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Firelands-The Beginning

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Charlie MacNeil 5-21-13


The prairie telegraph works in both directions. Barnes had spread the word that he was looking for a young man on a black horse via said telegraph. That same communication system, which for all intents and purposes appeared to spread information via wind drift and bird flight, transmitted the news that the heavyset counterfeiter was in gaol for the duration, and would no longer be paying a reward for the aforementioned young man on the black horse. In saloons and gambling houses, alongside campfires and potbellied stoves, bounty hunters and ne'er-do-wells sighed disgustedly. Finding Barnes' assailant was no longer a paying proposition and they'd have to find another source of income.

Two tired horses, sorrel and roan, stood hipshot before the black gape of the barn door on the ranch in the hollow, waiting patiently for their riders to finish unsaddling. As saddle and blanket were removed each animal shook itself from tail root to ear cup then settled back to waiting. The liberal application of curry comb and brush followed, sweat-matted hair clumping then falling to the ground as the riders, equally as tired as their mounts, worked. Grooming was followed by liberal helpings of steam-rolled oats and long stem prairie hay as the animals were settled in their stalls and the riders turned toward the ranch house, blanket rolls and saddlebags slung over their shoulders.

"Damn, I'm tired. Maybe we should've stopped back yonder somewheres," Charlie commented as he hooked a boot heel in the boot jack and pulled the boot off.

"I'd much rather sleep in my own bed," Fannie replied, as tired as her husband. "And this way, we can sleep in for a little bit in the morning."

"That works for me," Charlie grunted as he tugged off his second boot. "Lets us see if that old man left any food in the house."

"Humph. There plenty of food," Cat Running's voice sounded from behind the couple. "Got a deer yesterday." Charlie, startled, spun toward the voice.

"I wish you wouldn't do that, old man!" Charlie declared. "You're gonna give me heart failure one of these days!"

Cat Running grinned. "You fall over dead, leave pretty wife behind, not such a bad thing, eh?"

"Hah!" Charlie retorted. "She won't put up with you the way I do. She'd run your mangy carcass off the ranch!"

"She lets you stay, don't she?" the old man replied with a grin.

"I reckon you got a point there," Charlie allowed, opening the door. "Come on in, and tell me what's been happening around here."

"Don't need ta come in ta do that. Got one new colt. Nothin' else. Now that you back, goin' ta visit my sister. See ya." The old man turned and strode toward the barn, the spring in his step belying his age. Charlie shook his head.

"That old man is a piece of work," he said to Fannie as they stepped into the house and swung the door shut. "Ah, home sweet home." He dropped his blanket roll and saddle bags against the wall near the door. "Soon as I get something to eat, I'm headed for bed."

"Good plan," Fannie answered.

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Linn Keller 5-22-13


I held Esther's hands and looked at her and she gave me that knowing smile, that smile that told me she could read me like the front page of a newspaper.
"Mr. Keller," she said coyly, "you look terribly pleased with yourself."
"I am," I said quietly, looking up at my Stetson, swinging just a little on its peg where I'd just tossed it before greeting my green-eyed bride. "Charlie sends that he's got the counterfeiter behind bars, Sarah is safe, I have the loveliest wife in ten states ... why should I not be terribly pleased?"
Esther took a step closer, disengaged my grip and lay a fingertip against my lips.
"Remember the Parson's sermon," she admonished, "how the man said he had sons and land and storehouses full of grain, and the Lord called him a fool and required of him his soul that night."
I kissed the pad of Esther's finger, releasing my right hand and running it around the small of her back. "I remember," I whispered, nibbling her finger and then the palm of her hand: her eyes closed and she tilted her head back as I brushed my mustache across the mound of her thumb.
"Mr. Keller," Esther whispered, "this is just how you got me in this condition."
I drew her to me and bent to nibble the soft flesh under her left earlobe, smelling the clean scent of soap and lilac water, trailing my lips down her neck and then taking her earlobe between my lips.
Esther molded herself to me and sighed.
"You wicked man," she whispered, her arms tightening around me.
"You love it," I whispered, moving my lips away from her ear, tickling her with my mustache.
"We need to talk," Esther whispered back, and it was like throwing a bucket of cold water on two naked lovers in a hayloft.
Of all things a man dreads to hear, especially in an intimate moment, that is probably the one he least wants and most fears.
Esther felt me stiffen and drew away from me a little.
I straightened and placed her hand on my forearm: we walked together to my study, where I opened the door for her and closed it behind us; I escorted her to her favorite, well-padded chair, and then settled into my own, trying to look as formal and officious as I could.
Esther looked directly at me, tilting her head just a bit.
"Mr. Keller," she said, "you look like a stuffed owl."
"Flattery," I said, straight-faced, "will get you everywhere."
"I know," she replied, giving me a sultry look and laying a maternal hand on her belly.
"My dear, you know I have the Second Sight."
"I know. Two generations ago you would have been burned as a witch."
"Hanged," she corrected me. "The puritans hanged the Salem witches. They were cut above the nose to 'blood them above the wind'."
I raised an eyebrow.
"You wanted to talk to me about executions?"
Esther shook her head, frowning a little. "No, no," she said, suddenly impatient, and I knew there was more than met the eye.
"I --" she began.
"I know," I interrupted. "My mother had the Second Sight. Grandma tried to beat it out of her. My mother saw a neighbor's house afire and heard the old couple inside screaming to death. She ran to her Mama to have her fears soothed away and Grandma switched her backside every step of the way back upstairs. Next day when the house burned and Grandma heard them screaming, she turned to Mom and hissed, 'You damned witch.' She tried to beat it out of Mama." My expression was not a smile; half my mouth pulled tight. "I have enough of it to scare me."
"You have more of it than you realize," Esther corrected me: "yours runs deeper, like a stream underground."
"Your point, my dear?"
Esther lay a hand on her belly again.
"I carry a female child," she said. "She will be sight-blind. My gift will not surface again until your great-great-granddaughter lives in this house."
I turned my head a little as if bringing my good ear to bear.
Esther very definitely had my undivided attention.
"My daughter," Esther said, "will be named Dana. She will be an unremarkable child and she will live a colorless life. She will have no particular gifts. She will not build a library or make a fortune, she will not own a great ranch nor will she lead an empire. She will be a quiet, invisible soul and she will marry a young man with a similiar lack of fame.
"Each will be honest and clean and upright and honorable and she will bear children, and they will bear children, and --"
Esther stopped, her eyes distant.
"My dear, you have seen your great-great-granddaughter already."
Esther closed her eyes, her head falling back, her voice distant, a little faint.
"The ground is dry, rocky, dust and smoke are thick in the air. I see buildings ... adobe, I think ... it's night and she is in a battle.
"She wears a uniform as do the men she leads. I see her rank ... a bird, with wings spread, black embroidered."
Esther's head snapped up, her eyes wide, unseeing.
"You are there.
"I see you there on the rim of a ... bowl, I think, a crater perhaps ... she is within, she ... her pistol is empty.
"The enemy is barefoot ... with sacky trousers ... like the blousy pantaloons ... Zouave, I think, and ... it's not a turban on his head" -- she shook her own head, passed a hand in front of her eyes as if to wipe away a veiling confusion ... he raises a rifle and you" -- Esther's eyes are wide now, bright with a preternatural knowing -- "you have my double gun and you give him both barrels in the guts, and I hear you shout 'Nobody shoots my little girl!' and I see her face."
Esther's hands crawled over the chair arms, clutching tight, her knuckles white, her fingers digging into the padded upholstery.
"It's Sarah. I see her face and she is Sarah and she is your great-great-granddaughter."
Esther's mouth was open, her jaw slack, and she panted like she'd run a great race: I was out of my chair and across the room in a heartbeat and I caught her as she slumped.
I picked her up, drew her face closer, leaned my ear down.

I carried Esther across the room, dipped my knees a little, fumbling for the cut glass door knob.
Snarling, I leaned back and kicked the double doors, hard, not caring the damage: the double doors exploded outward and I bore Esther upstairs.
Our bedroom door was open; I carried her in, lay her on the bed, poured water from the pitcher into the porcelain bowl and dunked in a wash cloth: I bathed Esther's neck and wrists, until she stirred and opened her eyes.
She blinked and smiled.
"You look worried," she whispered.
I nodded, pressing her hand between mine.
"Kiss me," she whispered, and I did, delicately.
Her return kiss was somewhat less than delicate.

The next forenoon Bonnie sat down across the small table from Esther; it was their regular tea, a custom they'd enjoyed for several years now, and Bonnie was fairly bubbling with the delightful news that Sarah and Daffyd had set a date.
Esther smiled, for she'd already known; Sarah had, after all, asked permission to be married on Esther's birthday: nevertheless, she pretended to surprise, and said the things a woman usually says when receiving such delightful news.
When Bonnie returned home, she seemed a little distant; Sarah heard her tell Levi that Esther had given her a sealed envelope, with strict instructions that she should, without fail, open it on her birthday, but not until, and that Esther made Bonnie swear and promise -- something she'd never, ever done before.
Sarah, of course, was not bound by any such promise.
When she had the opportuntiy, she slipped the envelope from the inside cover of Bonnie's Bible and retreated to her own room.
Sarah knew she could apply a heated seal and return the wax seal to its previous state; she herself formulated the wax and knew its characteristics before giving her Aunt Esther several sticks of the stuff.
Sarah bent the round wax seal, heard its brittle, tiny crack, opened the envelope, drew out the paper.
Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes widened, as her belly tightened and cold water ran down her spine.
She knew her Aunt Esther's hand; this was definitely her Aunt Esther's note.
My dear and trusted friend, Sarah read, I bind you under the same promise you made when you agreed to open this note, without fail, on my birthday.
Upon my death you are to cut the back from my emerald wedding gown and make a christening gown for our little daughter, Dana.
I am to be buried in that same gown, in the coffin that waits in our broad cellar, beside my husband's long box.
Give the locket I wear on that day, to Sarah, as a wedding gift, and tell her not to forget me, and if she sees the white wolf again, that it will be me watching over her.
Know that I have loved you since the first day I saw you, and that you have always been a good and trusted friend.
Yours into eternity,

Sarah's eyes were cold and very pale as she restored the note and pressed the heated seal against the violated wax: she waited until it melted and re-froze, allowed it to cool fully, then silently, in stocking feet, returned it to the inside cover of her mother's Bible.

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Linn Keller 5-23-13


 Sarah crumpled the note and threw it angrily into the steel-mesh trash can beside her desk.
She glared at the blank sheet before her, then at the pen she held, then at the open inkwell.
Finally she closed and capped the inkwell, wiped the pen on a scrap of soft cloth she kept for that purpose, and put them carefully away; the sheets of paper went in their broad, shallow drawer; she stood, thinking hard, then smiled a little.
She had time to ride out to Charlie's before school, and make it back in time to ring the morning bell.
Sarah curled her lip a few minutes later and the white-and-red mare came over to her, ears flattened and muttering.
Sarah spun the blanket on her back and turned to seize the saddle.
The mare bared her teeth and aimed a snap at Sarah's exposed backside.
Sarah turned, fist cocked, eyes pale: "Don't try it," she hissed, and the mare stamped her forehooves.
Sarah saddled the mare, knuckled her ribs to drive out the air before cinching down and finally went to the mare's head.
"Look," she said, her voice hard, "you can kill me and I know it, and I can kill you and you know it. Let's spare one another an awful lot of pain, shall we? Beating you to death is too much like work."
Pale-blue eyes glared into ebony-black eyes, and the mare's return glare was just as powerful as Sarah's own: Sarah swung aboard with the distinct feeling that she'd just swung her good leg over a keg of powder with a short, sputtering fuse, and she was not disappointed.
When the mare bucked herself out and shook once and trotted just as nice as pie over to the fence where the cloth bag waited pickup, Sarah felt like she'd had a ride on the back of a Texas twister: she'd just been rattled north, south, east, west, up to the Texas moon and down to oil, but she was grinning like she'd seen brother Jacob and even her Papa grin after topping off a spirited horse on a cool morning, and she knew that she and the mare had come to an understanding.
Until the next time she saddled up.
She steered the mare over to the fence, plucked the knotted-shut pillowcase and its fragrant, still-warm cargo and fast it over her saddlehorn.
"Come on, you disagreeable wench," Sarah muttered, turning the mare. "Let's go see Uncle Charlie."
The mare stepped lively and they crossed the cool, dew-damp meadow at a brisk pace.
Nothing says thank you and welcome home like fresh bear sign, Sarah thought, smiling a little.

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Linn Keller 5-25-13


Sean made it his business to know Firelands, and know it intimately.
He knew its buildings, its streets, he knew its water sources, both surface and subsurface; he knew that if a fire started on one end of town, with wood buildings built cheek-to-jowl hard against one another, that the wind would blow the conflagration and little hope of stopping it: he discreetly laid in a supply of dynamite, he discreetly trained his men in its use, he surreptitiously absconded from town with two or three of the Brigade, using the new explosive to blow apart abandoned houses or defunct barns, discovering how to set a charge quickly, effectively, in order to reduce a structure to rubble, quickly, increasing the chance they could establish a fire break.
Sean well knew that radiant heat could ignite a nearby structure; although lacking formal schooling in physics, he understood the principle that radiation is diminished by the square of the distance, and if he could blow a building down, reduce it to kindling, that he would have a better chance of stopping a fire at that line.
Sean's Irishmen were solemnly sworn to secrecy on this matter: all knew how hard the honest folk of Firelands worked to get what they had, and they knew how devastating a fire would be, and they knew they would be blamed for destroying a perfectly good building in order to save others ... and they knew that dynamite aboard a fire apparatus might shock the common conscience.
Sean made periodic inspections of the public buildings in town; he prowled the stone City Hall, he stalked the wooden Silver Jewel, he skulked and muttered through Digger's emporium, he joked and told outlandish stories to the one-armed proprietor of their general store while his men swarmed the building: to a man, each knew the probable lines of fire progression, where the stairways were -- and therefore the internal chimneys, for fire produces smoke and heat, and heat rises.
Sean visited the Welsh Irishman's great stone house as it was being built, and he viewed what he saw with approval.
The Welshman was a veteran at his craft, and had instructed the craftsmen to construct his home such that a fire would not eat away floor beams and turn the interior into a stone lined oven: he planned escapes and egress, knowing that fire will choke and blind and confuse all but the most hardened veteran, and even then, nothing could be guaranteed: still, as far as construction, his fireman's new home was one of the best designs he'd seen, and he said as much.
"And has your new bride seen it?" he asked, his eyes following the kitchen stovepipe as it crossed the room and then went through the stone wall and into the chimney.
"She's seen from without," Daffyd said, frowning a little, "but she'll no' come within."
Sean turned, puzzled, regarding his red-shirted Welshman with honest curiosity.
"Why in heaven's name not, man? Has she no interest in her home?"
Daffyd laughed a little, the embarrassed laugh of a man whose secret had been found out.
"She said," he started, then turned and looked around the kitchen, thrusting his jaw out.
"The design ... she laid it out hersel'," he said, "she an' Tonio the Eye-talian, that stonecutter that's runnin' the show. We all set down an' talked an' drew designs and argued an' she plied us wi' coffee an' wi' wine an' wi' pie" -- he grinned at the memory -- "an' she ... Sean, she's .. some woman."
Daffyd shook his head, an admiring look about him.
"She knew ... she knew how t' ask questions. She didn't know wha' all questions t'ask but she started an' she found 'em, an' she asked me about a house safe in a fire, an' she asked Tonio how to build i' solid an' to last."
Sean nodded but said nothing.
"She drew up th' design. Every detail hersel'. She asked me, she asked him, she scratched her head an' sharpened her pencil an' she gi' th' plans t' Tonio, an' ..."
Daffyd Llewellyn spread his arms.
"Here 'tis. She chose furniture, she knows where 'twill be set, she drew up ... hell, Sean" -- Daffyd shook his head, his eyes wide with wonder -- "she knows th' number o' plates an' spoons she'll ha'e an' where they'll set!"
Sean laughed, laid a strong and gentle hand on the Welsh Irishman's red-wool-covered shoulder.
"Lad," he said quietly, "yon's a girl wi' a guid head f'r details, an' a guid head f'r business, mark my word!"
Daffyd nodded.
"Ye've made a good choice, lad," Sean said softly, bringing his other hand up to cup Llewellyn's other shoulder. "She'll make a fine wife."
"Thank ye," Daffyd husked, looking away, looking back.
"Sean," he said, "I ha'e a ... I don't know ..."
Sean nodded his go-ahead.
"Sean, who do I ask t' stand wi' me? Every man Jack o' th' Brigade ... who do I ask?"
Sean laughed, squeezing the man's shoulders once before letting go.
"I don't envy yer choice, lad!" he boomed. "Hell, we'd all stand wi' ye if ye wanted!"
Daffyd chuckled.
"Now wouldn't that be kind of crowded, all of us up front like that?"

"That's right," Jacob said to the newspaperman.
Roy Cross smiled.
Roy wrote for the Cripple Creek Messenger, and as part owner he had a goodly amount of editorial control of its content: he found his readers enjoyed sports, and so included local coverage for baseball games, boxing matches, horse races and the like, and he liked what the slender deputy was proposing.
"I'll admit I'm being selfish," Jacob said, knowing this bait would be too good to resist, and the reporter took the bait.
"How's that?"
"Look at it from more than one direction," Jacob smiled. "You'll be reporting on shooting competition. Your readers will be interested to see who wins, they'll be betting on favorites, there will always be someone coming in to challenge the local shooters. Lawmen will compete and if we can establish the local law as pretty damned good shots, this will discourage the criminal element from coming here and causing trouble."
Cross hesitated, considering, and Jacob pressed further.
"I've seen that bear fruit elsewhere. A lawman gets a good reputation as being fast and good, and when he shows up, people say "Look, here's that deadly lawman So-and-so, you might as well just give up or run off" -- and it saves an awful lot of work." Jacob grinned. "I find that killing a man means paper work, and paper work is the kind of work I really don't like!"
Roy Cross laughed, thrust out his hand.
"Done!" he grinned. "Let me know when and where, and if I can't make it or can't send a reporter, write me up the results and I guarantee we'll print it!"

The Kolascinski boys laced their shoes tight, tied down their pants legs and took up their short cudgels: they had two terriers ready and eager, whining at the scent of quarry: most of the old corn crib was torn down and they were ready to rip up the floor.
They knew rats loved corn, and nested under corn cribs, and they knew when they ripped up the half-rotted floor boards, rats would start running.
They knew the terriers were champion rat dogs, they also knew rats didn't like terriers, or humans for that matter, and they knew if they hadn't tied their pants legs down tight around their ankles, why, rats would run right up the inside of their pants legs, and have been known to put tooth prints in delicate areas of anatomy -- a situation they wished most sincerely to avoid! -- and the simple prevention was preferable to tending to injuries after the fact.
Inge tended her young and her wifely duties while the men took care of the old shed; she was content with knowing the shed would be rebuilt, but set up on stones, to get it off the ground and afford rats less of a home.
She smiled and then flinched at the excited voices that echoed down-hollow toward their sizable cabin, the sound of snarling little dogs, and she shivered.
Inge hated rats and was just as happy they were tending that detail and not she.

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Linn Keller 5-25-13


Too often, law doggin' is reactive.
I don't get called until whatever it is, already happened.
Kind of like the Irish Brigade.
This was true today.
I saw the Brigade coming up the street at a mild trot, those good lookin' mares three abreast towing that steam wagon like it was a postage stamp in spite of a little up grade, and they drew to a halt right in front of my office.
I tilted my hat back as the Welsh Irishman swarmed down out of the driver's seat with a grin on his face and a black eye and I looked at his knuckles -- sure enough, they were barked up some -- and I knew I'd missed out on something.
The others on the steam wagon were strangers to me.
Now the mind is a quick thing.
I recalled Sean saying something about wantin' to haul brother Daffyd off to Cripple or some other center of sin and vice to celebrate his upcoming nuptials, or mourn the loss of happy bachelorhood, or whatever excuse they wanted to cook up to have a good old fashioned drunken celebration, along with debauchery, fist fights and other forms of the usual entertainment that goes along with it.
The only thing I couldn't figure was ... why was Daffyd still here?
He soothed the mares, whispering to them and rubbing their ears, then came trotting over to me, opening and closing his good right hand like it was stiff.
"Sure an' 'tis a banner day!" he declared, while the strangers in firefighting wool shirts looked me over, and the building, and the Silver Jewel, like they were trying to memorize what they saw.
I looked at his hand and said "Should I shake your hand?" and he gave me a rueful look.
"'Tis a tender mitt this day, Sheriff," he chuckled, "but 'twas worth it!"
"Might you tell a curious man what happened?" I drawled.
"Ah, Sheriff, 'twas glorious," he sighed. "There I was, me an' ma beautiful bride-to-be -- beggin' your pardon, sor, your bein' th' father of the bride an' all" -- he started to raise his right hand, thought better of it, brought up his left hand and tipped his Bell cap in deference -- "but there we were, in th' Silver Jewel, an' I'd left her but for a moment, y'see, an' this here fellow, why, he steps up to me dear Sarah an' he says somethin' he shouldn't, an' after she belts him across th' face an' calls him a cur, I come chargin' back to 'er just in time t' inherit the man's fist as it came up!"
He indicated his blue eye with a finger and grinned, and I belt a little, taking an exaggerated look at his teeth.
"Aye, I still got m' teeth," Daffyd laughed, "but I canna' say as much about th' other fellow!"
He shook his right hand and looked at his barked-raw knuckles.
"I replied to the man's impertience wi' two t' the gut an' the fight was on!"
I tilted my head and realized he'd been holding his left arm down hard against his side.
"Once I slowed him down some I looked up an' asked ma Sarah wha' he'd done, an' her eyes were dead pale an' I knew she was a half inch from feedin' th' scoundrel a good part of his own liver.
"'He laid hands on me,' she said, an' Sheriff, I never in ma life heard such hatred in a woman's voice.
"What did you do then?"
Llewellyn's eyes hardened.
"He laid hands on my wife," he said, his voice flat. "No man lays hands on my wife!"
"How's the ribs?"
"Cracked," he admitted. "He got me one, a'right, an' he hit hard, but I finished th' fight he started!"
I gave the man a serious look and said in a low voice, so only he could hear, "Daffyd, are you all right?"
Daffyd threw back his head and laughed.
"Oh, aye, an' I ha'e your daughter t' thank for't!" he declared stoutly.
I turned my head a little, studying the man's face: his cheek bone was discolored and puffy, all right, but the bruising around his eye wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated.
"Y'see, once I put that fellow away an' Tom Landers threw him out int' th' street" --
"Is that why he's in my hotel?" I asked. "Hell, Tom didn't tell me any o' that!"
I looked to my right, just as Tom set foot up on the board walk.
"On t'other hand he might be here to finish up."
"If it's that fellow that Llewellyn put away, yes," Landers said.
I nodded. "Tom, I will be right with you."
Something told me Daffyd wasn't done yet, and I was right, but I was puzzled even after he finished.
"Y'see, Sheriff, the Brigade wished t' whisk me away wi' the lot of 'em, an' I wished not t' go, an' it was a good fight an' a wrestle, but wi' all o' them an' but one o' me, why, they got me wallowed down to th' depot.
"The lot of 'em were laughin' an' yankin' me back an' forth an' allowin' as they knew just th' girl t' teach a bridegroom how t' handle a woman, an' there was the crack of a Winchester rifle.
"Now, Sheriff, a rifle shot under that over hangin' roof is a wonderful thing, an' 'twas the German Irishman who found a groove cut in th' top o' his cap a man could lay a finger in.
"Sarah me dear fetched that rifle another round an' she declared in a voice I'd ne'er heard before that no man lays a hand on her an' lives, an' no man lays a hand on her husband, an' they could unhand me or she could lay them out like cordwood.
"That," he chuckled, then grimaced, clamping his arm down against his ribs again, "was the first time I regretted my wife's actions."
"Why's that?"
"Why, th' scoundrels dropped me!" he shouted indiginantly. "I hit that wood floor like a dropped sack o' taters!"
I grimaced. "Ouch," I said sympathetically. "That hurts to think about!"
"You've had broken ribs yoursel'," he muttered. "You'd understand!"
"Aye, that I do," I nodded.
"And as y' can see, here I am, an' we've a crew on loan, an' I'm fa'miliarizin' 'em wi' town until me fellows get back an' sober up!"
I nodded.
"Daffyd," I said, laying a careful hand on his shoulder, "if you would take the crew over to the Jewel, give them a good meal and a beer on me, I'll take Tom Lander's report and I'll be over directly to join you."
"Sheriff," my future son in law beamed, "ye are a gentleman and a scholar!"
He turned to the replacement crew and raised his voice to be heard.
"Lads," he called, "we're here f'r supper and a beer, but only one beer to a man! I'll bring the wagon about an' we'll fetch up in front o' the Silver Jewel yonder!"

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Linn Keller 5-26-13


Tom Landers and I set ourselves down inside.
Tom looked around, his eyes quiet, remembering, and I knew he was recalling his own years as our first Sheriff.
"You've not done much to change things," he said softly.
"No need," I smiled. "If it works don't fix it."
Tom nodded. "Other than a new coffee pot I don't see much different."
I laughed.
"Tom," I said, "can you make a decent pot of coffee?"
Tom frowned a little and made as if to get up and I raised a hand. "Set," I said. "I'm not askin' you to make a pot. I'm askin' if you're able to make a pot that's fit to drink."
Tom frowned a little, considering.
"I replaced the chair, too," I continued. "I can't make a decent pot of coffee to save me. I've rotted the bottom out of three or four pots and finally give up. I'll let someone else make it but unless I'm out on the trail I won't make it any more."
"Well," Tom said thoughtfully, "I never really had much trouble with it."
I continued writing, at least until I needed some particulars, like the prisoner's name and what-all he'd done, witness statements and the like: Tom's memory was flawless, his diction clear, and he talked slow enough I was able to keep up with him with that steel nib pen without difficulty.
At one point Tom rose up and leaned over to watch what I was writing.
"You can't make coffee," he murmured, "and I can't write nearly that neat. I'll just let you keep writin'. Yours a man can read."
I offered no comment: I'd read Tom's accounts in the past, and wished for a magnifying glass, a Greek scholar and a crystal ball, for his hand writing, even on good rag paper, was like trying to decipher a palimpsest.
We finished up the official part of the task and I wiped the pen clean, capped off the ink well and put everything away, then Tom and I went back to take a look at the prisoner.
He was, to be honest, a sight.
Daffyd Llewellyn had one blue eye after his adventures of the previous; this fellow looked like he'd run face first into a fist storm, and sure enough he had one tooth missing when he opened his swollen and discolored lips to say something: his nose was resuming its former shape, but blood crusted its under side, his mustache was gritty with dried blood and his shirt was torn and blood soiled.
When he tried to get up it was with much clamp-jawed effort, and it took him a while once he got to a sitting position before he could rise to his feet.
I waited.
He finally shuffled over to the bars, his left arm protectively across his upper belly and his right gripping a crossbar at head height.
Something told me that grip was the only thing that kept him from sinking to the floor and curling up for a while.
"Mind tellin' me what happened?" I said mildly.
He looked up at me and one eye was swelled almost completely shut; a big blue mouse under it told of a blood pocket that would need drained.
The rest of his face was not much better.
Damn, I thought, Llewellyn is a buzz saw when he gets wound up!
"I wanted a woman," he said slowly, his lip stiff: "I grabbed a cute little doxy and she shlapped me a good one." He paused, breathing carefully. "Shome fellow come in at me so I run my fisht out a good one an' caught him under the eye." He paused again, his head descending a few degrees.
"I mighta well hit a rock."
I waited.
"He didden shtop.
"I hittum again.
"Den he hitten me an' here I am."
I nodded, taking careful account of his condition.
"I can have the doc come and take a look at you."
"Tanksh." He tried to nod, closed his eyes; it took him most of a full minute to stagger back to his bunk and something told me once he got down he would not be getting back up any time soon.
"Think we ought to tell him?" Tom whispered, his breath tickling the fine little hairs around my right ear.
I shook my head.
It would do the man no good to know he'd just laid hands on the Sheriff's daughter.
I'd tell him later, once I was ready to turn him loose.
That would guarantee he'd not be returning.

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Linn Keller 5-27-13


Sarah's ear pulled back a little at the unfamiliar accent: she stood in the firehouse doorway, awaiting admission, basket in hand and apprehension in her belly.
Under normal circumstances a young lady did not call on her suitor, but Sarah was not known for compliance with convention, unless of course it suited her, and so she presented herself at the firehouse with two meat pies and two from canned fruit she'd put up herself the season before.
Sarah took a particular pride in her skill at matters domestic.
She did not have to; she knew she could be a spoiled daughter of wealth and privilege, with hired lackeys to sew and mend, clean and cook, but she was also independent, hard headed, contrary and yes, proud ... but she recognized all these traits in herself, knowing them to be at once strengths and weaknesses.
Sarah knew men had trouble asking for help.
She did too.
It was a trait she was working on, a habit she was trying to break, but so far as possible she tried to increase her skills for self sufficiency.
When she spoke her request to the stranger at the door -- this fellow in a fireman's red shirt, but without the central Maltese cross that marked the Firelands Irish Brigade, this replacement brought in to staff the station while the Brigade enjoyed their drunken celebration elsewhere (a move of which Sarah silently approved: one does not wish to dirty one's own nest, therefore carry on a wild debauch in someone else's jurisdiction!) -- the fellow who answered the door turned and called "Chief!"
Sarah's ear pulled back a little as it always did at an unfamiliar turn of phrase, or a new word, or a strange accent or odd proununciation.
She was used to hearing "Chafe!"
Daffyd Llewellyn came around the corner, wiping his hands briskly on a cloth: his face brightened as he saw his bride-to-be standing shyly in the portal.
"Sarah me dear!" he declared, and Sarah stepped in.
Daffyd saw a look of discomfort on her face as she raised the basket.
Daffyd took two long steps and seized the basket's handle.
"Are ye hurt?" he husked, his voice low, concern on his face: Sarah surrendered the basket, laid her right forearm across her belly and cradled it with her left.
Truth be told, she did hurt: the weather was changing and her abused forearm hurt like a toothache.
Daffyd frowned at the exposed, fair flesh, took her wrist in one hand and thrust her sleeve back with the other, hissed in his breath between clenched teeth as he exposed the scarring.
"Dear God," he whispered, "who did this?"
Sarah raised her head, looked the man squarely in the eye.
"I'm hungry," she said. "Let's eat."
Daffyd considered the time, the state of his appetite, and the good smells rising from the cloth covered basket.
He turned, basket in hand, gathered a great chestful of air and bellowed, "ALL HANDS ON DECK! TURN OUT AND LINE UP, NO IRISH NEED APPLY, FORM RANKS OR I'LL HAVE YOUR GUTS FOR GARTERS!"
There was a scramble, a sprint, men charged into the equipment bay and fell in, dressing right and coming to attention, not at all sure what the emergency was, but every man Jack of them thrilled with the surge of adrenaline.
The mares, for their parts, drowsed, heads drooping; they'd been out for their daily exercise, they'd been curried, brushed, tended, fussed over, their hooves burnished, the harness polished and hung back up overhead where it could be dropped on them at a moment's notice: the cat washed a paw in a sunny window, blinking in the warmth.
Sean drew the cloth carefully from the basket, took a long breath of the good smells that rolled up from it.
"My dear," he murmured, "thank you."
"Two meat pies, one peach and one black raspberry," Sarah smiled. "Enough for one meal anyway. If you're still hungry, I know where your kitchen is."
The replacement firemen were young men, strong men, good men and true: each a veteran of his trade, each a proven warrior whose bravery was unquestioned, for each had fought the Dragon toe-to-toe and lived to tell the tale.
They were also, as are strong young men, walking appetites on two hollow legs.
Sarah smiled.
Two meat pies would not be enough for the main course, and she'd planned for that.
She turned and took a step toward the door, just before the knock that announced the rest of the meal had arrived.

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Linn Keller 5-30-13


She drove her mate from the den with fang and snarl, with snap and a near-missed slash of her fighting canines: wisely, the sire retreated, leaving his mate alone with her labor.
It was not her first litter; the labor was shorter this time: there were three pups, three tiny wet little ratlike creatures that received nudges and licks and the mother's undivided attention, deep in the quiet, dark shelter of the cliffside den.
The mother's slanted eyes were slitted with pleasure as she licked her young, grooming them, cleaning them; tired from her labor, she slept, and as the young fed, they slept as well.

Sarah was elbow deep in dishwater, laughing as the firemen serenaded her with a somewhat muddled version of an old marching son: Sarah knew it well, for her father sang it in unguarded moments, when he thought nobody was listening, and Sarah's quick ear remembered the words, the melody: one plate and another was washed and dunked in the rinse tub while they sang.
Daffyd draped a fresh towel over Sarah's shoulder and moved the knife block close to hand, then he went across the kitchen and set up their old cutting board, the pine board, then spun it to expose its scarred and gouged surface.
"Sarah me dear," he called as the song dissolved into laughter, "dry your hands and see if the knives still work."
Sarah smiled and gave him a knowing look.
She pulled the half-dozen knives from the block, one at a time; the knife block was a joke the Irish Brigade reserved for those who guested with them, only this time, only one of the Brigade -- Daffyd Llewellyn -- was present ... nevertheless, it was an opportunity, and besides, it would show these auslanders that his girl was not to be tried.
Sarah laid out the half dozen knives, all alike in size and weight, somewhat thicker of blade than would usually be used in a kitchen, but sharp edged nonetheless.
Sarah stood in profile to the firemen, turned her head to smile over her shoulder at them, then picked up the six knives by the blade with her left hand.
Her right hand came back over her right shoulder as her head turned to look at the knife block; her hand did not snap down so much as it ... well, it floated, but very rapidly, down and back, down and back, followed by the solid, woody thock-thock-thock of tempered steel driving into the pine block.
Sarah touched her finger tips in front of her at arm's length, then turned on tiptoes, bouncing a little.
"I think the knives are just fine," she smiled.

The youngest Rosenthal grunted a little and waved his chubby arm as he fed.
Bonnie smiled down at her pink-cheeked son, and Levi smiled at his wife and son as smoke curled up from his pipe.
The twins stopped and looked around, big-eyed, as the challenging scream of a stallion shivered the night air.
Levi chuckled and opened his arms, and Polly and Opal climbed into the comfort of Papa's lap and Papa's strong, encircling arms.
"Nothing to worry about, ladies," he murmured, puffing little smoke-bumps out of the bowl of his pipe as he spoke. "Sarah's mare is discussing matters with the stallion."

Esther sipped tea and nibbled delicately at a thin slice of buttered bread.
She'd been able to eat today, with no trace of her morning sickness.
Gratefully, carefully, she took another tiny bite of good sourdough, chewing slowly, chewing with satisfaction, chewing with relief and with gratitude.
"Oh, God," she murmured between mastications, thank You, this is so good!"

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Linn Keller 5-31-13


Esther Keller settled primly into one of Mr. Moulton's upholstered chairs, fanning herself delicately and looking very much the successful matron she'd become.
Mr. Moulton, having bowed his client into her seat, went around his desk, settled himself into his comfortably padded swivel chair, spread his hands and asked gently, "Mrs. Keller, how may I be of service?"
"Mr. Moulton," Esther said crisply, her eyes bright, "there is one thing that needs saying before anything else, and I am going to say it."
Mr. Moulton could not but smile, for Esther had a brisk and businesslike way of saying things that so reminded him of his old and dear friend's mother, long dead now: Esther fixed him with a bright gaze and continued, "And that something is:
"Thank you."
Mr. Moulton blinked, leaned back a little.
"You're welcome, I'm sure," he murmured, "but what ever for?"
Esther's smile was warm and genuine. "Mr. Moulton, my husband and I now one one hundred per cent of the stock in the Z&W Railroad. We could not have recovered so completely without your help in corralling those rascally scoundrels I hired as a Board of Directors." She paused in her fanning, a distant look claiming her eyes: "That was not my greatest mistake, but it was among the ten worst," she murmured softly.
Mr. Moulton inclined his head gravely. "It was my distinct pleasure, madam," he replied in cultured tones.
Esther closed her fan, patted it in her gloved palm thoughtfully.
"Mr. Moulton," Esther said, "you know that Sarah McKenna is my husband's illegitimate daughter."
Mr. Moulton's face was carefully neutral; he nodded, once, and Esther continued.
"She is a sweet child and she is to be married." Esther's smile flashed again, bright and genuine: "On my birthday. She came to me and asked my permission."
Mr. Moulton again nodded, gravely, one time.
"Mr. Moulton, I wish to gift Sarah -- just Sarah, not the married couple she will be coming -- I wish to gift Sarah with one-quarter-interest in the Z&W Railroad."
"Mrs. Keller!" Mr. Moulton murmured.
"And I further wish to gift her with one-quarter of my interest in the Silver Jewel."
"Most generous, I am sure," the attorney said carefully.
"And I wish, upon my death, to bequeath her with my full interest in the General Store as well."
Mr. Moulton leaned back in his chair, thinking quickly.
"Mrs. Keller," he said at last, "you do realize you will be making her ... probably ... the wealthiest, young woman, in the territory?"
Esther smiled again, her quick ear picking up his delicate emphasis of the word "young."
"I do realize that, Mr. Moulton," she said. "Normally this would be a simple task, but I have a complication which requires your good offices."
"Yes, ma'am," he said carefully, leaning forward, forearms on his desk blotter, fingers interlaced.
"Mr. Moulton, we must first lay a foundation before we can build a house, therefore I wish to establish a foundation. I need you to draw up such articles as are necessary to ensure that the Z&W Railroad's interests remain intact even though she may be sold in future. In other words, sir, should she be gobbled up by that ravening giant, the Central Pacific, or even that bigger maw of the Union Pacific, that the Z&W remains a separate financial entity."
Mr. Moulton leaned back, thinking hard.
"This," he said slowly, "may prove most difficult."
"This is my wish," Esther said. "I have learned the folly of a layman telling a professional how to do their work. Perhaps I should instead tell you my intent."
"Please do."
"Mr. Moulton, should the Z&W be sold, I wish my heirs and designated assigns to continue to enjoy the benefits of interest in the railroad. I believe rail to be the most efficient means of moving goods any distance, and I believe the rail system will be with us until this great country falls apart and turns to dust."
"Yes, ma'am."
"I therefore wish that my heirs and assigns enjoy the benefits of said railroad, from now until Hell freezes and the Devil learns to figure skate!"
Mr. Moulton leaned back and chuckled, then laughed aloud, and Esther turned a delicate pink and smiled as well.
"Do forgive my, dear lady," Mr. Moulton said at length, "but ... I really must beg your pardon ... such a coarse jest from your husband, over a companionable beer in the men's world of a saloon, becomes quite ... almost genteel, hearing it from you!"
"I am afraid," Esther admitted, "living with that tough old bird all these years has contaminated me!"
Esther raised the backs of her fingers to her lips and she looked about with alarm, swallowed hard; Mr. Moulton half-raised from his chair, at least until Esther waved him back down.
"It is nothing," she said, her voice strained, "though I might wish for a glass of water."
Mr. Moulton thrust from his chair and strode to the sideboard: he snatched up a sparkling glass tumbler, seized the water-pitcher's handle, and noted almost absently that his hand was shaking as he poured the tumbler full.
"Thank you," Esther gasped after a sip; she took another, a third, then nodded.
"There," she whispered. "That should do it."
Mr. Moulton squatted beside her, his eyes serious.
"Mrs. Keller, is all well?"
"Dear Mr. Moulton," Esther said gently, in a tone usually heard from a favorite aunt or grandmother: she reached up, stroked his cheek as she would a son, or a nephew: she tilted her head a little to the side and he saw gentleness and affection in her eyes, and ... something else, sadness, perhaps.
"My dear Mr. Moulton, you have ever been the soul of kindness. Your courtesy has never failed you, and for that you have an old woman's thanks."
Mr. Moulton took Esther's gloved hand between his own.
"Old?" he asked, smiling quietly. "I think not."
Esther leaned forward and placed the tumbler on his desk, then took his hand in both hers.
"Mr. Moulton," she said quietly, "I learned something from the Irish Brigade." She tilted her head again and her voice was once more that of the businesswoman: "Mr. Moulton, please rise, my knees hurt just watching you squat like that!"
Mr. Moulton turned a little red, then rose with a little difficulty, and Esther winced to hear the man's knees crackle slightly.
"Please forgive my unmanly weakness," Mr. Moulton apologized, limping a little: "my old war wounds come back to haunt me."
"You were in the War, Mr. Moulton?" Esther asked, surprised.
"No, ma'am," Mr. Moulton admitted, reddening a little as he eased into his chair. "I did battle with a rolling log one time.
"When the log ended up atop me, across both my knees, I realized I'd lost that war, and have regretted the moment ever since!"
"I understand," Esther nodded.
Mr. Moulton drew out pen, ink and paper.
"Now, Mrs. Keller. Let us firm up just what you'd like me to do."
He dipped the leaf shaped steel nib in good India ink, wiped the excess on the inside of the bottle's neck, then wrote the number 1, and circled it.

Three pups were piled atop one another, dreaming as they slept: they whimpered a little, but a very little, for thousands of generations of instinct bade them to silence while the warmth and protection of their mother was absent.
Still, they whimpered a little, for they missed that warmth and that protection, and the milk they'd come to crave.
One pup found another's paw and chewed gently on it.
Outside, the mother raised her muzzle, sniffed; she cast about, nose to the ground, looked around.
Her mate was not far away, loafing in the sun: he picked up a fresh kill, brought it over, but made no attempt to enter the den, which was just as well.
The big, black-furred male would never have fit.

It wasn't until the next day that the Irish Brigade returned to Firelands.
They did not look quite as fine as they had when the left.
To their credit, they still had all their teeth.
They also had a fine collection of bruised faces, black eyes, barked knuckles; one or two had torn trouser-knees, but all had the look of men who had dined wisely but not very well, and had wined very, very well, but not at all wisely ... and then enjoyed the pugilistic consequences that naturally followed.
They were also stone broke and had ridden back to Firelands only because Esther wired ahead to authorize their free passage.
It had taken every centavo they had between them to bail theselves out of the hoosegow, for they had taken every advantage of being away from home to let the badger out: each had consumed a prodigious amount of drink, each laughed and sang and danced with pretty girls, and by ones and twos and at one point with a general joining-in, they were all involved in good old fashioned knock-down drag-out brawls, until they finally ended up in the same cell of the local calabozo, where they kept everyone awake with obscene song of one profane type or another ... to the general amusement, and the joining-in, of other prisoners, and even the guards.
Now, though, they were returned to Firelands: now they were returned to their own beloved firehouse, their own quiet bunks, their own mares and each other's company and the good townsfolk about them, and they proceeded with absolutely no stealth whatsoever from the train station, looked at the firehouse, looked up the street at the Silver Jewel, and looked at each other.
Sean spoke first, ignoring the discomfort of a puffed-out upper lip.
"Men," he grated, "I am starved out an' I am dry enough t' sneeze an' blow dust."
"Aye," came the muttered reply from the accompanying throats.
"Now was we t' go in an' fix a meal we'd ha'e t' wait."
"An' there's be nowt but watter an' coffee an' methinks th' hair o' th' dog is called for!"
"AYE!" came the shouted reply.
"Forward!" Sean shouted with a dramatic wave of his arm, and the Irish Brigade, in ragged civilian attire, scuffed and dented Derbies shoved aggressively forward, strode, marched, limped and staggered up the street.

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Linn Keller 6-4-13


There are times when men just have to be among men.
This was one of those times.
I took little Florian Bruce and eased him down in that wicker basket and the two of us went to the general store, for I had the wish for a new rifle, and the one armed proprietor had some in stock.
I come in the front door with that basket in hand and a grin on my face and the boy was sweeping out the store while my monbrachial friend was frowning over an account-book at the counter.
He looked up as I came in and it looked like he was hoping for some pitiful and flimsy excuse to get away from columns of numbers, for he wasted no time in marking his place in the book, folding it up and setting it back on the desk behind him. "Sheriff!" he declared with a smile and an out-thrust hand, "I have something you'd like!"
Now the man knew something of selling and he knew that in order to sell, you had to have what the customer was willing to buy: he knew I was after a particular rifle, and he reached up on the display rack and brought one down.
He laid a brand new model of 1876 on the glass counter top and said "A fellow bought this two days ago. His wife called him a scoundrel and said take it back, she wanted new furniture, so here it is. I can't sell it to you as new but I can sell it used, as new, full warranty" -- he looked up at me, his eyes gleaming -- "for five dollars less."
Now five dollars in that day and age was a worthwhile sum and I did appreciate his thought, but I set that wicker basket up on the counter beside the rifle and little Florian Bruce looked around and waved his arms and I grinned at my son and then at the man and I said, "I got a brand new baby boy. I'll take a brand new rifle."
Right shortly thereafter I walked out of the General Store with a brand new Winchester rifle in hand and a grin on my face and little Florian Bruce was kind enough to help me pack a few boxes of shells. Matter of fact he squealed happily as I worked the paste board boxes in beside his wiggling, blanket wrapped carcass.
Now trust me, I can get in trouble just a-settin' in my easy chair and not movin' a bit: about then a mother and her little girl come in and the girl tugged at her Mama's skirt and asked, big-eyed, "Mama, do they sell babies here?"
I knelt down and looked the young lady in the eye and said gently, "Yes, ma'am, they've got some of the best babies in the territory and they're on sale, but I got the last one."
"Oh," she said, and her bottom lip run out with disappointment.
I stood up and touched my hat brim at the mother, then dipped back down to pick up my basket and its bright-eyed cargo and said to the proprietor, "My little girl got mad at me last night."
"Oh?" he said, knowing I would not intentionally delay him from a paying customer, so there must be something brief and interesting and hopefully a little bit humorous.
"Oh, yes," I nodded solemnly. "She got mad at me and she stamped her little foot and told her Mama, 'I don't like Daddy anymore. I want a new one. They got new Daddies at the General Store and they're only five dollars and you can afford that!"
As I went out the front door I heard the little girl asking, "Mama, can we buy me a new Daddy? I don't like the one I have."
Trust me to cause trouble.

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Linn Keller 6-6-13


Predators sought out prey, and studied their prey, and made their prey a subject of intense scrutiny: thus were predators ever able to learn their prey, to discover their prey's habits, customs, travels, preferences.
Predators studying prey were dangerous, at first, and moreso after their study.
Predators who graduated to watching other predators were even more dangerous.
Sunlight reflected off blued steel as the octagon rifle barrel shifted slightly, ever so slightly.
The she-wolf was denned up just ahead, he knew, and the mate was not far away.
He waited, and watched, knowing the wind was with him; the mate was there not long ago, with a fresh kill.
The predator waited, silent, unmoving.
The Sheriff knew the rifle shot true; he'd given it a good trying-out, he was satisfied with its accuracy and its fit, and he knew the .40-60 was the round he preferred, with which he was deadly accurate, with which he could bring down about anything he damned well pleased.
He watched, breathing silently, and waited.
His pale blue eyes widened a bit, then swung to the right, and he felt that sinking-in-the-belly feeling that meant he'd been discovered -- no, not discovered, worse than that -- his periphery caught the near shape of something large, furred, quadripedal and fanged.
The male found him.
The Sheriff rolled up on his left side and extended his left hand.
"Bear Killer," he whispered, "what in two hells are you doin' here?"
The Bear Killer licked the Sheriff's hand companionably, then dropped to his belly, flopping gracelessly to the ground and looking toward the rocky den.
"Yours?" the Sheriff whispered.
The Bear Killer slitted his eyes happily, running his pink tongue out and laughing: the Sheriff looked back toward the rocks and saw the barest movement, white fur slipping between two rocks.
He looked at The Bear Killer and smiled.
"She has cubs, doesn't she?" he whispered, his lips barely framing the sibilant susurrants.
The Bear Killer blinked sleepily, lowered his head to his paws and sighed: he was warm in the sun and he did not detect any danger, and he was of a mind to nap.
The Sheriff took most of an hour, backing away along the same line he'd low-crawled up to the slight rise, then stood and looked back at the unmoving black splash that was The Bear Killer.
The Sheriff nodded, smiling a little, and turned away.
His horse was a little distance yet.

Sarah ignored the ache in her forearm.
She was halfway up the knotted rope and did not intend to stop until she was at the apex of Daciana's barn roof.
Daciana gauged Sarah's velocity, the smoothness of her movements, and what few glimpses she had of Sarah's face: she wished to call her back, to call her down from the lofty height, but Daciana knew what it was to perform through pain, and held her words carefully behind her teeth.
Sarah made it to the top: she did not lack the strength, she did not lack for determination ... she did, however, ache terribly.
Sarah reached up and slapped the smooth wood beam and began her steady descent.
Daciana scuffed the sawdust underfoot and knew it would afford little cushion to a falling body; she might have hay enough to make an effective landing pad, but she had not the means to move enough of it, quickly enough.
All she could do was wait, arms crossed, while Sarah, legs stiff and straight ahead of her, lowered herself using arms only.
Sarah came down to a little less than head height, eased one flat-soled slipper down to the ground, then the other, and released the rope, her face white, tight and strained.
Daciana gripped Sarah's upper arms lightly, studied her dear friend's lined face.
"Sarah?" she asked gently. "How badt?"
Sarah looked up at her and Daciana saw the pain in her eyes.
"I need some tea," Sarah said quietly.

Daffyd Llewellyn discreetly slipped up to the General Store and placed an order for a new Bell uniform cap.
It was his wife-to-be, after all, that shot a groove in the one it was replacing.
The replacement firemen were returned to their home departments, with pay and with thanks: the Irish Brigade was home again, and grateful for it; Daffyd was just as happy not to have gone with them, especially upon viewing the fine collection of battle scars they'd brought home with them, both fleshly and in terms of damage to their attire.
The Brigade, as well, gave a collective sigh of relief as they settled into their own bunks and resumed their own duties once again.
The cat blinked sleepily in the front window, ears swiveling, as it took respite from hunting the mice that tunneled through the mares' bedding and ate the mares' corn, and the cat purred to itself, for the Brigade knew best how to hold her, and rub her ears, and treat her like the Egyptian goddess she imitated.

The Sheriff rode back into town on his black Outlaw-horse, new rifle in its scabbard and a grin on his face.
He'd suspected The Bear Killer had a romantic interest, and he was right.
"Now," he said aloud to nobody in particular, for indeed there was no one for at least one statute mile to hear him, other than himself and his gelding, "I need to let Charlie know I found a father and son who'll tend his ranch when need be."
Outlaw flicked an ear at the man's words but paid no other heed.

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Linn Keller 6-9-13


Sarah leaned back in Daciana's kitchen chair.
She cupped her hands around the thin, fragile china cup, savoring its warmth and its aroma.
Daciana's extensive knowledge of herbals was most welcome, as Sarah's arms ached like a tooth ache, a deep-to-the-bone aggravation: she heard her father's amused voice in her memory, "The sins of my wild and misspent youth are returned to haunt me."
If this is a haunting, Sarah thought, I can see why people don't like ghosts!
Daciana favored Sarah with a long, curious look.
"You asked about the scars," Sarah said quietly, placing the teacup and its fragrant, analgesic tea on the table and shoving her sleeves back. "You've never asked before so here it is.
"This one" -- she ran light fingertips over puckered, shiny tissue -- "is where a wolf tore into me. I shoved my arm back into its jaws" -- she stood, bowed her legs, pantomined her action that day -- "I ran my other arm behind its head and broke its neck."
She did not say that in the moment, she felt no pain, only the energized numbness of a scared girl fighting for her life, trying the one desperate move that might work but would probably end up with a bit-off arm and a torn out throat.
Daciana listened silently, big-eyed and pale, as Sarah calmly, quietly, described how to seize the animal with her legs, how to pull, twist and snap, and how this exploits a congenital weakness in the lupine cervical spine: Daciana, having an acquaintance with European wolves, and with her distinct impression that American creatures of prey were larger, faster, stronger and considerably more fierce, marveled that Sarah was able to come away with an arm still attached to her body -- let alone functional!
Sarah sat, slowly, feeling a variety of aches in her young body, the consequence of activities necessary at the time of their acquisition.
She pushed up her other sleeve.
The scarring there was not as prominent: there was a slight hollow in the meat of her forearm, and as she held her arm out, pointed at Daciana, it was evident the bone had not healed completely straight.
Almost, but not quite.
Sarah flexed her hand, worked her fingers.
"A very bad man did very bad things and then stole our buggy to escape," Sarah said matter-of-factly, as if saying that flowers smelled nice and the sky was blue: "I was in it at the time, and so was The Bear Killer."
Daciana's eyes widened again and her eyebrows raised and Sarah laughed, her laughter breaking the spell.
"Yes, you're getting ahead of me, aren't you?" -- Daciana nodded and Sarah lay gentle fingertips on the back of her hand, then reached again for her cooling tea -- "well, you're right.
"The man didn't care if he killed our mare and wrecked our buggy, as long as he got away.
"I was thrown out and run over."
Daciana's mouth fell open and she looked at Sarah's middle with alarm.
"The steel rim ran over my arm. Here." Her bladed hand indicated the hollow in her forearm's musculature. "It broke."
She looked at Daciana and smiled.
"My arm broke, not the buggy wheel."
Daciana stared at Sarah as if she had a trout sticking out of her hair.
"The Bear Killer took care of the criminal and the Sheriff ..."
Sarah looked away and Daciana saw her friend's eyes were glittering.
Sarah sat heavily and snatched up the teacup: she took a quick, noisy sip, obviouslytrying to compose herself.
Her voice was a dry whisper, as if barely able to speak from a suddenly swollen throat.
"He thought I was dead."
Sarah remembered the moment, feeling like she was floating, but safe in strong arms: she remembered feeling limp, weak, opening her eyes to see the world upside down, for her head was thrown back, dangling: she struggled to raise her head and saw her father the Sheriff, his head thrown back, eyes screwed shut and teeth clenched, and water running from the corners of his eyes: his face was darkened and the cords stood out on his neck, just before he let go and screamed the agony and grief and bottomless sorrow of a father who'd just lost the most precioius thing he'd ever known, and Sarah felt that grief lance through her very heart like a hard-thrust blade.
It was the first time Sarah ever heard a man in grief and she knew that she, and she alone, was the cause.
Sitting at Daciana's quiet table, trembling hands tight around delicate china, Sarah remembered the man's voice: she felt something light, soft, as Daciana pressed a kerchief to Sarah's screwed-shut eyes, and then the teacup shattered in her hand.
Sarah opened her hands, turned them over, horrified; she looked at Daciana, and Daciana looked at Sarah's hands, turning them over and back, then again, spreading the fingers, looking for blood, for lacerations: finding none, she held both Sarah's hands in hers, until Sarah leaned into her, crying like a lost child, and Daciana, good friend that she was, held Sarah, just held her, while the tempest raged within her.
Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is listen, and sometimes the best thing a friend can do is nothing at all, and here, now, the best thing Daciana could do was just what she was doing.
She held Sarah.

"Ow ow ow ow ow," Little Joseph whined, dancing back and forth from one foot to the other.
His knife, forgotten, lay on the ground, a wet red crescent on its gleaming, honed edge: bright red drops spattered around it and he held one hand with the other, looking to his Pa, distress and pain on his face.
Jacob set down his ax and took Little Joseph's wrist, pulling his hand closer: he looked at the incised finger and nodded.
"We can take care of that," he said quietly. "Just let it bleed, don't touch it. It'll bleed out clean."
Jacob stood, turned to his Apple-horse, fished around in a saddle bag: he pulled out a roll of what used to be bedsheet, torn and rolled for this very purpose: carefully, deftly, he cut a strip with his own small-bladed knife, the one he kept honed to a razor's edge: Little Joseph's slice was minor, compared to many of the injuries Jacob had seen in his young life, but distressing enough to a little boy who had yet to accumulate the thousand faint scar-tracks on his hands that a man gathered in a lifetime: Jacob pressed the flap of hide back down in place, laid a pad of cloth against it, then wrapped the finger from the tip back across the injury and to its base.
"You see, Joseph," he lectured quietly as he worked, and Little Joseph looked at him with tear-bright eyes and a running nose, "if I just wrapped around where it's hurt, I would shut off blood to the rest of the finger."
Little Joseph managed a curious look.
Jacob smiled a little. "You'd look funny with a purple finger.
"Now this-a-way," he said, "it's tight enough to keep you from bleedin' much. It might soak through but that's all right. Once it quits a-bleedin' we'll use some pine pitch on it, but not right now."
Little Joseph's eyes showed his distress at the thought of fiddling with the injury.
Jacob tied off the cloth strip, tossed the surplus bandage over his shoulder so it draped like a sash: he held out his own hand, palm down, fingers spread.
"Now look here. See this scar? That was a nail in a board pulled away from a barn wall. I was about your size, you see, and when I reached in ..."
Father and son squatted together in the woodlot, Jacob's quiet voice soothing his little boy's distress far more than the story he told.

The Sheriff held Angela as he looked at his twins.
He looked at Angela, then the twins, then at Angela again.
"Angela, my dear," he said, "were you ever that small?"
"No!" Angela declared, shaking her head briskly, swinging her curls and making herself dizzy.
It was safe to make herself dizzy because she was in Daddy's arms and the world was safe as long as her Daddy held her.
"I see," the Sheriff said solemnly. "You were never that small."
"No," Angela declared. "I'm a Big Girl!"
"And so you are, my dear," the Sheriff nodded. "Do you know what Big Girls do?"
Angela put a tentative finger to her chin, regarding her Daddy with a serious look: this sounded suspiciously like he was going to put her to work, and like most children, Angela did not particularly like being put to work.
The Sheriff indicated the twins, sleeping in their crib.
"You will have to teach them how to do Big Things," the Sheriff whispered confidentially: his expression was solemn, he gave Angela a serious wink.
Angela giggled and threw her arms around her Daddy's neck.
"How would you like to go for a ride?" the Sheriff whispered.
Angela released his neck, leaned back so she could look at her Daddy's face, and the Sheriff rejoiced at the absolutely delighted expression she gave him.

Jacob carefully, delicately, wiped Joseph's injured finger with the canteen-wet cloth, cleaning dried blood from the incision and nodding his satisfaction.
He frowned a little, turned Little Joseph's hand one way, then another, carefully examining the injury.
"I," he said, "don't believe ... I don't believe we'll have to use pine sap to seal that down. It looks pretty good as is." He looked at Joseph. "We could use spider web to hold it shut, or a wet tobacco paper, but it's sealed up already so we'll let well enough be."
Little Joseph regarded his quiet voiced Pa with big and solemn eyes.
"Careful you don't bend the finger, you don't want to open that back up again."
Little Joseph nodded, then frowned and shook his head, then decided he wasn't sure of the right reply so he bobbed his head around in kind of a circle.
Jacob rested his hand on his son's shoulder, gave a little squeeze.
"Good man," he said, then reached down, ran his arm under his little boy's backside, drew him up tight and stood, picking the lad up.
"I'm hungry. Let's go eat."

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Linn Keller 6-10-13


Angela's little Rosebud-horse showed all the ancestry of her red dam.
Angela was more than up for the challenge.
Hell, why not, I thought.
The two of 'em growing up together ...
One clear morning I watched her running in the pasture, when she didn't know I was watching, laughing and playing tag with Rosebud.
Two kids, playing together.
I leaned ag'in that fence post a long time that day, watching Angela, red-cheeked and laughing, running with, running after, running away from, her fire-coated mare, and I watched the mare running with her and after her and away from her, and it was just like watching two kids on the playground.
Today, though, Angela was more like a burr on a hound dog's coat: although she looked like a Proper Young Lady, and she wore a Riding Outfit and Hat, she still rode like she was forge welded to the saddle.
I took a look at the stirrups and the saddle and considered Angela was getting some height to her and I was going to have to let those stirrups out again, until I realized there was no more slack to be adjusted out and I'd have to do some leather work.
I looked at Angela, surprised ... Daddies do that sometimes, y'understand, there are moments when their little girl grows of a sudden and a Daddy will wonder how in the hell did this happen so fast.
Angela looked at me and laughed and I couldn't help but laugh too, and we rode together most of that morning, not going anywhere in particular, and ending up at the Silver Jewel.
We came inside and went upstairs, to Esther's office: I told Esther I wished she would move operations to our house, or delegate the Z&W to a trusted lieutenant, but she smiled and said she would hold court in her office so long as she was able, given current developments -- with that phrase, she lay a maternal hand on her maternal belly and gave me that through-the-eyelashes look that stirred my heart again ... gravid or not, Esther is a woman, and she knows how to stir her man.
We went on upstairs and Angela knocked delicately at Esther's office door before opening it a hand's-breatdth and calling in her little girl's voice, "Mom-mee! Can we come in?"
Me, my head is naturally on a swivel and I looked down the hall, toward the stairway we'd just come up: I saw the hanger-on, peeking up the stairs at us, shaking his head.
"Soapy," he called, "I don't know about you, carousin' with a younger woman like that! An' your wife pregnant and all! Why, you rascal, you oughta be ashamed of yourself!"
I laughed and called back, "Trust me to cause trouble!"
Angela pushed the door open and I heard her delighted "Mommeee!" and Esther's voice, and I grinned and went on in Esther's office.

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Linn Keller 6-13-13


Mr. Baxter's mouth went dry and he dropped the half-polished beer mug: part of his mind thrust his thigh forward and deflected it before it could hit the floor and break, then his hands took life of their own and flew under the bar, seizing his ever present double gun.
Mr. Baxter had seen many things in his time on this earth, he'd known good and bad, plenty and want, joy and loss, he'd fought in two wars and didn't care to enlist in a third, but he was also a pragmatic man, a practical man, a man knowing that evil does not send an engraved invitation, but rather strikes anytime, anywhere.
He drew back his arm and powered the shotgun across the room, accenting his thrust with the single barked word, "SHERIFF!"
Linn turned and caught the shotgun, left handed, seized the edge of the table and threw it up, dropping to the deck just as Mr. Baxter's neatly combed hair disappeared behind bombproof mahogany, and half a heartbeat before the characteristic, low-pitched BOOOM of blasting powder shook the floor underfoot, and threw shivered cedar and half a hatful of water through the broken window.
Tom Landers had been drifting invisibly through the small sea of gamblers, as was his wont, ever alert for a cheat, a slicker, a bottom dealt card: his vigilance paid off, as The Silver Jewel was one of the few gambling establishments to enjoy the reputation of a straight game.
The sound of broken glass is long known to be the one sound guaranteed to galvanize a restless crowd, into a mob: when it happens unexpectedly, though, it generally causes people to freeze, and to look, and that's what most of them did.
All but Mr. Baxter, and Tom Landers, and the Sheriff.
All three saw the stick of blasting powder describe a slow, lazy, lethargic arc, its short, sizzling fuse trailing blue smoke and tiny sparks as it fell through the still air, surrounded by a minor constellation of bright, sparkling fragments of window glass: the Sheriff reached up to the back of his shirt collar with one hand, caught the powder stick with the other, as Tom Landers launched into a full-speed sprint across the floor, charging the stage: he planted one booted foot on a chair, vaulted to the curtained alcove, seizing Dolly around the waist and bearing her back, turning as his momentum carried them both clear of the short back stairway: they collided with the back wall and Tom pulled her down, smothering her with as much of himself as he possibly could.
The Sheriff slapped the waxy stick of paper-wrapped blasting powder down on the table, brought his other hand down, the shining, stropped edge of his back-sheath's Tinker blade cleaving through the air with deadly precision: the Sheriff's death-pale eyes were fixed on the fuse, just short of the fire, where he intended the blade should cleave fire from cracker.
When his knife just skimmed the bloody-red flame, cutting tablecloth and wood and nothing else, the Sheriff dropped the knife, threw the powder out the window left-handed and turned barely in time to catch the hard-thrown double gun.
His Honor the Judge sat at his table, eyes wide, a Cuban forgotten between thumb and three fingers: he saw the Sheriff tip up the table and drop behind it as a giant slapped the jurist's ears with both hands, then the Sheriff was over the table and to the window, shoving two barrels of black eyed justice out the broken window and toward whoever just tried to blow him and everyone else to hell and gone.

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Linn Keller 6-14-13


Mr. Baxter paced heavily from behind the bar, bung starter in hand, and turned it handle-first toward the dignified jurist who was brushing crumbs off his shirt front.
Daisy's girl quickly cleared the man's table.
Gambling was suspended; the roulette wheel was still, the dice silent, cards folded and stacked in neat decks; tables were moved, chairs arranged, and two miners were brought forth, half-skipping, half-dragged, with Jackson Cooper's meaty paw firmly clamped around a big knot of material at the nape of their necks.
The Sheriff followed them in, handing the double gun to Mr. Baxter with a nod: the Sheriff stood beside the Judge, left thumb in his belt beside the buckle, right arm hanging casually at his side.
The Judge swung the bung starter -- carefully, he didn't want to bust the table -- and BANG! "Court's in session! Bring me a drink!"
The assembled gamblers looked at one another and tried to hide their smiles; in all of Firelands' history, court had never been held in the Silver Jewel.
On the other hand, so far as any knew, nobody tossed a lit stick of blasting powder through one of the Jewel's windows, either.
A drink appeared at the Judge's elbow, was placed carefully on the table, ready to hand.
"Yes, Your Honor."
"What are the charges?"
The Sheriff's expression never changed.
"Mayhem," he said, "misfeasance, malfeasance, attempted murder, attempted destruction of property, explosives specification. Unlawful use of explosives in town, causing panic, impersonating a human being and mopery with intent to creep."
The Judge picked up his tall, shimmering glass of distilled potwalloper and took a healthy swallow.
"Other charges?"
"Destruction of one horse trough, Your Honor."
His Honor glared at the pair.
"The court," he said quietly, "traditionally entertains a plea from the defendants. The court," he continued, his eyes narrowing, "has a great liking for this establishment and for the company found therein.
"As a matter of fact, the court believes this particular establishment necessary to the health and well-being of the town as a whole, and an attack on the Silver Jewel is an attack on the entire community.
"Given that you have committed a crime that carries multiple penalties, including but not limited to a good old fashioned neck stretching" -- he stopped, considered, took another sip of Two Hit John -- "the court will now entertain any statement you wish to make."
The miners' faces grew steadily longer, and distinctly more pale; they looked around, furtively, as if seeking an escape.
Finding none, the two looked at one another, then with one voice each stepped away from his fellow, pointed and shouted "HE DID IT!"
The jury blinked, laughed quietly: the Judge frowned, his bottom jaw thrusting slowly forward as the pair thrust stiff forefingers at each other, repeatedly: "He did it, it was his idea, wasn't my fault, he done it!"
BANG and the bung starter punished the tabletop.
Daisy's girl caught the glass as it leaped from the Judge's tabletop.
"This," the Judge said, "is not a schoolyard playground, where little boys blame one another for a broken window."
Silence, thick and sudden, settled over the pair; curious folk looked in the broken window, taking in the sight.
"Step right up, folks, take a look," the Sheriff sang, "price is only a quarter a peek, step right up and pay your fee."
The curious faces disappeared.
"Works every time," the Sheriff murmured, and His Honor the Judge stifled a smile.
He picked up the bung starter, hefted its weight, considered the pair as if debating whether to use the wooden maul on them.
"Is there any reason in God's green earth why I should not order the pair of you hanged from the nearest lamp post?"
"It was a joke, Your Honor," one blurted: "I was jokin', that's all, this damned idjut lit the fuse and what was I supposed to do with a stick of powder with a lit fuse?"
His Honor and the Sheriff both looked at the miners like they each had a fish sticking out of their breast pocket, and the gamblers, seated as the jury, looked at one another and murmured dangerously.
His Honor held up a hand.
"Hold it," he said quietly. "I need a drink."
He took a good pull of concentrated freight train and considered.
"Which one of you brought the powder?"
"Is that true?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"I" -- he turned red, ducked his head. "I wanted it so I took it."
"I see. And you decided it would be a good joke to set off the biggest cannon cracker in history."
"Yes, Your Honor."
A youthful face peeked in through the broken window and the Sheriff saw the boy, apparently hoisted by one of the reluctant men outside on the boardwalk.
He pointed.
"You," he commanded, "get in here. I need your help."
The lad disappeared and a moment later, came running in the front door, scampered loudly over to the Sheriff.
The Sheriff took the lad by the shoulders, turned him, then stepped him in front of the Judge's table.
The Sheriff indicated the blaze of stark-white hair slashed across the boy's skull.
"Do you see this blaze?"
The miners blinked, uncertain, looking from the Sheriff to the Judge.
The Sheriff nodded to Jackson Cooper, who rumbled from behind the pair, "Answer the question."
"Wh, wh, what was the question?" one of them asked nervously.
The Sheriff raised opened hands toward the ceiling, shaking them in frustration, then he looked at the boy.
"Tell them how you and your twin got that blaze."
Half the Blaze Boys grinned and looked at the miners.
"It was fixin' to thunder storm," he said, "and we launched a skyrocket. Lightning came down where the skyrocket went up and boom!" His hands described a massive explosion.
"It knocked us both galley-west and when we woke up we were both burnt, here." His hand raised to the broad white streak painted across his scalp. "We each got a blaze from that lightning."
"Thank you, son," the Sheriff said quietly. "Go on back to the kitchen and tell the girl there's a slice of pie with your name on it."
"Yes, sir!" the lad grinned, turning and sprinting for the back hallway.
The Sheriff straightened, looked at the two miners.
"Let me understand you correctly," he said.
"You intended this to be a joke."
The pair nodded.
"Which of you brought the powder?"
"I did."
"Which of you lit it?"
"He wasn't supposed to! I told him light it and I'd smoke it like a see-gar --"
"But he lit it."
"Yes, sir."
"And you panicked."
The miner's eyes went wide. "Good God," he expostulated, "I'm holdin' a lit stick of powder, wotinell am I supposed to do with the damned thing?"
"Well," the Sheriff drawled, "there used to be a horse trough out there."
"I hadda get riddavit," the man stammered, "I didn't mean --"
The Judge tapped the bung starter lightly on the table top.
"I am ready," he said, "to render a verdict."
The jury looked expectantly at the Judge, and the Judge looked at the jury.
"Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the charges and you have seen the evidence." He looked at the window, leaned a little and looked at glass and wood chunks on the floor. "How say you?"
The jury did not hesitate: as one they shouted, "GUILTY!" such that the rafters shivered with the force of their voice.
The Judge nodded.
"I thank you, gentlemen of the jury," he said gravely, nodding once to the seated gamblers. "Please remain in your seats until court is finished.
"I find you both guilty of the afore named charges and guilty on all counts of the aforenamed charges.
"Ordinarily you would be taken to a place of execution and hanged until you were dead beyond belief, and I can't help but think that there are those in this room who would happily lend a hand to that dread detail."
"You're damned right!" a dandy-dressed poker player shouted, half rising from his seat.
"I think, in this case, justice might be better served by having you pay for the window and its installation, repairs to any and all damage to the Silver Jewel, replacement of the horse trough, and compensation to each of the patrons inconvenienced on this day."
"I ain't got that kind of money!" one of the miners wheezed through a suddenly dry throat.
"We could always hang you," the gambler offered, to the rippling amusement of his fellows.
"I can git it," the miner groaned.
The other miner, dead pale, swayed a little but kept his feet.
"The Sheriff will escort you to the edge of town. You may keep any horse, mule, donkey, buffalo or other conveyance with which you arrived, provided you return to pay your fine, amount to be determined by the Sheriff. You will now be removed to the Sheriff's office, where the sum will be added up and presented you in writing. Sheriff?"
"Yes, Your Honor," the Sheriff said quietly. "Jackson Cooper?"
Two vicelike hands twisted into a good handful of material between the prisoners' shoudler blades, and the pair found themselves escorted out of the Silver Jewel and across the street.
Before the Sheriff followed them out, he stopped and turned to the jury.
"Gentlemen," he said quietly, "the Judge and I wish to thank you for this unselfish use of your time. You have been inconvenienced by this unpleasant experience and we wish you to have a drink on us. If you will kindly replace tables and chairs to their former location -- Mr. Baxter, one drink per man, on my tab, if you please."
The Sheriff left the Silver Jewel to the hearty huzzas of thirsty men.

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Linn Keller 6-16-13


As was custom, the family Rosenthal sat together.
As was their habit, the Irish Brigade sat together.
As was usual, Jacob's family sat with the Sheriff's family, which pretty well filled the available seating in that row, for the little whitewashed church was not large, nor were the handmade pews terribly wide.
Nevertheless, church was filled, as it was every Sunday: the Parson stood before them, the hymns had been sung, the plate passed, and the Parson picked up what looked like a scroll.
It was, in reality, a sawed off roll of wallpaper -- he'd been in difficult times in the past, and found himself obliged to write his sermons on whatever was available; someone gave him a roll of wallpaper and he'd taken a crosscut saw and reduced the roll to smaller lengths, each the width of a standard sheet of paper.
He still had one left, these many years after, and the Sheriff knew the man was up to something.
The Sheriff and his wife used to hold hands in church ... that is, until the twins came along, which meant they had their hands full.
Esther, like mothers everywhen, knew the tricks of keeping young quiet in church; the twins were fed, changed, warm and cuddled, and most times slept through the sermon, and the Parson in the past observed that his feelings were not hurt when certain parts of his flock slept through his sermon.
Most folks followed his gaze and understood he was referring to the swaddled young, and he milked it for a laugh when he fixed another member of the assembled with a raised eyebrow and added, "That doesn't mean you can snore, Pete!"
Today the Parson looked at Jacob and little Joseph, father and son, scrubbed clean and in their good clothes, at the Sheriff and his bride and their bright-eyed Angela, holding her little brother and trying to look terribly responsible; he looked at Bonnie and Levi, with Bonnie holding one of hers and Sarah holding the other, and the Parson was struck at how natural Sarah looked holding a little one.
He cleared his throat and picked up the sawed off roll of wallpaper.
"Today's sermon," he began, and carefully unrolled the paper, then "accidentally" dropped the roll.
It spooled free, down the height of the pulpit and over the altar rail, hit the floor, bounced, and rolled partway down the aisle.
"I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget anything," the Parson deadpanned, then carefully applied a pair of pince-nez to his abbreviated beak and pretended to peer at the paper in his other hand.
He looked up at the expectant congregation.
"I hate long winded sermons," he announced and released the paper; it rolled up as it fell, at least until it fell over and lay in a wide coil in front of him.
He grinned at the general chuckle he elicited, leaned over the pulpit.
"Good morning, my fellow teachers," he announced happily.
There were a few muttered "Good mornings" in reply, and both Sarah and Emma Cooper -- both schoolmarms of some experience -- blinked in surprise.
"I say this because we are all teachers," the Parson explained. "Every word we say or say not, every thing we do or do not, is heard and noted by someone, is seen and remembered by someone." He nodded wisely.
"I am looking at the many young among us.
"Who teaches them?"
The flock recognized this as a rhetorical question; no one interrupted with an answer as the man peered about the church, removing the little oval eyeglasses from his proboscis and slipping them back into a breast pocket.
"A child's first and best teacher is the parent," the Parson continued. "The child learns more from birth to the fifth year than the child will learn for the rest of their life.
"The parents are the first and best and most inflluential teachers a child will have, but they are not a child's only teachers.
"Emma Cooper and Miz Sarah have our thanks and our respect for teaching in our schoolhouse, but they are not the only other teachers our children have."
He grippped the edges of the podium, looking around and nodding again.
"Shorty there" -- he indicated the startled blacksmith with a wave of his hand -- "Shorty taught me about taking care of horses, and how to grease a wagon and how to replace steel bearings. He showed me how to put a horse at ease when he wants to look at their teeth or rasp down a hoof or pry loose a shoe."
"I did?" came the surprised hostler's exclamation, and he turned red at the chuckles his involuntary reply generated.
"Shorty did not realize he was teaching, but he taught and taught well, and I put those lessons to good use.
"I learned how to pan for gold in a similar manner.
"Mr. Baxter was kind enough to extend me a companionable invitation one fine morning. I knew that men panned for gold but I never knew the trick to the spin and the flip, nor did I know 'twas black sand you look for, and in that sand, gold flecks will peek out like a shy little girl from behind a curtain."
He looked squarely at Angela when he said that, and Angela giggled, for she'd peeked shyly at him from behind a curtain, one day when the Parson came to call.
"Every word we speak falls on someone's ear, if only our own, and these each spoken words teach the hearer, something about the speaker. It may be as minor as the mood we're in when we say it."
The Parson lay a hand on the pulpit, pantomined raising a hammer and bringing it down briskly, then snatching away the hand and slinging it with an expression of pain, as if he'd just smacked his thumb with a hammer.
"The words we use" -- again, laughter -- "may indicate we just missed the nail we were driving at.
"The words we use as we measure and mark a board may indicate to the listener a precision and a purpose, they may indicate carelessness and a slovenly nature, but they convey something.
Every word.
"Of course we speak without words as well.
"Let's say one fellow hauls off" -- the Parson drew back a fist -- "and decks the man beside him. That teaches something.
"Or a fellow picks up a can of peaches in the Mercantile and slips it in a pocket and leaves without paying. That, too, teaches us: it teaches that this fellow is either very careless, or he's a thief, or he's clever and a thief. It teaches the proprietor that thieves do exist and consider him an easy mark, and he'll have to be more watchful.
"Words carry a frightening power, my friends.
"Let's say I walk up to the Sheriff.
"Let's say I lay a hand on his shoulder.
"He's going to look over at me.
"I wink, I grin, I tell him in a light and bantering voice that I'd oughta knock that hat off his head and stomp it into the dirt."
There was general laughter at this; any man so audacious would likely get treated to a fast trip to the deck, or a good session of old fashioned butt kicking, and somehow nobody there could imagine the Parson being quite so audacious.
The Parson grinned as well, and continued.
"But!" -- he thrust a finger for emphasis -- "but the Sheriff knows, from the hand on his shoulder, from the wink, from the nod, from the bantering tone of voice -- all these things put together -- the Sheriff knows that, what I am really telling him is that he's wearing a really nice hat and I wish I had one!"
There were nods, smiles; he'd made his point.
"However" -- the Parson slashed the air with a stiff forefinger -- "if I send the Sheriff a note that says I should slap the hat off his head and stomp it into the ground, why, that's an invitation to a young war!"
The Parson nodded a few times, shifting: the Sheriff knew the man's back gave him trouble if he stood too long, which was one reason his sermons were not lengthy.
"We teach with every word, we teach with every action, and the words we speak can help or hurt, cut or mend."
The Parson's face colored a little and the Sheriff knew the man was getting wound up, and he was right: the Parsons' good right hand fisted and he slid his Bible a little to the side.
"It is possible to pitch, your, voice," he declared, thumping the pulpit with the heel of his fist, "such that it will cut stone and make, it, bleed!"
The Sheriff shifted uncomfortably, and Esther lay a gentle hand on his: the Sheriff knew what it was to cut with the voice, and he had, many times: it was not something of which he was particularly proud.
"We read in Scripture that the tongue is sharp as an adder's tooth; that the Word cometh forth like a sword from the mouth of the Lord. There are many references in the Book to this very thing." He lay a reverent hand on the open Scripture. "It all comes down to this one simple idea, my fellow teachers."
He looked around, leaning his weight on the pulpit, taking some strain off his back.
"Have a care for the words we use.
"Mr. Moulton" -- he nodded to the attorney, sitting with Tilly, his wife -- "can attest to the courtroom phrase that a bell cannot be un-rung."
Mr. Moulton, listening carefully, nodded, once, slowly.
"So it is with words, and also with actions. A shout, a curse, an accusation; a swing, a slap, a kick -- none can be recalled, and none can be cured with an apology. Damage is done, blood is drawn, a mark is made.
"The best way to put out a fire is to not start one.
"The best way to heal a cut is not to get cut in the first place.
"The best way to mend a broken leg is not to break the silly thing!"
He leaned over the pulpit, swinging his head slowly from left to right, for all the world like a nearsighted bear looking over a berry patch.
"And so I leave you with the notion that we should be circumspect in our language, thoughtful in our actions, and ever mindful that every word is heard, every action is observed, and every thing we do, teaches someone about the teacher."

As was custom in the era, Sarah went for a buggy ride with her fiancee: the ride was neither long, nor involved, and indeed was from the church, to the property where their stone house was being built, and thence to the Rosenthal ranch.
Daffyd Llewellyn sat almost shyly beside his bride-to-be as they sat and looked at the house.
No work was done on the Sabbath, of course; Brother William had been there the day before, with a basket of bread and bottles of wine, and labor was suspended as he passed out libations and the good news that the Catholic church in Cripple -- where the Italian stonecutters lived, and from whence they'd been borrowed from the mine -- would have a guest priest, newly arrived from Italy, and to a general rejocing of the Craft, he informed them that services would be in not only the usual Latin, but also in their native Italian.
Daffyd happily dismounted, almost ran to the house: he scampered to the left, danced to the right, thrust his head in an empty window, then laughed and sprinted through the front door, his delighted exclamations echoing from the stone shell.
Sarah waited patiently in the buggy, smiling a little, looking at the house's exterior, her mind busy: she turned, considering where she might put the garden, plant her cooking herbs; she wished to have the stonecutters make her a raised, monastery style garden, with fairly tall but narrow rows -- she wished to mark them out, but not today -- and Daffyd came out the balcony over the front door, looking down at Sarah, seated primly, hands folded properly in her lap, a faraway look in her eyes.
Daffyd's hail died unspoken and he stopped, staring at Sarah.
The balcony had a stone railing, heavy and solid and about waist high; he leaned his hands down onto the smooth, cool granite and just ... stared.
Where moments before he'd been as a happy boy, delightedly exploring a castle, now he was, once again, a young man smitten with the developing affections of a beautiful young woman, of a young man in the green strength of youth, trying to order the disordered and chaotic feelings that seemed so at odds with one another, but polarized into a single, unified agreement:
God, I love that woman!

Angela looked up at her Daddy.
Angela waited until her Daddy helped her Mommy and Alfdis out of the carriage before she reached up and tugged at the tail of her Daddy's coat.
Linn squatted and smiled at his curly haired little girl.
"What is it, Princess?" he whispered.
Angela frowned a little, considering; her Daddy's hands were warm and comforting on her arms, and she smiled a little as he tilted his head a little and brushed her cheek with the back of a forefinger.
"Daddy, what is a soulless son of a bi --"
The Sheriff's thumb snapped to the side, pressing gently on Angela's lips, effectively shushing her: he drew her close, placed his lips to her ear, whispered a phrase, then leaned back: "Is that what you were asking?"
Angela nodded solemnly.
"That is Daddy-language that means I hit my thumb with the hammer and I am not happy," he explained. "It is something you must not ever say."
"Okay, Daddy," Angela said quietly, then she frowned.
"Daddy, am I in twubble?"
Linn blinked and smiled a little. "Why would you be in trouble?"
Angela put a finger to her chin and turned back and forth like she used to as a wee girl in a moment of uncertainty.
"I said a bad word," she said, her bottom lip starting to pooch out.
The Sheriff stroked her cheek again, his blue eyes gentle and quiet.
"You did not say it," he whispered. "You are not in trouble."
Esther and Alfdis were watching; they could hear the words, even the whispers, on the still noontime air: Esther shifted her blanket wrapped bundle a little, brought her gloved hands together, extended her left pinky and pantomined cranking something around it.
Alfdis giggled and nodded.
It was indeed evident that someone was wrapped firmly around his sweet little daughter's finger.

Daffyd Llewellyn reached up and helped Sarah out of the carriage.
"Will ye no' come in?" he asked quietly.
"No," Sarah said, looking from the house to her husband-to-be's eyes.
"But ... 'twill be our home ... why ...?"
Sarah's left hand slipped behind the small of his back, and his arm in reply went around hers; she raised a gloved finger to his lips.
He blinked at the incredible depth of her eyes, her gleaming eyes, her amazing eyes, her captivating eyes --
"Daffyd," she whispered, and he saw her red lips frame the word, and he felt himself respond to the sight, "I will not go in until you carry me across the threshold."
Daffyd's chest felt a little tight and he nodded, then took a breath and bent, lowering his arm to the back of Sarah's legs.
He picked her up and Sarah placed her gloved palm against the side of his face and said, quietly, "No."
He froze,
Slowly, carefully, he lowered her until she bore her own weight: he stood, drew back a little, his face reddening and he whispered, "I'm sorry."
Sarah struck like a viper.
She seized Daffyd's face between her hands and pulled it down and kissed him, pressing her lips against his, then drew her head back, her mouth open, eyes closed; he felt her shiver in his hands.
Sarah leaned her head back, her eyes still closed.
"Daffyd," she whispered, "do you want me?"
Daffyd swallowed, then he reached down and took Sarah's left hand, brought it up.
His grandmother's diamond gleamed in the gold band on Sarah's finger.
He kissed her knuckles, feeling the gem dig into his face as he did.
"I want ye," he whispered, then looked down at the ring. "When the time is right, when we are wed, but not before."
Sarah nodded, her eyes still closed.
Daffyd bent his head and they wrapped their arms around each other, holding tight, tight, and it was some time before they came up for air.

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Linn Keller 6-19-13


The Sheriff looked up from the paper he held.
His jaw hung slack and he stared at the opposite wall while he grabbed after his spinning thoughts and slammed them to the deck to keep them from whirling away entirely.
He looked again at the paper and took a long breath, then his jaw set hard and he muttered, "I, have been, a fool."

Jacob kissed Annette, holding her for a moment longer than necessary, feeling her belly press against his.
He reached down to rub her mother's bulge and whispered, "You are a good lookin' woman, Mrs. Keller."
Annette murmured "Liar," and Jacob silenced her with another, rather involved kiss.
Joseph picked up another slice of bacon, content to pleasure himself with breakfast while his parents did what grownups did before the man of the house left for the day.
"Will you be home early?" Annette whispered.
"Likely," Jacob whispered back. "Hasn't been much going on here of late."

"HEY!" Kohl yelled. "WHAT ARE YOU DOIN' THERE!"
The stranger straightened, startled, dropping a burnt-dark, copper gold pan: he snatched at a rifle leaning against a nearby tree.
The heay BOOM of a shotgun slammed against Kohl's left ear and he flinched, twisting: his oldest son was beside him, sighting down the rib of the double gun.
A bullet spanged off the lodgepole beside his boy's head and he triggered the left hand barrel, jerking the trigger, eyes closed and head twisted as spinters stung his face: the second shot swarm went high to the left and the stranger ran, stopping to throw two more wild shots through the trees.
Kohl looked at his son, saw blood.

"Mr. Moulton."
Michael Moulton, Attorney-at-Law, looked up, surprised.
"Sheriff," he said mildly.
The Sheriff strode to the man's desk, his eyes pale.
"Mr. Moulton, can you advise the claim status of Kolascinski Creek?"
"Kolascinski?" Mr. Moulton repeated, turning and rolling his chair over to the wooden file cabinets, the hard caster wheels loud on the polished floor. "I can tell you the entire length is claimed, Sheriff, and exclusively by the family Kolascinski." He smiled as he opened a drawer, rifled through file jackets. "It's an easy name to remember."
"Good enough," the Sheriff muttered, turning, then he thought better of it:
Corroboration, he thought, corroboration in the event of a jury trial.
"Mr. Moulton, I need a sworn statement of that claim status."
"Aha," Mr. Moulton said with the sound of a satisfied man, "here it is."
He rolled back to his desk and the Sheriff was ready to chew splinters from the man's desk top, so impatient was he for the results of Mr. Moulton's exploration.
"Yes," he murmured, tracing quick fingers down one sheet, then another.
"Yes, the entire creek, from beginning to terminus."
"I need that sworn statement," the Sheriff repeated, and Mr. Moulton looked up at the ususual hardness in the man's voice.
He saw the Sheriff's eyes had gone pale.

Jacob rode easy in the saddle, loose, relaxed; he and his Apple-horse just kind of loafed along, enjoying the sun on their hides, the air that they breathed: they came down the main street of Firelands, watchful as always but still loose and relaxed, until Jacob saw the Sheriff.
Apple-horse felt the change in his rider and came to alertness.
Jacob saw his father crossing the street.
If the man had nothing particular going on, he moved with an easy pace.
The man's spine was stiff, erect, and he strode with a military pace.
Jacob heard a warning voice in the back of his mind.
War on the Mountain.

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Linn Keller 6-19-13


Jacob stood in the doorway.
The Sheriff slapped the saddle bag closed -- if it were possible to slam it shut like an angry man would slam a door, he did -- and buckled it with short, vicious jerks at the leather.
"Jacob," he said, "I am headed for Cripple and I am looking for trouble."
"Then I am your man," Jacob said, and the Sheriff's head snapped up and he turned his pale-eyed glare on his firstborn like a battleship throws a spotlight against an enemy.
"You," he said, "will remain and operate in my stead."
"Yes, sir."
The Sheriff draped his saddlebags over the back of a chair, laid a hand on Jacob's shoulder.
"I trust you implicitly," he said, his voice low, his hand firm, but not squeezing: "I am going against what I expect is an asylum load of lunaticks turned loose on the land. There will be blood, Jacob, and I do not look forward to it."
"What happened, sir?"
The Sheriff handed the letter to Jacob, and Jacob read.

Sheriff --
You try and stop me again I will kill you and everyone you know.
I will blow up your damned saloon so you know I am serious.
I found the gold and you will not keep me from it.
PS -- tell that kid I will make a tobacco pouch of his Mama's hide when I catch her too. I hit him when he tried to run me off my claim.

Jacob looked up at his father, his eyes a shade lighter.
"They already tried to blow up the Jewel and I was damned fool enough to let the pair of 'em lie their way out of it."
"You know them, sir?"
"I know the names and addresses they gave, I'll start there. I know what they look like." He opened a drawer, took out two sheets of paper; two men's pencil-drawn likenesses looked back at Jacob.
"Ever see 'em before?"
"No, sir."
"I got an extra of each. Bottom right hand drawer, behind the whiskey bottle."
Jacob considered his father's words, many questions crowding for precedence.
"Sir, how can I help?"
"Keep the peace here, Jacob. Try to find out if any boys were shot lately."
A hard fist hammered on the door and the Sheriff and Jacob separated, Jacob reaching over to pluck the double gun off the rack, the Sheriff shucking his left hand Colt.
The Sheriff nodded at Jacob.
Jacob drew in a good charge of air and shouted, "WHO GOES THERE?"
The door swung open and Kohl found himself looking at two lawmen ready for a young war. The younger Kolascinski, beside him, had a stained bandage wrapped around his head and covering one eye.
Jacob snapped the shotgun's muzzle up and the butt end down, eased the twin hammers down to half cock.
"Sir, I think you just found him."

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Linn Keller 6-20-13


"Sheriff, I don't hold with shootin' a man --"
"Learn," the Sheriff snapped.
"Please tell me you'll keep that eye," Jacob said to Kohl's eldest.
The boy -- a tall boy, near enough a man now -- looked at Jacob with his one undamaged eye.
"I will," he said faintly.
Jacob steered the lad over to a chair, set him down, squatted a little to one side. "Now I need you to tell me what happened."
"We were --" Kohl began, turning and raising his voice a little, and the Sheriff grabbed his upper arm and hauled him outside, leaving Jacob to his interrogation.
Jacob is in front of him, he thought, this shows he has his complete attention, it puts pressure on the boy to talk because he has the full attention of a lawman.
He's a little to one side, though, so the boy does not feel trapped.
The door is open and the boy has nothing between him and the door.
Again, he doesn't feel trapped.
Jacob knows what he's doing.
I'll have to tell him he did it right.

The Sheriff turned his full attention to Kohl, pulling him down on the Deacon's bench beside him.
"Kohl," he said, "I think someone come along and found gold in your creek."
Kohl looked at the Sheriff, clearly far less comfortable than he'd been, and he'd not been comfortable a'tall coming over from Doc's place to report the incident.
"If that's the case word is a-gonna spread.
"Men go insane when they sniff gold out.
"I know you've got that all claimed but claim jumpers don't care. They figure they can run in, dip a pan in the creek and come out with a ten pound nugget, get out and nobody the wiser."
The Sheriff spat, trying to get the bad taste out of his mouth.
"You are going to be trespassed on, you can figure anyone comin' or goin' will know you've got the claim staked so they'll backshoot you and anyone else they can so they can work your claim without your interferin'.
"I don't hold with killin' neither but sometimes you have to do it."
The Sheriff's eyes were pale as he looked at the ex-gold miner.
"Get used to the idea and stock up what ammunition you can afford while you still can."

"Me and Pa saw some fellow squattin' by the creek. We could see him plain from the house. Pa went out so I picked up the double gun and went with him.
"Pa yelled and the fellow stood up and dropped a black dish pan or a big plate."
"Likely a copper pan. Black, you say?"
The tall Kolascinski boy nodded.
"Some like to burn the pan black so they can see gold in it better. What happened then?"
"He picked up a rifle and shot at us."
Jacob's eyes never left the boy's.
"So I shot back."
Jacob clapped his hand approvingly on the young man's knee. "Good job," he murmured, nodding once. "What then?"
"He shot at me ag'in and hit the tree beside me." He raised a hand to the bandages wrapped around his head and partly covering his face. "I couldn't see but I shot off the second barrel. I don't reckon I hit much on that second shot."
"The first shot, did it feel true?"
The boy looked at Jacob, uncertainty in his eyes.
"Pa said we hadn't oughta shoot people."
Jacob's eyes were pale and his hand was warm and firm on the boy's knee.
"He shot at you. He tried to kill you and your Pa both. You had to stop him and the only way you could, was to shoot him. You done right and don't you dare believe otherwise!"
Jacob's voice was quiet, firm, confident: young Master Kolascinski nodded, daring for a hopeful moment to think that perhaps he had not done a bad thing after all.

The Sheriff stood, whistled: it took a little for the hanger-on to shamble across the street in response to the pale eyed lawman's summons.
"Smokey," the Sheriff said, "I got a job for you. Ten dollars and drink, and all you have to do is lie like a mange hound on a fireplace rug."
"I can do that," the hanger-on grinned. "How big a lie do you want?"
The Sheriff clapped a hand on the man's shoulder.
"You, my friend," he said, "just struck gold and you're shouting it to the world. We are going someplace to cause trouble and you're going to convince everyone and their uncle you just found the biggest strike since God invented the stuff. Here."
He reached into his vest pocket, pulled out an irregular yellow lump, handed it to the hanger-on, who took it, rubbed it, smelled it and bit it.
"Hell," he swore, "that's pyrite!"
"That's right," the Sheriff grinned. "You're going to be found out in the middle of the biggest saloon in Cripple Creek. You'll be given drinks and sympathy for there is not a single miner there that hasn't been fooled by the fool's gold some time in his life, then we're coming home and you're not going to give your right name nor where you're from."
"For ten dollars?"
"For ten dollars."
"Hell, for ten dollars I'd tell a lie to St. Peter and pull three angels' legs to boot!"
"That's worth a twenty right there," the Sheriff said. "Now let's get you some minin' clothes."

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Linn Keller 6-21-13


Inge Kolascinski held an infant to breast with one hand and stirred the kettle with the other.
A houseful of young she had, a husband who didn't stray and who worked himself to wore-out to provide, a good strong cabin with a tight roof, good water to be hand and God's blessing, for their children were not swept away with plague as she'd seen happen to others in the past ... Inge smiled as she stirred, adjusting the sling that held the infant so she could for short moments at least, work with two hands.
She heard the door open, and the cabin's interior was lighter for a moment for the open door made a fine if drafty window.
Inge felt something tighten her stomach.
Any of her young would call out -- "Ma, I'm hungry!" -- "Ma, how much longer?" -- "Ma, I skint my knee!" -- and her hard-working Kohl would whistle that silly tune of his the way he always did, but this ... the door opened, and not a sound.
Inge considered her position.
The gun was halfway across the room and hung up: loaded, ready, but out of reach.
She was in front of the stove.
The wooden spoon made a poor weapon, the kettle had a bail and was hotter than the devil's passions and she had but one hand to work with.
Inge turned and went on the attack.

"Oh, sure, I got pyrites," the one-armed proprietor chuckled. "They make dandy fire starters. The Daine boys like to saw 'em flat and use 'em in their flint rifles. Ever see pyrite in a flint cock? Sheriff, that will throw a shower of sparks fit to scare a man!"
The Sheriff nodded, smiling.
"I am running a bluff," he said quietly, lowering his voice to a confidential level and giving an unnecessary but telling glance to his left and his right.
"The world has to believe that Kolascinski Creek is full of fool's gold. I need a gold poke with enough of the stuff to convince whoever sees it that some poor soul just went gold crazy over nothing."
The proprietor opened his mouth, then closed it slowly and shook his head.
"Sheriff," he said, "do you remember when they found surface gold over at Cripple?"
"Before my time," Linn admitted.
"I was there." He closed his eyes, seeing things visible only to the man that lived them. "Gold ... gold fever is a curse and an abomination, Sheriff. Cripple was worse than Hell on Wheels and I was there too." He shivered, then opened his eyes and looked the lawman square in his pale orbs.
"Don't let it happen here," he whispered.
The Sheriff's grin was cold and wolflike.
"That's why I'm a-runnin' a bluff," he said.

Inge rapped the wooden spoon twice on the kettle's rim and turned, her ire swirling about her like an Irish cloak in a headwind.
"Well don't just stand there with yer teeth in yer mouth," she scolded, "wash your hands and your face and set down! Supper is about ready and I've no time t'waste wi' you just standin' in th' doorway! Sit!"
Whatever the stranger's business or intent, it was interrupted by the woman's obvious command of her own home: the man blinked, his mouth open, then he muttered "Yes ma'am" and withdrew, drawing the door shut behind him.
Inge thrust the spoon in the kettle, scampered quickly and noiselessly across the room and snatched the shotgun from over the mantle: they kept it loaded and ready, for they too learned early and well that evil can strike anytime, anywhere, and Inge knew what a shotgun could do at close range.
She knelt beside her baby's cradle; the child was fed and ready to come off the breast, so she pressed her flesh with a fingertip to break the suction, held her infant over her shoulder with one hand, laying the shotgun across a handy chair, pointed across the door, her other hand tight around its wrist.
She stole a bare moment to lay the child in its cradle, wrapped and comfortable; the baby blinked and yawned, very ready for a nap, and Inge took up the shotgun in both hands, crept sideways to the window, looked out.
Two men were conferring, shooting glances at the house.
Inge saw something else and knew the fierceness of a mother cougar ready to defend her cubs.
She saw the Sheriff riding in , his rifle propped up on his hip, and with him her husband and oldest son.
If these men wanted something other than a meal, she knew at this moment they could give it to them, with interest.

Mr. Moulton reviewed the copy of the letter he'd sent to the Cripple Creek claims office.
He'd checked his files and he found that he had, indeed, some years ago, sent them claim information on Kolascinski Creek. The information was sent; they had it; he was not giving them something new or made-up.
Gentlemen, he read.
This is to confirm the communication sent on --
Mr. Moulton smiled; he'd included the date on the originals, as he always did: some did not, some were lazy or careless in their record keeping; he took pains not to be careless, lazy or sloppy, and at times like this, he was grateful that habit was well formed in him from childhood.
The letter went on to detail the nature of the original communication, reiterating that Kolascinski Creek was already claimed, from its headwaters to the point of discharge into the receiving river; he'd added that there had been unauthorized and criminal incidents of trespass in the area, and he wished to ensure their records were complete on the matter.
His letter went to Cripple on yesterday's morning train; its arrival would have been before noon the same day; allow until afternoon to arrive; by today, the Cripple Creek claim office should have processed it.
If they were writring claims on a claimed land, he, Mr. Michael Moulton, would have a rather busy time in court.
He withdrew a sheet of note-paper, dipped the leaf-shaped bronze nib in good India ink and began to write.
The Honorable Judge Donald Hostetler, Esq.
Your Honor --
I regret to inform that we may have a rush of gold related cases in the near future involving property and claim disputes. I am reviewing claim and land-holding status in the area against that possibility.

Folded, sealed and handed to a young man of his acquaintance, a slender lad with tanned face and hands and a ready laugh, who knew the Judge and where he could be found: the lad placed the note in a saddlebag, touched his hat brim, whirled his Texas cow-pony and was off with a whistle and a yahoo down the main street, clattering with a great fuss and bother for the ladies, the way young men will.

I rode around the pair, Cannonball stepping lively: they'd made as if to try and escape and I made sure they did not.
Kohl had his shotgun in hand, his son stood straight in spite of his injury: it is no easy thing to navigate with one eye when one is used to a pair of them, but he did as best he could: here, now, he managed not to wobble, though he was a bit pale under his outdoorsman's tan.
"Help you fellas?" I inquired mildly.
They looked distinctly uncomfortable; both were armed, not at all unusual for the time or the place, neither looked particularly reputable, but looks aren't always a good indicator of a man's profession or intent. I've seen angels in sackcloth and devils in silk and everything in between, and my gut told me this pair was trouble.
"We was lookin' over our claim," the one said.
"This entire valley is claimed already," I said. "Kolascinski Creek, from the headwaters to the river in length, from ridgetop yonder to ridgetop yonder, all claimed. This young fella" -- I indicated the Kolascinski boy, bandaged and trying hard not to lean against his Pa -- "was shot by a claim jumper.
"Allow me to introduce myself." I tilted my hat brim back with one finger, letting them see my pale eyes, before I turned over my lapel to display the six point star.
"Name's Keller. Sheriff. Firelands County."
I let that sink in for am moment.
Men talk in the West.
Campfire talk spreads information a surprising distance.
Lawmen and bad men were known, and widely known; little could be kept secret: when I fell off my horse and that rattle snake I lit on drove fangs in my back when I mashed it into the ground, why, word lit off from St. Louis to Taos that I'd fell in a nest of rattlers and got bit about two hundred times, that I'd come roaring up out of that nest snappin' rattlesnakes in both hands like horse whips, my face swole up like a dish pan and the color of a rotten boot top.
Wasn't true, of course, but such is the Hoot Owl Express: it might not get all the facts straight but they're generally interesting to hear.
I knew Jacob and I took pains to let the right people see us sparring, see us practicing, see us split playing cards edge wise and hit hand thrown tin cans and rocks and silver dollars -- we didn't do that often, we had a bunch of slugs made up and we'd show a silver dollar to someone, palm it and spin a slug in the air and shoot it -- I'm not as stupid as I look, which proves God's mercy -- but we saw to it that when we did something that would add to our reputation, the right people knew about it.
In any era, the wise lawman knows those people on the street, in the shadows, those folks to whom one listens to find out things ... and these same folk, these shadowed figures whose profession is to be a small fish in a big pond, are wonderful ways to disseminate information into the criminal world.
That's why I give them my pale eyes and showed them that six point star and said quietly, "Keller. Sheriff. Firelands."
About then the cabin door SLAMMED open and Inge came steaming out for all the world like a paddle boat headed down stream under full throttle in a flood, shaking her wooden spoon and declaring loudly, "MEN! WILL YE STAND AROUND ALL DAY AND TALK WHEN I'VE SUPPER ON THE TABLE AND IT'S GETTIN' COLD!" She thrust herself in the faces of the pair, waving her spoon like a scepter, speaking loudly to one and then the other, then turning to address the rest of us in general, painting grand and broad stripes in the air with the brush of her battered baton, "I GO TO THE TROUBLE TO FIX A GOOD HOT SUPPER AN' I MAKE ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE INCLUDIN' COMPANY AN' THE LOT OF YE STAND OUT HERE AND TALK! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT, WASH YER DIRTY COTTON PICKIN' HANDS AND GET IN HERE AND SET DOWN! AND MIND YOUR LANGUAGE, YOU LOT, WE'VE INNOCENT LITTLE CHILDREN IN HERE AN' I'LL NO' HAVE YER FILTHY LANGUAGE ON THEIR EARS! AN' DON'T SPIT ON THE FLOOR! I'VE ENOUGH WORK TO DO--"
Inge turned and snatched at her skirts and stomped back into the cabin, muttering all the way, something about not needing to scrub floors again, then she whirled and shook her spoon at us again.

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Linn Keller 6-22-13


I wanted in the worst way to try and back trail that scoundrel that shot at Kohl's boy.
First I wanted to see where he came from, but more than that, I wanted to see if he was leavin' blood behind, or anything else.
Or if he was even able.
If the boy got one barrel off good, chances were right fair the fellow got sprinkled with a percentage of that pattern, and a shot swarm is not a gentle thing, even at that distance.
There was no way I was going to leave Kohl and his family at the mercy of these two strangers, though, so I went on in with them and took off my hat when I did.
Inge had indeed made enough for everyone and I determined to eat but a little.
Normally I eat like Jacob, or maybe he eats like me -- whichever it is, Inge always was a good cook and I had done her cookin' full justice in the past, but I did not want to hog any great amount and shame her in front of company.
Even if I did end up being less than kindly to her company in the near future.
We-all set down and I could see the pair was much less than comfortable, especially when I took off my coat and hung it on the back of my chair.
I made sure my Tinker knife was where it ought to be, I bethought myself of the Derringer at the small of my back, and blessed Charlie for the thoughtfulness of that gift ... and I thought of the left hand dagger I had just below it.
My gun belt was nice and wide which distributed the weight of two revolvers and a string of reloads, and inside the back of the gunbelt I had a broad leather plate -- and inside this plate, the Derringer, and the dagger in a horizontal sheath for a left hand draw.
Main-gauche, it was called, and I blessed Daciana for teaching me its use: Esther knew about it and I felt pretty foolish when she showed me her own belt, and a main-gauche in it already.
That's not the first time I learned my wife is younger, smarter and better lookin' than me, and I didn't reckon it to be the last, and I was right, but those are other stories and unrelated to the Kolascinski affair.
The hammer tabs were free and pulled down out of the way on both revolvers when we come in sight of the cabin and they remained so, a fact the pair did not miss.
Matter of fact I stood a moment longer than I had to, which led their eyes to me, and I saw both their gazes drift down to my middle.
Then I sat, spread legged a little, comfortable, and ready to draw with either hand.
I don't like to gunfight in someone else's house -- it ain't polite and it upsets the children, not to mention stirring Inge up which I absolutely did not want to do -- but I wanted this pair to know I was perfectly ready to personally see to their passage on the Hell Bound Train.
Inge made a really good stew.
Now I will tell you a secret I never ever would tell Esther, and don't you tell her neither, but I don't really care for Esther's stew.
Oh it's good, and I've et it plenty of times, and the hungrier I am the better it tastes, but Esther generally uses kind of a poor cut of meat and she chunks her taters up fairly big and her broth is just that ... broth.
Now Inge, bless her, used a good cut of meat -- I'd swear she used back strap, my favorite, but a good cook can take about anything and improve it wonderfully, and Inge was good -- but the meat was cut up in fine, thin strips, these were cut short and the taters were almost diced.
She had onion and garlic in it, barely enough garlic to taste which made it really, really good, and she made gravy out of the broth.
It took great self control to keep from oinking loudly and hogging down most of what she had.
The pair ate -- nervously, but gratefully, and something told me they'd not seen a decent meal in a few days -- silence was long at the table after Kohl said grace, and the younger children looked at the strangers with wide and innocent eyes.
We finished our plates and I let the children and the strangers have a good second helping and I dawdled over buttered bread until that was about gone, then I made a show of fishing in a coat pocket and brought up the pouch I'd got from the one armed ex-railroader there at the Mercantile.
"Kohl," I said, "you dropped your poke. I picked it up for you. Looks like you struck it big."
I surreptitiously loosened the lacing, then tossed the poke on the table and it spilled, the gleaming golden payload cascading out on the tablecloth.
The strangers' eyes came open the size of wagon wheels and I could see the tongues shrivel in their slack jaws as their mouths went dry.
That much gold would be a fortune in any man's book.
I picked up one of the bigger nuggets and flipped it to one of the strangers.
"Go ahead, take a look. This is what a man works his fingers to bloody stubs to get."
Inge gave me a look that would set a man's hat on fire had he worn one; I winked at her and turned my head the other way to look at Kohl.
He was as surprised as they but wisely kept his mouth shut.
I reached over and picked up another nugget, a big one like two balls of pitch pine stuck together.
I pulled out my regular belt knife and said "Now watch this."
Instead of cutting into it, I held the nugget firmly with one hand and struck the back edge of the knife against it, a long raking blow, and it sparked.
I struck again and it showered sparks.
"Kin I try that?" one of his younger boys piped, and Inge turned to shush him.
The strangers' expressions went from greed to dismay.
"Try yours," I said. "It's all the same. Every bit of it. Bite it, cut it with your thumb nail, give it a try."
"Well I'd be --" one began, and "Oh, hel --" then they bit off their words and looked guiltily at the disapproving Inge.
"Poor old Kohl came into town convinced he'd just found second cousin to the Mother Lode," I said. "He was ready to bring an absolute fortune to the bank when that fellow took a shot at his son." I smiled and my smile was not pleasant. "I like findin' folks that trespass and then shoot at the landowner. It's been some time since I collected fresh ears."
"Ears?" one asked.
"Ears," I confirmed. "I string 'em on a wire and dry 'em over a slow fire. Got a whole row of 'em in my barn. Used to take scalps but everyone takes scalps. No one else takes ears but me."
Inge glared at me as if over a pair of spectacles, and I knew she would admonish me later that I'd go to hell for lying, and I would reply that the Pope taught there was no sin in lying to an enemy. That would just make her madder because he actually did and she knew it, but right now I had to convince this pair their efforts were for naught.
"When that fella took a shot he probably caught some shot in return," I continued conversationally. "I'm going to go find him. If he's still breathin' I reckon he'll tell me what I want to know."
"What'a you gonna do?" one asked, the other swallowing hard.
"I'm a lawman," I smiled, and I did my best to look as kind and gentle as the death's head on a pirate flag: "I find things out."

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Linn Keller 6-22-13


Jacob was a young man, and young men are restless, and he gave in to his restlessness.
Jacob had four horses in Shorty's back pasture: he was on a tough grulla at the moment, he was riding a circuit around town, not looking for anything particular, but as he was as comfortable as a house cat in a coyote factory, he felt the need to prowl, and prowl he did, until he saw his father coming into town leading two horses.
Jacob saw his father better than a mile and a half off and set the rough-gaited grulla towards town, intending to intercept his old man.
He got there as the Sheriff was offloading two prisoners.
"Lock 'em up," the Sheriff said shortly. "I'm going after blood."
Jacob glared at the pair.
"I don't know what you two did," he said quietly, "but I ain't skinned nobody alive for a week and I'm needin' practice. Don't give me an excuse or I'll work on you."
"Least it ain't ears," one of the pair muttered, and Jacob made a mental note to ask about that.

The Sheriff turned his Cannonball and cantered her briskly down the street.
He learned little from the pair, but he expected to learn little; they were obviously up to no good, but a man couldn't be prosecuted for intent -- not until intentions became deeds -- still, being locked up will sometimes loosen a man's tongue, and Jacob was sharp enough to pick up on anything that might come in handy later.
It took little effort to find the point from which the trespasser pushed lead toward Kohl and his boy and it took little more to find first blood.
The Sheriff's nostrils flared and he felt his skin tighten a little.
There is no more dangerous animal than a wounded animal, and if the man he was trailing was able to fight, he might figure he had no hope of survival and fight like hell itself was clawing at his soul.
Or the fellow might not be hurt bad, and he might be running like a coward with hell baying after his heels.
Either way, the Sheriff was watchful.

Inge unwrapped the bandages, her face carefully impassive; the dishpan of steaming hot water waited at her elbow, as did a fresh wash cloth and good lye soap.
The younger children watched solemnly, her oldest daughter the designated assistant: she was not yet five, but she was steady and dependable, as long as she was near the reassurance of her Mama.
The cloth came free with only a little coaxing and Inge carefully wore her best poker face.
Her son's eye was bloodshot and he blinked painfully as light hit his eye for the first time in several hours. He flinched as his mother began bathing the bruised, swollen flesh around it, carefully, precisely stroking in the direction of the stitches so as to cause the least pulling on healing flesh.
"Doc took out some splinters," the boy whispered, not trusting his voice: "he called 'em shivers and said that's what killed men on board ship, he said cannonballs would bust timbers into shivers and ..."
"Hush, now," Inge soothed, pressing a second cloth against his face: "close your eyes now" -- she blotted the tears he was trying hard not to spill -- "that must be tender yet, hold still, I've almost got the blood off it."
There was no blood, to be sure, Doc had cleaned it all off before bandaging the face, but Inge knew she had to see the extent of the injuries for herself, and she knew her son needed the reassurance of his Mama's touch.
He tried so hard to be the responsible oldest son and was approaching manhood with a frightening speed, but somewhere in his tall skinny frame was a scared little boy who wished for his Mama's soothing.
Inge dipped the cloth in the dishpan, wrung it out, wiped across his eyebrow.
"It's bruised," she said softly, "but you'll heal."
"Yes, ma'am."
"We'll leave it open to air now," she nodded. "It'll heal better that way."
"Yes, ma'am."
His next to youngest brother, the four year old, regarded him with wide and wondering eyes.
"Did it hurt?" he asked.
"Did what hurt?"
"Those are called stitches," Inge corrected him in a soft voice.
"No," the oldest lied. "No, they didn't hurt at all."

The path was just wide enough for a man to walk and that was all.
It curved along the side of a granite bluff, not quite sheer, but near to it.
When in doubt, son, he remembered, follow your gut.
His gut told him to stop.
The Sheriff hesitated, drew back his foot.
He hadn't put his weight down yet and so took a silent step back, another.
He smelled woods and mountains, he smelled the wild, high country he loved; birds sang, wind whispered to the treetops, he recognized a water ouzel not far below.
It was peaceful here.
It felt right.
Part of the Sheriff's soul wondered at the dichotomy: that he could feel so completely at home, while at the same time, hunting a man who he just might have to kill, a man who would probably try to kill him.
So far the wounded man took two forks -- both of them uphill -- an injured animal will go uphill, he thought, and so will an injured man -- he laid a thumb over the engraved '73 rifle's hammer spur and pulled the trigger, brought the hammer to full cock and released the trigger, tested the hammer to make sure it was completely in the full cock notch, silently bringing his rifle to readiness.
The Sheriff tasted copper.
He's close.
Just around this rock.

"You can come out so I can see who you is," he said in a conversational voice, "or I can come in and see who you used to be."
"Damn you," came the voice in reply, "that was my claim!"
"Not unless you're Jesus Christ. Kolascinski Creek is claimed by the family Kolascinski, root to crown and both sides full length."
"Kola -- what? Hell, that's Simpson Run, you damned fool!"
The Sheriff considered this.
"Simpson Run is two mile south of here," he said. "No gold down there, you idjut, you got the wrong creek!"
"You're" -- a wet cough -- "damn you, you lie!"
"Come on out here and say that."
"Damn you, I will!"
The Sheriff looked at the rock to his left, saw a way up: quickly, silently, he scaled up the stepped granite.
He'll expect me to be on the path, to crowd in close to the rock, he thought. If he shoots along the rock he'll expect to skip shot me.
He won't expect me to be directly above him.

The Sheriff cat footed along the rock, came to the lip, bent over and looked.
He drew back, smiled a little, then leaned over the edge again.
"Drop it," he said quietly, setting the bead front sight on top of the man's bare, bloodied head.

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Linn Keller 6-23-13


He took off running.
I didn't expect that.
I was looking straight down at him and I expected him to freeze, or look up, or even raise his rifle toward me.
He did none of these things.
He took out down the path toward where I'd been.
I thrust back from the precipice and hot footed it toward that little scramble path I'd come up, careless of noise I was making, then realized I could not make it down in any kind of a hurry so I run along its back bone above the fellow who was on that foot path below me.
I stopped and looked once or twice.
He wasn't running too well, between altitude and inheriting who knows how much lead from that right hand shotgun barrel, so I didn't have to run hard a'tall to keep up with him.
I made a mental note to remember this place: the path up here was considerably better than the obvious, better traveled way down below, and would be a fine avenue of escape.
Or ambush.
I like ambushes.
If I know where they are I can stay away from them.
"You can't get away," I yelled, far enough back from the rim he could not see me, but he could sure enough hear me, for I heard my voice echo back from the other side of the holler.
Holler, I thought.
I still think like a hillbilly.
These are the Rocky Mountains, son!
God never made no hollers steep and wide as these!

I heard the sound of a collision, kind of a wet sound, and I knew he'd either fell or he'd run into something, so I hazarded a quick look, then another, then I drew back and gave a good look clear around me before looking again.
A man often makes the mistake of funneling his vision down on his quarry.
Good way for someone to come in behind or from the side and give a man a nasty surprise.
I'd done it often enough to other folks.
Anyway once I took me a quick but good look around I looked back down and saw this John Doe just ran face first into a rock shoulder that stuck out into the path and he was just standin' there bleedin'.
His rifle was nowhere to be seen.
It took me a little to work my way down to him and I ended up going down onto the path behind him and cat footing up slow.
"Show me your hands, mister," I said, "and do it slow."
He didn't move.
The path was still narrow and I didn't want to grab him by the shirt collar and yank him flat on his back like I would usually do -- didn't want him to roll over the edge -- so I eased my rifle's hammer down to half cock and parked it against the rock wall and then walked up on this bleeding figure.
I took him fast and in a hard grip and held him, just held him, and he did not move.
He was dead.
I pulled him back and took a look at his face.
Stranger, I thought.
I looked over the edge of the path and his rifle lay in two pieces about sixty or seventy foot down.
I reckon it can just stay there, I thought, then I squatted and took this fellow with my shoulder in his belt buckle and stood, carefully, my right hand flat against the sheer wall on my right to help me balance for the moment.
I walked backwards until I found my rifle, eased it onto my left hand and then wrapped my right arm around behind the dead man's knees, jogged him up on my shoulder -- cautiously, for I did not wish to lose my balancd and end up broken like his rifle seventy feet below.
I walked forward, and slow and careful, got off that narrow path and onto good ground again, made my way back through the woods to Kohl's place, and my Cannonball horse, ground reined and grazing at the edge of the pines.
I'd borrow his wagon to fetch this carcass back so the pair in the jail could take a good look at the wages of sin.
Maybe they'd be more inclined to talk.
Meanwhile I had some hard thinkin' to do.
This might all be a simple mis-identification.
My faithful assistant who was still in Firelands, contemplating his role as a drunken miner with a poke full of fool's gold, might not have his acting debut after all.
If it was one man thinking this was Simpson Run and not Kolascinski Creek, why, we might not have a situation after all.
I still have an appointment with Everett.
Somehow I was grateful I was laboring under the weight of a limp carcass, working hard to keep myself upright and moving, for the anger was building in me and I needed some good way to discharge the anger I felt, and packing this awkward weight was a good way to do it.
There was bad blood between Everett and me and had been for a long time and he'd decided it was time to settle it once and for all between us.
That suited me just fine.
I felt the skin of my face tighten and I jogged the carcass once on my shoulder, settling it better in place, and continued my short winded pace toward the Kolascinski household.

"You ain't the first," Jacob said sympathetically.
He'd pulled a chair back to the cells and sat on the outside of their locked door, a small table between him and the prisoners: they were inside their cell, hands stuck out between the bars, holding hands of cards.
Cards were regarded, hands thrown, wagers made; the prisoners were coming out winners, but not by much: so far they'd won a slice of pie apiece but Jacob won their horses, guns and bedrolls.
"Yeah" -- the one fellow spread his hand, considered it, frowned: "but I come all this way to find a creek full of fool's gold, and it ain't even the right one!"
"You're not from the mountains, I take it?" Jacob asked mildly.
"Hell no," the other replied. "San Frisco. Heard about gold in the mountains and" -- he shrugged -- "two years later here we are!"
Jacob nodded sympathetically. "The mountains all start to look alike," he said, his voice understanding.
"Yeah," the pair chorused.
"If you fellows have a claim on Simpson Run, once you get out of here I can give you a grub stake and show you right where it is."
The pair both looked up at the tall slender deputy, looked at one another, back to Jacob.
"What? -- I mean, yeah?"
Jacob nodded. "If you two have sand enough to come out here from Frisco -- you've been in the mountains one winter at least?"
"Yeah, in Cripple."
"You worked the deep mines?"
"Hell no. I ain't goin' down in no mine!"
Jacob looked at the fellow, amusement in his eyes.
"Mister," he said frankly, "you are smarter than you look!"
"The Lord is merciful," the other intoned in an undertaker's sepulchural tones, at which point the first fellow whipped off his hat and flogged the speaker briskly.
"Tell you what," Jacob said, rising. "You two keep your horses and your rigs. I'll stake you as an investment, you strike the mother lode and I get a percentage. Deal?"
"Oh hell yes! Deal!"
Jacob raked the cards together, stacked them into a deck, handed it through the bars to them.
"I got to tend a detail. You fellows rest easy, the Sheriff ought to be back in a day or three."

Kohl's oldest son insisted on driving their wagon.
Inge wasn't too happy with it but he insisted and I gave a quiet nod, and she relented, but as I left I saw Kohl drift around behind the cabin with the shotgun under his arm.
We made good time to Firelands and drew up in front of the Sheriff's office.
"Son," I said, "I am obliged to you for making my life easier."
"Yes, sir," he said politely, then nodded at my brown stained coat and vest. "Might ought you soak that in salt water, sir, it's fresh and it ought to come out."
I nodded. "The ladies are good at getting blood out of my clothes," I admitted ruefully.
"Yes, sir."
"Do you stand fast now. I'll see to this detail."
Jacob opened the door and the prisoners were with him.
They looked at the Sheriff and one rubbed his left ear with a flat hand, as if to reassure himself it hadn't been slice off and strung on a wire.
"Take a good look," the Sheriff said. "This man took a shot at this young fellow here and ended up dead for his troubles. You might have seen him sometime."
"Yeah, that's Danny Spears all right," the one said, the other nodding. "He made his brags he'd staked a good claim and we come along to help."
"You weren't with him when he took a shot at this fellow?"
They looked uncomfortable and they looked at me and they finally decided they couldn't lie out of it.
"I was with him. Simp here warn't but he come runnin' when he heard gun shots."
"You didn't shoot."
"Didn't see no need."
"How about once the shootin' started?"
"Mister," he said heartily and most sincerely, "once I saw 'twas a two pipe shoot gun a-pointin' my way I got the hell out of there and how!"
I nodded. "You're smarter than you look," I said.
"Just proves --" the other began, but stopped at a glare from his fellow, and Jacob grinned.
I studied them, considered the sign I'd read and the information I had so far.
"Sir," Jacob said, "they are claimed on Simpson Run. Mr. Moulton confirms a claim there, but not in their name."
"I see," I nodded. "His?" I thrust my chin at the blood dripping wagon.
"Yes, sir."
"Jacob, take 'em over to Mr. Moulton's office. He'll have the particulars they need to sign the claim over. If he needs a certificate of death let me know."
"Yes, sir."
"You fellows ever pan for gold?"
"No, Sheriff," one answered while the other shook his head.
"I hope you fellows like cold wet feet, bad food and not much of it, sleepin' on the ground and gettin' rained on. Hell of a lot of work for very little reward. I know of one and only one man who's ever made money at gold."
The pair were listening; one raised his chin a little, the other leaned toward me a bit.
"The fellow who run the hardware store over in Cripple made a bloody mint," I said. "Sellin' goods to miners is the one sure and certain way to make money at gold minin'. Everyone else ends up broke, sick, crippled or dead."
I let that sink in for a minute before asking, "Either of you fellows hear of a man named Everett?"

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Linn Keller 6-24-13


Jacob knew better than to let anything at all interrupt his father.
The Sheriff was at his desk.
He leaned carefully back in his chair, having scooted it close to the back wall; he contemplated the opposite wall, the ceiling, the smooth pine of the desk's top; finally he inked his pen and began sketching ideas on a sheet of fooscap, outlining what he wanted to say.
After an hour or an hour and a half, three starts and a shot of Old Crud Cutter, he finally re-read what he'd written and nodded, satisfied.
Jacob knew he was just started.
He was right.
The Sheriff used his outline as a guide and began writing, line after carefully scripted line: it was important, Jacob knew, the old man's face had a particular set to it when he was working on a matter of importance, and his face had that set.
Jacob saw to the prisoners; Jacob received and accommodated visitors at the front door, gently conducting affairs of office outside, on the deacon's bench; he preferred the more formal atmosphere within, but the matters were casual and not official and so his conscience did not trouble him as he held court without instead of within.
Jacob looked up, surprised, as the door opened and the Sheriff called his name, quietly as he always did.
Jacob excused himself and went in.
"Shut the door, Jacob."
Jacob did.
The Sheriff picked up the bundle of paper, unnecessarily tapping the stack to arrange it in a neat pile, then lay in precisely in front of his office chair.
"This," he said, "explains what happened a couple of years ago, and why I am deviled by that Everett."
Jacob looked directly at his father, listening closely to the old lawman with the iron grey mustache.
"He was after stolen gold and I found it first.
"He thinks I was having sport with him when I let him find a false treasure map in a hiding place he knew of.
"I found the real map and got the gold -- it was a payroll shipment and it's been returned -- but I left Everett a map I drew. It led him halfway down New Mexico to a cave, and in the cave was a dry olla, and in the olla I left one gold coin and a note that told him to find honest work, he was a failure as an outlaw.
"He thought I was sporting with him, making him out a fool."
The Sheriff shook his head.
"I will give any man a chance, Jacob. I gave him his.
"After that ... well, there were holdups, people were killed, he arranged others ... his life is forfeit ten times over."
His father frowned, took a long breath.
"Everett and I have bad blood from the War."
Jacob saw his Pa's jaw start to shove out as he frowned.
"I have no use for a man who'll beat another man for no reason.
"He's about a year older than me and his delight was to jaw smack a subordinate.
"He did it to me when I was a junior officer. We were in battle and separated from the troops.
"He hit me and I hit him back. Matter of fact I knocked the dog stuffing out of him. Gave him a beatin' like I'd given no man before. I stopped short of puttin' my boots to him and I regret that, I should have killed him that day. Four people would be alive if I had, but that's ..." He shook his head. "Hind sight and all that.
"He threatened me with court martial and I put my sabre to his throat and said I could leave him dead in this thicket and no one the wiser and I meant it.
"He didn't try to court martial me, but he had no use for me after that, nor I him.
"After the War he went back and forth from outlaw to legit, just enough to keep ahead of the law but not much. He's pulled dirty deals and never got caught -- it's all there" -- he indicated the papers -- "but he went mad dog nuts when I got that stolen payroll he wanted.
"He hired two men to blow up the Silver Jewel and me with it, or blow the Jewel figuring it would scare me enough to give him the boodle."
"You figure to bring him in."
"I do," the Sheriff said, his grin tight and unpleasant. "Feet first."
Sir," Jacob reminded him, " 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,' "
The Sheriff nodded, settled his hat on his head.
"Yes, Jacob, that's right," he said, "and we are made in God's image. We use tools so I figure He does too."
The Sheriff drew his left hand revolver, ceremonially loaded the sixth round, eased the hammer's nose down between the cartridge rims, did the same with the right hand Colt, then looked up at his son.
"Take care of the toolbox here while I'm gone."
"Yes, sir."

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Linn Keller 6-24-13


Brother Beymer, rest his soul, congratulated me once on my ability to turn invisible.
I can't, of course.
I can pass unnoticed much of the time, if I so choose, and I chose to do so now: I was in the stock car with my Cannonball horse, and I laid down and took a nap.
I was not minded to nap.
I was restless and would normally have had the side door open and slung out Cannonball's road apples soon as they hit the straw.
I knew I was going to kill a man, though, and all of a sudden my manic drive to tidy the stall disappeared, and I laid down, and willed myself to sleep, knowing Cannonball would wake me if anything out of the ordinary occurred.
I took Cannonball instead of a less conspicuous horse because I wished to be seen, I wished to be known: my badge was still on the outside of my lapel and my holsters were buckled around my legs at the bottom, instead of tied like most tied-down holsters were.
Not many men wore theirs tied down, or with the strap run around the leg and secured; those that did, were noticed.
I could be invisible if I chose.
For all things there is a season, and this was not the season to be invisible.
I stopped in at the Marshal's office first and got a good surprise, they had a new man -- Carpenter -- who'd served with me: he'd been from one of the New England detachments, and like myself, he got separated from his outfit in the confusion of engagement; we were both reassigned and ended up together and for a time shared a tent.
After the hand shaking and back slapping and catching up on important matters -- he'd married, he was a widower, he remarried, he was a widower again, he'd married a local girl not two weeks ago -- I slapped his flat belly and offered an obscene suggestion that he was plowing a young man's field and it was keeping him fit, and he laughed and said with the right field it was easy enough done, and what in the name of flaming goodness had I been doing with my life, so I filled him in, how I'd married Esther, we had young and a small spread and prosperity.
Then I went sober and he knew I was coming to the reason for my visit.
"Carpenter," I said, "do you remember an officer named Everett?"
Carpenter raised a hand and rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
"He's here in town."
Carpenter's eyebrows raised with surprise.
"You might have heard of his exploits." I filled him in on Everett's dirty deeds, and Carpenter listened, and nodded, and finally allowed as he'd heard something of them.
"I am here to kill him, Carpenter," I said bluntly. "I don't hold with going into another man's town and just killing someone but by the Lord Harry this man has seen his last days on earth!"
That did not sit particularly well with Carpenter.
He suggested I hand him a warrant, he would effect an arrest and would hand the prisoner over to me. Due process, he said. We're civilized these days, he said.
I felt my face go cold and tight and I reckon my eyes were pale with I tilted my head back just enough to let him see under the hat brim and I said "When they tried to blow up the Jewel, I was three feet from it and my wife and my little girl were upstairs."
Cooper stopped talking and dropped his head.
Finally he looked up at me.
"Kill him then," he said. "I'll back your play."
"He'll be at the Bon Ton." I looked at his big Regulator clock. "It's just after twelve noon. Let's go cause some trouble."
The Marshal walked, I rode Cannonball over in front of the Bon Ton.
It was three stories, it was a fancy false fronted establishment; it had big windows and half-curtains, it had polished brass door handles and gleaming glass in the doors.
When I rode over I made it plain I was looking the street over carefully.
I made it very obvious.
Then when I tied Cannonball to the hitch rail, two boys came running up, barefoot and big-eyed.
"Mister," one said, "Mister, is that Cannonball?"
I squatted, looking directly at the gap toothed lad. He was young and tow headed and he'd lost a tooth not long ago, adding to his cute-little-boy appeal, and I distantly remembered being as he was, many years before.
"This here," I said, "is the one and the only Cannonball. She fires into a gallop like a ball from a field gun, she can split the wind faster than God Almighty can launch an angel and she runs so light I can cross the muddy Missouri and not get the tops of her hooves wet!"
"You're Keller," he breathed reverently.
I nodded, stuck out my hand.
The little fellow hesitated, shook, his eyes the size of cart wheels, then he spun and ran, he and his companion, and were soon lost down an alley.
Carpenter was grinning.
"I remember when you did that with a little Suth'n boy," he said, the correct pronunciation odd with his Massachusets accent.
"Yeah," I said, straightening, feeling my knees crunch and pop, and realizing how much easier it had been to squat down and talk back when I was young.
The Bon Ton was only one step up from the board walk.
I opened the door for Carpenter and we both went in, obviously both lawmen and both with hard eyes.
I saw Everett right away.
I looked at Carpenter; he looked at a short hallway to the left of, and behind, the quarry; I nodded, and he slipped along behind the bar patrons.
The barkeep called to him, asking if there would be trouble, and of course eyes went to the Marshal and the barkeep, and I slid sideways through the gamblers and the diners, until I came to the table where Everett was dealing.
I thrust in between two players, leaned across the table and seized Everett's wrists.
Cards made a small geyser; I looked at him and he looked at me and the color run out of his face like red ink out of an eye dropper.
"You other fellows," I said quietly, "step back. We have business."
Conversation was coasting to a stop around us; the piano was suddenly loud, until someone shushed the piano player.
I scooped up the cards, stacked them into a deck, sat down opposite Everett.
I never said a word.
I shuffled the cards, I dealt the cards: one to him, one to me.
One to him, one to me.
My eyes never left his; I was set with my legs bent, with easy access to either revolver.
One for him, one for me.
Pasteboards whispered audible as they dealt, as they spun in slow motion through the tobacco layered air.
I caressed the deck, stripped out a few cards.
"This deck," I said casually, "is not only marked, it's cut on a taper."
I stood, seized the table's edge, threw it up hard, scattering chips, coins and cards.
"I'll kill you for that," he whispered through stiff lips.
I was ready.
I wished for him to make the least move toward his sidearm, toward a pocket, toward something under his thigh.
He did not.
My voice was notched up to battle pitch -- I can pitch my voice to cut like a horse whip, I have cut a stone statue and made it bleed with the cut of my voice -- my words were framed to be heard and understood over the confusion of an active battle.
Every man Jack in that building heard my words.
He was still dead pale but he was sweating now and his stiff lips could barely form the word.
"To - to- tomorrow," he replied.
I snarled, kicked a chair out of the way and turned my back on him.
I heard the snarling click of a Remington revolver coming to full cock and I didn't have to look to know the Marshal just introduced his octagon barrel persuader to Everett's right ear, and persuaded him of the ill-advised nature of back shooting me as I left.
I went outside and gathered Cannonball's reins from where I'd loose looped them around the hitch rail. The outside air felt cool, clean, and smelled considerably better than the inside of the Bon Ton.
The little boy who'd come up earlier crept tentatively toward me, dirty bare feet silent on the dirt.
"Mister," he said, awe in his voice, "are you gonna have a walkdown?"
I looked at him and smiled a little.
It was easy to like the little fellow; there exists something in every man that responds to a big-eared kid who listens, who hangs on his every word.
"Yes, son," I said. "We're having a walkdown first thing in the morning."
I squatted again.
"Now I need some good sound advice and you look like a man who might know what I'm looking for."
He nodded, adoration shining from his clean-scrubbed face.
I stopped for a moment, wondering what it was to be innocent, knowing that I was once as he, the dismissing the thought as irrational and not germane to the subject.
"Son, can you recommend a good livery stable? And I need a good night's rest, where's a clean and quiet place to stay?"
Not a half hour later Cannonball was being tended and grained, my saddle blanket was hung out and drying and I unloaded my right hand Colt revolver and let the two little boys take turns holding it out at arm's length: another half hour and I'd taken a room at the Nonpareil -- Carpenter came out the back as he usually did, and I waved my hat slow at arm's length to get his attention -- he and my two native guides agreed the Nonpareil was the place to stay, and so I went.
I got a good meal and I got me a bath, I had my suit brushed out and my boots polished -- nothing like a good hotel to cater to a man's wants -- I declined the generous officer of a woman for the night, I settled into my room and propped a chair under the door, kicked it tight under the door knob.
I locked the door from the inside but I am not a trusting man.

Next morning I was up before sunup as I always was.
I had coffee and one slice of toast, standing up in the kitchen, with the cook fussing at me for not treating my stomach with the proper respect, and why didn't I sit down and she would fix me a proper breakfast, and I chuckled and thanked her for her kindness, then I touched the seed-bead Rosary she had hanging from a hook and remembered Daisy, and how she would fuss and cackle like an aggravated hen.
Cannonball and I walked up the street, hoofbeats loud in the predawn.
Cripple was a mining town and it never really slept; there were late drinkers and very early drinkers, there were freighters and miners, but as I rode up the street, the population thinned steadily until there were store fronts, gas lights, two men and a horse.
There were more men that that, and women too.
Word spreads fast and it had spread.
Heads poked over rooflines, over window sills; men's heads populated the space above the half-curtains in the Bon Ton.
I tied Cannonball to the hitch rail, pulled my hammer tabs free and slid them down out of the way.
Everett walked out into the middle of the street a hundred yards distant.
"I'm a-gonna kill you, Lieutenant," he called, his voice echoing from the warping boards of the store fronts.
"That," I shouted back, "is Colonel to you, Captain."
I walked out in the middle of the street.
The sky was lightening behind him.
Blue uniformed ranks shifted and muttered in the predawn gloom.
The grass was wet underfoot; a heavy dew that night soaked anything not under cover.
I drew my sabre, curved steel whispering from its scabbard.
My voice was loud on the damp morning air.
Hands grasped bayonet sockets.
Bayonets were pulled free.
Sockets were thrust over rifle barrels, given a vicious twist, locking them in place.

I stood in the center of the street, one thumb hooked in my gunbelt, the other loose at my side, slouched a little.
Blue-clad men lined up on either side of me.
I came to attention.
Drums, always drums, and we stepped off as one wide blue animal, knees surging against the mists like waves against a beach: instead of the slow, animal walkdown, waiting for the other to make a move, then reflexively drawing, I paced off on the left, marching toward the enemy with a brisk military pace.
I fell into an easy rhythm, right arm swinging, left thumb still hooked behind my belt, and I heard the measured tread of Union brogans, saw men's breath steaming in sudden plumes from beneath mustaches; the ranks were neatly dressed on either side of me and we marched into battle, with me in the lead.
Everett started toward me, his walk hesitant, uncertain; he didn't quite know what to think of me coming at him at a brisk pace, apparently, and that's what I wanted.
We started at a hundred yards.
I closed half that distance and he drew his right hand pistol.
Everett thrust it suddenly out at shoulder height, sighted.
I saw the dirty yellow flare of his shot.
The enemy saw us coming.
We could see the dirty yellow blooms of their musket fire, we heard their freight train Minie balls tearing through the air past us, but we marched, each man keeping faith with his fellow, each with his own brand of invulnerability wrapped around his heart, each knowing that if anyone broke, all would break, and so nobody broke pace, nobody hesitated.

I counted six shots from Everett's right hand revolver.
I kept pace with my men, ranked on either side of me, ghosts ... ghosts and memories but just as real as if they were there in flesh and bone.
Twenty-five yards and Everett pulled his left hand revolver.
I could see his face clearly.
He was starting to panic.
He drew, fast, shoved the gun muzzle at me and fanned the hammer back with his little finger, six times.
My pace did not vary.
I was within twenty feet of him and he was pale again, wide eyed, fumbling with a reload, trying desperately to get a fresh round in the cylinder --
I shoved him, hard, pushing him back.
He back pedaled, dropped the revolver, grabbed for the other.
I drew back my fist and belted him in the jaw, a short, vicious roundhouse, and I heard something break.
"How does that feel, damn you?" I asked, then I drew both my pistols, shoved them into his gut just above his hips and pulled both triggers simultaneously.
He hit the ground screaming.
I holstered my right hand Colt and reloaded the fired round from the left hand revolver.
I smelled his blood and his busted guts and holstered my left hand revolver and replaced the fired round from the right hand pistol.
"Help me," he gasped as a red ocean started to spread under him.
The sun just peeked over the rim of the world, bathing the street in red, and I looked down at the dying man and said in a quiet voice, "You tried to hurt my wife, and you tried to hurt my little girl." I squatted. "No one hurts my little girl."
Then I stood and turned my back on him and walked back down the street.
My stomach told me it was time for breakfast.

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Linn Keller 6-25-13


Polly came running into the house, eyes wide: she ran up to Sarah and with absolutely no consideration for propriety, clutched desperately at her sleeve and declared in a panicked voice, "Sawwah, come quick, the sky is bwoken!"
Sarah looked up, surprised; Bonnie blinked, then her eyes went to the shotgun in its rack.
Sarah stood quickly. "Show me," she said, turning; she snatched up the rifle from its hiding place and followed the scampering Polly out the front door.
Sarah stepped sideways immediately after exiting the door: she got the wall behind her, cranked a round into the rifle, looked around her.
It was night.
She heard cattle in the pasture, she heard the restless stamp of a horse; she smelled the nighttime air, she saw the moonlit yard, the dress-works nearby, the gravel drive looking like crushed cream poured over a sandy floor.
Opal was in the middle of the yard, looking up, straining to see something.
Sarah took one final, slow look around, then came slowly down the steps, pausing with each step, hesitating with both feet on the ground, ready to turn and fire in any direction if needed.
One step, two steps, three, then ground: her mouth was open, she breathed silently, listening to the night.
Polly tugged at her sleeve again. "This way!" she whispered, fear and urgency in her voice, and Sarah saw light spill in an irregular rectangle as the door opened again and she knew her Mama was on the porch, looking, then another shadow and she knew this would be Levi.
Sarah followed the girls to the middle of the front yard; she turned, slowly, looking, listening ...
"Up dere Sawwah! It's bwoke! Look!"
Sarah looked up at her little sister's urging and saw it.
A streak, a spot: a single bright-white dot of light screaming through the high atmosphere, leaving a trail of fire behind it, falling and then disappearing.
"Da sky is bwoke, Sawwah," Polly said, almost in tears, "da stars aw fawwing!"
Sarah looked at her Mama and smiled, easing the rifle's hammer to half cock.
"Come and see," she said softly, and Bonnie and Levi came down the front steps.
The family Rosenthal gathered under the broad Colorado sky to watch a meteror shower, listening to Sarah's soft-voiced explaination that these were called Indira's arrows: that Daffyd Llewellyn's brother was in the British Army in India, and he learned of their legends, their history, and he'd told Sarah that a warrior-goddess named Indira launched arrows of fire at her enemies, and that some of these fell to earth, trailing flame as they went.
"Da sky izzint bwoken?" Polly asked hopefully.
"No, sweets," Sarah whispered, squatting and brushing her little sister's cheek with the backs of her fingers. "The sky is just fine."
Polly collapsed against the reassurance of her big sis with a relieved sigh.
"Good," she mumbled into Sarah's shoulder. "I don' wannada skyda bweak."

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Linn Keller 6-25-13


Jacob felt the gunshot go in his belly.
It felt like Sarah just punched him.
Only it felt like it penetrated way deeper than Sarah's fist.
Jacob wondered who was shooting as three fast concussions slammed against his face and he saw his hand rising and he saw his thumb bring the hammer back for a fourth shot, just before he fell backwards, weak, so weak, and a woman's voice screaming ...
It started out a little unusual, but then little in law enforcement is routine.
Beatrice Dean, the portly, grandmotherly owner and general manager of the Firelands Bank, fretted behind her scroll carved desk, impatient for Jacob's arrival: her kerchief was a damp ball in one hand, then the other, as she squeezed it in her soft but dexterous hands, trying vainly to defeat the sweat that kept dampening her palms.
The accountant stood at the other desk, reviewing the figures again, frowning a little as he did so, and finally lay down his pencil and took another long breath.
"Madam," he said gently, "I can find neither fault nor flaw in her bookkeeping.
"You are quite certain she is gone?"
"Positive," Beatrice said softly, her voice worried.
"And her drawer balanced."
"To the penny."
The accountant turned a little at the knock, then the opening door: Marsha Dew announced Jacob, and Jacob came in, hat in his hand and curiosity on his face.
"I have a problem," Beatrice said without preamble, rushing to her feet and scuttling around her desk: Jacob inclined his head a little as she approached, for Beatrice was a full head and more shorter than he.
"I am listening with both ears," Jacob said seriously, and Beatrice could not but smile, for he sounded so much like his father when he used one of his father's phrases.
"It's Kendra Hicks," Beatrice said as if coming to some decision.
Jacob frowned a little. "One of your tellers. The little bitty one, no bigger'n a cake of soap."
"The same," Beatrice nodded.
"How much is missing?"
Beatrice looked at the bookkeeper with a worried expression, and the bookkeeper turned to face Jacob: extending his hand, he said, "Clarence Warner, accountant. Mrs. Dean called me in a week ago, and it is only chance that I arrived as she realized her ... dilemma."
Jacob nodded. "How much are we missing?"
Neither Warner nor Beatrice missed his use of the plural pronoun: Jacob had money in this bank as well, and if any were missing, he would be personally shorted.
"There seems to be ... a very curious development," Clarence Warner said hesitantly.
"And I am a curious man. Pray continue."
Jacob's voice was gentle, courteous, reassuring, and Beatrice felt herself relax a little at the tone of his words.
"There is nothing missing, Deputy. I've run a full accounting of all the bank's assets, both investment and on hand, and there is absolutely no shortfall." He paused, then added, "None. Anywhere."
"A teller disappears, and no money is missing," Jacob said softly. "That is not what one usually hears."
"I know, and I'm worried," Beatrice fluttered her hands, turned and paced restlessly back behind her desk, looked at her chair, paced back to Jacob.
Jacob considered for a few moments, studying one of the book ends on Beatrice's desk: it was almost crudely made, probably by a child, and given as a prized gift, probably to a grandparent.
"Had she access to the vault?" Jacob asked.
"Of course," Beatrice nodded.
"Did she have the combination?"
"Oh heavens no," Beatrice said briskly. "I had the manufacturer send a man not six months ago to change the combination. I told the staff it was routine maintenance, but I changed the combination and had him re-key the tumbler lock as well. I have the only key" -- she stopped her hand from rising, but Jacob knew she wore it on a long cord around her neck -- "and only I know the combination."
"Did you ever write it down, could Miss Hicks have possibly acquired it?"
"No. No, I burned the only copy after I memorized it."
"Is there a written copy elsewhere?"
"In a small safe in my room at home."
"Is your safe still there?"
Beatrice turned pale, raised a hand to her bodice: Jacob seized her chair, slid it under her as her knees gave way.
Jacob went to one knee, took the banker's cool, trembling hands in his own.
"I will find her," he said, reassurance in his voice and certainty in his grip: "I will bring her home."
Jacob walked out of the bank, eyes busy; he considered, then turned to the right as he came out of the bank, stopped in to speak with Mr. Moulton.
He emerged a few minutes later, no better informed: Miss Hicks had no commerce with Mr. Moulton to date, nor did he know of any legal proceedings in which she may be involved.
Jacob thanked the man and moved on to the parsonage.
Parson Belden was outside, stacking wood, and Jacob let him a hand: the man was old enough to be respected, young enough to work hard, old enough Jacob was justified in lending a hand, young enough for the sky pilot to try and match Jacob chunk for chunk, until both stood with relief on their faces as Mrs. Parson called from the porch and said something about pie.
When as good a cook as the Parson's wife utters the word "pie" you don't ask questions.
Jacob didn't.
Until they were through with their first slice of pie.
"Parson," he said, chewing happily, "you wouldn't know why Kendra Hicks -- that little bitty teller over at the bank -- why she might've left town by any chance?"
The Parson leaned back as his wife refilled his coffee.
"Why, yes, Jacob, I do," he said, and if Jacob had ears like a cat's they would have swung forward and quivered.
"Miss Hicks is getting married."
"Whither away?" Jacob blurted, feeling like a hound that just struck a hot scent.
"Is there ... is something wrong?" the Parson asked.
"There may be," Jacob said cautiously. "I intend to find out."
"You'll catch her on the first train out, then, for she only just left."
Jacob thrust to his feet as he heard The Lady Esther's whistle.
"Parson," he asked, his mind racing, "any idea who she's marrying?"
"I believe," the Parson said thoughtfully, leaning back and searching for the answer somewhere on his whitewashed ceiling, "he said his name was John Allen."
Jacob blurted his thanks and nearly ran out the door; once he was clear of the parsonage he laid into a flat-out sprint.
His Apple-horse was drowsing in front of the Sheriff's office, at least until he heard Jacob's running approach: his ears and his head came up, Jacob seized the saddlehorn and vaulted into the hurricane deck as only a slender and athletic young man can do, and Apple-horse spun about and launched down the street, running as if a swarm of hornets was pursuing his backside.

Jacob burst into the telegraph office.
Fred Jerome looked up, startled.
"Wire ahead," Jacob said shortly. "Stop the train."
He was out of the office before Fred could offer either protest or question.
Reluctantly, the lightning slinger reached for the gutta-percha button on the brass General Electric key and began tapping out the command.

Jacob knew the roadbed intimately.
He knew he could ride full-out on the left side of the ballast roadbed, where the path was bare dirt and brush was cleared back: he often took this route coming into town, or leaving it, or just because he felt like it.
He knew he could run flat-out for two miles anyway and by then he should be able to catch the train.
If he could not, the train would be stopped and waiting for him to arrive by whatever means.
It took considerably less than that first mile for him to catch up with the train: Apple-horse had no difficulty keeping up with the car as Jacob crossed his palms on the saddle horn, jumped straight up out of the stirrups and landed his feet on the saddle: he'd practiced this a thousand times, it was a familiar maneuver, he took a final glance to his left, then at the platform on the tail end car, and vaulted across space.
He landed on the platform, went to all fours momentarily; Apple-horse veered off, and Jacob knew he would go back home, back to his barn; he always did, when Jacob jumped and left him to his own head: he was actually close to his own house, and Annette would figure he was up to more train jumping when Apple showed up riderless.
Jacob stood, pulled his hammer tabs loose, thrust open the car's door and stepped inside.
Curious faces looked around at him.
He almost passed Kendra, turning at the last minute: it was a serious blunder, he knew, she was to his right and just behind him, and the fellow sitting beside her was moving, and that's when Jacob felt the gunshot.

The Sheriff got off the special from Cripple and offloaded Cannonball.
The man looked fatigued: he was dark under the eyes and he moved slow, like an old man, like a tired old man.
He turned, curious, as the yard crew began shouting; the special's engine blew a warning blast and the Sheriff saw tan crystals falling from the sanders; the drivers spun on the tracks, throwing sparks until they hit the sand, then the engine surged strongly back, and stopped again: another long blast and two gandy dancers turned a switch, and the special's engine lurched forward, clawing desperately against steel, desperately trying to get the hell out of the way.
The Sheriff heard another whistle, urgent somehow, a long wail and several short, attention-getting notes, another long, desperate scream of steam through a brass throat.
The Lady Esther was running backwards as hard as she could go, coming into station ... pushing her train of cars instead of pulling them.
The Sheriff tasted copper and knew that something bad, something very bad had to be happening, for the scheduled train to stop and back into station like this.
He was right.

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Linn Keller 6-26-13


The Sheriff's eyes were cold; his face was tight, his voice was carefully neutral, and he spoke with every last passenger on the car.
Jacob was gone, whisked to hospital by willing hands and a freight wagon: the Sheriff put him out of his mind -- he could not help his son, his job now was to find what happened, and that had to come from eyewitness accounts.
One of the ladies on the train was traveling to San Frisco with hopes of working as a secretary: she presented herself and offered to take down statements in shorthand, and assured the Sheriff she could do so without interfering with his work.
He looked long at her and the young woman felt something cold penetrate to her very soul, then he gave a single nod, and she followed him to the front of the car and held her hard-backed pad in one hand, her pencil ready in the other and two more sharpened pencils in her hair.
"YOU ALREADY KNOW THE BACK DOOR IS LOCKED," he said, his voice carrying to the end of the car. "I WILL SPEAK WITH EACH OF YOU INDIVIDUALLY. YOU WILL TELL ME WHAT YOU SAW. YOU WILL NOT SPECULATE, YOU WILL NOT GUESS AND YOU WILL NOT SPEAK AMONG YOURSELVES. I WANT FACTS. I WANT WHAT YOU SAW. I WANT NOTHING ELSE. I WILL START WITH THOSE NEAREST THE SHOOTING." He pointed to the pale-faced young woman directly across the aisle from the scene, the woman who found herself with an unconscious, bleeding deputy on the floor, hard against her shin bones.
The Sheriff listened carefully to each individual; he prompted them for their name and where they were from, then asked them what happened, what they saw; he guided their memories, thanked each, and had them leave the car by the front door, assured them they would be compensated for their inconvenience.
One by one the passengers were interviewed and released, until finally only Kendra Hicks remained.
Kendra was pale, shivering; her eyes were wide and staring: her fiancee's body was long since removed, but the blood on her hands and on her skirt remained.
The Sheriff called her name, softly.
She did not respond.
He sat down beside her.
The new secretary discreetly slid into the seat behind them, leaning forward, head turned a little, carefully noting every word the pale-eyed lawman spoke.
"Kendra, I see you have blood on you."
Kendra looked at the Sheriff with the eyes of a lost soul.
"He was such a nice man," she whispered, her eyes sparkling with tears unshed. "We were to be married."
"Tell me what you saw," the Sheriff whispered in reply.
The secretary's pencil scratched loudly as their words caressed her ears and flowed out the sharpened end of the pencil.
"Jacob ... came just past me and then turned.
He looked down at me and John ... I felt him move and he shot Jacob."
The Sheriff frowned a little.
"Where was John sitting?"
"Here, beside the window," she said, turning her head and raising a gloved hand through the space the man so recently occupied.
"What happened them?"
"Jacob shot him."
"Did anyone else shoot?"
Kendra looked up, her eyes lost, hopeless. "I don't know, Sheriff." She started to cry, lowered her face into her hands. "Why did they ... why did he...?"
The Sheriff lay a gentle hand on her back and Kendra turned to him and stood, and the Sheriff knelt and took the little bank teller in his arms, holding her as she poured out her grief and her loss into the greying old lawman's shoulder.
The Sheriff's eyes were pale, hard and cold, and his mind was busy sorting, considering, arranging.

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Linn Keller 6-26-13


Esther has a way of knowing.
I don't pretend to understand how, but she knew she would be needed at the depot platform.
It wasn't until I'd spoken with every last soul in that car, until the secretary -- Faith, her name was, Faith Hope, I remember how she turned a little red when she spoke her name, and I reckon she's taken her share of kidding about the name.
I knew a cow hand some years before, another New Englander, we called him Rass.
That was short for Rassling.
His name was Rassling with the Devil.
Honest to God, that was his given Christian name, so when Miss Faith Hope told me her name I did not crack a smile.
"Miss Hope," I said, "how much were you paid back East?"
She named a sum and I did not hesitate.
"Miss Hope, I will double that."
Faith Hope blinked, surprised.
"I am inconveniencing you," I said, "and interrupting your journey. If you have pressing matters of course you may go, and my thanks, but I would be very much obliged if you would remain for a time."
"Of course," she said, and I saw a little uncertainty in her eyes.
I looked out and nodded, opened the door: Miss Hope preceded me, thrusting her pencil back into her done-up hair, the hard backed pad in her half-gloved hand: a porter offered his hand, she descended from the car, and up onto the depot platform.
I followed, took Esther's hand and kissed her, and I did not give a good damn that I was out where God and everybody could see it.
"Esther Keller, my wife," I said, "this is Miss Faith Hope, a secretary from back East who was kind enough to take witness statements in shorthand. I have employed her for this investigation."
"Welcome, Miss Hope," Esther said with her usual sweet and genuine nature. "Please tell me you will be staying with us."
"I, ah, I hadn't -- I have no arrangements --"
Esther gave her a reassuring look, smiled her grandmotherly smile,that smile I remember so well: "I know what it is to be a stranger in a strange land," she almost whispered, "and I insist that we put you up for ..." -- Esther looked at me, amusement in her eyes -- "the duration."
"That ... is very kind, thank you," Faith Hope said.
"Miss Hope," I said, "I can loan you my desk and writing materials. I fear I am not gifted with reading the foreign language you call ... " I felt my ears warming as I realized I had no idea what she called those funny curlicues she'd written down.
"Shorthand," she and Esther chorused.
"If you could re-write this so His Honor can read it," I nodded, "I would be very much obliged. I may have to call you as a witness to the event as well as author of this document."
"I understand."
Esther looked at me, lowered her voice.
"Jacob is at the hospital. I have not been there yet."
Digger's men went into the car with a box, Digger mounting the steps to the platform with professional slowness.
I won't say dignity. He pretended to dignity but with him, it was slowness.
"Bad business, bad business," he said somberly, shaking his head. "Sheriff, I am so very sorry to hear of Jacob."
"Thank you," I said. "I will need everything the dead man has this time, Digger. Once I've sorted through it we'll thrash things out then but I need all he has."
"Yes, of course, of course," Digger murmured, dry-washing his hands.
I turned to Miss Hope.
"You will need to write down the inventory of the dead man's effects," I said. "I'm afraid, Miss Hope, you're going to earn your pay."
Faith Hope looked at me with big, vulnerable eyes, and I realized almost with surprise that I was not attracted to this pretty young woman.
I had other things on my mind.
"Miss Hope, let us retire to my office. I will set you up with your supplies and then I will go to the hospital while you are otherwise occupied. Afterward I believe supper will be about ready, Esther can point you in the right direction and I'll see to it that Angela doesn't pester you with a hundred questions."
"Angela?" Miss Hope asked, and I could see a smile behind her eyes.
"Our daughter," Esther explained. "She's only just going to school and I don't think she would fear the Devil himself."
Esther took my arm. "My dear," she said, "as the passengers came out of the car I introduced myself as owner of the railroad, and offered them a meal at the Silver Jewel, and free passage for the remainder of their trip."
I nodded. "Thank you, dear heart. I appreciate that."
"They may never ride the Z&W again, but people talk, and such treatment will become known, and it will be good for business." Esther squeezed my arm and I knew she was trying to distract herself from what neither of us were saying.
We got Miss Hope settled in behind my desk, with plenty of paper, pens and ink at hand, we assured her we would be back before terribly long, and Esther and I started walking toward the hospital.
Now I know what a man feels like when he's walking toward the waiting noose.
I could hear screaming before we got to the front door.
I reached for the front door and Esther laid a hand on my forearm.
"You don't have to go in," she whispered.
I've seen men gut shot -- God help me, I've seen too many men gut shot! -- I held some as they died, and they were seldom quiet: most screamed, some cursed, some blasphemed, others begged forgiveness, most cried for their wife or for their Mama and that was hardest of all, when they sobbed for their mother as their life leaked out through their tore up belly and not one damned thing I could do to help.
The screaming died down inside then it started up again, the sounds of a man in utter and extreme agony.
I pulled into myself and glared at my wife and I hauled open the front door.

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Linn Keller 6-27-13


Dr. John Greenlees, MD, looked gaunt, drawn: he admitted the Sheriff and his wife into his private office, sat them down.
"Jacob was shot here" -- his finger indicated a spot on his own flat belly, not far below the ribs on the right side -- "and I do not wish to hold out false hope --"
Another scream, less muffled, and the Sheriff came to his feet, his face tight.
"Sheriff --" the Doctor began, and the Sheriff silenced him with a glare: he strode across the room, laid a hand on the door knob, took a long breath: Esther saw him close his eyes for a long moment, then he opened the door and went in, closed it behind him.
There was the sound of voices: Esther's quick ear heard her husband's angry tones, then the abrupt smack of a hard swung palm against flesh, another: the screaming stopped as if the vicim were thrust into a bank vault and the door slammed.
Dr. George Flint knocked, then opened Dr. Greenlees' door a hand's-breadth.
"Doctor, I am ready to remove the bullet," he said. "Mrs. Keller, would you wish to see the patient first?"
The other door opened and the Sheriff came back in, pale, his face hard and set: they followed Dr. Flint into the next room, where Jacob lay under a sheet, his face pale, his jaw set: he turned his head a little and smiled sadly as he saw his parents' approach.
"Mother," he whispered, "I am so very sorry," and Esther took his hand in both of hers and murmured, "My brave boy, please don't be afraid."
The Sheriff came around on the other side of his firstborn, swallowing hard, and clearly at a loss for words.
"Sir," Jacob said, looking at him, "I made a mistake and I pay the price."
The Sheriff frowned -- he had several frowns and this was curiosity and not irritation -- and he said "How's that, Jacob?"
"Sir, I went in the back of the railcar looking for Kendra Hicks. My thoughts were, had I gone in the front, an enemy would see me right away and have the greatest chance to fire upon me and I would have the greatest engagement distance and the greatest chance of a miss.
"I went in the back but I didn't realize Miss Hicks was so short and I didn't see her until I was past her -- not until I turned, and that dirty John Allen --"
The Sheriff tilted his head, laid a warm, firm hand on his son's cool shoulder.
"Jacob," he said, " 'all skill is in vain if an angel wets in your firelock.' "
"Yes, sir."
"You made the right choice. Tall as I am chances are I'd overlook her too. She ain't no bigger'n a cake of soap."
"No, sir." Jacob took a breath. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"What was all that screamin'?"
"Oh. That." The Sheriff's face reddened a little. "Some Easterner in the next room was getting a boil lanced. I smacked him across the face and called him a damned coward and said my son was laying over here gut shot and he'd not said a word and that pansy was screaming when Dr. Flint cut a boil off his butt."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said faintly, then looked up at his father.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, I'm sorry. I should have done better."
The Sheriff took Jacob's other hand, bent close to his son's face, spoke very quietly.
"You made the right choice, Jacob, and for the right reason. You killed the man who tried to kill you and nobody else got hurt. Once you're healed up this will be a lesson you can teach other law dogs." He squeezed his son's hand, winked. "Now Dr. Flint is going to fetch out that bullet and you can get on with gettin' better."
"Yes, sir."
Dr. Flint stepped up beside the Sheriff.
"Sheriff, if you could roll him away from me, please? Yes, thank you, and Mrs. Keller, please continue to hold his hand. Jacob, if you could look at your mother, she's better looking than me, now roll up ... there, and hold."
Jacob felt something cold and wet against his back, below his soft ribs; he felt Dr. Flint's exploring fingers, he felt his father's hands, warm and firm on shoulder and hip, and his mother's hands, cool and reassuring as they held his good right hand, and Esther saw his eyebrows flinch as Dr. Flint made a quick, short incision.
Jacob felt a little pressure, almost lost in the bright pain of the scalpel's bite; another wipe and it felt like he'd just been burned.
"Just another moment, Jacob," Dr. Flint said, "I'm cleaning out the wound."
"Yes, sir," Jacob hissed, teeth clenched; the burning diminished a little and Jacob felt something soft and bulky pressed against the bright burning pain-spot.
"Hold there another moment, let me wipe this up ... there now. Roll back."
They eased Jacob back on to his back.
"Now don't wiggle, Jacob, just lay dead still. I've got a thick bandage to soak up any blood or drainage. I left the wound open to drain. If it infects I want the infection to drain out and not sit in your belly."
"Doc," Jacob grated, "I been gut shot. How long til I die?"
Doctor George Flint stood and turned; he placed the used scalpel in a steel tray, then washed his hands, thorougly, methodically, the way he always did, before a procedure or after.
He drew the sheet back and examined the entrance wound.
It was swollen, bruised, the way an entrance wound often is; it looked remarkably small and the Sheriff raised a surprised eyebrow: the slug that came out of his son was probably a .38-40, he guessed, but the hole in the front of his belly looked to be a .22 or less.
Dr. Flint nodded, examining the entrance wound.
"I already cleansed the entrance, we won't fiddle with it. Your muscles should knit fairly quickly. As far as internal damage ..."
Dr. Flint looked Jacob in the eye, then the Sheriff, and finally Esther.
"I will not lie to you," he said. "You may well die, and die in great pain.
"If the bullet holed an intestine you would already be wallowing like a worm on a fishhook and your belly would be starting to swell.
"I am seeing none of that.
"You are showing no signs of fever or infection
"If there is a nick in your alimentary tract, there will be leakage and you will probably die of peritonitis and gangrene.
"I want you to remain abed for at least three days. I would prefer a week. I want no strain on that belly of yours. You need to heal, Jacob, and your best chance will be if you do a great deal of nothing."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said quietly, and neither Esther nor the Sheriff missed sweat popping out along Jacob's hairline.
"If your belly starts to hurt you will know it. Send for me at the earliest moment and I have some ... medicine ... that will make you less uncomfortable."
"Damned poppy juice," Jacob muttered.
"How soon can I go home?"
"Why don't you just take life easy for, say, another four hours? Can you do that for me?"
"Unless you have an appointment."
"Doc, I got horses to feed, wood to stack, we're going to butcher a hog --"
The Sheriff lay a hand on his son's shoulder.
"It can wait," he said quietly. "We'll take care of all that."
Jacob's expression was of disappointment and dismay.
"I'm sorry, sir --"
The Sheriff winked.
"We feex," he said, and Jacob smiled a little, and Esther was encouraged to see that understanding smile between father and son.

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Linn Keller 6-27-13


Jacob lay on the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling.
He thought back to the shooting.
He remembered turning, surprised that Kendra Hicks was just behind him, on his right, and he turned, realizing he'd committed a very serious error.
He made another mistake, he realized, when he remembered his eyes sought out her hands.
Her hands.
Not the man's beside her.
The mistake very nearly cost him his life, and may yet, he knew.
He remembered seeing the blur and the fire and he remembered being punched deep and hard and he was instantly sick, sick to his very soul, and he remembered seeing his pistol rise in his hand and he wondered for a moment, Who in the hell is shooting my revolver? and then he went over backwards, falling ten miles at least and in slow motion, he fell against the side of the seat and collapsed in the aisle and someone dropped a gauzy grey veil over him and everything sounded so far away --
He blinked and took a sudden, sharp breath as he came back to the here-and-now.
Jacob was no stranger to violence, nor was he unacquainted with death; he was quick to listen, and had heard many tales, first-hand and otherwise, about being shot: he knew it was not at all unusual to feel that sick-to-your-bones feeling when shot, but he hadn't expected the weakness that went with it, nor could he really explain how he had no idea how his good right arm was raised and pointed and firing not once, but four times, and four good hits they were.
Jacob blinked, considering the texture of the stamped tin ceiling squares, and wished his father had stayed a bit longer.

Sarah glared at her father, and her father had a difficult time maintaining a straight face.
"He did what?" Sarah hissed, her eyes becoming progressively more pale.
"The Doc is hopeful," the Sheriff began, but found himself addressing Sarah's retreating backside: she swung out the door of the Sheriff's study and slammed it shut behind her.
The Sheriff seized the door and hauled it open, shouted, "Sarah, where are you going?" -- knowing full well where she intended to go -- and Sarah whirled, fists tight on the end of side-stiffened arms as she shouted back, "I am going to go LIE to my BROTHER!"
The Sheriff sighed and shook his head, knowing his hard headed daughter was about to visit herself upon her brother, and in a state of high dudgeon.

Sarah was minded to put her heels to her polychromatic racer, but did not; instead, she set a sedate and maddeningly slow pace -- it was an efficient canter that covered ground at a respectable velocity, but to Sarah's churning emotions, it was slow enough to inspire her to gnaw at passing fenceposts.
Sarah intentionally chose the racer's gait because she knew she would need the time and the discipline to overcome her initial response, which was to go jerk Jacob out of his hide, kick his backside up between his shoulder blades and then seize him by his shirt collar, haul him up nose to nose with her and hiss, "What in the world do you think you're doing, you IDIOT!!!"
As she intended, her initial surge of helpless anger was replaced by a cold, hard hatred of whoever did this to one of her family.
Jacob looked up at the brisk but delicate double-rap, then the door swung open and Sarah stood in the doorway, hands folded at waist level, silent.
She stood with her eyes closed, as if gathering herself, then she walked into the room, slowly, her heels loud in the stillness.
It took her more than half a minute to walk the few feet from the doorway to Jacob's bedside, her hands clasped before her, her head still bowed, her eyes apparently shut.
Sarah paused at her brother's bedside, then she seized his cover and threw it back, exposing a shocking square footage of Jacob's frontal view: he flinched as her hands -- warm, he thought -- as her hands settled on the bandaged entrance wound and slid under to cup the bandaged exit wound.
Sarah raised her head, opened her eyes.
They were red.
"Angelus Medens," she whispered, "Angelus Salus."
Jacob felt the heat from her hands penetrate the bandages, his belly: he felt the heat curl and spread, meeting somewhere in between the two external injuries.
"In Nomine Patri, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti, Amen," Sarah whispered, closing her eyes and bowing her head again: she lifted her hand from Jacob's bandaged belly, slid the other from under his bandaged back, drew the covers back over him, then clasped her hands once more and turned, walking with an exaggerated slowness to the door.
She hesitated at the threshold, turned.
Her eyes were pale blue again.
"I cannot guarantee you will not be sore," she said. "Please follow the doctor's orders. You are precious to me, and if you die I will never speak to you again!"
Sarah drew the door quickly shut and Jacob heard her hard heels hurrying away, loud in the hall, and he eased his head back on the pillow.
He was not sure quite all that happened, nor why, nor how, but of one thing he was utterly convinced.
Whatever power Sarah pulled down on his behalf, surged in his belly like hot water in a boiler, and he was going to be just fine.

Sarah rode to the firehouse, where Brother William was celebrating Mass: she waited until the Eucharist was complete, until after the family Kolascinski, a dozen miners and of course the Irish Brigade finished their devotions, before approaching the tall, white-robed Cistercian.
"Brother William," she asked uncertainly, "will you confess me?"
Brother William looked seriously at Sarah, at the uncertain look on her face.
He gestured toward the confessional -- it was a corner, and two sheets made it more private -- Sarah sat and lowered her forehead onto the heel of her hand and muttered, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."
Sarah did not wait for Brother William's response; her words rushed out like water from a burst dam.
"Jacob was gut shot. I've seen men die gut shot and I ... he ... Doctor Greenlees ... they cut out the bullet but they did not know if his guts were holed.
"I went in, I ran a bluff.
"I stood outside his door and I ran my palms down my hips until they were hot from friction and I held them like so -- clasped to keep the heat in -- I came in very slowly, taking well more than a second for each step and I'm wearing hard heels and I made noise to emphasize my slow pace and I put one hot hand over his belly wound and the other under his back wound and then I opened my eyes and let him see how red they were.
"I called upon an angel of healing and an angel of frost -- in frost out fire, you remember the chant to blow fire from a burn injury."
Brother William nodded, slowly, listening to Sarah's rush of words.
"I lied to him, Brother William.
"I did nothing. Oh I prayed of course! -- but I lied to him.
"I put hot hands over his wounds and I spoke in Latin and I ran a bluff."
Sarah looked up and Brother William saw how bright her eyes were, and he heard the fear in her voice.
"I'm scared, Brother William. He's the only Jacob I've got!"
"Let me understand you, my child," Brother William said gently. "You gave him to understand a feeling of healing, you gave him to understand a greater power than his own. You gave him a tool, you gave him a very powerful tool, you gave him belief in a healing."
Sarah nodded.
"Did you call on any dark powers?"
"No." Sarah shook her head slowly.
"Did you claim to have healing powers?"
"No," Sarah admitted, "but I implied the hell out of it!"
"Your reason for doing these things?"
Sarah looked beyond the soft voiced cleric, seeing something that was not there.
"I wanted to bluff him into healing himself."
Brother William considered.
"My child," he said quietly, "do you heartily repent of your sins, spoken and unspoken, known and not known, remembered and not remembered?"
Sarah nodded.
"God has forgiven you. I do nothing; God alone forgives, and God alone heals." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "If you gave Jacob hope, he will be open to God's healing. It may be that you opened a door that would not have been. It may well be that Jacob will heal because of your ... bluff."
Brother William smiled a little and winked.
"Or in spite of it.
"Now I believe there is a young man here in a red wool shirt who would delight to see you."

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Linn Keller 6-28-13


Jackson Cooper frowned at the Sheriff's words.
The ceramic coffee mug looked tiny in his big mitts: he handled it with delicacy and precision, as he always did, and leaned forward a little, not wanting to miss a word.
"Beatrice had one copy of her new combination," the Sheriff said quietly. "It was in her safe, in her house.
"I think that dirty John Allen figured Kendra Hicks had it in her safe. She did say that he asked if she had one -- he wished to secure a small collection of watches, he said, and some currency, and asked if she had anything occupying her safe.
"She remembers telling him she had a copy of the bank's combination, that was all. She forgot to tell him it was the bank's old combination. She said in hind sight he had a sudden change of expression when she told him."
"I'll bet," Jackson Cooper muttered.
"It looks like a thief turned confidence man and went way over his head."
"Six feet," Jackson Cooper grunted.
The Sheriff's grin was utterly humorless. "Yeah." He picked up his coffee, took a sip, swallowed slowly, considering.
"Jackson Cooper, I may pay the price ... for passion unchecked."
"I swore an oath to control my passions."
Jackson Cooper nodded.
"Well, I didn't. I've been wanting to knuckle that damned Captain again ever since he drove me in the jaw."
"I thought you pounded the livin' stuffin' out of him."
"I did." The Sheriff flexed his right hand, remembering how it felt to absolutely beat the man to the ground, to brutally vent every pent up anger and frustration with fists and feet, elbows and knees, and genuinely do his level best to pulp the Union Captain, and very nearly succeeding.
"You probably heard about the walkdown over in Cripple."
"I heard."
"I hit him again, Jackson Cooper," the Sheriff said softly, his eyes distant. "He tried to blow up the Jewel. Esther and Angela were upstairs. The idiot he hired threw in one stick instead of a bundle, threw it through a window insteaf of willy-worming under the floor or sneaking in to set it against a corner post or a bearing wall."
"So you killed him."
"You're damned right I killed him."
"It's the way I killed him."
The Sheriff's eyes were bleak, now, the eyes of a man very close to losing hope, to losing faith in his immortal soul.
"Jackson Cooper, I drove my gun muzzles into his belly above his hips and pulled both triggers. He died fast but I shot him low down, busted his guts and both hips and everything in between."
"Worked," Jackson Cooper said shortly. "He shot at you."
"Twelve times."
"Now look," Jackson Cooper said, setting down the empty mug: he swung his chair around a little, set one hand on his knee and thrust a down-stabbing finger at the Sheriff.
"He tried to kill you here.
"He tried to kill Esther and Angela and everyone else and I recall the room was pretty full.
"He tried twelve times to kill you.
"I don't reckon you'd be wrong to have killed him with a pair of pliers and a tack hammer and took all day to do it."
The Sheriff looked away from the big town Marshal.
"Jacob was gut shot," he said quietly.
"I heard."
"He was shot after I shot Everett."
The Sheriff looked at Jackson Cooper, feeling utterly lost.
"Payment for my killing Everett like that?"
Jackson Cooper considered this carefully.
"No," he said. "No, and I'll tell you why.
"The Lord don't work like that, first off.
"Secont, if it was for how you killed him, Jacob would have been shot in both hip-bellies just the same identical, and he warn't.
"Now you" -- Jackson Cooper shook his finger at the Sheriff -- "you go too much good sense to go a-thinkin' like that. 'Twas not connected. If 'twas I would see it and I got good eye sight. Nossir."
The Sheriff rubbed his face, sighed.
Jackson Cooper raised his chin to Daisy's girl, who brought over a coffee pot and a tray; she filled their cups, splashed a dollop of cream in the Sheriff's mug and set out two slices of pie, fresh forks, and withdrew.
"I never worried like this before," the Sheriff whispered.
"You ain't never seen your first born gut shot before neither. Now shut up and eat afore that good peach pie gets all moldy."

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Linn Keller 6-29-13


When Sarah swept into the ranch house, she was anything but the mousy little schoolmarm: aye, she wore her schoolmarm spectacles, high up against the severe schoolteacher's walnut of hair on top of her head, and aye, she wore the mousy-grey schoolmarm's dress, and aye, it was the same Miss Sarah that rancher Macgregor knew and had seen many times in the past, but today she was different: she came through his door as unstoppable as a Texas cyclone, with a smile on her face as broad as a Texan's hat, bringing sunshine and the scent of spring wind and wildflowers with her, and crusty, crochety, hard-headed, pragmatic, unimaginative, unsmiling, dour old Rancher Macgregor frowned at his wife and at this young, pretty invader to the solemn confines of his Spartan home.
Sarah made straight for the rancher and seized his hand in a surprisingly strong grip: her hand was warm, strong, tiny and without callus, but she seized his hand and squeezed, she looked the man in the eye and she said in a firm voice, "Mr. Macregor, I am here about your son."
"What's he done?" Macgregor said quietly. "I'll take care of it."
"What he did," Sarah said, not releasing the man's hand, "was write one of the best essays I've read in a very long time. Walk with me."
Sarah turned, pulled, and Macgregor, surprised, looked at his wife, but the firm grip and hard pull convinced the contrary natured rancher that maybe he'd ought to come with this surprising little schoolmarm.
"You too, Mrs. Macgregor," Sarah said, catching the rancher's wife by her upper arm. "This won't take long."
They filed through the door and Sarah brought them to the side a little, just enough to see around the corner of the ranch house.
"There," Sarah said, pointing. "No, stay back a little, we don't want him to see us. Just watch."
Macgregor frowned, then gathered a lungful of air to shout at his son.
Sarah turned, reached up and placed a warning finger on his lips.
Macgregor pulled back as if stung, a surprised look on his face: Sarah frowned, shook her head, then turned and peeked around the corner.
Three faces in a vertical stack looked around the corner of the house.
"Just watch," Sarah whispered. "Mr. Macgregor, you know that is a mean mare."
"Yeah," he grunted.
"Just watch."
Thomas Macgregor was two years younger than Sarah: he'd grown up on the ranch, he was his father's son, and at the moment he was walking in a patient circle in the middle of the corral as the mare orbited him, ears back, shaking her head.
"He's been working with her for a week now, hasn't he?" Sarah whispered, tilting her head up, and Macgregor looked down and whispered back, "Yeah."
"Just watch."
Thomas Macgregor held out an arm, keeping it pointed at the mare; she came a little closer, and a little closer, and finally Thomas was able to lay a hand on her shoulder, and he followed her in a circle, trotting a little to keep pace, as she continued circling ... but she was making a smaller circle now, to keep close to him.
"He's been working with her every day," Sarah whispered, "he's been gentling her slowly. Now watch."
Thomas fell away from the mare, to the corral rail, picked up a saddle blanket.
The mare threw her head and walled her eyes and Thomas returned to the middle of the corral, his arm out again, other arm across his front with the heavy saddle blanket across it.
It took maybe a minute, but the mare orbited in close to him and he ran with her, one hand on her shoulder: they knew he was talking to her now, and they watched as he threw the blanket, lightly, across her back, keeping pace with her.
She ran out from under the blanket, twice, then the third time she let it stay.
"He'll have her saddled before the day's out," Sarah said. "Let us withdraw."
Macgregor leaned back, shaking his head.
"That mare," he muttered, "I was ready to shoot her."
"That's a powerful statement," Sarah said. "You are known as a man who's canny with a dollar."
Macgregor's anger showed on his face.
"Your son," Sarah said, "knows this and he was not about to let you lose money on that horse."
Macgregor stopped, stared at the mousy-grey schoolmarm with apple cheeks and the severe hairdo.
Sarah turned, nodded.
"Mr. Macgregor, I came to thank you for that essay."
Macgregor blinked, shook his head. "What?"
Sarah put her knuckles on her hips, thought for a moment, then said "This way," and led the way to her big Snowflake-horse.
Macgregor considered this monstrous mount and Sarah could hear the gears turning in his head.
"Go ahead," Sarah said. "Lift her hoof, check her shoes."
Macgregor did; he ran his hands over Snowflake's legs, her flank; he went around, stroked her nose, checked her teeth -- he stood straight up to do it, for though Macgregor was not short by any means, Snowflake was exceptionally tall.
"She's a Frisian," Sarah went on, "and they're usually barefoot. Normally a Frisian is never shod, unless they're on rocky terrain" -- she smiled a little -- "and rocky ground is all we have here."
"Aye," Macgregor nodded, stroking the underside of Snowflake's jaw.
"They were originally bred to carry armored knights into battle. They would have a steel breastplate -- here --" her hands sketched where the armor would ride -- "very precisely shaped to the individual horse -- she would have head armor as well, mostly a nasal, eye guards, extending to the ears.
"When gunpowder was invented, armor had to become so heavy men could no longer fight on foot and horses had to be bred to carry that tonnage."
"She looks like she could plow," Macgregor murmured.
"She can throw a furrow over the fence," Sarah smiled.
"Your son said those exact words when he saw her." Sarah tilted her head. "His hands looked at her just like yours did, just now. He looked at her teeth too, and like yourself he was surprised her breed is usually barefoot."
Macgregor frowned again.
"Mr. Macgregor, I came to thank you for that essay."
"I didin't write it."
"Oh but you did, sir." Sarah looked at Mrs. Macgregor and smiled. "And so did you." She looked back at the rancher. "You wrote it from the day he was born, and before.
"The apple falls not far from the tree, Mr. Macgregor," Sarah said, looking up at the bristle-cheeked rancher: "your son genuinely loves horses and raising horses and working with horses. His description of a foal being born ..." Sarah paused, considering.
"He wrote of the profit that could be made from well bred horses, from good blood lines combining. He wrote of the expense of a ranch, of saving, of planning; he wrote of the training of a horse, the riding of a horse, and there is only one place he could have learned of these things.
"He also wrote of looking at that wet, shivering foal as it struggled to stand for the first time, and how it would learn to walk and then run, how it would know the wind and eventually, with a good rider, how to fly without wings.
"He looked at this foal, rooting its dam for its first meal, and he saw it cutting cattle, carrying mail, pulling a wagon or a coach or a buggy. He saw it in pasture or on a mountain and he saw himself riding it in a year or two.
"He spoke of splitting shakes to shingle a roof, of squaring a corner and leveling a foundation stone, he wrote of the color change as metal is heated for forging and as it cools, he wrote of quench and temper and ritually striking the anvil three times before beginning the day's work.
"He spoke of stroking the edge of a scythe with a stone, listening to steel ring with each stroke, of the rhythm of cutting hay or ripe grain, how to rake and shock and fork it up, and he wrote with joy, Mr. Macgregor. Your son loves what he does and he loves where he's doing it."
Sarah looked around the corner, drew back.
"Mr. Macgregor, I came to say thank you, and not just for that essay."
Young Thomas came riding around the corner on the short tempered, untrainable mare, grinning like he'd just won a big pot at poker.
"Thomas is every bit his father's son, and you need to know that someone else can see how well you've done with him."
Sarah smiled at the rancher's wife, squeezed her hand.
"Both of you."

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Linn Keller 6-30-13


Annette labored at their big table, the glass-smooth marble rolling pin busy flattening pie crust.
Little Joseph staggered in with a double arm load of wood, dumped it in and on and around the wood box with a clatter.
"Stack it neatly, Joseph," Annette said quietly, and little Joseph's right ear pulled back a little as he recognized the warning note in her voice.
"Yes, ma'am," he said in his little-boy voice, grabbing kindling and thrusting it end-on into the wood box: he would shove, shake, twist and work each split stick and work it in, until the kindling box was as full as it would go.
Most of the pieces were uniform in length, for Jacob arranged for the Daine boys' periodic visit with their steam donkey engine; he belted it up to his saw and cut wood to the length needed for his stove, and he'd cut plenty, and when they brought the donkey engine up Jacob's mountain, he paid them for their effort and fed them as well -- pay was expected, and so was the meal, it was an era of greater hospitality -- but Jacob saw to it that these long lean Kentucky mountaineers, who wouldn't throw a decent shadow if they turned side-on to the sun, would go away stuffed just full as a tick.
Little Joseph nodded with satisfaction as he finished filling every single gap and cranny in the kindling box.
Once, and only once, did he pull a good one on his Ma, and jam in enough wood that she couldn't pull any out: she eventually worried and worked the first one out, then its neighbor, and though he didn't get his backside switched over it, her labor and her glare were sufficient to guarantee he did not commit the offense a second time.
Joseph stacked the rest of the kindling on top in a neat pyramid, managing to hammer retaining sticks in to keep the pyramid from cascading off back or front; satisfied, he found the brush broom and with much inefficiency and labor, swept the bark and dirt into a pile and managed to get most of it into the short handled shovel Annette kept for a dust pan, and threw it into the fire box.
He only had to try three times to accomplish the latter task.
Annette paid him little mind; she was concentrating on her pie crust.
Little Joseph watched his Ma out the corner of his eye while he worked: having filled the kindling box and cleaned up his mess, he looked at the wood box -- the one where Annette would get the bigger chunks to fire the stove for cookin' -- estimated the amount of stovewood he'd need to pack in, then considered his Mama's frown, her set, compressed lips, her vicious thrusts of the heavy marble rolling pin.
"Ma," he asked, "are you mad at the pie dough?"
Annette glared at him, then gave the dough a vigorous stroke: "What" --she brought the rolling pin back, shoved again -- "would make" -- return and roll --"you" -- she brought it back, gave it a final, hard shove -- think that?"
Joseph considered pulling out a chair and setting down, but the look in his Mama's eyes changed his mind for him.
"Nothin'," he muttered, and headed for the front door.
"Joseph!" Annette snapped. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Wood," he threw back over his shoulder: it was a true and honest answer and it was also the only safe answer at the moment.
Annette snatched up a handful of flour, sprinkled it over the punished dough, smoothed it out, then dusted her rolling pin, contemplating her next assault on the light-tan field of battle spread out over her flour-dusted kitchen table.

Jacob lay upstairs, in their bed, relaxing, willing himself to stillness.
It had been long and very long since he'd had leisure.
He did not find it to his liking.
He heard the sounds of the household; he heard the squeak and slam of the stove's firedoor, the mufled thump-thump-thump of Annette working out pie dough, and he knew after she was done plying her marble rolling pin and making pies, she would take out more of her ill temper on a good sized knot of bread dough.
She had sour dough starter in the coolness of their rock-carved cupboard; it extended into the cliff behind the house, she used it to keep a variety of stored goods, cool, and Jacob also considered it a safe retreat in the rare, the very rare event, of a tornado.
Tornadoes could happen about anywhere, he knew, but the mountains were rough enough a twister would tear itself apart trying to roar through the mountains' granite teeth, and so he considered that possibility quite low -- not impossible, but low enough he never really expected to have to use the cupboard as a bolt-hole.
He thought of his Apple-horse and he thought of the barn and how much more work he would have from listening to the Doc and just laying here, healing up: horses don't stop emptying themselves because a man is laid up; his Pa turned the horses out into the pasture and mucked the stalls himself, and he knew the Grand Old Man was as much a fussbudget about a clean stall as he was himself; his Pa was out every day, tending such chores as were necessary, and he knew others came out at irregular intervals: he suspected Charlie was among them, though the man didn't stop in but once.
Jacob was asleep, and dreaming: dark dreams, twisted dreams that made no sense, dreams of a stranger in a moving train car pulling a forwearm-mounted Gatling from under his coat and hammering Jacob with .58 Minie balls, one after the other: he opened his eyes, gasping, launched a hard-fisted punch, which Charlie caught in his palm.
Part of Jacob's racing brain was amazed at how fast the Territorial Marshal could move, and another part of his brain was not surprised a'tall, he knew Macneil was good and every now and again something like this happened to show him just how good.
Jacob shivered and dropped his head back against the pillow, sweating.
Charlie waited until Jacob took several eyes-closed, calming breaths.
"Fightin' monsters in your sleep?" he drawled, and Jacob could not help but laugh a little: his hand went protectively to his belly, for he was still sore, but not as bad sore as he expected.
Whatever Sarah did, he thought, must be doin' some good.
"Yeah," he admitted.
Charlie nodded, patted Jacob's shoulder with a callused, understanding hand.
"I'm glad you're still with us," he said quietly.
"Thank you," Jacob said faintly. "I would hate to leave."
Charlie was quiet for a long moment, longer than was comfortable, then finally he nodded, patted Jacob's shoulder again and rose.
"Heal up," he said quietly,and turned to leave.
Macneil stopped, then turned, hat in his hand, and looked back at Jacob.
"Thank you."
Macneil nodded once, then smiled a little and nodded again, before he turned and went out.

Annette helped Jacob out of bed and into a chair: she ran an arm around his legs to help him turn, she grabbed his arm and threw it around her shoulders while she bent over, set her knees between his, against the bed, with her arms around him, talking constantly, never letting him speak: "I am going to rock back and forth and count, and you will stand on three. I will bear your weight if need be. We will stand up and I will walk back one step and you will come forward one step and you will turn with me and set down in the chair and I will help you, ready now one," and she rocked back, Jacob leaning forward with her; she leaned back toward the bed, putting one hand on the tick to keep them from overbalancing and going over backwards, onto the bed -- "two," she said, drawing Jacob further toward her, then back, and he heard her teeth click together as she hissed, "Three," anticipating his dead weight on her, and Jacob stood, bearing his own weight, but grateful for his wife to steady him for he was a little less than steady on his feet.
Little Joseph stood behind the chair, gripping its uprights with white-knuckled hands, eyes big and scared as he saw his Pa as less than the strong, unstoppable man of iron and stone he'd always seen him to be.
The two turned, together, and Jacob lowered easily into the chair.
"Now you just sit there," Annette scolded, shaking a finger at her husband: her stern tone belied the fear in her eyes: she turned her head quickly, trying to keep Jacob from seeing it, but he knew from her manner, from the quick and vicious way in which she attacked the bed linens, the angry snap of the fresh bedsheet as she floated it down on the tick, that she was afraid and she was taking her fear out with feminine anger, expressed and tightly channeled in as good a disguise as she could arrange.
"Joseph," Jacob said, "tell me about our firewood supply."
"The wood boxes are both full, Pa," Joseph reported, releasing his grip on the chair and coming to his father's side.
Jacob lay a gentle hand on his son's back. "Good man," he said quietly. "And the stack outside?"
"Gettin' a little thin, Pa," Joseph said, and Jacob grinned to hear his own words coming from his son's young throat.
"We'll work on that," he said in a reassuring voice, and Annette straightened as if stung.
"You will not," she snapped, seizing the quilt and yanking its hemmed edge through her hands, searching for the corner: "you will do no such thing, Jacob Keller! You are going to stay here and heal yourself! You know as well as I do that torn muscles have to knit and if you tear them again they'll never heal right and I don't want to be an old woman married to an old man with a hernia the size of -- of --"
Annette's hands described a ball the size of a child's head in front of her own gravid belly, and Jacob blinked and tried to look innocent, and Little Joseph looked uncomfortably from his Ma to his Pa, for voices were never raised under their roof and this was one of the very rare times when he heard his Ma speak sharply -- and he'd never before seen his Ma come around the bed, shaking her finger as she spoke, until she stood in front of his Pa as if scolding a little child.
Jacob stood and grabbed his wife by the upper arms and said sternly, "ANNETTE!"
Annette's words stopped abruptly: her eyes were still hard and angry, but as a dutiful wife, she listened.
Jacob reached up and caressed the hair back from her face, laid his hand warm and strong against her cheek, then he bent and kissed her throat below her ear, breathed a long, warm breath against her earlobe and nibbled at it: he rubbed her back, then ran light fingertips along the angle of her jaw, lifted her chin and delicately, carefully, kissed her lips.
"Annette," he said quietly, "you are a beautiful woman, you are the most wonderful mother and absolutely the most delightful wife in all of God's creation." He caressed the curve of her ear with the side of his finger, trailed fingertips down the side of her neck.
"Before all this happened I had something in mind."
Jacob turned a little and winked, and Joseph grinned and scampered out the door, boots loud and clattering as he ran downstairs, then came pounding back up, swift and noisy as only a little boy can be: he had a ribbon-tied box in hand, and regarded his Pa with bright and expectant eyes.
"Good man," Jacob murmured, accepting the box, then turning to Annette.
"Dear heart," he said, "the day I was shot I intended to give you this when I got home."
Annette's eyes were big and confused; she took the box, fumbled with the bow: she sat heavily on the side of the bed and Jacob eased himself carefully into the chair.
Little Joseph watched as Annette's mouth fell open and the Japanned lid of the pasteboard box fell to the floor and his Ma's hand went to her mouth, barely muffling a little squeak of surprise.
"May I?" Jacob murmured, taking the box: he reached in and drew out a wide gold band with three faceted rubies embedded.
He placed the box in her lap, took her hand: carefully, slowly, he wiggled the narrow wedding band from her finger, slid the broad gold band on in its place: he reached into the box and withdrew a fine chain, threaded the original band on it, then leaned a little and carefully, delicately, placed it around her neck and fastened it, slipping the band and chain under her high collar and letting it drop into place.
He still held her hand; raising it to his lips, he kissed her knuckles, then the backs of her fingers.
He reached into the box again and withdrew a brooch: gold-set, the body was a honeybee, with tiny rubies for eyes and gold bands across its abdomen.
"I saw you looking at one," he said, "some time ago, and I had this one made up for you."
Annette stared at the bounty.
She knew how much good jewelry cost, and she knew how much the one she saw, was priced: this one was a little larger and much better quality.
Annette's hands were covering her mouth, her eyes huge: she looked from the brooch to Jacob, then back to the brooch.
Jacob stood again, slowly, carefully, and Annette stood with him.
He wrapped his arms around his bride and whispered, "You work so very hard, dearest. I don't say it often enough, but I love you and I appreciate you."
Little Joseph watched and listened, learning without realizing it, in this classroom of his own home, his Pa's lesson on how to treat a woman.

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Linn Keller 7-2-13


There wasn't a single solitary going on.
I had no warrants to serve, nobody came in with a rip snortin' complaint against somebody else, the bank was secure and doing its usual business, the train was not troubled and the stage coach came and went with a remarkable lack of ... well, of anything much.
I figured I could go on home so I did.
Firelands ain't big a'tall and if someone wants me, they know where to find me, I said to myself, and Cannonball and I pointed our collective noses back toward my humble hacienda.
I dislike waste, whether it's money, resources or time, and so I went home and proceeded to make very good use of my windfall of time.
I spent it with my young.
Well, part of my young: Angela was in school yet and I was loath to pull her from her lessons; after school she would walk to the Silver Jewel and march with a businesslike and industrious step to her Mama's office upstairs -- Esther still insisted on working, and I had it not within me to lay down the law and tell her she had to stay home.
Alfdis gave me a warning look and I drew back, but my little boy was awake and saw me and he squealed with delight, so I snatched him up and packed him out of the room, which made him giggle all the more.
His sister rolled over, sound asleep and apparently intent on staying that-a-way, so we men went to the study for some man talk.
I have several journals.
I picked one and pulled it out and began paging through it, looking for something suitable for the lad to hear.
I stopped at a familiar page, ran my finger down the neat lines of India-black ink, smiled.
"You'll like this one," I murmured to my lad, bouncing him a little on my leg.
"We were in Kentucky, chasing after John Hunt Morgan," I began.

I remembered the day.
Warm and sunny, early fall, it smelled good, it smelled of harvest and apples and of schoolboys reluctantly trying on a new shirt or taking a long look at the first shoes they'd have on their feet in ... well, since springtime.
We were in a lull between engagements.
It's easy to let your guard down, in a time like that ... it's too easy.
I did.
I heard what sounded like a lamb, distressed, and I went looking for it.
Didn't tell anyone.
I hung my saber belt on my saddle, tied off my horse, slipped into the thicket, listening.
The lamb was getting louder but it sounded odd ... hollow, I thought, then I nearly fell into the well and found out why it sounded odd.
It was coming from down in that well.
I yanked off what was left of a few rotted boards and bellied down on the ground and looked, shading my eyes against day-glare, trying to see down in.
I heard someone come and flop down across the hole from me and reckoned some other curious soul was looking to see what the fuss was.
Our eyes adjusted some and I could see it was not a lamb a'tall.
'Twas a late season fawn, just a little fellow, no bigger'n a dog ... matter of fact I've seen many dogs bigger than this little bugger.
"I got a rope," the other fellow said and I nodded.
"You go down, or me?"
We looked up at one another and we both froze.
Neither of us realized until then that I wore Union blue and he wore butternut.
We just laid there looking at one another, then neither of us could help it, we both started to laugh.
"Now I'll be sawed off and damned," I swore.
"Sounds painful," the Rebel chuckled.
We looked down the hole again.
"Stone lined," I said, "and a good tight job. Like as not it doesn't get narrower down in. You got that rope?"
"I got."
"Reckon you're strong enough to haul me out?"
"I don't reckon you'll make me dead lift you."
"No, but them rocks is moss slick and I want a safety in case I slip."
The fawn cried again -- loud it was, with our heads stuck down over that hole, it sounded like a combination of a lamb, a baby and a loud and angry house cat.
"It ain't far down," I said. "I don't know how deep that water is but I reckon I can get a-holt of the little fellow."
"You be careful now, Billy," the Rebel said quietly. "I've seen what a doe can do to a good huntin' dog and it ain't real nice."
I nodded.
"Fetch up that rope," I said, coming to my knees, peeling out of coat and hat: "I reckon I can climb down if I'm careful."
"You do that," the Reb nodded; he came up on all fours, stood with an easy grace: I saw he had a single shot pistol stuck in his belt, but he made no move for it.
I studied the rocky throat of the hand dug well and started down.
I remember how it was cool in the well, it smelled a little musty, and when I worked my way down -- like I said, it wasn't terrible deep -- I wasn't more than a foot below ground level when a shadow darkened overhead and the Rebel's voice: "I got the rope, Billy."
"Hang right onto it," I said, "I'm just comin' to water."
I eased one leg down into the water: I found bottom before it went over my boot tops, but I also found my boots leaked.
It did not help any that the fawn -- near to exhausted -- found new energy and thrashed in the very narrow confines, and it was sure enough a sharp hooved little fellow.
I had my hands just plain full trying to hold it, wet and slick as it was, but its strength was about gone and it gave up and relaxed in my grip.
I wondered how in seven shades of perdition I was going to get up that rock wall with a fawn -- was it to wiggle it would fall again -- so I hollered up, "Lower some rope."
I got the rope around the fawn, took two turns behind its front legs, tied a one hand Bowline above it.
"Okay, I'm comin' up. Keep just a little tension. You are safety in case this little fella tries to jump back down."
"I got it, Billy," he said quietly, his voice echoing just a little, and I braced one foot on the right side and one on the left and held the fawn to me with my good right arm and grabbed a rock with my left.
Up slow, one step at a time, one grab at a time, one grunt at a time: it took us a while but we got up, we got to the surface, I came high enough I hissed "Here," and the fawn tried to thrash its way free and it began crying again.
The Reb grabbed the fawn but he knew something of holding an unwilling critter, he got its legs somehow and try as it might it could do no more than cry for its Mama, and it was doing that ... loud, and with a will.
"If his Mama is anywhere in two counties," the Reb said, the strain in his voice showing his concern, "she'll be on us like a tornado!"
I pulled the knot free -- one mark of a good knot is that it can be easily undone, and this was -- I got the rope off from around the fawn and we both stood.
"Where do you reckon we'd ought to turn it loose?" the Reb asked me, and I got a good look at him: he was about my age, not eighteen yet, he was as long and tall and skinny as me: he had sandy hair that bristled up like a rooster's comb and bright blue eyes and an expression that seemed a half second from a good hearty laugh, and he was grinning like he'd just been handed a poke of gold.
"I reckon the edge of the clearing," I said.
We worked our way back out of the brush and the fawn was a-cryin' and it was putting some effort into that call for his Mama and darn if here she didn't come, across the field in full daylight, matter of fact she come straight at us so fast and so hard when she cleared that first hump and came into view she was well airborne and she was a-lookin' at us and she was out for blood.
When a doe is out to slice someone into bloody ribbons, the hide wrinkles up on its forehead, and hers was a-wrinkled, matter of fact I could see plain as day the flesh-formed characters, YOU'RE DEAD, and the Reb didn't need to be told: he set the fawn down and we separated a little, standing up straight as we could.
The fawn trotted for Mama and Mama gave the fawn a quick sniff, then she glared at us again and turned her hinder toward us, for all the world like a mother saying "Come along, Junior," and with a contemptuous flick of her tail, she and Junior trotted straight away from us, and over the rise, and were gone.
The Reb and I stood there, two tall boys in the early September sun, gaping after the departing deer, then we turned and looked at one another.
I shoved out my hand. "I got a flask back in my coat," I said, "and it just happens to contain some whiskey that ain't been drunk yet. I would admire to take a touch with you."
The Rebel took my hand, his grip as callused and firm as my own. "I'd like that," he grinned.

We ended up headed in opposite directions, but not until after I gave him that flask, and after he gave me a poke of tobacco -- I don't smoke but it would make tradin' stock -- we went on about our business.
It didn't hurt my conscience a bit to hear we were being recalled, and were soon after on a riverboat and headed elsewhere, chasing after that wisp of smoke called General John Hunt Morgan.

The youngest Keller boy was warm and relaxed and laying across my chest as I closed the journal.
I thought again of that sandy haired Rebel, and of that fawn we got out of that old well, and I looked down at my little boy and whispered, "Don't fall down a well, son. I hate gettin' my feet wet."

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