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Firecracker Mel 7-31-08

 

Esther knows why Angela is so eager: she loves to help out in the kitchen.
She smiles at Maude. "I guess we'd better go fix supper! Bye and thanks!"
Later that day it rains heavily.
Maude looks up and says, "Yep. I reckon Esther can predict the weather!"
It continues to rain hard into the next day. Angela helps in the kitchen and tries to entertain herself indoors. She keeps looking out at the rain with longing.
Angela loves the great outdoors and can entertain herself with a few twigs and some rocks. Her imagination runs wild.
Suddenly the sun comes out.
Angela peeks out and runs into Esther's office.
"What is it, child?"
Angela whispers into Esther's ear: "Can I go outside?"
Esther pauses for a moment.
"You may go out back, but no farther than the shed. I need to finish this payroll, but I can see you from the window. Have fun."
Angela runs out, stopping briefly in the kitchen to grab a pie tin, and quietly slips out.
Esther hears the slight sound of the back door and disregards it, returning to her books.
A short time later, Esther looks out the window.
She cannot see Angela.
Trying not to be worried, she goes cautiously outside looking about. She approaches the shed and looks inside.
Nothing.
After hearing Angela's voice singing to herself, she walks around the side of the shed.
Angela stops singing and playing.
Esther's jaw drops.
Esther cannot maintain her composure.
She begins to laugh, and as she laughs, she asks, "Child, what are you doing?"
Angela innocently says, "I'm making a pie for you!"
Esther continues to laugh as she spies her pie tin filled with mud. Angela is covered in mud as well, head to toe! -- and in her hair! Her dress, once light colored, is now mud brown to match the mud pie she so lovingly made for Mama.
Esther picks up her daughter and carries her to the tub.
She begins the long process of bathing Angela, between giggles and soap bubbles and shaking her head.
"Mama's little helper," she says, and laughs again.
She is only beginning to make progress when the Sheriff comes home.
"Ladies," he says, sweeping the Stetson from his lightening hair and bowing formally, "I see you have been hard at work today!"
Laughter was contagious in the Keller household that night.
Esther recounted her day with Angela. Even little Angela giggled and talked that evening to both Mama and Daddy. This was definitely progress.

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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:

And that, loyal readers, is the original story of the town and people of Firelands as told by a variety of folks over a long space of time both modern and old. I hope that you have enjoyed our small e

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Linn Keller 8-1-08

 

If Esther was not asleep, she did not let on.
I'd wakened to the whisper of little bare feet and opened my eyes to see Angela coming in our room, rubbing her eyes and dragging her doll by one flaccid arm.
I slipped out of bed, gently, not wanting to disturb my bride, and knelt on the elk skin I'd tanned out and laid on the polished board floor not long after we built the house. It was tanned stiff -- I didn't do it right, I wanted it soft, but it turned out more like a board with fur -- anyway, I worked a little slack in my night shirt and went slowly to my knees.
The crackle of their protest was loud in the nighttime stillness.
Angela stopped, her eyes big in the darkness, wiggling her toes in the elk fir and smiling.
I opened my arms and she leaned into me, hugging me with her good right arm, her left locking her rag doll in close to her, and I wrapped my arms around her.
We shared a long, warm moment.
I was wide awake, listening, smelling; nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and in the back of my mind there was the thought that little children sometimes had urgent needs at lonely midnight hours, and so I leaned down and whispered a delicate question in Angela's ear, and she nodded vigorously.
I stood, again to the crackling protest of my knees, and took her warm little hand.
We went downstairs and I stepped into boots while Angela worked her little feet into a handy pair of slippers. I opened the back door, picking up the shotgun from behind the door, and stepped out on the back porch.
Angela was starting to shift from one foot to the other, so I wasted no time: I struck a Lucifer and fired the red enamel lantern, then regarding the drizzle and the mud, I squatted down and picked her up, running my left forearm around the back of her thighs and straightening. I shifted the lantern to my left hand, shotgun in the right, and together we stepped off the back porch and down the path to the Crescent Moon Palace.
I hung the lantern within and shut the door, leaving Angela to handle delicate arrangements, and waited in the light drizzle.
It was more of a heavy mist, really, a miserable sort of a rain that soaked through a man's shoulders especially if he was night riding a restless herd.
My own need reminded me so I stepped around back of the square little building and tended that detail as well.
I saw yellow light spill out as Angela pushed the door open. She was waiting inside, in the dry, and reached her arms up in a child's "Pick Me Up" move.
I might have been damp and rained on but I was grinning like a damned fool as I leaned over and picked up my little girl.
Child and lantern and shotgun in hand, I trod the wet and muddy path back to the back porch.
I left muddy boots outside; Angela's slippers we left inside, as they were still clean and dry, as was she.
Well, clean, at least, and almost dry.
Her hair had little damp-sparkles in it, a light dusting of jewels in the lantern light, and he eyes gleamed like polished obsidian.
I raised the globe and puffed out the lantern, and parked it back out on the back porch; the shotgun went back into its corner, I latched the back door, and soon I drew the covers up around Angela's chin.
She rolled immediately over on her right side, facing me, and was almost instantly asleep.
The crunch of my knees was loud in the midnight stillness as I rose.
I made my way back to bed, and changed into a dry night shirt, hanging this one over the back of my rocking chair to dry.
It wasn't until I was laid back down and my own covers drawn up, and Esther cuddled up against me and laid a hand on my chest, that I remembered:
There's a chamber pot in Angela's room.
She could have used it.

I smiled in the darkness.
No, I thought. A little girl needed her Daddy.
The rain began again, heavier, a pleasant, soft tattoo on the shake shingles overhead.

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Linn Keller 8-3-08

 

I'd propped the door open so I could look out on the muddy street. Now and again someone passing by would stop, and wave, or poke their head in to say howdy, but most of the morning I was undisturbed.
I took the time to catch up on my journal.
My quest for the Huntress was for naught, I wrote, and gave a concise account of the hand-carried note from Macfarland, my ride, the trail, the rain, the lightning and the fatality; I smiled a little, recalling how Hijo did not want to be a dray-horse, and submitted with ill grace to being a saddled dray-horse.
I wrote of the funeral and the bounty hunter -- I referred to her as "the bounty huntress" -- and how I'd set down to a meal with her.
Then I stopped writing, and I leaned back in my chair, and considered that meal.
I owed her that meal, anyway, for I allowed to her prisoner that she was the Huntress, the reputation of which settled the fellow down considerable.
She was nervous. Granted, anyone would be, receiving the attentions of a lawman. Add the nervousness of a woman receiving the full attentions of a strange man and it's not at all out of the ordinary for the fork to shiver in her grip.
She did speak of her past, and I spoke of mine, and she finally looked me square in the eye and said "Shurf, I done things I ain't proud of, but I done 'em," and she told me of being a young woman -- scarce more than a girl -- in a plantation back in the Carolinas.
She told me of Yankee raiders and how they ravaged the place, and what they did to someone she loved like a mother.
Then she told me how she marked the names she heard, and how she allowed to find every last one of the reavers and bring justice down upon their heads, or whatever parts of them she could get hold of.
I nodded. I have ridden the vengeance trail myself, and I know what it is to bring justice to evil.
I asked her if the name Bloody John Collins meant anything, and I saw the fire behind her eyes.
She didn't have to answer.
I saw her hands tighten and her nostrils flare and I saw her eyes go big and black, real black, and I knew I had her.
I had The Huntress.
She took a long moment to gather her composure.
"I heered of him," she said shortly.
I nodded. "Figured you had. He's dead."
She veiled her eyes. Her half-closed hands were hard pressed against the table top and she leaned back a little.
"I reckon you're takin' me in now," she said.
I blinked, slow, like a sleepy cat, and shook my head.
"Should I?" I asked.
Her look was sharp and direct and I knew I balanced on a knife's edge.
The Huntress was fast and good with weapons of many kinds, or so her reputation said; I had set on her right, as she was right handed, making it difficult for her to employ a weapon. Both her hands were on the table top, on either side of her plate.
I smelt the dust in the air, I smelt my sweaty carcass, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, I heard muttered conversation at the bar and the scrape of boot heels on the gritty floor.
"I will ask you a question," I said quietly.
Pinch-faced, she nodded.
"Are there any left?"
She sagged like a pricked balloon.
"No," she said finally. "Collins was the last."
I have no idea where the question came from but I opened my mouth and the words fell out without my let-be. "How do you feel?"
She looked at the far wall, or looked through it, an expression I'd seen in the War and after action, a thousand mile stare.
"Empty," she said. "I got nothin' left."
I knew the feeling. I'd felt the same way when I'd killed the last of those I'd sworn to, but that was a long time ago and I was some older now.
"You got anywhere you can go?"
Her eyes tracked back and forth on the table top, and she shook her head, slowly, regretfully. "No. Everyone I loved is long dead. They burnt home an' every'thing they didn't burn they carried off an' since then all I got is what's on my back or in the wagon."
I nodded.
"Reckon you can make a start?"
"Start over, or start running?" she asked with a wry smile.
"Got anything to run from?"
"You?"
I shook my head. "I got no claim on you."
She looked down at her dog. "I got a thousan' dollars. Reckon I can start with that."
I stood. "Well, I'm headin' home. Stop in an' say howdy if you're by."
She stood and offered her hand.
I took it.
"Obliged," she said. "Nobody's done me a kindness for a long time."
I grinned. "Then it's long over due."
I shook myself, shifted in my office chair, and let my recollections retreat back into their mental files.
I dipped the quill once more.
Wasted trip, I wrote.

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Charlie MacNeil 8-4-08

 

Charlie stamped and scraped the mud from his boots and stepped into Linn's office. He went to the stove, poured two cups of coffee, and went to the chair in front of the desk and sat down, careful not to slosh the hot brew on his hand. He set one cup on the desk out of Linn's line of fire and sat back to wait for the scratching of nib on paper to stop. He took a sip and swallowed.

Linn looked up at him. "Found her, didn't you?" Charlie asked.

"Found who?"

"Whoever did in Collins," Charlie said bluntly. Linn's expression didn't change but his eyes did.

"My trip was a waste," Linn said carefully. He laid down his pen and picked up the cup of coffee. "Says so right here in my journal."

"Where's she headed next?" Charlie asked.

"If I knew who you were talking about, I could tell you where she's headed," Linn said. "But since I don't, then I can't tell you that she and her dog are heading on west." He gave Charlie a hint of a smile. "And I can't tell you that she's got enough money for a new start if she'll use it."

"Then I guess you can't agree with me that she did the whole country a service by taking care of Collins, eh?" Charlie said.

"Nope. Don't know who you're talking about."

Charlie sighed. "Don't you just hate it when you travel all that way, and find out you didn't need to in the first place?"

"Yep."

"Chatty sort today, aren't you?"

"Yep." Linn grinned. "Any other questions?"

"Yep."

Linn waited but Charlie kept silent. Two could play this game. The two men sat and stared at each other and sipped their coffee. Finally they both grinned and Charlie said, "I came to ask you to stand up with me at the wedding. Which will take place when Fannie gets around to letting me know it's time."

"Got your suit bought?"

"Yep."

"Got the ring?"

"Yep."

"Got the sky pilot lined up?"

"Yep."

"Don't know the date yet, though, eh?"

"Nope."

"Then I guess you're as ready as you're gonna get, aren't you?"

"Yep."

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Linn Keller 8-8-08

 

Jacob grinned as the fire crackled in the brand new fire place.
He had an iron grate in it and an ash door under, the fire place was lined with genuine fire brick as was the chimney; it was all laid up with good mortar and dressed stone instead of field rocks and mud, and the chimney drafted like a thirsty man sucking down a canteen.
The house was shaping up fast. The walls were up, the windows were just placed that day and made fast -- where his Pa had found them, Jacob had no idea, but they were the very best windows of the day and custom made to fit the openings exactly. He reckoned -- correctly -- that his Pa had been in collusion with the Italian stone cutters.
Jacob was not a Mason, and had never been to Lake Erie; had he been, he might have visited Sandusky and its quarries, and if he had, he would surely have recognized the stonecutters' work in the fine buildings there in the city. Had he an eagle's wings he might have looked down upon the city and found certain key streets laid out in a square-and-compasses -- but then, he was not a Mason, and would neither have recognized this likeness, nor understood its significance.
Jacob was, however, enough of a workman himself to recognize that these men were very, very good at what they did, and he treated them with the respect due them: in return they gave him their best work, even to the extent of carving decorative recessed-relief work on the lintels and elsewhere about the structure, where such would be appreciated by the casual eye.
Jacob had originally thought of a modest home of one story, but this was two stories tall, and four times as big as he'd initially considered. Bedded on native rock strata, it was solid as the mountain, proof against inundation, wind and storm.
Could they have found stone slabs of sufficient size they likely would have roofed it with stone, but instead beams were imported from not too far away; they had been cut and seasoned for a few years to get the twist out, then dressed and shaped and were now being fitted.
Annette came out daily, and her arrival was welcomed by all, for she brought food enough for every man there, and a little extra, for even at this early stage, their home was receiving visitors: sometimes townsfolk and sometimes strangers, but none went away with an empty belly.
Now, squatting before the cracking, snapping fire, Jacob grinned and spread his hands to the welcome warmth, eyes mostly shut to keep out the glare. He loved a good fire as much as any man but caution kept him from destroying his night vision.
Annette's step was loud on the smooth stone floor, and she came over beside Jacob.
Jacob stood and took her hand.
"Our home," he said.
"Yes," she breathed.
Jacob ran his arms around her waist and drew her in tight against him, heat of a different kind warming him.
Annette's lips parted, a little, at once inviting and apprehensive.
Jacob brushed a wisp of hair from her forehead, his eyes huge in the darkened room.
"Annette," he breathed.
Annette wrapped her arms around his shoulders and drew him into her, pressing her lips to his.
They stood before the fire for a very long time, saying much, but neither uttering a word.
What they said to one another, in the universal language of such moments, neither required words, nor desired them.

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Linn Keller 8-9-08

 

Emma Cooper had just set the cold packer to heating when her husband's big hands closed on her hips and his big broom of a mustache tickled the side of her neck. She giggled a little as he kissed her neck and rumbled, "How's my wife?"
Emma wiped her forehead with the back of her right wrist. "Hot, tired, busy!" she sighed, turning and embracing her big man.
The schoolmarm and the deputy shared a long kiss, Emma thrilling to the feel of arms the size of fence posts, strong and warm around her, holding her close, holding her safe!
For all his strength, for all his size, Jackson Cooper had never once man-handled his diminutive wife, had never once treated her with anything less than deference and respect. Oh, he'd held her with vigor and with strength, and they shared the affections of husband and wife in a right and proper manner, but never once had Jackson Cooper been anything less than a complete gentleman with Emma.
"Got some news," Jackson rumbled, and the look in his eyes was somewhere between honest lust and a mischievous little boy with an I've-got-a-secret singsong on his lips.
Emma wiped her hands on her apron and tilted her head a little to the side, smiling. "News?" she asked, listening to the cold packer, the stove.
Jackson Cooper brushed a wisp of hair from Emma's forehead, the same one she'd taken a swipe at a moment ago. "Charlie and Miz Fannie are gettin' married!"
"Oh, how wonderful!" Emma exclaimed. "How soon?"
Jackson Cooper shrugged. "Soon enough, I reckon. He's asked Linn to stand up with him."
"Good!" Emma exclaimed delightedly. "They'll make a fine couple!"
"They'll make a couple, all right," Jackson Cooper grinned.
It was Emma's turn to look mischevious. "Now just what do you mean by that, Mr. Jackson Cooper?" she demanded, her smile taking all harshness from her words.
Jackson Cooper fetched the tin dipper out of the water bucket and took a long drink, another. "I'd best fetch some water," he said in his reassuring basso rumble.
"Jackson Cooper, you get back here!" Emma scolded as Jackson picked up the bucket and took one step toward the door. "You can't just say something like that and then leave me wondering!"
Jackson Cooper was doing his level best not to laugh, and almost succeeded; grinning, he set the bucket back down and turned back to his wife, taking her hands in his, which was kind of like a pair of great whales swallowing two small pilot-fish.
"Charlie is a good man," he said quietly. "He'll make a good husband, but he's strong minded. Miz Fannie is a good woman and she'll make him a fine wife, but she is a strong woman, and I've a mind she has a temper."
Emma gave Jackson Cooper a look of utter innocence. "Temper?" she asked, blinking, as if to say she had no idea what he was talking about.
Jackson Cooper looked down at the floor and sighed. "I have never seen Miz Fannie turn the badger loose. Oh, I seen a little peek of it that one time when she beat the snot out of that trollop but I never seen her good and wound up." Jackson Cooper's eyes were full of merriment and mischief as he spoke. "I don't believe I'd want to be in the same county if she ever cut loose and blew her cork!"

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Linn Keller 8-11-08

 

Solomon Eichenbaum knew an opportunity when he saw it.
Solomon Eichenbaum had intended to open a bakery.
Solomon Eichenbaum saw a town that needed a bakery, and a butcher's shop; his brother David was a butcher, and a good one, but neither had a building suitable for their needs.
Solomon began casting about for materials and inquiring about supplies, and Solomon Eichenbaum hired men, and Solomon Eichenbaum contracted with the Z&W to haul in coal and wood.
Solomon Eichenbaum intended to build a brick kiln.
There was clay nearby, and water: he was near enough the tracks to easily freight bricks by the wagon load to a siding: surely, he thought, with freight costs the way they were, there would be a ready market for locally fired bricks!
Esther, canny businesswoman that she was, knew it was cheaper to mail bricks West, individually wrapped, than it was to freight them from back East.
Esther knew that locally made bricks would sell, and sell fast, and sell in volume!
She determined to bargain with Solomon; she asked that he and his wife Rachael join her and her husband for dinner.
Solomon was no stranger to bargaining: business was in his blood, he'd been told, and he was not above a strategic gamble; but when this emerald-eyed owner of the local railroad offered to buy into his brick works -- to put up half the needed capital -- even before the first shovel of dirt was turned to dig the initial foundation -- well, Rachael smiled a little and nodded her approval as Solomon shook hands with this woman.
Solomon asked whether he should have papers drawn up; Rachael pressed her elbow discreetly into his ribs, for she had researched the people inhabiting the howling wilderness into which they were traveling, and she knew what a delicate matter honor could be to Westerners: she knew this was doubly so when her quick ear picked up the old South in the woman's voice.
Solomon Eichenbaum left the Keller household with his wife on his arm and a smile on his lips: he'd had an excellent meal, he'd learned quite a bit about the area, and he'd just been relieved of a considerable financial burden in getting this new business established.
Esther Keller smiled a quiet smile, having just successfully bought into what her womanly intuition said was a wonderful way to increase her profits.
Rachael fairly glowed with pride, for her husband had just closed what he plainly regarded a very successful business deal in their first night in Firelands.
Angela cuddled up on her side, her ever present rag doll locked in the bend of her left arm, safe upstairs in her own bed, warm in flannel and in dreams.

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Linn Keller 8-11-08

 

Supper was cleared away, dishes washed, all the necessaries tended.
The Sheriff sat at his desk, reading a letter he'd gotten that day.
Esther's hands descended, light and warm, on his shoulders, and he reached up with his left hand and laid it on Esther's right.
"Something?" Esther asked.
The Sheriff leaned his head against his wife's forearm. She was ready for bed, her Celtic-red hair in a long, loose braid, draped over her right shoulder; she wore her favorite flannel nightie, and she smelled of soap and lavender water and clean linens, like she always did.
The Sheriff laid the letter down and tilted his head back, seeing his bride upside-down, at least until she leaned down and kissed him.
The Sheriff turned his chair and ran his arm around his wife's waist, and then quickly picked her up and set her in his lap.
Esther giggled and put her arms around his neck.
"Letter from the border country," Linn said quietly, for the house was night-silent, and he did not want to disturb little Angela's rest.
Esther tilted her head a little, interested.
"Santos said his stallion has planted a good seed. Rose o' the Mornin' is with foal."
Esther's eyes smiled in the lamp light.
The Sheriff's arms tightened a little around her middle. "It would seem the golden stallion isn't the only one planting a good seed."
Esther's mouth formed a little O of delight, and the Sheriff grinned.
They both turned at the sound of little bare feet on the stairs.
Esther felt the sheriff shake a little under her, for he was laughing silently, laughing with delight.
Little Angela was still mostly asleep; rubbing her eyes with one hand, rag doll locked in the bend of her other elbow, she padded to the kitchen and drew a chair up to the side board: climbing up on the chair, then stretching a little, she drew the dipper from the water bucket and took a long drink, then dropping the dipper back into the bucket, carefully descended from her lofty perch and padded back toward the stairway.
"Princess," Linn called gently, "do you have to go?"
Angela stopped, rubbed her eyes and nodded.
Linn stood, easing Esther off her lap. "Your pardon, my dear," he smiled, "but duty calls."

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Linn Keller 8-12-08

 

Screams.
The sound of thunder, something falling, the smell of blood ...

The Sheriff's hands twitched, then clenched, bunching up great handsful of quilt.
He'd tucked Angela in, drawing the covers up around her chin, and kissed her forehead. She'd giggled a little as his mustache tickled her nose, for he always tickled her nose with a twiddle of his mustache. It was their secret, this unique way he had of telling her goodnight.
He'd undressed and joined his wife in bed.
As usual, almost as soon as his head dented the pillow, he was asleep with the ease of a clean conscience and a healthy body.
Esther swam up from the depths of slumber with the wife's intuition, that indefinable knowledge that told her something was amiss.
It was hard to breathe, but he managed, raising his hand and with it his engraved Colt, and the cylinder rolled around slow, slow, and fire gouted from its barrel, a long, bright, accusing finger, drawing a straight line of judgement squarely through the soul of the evil he faced.
He saw dust jump off a black and silver brocaded vest, a watch chain jump and flash in the reflected sunlight.

Esther was almost awake, but not quite, for her dreamstate still gripped her with a sleeper's paralysis: almost, almost she opened her eyes, perhaps just a slit, for she remembered the next morning a little girl's head, the rise of a little flannel covered shoulder, something placed under their quilt ...
He whistled, a high, pure note, two fingers to his lips, something he hadn't done since the War, something he hadn't done since he was young, and he heard hooves, hoofbeats on the hard ground, hoofbeats ...
Esther struggled to surface, strained against somnolescense to touch her husband, to let him know it was all right, I'm here, I'm here with you ...
Relief, he thought. There is no pain.
He stood, young and strong, and laughed as he patted the chestnut mare's neck.
It was near dark, and he knew he had a long ride ahead of him.
He was anxious to be gone from this place.
There was the sound of weeping, behind him, the smell of blood, a little boy's voice ...
I very much regret leaving this interesting game we call life.
A warm hand slid over on his chest, a smaller one as well, from the other side, and the two hands felt the shivering slow, cease, and felt the breathing slow.
Next morning the Sheriff woke, rested and refreshed, and felt his wife's hand warm in his. He turned his head and smiled, for in the morning light or noonday sun, she was as beautiful as the day he first saw her.
He felt something odd against his left side.
Frowning, he explored this oddity.
A rag doll was laid in against him.
He picked it up and smiled.
"Now how did you get here?" he whispered.

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Firecracker Mel 8-14-08

 

The Sheriff sat down to breakfast and took one bite of egg and picked up his cup for his first drink of coffee.
He put it to his lips and nearly spilled the vanilla steaming drink.
Inge Kolasinski had come driving into town, stirring up dust clouds behind her. She came to a stop at the Sheriff's office.
She quickly looked for the Sheriff, to no avail.
Dawn has come up over the horizon and the town is still sleepy.
She pauses for a moment and then rushes across the street, into the Jewel.
The doors burst open.
She hollers out, "Have you seen the Sheriff?"
The Sheriff jumps up. "Present!" with a grin. (He doesn't know what's going on.)

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Linn Keller 8-15-08

 

Esther and Angela were upstairs already, Esther in her office, and Angela with her: Bonnie was to be by today, she'd told me, and Angela was so looking forward to playing with Sarah. Bonnie had some clothes for Esther,and of course there would be womanly discussion of things that women discuss.
I'd given Morning Star the heads-up: as much as I like my coffee, the ladies like their tea, and it would be no trick to have a second tea kettle on the stove, heating.
I'd parked my carcass in my usual spot, the engraved '73 to my right and my Stetson on the chair to my left. Breakfast was smelling pretty good and my belly reminded me it had been too long since I'd eaten last.
Morning Star fetched me a big plate with fried taters, eggs and good gut sausage Daisy had traded for the day before. I forked up a big bite of taters and took a bite of sausage and sliced off a chunk of fried egg, reaching for the ceramic coffee mug with my off hand.
I heard a wagon, hard driven, outside: it sounded like it pulled up across the street.
I'll bet they're looking for me, I thought.
My luck. Just get set down to breakfast and the world falls apart.
For some odd reason it struck me as almost funny.
I fetched up my fork and took a good bite of egg just as a fretful looking woman in the plain garb of the mine camp shoved through the Jewel's ornate doors.
"Sheriff!" she called, her voice not unexpected but sharp, and I like to spilled my coffee.
I set it back down and stood quickly, for I feared if she did not find that for which she sought, she might just start spinning around like a cyclone and dissolve in a cloud of fret-dust.
I raised a hand.
"Present!"

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Linn Keller 8-19-08

 

Bill opened the door and took a look.
Mac squinted up from a crate of fresh, fragrant apples Maude had just dealt for and looked over at Maude.
Maude had just finished some ledger work, from the look of things: creature of habit that she was, the pencil stuck out from above her right ear, secure in her severe hairdo, ready to hand should she need to put thoughts to paper, tot up a bill or otherwise scribe some detail for later reference.
Maude was also a curious soul.
She came to the door and laid a hand on Bill's shoulder.
They looked down the street at the hard-driven wagon, its swift progress preceded by the sound of hooves and trace-chains and three bells suspended above the horsecollar; as they watched, they saw a distressed-looking woman rein in before the Sheriff's office, haul back on the brake and leap from the wagon as easily as a girl.
They two stood in the doorway of the Mercantile, watching as the woman snatched up her skirts and ran to the Sheriff's office, and then across the morning street to the Jewel.
Mac turned his attention back to arranging apples in the crate. He'd just gone through them and set aside a half dozen with bad spots, knowing they would ruin the lot if left among them; besides, he had an appetite for apples, especially smelling them this close. It would be no trick to fetch out his Barlow and slice out the bad spots.
He looked up as Bill spoke.
"My, she is in a hurry," he said gently, and Maude nodded, her hand going to her stomach.
Sympathy pains, she thought. She's scared, or worried, or both.

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Mr. Box 8-20-08

 

I had just come down to the bar early to clean up a few things from the night before and check stock for upcoming festivities at hand when the woman came barging thru the door. I thought "If ever someone needed a drink, she would be a likely candidate!" Something is very wrong for her.

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Linn Keller 8-21-08

 

Inge snatched up her skirts and turned toward the Sheriff.
Mr. Baxter's hand was on her shoulder, warm and gentle, and she turned at his friendly voice: "You may need this."
She dropped her skirts and turned, more out of surprise than anything else, and accepted the offered drink.
It went down like rainwater down a gold sluice and she handed the empty shot glass back to Mr. Baxter.
She got three long steps toward the Sheriff when she realized that she'd just swallowed something of the approximate consistency of a lighted kerosine lamp, minus the bulge, and her opening statement to the mustachioed lawman was in the form of a startled cough, followed by an extended wheeze.
Strong arms were around her and she bent over, gasping.
A chair came out of nowhere and settled up against her bottom with a surprising velocity, and as the room ceased to wobble under her, she found herself clutching the seat to keep from falling out.
The Sheriff was seated in front of her and slid his coffee mug toward her.
"Can I interest you in some breakfast?" he asked in a kindly voice.

Bonnie knew none of this; she smiled at Shorty as the liveryman took Butter and Jelly, the matched dapple mares, and rubbed their necks and fooled with them. Butter and Jelly positively doted on the blocky hostler and in the past had followed him like a couple dogs.
Bonnie lifted Sarah down out of the wagon, Twain Dawg launching happily over the tail gate, tail windmilling in his slip stream. He ran, full tilt, up toward the main street, then doubled back, paws skidding on the dirt, damp in the building's shadow.
Sarah laughed. "Twain Dawg, slow down!" she exclaimed in the high, piping voice of a little child, and Twain Dawg plopped his square bottom down on the ground and ran his tongue out and laughed.
"I'll tend to that off shoe," Shorty said, frowning at Butter's hind hoof as he petted her velvety nose. "Shouldn't take long, I don't reckon, and I'll take a look at the others while I'm at it."
"Thank you, Shorty," Bonnie said, hoisting a wrapped bundle out of the wagon. "I promised Esther we would bring her some more clothes for Angela, and there are some others besides."
"You'll be comin' to Charlie's weddin', I suppose?" Shorty asked, looking up with a quick grin. His fingers were still busy unharnessing the pair; they had eyes of their own, allowing him to hold a conversation without slacking his work.
"Oh, yes!" Bonnie's smile was quick and genuine. "Unless they decide to slip off and have a quiet little wedding somewhere else. It'll be the event of the season!"
"Yes, ma'am, I reckon it will," Shorty said, shifting his attention to an irregularity his fingers had found.
Bonnie' gaze wandered up the front of the livery. "Charlie will cut a fine figure in a suit," she said bemusedly.
"Yes, ma'am," Shorty said absently, frowning at a length of harness leather and estimating how much harness strap it would take to replace this weakened section.
Twain Dawg turned and looked at the back of the Jewel, and as his sire had often done, he trotted up the three steps and scratched at the back door, the one just outside Daisy's kitchen.
He licked his chops in anticipation.
There were biscuits to be had, and gravy with them.

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Mr. Box 8-21-08

 

Irish whiskey was the first bottle I could lay a hand on in the rush. I don't believe that lady has partaken before! I hope it doesn't upset her too much. She'll be back to her senses in a couple of minutes anyway. I'd sure like to know what's eating her.

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Linn Keller 8-21-08

 

Inge took a tentative sip of the Sheriff's coffee, then another: she blinked a couple times and shook her head. "Thank you no, Sheriff, I can't." She set the mug down and gathered her hands in her lap, looking more like a just-wound eight-day-clock than anything else.
"It's my husband, Sheriff. He's gone off hunting. It's not like him to be gone two days. One, yes, but never two." Her hands worried her apron into a knot.
The Sheriff noticed the anxious story her hands told, without looking directly at them. He nodded, several thoughts running on parallel tracks in his mind.
"Where does he usually hunt?" he asked, his voice still gentle, but the look in his eyes was that of a questing hound, casting about for the scent.
"He doesn't have any usual place. He said he was going to the high country, and said something about a hanging meadow two miles distant."
"Two miles," the Sheriff said, blinking like a sleepy cat. "Did he take a horse?"
Inge smiled. "He took our mule. He never did like riding horses. I think he was thrown as a boy."
The Sheriff remembered being slung from the back of a mule, but held his counsel.
"When did he leave, exactly?"
"It was sunrise, two days ago. He said he would be back that night." She looked down at the tight ball of twisted cloth in her hands and unfolded her worry-wrinkled apron self-consciously.
"Might he have just left?"
Inge Kolasinscki gave him a patient look. "No, Sheriff. He's happily married. He adores his children and he's taken such pride in our place." She smiled sadly. "He'd always wanted land, and now he has it: it's not much, but he saved his money and then got work with the mine. He was hoping to take an elk and sell half to the mine cooks."
The Sheriff nodded. "How far out do you live?"
"About an hour's drive."
"Sounded like you came in pretty fast."
Inge dropped her eyes. She'd pushed her horse harder than she should have, she knew, but she had to get help, and she'd heard the Sheriff was a man to be trusted, a man to get results.
"Tell you what." The Sheriff's hand was warm on hers. "Let's get a good meal under your ribs, then we'll go to your place and I'll see about picking up the trail from there. If I can see where he started and you can point me in the direction he went, I'd say we can figure where he ended up in just a little bit."
Inge nodded.
The Sheriff looked over toward the bar, where Morning Star was doing a fine job of being invisible until needed. He nodded, and saw her half-smile, and knew that shortly she would be bringing out a nice hot plate of breakfast for the woman.
Daisy probably has it ready to dish up, the Sheriff thought.

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Mr. Box 8-21-08

 

"Linn, are you going to need some volunteers to help search? I could use some fresh air."

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Linn Keller 8-21-08

 

Morning Star gave me a look and a raised eyebrow and I knew she had something on her mind.
Mrs. Kolasinscki started eating, almost mechanically aat first, but the combination of Daisy's good cooking and the realization that she had to keep her strength up, inspired her to a good appetite.
"I'll be right back," I said, rising and following Morning Star to the bar.
Mr. Baxter spoke up: "Linn, are you going to need some volunteers to help search? I could use some fresh air."
Morning Star laid a hand on my chest, then drew back and lifted one finger: she skipped out the front door, and Mr. Baxter and I followed her swift departure, then looked at one another.
"Mr. Baxter, I'd appreciate your help," I said, and stuck out my hand.
For a barkeep the man had quite a good grip!

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Charlie MacNeil 8-21-08

 

Charlie came into the room with a sheaf of papers in his hand. He walked up to where Linn stood with Mister Baxter. "I saw the wagon come barreling down the street," he said quietly. He nodded slightly in the direction of the woman at Linn's table. "What's her story?"

"Her husband went hunting and didn't come home when he said he would," Linn answered just as quietly.

Charlie handed Linn the papers. "I'll see to getting the horses saddled while you look those over," Charlie said. "How many days rations?" He looked over at the woman and answered his own question. "Three days oughta do it, I reckon. Thirty minutes?" He looked at Linn for a moment then went toward the stairs back to his room.

After Charlie left Linn looked down at the papers Charlie had left. The top sheet carried the seal of the Supreme Court in Denver. He scanned down the sheet and saw his name, and Esther's, and Angela's. Then it hit him. Charlie had just handed him adoption papers for Angela! The last sheet in the stack had spaces for signatures then Angela would be his and Esther's daughter in the eyes of the law as well as in spirit.

Linn scratched his chin and muttered, "I think I owe that man a debt." Then he saw the note pinned to the last page.

Linn: By now you're thinkin' that you owe me. You don't. Blood brothers take care of each other, and I think we've shed enough blood together by now to be brothers.

Charlie

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Linn Keller 8-22-08

 

Charlie and I looked over at the woman.
"Three days," Charlie said, and I nodded.
I was right glad he was available. Charlie had proven himself many times over, but this close to his weddin' I was reluctant to ask him to join us.
I should have known better, I thought, smiling a little as I started going through the sheaf of papers.
First thing to catch my eye was actually what caught my left thumb: the raised seal.
I blinked.
Supreme Court of Colorado? I thought.
I read on.
Mr. Baxter was getting his own kit together for the search. There was no one there to see this big broad grin I could not have stopped if I'd wanted. It was with an effort I didn't throw my head back and let out a yell of sheer exultation!
Charlie, my friend, I owe you a debt, and a big one! I thought, and then I came to the last page, and the note pinned to it:

Linn: By now you're thinkin' that you owe me. You don't. Blood brothers take care of each other, and I think we've shed enough blood together by now to be brothers.

Charlie

"Well, I'd be damned," I murmured.
A moment later I too was hot footing it up stairs. Esther needed to see this, and she could keep hold of them for me til we got back.

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Linn Keller 8-22-08

 

 

Dr. George Flint, pure blood Navajo and graduate of the Harvard School of Medicine, had his bag packed and ready before Morning Star came into the room.
She clutched a cloth-wrapped bundle to her chest with one hand, and with the other hand, and her eyes, implored of the quiet and dignified man of medicine, a favor.
Dr. George Flint, in a well fitted suit, allowed a trace of an approving smile just begin to show at the corners of his eyes.
It was answer enough.

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Mr. Box 8-22-08

 

I told Charlie have Shorty saddle up one of my other horses. I didn't think Nellie would want to have to keep up at the pace that would be set today. This will be a good chance to get out and see some more of the country around here. Besides, more eyes should get the job done sooner.

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Linn Keller 8-22-08

 

Tom Landers looked from Inge to the Sheriff.
"Shorty's harnessin' up a frash horse. Hers could use rest and some grain."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Charlie comin' with ye?"
The Sheriff nodded.
Tom put his hands on his hips and squinted suspiciously at the gray-mustached lawman. "Now just what gives you the look like a cat with a canary in his belly?"
There was the sound of a minor avalanche coming down the stairs, and Twain Dawg skidded a little at the foot of the stairs, just ahead of a little girl who was just almost matching his speed.
Twain Dawg dropped down on his front paws, his rear in the air, facing Angela; Angela came pelting around the end of the bannister and ran for the Sheriff just as hard as she could.
The Sheriff bent down and caught her under the arms, and hoisted her up to arm's length and spun her around.
Angela threw her head back, showing a mouthful of perfect white teeth, and laughed, the happy, open laugh of a delighted child, and the Sheriff drew her into a big bear hug.
Angela's arms were around his neck; the rag doll, forgotten, lay beside Esther's desk, where it was dropped when Esther explained the importance of the papers the Sheriff had just brought up, and why the Sheriff had this big silly grin on his face.
Tom Landers had backed up about a half step. He'd seen the delighted charge of a joyful child before and didn't want to be in the way of whatever transpired.
Angela drew back and looked at the Sheriff, her mouth working, forming words that were just almost ready to emerge.
Inge Kolasinski stood, watching, smiling, remembering.
Finally the words came out:
"Daddy!"
The Sheriff laughed and bounced his daughter a little.
Tom raised one eyebrow, his face creased in a grin, and the Sheriff explained:
"Adoption papers just arrived, Tom."
Tom laughed and pounded the Sheriff on the back. "If Mr. Baxter was here I'd buy you a drink!" he exclaimed.
Inge blinked against the sudden sting in her eyes.
She'd seen her Kole with the same look on his face, hoisting his own child in just such a way, not two days ago.

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Linn Keller 8-22-08

 

Word spread fast.
Daisy came fetching out two baskets, both full, and stacked a half dozen loaves of bread, still warm and wrapped in towels, on top of them.
"Ye'll need somethin' t' keep yer ribs from clatterin' t'gether," she declared with her hands on her hips and a flip of her Irish mane, "an' I doubt me if this puir woman will be wantin' t' feed the lot o' you anyway!" The smile in her eyes belied the sharp tone of her words. "She's her own t' feed! See that they get a guid share o' this!"
Of course the only proper response is an immediate "Yes, ma'am!" and that's what the Sheriff did, briskly.
Esther came downstairs, her own pace businesslike. "Angela, we have work," she said, and the Sheriff put their daughter down; they were out the door before he could say a word.
Odd, he thought; walking back to his table, he picked up his '73 rifle.
Turning to Inge, he saw her eyeing the supplies on the mahogany bar: her look was at once thankful, and distressed.
She's not the kind to ask for charity, he thought, but she needs these supplies.
"Ma'am," the Sheriff said, "let's get these loaded on your wagon. We'll be ready to leave within the half-hour, and likely less than that."
Bonnie came down with Sarah. "Did Esther leave already?" she asked, half-knowing the answer already.
"They left," the Sheriff nodded.
"We'll catch up with them! Wait for us!" she called over her shoulder as she too headed out the Jewel's ornate double doors.
The Sheriff frowned. He'd seen such efforts swell to an unmanagable size in the past.
If need be I can always pare it down, he thought. I'd hate to do that -- everyone wants to help -- but it can't get unwieldy!
Inge laid a hand on a wrapped, fragrant loaf, smiling at its warmth.
"We'll be having a bakery soon," the Sheriff said, tucking his rifle under an arm and hoisting a basket in each hand. "I don't know if it'll help you any but they're figuring to find a good market at the mine."
"The mine'll be glad for it," Inge said, gathering the wrapped loaves before they tumbled off the filled and covered baskets.
They headed for the door, Tom Landers in the lead, for with their hands full, he would have to hold a door.
The Sheriff set down one basket and loosed Hijo del Sol's reins, tossing them back over the saddle horn; thrusting his engraved Winchester into its scabbard, he kissed at the big stallion and picked up the basket again, and Hijo followed.
It was but a short walk across the street to Inge's wagon; it wasn't until they got the edibles aboard that Inge noticed her horse looked considerably different.
The Sheriff followed her dismayed gaze. "Shorty loaned you a fresh horse."
"Shorty?" she asked uncertainly, for the mare she'd driven in was fine boned and smaller than this muscled gelding standing patiently in harness.
The Sheriff grinned. "Shorty runs the livery. Yours is being curried down and grained, and knowin' Shorty he'll look at her shoes and probably braid ribbons in her tail."
Inge almost smiled.
"Well, maybe not the ribbon part, but he takes the best care of anyone I know."
"Thank you," she said quietly, almost a whisper.
Jackson Cooper came up the street on a good looking Morgan mare the Sheriff had never seen before. He drew up beside them and the Sheriff stroked the mare's neck.
"Good lookin' and lookin' good," he said. "Where you been hidin' this beauty?"
Jackson Cooper chuckled. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you!"
The Sheriff tilted his head and regarded the bearded deputy. "Try me!" he challenged.
Jackson Cooper dismounted with the easy grace of a big man. He was two fingers taller than the Sheriff, and a head and a half taller than Inge.
"You recall them new folks that moved in south o' here, the ones that had the Bar-Z goin' when they told the foreman they planned to run sheep?"
The Sheriff grinned. "I recall."
"Well, they ain't runnin' sheep," Jackson Cooper grinned. "They're workin' cattle and they give Emma this Morgan here for teachin' their young."
I inspected the mare's teeth, drew up a forehoof. "Do you figure you skint them or they skint you?"
Jackson Cooper chuckled. "Well, I ain't sure," he admitted. "The mare is good, no two ways about it, and so far Emma is keepin' ahead of his young-uns, but 'ginst they get a few more in that-there school house, why, she will genuinely have her hands full!"
The Sheriff nodded, patting the mare reassuringly.
Jackson Cooper drew nearer and spoke quietly. "Where you want me f'r this?"
The Sheriff's eyes were busy; he was looking down the street, his mind turning several things over.
"Jackson Cooper, I'd be obliged if you could stay here."
Jackson Cooper nodded. "I can do that."
"Have you seen Jacob?"
Jackson Cooper frowned briefly. "No, come to think on it. I reckon he's workin' on his house still." His grin was quick and genuine. "Was I him, I'd work on that house kin-see to cain't-see. He's got himself a fine wife, once they tie the knot, and I reckon he's kind of anxious to pack her across the threshold."
The Sheriff had no way of knowing that another era, another century, would declare it criminal to marry at such a tender age: but this was the 1880s, and marriage at a tender age was still the rule, and not the exception. Besides, he himself had been espoused at a like age. Jacob was a man grown, making his way in the world, earning his own wage and salting some away, as a responsible husband and father ought.
"If you should see him, I'd like him to stay close. It wouldn't do to have word get out the Sheriff and the Territorial Marshal were both gone. Might give folks ideas."
Jackson Cooper nodded.
The Sheriff touched his hat brim. "Ma'am, if you could excuse me for just one moment." He stepped over to his stallion and drew the reins off the saddle horn; he let them dangle, ground-reining the well-trained mount, and unbuckled the ornately carved rifle scabbard.
He carried his engraved '73 into the Sheriff's office, and emerged with a plain, scuffed scabbard, and hung this from the fancy Mexican saddle.
Jackson Cooper's eyes tightened just a bit as he recognized the rifle the Sheriff was taking.
He nodded approval.
Jackson Cooper always did like a Sharps.

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Linn Keller 8-23-08

 

Four ladies of Firelands came driving up past the Jewel in a fine-looking buggy, drawn by a fine-looking horse, crossing the street and halting in front of the Mercantile.
Esther and Bonnie, in the front seat of the Sheriff's fine buggy; Sarah, bouncing and giggling in the back seat, and beside her Angela, subdued, big-eyed, with her rag doll locked in the bend of her left elbow: Sarah had brought it downstairs and Angela happily accepted it. Twain Dawg rode beside Sarah, surveying the countryside like an eager tourist.
Twain Dawg had bounded along beside Sarah, sniffed companionably at Angela, and then launched himself into the buggy with one powerful thrust of his black-furred hind quarters as the ladies made their more dignified embarkations.
Tail thrashing happily, tongue hanging out, Twain Dawg rode with forepaws over the edge, viewing the world with button-bright eyes, Sarah's hand happily rubbing his ears.
Angela rode behind Esther, looking around but silent, left arm bent tightly in against her body, her rag doll mashed in against her.
As long as she had her Daddy to hold onto, or the rag doll, all would be well with the world.
Esther set the brake and hung the reins over the dash board: dismounting, she swept with a graceful speed up the steps onto the boardwalk, and into the Mercantile, Bonnie following in her wake.
Maude was just stacking cans of peaches on a shelf when Esther came in, eyes busy, followed closely by Bonnie: both ladies, well dressed, were clearly on a mission.
Bill and Mac straightened. They knew they'd be gathering up supplies.

Out in the buggy, the girls turned to look at the knot of men and horses clustering in front of the Sheriff's office.
Angela raised a hand, shyly, and opened and closed her hand, a bashful, little-girl wave: the Sheriff saw her, and lifted his hat in reply.
Angela giggled and hid behind her rag doll, peeking shyly over its curly brown yarn hair.

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Linn Keller 8-24-08

 

I snagged up a roll I kept handy in the office: rain slicker and a change of clothes, wrapped in a wool blanket, tight, compact and ready to go. I added two canteens; likely we would use the Kolasinscki place as our base of operations, so we could travel light. Daisy had provisioned us, bless her heart; the ladies had wheeled up in front of the Mercantile, and I reckoned them to be loading supplies. I considered whether they'd want to come along and help hunt the injured man and decided they'd not; they were neither dressed for the occasion, nor did I believe they had the skills.
I added a box of shells for the Sharps. Government issue, 500 grain ball with 70 grains of FF backing it: if this fellow had gone into the high country, there was just the off chance we might run across something bigger than us, and I don't consider a .44-40 good medicine for anything much bigger than me.
I considered the maps, then decided against them.
Charlie was at home in the back country. He'd not need a map to know the territory. I had a general knowledge of it and felt comfortable heading out.
Mr Baxter, now ...
Something told me Mr. Baxter was much more than met the eye.
"Sheriff?"
I turned.
I am not easily surprised, but on that moment, I genuinely was.
It took me a moment to reconcile the sight of six foot and two or three fingers of Indian in a calico shirt, brown pants and leggins, with the doctor's bag in his left hand. Perhaps more suprising was the woman beside him.
I recognized her attire as traditional Navajo, and it took me another long moment to realize this was Morning Star.
"How soon do we leave?" Dr. Flint asked with a subdued look of amusement.
I stepped up and shook the man's hand. "Within the half hour."
"Surprised?" he asked, a smile tightening the corners of his eyes.
"Yes," I admitted. "I've never seen you in other than a suit."
"When in Rome, one wears Roman attire," Dr. Flint said quietly. "But when one is in the paga, one dresses for the task at hand."
"The paga?" I asked, not quite recognizing the term.
Dr. Flint chuckled. "I have always wanted to address from the pulpit," he explained. "I would begin with 'Hello, my fellow Pagans,' and watch eyebrows disappear under wig lines all over the church." He shifted his weight, restless. "In Roman times, anyone who was anyone lived in The City. If one lived outside the city, one lived in the paga, and was therefore less ... noble. Thus the term, pagan: one who lives in the paga, one who does not live in The City."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "Words are like politicians," I nodded. "They'll say anything you want to hear."
"You could say that," Dr. George Flint, M.D., agreed, his sky-blue head band's tails waving over his left ear.

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Linn Keller 8-25-08

 

The tin was about a foot across, cylindrical, half again taller; Maude had been saving it for just such an occasion.
Bill scooped in a few inches of corn meal, then began carefully stacking in eggs, spacing them well, covering them with a thick layer of corn meal, and stacking in a second row.
"Is that going to be too much?" Bonnie murmured to Esther as they sacked up shining ripe apples.
Esther laughed. "My dear, between a man healing and children growing, it might be just barely enough!"
"Miz Esther, I traded for several slabs of good smoked bacon yesterday," Maude offered. "Would you want those wrapped also?"
"Yes, please," Esther said gratefully. "Bacon will keep if need be."
Outside, in the buggy, Twain Dawg was busy exploring giggling Angela's right ear with a wet and snuffy nose, his tail happily beating against Sarah's knees.
Twain Dawg put his paws up on the back of the upholstered seat, regarding the men and horses growing increasingly restless in front of the Sheriff's office.
Suddenly his tail stopped.
Twain Dawg's fur started to stand out, especially on his neck, and Angela cocked her head curiously as Twain Dawg stared fixedly at something, his teeth baring, a deep and menacing growl rumbling from somewhere a couple miles deep in his chest.

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Linn Keller 8-27-08

 

Angela recoiled against the padded side of the buggy, eyes wide and a her face a bit pale.
Sarah turned, coming up on her knees on the upholstered seat, shouting.
Twain Dawg had announced his intent to go to war and launched himself over the back of the buggy and now, galloping, led with fangs and a snarl.
Dawg, several times larger than his fast moving progeny, was a veteran of many such disagreements, and disposed of the problem with a surprising ease.
The human eye would have been hard pressed to see his move: he thrust himself to the side, seizing the snarling, younger dog by the nape of the neck.
A quick shake and Twain Dawg was not only off his feet, he was upside down, then with a powerful swing of his massive head, Dawg threw Twain Dawg several feet out into the dirt street.
The gathered men turned, yelling, grinning, shouting encouragement. Here was an unexpected entertainment, and bets were quickly laid.
Twain Dawg rolled twice, made his feet and came back at Dawg at the top of his lungs, claws scrabbling on the hard packed dirt.
Dawg met his charge.
Twain Dawg found himself upside down with a hundredweight of fur covered fury on top of him, growling like seven devils, and ivory teeth tight, but not too tight, on his throat.
Twain Dawg snarled defiance, tried to arch his back, but Dawg laid down on top of him, pressing the scrabbling claws hard against the younger dog's body, pinning him to the ground.
Twain Dawg continued to snarl.
Dawg was suddenly silent as death itself, and just as patient.
Finally, realizing he was beyond help, Twain Dawg stopped snarling, and began to whine.
Twain Dawg released his throat-grip and got up, walking away as if nothing had happened.
Twain Dawg came up beside him and licked his muzzle.
Dawg patiently endured this surrender and submission by the defeated party.
The men laughed and pointed and money exchanged hands; even Inge smiled, though an observer might be uncertain as to whether at the display of canine chastisement or of opportunistic men's entertainment.
The only one certain of the situation was Sarah.
Leaping from the buggy, she came stamping up to the chastened Twain Dawg, fiercely swinging her Mommy-finger as she advanced: "Twain Dawg, shame on you! You big bully, picking on Dawg like that!" She bent over and gave Dawg a big hug around his scarred and furry neck. "Dawg, where have you been? I've missed you!"
If ever it was possible for a dog's face to show utter and absolute surprise, Twain Dawg's did: his head cocked a little to the side, ears drawn up and the flesh wrinkled between them, he was the absolute picture of puzzlement.
Even Angela giggled at his expression.

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Charlie MacNeil 8-28-07

 

The look on the pup's face, for pup was indeed what he was in spite of his size, was too much for Charlie. He laughed to the point that he nearly upended himself. When he finally came up for air, Charlie told Sarah, "Dawg came in on last night's train. We couldn't have him missing the wedding now, could we?"

"Dawg rode the train?" Sarah asked in surprise.

"Yep," Charlie said. "Bought himself a ticket and came on down."

Sarah looked at Charlie in surprise, then disbelief, then outright scorn. "Huh uh!" she proclaimed. "Dawgs can't buy train tickets. They don't have money!"

"Dawg's a deputy marshal, isn't he?" Charlie asked, deadpan.

Sarah's face screwed up in thought. Her fingers were digging behind Dawg's ears while she worked through what Charlie had said. "I guess so." She turned to Linn. "He is, isn't he, Uncle Linn?"

Linn winked at Charlie over Sarah's head and said, "That's right, Sarah. Charlie and I deputized him some time back."

Sarah looked skeptically back and forth between the two men for a moment then shrugged her shoulders and turned to Dawg. "I guess it doesn't matter how you got here," she wrapped her arms around the big dog's neck, "as long as you're here."

Beside Sarah, a much chastened Twain Dawg timidly lifted a paw toward the Boss Lady and whined the tiniest of whines. Sarah turned to him. "I haven't forgot you, Twain Dawg," she said sternly. "But it's Dawg's turn for hugs. You'll get your turn later, since you've been naughty." She turned back to Dawg.

Angela appeared beside Twain Dawg. Her left arm clutched her doll tightly and her right arm wrapped just as tightly around the smaller dog's neck. "I wuv you, Twain Dawg," she pronounced loudly. Those gathered gawked at each other in surprise. The silent little girl had spoken!

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Mr. Box 8-30-08

 

I tied my horse off to the woman's wagon so I could accompany her on the trip back. I figured that her trip into town was enough for her. Everything was about ready to roll.

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Linn Keller 8-31-08

 

"Girls!" Bonnie called.
Sarah and Angela turned, startled, as if caught in a guilty pleasure. Angela had a good grip on Twain Dawg's furry ruff and started out at almost a run for the Sheriff's buggy, Twain Dawg happily pacing along beside her; not to be outdone, Sarah seized Dawg in like manner and yelled "C'mon, Dawg!" and started off in a sprint.
Dawg didn't.
Sarah's grip was still firm about Dawg's neck. The net effect was to come suddenly to the end of a short leash: her feet ran out from under her and she started down, backwards.
Dawg's big head thrust under her and she kind of rolled off to the side, keeping her footing. Straightening her frock, she turned solemnly to Dawg and said, "Thank you, Dawg."
Dawg blinked sleepily, yawned.
"Sarah!" Bonnie called, not unkindly, as Esther picked up Angela and deposited her carefully in the back seat.
"C'mon, Dawg!" Sarah called, running after her mother's voice.
Dawg snuffed loudly, then turned and sized up the back of Mrs. Kolasinscki's wagon.
Charlie swung into the saddle, grinning down at his sizable companion.
"Ridin's easier, pardner," he said, "an' there's room. Hop in."
Dawg did not need to be told twice.
"We ready, Sheriff?" Mr. Baxter called, his foot on the brake lever.
The Sheriff swept the group with his gaze. "Who ain't ready, speak up!" he sang.
Esther flicked the reins on their horse's rump and clucked to the mare, drawing the Sheriff's fine buggy around in the middle of the street.
"Mr. Baxter, at your pleasure, sir," the Sheriff said. Lifting his hat to Mrs. Kolasinski, he said, "Ma'am," and Mr. Baxter flipped the ring off the brake lever and gave Shorty's big trotter a cluck and a "Yup, boy!"
Dawg swayed a bit as the wagon started off. Finding a comfortable place on a sack of something that was almost soft, he settled in for the ride.


Back in the Jewel, two of the Daine brothers were in Daisy's kitchen, partaking of Daisy's coffee, when a third came in grinning.
"Now what's got you all tickled?" Emmett demanded, handing him a steaming mug of vanilla coffee.
The younger Daine hunted around until he found some honey and stirred it in. "They's a search party lookin' fer some fella," he said. "The wimmen folks is goin' too, an' the girls!"
"The puir woman," Daisy said sympathetically, vigorously rolling out pie dough on her floured table. "She came in here just latherin' that puir mare, askin' the Sheriff t' come an' find her husband. He's three days gone an' more an' likely he's gone longer than that, knowin' men folk!" Her brogue came out under stress and distress, and she was distressed, for she herself had thought her own life's love gone and drowned in the mighty Mississippi, and the prospect of any woman losing a husband was painful to her. "Why, like as not, if he's no' fell o'er a cliff or been et by a bear, some other terrible thing has befallen him!" She sprinkled flour on the dough, rubbed flour on her rock-maple rolling pin. "Why, like as not, the damned British sent a press gang after him! An' him an honest husband an' father!"
"Now hold!" the younger Daine exclaimed. "That poor woman's a widow, you say?"
"Like as not she is, an' her wi' child an' all!" Daisy said stridently, her voice raising as she shook her rolling pin for emphasis. "An' that's just like a man, t' run off an' leave a puir woman alone wi' her young, defenseless against man an' beast!"
The middle Daine reached out and thumped the eldest, Emmett, on the shoulder. "Now it ain't right that a widda woman be alone like that," he said.
"You thievin' scoundrel, you figure t' marry the poor gal afore her man's carcass is even cold?"
"I aim t' give her place a lookin' over an' see if there's work needin' done!" came the loud reply. "An' if she figures I'm good husband material, now by golly, that's my bizniss an' hers an' none 'a' yers, you long tall drink 'a' water!"
"Speakin' of which," the youngest said mildly, "we got the last of that run jugged an' the vats clean. I don't reckon we want to set no mash til we git back."
Emmett poked a stiff finger in his younger brother's overall bib. "You woman stealin' moonshiner, you, git me some workin' tools. If yer gonna work on her cabin I'll hafta keep a-holt 'a' yer galluses t' keep ye from fallin' off the roof."
"Yeah?" came the sneering reply. "Ye'll probably roll off yerself an' land head first in th' rain barrel! I'll have t' call ye Catfish!"
Three mugs hit the table top and the Daine boys quarreled down the hallway, insulting one another good naturedly, appearing to an outsider as if they were ready to knock each other into the middle of next week.
Daisy knew better.
She wiped a stray curl of Irish-red hair from her forehead with the back of a floured wrist.
Little Sean looked up at her and laughed.
"Yes, Sean," Daisy said in her kindly voice reserved for private moments between mother and child. "They are gentlemen, every one of 'em, even if they never trod the Old Sod."
Not many minutes later she heard their wagon clattering down the street, and knew that more hands were headed for Inge's place: not necessarily to help in the search, but to render aid and assistance to an injured husband, if he lived, and to a widow, if he didn't.

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Linn Keller 9-2-08

 

Hiram was a Mountain Man.
Hiram was a quiet sort, given to solitary contemplation and an occasional woman-cooked meal, especially if the woman was young and pretty, and this one was.
She was also blushing, knowing she was the object of a man's eye.
Hiram had disposed of more meat and potatoes than two normal men would eat, and now he was working on the second half of a loaf of bread, thickly buttered, still warm from the oven Annette was only just getting used to.
Jacob leaned back in his chair with a sigh of satisfaction.
Hiram had hailed the house the day before, asking if he might water his mules; Jacob welcomed him, as was usual on the frontier, and invited him in for supper.
Hiram, for his part, had figured to be invited. It was the rule and not the exception, and he came prepared: he'd brought meat enough, and he and Jacob had carved enough for a couple of meals, then set to thin slicing what was left for smoking.
They'd offered Hiram the good bed but he'd declined, saying he'd sleep outside, as he snored terribly. Truth was, he felt hemmed in when surrounded by walls, and preferred to open his eyes and see stars and clouds and maybe some moon overhead, and hear his mules, nearby and content.
They spoke over supper of the usual things, the lay of the land, politics, even a discussion of Scripture, and the bearded old man surprised the younger man when he began quoting ancient Greek texts, original texts found and lost and found again, containing some of the earliest writing of the Twelve.
"Now you take them twelve that was with Christ," he said. "Twelve men an' the leader. That formed a tribe."
Jacob's left eyebrow went up and he leaned forward, interested.
Hiram continued: "Y'have to understand they was a different people back then. Not like us a'tall. They didn't have an idee what "I" was. They had no word for "I" the individual. It was always "we" -- they was always part of somethin' bigger than themselves. They were 'Of the Tribe of Judah' or 'the family of David' or some such."
"I see," Jacob said.
"Now them twelve, they was not just a tribe, they was close. Every man Jack knowed the business of every other man there. Warn't no secrets.
"You recall in the Garden, when them-there Roman soldiers come to arrest Christ?"
Jacob nodded.
"Christ asked at one point what-all they had, an' they fetched out two swords. He said that would be enough."
Jacob blinked. The man was right. Jacob had forgotten.
"They was not going to go up against Roman legionaries with just two swords, you understand. But they had swords, an' every man there knowed it.
"Now you recall at another point He said that who has no sword, let him sell his cloak and buy one. Was he talkin' about a sword like we think about a sword?"
Jacob thought of his father's cavalry sabre, still hanging in the Sheriff's office.
"The sword he refers to ... I can't think of its Greek name, but it'll come to me -- wasn't a full size sword, it was more of a long dagger. Kind of like yer revolver ye wear regular. Intended not to go to war with but ruther to keep the traveler safe."
Jacob nodded.
"No, warn't no weak sister daisies amongst 'em. Not one of 'em," Hiram declared stoutly. "They was carpenters, they was fishermen, they was men with calluses an' muscles to 'em. Recall that part that says t' turn the other cheek?"
"Yes, sir, I recall," Jacob said softly as Annette cleared the table, listening.
"That didn't mean stand there an' get the stuffin' beat outta ya, no sir it didn't!" Hiram declared. "That was part of their society, y'see."
"I don't follow," Jacob admitted.
Hiram grinned, and his grin was infectious. "If a man slapped another it was an insult."
Jacob nodded.
"Y'have to understand that-there society. If a man slaps another with his right hand" -- he swung his hand slowly through the air -- "he slaps the other fella on the left side of his face."
Jacob nodded, frowning.
"That sez 'I am better than you.' It's a way of a high society sort shaming a low society sort."
Jacob nodded again.
"When Christ said 'Turn the other cheek' that means turn your right cheek to them."
"The right cheek?" Annette asked, clearly interested.
"Yes, ma'am. That means you declare you're equals, an' it shames 'em, for you are publicly callin' them a liar."
"I never knew that!" Jacob murmured.
Hiram smiled. "Lots of folks don't. Scripture is interestin' any way you read it. That-there King James bible you have" -- he pointed -- "ain't even the first English translation. The Bible George Washington swore his Presidential oath on was the Bible from the Masonic Lodge. 'Twas a Geneva bible."
"Geneva?" Jacob and Annette asked together.
Hiram liked fewer things better than an attentive audience, and he had one here.
"Scripture was originated in Aramaic, written first in Greek, translated into German, and then into English. This first English translation was in Geneva, Switzerland." He paused and took a long drink of cold water, then coffee. Sighing with pleasure, he continued. "That-there King James fella, now, he didn't like some of the things in the original translation so he ordered a new translation, only he said to leave some things in an' not others, and add a little here an' there." He looked up from under shaggy eyebrows, an amused expression on his face. "He wanted 'em to emphasize the part about bein' obedient to the government an' the King, and tone down them parts about kickin' out the rascals that ain't rulin' as they should."
Jacob looked over at his King James as if looking at a friend who'd just betrayed him.
"You can still find Geneva bibles, son. Never worry yourself about that. Might be one in yer library."
Annette smiled a quiet smile. "There is," she said, standing behind Jacob and laying warm hands on his shoulders.
Hiram took a final, long drink of coffee. "That," he said with a satisfied sigh, "was a right proper meal. I do thank you, ma'am."
"You're quite welcome," Annette said, coloring up again. "It's good to see a man eat with a healthy appetite!"
Hiram looked off into a corner and smiled. "Ma'am, would that be a dulcimer yonder?"
Annette turned, surprised. "Why, yes it would," she said. "I'm afraid neither of us can play it, though."
"May I?" Hiram asked, and Annette brought the dulcimer over, and with it an extra tuning peg, and a seasoned-dry crow feather.
Hiram plucked delicately at the strings, pressing them against particular frets, fiddling with the pegs until they were tuned to his satisfaction.
Outside, his mules, in the corral, swung their ears toward the sound of the double strung cherry wood dulcimer singing in the dark, music coaxed from its figured heart by the callused fingers of a weathered old mountain man.

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Linn Keller 9-4-08

 

Dr. George Flint had come up with a paint pony on very short notice, and a grulla for himself; his black bag was secured behind his saddle.
Morning Star was not entirely comfortable on horseback; she rode without complaint, and her paint seemed content to follow along beside the good physician's grulla, as they had been stablemates for some time.
Mr. Baxter did not have to encourage the big gray gelding. The gelding was a trotter: too big and heavy for racing, it still set a brisk pace. Had the wagon lacked springs on its seat the ride would have been decidedly uncomfortable. Even Dawg had cause to appreciate the padding between himself and the unsprung wagon bed.
Charlie and the Sheriff rode almost as close flankers; the others strung out behind them. Some distance back the Daine brothers followed in their own wagon, confident of following the tracks left by the party.

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Mr. Box 9-4-08

 

We were making pretty good time when Mrs. Kolasinski said, "Take it a little easy along here. I almost got tossed out of the wagon a couple of times on the way in before I got slowed down."
I eased back on the reign, "Thank you Ma'am, we don't need to add to the problems. How much further?" "It's a good ways yet, but it won't be too much longer."
I asked, "Do you get to Firelands often?"
"No, We don't usually have time to leave very long at a time."

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Linn Keller 9-5-08

 

Dr. George Flint rode easily, completely at home on horseback: Morning Star's expression was carefully neutral, almost stoic, hiding the discomfort at the unfamilar task, but not willing to give her discomfort expression.
I was surprised to see her in Navajo dress. I'd heard at one time what her tribe actually was, but for the life of me I couldn't think of it, so I dismissed it from my mind: she was apparently making a statement, and rather a nice looking one at that.
Mr. Baxter slowed the wagon some, and a good thing he did: the road out here was never what you'd call really high grade. It wasn't bad -- I've seen much worse -- it was a little rutted, enough to beat an unsprung wagon and its occupants terribly if taken at any speed a'tall.
I was grateful for Hijo del Sol and a good Mexican saddle.

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