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Firelands-The Beginning

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Lady Leigh 6-25-08


William knew what the purpose of the Order was. Through Devine help there was salvation and perfection. He meditated frequently, the his meditations took on a whole new color. His mind easily clouded. Thoughts of ..... thoughts of Tulla frequently found themselves present.

As a Novitiate, he began to live the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Once ordained, he took with him those vows, and truly felt God would protect him from the evils he would face. He thought it would be the evils of the outside world he would struggle with .... never once did he really think he would need to be protected from himself.

The more he meditated to clear his mind of the woman he found himself growing closer to, the more she filled his mind. He would fast for days at a time trying to purge himself, but the weakened state he found himself in also led him to a weaker mind. He prayed for God to take away the feelings he had developed .... the feeling remained. The feelings grew.

One Saturday evening, instead of returning to the Parish, he found himself in Tulla’s cabin. In Tulla’s arms. In Tulla’s bed. And interestingly enough, the guilt William thought he would experience was not really all that evident.

William made a plan. A plan to buy or bargain Tulla away from Lucien Chevaleir. He would contact his older brother and have him send money. Then he would take Tulla away .... and in the process, he’d also take himself away from the Order. He felt from within his soul that God had a different path for him to lead .... his path would not be down the road as a Jesuit Priest, but down the rod as a man tied not to the church, but to the life with a woman.

He left Tulla’s cabin and began his short journey back to the parsonage to right a wrong and to set the wrongs straight. He did not see the overseer of the plantation lurking nearby.

Orvil sneered as he saw the man leave. He saw what happened inside that cabin. He had seen it coming for several months. Orvil, peaking through the single window of the cabin, watched every sordid detail of what transpired. The urgency grew within himself until he was consumed with his own lustfulness. AS soon as the Priest was out of sight, be broke through the cabin’s door with such velocity the door nearly fell off of it’s hinges.

He pulled Tulla up out of the bed by her hair and slapped her ... slapped her hard. His voice was harsh and cruel. He tormented her with the words of what he saw her doing. Mocked her. Berated her. Threatened her. And finally through the screams and tears of Tulla, he raped her repeatedly and then left her.

In his eyes, Orvil bested the Priest.

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Charlie MacNeil 6-25-08


The answers to Charlie's telegrams weren't long in coming. The first one that Lightning's boy delivered was from the county clerk of Pike County, Kentucky.

Kilmer family deceased except Robert and children Stop Robert headed west with two boys, one girl Stop Boswell, Pike County Clerk

That was a relief, because Charlie could tell that even though Angela had only been in Linn's life for a very short time, Angela already had the big lawman wrapped around her little finger. The next telegram merely confirmed what the first had said.

Mrs. Kilmer deceased Stop No known relatives in area Stop Robert and three children traveling west Stop Anderson, Sheriff, Pike County

It was time to break the news to Linn, but before he did, Charlie sent one last telegram and waited for the answer.

To Judge Clarence Finch, Colorado Supreme Court, Denver, CO
From US Marshal Charlie MacNeil, Firelands, CO

Clare: Friend needs to adopt orphan child Stop Can you help Stop Charlie

The answer came immediately.

To US Marshal Charlie MacNeil, Firelands, CO
From Clarence Finch, Denver, Co

Charlie: Consider it done Stop Forward details Stop Clare

Now it was time to talk to Linn...

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Linn Keller 6-25-08


I had no particular reason to saddle Hijo, but I did.
I had no particular place to go, but I went.
Hijo was of a mind to cover ground and I was of a notion to let him, unless some stray idea steered us otherwhere.
Hijo set to pacing and his pace was smooth.
I'd heard of a breed called a paso fino -- named for the smoothness of their gait -- I'd never ridden one but I couldnt' help but think Hijo was as good as any of 'em and could likely put that fancy breed to shame!
I grinned as the thought came to me. I'd had such thoughts before and they usually ended up with me making an utter, absolute fool out of myself.
"No," I said aloud, and Hijo's ears swung back at the sound of my voice.
I steered him in a big circle to the south of town and back in from the west, and we came to the cemetery from the back side.
Hijo didn't feel like circling around to the front archway and neither did I. He came easy up to the fence and sort of floated over it, which wasn't that hard as Hijo was quite tall and that fence wasn't much but belt buckle high.
Once into the consecrated ground I "ho'd" and Hijo ho'd, and I dismounted.
I looked around at the stones, squinting at one, grinning at another, walking between the rows of ... memories.
One stone held me for a moment.
Miriam, it read, and I remembered her death, and I remember Jacob growing up in a hell of a hurry in those few days between the family's arrival and the girl's demise.
WJ's plain slab marker wasn't far away, and I remembered that skinny old storekeeper and grinned again.
"I'd like to have known you years ago," I murmured.
We walked on, out through the main arch, and I mounted again.
We rode down the little draw and I held up squarely in the bottom, looking toward the Tree of Truth, and the stony plinth we'd used as a message drop.
I set there a long time, looking at the branch I'd used to hang those who'd deserved it.
I taken no pride in hangin' folks but sometimes it was needful -- a hard lesson learned young, while I was still an officer in Union blue.
I shook my head, dismissing the memory.
"The past is dead," I said harshly. "Let the dead past bury its dead."
I gave Hijo a knee and a rein and he turned his nose back down toward town.
I thought of Esther, and how she was starting to glow again, with a little girl-child in her life.
I felt myself grinning again.
She'd said something about going to see Bonnie and Sarah and maybe finding some of Sarah's outgrown frocks.
The Lady Esther breathed patiently on a siding; she was being switched over to the freight track, and was going to couple with the front of the dead freight engine, and push it and the ore train from the front, while another engine pulled from the other end, to get the ore train to the crusher, and then the dead engine would be uncoupled, switched and towed to a distant shop by the other engine, while the Lady Esther brought a string of empty cars back. The mine had been only too happy to wash its hands of railroading -- and why not, I thought. They were only one day from handing it over to the Z&W.
I suspected, from Jacob's report and the surviving fireman's testimony, that it was the mine's interference with good operating practice that caused the explosion.
I would leave that for the inquest. Judge Hostetler would preside, and he would find the right of it.
I walked Hijo up the street, and to the church.
A man can give thanks about anywhere, but I wanted to give thanks here.
Angela might not be part of our lives very long, I knew: if there were surviving kinfolk they would have a lawful claim on her.
I hoped the Almighty didn't think poorly of me but I wasn't about to lie.
I took off my Stetson and walked slowly down the aisle, my boot heels loud in the silence.
I eased my long tall carcass down in a pew and looked at the altar, the pulpit, the back wall.
"Thank You for Angela," I whispered, and the whisper was loud in the silence.
I looked down at my hat, then back up at the back wall.
"We'd like to keep her, Lord."
I considered.
"Oh, hell," I blurted in all honesty: "I'd like to keep her!"

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Charlie MacNeil 6-25-08


A deep voice echoed through the stillness. "Then she is yours," the voice said. Linn's head jerked up and around but he couldn't for the life of him find where the voice was coming from until sudden laughter burst out from behind the altar and the same voice in a bit higher register said, "You oughta see the look on your face, partner!"

Charlie stood up from behind the altar and the preacher stepped in from his living quarters. Both of them were trying their best to stifle their laughter and having very little success. "Sorry about that," Charlie said, but it would take a lot of convincing to make Linn think he truly meant it. "I just couldn't help myself. I'm what you might call in incorrigible smart..."

Linn interrupted him. "How do you know we can keep her?" he asked Charlie.

"I've got three pieces of paper right here in my pocket that say so, that's how," Charlie said. He reached into his vest and brought out four sheets of notepaper, the answers to his telegrams and the one he'd written to Judge Finch. "Here, read these."

Linn took the papers from Charlie's hand and quickly went through them. As he read his face split open in the biggest grin possible and Charlie met it with one of his own. For a moment Linn didn't trust his voice. At last he said softly, "Thank you, my friend. Thank you." He hit his knees right where he stood and his head bowed. "And thank you, Heavenly Father. She is truly an angel come to earth to make our lives complete."

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Linn Keller 6-26-08


I am not the least bit ashamed to admit I sagged down on my poor old knees. Was I younger or more foolish I would say something like it seemed right to give thanks to the Almighty in such a way.
Truth be told I don't know what I thought.
I'd just addressed the Eternal and got an answer in a deep and powerful voice, and now I'd been handed corroboration.
I looked at the papers again and shuffled through them like a gambler with a losing hand of cards, then I looked up from down on my prayer bones and I know I had this big idiot grin on my face, and I commenced to laugh.
I haven't had that good a laugh in a long time, and when I come up for air Charlie stuck out his hand and helped me haul to my feet, and I clapped a hand on his shoulder and chuckled, and shook my head, and pointed to the altar.
I tried to say something about hearing the voice of the Almighty, but all I could do was bend over with my hands on my thighs and laugh some more.
Parson Belden was never a man to let much get in the way of a good grin and he too was enjoying the moment.
Finally after a few more unsuccessful attempts to say SOMETHING I wiped my eyes and pointed to the altar again and said "I would give a month's pay to have seen my face!" and the three of us were off again!

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Lady Leigh 6-26-08


The following Saturday, William was as the Chevalier Plantation, but Tulla was no where in sight. In fact, he thought the Chevalier Slaves were acting pecular .... no that wasn't right ..... they were acting scared.

William approached an aged woman, who because of her crippled fingers was not out in the fields anymore, but stayed behind at the slaves villiage and watched after the youngest children who were not yet old or strong enough to put in a days work in the Sugar Cane fields. She was always referred to as Granny. Didn't matter the age of the person talking to her, Granny was simply her given name by all around her.

Granny was a wise woman, and it was her eyes that talked to William. Her eyes called him to her. He approached the chair she was sitting in, and once there, he grasped the old bent fingers on the rough and calloused hand. A smile was on her face, but the smile never reached her eyes. With a voice so small, and words spoken through her smiling lips, she quietly .... ever so quietly said, "You must NOT give us away by your actions, and your voice MUST be low."

William caught on to her words quickly. Still standing there with her hands in his, and a small smile of his own upon his own lips, she continued, "It be no secret what's come to pass between you and Tulla, and I'm not here to tell ya it be right or wrong, only the Almighty has that power, but ya need to know that Orvil knows."

William's breath caught within his throat. He was about to release her hands, when she smoothly held them tighter, "He did her up somethin aweful after you left last. We be tending to her the best we can, but that evil son of Satin be watchin, and we need to be careful."

William looked into the old eyes, he managed to nod his head. The last words spoken between Granny and William that day were words spoken that she would keep him apprised of what she knew concerning Tulla, and Orvil, each Saturday he was there.

He did not know how he managed to get through the service he prepared, but he did so as he had done all the Saturdays before. His actions were the same in every detail as they had been done before. Only this time, Orvil was always on the outskirts of the activities. His face was always seen. There was never a chance to see Tulla. Never a chance to talk to her ... to tell her of the plan he had.

William walked back to the Parish that evening feeling broken. Was he all wrong about what he thought God wanted him to do? Was it his own sinfull human nature that was telling him to take up a woman? His own lustfullness? Was God punishing them for the feelings and actions that happened between them? Wasn't the love between a man and a woman ordained too? By the time William entered the Parish, he threw himself down to the floor, laying prostrate at the alter of his God. Laying there, he cried out to his God for guidance and understanding ... he cried out for help.

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Lady Leigh 6-26-08


It was three weeks before William saw Tulla.

Orvil was still lurking around with a smirk on his ugly face.

It was Granny who continued to caution William on approaching Tulla.

Each Saturday William went to the Plantation with a glimmer of hope.

Each Saturday he returned to the Parish a little more broken than the Saturday before.

Three weeks turned into four months.

The roundness of Tulla's belly could not be mistaken.

Granny still cautioned.

Orvil and his hidious face still lurked.

Still no words spoken between William and Tulla. Glances were made, but no words.

Four months turned into nine.

Granny told him of the birth of Tulla's daughter.

A month later, William held that baby girl Baptizing her in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. William, with tears running down his face, looked deep into the face of that small baby. Desperatly looking to see if he could see himself in the girl child ... the girl child Christened, Beverly.

He could not see himself. He could not see the ugly face of Orvil either. He saw a child who favored her Mother, though lighter in skin, eyes a different shade than hers, but not his eye color.

Those months led into years. Years of methodically going to the Chevlier Plantation each Saturday. Each day of each week, William passed himself off as a servant of God, but his true devotion to his God diminished long ago. How could a God do this? How could a God enslave His people? How could a God destroy? How could a God turn His eyes? How could a God allow people like Orvil to remain on His beautiful Earth and turn it ugly? How? .... How?.... How? ....

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NCGranny 6-26-08


After the storm passed and I wus all cleaned up, I felt like I was ready to go on my hunt. I wasn’t far from Firelands now, but I had heared there was a lawman or two there that was tuff, so I had to plan careful like. I figured on it and decided to go in as a lady and be proper like…..heavens knows Nanny did teach me that afore everthin went wrong, cept I had let my school learnin go and couldn’t go to that finishin school like I wished I could. I could still sew up a pretty dress, tho Papa had em made for me most the time, and do them stitches on my hankies and make soap and all the things you learn when plannin to run a plantation. I knew I could pull it off.

I dug deep in my bag and pulled out a pretty outfit with a matching hat and hung it out to let the breese go through it and get some of the rinkles out with the moist air that was so fresh like after a good rain.

I pulled into Firelands that evening and checked in to a nice place called “The Silver Jewel” and was met by a woman by the name of Miz Tilly who was real nice. Then, a woman called Daisy offered me up a plate of vittles that sure beat that jerky I had been eatin on…I thought I might just die and go to heavin right then….and then I thought I jest may end up in that other place and wus jest thankful I had it to eat now. Thare were times I felt like killin was wrong, but then I would member Nanny’s screams and knew I wus doin what I had to do. A man named Mr. Baxter smiled and brote me some coffee with vanilla in it. I thought this sure is a nice place with nice people!

A man called Shorty had taken care of my rig and horses and seemed to be a nice feller too.

I met a man named Jake Thomas whilst I was eatin and he seemed so sad, but I didn’t ask no questions cause I don’t want none asked and he was just polite but quite like. Then, I saw a woman who was as purty as anyone I had seen….an older lady with green eyes that sparkled like the gems she had on. Come to think of it she probly was jest a little older than me. I saw a big man come in and watched out of the corner of my eye as he kissed the lady. I saw the badge too. I smiled as I passed and went up to my room, feelin like he could see right thru me.

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Linn Keller 6-26-08


I stepped into the Jewel and looked around. Tillie smiled up at me and I asked her about the boys in her life, and she laughed and said that I was right, they were, and the night before they were happily wrestling on the living room floor, "just like a couple of boys!" and we laughed together at the thought.
I swept the dining room with my eyes; two or three tables were occupied, folks I knew, one I didn't, a worn looking woman with sadness and too much experience in her eyes. She still managed a quiet smile, and I smiled back.
Esther came down the stairs, delight on her face and news on her lips, and she instantly had my full attention.
"They'll start the roundhouse foundation tomorrow," Esther said, excitement in her eyes, "and I've hired a track gang to lay in to the new roundhouse and the shop!"
I knew they'd been grading the site down, with a slip scraper mostly, a little rock work but not much, and I knew the surveyors had been out there today, staking out final dimensions and arguing happily over the drawings.
I leaned down and kissed Esther, and she kissed me back, her all warm and solid in my arms and shaped like a woman ought to be ... I looked into those dancing emerald pools and couldn't help but grin!
Now normally a woman would not get excited about a man's territory, and running a railroad with its overlyaing air of steel tracks and pounding spikes, splintery rails and pounding the gravel bed so it's good and settled, coal and wood and a screaming brass whistle ... normally a woman wouldn't want much to do with this, but Esther made it all run like a watch, and she was so very delighted the Z&W would finally have its own engine house and repair shop.
I think part of her delight was because of little Angela, who was just coming out of Daisy's kitchen, wearing a different frock than she'd had on, a chunk of bread in one hand and her ever present rag doll held tight in her left elbow.
She looked up and saw us and the grin on her face would have lit up a dark room.
She giggled and came running at us and I went down to one knee and she fair to jumped into my arms, and a good thing I was braced, for she would have borne me over backwards otherwise!
Angela ran her free arm around my neck and still managed to take another bite of Daisy's good fresh bread, smelling warm and smelling good, and my stomach reminded me I hadn't eaten yet.
I rose easily.
Esther tilted her head a little in that fetching way she had. "Let me get my hat, my dear," she said. "It's time to home."
I grinned. Jake had the town for the night; I knew that if I were needed, I would be summoned.
I looked at Angela, and Angela giggled and hid her chin behind her rag doll.

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Lady Leigh 6-27-08


As the years moved on, William continued his treks to the Chevalier Plantation. For the safety of Tulla, he remained distant, especially when Orvil was never totally out of sight.

He watched Beverly grow, and he always kept a keen eye on her. Sometimes he would see things that would remind him of his sisters or his Mother, ultimately chastising himself with thoughts of any similarity being wishful thinking.

William took note Beverly was moved into the main house at a young age to work. He was relieved Beverly was spared the fields .... and Orvil. Before Granny died, she told him of the lustful looks Orvil would give the girl, which only added further repulsion toward the Overseer.

He also saw another happening .... William was no fool .... he took note of the body language between Beverly and Lucien Chevalier’s son, Fremont. He knew exactly what was happening between them, and William’s heart ached further for it. A white man could not openly love a black woman, even if Beverly did not look anything other than another white woman .... it didn’t matter .... the law was the law. One drop of African blood made Beverly a slave.

One evening shortly after sundown, William was preparing to retire for the night. An urgent knock at the Parish door disrupted his thoughts. Behind the door stood Beverly and Fremont Chevalier.

What was he supposed to do? The road ahead of them would be dangerous, but “IF” this young woman “WAS” his child, he wanted her to have an honest chance at a real life. A life beyond slavery. A life spent honestly loving a man. A life spent as God intended.

He married them. He made a vow to them he would be silent of anything he knew. He sent them on their way with a prayer on his lips ..... the first prayer he spoke with honesty to God in a long time.

The next night another urgent knocking at the door, but the door burst open before he had a chance to get there. Lucien Chevalier, Orvil and a couple of other Plantation hands were standing in front of him. Lucien at the lead questioned William of the where a bouts of his son and a run away slave. William remained silent, and honestly did not know where the two where headed, so at least he could not lie to Fremont’s Father.

Lucien enraged, looked toward the other men in the room instructing them to do what ever was necessary to get the Priest to talk, and then he turned and left.

The first blow William received threw him to the floor. As he tried to roll over, he was moved back with a boot in his side. It was not long when he lost track of whose fists were driving into him or to whose boots kicked him around the Parish floor. In time, the three men left laughing at the “African lover”, he heard them say. William also heard them say they would be back. Then sweet oblivion came.

When he awoke, a blurred image stared at him and William shrunk into the mattress he laid upon. But the voice he heard was that of Mac Moreford. A man he came to know during the years spent in the community. Mac worked at one of the other plantations in the area. He was honest and caring of those he was in charge over. Mac told him he had heard through the grapevine Chevalier was on his way to get information out of the Priest. It only stood to reason that if Orvil was also in attendance, then trouble would follow as well. Mac arrived shortly after the others left. He heard them laughing and mocking as they rode away, so Mac entered the Parish and found a horrific sight.

Mac tended to William as best he could, but knowing there would be additional harm to the Priest, he finally arranged William in a wagon and took him to the Plantation he worked on. With the owners being good and honest Christian people, they kept the Priest a secret.

In time William physically healed. Emotionally? No. Mac heard the fevered talk of the Priest. Mac pieced the story together, and when William was completely mended, the two men left Louisiana and moved west. Didn’t matter where .... just west.

William and Mac were hired at a ranch outside Firelands, Colorado. Mac, forever a friend to a broken man .... Bill.

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Linn Keller 6-27-08


Annette Messman was unusually quiet as she and Jacob drove out to where their house would be.
Jacob was effusive, effervescent; he could hardly contain his excitement and spoke enthusiastically of how the house would be sheltered from the prevailing storms, but would receive morning sun, and part of the afternoon; he spoke of graze, of water, timber and cattle, the possibility of acquiring adjacent property and expanding a herd, perhaps investing in one of the new breeds.
Miss Messman was not uninterested, really, just ... distracted.
When they drew up, finally, at the base of the cliff, Jacob stepped down from the buggy and lifted his hands to help his sweetheart down.
Annette gave him a sorrowful look and bit her bottom lip before taking his hands and carefully jumping out, as was her habit.
"Annette?" Jacob asked in the gentle voice he'd learned from his father, and Annette dropped her eyes as if ashamed.
Jacob waited patiently ... again, a trait he'd learned from observation.
Finally Annette pressed a kerchief to her nose.
"Jacob, I am terrible," she said, and leaned against him.
He wrapped his arms around her, honestly surprised. "No you're not," he said, uncertainty in his voice, a dozen speculations vying for his attention.
Annette shook her head. "You don't understand."
"Then tell me."
Annette looked away, clearly distressed.
Jacob's imaginations were clamoring for his attention.
He shoved them ruthlessly aside, focusing instead on Annette.
Facts, he thought. What did Pa say? ... Data, data, I cannot build bricks without straw!
Annette looked up. "Jacob, I wanted to hold onto Duzy's memory."
Jacob nodded.
"I wanted to honor her memory."
Again, he nodded.
"When I laid out the newspaper I put her name on the masthead, and in the obituary column I listed her as 'on extended leave abroad.'"
Jacob plucked the dainty hankie from between her trembling fingers and dabbed at the dampness dribbling from her left eye.
"I know," he said quietly. "I saw that."
Annette snatched the kerchief back and blew her nose with a less than ladylike ferocity.
Jacob's eyebrows lifted a little in honest surprise.
"I saw Jake reading the newspaper," she said, clearing her throat with a little bob of her head, "and I saw the look on his face." She looked up at Jacob, misery in her expression. "Jacob, that poor man ... he loved her so, and I hurt him again, and I don't know how to tell him I am so very sorry!"
Jacob cupped her elbows in his hands, weighing his options.
Finally he drew her gently into him, and just held her as she wavered between being a girl, and a woman, not certain which way she should go, but knowing she was distressed, knowing she was drawing comfort from the safety of a man's strong arms.
Jacob held her carefully, not wanting to disturb the tilt of her hat, and it was a mark in his favor that he neither laughed, nor did he smile while she was watching.
His imagination had raised several alarming possibilities as to why she was so distressed, and his relief at finding his imaginations unfounded, was immense.
Jacob did not get much done by way of introducing his bride-to-be to their house-to-be, but he did lay a very important corner stone in the foundation of their life together.
When his chosen was distressed, he was strong, and he was patient, and he listened.

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Linn Keller 6-27-08


Johnny Guthrie looked at the isolated water tank and smiled.
The smile was nearly toothless, which didn't matter much to the disagreeable old man; he drank most of his nourishment anyway.
His eyes were not for the mountainous vista and sunlight glorious on snowy peaks; nor were they for majestic trees shouldering against the darkening sky: no, his were greedy eyes, piggish eyes, eyes fixed on the point where the Lady Esther would come to a stop to take on water.
Western locomotives had to water about every fifteen miles, he knew, and this was one of her regular stops, as evidenced by the iron-hooped, wooden-staved tank stilted up on spindly legs beside the track.
His boys, Craig and Glenn, had roped convenient logs and dragged them across the tracks as a further inducement to stop: with more luck than labor they got both longs crossways of both rails: not an efficient means of stopping a steam locomotive, but they were not the most knowledgeable of robbers, though certainly their greed ranked with their father's.
The road to Firelands ran just the other side of the tracks, one of the occasional stretches where the two ran together, or nearly so.
This was a lonely road and nobody much would be traveling, they believed; even if they did, nobody would be nearby when the train stopped: they would get aboard, get the strongbox and get gone, hopefully before anyone realized anything out of the ordinary was happening.
"They got lawmen in that town," Johnny had whined to his boys, "they got lawmen that'll run a man to ground if they gotta trail him a year and ta hell! We don't wanta hurt no one 'less we have to but if we have ta kill anyone a'tall, we kill ever'one, don't leave no witnesses!"
His boys nodded; they'd heard about that MacNeil fellow and the bear he rode with, and they weren't sure which was bigger, meaner or a better tracker, that Marshal fella or that bear. Some said it was a dog he rode with but Johnny and his boys knew better.
Dogs ain't big as a grizzly, black as a sinner's heart, furred like a winter coat nor mean as Lucifer himself.
Not like that one.
They'd brought an ax to cut through the express car door. An ax oughta be enough, Johnny Guthrie had allowed, his Adam's apple bouncing up and down the front of his scrawny, dirt-ribbed neck. We get in, we get the safe and we get out. Safe is little enough we can carry it, he said. We'll get it home an' turn it upside down an' chop out the wood bottom, he said.
His boys nodded wisely, content to let the old man do the thinking.
Now Johnny Guthrie and his boys waited.
The Lady Esther's whistle howled in the distance.

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Lady Leigh 6-28-08


“It’s him I tell you!”

“Bev, it has been 20 years. It’s also a long ways from Louisiana.” Monty interjected.

“Look how far we are from Louisiana, Monty.” Beverly said back to Monte while shaking her head and pacing the Parlor floor of the house. They were living in the house once occupied by the Rosenthals, who had lived in the little house until their own home was built.

She continued after turning once again to her husband, “ Look at the eyes, Monty. Look at the eyes. Granny said something to me once on how his eyes were the window to his saddened heart and soul. Again I tell you, it ‘is’ him.”

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Linn Keller 6-28-08


Jacob's thoughts were soft and gentle as Miss Messman leaned against his shoulder and sighed.
The hired nag moved at an easy trot, drawing the buggy without difficulty down the mostly-level road paralleling the Z&W's double tracks. Jacob was enjoying the quiet, nothing but bird song and the lulling rhythm of horse's hooves, thoughts of how it would be when their house became reality, and this would be a regular routine, driving from the house into town.
Annette's head came up an inch and she froze, just as Jacob drew up on the reins and ho'd to the horse.
The nag shied a little as two dirty figures jumped into the roadway ahead of them, one with a shotgun, one with a Spencer carbine: Jacob's teeth locked together, realizing he'd just been taken like a tenderfoot.
Annette let out a little shriek, dramatically throwing her hands up to head level, fluttering them as she covered her face and cowered against Jacob.
She knew the value of distraction: the pair, watching her hands flutter like frightened birds, did not notice her concealing skirt masking Jacob's rifle as it descended, with a little help, to the floor of the buggy.
Jacob opened a little valve in the bottom of his heart and drained all his emotions, all his feelings, leaving him feeling very, very cold.
"You boys aren't thinkin' too well," Jacob drawled, letting the reins slack over the dashboard and standing as if he hadn't a concern in the world. "I'm a Sheriff's deputy, and I've got you right where I want you."
The pair looked at each other, and looked at Jacob, and laughed.
Then the right-hand robber raised his Spencer to shoulder and fired.

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Linn Keller 6-28-08


Duzy's Derringer was kind of worn at the edges, smooth at the corners; it had been fired once, and only once, in all the time Duzy carried it.
Duzy had been given her little two barrel over and under persuader the day before she left to head West.
Duzy had used the little derringer on the man who'd taken a delight in beating women and little children, the man who'd beat his wife to death, the man who'd tried to break a soiled dove's cheek bone.
The man who turned his fury on Duzy.
Some evil souls will be stopped only by the persuasive power of lead.
Duzy's Derringer spoke for the first time in that moment, in saving one woman from being beat to death, quite probably another as well, and a child who would afterward be beaten senseless, as the man habitually did after having a woman.
Murder was stopped by that little two-barrel hideout.
Now, in another woman's grip, it spoke now for the second time in its existence.
Annette Messman had worn one of Duzy's skirts for her ride with Jacob.
Duzy's skirt had a particular pocket sewn into it, made to fit a particular Derringer.
Duzy's Derringer had slept in the Sheriff's desk drawer; forgotten, it had migrated to the back of the drawer, until Jacob, searching for a half-glimpsed pen, saw the curve of its backstrap and remembered the little lifesaver.
On impulse -- for no particular reason, really -- he weighed it in his hand, smiling a little as he remembered the fine woman who'd originally owned it, and then thought of another fine woman.
Annette would have need of this, he thought, and so that night he'd presented it to his intended.
Annette showed a surprising dexterity in operating the pistol: unbeknownst to Jacob, she had her dead brother's Derringer, and though she hadn't fired the first shot through it, she had handled it, loaded it, unloaded it, and practiced gripping, drawing and dry-firing it until she felt comfortable with it.
Johnny Guthrie waited on the far side of the tracks, knowing his boys would stop the oncoming buggy. He'd told them they could have whatever they took, and regretted his words when he saw part of the take might include a pretty girl.
He watched, ready to spring, as his boys halted the buggy, then his brows ran together and collided in a ravine of unwashed wrinkles as the driver laid his reins down, as excited as a glass of milk, and stood up and told them he was a deputy sheriff and he had them right where he wanted them.
Johnny Guthrie looked around, fearing they'd been taken in ambush: then a rifle shot, and four fast pistol shots.
Johnny Guthrie did not hesitate. He wasn't sure quite what happened but he was damn well going to get something for his troubles, and he sprinted for the buggy.
He jumped up and grabbed the girl's right arm.
She turned like a striking viper.
The last thing Johnny Guthrie saw was the muzzle of a two barrel Derringer, right before it drove into his right eye socket.
He didn't see the pointed 41-caliber slug that punched a hole through his eyeball and eventually out the back of his head.

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Linn Keller 6-29-08


E. Keller, chief executive, owner and general manager of the Z&W Ralroad, smiled over her spectacles at the solemn-faced little girl.
"I think we can make your doll look very nice," this executive chief of a thriving freight and passenger transport business said, with a tilt of her head.
Angela thrust the doll into her hands, giggling, and Esther turned it over, studied it, turned it over again.
She squeezed the doll, gentle, puzzled; she felt its arms, its legs.
Odd, she thought.
Angela skipped across the room and climbed onto Esther's neatly-made bed, and with the simple innocence of a child, gave a little sigh and was almost instantly asleep.
Esther pressed the back of her hand lightly against her lips, suppressing a chuckle, then quietly, slowly opened her desk drawer.
She took out a little tin, and opened its hinged lid; selecting a seam ripper, she very carefully began disassembling the rag doll's side seam, beginning at its right heel and going up the leg.
She'd gotten about to its hip when the oddity became apparent.
The doll was not stuffed with nice, soft, cuddly cloth.
Esther unrolled the tightly-coiled bundle.
Paper? she thought, examining the brown-paper-wrapped cylinder, rotating it thoughtfully between thumb and forefinger.
On a hunch, she slipped a thumbnail under the tiny dot of crimson sealing wax.
Esther's eyebrows climbed up her forehead and stopped halfway to her hairline.
Money! she thought. No wonder Linn couldn't find any cash on the father!
Carefully, delicately, Esther opened the other seams, enough to extract the currency hidden in the child's faithful companion.
She didn't count it: rather, she put the rolls in her desk drawer and covered the wealth with papers and ledger-books.
I will wash the little doll and re-stuff it, she thought, but with something soft and cuddly: rag, perhaps, or cotton batting, something a bit more friendly that Yankee greenbacks!

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NCGranny 6-29-08



After an early breakfast, I set out to find the varmint I wus lookin for, and from my sperience the bartender always knowed what was goin on. I walked up in my purty outfit and smiled at the handsome man behind the bar and had another cup of his brew, spiced with vanilla. I never knowed it was so good in coffee, but I had put it on the backside of my ears afore for a little sent to smell good.

Mr. Baxter told me of a man by the name I was lookin for but he didn’t look to happy talkin bout him…said he weren’t even aloud in the Silver Jewel, for he was ornery and always lookin for a fight. I knowed how the man wus….he wus pure evil, for I had seen his face when he cheered them other Yankee’s on after rippin my Nannys bloomers off and takin her first…sayin it was his rite jus cause he outranked em, and leavin her bleeding from his cruel act after callin her a nigger and sayin she weren’t good for nuthin, cept what he could do for her. Nanny bit her lips so hard they bled to, but it made him that much madder when she would not beg or scream, tho later she couldn’t help herself, after so many, she had to let it out. I had to cover my ears, but soon it would him that would be screamin!

I made up my mind, real quick like to make sure he knew who he was dyin for, why he was dyin and I tended on makin him suffer. I went to get my rig from Shory and took off in the direction of the devils own house, not far out of Firelands. This wus my last kill and then I could start over, and afore the day was over, that devil would be in hell.

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Linn Keller 6-29-08


I slid the journal back into my top right hand desk drawer and gently pushed it shut.
Jackson Cooper was standing with his shoulder against the door frame, thumbs in his belt, looking out the open door.
I wasn't sure which to marvel at more: the size of those well-muscled arms straining his rolled up shirt sleeves, or the fact the door frame, stout though it was, actually stood up to the strain of this man's lean.
Both our heads came up at the Lady Esther's whistle. I looked up at the big Regulator clock, and Jackson Cooper and I each took out our pocket watches and checked them against the Regulator.
"She's right on time," Jackson Cooper said admiringly. "I'll say this for Miz Esther, it might not be her hand on the throttle but she sure runs the train!"
I grinned, rising, and picked up my Stetson. "Let's go see what the train brought us today!"
Jackson Cooper handed me my Winchester and pulled the door to behind us.

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Linn Keller 6-30-08


Annette walked the second horse up beside the first and handed Jacob the tag end of the second lariat.
Jacob dallied a loop around each saddle horn, four turns, held the tag ends and nodded to Annette.
A hand on each bridle, she spoke quietly, soothingly to the scruffy, skittish mounts, and they leaned into the burden, drawing the first log off the tracks with a slither and a bump. Annette had her hands full trying to keep them calm; one nearly pulled out of her grip, but when she raised her voice and told the short-coupled gelding, "Stop that!" it dropped its head, part in surprise and part in submission, and both Jacob and Annette knew these horses had not been well treated.
Jacob loosed the lines and hitched them both on the second log just as the Lady Esther whistled into view.
Jacob squinted at the oncoming locomotive, his teeth firmly together: where his father was prone to the occasional profound language in such moments, Jacob was not.
Quickly, silently, he hitched onto the second log; again he nodded to Annette, again the horses leaned into their burden, but the second log was rot-slick and one lariat slipped off.
Jacob released the second line and said, "Back up, my dear," and Annette backed quickly, drawing the horses with her, and the Lady Esther's cowcatcher drove into the thick end of the log, spinning it off the tracks like a jackstraw. Chunks of wood as long as Jacob's arm and thick as his lower leg exploded from the trunk and spun off some distance away.
It was more than the two outlaws' horses really liked. The mare grunted and started dancing, trying to throw her head up and away.
"Here! Here! Stop that!" Annette shouted, hauling down hard on the offending mount's cheekstrap.
Jacob took three long strides and reached as high as he could, for the mare had proven the more skittish of the two, and though the gelding was restless, it was the mare who reared, and Miss Messman took a brief trip off the ground.
Jacob seized the trailing reins and drew gently: "Ho, girl," he said, his voice low, stroking her neck and side-stepping into the gelding to keep his own feet from becoming a casualty of her descending hooves.
The mare calmed, her eyes walling and her nostrils flaring as the Lady Esther hissed and screeched to a stop, the tender coming precisely under the hinged water spout.
The conductor came trotting over, taking in the bodies, the logs.
"What happened here?" he demanded. "How did those logs get on the tracks?"
Jacob's eyes narrowed a little at the corners, his expression unreadable, and something cold closed around the conductor's stomach.
"The train is safe, and so are you," Jacob said quietly.
The conductor looked over at the bloodied and unmoving forms, limbs awkwardly positioned as the dead often are.
"I'll take your word for it," he muttered and hurried back to the train.

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Lady Leigh 6-30-08


“You came a little light handed, don’t you think?” Bonnie giggled as she led Levi into the house.

Levi, the middle son of Abram Rosenthal, and Caleb’s next oldest brother, stood with Bowler hat in hand and just the smallest of a smile on his face. Like Caleb, he, too, had a habit of running a hand through his dark wavy hair.

“I checked into the Silver Jewel when the train pulled into town, which incidentally stopped rather abruptly just shy of Firelands. Looked like there was debris on the tracks, but .... here I am ...”

“Why on earth would you check into the Silver Jewel? We have plenty of room!”

Caleb walked into the room just then with a smile taking up most of his face, “Levi! Why didn’t you tell us you were on your way to Firelands? Did I hear you say you checked into the Jewel? Come, let us get your baggage! Stay with us!” After a brotherly embrace, Levi was getting ready to answer, when a skipping Sarah came bounding into the room,

“Uncle Levi!!” She ran into his arms, full of giggles and laughter.

“Look at how you have grown, Sarah! I can hardly call you ‘Sprout’ any longer!” Levi held onto the child as long as he dared. He glanced off toward the Parlor, and on a blanket he saw Opal and Polly on the floor. Opal making huge attempts to scooting off and Polly reaching and giggling. He walked toward the delightful pair and crouching down gazed at them. Looking at Opal tugged at his heart .... the biological daughter of James and Chen chi .... reminding him of his reason being in Firelands .... He reached toward her with a loving hand and placed his palm on her head. Looking at Polly and reaching with the other hand, palm doing the same with her.

Bonnie and Caleb looked at one another with puzzled expressions, not missing the soberness of Caleb’s brother. Levi spoke again, “I thought it best to check into the hotel. I may not be welcome after telling you what I have come to say. He stood up, and looked at his brother and sister-in-law with a jaw that would have been set, had it not been for a slight tremble.

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Lady Leigh 6-30-08


Bonnie excused herself to get Lavender, who was outside tending to the kitchen garden recently planted. After Lavender took the girls upstairs, and after Bonnie brought in a tea tray and poured the fragrant tea into cups, handing them to her husband and then to Levi, looking expectantly at him.

"I understand James wrote you a letter." Levi spoke.

"Yes ...."

"May I read it first before I begin?"

Bonnie set her tea cup on the tray and went to her writing desk. She lift the lid, pulled open a small drawer, and tenderly brought out the letter from her brother, James. She looked at it a moment before turning to hand it to Levi.

He gently took the parchment from Bonnie's long slender fingers, noticing the appearance of the letter .... tear stained and ripping at the fold lines. He looked up into Bonnie's eyes with saddness, and was greeted with the like of her own.

He gingerly opened the letter and read:

“Bonnie, the woman who has brought you this letter is Chen-chi ... my wife. I know this letter is a tremendous surprise to you, and it is my hope to visit with you soon in person concerning this, but time is of the essence, and I may not be able to get there soon .... if at all.

I would greatly appreciate you helping Chen-chi. As you can see, she is pregnant, and due at anytime .... I pray she made it to you before the labor pains begin!

You will also see she gets around with two canes. The reason for the canes is merely one injustice women in China are accursed too. At the age of 5, her mother and grandmother began binding her feet, a tradition that is to be of great beauty for Chinese women, but in truth, it is a deformity that renders many woman useless in the art of walking! Chen-chi’s ability to walk is much worse now that she no longer binds, due to the broken toes and bones in her feet that will never heal properly. Be patient with her, Bonnie.

I ask you to keep Chen-chi in your keeping until I can get there myself,
but in the event I can not, there are two individuals that will be able to
explain our cause to you. They are two men you know, but I can not risk divulging their identity at present.

What I can say, is we have spent the last several years placing many
Chinese into proper environments that are not abusive to them, but have recently been found out, thus the danger Chen-chi faces, though she is one of hundreds, I am afraid. But her danger will cause her certain death if the man who owned her finds her, Bonnie.

Being a Concubine in China, Bonnie, is not considered a bad living arrangement. Often times, it is the only way some Chinese women have at a secure future. Chen-chi’s situation in that living arrangement differs from other woman, as she grievously sinned in the eyes of the Chinese culture .... she fell in love ...with me. I would have gotten her out of San Francisco sooner, but her assistance in our operation was invaluable. The communication level for one thing as she fluently speaks English, as well as several Asian dialects.

I need to bring this letter to a close, Bonnie, but before I do, I beg your forgiveness in not being in communication with you. Though I do not expect you to understand the necessity of it appearing I have been dead in the eyes of you, Mama and Margaret, but it was necessary. I was severely put to the test when I heard of Mama and Margaret’s deaths .... and also the horror that befell to you as well .... There were, and are, many needs of a great many people. I had to make a choice, and it was not an easy one.

With deepest regards,

Your brother,


Levi carefully refolded the letter and handed it back to Bonnie, who put it into the pocket of her skirt.

It didn't matter how many times Levi rehearsed what he was going to say .... he was about to step off the edge of a cliff. Bonnie was about to hear how her life was played with by people she knew and trusted.

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Linn Keller 6-30-08


The sight of two lawmen, the engineer, the fireman, conductor, telegrapher and two or three loafers was enough to draw the attention of the town, especially when the abovementioned were gathered in a loose semi-circle around the nose of the Lady Esther, solemnly regarding her massive cowcatcher.
The Sheriff always did appreciate machinery that was solid-built and made to last; Jackson Cooper admired the precision of the joints and the fine workmanship Baldwin put into their locomotives in general, and this cowcatcher in particular.
The engineer and fireman searched vainly for any damage to their beloved engine.
The conductor was chattering as an excited man will, blurting to an apparently unconcerned Sheriff his observations a little up the track.
The Sheriff casually drew aside first the engineer, then the fireman, while Jackson Cooper took the conductor in the opposite direction and refrained from smiling tolerantly at the man's auctioneer-paced after-action report.
Unnoticed, Jacob and Annette drove into town from the other end, their rented nag drawing the buggy easily, at an effortless trot.
Jacob could see from the little rise, the crowd around the nose of the Lady Esther.
"Wonder what's the excitement," he drawled nasally in a voice of exaggerated boredom.
Annette leaned her head over against her shoulder, her gloved hand on his arm.
"It's probably nothing," she sighed. "Nothing ever happens here."
Jacob looked down at Annette, and Annette looked up at Jacob, and they both laughed.

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NCGranny 6-30-08


He was standing by the well, pullin up a pail of water when he first heared me and looked up. He was older, but I membered him as if it wus yesterday.

“Hey Mister, I am sorry to bother you, but I am a little lost. Could you give me directions to Firelands?”

He sneered and my thought was wiping that sneer off, and at the same time, I wus happy he did for I wus gonna enjoy playin with him. He walked over, real cocky like, and said, “Sure honey, I can give you directions, but not before you give me something in return.”

“I don’t understand, what do you need Mister? Collin’s aint it, Captain Collins as a matter of fact the last time I member you!”

He looked puzzled like and looked at me closer. “How do you know my name?”

“Wus a long time ago, back durin the War, a plantation in North Carolina you raided and burned…..you member that black woman you raped?”

“I remember raping a lot of women, didn’t matter what color, they got what was coming to them.”

He lunged for my arm, and when he did, my knife went to his throat. His eyes got big.

“I’m gonna kill you Collins, but afore I do, you have a chance to run.” I had already seen he had left his rifle at the well and was looking back at it. I figured he must be unarmed or he wouldn’t be lookin back…but I weren’t takin any chances as I pressed the blade further and saw a line of blood where it laid.

“Are you crazy?” he said real slow like, barely moving his mouth.

“Yep, and afore the day is over, you will know jest how crazy and why too, and you will know and member that there black lady I axed bout! Now on the count of three, run!”

I already had my lasso ready and jest afore he reached his rifle, I twirled it over him and jerked him backward on his arse, landing him in the dirt. I laughed. It was as if I was outside my body watchin, like I wus two places at once.

I picked up my rifle and walked to him. “Roll over!”

I am not standing for this! Sheriff Keller will lock you up. You are crazy to think you can get the best of me!”

“Well, you got the first part rite, you aint standin, that’s for sure! “Now roll over!” He didn’t move. I shot him in the foot.

“You damn crazy woman,” he said after screamin bad words.

I shot his right hand, noticing he favored it. Another scream….followed by another shot, his other foot, and then another, his other hand, and I laughed with each scream. Then, I reached in the pocket of my skirt and pulled out Nanny’s picture. Member her now?


“LIAR!” I yelled back and I shot right between his legs and it were sure good he didn’t have any close neighbors….for he kept screamin as I watched the blood pour from him like it had from my Nanny.

I pulled out another picture, the plantation with the tall oaks that would have been my home and said, “member this place!”

He jest shook his head, not even lookin, knowin he would die without help and knowin there weren’t any help nearby.

I walked back to the buggy and took out four stakes and staked him to the ground as I watched the sun come up. It sure felt good and I walked and had a drink of the devil’s water and even offered him a drink. Jest before it got to his mouth, I pulled it back and drunk it myself and laughed again. It was already a good day and it was just past noon.

I held up the pictures and said real sweet like, “the sooner you member, the sooner you get help….you better think real hard Captain cause I member ever detail and so will you afore you bleed to death and I cominced to tell him the story of that day, with the sun getting hotter by the minute and I watched and laughed as insects crauled on his body and he began to beg. And the harder he begged the more I laughed.

“I remember the place, I remember the woman; but, I don’t remember you!”

“That’s cause Nanny hid me and you wus too busy hurting her to see me peeking out, but I swore I would get y’all and you are the last one!”

“You killed my men?”

“Yep, and now it’s your turn. The next bullet went tween his eyes. I pulled up the stakes, untied him, cleaned my trail, burnt the rope and my purty blood staned dress, changed clothes and headed back to Firelands. I liked it there.

I made it back to the Silver Jewel and up to my room and sagged to the floor with relief, it wus finaly over.

Now, I could start a new life and I felt free for the first time since I was sixteen.

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Linn Keller 6-30-08


Esther laid her hand on the little wooden casket. Her gesture was almost a caress, and from the softness of her eyes, I knew she was remembering.
"I bought Duzy this, when she was still a girl," she said softly. "She called it her 'Dowry Box.'" She pressed her lips together and looked down, swallowing.
Jacob shifted in his seat, uncomfortable but not willing to be impolite and leave. Annette's eyes were bright as she looked from Jacob to me, and she was almost afraid to look at Esther, maybe fearing she would be brought to tears if my bride started crying.
I knew she and Jacob had seen some excitement that day, and Jacob and I would speak of it here soon, but for the moment we were sitting around my favorite table in the back of the Jewel. My wife was at my right hand and my son at my left, and she would be my daughter-in-law was beside him: the engraved rifle Esther had given me, graven with words of her love, parked against the wall, a tangible reminder of the love of the good woman for an old graying lawman she'd somehow managed to fall in love with.
It doesn't get much better than this, I thought.
Esther looked up, her eyes bright. She looked at me, laying her hand, butterfly-light, on mine.
"My dear, I believe it is time."
We had spoken of this, at home, the night before, in that secret time when a man and a woman are intimate, and under their own quilt, that sharing of the souls in the dark that comes when both are completely relaxed, and in one another's arms. Whispered words take on meanings that resound through universes, and Esther and I had discussed this, in the quiet of our bedroom, in the warmth and safety of our own bed.
Esther opened the hinged lid of the exotic, polished-wood casket: the money Duzy had carefully hoarded was gone, but her jewelry was intact.
Duzy had been the favorite daughter of a wealthy and generous father, and he had seen to it that she had fine gowns, and he did not hesitate to buy his daughter fine jewelry: not only as ornamentation for this darling of his eye, but as investment: jewels, like land, seldom lose value, and if a woman must snatch one thing and one thing only from a burning house, he knew that if Duzy snatched this little wood casket, she would have enough to start over.
Esther drew out a ring.
Gold it was, and bright in the indirect morning light; Esther turned it a little, holding it between thumb and forefinger. Light glittered from immense depths, teasing the eye, inviting a closer look, and look they did.
I looked over Annette's head, scanning the room, looking for those who may be paying attention, for jewelry is appreciated by good people and bad.
Lead us not into temptation, we prayed every Sunday in the little whitewashed church, but sometimes people are tempted because of human carelessness.
Fortunately there were none others in the Jewel who were paying attention.
Just us.
"This ring was my mother's," Esther said, with a little difficulty. "She gave it to me, and when Duzy came of age, I gave it to her." She swallowed again, her speech halting a little, and I could tell she was moved as deeply as the light refracting from the heart of the stone she held.
Esther smiled at Jacob and Annette. "Jacob, you will need a ring for your bride."
Jacob looked like he'd just been handed a three foot long catfish.
I thought his jaw was going to set clear down on the table top.
It was all I could do to keep from smiling; I knew the smile was in my eyes, and Miss Messman looked at me, and colored, and she smiled a little too, but she smiled at my expression and not at this sudden wealth.
Esther reached into the casket again, delicately, and drew out a second ring: a decorative gold band, the metalwork matched the square-cut diamond's band.
"This was my mother's wedding ring. I would have worn it, had Handsome here" -- she gave me a sidelong glance and squeezed my hand a little -- "not gotten in such a hurry and had a set made for me!"
Esther leaned over and placed the two rings in the middle of the table.
Jacob managed to winch his jaw shut.
Annette, to her credit, looked but briefly at this bonanza of wealth gleaming in the center of the tablecloth. Her eyes were for Jacob.
Jacob chewed on his top lip for a few moments.
"Ma'am," he finally said, "I thank you."
Esther closed her eyes and smiled, inclining her head a bit.
Jacob's chair was loud on the hardwood floor as he shoved it back. He reached for the diamond, held it up, raising it a little above eye level, at arm's length, almost like a man giving a toast: then he turned, and went to one knee.
"Annette," he said, and his voice was a little husky, but clear: "Annette, my Pa could put it in fancy language, but right now I can't think straight."
It was Jacob's turn to swallow, and I could see his ears turning a remarkable shade of crimson.
Annette's eyes were getting bright and glittery, just like Esther's had.
"Annette, will you marry me?"
The world held its breath, or at least I did, and Esther's hand tightened a little on mine.
"Yes," Annette breathed.
Jacob took her hand and delicately, carefully, threaded the ring on her finger.
None of us saw fit to tell him he was putting it on her right hand instead of the left.
Annette held it up, looked over at Esther, biting her lower lip, and her eyes started to leak a little.
There was this Celtic roar from the bar, and Sean's meaty hand smacked Mr. Baxter's polished mahogany bar-top a mighty blow: "And it's about time, lad! Mr. Baxter! Drinks on the house, if ye'll be so kind! The Irish Brigade is buyin'!"
Annette's face flushed, and Jacob laughed, Sean came striding over and kissed Annette's cheek, pounded Jacob on the back, Fiddler Daine struck up a lively jig, and the Irish Brigade started moving tables and chairs back against the wall.
This was the frontier. Death and grief skulked about nearby corners, and so we celebrated life and joy at every opportunity.
Esther and I were in the middle of dancing a set when Jackson Cooper caught my eye.
I kissed Esther's cheek, giving her a quick squeeze.
She knew something was amiss, for she stroked my cheek and said, "Be careful," and I kissed her again, and then I walked over and taken up my rifle and my hat and joined Jackson Cooper out on the board walk.
Jackson Cooper's eyes were troubled.
"Sheriff," Jackson Cooper said, "John Collins been killed"

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Charlie MacNeil 6-30-08


Charlie and Fannie were taking their turn around the floor to celebrate Jacob's grand gesture. Charlie saw the big deputy's sudden appearance, saw Linn leave Esther in the middle of a turn, saw her whisper to him, and saw Linn head toward the door. "Gotta go, darlin'," he told Fannie at the same time Fannie said. "You'd best get, Sugar." He gave her a smile and a squeeze and went for his hat and coat. He came out in time to hear Jackson's words.

"Who's John Collins?" he asked, knowing it was none of his business and at the same time knowing he could no more keep his nose out of law trouble than he could fly across the street. "And how can I help?"

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Mr. Box 6-30-08


I got busy setting up the round of drinks for the house and the place just came alive! I was going to ask Jacob about the train robbery attempt when I got a chance but there will be none of that tonight! That's old news!
I'm sure going to miss Miss Duzy around here! I've got to figure out all those places she was ordering her supplies from. A couple of orders I got in lately seemed to cost a lot more than she was paying! It looks like this place is going to be jumping for a while and I'd better have it stocked up!

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Linn Keller 7-1-08


I pulled out my pocket watch and took a look.
Just shy of ten in the morning.
Sounds of celebration inside seemed a little out of place at this early hour, attracting curious looks from folks here and there, and a general mosey toward the Jewel seemed to commence.
"With me," I said shortly, and the three of us crossed the street for the Sheriff's office.
Once inside, I turned to Jackson Cooper.
Jackson Cooper gave a brief, concise sketch: John Collins had been found dead at his place, nobody around, and by the look of him someone wanted him hurt bad before he died.
"You been out there?"
"No, Sheriff, I figured to come get you first."
"Who brought word?"
"Some drifter huntin' work. He got turned around some miles back, he cut the rail line and thought the territory looked familiar so he turned north and came across Collins' place. Said he though to draw up some water until he come around the well and saw what was left of the man."
"Keep your eye on him. He might've done it and give a false report to throw off suspicions."
Jackson Cooper grinned. "He's not goin' much of anywhere. His horse is lame and Shorty knows not to give him one."
I nodded, considering.
Charlie looked at me out from under his hat brim.
I opened the bottom left hand desk drawer and pulled out some papers.
"Take a look at this."
Charlie looked at the yellowed Harper's Weekly and frowned.
"Left hand column, two paragraphs down."
Charlie read it, his face impassive.
He nodded slowly. "Bloody John Collins."
"The same."
"Be damned. Here I thought he'd be long dead."
I smiled humorlessly. "Their kind never die."
Jackson Cooper looked from one to the other of us. "Who's Bloody John Collins?"
Charlie and I looked at one another.
"You want to tell him, or do I?"
"You," Charlie shrugged. "You were there."
I tossed the other papers onto the desk top. "You recall I was with Uncle Billy during the War."
Jackson Cooper nodded.
"You recall he ordered us to just plainly rip everything out of the ground or burn it to the ground or leave it dead on the ground. Everything."
Jackson Cooper nodded again.
"You recall Uncle Billy wasn't happy with me a'tall."
Jackson Cooper nodded a third time. "You hanged your own men."
"Yep. You recall what for."
Jackson Cooper's face darkened and his eyes narrowed a little. Like most Western men, he had a high regard for women, and a hatred to the very depths of his soul for anyone who would mishandle a woman.
"Uncle Billy wanted to strip me of my rank and drum me out in disgrace. Somehow Lincoln himself got wind of what happened and he sent Uncle Billy a hand written note by swift messenger. Seems Old Abe agreed with me and said for Uncle Billy to do everything to encourage a fine officer who was not afraid to stand up for what was right.
"Old Cump couldn't demote me or drum me out, so he promoted me instead. Put Bloody John Collins in my command and shipped me back North."
A light came on in Jackson Cooper's eyes. "The Bloody Captain," he said, quoting a long-forgotten newspaper headline.
"I've been wondering how long before someone caught up with him."
Charlie considered the matter.
"Who do you think it might be?"
I grinned. "Don't rightly know, Charlie. My crystal ball is kind of foggy these days, but I reckon goin' out to take a look won't hurt, long as the tracks ain't all trompled up."
Charlie tossed the yellowed Harper's Weekly on top of the papers I'd dropped, and the three of us headed out the door.

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Mr. Box 7-1-08


It looks like it's going to be a long day. The place is filling up early and the mood is festive. Daisy is in the kitchen rattling a few extra pots and pans in anticipation of a bigger lunch crowd. She figures as soon as that settles down she'd better enlist a crew to work on supper.
Even though the Irish fire brigade was in the middle of all the hoop-la, Sean always left at least one man watching out for the town. Even if they were all in the Silver Jewel, one would step out the front door and scan the street for a minute before rejoining the rest. There wasn't going to be anything happening to his town if he could help it!

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Lady Leigh 7-1-08


“Chen-chi was an incredible woman,” Levi said quietly.

Bonnie sat a little straighter, “I take it you knew her?”

“Yes ...” Levi readjusted himself in the chair he was sitting in.

“Well,” Bonnie continued on, “That would mean you knew James was alive.” Before Levi could say anything, she moved right along, “That also means ‘you’, Levi, knows the story behind this.” Bonnie pulled the letter back out from her pocket.

“Yes ... I know most of the situation. Please undersand, James and I were working on two separate cases, though in time, they fairly merged as one.” Levi paused taking in Bonnies body language .... so far so good he thought.

He continued, “Yes, Levi was a Pinkerton, but was not until shortly after he came here to Firelands. Soon after, he noticed some things that Slade was doing in association with the land your father owned.”

“Because he knew of the gold,” Bonnie interjected. This is where Levi noticed Bonnie was distinctly uncomfortable looking.

“Yes ... because of the gold. But we also knew Slade was not the ‘King Pin’. Therefore, James was hired on, and dispatched to other locations.”

“We? ‘You’ were a part of this as well?” Bonnie asked with a terseness in her voice.

Levi leaned back into the chair and pulled his fingers through his hair. He looked over to Caleb who was looking at Levi expectantly.

“My area was from Kansas City to Omaha and often times led me into Cheyenne and Denver. James was primarily in San Francisco. We had another operative who worked on this case back east. I relayed as much as I could from the middle. It wasn’t long when we found out it was your Uncle, Bonnie, who was the King Pin. However, in order to build a solid case, we had to let .... the cards play out so to speak.”

Bonnie interrupted Levi, “So .... let me see if I am understanding this correctly. James runs off pretending to be dead. Probably knowing full well that Papa was killed in the Chicago fire. He probably also knew that Mama, Margaret and I would need him. Am I on track so far?”

Levi knew how this was going to play out, so he nodded his head in agreement and decided to let Bonnie continue on.

“Therefore, James also knew we came here to Firelands, he knew about the boarding house Mama established,” Bonnies voice began to rise, “he knew about Mama and Margaret’s death,” voice raising a little more, “and if he was onto Slade, then he knew about the drugging and me being held hostage at Sam’s Place.” Bonnie stopped. The words spoken were sharp, her eyes were beginning to dance with a firelight.


“But Levi, it sounds like he was not the only one who knew those things!” Bonnie spit out.

Caleb placed his hand onto Bonnie’s arm and looked at his brother, “This is all true?”

“Yes .... it is true what she is saying.”

Bonnie stood, knocking away Caleb’s hand, “SO what you are saying, is it was ‘OK’ for us to go through those years on our own? That is was ‘OK’ that I be subjected to the sexual atrocities, just so you three men .... or the Pinkerton’s, “ Bonnie hissed, “could ‘GET’ your guy? Who happened to be my Uncle?”

Levi looked her square in the eye. He knew this would happen. “Bonnie .... please. Please let me try to explain further.”

“What is there to explain, Levi? What? The needs of the many out weigh the needs of one? Or a few? Come on!!!! You! James! That organization! You were ‘playing’ with our lives! With ‘MY’ life! Do you have any idea what we went through? What ‘I’ went through?”

“Yes, Bonnie I do.”

“How do you know? Did you know I would have rather been dead like Mama and Margaret? Did you slip into town on occasion to see if I was still playing your good little whore at Sam’s Place so that you could continue on with your companies plan?” Before Levi could say anything, Bonnie continued on, “You know!? I don’t want to even know that answer. What I do want to know, is who was ultimately the one who had the final say on allowing that madness in my life to continue? Who was it Levi? You? James? Who?!”

It was Levi’s intention to lie if that particular question came up. He felt it was better to have his own name drug down rather than her brother’s. He looked at her once again eye to eye. But when he was about to say his own name, he realized that this conversation was going on because corporate lies. Had he had his way all those years ago, this would not be happening now. He hated coming to Firelands disguised just to see if Bonnie was holding up, or better yet, if she was still alive. Be tried on many occasions to render the situation differently with no success.

Levi thought about it for a bit longer before answering. He could see Bonnie struggling. She had already lost patience. She needed an answer, but she wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear. How would Levi explain how James uncovered another sub link with the Chinese and ultimately his relationship with Chen-chi? How would Bonnie react toward Opal once knowing it was James who said it was better to have Bonnie go through all that she had gone through just so James could move freely within San Francisco and finally make a right out of a lot of huge wrongs. James always said Bonnie was strong. He said she would understand in the end if it ever came to that.

Well .... it had come to that .....

“Levi! Please answer my question. Who was it that thought ‘ME’ being a whore could benefit?”

“James .... it was James. But Bonnie, he did love you ...”

Bonnie laughed and threw her hands up in the air, “Seems to me, Levi, that only men have the convenience of love, as women have to fight for survival.” Bonnies jaw was set, her eyes were more than dancing with firelight as there were flames shooting out at this point. She walked to the window. Caleb stood, but she put up the palm of her left hand toward him to stop his advance, then she turned around and looked squarely at Levi, “Did ‘no one’ care? Were Mama, Margaret and myself held in such little regard, that no one would care?”

Levi was also standing at this time, “I cared, Bonnie ....”

“Not enough.” With that she walked out of the room. Crumpled James’ letter in her hand and let it fall to the floor. She walked out the front door and strode away from the house.

Levi moved to the other part of the room, “Don’t look at me like that Caleb .... you weren’t there ... you don’t have the foggiest idea of what going on or what we were going through.”

"Then maybe you could start by explaining it to me, Levi. Lord knows you are going to need all the help you are going to get."

"Shouldn't you go after her, Caleb?"

"No .... she'll walk into town. Seek out Maude or Esther. SHe needs time. I need what ever else you can tell me to help this make sense."

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Charlie MacNeil 7-1-08


The two lawmen rode up to the house at the Collins place side by side. They stopped their horses well clear of the yard and tied them securely then fanned out and circled the yard looking for tracks. They saw where what had to be the drifter's horse had ridden up to the well then retreated rapidly. Aside from that and the tracks of a coyote it looked like nothing four-legged had been anywhere in the vicinity. The same couldn't be said for varmints of the two-legged variety.

A set of small footprints were in the dust. "There's a woman or a kid's tracks here, but where in hell did she come from?" Charlie wondered. "There's no horse tracks!"

Nobody had an answer right away so when nothing more could be read on the ground the two converged on the body. Magpies and crows burst into the air and Charlie took off his hat and waved it at the departing scavengers. "Heeyah, you buggers! Git on outta here!" He looked down at the body. "He was a vicious bastard, but nobody deserves that," he said. It looked like he'd been used for target practice by somebody who could really shoot.

Charlie turned away. No matter how many bodies he'd seen the continual ability of mankind to work grievous harm on their fellows never ceased to amaze him. He went to the woman's tracks. They did just kind of appear...Or did they?

Charlie knelt and his fingers touched the dust lightly here and there. What the eyes couldn't see maybe the sense of touch could. He closed his eyes and concentrated on what his fingertips were telling him. Then it came to him. "Whoever was here rode a horse with sheep skin tied to it's feet to blot out the tracks," he said to himself. He raised his voice. "The rider hid her tracks," he called to Linn. "Wrapped wool skin around the horse's hooves. Sure didn't leave us much to follow up on."

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Linn Keller 7-2-08


Jackson Cooper could track a lizard across a bare rock.
I left him in town to keep an eye on the drifter, and he and Jake would take care of things until I got back.
Charlie, now ... Charlie could track a gant across a glass pane.
I'd never used the trick of using finger tips to see what the eyes could not, and I was genuinely impressed when he found how the rider had approached.
I stood back a little, thinking, imagining how things might have been when this all started.
Pegs driven in the ground, here.
Blood spoor here, here ... movement in this direction.
I looked very carefully before coming closer, not wanting to disturb any tracks, and almost missed it.
One fired brass.
I saw little indents in one patch of dirt, nothing really clear, but I'd be willing to bet someone stood right about where I was now to pick up brass...
I was right.
My right foot was standing half covering one of those little tracks.
"Small steps," Charlie muttered, thinking aloud. I could tell he was mentally weighing our murderer, taking in length of stride and depth of tracks ... but the ground was mostly hard, and would be difficult to read.
Sheepskin, tied on the hooves ... whoever did this knew something about stealth.
Not an amateur, then.
I studied the carcass.
Someone planned this, planned it for a long time.
"Vengeance," I said aloud.
"Tell me something I don't know," Charlie muttered, frowning.
Charlie squinted, raised his chin. I followed his gaze.
More of those dainty little tracks, a fire, or what had been a fire.
Charlie held up a scrap of scorched cloth, half the size of his hand.
I frowned at it, scratched my head, looked closer.
Charlie nodded.
"Easier than soaking out the stains," Charlie said. "Just burn it."

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NCGranny 7-2-08


I paked my bags and said by to the nice people as I made my way downstairs, after makin sure my knife was washed cleen of the devil’s blood, and went to see Shorty bout gettin my rig. Funny, I thote, as I had never figured on what I would do after gettin Collins, but I needed to be on my way.

I wus hopin to get on West a bit and find some honest work. I knowed it wood be hard, cus I has seen what sum wemen had to do to survive, most of em, if you thote bout it atole, working in the fields or startin bisnesses, or whorin wus bout it.

I thote bout the purty stitches I cood still make and fancied myself helpin make purty hats or dresses, but time wood tell and there wus them nufangled machines now that did a lot of the work. I wus on my way outta town, feelin sad cus it sure wus a nice place with more an its share of nice people. It wood be nice if I cood be hired on to help track people, I smiled, for I new I was good at that!

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Linn Keller 7-2-08


"Hello, Eda Mae."
She froze at the voice.
"Or should I call you Huntress?"
She stood for a long moment, skirts in one hand, one foot up on the buggy's step, the other hand on the back of the seat. Her mare was harnessed up and she was packed, what little she had, and loaded up. She'd paid Shorty with the last of her coin -- probably over paid him, but he'd been nice to her, and he'd curried her mare and worked on her buggy a little where it was needful, and she hadn't asked him to do it neither.
Eda Mae removed her foot from the buggy's step, her shoulders sagging, as if from old age, as if from an immense weight: then she raised her chin, squared up her shoulders and took a deep breath.
"I've been expecting you," she said evenly, a trace of her native Carolina accent tinting her voice.
She turned, slowly, expecting to be met with the business end of the cold-eyed Sheriff's Winchester.
She was surprised to see a tall, slender young man, standing relaxed, almost sleepy eyed.
She blinked, surprised for one of the very few times in her entire adult life.
"My name is --" the young man began, and Eda Mae cut him off.
"I know you, you're the Sheriff's son, and you're one of the fastest deputies this territory has ever seen!" she said in a rush.
He smiled quietly. There was not the ice in his eyes there was in the Sheriff's, but the expression, the stance, was the same, even the way he framed his words.
Her rifle was in the buggy, out of reach, and her knife would do no good at this distance.
She thought of the one, then the other, and she realized she was tired, and almost relieved that it was over.
It was all, finally, over.
She'd known it would come to this. There would be jail, a trial, and finally a gallows, and she would die as a criminal, nobody but her alive to know she'd done right, just the shade of her dear Nana --
"Before you go," the young deputy said, "I would admire to buy your supper."
Eda Mae sagged a little and she felt the color run out of her face. The deputy was to her in three long steps, his hands firm and strong under her arms.
Eda Mae fainted.

Jacob was never one to delay if action was warranted: when he saw the color run from her face like red ink from an eye dropper, and her eyes started to roll up, he was to her and holding her before she collapsed. He had her weight in his hands, and then slid his good right arm around just under her shoulder blades and the other under her knees.
He stood.
"Bring her in," Shorty called from within the livery. "I've got corn whiskey that'll help and horse liniment if that don't."

Eda Mae woke to the fiery wash of distilled spirits; she coughed, swallowed, and shook her head.
Jacob brought the bottle back from her lips.
She reached up and grasped the pint bottle and took another blazing tilt and handed it back, tears stinging her brown eyes.
"Good stuff," she gasped, expecting to cough out a little puff of smoke.
Jacob chuckled. "Guaranteed to raise the dead or kill the living," he smiled, slippping the cork back in and handing it back to Shorty.
Eda Mae coughed again and blinked and looked around.
"Well," she said, "this ain't what I expected."
Shorty patted Jacob on the shoulder. "I got to go exercise a horse," he said. "Don't burn the place down."
Eda watched him walk out the door, and then she looked at Jacob.
Jacob drew up Shorty's chair and seated himself.
"So you know," Eda Mae said in a tired voice.
Jacob nodded.
Eda Mae closed her eyes. "You called me Huntress."
"Yes, ma'am." Jacob pointed with his chin, in the general direction of the Sheriff's office. "Pa keeps some wanted dodgers."
"Any reward on me?" she asked, almost sharply.
"Yes, ma'am." Jacob considered. "One thousand dollars, gold."
"One thousand." She snorted. "For what I done, it was worth ten times that!"
Jacob nodded.
Eda Mae blinked. "You called me by name."
"Yes, ma'am."
"How" -- she worked into more of an upright posture in the hard wooden chair -- "how'd you know my right name?"
"My mother told me of you."
"Your ... mother?"
Jacob nodded, slowly.
Eda Mae squinted at him, trying to place Jacob's features.
"I don't quite figure who you look like," she said finally.
Jacob's smile was tight now, his eyes veiled, and Eda Mae knew this was not a good sign, especially from a lawman. She looked quickly around for a weapon.
Until Jacob spoke again.
"My mother is Esther Wales."
Eda Mae's chin dropped.
"Wa ... Wa ... Wales?" she squeaked.
"Yes, ma'am. She was from the plantation right next to yours."
Eda remembered days long past, nights when she would travel with a young lady's proper escort to neighboring plantations, where there would be laughter and dancing and chaperones, delicate conversation and genteel flirting from behind fluttering fans.
Of all the plantations she visited, none were more welcoming, none more genteel, than the Wales plantation.
Jacob took a deep breath, for he too was remembering.
"Ma'am," he said, "my mother told me of your home, and what the damned Yankees did there." His eyes were hard now: they hadn't gone the ghost-blue of the legendary Sheriff, but were instead as warm and welcoming as Rocky Mountain agate.
"So you know," she breathed.
"Do you know of my Pa?"
"Your Pa?" Eda Mae blinked. "He's got those eyes that can look right through you --"
Jacob laughed, and the laugh broke the tension, and he relaxed, and Eda Mae did too.
"Yes, ma'am, those eyes. He can look at a man's wish bone and see clear through to his spine, and see if there's either yeller or white stripin' either side."
Eda Mae smiled.
"He's strong enough to bend mine rail with his bare hands, bite a gun barrel in two and kick a locomotive off the tracks. He's ten foot tall and mean as a snake, for his mornin' exercise he runs barefoot down a bobwarr fence slingin' a bobcat, by the tail, one out of each hand, just a-darin' 'em to growl!"
Eda Mae threw her head back and laughed as the young deputy demonstrated a spinning motion with both hands.
"He's the one!" she declared, wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands.
Jacob looked at her, his eyes considerably softer. "Ma'am, I'll let you in on a secret." He leaned forward. "He ain't but nine foot eight inches tall!"

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Linn Keller 7-2-08


"Ma'am, I don't reckon we have much time." Jacob handed her a leather pouch. "Here's one thousand, gold. Now listen.
"What you done is what I done to my Pa only I wasn't but a sprout and it was my first kill. You done right. You found ever' last one that done your family wrong.
"Had you not kilt Bloody John I would have."
She looked at his eyes and doubted not one word that he said.
"My mother spoke of what she saw when she saw the smoke. She whipped up her buggy when she heard and she wept over your Nana, for she knew her well."
Eda Mae's eyes stung. She remembered Esther, not but a year older than she, and how she cradled her Nana's head in her lap, believing everyone dead.
Eda Mae had let her think that.
The damned Yankees had quit with their plantation, God alone knew why, and a good thing: had they delayed, they would have taken Esther as well, and in the same way.
"My mother has spoken of you, by name. She thought you killed when it happened. Then she heard of Yankee deaths, by sneak or bushwhack, and she figgered someone lived. She figgered 'twas one of the boys."
Eda Mae looked at the pouch, felt the coin through the soft leather.
"Ma'am, I don't know what you plan to do now, but I will say this." He rubbed his palms together, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "Mother does not know you live. I don't figger to tell. Long as Pa don't figger it out, I'm willin' to say nothin'. Stay or go as you please, ma'am, but bury the Huntress. She's dead, and her secret goes to my grave with me."
Eda Mae looked the young deputy squarely in the eye.
"I've had men lie to me before," she said flatly, and saw the hurt in his eyes.
He was near enough to a man, but he wasn't as case hardened as he would be in years to come.
Eda Mae made her choice.
She leaned forward, scooting her chair toward Jacob's.
She took his hands in hers.
"All right, Deputy," she said. "If you can keep quiet, I can too."
Jacob nodded.
Shorty hawked and spat loudly outside, clattering a pitch fork against the side of the building and rattled the door open with an unnecessary amount of fuss and bother.
"You two still here talkin?" he declared in a peevishly loud voice. "Ah'll swear I'm gettin' deef in my old age, I can't hear nothin'! Daggone, I gotta get me one of them-there hearin' trumpets!" He stomped on into the livery, muttering to himself, and Jacob and Eda Mae looked after his retreating figure, and laughed.

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