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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Mr. Box 9-22-07

 

After a couple of minutes Emma Jones appeared and again all eyes were on the staircase, or rather the lady decending it. I met her at the bottom of the staircase and offered her my arm. She took it and we proceeded to the center of the room. I bowed, kissed her hand, and announced, "Miss Emma Jones." Everyone applauded again. "Ah, what a job." I thought to myself almost out loud.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

"You up for this, Charlie?" I asked as he carefully looped the neck tie around my throat.
"Yep." He was frowning in concentration.
"You don't have to get yourself all fixed up on my account, y'know."
"I'm already dressed, now holt still!"
"I ain't felt this way in a long while, Charlie."
"I know, amigo. I only felt that way once and it scared hell out of me!"
He stepped back, frowned. "Now put on your coat."
I did.
Charlie nodded approval, and Jacob whistled.
"Good lookin' and lookin' good," he declared, and handed me my hat and my Winchester. "Let's go meet the ladies!"
We locked the office door behind us and stood, shoulder to shoulder, three men, tall and strong, full bluff warriors, well-dresssed defenders of our realm.
I took a long breath, a deep breath: squared my shoulders, drew my head erect.
My words were automatic.
"Detail! Forward, HARR!"
We paced off on the left, and advanced on the Jewel.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

Clara pouted.
She'd been making an utter fool out of some rancher at the bar when the first of the ladies descended the staircase, and was presented by that surprisingly good-looking bartender. Instantly Clara was forgotten, all eyes were on the lovely Miz Fannie, and Clara ground her white, white teeth in suppressed anger; just as quickly, she relaxed her fists, took a breath, and fluttered her fan to breeze her face. It took an effort to calm her expression, though nothing could calm the venom in her otherwise lovely eyes.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

The three of us were received with handshakes, back slapping and congratulations; Charlie received his congratulations with a good face, though I could see he was guarding that side, and poor Jacob had never in his life been through a receiving line -- let alone one as energetic and spontaneous as this one!
Mr. Baxter met us at the end of the bar with words of congratulations and a firm grip, and he glanced over his shoulder; smiling, he ushered us quickly to our table, at the far end of the room, with a white linen table cloth and candles, ribbons and some draped ribbon material on the wall behind the table.
Charlie looked distinctly uncomfortable. "We'll make a fine target here," he muttered.
"You can shoot back, can't you?" I said with a straight face.
Charlie glared at me and Jacob opened his coat to discreetly expose the handle of his .44 Army revolver, then buttoned his coat again.
I had not one word of complaint. I wore my Colts under my coat, and knew Charlie did the same.
I parked my Winchester against the wall behind my chair.
"Fellas, let's scoot this table out just a bit. We need to give the ladies room to get in and get set down comfortably." We cautiously eased the heavy table forward, giving us just a bit more room.
Right about then the crowd stilled, and we looked up, and Miz Fannie came floating down the stairs.
There was a general hiss of indrawn breath.
I looked off to the right. If women could spit poison like some snakes I'd heard about, Miz Fanne would be envenomed at twenty yards: for all her beauty, Clara looked pure evil in that moment.
Your true nature is showing, Clara.
Charlie hadn't missed it either.
Jacob's eyes were on Miz Fannie, and mine returned to her loveliness. We'd been introduced, I knew her to be a charming woman and a lady, and that she was old friends with Duzy and Esther ... beyond that, and her reputation as an entertainer, I didn't know much about her.
Duzy came down next. I should say she floated down next.
There are many mysteries in this world: most of them I accepted without trying to puzzle them out. I wasn't quite sure, for instance, why the moon stayed put without either falling down or drifting away, other than the will of God, but I didn't spend much time worrying about it. I had watched snakes and wondered just how they managed to move so smoothly, but again I accepted that they could, and did, and didn't worry too much as to the how.
I considered on this moment how women could float, and move forward without perceptible effort.
A mystery: I accepted it, and appreciated its beauty, and realized on some level that if I understood the mechanics of it, somehow it would lose a little of its beauty.
I contented myself with admiring the beauty of this woman, family now, or near enough to it: I wasn't sure if Duzy would become niece or cousin when Esther and I were wed, but it didn't really matter.
She was family.
Emma was next.
A man does not usually think of a schoolmarm as more than a tiny, dried, gray, invisible husk of a woman, who appears magically in front of a class of children, and teaches them all day, and then disappears until she's needed again.
Emma Jones floated down the stairs with all the grace and poise and, yes, beauty, as Duzy had.
I didn't know if her gown was of Bonnie's manufacture. I do know it made Emma all the more beautiful.
Jackson Cooper thought so.
I had to look two or three times, but yep, that was him, cleaned up, his face shaved and mustache trimmed, standing head and shoulders over most in the room: Jackson Cooper, in a good looking suit, a matching hat in hand.
Jackson Cooper, with an expression I'd never seen on his face in all the years I'd known him.
Jackson Cooper looked like he was absolutely, positively, head over heels in love.
I looked over at Charlie. He looked at me and cocked a questioning eyebrow.
Jacob murmured, "That's a schoolmarm?"
"Always did think well of education," Charlie murmured.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

There were very few in the crowd who were seated.
Mr. Baxter had received each of the ladies with a hand-kiss, and a formal presentation to all assembled.
Those who were seated came to their feet.
Esther came down the stairs.
Charlie's hand was on my shoulder, and he gave an approving squeeze.
Esther was absolutely beautiful.
She wore her hair like a crown, her face shone, and she moved with the smooth grace of a dancer, or an angel.
Mr. Baxter received her with all the courtly charm of a man born to high station; he kissed her gloved knuckles, and turned, and announced her name.
I heard not one word he said.
Her eyes found mine, and the rest of the world didn't exist anymore, and for a long moment I saw her, absolutely beautiful in an emerald gown, and she smiled, and I saw nothing else.
Mr. Baxter escorted her to our table. I drew her chair back against the wall to give her room enough to be seated, and slid the chair in under her, and ignored the pain of a pinched finger where I'd drawn the chair back just a wee bit too far, with a wee bit too much vigor.
Mr. Baxter winked at me, and worked his way back through the crowd, to his polished mahogany bar.
Everyone had a glass in hand and Charlie hoisted his. "To the happy couple!" he announced in a fine voice.
"The happy couple!"
They drank.
I stood and waited while glasses were refilled.
"To a dream!" I announced. "The Silver Jewel, and all she represents!"
"The Silver Jewel!" boomed the hearty reply, and glasses were drained.
Glasses were refilled.
Esther stood, and raised her own.
"To my husband," she said simply.
"TO THE HUSBAND!" came the great shout of a reply.
There was a piano fanfare, and on the stage, Miz Fannie struck a pose.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

Esther's hand was on my arm, and my hand was on hers, and we had eyes for each other, and very little else.
Charlie, not being handicapped as I was by the moment, had eyes for the crowd.
Jacob had eyes for the big platters of food Daisy and her crew were bringing out. She'd recruited the Irish Brigade as servers, and a good choice they were: loud, laughing, trading good-natured remarks with the crowd as they went, their red-shirted antics kept the mood festive. It took several passes to get everyone fed, and by the time the last were served, the first were ready for seconds.
Daisy's kitchen held plenty for all.
Miz Fannie had sung three songs, one while playing piano, one a sad romantic air accompanied by Fiddler Daine, and one humorous tune, a capella, that had the house laughing with high good humor. She had a fine sense of timing, and knew just how long to hold the audience's attention before the food came out on a great cloud of good smells.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

The ladies had descended on our table and were ranked on either side of us, beauty in multiple colors; we ate, we laughed, we marvelled at the turnout. I honestly didn't know there were this many people in the county; Charlie had been keeping track of the buggies and train cars full of humanity that were coming in, and had discreetly kept the count to himself, wishing to spare me the worry.
Our head table was first served, of course, first to be offered seconds, the first to be offered dessert. I could have eaten much more than I did; Esther ate lightly, as did the ladies. Jacob ate with his usual appetite, leading to some speculation on whether only one of his legs was hollow, or perhaps both.
I smiled. I was much the same at his age.

Santos had quietly noted the position of el Senor McKenna, and noted it to his brother; they were both in their finest Texican attire, mostly black, with red vests and enough genuine silver to buy a small ranch. Their sombreros were slung back on their backs, hanging by the storm strap. They moved quietly along the bar, to the back entrance to the stage, knowing most of the people would be concentrating on dessert.
Firecracker Mel had cat-footed down the back stairs in her flamenco dress and soft slippers, carrying her heeled dancing pumps. She was a woman of passion, with the hot blood of the border country in her veins, and when she loved, she loved passionately: and one of her great loves was the dance.
Miz Fannie had seen Eduardo and Santos and the great, double-strung bass guitar they carried, and the performer in her told her it was time to excuse herself from the happy table.
She met Firecracker Mel at the rear of the stage. Mel slipped into her pumps and adjusted the straps, working them a bit on her feet until they were just right.
Fannie's eyes glowed. She'd seen the flamenco danced, and she loved the music: this, she thought, should be a treat!
Firecracker Mel winked at her.
Santos stepped out onto the stage, holding the outsized guitar slung over his shoulder, and struck a sudden chord.
Supple fingers played up and down the neck of the guitar, and he played a melody while maintaining his own bass accompaniment -- no mean feat, Fannie recgnized; she played a little guitar as well, but nothing like this!
Firecracker Mel stepped out on stage, eyes flashing, hair up in the Spanish style, all the lovelier that it had the red highlights of her Celtic ancestors, woven into the tall Spanish comb: she arched up on the balls of her feet, crossing her arms gracefully overhead.
Castanets glowed a polished ivory in her hands.
Her heels struck a sudden rhythm, counterpointed by the sharper rattle of the castanets, and Santos smiled, the absorbed smile of a man who loved what he was doing, and was doing it well.
He wove a basso rhythm, abandoning the melody altogether, letting Mel's heels on the polished hardwood sing for themselves.
Mel spun, flaring her tiered skirt out from her, dancing to every man in the audience: she moved with the lithe grace of a panther, the innocence of an angel , and the smoldering appeal of a seductress.
Forks were suspended halfway between plate and lip, forgotten.
Fannie faded back, slowly, taking herself inconspicuously out of the audience's view. This was the Firecracker's show, and she did not want to take the audience away from her performance, not for one moment!
Eduardo strode onto the stage, made a demanding gesture, as if pointing to the floor: come here! -- with a single, sharp note from his own polished boot's heel.
Firecracker Mel turned, smiling, extending a snarling castanet in a you-come-here gesture, and turned coquettishly away.
Santos clapped his hands as if striking cymbals, and with a triple-tap, again pointed to the floor, turning his head and tilting it back, demanding and regal as any king.
Mel began dancing around him, spinning, weaving the rhythm of her lighter, sharper heels with the slower, measured cadence he wove: they turned, together, locking eye-to-eye, her skirts in her hands, snapping them left, then right, telling a story, teasing, demanding, refusing; faster, and faster yet, and finally she bent backwards in his arms, a graceful surrender, with one long leg extending, slowly, to point to the heavens.
Eduardo's palm silenced the strings.
There was a long silence.
The house erupted in pandemonium: whistles, cheers, applause: Eduardo's guitar sang again, in the same basso rhythm, Mel spun out, to arm's length, then back into Santos, and together, they bowed, and turned, and skipped off the stage together, Eduardo following.
Fannie smiled with delight.
That was worthwhile!

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

Emma tilted her head back.
Deep breath, she thought; all is well, she thought.
The butterflies behind her corset panel disagreed.
Her hand shook as she held the worn but familiar volume of Shakespeare. It was not a large book, and could actually fit in her reticule, if she wiggled it a bit and let the lacing out all the way ... it was more a prop, and indeed reassurance, for hers was a recitation, and not a reading.
She thought of the Boston stage, and the stuffy audience, and how they smelled ... old. Musty, almost: cigar smoke and perfume and that subtle air of ... well, stuffiness.
This stage was different, she thought. This stage was full of life and full of fire, and she'd never heard an audience come to its feet at the top of its lungs like they had for Firecracker Mel!
She looked down at the volume in her hands and doubted if they would respond quite so strongly for her effort.
She heard her name.
Raising her chin, she threw back her shoulders; listening for her cue, she smiled.
"Showtime, Mr. Shakespeare," she murmured, and stepped into the brilliant stage lights.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

Jake slipped in the front door, trying hard to be invisible He'd intended to arrive the night before but events plotted against him -- but he was here now, and worked his way to one of the few empty seats in the house, and looked around.
He saw Linn and Esther at the head table, Charlie and Jacob, and the ladies, and on stage -- he hadn't gotten to see it finished! -- a Spanish beauty with surprisingly fair skin and almost red-auburn hair, dancing with what appeared to be one of a pair of twins: the man was good, he thought, and the two of them told a story, there on the stage.
He'd seen such dance before, in his travels down on the border, and always liked it, and the bouncy music that accompanied it.
A large fellow in a red shirt, suspenders and a German accent appeared at his elbow and set a big plate of food down in front of him. "What'll you have to drink, mein Herr?"
"Beer, thank you," Jake replied; he realized with some surprise this was a fireman, one of several, and apparently they were among the servers.
Jake leaned back and grinned. This was turning into a delightfully interesting evening!

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Charlie MacNeil 9-23-07

 

Charlie had convinced everybody to keep his presence in town a secret from Fannie, because he wanted to surprise her. He'd gotten his black broadcloth suit pressed and managed to get his boots shined, although that had taken a while. He'd had to stop several times to let the stitch in his side settle down.

When Fannie had come down the stairs with such a flourish, he'd laughed to himself. Leave it to Fannie to plan a grand entrance. He'd waited at the table while Mister Baxter introduced her to the room in general then escorted her to where he, Linn, and Jacob waited. At the table she'd suddenly realized who was sitting there and let out a yell. "Charlie!"

He stood and she hugged him tight enough he had to whisper in her ear, "Easy there, darlin', that hurts." The crowd watched her greeting to him and he knew they were wondering how somebody like him knew the flamboyant Miss Fannie Kikinshoot. "Let 'em wonder," he thought with a smile. "It gives 'em something to talk about."

She'd pushed him back to arm's length and asked, "What have you been up to now?"

"Colin's dead," he answered softly. "But he didn't go quietly."

Fannie sobered just for a moment. "Was he one of those..."

"Yep. He was the head man. When things didn't work for 'em, he hightailed it out of here back to Cloud Camp. I followed. He won't be burning any more churches." He didn't have to say anymore.

Fannie hugged him again, gently this time. "You did what you had to do, Charlie." By then, Duzy and Emma had come down the stairs, making their own grand entrances, and been brought to the table. "Enough of that!" Fannie exclaimed. "It's party time!"

Since Linn was totally in a twitterpated state over his bride to be, and well he should be, Charlie had taken it on himself to keep an eye on the room. He too had seen Clara's reaction to Fannie's entrance and made a mental note to keep an eye on her and see just who she might be spending time with. He also noted the man who'd been pointed out to him as Liam MacKenna. There was a look of evil about the man.

Charlie had listened with one ear to Fannie's songs, and watched with one eye as Firecracker Mel, as she was being called by some around town, danced one of the most daring and stirring flamencos Charlie had ever seen. He'd also seen the look of unbridled lust on MacKenna's face as he watched the dance and just shook his head. From the look of the two Texicans who were always around Mel, if MacKenna took a notion to mess with her, he'd best notify his next of kin because his remaining time on earth would be "short, brutal, and bloody".

For the moment, Charlie decided to relax and enjoy the party. Miss Jones would be reciting Shakespeare next, and Charlie had always had a soft spot in his heart for the Immortal Bard.

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

 

When the Irish fire brigade arrived for the celebration in their usual clammer they came to the bar and asked "Might you have a wee spot more of that glorious Irish whiskey?"
"Just enough to keep this place from burning down."
"How would that be, me ladd?"
"I've got enough to keep the fire brigade here all night! Miss Duzy might be needing a hand a little later with the food."
"It woud be our honor to serve the lovely lass!"

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Sweet Violet 9-23-07

 

Now standing on the stage with the light of the gas lamps shining in her eyes she took a moment to search the sea of faces for Jackson, and not finding him there felt a stab of disappointment. She looked down at the worn leather book to collect her thoughts. Then with a slight shake of her head and a smile that she didn't quite feel, she began.

"I would like to dedicate this Sonnet, William Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 63 to the memory of my Aunt May and Uncle Herbert's undying love for eachother.


"Against my love shall be as I am now,
With time's injurious hand crush'd and o'reworn;
When hour have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age's steepy night;
And all those beauties whereof now he's king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight;
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age's cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, through my lover's life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still be green."

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Sweet Violet 9-23-07

 

There was a thunderous applause and Emma made a little curtsey.

When the applause died down she began again.

"This next sonnet has just recently become very dear to me."

She took a deep breath, closed the book and then her eyes, and in a soft, but clear voice that would have made angels weep she began.

"When in disgrace with fortune in men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy, contented least.
Yet....in these thoughts, myself most despising,
Happily I think on thee, and then
Like the lark, at the break of day, arising,
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate,
For thy sweet love remembered, such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings."

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

The applause was just as thunderous, the enthusiasm just as great: boots stomped and tables were pounded with great, callused hands.
One man stood, hat in hand, with a quiet smile on his face.
Emma's breath caught. She'd just started to turn, to leave the stage, and her eye caught the movement, and she froze.
The stage in the Silver Jewel had been made with a concave back, the better to project sound from stage to audience. A speaker in the audience had no such advantage.
This speaker needed no advantage.
Emma turned toward the speaker.

Jackson Cooper looked at Emma, and in his deep, powerful voice, spoke: his words were for her, as were his eyes, and as he spoke, he extended his callused hand, palm up, an invitation.

"When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gaz'd on how,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer, 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm, when thou feel'st it cold."

He spoke slowly, and with majesty, and the words of the Bard could be heard by all in the room.
Jackson Cooper held out his hand, just a moment longer, and walked toward the stage.
He handed her a single red rose, and smiled, and returned to his seat.
Emma dropped a curtsy and turned quickly. Fannie followed her off the stage.
"Honey, that was BEAUTIFUL," Fannie gushed. "I have heard Shakespeare from Frisco to New York and I've never heard it done so well!" She produced a kerchief from somewhere and delicately caught Emma's solitary tear. "How long have you trod the boards?"
Emma shook her head, not trusting her voice.
Fannie patted her hand sympathetically. "I know, dear, performing is pretty demanding especially when you've not done it for some time! Why, I remember --"
She stopped.
"There's something else, isn't there?" she asked, gently.
Emma nodded.
"He came," she said.
It's all she had the voice to say.

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

I turned to Emma. "My dear, are we ready?"
Emma smiled, and lowered her eyes, and inclined her head.
I turned to Charlie.
Charlie smiled a little, and nodded; he turned to Jacob, Esther turned to Duzy, the word was passed.
I looked up and down the table, stood.
The entire head table stood as one.
I picked up my rifle and we stepped to the front of the table.
"Up on stage!" an anonymous voice called. "I can't see!"
Several voices joined the happy chorus: "Up on stage! Up on stage!"
I looked sharply at Charlie. His arm was clamped down against his side. I knew just how he felt. He was making a good effort to look normal but I could tell he was not at his comfortable best.
We all worked our way up on stage. I hadn't planned to propose to Esther up here, but in for a penny, in for a pound: if we're putting on a show, we'll put on a good show!
Fannie Kikinshoot winked encouragement at us and turned to the piano. She played a quick fanfare, and the shouting and applause died.
I opened my coat and pulled it back to expose my Colts in their carved rig.
"First of all," I said, "I have no idea why you're all here."
There was a hearty round of laughter. I held up a hand for silence.
"But since you're here, and you're all fed, I have an announcement to make!"
From somewhere in back a little child piped up, "Is he gonna kiss her now, Mommy?" and everyone laughed, us included, and I had to wave them back down to silence.
"You all know Miz Duzy yonder. She came here with a dream. Well, her dream didn't quite work out like she'd planned." I paused. "It turned out better!"
I had their attention.
"She and I, Bonnie and Esther, Tillie and the whole bunch of us, turned new dreams into what we see here today: the Silver Jewel!"
Applause, whistles, cheers!
"This was not easy. It took work and a lot of it. I'd like to think it's worthwhile!" I let the crowd die down again. "We have had a number of good things happen on the way to tonight. Firelands has its very own steam wagon for firefighting! Daisy married a fireman! We all kept the town from being burnt down -- and that's something everyone here can say with pride. We have a bed to sleep in and a roof overhead because when the time came, we kept one another safe!"
Boots, whistles, appause: they applauded themselves as much as us.
I waved them down.
"Now let me tell you something about Esther here." I almost expected that little child's voice again, but it didn't come. "This is one of the wisest women I have ever met. She is a canny businesswoman in her own right. She is a most efficient manager; she can lead by direction, by example and if need be with a swift kick in the hind quarters!"
"And how would ye know that?" Sean challenged, hoisting a mug of beer in our direction. There was general laughter.
Again I waved my hand. "I have such faith in this woman that I have plans for her. Apparently she has plans for me as well, for she gave me these Colts, and this rifle, just before I had desperate need of them. Dearest, would you read the engraving on the rifle?" I handed the '73 to Esther, and she turned it and read from the sideplate: "To Linn Keller, Sheriff of Firelands, and my darling husband, from your loving wife, Esther." She handed it back.
"Esther has expressed her belief in me. How can I have any less in her?" I asked. "Charlie, could you hold this for me?"
Charlie held my Winchester.
I had Esther take one step forward, with me.
I pulled an envelope from inside my coat. "You already know that I own the railroad. You may have seen the brand new locomotive pulling it. If you were to look at that brand new engine, you would see that it has a name." I paused, meeting eyes near and far. "On the side of the cab, under the engineer's window, in big letters, it reads 'The Lady Esther', with a rose painted beneath." I held up the envelope. "This is my lawful title to the railroad. I have signed it over this afternoon, and now present it, as a wedding gift, to she who shall be my wife."
I placed the envelope in Esther's hands.
She hadn't expected this, and her face showed it.
Fannie slid in behind us; Esther handed her the envelope.
I pulled a bandana from my coat pocket, and snapped it open, and laid it open at Esther's feet.
I took her hand in mine, and lowering one knee to the bandana, looked up at her, both my hands holding hers, the promise ring pressing into my palm.
"Esther Wales, before these good people assembled, I now ask for your hand in marriage. How say you?"
Esther's mouth opened, and nothing came out.
She swallowed.
"I," she said, and I felt her hand tremble a little. "I, ..."
She took a deep breath.
"YES!"
From the roar that went up, you'd think she just recited Shakespeare.
I brought her hand to my lips and kissed her knuckles, and stood, and Esther bit her lower lip, and looked at me almost shyly, and at the crowd, and I could barely hear her as she said, "What do we do now?"
I laughed. "I intend to kiss you, my dear," I said, and I did.

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

 

A local rancher was ordering a shot of rye when he exclaimed, "Holy mackeral, this place is getting awfully high brow! Are we to expect this all the time? I don't think I've ever seen anybody quoting anything like that out on the trail."
"Oh, I recon this is about as fancy as we'll ever see in there parts." I was keeping pretty busy serving drinks. The mood was set about as happy as in any bar I'd ever seen.
I didn't think those elegant ladies were ever going to stop coming down that staircase. I think that was about the finest time I'd ever had.

 

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Linn Keller 9-23-07

 

Firecracker Mel had changed clothes, and was back in her preferred riding attire: black divided skirt, a canary swordsman's blouse with the great, loose sleeves, gathered snug at the wrists, and a short vest of the same shade of crimson as her vaqueros. She'd just sung a gentle Spanish song of love for the happy couple, who were back at the head table, and bowed to the applause that was her due.
She then sat down at the piano and prepared to play.
Santos shrank from the sight, raising both hands as if to ward off something distasteful.
The audience laughed.
Eduardo shivered and went over to Santos, pointing to the piano and shaking his head vigorously.
The crowd roared.
Firecracker Mel elaborately stretched her fingers, rubbing fingertips against her thumbs, and dramatically prepared to launch a commanding chord from the ivories.
Eduardo held up his hands pleadingly to the audience. "Please forgive us, it is not our idea," he begged them. "La Senorita Firecracker means well but she is the only woman I know who can make a piano sound like a cat when you step on its tail!"
Firecracker Mel struck a sour chord and turned toward him. "I do not!" she contested hotly.
The crowd was in general holding its ribs or otherwise making a sound akin to a chicken in the final stages of labor.
Firecracker Mel hoisted her nose in the air, raised her bottom from the piano bench and pretended to flip a set of coat tails from under her backside. Settling herself back into position, she deliberately positioned her left hand, then her right.
Eduardo's white teeth were set tightly together, and Santos was squinting, with fingers in both ears, as if expecting a great explosion.
Firecracker Mel turned and raised an eyebrow at them.
The crowd was howling and pounding on table tops with mirth and merriment. The head table had all turned to watch the fun and were laughing as hard as anyone else.
Eduardo and Santos scrambled off the stage, taking refuge in the crowd.
Firecracker Mel turned abruptly and said sharply, "If you are QUITE through!"
Hysteria reached a crescendo.
Firecracker Mel began to play: a lively, bouncy Mexican tune, something that might be heard in a cantina, with a saucy wench dancing atop the piano, teasing the men with her skirts and flirting with flashing dark eyes. She skillfully brought the crowd's mirth to rein with the lively tempo, then slowed, and began playing a waltz -- playing rather expertly, at that.
The Sheriff stood and took his betrothed's hand.
They stepped from behind the head table, into what little clear space there was, and they waltzed.

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

 

I looked in the spring room for a couple of minutes and came out with a box that I assume Duzy was talking about. It was a case of bottles like I had never seen. I set out the glasses Duzy had indicated. They were tall with a stand under them. I pulled out a bottle that said KORBEL California Champagne. Duzy had it sent in on the train from San Francisco that Fannie came in on. There was a wire net over the top of the bottle and a stopper that looked about like a mushroom. "How do I open this?" I got the wire net off and turned around to find something to get the stopper out... POW! I spun around, the stopper had hit the ceiling and foam was gushing out of the bottle. I saw a couple of people had their hands on their gun butts and everybody was looking at me! The whole place had fallen silent. Some began to laugh while others still stared. I grabbed the bottle and began pouring it into glasses as fast as I could. They were filling instantly and bubbling over with white foam. It finally slowed down and the first ones I had filled had hardly anything in them.
Sean stepped up to the bar, "Let me help you there, Laddie." He took the bottle in his big hands and took off the wire net and just as he turned the stopper went flying across the room! People were ducking for cover! The stopper bounced off the wall across the room and landed on the stage!
"Get it in the glasses quick, before it's all gone!" I yelled. By now Miss Duzy was on her way to the bar.
"Gentlemen, might I assist you? You've got to handle this carefully" She took a bottle and removed the wire net, keeping her hand on the stopper allowing it to rise only enough to make a "Pop" and what looked like just a little steam came out and began to pour into the glasses perfectly. Sean and I just looked at each other! I don't know what he was thinking, but what I was thinking was bad enough for the both of us. We each picked up a fresh bottle and opened them like Miss Duzy had shown us with much greater success. The rest of the fire brigade was busy serving the glasses as fast as we could fill them.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-23-07

 

After the waltz had gone on for a bit longer than Fannie had patience for she flounced over to the piano and asked Mel, "Is this a party or a wake?" She grinned and said, "Let's have some real dancin' music!" Mel gave her a smile back and The Blue Danube transitioned to Buffalo Gals in the space of a few notes. "That's more like it," Fannie said. "And maybe we can get the fiddle player to chip in."

Fannie bounced across the room, clapping her hands in time with the music, over to where Nelson Daine sat with his fiddle silent in the case beside him. A few moments of animated conversation between the two and suddenly the lilting strings of the fiddle joined the piano, adding a few flourishes that hadn't originally been involved in the song.

Next came Camptown Races, and Nelson capered across the floor to stand near the piano while the fiddle seemed to play of its own accord. When the last notes of Camptown Races were about to fade completely away the fiddle suddenly launched into Turkey in the Straw and Fannie stepped up and spoke softly to Nelson. He grinned and pointed with his chin at Cousin Emmett. Fannie sashayed across the floor once again and stopped alongside Emmett and bent to whisper in his ear. Emmett hopped up and vaulted onto the stage to begin calling square dance figures and the whole population of the restaurant, that is to say the majority of the population of Firelands, was soon on the floor.

When the waltz started folks pressed back to give the happy couple room to swing gracefully across the floor. When Buffalo Gals started, tables were pushed back and chairs were stacked to make room, and the dining room was soon transformed into a dance hall. Men who would no sooner think of doing dishes than they would of flying to the moon were carrying china, flatware, and soiled linens to the back of the room to a place out of danger and dancing began in earnest.

Fannie flounced into a chair near Charlie and said, "Now that's what I call a party!" Charlie just shook his head, with a smile. There was never a dull moment when Fannie was in a party mood. She snatched a glass of champagne from a tray as one of the Irish Brigade passed by, drank it down in two gulps, and said, "Ah! That's good stuff!"

Charlie happened to look past her and see Clara, who had declined to participate in the festivities, glaring hatred at Fannie over the shoulder of the man she was talking to. Charlie didn't know for sure that Fannie noticed, but he was sure she had.

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

 

Duzy cried out, "CHAMPAGNE FOR EVERYONE! Who will give a toast to the lovely couple?" The room fell quiet. I was so busy catching up and cleaning up the bar after the champagne opening experience to even think of anything. With all the merryment in this place I'm sure there will be plenty of volunteers.

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Duzy Wales 9-23-07

 

Aunt Esther’s excitement had brought tears to Duzy’s eyes, just knowing that her dear Aunt would have the kind of love that Sheriff Keller would give her, made her think of her own parents and how happy they were. Duzy wished for that kind of love someday.

The champagne was passed around and Duzy stepped up. First, I wish to toast my beautiful Aunt Esther and the dear man who will be my Uncle Linn, and with a mischievious look on her face, she raised her glass and said,

“May you love her 'til death do you part, or lest feel the lead as it enters your heart!"

Everyone laughed, and Duzy hugged both Aunt Esther and Linn, wishing the couple all the best that life could offer.

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Sweet Violet 9-23-07

 

Standing at the table with Duzy, Bonnie, Esther and Linn, Emma raised her glass in the toast to the beaming couple. Just moments before, she had watched as they waltzed around the room as if no one else in the world existed but eachother. She could see the love shining in both Esther and Linn's eyes and she was overjoyed for them both. She silently prayed that they would know nothing but love and happiness for the rest of their days.

She now turned her attention to Fannie as she made her way around the room, winking at someone here, making another laugh there. What vivaciousness and life that lady had. Emma smiled just watching her. After being in the tired and stuffy parlours of the wealthy back in Boston, watching Fannie work her magic was refreshing.

And she was keeping an eye on the man known as Liam McKenna. She had had it up to her eyebrows with men who took advantage of ladies and treated them like chattle. These ladies of Firelands had taken her in and treated her like she was family. A very protective instinct welled up within her and she vowed to herself to help them in whatever way she could. Emma was usually a very genteel sort of lady, but if that man crossed her path, he had better watch out.

Cowboy after cowboy approached Emma wanting to thank her for the reading she had done, wanting to buy her a drink, or ask her to dance. Politely and with a smile she disengaged herself from each one.

Her heart was set on only one cowboy. He had stood and quoted lines in a crowd, but his eyes had only been on her. He had spoken to her heart. He [I]had come [/I]tonight.

On the verge of thinking he had disappeared into the night, she felt someone gently touch her arm.

He quietly said, "Emma."

She turned to towards him and looked up into eyes that held compassion and something else. She was afraid to let herself hope.

There, looking down at her with eyes that conveyed all he was feeling in his heart, was Jackson Cooper.

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Duzy Wales 9-23-07

 

Duzy decided it was time to find out more about Liam McKenna and walked over to the bar. “Fred, between us, I have a favor to ask of you. I will be ordering straight up tequilas from you; however, I want my drinks to be watered down, just so it will still look like tequila. If Liam McKenna follows me over here, which I am hoping he will, I want his drinks to be extra strong, as I plan to find out what this man is up to before he causes any trouble for those I love!" Fred answered that he would do as I asked and to please be very careful, as he didn’t trust the man either.

At that moment, Liam McKenna walked up behind Duzy, looking very handsome in his custom made suit! Duzy sighed, and thought, would real romance ever be a part of her life? Sending that thought to the back of her mind, she then turned and started to walk away.

“Miss Wales, please wait, it is a pleasure seeing you again!” Mr. McKenna stated. “I had hoped to see you and apologize for the actions of the young woman you saw with me, before you left the other evening. She doesn’t seem to know her place around a real lady!” “Is that so, Mr. McKenna? May I ask how you would know her if she is not fit to be around “a real lady” as you put it?” Duzy saw his eyes harden for just a second, as if he had misjudged the woman he was standing in front of, but just as suddenly it was gone. “It is of no consequence, or important at all, Miss Wales, as I met her briefly on the train, but it seems she made more of the courtesy I gave her, as I would have given any woman traveling alone, and in need of assistance.”

“Could I buy you a drink, Miss Wales?” Duzy gave him one of her sweetest smiles, and said, “Mr. McKenna, I am not sure that would be appropriate, as I do not know you at all, and my Aunt Esther, who is usually with me, is otherwise detained.” Duzy turned to go, and suddenly he reached for her arm, and saw her wince in pain. He had touched her arm just at the top of her long gloves and had touched one of the bruises that had not completely healed. Before letting go, he turned her arm, and looked where his fingers had touched, and saw the bruise, where she had been jerked off her horse. “My dear lady, what happened,” he asked, and Duzy could see the excitement in his eyes as he looked carefully at the bruise, although his words were very soothing. “I had a little trouble with my horse the other day, and this was the outcome. It is almost healed, as you can see," Duzy said, pulling her arm away. Liam licked his lips, unconsciously, it seemed, as he looked at the bruise. “Is this the only place you were hurt?” he asked, concerned. “Oh, I wish, as I have been sore for days, but this is not proper conversation for us, please excuse me?” “Please wait, just one drink ma’am as my apology, and you have your employee, Mr. Baxter, which will be right here with us!” Duzy smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, alright, yes, I suppose you are right, just one drink!

Fred had been watching the exchange of words, as he kept sliding beer down the bar, when Duzy said, “Mr. Baxter, I would love another shot of that tequila!”

Duzy had no idea that Jake Thomas was watching every move, as she didn’t even know he was back in town!

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

Water them down, how much, the more the better I guess. It looked pretty pale. I'll have to try something else. Maybe tea.... I could barely keep my eyes off Miss Duzy. Oh she was pretty enough to cause that anyway, but I was worried for her. That Liam McKenna had better not try anything with her!

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Duzy Wales 9-23-07

 

Duzy could still hear the toasts and congratulations, all the laughter, and love, from across the room, where she sat at the bar with Liam McKenna.

Fannie had walked over and sat next to her, Duzy introducing Fannie to Liam , and Fannie giving him a nod in return, looking at him as if she knew what he was thinking. Both friends watched as he couldn’t help but take Fannie in from head to toe, and back up, something they had watched men do many times! There was no helping it; Fannie was a lady that would draw attention in a burlap sack! The friends had laughed about it at times, Duzy wishing sometimes that she was more like her flamboyant friend! Fannie said, “I will be watching,” and Duzy replied, “Yes, I know!”

Liam McKenna was beginning to show the signs of what he had drank. Duzy knew there was just the hint of the taste of tequila in her drinks mixed with tea. Liam seemed mesmerized by her arms, as if he could visualize the bruises…..and Duzy remembered reading the writings of “Marquis de Sade.” She remembered her dreams, the whips, the secret room and she became much more curious. Leaning toward him, she said innocently, “I am being really bad. I should be celebrating with my Aunt.” His eyes took on an unnatural glow and he dared to ask, “Would you like to take a walk outside for some fresh air?” “No, Mr. McKenna, but I would love to dance!” He stood and reached for her hand for the dance.

Duzy felt Liam stiffen as she walked in front of him and turned to see Jake Thomas cut in on the dance that had never really started. Her heart caught in her throat as she looked at the man she had missed so badly! Taking her in his arms himself, he pulled her close to him, almost as if he was angry, and said. “What do you think you are doing, Duzy?” “Jake, it is not what you think, I need to know more about him, and I think he is a danger to Bonnie and those she loves!” “You leave that to me!” he stated, as he turned Duzy in his arms to the music. His eyes were dark tonight, his hair still curling around his shirt collar, a suit on, and looking as handsome as any character she had ever read of in all her books. He stopped, just for a second, and tilted her chin upward and asked, “Did you miss me?” Duzy looked into his eyes and said, “Yes, and if there is to be a next time, be sure to leave word that you are leaving!” “He smiled, and said, yes ma’am, I will,” as they continued to dance.

Liam wouldn’t let it go, as he was even more intoxicated, and he didn’t like watching Miss Wales in another man’s arms. He touched Jakes shoulder to cut in and when Jake started to say no, Duzy said, “Yes, I would love to dance, giving Jake a look to let her go.” He leaned down to her ear and whispered, “I will be watching.” Duzy said, “Yes, please do,” and smiled, as her heart was soaring that he was back in town, and yet she still had work to do, even though she could tell Jake Thomas was not happy about it at all!

Liam McKenna and Duzy began to dance. “Tell me about yourself, Mr. McKenna, what are you doing in Firelands?” “I am searching for my cousin, Bonnie McKenna,” he stated. “Not too hard, I take it, as she is here tonight, why the hesitation to let her know you are here?”

Liam did not like the straight forward questions he was getting from Miss Wales, and couldn’t wait to bring her down a notch or two, or have her swinging with her arms high above her head, stripped and gagged, was even a better idea! He would love to see her without those damn long gloves on as he couldn’t get those marks out of his mind and fantasized about where he would lay the crop when he had her in his under his control.

Duzy had watched his reaction and knew he was an obsessed man, one that could be cruel and yet speak with honey in his voice. “Did you just say you were scared to meet her?” Duzy asked to see of she could provoke him. “Scared? Of course not, scared of a woman, why would I ever be scared of a woman?” “I’ve known some deadly women, Mr. McKenna, have you not?” “Not that I couldn’t help to bring to their senses,” he said recklessly, as they continued to dance. He continued, “A woman likes a strong man, she needs that to keep her in line, or else”…..and then he looked down at Duzy and realized he was speaking out of line. “Yes, or else, Mr. McKenna?” “My dear, you are a young innocent, and have not been taught that this is a man’s world, I am thinking you must have had parents that let you have your way much too often.” Duzy wanted to slap him hard for bringing up her parents, but instead kept up the game, “oh yes, my dear Papa thought a woman could do anything she wanted to do, and as you can see, he was right, as I am one of the owners of this establishment.”

Just then Duzy saw Bonnie and thought it was a good time to put a stop to the conversation as he met his cousin!

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Mr. Box 9-23-07

I'd been giving Miss Duzy light shots all along and Liam stiff ones and it was starting to work. Once they took to the dance floor it was hard to watch them and still tend bar, but seeing Jake there told me that she would be well looked after, not to mention all the other men that wanted to watch after her.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-23-07

 

Charlie sat with his back to the wall and his jacket unbuttoned. The cut-down Remington was just under the edge of his coat and his eyes were narrowed while he watched Liam McKenna making advances towards Miss Duzy. When he put his hand on her arm and she flinched Charlie nearly came out of his seat but Fannie caught his eye from across the room and he settled back down with a wince. He was pretty sure he'd been up way longer than his wound should allow but he was bound and determined not to miss any of Linn and Esther's big night if he could help it. Even so, that damned hole in his side hurt.

Charlie caught the eye of one of the Irish Brigade as he swung by with a tray full of empty glasses. He gestured for a drink of something a bit more substantial than champagne and the Irishman grinned and turned toward the bar. A couple of minutes later a glass a good bit bigger than a shotglass plunked down on the table and the Irishman stood grinning. "What are you grinning about, kind sir?" Charlie asked.

"Aye, ye'll know in a moment, Charlie MacNeil," the man said. Charlie looked at his grin and gingerly picked up the glass and took a sip. He rolled the liquor around in his mouth and swallowed. The smoky taste made him smile.

"Where in the world did you find single malt scotch?" Charlie asked. "And long aged single malt scotch no less?" He took another, very appreciative sip.

"'Tis something that came in on the train. Balvinie, I believe it's called," the man said. "Enjoy."

"I plan to, my friend, I plan to," Charlie said. The scotch had lighted a small glowing fire in his belly and, temporarily at least, dulled the gnawing of the pain in his side. On the other hand, if he drank the entirety of the glass in his hand, Jacob could just find a hand truck and wheel him back to the jail; he'd be too stiff to walk.

Charlie set his glass down and watched closely when Jake Thomas cut in on that McKenna gent and Miss Duzy just as they left the bar for a dance. He saw the calculating look on McKenna's face and the mixture of lust and anticipation that flared in his eyes. When McKenna cut back in on Jake and Jake stepped aside, Charlie was sure there would be trouble and his hand slipped under his jacket but Jake moved back and watched Duzy and McKenna dance. Blackguard the man might be, but McKenna cut a fine figure on the dance floor. The look on Jake's face would have frozen a campfire, however.

Charlie sighed. This place was getting more complicated all the time. And he'd only stopped to rest his horse on the way home to Wyoming...

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Linn Keller 9-24-07

 

Jake's eyes narrowed.
He'd spotted Duzy, rose to approach her, when that dandy fellow took her around the arm.
Duzy flinched.
Jake's good right hand knotted up into a fist.
He took a step, another.
One of the ladies -- Tillie -- crossed his line of sight, laughing, and took his hand. "It's a square dance, cowboy!" she exclaimed, "and I need a partner!"
Jake stood still a moment longer. Something wasn't right, wasn't right, wasn't right --
He saw Mr. Baxter turn away from Duzy, throw a long splash of water in a glass, Tequila in another, and turned with a smile, and a wink to Duzy, and handed her the glass with water.
She's up to something, he thought.
Trusting her like he would trust a fellow lawman, he smiled and spun Tillie into his arms, stepping neatly into the forming square, and just as quick they were involved in dancing the "Texas Star."

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Lady Leigh 9-24-07

 

Bonnie laid her fingers atop Caleb's arm ... Liam was walking toward them, and Duzy was with him, Jake a few steps behind.

"Pardon me, but as I understand it, your last name is McKenna?"

Bonnie thought to herself, "well, here goes, took you long enough, which tells me you are not very good at this secret spy game ..." Bonnie turned toward Liam, but her hand was still on Caleb's arm, "Yes ... my last name is McKenna ... And you are? ..."

"McKenna is an unusual name, I know as I am Liam McKenna?"

Bonnie looked at this man, and thought how interesting it would be to just draw the cat and mouse game out ..."I had heard there was a visiter in town with the McKenna last name ..."

Liam looked at her puzzeled, "And it took until now to put the two McKenna's together."

"Together? What an interesting way of phrasing it, Mr. McKenna."

"I knew of a family of McKenna's in the Chicago area." Liam was hoping to bait this auburn haired woman. It was obvious the two were related. Both of their fathers genes were written all over them.

"Well, Mr. McKenna, I do not have any relation in Chicago." Bonnie knew he was baiting, and Bonnie didn't have family presently in the Chicago area.

Liam didn't like games unless he was playing them, and he certainly didn't like them when he was drinking. Miss Wales had intirerly to good of alcohol to drink ...

"My family still resides in Scottland, except for my self, and an uncle and his family may be here .... somewhere ... at least that is what I am told."

Bonnie smiled briefly, "If you are unsure if you have extended family here, then is would also seem you are not part of a close family, or you would know their location. Seems to me Mr. McKenna, you have some to proving to do .... now if you'll excuse." Bonnie looked into Caleb's gray eyes, "Caleb? Our dance."

The two walked away and Liam stood there. Duzy noticed his expression change, then he looked at her, "Where is she from?"

Duzy noted the hostile voice, "I really do not know, it has never been a subject we have spent a lot of time on." With that, Duzy began to pull away from Liam, and gravitated toward Jake.

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Linn Keller 9-24-07

 

Emma Jones laughed with delight.
Raised in proper Boston society, given a classical education, schooled in music and voice, etiquette and protocol, given all the advantages of a proper young lady, she could make herself at home in the finest parlors or the most ornate halls of the East, or even on the Continent; indeed, she had, in her day, danced in the arms of peers and princes, potentates of the realm visiting this new country; she'd known the stiff graces of rich men and powerful, all friends or acquaintances -- more the latter than the former -- of her rich and influential father.
She had never, in all her young life, square danced.
Now, laughing, her small and delicate hands safe in the great and callused paws of Jackson Cooper, she was learning the delight of being passed from one man to another in the safety of their dancing square, of being spun and whirled by strong and capable hands, always coming back to her partner, always coming back to that tall and laughing giant who seemed to envelop her with more than just his arms.
When the Star collapsed, and she found herself and the other ladies seized by a man on either side, and spun about, she shreiked with delight as her feet came off the floor and she, and they, were whirled through the air, as exciting as a bird's flight and as secure as a child in its cradle.
This set danced out, they applauded, and, laughing, she took Jackson Cooper's hand, and they went back to his table.
Emma brushed a stray wisp of once-curled hair from her face.
Emma Jones, she said to herself, you giddy girl, you've found happiness at last!
Emma Jones had no way of knowing Jackson Cooper was thinking the same thing, of himself.
His lined and weathered face wore a quietly pleasant expression, but his eyes were smiling, and the eyes are windows to the soul.

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Duzy Wales 9-24-07

 

Liam had almost lost control talking to the two ladies, and was more intoxicated than he had thought he would be. Clara was standing behind a wealthy rancher at one of the poker tables, thinking she would have his winnings before the night ended. Liam walked over and whispered in her ear, not thinking he would draw any attention to himself, “you are being a really naughty girl, Clara, go to the boxcar now, I will be there soon!” He would play with Clara tonight, while thinking of the dark haired woman he planned to conquer, making her beg for more of his crop, and bring her to her knees, as he threatened to kill her precious friend, if she didn’t comply with his wishes. Tonight, his dear cousin and her friend had built a fire inside of him that Clara would feel and love, but he would get his revenge, licking his lips in anticipation as he played out the scene in his mind.

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Duzy Wales 9-24-07

 

Meanwhile, Duzy was back in the comforting arms of Jake Thomas, as they danced. Jake noticed that Duzy was watching both Liam McKenna and the blond at the poker table. He took a closer look at the blond and thought, “hell and damnation, what is she doing here?” Jake knew that Clara had seen him in the Gentleman’s Club back East, as she had even tried to use her wiles on him, but he had been investigating Luke Hawkins and knew the woman was trouble. If he hadn’t had his mind and eyes on Duzy tonight, he would have been more observant! He knew how Clara could destroy relationships and was wondering how she would try to come between Duzy and himself. Did she know of Luke Hawkins death, he wondered?

“Duzy, let’s step outside and get a breath of fresh air.” Duzy thought that sounded like a wonderful idea, as she could use some fresh air herself and wished to be able to talk to Jake and see if he would tell her why he had disappeared so suddenly. “Just a minute, I need to tell Mr. Baxter and a few others that I will be stepping outside with you, otherwise they will be worried.” Duzy made a quick round to tell her friends and thanked Mr. Baxter for his help, and then took Jake’s arm as they stepped outside the building. The air was cool, the stars were shining and she was with Jake!

Clara spotted Jake as she was leaving to go to the boxcar, already getting excited at what was to come. She could have taken the rancher’s money, but she would get that and more from Liam. She smiled in anticipation as she thought of how she could wipe that smile off that Wales bitch’s face, delighting in doing as much harm as she could to the women of Firelands!

Jake and Duzy were looking at the stars and holding hands when Clara walked up and said, “Jake honey, what are you doing in this God forsaken place? I have missed you so!” With that she pressed her body and lips to Jake as if Duzy was not standing there at all! This time Duzy was shocked, as she had no idea how Clara knew Jake, but she intended to find out. Could she have been so wrong about him? “No, Duzy, he will have a reasonable explanation,” she told herself. Jake disengaged himself from the woman just as Liam McKenna walked out of the Silver Jewel. Liam, caught by surprise himself, thought Clara was doing it for his benefit and had no idea that he and Clara both shared a connection with Luke Hawkins!

Still not wanting to be seen with Clara, Liam lit one of his cigars, as if he was enjoying the night air also. Clara noticed and smiled again at Jake, saying “I will see you later tonight, will I not, Jake?”

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Duzy Wales 9-24-07

 

Clara left, not giving time for Jake to answer, and Liam stood watching the two, smoking his cigar and contemplating his next move. He would wait until it looked as if Clara had left for a different destination, before he would leave to catch up, believing he was keeping his distance from Clara known by the residents of Firelands.

Jake looked down into Duzy’s eyes and could see the questions, but he could see the trust there as well. Taking her hand, he said, “let’s walk and I will try to answer the questions I see in your eyes.” He started by explaining his reasons for leaving Firelands, that he had turned in his resignation to President Hayes, and had been involved in the investigation of Luke Hawkins when Duzy’s Papa had asked him to “watch out for her.” He told her how he had met Clara, and saw the look of surprise on her face when he told her of Luke and Clara’s relationship. He told her he had only one reason to return to Firelands, and that was to be with her, that he had wanted to court her honestly, without the lies and intrigue that came with being a federal agent.

Duzy looked into his eyes and saw the truth behind his words. In turn, she told Jake why she had been dancing with Liam McKenna and her worries about her dreams and the obsession she believed Liam McKenna to have. “That does not surprise me,” Jake said, “as Clara bragged of those tendencies herself with Luke Hawkins.”

Hearing this, Duzy thought she must not have known Luke at all, and remembered the hooded figure in the cemetery telling her that she should not grieve for him. That had not been the exact words, but it was the feeling she had been left with that night. The air stirred and Duzy smelled the scent of roses, knowing in her heart that she had an unseen protector, and only hoped that she would see him again someday.

“I think it is time to end the party for myself tonight, Jake, as tomorrow will be another big day! I am looking forward to introducing you to my friend, Fannie Kikinshoot, and watching her perform again!

They walked back inside the Silver Jewel to see what the others were doing. Liam McKenna was nowhere in sight.

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Linn Keller 9-24-07

 

The party started to thin out, and the Irish Brigade faithfully began their cleanup, with the same quiet steadiness that they'd served the guests. There is a time for boisterousness, and there is a time for quietude, and lively as the red-shirted firemen were, they worked happily, but quietly.
They also worked with the happy glow of alcohol on board.
It was a party, after all!

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Linn Keller 9-24-07

 

Sarah, warm in her flannel nightie and hugging an ever-smiling Dolly in one arm, rolled up on her side, and dreamed of being cuddled in Mama's lap.
Dawg, dozing beside her bed, twitched and dreamed of fresh, hot biscuits and a big ladle of gravy over top of them.
Bonnie opened the door, just enough to look in, and saw Sarah's face, relaxed and peaceful, and the steady rise and fall of the blankets over her sleeping form. Dawg looked up and smiled -- well, Bonnie knew it for a smile, though a stranger might be inclined to scream, and slam the door, and run in fright at such a display of dental daggers.
"Watch good, Dawg," she whispered, and Dawg's great tail raised once, and fell, and Bonnie eased the door shut, gently.
Sarah never stirred.

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