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Linn Keller 11-3-07


Esther smiled as she heard a familiar pounding of running boots on the stairs. Lee looked toward the door, puzzlement on his brows, just before there was a quick double knock and the door opened.
Linn was somewhere between a broad grin and outright laughter but he waited for his wind to catch up with him. "She squeezed my hand and she said 'Mama' when Mildred came in the room," he announced, leaning hipshot against the door, spinning his hat happily in his hand.
Lee looked from Esther to Linn and back, his grin broadening steadily, and snatching Esther's hand, he patted it and said "I'll be back," and fairly leaped for the door.
Esther was still a bit pale, but she was warm to the touch. The Sheriff took her hand in his, brought it up and kissed it, his blue eyes sparkling. She felt the tremble in his grip.
"She squeezed your hand," Esther murmured. "That's wonderful! Did she say anything else?"
"She tried, Esther. She did try, but she's still terribly weak. The bandages have no sign of infection. Susan keeps checking for any fever, as does Dr. Flint, but they told me if there is no fever so far there likely won't be any."
"Fever? Infection from the wound?" Esther's brows knitted with concern.
"That, but they are especially looking for problems from the blood."
Esther nodded. "Dr. Flint has been in several times to see me. He was so worried about me, the poor dear! He said he was so concerned with Duzy that he didn't realize he was draining me as much as he did!" She was a bit more pale now, and her grip not as strong. "He told me to drink as much of whatever I wanted, but especially good soup with meat." She closed her emerald eyes, suddenly tired. "The girls have been so wonderful, Linn. They've taken such good care of ..."
Esther's head turned a little, just a little, and her hand relaxed, but her breathing was regular, and the Sheriff sat there holding her hand until one of the girls knocked, and came in with a tray of steaming soup, and some good fresh bread, and the Sheriff took his leave.
As much as he would love to have stayed with his wife-to-be, he was the Sheriff, and there were duties to be tended.

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Mr. Box 11-3-07


The doors would burst open and people sail up and down the stairs like a public convenience! You could tell by rythm of the footsteps that they were carrying good news. Especially since they were getting more often. Esther hadn't been down yet but she was being looked in on regularly. The ladies were getting back to their regular routine.

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Linn Keller 11-3-07


Business was steady and picking up here in the Jewel, I thought as I kicked the dirt off my boots before stepping up onto the boardwalk. The mines were bringing us a steady income -- miners had a regular paycheck, and this far from home they would pay a premium for a drink and a dance and hopefully a bath; Jacob was kept busy splitting wood and heating water.
He'd talked about building a shed around the wash boiler so he would be out of the weather, and I thought that not a bad idea at all. He also mentioned setting a hand pump on the well out back and running water through the boiler and then to the second floor of the Jewel, so he could pump water at a steady pace through the heated wash boiler, and it would be warm when it arrived upstairs. We had some surplus funds to work with so I put him busy measuring and figuring.
It was delightful to see him putting his schoolroom learnin' to practical use.
It was also amazing to see how he'd grown.
Seems like boys grow in fits and starts. When he'd first arrived he seemed quite a bit younger. Hard and steady work -- mostly work at which he drove himself -- and he wasn't muscled up like them weight lifter fellas in the circus; rather, he stayed skinny, and rangy, kind of like the Daine boys: deceptively smooth-muscled, I doubted me not he would be a formidable wrestler.
I'd taught him several tricks to lifting, others he'd picked up from Jackson Cooper, and elsewhere he went; I taught him some boxing and he proved fast and vigorous. Fact is he gave me a run for my money until I backed away with palms out, laughing to hide the hurts he'd caused my ribs. He didn't get my face but it wasn't for want of trying!
For all that he was still considerate and kindly and very much a gentleman.
He'd laid out the dimensions of the shed he had in mind, and scratched its outline in the dirt. The Jewel owned a sizeable piece of the ground out back so there was no worry about property lines.
I suggested he double its size. Something told me that the Jewel was going to grow and she'd need more hot water, and if his idea worked out,a bigger and more efficient boiler might be in order, and for that he wanted room enough to work, and to walk clear around it.
I left him to his calculations and went inside, then came back out.
"Jacob," I asked, "have you eaten yet?"
"No, sir," he admitted, "I've not."
"Come on in, then, and let's tend that detail. The sides of my stomach are sandpaperin' together I'm so empty!"
"Yes, sir!" he grinned, and came bouncing up the back steps with the light tread of a tall boy.

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Linn Keller 11-4-07


Emma Cooper smiled at the knock, and Jackson stood up from the supper table and strode to the door.
The Sheriff was there with his hat in his hand and a grin on his face.
"Come on in," Jackson said, standing aside and gesturing. "Got plenty if you'd like supper."
"Long as you have plenty," the Sheriff said, appreciating the good smells from the kitchen. "Don't want to run you short."
"Oh, do come in, Sheriff," Emma stood, extending both hands in greeting. "How is Esther?"
He squeezed her hands. "She's recovering her strength, Emma."
"And Duzy?"
The Sheriff grinned broad as a Texas sunset. "I believe she's going to make it!"
Emma closed her eyes and clasped her hands, raising them to her bowed head. "I was so worried," she whispered, then she opened her eyes and clapped her hands briskly, once. "Supper's hot! Please, Sheriff, sit down!"
The Sheriff drew out a chair and was soon appreciating Emma's skills as a cook. Emma was delighted; like any woman of her time, she placed great store on her ability to please men with her food, and the two men at her table were expressing their mutual pleasure, and with a good appetite!
When finally appetites were sated and more coffee poured, conversation returned.
The Sheriff leaned back and rubbed his front. "My tummy is smiling," he murmured, and they laughed.
"Have you come to steal my husband, Sheriff?" Emma said, violet eyes dancing over her interlaced fingers.
"Not just yet, but I did come to prevail upon him. And you as well, if you are so inclined."
"Oh?" Emma cocked her head a little to the side, curious.
"We have a librarian in town, but no library. I've spoken with the mine bosses and they tell me the same thing: until they get into full production, their skilled stonecutters are at loose ends. Rather than limit them to building a hospital only, they've agreed to build us a library as well."
"Why, that's wonderful!" Emma declared, then frowned. "You have a librarian?"
"Miss Messman is recently graduated from East High School in Denver, and has experience as a librarian; she's well thought of back in Denver, and comes very well recommended. I see no sense in wasting good talent when it arrives unexpectedly."
"How did she arrive?" Jackson asked, buttering another thick slice of bread.
"Her brother was killed little over a week ago. She came to collect his effects and decided to stay."
Emma tapped her palm lightly on the smooth tablecloth and declared, "Then let's do it! A library! How delightful!"
"Here's where I need you help." I turned to Emma. "You'll know what books would be useful for the school, for children to turn to for their lessons or for whatever schoolkids would do in a library. Jackson." He turned to his friend and steepled his fingers. "You are a man of remarkable depth. I would ask you for a recommendation of books you'd like to see there."
"Can do," Jackson nodded.
"There's one other thing."
"What's that?" Emma and Jackson asked together, then laughed.
The Sheriff laughed with them, then looked down at the red-and-white checkered tablecloth. "I'm going to set a date to marry Esther. She has kinfolk in town, Duzy is healing up, I'll ask Doc how long he thinks it will be before he thinks Duzy will be able to stand for five minutes at a time. I'll cut his estimate in half, for I know how hard headed and contrary that woman can be" -- here they all laughed again -- "well, maybe not, but it sounds good when you say it fast!"
"I think that's wonderful!" Emma said, her smile emphasized by her apple-cheeked complexion.
"Jackson, I would be honored if you would stand with me for the event."
Jackson stuck out his big callused hand.
"It would be my honor," he said simply, and they shook.

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Mr. Box 11-6-07


"Good mornin' Nelly. Feel like dragging that old buckboard around for a while?"
Shorty came wandering out half awake, "Can I help you?"
"Didn't mean to wake you, Shorty, I thought I'd take Nelly out for a little excersize this morning."
"C'mon, Nelly. Let's get started. A quick trot out to the claim might be good for you."

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Duzy Wales 11-7-07


With the tender care of Doctor’s Greenlees and Flint, along with her family and friends, Duzy seemed to be getting stronger each day. Sometimes she would wake and speak, other times it seemed she was dreaming peacefully. Only twice did it seem she was having a bad dream…..today it was one of those dreams…..

Everyone was heartbroken. The weddings had been as beautiful as anyone could imagine. Aunt Esther stood with Duzy and Linn with Jackson Cooper by their side, and gave their vows with such love in their eyes that most everyone were dabbing their eyes, misty from happiness and joy for the couple. Duzy and Jake had been married by Parson Belding also, sometime later, with Mildred and Lee staying to attend both weddings. Esther was wearing her emerald green…..Duzy was wearing the dress designed by Bonnie and she, Sarah and Caleb had made the trip for the wedding. Months went by and Aunt Esther and Linn were celebrating a wonderful surprise, as Aunt Esther and Linn were having a baby! Someone came running for help….something was wrong….it was Aunt Esther and the baby…tears and rage ….something wrong…..no..no..no…and Duzy was startled awake…..

Aunt Esther and Mildred were both by Duzy’s side when she was awakened from her dream. “What is it Dear?” Duzy looked at her Mama and Aunt Esther and she couldn’t form the words that were there. She couldn’t tell her Aunt that she may lose her life by giving life to a baby that wasn’t even yet conceived. She may be wrong….she had to be…. Duzy closed her eyes and hoped with all her heart that it was the medications or that the signals were wrong and that dream would never be a reality.

Linn had been given the telegraph from Bonnie asking if anything was wrong, as she had felt uneasy. Linn had replied that Duzy had been shot, but was on the mend, and it looked as if she would live.

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Linn Keller 11-7-07


Daisy sat behind the counter, chin on her palm, elbow on the countertop, laughing at what must've been surprise on my face.
It wasn't just surprise.
Matter of fact, I felt kind of foolish.
"Daisy, I'm sorry," I said, "I'm used to seeing Tilly behind the counter..."
Daisy's eyes fairly danced with laughter, that dangerous Irish laugh that seduces men's souls and bewitches the unwary. It's no wonder Sean fell and fell hard for this lass, I thought: if she were so inclined, she could suborn any man!
"Don't worry, Sheriff," she smiled with a toss of her red mane, "you can call me anything but late for supper!"
I heard a familiar step behind me and smiled a little. "Then let me call Sean," I declared, "for he's the only man who can take you properly in hand!"
"But Sheriff!" Daisy said innocently, eyes round and utterly without guile (well, almost!) -- "he already took me in hand and look what happened to poor me!" She caressed her swelling belly and Sean and I laughed together.
I clapped a hand on his great shoulder. "Sean, you've a fine wife there," I declared solidly. "I believe being with child agrees with her!"
"Aye, that it does!" Sean boomed, striding behind the counter and carefuly squeezing her around the shoulder. "I'd pick ye up an' whirl ye about, lass, but there's no' enough room here!"
He kissed her soundly and she kissed him right back. I turned toward the dining room, smiling a little. Few things delight a man more than seeing a couple who truly love one another, and for all Sean's bluster and bravado, he was a kind and loving husband.
Tom Landers was just leaving the Jewel. He stopped and shook my hand. "I hear you're ready to set the date!" he smiled.
"I am that," I agreed. "It's time I got off my broad backside and got the job done!"
Daisy leaned across the counter, studying my hinder with exaggerated care. "Why, Sheriff," she called, "I think you have a cute backside!"
There was a sharp slap and a shriek and Sean laughed, "Daisy, me dear, ye'll confine your eyes to my magnificent manly backside or I'll swat your lovely backside again!"
"I'll watch whoever's backside I wish, ye great Irish oaf!" Daisy declared, and shrieked again, this time because Sean's fingers began dancing a fine jig up and down her ribs, revealing loudly with her hysterics that Daisy was quite ticklish.
Tom and I shook our heads, laughing, and walked into the dining room together. I, for one, was hungry, and I hadn't seen Tom for some time, and we had some catching up to do.

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Linn Keller 11-7-07


"No, Tom," I said as another coffee was set down between us, "it was a private little service. Tilly didn't want any fuss and neither did Mr. Moulton. Hell, I didn't even get to go! They quietly arranged it, quietly tied the knot, quietly got on the steam train and he left a quiet sign on his door, "Back in two weeks!"
Tom took a long pull on his beer. "Well," he said, wiping foam from his upper lip, "I suppose a couple can decide how they want to marry." He looked from the bubbling depths of his amber brew up at me and asked, "How do you figure to do it?"
I sliced off another chunk of back strap beef and chewed for a bit. "Well," I said, shifting the cud to the other side of my mouth, "first off I have to put on that nice clean suit, y'see." I swallowed, savoring the flavor: no idea who was working the kitchen, with Daisy taking over the front desk, but they sure made good beef!
"When you put on that nice clean suit, what then?"
"Wellsir, I have to put on a brand new collar. Has to be new. Can't be one of those celluloid collars that a man just wipes off and it looks clean, nosir, it's got to be brand new and stiff, so it rakes my neck raw after the first five minutes."
"Oh, hell, that don't sound worth it!" Tom sliced off some beef, frowning. "Don't do to rub a man's neck raw! That just ain't right!"
"Well, I was goin' to wear my wild rag, but Esther allowed as it would make a fine noose if I did, and I allowed as that-there neck tie she wants me to wear would make a fine noose too, and about then she hit me with a pillow and knocked me on my backside, and we ended up laughing in a pile on the floor!"
Tom stopped chewing and sat up straight. "Good Lord, Linn," he said, "what were you doin' to the poor woman!"
"Oh, hell, Tom, don't get excited, her honor is intact!" I laughed. "Kind of bruised my dignity when she knocked me on my backside, but hers is intact!"
"Knocked you on your butt," Tom Landers muttered, shaking his head and chewing on another slice of beef. He shook his fork at me. "I would have paid good money to have seen that!"
"Aye, and so would I!" Sean declared, clapping a heavy hand on my shoulder. "Sheriff, I've a favor to ask ye." He pulled up a chair and sat, leaning his elbows on the checkered table cloth.
"Well, if it's cheap, easy and reasonable, I reckon I'd consider it," I said, with a wink toward Tom.
Sean's voice lowered and took on a serious tone. "Sheriff, Daisy is great with child."
I looked over at her. She was looking at me and waved; I waved back. "That's kind of obvious, Sean," I said gently, taking another slice of beef.
Sean turned red -- not the fighting Irish red of a flaring temper, but the red of a man almost embarrassed to ask a favor.
"Sheriff, I would take it as a great honor if ye'd be me son's godfather."
It was my turn to set down my fork and sit up straight.
"Well, I'd be damned," I said softly.
"Never mind that," Tom said sharply, that ornery twinkle in his eye. "Will you do it or not?"
"HELL YES I'LL DO IT!" I roared.
Sean's great fist landed on the table and our silverware jumped half a foot off the tablecloth. "Drinks are on me! No Irish need apply! All hands on deck!" he declared, slapping my back in hearty good-fellowship and almost driving my nose into my mashed potatoes. He fairly leaped to his feet. "Daisy, me darlin', is anyone tendin' bar? This calls for a drink!"
"Ye great Irish oaf," Daisy said sweetly, "there's miners in town, poker games and the gamblin' wheel are doin' a land-office business, of course the bar is open! Do ye think we'll miss business like that? -- ohhh!"
Daisy bent over a little, one hand to her bulging middle and surprise and dismay on her face.
Sean's brogans fairly threw sparks as he came to a skidding stop. "Daisy?" he said with uncharacteristic gentleness.
Tom and I were on our feet, our meal forgotten.
"It's too early," Daisy squeaked. "Oh please God no, not now!"

Dr. Greenlees came out of his treatment room, drying his hands, lips pursed and brow furrowed.
"Doctor?" Sean asked.
Sean was a strong man, a man who has looked hell itself in the throat and laughed. Sean has fought bare-knuckle against the best there was and gave as good as he got. Sean had taken a knife in the guts in a street riot and proceeded to beat the liver and lights out of the fellow stupid enough to put steel into his Irish belly.
Sean, great Irish warrior that he was, stood beside me with a face the color of putty and hands that trembled with the ague.
Dr. Greenlees looked from one to the other of us. "Come with me," he said quietly, and opened the door to his private quarters.
He waved at a chair and the bunk. "Sit," he said.
We sat.
Dr. Greenlees pulled out a bottle and three glasses.
We watched, dumbfounded, as he poured three shots of clear amber liquid.
He handed one to Sean.
He handed one to me.
He took one himself.
"Doctor's orders," he said. "Drink!"
We drank.
Dr. Greenlees smiled. "Not over thirty days old," he murmured, "and not bad at all!"
"Doctor -- Daisy --" Sean's voice was pleading.
"Oh, she'll live," Doc said off-handedly.
"But the wee child!"
"False labor." Doc sat down abruptly and leaned toward us, elbows on his knees. "Every pregnant woman has 'em. The body is getting ready for the day when it will work harder than it has ever worked before, birthing new life into this cold, cruel world. You may expect this to happen. She's never had a child before, Sean, so let me tell you what to expect.
"A woman's first labor is her longest, her hardest and her most painful. She will say things that would make a teamster cover his ears. She will call you seven kinds of a vicious scoundrel for ever doing this terrible thing to her, and she will curse your ancestry clear back to Adam, and six or eight generations before that, and she'll do it in magnificent, marvelous, detailed language.
"She won't mean a word of it.
"Once that child is in her arms, the pain will be forgotten, the words will be gone, and she will fairly glow with new motherhood.
"In the meantime, my Irish friend, let me pour you one more dose of Dr. Greeenlees' patented nerve tonic and elixir, guaranteed to sooth stretched Irish nerves, improve the health, replace lost hair and cure old age."
After another three or four doses of Doc's elixir, Sean had calmed down sufficiently to go in and see his bride.
He insisted on carrying her home that night.
Daisy, curled up and safe in his great arms, did not mind a bit.

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Linn Keller 11-8-07


Dr. Greenlees opened the cupboard and returned the square bottle to its place. "I understand congratulations are in order," he said, closing the cupboard door with quiet precision.
I chuckled. "Word travels fast."
"Small towns have that advantage. Dr. Flint tells me she's a strong, healthy woman."
"She is that!" I agreed. "I worry about her, though. She works herself terribly hard, running the railroad and lending a hand in the running of the Jewel. Tom Landers does yeoman's work but Esther seems to be ... well, the grease that keeps the axles turning smoothly."
Dr. Greenlees smiled. "She is the most efficient and organized woman I have ever met. You have a great prize in that woman, Sheriff. Cherish her!"
"I do. And I shall continue," I said quietly, looking long into the past, remembering another woman I'd cherished.
"I know that look," Doc said after a time.
I looked up. "Long time ago, Doc."
"What was her name?"
"Connie Lee."
"Hurts, don't it?"
I nodded.
"Get used to it, Sheriff. The bad news is, it will hurt forever. The good news is, new love can overlay it." He smiled. "Susan and I are marrying tomorrow."
I looked up, my morose moment gone like fog before a wind. "Good heavens! That's wonderful! Tomorrow?"
He nodded. "First thing in the morning. We won't be going out of town on the steam train like Mr. and Mrs. Moulton did. Hospital is coming along more quickly than I'd expected, and we want to be there every moment it's being built. Say, would you know if there has been any move toward having municipal water service?"
I blinked. There had been some talk of it, I'd been told, but this was second hand from someone who heard about it from someone else who'd been at the town council meeting. I shook my head.
"Haven't heard a thing, Doc."
He frowned. "The building is almost shelled. Before it gets too far along I want to have it plumbed for running water. Clean hands are a physician's best friend -- and the best friend of the patient! I want to be able to wash my hands in any room in that entire stone structure!"
"Well, Doc," I said, standing, "it'll be your hospital and you ought to have it just exactly the way you want it."
Doc nodded and stood.
We shook.
"Susan is a fine woman," I said gently. "You know better than I that she doesn't rattle easily."
He nodded. "She's a steady one, all right." He quirked a half-smile, the way he did, with one eyebrow helping lift the corner of his mouth. "How far along is that new house of yours?"
I grinned, delighted that he'd asked.
"It's near to done, Doc. Was I to marry Esther tomorrow I could carry her across the threshold and it would be almost completely ready for her."
"How much longer will it be until it is completely ready?"
"Less than a week."
"And you'll be marrying her ... when?"
I looked at the floor, spinning my hat nervously in my hands.
"Soon as Duzy is healthy enough to stand with her, Doc. I've already spoken with her kinfolk. They're staying for the wedding. A woman ought to have family around her when she marries."
"So should you."
My expression was haunted. "If my family is there, it'll be as their shades, for they have all gone on before me."
Doc rested a hand on my shoulder. "My friend," he said, looking me squarely in the eye, "there is a passage in the Bible that refers to our being surrounded by 'a great cloud of believers.'" He paused and squeezed a little; his hand was firm and strong. "Wiser men than I believe this is everyone who has gone before us, who remain with us, watching with us and interceding for us before the Throne."
I nodded. "That could well be," I agreed.
"Will Esther continue running the railroad?"
"Reckon so. It's hers, she owns it. Who better to run it?"
Doc nodded. "Can I offer you another touch?"
I grinned. "No, don't reckon so. It's getting on to bedtime. I need to make another saloon pass and see that all's well before I pull my boots off for the night."
Doc nodded. "Rest easy."
"With two shots of Old Stump Blower under my belt? Doc, I'm going to sleep like the babe unborn!"

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Linn Keller 11-9-07


The saloon door opened as I approached and two bodies flew out, skidding to a stop in the dusty street; one gathered itself and scuttled away on all fours, the other stood, swayed and staggered back inside.
I looked inside, curious, as the second fellow was abruptly stopped at the threshold; he fell backwards, like a cut down oak tree, and landed flat on his back, unmoving.
I looked up at the space his face had occupied the moment before; there, approximately nose-high off the ground, just sticking through the doorway, was a fist; attached to the fist was an arm, and to the arm, my friend Tom Landers, his hat missing and an irritated expression on his face.
"What's your pleasure, Tom?" I asked mildly.
"Beer, thank you, and these two in the hoosegow."
I looked around; the first one had crabbed his way into the shadows and was gone. "Well, I reckon one out of two ain't bad. What charge?"
"Drunk and disorderly, for one thing. The other fellow tried to pick a fight and picked the wrong man. This one here decided he wanted a handful of fanny and the girls ganged up on him."
I looked closer. The fellow's scalp was cut in a few places and the bleeding had mostly stopped.
Tom shook his hand, blowing across cracked knuckles. "They smacked him with beer mugs and dumped a pitcher of beer over him after they'd downed him."
I shook my head. "It don't do to stick your hand in a bee hive and stir it around."
"No it don't," Tom agreed.
"Tell you what, Tom. I'll get this one settled in for the night and I'll come back and buy you that beer."
"You do that," Tom nodded.
"Everything else all right?"
"Oh, everything else is just fine," he said sarcastically.
"Tell me another one, Tom. I know that look."
Tom held his hand up in front of him, frowning at it as if it had betrayed him. "I think I broke my hand!"
"Well, hell, go on down and see Doc, he's awake yet."
"Reckon I'd better," Tom muttered, disappearing back into the saloon.
I seized the unconcious pugilist by the shirt collar and dragged him across the street to the lockup.

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Linn Keller 11-10-07


The engineer fidgeted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable at being in the owner's office, sitting in the owner's chair, across the owner's desk from the owner herself.
Esther looked over her spectacles at him, her emerald eyes bright as they always were, and she stood.
"Please don't think I reward taking a locomotive over speed and over pressure, on iron tracks rated for low speed and low stress," she began.
"No, ma'am." Bill was clearly less comfortable than he had been.
Esther smiled a little. "On the other hand, please don't think I'm going to toss you out on your ear. As a matter of fact--" she opened a desk drawer and drew out a leather pouch -- "sometimes, when the stakes are particularly large, the gamble has to be equally large."
She walked around the desk and handed him the pouch.
Surprised, he accepted it, finding it rather heavy in his hand.
Esther folded her hands and paced back around the desk. "There in your hands," she said as if lecturing a class, "you have one thousand dollars, in gold coin. I believe in recognizing good work, well done."
Bill's eyes were big and he was finding it difficult to come up with words for the occasion. Esther spared him the effort with an upraised palm.
"You exercised your professional judgement," Esther said with a little smile, "and you decided you could get your train to station faster than normal. You made a decision and you carried it out. We both know the consequences of a heavy engine, at high speed, kicking an iron rail loose."
"Yes, ma'am."
"We also know that didn't happen."
"No, ma'am."
"You knew someone was hurt and you got them to station quickly."
"Yes, ma'am."
"You gambled when you rammed the barricade ahead of you in order to do that."
"Yes, ma'am."
Esther nodded. "My niece was shot in that robbery. It appears that she is going to live. I have you to thank for that."
"Yes, ma'am."
Esther smoothed her skirt under her and sat. "How would you like to try your engine on brand new steel rails, on a crushed stone roadbed?"
"The mine has begun work on a new rail line, from the mine opening to the refinery. They'll need a good engineer and a good engine, a good hand that knows his engine and knows the track, and can get good speed and regular delivery."
"Yes, ma'am."
"We'll be purchasing a second engine for passenger service also. The mine has agreed to put in three saw-by sidings so we can run passenger service while the ore train is running."
"Yes, ma'am."
"The mine will, after this is done, tear up the existing iron rails and re-bed and re-rail the original right-of-way."
Bill's grin was growing. "Yes, ma'am!"
"The new engine will require an engineer and a fireman. If you know good, reliable men we can hire, I would value your recommendation."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Esther stood. "I understand your fireman is downstairs, waiting?"
"Yes, ma'am. He saved some out of his last three pays and when he heard I had been told to come and see you, he said drinks were on him if I was fired."
Esther laughed. "Have him come up here, please."
Bill hefted the pouch and shook his head. "Thought for sure, ma'am, you were going to toss me out on my ear."
Esther shook her head. "I won't fault a man for doing right."
"Thank you, ma'am."

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Linn Keller 11-10-07


Duzy leaned on Jake's arm, teeth tight on her bottom lip.
Jake wanted to reach around and help hold her up but was honestly afraid to try: he would naturally draw her into him, and he didn't want to hurt her ribs.
She appeared to be in enough pain the way it was.
Doc Greenlees and Dr. Flint watched her critically.
"I think I know what we need," Dr. Flint murmured.
Dr. Greenlees nodded. "I think so."
Jake looked over at them.
"Duzy, please have a seat. I think that's enough work for one day."
Duzy gave them a scathing look. "You haven't been flat on your back as long as I have!"
"No ma'am, but we haven't been shot, cut open and stitched up again, either!"
"Help me out back," Duzy gasped.
Dr. Flint frowned, opened his mouth. Duzy stopped him with a glare.
"You have an outhouse, I have need, and I will not be denied!" she said shortly, between gasps; clutching Jake's arm with both hands, she headed for the door with steps both unsteady and determined.
Dr. Greenlees whistled after the closed door. "Now there's a woman!"
Dr. Flint nodded. "I could have told you that just by looking at her dress."
"How's that?"
Dr. Flint opened a cupboard and withdrew the rolled-up remnants of the dress Duzy had worn. He unrolled it, laid it out on the floor, turned it over.
They studied the patterned green cloth.
Dr. Flint's blunt fingers traced a powder burn, low on the skirt.
Dr. Greenlees frowned, squatting. "The wound was here," he pointed, his slender finger well up on the trunk.
Dr. Flint stood and opened a drawer. He squatted again, laying a pepperbox pistol on the burned area.
Dr. Greenlees smiled that quiet, understanding smile of his.
"That's no shy, retiring flower Jake has," Dr. Flint said quietly. "She is not the kind to go meekly into the dark with her head bowed, her hands folded and murmuring 'So be it.' No, she's the kind that will fight like two hells, and take as many of the enemy with her as she can."
Dr. Greenlees picked up the pepperbox, checked the nipples. "One fired."
"More punch than a Derringer," Dr. Flint nodded. "Good choice for the purpose."
Dr. Flint put the pepperbox pistol on the side table and folded and rolled the ruined dress, placing it on a chair and placing the pistol on top of it. "We'll give these to Jake. She may want to save what material she can salvage."
Dr. Greenlees nodded. "Good thought."

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Linn Keller 11-10-07


Jacob had a way of turning up unexpectedly, and that was not always a bad thing.
I'd just come out of the pokey after locking up the fellow Tom Landers decked, and found a half-dozen riders coming into town fast, screeching and whooping and shooting guns in the air.
Now if you read the dime novels that's the way cowpokes commonly came into town, and maybe that used to be the case down in Kansas at the end of a cattle drive, but here in southern Colorado it was kind of rare; still, the dime novels had some influence on men's behavior, and sometimes ranch hands tried to emulate the rip-roaring hellions in the dime novels, and it looked like that was the case tonight.
I strode out to meet them.
They reined suddenly at the sight of a long, tall Sheriff with an iron gray mustache, standing in the middle of the street with a double barrel shotgun dangling from one hand.
"Now what do you think you're doing?" one rider challenged, and the others started a semi-circle around me.
I raised the double gun and eared back the hammers. "Stay in front of me," I commanded, "or I'll put you down!"
"You and who else?" the fellow directly in front of me sneered, hands crossed on his saddle horn. "You got two shots, that's all."
"I wouldn't quite count on that," I said.
"Yeah?" the first rider laughed.
I smiled.
There were four quick shots from the mouth of the alley.
Four hats fell off their respective heads.
Jacob rode out, kneeing his Appaloosa stallion, and waited until he came in full view before cranking a fresh round into his .40-60.
A window opened above them and to their right, and Esther leaned out her office window with an express shotgun in hand. Putting two fingers to her bottom lip she whistled, a rising, piercing note. "Yoo-hoo! Fellows!" she called in an enticing voice. "Up here!"
Six riders turned and looked.
Esther fetched the hammers of her Wells Fargo double gun back to full stand and smiled sweetly. "Nobody shoots at my husband!"
Tom Landers came sauntering out of the saloon, walking with exaggerated casualness out onto the boardwalk, hand on his Colt. He tilted his hat brim back with his off forefinger and leaned against the porch post as if he had not a care in the world, but nobody missed his removing the loop from his Colt's hammer.
He shifted the toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other and smiled.
The flanking riders drew back, very carefully, until they were six abreast.
"Now you fellows are more than welcome to have a drink, take a room, get a bath, we've got poker and dice and you can buck the tiger if you'd like. Behave yourselves and you're welcome. Raise hell and that's where I'll send you."
The lead rider eased his weight in his saddle, carefully keeping his crossed palms on his saddle horn.
"Just who the hell are you, mister?" he asked.
Jacob spoke up. "That's my Pa you're talking to," he said loudly. "That's Sheriff Linn Keller. Was I you I would tread lightly."
"Keller?" "Linn Keller?" "My God, it's him!" Murmurs rippled among the riders and one or two reined back, as if to turn.
"Like I said," I repeated, "you can be peaceable and stay, or you can go while you're still alive, for if you stay and you have ill manners, your education will be costly."
Two of them reined hard about and put the spurs to their ponies. The others milled, uncertain.
The lead rider looked at Tom Landers, with his hand on his Colt. He looked at Jacob, with his 76 rifle propped up on his hip. He turned and looked up at Esther, smiling, covering them with the twin muzzles of her twelve bore.
"You said you've got poker."
"We've got poker."
"Is it a fair game?"
"Don't see anyone wearin' blue spectacles."
"That's good enough for me!" he declared. "I reckon we're peaceable!"
I grinned. "Come on in and welcome," I said. "Had supper yet? I reckon the kitchen's still fired up."
"Supper sounds mighty good to me," the fellow beside him admitted.
They tied off their horses to the hitch rail and went inside.
Turned out to be a fairly quiet night after all.

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Mr. Box 11-11-07


"Well Nelly, We'd better be heading back in. I don't think we're going to find much more today. Besides, it doesn't seem like town can get along to long at a time without us. There's bound to be something going on by now."
One of the members of the fire brigade flagged me down as I went by. He showed me the project they were working on when Sean was away. "That's coming right along. I'll check the merchantile and see if those other things have come in. I want to be there when you unveil it."
"You won't miss it. We'll be doing it at the Silver Jewel."

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Lacy Leigh 11-13-07


Every year about this time, W.J. felt sorry for the two old fellas, Bill and Mac, and arranged a place for the pickle barrel on the other side of the window ... the inside side of the window. One slight difference this year from the years past ... this year he received a grunt, "I'll take that as a thanks", muttered W.J. Maude, who was over by the drygoods, just looked on at the two with a smile on her face. Her Great Uncle was a fast friend of those two when he was alive. They were harmless. Maude always told folks they were living in the Age of Entitlement, and just pay them no mind.

"Townfolk are talkin bout a couple of weddins, Bill."

"I heard."

"You recon she'll come?"

"If'n her Mama has the courage to step foot back here, Mac .... "

"Then, I'm prayin for the black cloud to be gone fer a time, Bill ... I'd like to see that bright bowl of sunshine."

"All it did was shed on my coat!"

"Sarah, Bill ... not Twain Dawg! It's yer move! Get after it will ya!"

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Duzy Wales 11-16-07


Duzy awoke from her dream and smiled when she saw her Papa snoozing on the chair beside her bed. Memories flooded her mind at all the times he had been there for her, the times he had listened and given her the advice she needed, the hugs and kisses for a skinned knee or a hateful word, the unconditional love and wisdom that comes from a loving parent and she knew in her heart that she was still his little girl and that she was a very fortunate woman to have a Papa like him. He had encouraged her to get an education, to follow her dream to be a journalist, and she realized at that moment that she was ready to pursue that dream once again, just as Linn had told her she needed to do while they were “in the valley."

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Mr. Box 11-19-07


Things are starting to gert back to normal at the Silver Jewel with the news that Miss Duzy improving greatly. I think this place would be shut down by now if she wasn't. There are more locals in here and the buzz is getting back to normal. I've slid a couple of beers down the bar to Sean. I don't slide the Irish whiskey. It gets hand delivered. I don't dare spill a shot of something that fine.
Sean spoke up, "I've been noticing some of the crew disappearing sometimes. I haven't figured out what they are doing, but I'll be finding out pretty soon!"
I had the last of the supplies they had asked for and needed to warn them when I delivered them.
I stopped by the bank to cash in some of the gold I'd been finding. I decided to open an account. That's the first time I'd ever considered such a thing.
A couple of the miners were talking about looking for horses. I told them I had some extra ones. I said I'd show them to them in the morning, but they said they had to be back to work before then. I gave a rough description of a couple of them, including the green broke one. They just slapped some coin up on the bar and said they'd take them. They started to reach in their pockets again and I said, "That's more than enough. Their tack goes with them, too. Tell Shorty over at the livery and he'll bring them out for you. Pleasure doing business with you."

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Linn Keller 11-20-07


I stopped to admire the new siding on the side of the depot.
The Irish Brigade had stripped an amazing area of siding boards when they made that emergency litter out of the wagon-mounted ladder to carry Duzy over to Doc's.
Just as well, I thought.The depot had been built in a hurry and the siding was never quite to my liking.
I chuckled at myself. It's not your railroad anymore, I told myself, it's Esther's, let her run her depot the way she sees fit!
Still ... the new siding boards were precisely lapped, good and snug, caulked and proof against wind and snow; the paint was new and clean with only a film of dust ... the Daine boys do good work! I thought, nodding a little and thinking of the fine job they'd done building our house.
Our house.
Esther picked out the furniture, and I ordered it in; she picked out the stove, the china, silverware and stewpots and sewing machine, and I got them for her.
The house was furnished. The ladies helped me with curtains and ... hell, they didn't help me, I thought, they did the work and I stood back and marveled at how easy they made it look!
I thought of the fireplace, and the mantle; walnut, solid, planed, smooth, and over it, the .31 caliber percussion squirrel rifle I'd inherited. The chimney had been laid with care, the inside was lined with fire brick, and they'd even ordered in a special mortar to lay up the fire brick.
I was content to let them tend such details. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I reflected, and I knew just enough about Operative Masonry to get myself in trouble. Better let them do the work that know how to do it right!
I'd been given several rag rugs for the polished wood floor. The floor was solid -- you could have driven a team and a stone boat over it and it would not even shiver -- they'd told me that house would stand for a hundred years and longer, and my children's children's children would be able to live in it and still have a solid house.
Looking over their work, I doubted it not one bit.
If anyone had been watching me they would probably have wondered why I just stood there staring at the end of the depot.
They couldn't see what I saw.
My eyes were fixed on the clapboards, but my mind's eye was on Esther, in my arms and laughing, those sparkling green eyes dancing with merriment and mischief as I carried her across the threshold
Soon, dearest! I thought.

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Duzy Wales 11-20-03


Lee could see the excitement in Duzy’s eyes and knew that look like the back of his hand. He was relieved that his daughter was getting stronger each day and he could see the wheels turning in her head. “What is it and how can I help?”

“I had an out of body experience Papa when I almost died, I saw myself in a beautiful valley and I know you are going to think I have hit my head once too many, well, with the way you feel about my dreams anyway, and Papa, you know that Linn is just waiting on me to get better to marry Aunt Esther, and he is being very patient, but I saw him while I was in the valley and he told me to come back here and write, to finish what I started when I came here.” Duzy laughed as her Papa rolled his eyes, but she continued to tell him what was on her mind, just as she always did. Some people would think they were fussing at times, but they called it “healthy conversation,” a term that was dear to the two of them, as they always hugged each other and told the other they loved them after it was over.

“Papa, I dreamed I owned my own newspaper office and I know it may be unseemly to some, but I do not care! I have been trained as a journalist and want to use that training, but you know what happened when I tried working for someone else. Some folks are not ready to hire a woman, and for the sake of me, I do not understand it, you have always known that women are smart enough to do anything if they set their mind to it! And, Jake needs something to do to keep him busy…he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself, and I think he could work the machinery while I do the writing…..sakes alive, you know there has been enough happened lately to write about and it’s not likely to stop either! Firelands alone has enough activity to keep a newspaper going and most likely a good novel as well. Nationally, the economy is failing, President Rutherford is troubled, his wife won’t even allow any drinking in the White House, women need the right to vote, women would love fashion ideas from New York, Paris and……”

Lee held up his hand and stopped Duzy with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye and said, “Honey, you make a list of what you need and while you get on your feet, your Mama and I will get you started. We can have the presses, paper and everything else you need shipped in and your Aunt Esther will be happy to help with that.” Lee chuckled knowing Esther wanted to get married as soon as possible and would go right to work on it! “I know it will be a great investment on our part and I think you are doing what is best, which is fulfilling your dream. Now, I will get you some paper, quill and ink and you start making that list. Do you have a building in mind?”


“No Papa, I had a special room upstairs at the Silver Jewel to do something on a small scale, to do some writing to send in to other publications, but it wouldn’t be large enough for what we need. I think we should ask Linn or see if anyone has seen Mr. Moulton about Bonnie’s shop. It seems I heard she left that building to us when she left, but since I got back, I hardly know what I have dreamed and what is real!” “Story of your life isn’t it,” Lee said laughing and Duzy couldn’t help but laugh with him as sometimes her dreams were just as real as life or the foreboding of something yet to come. “Oh, Papa, thank you, you have always helped me and I do love you so!” “


You, my little black eyed doozie, make that easy to do,” Lee said smiling as he stood, stretched, and turned to go get the paper and ink.

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Linn Keller 11-21-07


I unfolded the letter and laughed.
"Mind like a steel trap!" I chuckled, and Jacob looked up from whetting his knife.
I shook my head. "You've heard of a mind like a steel trap, Jacob?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well, by golly, I've got one!"
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, puzzled, but polite.
I waved the letter. "I wrote Bonnie a week ago or better, asking about turning her House of McKenna into the town's library. I told her we have a librarian who by all accounts would be ideal for the job. I told her how much we miss her and Sarah, and I asked how big Sarah and Twain Dawg are getting."
I folded the letter and thrust it back into my desk drawer.
"I forgot entirely to mail it!"
Jacob tested the edge of his knife, smiling as he shaved fine, fair hairs from the back of his wrist.
He seemed to be weighing something, and finally said, "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, what would that have to do with a mind like a steel trap?"
I laughed. "That describes my own mind perfectly!" I declared. "The main spring is broke and she's all rusted up but by golly it's all mine!"
Jacob laughed. "I see, sir!" he chuckled, wiping the blade on his pants leg.
He looked up. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, I understand Miz Duzy is thinking about installing her newspaper office in Bonnie's place."
I leaned back in my new chair, hoisting my boots to the desk top. "Good thing I forgot about that letter," I laughed. "She could do more good with that newspaper than I could with a library."
"Yes, sir." Jacob cleaned off his whet stone, his young forehead wrinkled in thought. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, couldn't we have a library, just somewhere else?"
"Reckon we could, all right," I nodded.
Jacob smiled. "That librarian is a sweet soul."
Jacob, you're only a boy, I thought, and then realized he was nearer a man than not: his life had put him well more mature than if he'd stayed back East.
A sweet soul.
He's thinking with his heart instead of with lust, I thought.
This could be a good thing.
"Sir?" Jacob asked.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, is that new chair any better than the back breaker you had?"
I pulled my boots off the desk and stood. "Yes, Jacob, much better, thank you. Haven't seen Jackson Cooper around, by any chance?"
"Yes, sir. He was talking with the Mayor, sir. It seems the town doesn't see the need for a separate town marshal, as long as Jackson Cooper agrees to be your deputy, and Jake if you can recruit him. Mayor's words, sir."
I'd be damned, I thought. Information is where you find it, and men often talk freely when it's only a boy to hear.
"You've asked him to be your deputy, sir?" Jacob asked.
"I have."
"Has he given an answer, sir?"
"No, Jacob. He wanted to think about it, and I reckon he got busy with getting ready for winter."
"Yes, sir."

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Duzy Wales 11-21-07


Jake met Lee on the street as he was going to check on Duzy and Lee filled him in on her plan. “Sounds like she is getting back to normal,” he said with a grin that would have melted Duzy’s heart had she seen it.

Jake had been by the Silver Jewel and asked Mr. Baxter to add two shot glasses and some tequila to the picnic basket he had in mind, as he was planning a romantic evening for his bride to be, as God help him he needed her in his arms!. Damn how he missed that, he thought, and had already asked Dr. Flint if it would be alright to do so. Dr. Flint had smiled encouragingly and told him it might be the best medicine for her as she was getting more agitated daily at not being able to get out as much as she wished and that he knew she had been sneaking out of bed when she didn’t downright demand it for her personal needs.

Dr. Flint didn’t give Duzy away, but he didn’t answer outright when Jake asked him if she had been following his orders. Secretly, he knew Duzy would sneak out of bed every chance she got and was giving herself physical therapy and he agreed with her technique, although most doctors of the time thought you should rest all the time, not stretch and meditate and keep a journal.

Jake walked in to find Duzy standing, her legs apart and her arms stretched upward, toward the ceiling, and she seemed to be in a trance as she closed her eyes and moved her mouth without speaking, a chant of some sort, with perfect balance and a look of peace. When she heard him, she flushed with embarrassment….or guilt….or ….? Duzy looked guilty as hell to Jake, and yet she held her head high as if to challenge him to say anything and he wondered how he would keep a woman like her happy and satisfied the rest of their lives, and then he remembered their first night….God, she was so innocent, raised to be a proper young lady, and yet when she had yielded to him, she was a passionate and uninhibited woman from the very first….even though it was intermittent with moments of shyness.

Duzy walked toward him, looking at his eyes, looking at his hair and how she wished to run her fingers thought it and to kiss him and then blushed furiously at her thoughts started to stray.

Jake pulled her into his arms and inhaled her freshness and the smell of the woman he loved and felt his arousal at the sight and feel of her. “Duzy, do you feel like me carrying you beside the creek, to look at the stars, eat, drink…. and let me feel your closeness; I brought blankets and Dr. Flint said…..”

Duzy hushed him with her mouth on his and said, “I will rest until time to get ready for you, I have missed you, I want you…..God, I need you….and she ran her fingers through his hair and pulled away….. “I will be waiting!” she stated with a look in her eyes that tore through his soul and left her wanting him even more as she looked in his eyes and saw desire mixed with love and tenderness, as she felt his hard body against hers and felt her heart beat faster until she started counting the minutes…

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Linn Keller 11-22-07


Jacob and I took turns out back, splitting wood and hauling in kindling and fire wood, for the days were chll and the nights more so, and a November mist had started: the clouds were the color of lead, snow clouds if I'd ever seen them, I thought, and the cast iron stove felt pretty darn good.
Jacob had filled the water bucket, carrying it left handed, two gallon and more ... I did a quick calculation. Twenty pound of wood and water, easily hauled in his off hand. There was strength in that young arm. He swung an ax easily, as if born to it, and his young hands, though callused, were quick and dextrous.
He habitually kept his gun hand free.
I hadn't taught him that, but he saw it in me as well. Though I carried two Colts, I am right handed, and prefer to fire with my right hand, as I am quicker, and more accurate; Jacob practiced with either hand, and though he carried his Army Colt inside his belt on the right hand side, he was equally as deadly with a left hand presentation.
We sparred, there in the quiet of the Sheriff's office, using rolled up news paper we'd both read and re-read and re-read again, rolled into practice knives. I am not slow by any means, and in spite of many winters' snowy stains upon my temples, I am hardly in the "sere and yellow," as a fellow named Doyle wrote in his detective serial so popular in Eastern papers; still, Jacob was young, and lithe, and with the quick reflexes and green strength of youth, and could "kill" me anytime he wanted with a "knife."
He and I knew, and knew well, the vulnerable points of the human body.
I taught him efficiency; he taught himself smoothness; together we both improved our skills, but Jacob was a marvel, a wonder to behold.
He moved with the smooth grace of a dancer, the deadly efficiency of a swordsman, the precision of a meatcutter.
He was a dead shot with a rifle, but he knew his own limitations, and those of his rifle; he never once tried to exceed either one -- not once, ever.
In spite of his prowess as a warrior he was still ... well, the words I penned into my journal were "a sweet boy, my own dear son, in whom I am proud as hell!"
We went over to the Jewel and had a quiet supper. Esther had just finished her interminable book work for the evening, and I saw her floating downstairs, as she always did; for all that she was solid and real in my arms, it would be easy for me to think of her as a creature etheral, who floated rather than walked.
Jacob, too, respected her beauty. We stood at the foot of the grand staircase, each of us with our hat in our hand, and Jacob spoke for us both when he breathed, "I want to remember this, sir. I want to remember this forever!"
I looked at Esther's emerald eyes, and how the satin trim on her gown rippled like liquid fire in the lamplight, and how delicately she colored, and her eyes lowered, when she heard Jacob's quiet words.
I want to remember this, too, I thought.
I want to remember this forever!

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Mr. Box 11-25-07


When Jake asked for a couple of shot glasses and some tequila, I knew for sure that Miss Duzy was doing much better. That gave me a good feeling.
I had felt a little odd about selling the horses sight unseen, but I knew they were solid. I saw Shorty later on and he had brought out the right ones. He was a little curious when they first asked them for them. After he talked with them, he decided it was all on the level. I felt that it was best for the horses. No sense in being penned up doing nothing. I didn't need them.
I gave the last of the order to the fire brigade. "Sean is getting suspicious. Keep an eye out for him."
"Don't worry, We've been watching him, too."

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Duzy Wales 11-26-07


It was a cool night, the stars and moon looked as if they were there just for Duzy and Jake. Duzy felt snug and cozy against Jake with the blankets around her and could have snuggled with him all evening, but Jake had other plans. He picked her up and carried her to her room at the Silver Jewel, where the fireplace was lit and the picnic laid out to enjoy their evening.

Jake knew Duzy had been biting at the bit to get out and wanted to let her enjoy it for a few minutes, but dared not risk her health. Doctor Flint had been very serious about his orders, smiling as he thought of the headstrong woman, and hoping someday he could find one that would accept his mixed breeding and stand up for him just as the Wales women did Linn and Jake.

Mr. Baxter gave Duzy a smile and a wink as Jake carried her past him and Duzy returned the smile with delight. Everyone was happy to see her back at the Silver Jewel as they called out to her, making Duzy blush with pleasure. Emma and Jackson were there, as were Aunt Esther, Linn, and Jacob and all were smiling with happiness, toasting Duzy as she was carried by. She was at home and now life could start anew and it seemed the worried looks on the faces of those she loved were replaced with happiness.

Jake carried Duzy as if she were a porcelain doll, loving and tender, as if she might break and it wasn’t lost on Duzy. She didn’t fight it, as it made her feel loved, and she loved the feel of his body against hers and felt a need for him, as if she could never get enough of the handsome and virile man she had fallen in love with!

They sat in front of the fire and fed each other with their fingers, playfully, and then Jake carried Duzy to the bed as they undressed each other first with their eyes and then with their fingers until they were intertwined, lost in loving each other, and thankful that they had been given the chance to be together again.

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Mr. Box 11-26-07


With Jake carrying Miss Duzy across the Silver Jewel, the crowd became very festive. It's the best people have felt around here in a month of Sundays! I saw the Miss Esther steaming into the depot today and it didn't look any the worse for wear after the big charge into town. I'll bet she could handle that every day!

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Linn Keller 11-27-07


"For all things there is a season," I murmured.
Fiddler Daine had been coaxing some odd sounds out of his fiddle, smiling quietly as he always did before he started to play. I don't beleive he would have noticed if someone led a bull buffalo into the Jewel with ribbons tied in its tail: when he had that half-smile on his face, and ran his bow over the rosin block and tucked the fiddle up under his chin, the world could fall apart around him and somehow he'd spin enough magic out of his music to hold it all together.
Esther's hand tightened a little on my forearm. I looked from the staircase to my bride-to-be, and she was looking after Duzy being carried up the stairs.
"He treats her like a queen," I murmured.
Esther smiled, and turned a delicate shade of red, and dropped her eyes.
"That is as it should be," I continued. "She should be treated --"
Esther's eyes widened with dismay. "Linn!" she exclaimed. "Do you realize -- why, I never -- are you --"
Puzzled, and a little alarmed, I stopped and faced her squarely. "My dear?" I asked.
"Did you -- I mean -- do you --" Esther produced a fan from somewhere, opened it with a businesslike SNAP! and began fanning herself.
She allowed me to seat her at our usual table, and I parked my Winchester ready to hand, as I always did. Jacob sat with us, his hat in his lap, his posture erect; quiet, observant, his eyes traveled through the Jewel, missing nothing.
Wonder where he learned that, I thought, while my own eyes wandered the Jewel, missing nothing.
I put my hand gently on Esther's. "My dear, have I upset you?"
Esther was still fanning, a little more slowly now. "I may have misunderstood you," she murmured, and I think she was a bit upset with me.
Try as I might, I could not for the life of me think of what I'd said that would be the least bit offensive.
"Dearest, it may be a bit before Duzy has strength enough to stand with us," I began. "I don't want to hurry her--"
It was Esther's turn to look at me with honest surprise.
The fan stopped, forgotten.
"You didn't mean -- you said --" She was turing very red now, a fetching shade, I might add, her face absolutely glowing against the emerald green of her gown.
I shook my head. "Dearest, at times I have the thickest head in the territory. Apparently I've stumbled over myself, and I do most earnestly beg your pardon."
She closed her fan, delicately, slipping it back into her reticule. "It was my misunderstanding, my dear," she said quietly, looking up and smiling as the coffee service settled into place in the middle of the table.
The coffee was hot, steaming, fragrant and quiet good. I added cold, fresh cream to mine -- a habit I'd learned in this very room, as a matter of fact -- Jacob followed my example, and we'd both found it very much to our taste. With the arrival of a dairy herd, and some judicious bargaining, poor pregnant Daisy -- who steadfastly refused to be a passive, delicate, shy, retiring, gravid wife -- had dickered, bargained, flattered, wheedled and otherwise swindled the rancher out of a regular shipment of whole milk every morning.
At least Daisy thought she'd skinned the man out of his eye teeth.
It was truly a good bargain: he was equally as convinced he'd just slickered her out of her socks, and when the deal was struck, they were both so utterly convinced they'd swindled the other, they were so ashamed of themselves they couldn't look one another in the eye!
Like I said, it was a good trade.
She kept milk, cream and butter in the spring house out back. A couple cats wandered in from somewhere and kind of adopted Daisy's back door. It was getting on in November, and getting chilly, and unofficially Daisy was letting them into the kitchen. It proved mutually benficial. Crickets, spiders and mice all wanted to come in where it was warm, now that it was frosting outside most every night; the kitty cats kept them all in check, and besides, it was kind of nice to sit in the corner near Daisy's stove, and drink coffee, with a kitty cat on my lap.
Daisy wasn't cooking, but she was in charge, and when our meal arrived, it was of Daisy's usual quality, and plenty of it.
Jacob and I ate with good appetite.
Esther kept looking upstairs and I could see her ears were turning red.
Finally it dawned on me why she was looking upstairs.
I felt my own ears turn red.
"Sir?" Jacob said between bites of good back strap meat. "You'd said for all things there is a season?"
I nodded. "I believe Duzy may be stronger than I had thought," I said, scooping up a dab of salt with my spoon and sprinkling it over my taters.
"Yes, sir?"
I smiled. "I'd been waiting for her to regain her strength before bringing up when we should be married."
"Yes, sir."
Esther squeezed my arm. "I believe we can begin discussing the date, my dear."

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Duzy Wales 11-27-07


Duzy and Jake lay sated in each others arms and Jake was tracing the scar on her body with his finger, unconsciously, until he heard the intake of her breath and looked into her eyes. “Does it bother you?” Duzy asked. “Darlin’, I am so sorry you had to go through this….and I know you saved my life by doing so….and I am sorry if it bothers you, but never, ever think that it makes you any less beautiful….because it does not. To me, it is a part of you that reveals your character, your love for me, and I only see beauty when I look at you, all of you, your body, your quick wit, your charm, the way you give to those you love and those you do not even know ….even when you drive me nuts worrying about you…..and, God, Duzy, I love you all the more!”

“Hmmmm, that is good, because I love all of you too,” and Duzy proceeded to show him once more just how much she did love him, hushing him when he mentioned they may should be more careful, as she knew her body well, and would have stopped if there had been pain instead of pleasure.

Later, Duzy said, “Don’t you think it’s time we tell Linn and Aunt Esther they can start making plans for the wedding…..theirs, not ours!” Duzy said laughing and continued, “I still have much to do for ours! I wrote Bonnie to design my dress and I am looking forward to the drawings she is working on, and I do so hope they will be here with us! I know Mama and Papa are waiting for us, but have you noticed how happy they are here? Papa has already started working on my list and I am hoping to hire Miss Messman to help with the editing at the newspaper until we can build a library. We could start with a small one in one of the rooms of the newspaper office and……”

Jake hushed Duzy by kissing her, as he had found that to be the best way to do it without an argument, although he would never have told her that! He enjoyed it too much to spoil it by giving away his secret. “Yes.”

“Yes, yes, what Jake?” The question had already been forgotten by Duzy and Jake kissed her once more before saying, “Yes, I think it is time for us to go downstairs and talk to Esther and Linn and give everyone else a chance to see that you are fine, so many have worried about you and will be happy to see you again! Your Mama and Papa may be back from their walk too, and yes, I have noticed how happy they are. I remember the two of them walking each night at home and then kissing under the pine tree before they came back inside when I was visiting there.” “Oh Jake, how wonderful, that is one of my favorite memories too….that pine tree was real special…..”

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Linn Keller 11-27-07


Jacob had just finished his second slice of apple pie.
I'd satisfied myself with one.
I could have eaten two more, truth be told, but I figured there was no sense in running the kitchen short. Apple pie was as popular as vanilla coffee: the Jewel had a well-deserved reputation for good food and plenty of it, at a fair price, and was I to eat up all their baked goods, why, some wandering soul might not have a memorable meal to brag about and bring in more business.
Besides, Tilly and Mr. Moulton -- well, rather, Mr. and Mrs. Moulton -- came into the Jewel, all smiles and laughter: married life suited them both, it seemed, and Jake and I rose as they approached.
Duzy and Jake, too, came over to our table. I'd just finished shaking Mr. Moulton's hand and congratulating him on his newly wedded state, and we laughed as Tilly blushed fiercely, for I'd complimented him on the beauty of his bride; Jake drew out a chair for Duzy, and I raised a finger.
"Jake, if I might borrow your lady for a moment?" I asked.
Jake, surprised, blinked, then looked at Duzy. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "Be right back," and laid a hand on his, and I'd be ready to swear on that moment that the man nearly melted in his moccasins at her touch.
Duzy took my arm. I winked at Esther and said, "Be right back," and she smiled and said, "That's all right, I'm sure these fine gentlemen can keep me entertained," and there was a look of understanding between her and Duzy.
Understanding what, I had no idea: there are times when women communicate, times which are utterly beyond a man's ability to understand, or often to even realize. I didn't understand what passed between them, but then women are mysterious creatures and are often beyond a man's understanding anyway.
We walked out the back door, out past the kitchen. Daisy was sitting in her favorite rocking chair -- unusual to see a rocker in a kitchen, but Daisy ran the place and she could have a brass band in there if she wanted -- she was looking a bit tired, as an expectant mother will, but there was a smudge of flour on her cheek, and I knew she hadn't contented herself with supervision. She was used to doing the work and she wasn't happy unless she was actually doing something!
I was two steps ahead of Duzy, going down the three steps outside the back door, so my feet were on the ground as she began her descent; she laughed and said, "I won't break, you know!"
I took both her hands. Her hair had silver highlights in the cold light of the full moon, and her eyes shone, and there was such life in them! Jake, I thought, you'd better realize what a treasure you have in this woman!
"Duzy," I said, "sometimes I have the best of intentions in trying to say something, and I end up stomping all over my words, so if I make a hash of this, please forgive me."
She put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. "If you make a hash of it, we'll have a good laugh and you'll try again! Now what's on your mind?"
I took my hat in my hand, and I saw the change in her eyes when I did.
She knew from that gesture that what I had to say, was of a serious nature.
"Duzy," I said, "you know I had a daughter, many years ago."
She nodded.
"My little girl died when she was very young. I was not there to hear her first word, I was off fighting that damned war when she took her first step, and when I finally got home, Connie was dead of the small pox, and Dana was dying of it."
Duzy nodded again, her eyes dark, liquid in the moonlight.
I could have swum in them, they were that large, that liquid.
"Duzy, I never got to see my little girl grow up. I never got to meet her first beau, nor did I ever have that surprise moment that all fathers have when they realize their little girl is growing up, and suddenly has become a woman."
Duzy's head turned a little as she considered this, but her eyes never left mine, and she was listening closely to every soft spoken word.
I held both her hands. "Duzy, I love you."
Her eyes were suddenly bigger, and round with alarm.
"Make no mistake," I continued, "I love you as a favorite niece, or as a daughter. I thought for sure you were going to die, and I was ready to die myself. I have lost too many people I love. I did not want to lose you too.
"A woman should know she is loved. You are. Jake treates you like a queen." I smiled. "He'd damn well better," I chuckled, and Duzy smiled a little, and dropped her eyes.
I touched her chin, tilted her head back.
She looked at me, and parted those lovely lips.
"Duzy, you are a beautiful young woman. Never forget that. You have a beauty that comes from within, and it shines through you. Had my little girl lived, I could only hope she would have been half the woman you are today."
Duzy blinked as she considered this, and she opened her mouth to say something, and closed it, and drew her shawl more closely about her.
I wrapped my arms around her. She was shivering a little, but she put her arms around me and murmured, "Mmm, you're warm!"
I leaned my cheek on the top of her head. "Duzy, if you're strong enough, we'd be pleased to have you stand with Esther here shortly."
Duzy laughed quietly, then sighed.
I swept a wisp of hair out of her face as she tilted her head back to look at me.
"I think I'm strong enough," she said, her eyes shining in the silver moonlight.

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Linn Keller 11-27-07


I punched the man in his belly.
I punched him with full intention of sinking my fist up to the elbow.
It didn't, of course, but it knocked him off the chair he was standing on, and he dropped, at least until the noose brought him to a stop and he hung there, kicking his last, his boot heels less than a foot off the ground.
There was no forgiveness in my eyes, nor in my heart.
Few were there to witness the hanging -- just myself and Digger and Jackson Cooper -- Digger was interested only in doing what little he had to for his fee, and Jackson Cooper was as kind and understanding as I was.
We looked up the hill, at the grave yard, and at the fresh grave.
The board at the head of the grave would be replaced soon as the dirt finished settling. I'd already paid for the tomb stone.
"WJ didn't deserve to die like that," Jackson muttered.
"Nope," I agreed.
The hanged man's face assumed the awful hue and expression of a man dying a terrible death.
"Reckon this fellow could have been rehabilitated?"
Jackson Cooper raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"We're rehabilitatin' him right now."
Jackson smiled grimly. "Reckon so."
Neither of us were terribly chatty at the moment.
We both remembered running across the street. Jackson was a half step ahead of me and he hit the double doors with his shoulder just as the hanged man crushed WJ's skull with a poker.
Judge Hostetler was in town and he convened court soon as he saw us dragging the fellow out of WJ's store. Matter of fact, we held court right there in the middle of the street. His Honor went into JW's and looked the situation over, and Doc Greenlees shook his head sadly as he pulled WJ's apron off its hook on the wall and laid it reverently over the old man's face.
The fellow was a drifter, a stranger; we found out later he'd killed a man back in Missouri and had stolen a series of horses to get as far as Firelands. Horse thievin' is a hangin' offense. He'd put his own neck in a noose several times over before he murdered WJ.
"He shouldn't have been in so much of a hurry."
Two of the ladies had been in back and saw what happened.
The drifter came in and told WJ to empty the till and hand it over.
WJ was in the process when this fellow brained him, not satisfied with WJ's methodical progress.
"Yep. Hurry up is brother to mess it up."
We regarded the gently swinging corpse.
"WJ's widow going to keep the place open?"
"Reckon so."
Digger's mare stamped and shook her head. It was chilly out, even in the sun, with a little bit of wind to steal what warmth soaked through a man's coat.
"He shouldn't have called WJ a senile old fool."
The fellow had blasphemed Jackson and Digger and I, calling perdition and brimstone on our heads. I had heard worse and was going to let it pass, but when he started laying the vile side of his tongue on the man he'd murdered, I could take no more. I'd silenced him by punching the wind out of him, and it was enough to knock him off the chair and into eternity.
"Would you call this swift justice?"
I considered Judge Hostetler's quiet pronouncement, there in the middle of the street, as Jackson held the fellow's left wrist up behind his back far enough so he could have scratched the back of his neck had he wanted with his own hand, and I held his right wrist in an equally painful posture: Judge Hostetler and WJ had been friends for a very long time, and the obvious nature of the crime eliminated the need for a lengthy trial.
From murder to execution in less than a half hour.
We waited another fifteen minutes before releasing the carcass to Digger. The deceased had a watch and ten dollars on him, which more than paid for boarding the stolen horse until the owner showed up two days later. The watch was nothing special. I put it in the desk. I needed a watch but didn't quite feel right about taking this one.
Fact is, I'd been intending to order one in from WJ. I'd had a notion to get a good watch, a railroad watch with a jeweled movement.
Digger's wagon rattled down the street, bearing its grisly cargo.
I shrugged.
The watch could wait.

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Lady Leigh 11-28-07


"We step outside and go down the street for a short time, Mac, and look what happens!"

Shuffling a bit faster than their usual slow gait, Bill and Mac reach the crowd surrounding W.J. Bill glances to his left and see's Maude being comforted by some women ... actually, he sensed they were probably holding her up.

"You recon, Bill, we'll have to find a differnt place to set up?"

"Don't think so, Mac. I recon it's time we aide Maude some, and play checkers a little less."

"And how are you figurin' on climbin' a ladder for canned goods on the top shelves?" Mac questioned with more exasperation in his voice than anything else.

"There's bound to be a way, Mac, that two old guys can help out is all I'm a sayin'!"

Leaving the law to the law, Bill and Mac continued on there shuffled path toward Maude ...

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Duzy Wales 11-28-07


As Duzy listened to Linn, his words poured over her like honey, filling her heart and soul with the love that he offered and that she accepted as lovingly as given. They had been through so much together, they had felt the closeness that was building between them, he had sat by her bed and prayed, and yet the words had hardly been spoken, until now. It was all Duzy could do to keep her composure as she hugged the big man who was like a father to her and would soon become her Uncle. Duzy knew that the Wales family was happy with Aunt Esther’s choice of men and were all awaiting the wedding with joy.

Duzy was saddened that just as she had regained her life, WJ had lost his, and in such a cruel way that she could not understand what drove that type of person. The only thing she knew to do was to visit Maude and offer her help, knowing she must be in shock and devastated at the loss of her beloved husband. Bonnie would want to know too, Duzy thought, and asked Jade to send a telegraph telling them of the news.

Duzy sat down at the bar with Mr. Baxter…..Fred actually, as he had given her permission to call him Fred and she Duzy, but he preferred to call her Miss Duzy, he was just that way and it was an endearing trait. They had become friends, but Duzy felt like he was keeping a secret, but shrugged it off, as she was always looking for the story behind the story, so to speak, being trained as a journalist and starting to feel like one again! He gave her a shot of tequila as she left to see Maude.

As she left the Silver Jewel, Duzy ran into Emma and the two decided to go over together to see Maude, as that was Emma’s destination as well. Normally it would have been a time for the two to talk of their relationships, Emma’s marriage, Duzy’s and Esther’s upcoming weddings, what Emma thought of Miss Messman, but instead they were both quiet as they stepped into the mercantile, both with heavy hearts that they would never see W.J. behind the counter ever again.

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Mr. Box 11-28-07


I've been looking around and the amount of wood I see cut isn't going to get us very far thru the winter. Especially since a lot of it is pine. As much as the town is growing there won't be nearly enough. I was down by the depot later when the train came in from Denver and they uncoupled a full carload of coal. I asked the brakeman who that was for. He said "Firelands Coal Co. We've got orders to pick it up when it's empty and bring it back full again. The order is signed by a Miss Esther Wales."
Later that evening I saw some of the fire brigade in the Silver Jewel. "How is the project going?"
"Almost got her done. We'll need to arrange a doings here sometime soon to spring it on them."
"I'll see if we can find an excuse to conjure up something pretty soon."


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Linn Keller 11-29-07


Maude thanked Esther for her kind words and slid the box across the counter. "It just came this morning, Miss Wales. The engraver sent a note apologizing for its taking a day longer than expected."
"It's just right," Esther said quietly, looking at the engraving on the back of the watch. "For the life of me, I can't imagine what happened to the first one. I had it on my table, and when I came back, it was gone ... nobody had come in the room, I don't believe anyone had even gone upstairs." She smiled. "I suppose we'll never know." She regarded the new widow with understanding eyes. "Is there anything I can do, Maude?"
Maude looked sadly at the peg where WJ always hung his apron. "You already have," she said quietly. "You listened."
Esther looked down at the counter. "I know what it is to lose someone."
Maude looked at her, grief drawing her face into a prematurely aged mask. "Does the hurt ever go away?"
"No," Esther admitted, "but the cares of everyday life will cover it, like leaves on a forest floor, at least until a memory blows the leaves aside and it all comes back again."
Maude closed her eyes and nodded, smiling a little. "I almost expect him to come grumping around the corner, muttering about coal oil or a missed shipment."
Esther laughed quietly. "I do too." She took a deep breath, straightened her back and twisted her shoulders; there were a couple of distinct pops, a momentary look of surprise. "Oh, that hurts good!" she declared, and they both laughed.
"By the way, when are you getting married?"
Esther smiled, coloring a little. "One week from today."
"Good!" Maude declared. "We were married just shy of forty years, and we were both just as happy as if we'd had good sense!" Maude's eyes wandered into the past, and rested on the penny candy jar. "Do you ever hear from that little girl any more?"
"Sarah? Oh, yes, we received a letter not long ago."
"Will she be coming out for the wedding?"
"I do hope so," Esther said, her own eyes looking somewhere beyond the far wall, remembering a bouncing little girl's laugh, and the fuzzy, galumphing pup that followed her.

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Linn Keller 11-29-07


Lightning's boy, like most tall boys nearing manhood, was impatient, and eager, and tended toward quickness of movement; his father's methodical fist as he sent a message was almost more than the lad could bear -- and yet he himself sent with an almost identical fist. As impatient as he was with a slow message, he was more impatient with his own errors, and had learned, fortunately for one so young, that "Hurry up is brother to Mess It Up!" -- and so it was with deliberation that he plied the key, tapping out the dots and dashes that sang along copper wire, from station to station, relayed and copied and relayed again, until finally the flimsy was hand-carried to its several recipients.
To the north and the south, the east and the west, the word went out; plans were made, horses saddled, carpet bags or trunks packed with Sunday-go-to-meetin's, for there was little enough to celebrate on the frontier, especially in the bleak fall season, and a wedding was a fine excuse to come together.
There would be feasting, dancing, good music and good friends.
This was not to be missed.

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Linn Keller 11-29-07


Nearly a hundred miles away, in the palisadoed walls of a frontier fort, a big Irish sergeant presented himself with a salute to his commanding officer.
A telegram flimsy was in his hand.

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