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Lady Leigh 10-9-07

 

The door opened, and standing in the door frame was a woman who was stunningly beautiful with hair, black as night with just a hint of gray at her temples. Her almost black eyes scanned the room. The vision in front of her was heart wrenching at best. An auburn haired woman striken with grief, a Preacher, a puppy ....

"Mother!"

SHe placed those black eyes directly to the gray eyes of her youngest son. With elegance and grace, she stepped completely in the room. Behind her stepped in her two elder sons. David ducked his head under the door frame, and act he had done without even thinking. At 6'6" he was was, indeed extremely tall. Hair equal as dark as his mother, Miram's, eyes the same brown as Levi's. No one would mistake the three men of being brothers.

Bonnie looked up with a pale and tear streaked face, and as Miriams eyes left Caleb's, they met Bonnie's. With shaking legs beneath her, Bonnie rose. Miriam opened her arms, and Bonnie went into their cradleing comfort. Caleb rose and aproached his Mother, and embraced them both.

"Child? Let me look at you ..." Bonnie broke away and looked into the face of a woman she knew as well as her own Mother before leaving the Chicago area, what seemed an eternity ago. Miriam placed a hand on each side of Bonnie's face, and saw a trickle slide out of Bonnie's eyes and pool at Miriam's finger tips. "Bonnie? Sweet Bonnie ... Levi told us about Sarah as he picked David and I up at the train station. My dear, dear child! Sarah rests in God's hands. Those hands are more than capable of taking care of her. Come ... you need some nourishment."

"I don't think I should go ..."

"Sarah will not being going anywhere, child, without her Mother. As we came in the front doors of this hotel, I smelled the most wonderful aroma's. Come." With Bonnie's hand in her own, Miriam led her to the door. Bonnie paused, and looked at Susan.

"I'll come down to find you in a moment, Bonnie. But I do believe it is safe to say you will have to take Sarah home, so prepare yourself for that."

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Jacob rode south.
He knew, generally, where Doc Greenlees had gone, and knew Doc drove his physician's surrey, and that he would be keeping to known roads; he figured he could at least catch him enroute, if not at the ranch.
He was right.
Doc was on his way back; Jacob saw him in the distance.
The Appaloosa surged forward, running for the sheer joy of running.
Jacob rode with a knot in his gut.

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Twain Dawg waddled over to the bed.
Nobody noticed.
Twain Dawg slipped under the dust ruffle and up toward the head of the bed.
Twain Dawg looked around with disapproval. Not a single fuzzy pile of dust to play with. He sniffed and watched as the black shoes came and went, and finally went, and he peeked out from under the coverlet.
Whining a little, he came out from under the dust ruffle and sat down, looking mournfully up at what he knew was there, but could not reach.
A hand came from somewhere, and Twain Dawg was boosted up onto the bed, and he clambered happily up beside her arm, and snuffed at her ear, and curled up against her neck, content.
She heard a familiar snuffy sound, and felt a warm tickle, a tickle she knew, and Twain Dawg was there, and she giggled, safe in her funny dream, safe knowing Mama was there, and Caleb, and she saw Sam the horse and she heard a piano playing, and a girl with lovely green eyes sat at the piano, and smiled as she played ...

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Linn Keller 10-9-07

 

Jacob came barreling down the road at a full gallop. The Appaloosa stallion loved to run but was starting to flag, a little; Jacob spoke to him, slowed as they approached Doc's surrey. Jacob brought the Appaloosa around behind the surrey, came up on Doc's right.
"Ho," Doc called to the bay Morgan, and the Morgan ho'd.
"It's Sarah," Caleb gasped. "Measles."
Doc's eyes narrowed. "Who's with her?"
"Susan, Bonnie, most of the women. Caleb and his brother."
Doc took a deep breath, mentally assessing supplies on hand.
He nodded.
The Morgan responded to Doc's quiet cluck, advancing to a spanking trot.
Doc knew the stubby legged Morgan could keep this trot up all day and all night if need be. A gallop would wear him out fast, but he could trot forever.
Jacob fell in beside him, keeping pace.

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Duzy Wales 10-10-07

 

Grandpa Joseph was laid to rest beside his beloved Edith. Mama held her tears until the family turned to leave, Papa holding her tightly, until the tears became quiet sobs, and then gently helped her onto the carriage. Duzy and Jake followed with their heads bowed down in mourning, holding hands. The trip was hard. Every few yards there was a whimper from within the carriage as Mama fought to deal with the tragic loss of her Papa.

Upon arriving at the large Victorian home, without a word they all walked inside, and could not help but notice all the things that reminded them of Grandpa Joseph. It was like his very soul was a part of the house. The family sat together as they greeted the neighbors who had been thoughtful enough to bring more food.

Duzy's eyes were caught by a movement. Off to her right, was a glimpse of what looked like a white vapor, drawing her to it. In her own mind she could not fathom why she should go, and yet she was pulled in that direction. Feeling in awe, but with no fear, Duzy moved forward to investigate. She proceeded into the hall way, which was out of sight of everyone else. Just then, an apparition appears and speaks to Duzy. This is the first time Duzy had actually seem a spirit when she was awake. Duzy says, “Who are you?” The spirit replies, “I am the one who will save you from great danger. On the eve of the next full moon, there is to be a great train robbery. People will die. I have been sent here to make sure it is not you. You have a much greater purpose.” “No, no, you must tell me who is to die! I must know so I can save whoever it is! Please tell me?” Duzy begged. As the spirit began to fade, Duzy heard, “Neither you nor I can stop destiny.”

Jake had missed Duzy, and had come to look for her, finding her standing talking to thin air, and looking even more distraught than she had leaving the graveside. “Jake, there is to be a train robbery and people will die!” Jake took Duzy into his strong arms and comforted her like a child, wondering if it was the loss of Grandpa Joseph making her imagine things, or could it be possible that Duzy really could see and hear spirits, as he knew from experience that her dreams and premonitions had become true. “It will be alright Darlin’, you will be alright, perhaps this is something you imagined from the grief you are feeling, I think you need to lie down and rest." Duzy did as Jake wished, as she thought of her earlier dream...

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Linn Keller 10-10-07

 

Esther's emerald-green eyes snapped open.
She'd been dozing in the rocking chair.
Duzy, she thought, and blinked, and then she remembered.
Sarah.
Esther stood, steadying the arm of the rocker so it did not rock back and make a sound that might disturb the sleeper. She plucked the shawl from the back of the chair, spun it around her shoulders.
Sarah was asleep, breathing easily, Twain Dawg curled up against her cheek. He, too, was asleep, without whimper or twitch, snuggled up against the one true thing he absolutely loved.
Other than gravy on biscuit.
Esther shivered, and stood quietly, and walked over to Sarah's bed. She laid a gentle hand on the child's forehead.
Damp, she thought, but not fevered.
She drew the quilt aside, felt her flannel nightgown, felt her arm.
The fever has broken, she thought. Thank you, God!
Twain Dawg yawned, a huge little puppy yawn, and he cuddled a little, and went back to sleep.
Esther drew the cover back up over Sarah.
Sarah sighed and wiggled a little and didn't even wake up.
Esther opened the door, slowly, carefully, and slipped out of the room.

"How is she?" I asked, hat in my hand.
"Asleep," Esther said quietly. She laid a gentle hand on my arm.
I raised my hand, stroked her cheek. "I love you, dear heart."
"I love you too!" she whispered fiercely, and her arm ran around my shoulders, and mine around her back, and we held each other.
Esther took a long, shuddering breath, resting her forehead on my shoulder.
"This has been so hard," she whispered hoarsely, "so very hard!"
"I know." I looked to the bedroom door. I remembered another little girl with yellow hair, who had a rash and a fever, and everything I'd tried to bury with her still shrouded form came roaring back out of the grave and wrapped itself around my heart, and I could almost hear her little bare feet on the smooth wood floor ...
The bedroom door opened and Sarah stood there rubbing her eyes, Twain Dawg beside her little bare foot.
"Aunt Esther? I gotta go!"

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Sweet Violet 10-10-07

 

After leaving Bonnie and Sarah in the more than capable hands of Susan and Esther, Jackson drove Emma to the school house. They had spoken with Linn and Mr. Moulton and decided that for at least a week, it would be best if school was closed. That way they could see what children had come down with the measels and it would help cut down on the spread of the disease.

Jackson helped Emma down from the carriage and whispered in her ear, "Do you want me to come in with you?"

"Yes darling, I think I would like that."

Walking among the children she noticed that a few were missing. She made her way to the bell pull and started ringing. Soon the children were in their seats, gazing with questioning glances at the vacant seats that were scattered here and there.

"Good morning children. As you can see, there are a few seats that do not have people sitting in them. I have just come from the Silver Jewel where Sarah is being seen to by Miss Spicer." Taking a steadying breath she the announcement, "Sarah has measels."

This drew gasps and worried looks from the children and nervous talk permeated the room. Trying to keep her voice light Emma continued. "We will take the rest of the week off and then school will again be in session next Wednesday. You all go home now and to keep your minds busy, I would like you all to do some reading every day."

Jackson watched from the back of the room as some of the younger children walked up to Emma and hugged her around the waist. She squeezed them back hard as if she would never see them again. Bending down to their level she spoke words of encouragement to them then sent them on their way. When the room had emptied, he came forward and drew her to himself. She laid her forhead against his chest and soon her shoulders began to shake. He felt her hot tears as they seeped into the front of his shirt. Slowly rubbing her back he murmered into her ear, "Shhh. Hey there sweetness, Sarah is going to be ok. She is with Miss Spicer and Jacob went to fetch the doctor. She will be right as rain soon enough as will the other ones who are sick. You'll have your children back in no time."

He hoped with all of his heart that he was right.

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Mr. Box 10-11-07

 

Things were running at a quieter pace around the bar since all the festivities had settled down. More of the attention was focused on young Sarah right now. Some folks that did stop by asked about her. It was news to others. All the same, there was always a little buzz whether this person or that person had had the measles. With a little care, it shouldn't spread too fast.

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Linn Keller 10-11-07

 

"Hello, Mr. Cooper! Hello, Mrs. Cooper! Hello, Sam!" Sarah called and waved from her front porch, wrapped in a trailing quilt and watched attentively by Twain Dawg.
"Hello, Sarah," Jackson Cooper greeted, and Emma Cooper smiled and waved. "Hello, Twain Dawg!"
Twain Dawg yawned and flopped down on his belly.
The door opened and Bonnie came out. "Sarah, you've had enough air for now, come on in before you catch your death of the live-forevers!"
"Yes, Mama," Sarah said in a resigned voice. "Bye, Mr. Cooper! Bye, Mrs. Cooper! Bye, Sam!" She waved and went back inside. Esther waved from the doorway with a big smile, and a hug for Sarah.
Bonnie closed the door behind her and walked quickly out to the Coopers' carriage.
"Thank you both so very much for the other day," she said, her tired eyes still worried, but not as fatigued as they had been.
"Yes, ma'am," Jackson Cooper rumbled quietly, removing his hat. "How is she now?"
Bonnie smiled sadly. "She's not as full of vinegar as she usually is. I couldn't normally get her inside on a lovely day like this unless it was for peppermint or fresh pie. She tires so easily!"
"Are you getting any rest?" Emma asked gently, with a knowing look.
Bonnie sagged, rested a hand on the edge of the carriage. "No."
"Miz Bonnie," Jackson Cooper said quietly, in his deep, reassuring voice, "I'm a-gonna tell you somethin' and I want you to listen real close now."
Bonnie looked up at him, curious. She'd never heard him speak so.
"Miz Bonnie, in all of God's creation, in all the wonderful lands and peoples and oceans and among all the stars in the heavens, there is only one Miz Bonnie McKenna. Just one. You are unique. There is no one like you, anywhere. You are special. You are here for a purpose and that fine little girl is part of that purpose. You are too important not to take care of.
"Now, Miz Bonnie, I am not in the habit of ordering ladies around, so I won't start, but I will ask you to do somethin' for me."
"And what is that, Mr. Cooper?"
"Miz Bonnie, I'd like you to take a nice bath, and have a nice meal, and lay yourself down and get a good night's rest for a change. You have more than earned it."
Bonnie smiled, a genuine smile, and nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Cooper. I shall take your sound advice."
Jackson Cooper looked to his horse. "Miz Bonnie, who's Sam?"
Bonnie looked at his horse. "Why, Sam is your horse, of course."
Jackson Cooper settled his hat on his head and flicked the reins. "Hup, Sam."

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Lady Leigh 10-12-07

 

Caleb and his oldest brother, David, were finishing up special orders at the House of McKenna. David was mainly in administration with Rosenthal and McKenna Textiles back in Chicago, but the drafting was coming back to him, and the two brothers worked effeciently together.

"Caleb? Out of curiosity, how long are you going to be staying here in Firelands?" The two brothers were about finished for the day. Caleb was putting some things aside that Bonnies could work on at home.

"As long as it takes." Caleb wondered how long it would take David to start questioning.

"As long as it takes ... what?"

"Hard to say, really ..."

"Caleb ... this business has been open how long? The orders are impressive, but more than that, Bonnie has some really good ... no, excellent designs. Her talent would be refreshing in Chcago."

Caleb knew where David was taking this conversation. It was a conversation Bonnie and Caleb had a couple of weeks ago. Bonnie was torn between hurting Duzy and Esther by closing the business in Firelands, or staying here and take the chance with regretting the opportunity to go back to Chicago. This was a subject Caleb did not want to discuss with David. It was a dicision Bonnie needed to make, and if she wanted to draw other perspectives into the thought process, then that would be up to Bonnie.

"David, Bonnie has a good head on her shoulders. She'll do what is best, and I doubt she will stop giving it her best shot with what ever she does ... where ever she is. Right now, Firelands has been her home since she was almost 10. Fifteeen years is a long time.

"I'm just saying, Caleb, I think Bonnie could do better elsewhere ..."

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Duzy Wales 10-12-07

 

Tossing and turning Duzy tried to keep the images from her mind, but no matter how she turned, the images followed, and the dream continued…..

Jake and Duzy, along with her Mama and Papa, were returning to Firelands to prepare for her wedding, as Duzy wished to share the joyous occasion with her new family and friends. She could see masked men, bags being held for everyone to place jewelry, weapons, money and anything of value. One man jerked a locket off an elderly ladies neck, sneering as she begged to keep it, as it only held sentimental value, a small likeness of her husband who had been killed during the war. Duzy felt Jake stiffen as another man stepped on the train. Jake whispered, “Act as if you do not know me!” As the man came forward, Jake was recognized. “Well, looky what we got here fellers.” This here man is a fed, the very one who locked me up!” Duzy came awake, as the man leveled his gun at Jake’s heart!

Duzy didn’t know if she had actually screamed, but Jake was by her side in an instant. She finally told him of the dream she had been having since they left Firelands. Jake reassured Duzy, telling her that they would not leave on the eve of the full moon, the night the spirit had predicted the robbery to be. Jake’s belief in his future wife’s dreams concerned him, and he promised Duzy he would alert the officials to have extra men on the train, watchful and prepared, so her dream would not become a reality. With that, Duzy closed her eyes and fell asleep, confident in Jake’s ability.

Duzy looked up into the eyes of Grandpa Joseph, standing at the bottom of the bed. “Grandpa, is that you?” Duzy asked. “Yes, my dear, I have come to warn you. I have known for years that you have the gift of insight, but please remember this, “not all that you see or hear is true, as there are evil and good spirits, and the evil will try to use your gift against you. Be careful, as they will come in “sheep’s clothing!”

Duzy reached for her robe, and walked downstairs to the kitchen, finding her Mama, looking as if she had not slept a wink, but was in deep thought. “Good morning dear, I am happy you are up. I have been thinking I need a vacation. I need time away, and your Papa has agreed for us to go to Firelands, for Aunt Esther’s and your weddings. The boys will take care of things here while we are away. We want to see your new home and business; and, Lee is looking forward to seeing Esther and meeting Sheriff Keller.” “Mama, are you sure? Do you not need my help here? We can stay!” Duzy stated emphatically, still fearful of what may happen, and not knowing what to believe, remembering Grandpa Joseph’s words.

Papa walked in at that time and said, "Are you ready to return to Firelands, I know your Mama has told you of our plans. I would not miss giving you away at your wedding, and I wish to be with Aunt Esther on her happy day. I had thought to have a wedding here for you, but I know you wish to be with your friends!" "Yes, Papa, I am ready......"

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Linn Keller 10-12-07

 

Susan's heels were loud on the polished floor of Daisy's restaurant; she came in with a great swing of skirts and a cheerful wave to the Sheriff, and continued on down the hall to the back door.
The Sheriff was on his feet, but Esther laid a gentling hand on his. “Let her go, dear. This is woman's work.”
Sean's great, red-shirted bulk was just visible, beside the back door, as Susan pulled it open and looked about. He was bent over, holding Daisy by her hips, and Daisy was bent over making the terrible sounds of a woman losing a week's worth of lunches.
Sean looked up, relieved to see the smiling, apple-cheeked nurse.
“Here, dearie,” she soothed, bringing Daisy slowly upright and wiping her face with a wet cloth. “This will help.”
Daisy nodded and coughed a little, and bent back over.
“Susan, what ails her?” Sean asked, worry heavy in his voice.
“Fetch me a dipper of water, please,” Susan said quietly.
Sean backed away from Daisy, then leaped up the back steps and strode down the short hallway, footfalls heavy on the polished boards, and he was back in barely an instant, water streaming from the dented tin dipper.
“Here, dearie,” Susan said in a voice that soothed sick children and reassured frightened women, “rinse out your mouth, there's a good girl, now.”
Daisy did, and Susan folded the cloth and wiped her face with a clean section.
“There, now. I want you to take a small sip -- just a small one, now, just a sip! -- and tell me how it sets on your stomach.”
Daisy nodded, and took a sip of water. It was cold, and it was sweet, Jacob having just filled the water bucket, and it tasted so very good, and she let a little of it trickle down her throat ...
Sean's great callused hands seized Daisy by the hips and steadied her as she bent back over, heaving and choking, and the Irishman's beefy face was several shades more pale than it had been. “Susan, has she the plague?” he said with dread in his voice.
Susan didn't answer. She got Daisy back inside, and set her down, and asked Sean to leave them for a moment, and could he take the Sheriff some coffee, please, and why doesn't he have some himself, and perhaps some pie.
Daisy nodded, coughing a little and waving Sean away.
Worried, Sean picked up the coffee pot and a whole pie, and took them to the dining room, reluctantly, dragging his feet like a schoolboy.

“Miz Esther?” Susan called down the hallway. “Could you come back here, please?”
Esther excused herself from the table where the Sheriff and the fireman were talking in low tones.
“I've never seen th' lass s' sick,” Sean shook his head, the coffee cup disappearing in the grip of his two hands. “She's no' the kind t' get sick. She nursed her entire family when they were all ill an' she didn't get as much as a sniffle, an' now this!” He looked at the Sheriff with haunted eyes. “Do y' think it's the measles, Sheriff?”
“I don't rightly know, Sean,” the Sheriff said, “but I reckon Susan can find out quick enough.”
Sean stood abruptly. “I could go f'r th' doctor!”
“He's out of town, Sean, he's seeing about some sick children. Sit you down now and tell me what you know about her illness.”
Sean sat, heavily, with the sick expression of a man near defeat.
“Linn?” Esther called from the end of the hallway. “Could you come here a moment, please?”
Sean stood, but the Sheriff seated him with a gesture.
Sean watched as Esther and the Sheriff spoke quietly; they looked at Sean, briefly, then turned back to one another.
Sean's heart fell to his boot tops. He rested his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands and groaned in utter misery.
The Sheriff's hand was on his shoulder. “Sean, could you come with me?” he said quietly.
Woodenly, as if under sentence of death, Sean stood.
His eyes were hollow and he was shaking.
The Sheriff walked him up to the bar.
“Mr. Baxter, could you pour us each a tall one? We'll have the best in the house, and I would admire to buy you one as well. Sean here is going to be a father!”
The big beefy Irishman gripped the polished, rounded edge of the fine mahogany bar top with his scarred, white-knuckled hand, and he reached for the glass, and he looked deep into the amber heart of the glass of distilled grain.
“A baby,” he murmured. “By all the saints, a baby!”
The Sheriff hoisted his glass. “To new life!”
They drank.

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Mr. Box 10-12-07

 

"BY GOLLY, I'll drink to that! Congratulations, Sean, that's the best thing to happen around here in a while! It's on the house! What a proud father you'll make! It won't be no time at all before we've got another little firefighter!"

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Lady Leigh 10-13-07

 

"What is it that perplexes you, Child?" Miriam walked up to Bonnie who was starring into the fire of the fireplace. "Is it Sarah you are concerned about? She is recovering nicely ..."

Bonnie kept her eyes stationed on the reds and golds of the flames, "Mama, Margaret and I came here because Papa said we should if anything happened to him. He said Jamie would be here ... only Jamie wasn't. We know he was ...."

Miriam seated herself in the chair across from Bonnie, and allowed Bonnie to continue, "Mama was afraid to leave Firelands in case Jamie showed up. One year led to two, which led to three ... As I child, Margaret and I didn't really understand much of it all, except that Mama looked sad for such a long time. But then she opened the boarding house. It kept Mama busy. It allowed her to fuss over people."

Bonnie looked away from the fire to Miriam, "Did Mama miss Chicago?

"I don't believe she missed Chicago so much as she missed us, Bonnie. SHe was resigned to stay. Her heart was so torn with the disappearance of Jamie. And she knew she was provided for financially as Abram sent her stock percentages from the Chicago business. SHe stayed if Firelands hoping to find answers ... hoping to find Jamie."

Bonnie spoke again after a moment of silence,"Margaret always talked about leaving Firelands and going to Chicago. AS she got older, she would plead with Mama to let her go to school in Chicago ... Mama always said she couldn't bear to loose another child ...." Bonnie glanced back toward the flames, "Well, Margaret left Firelands ... and Mama right behind her."

Aggitation was evident in Bonnie's voice. Miriam reached across the short distance, and laid her hand upon Bonnie's, "Had we been told the truth about Pauline and you two girls, Bonnie, we would never have left you behind to suffer as you have. Abram could never let himself sell the shares that belonged to your Father. He could never sell the house, either. He just rented it and put the money aside. Then when David and Hannah wanted to live there, Abram smiled at the life that would bestow the house again." Miriam paused, looking at Bonnies face expression. "The house is still yours, Bonnie ..."

"No, no ... I do not want that house, Miriam. That is David and Hannah's house now, or should be .... Miriam? Caleb and I were talking a short while back. He mentioned that Abram was wanting to open a side busines in the St. Charles area."

Miriam knew of her husbands plans. Abram was going to leave David to head the main office, while he and Miram were going to retire in the beautiful community of St, Charles, Ill. It was hoped that Caleb would follow and assist with opening a new business in that area.

"Caleb mentioned that I could establish a business there in association to Rosenthal and McKenna ..." Bonnie looked into those dark and compassionate eyes, "Do you think I could, Miriam?"

Miriam looked at Bonnie with all of the love and tenderness she was able to find within herself, "Dear child, you are welcome to be with us always, but it is, you, child that needs to make certain of your future plans. We will not sway your dicisions, but know that you are loved, Bonnie ... and greatly respected."

Bonnie smiled, and her heart swelled, "I love Caleb, you know?"

"Of course I know that! And if I am not mistaken, His love for you is strong ..."

Bonnie smiled and nodded her head. "I think David would be a good person to talk about the details of my business here, and I also need to visit with my attournet, Mr. Moulton, but, yes, Miriam, I think it is time to move on with life. Caleb doesn't belong here ... but I want to belong where he does ..."

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Linn Keller 10-13-07

 

I sauntered back to the kitchen, coffee cup in hand and half a smile on my face, Esther right behind me.
We wanted to see what the fuss was about.
I peeked around the door frame, Esther behind me, and I felt her hand on my back,and I felt her move, and I could tell she was trying hard not to laugh.
Fact is, I was trying hard myself.
Sean had his left hand on his hip, waving his right forefinger in the air, and Daisy had her belly shoved hard up against his, her face upturned, and I don't know whose face was redder: Sean was a blustering Celtic giant, his brogue growing thicker with his agitation, and Daisy was bristled like a Bantam hen, waving her wooden spoon for emphasis.
"AND I SAY NO WIFE OF MINE IS GOING TO WORK!" he roared, "ESPECIALLY WHEN SHE IS CARRYING A WEE CHILD!"
"AND I SAY, YOU BIG OAF OF AN IRISHMAN, THAT IT IS MY BUSINESS, AND IF I CAN WORK, I AM GOING TO WORK!"
"YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WORK!"
"I AM SO GOING TO WORK!"
Sean shook his head, waved his finger, his mouth opened and closed, and Daisy interrupted his thoughts with, "And what would you have me do, then? Lie about on silk sheets in satin slippers and be waited on hand and foot?"
"YES!!!" Sean roared, importuning Heaven with a shake of his upraised hands.
Daisy put her hands on her hips.
Each glared at the other, trying very hard not to laugh, for it had gone past argument, beyond competition, into the ludicrous, and both of them knew it.
Sean cracked first.
It started with the corners of his eyes, and the creases reached down and drew up the corners of his mouth, and Daisy began to giggle, and soon Sean had his beloved wife under the arms and was whirling her about the kitchen and they were both laughing.
"Daisy, me darlin', kiss the happiest man on the face o' the earth!" he laughed.
Esther and I withdrew, she with the back of her hand against her lips and I debating whether to stuff my fist in my mouth, for we were both about a half inch from laughing our fool heads off, and we didn't want to spoil their fun.

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Linn Keller 10-13-07

 

Esther and I slipped out of the Jewel and down the board walk, and over to the livery, and I carried a basket Daisy had packed me earlier; we rented a buggy and Shorty harnessed up a Morgan, twin to the one Doc used, and we drove out west of town a little piece.
I reined up and set the brake, and helped Esther out of the buggy, and we walked up hill a little ways, and spread out a blanket, and settled ourselves down.
"Esther, you see the ridge line yonder, above us?"
Esther turned and looked, shading her eyes with her hand. "I see it."
I turned in the opposite direction. "And the trees on the other side of yon gully?"
"Yes."
"This is mine."
"It is!" she exclaimed, delight in her eyes.
"It's not much for size," I admitted, "only about eighty acres. Not enough for a good postage stamp in Texas, but it should do me all right."
"Eighty acres!" Esther laughed, remembering the size of farms back East.
"I plan to plant apple trees."
"I think apple trees will be wonderful!"
"Where would you like your house built?"
Esther was quiet, and I could see the curtains draw behind her eyes.
"Esther, there's the chance Caleb and Bonnie will be going back to Chicago. Duzy may or may not be coming back. I hope she is but I don't know for sure. She has a terrible loss with the death in her family." I hesitated.
"Esther, if you need to go back East, I will understand."
Esther was quiet for a long time. She looked down at the blanket, smoothed out a wrinkle, looked to the horizon, to the borders of my land.
"I was thinkng of that last night," she said slowly. "I was unsure, and sought solace in Scripture, as I often do in such moments.
"I opened to the book of Ruth."
I nodded.
"'Be not against me, to desire that I should leave thee, and depart,'" she recited, savoring the words, looking at something beyond the horizon; "'for whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go, and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell: thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.'"
She looked up at me, and reached over, and squeezed my hand.
"The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there I will be buried. The Lord do so, and so to me, and add more also, if aught but death part me and thee."
I nodded again, covering her hand with mine, marveling at how smooth and healthy her skin was. "I want to wake up with you, Esther," I said quietly. "I want yours to be the last voice I hear at night, and the first I hear in the morning. I want to sit on my own front porch, in a rocking chair, and hold your hand as you sit beside me, and I want to look out and watch my trees grow." I looked deep into Esther's emerald eyes. "I want to live out my life with you, Esther." I drew a long breath. "But if you must go back I will not hold you."
Esther reached up and stroked my cheek. She shook her head, slowly, closed her eyes for a long moment. "You would let me go?"
I nodded.
"Then I shall stay, for only the man who loves me enough to let me go, loves me enough for me to remain."
I lay down beside her and rolled her into me, and held her, and the sun was warm on us, and we listened to the wind.
"This will be a good place for our house," I said quietly. "Bedroom to the east, to wake with the morning sun, kitchen to the north. The barn, over there, on that bit of a grade." I smiled. "I witched me a well with a peach fork. There's good water under here, Esther. Not deep, either."
Esther sighed, cuddling into me.
"Name the date," I whispered. "Name the date, and wear your emerald gown, and I will wear my suit, and we will stand in front of God and everybody else, and we will be man and wife."

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Linn Keller 10-14-07

 

Emma looked around, curious.
She'd just come back from taking soup and bread to two families with sick children; the measles had hit and hit hard, and two children had developed pneumonia with it, but there had been no deaths.
None yet, Emma reminded herself, shivering.
She listened.
There was a little breeze, and the thinning leaves fluttered on their trees, but there was no sound of industry: the ax was driven into the stump, there was no sound of shovel or ax, no laboring giant that she so loved.
Emma frowned. Normally he would drop what he was doing to come and meet her, and unharness Sam, and look the buggy over and see if it needed attention.
"Jackson Cooper, where are you?" Emma wondered, suppressing a little tick of alarm.
She climbed out of the buggy without difficulty, smiling at how Jackson insisted on plucking her from her perch like he was picking up a china doll from a shelf, and she remembered the warmth and the strength in those big, callused hands, and she felt a delicious tingle as she thought of her man, warm against her, his big arms around her, and how she loved the feel of him, loved his scent ...
She shook herself. Emma Cooper! she thought, shame on you! Such thoughts!
Emma unharnessed Sam and led him into his stall, and scooped in some grain, just as Jackson did so many times, and she made sure there was water, and she even managed to push the buggy back; it was not an easy push, but the ground was level, and firm, and the buggy's axles were carefully greased just yesterday, and she managed.
Emma opened the back screen, and stepped inside. There were the lingering odors of the wood stove, and of bread, freshly baked, and the stew she'd made, the stew that Jackson loved, and ate with such a good appetite.
Emma smiled. She did enjoy seeing her man eat with a good appetite!
Jackson's hat was in its place by the door.
"Jackson?" she called.
The house was silent.
Emma walked into the sitting room, searching.
There was a slight sound upstairs.
"Jackson? Are you up there?" Emma called, gathering her skirts and climbing the wide stairway.
Emma stopped at the top of the stairs.
Jackson was in bed, shivering, quilt pulled up, a wadded handful of bedcovers clutched in his big-knuckled hands, eyes barely open.
Emma smelled the sickness on him, and came briskly to the bedside, and laid a hand on his forehead; frowning, she drew the covers aside and uncovered his well-muscled chest.
She saw the familiar pink speckles under the chest fur.
Measles, she thought. At his age?
She made a mental note to consult Dr. Greenlees about treatment of adult-onset measles. In the meantime, her man needed her care.
She replaced the covers and patted his hand. "Jackson, dear, I'll make some soup," she said soothingly.
Jackson nodded, shivering.

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Mr. Box 10-14-07

 

Each time the fire brigade came clamoring into the bar they seemed to have more to celebrate than the time before. Sean was always the center of it all. They were all gathered around a table and pretty much the center of attention in the place. One of them came to the bar for another round and motioned to talk to me. He said to me in a hoarse whisper, "We be needin a few special supplies, and keep it to yourself if'n you know what I be meanin." He handed me a short list. I looked at it and saw things like a draw knife, rasp, awl, screws, paint, and such. I gave him a wink and went on about getting the order of drinks.
Business had been a little slower with everybody trying to stay away from anyone that they could possibly contract the measles from.

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Lady Leigh 10-14-07

 

It was decided that as soon as Sarah was well enough to travel, she, Bonnie and the Rosenthals would be traveling to Chicago. Special attention was being given to the needs Twain Dawg would have during his journey to Chicago as well.

Joslin Dry Goods Company in Denver, was a client of Rosenthal and McKenna Textiles, and David had received a telegram from Mr. J.C. Penny, that they would take the fabrics and related goods. A seamstress in Colorado Springs purchased the machines, irons and drafting supplies, and other related tools.

Bonnie visited with Micheal Moulton, and arranged a financial account to be delivered to Duzy upon her arrival, if Bonnie were already gone. The building that had housed House of McKenna was deeded over to Duzy as well.

Bonnie noticed that, though Mr. Moulton was professional, there was also a sadness to him. She knew Tilly was taken with this man, and if given a chance, perhaps Micheal Moulton would take notice of her beautiful friend. A silent prayer was spoken in hopes God would, indeed, allow Micheal to take notice of Tilly.

Upon leaving the Attourney's office, Bonnie strolled by her former business. She stopped and looked at the building, glanced at the lettering on the window, then through the window. "Life goes on", Bonnie said, "Life is such a rich and glorious thing." She then turned toward the cottage to begin packing what was to be taken with them, and to make additional plans for what promised to be a wonderful future.

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Linn Keller 10-14-07

 

It would have been easier to hide in the Sheriff's Office until they were gone.
Riding out to their house was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I remember the day: the sky was clear, and blue, endless, like it always is in October; the air smelled good, smelled like fall, cool, but with the sun on me I was comfortable enough.
Rose o' the Mornin' loved the weather, too, and she fairly danced under me as we trotted out to the house I'd come to love.
It felt awkward, almost like I was attending a funeral; they were planning what to take, and what to leave, and how much of their lives would go into trunks and onto the train east.
I accepted a cup of coffee. There was an aromatic trace of vanilla, and I smiled, and Caleb and I sipped the scalding beverage together.
The longer I stayed the worse I felt. I was no stranger to goodbyes, but this one was particularly hard.
I set my coffee cup down. I could stand no more.
"Bonnie," I said gently, and she looked at me with those lovely eyes, and that clear complexion, and I bundled her up in my arms and squeezed her and lifted her off the floor and held her, and she was a bit surprised but hugged me back with a surprising strength.
I had been trying hard to maintain the dam behind my eyes but it failed me.
I set her down and held her under the arms and looked her squarely in those lovely, gentle eyes I remember so well these many years after.
"I am very proud of you," I said, and I am not the least bit ashamed to say that I had water running out of both eyes.
I turned to Caleb and shook his hand. "You have a good woman, Caleb. She will do you proud."
Caleb swallowed hard. All he could do was nod.
I knelt, and Sarah fairly jumped into my arms. She was still in her flannel nightie. The measles were pretty well gone now, and her breathing was clear; she had avoided the pneumonia we'd been warned against, her hearing was unaffected, and her strength was returning. Twain Dawg jumped and yapped and Sarah laughed, and I kissed her on the forehead, and Twain Dawg fairly fell all over himself for some attention, and happily rolled around on the floor under my hand.
Jacob and I helped them load up the wagon, next day, and it was like a funeral procession to the depot. The goodbyes when they boarded were not as demonstrative as the day before but they were just as painful, and when the Lady Esther blew her whistle, and the engineer opened the sanders and leaned into the Johnson bar, and the cars thumped and jerked as the slack pulled out of the couplers, something of my heart left with them.
I doubted if I would ever see them again.
Esther fluttered her kerchief bravely after them. She'd put up such a good front, and Sarah promised failthfully she would write but she said "I think we'll be back before my letters get here so don't be surprised if I beat the mail!"
Twain Dawg trotted happily along beside her, mouth open and pink tongue dangling, and then they were gone.
Esther's hand was warm in mine, and tightened as they rolled away, and to the East, and when they were safely out of sight she turned to me and buried her face in my chest and let go all the fears she'd kept hidden from them.
I held her and let her cry.

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Lady Leigh 10-15-07

 

"Crown me. What's your problem today Bill? It's taken ya all afternoon to make a move, and that's the one ya decided to make?"

"Umphhhh" Mac grunted back.

The two checker playing elderly gents stared at their board. People where constantly in and out of the Merchantile. Noise was abundant. Gnarled hands rest upon the pickle barrel. Vacant eyes glued to the board.

"Yep .... miss her, too, Bill ..."

"That fluff ball was sorta cute, too ... don't ya reckon, Mac?"

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Mr. Box 10-15-07

 

I went down to the mercantile when I had a chance and showed the list. Some of the things were avaiable and some had to be ordered. I'd check back to see when they came in. I took the things I could get and stashed behind the bar. I'd see the guys next time they were in. That wouldn't be long.

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Linn Keller 10-17-07

 

Rose o' the Mornin' trotted up the dirt street, hooves surprisingly loud on the hard packed earth. It was early yet. Daisy's good cooking smelled so very good but I had little appetite.
I rode past the "House of McKenna" and looked long at its empty windows.
Like a skull,I thought, a skull with no eyes, dried, and empty, its memories fading like smoke in a cave, slowly, slowly ...
I looked away.
Maybe it was best she left, I thought. She'd had too much hell here. Hard as we tried to make it decent and make it safe, evil had found her here. No woman should ever have to go through what she did!
I failed her, I thought, I always fail the ones that need me most!
That's not right, a voice whispered somewhere between my ears. You are a good man.
"Not good enough," I muttered, and kneed Rose o' the Mornin' to greater speed.
I shook myself. Enough! I thought fiercely, setting my teeth against the conflict I felt, and we pointed our noses toward Jackson Cooper's house.

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Linn Keller 10-17-07

 

Emma opened the front door as I rode up.
I could tell she was distressed; she was wringing her hands in her apron, which for her was most unusual. Schoolmarms are a notoriously unflappable bunch and she'd been steady and level headed in some difficult times, so I knew something was bad wrong.
I ground-reined Rose o' the Mornin' and she snuffed at the grass and began munching happily. I took off my hat as I approached the porch.
"Jackson?" I asked.
Emma nodded and pointed upstairs.
Her silence had me concerned.
Concerned, hell.
She had me scared.
I strode through the front room and took that nice wide stair case two at a time at dern neart a dead run.
Jackson was trying to sit up in bed. He was the color of wheat paste and shaking and I could see he was soaking wet.
Fever's broke, I thought, he's chillin' bad.
"Help me up," he husked, and I set down beside him on the bed and got his arm around my shoulders, and run my arm across his back.
"Up on three," I said. "One," leaning a little forward then rocking back, "two," a little farther this time, and I gathered me a good deep breath and locked my back muscles and "THREE!" and Jackson Cooper tried his best to get up, bless him he did try, but I didn't realize just how solid built a man he was til I had to lift most of his weight myself.
A good thing I had him across the back, else I might have hauled his shoulder out of socket.
I lifted with my legs and tucked my butt when I lifted and kept my back muscles locked for I knew if there was the least bend in my back his weight would bust it clean in two.
We stood.
"Can you walk?"
"I can walk," he gasped. "Get me outside."
"Why outside?"
"No chamber pot." He coughed.
We headed for the stairway, paused at the top.
Emma looked up at us from the bottom, biting her bottom lip.
"Emma, you step a little to the side," I called down. "Jackson, you want me beside or in front?"
"In front." He grasped the corner to steady himself, and I swung around in front of him, dropped one foot back to steady myself and took him by the belt line above his hips. "Come on down, Jackson, take a step. Good. Step. Step. Doin' fine, take your time."
We got about halfway down or a little better and his foot slipped.
Jackson Cooper started to fall, forward, like a cut down oak tree, and I put my shoulder into his belly and grabbed him around the back of the legs and it put me down on one knee on those hard wood stairs and my thoughts when my shin bone hit that wood were less than Christian in nature, but we didn't go down, and we went down one step at a time, three steps all told, and I was on the floor with Jackson Cooper dead weight on my shoulder and I was quivering in every muscle.
"Emma," I said as levelly as I could, "could you get the door, and the outhouse door too, please?"
Emma was off like a shot and I was considerably slower, and I dreaded the two steps out the back door, but lucky enough they were solid stone and well set, broad and deep and not terribly high, and Emma pulled Jackson's night shirt up some and I got him stood in the outhouse, and he set down right where he ought.
It would be neither gentlemanly, nor would it be in good taste, for me to describe the relief on the man's face in that moment.
A week later Jackson Cooper bought me a beer and we took our foamy steins over to my favorite corner table and he thanked me quietly for my kindness in that moment, for he'd been so afraid of causing poor Emma more work than she already had.

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Mr. Box 10-20-07

 

The fire brigade was in again and after a few, one of them came to me on the side and I passed him the good that I had procured so far. "The other items should be in on the next order at the merchantile. That might be another couple of weeks."
He noded and gave me some money. "That should cover things."
I noded and served up their drinks.

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Linn Keller 10-22-07

 

The knock on her open door was followed by a large man in a well-fitted suit. His townie hat in hand, he smiled as Esther stood and smiled in return.
"Mrs. Keller?" he asked.
"Not yet," she said, "but soon. I'm Esther Wales, owner and president of the Z&W Railroad. You must be Mr. Markinson."
"Yes, ma'am. You received my message?"
"I did, sir, and the railroad will be happy to assist in any way we can."
"Thank you, ma'am, but the family Rosenthal have seen to payment for your services."
"I beg your pardon?"
"May I sit down? -- thank you -- I believe you know the Rosenthals, ma'am?"
"I do," Esther said quietly. "I didn't know they were behind this enterprise."
"Yes, ma'am. Their instructions were quite clear. They recommended you lead the steering committee, Dr. Greenlees is to establish the particulars, the location and the size of the new hospital. We will supply the stone, cut from the native strata, and the stoneworkers to erect your new hospital."
Esther maintained her composure, though she felt a flood of mixed emotions; leading the flood was a wave of surprise, followed by delight, more surprise, puzzlement and surprise.
She smiled quietly.
"When do we begin?" she asked.
"We already have," Mr. Markinson declared, rubbing his palms together briskly. "We are quarrying stone, cutting it into ashlars, and stockpiling them near the first rail siding. It will be simplicity itself to load them on flatcars and have your passenger train freight them here into town, onto the Firelands siding, where we will off-load them and transport them to your construction." He chuckled. "We're ready to begin construction on the crane and receiving platform at your command."
"A hospital." She looked up at the mine executive and smiled. "A hospital, here."
"Yes, ma'am."
"I should have an answer within twenty-four hours, Mr. Markinson," she said briskly.
"May I call on you tomorrow evening, then?" He stood, holding his hat in both hands.
"You may, sir."
He gave Esther a half-bow. "I thank you for your time, dear lady," he murmured, and turned to leave.
Esther listened to his departing footsteps on the polished wooden hallway, then she reached for her shawl.
She needed to speak to Mr. Moulton, and to Dr. Greenlees, preferably together.
A hospital! she thought. How wonderful!

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Linn Keller 10-22-07

 

A man wants to leave something of himself, I suppose, something that will last after he's gone.
May be why I'm writing these words.
I've kept a journal since leaving home, when I went off to war, hoping I could ...
could what?
Read it to my sons?
Let them read it?
Maybe I thought even then, before I'd seen what war was, that I would need it to help me remember, to help Connie understand what I'd done while I was away.
Maybe that's why I write these words now.
Jacob is my son. He is not of my flesh, nor of my loins, but by God! he is every bit the son I never had! I am proud of him, and I have told him so, a number of times.
Words are cheap but necessary. I have shown him of my pride, but a boy needs to hear it, and I have said it.
I heard it once, and only once, shortly before my own father died, and though I was eight-and-thirty years old before the Grand Old Man said as much, it was worth that lifetime's wait to hear the words.
I write these words, now, tonight, with the help of a bees wax candle. It smells like honey, its light is gentle.
Jacob, my son, you will no doubt read these words. I know not if subsequent generations will read them as well; if they do, well, here I am, and you may judge for yourselves whether I stood for good or for ill.
Esther is managing the railroad and doing a fine job of it. She is turning more of a profit than it's ever shown, partly because she fired that crooked book keeper that was bleeding it, partly because she has the absolute loyalty of everyone working for her. She inspires a confidence, and an instant liking, among them all.
The railroad is receiving more business from the mines; they wish to build a second track, and give it to Esther's railroad, if she will but run it as well as she runs her railroad now. She has agreed, though confides in me that it will test her skills.
Now I find that Bonnie, bless her, and the family Rosenthal have gifted us with a new hospital. I knew the Rosenthal family was financially well-backed; Bonnie, of course, has a fortune, though she has never been ostentatious with it -- she's had enough hell in her life, I suppose, she prefers to keep a modest appearance, and not attract attention.
A hospital. I suppose Sarah's recent illness had somethng to do with that.
I am honestly surprised. I would not have been surprised if she'd knocked the dust of this place from her sandals, and turned her back, and never given us another thought. Instead she gives us this wonderful gift.
I will confide this to these mute pages, and pray you, gentle reader, never to divulge them, until well after my death, for I would not hurt Esther's feelings for the world itself:
Had I never met Esther, I would surely have paid court to Bonnie, and would have married her with a glad heart, had she no more to her name than a single chemise.
I loved her.
I can never say as much, not to her and never to Esther. I love Duzy like a daughter, or a favorite niece, but Bonnie I could have made my wife, and been very proud.
Do I regret pledging myself to Esther?
Most certainly not!
It will be my signal honor to become her husband, and the sooner that happens, the happier I will be!
Will I look back and regret I married her instead of Bonnie?
No.
Bonnie has the right man.
I have the right woman.
In these facts I am content.


The Sheriff waited until the ink was dried, then he closed his journal, and placed it in the right hand corner of his desk, atop the larger journal he maintained as an official record of his office.
He pinched out the candle, and, locking the door behind him, walked over to the Silver Jewel.
It was time for supper, and for bed.

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Linn Keller 10-24-07

 

"Time was, we'd just bury him where we found him and sent his watch back to his folks."
I nodded. "I understand, Mr. Stevens. It's good of you to have me come out."
"He earned a small herd, and a remuda of pretty good cow ponies. We had a handshake agreement that he should graze the stock on my land, and come fall the yearling calves would be cut out and branded and run in with my stock. But now ..." Stevens shook his head, genuinely sorry at the situation.
The young man in question had been thrown from his horse and gored by a mossy back bull. Near as we could tell he died almost instantly. If there was a mercy here, that was it.
The rancher handed me an envelope. "Here's the last mail he received. He left it in the chuck wagon, said it was the only dry place he could think of to keep it."
I examined the envelope, opened it; a letter, in a feminine hand, and lucky enough, the sender's name and address.
"'Annette Messman,'" I read aloud. "Denver. I'll send a telegram with the particulars."
Stevens nodded. "Sheriff, if this Annette doesn't want the stock I'd be willing to pay her a fair price for them." He named a sum and I nodded; it was a fair, even a generous sum. "Matter of fact I'd be willing to give you the money and you could send it to her, or have her come and claim it. I don't know how they handle these things nowadays."
I nodded. "I could have it sent, I reckon. I'll inquire when I send the telegram." I nodded at the wrapped figure in the stained blanket. "You want me to take him back for burial?"
Stevens shook his head. "No need. I've plenty of space out here. He was a good man and I'd be pleased to bury him in our cemetery." He smiled sadly. "Wish we didn't have to start one, but when my wife and children died ..." His words trailed off.
I nodded. I, too, had lost my wife and child, back East, and left them to sleep forever in the black soil of a Northern Ohio churchyard.
We rode back to his ranch house, a modest but sizeable structure, one story and well made of logs and shakes; he counted out the gold, wrapped it in a linen napkin and put it in the dead man's saddlebag, which also contained his revolver, his watch and his Bible.
I handed the saddlebags to Jacob, who hung them over his left shoulder. He hadn't said a word since we got there.
We shook hands, and took our leave; he kindly invited us to supper, but it was getting dark, and I wanted to be back in town, as there was to be discussion on building the new hospital.
Jacob spoke up maybe halfway home. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, the Jewel is going to look fine once its facing is replaced."
I smiled. Esther, bless her, had declared the Jewel's rather plain exterior to be unsuited for the finest hotel in that part of Colorado. She'd arranged for proper siding and trim, and as the old was pulled off the new went up. The main street echoed with saw and hammer and smelled of fresh paint and sawdust.
"Yes, Jacob, it will."
"Miz Esther said she wanted it looking proper before the wedding."
"She did?"
"She did, sir."
I smiled all the way back to town.

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Linn Keller 10-24-07

 

The meeting was held in the main room of the Silver Jewel. Tilly and the girls were helping out with the kitchen and the serving; Sean, bless him, had persuaded Daisy that if she could not stop working, at least let the others help out, and Daisy was slowly changing from the solo performer to the efficient administrator. Quick with a smile and a laugh, she was equally quick to jump up and stir, or taste, or give a word of approval or encouragement. I don't believe I ever heard her utter a harsh or a sharp word when she was running her kitchen, and the girls responded well to her style of leadership.
The planning session for the new hospital was run by Attorney Moulton. His map-making skills were most useful for this task, as he had drawn up a diagram, to scale, of the town and how the land lay; the railroad, the proposed new rail line, and planned expansion as we knew it.
The mine's owner was there, slouched in his chair with a significant portion of his meal distributed more or less evenly over his bulging belly; he was happily working on what at one time was a cigar, though it was so badly chewed up that I wasn't sure if his cigar was about drowned out, or his chaw was afire. The dimensions were discussed and noted, and the stonecutters went into conference, calculating the volume of stone that would be necessary; they adjourned to go look at the site, which Mr. Moulton had generously surveyed and staked ahead of time.
Moulton was back soon after. "Sheriff?" he asked. "Might I trouble you for some of your time?"
Tilly brought out coffee and pie and her smile as well, and it did not escape my attention that Mr. Moulton was a little off his feed when she was around. Not distressed, exactly ... I surmised which way the wind was about to blow, but said nothing.
Tilly, I think, had divined the situation as well. She looked at Moulton, and at me, and winked just before she returned to the kitchen.
"Sheriff," Moulton said nervously, "you are looking at a fool."
"Oh?"
"No! No, not a fool." He rubbed his face nervously, stabbed at his pie, put his fork down. "Not a fool. A damned fool!" He fidgeted in his chair and I wondered for a moment whether he was going to jump up and run around the table waving his arms.
"You have my full attention," I said gently. "Please speak your mind."
"This is most difficult," he muttered. "I am not in the habit of airing my personal feelings."
"An attorney must often contain what he feels," I agreed. "However, you are not an attorney every hour of the day. Perhaps Michael Moulton, the man, should speak."
He looked at me sharply, then looked away, and back again.
"Yes. You're right." He took a deep breath. "Plainly, then: I have been a damned fool!"
"We have established this. Move on."
"I wasted my time, Sheriff. I was mooning after ... someone I could never have, apparently. Well, she's gone, and I am very happy she has found the man she's long wanted. Perhaps that was the blow I needed to open my eyes."
I smiled, a little, and asked, "Tilly?"
Michael Moulton started in his seat, genuinely surprised. "You knew?"
I nodded.
He sagged. "I was that obvious?" he asked in a disappointed tone.
"Not obvious, no ... until just a minute ago, when Tilly came out and stood close enough for you to feel the warmth of her arm."
He colored furiously, nodded vigorously, pursed his lips.
"Sheriff, I am ... I have a good reputation as a competent trial lawyer."
"Yes, you have. I remember being quite impressed watching you try your first case here."
He rubbed his hands, looked around. "Sheriff, I know what to say as prosecution or as defense. I can sway a jury, I can persuade a judge, I have given speeches before the Legislature that got bills passed ... but I don't know what to say to Tilly!"
"What do you feel towards her?"
"Oh my God, Sheriff!" He shook his head. "I am realizing what a treasure she is. First off, she is beautiful."
Tilly was approaching, quietly. We made eye contact.
I let her approach.
"She is steady in crisis, she is reliable and honest, she has always conducted herself honorably for all the days I have known her. She runs this hotel like a fine watch, she can turn an unhappy client into a happy one with three words or less -- I've seen her do it! -- she can comfort a scared child or a distressed maid ..." He took another breath. "Sheriff, I love the woman! That's what I feel!"
I nodded, steepled my fingers. Tilly was right behind him, listening.
"If Tilly were here -- let's say she were listening to you right now -- what would you say to her?"
Michael Moulton squared his shoulders and straightened his back. He threw his head erect and said quietly but firmly, "I would tell her she is the dearest thing I know. I would tell her she has my respect and my admiration, and I would tell her that I have fallen for her, and fallen as hard as a man can fall!"
Tilly's expression had gone from almost mischevious as she was approaching, to honest surprise, to the stricken expression of a woman who realizes that a man honestly finds her attractive ... and from the severity of her expression, I gathered she'd felt something towards him. Her eyes were starting to sparkle with that brightness that precedes a cascade, and her hand was uncecided whether to light on her bosom or on her mouth.
"Is there anything else you would like to say to her?" I asked gently.
Michael Moulton nodded. "I would, Sheriff, but she has no father to ask, nor family of whom I may inquire, for I would ask if I might have permission to court that fine woman, with intent to pursue matrimony."
I nodded.
Tilly looked like she was ready to bust, or to pass out.
"On behalf of family not here," I said, "you have my permission to pay court to Tilly, and you have my blessing in the pursuit of her hand."
"Thank you, Sheriff," he said, relief washing over him like a Niagara.
He stood, and turned.
I have never in my entire life heard a more distinct, a more complete, a more ... well, dead silence is the only phrase that fits.
Michael Moulton sank to one knee, and extended his hand, and Tilly took it.
He kissed her knuckles.
"Tilly, will you marry me?"

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Linn Keller 10-24-07

 

Esther's spectacles were most of the way down her nose, and her finger was most of the way down the column of numbers; she had been going over the books, and, pleased, placed her pencil in the open ledger.
I knocked on the partly-open door.
She turned and smiled, that smile I love so well, and her emerald eyes shone over her silver-wire frames.
"Good evening, Mrs. Keller," I said. "You're working late."
Esther stood, removing her spectacles and slipping them in their case.
"In the first place, Mr. Keller, it's impolite to catch a lady wearing her spectacles," she said, coming toward me, "and second..."
Her arms went around my neck, and mine around her waist, and conversation was suspended for a few delightful moments, as our lips were otherwise occupied.
I hugged her a little more firmly and picked her up, just a little, and gave her just a little bit of a shake. There were a few muted pops and Esther gasped, then sighed.
"You always know just what I need," she murmured. "Thank you."
"You said, 'In the first place,' I reminded, my arms still around her. "Is there a second place?"
"Yes, Mr. Keller, there is." Her hands came up and caressed my ears. "I like the sound of 'Mrs. Keller'."
"I thought you might."
"I think we should talk to Parson Belden."
My heart leaped.
"That is," she said with that mischievous glint in her eye, "if you haven't changed your mind ...?"
I captured her hand and kissed it, knuckles, then her palm, drawing my lips across the sensitive surface.
Esther's eyes closed and she shivered.
"The Parson may be busy," I murmured, tickling her with my mustache.
Esther giggled, pulled her hand away. "And why, Mr. Keller, would the good Parson be busy?"
"Oh," I said, resting my hands on her hips, "he may have other weddings scheduled."
"Really? Whose?"
Her eyes widened as my eyes crinkled up at the corners. Her mouth went round with surprise and delight and her hand went to her lips. "No!"
I nodded.
"Oh, my dear, that's wonderful! When does he plan to propose?"
"He just did, not five minutes ago."
"Five minutes --" Surprise and puzzlement warred for posession of her face, but Curiosity out-flanked them, and she pulled me over to a chair, and drew one up of her own. "Tell me!" she demanded, leaning toward me.
There was a tap on the door.
"Miz Esther?" Tilly was bouncing on her toes, ready to explode with the news.

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Mr. Box 10-24-07

 

This place is springing forth with so much romance! I couldn't hardly contain myself when Sheriff Keller was leading Mr Moulton down the garden path with his little cupcake standing right behind him. He must have sensed that she was there, because he didn't even fade back when he turned and saw her.
I need to find out how to order more champagne. I hope I can figure out how Miss Duzy found that. At least we'll know how to oopen it this time.

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Lady Leigh 10-25-07

 

Esther was seated at the chair behind her desk with a loving smile which ran across her face as she held the envelope in her hand. She reached across the desk and picked up the letter opener, inserted the tip and ran it across the length of the envelope. Gentle, she pulled the parchement from inside, a photograph fell from the folds. Setting the envelope aside, Esther opened the letter, dated a week earlier.

"My Dear Esther," it began, "It is with my sincere prayer that you, Linn, and Duzy are well.

Caleb, Sarah and I are doing extremely well. Note the photograph enclosed. Caleb and I decided we could wait no longer, and we married shortly after arriving in Chicago. I saw no sense in wearing a wedding gown, and chose instead to wear a rust silk gown that matched the fall colors that are so very abundant here in Illinois.

It was a small ceremony with the entire Rosenthal family and a few close friends of Abram and Miriam. My sister in law, Hannah stood with me, and David stood with Caleb, and of course, Sarah was right in between ... literally, I might add! I carried lillys from Miraiams hot house, and Sarah held fall colored mums. The church was filled with color, Esther! Every fall color one could imagin was present, and it was a sight to behold! But the most precious sight in front of me was the one waiting at the front of the church, Esther. The sight of Caleb literally made my heart spring from within me. I could hardly contain the tears that threatened to fall.

At the end of the ceremony, the Rosenthals served the most wonderful Wedding breakfast. Then Levi delivered us to a beautiful hotel ... the rest of that afternoon and night I will keep to myself, if you don't mind! Laugh if you will, Esther! But the smile on my face has not vanished for a moment!

Note the address on the envelope, too, please. We are now establishing ourselves in St. Charles. We bought a beautiful home that sits on top of a hill and overlooks the beautiful town. The house has some history to it. Once owned by a Political man, who even had the honor of having President Lincoln visit. I laughed when I heard that Mary Todd Lincoln had a seance in this house in hopes of contacting her beloved husband. I understand she traveled to many of the places Mr. Lincoln stayed in hopes of talking to him from the other side. Actually, Esther, I shouldn't laugh, should I? Perhaps I would do the same thing ...

Sarah and Twain Dawg are well ... ever the handfull, but that is to be espected, afterall! She attendes public school here. I don't have the heart to pull her away from other children, even though many think we should hire a Governess. How aweful that sounds! SHe is so very smart, and her studies are coming along famously. The other children seem to adore her, especially when she regals them with stories of the ever brave Sheriff Keller. Now all of the boys want to grow up, move west and become Sheriff's!

Well, I must close this letter for now, my dear friend.

Please write when the time can be spent in doing so.

From your loving extended family,

Bonnie, Caleb and Sarah

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Linn Keller 10-26-07

 

I smiled when I saw the envelope.
I grinned when Esther handed me the picture.
I laughed when I read the letter, and I read it again, a little more slowly, and a third time, savoring the words.
Bonnie writes in such a lovely hand, I thought, and she writes just the way she speaks.
I handed Esther back the letter, and she carefully re-folded it and returned it to the envelope.
I looked long at the picture.
Esther looked at me with those wise and shining eyes. "Well, Mr. Keller?" she asked. "I know you're thinking it, you may as well say it."
I handed her the picture. "You know me too well, my dear!"
"Wives often do," she smiled.
My wife, I thought. Soon, my love, soon ...
"I was thinking how difficult it must have been for them to keep a straight face for the photograph!"
Esther laughed, a delightful sound: "I wondered the same myself!"
"I miss them, dearest."
"I know. I do too." She looked out the window at the mountains, purple in the distance. "I expect Sarah's little feet to come running down the hall at any moment, or Twain Dawg's clumsy gallop, or Caleb's steady tread." She cocked her head and looked at me, her expression softening. "Steady. I think that word describes him well."
"I would have to agree," I said slowly, turning my hat around and around and around in my hands. "He's a good man. I'm glad they're married." I smiled. "Even if we do miss them!"
"There's always summer vacation," Esther said reassuringly, patting my hand and giving me a sad look. "They can send Sarah out on the train, and she can stay with us, and grow tall and strong in the good clean air."
I shook my head. "Chicago!" I remembered what the city was like when I came through there so many years before. "I know they're not in the city, but ... Esther, I would be lost if I left here."
"No you wouldn't," Esther said reassuringly. "You are one of the most capable men I know of. Capable, and resourceful. You'd manage."
"Oh, I suppose I would, but I wouldn't have to like it!"
We laughed together on that one.
I sighed. "Have we heard from Duzy?"
"No, not for some time." She frowned, her hand warm on mine. "I've been dreaming about her again ... not good dreams, either ..." She shook her head, dismissing the thought. "Just the fears of a foolish old woman."
"Old?" I cocked and eye at her. "You are nowhere near old! As far as foolish, you're one of the wisest women I know!"
"One of the wisest?" Her expression was one of impish mischief.
"Yes, one of the wisest," I repeated with my best innocent expression. "You must understand I knew one of the wisest women in the world."
"Oh, really, Mr. Keller, and who would that be?" she asked, fluttering her eyelashes at me.
I laughed out loud at her expression. "Why, my mother, of course!"
Laughter has ever been a frequent visitor under our roof, and it stayed long that night, as we made plans and discussed progress on our house, and how the Daine boys were not only master distillers, but master carpenters; stonecutters from the mine were not only laying a foundation for the hospital, they had dug out and laid up the foundation for our house, its first floor mostly dug into the hillside, closely fitted, well mortared, sealed against ground water, and the space around the foundation filled in with gravel, to allow any runoff to run right through and have no chance to pool around the basement walls.
Esther was pleased with my report. She hadn't been out to the site since construction began.
I hoped to have the house finished, and furnished, in time to carry my bride across our own threshold.

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Duzy Wales 10-27-07

 

The steady chug of the engine, as Jake Thomas and the Wales family neared Firelands, lulled Duzy to sleep. She could see they were getting near, and yet everything looked different. Duzy looked in amazement at a machine that was flying overhead like a bird, covered metal buggies that were powered by gas, larger buildings, women in short outfits that came just to their knees, worn with slender heeled shoes that made Duzy wonder how they could walk in them at all, much less with such confidence! Duzy awoke momentarily, looking outside the windows of the train at the familiar terrain and then dosed again.

Firelands, Duzy thought, as the train came to a jolt, awaking Duzy, Jake and other passengers who had been napping. Jake had kept his word by having the group depart the train in Saint Louis, until after the eve of the full moon, Duzy and her Mama had spend days shopping for Duzy’s trousseau, except for her wedding dress, which she wished to be designed and made by Bonnie.

Thankfully, no train robbery had occurred, and Duzy felt embarrassed that Jake had extra men aboard because of her dream. Duzy was beginning to think she had imagined the apparition in the hallway and seeing her Grandpa, chalking it all up to the grief she had felt at the time. Lately her dreams had been mostly happy ones, all dreams of the future of Firelands and the people she loved. One had been of herself owning her own newspaper office!

She smiled as she told Jake of the dream she had been having just before the train stopped, Daisy was with child and would have a beautiful baby boy to Sean’s and Daisy’s delight. She jokingly told Jake that she hoped this dream would be true and declared to not take her dreams so seriously in the future, as who could or would ever believe in a flying machine such as she had seen?

Duzy was as excited as a child to be back to her new home and could hardly wait to see Aunt Esther and Uncle Linn; yes Duzy already thought of Linn as family and was looking forward to their reunion. She wondered about Bonnie, Sarah and Caleb, Emma and Jackson, and all her other friends. She thought of Mr. Baxter, smiling as she thought of him polishing the bar at this time of day, and how good it would be to see everyone again and to have a shot or two of tequila or the Daine boy’s moonshine, as they caught up on all the news.

And then Duzy noticed Jake looking out of the windows, and then speaking to her Papa, a worried look on his handsome face, the man she loved dearly, who had won her heart, body and soul for as long as they both would live, and she became very concerned!

All these thoughts had come in mere moments, but suddenly it dawned on Duzy that something was terribly wrong. Jake stood and started to move around her just as Duzy looked up to see four men boarding the car; as theirs was the first of three that had traveled this far. One man grabbed the elderly woman of Duzy’s dream, holding a gun to her head as others were barking orders for the passengers to put all their valuables inside and ordering Jake to sit back down. The dream played out in front of her, with one man jerking the locket off the woman’s neck as she pleaded with him that it was all she had left of her dear husband, who had died in the Civil War. And then Jake’s statement, “act as if you do not know me,” as the man recognized Jake as being the federal agent who had sent him to prison.

Duzy could hear the words going over and over in her mind, “neither you nor I can change destiny.” Everything seemed to be in slow motion as the man leveled his gun at Jake. Duzy thought, “Maybe it isn’t meant to be, after all and I have to try, as God help me, I cannot lose him!” Duzy leaned forward, her right hand in her pocket, as she held out her left hand, showing her diamond engagement ring to the sneering outlaw with rotted teeth and the smell of a man who had been on the trail for days without a bath. The sparkle of the diamond caught his eye for just enough time for Duzy to bring her right hand up, and without removing her new "pepper box" derringer from her pocket, Duzy shot through her skirt, as the man clutched his chest, with shock and surprise on his face as he looked at her. Only havoc could describe the following scene as different guns started blazing; Jake’s and her Papa’s being two that Duzy could see that had swung into action before she felt herself being propelled backward and everything went dark.

Duzy tried to open her eyes and could barely hear Jake’s voice saying, “We are not far from Firelands and Doctor Greenlees, please hurry!” Duzy could hear her Mama calling her name and felt her stroking her face, and then heard her Papa’s voice as he told Mama he was tearing her petticoat to hold against the wound to try to stop the bleeding. Duzy’s last thought was how thankful she was that they had survived, as first she felt the darkness surround her, and then a beautiful white light appeared, beckoning her with a feeling of peace and serenity, as she felt herself moving toward the light.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

The fight was brief and deadly.
The engineer powered up from the floor of his cab with a wrench in hand, swinging it in a tight arc, catching the left-hand outlaw just at the base of the skull. His fireman thrust with the coal shovel, catching the second outlaw in the front of the neck, its work-sharpened bit slicing halfway through the man's neck.
The first one dropped like a pole-axed steer; the second dropped his revolver and clutched at his spurting throat.
Both were thrown from the cab.
"Hear that?" the fireman whispered.
A flurry of gunshots from behind them.
The engineer leaned out the cab window, looked rearward, then to the front. "Simms, I don't think that barricade amounts to much, I'm going to ram right through it!"
"You think that's wise?"
"Is it wise to stay?"
Simms turned and thrust his shovel into the cascade of coal in the nearly-full tender. With the ease of long practice he turned, stomped the air valve, the butterfly doors banged open on the boiler and he shot a shovelful of coal forward and to the right of the firebox. The shovel sang as the coal flew into the sulfurous inferno.
The engineer tapped the steam gauge. "Almost ready," he declared.
There was the sound of running feet. "Bill! Bill, you hurt?"
The engineer leaned out and yelled at the panicked conductor, "What in the name of seven saints is going on back there?"
"Four dead, two injured, one bad."
"Run on ahead and see if that mess on the tracks amounts to anything!"
The conductor, fueled on panic and adrenalin, sprinted the two hundred yards up the tracks, and gave the debris on the tracks a fast assessment. He seized the end of a timber, scooted it a little to the side, rolled a rock out of the way half the size of a bushel basket, managed to wallow it over the track.
He waved.
The engineer hauled down on the lanyard, blasting a cloud of steam through the Lady Esther's brass throat, screaming defiance to the cloudless blue sky. He opened the sanders and leaned into the Johnson bar.
"Come on, girl," he whispered. "Show me what you've got!"
The cast-iron butterfly doors went BANG and the shovel sang happily as another load of bituminous fuel arced into Lady Esther's smoky-red heart and the fireman set up a regular rhythm, BANG turn scut! BANG turn FRANG!, BANG turn scut! BANG turn FRANG!
The Lady Esther put her shoulder into her task, and the Baldwin locomotive took a deep breath and began a rhythmic, slow cadence, thrusting powerfully against the iron rails, building up speed as she went.
The conductor grabbed an armful of passenger car on its way by.
"Come on, girl," the engineer whispered. "If ever I needed you, it's now!"
They had little momentum in a hundred yards but when they hit the hastily assembled barrier, the Lady Esther shoved through it, the cow catcher displacing most of the debris.
"She's hungry, Sims!" Bill yelled. "Feed her some bacon!"
Sims turned and went back to the tender, brought back a paper-wrapped package. He stomped the air valve and the Lady Esther opened her cast iron jaws and he tossed the whole side of bacon into the firebox.
"Here you go, girl!" he yelled.
The bacon, fired with a brisk draft and good black coal, caught fire and roared through the Lady Esther's soul. She fairly roared with the intensity of the grease fire and her exhaust was momentarily black as a sinner's heart.
"Come on, girl!" the engineer yelled. "Come on, my lady!"

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