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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-28-07

 

I looked admiringly after Fannie.
"Now I understand how Helen of Troy's beauty launched a thousand ships," I murmured.

 

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Charlie MacNeil 9-28-07

 

The ripple of Fannie's passing had barely settled in the crowd when Charlie stood and yawned. "I think maybe it's time for me to call it a day myself," he said calmly but with a half smile. "See y'all." He moved away from the table in the opposite direction that Fannie had taken.

Behind him, Linn and Esther smiled at each other. Charlie and Fannie weren't fooling anybody.

Charlie stepped out onto the boardwalk and turned toward the hotel lobby. There was no one at the front desk because the entire hotel staff was at the party. Charlie strolled across the lobby and sauntered up the stairs like he hadn't a care in the world but inside his heart was pounding and his pulse was jumping. The world around him seemed to be shining with an internal light and he barely felt the carpet under his feet.

At the top of the stairs he moved to Fannie's door and tapped lightly on the center panel. He heard her voice say, "Come in" and he turned the knob and stepped inside. The sitting room was dimly lit by a single candle and was empty except for a trail of clothihg that led to the inner room. First a shoe, then another, then a dress. Next was an untidy heap of petticoats closely followed by a corset and a satin chemise. The door to the inner room was ajar and a pair of stockings hung from the knob.

Charlie locked the outer door and kicked off his boots. He slipped his jacket off and hung it over a nearby chair along with his tie. He navigated through the obstacles in front of him to the inner door in his sock feet and pushed the door open.

The lamp was turned low in the inner room. The golden light gilded the settee against the far wall, which was draped with a satin cloth. And with something, or rather someone, much more decorative. Fannie lay on her side, one hand propping up her head and the other on her hip. She was loosely wrapped in a silk kimono that was daringly split by a shapely bare leg. "It's about time," she purred.

"I had to be at least a little bit civilized," Charlie told her, smiling. "I couldn't just dash out hot on your trail."

"Why not?" she asked. She arched an eyebrow, and her back. The loosely wrapped kimono fell open. "Welcome to paradise, my friend."

"My, my my," Charlie murmured. He kicked the door shut with his heel and walked across the room to renew their friendship.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-28-07

 

The morning sun tried in vain to penetrate the heavy velvet drapes that covered the windows. Eventually a small ray of golden light slipped through the tiniest of gaps and lit the happy dancing of dust motes in the air of the room. Below in the hotel few were stirring though the hour was relatively late. The party below had gone on 'til the wee small hours, as had the reunion above.

Charlie opened one eye and saw the dancing of the dust motes and smiled. He kept still and his mind replayed some of the many scenes from last night. A warm weight on his chest resolved itself into a bare arm. A warm breath caressed his shoulder.

Charlie turned his head and looked at Fannie. Her eyes were closed and she breathed deeply and slowly. Her hair was mussed, as was her makeup, but to Charlie she was as beautiful as ever. He reached an arm to the night table beside the bed and picked up her watch. At the moment he had no idea where his was. He noted the time, and turned his face to hers and kissed her softly on the cheek.

Fannie's eyelids lifted sleepily. "Mornin', cowboy," she said softly.

"Mornin'," he said. He bent further and kissed her soft lips. "Wanna go for breakfast, or should we..."

"We should," she said. Her arm tightened on his chest and she pulled herself up so that their lips met first tenderly, then demandingly. He turned toward her and pulled her close and the outside world ceased to exist once again. Some interminably long, and at the same time unbearably short, time later they came back to themselves once again.

"You know," Charlie said, "Every time we get together like this, it's harder to go our separate ways again."

"I know," Fannie answered. "But on the other hand, you know what they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. If we saw each other every day, we'd probably be fighting in a week." She smiled to take the sting out of her words.

"I reckon you might be right," Charlie said. He kissed her forehead. "And speaking of separate ways, I'm hungry." He sat up and swung his feet to the floor. Fannie slid over and wrapped her arm around his waist.

"I am too all of a sudden," she said. She gave him a squeeze, mindful of his sore spots, and kissed his shoulder. "Let's go eat, and see if the tongues are wagging yet."

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Linn Keller 9-29-07

 

"Jacob, you look good in that suit!"
"Thank you, sir." Jacob's ears turned red, a little, and he looked at me curiously. "Sir? Did you cut yourself shaving?"
I raised a hand to my face and chuckled. "No, Jacob, I was a bit too slow last night."
"Sir?"
"Never mind. You hungry?"
Jacob's grin was answer enough. My own stomach was telling my my throat was cut.
Daisy, bless her, was up before any of us. Jacob had done yeoman's work the night before, keeping her wood box filled, keeping up with the water detail, and being a general step-and-fetch-it for the kitchen; he'd gotten to bed late, and risen early, and he was apple-cheeked, bright-eyed and full of vinegar.
Youth, I thought. Wonder where mine went.
Jacob was learning to dance, between kitchen errands, and the ladies had taken turns educating him in the proper way to hold the lady's hand, the lady's waist; how to step, how to turn, how to move with the music, how to lead. To be honest, the lad wasn't bad, and I hoped he would learn better than I did. I can waltz a little but I can square dance better, but a polished gentleman should know more than two steps.
We'd just gotten to the head of the stairs when we heard Sean's great Irish voice and Daisy's shriek and her laugh, and we grinned at one another. It was never officially morning until Sean seized her and spun her around and gave her a kiss, and the big red-faced Irishman didn't give a happy damn who saw, and Daisy loved him for it.
It was Sunday morning.

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Duzy Wales 9-29-07

 

Duzy and Jake had enjoyed Fannie’s performance just as they had Emma’s and Firecracker Mel’s. Fannie’s had been the grand finale, just as it was meant to be, and she certainly hadn’t disappointed the crowd!

Nor had , Charlie and Fannie, Duzy smiled, knowing they were very close friends.

Caleb and Bonnie had danced together, romance in their eyes. Funny, sometimes the way things happen, as Tilly Ashcroft and Michael Moulton had finally taken a good look at each other and had hung onto each others words, as they learned about each other.

Linn was totally devoted to Aunt Esther! Duzy was thrilled! Emma and Mr. Cooper had danced the night away, happily, with Emma looking forward to school on Monday…..her first real chance to interact with her students.

With each dance, Duzy and Jake, could feel each others body’s heat, the way they looked into each other eyes, and knew that this would be a night they would never forget…..a night of love and trust, a night of lovemaking, the night Duzy lost her innocence to the man who had given up his profession for her, to come back and win her heart, mind and body, with such abandon that neither could believe it afterward! It was complete and utter trust…. heart, body and soul, at least that was how Duzy felt and thought Jake did as well, she surely hoped so!

Duzy thanked everyone who had helped, and knew it was time to donate the piano….would she have the Daine brothers deliver it ……or would she be there when the piano wa donated......after such a night of lovemaking....?

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Linn Keller 9-29-07

 

Jackson Cooper swore, quietly, and shook his hand. Wasn't the first time he'd barked his knuckles and it wouldn't be the last, but he was finally done, and Emma's fine carriage was put back together. He'd gone over the running gears carefully and thoroughly and sure enough, as he'd suspected, after the strenuous ride over rough roads, he'd done some damage, and he took all night to fix it, and fix it right.
Emma had heard the sounds of industry outside, and smiled, knowing he was out there, and he was laboring. It was a good sound.
"Sounds like a husband," she whispered, wiping her hands on a towel.
The kitchen was filled with the smell of baking bread, and Emma hummed as she baked, content with her little world for perhaps the first time in her entire adult life.
Jackson Cooper splashed vigorously outside, washing up, and kicked the dust off his boots before wiping them on the mat and coming in the back door. The screen squeaked like it always did and he threatened silently for perhaps the thousandth time to oil the hinges, knowing full well he would never do it. Noisy hinges were a poor man's early warning system, and every time the door opened, the house was efficiently alarmed.
Jackson Cooper stopped just inside the back door and smiled.
Emma was baking, and the air smelled good, so very good, and Emma was humming, a happy sound of contentment.
Emma looked up and smiled. Her hair was piled on top of her head and pinned, and she wore and apron and the odd spot of flour, and her eyes shone.
"A little late to be baking, isn't it?" Jackson asked quietly, reaching out a careful hand to take hers.
He kissed her delicately on the lips.
She returned the greeting.
He ran his arm around her waist and she molded herself into him.
"Emma," Jackson Cooper said quietly, caressing her glowing cheek with the back of his fingers, "we'd best get married."
"Yes, Mr. Cooper," Emma said, and meant it.
"Folks are gonna talk, with me livin' out here with you and all, and --"
Jackson Cooper stopped, realizing what she'd said.
He grinned, a slow, broad grin that started like a winter sunrise and was equally as brilliant.
Emma looked at the Regulator clock, then turned to open the oven door and peek inside. "About another twenty minutes or so," she said. "I'll get changed."
"I'll get harnessed up."
Emma looked at him impishly. "Jackson Cooper, that makes you sound like a dray-horse! When are you ever going to give that poor animal a name?"
"When I find one that suits." He looked at his hands. "Speaking of suit, reckon I'd best wear mine. If we're going to be married I want to look presentable!"

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Sweet Violet 9-29-07

 

Up in her room Emma looked at the two dresses layed out on her bed. She had been trying to decide what to wear that would bring out her natural beauty and please Jackson, when her thoughts suddenly froze. Blushing furiously, the realization hit her. Tonight she would be sharing this bed with Jackson. Covering her mouth with her hand she giggled and felt her ears turn red. Still smiling, her thoughts turned back to deciding what to wear to the marriage ceremony.

In Boston, for her wedding to Richard, her dress from the house of Worth had been made of the finest Lyon silk. Her veil was gauzy and festooned with waxed orange blossoms from the South. The buckles on her shoes were diamond encrusted. Flowers for her bouquet were to come from hot houses and were all in shades white. Roses, lily of the valley, freesias, gardenias, orange blossom, and hydrangia. It was lavish, opulent, and thankfully not to be.

Emma finally decided on her pale pink reception gown. It was one of her favorites, as it complimented her complexion and enhanced her curvy figure, making her look soft and feminine.

She redid her hair into a more flattering chignon, drawing out curly tendrils to tease and caress her cheeks and neck. For jewelry, she chose a string of pearls with a pale pink cameo at the center, that she found in Aunt May's jewelry box. Stepping back to look in the mirror, she looked herself in the eyes. Not often in her life had she thought herself a beautiful woman. Yes, she felt pretty at times and on the rare occasion, perhaps beautiful. But as she gazed at her reflection, she felt herself stunning. It had nothing to do with her dress or hair or jewelry. What she was seeing was love. And she liked what she saw.

Casting one last glance at the mirror, Emma turned to leave. She made her way to the top of the stairs and looked down at the landing. There stood her groom to be, dressed in the suit he had worn when he quoted Shakespeare to her at the Silver Jewel. Her heart caught in her throat.

"He is so beautiful," she thought to herself, "And within the hour I will be his!"

Emma slowly made her way down the stairs watching his face as she descended. What she saw there pleased, thrilled, and scared her. As she gained the last step, Jackson reached out for her hand. Rubbing his thumb across her knuckles, he whispered in a hoarse voice, "You are breathtaking Emma."

Smiling up into his eyes Emma replied, "And you Mr. Cooper are a fine looking gentleman."

Suddenly very shy and hesitant, they stood apart. The ticking of the Regulator clock the only sound in the house. Finally, Jackson stepped back to Emma. Seemingly from nowhere he produced a bouquet of late season wild flowers that he had picked. "I, um, picked these for you. I hope they are ok." Emma sucked in her breath and put her hands to her heart.

With tears in her eyes she took them from his hands. "They are so lovely. The most lovely flowers I have ever seen. Thank you."

Looking down, but not fast enough to hide the schoolboy grin splitting his face, Jackson deposited his hat on his head. Looking back up to Emma with a sparkle in his eyes and he offered his arm.

"Shall we go get married Miss Jones?"

"Yes, I believe I would like that Mr. Cooper."

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Linn Keller 9-29-07

 

Esther had just finished describing the Virginia Reel, how it was considered cultured and genteel and was, in fact, derived from an Iroquois dance -- a fact which drew appreciative laughter from all of us, especially the way she described her sister's reaction, complete with facial grimacing and fluttering of hands -- when Jackson Cooper came in the front door, and caught my eye.
I stood. "Excuse me," I said politely, and walked over to him.
We shook. "Jackson, I do believe you are wearing a suit!"
"I am," he nodded, "and Emma is in her finest gown. Have you seen the parson?"
I blinked, utterly at a loss for words.
Jackson Cooper looked beyond me, at Esther and the ladies. "We would be most honored to have you stand with us, you and Esther, and the ladies, if they are so inclined."
"Who wants the parson?" the Reverend Belden declared loudly, hustling across the threshold and clapping Jackson Cooper on the shoulder. "Afraid I have a prior engagement, young man. There's a lovely lady in that fine carriage outside who has already asked me to perform her wedding. All I need do is fine her an eligible groom!" He peered up at Jackson Cooper, mischief in his eyes. "You wouldn't be single, by any chance?"
The three of us shared a good laugh, and Esther looked at us, curious.
"Bring in your lovely lady," the good Reverend said. "This looks like a fine place for a wedding!"
Jackson Cooper looked at me with surprise, then delight. He closed his mouth and nodded, settling his Stetson on his long curly hair and turning to go back out the door.
"Jackson?" I said, and he turned.
"I believe we still have some of that exploding champagne left."
"Oh, I ain't that fancy," Jackson Cooper muttered, and if his ears had gone any redder they would have scorched the brim of his hat.

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Linn Keller 9-29-07

 

Fiddler Daine played something he told me later was called the "Ode to Joy" but he played it fast and happy, a bright and sprightly air that suited the mood. We all lined up, there in the Silver Jewel, kind of in a semi-circle, and Jackson Cooper eased his weight from his left foot to his right, and run his finger inside his collar, but his hand was steady when he laid it on Emma's, and I don't believe I've ever seen a lovelier bride.
There were a few years' difference between the two, with Jackson Cooper the older; almost twenty years' worth in appearance, but if you shave a good bit off that, you'd come closer to the truth: Jackson Cooper's life had been neither kind, nor sheltered, where Emma Jackson had led the life of a fine lady, and had not the weathered appearance of the outdoors.
The Reverend Belden spoke the service in words any man could understand.
He spoke of walking a path alone, how one could stumble and fall, and be hurt; with no one there to help them up, and help set their feet back on the path, they might be lost: but where two walk together, they are more than twice as strong: should one stumble, the other is right there to catch them; should one fall, the other is there to help them heal.
He asked for the rings, and I had never seen this before.
He held up a ring in each hand.
"The rings we wear as the outward and visible sign of our lawfully married state," he said, "are forged of gold. This is a lesson.
"Gold is the most incorruptible of metals. In its pure state it will not rust, and neither will it tarnish. It reminds us that our love for one another should be in like wise, bright, and shining, without rust or tarnish."
He turned the other ring, looking from the first ring to the second.
"The rings are forged in the form of a circle. This is an ancient symbol of eternity. It has neither beginning, nor has it an end, this too is a lesson: it teaches us our love for one another should, in like wise, be without beginning, and without end."
He handed them each a ring: Emma received the ring that Herbert had worn, and Jackson received the ring that May had worn: with the ancient vows, they slid the ring on each other's finger, though Emma had to wiggle Jackson's some to get the ring over his middle finger joint. It finally went, and once past the joint, fit just fine.
When Jackson Cooper kissed the bride, he did it in fine shape: he wrapped his arms around her and picked her about a foot off the floor, and darn if she didn't kiss him back as hard as he kissed her. Didn't think they were ever coming up for air!
There was a muffled pop! and we looked over at the bar.
Mr. Baxter was grinning.
He'd just fetched the cork out of that bottle of champagne, but having learned the trick of it, he'd also laid a doubled towel over the bottle before he brought it out, as much to muffle the sound as to contain any overflow.
Jackson Cooper might not be as fancy a man as to order champagne, but he did not hesitate to hoist one of those fancy long-stemmed glasses with us when we drank their health.
Esther told me it was traditional for the bride to have a last dance with her father, and halfway through the dance, the father hands her off to her husband, and since her father was the hell and gone back East, I got elected.
I honestly did not mind a bit.

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Sweet Violet 9-29-07

 

Emma couldn't remember being happier or having such a wonderful time! All the people she wanted at her wedding had been there. People who had taken her in and showed her kindness and acceptance. Linn and Esther being a sort of serrogate Father and Mother. Duzy and Bonnie being sisters that she had never had. Mr. Baxter and Caleb, brothers. It was a perfect occasion.

She had danced with Jackson and loved the feel of his arms around her. Then when Linn stepped in to dance as her Father, she had wept tears of joy. Now she looked around at those raising their glasses in a toast to her and Jackson's happiness. Yes, this had been a perfect occasion.

The ladies had cornered Emma and were talking like women are wont to do on these occasions, when she felt Jackson by her side. He politely waited for a break in their conversation and whispered in her ear.

"It seems to be getting late. Would you like to go home Emma Cooper?"

Emma giggled then. A sound born not of rudeness or mocking, but rather of joy and happiness. A lovely sound like the tinkling of silver bells on a Christmas tree.

"Hmm. Emma Cooper. I like the sound of that. Yes, let us go home."

After bidding the well wishers good night, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Cooper made their way to the waiting buggy.

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Linn Keller 9-29-07

 

The night was cool, and still; the waning moon, bright enough to drive by without difficulty.
Jackson Cooper looked at a sky so full of stars he could have reached up and raked down a good handful of them.
He looked down at his bride, and for a moment, just a moment, he thought of how those stars would shine if he could but drizzle them like living diamonds in her hair.
They sat close as they drove slowly through the quiet night.
Emma was just a bit chilly, and Jackson, solid and warm against her, felt so very good.
He felt right, she realized, and leaned her head against his shoulder.
Jackson Cooper shifted the reins into his left hand and put his right arm around Emma.
She felt right to him.
Jackson drew the big, patient horse to a stop in front of their house.
Their house.
He set the brake, and climbed down, and walked around to Emma's side of the carriage.
He reached up as his new bride leaned into him, and picked her up easily, and they laughed together as he spun her around, and she gave a little shriek of surprise as he flipped her quickly into his arms, and he was carrying her in front of him.
Jackson Cooper carried his bride up the front porch, fumbled the front door open, and carried her inside.
He kissed her gently.
"I'll be right back, Mrs. Cooper," he whispered.
Emma's eyes were large and liquid and she looked down at the bouquet she held.
She looked up, shyly.
"I will be right here, Mr. Cooper," she replied.

Jackson Cooper was a methodical man, a thorough man; they had not worked their fine horse hard at all, so there was no need to rub him down; he took care of the horse, secured the buggy, closed the barn door and latched it; brushing a few stray wisps of hay off his trousers, he walked back to the house.
Jackson Cooper opened the front door, carefully, and without knocking.
This feels odd, he thought.
He'd never opened the front door without knocking, not once, ever... but now it was his house, and he could.
Emma was still standing, exactly where he'd set her down.
Jackson Cooper took off his hat and hung it carefully on the peg inside the door.
He took both his bride's hands.
"Mrs. Cooper," he said gently, "we have had quite a day today."
"Yes, Mr. Cooper," she breathed, "we certainly have."
"I believe I may wish to turn in for the night, Mrs. Cooper."
"I believe I may wish to join you, Mr. Cooper."
Jackson Cooper bent a little, and took her up in his arms, and bore her upstairs.

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Linn Keller 9-30-07

 

Seems like every small town has its gossips, its biddies, its old hens: soured souls who take no joy in life, and make it their business to spread the misery.
The good Reverend Belden was standing outside with me when we heard a waspish old wag hissing her latest scandal to a neighbor.
"Did you ever!" she exclaimed quietly, in a voice intended to seem confidential but calculated to achieve the greatest coverage. "That new schoolmarm is a hussy! Why, she's living in sin with that Jackson Cooper fellow!"
"I heard he's an ex-convict," the second biddy cackled, not to be outdone, "and has a passel of kids back in El Paso!"
The Reverend Belden looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both smiled.
"Ladies, good morning," the Reverend Belden greeted them heartily, laying a firm hand around one's shoulder to prevent her escape, and I stood in the other's way as she tried to edge her way out of the trap. "I enjoy a bit of juicy gossip as much as the next fellow. What's this about these dreadful sinners? I may need a subject for today's sermon!"
"Oh, Reverend, it's simply awful," the first old biddy fussed, the second nodding vigorously in support of anything that was about to be said. "This scandalous ... woman! ... was hired to teach our children, and she's no more than a ... a... a hussy! Why, she's living in sin with that Jackson Cooper fellow, and he nothing more than a common outlaw!"
"Yes, and I heard he killed three men over cards. With a knife!" the second one added, with a vigorous nod to emphasize her point.
"Perhaps I can help this grave situation," the Reverend Belden said in a tone that befit a statesman preparing for a great oration. "I just happen to have first hand, irrefutable information--" here he paused for dramatic effect, at which the old gossips leaned inward, eyes wide and mouths open, the better to hear this new, scandalous information -- "information that is utterly beyond reproach on this most serious matter!"
"Yes? Yes?"
"Sheriff, could you enlighten these good ladies on the state of Jackson Turner's criminal history?"
I cleared my throat and assumed a solemn tone.
"Jackson Turner is innocent of all charges that have ever been laid at his feet," I said; "he spent time in a state penitentiary as an agent of the government, gathering information on criminal activity while masquerading as a prisoner. As a matter of fact," I said, carefully keeping a good poker face, "the information he acquired allowed us to solve three murders, two bank robberies and one case of stealing road signs back East."
"As far as their living in sin," the Reverend Belden picked up smoothly, "I happen to know they are an old married couple and have been for some time now." He smiled. "So you see, ladies, the sin of gossip is addressed in Scripture, and for good reason." He lifted his low-crowned black hat. "I thank you for an excellent subject for today's sermon." With an utterly innocent expression, the Parson and I turned and filed into the church.
Stunned and silent, the two biddies watched as Jackson Cooper and his wife Emma drove up in their fine carriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Cooper smiled at the pair and went into church, Mrs. Cooper's hand on Mr. Cooper's arm as if they'd walked thusly a thousand times before.
Funny thing.
I didn't see those two biddies in church that day.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-30-07

 

The church bell began ringing as Charlie and Fannie started down the stairs. "Let's go to church, Charlie," Fannie said. "We can always have breakfast later."

"You said you wanted to start tongues wagging, I guess that'd be the way to do it," Charlie said with a grin. He held out an arm, and said, "Shall we?"

The pair strolled rapidly but with decorum down the street to the church. A number of buggies, carriages, and wagons were drawn up around the building and folks were still filing in. Charlie and Fannie went inside. Like most church services, the pews were filling from the back toward the front but Fannie tugged Charlie up to the front row, where Linn, Esther, and the rest were seated. Fannie sat down beside Jacob and leaned over to say something quietly to him that turned his face red and caused him to blush clear down into the collar of his suit.

All were in their Sunday best. Missus Emma Cooper looked especially radiant this morning and if Jackson had died on the spot it would have taken the undertaker a week to get the smile off his face. Charlie was happy for them both.

Abraham stepped up to the pulpit and stood with a solemn expression on his face until the room quieted. "We will now sing Amazing Grace," he said in his deep voice, "because God has definitely laid his grace on this town and its people." He began to sing and the congregation joined in.

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.


"It has come to my attention," he began, when the song had ended, "that some folks in town have more time on their hands than is good for them. They tend to fill that time with gossip at other folks' expense. The Lord himself has told us that gossip ain't a good thing to indulge in. He starts right out talking about it in Exodus chapter twenty, where He says, "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor". If you're spreading gossip about your neighbor, or telling somebody what you've heard from somebody else, then I'd say you're bearing false witness." He paused. "Oh and by the way, let me present Mister and Missus Jackson Cooper." He pointed out the happy couple, and Emma blushed while Jackson squirmed a bit uncomfortably. "Missus Cooper is our new schoolmarm." A number of those present at least had the grace to blush themselves as well.

"So now we come to the real subject of today's sermon, which we already sang about, and that's the Lord's grace. Now I heard grace defined once as undeserved divine assistance, and I think that's pretty much right. Most generally when the Lord gives us His assistance, we plumb don't deserve it." He went on to discuss at some length the depth of God's grace and what it does for us.

When the sermon was over, Abraham led the congregation in the singing of "How Great Thou Art" just as a reminder to the townsfolk.

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Mr. Box 9-30-07

 

"Sure been a lot of doin's the last couple of days, Mr. Baxter."
"Certainly have, and they're taking a turn for the better."
"What do you suppose brought on the mention of gossip in the sermon this morning?"
"I don't rightly know, but I can tell you here and now that I don't repeat gossip, so you'd better be listening good the first time!"
I need to remember to talk with Miss Duzy about getting some more of that champagne and the Irish whiskey. She may already know, but we don't want to run short with all that's still coming up. I need to check my horses, too.’’

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

I couldn't think of that new gal's name for some time.
Susan Spicer.
She'd been a nurse back east, I'd been led to understand, and when she got to helping me regularly with Clara, she started wearing her nurse's uniform, which of course caught folks' eyes and several inquired of Doc Greenlees if he'd hired himself a nurse.
He hadn't; he came to the jail out of curiosity.
We'd just gotten Clara cleaned up and her clothes changed, and as usual, I got the jail door slammed just as the light of insanity came into her eyes and she ran snarling into it like some kind of an animal.
Doc and Susan discussed the case in quiet tones while I dumped the slop bucket into the outhouse out back, and rinsed it out, and let it set in the sun to dry while I took in the other that had been in the sun since yesterday.
I left Doc and Susan to talk to Clara and tended my paper work. In a rare moment of sanity, Clara had confessed fully: she'd detailed how she and Liam intended to kidnap and torture Bonnie, at least until Bonnie signed over her mineral rights; then after Liam was tired of torture, Bonnie would be murdered, dismembered and the miscellaneous pieces either burned, or widely scattered in the nearby bay; how she, Clara, intended to kidnap and torture Sarah, in the belief that either Bonnie would sign over her mineral rights to avoid further harm to her daughter, or they could murder Bonnie, and through some legal maneuvering, seize legal ownership of the child and by default come into the fortune they anticipated... after which Sarah, too, would be murdered.
Either way, they intended multiple counts of kidnap, torture, grand theft and murder.
Duzy's abduction, she had admitted, was sheer good fortune, and she'd planned to torture and murder Duzy as well, in a twisted attempt at avenging herself on "that Kikinshoot harlot."
I had not told her that the supposed fortune under her feet had been officially declared non-existent.
Kid Sopris had ridden into town right after church, and I'd seen him go into the House of McKenna, and afterward Bonnie and Caleb looked ... not uncomfortable, but uncertain. Sopris had touched his hat brim when he saw me. I had a feeling he'd be talking to me soon enough.
I prepared a concise report, folded it in the leather cover I used for such missives, tied it and slipped it into an inner vest pocket. I would leave it on the flat top of the stone near the Tree of Truth. If Sopris had not the chance to look me up, he would get the message from our agreed-upon message drop.
Doc Greenlees and Nurse Susan came out and sat down. Susan looked distinctly uncomfortable; Doc looked grim.
He was never one to waste words.
"She's fruity as a nut cake," he said, characteristically raising one eyebrow. "She has moments of sanity but she'll never be well."
"Will she always be dangerous?" I asked, thinking of Judge Hostetler.
"Not as long as she's in there," Doc said, nodding toward the cells.
"Anything we can do for her?"
Doc frowned. "I don't believe so." He stood. "If you need me, I'll be across the street."
"Thank you, Doc." I held out my hand. "Do appreciate your kindness."
Doc winked solemnly -- he was a master of looking mischevious and solemn in the same moment -- and nodded to Susan with a quiet, "I may have need of you, my dear."
Susan rose as Doc did, as a sign of respect; she remained standing until he closed the door behind him, and we two were alone in the office.
"Please, have a seat," I said. "Hurts my conscience to have a lady stand when I'm parking my backside."
Susan smiled and settled back into her chair.
"What do you think of Clara?" I asked her.
Susan's eyes wandered back to the cells and she took a deep breath. She started to reply, then just shook her head.
I waited, knowing she had something to say, but she wanted to arrange her thoughts before she spoke.
She finally did.
"I think she's dangerous," Susan finally said. "Having seen her come at you every time you leave the cells, after you've been one of the only people to show her any kindness ... she's dangerous to herself and everyone around her."
I nodded. "About what I figured. Anything can be done to help her?"
Susan shook her head sadly. "Nothing."
Again, I nodded, reaching up to scratch my scalp.
"What will become of her?" Susan asked finally.
"I wired Judge Hostetler and asked for a jail matron to come and take her someplace else. This is no place for a woman."
"Is he sending one?"
"I've had no reply, so it's hard to tell." I leaned back in the back breaker chair and instantly regretted it. Scooting forward some in the chair, I made a mental note to reduce the chair to kindling at the earliest opportunity.
"That's kind of odd for His Honor," I thought out loud. "Normally he'll wire right back."
Susan stood. "Will there be anything else, Sheriff?"
I smiled tiredly. "No, Susan, but thank you for asking. Reckon I'll just keep her until His Honor decides what he's going to do."
Susan curtsied and headed back across the street. She was instantly intercepted by one of the ladies, a rancher's wife, and they were soon in conversation and headed for the Silver Jewel. Unless I missed my guess, the rancher's wife needed some advice she was more comfortable getting from a woman ... like as not she suspected herself to be with foal.
I turned back to my paperwork. I had affidavits and depositions from everyone involved with the case, and I'd made sure Charlie knew about them, and where I kept them.
"Oh, Sheriff?" Clara called from her cell.
I walked back, wary for a surprise; her hands were empty, so she wasn't going to heave the contents of her slop bucket at me. I'd learned that one the hard way, long ago, back East.
She did, however, ask me to put her in irons and be ungentlemanly with her.
I did not oblige her.

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Charlie MacNeil 10-1-07

 

Over a late breakfast, Charlie told Fannie he needed to be riding on. "I'm already way late getting back," he said quietly. She just nodded, but he could see she wanted to talk him into staying a little longer.

"Like I said last night, every time I leave it gets harder," he went on. "So I reckon it's best if I just saddle up and go. I know it's getting late in the day, and I've got folks to say goodbye to, so I'd best get at it."

"Someday, cowboy, you aren't gonna ride on," Fannie told him. "Someday you'll quit law work."

Charlie chuckled. "Yeah, probably the day after you quit singing and dancing," he said. "Dammit, Fannie, why's life the way it is sometimes?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Because it's life, and the Good Lord don't tell us his plans, I guess."

He squeezed her hand where it lay on the table. He stood, picked up his hat from the chair it lay on, and bent to kiss her forehead. "See ya, darlin'," he said. He turned and walked a few steps then turned back to the table. "Ah hell," he said. He pulled her to her feet and kissed her right, long and tenderly, then swatted her on the backside and gave her a grin. She smiled back and he disappeared out the door.

At the sheriff's office Charlie found Linn still sitting in the killer chair. "You'd best toss that sucker in the fire," he told Linn. He held out his hand. "I gotta be getting down the trail," he said. "I'm already overdue." The two shook hands. "I'll leave a report on the rock on my way out of town," Charlie said. He looked back at Clara. "I sure don't envy you that," he said.

"Take care, Charlie, and thanks," Linn said.

"For what, getting myself shot and making you take care of me?" Charlie asked lightly. "Thank you for coming after me. I'm not sure I'd've made it back on my own."

"That's what friends are for, you know," Linn said. They shook hands again and Charlie turned and left the jail. Outside, Dawg sat solemnly on the boardwalk. Sarah stood beside the big dog with her arm around his neck.

"You're leaving, aren't you?" the little girl asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Charlie said.

"And you're taking Dawg, too, aren't you?"

Charlie knelt in front of her. "Miss Sarah, I don't own Dawg," he told her. "But we're partners. He travels with me 'cause he likes to travel, and 'cause it lets him meet new friends, like you." He reached into his coat and brought out a small squirming bundle. "He thought you might be lonesome when we're gone, so he had me bring you this." He held out a small, black puppy. Sarah looked back and forth from the puppy to Dawg to Charlie then held out her hands and took the little dog. The puppy began to lick the tears from her cheeks and she smiled just a little.

"Thank you, Dawg," she said, and gave Dawg a hug. "And you too, Mister MacNeil. I won't forget either one of you."

"You're welcome, Miss Sarah. Now you'd best get that critter home." Sarah turned and trotted up the street. She turned and gave them a wave then went on.

"Come on, Dawg, if you're comin'," Charlie said. "It's a long ways home." A short time later man and Dawg were trotting out of town toward Wyoming.

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Lady Leigh 10-1-07

 

Bonnie's heart was breaking while she observed Sarah, sitting there on the step with her thin arm laced around Dawgs huge and sturdy neck. Tears were falling uncontrolably down Sarah's cheek's, making it even harder for Bonnie to look on. Caleb, stood at Bonnie's side, with a reasuring arm over Bonnie's shoulders.

"You're leaving, aren't you?" Sarah asked Charlie.

He told her he was, in the kindest of voice .... other things were spoken between the two, but ended when Charlie pulled out the fuzziest bundle of black and brown fluff. Sarah pulled it gently out of Charlies hand, and cradled it to her chest ... tears were still flowing freely, but a smile was on her face.

"Thank you, Dawg," she said, and gave Dawg a hug. "And you too, Mister MacNeil. I won't forget either one of you."

Charlie walked up to Bonnie, "I hope you don't mind what I just did, Miss Bonnie ... I knew the parting would be difficult for Sarah ... this is all I knew to do ..."

Bonnie threw her arms around the man's neck, "Don't you worry about it! Not one little bit, you hear? Besides, with it just being Sarah and I in the house now, the extra company will be appreciated .... I thank you too, Charlie! For everything!"

Charlie held out his hand to Caleb and the hand shake was a strong one. Charlie spoke to Caleb where only he could hear, "I am certain there is something that could be done in which Miss Bonnie would not have to live it that house alone with a child and pup!" And with a wink and a laugh shared between the two, Charlie and Dawg turned to leave.

Sarah still cuddling her new friend, "Mama? Remember that book you read me by Mark Twain?"

"Yes, Sarah?"

Sarah put the pups face into her own, "let's name him Twain Dawg, OK?"

Caleb and Bonnie chuckled, and all agreed.

Later that day, Bonnie and Caleb were talking about the visit they had from Rev. Sopris. Both were perplexed at his revelations, and neither really knew what to make of it. In time, all would become clearer, Bonnie thought.

They also discussed Levi, as he was expected in at any time. "To bad we couldn't get a telegram to him in time to stop him from having to come, Bonnie. But I do admit, I long to see him at any rate ... it's been to long since I have."

"I'm a little nervous to see, Levi", Bonnie laughed, "He always yanked my braids! I'll be sure to keep my hair up and tightly in place!"

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

The steel bit Ames shovel sliced cleanly into the prairie sod.
As men do when they work, we talked, and the talk wandered, as talk does.
It always came back to the task at hand.
"Y'know, we could make this an official cemetery."
Steel sliced into good black earth.
"Reckon we could."
Slim blocks of dirt, carefully laid aside for return to the hole after its occupancy, added a pleasant odor to our labors.
"Have to name it."
"Yep."
We labored steadily. Not fast; the earth is patient, and so were we, working without haste that lovely Monday morning.
"I can see it now. A black iron fence around it, and a cast iron arch way over the gate."
"Sounds like a regular cemetery, all right."
"We'd have to name it."
"Yep."
Dirt piled up in neat slices.
"How about 'Adversaries' Cemetery?' Seems like the only ones we're planting are the ones nobody wants."
"Could."
I stopped, arched my back slowly, working the strain out.
"Too much for you, Sheriff?"
I leaned on my shovel and laughed. "This was an awful lot easier thirty years ago!"
There was laughter in return. "Hell, Sheriff, everything was easier thirty years ago!"
I wiped my forehead with a bandana, wiped the sweat band of my hat. "You have spoken a profound truth, my friend!"
With patience and persistence we deepened the grave until it was as deep as the original excavation, the one in which we had interred the outlaws' bodies.
A thin web of soil separated our new hole from their interement.
A trace of decay drifted through the soil, its odor reminding us that yes, we were near a charnel.
We finished the hole out, nice straight sides and ends, crumbed the dirt out of the bottom, and laid a few planks across the hole so nobody would accidentally fall in, then we threw our tools into the wagon and rode back into town.
I had to clean up.
Judge Hostetler was holding court today.

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

Tom Landers and I had agreed that the time Susan spent on my behalf, helping me with any female prisoner, would be paid by Firelands and not by the Silver Jewel. Susan wasn't fussy: she was delighted to have work, and she admitted in a private moment that it helped her establish a professional reputation in a new place. Doc Greenlees had already stated intent to draft her as necessary, and the ladies had prevailed upon her a number of times for assistance with "delicate conditions," as Susan put it.
I did not feel compelled to inquire what "delicate conditions" might be. If anyone asks, it had better be Doc, I figured; I did not know about such matters, and besides it was none of my business.
Susan reported to the jail early, per my request; as usual, she was in her nurse's uniform, starched and proper and looking as comfortable as a stuffed owl in a museum exhibit. She still managed to convey all the charm and good humor that had been her hallmark since her arrival.
I promised Clara that if she was good, and if she cooperated with us, that I would put her in irons and take her for a walk.
Clara purred.
Susan got her cleaned up and dressed and fixed her hair, and I only had to grab Clara twice to keep her from an unwise move. Both times she batted her eyes at me and said "Sheriff, will you make me feel secure now?" and both times I said, quietly, "We're almost done, Clara. Bear with us, and I will make you feel very secure."
True to my word, once Clara was dressed, and her hair wound neatly into a bun and tied with a ribbon, her dress adjusted and fastened up, I held out the handcuffs, and Clara happily put her wrists in their steel grasp; she pulled her skirt up and offered her ankles, one at a time, to be confined as well.
Giggling and whispering, she let us escort her across the street.
Judge Hostetler's court was in session.

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

Judge Hostetler was a fair-minded man.
He'd brought an attorney to defend Clara, an Easterner, some fellow named Bitters, who immediately started raising Cain and demanding a change of venue. An impartial jury, he protested, would be impossible to find in such a closed community!
His Honor the Judge looked out the window as the column of cavalry rode down the main street.
"Sheriff," Judge Hostetler summoned, "would you be so kind as to ask the Lieutenant to come in here? I wish to speak with him."
In less than ten minutes the jury box was filled with a dozen men in blue.
Attorney Bitters continued to protest one thing after another. He wanted a medical evaluation for his client. He wanted his client remanded to an asylum. He wanted the irons off his client, as their appearance would prejudice the jury!
Judge Hostetler listened patiently, at least until he ran out of patience. Swinging his gavel, he cut the man off and said, "Mr. Bitters, I will grant that back East, an asylum may indeed be the result of such an action, but our nearest asylum is a few hundred miles away, and I am not convinced there is no overriding concern to mitigate the criminal component of the defendant's actions.
"I will, reluctantly, grant that the sight of the client in irons may indeed prejudice the jury. Sheriff, you will release the defendant from her cuffs."
I raised one eyebrow but made no comment. In obedience to the Judge's order, I removed the handcuffs, and the shackles, and I carefully placed them on the table in front of Judge Hostetler's desk.
Attorney Bitters was on his feet, waving a dramatic finger at the gallery. "Your Honor! I object! Those devilish devices have no place in this courtroom!"
"Your Honor, if I may?" I replied mildly.
His Honor nodded to me.
"Your Honor, these are exhibits of evidence, seized at the scene of the crime, and have a direct bearing on the case. To these I add the cloth gag that was stuffed in the victim's mouth to keep her silent throughout her attack and abduction."
"Your Honor! Such reckless comments are prejudicial!"
Judge Hostetler swung his gavel. "Mr. Bitters, this court has indulged your histrionics about as long as it intends to. Sit down, sir, be quiet, and you will be given your chance to speak."
Attorney Bitters sat with ill grace and glared at the troopers in the jury box.

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

The trial progressed steadily. Doc Greenlees testified as to Clara's mental state, and said under oath that she was quite capable of murder, and knew right from wrong. Susan was not deposed, to my disappointment; she had a good grasp on Clara's mental state.
I testified as to Clara's actions, my observations, and in spite of objections from Defense, I recounted Clara's confession, reading aloud from the affidavit I'd prepared ahead of time containing her confession, received in front of witnesses and so noted, signed and notarized.
Charlie's affidavits were read into record.
Bonnie was sworn in.
Bonnie was composed for most of her testimony, replying quietly but clearly to each question. Attorney Moulton, acting for the prosecution, had her relate her recollections of the abduction, and what followed once she awoke.
Shorty was sworn in and testified that he'd had no trouble recognizing Bonnie, as the light reflected off WJ's store front let him see her face in profile through the veil placed by her captors to hide her identity.
Duzy Wales was sworn, and testified as to her actions, and what had been done to her, and all she had heard and seen.
Finally Clara was called to the stand.
She stood.
She turned with a snarl and clawed her attorney's face, a vicious swipe with all four claws, drawing blood and nearly hitting his left eye.
I was out of my chair and across the room in two long strides.
Clara turned, spinning around on her toes, a dancer's move, and she hit me in the chest with the heel of her hand.
I seized her wrist and her elbow and introduced her ungently to the floor.
She twisted under me, snarling, got her foot in my gut and shoved.
I landed on my back, came up on all fours.
Clara launched herself at me from a crouch, and I met her, and caught her behind the knees, and flipped her.
She landed on her back and I drove my knees into her gut, knocking the wind out of her. I reached up to the evidence table and retrieved the cuffs I'd taken off her, and seizing her right wrist, I rolled her quickly onto her back and secured one wrist, then the other; I sat on the backs of her thighs and fastened her ankles as well.
Standing upright, with Clara by the upper arms, I frogmarched her back to her seat.
Susan was tending to Attorney Bitters.
"Your Honor?" Attorney Bitters mumbled around the cloth Susan was pressing to his bleeding face. "Defense rests."

It took the jury ten minutes to return a guilty verdict on all counts.

Judge Hostetler bowed his head for a long moment, and closed his eyes.
"I take no pleasure in what I must do," he said finally.

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

I had spoken with Duzy, and with Bonnie, and had told them both they did not have to watch this.
They both indicated they wished it.
I had removed Clara's handcuffs, but not until I'd tied her elbows together, then replaced the steel cuffs with piggin strings; her hands were inescapably bound behind her back. Her ankles, as well, were now without fettering steel, but were firmly bound together, as were her knees.
I gathered her skirt around her legs and tied a strip of cloth around it at knee level, enough to maintain modesty despite any strenuous movements.
Clara was standing on the tail gate of the wagon that would soon bear her remains to the waiting grave. She twisted sensually and whispered obscenities, eyes half-lidded.
I asked if she had anything to say before sentence was carried out.
Her answer did not bear repeating in polite company. As a matter of fact, I shoved the same cloth gag in her mouth as she'd used on Bonnie, and tied it tight, and pulled the hood over her head.
I'd tied the noose myself. Thirteen turns.
I placed the knot behind her left ear.
Sliding the barrel out onto the tail gate, I picked her up, stood her on the barrel, and shortened the rope, quickly, to steady her so she did not fall until I was ready. The rope was tied off, and I held the slack until I was sure she would keep her balance.
I released the rope and walked to the front of the wagon.
I released the brake.
The wagon drifted ahead about three or four feet, and stopped, and I set the brake.
I left her hang there long enough to guarantee she was dead.
I backed the wagon up and loaded her into the wagon bed, onto the sheet I had laid out and ready. I wrapped her up in a nice tight shroud, and tied it with strips of cloth, and scooted the shrouded form up into the wagon bed and closed the tail gate.
Bonnie and Duzy drifted off, as did the others who'd never seen a hanging, or wanted to see this one, or were just idly curious.

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Mr. Box 10-1-07

 

It's not often you will see a woman hanged but it's not often you will see a woman like that one.
"You got time to go out and finish filing that claim in the next few days, Mr. Moulton?"
"How about first thing day after tomorrow, Mr. Baxter?"
"That would be fine. I need help getting it marked properly and how big to make it. See you then."

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

The shrouded form was still fresh, and flexible, and it was proving more difficult than we'd anticipated to hoist it with ropes.
Finally we picked it up and carried it to the grave, and dropped it in.
The form landed face down.
"Go ahead and fill it in," one of the men laughed, "she's facing the right direction!"
I helped fill the hole, but laughter isn't quite what I felt.

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Linn Keller 10-1-07

 

Mr. Baxter hadn't got back yet so helped myself to a shot of water clear and not over 30 days old.
Matter of fact after I knocked back that first shot I carried a second one over to my table in the corner, and set the shot down in front of me, and just set there for a time, looking into the past.
I came back to the here and now when busy footsteps came hurrying across the floor and something black and wiggling was dumped into my lap.
I clapped my legs together and my hands surrounded something furry and warm that proceeded to lick my right thumb and taste test a finger.
I picked up a round ball of something that looked distinctly bear-like and held it up to eye level. A pink tongue flicked out and licked my nose, and Sarah laughed.
I cuddled the fuzzy pup in against me and chuckled. "Why, Sarah! Where did you ever get this little fellow?"
"Mr. McDaniels and Dawg gave it to me!" she exclaimed, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. "His name is Twain Dawg!"
Twain Dawg growled fiercely, then yawned.
I ruffled his little ears, gently, smiling. "When I was your size, someone gave me a dawg," I said, remembering. "We called him Streaker because he moved like a streak."
"Really?" Sarah's eyes were big as she imagined this little ball of snoozing ambition galloping across the floor.
"Oh, yes. Soon as we set down something to eat, there was nothing faster on four legs!" I laughed quietly, so as not to disturb the pup. "Of course, any other time he was curled up asleep, like this little fellow!"
"He's going to be big, like Dawg!" Sarah announced with the solemn certainty of a little child.
"Y'know, Sarah," I said, carefully handing her back the limp and snoozing pup, "I believe he will!"
Sarah skipped across the room to her Mama, who'd just come into the Jewel with Duzy and Esther. "Mama!" Sarah exclaimed in a delighted voice, "Sheriff Keller said Twain Dawg will grow up as big as Dawg!"
Daisy's voice came from the kitchen: "Sarah? Let's see if he likes gravy on his biscuits!"

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

Esther had just come over to the table when Lightning's boy came running into the Jewel.
"Sheriff!" he exclaimed. "Some fellow's holding up the bank!" He gasped for breath. "Y'all gotta come and see this!"
I snatched up my rifle. "What?" I exclaimed.
"C'mon, y'all gotta see this!" He sprinted out the door and I followed on the hot foot.
It wasn't far to the bank, and when I looked in the window, I could see why Lightning's boy was so amused.
I opened the main door and let out a flood of indiginant tirade.
Mrs. Dean had the robber backed up against the wall, forefinger in his face, and she was giving him a dressing-down that would have done credit to Mick, that big red-faced Irish sergeant I knew so well.
This fellow wasn't from around here. He was wearing city clothes, and a .32 revolver of some kind was laying on the floor; about four revolvers were in hand around the room, and Mrs. Dean's daughter Bea, behind the barred grille at her teller's station, had a cut-down double gun in hand.
"Mrs. Dean?" I said gently. "Might I have a word?" I gave the fellow a hard look. "Mister, you've got a little girl back here with a shotgun and a short temper. This fellow here--" I pointed -- "I've known for years. He can shoot the wart off a gnat's hinder at fifty yards in the dark. This fellow beside him can shoot better than that. These two fellows over here are just plain mean. That one skinned a fellow alive for snoring. Skinned him with a spoon!"
The pasty-faced fellow swallowed hard.
"Now you hold real still. You just stand there. You don't move, you don't breathe hard, you don't blink loud. Entiende?"
"Capice," he gasped.
I took Mrs. Dean by the elbow to the other side of the room, and quietly asked, "Mrs. Dean, what happened here?"
Mrs. Dean drew herself up, fueled on indigination and satisfaction in equal amounts. "This ... easterner," she spat, as if it were an epithet, "came into my bank -- my bank! -- and pointed that little gun at my daughter!" She sniffed. "Beatrice, of course, being a proper young lady, decided it improper to argue, so she showed him the wisdom contained in the business end of her own little gun."
"I take it he saw the merit of her presentation?"
"He saw the wisdom of not troubling her further, if that's what you mean, Sheriff. Of course, as a good mother, I could not let this pass."
"No, ma'am," I agreed, trying unsuccessfully to look very, very innocent.
To be real honest it was all I could do not to laugh.
"I wished only to show this ... this ..." She sputtered to a stop, lacking vocabulary to properly profane the would-be robber's character.
"Easterner?" I suggested.
"Yes, thank you. That easterner!" She shuddered, as if the very term were diseased. "I wished to show him that I would not tolerate such actions toward my daughter, and then you arrived."
I touched the brim of my hat. "Thank you, Mrs. Dean," I said. "Believe I'd like to take him along with me now."
Mrs. Dean swept down on the luckless city man like a hawk stooping on a nice peaceful dove. "You may consider yourself fortunate, sir," Mrs. Dean declared. "The Sheriff hasn't shot anyone in a week, and he's hanged only one person so far today. I think he may be in a generous mood. If I were you, young man, I wouldn't try anything. Anything at all!" She turned with a great swish of skirts and with chin in the air, triumphantly returned to her office, slamming the door for emphasis.
I took the fellow by his upper arm. "This way," I said, "and do exactly as I tell you, otherwise these good people will be less than kind."
I could feel him shivering as I led him along.
Once we were safely outside I steered a course for the depot; once at the depot, I sat him down on a bench, and sat down beside him.
"Now suppose you tell me," I said quietly, "what in the hell are you doing here?"
He was too scared to lie.
"I thought robbing a bank would be easy," he quavered. "Nobody out here but hicks and rubes and small-time cops." He shuddered. "Nobody told me you people really carry guns!"
His expression was haunted.
"Did you really hang someone today, Sheriff?"
I nodded. "Hanged a woman, as a matter of fact. Killed her partner a couple of days ago."
I didn't know if he was going to pass out or cry.
"You came out here to rob a bank. Easy pickin's. Where you from?"
"Chicago."
I nodded. "You said something in there ... cappish ... don't believe I'm familiar with that one."
His eyes were big. "The Italian gangs use it. I think it means understand."
"Hm." I filed that one away. Never know when a new word will come in handy.
"You're lucky Firecracker Mel isn't here."
"Who?"
"Oh, someone I know. She was raised with two vaqueros down on the Texican border. She would have run her hand down your neck, grabbed your ankle and jerked you inside out. That is," I added casually, "unless Santos decided to cut your throat."
The fellow looked at me as if I was going to eat him.
I nodded. "Oh, yes. Some Easterner said something improper toward Firecracker, and Santos had him from behind with his knife to the man's throat." I looked off across the plain. "Should have let him kill the fellow. Would have saved me the killin' of him."
We were quiet for some time.
"Here's what I'm thinkin'," I said quietly. "I can lock you up for a month, until the judge comes around again, or I can send you back to Chicago with your promise that you never come out here again."
Didn't take him long to weigh his options and make his decision.
An hour later, Judge Hostetler was working on a fine cigar in the comfort of a private car, and appreciating the quality of the fine brandy with which it was stocked. Attorney Bitters was with him, his face patched with sticking-plaster and chagrin, and the fellow from Chicago was in the jail cell, with the understanding that if he behaved himself for the trip, he'd be let out once they reached Chicago.
Judge Hostetler had already received an account of Mrs. Dean's address, and he'd been so amused by my account of the would-be robber's experience that he decided the experience would have done more good than a year behind bars.
Besides, His Honor the Judge had always wanted his very own private rail car.

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

I lifted my hat in greeting as Jackson and Mrs. Cooper drove by in their fine carriage. Jackson waved his hat at me and grinned, and Emma waved, smiling, not quite as shy now and looking far happier than when I'd first seen her.
They make a fine-looking couple, I thought. Wonder how her first day of school went.

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

Jackson Cooper had read a dime novel, somewhere, and snorted when he read it.
Nowhere in the novel did it mention people eating, or sweating, or actually working for a living.
He straightened up and worked his back a little, then bent back to his task: he was picking beans, steadily, methodically, harvesting what he'd labored to plant earlier that year.
May had watched him prepare the soil, turning it over and raking it, working the clods down to good broke-up dirt, tossing out the few rocks that remained. She'd smiled and nodded in approval as he pulled a chalk line taut between two stakes to mark out an absolutely straight row, then another, and another beside that, then with precision and care, spacing the seeded hills at regular intervals.
The garden, enriched with burned-out horse manure, blossomed, bloomed and prospered. They would have enough to can and to dry into leatherbritches beans, and they would have food through the lean and cold months coming.
Beans weren't the only crop, of course: Jackson Turner had found, and snaked in, a couple of dead falls for canning. He preferred standing dead elm, as it gave a hot fire, suitable for boiling, for canning, or for scalding hogs; the dry dead wood burned fast, and so the little laundry stove had to be kept fed, but it was a good hot wood, and he intended to jar up as much garden stuff as he could.
Jackson Cooper knew what it was to go hungry.
Jackson Cooper was a married man now.
Jackson Cooper reached the end of the row and grinned at the full-to-overflowing basket.
Damned if I'll let my wife go hungry, he thought.

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

Twain Dawg growled deep in his chest, bristled his hair up impressively, and advanced stiff-legged, ready to attack.
Twain Dawg bared his sharp little teeth.
Twain Dawg did his level best to intimidate the wooden spool that once held royal blue thread, but the spool didn't seem impressed, so Twain Dawg sat down, and yawned, and cocked his head to the side.
Caleb laughed quietly at the ambitious furball's efforts. Sarah was cuddled up on his lap, sound asleep, Dolly on her lap and innocence in her face. Bonnie ran the treadle on her sewing machine, making a final row of stitches; with a small sound of satisfaction she lifted the latch, drew her work away from the machine, and carefully snipped the thread.
She held up the dress with a nod of satisfaction, and looked over at Caleb, and smiled, the smile of a woman who was content with her world.

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Duzy Wales 10-2-07

 

Duzy and Jake had been almost inseparable since Saturday night, although they had made it to church on Sunday morning and donated the piano to Parson Belding. Maude Stevens was a fine player and everyone seemed to enjoy singing “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art,” with the accompanying music. Fiddler Daine had stepped in and it seemed you could feel that God himself was happy with the music, as if He were right there with you, joining in the singing.

Duzy had seen the sad look in Fannie’s eyes and knew she would be leaving soon. She also knew how hard it was for Fannie and Charlie to say goodbye! Life could be bittersweet at times.

The hanging had left Duzy sad, knowing that Clara had once been a tiny baby, an innocent blue eyed, blond haired little girl, much like little Sarah, before she had let the evil, lust and greed possess her. Duzy wondered just what had led Clara to that path, and only hoped that she would find some peace in her next lifetime.

Billy came running with a telegraph that was to change Duzy’s life. It read: Grandpa died. Stop. Come home. Stop. Love, Papa. Stop. Duzy stood frozen, thinking of Grandpa Joseph, Edith’s husband. He had lived in the mountains of North Carolina all his life and was somewhat a legend. Grandpa Joseph had grown apples and made moonshine and had told stories to anyone who would listen about the Appalachian Mountains.

Duzy returned to the Silver Jewel and talked to Aunt Esther. Esther was on Duzy’s Papa’s side of the family; Joseph was her Mama’s Dad. Jake would be returning with Duzy, back to North Carolina, leaving the Silver Jewel in the capable hands of Tom Landers, Sheriff Keller, and Aunt Esther, and of course the vivacious Daisy and the competent Tilly Ashcroft.

Walking next door to the “House of McKenna,” Duzy hugged her friend Bonnie goodbye, the tears rolling down both their cheeks. Oftentimes in the west, you never knew when you would see a person again. Duzy walked to the school to tell Emma she would be leaving, and the two hugged as if they had known each other a lifetime. She had hugged Charlie and Fannie, and had promised to try to be back for Aunt Esther’s and Sheriff Keller’s wedding, but didn’t know how long she would need to stay with her Mama, so she couldn’t say for sure. They were happy and that was what counted.

Jake stood back and watched Duzy hug Sarah, telling her that she would be back when she could and how much she loved her. Sarah held on to Twain Dawg and Dolly as she watched Jake take Duzy’s arm and walked her to the train depot. Controlling her tears, they pulled away from the station, amidst the crowd who had followed the two, each hoping to see their friends again. When the train pulled away, Duzy lay her head on Jake’s shoulder and tried to sleep.

And then the dream came…..with Duzy awaking to write it in her journal….never knowing exactly what it meant but knowing it was a part of her future. For now, she had a funeral to attend.

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

I glared at that back breaker of a chair.
The chair was as unimpressed with my glare as it had been a week ago.
"Chair," I addressed it, shaking my finger in admonishment, "your days are numbered!'
Chair did not bother to reply.
I walked over to the cast iron stove and peered in. Jacob's fire was laid and ready, needing only a Lucifer match to bring it to warmth.
I pointed into its sooty interior. "You see that? That's where you are going, just as soon as I can get you replaced!"
Chair ignored me with a patience I had to admire.
I put my hands on my hips and frowned at the offending furniture. "Chair, if God Almighty favored me with a new chair right now, I would feed you to that stove this very night!"
There was a brisk, shave-and-a-haircut knock.
Forgetting my speechmaking, I opened the door to a grinning Jacob and a smiling WJ.
"Howdy, Sheriff," WJ greeted me. "Got something for ya."
They two parted and rolled a brand new chair across the threshold.
I turned to the back breaker chair and smiled.
The back breaker chair bravely resisted my gaze.

I smiled as I leaned back in the brand new chair.
WJ allowed as he'd like to have the metal work off that back breaker and I gave it to him with a glad heart.
He'd handed me a note with the new chair, and breaking the seal, I opened it.
It was in Charlie's hand writing.
You can burn it now,it said.
I laughed and shook my head.
My friend, I miss you already, I thought, slipping the note in the desk drawer.
Boots on the boardwalk and a knock on the door, and I opened the door to a tall, slender, well-formed fellow in a city suit. He removed his bowler and extended his hand. "Sheriff Keller, I presume?" he smiled. "Levi Rosenthal, Pinkerton Detective Agency."
His grip was firm, his gaze direct; his eyes swept the interior of the office just as mine would have, and I liked the man instantly.
"Please come in," I said. "I have some materials you will want."
"My assistant, Miss Amy Eing," Mr. Rosenthal continued, "my secretary."
Miss Eing dropped a curtsy and extended her hand. I half-bowed and swept up her hand, kissing her knuckles. "My lady," I murmured.
They sat and I fired the lamps within. It was getting on towards evening and getting dark just a bit earlier. Satisfied, I settled myself into my new chair with a happy sigh.
"Please forgive me," I smiled, "but this is a brand new chair, a gift from a dear friend, and it feels so very much better than its predecessor!"
"I take it the previous tenant was being wheeled toward the general store?" Levi asked, a knowing glint in his eye.
"The same."
He nodded. "I had a chair very much like it. Fine to sit in for the first five minutes. I fell asleep in it once and thought my back was broken!"
"If it wasn't that one's twin it's first cousin anyway!" I laughed.
I opened the top right hand desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "You're here about Liam McKenna, I take it."
"I am."
"I am not in the least bit unhappy to report the man is dead."
"Hanged or shot?"
"Shot him myself. His companion Clara was hanged this morning."
Levi nodded. "You've done the world a service, Sheriff, though I would be interested to know the particulars."
I slid the stack of papers across the desk. "These are affidavits and trial records. You'll want to look them over, of course."
"Of course. They are your only copies?"
"Correct."
"Miss Eing will make copies, with your permission."
"You have it, of course."
"Briefly, then, can you tell me what happened?"
I leaned back in the chair, flinching for a moment at the pain that never materialized.
I suddenly liked this new chair really well.
"Briefly, then, Liam McKenna and his companion Clara entered into a conspiracy to abduct, torture and murder Bonnie McKenna, with intent to force her to sign her mineral rights over to them."
"He didn't know, then?"
"That they've been declared worthless? No, he didn't know that."
"Pity." He frowned. "Please continue."
"Miss McKenna was chloroformed, a light dose as I understand, enough to make her dizzy and confused; she was put in irons, disguised and half-dragged to his private railcar, where she was tortured and threatened while they were heading east." I looked through the wall, seeing Bonnie, stretched, cuffed and shackled, fighting as only a mother can, driving her heel into McKenna's arch. I saw him fall, twisting at the sound of broken glass behind him, and I saw the front sight mark the spot where the signature bullet was going to hit ...
"He didn't count on being caught," I concluded.
Mr. Rosenthal nodded. "And his remains?"
"Thought someone might want them, so we had them pickled."
"Pickled?" He seemed genuinely startled.
I smiled. "My apologies. Embalmed."
Mr. Rosenthal chuckled. "I'm sorry, Sheriff, truly I am. I know it's entirely unworthy of me, but ..." he laughed briefly as his face turned red ... "for a moment I imagined him stuffed in a barrel of vinegar, with gherkins floating about his head!"
"Well, that's an idea, I suppose," I chuckled. "I understand casks of brandy have been pressed into service for such solemn duty."
Miss Eing smiled. "I'll never drink brandy again!" she declared solemnly, and we all three laughed.
I stood. "It has been a long day and a trying one, and I am in the mood for supper. It would be my honor if you could both join me. I guarantee the food to be absolutely first-rate!"
Mr. Rosenthal and Miss Eing stood. "Sheriff, that's very kind. We'd like that very much!"
"You'll be staying the night at least? I believe you may have family you'll want to see."
Mr. Rosenthal's expression softened briefly. "Yes, there is, and yes, I would."
I nodded. "He should be just next door to our restaurant and hotel. I know he's been looking forward to your arrival!"

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Lady Leigh 10-2-07

 

"But, Mama! I have to take his with me! Twain Dawg is mine, and I have to take care of him!"

"No, Sarah. You will not take Twain to school. He will be with Caleb and myself at the store, honey."

"But ..."

"No buts, Sarah."

With a harumph escaping Sarah's mouth, and a nod to Bonnie, that particular battle was finished.
*
*
*
*
Caleb was steping out the door of the Silver Jewel, and practically ran into someone coming the opposite direction.

"Caleb?"

"Levi!!"

The two brothers grabed each others right foreams and their left arms reached around each others neck.

"Before you say anything, Caleb, I did hear I was to late in getting to Firelands to deal with Liam McKenna. I heard the news and story in Denver. I decided to come on over at any rate. It's been to long brother!"

'It certainly has, Levi! Bonnie was hoping to know if there was any kin to Liam back east that the body could have been shipped to, but the Sheriff buried him yesterday here, so ....."

Levi and Caleb approached the front desk, "A room for my brother please!" The arrangements met, Caleb took Levi upstairs to his own room.

"And Bonnie? How is she?"

Caleb smiled, "For all practical purposes, she's fine. I believe she is still haunted by the past few years, but that will lessen in time, I suppose."

"I receive the regular posts from Mother. She said Bonnie has a child to occupy her time?"

"Sarah! She occupy's all of our time!" Caleb laughed. "She a bundle of energy. She's bright and beautiful, with hair the color of light corn silk, and eyes cornflower blue. And if a person didn't know better, that same person would truely believe Sarah is Bonnie's flesh and blood child. Sarah is just what I remembered Bonnie like as a child. Only their coloring marks then differently."

Levi looked to his brother, "I think you still love this child grown to a woman, Caleb!"

Caleb nodded his head, "Time is a precious thing, Levi .... each day that passes is an improved one for Bonnie ... despite the Liam McKenna ordeal. Hopefully, one day soon, we will discuss the ... our future. In the meantime, we work together at her business ..."

"Yes! Mother wrote me about 'The House of McKenna'! Wouldn't Angus be proud of his little Bonnie?"

Caleb smiled warmly at the comment. All of the Rosenthals loved Angus McKenna. He was an Uncle to the Rosenthal children, an brother-in-law to Miriam, and a brother to Abram.

"Tell me, Levi, how long can you stay away from San Francisco?"

"Actually, brother, I placed for a transfer back to the Chicago area. It's time I go toward home."

"You? What are your plans, Caleb?"

Caleb missed Chicago, but life was here for him now. "I'll stay here with Bonnie ... and Sarah."

"Caleb? Her families home is still in Chicago. David, Hannah and the boys live there just because Father didn't have the heart to sell it after Polly was gone. He always thought she'd come back ... it's rightfully Bonnie's ...."

Caleb was thoughtful for a moment, "She just opened the business, Levi. SHe needs this opportunity to show herself that what she is doing is good. If at some point our conversation leads us to Chicago, then we can maybe discuss the house."

Caleb thought about that house. He remembered it well. Three stories of red brick, painted white trim and black shutters at the 9 over 9 windows. The half circle front porch with the tailored columns leading to the balcony off a second floor bedroom. It was a beautiful house. A house he remembered Angus adored. "Hmmm ..." he thought.

"Levi? Let us go and reintrouduce you to Bonnie! If we hurry, you can meet Sarah as well, as Bonnie takes her to school."

Both men decended the stairs. Both tall, both dark haired, though Calebs was wavier than Levi's. Levi's mollasses colored eyes sparkled with being with his brother, while Caleb's gray eye's gleamed with his brothers presence, and knowing he'd be seeing Bonnie and Sarah within a few moments.

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Linn Keller 10-2-07

 

I got Miss Eing settled at a table. Daisy had just brought us both coffee, the Jewel's signature vanilla coffee, when Levi and Caleb met and had a noisy and joyful reunion. I excused myself from Miss Eing and slipped out the door.
I needed to talk to Bonnie, for just a moment.
I knocked. She looked up and smiled. Sarah and Twain Dawg were on the floor, studying a wooden spool.
"Bonnie, please forgive my brevity," I said without preamble, "but you did see the Reverend Sopris?"
"You mean Agent Sopris?" she smiled. "Yes, he did."
"Then you have an offer for your interest in the gold."
"I have. Quite a generous one, too."
"Good. I wanted to make sure you understood that offer is genuine. An official declaration of worthlessness was issued to prevent a gold rush."
"I know, and I'm glad for it." She took a slow, deep breath. "Sheriff, I don't mind telling you this has been a very trying time!"
"I can only imagine how horrible it has been for you!" I agreed. "You have been through more than any ten people should have to in all of their lifetimes."
"I stayed strong, for Sarah," she whispered, her eyes big, staring through me at something only she could see.
I went to one knee before her, took her hand. "I know, Bonnie. You did well, and I am very proud of you."
She looked at me and smiled, unsure whether to smile or cry.
She touched my cheek, delicately, and said, "You're a good man, Sheriff. You'll make Esther a fine husband."
"I intend to."
"You have mineral rights to that property out of town, don't you?"
I nodded.
"Then you've an offer also?"
I nodded again.
Bonnie looked to the floor. "Esther will have a secure income for the rest of her life, then."
"She most certainly will. I have already named her my beneficiary in the event of my demise."
Bonnie pressed a lace-trimmed kerchief to her lips.
"Bonnie?"
She looked over at me.
"I think you're going to get some company very, very soon."
Bonnie looked puzzled for a moment.
I turned and regarded Sarah and Twain Dawg.
Sarah had her head cocked a little, like a curious puppy might, and Twain Dawg was casting about urgently with its nose to the floor.
I knew what it meant.
"Sarah, come with me," I said, quickly scooping up the searching, grunting pup, and headed for the back door.
I got Twain Dawg outside just in time.

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Charlie MacNeil 10-2-07

 

Fannie sat in the parlor car of the westbound train, looking out the window and thinking about the strange turns life takes sometimes. Here she'd gotten back together with two very good friends, Charlie and Duzy, only to have them step out of her life just as quickly as they'd stepped in. Of course she'd gotten used to Charlie coming and going, but still it bothered her. She covered the ache with smiles and laughter, but sometimes in the depths of the night she'd wake up and wish things could be different.

But Charlie was right about one thing: he couldn't quit lawing any more than she could quit singing. Just like there was something in him that drove him to put himself in jeopardy for the sake of others, her passion for entertaining kept her on the road. Maybe someday, when they were both old and gray, they could quit, but she doubted it. She was sure, and the thought made her sad, that Charlie would one day be just a half step too slow, and he wouldn't make it back from some man-made hell he was helping to bring back to peace.

"Enough of that," she told her reflection in the coach window. "He's not dead yet, and neither are you. He'll be back." She smiled and thought back to the days just passed and the good times they'd had since she'd first met him.

And then there was Duzy. She and Fannie had known each other since forever, and been friends just as long. When they were together it was like no time had passed. She wished that she was on the train east with Duzy, to comfort her and offer her the companionship of a woman. Jake was all well and good as a traveling companion, but he was still a man. There would be things he wouldn't understand, or know to do, that a woman would think of. But on the other hand, Duzy seemed to be looking forward to the adventure.

Fannie had seen the way that Duzy and Jake looked at each other, and then she'd seen the looks they'd shared on the train platform. Duzy had bloomed in a way most people wouldn't see, but Fannie knew her well enough to know that Duzy and Jake and gone from being in love to being lovers. Fannie wasn't about to tell anyone, but she'd whispered in Duzy's ear just before she boarded the train, "Good for you, girl." Duzy had given her a secretive smile and gotten on the train. And now the two friends were traveling further and further apart, but in their hearts they were just as close as ever.

Fannie sighed. If there was one thing in life that was certain it was the uncertainty of life. No matter where you went, life was still life, and Fannie looked at life as a grand adventure that was too rich to live in just one place. So she kept singing, and she kept traveling, and when she got back together with people she loved she made sure it was time well-spent. And that was about as much as a girl could ask for.

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Sweet Violet 10-2-07

 

The leaves on the trees were changing colors. Fiery reds, deep oranges, and cheery yellows. The air even smelled different, like fall. Emma glanced out the kitchen window to the garden where her husband was bent over a row of string beans. Turning her attention to the pot of boiling water on the stove she checked on the pint ball jars being steralized. She and Jackson had decided that this afternoon would be the start of their canning, and putting up stores for the winter.

Turning back to the window, her gaze fell on the stack of school books. She smiled as she remembered her first day teaching at Firelands' school.

Jackson had dropped her off and then headed to the merchantile to pick up some supplies, promising to pick her up after school let out. She had arrived early to get herself and her things together before her students came. The building was cool, but not enough to warrant a fire in the pot bellied stove. That would wait for colder weather. Having arranged her desk to her satisfaction she then began to deposit apples from her orchard on each students' desk. Surveying the room, she smiled in satisfaction.

Yells and squeals from the play yard alerted her to the fact that the students had arrived, so moving to the door, she began ringing the bell for school to start.

The children lined up and began filing into the building. As Sarah walked past she paused, hugging Emma around her waist. Then yanking Emma on the sleeve to bring her to her level, Sarah whispered, "I have a new puppy. His name is Twain Dawg, but Mama wouldn't let me bring him to school."

"Well, maybe I can talk to your Mama and see if one day this week she would allow you can bring Twain Dawg and show him to us! How does that sound?"

Sarah's eyes twinkled with delight as she furiously nodded her head. "That sounds just wonderful Mrs. Cooper!"

As the children found their seats they smiled with delight at the gifts they found there.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen! Please take your seats."

She turned to the blackboard and wrote her name. First in the fancy, curling script of cursive, then in block letters.

"Who is Mrs. Cooper? I thought you were Miss Jones!" yelled one of the older boys.

"Mr. Cooper and Miss Jones got married yesterday!" proudly pronounced Sarah, beaming at the children at her knowledge of the situation.

There was a smattering of "Ohs" from the room and a few "I knew that"s.

Emma grinned to herself and turned from the blackboard. "That is right Sarah. Mr. Cooper and I are now married. Now if you will all stand, we will say the Pledge of Allegiance.

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