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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-6-08

 

 

"Mama, are we there yet?" Sarah complained from the back seat.
Angela's hands were on the side of the carriage and her head was hung over the side, her face in the breeze, eyes closed.
"No, sweetheart, not yet," Bonnie said patiently.
Sarah pouted, arms folded.
Twain Dawg's head was hung over the other side of the carriage, nose into the wind, sniffing happily.
Behind them a little distance, the Daine boys were quarreling happily among themselves.
Mr. Baxter held the gelding to no more than a walk until they were over the rough section of road, then eased the reins a bit. The wagon rattled and complained under them, and Mrs. Kolasinscki was obliged to seize the side of her seat a time or two, in spite of the springs that kept their eye teeth from being beat loose.
The Sheriff drew up, holding at the roadside, his golden stallion dancing impatiently. Horses are herd animals; stallions are competitive; this stallion was a racer at heart and wanted nothing more than to ensure that the others were not going to get anywhere ahead of him.
"Easy, boy," the Sheriff soothed him, patting his neck.
He grinned as Esther drove up to him, and easing the reins, allowed Hijo del Sol to pace their carriage.
The Sheriff was on the driver's side; Angela jumped up on the seat, standing up in the carriage, her arms extended fearlessly.
The Sheriff's heart skipped a beat and he eased Hijo close, close against his buggy, leaning over in the saddle and running his arm around his little girl's waist.
Angela giggled as Hijo drew away, and seizing her Daddy's vest, managed to scramble up behind him; her little patent leather shoes found purchase on the saddle skirt and she rode standing upright behind him, her hands on his shoulders, bright eyes looking fearlessly around.
"Hold on now, honey," the Sheriff said, and Angela's hands took a better grip on his vest.
Angela threw back her head and laughed, delighted: as long as she had hold of her Daddy, it did not matter that she stood atop the tallest horse in the world!
The Sheriff paced up beside his wife and, lifting his hat, greeted them:
"Ladies," he said with a smile, then touched Hijo's flanks lightly with his heels.
Hijo del Sol surged ahead, coming up behind and to one side of the wagon.
Charlie looked over and laughed.
There are few things finer than the expression of delight on a little child's face, and in that moment, with a good horse under him, the sun warm on his back, and Angela's delight plain to see, why, Charlie thought, "Life is pretty good!"

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Mr. Box 9-6-08

 

When Linn came up beside the wagon with Angela standing up behind him, I could see a look in Mrs. Kolasinski's eyes that told me she needed to be at home with her own children. This trip was beginning to get a little long for her, not to mention her other problems. I knew we were getting closer. I could see her stretching to see over the rises just before we'd top them and trying to see farther around the bends even before the horse could. There is a certain feeling to getting home, especially when you don't want to be gone. She was beginning to get nervous again. Heck, I even felt like cracking the whip. The road was good now so I gave the reign an unnoticeable flip and let the pace pick up slightly.

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Linn Keller 9-7-08

 

The road took a turn and I saw Mrs. Kolascinski stiffen and point, and Mr. Baxter eased back on the reins a bit, guiding the gelding up a set of tracks that hadn't seen a whole lot of use. Charlie and I fell in behind the wagon, both of us turning in our saddles to look behind. Esther was skillfully guiding our carriage, avoiding the worst of the almost-ruts; I'd seen the Daine boys behind, and lagged a bit myself so they wouldn't miss the turn.
Angela's tug on my vest assured me she was still there: that, and her warmth pressed against my back, and the occasional giggle.
Hijo was still restless, mincing in place as the carriage swung in behind the wagon. I waited another few moments until the Daine boys came into view over the last little rise, took off my hat, waved it. They waved an acknowledgement and I let Hijo spin and trot after our little procession.
Ahead, past the wagon, I could see a flock of young like a clutch of chicks, converging on an older girl -- maybe twelve or so -- who gathered them to her with one arm, shading her eyes with the other hand. Her mother waved from the wagon and the girl waved back.
I counted maybe four children all told once they stood still. While they were still in motion they looked like upward of a dozen.
Children are like that.
Mr. Baxter rattled into the yard, following Mrs. Kolascinski's pointing hand, and drew up with a "Hooo," and the big gelding ho'd, shaking his head and slobbering.
The children left the shelter of their older sister's skirt and ran, clamoring and chattering, for the wagon, at least until Dawg stood up in back.
I don't think Mrs. Kolascinski knew Dawg was back there, truth be told, for she seemed puzzled as the children shied away from the wagon.
I reckon was I them, I would shy a bit too, for Dawg resembled nothing more than half bear, half wolf and death on a leash ... only without the leash.
I walked Hijo up to the wagon and felt Angela shift behind me.
I had a notion I knew what she wanted, so I extended my left arm out stiff and straight, and she took a good hold of it and swung fearlessly off my saddle and into the wagon.
She stepped carefully on whatever was in the sacks and put her arm around Dawg's huge neck. "Dawg!" she pronounced happily, and Dawg grinned, which if he hadn't started to give Angela's ears a bath with his tongue, might have caused the faint of heart think he was about to eat most of them for a snack and pick his teeth with their bones.

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Mr. Box 9-7-08

 

Mrs. Kolascinski got down from the wagon before I had the brake set and all her younguns clung onto her like ticks. They were about halfway to the house before they looked back and realized that there were more people gathering around than they had ever seen on the farm at once. You could tell at a glance that they worked hard just to scratch out a living. You could see why she felt so threatened with her husband missing. They weren't ones to just give up and drift on.
With everybody dismounted now it was time to haul in the supplies. The ladies picked up the baskets of Daisey's fine fixin's and us men shouldered the sacks. Sarah and Angela grabbed up what they could handle. Dawg just followed the scent, making sure nothing was dropped.

 

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Linn Keller 9-7-08

 

Charlie and I dismounted together, ground-reining our mounts, and followed the clattering, chattering crowd to the cabin.
Charlie and I sized it up as we approached. Not the most defensible but solid built: I could tell by the way he was looking at the corners and at the door frame that he was sizing up what kind of carpenter the builder was. We looked around and saw signs of a great deal of hard work put into this place. A garden had corn near to harvest, if I was any judge, and a good bit of other truck; he'd built a smoke house -- I figured it had to be a smoke house, the other building had a crescent moon cut in the door -- and Dawg padded up to Charlie, looking expectantly up at the Marshal.
I looked in through the doorway. The place was plumb full and I didn't reckon the needed my long tall carcass clutterin' up the place but I did need something.
"Charlie, how's Dawg's nose?" I asked.
Dawg, hearing his name, looked up and grinned. Polished ivory gleamed in the sunlight.
"Oh, I reckon it'll do," Charlie said casually.
I grinned. I knew what he was really saying.
I poked my head in the doorway and looked left, looked right.
Mrs. Kolascinski looked at me curiously.
I pointed to a coat hanging on a peg. "His?" I asked.
"Yes, that's Kole's," she affirmed.
I reached in and snagged it, brought it outside.
Twain Dawg came trotting up, curious.
"Here, boys," I said, squatting down and giving them a good sniff.
Dawg shoved his nose well into the bunched material, snuffed loudly a few times and sneezed; Twain Dawg's sniff was more curious than anything else.
One of the children came out, big-eyed and curious. I handed him the coat.
"Find," Charlie said, and Dawg woofed.
The little boy fairly jumped back into the cabin.
Dawg set a course to the right of the garden and up a draw, Twain Dawg following, curious. Dawg's nose was to the ground and back up, to the ground and back up: Charlie smiled quietly, and I knew that smile.
It was the look of someone who was man hunting.
Dr. Flint was still astride his paint pony. "Gentlemen," he said in cultured tones, "may I join you?"
"Be obliged if you would," I said, reaching for Hijo del Sol's reins.
Mr. Baxter had managed to escape the press within the cabin, and was untying his horse from Mrs. Kolascinski's wagon, whistling soundlessly and smiling a little.
Charlie and I mounted as one, as perfectly synchronized as if we were cavalry troopers on parade.
Single file, the four of us followed Dawg and Twain Dawg at a trot.

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Linn Keller 9-12-08

 

Inge accepted her own infant from her organized twelve year old daughter; hugging one child, swatting another's backside, she motivated her troops with mother's incentives, terribly self-conscious and all too aware of the humble appearance of her own rude abode, and the fine ladies who had brought in more food than she'd seen in some time, and were now usurping her stove, her table and -- heavens! -- where did they get such a lovely tablecloth?
Outside, the Daine boys had pulled up, quarreling and laughing, and tying their glorious (and only slightly sway-backed) steed to a handy post, began to assess the carpentry needs of the little spread.
Suth'n born eyes gazed at the hand-split shakes curling on the roof; whiskered and clean-shaven chins alike were thoughtfully rubbed as hinges were examined, doors, scrutinized, and finally the youngest Daine stepped up to the wood pile and seized the ax.
Thumbing its edge, he broke into a delighted grin.
"Dull as a froe!" he declared, striding over to the big wooden tool box and fetching out a round, flat-faced stone.
Finally, something he could fix!
The stone whispered in long arcs, coaxing an edge from the broad, hand forged head.
Smoke thrust bravely from the stove pipe, and in very short order, the smell of good cooking filled the cabin and brought dirty-footed, big-eyed children, drawn by their noses and rumbling bellies (for children are perpetually hungry!) to the cabin door.

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Linn Keller 9-13-08

 

Daisy swung out of the kitchen, finger to her lips, as she heard the happy commotion of the Irish Brigade coming into the Jewel's dining room.
"Little Sean is asleep," she shushed them, "and I wouldna wanta wake the lad!"
Big Sean seized his wife under the arms and hoisted her off the floor, pressing her to arm's length over his head, spinning her about as he always did. Bringing her down to eye level he kissed her soundly and rumbled, "How's ma beautiful bride?"
Daisy threw back her head and laughed, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him right back. "Ya great Irish oaf, do ye have ta ask!"
Sean looked around, noting the new face at the bar. "Why, is Mr. Baxter ill, then?" he asked, concern in his voice.
"Nah, they've all run out t' some rancher's place."
"Mr. Baxter as well, then?" he said, worry in his voice.
"Aye, an' the puir woman like t' run her mare t' death gettin' here!" Daisy swatted at her broad-chested Irishman with the dishtowel that lived over her left shoulder. "Like as not he's run out in th' mountains an' got his leg broke or somethin'! An' her wi' a house full o' young, an' a wee one on the way!"
Sean looked at the Irish Brigade, laughing and jesting, and considered; shaking his head, he rejected the notion as soon as it came to mind.
No, he and his would remain in town; they were firemen, after all, and theirs was to stand ready in case they were needed.
Daisy ran her hand inside the bib of Sean's red shirt. "I'll need a hand feedin' ye all," she said. "Morning Star went wi' 'em!"
Sean turned, curling his lip and whistling sharply. "A beer wi' yer meal, lads, but ye'll need t' come an' fetch it yersel'!"
The Welsh Irishman grinned. "The beer, or the meal?"
"Both, if ye want fed," Daisy said, swinging her hips and turning quickly, so as to flare her skirt, before she skipped down the hall, half a step ahead of her husband's swat on the backside.
The Irish Brigade grinned and exchanged knowing glances as they heard Daisy's yelp.

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Linn Keller 9-15-08

 

"Now daggone it I come out here t' fix a roof or hang a door or maybe build a barn or somethin' an' if that didn't need done I was fixin' to spark me a good lookin' widda woman!"
"You thievin' moonshiner, I was fixin' ta spark on her!"
"Why, I'd oughta tie your beard around your leg an' throw you down the nearest well!"
Skinny fists doubled up and waved menacingly as bony fists closed in ready reply, at least until the eldest laid strong and hard hands on the back of their shirts and pulled them hard apart.
"You to is more trouble than you're worth," Emmett declared. "Them-there berry pies ain't a-gonna be ready til evenin', what say we go find that gal's husband, that-a-way we kin at least earn our supper!"
The younger two saw the merit of their older brother's argument, especially as they'd been swung apart and then briskly together in the past, and the impact of their skulls being banged together was somehwat akin to standing inside a great bronze bell while it was struck by an intemperate giant with something large, heavy and very, very hard.
Three long-legged, skinny Kentuckians strode over to their wagon and fetched out possibles bags, powder horns and rifles near as long as they were.
They did not run so much as they flowed, an easy, effortless jog they'd used all their lives, a pace that could cover a surprising amount of ground.
The youngest Daine, in the rear, grinned. He always did like a good hunt.

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Linn Keller 9-16-08

 

We didn't want to single-file up the path he'd taken and destroy any sign remaining.
I took the right side and Charlie, the left, as easy and natural as if we'd done it before.
It was easy enough to flank the path he'd taken, at least for a while, until he hit the grade.
Charlie and I reined up and studied the terrain again, figuring a likely line of march.
I saw Charlie look past me and his eyes tightened a little, a smile that didn't travel any farther down his face. I turned and saw nothing, then a slight strip of blue, and with a little study, Dr. Flint was made manifest.
How that man could turn invisible wearing torquoise, and silver, and that shirt, I will never know, but he sure did. Even his paint pony was blended until he wanted us to see him.
I blinked a couple times and shook my head. My eyes are tired, I thought, for I've had good eyesight all my life, and something as big and colorful as Dr. George Flint should stand out in this country like a brass band on a parade ground.
I looked back and he was gone.
"How'd he do that?" I whispered.
Dawg, ahead of us a ways, woofed and started to gallop.
Charlie heeled his horse and we were after him, the path be damned!

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Linn Keller 9-16-08

 

Hiram stuck out his wrinkled, callused hand, and grinned at the strength in Jacob's young grip.
"Thank'ee kindly, young man," he said, gravity in his voice and merriment in his eyes. "I do appreciate your hospitality."
"We appreciate the company," Jacob said sincerely.
Annette colored, pleased. A woman needs to hear that her work is appreciated, and she'd taken pains to be a good hostess to this, their first guest.
Hiram looked at Dana with an almost fatherly affection, then back to Jacob.
"Son, don't ever fail to tell her how lovely she is, nor how much you appreciate what she does," he said softly. "Women-folk needs to hear that sort of thing right along reg'lar. Men-folk can know it but women needs to hear it."
Jacob nodded gravely. His father had given him similar advice: only once in so many words, but every single day by example.
Hiram swung up onto his riding mule and accepted the Sharps rifle Jacob was holding for him. With a final nod, he was off, the mule at a patient walk, his pack mule docilely behind.
Jacob smiled and laid a hand on Annette's. She'd come up and wrapped her hands around his forearm, and leaned her head against his shoulder.
Hiram was soon out of sight, headed back into the hill country.
Jacob and Annette turned back toward the house, holding hands and talking quietly.
"Dearest," Jacob said, using an endearment his father often used, and Annette smiled to hear it -- "Dearest, do you reckon we'd ought to get married right here directly?"
Annette looked at Jacob and smiled, her cheeks high with color. "I do reckon," she said, the unfamiliar word odd on her tongue. Jacob's right ear twitched to hear it and he grinned self-consciously.
"Pa and Mother will likely want a fancy weddin' an' I know the town does love a fine to-do," Jacob speculated aloud, "but Charlie an' Miz Fannie is fixin' to tie the knot an' I reckon there will be celebratin' enough there."
"Yes, there will," Annette agreed.
Her hand tightened slightly in Jacob's, and his in return.
"We could have us a quiet little knot tyin', just us an' the Parson, there or here."
"Yes, we could." She stopped, and Jacob stopped with her, and he was surprised to see sorrow on her face and tears ready to overspill her eyes.
Jacob took her in his arms. "Dearest, I'm sorry," he said, "have I hurt you?"
Annette shook her head and pulled a dainty little lace-trimmed hankie from her sleeve; pressing it to one eye, then to the other, she alternated the cloth twice again before giving it up for a lost cause and pressing her face into Jacob's shirt front.
Jacob had no idea what had triggered this womanly storm of grief, but he was wise enough to fall back on the example of more experienced, if not wiser, men: like his father, he held his lady, and let her cry herself out.
It did not take long for the storm to pass.
Annette drew back a little and pressed the damp kerchief to her eyes again, and sniffed. "You must think me a weak and foolish woman," she husked, pressing the sorry cloth to her nose.
Jacob fished out a bandanna from somewhere and handed her. "I think nothing of the kind," he said, softly enough so only she could hear.
"It's," Annette said, choking on the word, swallowing twice and trying again. "I'm sorry. It's just that I miss Duzy so." She looked up at Jacob, her eyes brimming with fresh grief. "I had so wanted her to stand as my bridesmaid."
Jacob drew her into him again with a long, tired sigh. He laid his cheek against the top of her head, and she felt his chest expand, and heard his breath sigh out, long, and slow.
"I know, dearest," he whispered. "I know."

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Linn Keller 9-17-08

 

Dawg looked back, looked ahead.
He and Charlie had hunted men before.
Dawg had learned the wisdom of not running too far ahead: still, pursuit and capture was in his nature: had he been alone in this venture, he would have moved fast, silent, gained the quarry and made it his: if Dawg were given to reflection, or lengthy thought, he might have reflected on the years that ached in his bones and troubled his breathing at times, and that his inclination was better suited to a younger hound: still, he scented, and looked, and looked back to make sure Charlie followed.
Twain Dawg imitated his sire's actions, not sure quite why -- neither why Dawg scented the ground, and the wind, and looked as he did -- nor why he himself imitated these actions, and in imitating, learned: in this moment he was less a nuisance and more a necessary link, for he trailed Dawg, and when Charlie could not see Dawg, he could see Twain Dawg, and knew himself to be close.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-17-08

 

Dawg stopped and a low rumble rolled through his chest. Twain Dawg, uncertain what he should be doing but learning fast, came to a stop alongside his sire's right hip. The hair on Dawg's back stood up and his lip curled back from his teeth and he lowered himself toward the ground. Twain Dawg did the same.

A fitful breeze wafted the essence of death, the coppery odor of blood and the tinny buzzing of flies, toward the tall grass the two massive canines crouched in. The flapping of wings and the scolding of magpies told of the presence of carrion birds as well. Charlie saw the pair lower themselves to their bellies and motioned silently to Linn that the party needed to stop and that he would go on ahead and see what had caused such a reaction from the two dogs.

Charlie dropped to his knees and slung his rifle over his shoulder. He eased up alongside of Dawg who turned his head and looked at Charlie then back toward the clearing. The smell of blood and torn bodies got stronger as the breeze freshened. Charlie slipped his hat off and reached up to part the grass in front of him. What he saw chilled his blood.

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Mr. Box 9-17-08

 

Watching Charlie and Dawg work together was quite a sight. I'd seen dogs following game, but I'd never seen them used in a man hunt. Dawg seemed to know what we needed from him all the time. I'd feel comfortable with an animal like that anywhere. Twain Dawg is more of a pup but he was wise enough to let Dawg lead. I guess that little scrap back in town had set things straight this morning.

 

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Linn Keller 9-17-08

 

Hijo del Sol felt me stiffen and stopped, dead still.
I'd never seen this horse stop like that.
His ears went back and he didn't like being here, not one little bit, and I fetched the Sharps out of its scabbard, quick-like, and turned to Mr. Baxter, behind me and a little to the right.
He already had rifle in hand and nodded once, tight-like.
Charlie went to ground, moving easy, crouched, then slipped up to a little brush screen and worked through it.
I looked off to the right a little further.
Dr. Flint's blue headband was gone.
If he was anywhere near, neither his shirt, his pony nor his torquoise and silver could be seen, and that meant he was taking care of himself. If he wanted to be seen, or found, he would be, I was satisfied.
Hijo shifted a little under me and blew, once.
I soothed my hand on his neck, and then I smelled it, and the hairs stood up on my arms.
Once you've smelt blood, once you've smelt a man tore apart, you never, ever forget the smell.
For a moment, for just a moment, I remembered such a smell, back when I was a very junior officer, and my first engagement in the butcher's yard they call a battlefield, and how this smell hit me and I bent over a log and heaved up my guts.
Then I heard it, and cold water run through me where blood used to be, and Dawg bayed a bugle for war, and the fight was on.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-17-08

 

The breeze swirled and Charlie felt it on the back of his neck. Instantly there was a crackling of brush and the crows and magpies that had been squabbling over what lay in the little opening burst into flight. A huge mass of hair and blood lust blew out of the little thicket across from Charlie with a snarling roar as the great bear charged. His huge shoulders were humped with muscle and his jaws chopped in syncopated rhythm to his limping strides as he came. Ropey strings of slobber dripped from his champing lips and his eyes were red with hate. In the first flashing instant Charlie could see the white of exposed bone in the fur of one great shoulder and knew that all and sundry were in a great deal of trouble. Nothing on the face of the earth is more dangerous than a wounded grizzly, and this one had laid there long enough to have a considerable mad on.

Beside Charlie, Dawg rose to his full height and bayed a challenge that shook the ground. Beside his sire Twain Dawg, at last feeling more in his element with something tangible to confront, did the same. Almost as if by prearrangement the pair split, one charging from each side of the wounded griz. Charlie let out one "DAWG!" in an attempt to forestall the confrontation but he knew even as his voice rang out over the sounds of the animals that it would be for naught. Dawg had gone to war and it was going to be bloody.

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Linn Keller 9-17-08

 

Hiram was a peaceable man, given to contemplation, and the high country is a good place for a man to contemplate, as long as he's careful what it is he's contemplatin'.
Hiram had come across sign he didn't like, and his contemplation turned from matters metaphysical and philisophic to the more prosaic considerations of just where the tracks he saw, were headed.
He halted his mule and swung a leg up over the saddle, sliding to the ground as easily as a youth; Sharps in hand, he bent a little, frowning.
"Grizz," he hissed, and took in the scene.
Below him there was a little slope, and signs of a struggle: a single shot rifle, broke at the wrist, blood, the ground tore up some.
Hiram's eyes narrowed and his grip on the Sharps tightened.
Now where had this started? he wondered, and turned, and read the ground ...
The bear was here, so! ... and a man? ... there!
Blood, a patch of fur ...
The man had fired on the bear, then ... but why was the bear ...
He cast about a bit more and smelled it before he saw it: the bear's cache, elk by the look of it, but covered with sticks and trash, and the bear figured the man was going to steal his meal, and attacked.
Hiram's head came up as he heard the chopping bawl below him, and a deep baying, deeper than any wolf.
Years dropped from the white-bearded old mountain man like a cloak from a dandy's shoulders and he sprinted over loose rock and down the mountainside.

He paused at the rim of a short bluff.
Not more than ten feet high, what was left of a man was lying below, tore open and partly et, and standing over it, the grizz.
Two black arrows launched from somewhere and drove into the bear's neck.
Hiram's Sharps came to shoulder, his thumb flipping up the tang mounted peep and his thumb fetching back the big musket styled hammer.
Them's not arrows, he thought, them's dogs! -- and the thought stayed his finger on the trigger, for though he was not above dropping a man killing bear, he did not want to shoot someone's dog in the process.

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Linn Keller 9-17-08

 

Inge reached into the basket and pulled out a square, brown wrapping paper packet, long as her hand but only half as wide.
Curious, she held it up.
Something written in pencil ...
This was of comfort in my time of need, it read in a feminine hand.
Inge unwrapped the package, poured its contents out in her hand.
A Rosary, of blue glass beads.
Inge smiled. She was not only Catholic, but Old Country Catholic, and this was much like her mother's Rosary, the one she remembered so well.
She ran the polished beads between her fingers and shivered a little.
She was from the Old Country, and the Old Country was rife with superstition and beliefs, and one was a belief in portents and omens, and she wondered, is this a sign?
Morning Star was looking her way when she poured the Rosary into her palm.
Morning Star had watched silently as Daisy had recited her prayers with Big Sean, their heads bowed, and she knew there was a strength to what she saw.
It is well that Daisy gives of her strength, Morning Star thought, and then her eyes swung to the doorway.
Silent on moccasined feet, she paused at the opening, then stepped outside, listening.
Inge's daughter, curious, followed Morning Star outside.
Morning Star considered the lowering sun, raised her arms, and began singing, softly.
Inge's daughter tilted her head and smiled a little.
She has such a lovely voice, she thought.

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Linn Keller 9-18-08

 

I saw Mr. Baxter come off his horse, a quick move from the corner of my eye as I dismounted, or rather jumped.
I knew that jaw-chopping bawl all too well.
Shoving through the brush screen, I stopped and brought the Sharps to shoulder, feeling like I'd just squared off against a mountain with claws, for I was not more than forty feet from a boar grizzly and he was mad.

Inge's children gathered round their Mama, there in the kitchen, and for a little moment, work came to a halt: pies were just out of the oven and cooling, and nothing needed tended at the moment.
The ladies drew back, knowing the family needed each other.
Inge's voice led, and the children, hands -- some pink-scrubbed-clean, some dirty, one still damp from catching a frog in the nearby stream -- were folded in prayer.
Their voices made a pleasant harmony:
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..."


Dawg's jaws locked onto the bear's throat, just beside the wind pipe; Twain Dawg leaped, but his muscles were not as hardened as his sire's, but he managed to grab his jaws full of the bear's bad shoulder.
Maddened by pain, and now further maddened by intruders and attack, the bear twisted, swatting at these new tormentors with its good paw.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
Inge's voice caught, and her eldest daughter looked sharply at her mother.

Dawg was a warrior born and released his hold on the bear's furred throat a half-second before a paw the size of a bushel basket swished through the air he'd occupied a heartbeat ago. Dawg fell free and rolled, then charged again, slashing now at the bear's unprotected belly.
Twain Dawg was worrying the wounded shoulder, snarling between clenched jaws; he too fell free, but not by intent: he landed hard, on his back, but slinging his head he spat out the bloody chunk of meat and drove back into the fight.

Bonnie looked out the door at Morning Star, and for a moment heard her soft voice: Bonnie had never heard Morning Star speak, but somehow it seemed fitting that as Inge and her family joined their voices in supplication to the Almighty, Morning Star was doing the same, and their voices together wove melody together, point and counterpoint.

I saw Dawg sling free and drive in low. Twain Dawg fell away on the other side and I saw my chance.
I heard Charlie yelling beside me, and I heard his rifle.

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Mr. Box 9-18-08

 

I've never been in this close of quarters with anything this big or fierce! Nobody was charging in, except the dogs. I didn't tie my horse off. I figured I'd give it the chance to get out of the way if trouble came to it. Everybody was inching around for position with rifles at the shoulder or near to it.
Now I've always heard how a feller named Davey Crockett had killed a bear when he was only three. Something about just starin' it down. I don't think everyone here could stare at this thing long enough or hard enough to make it bat an eye!
I worked my way around and got up on a rock. Those animals would twist and roll around so quick I couldn't get a clear shot. I'd almost draw a bead and then there's a dog there. The next time it wouldn't be a clean shot. I don't want to send this thing charging out over another man.

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Linn Keller 9-18-08

 

Hiram watched, half in dread, half in awe, both for the dogs' single minded determination to take this fur covered mountain down, and its equally adamant inclination to shake them off and rip them apart.
One dog spun through the air and landed on its back: stunned for a moment, it slung its head, throwing the bloody chunk of furry hide from its jaws and rolled onto its belly; another shake of its head and Hiram saw fangs again as this smaller version of the first, fiercest dog launched itself back into the fray.
The bear slung its head back and forth and the smaller dog swung well off the ground, not giving a bit.
Hiram's blue eye settled behind the peep sight again, then his head came up and his own lips drew back.
The bear had seen the two men at the edge of the brush, and was coming down on all fours to charge.

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Linn Keller 9-18-08

 

Angela was a quiet, well mannered young lady.
Angela was so quiet, and so well mannered, that it was easy to forget she was nearby.
Angela was never inclined to mischief, and never inclined to wander off, so when she went out the door, Esther and Bonnie were elsewhere in their attentions.
Angela looked around outside and smiled. She walked up to their buggy horse and patted its foreleg, then ran her hand down it a little, exploring the texture of fur and tendon and warm brown hide.
The mare shivered its hide and lazily swished its tail at a random fly.
Angela looked over at Morning Star and cocked her head curiously to the side, then she walked with her quick, little-girl steps over to Inge's oldest daughter.
Inge's daughter -- Paulina, her name was, called "Leena" by the youngest, until all called her that -- smiled down at the giggling child blinking up at her.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-18-08

 

Charlie had risked a shot when the two dogs were thrown clear. His bullet had thumped into the center of the bear's chest with approximately the same affect as a bee sting as far as the enraged animal was concerned. Then Dawg hit the bear low and Twain Dawg hit him high, and the little blood spattered clearing was a sudden roil of fur, teeth, and claws with no way to get a clear shot.

The bear got in a lucky swipe with his good paw and Twain Dawg went rolling, blood starting in his shoulder. Dawg was shaken loose as well, and the bear rolled up on his hind legs and stood to his full height. A loop of intestine drug the ground where Dawg's powerful jaws had ripped the tender underbelly and the shattered front leg dangled but the bear didn't seem to care. Just then his weak eyes found the forms of the hated men at the edge of the clearing and he dropped down and came on with the speed and bulk of a freight train coming down a mountain.

Charlie and Linn stood side by side with rifles leveled. Linn was holding steady, waiting for not the perfect shot but the first good shot, wanting to make sure that the thumb-sized chunk of lead from the Sharps went where it would do the most good. Beside him, Charlie was levering and firing as fast as his hands and eyes could work, hoping to at least slow the roaring embodiment of the death angel in front of him enough to give Linn the opening he needed.

The Winchester's hammer came down on an empty chamber and Charlie tossed it aside. His hands streaked to the pair of pistols at his waist and through the haze of powder smoke he poured the last of his shots into the broad chest of the onrushing avalanche of hair, teeth and fury.

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Linn Keller 9-18-08

 

Hiram saw his chance, just as the bear gathered its hind quarters for that one long lunge that would carry him to the two men.
The front bead of his Sharps was steady right behind the bear's right ear.
He took the shot.

Emmett Daine's thumb released the pierced screw that held the hand knapped flint in the jaws of the striker. His eye was steady behind the fine rear sight and the bright spark of the polished silver blade set steady behind the bear's left ear.
His finger found the delicately curved trigger of the hand made long rifle.
The striker fell, knocking the battery-piece forward, as glowing-hot sparks fell into the flint rifle's pan, and tasted 4F powder. Liking its taste, the sparks flared into joyful life, and the curly-stocked long rifle spoke.

Albert Daine's thumb came off the pierced screw of his own striker and he waited, waited, and knew his little brother on his right was doing the same, counting now, counting to space their shots.
Albert's front sight set on the bear's near shoulder.
Break its shoulder, he thought, break it down, he cain't slap if his shoulder's broke! and his flint rifle scraped and spoke its deep note.

Linn's front bead followed the bear down.
Time slowed as he saw every hair on the bear's hide, clear and sharp, as focused as if individually drawn on a canvas.
Twain Dawg suspended himself in mid-air, floating, floating, as time crawled through cold, clear honey, and he felt the smoothness of the Sharps trigger under his finger, and the front bead set slowly, slowly, down across the bear's forehead and down that little groove right between its red veined eyes and the Sharps drove back into his shoulder, and from far away, from very far away, he heard others joining the fight, but his eyes were on the bear, now blocked by the top flat of his octagon barrel coming up in recoil.

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Linn Keller 9-18-08

 

Inge and the children had just risen, and Inge accepted a cup of tea Bonnie had ready for her.
Bonnie saw there was a little tremble to Inge's hand, and her delicate fingers stayed a moment longer, a light, reassuring touch on Inge's hands.
Their heads all turned toward the door as they heard it, in the distance.
The wind had shifted: faintly, faintly, they heard the terrible sounds of bear and dog and the sudden rattle of gunfire.
Sarah watched her Mama's face grow pale, and she watched as the delicate, bone-china teacup fell from Inge's suddenly stiff fingers, and how it fell, slowly, glowing as it fell, the dark-amber liquid slowly, slowly curling out over its rim, until it hit the floor, and exploded.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-18-08

 

Four rifles spoke as one, the booming of the two buffalo guns underlined by the sharp crack of the pair of flintlocks. Charlie stood his ground, skinning knife in hand, determined to sell his life dearly to keep the bear off of Linn if any of the shots missed. None did.

Hiram's bullet and that of Emmett Daine punched into the great skull from the rear at nearly the same time as Linn's drove into the front and the combination of the impacts kept the bear on his feet until Albert's bullet, arriving a split second later, wrecked the remaining good shoulder and the bear slammed to the ground and began to roll, his hind legs not quite getting the message that he was dead and continuing to power him forward.

Twain Dawg's jaws locked on the bear's throat as it went down, Linn's bullet passing through the space the tiniest fraction of time before the young dog found his grip. He bit deep and held on as the bear collapsed on top of him, nearly crushing him. The bear rolled over and tumbled and Twain Dawg came up on top only to have the great weight come down on him again and drive the air from his lungs. He drew in a gasping breath through his clenched jaws and a sudden deluge of the bear's blood gushed down his throat as his teeth cut the aorta and the bear's great heart pumped its last.

The tumbling juggernaut of ursine and canine hit Charlie before he could jump out of the way and flattened him to the ground. The dead bear came to rest on Charlie's legs with Twain Dawg between the two of them, only his hindquarters visible. The young dog's hind legs kicked feebly then went still. Charlie let out a yell equal to anything that had come from the bear.

"Get this thing off of me!" he roared. "This dog is dying!" He began to push at the mass of fur and flesh that pinned him, hoping against hope that they could move it in time.

Rifles were dropped to the ground with no concern for dirt or dent and hands grabbed any part of the bear they could. Just when it seemed that the bear would never be moved a rope sailed into the middle of the struggling men. "Tie that to a leg," the doctor's voice called. "Hurry!" Linn looked up and the paint horse was already beginning to move away. A hitch was quickly thrown on a hind leg just as the rope came tight, and the carcass began to roll.

Twain Dawg became visible. His eyes were closed, his jaws still clamped on the bear's throat, and blood covered his head. Charlie looked down at the great chest. "He's not breathing!" He used some inner reserve of strength to pry the dog's jaw's open. "His throat's full of the bear's blood! He's drowning!"

Linn was suddenly there. "Grab a hind leg!" he ordered and the two men hoisted the big dog in the air by his legs and began to shake him, much as a rancher would do a newborn calf, hoping to shake the thick fluid from Twain Dawg's lungs.

A torrent of red gushed from Twain Dawg's mouth and he gave a shuddering gasp that was followed by a heavy cough that sprayed red across the ground. "Come on, cough again!" Charlie demanded. Another breath, another cough, then Twain Dawg's chest began to move as his breathing began to return to some semblance of normalcy. Charlie and Linn laid him on the ground and his eyelids fluttered open. He saw Charlie and Linn leaning over him and his tail fluttered weakly as if to say Howdy.

Charlie ruffled the young dog's ears and Twain Dawg slowly lifted his head and licked Charlie's hand. Charlie and Linn rolled him up on his chest and tucked his legs under him and he rose unsteadily to his feet and growled at the dead bear. "You don't give up, do you pardner?" Charlie asked with a smile.

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Mr. Box 9-18-08

 

Thought we'd lost Twain Dawg for sure. That wouldn't be easy to explain to Sarah. That dog and her are inseperatable! He has some wounds to lick as does Dawg. I think I'll be treating those beasts with a little more respect from now on. We could have been in a heck of a lot of trouble out here without them!
"Somebody could get them a mighty fine bear skin rug if they don't mind a bunch of holes in it and all the patches of hair tore off! How big do you suppose that is? Think I'll give up bear hunting before it gets the better of me!"

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Linn Keller 9-19-08

 

I stood there with a double hand full of Twain Dawg's hind legs, least until a God-awful amount of blood shot out of his mouth, and Charlie and I laid him down.
Charlie was yelling at Twain Dawg and I turned, away looking.
Dawg set up on his hinders on t'other side of the bear and looked at me, tongue hanging out, his face a visage of sheer horror -- his grin would stop a strong man's heart, and blood and fur in amongst those big white fangs didn't diminish that appearance a bit -- so I went on over to the paint and soothed him some, for he was right skittish with all that had happened.
Mr. Baxter come over, thumbing cartridges into his rifle, and I laid a hand on his shoulder.
I tried to speak but my throat tightened up some and I couldn't say a word.
Mr. Baxter give me a wink and a nod. He understood.
I turned back to the paint.
I was shaking some.
Reckon I just stood there for a long bit.
That b'ar had come just plain too close.
Charlie had stood there with a hand forged Bowie and I don't think he said a word once steel come to hand.
Some men meet death screaming defiance, weapon in hand
Charlie was ready to meet it with silence and ready steel.
Somehow that was more frightenin'.
I looked around and saw the Daine boys, or rather I saw Emmett Daine's hand, rising above the brush as it grasped the striped hickory ram rod.
He was just pushing a patched round ball down on a healthy charge of powder, reloading his long flint rifle with the unhurried swiftness of long practice. Behind him, Albert Daine was doing the same.
My eyes tightened a little with a smile that didn't get any farther down my face when I saw the youngest Daine standing with his rifle loaded, ready.
I nodded my thanks to the Daine boys and they grinned and nodded in reply.
There was a hail from above.
Frowning, I looked, and a white bearded Mountain Man stood on a low bluff overlooking our little scene, a Sharps in the crook of his arm.
He pointed back toward the dead man's body.
I took a couple steps ahead and to the left so I could see it, and spoke to my left:
"Hey, Charlie?"
Charlie looked up from reloading his Remingtons.
I thrust my chin toward the deceased.
Charlie looked, holstered his left-hand revolver and continued loading his right.
The Daine boys, too, followed our gaze, and Hiram's pointing arm.
Some fellow was beating the dead man's carcass with what was left of that wrist-broke rifle, cussing a blue streak.
Dawg looked lazily at the fellow exerting himself, and looked at us, and offered his opinion on the whole thing.
He stretched out and give a big yawn, blinked a couple times, and let out a long breath, plainly intending to take a nap.

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Mr. Box 9-19-08

 

By Dawg's reaction, I figured this must be the end of the hunt. The feller doing the beating looked pretty haggered like he'd been out in the weather for a while. I couldn't make out what he was yelling as he pounded on the remains the bear had left behind.
"Try to t..... m... g...! Think you can s..... m.... grrr! I'm ...!" He was just too exhausted and furious form the words. Linn came up on him and put a hand on his shoulder to pull him away and he just shook it off. I came up on the other side and we both tried. He was determined to stay at it, but we got him pulled back a ways. I held a canteen in front of him. He grabbed at it like he had been stranded in the desert for a week!
The smell of rotten flesh was awfully strong from being stirred up so much. I motioned to Linn to step back. I wanted to get a little distance from this. Everybody else was content with staying over by that smelly old bear!

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Linn Keller 9-19-08

 

Charlie did not know where the tin cup came from, nor did he care, for it was near to brim full of Kentucky lightning when it was handed to him.
It wasn't near so full when he handed it back.
Dr. Flint knelt beside Charlie.
"May I?" he asked in his surprisingly gentle voice, and talented fingers explored Twain Dawg's shoulder.
Twain Dawg flinched and his pink tongue flicked out over his nose.
"Might I borrow your knife?" Dr. Flint asked, and Charlie found his hand offering the Navajo healer his blade.
Dr. Flint held the blade like a straight razor and shaved the fur back a little from Twain Dawg's wound, lips pursed in a soundless whistle. The tails of the bright blue head band wobbled a little as he worked.
The Daine boys refilled the tin cup as the Sheriff and Mr. Baxter approached, and again the welcome receptacle was drained.
Dr. Flint laid a gentle hand on the side of Twain Dawg's head and said something Charlie didn't quite catch.
Dawg came ambling over, not in any hurry a'tall, and laid down with his nose to Twain Dawg's.
Twain Dawg bared his fangs a little in greeting and his tail thumped twice.
Dawg snuffed at Twain Dawg's shoulder and licked it carefully.
Twain Dawg closed his eyes as his sire ministered as best he could to his wounded progeny.
Dr. Flint had deftly extracted a single long hair from his paint's tail, and brought this over with his black-leather physician's satchel.
He drew out a pouch, opened it; Charlie smelled tobacco.
"Wrong pouch," Dr. Flint smiled, and replaced it in the satchel, drawing out another.
Withdrawing a pinch of dried herbs, he placed them in his palm and ground them between his hands. Carefully, delicately, he philtered these over the open wound, pulling the deeper injuries apart to let the powdered compound penetrate.
Twain Dawg flinched and cried a little, a puppy-like whimper, surprising from an animal his size: but Dr. Flint gentled him again, and Dawg licked the younger animal's nose.
Dr. Flint beckoned for the tin cup.
He dipped thumb and forefinger in the clear liquid as the cup was held near, and then drew the horse hair through his alcohol-wet fingers: a nod, and the cup was withdrawn, and Dr. Flint threaded this suture through a waiting needle.
He began to sing a little, softly, in his native tongue.
Charlie watched as Dr. Flint worked the wound, bringing the deeper tissues together, then the shallower; his fingers, though large and strong, were surprisingly dextrous.
Dr. Flint brought out a small wrapped bundle and withdrew what looked like a lump of greasy pemmican. He worked herbs into this, herbs from another pouch, making a ball about an inch across.
Dawg looked up and licked his chops.
Dr. Flint chuckled and pinched off another lump from the original mass and tossed to the elder warrior.
Dawg caught it in mid-air, chomped once and swallowed, the remnants of his long-gone tail declaring his approval.
Dr. Flint offered the prepared bolus to Twain Dawg.
Twain Dawg gave it a desultory lick, then another; Dr. Flint pressed it gently against his muzzle, and Twain Dawg took it, chomped it twice and swallowed.
His tail gave one thump of approval and he laid his head back down on the ground, pressing against Charlie's knee.
"This warrior will fight again," Dr. Flint said with a quiet confidence, looking over at what they'd thought was Cole's body. "That one needs our attention."
Charlie looked over in time to see the man leaning heavily on what used to be a gunbarrel.
The Daine boys began divesting the bear of its hide, laughing and poking good natured fun at each other. The lariat was still in place around the bear's leg and they made good use of horse power and the braided line to roll the big carcass.
"I reckon he'll square ten foot," a strange voice said, and Charlie looked up, squinting a little at the buckskinned stranger.
Linn stuck out his hand. "Hiram, how ye be?"
Charlie shook his head and muttered, "Does he know everybody?"

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Mr. Box 9-19-08

 

Watching Dr. Flint work on Twain Dawg was sheer poetry. Here's a beast that could raise up and take a chunk out of him as easy as not if he felt like it and he's working away on a flesh wound like there's nothing wrong. Twain Dawg even seems to appreciate it! Guess I would too. If I ever wake up and Dr. Flint is working on me, I hope Twain Dawg is there to lick my nose. WHAT AM I SAYING?!
A tin cup got passed around. I recognized it as the fine squeezin's we serve up in the bar. It never tasted better! It sure helped wash away the stench that you can't seem to get out of your nostrils. It couldn't have come at a better time.
I see the bear has been skinned. Even buck naked it looks as big as a bull! It'll be a little easier getting along in this part of the country now with this guy gone.

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Linn Keller 9-20-08

 

Mr. Baxter handed me my Sharps and I thanked him, and whistled for Hijo.
"Mr. Baxter," I said, and I had a little difficulty with my voice, "I am obliged to you for standing with us."
Mr. Baxter shoved his Derby hat forward on his head and grinned, not quite sure how to take a complement but pleased nonetheless.
Hijo came walking up, stiff legged with his ears laid back, none too happy to be this close to a skint out b'ar.
The Daine boys stretched the hide and sure enough Hiram was right.
That hide squared out just over ten foot.
They rolled it and tied it and allowed as they'd make a fine rug out of it and I though "Good riddance" and then my thoughts cleared a bit.
Maybe that-there Kentucky Lightning cleared my gourd a little, for I walked over and said "Fellas, could you unroll that ag'in?" and we took a look at it.
Charlie came over and looked, too.
We studied that hide some.
The head was a mess, of course. They skint it out as best they could -- Kentucky folk are thrifty and they wasted nothing -- but my eyes were for the other holes.
Charlie's rifle had punched one big hole, all his shots going in a space the size of the palm of my hand.
Not my hand.
The palm.
A wounded boar grizz comin' at the man, and he shoots like that! I thought, and marveled.
There were holes here and there a bit more scattered but not much, a dozen in number, and I knew his Remingtons had spoken with a final authority, and I wondered how in the world that bear kept its feet with that much lead weighting it, and maybe by now the Kentucky was fogging my head back up for I laughed a little and said out loud "He didn't keep his feet long."
Charlie gave me an odd look.
I stopped and went over the past several minutes again, remembering how the earth shivered and how I could not tell what was b'ar and what was Dawg when it came to noise, and how I honestly didn't remember anything but a very distant sound of gunfire.
One thing I did remember.
I remember Charlie standing beside me, crouched, that skinning knife in hand.
I remember his face was white and drawn and I could see his teeth and I knew he was screaming his own challenge to a mountain of death with claws and fangs and red eyes fixed on us.
I reached over and laid a hand on Charlie's shoulder.
"Obliged," I said, and Charlie nodded, once.
Dr. Flint had migrated over to where that-there fellow who was beatin' on the corpse was leaning exhausted on a pretty well ruined gun barrel.
The Harvard educated physician took the man by one wrist and behind the knees, slung him across his shoulders, and bore him back to us as if he were carrying a child.
"I believe this man was clubbed from behind," he said formally in polished and precise voice tones. "He also appears to be dehydrated and I believe his delerium is due more to his dehydrated state than from the head injury."
The Daine boys were enthusiastically figuring the best way to bone out the b'ar, and Hiram quietly offered experienced advice on the cuts to take and the cuts to avoid.
I stood.
"Well, hell," I said, "reckon I'll go dig me a grave, see if there's any effects to take back."

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Mr. Box 9-20-08

 

"Wouldn't have missed it. It did turn into a little more than I was figuring on."
Linn had thanked me and Charlie for being there and likely everyone else, too. He seemed a little shaken. I had never seen anything even phase him before. If that bear had gotten any further he would have tore thru us all like a buzz saw!
There's more work to be done here. Get Cole buried and take this other fella down out of here. I don't envy Linn the job of notifying the widow. She'll never be able to make it out here on her own with a family to raise. I'll see if I can find a spot around here that ain't too rocky to dig.

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Linn Keller 9-20-08

 

The fellow accepted the canteen with trembling hands.
Charlie just set there, content to watch, letting the fine shakes run off him like water off a wool blanket.
Twain Dawg on one side, Dawg on the other, he had a hand on each: both Dawgs were asleep, Dawg snoring a little and Twain Dawg almost, more of a easy whistle.
Dr. Flint eased the canteen down and corked it. "Enough for now," he said in a reassuring voice. "More later."
The fellow squinted up at the big Navajo. "You're an Injun?" he asked in a voice colored with a slight Eastern European accent.
"This is Doctor George Flint," Charlie spoke up in a voice that brooked no dispute.
"Doctor?" The fellow took in Dr. Flint's headband, the torquoise, the moccasins, clearly puzzled.
Dr. Flint thrust out a hand and the fellow shook it.
"Hah-vahd, old boy," Dr. Flint said in cultured, British-accented tones.
Charlie stifled a grin. He did enjoy seeing the rug yanked out from under a man every now and again, and the good Doctor was a master of the art.
"Might I inquire as to your name, my good man?" Dr. Flint continued, his fingers under the fellow's chin, turning his head slightly back and forth, assessing the man's eyes, assessing the symmetry of his facial expressions.
"Name's Cole," he said. "Short for Kolasinscki." He chuckled, winced and coughed, pressing his right upper arm in against his ribs. "Hard for folks to pronounce. Cole's easier."
"You wouldn't be married to Inge, now, would you?" Charlie drawled with a deceptive casualness.
"Why, yes," the man said, honest surprise on his face.
Charlie looked over across the Kentucky boys' industrious disassembly of the bear's carcass: he could see Linn and Mr. Baxter casting about the area of the dead body.
Mr. Baxter came up with a worse for wear coat. He withdrew something, held it up and called to the Sheriff.
At this distance Charlie could not tell quite what he was holding, but it looked perhaps like a wallet of sorts.
"Now who's that other fellow, yonder?" Charlie asked, nodding toward his distant compatriot.
"Him? That's some no-good worked with me in the mines. Hard case. Bob Morris. Made his brags he was gonna take ma woman, he did, an' when she run him off with a bresh broom he allowed as t' skull bust me an' take her anyhow." He raised a hand to his aching head. "Pertnear did."
Dr. Flint was exploring the man's skull with professional fingers; he took some little time with the examination, then had the man grasp his hands, squeeze, pull up, down, in, out, to, from: he had the man open and close his mouth, thrust his tongue in and out, and one side to the other: satisfied, he nodded.
"At ease," he said. "Cole, you are fortunate to be a hard headed man."
Cole was looking at the bear, only just realizing what he was looking at.
"Yeah," he squeaked. "Sure looks it!"

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Linn Keller 9-22-08

 

Young minds are held only so long by structure and routine; two barefoot boys had left the cabin, despite the protestations of their anxious mother.
"Let them go," Esther counseled, scanning the floor for any missed shards of porcelain. "Boys are full of run-and-jump, and if they get it out of their system now, they won't be quite so restless for supper."
Morning Star had quietly appropriated the only mirror in the cabin, and slipped outside; turning, she shot a beam of sunlight across the floor, highlighting the few pieces of porcelain the ladies hadn't found. Most of the children were barefoot: though their soles were toughened by a summer of freedom, a shard of glass could penetrate callus easily, and Inge gratefully recovered the last of the broken teacup.
She'd tried to apologize to Esther, for she'd not handled bone china since leaving her native Poland five years before, but Esther laid a gentle forefinger on Inge's lips and looked over her spectacles at the worried wife, saying only, "A woman knows," then turning to assess the state of the pies.
The rest of the meal was ready, and need only be dished up; tableware and plates appeared from baskets and bundles, and their table was soon ready for occupancy.
"Ma! Ma!" Her son came pelting across the clearing. "Ma, they're comin'!"
Inge gathered her skirts and ran outside. Bonnie turned to follow, but Esther's fingers, gentle on her forearm, stayed her movement: the two matrons continued preparing the meal, for they knew their men would be hungry, and they knew how hungry men could eat.
Inge's hands were bunching her apron, worrying it into a ball as she watched the horses and men. Her daughter stood beside her, silent, at least until they saw the travois drawn by Dr. Flint's paint pony, and Dr. Flint himself, who they hadn't noticed before.
"Mama ...?" the twelve year old quavered, and Inge's hand was on her shoulder.
"I don't know," she said, her voice suddenly husky. "I don't see ..."
A figure raised an arm in greeting.
"Papa!" she exclaimed, running to meet them.

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Mr. Box 9-23-08

 

As we approached the farmstead and began to hear children yelling "Ma, they're coming!" Cole began to get more alert. He waved an arm and we heard a girl yell, "Papa!" She was running his way and his eyes began to sparkle. It sure was a lot better than having that old bear lunging at us! She clutched his arm as we neared the house. About half way there Inge took over. By then the travois ride was over. The entire family had him to his feet and could have carried him the rest of the way if necessary!
I hadn't really done much to help, but I was happy to be there.

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