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Sweet Violet 10-2-07

 

During the noon lunch hour, the children were delighted to find out that Mrs. Cooper liked to play ball. When it was her turn at bat, Jacob stood at the pitchers "mound" with disbelief written all over his face.

"Well, are you going to pitch the ball to me or what?" asked Emma.

"Mrs. Stevens never wanted to play with us!" came Billy's voice from first base.

"Well, this is Mrs. Cooper and she said that she would play with us when I first met her." Sarah cried from the outfield.

With that, Jacob pitched the ball right over home plate. The resounding "Crack" from ball hitting stick stunned all around, even Emma. It took only a second before she realized what she had done. She hiked her skirts up to her knees, and in very unlady-like fashion, sprinted around the bases.

All 17 children were waiting for her as she reached home base, arms in the air, cheering her on.

"You hit a homer Mrs. Cooper!!"

"I have never seen a lady hit the ball so far!"

"Can you be on my team next time?"

Laughing and very much out of breath, Emma proudly accepted their praise.

When she was able to breathe normally again, Emma declared it was time to head back inside for their afternoon lessons. Not a groan or moan rose from the boys and girls as they walked into the school. Here was a teacher they could like.

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

Emma Cooper smiled, looking out the back door at her husband's laboring.
They'd been harvesting from their big garden, earlier, and Emma, on a girlish whim, picked up a head of cabbage and heaved it at Jackson.
It missed his head, but not by much.
Emma pulled back behind the maple tree with a shriek and a laugh and the chase was on!
Jackson scooped up his own head of cabbage, and thus armed, charged around the maple as Emma scampered around the corner of the house, laughing. Jackson's heels dug into the dirt as he reversed, hard, and charged the other way around the house.
Emma, divining his strategy, sprinted for the garden, stifling her giggles, and pulled back hard against the maple, using it for cover, while Jackson's heavy footfalls told of his circumnavigation of their farmhouse.
Emma put the back of her hand against her mouth, scarcely able to contain herself.
She waited, fairly vibrating with anticipation, knowing he was going to try and sneak up on her, listening for some sound, some clue, that would tell her of his proximity --
"I know where you aa-rre," Jackson Cooper singsonged like a mischevious schoolboy.
Emma swept a stray wisp of hair from her face and realized the breeze had probably blown her skirt out, betraying her position.
She took a running step away from the tree and strong hands had her under the arms, and spun her about, and they were laughing, and she tilted her head back and giggled as the branches and the clouds and the startling blue of the October sky spun round, and round, and round ...

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

Jackson Cooper spun the ax in a tight arc, cleaving the sawn elm; he'd been splitting firewood most of the evening, good clean swings, and had turned out an impressive pile of split-up deadwood.
He packed some of it into the carriage; he would pile it outside, under sheets of bark to keep it dry, and it would serve as fine kindling for the schoolhouse stove. He would cut more wood, of course, but this was a good start.
He'd finished the smokehouse and had arranged to trade a few loads of wood and labor enough for slaughter, in exchange for a hog. They would have bacon this winter, and side meat, and back strap; little would go to waste, and what they didn't smoke up and keep for winter he would sell back.
He and Jacob had already made plans to ride into the hills and bring back winter meat. The Silver Jewel would need meat as well, and with Bigfoot Wallace gone, he reckoned they would prove a market.
He paused, and looked with admiration and respect toward the house, and through the back screen door could just see Emma, busy canning. He shook his head. Canning was something he'd never been good at; he'd helped, of course, but preferred to leave such matters to those who were better at it than himself. He considered how hot it was in the kitchen, how hard Emma was working, and how good the fall evening felt, and set another chunk of elm on the stump.

Emma wiped her hands on her apron and paused for a moment. She'd been making good progress; while boiling jars and packing vegetables, she'd also been fixing supper at the same time, efficiently balancing several steps in canning with the relatively few steps needed for the evening meal.
Taking a towel in hand, she opened the oven door and took a peek at the bread within.
Almost done.
She looked with admiration and respect at her husband, spinning the ax in its arc like he was swinging a match stick. It was obvious he was working hard; sweat shone on his well-muscled arms, his shirt was obviously damp -- actually wet across the shoulders, and in the small of his back -- and in the chill, early-evening air, if she looked close, she could see steam coming off him from his labors.

Jackson Cooper swung the ax again, cleanly cleaving the sawn elm.

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

"This is without a doubt the easiest exhumation I've ever done," Levi Rosenthal remarked as he viewed the embalmed body of Liam McKenna.
"Exhumation?" I asked, puzzled.
"Yes, my brother Caleb said you'd buried this fellow already."
I smiled. "My apologies for the duplicity. I'd put out that misinformation intentionally, so no one would be inclined to come in and disturb the carcass."
"I see," the Pinkerton agent said, nodding. "And this is the suit he was wearing when he died?"
"It is."
"Was there anything interesting in his pockets?"
I handed Mr. Rosenthal an unbleached muslin kerchief, tied into a pouch. "Everything is in here."
He opened it, examined the contents, opened the wallet. "Money appears intact."
"Does that surprise you?" I asked dryly.
Detective Rosenthal smiled. "Please don't take offense, Sheriff. I'm used to the city, and city ways. Back in Frisco, or Chicago either one, these would all have disappeared before the body was cool."
"Remind me not to live in the city," I muttered.

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Lady Leigh 10-3-07

 

"Hi Mr. Bill ... Mr Mac!" Sarah and Bonnie were at the Merchantile to purchase a few things to complete a dinner that night with Caleb and Levi attending. Bonnie instructed Sarah to stay out side with Twain Dawg.

"See what I have? Isn't he cute?" Standing in front of the two elderly checker playing gents. Mac looked out the corner of his eye ... Bill conscentrating on his next move.

Sarah plunked Twain onto the checker board, "Opps!" she said slyly, "But I think those pieces were in the same places yesterday ..... Look Mr. Bill! Twain might be liking you!"

Mac began a low soft chuckle, and with gnarled fingers he reached to pet Twain, Bill seeing this, shuffled the pup onto his lap.

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Sweet Violet 10-3-07

 

The bread was baking nicely, the canning was finished for the evening, and the rest of dinner was just about finished. Emma straightened up and with her hands on her lower back, arched backward, stretching out the pain in the muscles that she didn't know she had until very recently. She looked out the window to where Jackson was still busy chopping wood.

Removing her apron, she made her way up to their room to find a clean, fresh shirt to take out to Jackson. Returning to the kitchen, shirt draped over her arm, she poured a mug of cool apple cider and then started outside.

The methodic sounds of ax hitting wood grew steadily louder as she made her way to the center of activity. Upon seeing her approach, Jackson smiled, laid the ax aside, and with his arm, wiped the sweat from his face. Taking the proferred mug, he quickly downed the cider, eyeing her over the rim.

Seeing the shirt draped over her arm, he inquired, "What brings you all the way out here Emma?"

"I thought I would bring you a dry, clean shirt so you don't catch your death. It is getting chilly out here and I don't want you catching cold." She stepped closer layed her hand agains his chest and kissed him. "Oh yes, and dinner is almost ready." Emma hung the shirt on the branch of a nearby tree and made her way back to the house.

Jackson watched her retreating back and the gentle sway of her hips. He smiled to himself. After so many years of having to look after himself, after all the years of being by himself, he finally knew what it was like to have someone take care of him, and maybe love him.

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

WJ nodded, satisfied.
It had taken a bit to repair the damage done by Liam's arson job, both in ripping out the fire-damaged structure and in replacing the damaged stock. Insurance was unknown on the frontier; what a man lost, was simply lost: still, he turned it to his advantage, as best he could, and expanded the building as he'd been planning, just a bit sooner than he figured to.
The original storage had been built quickly, with less than skilled labor, and of green lumber: spiked in place, it warped as it seasoned out, and it was never weather tight, forcing him to drive oakum into the interstices between the boards: he never liked the look of it, nor the knowledge that he had to employ the same tactic as a blue-water sailor to keep water from crowding in between the boards comprising the hull of a ship.
This time his framing was stronger, and of seasoned timber; drilled and pegged, mostly by the brothers Daine, it had been measured, laid out, sawed and fittted, but not assembled until the moon was right. WJ didn't quite understand this moon business, but the brothers Daine insisted that the right phase of the moon would guarantee the structure would be stronger, tighter and would stand wind, weather and warp much better than one built at some random time.
He walked through the finished storeroom, smelling of fresh-cut lumber and the fall air drifting in through the open doors, and nodded. Whether or not this phase-of-the-moon idea held water or not, nobody could fault the Kentucky workmanship that went into their construction.
He stood with hands in pockets, mentally assessing the inventory he intended to carry against the cold season to come.

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Mr. Box 10-3-07

 

With things starting to settle down around here, maybe I can get a feel for the normal pace.
"Hello Sarah, has Dawg shrunk?"
"No, Mr. Baxter, this is Twain Dawg."
"And what a fine dog he is! I see he likes checkers."

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

Emma was just coming up the stairs and heard Jackson Cooper mutter something.
"Dear?" she asked, laying a gentle hand on his back.
He shook his head. "It ain't right. I ain't a-gonna do it!"
"Ain't a-gonna do what?" she asked, puzzled.
Jackson turned. "See that bed?"
Emma looked at the neatly-made bed, then back to her husband.
Jackson kissed her once, gently, and said "Wait for me."
Emma's eyes followed his retreating back as he peeled out of his shirt on the way down stairs.
Worried now, she gathered her skirts and followed.

Jackson Cooper was not a small man by any means. In an age where the average height was not quite six feet, he stood a hand taller than this median; a lifetime of honest labor left its mark in the form of an excellent musculature and a dearth of excess fat. He moved with a lithe grace, the legacy of a born horseman, and at the moment he stood buck naked in the back yard, with his back to the house.
Emma watched in amazement and delight as Jackson Cooper bathed at the rain barrel with all the delicacy of a bull hippo. He labored with the single minded efficiency of a man who was accustomed to accomplishing a task in the least wasteful manner possible.
Emma had never in her life beheld any but an infant in such a state of undress, and as Jackson Cooper hoisted a bucket well overhead and poured its contents over himself, she could not but admire what she saw.
When he was satisfied with his efforts, he plied the towel briskly over his body and wiped his bare feet on the cocoa-nut matting before stepping into the house.
Emma discreetly retreated before his towering form.
Jackson Cooper padded upstairs to their bedroom and turned down the covers.
"Now," he said, hanging the towel over the straight-back chair. "Now it's right."
Clean now, and satisfied with his state, he climbed into bed.
Emma smiled and blew out the light.

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

"Emma?"
"Hmm?"
Jackson's arm was around Emma, drawing her close. His chin rested on top of her head, his other arm around her as well.
"Emma, thank you."
"For what?" She wiggled a little, cuddling against his warmth.
"You do so much for me," he whispered in the bedroom dark. "So very much!"
"So do you."
His heartbeat was loud in her ear, its powerful rhythm a solid reassurance of strength, of certainty.
She did not want the moment to end.
"I remember this quilt," Jackson murmured.
Emma remembered it, too. She'd helped May stitch it together.
"May and I hung out every bit of linen in the house, back when winter's back broke," Jackson said quietly, his voice soft with remembrance. "I remember how she looked at this quilt, like it was something special, and she told me it was made for a special someone." His big forearm, across her back, squeezed gently. "I think she meant you."
"Mm-hmm," Emma sighed.
"When I saw it on the bed here, and smelled it again, I couldn't just get into bed. I wanted to be clean. Didn't seem right not to."
Emma smiled in the darkness.

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Mr. Box 10-3-07

 

I asked Shorty for the horse I rode the other day when all the excitement was going on. He brought me one from out back. I said, "I think that's the one. Let's saddle him up. Mr. Moulton and I are going for a ride today."
"Good morning, Mr. Moulton. Are you ready to go out and check the claim?"
"I'll be ready in a few minutes, Mr. Baxter."
"I figured we'd make better time on horseback. We should be back this afternoon easy."

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Linn Keller 10-3-07

 

I heard running feet on the boardwalk and was out of my chair just as the door burst open.
"Sir!" Jacob panted. "There's a fight over at the saloon!"
I caught up the shotgun from the rack and stuffed a half dozen extra shells in various pockets as I strode across the street. Tom Landers would be in the thick of it and if things got ugly I wanted to be sure I could settle things in an unmistakable manner.
Sure enough, soon as I stepped in the door, Tom ducked a punch, landed two of his own and a fellow in a rough jacket and low cap pulled a knife and made to move in behind him.
The range was short and I was moving in close and the left-hand barrel of the 12 gauge caught the fellow just at the third button.
Everyone, and everything, froze, all but the huge cloud of smoke rolling ahead of me.
I broke open the double gun and plucked the empty out of the chamber, let it drop.
Replacing it with a fresh round, I closed the action, nice and easy, and brought the left hand hammer back to full stand.
"You fellows aren't from around here," I said mildly. "We just had a hangin' two days ago, nice and legal, and the rope I used ain't even stretched out good yet. You want trouble, I can give it to you, just as much as you want."
Nobody moved.
Nobody spoke.
Tom Landers rolled the fellow over, studied his face.
"Know him, Tom?"
"No, Sheriff, I surely don't. You?"
I cocked my head and studied the youthful visage. "Don't ring a bell." I looked over the half-dozen cowed souls who were shifting nervously from one foot to the other. "Who did this fellow used to be?" I inquired.
"He used to be Nye Scottley," came the answer.
"Was he prone to such lapses of judgement in the past?"
"He knifed a fellow in a bar fight back in Denver," the same fellow volunteered, "but he run off before they could catch him."
"Any of you fellows know his kin?"
Looks were exchanged, heads shaken; nobody did.
"Fellows, if Tom Landers here wants to press charges, I'll be more than happy to fill up our jail house and give you a taste of our hospitality. My name's Linn Keller. I'm sheriff here and we don't stand for this foolishness."
"Landers!" went from lip to lip, and they shrank a bit from Tom, who stood and nodded. "And Keller! If the damned fool had known!"
"He would still be dead. I'll need you, and you" -- I pointed to the nearest two -- "to pick him up and come with me, you're going to carry him over to the undertaker's."
"Where you fellows from, anyway?" Tom asked them.
"We're miners," came the answer. "They're going to start an opening west of town a little ways."
Tom shot me a knowing look.
"Reckon we can expect more of this," Tom sighed.
"Reckon so."

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Linn Keller 10-4-07

 

It didn't take long for word to get back to the mine, nor for the miners to come back.
Esther and Tom Landers had been upstairs, working on the books and making plans for the railroad. Esther had moved operations to Firelands, which meant adding onto the existing building; we added quarters for the dispatcher, relief engineers, the conductors' quarters. Esther was an efficient administrator who knew how to delegate, and how to inspire loyalty in her people. She led, but she also let her people lead, according to their expertise, and it was working out well.
The mine had sent engineers to work with her on the new rail line that would have to go in. The original rail line had been built for passenger and light freight service; to save money, the old iron rails had been laid -- but they would never stand up to the strain of an ore train. Steel rails had been used back East for some time, and the mine engineers recommended steel rails and a crushed stone ballast for the roadbed. They were more than happy to supply the stone from the mine itself, calculating that they would not need to freight ore until after the new rail line was complete. In the meantime, the existing rail line would be hauling in their equipment; a spur was even now under construction near the mine for this purpose.
I left this work to Esther. I'd given her the railroad. It was hers; I was not about to interfere with what I had publicly said was hers -- it would be not only impolite, it would be as much as saying, "I don't trust you" -- and I was not about to do that!
I heard three quick footfalls on the boardwalk outside and was reaching for the gunrack when Jacob opened the door. "Sir?" he said. "You'd best come outside."
I did.
There were about twenty miners waiting on me, each with a mattock handle.
I smiled grimly.
A short, stocky fellow stepped forward. "Why'd you kill my man?" he demanded.
"He was a coward," I snarled, "and a back stabber, and was going for Tom Lander's back with a knife."
He nodded. "That's what I heard."
"You got any complaint?"
"My boys don't take it too kindly. They think they oughta bust up the place."
I pointed at a miner in the front rank. "You. You're a volunteer. Step up here."
He glanced left and right, at his fellows, but stepped forward.
I broke open the double gun, stuffed the shells in a vest pocket and handed it to him. "Hold this."
I turned to his boss. "Fella, what's your name?"
"Mike Hall!" he declared. "I'm the foreman!"
I nodded. Reaching out, I plucked the hard-leather miner's cap from his head. Turning it over in my hands, I rubbed its scarred surface. "I remember these. We wore 'em back in the Ohio coal mines."
He squinted at me suspiciously. "You know mining?"
"You recall the Chauncey roof fall, Number Eight? They got all of 'em out but one. Slab had him by the leg. Doc Balkinal went down in the mine and cut his leg off to get him out alive."
Hall nodded. "I recall."
"I was cutting bank posts for the mines, just before I became town marshal."
He snapped his fingers, pointed at me. "Thought you looked familiar! When they told me who you was, I thought 'Nah, can't be!' -- but here you are!"
"You knew the miner?"
He nodded. "My brother."
"Small world."
"'Tis."
I turned the miner's cap over in my hands. "You got enough of these?"
"I could use about fifty more."
"Jacob." I turned and handed the cap to him. "Take this to WJ and see how long it will take him to get fifty of these in." I turned to Hall. "How you set for carbide lights?"
His eyes lit up. "Carbide! All we got are the butter lamps."
"So I see. Miner's Sunshine."
"Yep. Hate the damned things but they're all we've got."
"Jacob? Add fifty carbide lights, and enough carbide to run 'em."
"Yes, sir!" Jacob was off at a run.
"Why you doin' this?" Hall asked suspiciously.
"Easier than killin' you."
"Figger you can kill all of us?"
I smiled and addressed the fellow standing beside him. "Toss your cap up in the air."
Puzzled, he looked at Hall, then struggled to tuck his club under one arm while holding my broke-open and empty shotgun in the other; getting one hand free, he took off his cap.
"Toss it. Straight up."
He did.
It spun as it flew, and I stepped back and drew my left-hand Colt, and slip-hammered five shots through it.
What was left of the hard-leather cap hit the ground, much the worse for wear.
I started punching empties out of the Colt.
"Figure you can kill all of us?"
"Figure I can."
"You're might confident for a man who's still loading his gun."
I smiled. "You like to try me?" I dropped the last round into the Colt, closed the loading gate, eased the hammer down between two rims.
I'd loaded six rounds.
Jacob came pelting up, two caps in hand: Hall's worn and scuffed cap with its battered miner's wick lamp, and a brand-new cap with a brand-new carbide light.
I handed Hall back his cap, relieved the nervous-looking miner of my shotgun and handed him the brand-new cap. Jacob handed him a can of carbide.
"WJ says he can have fifty of them in three days." He grinned. "With carbide lamps!"
I nodded. "You want 'em?" I asked.
Hall rubbed his chin. "I can't say as the mine will pay for 'em."
"The mine's not buyin', I am."
"The hell you say!" He grinned.
I thrust a chin toward the saloon. "If your boys still want to bust up the town, let 'em try now and we'll haul the dead back on a flat car. Either that or you can stack your clubs at the hitch rail and I'll buy you all a beer."
Hall turned and roared, "You hear that? The war's over!"
I was just as happy.
Hall hadn't noticed Jacob's coat was unbuttoned.
He hadn't noticed Tom Landers, in the doorway of the Jewel, with a Winchester rifle.
Nor had he seen Esther standing beside him with my engraved Winchester in hand.
Had they been foolish enough to press the matter, not a one would have been left standing.

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Linn Keller 10-4-07

 

Bonnie stood beside her sewing machine, as regal as any queen, and regarded the two dusty men coldly. "May I help you, gentlemen?" she asked.
Twain Dawg advanced, stiff-legged, snarling; his fur was up and he was doing his level best to look absolutely deadly ... well, as deadly as a pup small enough to fit in your coat pocket can be.
The two men noticed Twain Dawg and laughed. The first one touched his hat brim.
"You be Duzy Wales," he smiled, and his smile was not pleasant. "We are here to take you to the boss."
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," Bonnie said coolly.
Caleb, get in here, she thought with quiet desperation.
"The hell you don't!" the first one shouted, taking a half-step forward. "You kilt Luke Hawkins, just like you kilt Bert Graves!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Bonnie said quietly, "you're mistaken."
The door burst open and Caleb thrust in, shoving the second man hard.
The first man turned and slashed at him with his revolver.
Caleb ducked.
The second man fell headlong at Bonnie's feet.
Caleb's hands came up, open, ready to grapple.
"You're gonna die, fancy boy," the first man grated.
Bonnie slid open her sewing drawer and pulled out the Sheriff's Navy Colt.
The second fellow, prone, tried to reach Bonnie's ankle.
The Navy Colt spoke, once.
Brain-shot, the first man fell bonelessly atop the second.

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Linn Keller 10-4-07

 

I dunked two rounds in the breech of the shotgun and took off running.
The shot had come from close by. The bar was noisy and I'd been the recipient of good-natured jests and handshakes.
My head came up like a hunting dog's and I was at a dead run before I'd covered a yard of ground.
The House of McKenna had a familiar blue haze in it, and Caleb was hauling a body off another one. Bonnie had my Navy Colt in hand and was pointing it at one of the bodies.
"Sheriff," Bonnie said, "these men called me Duzy and said they were going to take me to The Boss because I'd killed Bert Graves and Luke Hawkins!"
Twain Dawg was inches from one of the corpses, bristled up and snarling. If he wasn't so earnest in his efforts he would have been funny.
Hell, he was funny, and I couldn't help but grin, looking at him.
Twain Dawg yapped, once, a sharp note, and he fell back, surprised.
The corpse blinked.
I stuck the muzzle of my shotgun in his soft ribs. "If you're alive, fella, you better hold real still. This-here is a shotgun and I already kilt one man tonight. I won't worry much to kill another."
The fellow didn't show very much good sense. He rolled over, fast, with a hideout gun in his palm, and the shot went through my hat brim.
It was the last move he ever made.
I made a mental note to fix Bonnie's floor, after I cleaned up the mess I'd just made.

Caleb came to me later that evening, over in the Jewel, when I sit down to eat with Esther. He and Bonnie joined us. I always admired Bonnie, ever since I met her; she was made of stern stuff, as were most Western women, and it showed here tonight: faced with deadly peril, she had killed one of her attackers, and stood ready to kill the other.
May God have mercy on the stupid fool that ever tries to harm her, or Sarah either one,I thought, for Bonnie sure as hell won't!
Daisy brought us each a plate, and the food was good.
Caleb was troubled, and wrestling with something.
I waited. He'd talk in his own good time, and he did.
"Sheriff," he said, "would you teach me to shoot?"

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Lady Leigh 10-4-07

 

Levi strode into the House of McKenna holding a piece of paper. The smile on his face vanished as looked upon Caleb who knelt beside a seated Bonnie. It was evident that she shed many a tear. Levi approached slowly, then, too, knelt in front of her and grabed both of her hands into his strong, capable ones, "Bonnie?"

She didn't look up. Bonnie's eyes were downcast, starring through her folded hands, "Levi? In your line of work, have killed very many people?"

Levi heard what transpired earlier, and answered carefully, "In truth, Bonnie, I have used my gun more for target practice. My gun is with me always, of course, and though I have shot two men, I have killed no one!"

It was then that Bonnie looked up to Levi, "But ...."

Levi continued, "It has been my philosphy that talking to the man ... or woman, urging them to relinquish their weapon voluntarilly. I have had tremendous success in bringing those I sought, in alive. Therefore, they were placed into the hands of the legal system."

Tears began to flow, once again, from Bonnie's green eyes. She shook her head slowly, obviously pleagued with the thoughts on her mind. As if speaking to herself, but just loud enough for the two men to hear, "So much to live with ... so much to carry ...."

Caleb embraced her, holding her gently, and Bonnie leaned into that embrace with the hopes to maybe transfer all that had happened to her over the last few years onto someone else to carry. The tears that flowed were as if she were attempting to drain the thoughts as well.

Both men remained silent, allowing her the time ... "to what", Caleb thought, "what would errase all that has happened?"

Levi spoke, after a time, "Perhaps this news I carry will help, Bonnie. It was intended to be a surprise, but in light of what Father has heard, he thought it would be best to forewarn."

"What is it?" Bonnie asked.

"I have here a telegram from Father saying Mother and David are their way to Firelands. Father couln't come with her, so David is coming along ..."

"Miriam? She is coming to Firelands?"

Caleb looked over to Levi. Levi placed one hand on Calebs shoulder, while his other hand was still cradleing Bonnie's hands, "Yes, Bonnie ... she so desprately wants to see you and meet Sarah."

Bonnie took one of her hands away from Levi's grasp, and brushed the back of her hand against her wet cheeks, "I believe I would relish in the thought of having Miriam here ... David, too.

She looked to Twain Dawg, who slept at Bonnie's feet, and scooped him up, "If you two would excuse me ... I think Twain and I will go and retrieve Sarah from school."

Caleb and Levi both stood when Bonnie did, "How about if we join you?" Caleb asked.

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Linn Keller 10-4-07

 

Emmett Daine shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sheriff, but I can't do much with this fellow. Ball took him from back to front and pretty well ruined his face."
"Well, do the best you can," I said, suddenly tired.
Emmett laid the blank sheets on the side table and looked at the dead outlaw, then at me.
"You all right, Sheriff?"
I parked the shotgun against the wall and took off my hat, rubbing my face with a bandanna. My forehead was greasy and my cheeks were almost numb and I was tired, bone tired.
"Yeah. I'm all right."

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Mr. Box 10-4-07

 

Boy that all came about quick! One minute I'm serving customers and the next minute all Hell's breaking loose! I couldn't believe how fast Linn got there! The goings ons next door was just as bad. This area isn't as settled as I thought it was getting.
With all these miners that just came through, I'd better have Miss Duzy order supplies a little heavier when she gets back.

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Sweet Violet 10-5-07

 

Morning lessons had flown by and lunch was again an adventure in stick ball and racing around the bases, cleaning scrapes, and kissing away hurts. The children had really taken to Emma and were more than happy to do her bidding in the classroom. So, for the afternoon lessons, Emma wanted to treat them. They had just taken their seats and pulled out their readers when inspiration struck.

"Ok children, please put away your readers."

Looks of confusion crossed their young, smooth faces.

"But Mrs. Cooper, you just told us to get them out!" Called Jacob from the back of the room.

"I know Jacob, but I have changed my mind! Now if you all would stand up and go outside, I would greatly appreciate it!"

Again, silence and confusion filled the classroom, eyebrows raised to the hairlines, and questioning whispers could be heard. But they obeyed.

Grabbing up the large, old, patchwork quilt Emma kept stored in the building for emergencies, and a book, she followed them out the door. Finding them all standing on the steps, looking up at her with curiosity written boldly in their eyes, she laughed. "Oh goodness! You are all looking at me as though I have taken leave of my senses! I assure you I have not. Now please make your way to the tree across the school yard. It offers some nice cool shade beneath its limbs."

Again, following what to them was an odd request, the children obeyed. When they reached the large shade tree, Emma spread the quilt over the thick mat of weeds and grass. "Now please have a seat. Or if you prefer you may lay back and close your eyes or look up through the leaves to the clouds. I am going to read to you for our reading assignment."

Looks of wonder and pleasure now replaced looks of confusion and yes, on some faces worry. Emma leaned back against the rough trunk of the huge tree, and opening her book began to read.

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Sweet Violet 10-5-07

 

Eyes stared back at her. Eyes as big as an owl's on a cloudy night. Eyes full of wonder, shock, disbelief and excitement. Emma had been reading 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. There had been no interuptions. No talking. Nothing but the sound of a light breeze playing with the yellowing leaves of the tree and insects going about their business in the grass. And the sound of Emma's voice transporting the children to a different time and place.

She had just started another chapter, wanting to extend their delight to the last possible moment, when she heard the report of a shotgun. Trying to beat down her panic, she swung her head around to look at the Silver Jewel and then her instincts took over.

"Everyone back in the school NOW!!"

Without anymore convincing, the children stood, those who were older taking the hands of the younger ones and hurried to the building. Walking past Sarah, Emma grabbed her small hand and pulled her along. Once inside, she shut and bolted the door and sagged against it.

Pasting a smile on her face, trying to remain calm so as not to cause her students any more concern, Emma opened her book again and beginning where she left off, started to read again.

Silently, she was thinking that that night she would ask Jackson to teach her to shoot, so she could be comfortable using a pistol, in case she would be in need of one to protect the children while under her care. Then maybe he would be able to get her one to keep with her while she was in town.

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Linn Keller 10-5-07

 

Jacob was tall for his age, rangy, you might say, all whalebone and whipcord: no stranger to hard work, hands surprisingly callused for one of his few years, but still in some ways still a boy.
He'd surprised himself by speaking up in class as he did, and wished he hadn't. It was so very unlike him to speak up. Normally he tried to be colorless, invisible, unseen ... but on some deep level he knew this schoolmarm was different.
This one could be trusted.
He went outside with the other children and, surprised, lay down, partly on the quilt, mostly on the grass, and looked up through the tree branches, and listened.
He'd never seen the ocean; he'd never seen most of the things Mrs. Cooper was reading about ... well, he'd never seen them himself, but with her help, he was seeing it through another man's eyes, and he was fascinated.
His own eyes beheld branches, and coloring leaves, and a magnificently clear sky, but his inner eye saw the world of a certain Mr. Verne, and he was entranced by the vision.
At least until the shotgun went off.
He was off the ground and on all fours like a stung cat, nostrils flared, weight on his fingertips and the balls of his feet. He reached up and unbuttoned the single coat button that kept his Army Colt hidden, and waited.
Mrs. Cooper clapped her hands and herded her young charges into the schoolhouse.
Jacob hung back with her, behind her, watching; he was last into the schoolhouse, and as Mrs. Cooper pulled the door shut and secured it, he carefully, discreetly, buttoned his coat.
Mrs. Cooper acted as if nothing were amiss, and continued reading.
Jacob returned to his seat, a sick worry in his stomach.

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Linn Keller 10-6-07

 

I met Bonnie, Sarah and the brothers Rosenthal on their way back from the schoolhouse. I needed to talk to Bonnie, and she needed to hear what I had to say.
We all crossed the street and went into the Sheriff's office.
I closed the door.
"First of all," I said gently, "Bonnie, you are not in trouble. The law regards your action as entirely necessary and completely justified. This is a personal matter, and I need your help."
"Mine?" she asked, clearly uncertain; she held Caleb's hand with her left, and her right went involuntarily to her bodice.
I dragged out chairs enough for the three of them, and I hauled mine from behind the desk and parked it right in front of Bonnie, close enough that our knees nearly touched. Sarah had already happily usurped Charlie's vacant cot and was curled up on her side, watching us with a drowsy expression.
I leaned my elbows forward on my knees and took both Bonnie's hands.
"Bonnie, you have been through a terrible time," I said, my voice gentle. "I want you to look around you, first of all." She blinked, then looked at Levi on her left and Caleb on her right, and she looked around the room, and over at Sarah, and back at me, puzzled.
"Bonnie, if you were to open the door and look at the door frame, you would see it is made of two inch thick, seasoned timber, pegged in place. The walls are nearly a foot thick and proof against any rifle bullet. Nobody can harm you here."
Bonnie nodded.
"Bonnie," I said, soothing, pitching my voice a little lower, "you are safe here. You are safe from harm, and nothing can hurt you here. Caleb is beside you, Levi is beside you, I am here with you, and you are inside a fortress. You are safe here, Bonnie."
I could feel her hands beginning to relax and her face wasn't as drawn.
Levi's eyes were bright and interested. He hadn't seen this before.
"Bonnie, you're going to watch what happened like it was a play on a stage," I continued, my voice soothing, gentle, relaxing. "You are watching a play, nothing more. You will be watching the actors. You are safe with me, you are safe here, you are watching a play. Do you understand me, Bonnie?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
I glanced over at Sarah. She was sound asleep.
"Bonnie, the play begins when those two men come into your shop. Do you see them?"
Her hands tightened and her face started to line again. "I see them."
"You are watching a play," I said quietly, "you are watching actors, nothing more. You cannot be harmed. Do you see them come in, Bonnie?"
"Yes," she said, relaxing. "I see them."
"Do you hear what they are saying?"
Bonnie blinked, slowly. "One is laughing," she said quietly, "and one is threatening me."
"Tell me what you see happening next."
"Caleb comes in the door. He knows something is wrong."
"You are watching a play, Bonnie, you are perfectly safe here with me." Her hands were still relaxed and the lines had disappeared from her face. "Now, Bonnie, what does Caleb do?"
"Caleb knows I'm in trouble," she continues, speaking a little slower than usual. "He pushes the man nearest him and he falls."
"Tell me what you see next."
"The other man pulls his gun and tries to hit Caleb."
"What is he saying?"
He is going to kill Caleb."
"You are watching a play, Bonnie. What happens next?"
Bonnie's eyes close. "I open the drawer."
"Look at my eyes, Bonnie. Look at my eyes." She opened her eyes. "Look at my blue eyes, Bonnie. Do you see my eyes?"
"I see them."
"Look at my left eye, Bonnie." Her eyes shifted, steadied. "Look at my blue eye with the little gold flecks. Do you see the gold, Bonnie?"
"I see the gold."
"The gold looks like flakes of gold in a streambed, with water running over them," I said gently. "Do you see the gold, Bonnie?"
"I see the gold."
"Bonnie, you are safe here, nothing can harm you. You are watching a play. Tell me what happens when the drawer opens."
"I draw out your Navy Colt and kill the man."
"What is this man going to do?"
"He is going to kill Caleb."
"Can you stop him in any other way?"
"No."
"Bonnie, this is important. Look at the gold. Bonnie, do you see the gold?"
"I see the gold."
"Bonnie, what happened next?"
"I shot him in the back of the head."
"What happens next?"
"I see him fall."
"What happens next?"
"I see Caleb."
"Is Caleb alive?"
"Yes."
"Is Caleb hurt?"
"No."
"What happens next?"
There is a little twitch at the corners of her mouth. "I see Twain Dawg."
"What is Twain Dawg doing?"
"He's growling. He's all puffed up and he's growling like he's going to tear them apart."
"What happens next?"
"Caleb grabs the man I shot and you come through the door."
"What happens next?"
"He turns over and tries to shoot you."
"Bonnie, the play is almost over. You are doing very well and I am proud of you. You are watching a play, and nothing in it can harm you. Do you understand?"
Bonnie's gaze was on my left eye, unwavering, unblinking. "I understand."
"Bonnie, what was the most terrible thing that happened in that play?"
"I shot the man."
"What was the man trying to do?"
"Kill Caleb."
"Could you have stopped him in any other way?"
"No."
"You did the right thing, Bonnie. You did the right thing, do you understand? You did not kill him. He killed himself by giving you no other choice!"
Bonnie's hands were still relaxed in mine and her face had not tautened.
"Bonnie, you are completely relaxed. You are safe here. No harm can come to you here. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said.
"Bonnie, I am going to count backwards from five to zero. When I reach two, you will blink, and you will wake up, and when I reach zero, you will be completely refreshed, and you will be secure in the knowledge that you have done nothing wrong, and that what you did was right, and was necessary." My voice was still soft, and soothing, and gentle.
"Yes," Bonnie said.
I counted backwards, from five.
At two, Bonnie blinked.
At zero, Bonnie shifted in her seat and smiled a little to find me holding her hands. She turned and saw Caleb, and past him, on Charlie's cot, Sarah, sound asleep, Twain Dawg curled up on the floor beneath.
Bonnie took Caleb's hand and smiled.
Levi nodded. "Sheriff, I'd like to talk to you privately," he said, and I nodded.
"Caleb?" I asked. "I'd like to talk to you two just a little more." Caleb nodded, puzzled.
"I want to talk to you about Esther. But for now, I want pie and coffee, and I'm buyin'!"

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Linn Keller 10-6-07

 

"Sheriff," Levi asked me as we crossed the street to the Silver Jewel, "what did you just do?"
"Something I learned in the War," I replied. "Bonnie has never had to face something as terrible as what has happened to her in the past few days. She had to kill a man that came in the Jewel as the outlaws hit town. She did that to protect Sarah. She was fine with that -- there is no fiercer fighter in all of nature than the mother tiger defending her cubs. Bonnie survived being chloroformed, abducted and tortured, mostly because she could fight back. Even chained up she could fight, and she did, and to good effect."
"I read the affidavit," Levi murmured.
"But killing a man so close you can shove the muzzle against the back of his head? That was the most terrible moment she had to face," I continued. "The knowledge was here" -- I placed my fingertips against my forehead -- "and if we can walk her through it, and walk her past that one most terrible moment, and walk her through what happened next? -- and what happened next? -- and what followed that? -- I don't pretend to understand why it works, only that it does -- because if the knowedge ages a full day and it get down to here" -- my fingertips went to my breastbone -- "then it becomes part of your body's memory and the body never, ever forgets.
More than that" -- I paused for emphasis -- "unless I had taken her through it, and past it, in a way that she knew she was safe, and could not be hurt, then every time she remembered it she would come up against that most terrible moment, and back away from it ... and she would come up against it again, and back away ... and each time, that stone wall of a memory would grow stronger, until finally she would never be able to get past it."
"I see," he said quietly.
"She also needed to hear that what she did was right, and it was unavoidable, and that most of all, she had not killed him, he committed suicide by giving her no other choice." I stopped and looked Levi squarely in the eye. "Levi, to tell her that you've never had to kill a man, that you've always been able to talk them into surrender, is exactly the worst thing you could do to that poor woman. She's already tortured herself enough over that one most terrible moment. Telling her what you did was pouring salt into a whip-cut."
Levi blinked. I'd hit him where he lived with that one.
I laid an understanding hand on his shoulder. "When you told her that, you were also being honest. Believe me, my friend, I have hurt people myself with the spoken word, and God help me from repeating the sin, but likely I will do worse before I'm dead!"
"Point taken," Levi said quietly. "Thank you, Sheriff."

We sat down together over Daisy's good pie and vanilla coffee. Esther was working the books, upstairs; she would be down a little later. Just as well: I had Bonnie and Caleb's attention, and better than that, their curiosity, with my comment about wanting to talk about Esther.
"Caleb," I said, "Esther is a very special woman."
Caleb looked at Bonnie and smiled gently. "I know what you mean," he murmured.
"She is strong and she is gentle, every inch a lady, and a gifted artisan in her own right," I continued. "She is warm and solid in my arms and she is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with."
Bonnie laid her hand on Caleb's arm and smiled.
"She is my balance wheel and my wise counsel; she is the smile I live for and the reason I draw breath." I leaned forward a little to emphasize my words. "Caleb, I learned early in life I can die at any moment, and I learned far too late that I deserve some happiness in this lifetime. I intend to marry Esther the very moment she agrees on a date."
I looked at Bonnie.
"You nearly lost her twice already, Caleb. If there's a third attempt you might not have luck in your hand."
Caleb nodded solemnly.
Sarah had just finished her little slice of pie and came up for air as I uttered the words "luck in your hand." I smiled as I noticed she had berries blueprinted on either side of her smiling mouth.
Sarah tugged at Bonnie's sleeve. "Mama?" she whispered, cupping her hand to funnel her breathy, warm whisper into her Mama's ear. "Is the Sheriff talking about how Caleb lost at poker last night?"

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Lady Leigh 10-6-07

 

Sarah tugged at Bonnie's sleeve. "Mama?" she whispered, cupping her hand to funnel her breathy, warm whisper into her Mama's ear. "Is the Sheriff talking about how Caleb lost at poker last night?"

Bonnie laughed out loud causing glances from the Sheriff, Caleb and Levi, but Bonnie whispered back into Sarah's ear, "No, sweetheart, that's not what the Sheriff is talking about ... I think he's playing matchmaker ..."

Sarah wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "That's what the kids at school are doing to Billy ... poor Billy, Mama, he turns so red whenever the kids bring up that he's going to be my fella ... I just look at them and scold them, but somehow I think that makes it worse!"

Bonnie laughed again then looked to the gentlemen at the table. "If it is just the same with you all, I think Sarah and I need to be getting home.

"I'll walk you, Bonnie ..." Caleb scooted hers and Sarah's chair back to the table, and the three walked out of the Silver Jewel.

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Lady Leigh 10-7-07

 

Bonnie in the middle of Caleb and Sarah, all three walked toward the cottage hand in hand. "Bonnie? What do you make of what transpired with Linn today?"

"I've been thinking on that, actually ...."

"And?"

"And ... I don't know. I understand, to a point what happened was a mere part of a whole picture. I guess, Caleb, I need to look at life that way, too."

Bonnie paused, thinking. Caleb let her do so ... even Sarah said nothing.

Bonnie continued, "For the most part, I don't have any complaints with most of the brush strokes creating this picture of a life I've lived .... I don't like some of the darker colors that have been used at times. I can still see that dark picture painted when Papa died, at Sam's Place, the other situations that have transpired since ... but I do see some brighter color strokes interlacing the darker ones. Sarah, for example," Bonnie looked loving toward the child and squeezed her hand. "With you, too, Caleb ..." She looked over to gaze in those wonderful gray eyes. Eyes filled with so much life. A person could get lost in their depth. There was hope in those eyes.

The three stopped walking. Caleb laid a hand on Bonnie's cheeks, and held her gaze. The silence was broken, however, "Is this were you two kiss?"

"Yes, Sarah ... this is where we kiss ..." The lips came together meeting as one. The breath shared was also one. Questions were replaced with answers.

"Mama? Caleb? I'm a little cold .... Can't we please go home?"

Caleb and Bonnie broke apart, Caleb picked up Sarah in one arm, and walked with his other across Bonnie's shoulders. Both Sarah and Bonnie rested their heads on Calebs shoulder and arm.

"Bonnie? What is it you would like out of life?"

"Interesting you should ask! Though I believe I will wait for your Mother to get here. There are some things I'd like to discuss with her first, but I believe I want to be surrounded by a family again. I would like to gleen from a families strength, Caleb ... I'm tired of being alone ...."

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Linn Keller 10-7-07

 

I stood at the foot of the stairs, hat in hand, as Esther descended She held her hem up just enough, just barely enough, and her train rippled down the gleaming steps behind her like a silk waterfall.
Now there's a fine-looking woman, I thought, and offered my arm as she reached bottom.
I looked closely at her face. The bridge of her nose was smooth; she'd never worn glasses that I'd known, and there were no pince-nez marks now.
"You have such young eyes," I murmured, and she smiled, and took my arm.
We sat at the same table I'd just shared with Caleb and what I sincerely hoped would soon be his family. I'd given him enough to think about.
Esther asked for tea and a small slice of pie; tea sounded good to me too, but I was still full.
Jacob came in from out back, cheeks pink with exertion and the cool night air. He drew out a chair and we welcomed his presence. Daisy didn't bother asking; bless her, she knew tall boys well enough to bring a loaded plate, and Jacob buisied himself doing justice to the feast.
"How long will it take Duzy to reach home?" I asked.
Daisy made a second trip with our tea, and a pot of honey. Esther and I both added a dollop, stirred it in.
"I'm not sure," Esther admitted. "I was of two minds, whether to go, or to stay."
I reached for her hand, held it between both mine. Esther closed her eyes and sighed. "Your hands are so warm!"
"Esther, if you need to go, then by all means go!" I urged her. "This is family. If you're needed, I won't be so selfish as to keep you here!"
Esther opened her eyes, laid her other hand on top of mine. "You are my family now," she said. "Forsaking all others I will cleave unto you."
"Name the date," I whispered. "My lady, I wait on your good pleasure."
Jacob looked up between forkfuls of beef and gravy. "Shakespeare?" he asked.
"Something like that," Esther murmured.
Jacob turned back to his plate. At the moment, his meal seemed quite a bit more interesting.

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Duzy Wales 10-7-07

 

As the train approached the depot, Duzy automatically reached for Jake’s hand, needing his support for the bittersweet reunion with her family, everyone except Grandpa…....

The fall colors were beautiful,the mountains of North Carolina a sight to behold, as the memories of her childhood hit her full force, her eyes becoming misty as she fought to keep her composure, dabbing her eyes with her hankerhief, as her heart filled to her throat until she thought she would burst! She would never hear another of Grandpa's stories. Mama would need her to stay strong to get through the coming days. Mama had been Grandpa’s only daughter and the apple of his eye, doting on her much like Duzy's Papa had her.

Not being one to sit back and feel sorry for herself, Mama was standing there, alongside Papa, each one eagerly awaiting the sight of their headstrong but beloved daughter, as the train came to a halt.

“Are you ready Darlin’?” Jake asked. Looking into his eyes, Duzy could see and feel the love and compassion he was offering, and knew she would be fine as long as he was by her side. “Yes, I am ready.”

“Anymore dreams while you slept?” Duzy knew Jake could tell when she was having one of her dreams, sometimes she would talk in her sleep, sometimes calling a name, sometimes coming awake so quickly, that she was up before she was awake!

Duzy remembered the dream she was having just before she had been awakened by the train whistle…..but it was one she was not willing to believe……so she said nothing.

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Duzy Wales 10-8-07

 

Duzy stepped down and looked at her lovely Mama, her hair almost black, salted with gray, brown eyes, and that beautiful smile she always had for her family. Mama was a soft spoken woman, she was gentle and yet strong. She listened and always tried to understand, she gave and never expected in return. She had a good heart and a firm belief in God. Looking past the smile, Duzy could see the sadness that lurked in her eyes, from losing Grandpa, and they hugged each other tight, as if they never wanted to let go again, afraid it would be the last time, the kind of fear that is always there, but you never want it to surface, or think on it much. “Mama, I am so sorry.” “I know, dear.”

Papa had been shaking hands with Jake when he turned and gave Duzy a big bear hug, letting go, and stepping back, looking her over, as if he were making sure she was alright, just as he always had. He looked into her eyes and knew his daughter was in love and he felt proud of her choice. He knew Jake to be a good man and one that would look after his daughter, just as he did.

“So, when is the wedding?” “Papa!” “Lee!” the two replies coming in unison, from Duzy and Mama. Jake laughed, and then turned to both ladies and said, “Mrs. Wales, Duzy, I asked for Lee’s blessing before I left for Firelands, during my last visit, and was happy to receive it! I was planning to ask Duzy the day we got the news of your Father, and I am so sorry for your loss, he was loved by many and will be missed." "Thank you, Jake, he is at peace now and with Jesus, which makes it easier to bear."

"As for your question Lee, I am ready to become a husband whenever Duzy tells me she will have me, but I plan to ask her proper, just as she deserves!"

"Jake, you have called me Mildred for many years now, just as I asked you to, and Mildred it still is. You will be a welcome addition to our family!” Smiling, she said, “and now, I do not have to worry about the boys giving the man she marries such a hard time, since they already know and like you! Daniel and Stephan are very protective of Duzy, just as her sisters are!”

Duzy was happy her Mama had spoken, as she was still reeling from what she had just heard. She had thought along the trip how she would explain the relationship to her parents, and had decided to keep quiet unless they asked. Papa had surely taken care of that, Duzy thought, smiling at the big man who had always been there for her, still handsome, and always saying what was on his mind!

The telegraph office was their first stop to send word to Aunt Esther and Linn that they had arrived safely, knowing they would relay the information to those who needed to know.

Lee already knew his sister was engaged to be married and was happy, having had Sheriff Keller checked out and found to be a good strong man, a good match for Esther, and her headstrong ways! He wondered if Mr. Keller had found just how independent Esther could be, and chuckled to himself at the thought.

Soon, they were back at Duzy's childhood home.

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Linn Keller 10-8-07

 

"HOME SAFE JAKE PROPOSED MORE LATER DUZY"
Trust Duzy, I thought, even in grief she passes along good news!
I looked up at Esther, handed her the telegram.
Esther's hand went to her mouth and a smile wrinkled her eyes up at the corners, and she threw her arms wide, and I seized her up and spun her around.
Daisy threw one hip out and, knuckles on her hip, declared, "Why can't I ever get a telegram like that!"
"Jake proposed to Duzy!" I told her as Esther and I headed for the door, holding hands like a couple of kids.
"About time!" Daisy exclaimed. "He took long enough!"

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Bonnie hummed as she worked, planning her day as her hands went about the familiar tasks of her morning: today she would finish two gowns, she would inventory her stock and plan her next order, and she would giggle when she looked at her bank book.
Gold mining, when I don't have to mine the gold! she thought. This is nice!

Twain Dawg whined, his flesh wrinkled up between his ears.
Twain Dawg yapped, a sharp, insistent note, but there was no response from the small figure in the bed.
Twain Dawg started casting about with his nose to the floor. His need was getting quite urgent now; he yapped twice, then sat down, cocking his head to the side, listening.
Sarah whimpered a little.
Twain Dawg began yapping again, urgently, shrilly, and very, very loudly.

Bonnie looked up. Wiping the flour from her hands, she crossed the kitchen and heard Twain Dawg yapping, loudly, incessantly ...
A mother's instinct took over.
Bonnie dropped the towel, half-running across her kitchen.
She opened Sarah's bedroom door just as her daughter began to convulse.

“Mrs. Cooper, are you ready?” Jackson Cooper asked, extending his hand as Emma crossed the front porch.
“Thank you, Mr. Cooper, yes, I am ready,” Emma smiled, taking his hand and stepping carefully down the two stone steps to the stone walkway. She tilted her face up as Jackson leaned down and kissed her, one time, gently.
“Mrs. Cooper,” he murmured, “you are a fine-looking woman!”
“I love you, Mr. Cooper,” Emma murmured, molding herself into Jackson.
Jackson's arms were warm and strong around her. She felt his contented sigh.
“I love you, too, Mrs. Jackson.”
“Mr. Cooper?”
“Hm?”
“Can we just stand here all day?”
Emma's ear was against Jackson Cooper's chest, and she listened happily to his delighted rumble as he chuckled and squeezed her gently. “Sun's warm, smells like fall apples ... reckon the horse might get impatient, though.”
Emma looked up at Jackson. “Are you ever going to name that poor creature?”
Jackson Cooper laughed with genuine pleasure and he kissed Emma on the forehead; slipping his hands under her arms, he picked her up and whirled her about, and deposited her neatly in their buggy.
“Time for school, Mrs. Jackson,” he declared, striding around the back of the wagon and climbing in. With a gentle flick of the reins and a quiet “Yup there!” they started down their little dirt road.

Bonnie wrapped Sarah tightly in her quilt. The child was burning up, but she was also struggling, and Bonnie contained her as best she could.
Twain Dawg whined, head tilted to the side.
Bonnie turned with a great swing of skirts and headed for the front door.
Twain Dawg galloped after her with a puppy's curious, hobby-horse gait.

“Jackson?” Emma's voice had an edge he'd never heard before.
“I see her,” he replied, tension edging his own voice.
Bonnie was running up the road toward them, a small, blanket-wrapped form in her arms.
Bonnie handed Sarah to Jackson, and Jackson handed her to Emma, extending his big callused hand to seize Bonnie's forearm and haul her aboard.
Bonnie landed in the back seat as Jackson snapped the reins, hard.
“YAAH!”

Twain Dawg ran after the retreating wagon, ran until he could run no more, then he set his square little bottom down on the ground, panting.
He looked after them with an expression of profound sorrow.
Twain Dawg pointed his little muzzle to the cloudless blue and howled, one, long, treble, puppy-pitched note, singing his grief to the uncaring sky.
If he hadn't been so sincere it would have been funny.

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Mr. Box 10-9-07

 

We rode out for just under three hours at a canter until I recognized the creek. Mr Moulton was making mental notes all the way as we rode. We left the trail upstream to the place where I had camped. I showed him the area I had in mind. He said I could stake out a much larger area if I wanted to and to be sure to include both sides of the creek. He wrote down some notes about where we were and paced off to measure the area and helped me set markers, then we started back to town.
"I'll get this all recorded for you by tomorrow."

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Bonnie was out of the wagon before they were stopped. She landed flat-footed on the dirt street, took two long steps and hammered on Doc Greenlee's locked door.
Then she saw the note.
Emma saw Bonnie's shoulders sag, and she ran back to the wagon.
Jackson Cooper extended her hand and Bonnie stepped in, fighting tears.
"He's delivering a baby!" she blurted. "He's a day's ride south, delivering a baby!"
Jackson Cooper and Emma looked at one another.
"Susan!" they exclaimed.
Jackson snapped the reins. "Yup there! Hard about!"
The big warmblood brought their buggy around in the street and they headed for the Silver Jewel at a spanking trot.

Tilly looked up as Jackson Cooper's big form filled the doorway, but filled it for barely a moment, for he had the stride of a man on a mission.
He also had a small, blanket-wrapped form in his arms, and the blanket was moving.
Emma pushed past her husband, Bonnie's hand in hers. "Susan? Where is she, please?"
"Upstairs, number eight," Tillie replied, eyes growing big as she took in the lines engraved on Bonnie's pretty face, and her uncharacteristic pallor.
Jackson turned and took the stairs two at a time.
Daisy came out of the kitchen, a worried look on her face. "I heard the commotion. What's going on?"
"I don't know but I think it's Sarah!"
"Oh, no," Daisy murmured. "I'll put on more hot water." She went to the back door. "Jacob! Could you draw some more water, please? And we'll need more wood!"

Susan Spicer had just finished making the bed when she heard urgent footsteps in the hall. She reached for the door and hauled it open just as Jackson Cooper's big fist came down on empty air. He was carrying a squirming blanket and a worried expression and Susan reached in and took it from him, depositing it on the freshly-made bed.
She opened the quilt.
Professionalism, training and experience took over.
Bonnie was at her side.
"You are the mother?"
Bonnie nodded, pale.
"Any prior illnesses?"
"No, none."
"Recent injuries?"
"No."
"Exposure to sick or strange children?"
Bonnie shook her head.
Emma grasped her husband's arm. "Two of the children in school were ill yesterday. They were fevered, a little, and coughing. I kept them in the back of the room and kept the windows open."
"And a good thing, too," Susan murmured, stripping the child out of her soaking nightclothes. "She's burning up." Susan laid a gentle hand on Sarah's chest, listening with her fingers, peeled back an eyelid.
Sarah's eyes were rolled back in her head.
Tillie was at the door. "Susan, what do you need?"
"Water. One bucket hot, one of cold, and a tub."
"Jacob!" Tillie called down the stairs.

Esther was a scarred veteran of many childhood illnesses, but she knew this was serious.
As soon as Susan got Sarah in the tub of tepid water, the measles fairly exploded into view.
Susan knew the statistics; Susan knew the follow-up conditions that too often followed; Susan knew this was one sick little girl that would need watching for the next few days and nights.
"What can we do?" Bonnie whispered, squeezing Esther's hand.
Esther patted her hand in return. "The first thing we do, dear, is understand that Susan knows what she is doing, and she will take care of Sarah better than any man!"
Bonnie nodded, numb.
"Right now we need to give the woman room to work, so let's go downstairs and we'll have a nice cup of tea."
"I DON'T WANT TO GO DOWNSTAIRS!" Bonnie lashed, then buried her face in her hands, sobbing. "I'm sorry, Esther, I'm so sorry!"
Esther soothed her like a frightened child and Bonnie clung to her like a drowning man cling to a life ring.
"I want my Mama," Bonnie sobbed, utterly broken. "I want my Mama!"
A dam broke inside Bonnie's heart, and all the grief, and all the fear, and all the loss, and all the hurt she'd kept walled away in a hidden corner of her heart, came roaring over her soul with the force of a Niagara.
She had no idea when Caleb arrived, only that he was there, and she held him, and he held her, and he drew her onto his lap as he eased into a rocking chair, and he held her and he rocked her and he stroked her hair and he made the soothing sounds a hurt child needs to hear, and Bonnie cried herself out, cried for the loss of her parents, cried for the hurts done to her, cried for every bruise Sarah had borne, and now she cried because the most precious thing she knew was about to be taken from her by something she couldn't fight.
Caleb Rosenthal had never claimed to be a wise man, but he was wise enough to hold Bonnie, and to rock her, because in that moment, that was exactly what Bonnie needed.

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Charlie MacNeil 10-9-07

 

Pastor Belding was riding down the road, enjoying the morning, with a brace of fat turkeys hanging by their feet from his saddlehorn and a few partridge balancing the load on the other side. Hunting had been good this morning.

A high, keening sound caught his attention. He looked ahead and saw what looked like a small black blob sitting in the road, and the noise seemed to be coming from that blob. He heeled his horse into a jog and rode up to the blob. The puppy looked at him over its shoulder then went back to howling.

"What's the matter, little fella?" the pastor asked. "Did you lose your last friend?" He looked closer at the pup and recognized Twain Dawg. "What're you doing so far from home?" Abraham had seen the little girl with her puppy and a sudden chill passed over him. "Is something wrong with Sarah?" Twain Dawg didn't answer, just launched into another high pitched howl. Abraham bent from his saddle and scooped up the puppy and tucked him into his coat. He kicked his horse into a run towards town.

As he loped down the main street Abraham could see the Cooper's wagon parked in front of the Silver Jewel. It was an odd time to see that wagon in that spot so he reined his horse to the hitchrail beside the wagon and dropped from his saddle. He reached into his saddlebag for his Bible and ran inside, cradling Twain Dawg in the crook of his arm.

Inside he saw Caleb and Bonnie and he slowed to a walk. Bonnie's eyes were closed and her cheeks were pale and streaked with tears. Abraham looked at Caleb and held up his Bible. Caleb looked back with a neutral expression on his face then nodded once. Abraham stepped forward. "How can I help?" he asked.

Bonnie's eyes opened. "Sarah is very sick," she said hoarsely. "And I feel so helpless. Please, if you would pray for her?"

"Of course," Abraham said gently. He set Twain Dawg on the floor and bowed his head and clasped his hands around his Bible. "Heavenly Father, you know the burdens this family bears and you know the needs they have. I ask you now to lay your strengthening hand and your healing touch on Sarah, who needs you most of all right now. And I ask that you bring your love and comfort to Sarah's parents in their hour of need. I ask and thank you in Jesus' name. Amen." He lifted his eyes to Caleb's, and a look of gratitude passed from Caleb to Abraham.

"I know that your faith and mine are somewhat different," Abraham said quietly, "but I don't believe that matters at a time like this, does it?"

"No, I don't believe it does," Caleb said just as quietly. "Thank you."

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

"Tilly, have you had the measles?"
"Years ago, honey. I was just a child."
Susan brought Sarah's shivering form out of the bathtub and into the big Turkish towel Tillie was holding. "You realize she can't stay here."
Anger flared in Tillie's hazel eyes, quickly shuttered behind long-lashed lids.
"Measles kills one out of every fifteen children it infects," Susan continued matter-of-factly. "It's hard on adults but not as deadly. It can lead to deafness, paralysis, blindness or imbecility, and we don't know how it's spread. Our best guess is it's breathed but we don't know that."
"Where can we take her?"
"Home is my best recommendation. She is going to be one sick little girl. If she doesn't die of pneumonia in the next two weeks, if she doesn't die of dysentery before then, and if the fever doesn't come back, she'll have a fair chance." She toweled Sarah's still-shivering form, picked up an adult-sized flannel nightgown and worked it gently down over Sarah's little form. "Right now we keep her warm and wait."
Susan knelt at the child's bedside, taking Sarah's little hand in both of hers, and bowed her head.
Susan was not a physician. She knew a fair amount about healing, but she knew when to ask for help.
She was asking.

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Twain Dawg had shivered in the warm grasp of the fellow that picked him up off the road. Somehow he knew this man could be trusted, and that he was safe, and he was being taken somewhere, and that was a comfort.
His curiosity also came alive, for he'd never ridden horseback before, and he rather enjoyed the sensation.
He cuddled up against the man's warmth and sighed.

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