nodded, lowered his robe again, ran the rope belt around his middle.

"I had to come to the same realization, Jacob."  He pulled the rope free with a vicious yank and with three quick twists, fashioned a quick noose.

"I came close to hanging myself," he said softly.  "Very close.  I felt myself a Judas to my men and I nearly hanged myself as did the Iscariot."  He took a long breath, closed his eyes, opened them, gave the noose a flip:  the knot fell out and it was just a length of rope again.

He taken a long, shivering breath and then reached up and tapped his forehead with the back of a bent foreknuckle

"It's one thing to know here" – tap, tap – "that you were too badly wounded to so much as move."
He lowered his hand.

"It's something entirely different to know it here" – he thumped his breastbone with the tips of bent fingers.

I nodded.

"I've heard the Sheriff say those very words."

The Abbott smiled a little, but only a little.

"I learned them from your Sheriff."

Apple-horse's head came up and he ruckled a greeting, and the Abbot and I turned our heads to look.

Sarah came ridin' toward us on her big black Snowflake-horse, wearin' a dainty little hat that matched her tailored riding dress.

"I hear you're looking for some good sound advice," she called cheerfully as Snowflake folded her legs and bellied down on the soft grass.

"Now how did you know that?"  the Abbot and I chorused.

Sarah laughed.  "Didn't you know?"  she smiled.  "I'm psychotic.  I mean psychic."

She tilted her head and asked hopefully, " Coffee?"

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138.  FLAP YOUR ARMS AND FLY

 

Sarah walked up to the lean, tonsured monk, who rose politely as she approached.

I rose too as a matter of habit.

Sarah was my sister and she's also hell with a knife and she can kill me fast and easy with a practice blade, we have gutta-percha fighting knives, we'll chalk the edge and I'll end up marked like a schoolroom blackboard and she'll have nary a mark on her and she used to beat me up when we were younger, but she is not just a woman, she's a Lady so when she walked up into our settin' spot, why, we both come to our feet.

Sarah she smiled and then she recht down and unfolded attair saddle blanket, she spread it full out and then settled herself on one end like the Queen on a velvet cushion and then she looked up at Brother William and said crossly, "Oh, sit down, I'm not that broad across the beam!"

Now that taken the Abbot funny and he laughed a little and me, I grinned, and Sarah give me that knowin' look of hers and she said "Now what's this about your coming to this poor man for some good sound advice?" – and so saying she run a hand up behint him and rested it on his far shoulder, pulling him close and leaning the side of her head on his muscled upper arm.

"And how did you know I was askin' his advice?"  I teased her, and she looked up at the Abbot and said quietly, "You know, in a previous century I would be hanged for a witch!"

The Abbot, he knew Miz Bonnie and I know he knowed Miz Esther and I reckon he's seen some things bein' a sky pilot and all, and he laughed a little and his tanned ears turned a little red and he said "Yes, I've seen some ... things."

She dropped her hand from his shoulder, leaned away from him and swatted him on the arm, which was kind of like her swatting a tree trunk for its general effect.  "Oh, loosen up," she complained.  "I'm not going to strip you and seduce you!"

The Abbot sighed patiently, raised his eyes to the heavens above and intoned, "And here I thought the good Lord was going to grant me some earthly delights!"

"Dream on, cream puff," Sarah muttered, then she turned them pale eyes square onto me. 

"Well, don't sit there with your teeth in your mouth," she scolded at me, "let's have it, what good sound advice do you need?"

I nodded.

"All right, Little Sis, you asked."

"Yes, I did ask, Little Brother."  There was an edge to her voice but there was laughter in her eyes, and I felt the corners of my eyes smile up a little. 

Callin' one another Little Sis and Little Brother was – I think – the first insult we ever slung at each other and since then why it struck us as funny so we kept it up.

I taken me a long breath and leaned forward, dug my heels into the dirt and set my elbows down on my knees.

"Well," I drawled, "y'see, it's like this."

Sarah raised her hands and her eyes and moaned, "You ask a German for the time he tells you how the watch is made!"

"All right."  I arranged my thoughts and then trotted 'em out for her to take a look at.

"Sarah, you recall attair shaman that taught us both we controlled our dreams and how we both dreamed and then we went on the attack and them that come after us, we beat."

"You beat yours?"  Sarah blinked.  "I thought you cut it to bloody ribbons."
"They warn't bloody, I didn't want to make a mess all over the floor."

"But you cut it, you didn't beat it."

"Yes ma'am, that I did."

Sarah turned and looked up at the Abbot.  "I'm too young to be called ma'am," she explained, "but his mama worked awful hard to beat some manners into him – I mean teach him good manners."

She looked back at me and I seen her eyes change and she knowed from the look on her face she should never have spoke of my mother.

I closed my eyes and realized I had a choice.

I could slam the door on this whole conversation, me and Apple horse could ride off and leave the Abbot and Sarah to their own journeys, or I could see what Sarah had for me.

I reckoned pride might not be the best choice.

"Just how did you know I needed that advice?"

"I told you.  I'm psychotic."

I grunted.  I warn't sure what the word meant only that it sounded fancy and I knowed that psychic word meant she had the Sight and that warn't somethin' that surprised me neither.

"Is that why you would have been hanged as a witch?"

"Yes."  Sarah sat very straight, she clamped her hands nervously between her knees.

The Abbot, he was listenin' close and considerin' and he started to talk so I hesitated and let him.

"I don't think it's witching," he said, "I believe it's listening to that Still Small Voice."

"The one that warn't in the fahr nor the thunder nor the ground quakin'," I said slowly.

The Abbot nodded.

"Now that we have this out of the way – Jacob, it's your turn, now spill it.  What advice need you?"

"I killed the monster that murdered my Mama," I said bluntly.  "I kilt him in that first dream after you and I spoke with the Navajo shaman.  What I'm havin' now I've told no one about never."

"I'm listening."

The Abbot was, too, listening close and saying nothing.

"Sarah –"

I stopped, frowned:  it was helping to put things into words.

"Sarah, how do you kill shame?"

"Kill ... shame," Sarah said slowly.  "Your nightmares?"

I nodded.

"You killed the murderer but there's something left."

I nodded again, my bottom jaw shoving out slowly until I reckon I looked like a bull dog with that under shot jaw.

"Tell me what you see.  Speak of it here in the light and we'll bleach it out in the sun."

I taken me a long breath ag'in and so I spoke of how I lay there ashamed that I could not move and how my Mama looked at me and I was ashamed I could not get to her and heal her and keep her from bein' hurt ag'in –

Sarah raised a hand.

"Is the monster there?"

I nodded.

"Then you've allowed him to come back.  You have to kill him again."

This time more of my face smiled and I reckon 'twas like The Bear Killer peelin' his slobberin' lips back from white ivory fangs, then I sobered.

"That don't finish it, Sarah," I said slowly.  "It don't help a'tall. What about the shame?"

"Abbot William."  Sarah turned and looked at the tall, tanned cleric seated beside her.  "Might I have the honor of your company at supper tonight?"

The Abbot nodded gravely.  "The honor would be mine, dear Lady," was his reply, and he picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles with the solemn gravity I've seen in His Honor the Judge in a similar maneuver.

"C'est bon."  Sarah rose.  "Jacob, I will see you tonight.  Abbot."  She dropped a curtsy to the cleric, skipped like a happy little girl over to her Snowflake-mare, swung into the saddle:  a moment later the big black Frisian levered to her full upright posture, turned; not a minute later Sarah was gone, into the brush and around a bend.

"She must not be fresh," the Abbot mused, "Your Apple-horse didn't pay her a bit of attention."

I nodded.  "She's not.  Matter of fact I think she's haulin' a colt around."
"That would explain it."

"Abbot, if you'd like to ride, I can walk with you."

The Abbot smiled a little, shook his head.

"I'll walk, thank you.  I've some things to think about.  That's one reason I walk so much, I think better on the move."

 

That night I half expected Sarah to show up after supper, but she didn't, and finally I give up and crawled in the bunk and I was tired and must have gone to sleep instantly if not sooner.

Some dreams is vague and kind of cob webby and this warn't.

Sarah was standing over me, she was about ten foot tall and her knuckles were on her waist, she wore attair mousy grey schoolmarm dress and them round spectacles down on her nose and her hair pulled up in a walnut and she give me that disapproving schoolmarm look and said "At this rate you may as well flap your arms and fly to the moon!"

She recht down and taken my hand and of a sudden I growed, I was not the child I was when all that horror happened, I was myself, growed, and Sarah was now a little shorter than me and she was wearin' a fine McKenna gown.

"That's better."  She recht into her sleeve and pulled out a sleeve-dagger, long, thin, sharp enough for shaving:  she considered its edge, looked up at me as we heard the whip whistle and slash, that dull but visious sound that meant it bit into living flesh.

"You say you felt shame," Sarah said speculatively.

I recht to the back of my neck and fetched out a good Damascus blade and I strode into the room with war singing in my heart and joy in my blood and when I come back out Sarah made a pass over my face and I felt the wet and sticky that was there suddenly gone, and she waved her hand over my blade and 'twas suddenly clean.

"You've made a good start," she said.  "How do you feel?"

I recalled how that blade felt passin' through him, how I sliced him into them ten long vertical slabs and how I stood there and watched as each slab was drug screamin' into eternal torment.

"It felt good," I whispered, my voice tight.

Sarah nodded.  "Of course it did," she affirmed. "Now what about not being able to help your mother?"

That realization hit me like a runaway freight wagon and of a sudden I was that agonized, paralyzed boy a-layin' on the floor in more pain than I'd ever known, too weak to move, looking across the floor at my mother, she in her blood and I in mine, and neither of us able to move –

My Mama she stood up and she was as she used to be.

My Mama was young and beautiful again, and she was clean and she was not hurt, and she come over with her eyes shining with approval.

"Look at you," she whispered.  "Jacob, my Jacob, you're a man!"

I stood tall in boot leather and my jaw swung like a sign creakin' in the wind.

My Mama caressed my cheek and I closed my eyes for I recalled the touch and I recalled how she smelt and I couldn't help it none, I recht for her and pulled her into me and I held my Mama and shivered and I buried my face in her hair and she held me like she used to and she was warm and she was real and my Mama was alive and I don't have no idea how long we stood like that but finally we loosened up our squeeze and she pulled back but she kept her fingers on my arms and she smiled that gentle smile of hers and she tilted her head a little and she nodded.

"You look so much like your father," she whispered.  "He was ... he looked just like you."

I swallowed.

"I'll take that for a compliment, ma'am," I said, my voice husky, and I swallowed again.

"Mama, I have a son, his name is Joseph and I am married and you'd like Annette –"

My Mama laid a gentle finger tip on my lips to hush me up and she blinked quick-like and then she said "Jacob, you are a grown man now, and I can tell you this because now you will understand.

"When you were younger, when you were hurt and I was whipped to death, you felt so very responsible."

She looked at me so sad when she said that.

"Children take responsibility for anything bad that happens.  Children will assume they are to blame for a barn burning down or their folks getting into a screaming fight or one of the family dying.  Children do that, Jacob, and you are still doing that."
Her look was wise and patient and I listened and I recall I was trembling as I stood there.

"Jacob, you could not have prevented nor could you have stopped and you were badly injured."  She caressed my cheek with the backs of her fingers.  "I followed you – I floated along with you when you left, before I had to ..."

She looked at Sarah and smiled.

"Before I had to Ascend."

"Mama," I whispered, and reached for her again.

"Jacob," she said, gripping my arms suddenly, strongly, "Jacob, please listen.  You are a fine husband and a wonderful father and your family, all your family, needs you very much and your father will need you most of all."  She gave Sarah a look and I reckon women do that so they can say much and say it in silence and then she turned back to me.

"Jacob, you bear no responsibility in what happened to me.  You did all that you could.  You reached your hand out toward me.  It took all the strength you had, but you did it."
She came in close again and her lips were soft and gentle as she kissed my forehead and then she was gone.

My eyes snapped open and I was in my own bed and my hand was in my wife's hand as we lay side by side, and I remembered my Mama's scent and how she felt and I felt that wet run down out of the corner of my eye into my ear but this time 'twas not grief that run the salt water down the side of my face.

I would have to remember to thank Sarah for arranging this.

 

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139. AND THE MAGICIAN SAID NO

 

It was not at all unusual for folks to come through and sing for their supper.

We'd had down on their luck performers show up and try and raise enough for a meal with their performance – hell, Daciana did that when her circus got a far as Firelands and fell apart, she'd already rode through town on her trick pony a-doin' back flips and hand stands on that yellow-and-silver-saddle (the one that's fancy enough to make your eyes bleed lookin' at it) and she ended up stayin' and married Lightning's boy.

I reckon she's the best example of singin' for your supper that worked out, she's been here ever since and them two still make a cute couple.

And they're just as happy as if they had good sense.

I side track myself easy, sorry about that.

Anyway one fine day this-yere magician fellow he come to town and proceeded to try some tricks in the Silver Jewel, unfortunately one of 'em involved handin' a man back a gold double eagle and Tom Landers, he was the first Sheriff in this-yere county and my Sheriff hired him on to keep things peaceable in the Jewel, Tom he saw this fellow pick the man's pocket and that's bad manners and when attair magician didn't get the happy reception he'd expected – a man with that kind of wealth don't like to have it removed and handed back to him – well, attair magician fellow was quick and a good thing, he avoided that fast movin' set of knuckles and got some distance in a hurry.

Sarah told me oncet them stage performer folk over in Denver told her oncet that "Any publicity is good publicity" so when this-yere magician fella talked Mr. Baxter into lettin' him put on a stage performance there in the Jewel, why, word got around and folks is curious and they come in to see the show and truth be told it was a pretty good show.

He pulled coins out of ears and he fetched flowers and a bunny rabbit out of his hat and he give it to one of them big eyed little girls a-watchin' and of course any time you do that folks likes it for who don't like the sight of a shy little girl cuddlin' a fuzzy bunny?

Never mind the bunny twisted out of her grip and tried to run off and The Bear Killer come fetchin' it back in, packin' it by the nape of the neck and attair bunny rabbit was hangin' there with its hind hoppers pulled up and terrified and when attair little girl taken it and cuddled it ag'in it made no attempt a'tall to run off.

Sarah she was a-watchin' and when attair magician said he would take requests from the audience, Sarah she'd worked her way up close to the stage and she raised her hand and he turned and pointed at her and I seen him make a face like he'd bit into a sour pickle and he said "No" oncet, quiet but firm, and I looked over and Sarah was standin' there with a set of hand cuffs hangin' from her finger nice and casual, held up so's he could see 'em.

Turns out she'd performed over in Denver her own self as a magician's assistant and she'd turned the man's act upside down, she got him flustered and he'd tried to chain her up in a locked coffin and she not only got out, she knowed how to use the hidden trap door, she'd plainly disappeared and when he opened the coffin to ask if she'd had enough she stepped out onto the stage – she'd come out skipping on the balls of her feet, she kicked him in the backside and dropped them irons in his top hat he had on that little podium thang he was usin' and she high-kicked her way off the stage, and at the edge of the stage she stopped as he turned and shouted something at her, wavin' his wand, she spun her hand real quick and come up with a bunch of flowers from nowhere – she smelt them and called back, "Oh, you shouldn't have!" and disappeared, to the laughter of the audience.

When Sarah showed up of a sudden right in front of his stage, danglin' a set of irons from her finger and givin' him that knowin' look, why, the magician said no.

 

The Sheriff, he was settin' at his desk with one finger acrost his mustache the way he did when he was thoughtful and when I come in he looked up and there was a smile to his eyes.

He laid down a post card and said "Take a look at this, Jacob," and I come over and taken me a look.

"'Twas a side wheel packet boat, the Fannie Dugan by the name on her sidewheel, and the Sheriff said "I've ridden that boat.  We had occasion to travel out of Portsmouth and we took this packet for one leg of our journey."

"Is that the one Miz Esther ..." I asked, then stopped, for that was likely not a good memory and I wished I could have pulled the words back but they were said so I looked at the Sheriff to see how he would react.

It does not well to speak of another man's wife in anything but the most respectful of terms.

I was lucky.

The Sheriff he taken no offense to my thoughtless beginning.

"That's the trip," he said softly, and there was no sign of offense:  he smiled with half his mouth and said "That was the one and only time in my entire young life I've EVER thrown a lariat well!"

I nodded, for I knew the story:  how Miz Esther, when she went over the side after layin' that attacker's arm open, why, she went backwarts over the rail and pushed away so's not to brain herself on a lower deck:  she hit the water and made for the bottom so she'd not get beat to death by the paddle wheel, and when she come up, why, the Sheriff he stood in the bow of a rowboat like a whaler with a harpoon, and there were genuine Boston whalers at the oars, pulling that boat faster'n any row boat had any business goin', and how when Miz Esther came up with one fist upraised, why, the Sheriff he taken that borrowed Texas lariat and settled a loop just as nice as you please down over her arm and she got both arms through it and they hauled her in like a prize and one of them whalers he taken her and bent her over his arm like a shotgun and pushed up on her belly and she throwed up about ten gallon of river water and coughed and started to breathe.

"This wasn't the one she fell from," the Sheriff said quietly, thumping the post card with a nail-trimmed forefinger, "but it's one of the boats we traveled on.  A little crowded and we were happy to transfer to a proper river boat."

I taken a look at the craft:  the legend under said she was a wooden hull and built in Portsmouth in 1872.

"Better than fifty yards long and nine yards wide," I murmured, then looked at the Sheriff and I reckon I looked a little puzzled.  "Four foot deep?"

"Four feet isn't a bad displacement for that much weight," the Sheriff said quietly, considering the card again.  "That's quite a lot of weight on ... how much area?"
I made a swift mental calculation.

"Four hundred fifty square yards, sir."

"Sounds like quite a bit, doesn't it?"

"It does, sir."

"It has to push aside its weight in water to remain afloat – any boat does – notice how shallow she is from waterline to deck."

"Yes, sir."

"It can't take rough water, Jacob.  Something like the ocean, with waves and swells and rollers, would swamp something with so little freeboard."

I filed this away, intending to remember it:  freeboard was a new word and I have always had a love of learning.

The Sheriff looked up at me.  "How did you like the magic show?"

I laughed.  "I liked the rabbit, sir."

He looked a little surprised.  "Tell me what happened."

I did, and he laughed:  "I'll bet the magician tried to let on as if The Bear Killer was part of the show!"

I nodded.  "He did, sir."

The Sheriff found out the next day about Sarah, standin' there all prim and proper, one hand acrost her belly cupping her opposite elbow and the other hand upraised as if to tap her cheek thoughtfully, only her forefinger was supportin' that shiny set of cuffs, and her with such an innocent expression, and the Sheriff he laughed and allowed as that sounded just like her.

 

Magicians weren't the only ones to come through town.

There were hobos and the like that rode the rails, they called a box car with an open door a side door Pullman, the brakeman was supposed to run 'em off but generally didn't, especially those that had been down on their luck their own selves. Some did – there are those souls who leave hard times behind and then refuse to help others who're hard up – and there were times when these fellas ridin' the rails without a ticket come to a bad end.

That afternoon I rode out and Digger he come with me and turns out he didn't need the dead wagon a'tall, we could have got by with a bushel basket, one of them hobo fellas fell from between cars and got run over and how.

We picked up all we could but there weren't much to reckonize other'n tore up meat and bone and some cloth, we had no idea who this fella was and when the train stopped we grabbed holt of the only other hobo on the train and asked him and he said he had no idea, he'd been piled up inside a bunch of hay to keep warm and recalled hearin' foot steps overhead and figgered 'twas the brakeman – never mind the Z&W was the very first railroad west of the Mr. and Mrs. Sippi to use both safety couplers and them new Westinghouse air brakes – so we didn't have no idea who this dead man was.

We had a hole out at Potter's Field and he went in it, the Sheriff had Digger set a stone oncet the dirt settled – "UNKNOWN," it said, then under, Run over by a train, and the date:  I know Digger charged the county for a coffin, but I think Digger planted what we'd picked up, in a heavy canvas sack instead of a proper box.

I don't reckon the dead man cared.

 

 

 

 

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140.  TEACHERS

 

The hangin' tree was up near the grave yard.

There was a drop off and the Sheriff he'd back the wagon with the condemned up to the ledge and he'd set the noose and then push the dead man off the wagon's tail board and let him drop.

No sense to build a gallows if we could do the same thing with what we had, besides, the Sheriff said he wanted 'em to know 'twas the hands of the law the last thing they felt.

There was a stump below the hangin' tree and the Sheriff he used it for what he called a message drop.

If he needed to get word to a pa'tickelar agent – Sopris, the man's name – why, he'd leave it there, leastways until Sopris retired and withdrew to Sopris Mountain.

There was sorrow and loss with that and the Sheriff he didn't talk about it much, only that a niece he dearly loved died, there was some talk of her goin' insane and killin' herself and I did not put any stock in such talk – none a'tall.

I know the Sheriff he went up on the mountain and he come back down off the mountain and he never went back and he was real quiet for about a week after and that ain't like him.

Oh he ain't chatty nor blabby anyway but there's a quiet to a strong man's spirit when he's in grief and he was and no two ways about it.

Now Sarah and me we had our own message drop and 'twas real simple, there was a shingle we'd prop up and it had a zig zag on it and that meant meet me at them back stairs and I seen the zig zag shingle so I went and sure enough Sarah was there and she was real quiet.

I knowed she'd been the Black Agent ag'in and somethin' happened and she come back sore and movin' careful and turned out she'd been shot but Doc patched her up and she made sure to wear her corset laced up tight around her ribs and she didn't go into no particulars and I didn't ask, if she wanted me to know she'd tell me.

I set down beside of her and my one hip was ag'in the side board of them hidden stairs and my other was ag'in Sarah's and we set there and she had that reeeeal quiet spirit about her so I waited.

She looked over at me and smiled a little and I looked at her and waited ag'in.

" 'Pon my word, Watson,' " she said in a British accent, " 'you have the most marvelous gift of silence!' "

I considered this and then nodded.

I think she called this a rhetorical statement and it didn't need a reply so I waited and she sighed.

"I killed a man."

"I figgered."

"He needed killing."

I nodded again.

"He did terrible things."

Again my slow, patient nod.

"He'd done terrible things back East. He'd gone from one city to another and then he ran West to get away from what he'd done."

I looked at her ag'in and raised one eyebrow a little.

"Of course that doesn't work."  Sarah may as well have been addressing a class room full of detectives, from her tone of voice, for all that her voice was soft, considerin' we were in that hidden stair well and not much of anyone ever come up or down them.

Part of me wondered if that was the case how come they were always real clean, even the window up above us that looked out on the back behint the Jewel.

"Wherever you go, there you are."  She considered a moment, then she taken my hand in hers.

"Jacob ... do you remember the elk antlers behind the bar?"

"I do."

"Do you remember when I brought them in?"

"I do that."

"I am ever so grateful that Uncle Charlie saw to it."

Now Uncle Charlie was Marshal Charlie Macneil, him and the Sheriff went way back and there was things the two of them got into elsewhere I never did find out about, I reckon each of 'em saved the other's bacon and more times than one.

If it's possible to have two brothers not born of the same womb, them two's it.

I heard the Sheriff describe one time they was eatin' supper and they was a commotion outside, they dropped their forks and headed for the back door, the Sheriff he taken up his double gun and Charlie grabbed up his buffalo rifle and they went out the back door and went skinnin' around opposite sides of the house.

The Sheriff he said he could see what Charlie was a-seein', he felt the ground under Charlie's advancing boot sole, and when Charlie fetched up that Sharps and had gunsights on target the Sheriff knowed it.

Anyway this was the same Charlie Macneil that kilt that wounded grizzly that damn neart kilt the bunch that went after't, that's the griz that got The Bear Killer his name, that's the mental picture the Sheriff described with Charlie r'ared up on his hind legs with both hands full of Remington fire and thunder drivin' pistol balls into that griz's eye socket at about three foot distance right before it kind of went limp and went over backwards and fell a-rollin' downhill.

"Charlie wanted me to know about death, and about life," Sarah said quietly.

I nodded.

"He is a wise man, Jacob, and I am ever so grateful to him for teaching me this."

"Have you told him as much?"

She squeezed my hand.  "I shall, and today."

"Good."

She taken a breath, eased it out, and I knew she was linin' her thoughts up in parade formation to march 'em out in words for review before the grandstand of my opinion.

"Jacob, I killed a man and he is not the first and he shall certainly not be the last, but some men need killed, and so do some women."

Ever kill a woman? I thought, but I am not as dumb as I look (which proves the Lord is merciful!) and I did no say it.

"It's not hard at all to kill a man who's trying to kill you."

I nodded, for I knowed this already.

"It's not hard to kill a man with death as his sentence, and the hand of justice is at the end of your own arm."

I nodded ag'in, for I had done as much my own self.

"It was something else entirely to kill that young bull elk."

Now that interested me.

I tilted my head a little as I looked at her ag'in.

"I will never forget the moment Charlie squeezed my shoulder – light, quick, grip and release, I came up and my arm came down and I drove that spear through his ribs, Jacob, I could have made a better cast had I tried for ten years!" – her words were coming quickly and the color was up in her cheeks and I knowed from the look in her eyes she was a-seein' it ag'in – "I remember ... I remember a savage joy as the spear point, the obsidian leaf I'd knapped –"

She looked at her fingers, rubbed them together lightly, opened her hands again.

"I bled, Jacob.  Obsidian is incredibly sharp and I drew blood fasioning that point, and a spoiled point I kept as a knife and that's what I used to skin and gut the elk."

I nodded.

"I watched it die, Jacob, I heard it die, I ... felt it die."

She swallowed like her throat was tight.

"I can't take life for granted ever again, Jacob.  I killed a beautiful creature.

"We ate well that winter and I wasted not one bit of its meat, I tanned its hide and the German count ..."

She hung her head and rubbed her soft palms together, slowly, thoughtfully.

"I remember him," I prompted quietly.  "He looked at the rack and at the pack and at you and called you a soft puppy, kind of like a grandfather would."

"Stofpuppe," she corrected me with a smile.  "He heard tales of the Ragdoll and when someone told him that was me, his eyes got real big."

She smiled and turned a little red at the memory.

"All of a sudden he wasn't surprised that a pretty little girl with blood war-painted on her cheeks and a blood-dipped sprig of acacia in her hatband could take down a grown elk."

She bit her bottom lip, nodding.

"He touched the evergreen and then drew back a step, he cracked his heels together and bowed at the waist and said "Waddsmanheil!" and then he took me by the arm and we went inside.

He bought drinks for the house – but he insisted I have hot tea instead of whiskey."

She chuckled.

"I had trouble excusing myself, for I wished to get the meat unpacked and cooled so it would not spoil!"

She looked at me like she had an awful lot to say, then she blinked and looked away.

"We are all teachers, Jacob," she whispered. 

"Ever word we say or say not, every thing we do or do not, teaches someone, somewhere, something."

I nodded, for that was one of those things a man really doesn't think about, but it's plain as day fact.

"Every word is heard by someone and every act is seen by someone.  It may teach merely something about we who speak or we who act, but we are all teachers."

She smiled and rose, turned to face me.

"I'm going to go thank a teacher," she said, and I reckon that's when she rode out to Charlie's ranch and had a palaver with him, for he told me the next day he told me she'd been out there and he was glad for the visit, but he didn't go into particulars.

 

 

 

 

 

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