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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Charlie MacNeil 10-27-08

 

Charlie and Fannie strolled arm in arm through the brisk evening. The stars in the firmament were jewels on a black velvet drape. Charlie looked up at God's streetlamps and took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I need to be getting back to Denver," he said softly.

"I know," she said. The music that lay always beneath her words sent chills crawling up his spine the way it had the first time he heard her speak. All through their time together, her voice had never ceased to carry him outside himself, to change him to the man that he knew only she could see; the man that he became only when he was with her.

"Are you ready?" he asked. He stopped their slow walk and turned to look into her eyes. The stars themselves seemed to have come to earth and added their sparkle to those windows into her soul.

"Ready for what, Sugar?" she asked, teasing, though she knew full well what he meant.

"I know you've got your dress, and I've got the ring," he said. "Are you ready for that? You know what the Scriptures say, that man and woman shall come together and the two shall be as one."

"I've been ready," she told him emphatically. "I've just been waiting for you to come to your senses." She smiled her magical smile to take the sting from her words.

"You won't miss the travel?"

"Of course," she replied. "It's been part of my life for too long not to miss it. But I'll be gaining something much more. By completing us, I'll be completing myself..."

Her words trailed off, and he looked at her in wonder. It was almost as if she had read his mind. He pulled her to him, and touched his lips to hers. She molded herself to him and his breath caught. After an eternity in which the planets realigned and the world stopped turning, they parted, and the earth resumed its spin. Their eyes met once more.

"Take me home, Charlie," Fannie whispered. "Our home."

"I will," he whispered back. "As soon as we can get there..."

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Linn Keller 10-28-08

 

Esther was banking the stove for the night when I got back in from stabling the horse.
Always did like currying down the mare after a drive: it seemed almost a thank-you, and she did seem to enjoy the attention.
I grained her and made sure there was water in her trough, then drew the double doors to and dropped the bar across them. A barn cat streaked in from the field as the doors were closing, barely making the opening.
"Find a warm nest," I said aloud, "and catch some mice while you're at it."
Knowing that ragged-ear old war-cat, she would indeed be catching mice. No idea where she came from but ever since she adopted our barn, the mouse population had taken a serious decline.
Angela had slept all the way home, and if she wasn't asleep as I packed her upstairs, she sure wasn't awake. I carried her weight easily, her cheek on my left shoulder, the blanket still over her: Esther turned down her bed and I slowly, slowly laid her down, and together, carefully, we got her clothes off and her flannel nightgown on, and she rolled up on her left side the way she always did when Esther drew the covers up to her chin and tucked her in.
Now, walking the short way from the barn to the house, I stopped and blended into a tree-shadow, listening.
All was as it should be.
My eyes were busy in the shadows; nothing was amiss: when I was but young as a lawman, an old veteran of the profession told me, "Son, when in doubt, follow your gut!" -- advice which served me well, over the years -- and my gut told me all was well without.
Esther was just closing the ash-door and straightening when I came through the front door. She stood, dusting her hands off, and I heard the splash of water as she washed off the ash-dust.
I came into the kitchen.
Esther poured the wash pan out in the sink. In my mind's eye I could see the far end of the drain pipe, in the draw below the house, gout out the sink-water. Jacob and I had dug the ditch ourselves, laying in the pipe, greasing the threads with Standard Oil Mica Grease, the same stuff we used on our buggy hubs. We'd tarred the pipes so they would not rust, and just to be sure, we bedded them in gravel, then graveled over top before shoveling in dirt. We'd ditched deep so it wouldn't freeze. This winter would tell whether we'd dug deep enough.
"My dear?" I asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the evening's hush.
Esther smiled over at me, tilting her head the way she did ... God Almighty, I thought, I love this woman!
"Dearest, have you heard any more on when Charlie might want to tie the knot?"
Esther shook her head, slowly. "No, not a word," she admitted, turning a little, causing her skirt to sway. "He's not spoken of it?"
I shook my head.
Esther turned down the lamp wick.
I paused long enough to get a long drink of water. Likely she'll go on upstairs, I thought, she'll want to look in on Angela again, she'll turn down the bed and braid her hair for the night ...
Esther was waiting for me in the doorway.
My eyes penetrated beyond her, sweeping the parlor, searching the corners ...
Esther smiled knowingly, coyly, her emerald eyes mischievous in the lamp light.
"Looking for the bogeyman?" she asked quietly, pitching her voice to the night's stillness.
"Always." I hung my hat on its peg and took Esther in my arms.
She'd shed her traveling-cloak, releasing the scent of violets, her favorite: her face tilted up toward me, an invitation which I accepted.
It was a bit before we came up for air.
"Why, Mr. Keller," Esther purred, her hand busy at the back of my neck, "I do believe you look very youthful tonight!"
I bent a little and picked up my bride, bouncing her once in my arms. "Mrs. Keller," I said, "thank you for that flattery, and I believe I can live up to it!"
So saying, I blew out the lamp, and carried my bride to the stairs, and bore her up them.
Esther closed the bedroom door behind us.

 

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Mr. Box 10-28-08

 

There was talk around the bar that there had been a wedding while we were all out of town on that search. "Yeah, Jacob Keller and Miss Messman went over to the parson and got hitched."
"You don't say." I muttered.
"Heard they had dinner with Linn and Esther last night."
"It doesn't look like there's been any kind of big whing ding here."
"No, it was all kind of quiet."

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Linn Keller 10-29-08

 

Daisy leaned over the bar and laid delicate fingers on Mr. Baxter's forearm. "Now don't ye be worryin' none," she said in her delicate brogue, and Mr. Baxter looked from the speaker to Daisy's merry blue eyes.
"It's Mr. Macneil and Miz Fannie that's gettin' married, an' soon, I hear, and ye'll ha'e celebratin' aplenty when they do!"

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Linn Keller 10-29-08

 

Angela's eyes snapped open, wide and dark in the nighttime quiet.
She was cuddled up in her own warm bed, covers drawn about her chin, rag doll in her elbow: everything was as it should be ... or was it?
Something was different ...
There!
Her eyes turned toward the window.
Something, something outside her window, a light rattling sound, very light, something she'd not heard before.
There it was again! -- her head lifted from the pillow and she looked, unafraid, toward whatever may be brushing against the glass panes.
She turned her covers back carefully, precisely, and swung pink little feet out from under quilts and sheets. Ignoring the coolness of the rug and then the chill of varnished wood, she padded over to the window and came 'way up on her tippy-toes to try and peek out.
She could barely see over the sill.
Disappointed, she came down flat-footed: had there been light to see, her brow would have been unwrinkled: though she couldn't see out, and she did want to, she was not distressed enough to frown.
In fact, she smiled.
She pitty-patted across to her Daddy's bedroom door.
Reaching up, she grasped the big, cold, faceted glass knob and turned it.
The door opened easily.
Angela walked up to her Daddy's bed, stopping to curl her toes in the stiff hair of the deer skin rug on his side of the bed, the way she always did, and she giggled into her rag dolly.
She reached up and laid a warm little hand on her Daddy's big hand.

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Linn Keller 10-29-08

 

I woke to the feel of a soft little girl's hand, warm on my own, and couldn't help but smile.
It was dark yet and I could barely see Angela's ghostly shape. She wore a white flannel nightie, long enough to come to the tops of her bare feet, and it glowed slightly, very slightly, for there was barely light to see.
I slipped out of bed, slowly, gently, trying my best not to wake Esther, and knelt before my little girl. Wrapping my arms around her, I drew her into me, my cheek laid against the side of her head, and whispered, "Princess, do you have to go?"
Angela shook her head a little, then drew away from me: she fumbled a bit in the dark, running her hand down my arm, then taking my hand -- well, taking a finger -- she pulled.
Angela led and I followed.
We made our way to the stairs. I picked Angela up and she giggled, for she was still a little girl and stairs would be a bit of a task for her, especially if she had to go as I suspected, and together we went down into the parlor.
I set Angela down and she padded quickly to the front door.
I followed her, curious.
She reached up and I heard her try the knob.
"Outside, Princess?" I whispered.
I felt as much as saw her nod.
"Wait here," I whispered, and headed for the kitchen.
The stove door made a little squeak, the way it always did when it was opened, and I reached in with a thin strip of kindling and I reckon from Angela's position it looked like I did some Daddy-magic to draw fire out of the stove: I lifted the globe on the lamp and lit the wick, puffing out the flame on the splint and laying it on top of the cast iron cook top.
I turned the wick up a little, just shy of smoking, and Angela giggled into her rag doll.
I turned the big knurled knob on the door's lock and then opened the door.
I held up the lamp so we could see out, and Angela's eyes got big and round, and her little pink lips made an O of surprise and delight.
She pointed, excited, her other arm crushing the rag doll against her.
I picked Angela up and carried her out on the porch, bearing the lamp before us like a triumphant prize. The steps were cold, cold under my bare feet, but I did not care.
Angela tilted her head back and so did I, and we watched the small, dry snowflakes falling, whispering through the tree branches and rattling on the hand-split roof shakes.
"This is snow," I said quietly. "Have you seen snow before, Angela?"
"Tssno!" she exclaimed, thrusting a little pink palm out and giggling as cold, dry snow-pellets bounced off her hand. A few landed and melted instantly, and Angela jerked her hand back against her chest, giggling.
We stood out in the snow for several long minutes, long enough for me to lose most of the feeling in my feet, but I did not care.
Angela might have seen some Daddy-magic when I pulled fire from the stove to light the lamp, but that night I shared some Angela-magic, and saw the snow again through the eyes of a little child.

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Linn Keller 10-30-08

 

Tenny was a miner with a thirst.
The miners not infrequently came into Firelands to eat at the Jewel, to bend an elbow at the bar, to enjoy the sight of civilization and especially of the ladies.
Most of the miners recognized the ladies were just that, and treated them accordingly.
Most of the miners.
Tenny wasn't one of them.
In fact, it wasn't until Sean's Irish-red knuckles belted him over the right cheekbone for the second time that he began to realize the depth and extent of his mistake.
You see, Tenny had come into town with a group of his fellows, men who had been to the Silver Jewel before. They knew it by its current reputation, as a gambling house with straight games -- nothing crooked -- good food, clean beds, and as long as they behaved themselves, why, all would be well.
Tenny, however, was a man of baser instincts.
His first mistake was to voice said base instincts to his fellows.
His second mistake was to listen to their reply.
And so, prompted by their careful instruction, he sized up the one lady he considered most likely for his advances, and stepped up behind her, and seized a double handful of, umm ... well, he kind of grabbed, ahh ...
That is to say, Sean was startled to hear his wife's yelp and turned to find a miner with a double handful of Daisy's assets.
Sean was a big and good-natured sort, tolerant of much, within due bounds of course: a man who loved to laugh, a man of notoriously good nature, but a man with a good Irish temper, and this stranger had managed to get on the wrong side of his Celtic mercury.
Tenny, for his part, was expecting a saucy smile, not a backhand across the face: he had not time to blink before the first Irish sledgehammer drove his head halfway across his shoulders.
His Derby hat launched straight in the air at the impact, and by the time the flying billycock began its descent, its resident head had departed the space it formerly occupied, and the hat wobbled to earth and rolled about on the floor, forgotten and ignored.
Tenny squared up to the Irishman, snapping his scarred fists into position and tucking in his elbows.
It was an interesting contest: Sean, tall, long-armed, muscled, a veteran street brawler in a red bib front shirt: and Tenny, sleeves rolled up and vest open, built short and solid and looking like he was less grown than carved from the stone he worked for his living.
The fight was on.
Sean had him in reach, but Tenny had him in speed: smaller meant faster, faster meant agile, and he drove three fast hammers to Sean's flat belly before the Irishman could knock the next one aside and land another right on the stonecutter's other cheekbone.
Tenny's right eye was swelling and both eyes were watering and smarting, but Sean was a big target and easy to see.
Tenny stepped in and hammered at Sean's belt buckle.
Sean stepped back, appearing to give ground, and Tenny leaned forward, right into a fist that came out of nowhere and spread his nose over a good percentage of his face. Blood squirted in two directions at the impact.
By now the Jewel was in chaos.
The Irish Brigade had dragged tables and chairs back, forming a rough barricade, limiting the floor space the pugilists could tread, and therefore lessening the area they could damage with their contest: Mr. Baxter hefted a bung starter in one hand and eased the abbreviated coach gun's position in case it would be needed.
The Irish Brigade was yelling and pounding one another on the back, loudly calling the name of their favorite, as the half-dozen miners did the same: the two groups, though disparate in appearance and in their chosen champion, were united in spectatorship, and mingled freely, betting one another outrageous sums on the contest's outcome.
Esther, in her office above, looked up, startled, at the sudden explosion of sound from below.
"Oh, no," she murmured, and Angela looked up from where she was trying a new dress on her rag doll.
"Angela, stay here," Esther said in a mother's no-nonsense tone, snatching up her ebony walking stick.
"Yes, ma'am," Angela said in her little girl's voice, watching her Mama's hurried steps, listened to the door close behind her.
Esther drew up her skirts and came down the stairs at a rapid velocity, hard heels drumming a brisk tattoo on the varnished hardwood, just in time to see a scrapping maul spin past the foot of the stairs and out the door, followed closely by a variegated sea of calico, denim and wool as the miners, the Irish Brigade and various other spectators boiled out the double doors after them.
Daisy's face was red and her white fists were punching the air as she yelled encouragement to Sean. Tilly, too, voiced her own excitement, grasping her apron and jumping up and down, raising little puffs of dust from her high-button shoe soles -- not the picture of dignity more befitting the wife of the town's most prominent attorney, to be sure, but it was an honest expression if nothing else.
Sean grabbed the stout fighter's shirt front and fell backwards, shoving the flat of his boot sole in the man's belly and thrusting. The miner went head-over-backside, the crowd scattering out of his way, and he landed flat on his back on the hard packed dirt.
Sean was up on all fours like a cat, as was the miner: for a moment they froze, encircled by waving arms, punching fists, seething humanity fired by the sight of two grown men happily pounding the stuffing out of one another: then as if at signal, the two launched toward one another, low to the ground and fast: they grappled, fought for advantage.
The miner got Sean around the middle and hoisted him off the ground.
Sean reached down and got the seat of the miner's pants and pulled, hard.
The miner bellowed in pain and let go, managing to drive a work hardened fist into Sean's gut as the bigger man's feet hit the ground.
Sean brought his knee up under the miner's unshaven chin, hard, snapping the man's head back.
Sean reached out a long arm and caught the man's shirt front, twisted.
He picked the choking man up off the ground, hoisted him to eye level.
Each man showed plainly the signs of their exchange.
Tenny had both eyes blackened, swelling, one cheek bone cut: his nose was wrecked, he breathed in gasps, his lips were bloody, swollen.
Sean was little better. His face had taken but two hits, but they had marked him: his hard muscled belly was sore, he'd at least one cracked rib, and he felt like he'd been kicked a few times by a pack mule.
Sean untwisted the man's shirt to let him breathe more easily. The man's hands grasped Sean's wrist, not attempting to dislodge his grip, but more to try and ease the tension his own torqued shirt was still maintaining on his throat.
The two regarded one another, each catching his breath.
"Ye hit like the hind leg of a mule," Sean declared.
"Yer pretty good yerself," the miner admitted.
"Ye shouldna grabbed ma wife's backside!" Sean roared, his face purpling.
"Yer wife!" the miner exclaimed, shocked. He looked as best he could at his fellows, who were sniggering and looking away from him.
Sean followed his gaze.
"Did they put ye up to it, then?" he asked.
"They did that, the scalawags!"
Sean's smile was not pleasant, and he set the miner's feet on the ground.
They turned as one and each seized two miners by whatever article of clothing they could reach.
When they were done, they'd guaranteed Dr. Greenlees some business, and when they were done they two went back into the Silver Jewel.
Mr. Baxter drew them each a beer, and each saluted the other's prowess as a fighter: as they drank, each privately hoped in the most sincere way that neither would find cause to raise a fist at the other, for frankly each man was convinced he'd bested the other, but not by much.

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Mr. Box 10-30-08

 

"If you fellas had taken any longer getting out the door, you would have torn the place apart! Now catch your breath and get a beer in ya!"

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Charlie MacNeil 11-2-08

 

Linn was at his desk, writing in his journal, when Charlie came into the Sheriff's office. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down across the battered desk from Linn and waited until he was done writing. Linn looked up at him. "Mornin'. What can I do you out of?"

"Mornin'," Charlie answered. He grinned and said, "I've probably asked you this before, but I don't remember, so I'll ask it again. Would you do me the honor of standin' with me at the wedding?"

"Is there gonna be a wedding?" Linn asked innocently. "I keep hearing that there is, but I haven't seen any action on anybody's part so far."

"Let me put it this way," Charlie replied. "I just came from the church and talkin' to the preacher, and the wedding's this coming Saturday, which only gives me a few more days to worry about it."

"I reckon this means its for real," Linn said. He reached across the desk with his hand out. Charlie took it and they shook. "I'd be honored to stand with you, brother. Have you told Fannie yet?"

"Don't need to. She's the one who wants it to be Saturday." He took a sip of coffee. "I really need to get back to Denver, but I don't want to go without her. These last few weeks have made me realize what I've been missing all these years," he said seriously. "And I've been gone from the office way too long. I've got a good man holding the fort, but I reckon the master's voice needs to be heard once in a while, or the dogs'll get nervous. Or uppity."

"I would imagine you're right," Linn told him. "But I'll hate to see you go."

"We'll not be going clear out of the country," Charlie said. "I reckon I can find an excuse to get down here pretty regular." He gave Linn another grin. "Besides which, where else am I gonna find coffee this bad?" He drained his cup and hurriedly got out of his chair and headed for the door. "See ya," he called back over his shoulder. He went out and jerked the door shut, and heard what sounded suspiciously like a blue enamelware cup ricochet off the door and go clattering across the office floor. He went up the street whistling.

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Linn Keller 11-4-08

 

The blue-granite cup rocked a little on the puncheon floor, a trickle of coffee running down the door from the hand-span of stain left from the cup's initial impact.
I stood there grinning and finally laughed.
"Now daggone him," I said out loud, "I was ready to give him some real good high grade free advice!" I picked up the tin cup and set it back over by the stove, thought better of it and poured some more coffee.
I took a sip.
The man's right about one thing, I thought, making a face. The coffee is pretty bad here!
I considered Charlie's words, turning them over in my mind.
Finally I nodded, slowly, remembering my own feelings the few days before Esther lost every brain she ever had and agreed to be my wife.
"You're marrying more than a good-looking woman," I murmured softly, and I felt the corners of my eyes tighten up a little as a knowing smile took over my expression.
"You're marrying your best friend in all this world, and that's the smartest thing any man can do when he picks a wife-mate!"

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Linn Keller 11-6-08

 

"You sure that's the place?"
There was the clink of glass against metal, then the scratch-sizzle of a Lucifer match striking to life.
The sudden flare of light illuminated an unshaven face under a broke-brim hat.
"Sure I'm sure. The boss said to burn 'em out an' I aim t' do just that!"
Cautious feet trod the board walk.
"How ya gonna get in there?"
The other grinned. "I ain't."
Starlight shone down on Firelands; the hour was late, the street was still and not even a resident stray dog was awake to raise an alarm.
A frayed coat-sleeve drew back, straightened: there was the crash of glass, the blazing comet of a hard-thrown kerosene lamp, followed by an opened can of coal oil.
The two ran from the scene, hurrying down the alley; hoofbeats quickly receded in the distance, and for a few minutes at least, all was quiet again.
Maude woke, restless.
Something wasn't right -- she didn't know quite what -- but Nature called, so she reluctantly left the warmth of her sheets and quilt and sought her worn slippers with bare feet.
She squinted a little at the unusual light coming through the window, wobbling on the opposite wall, light ...
Why is it light? she wondered, not entirely awake. It's like sunlight off a restless pool, or ...
Adrenalin thundered through her skinny frame and she was wide awake in an instant, her heart hammering, her hand flying to her mouth.
"Oh dear God, no!" she whispered, then stood and tottered to the window.
The newspaper office was afire.

Sean rolled out of his bunk and into his boots, thrusting sock feet into the left, then the right -- the left boot is always first, he thought, for we are Irish! -- and he reached down to find his galluses.
Jerking them up over his shoulders, his drawers followed them up: he gathered a good lungful to bellow his men to wakefulness, but to a man, they were responding as he.
The fire bell hung in the front of the firehouse was of the same manufacturer, the same size, as the one back in Cincinnati that had wakened them so many times before, and they responded according to their training, according to their practiced habit.
The fire horses, too, were awake, dancing, ready for a good run: they'd galloped the cobbles of Cincinnati, drawing the smoking, sparking steam wagon behind them, hooves throwing fire of their own off the stones as they ran, Sean standing upright at the seat, singing fine Celtic war-songs and swearing dreadful and terrible oaths in a language unsuited to clergy: they, too, responded according to their training, and stood shivering and restless as harness dropped from above and was quickly, expertly snugged and buckled.
Coal oil soaked corn cobs and kindling went into the boiler's warm heart, banked for the night: the fire ignited immediately and was accelerated by a judicious volume of liquid accelerant.
Helmets and coats, gloves and boots: the Irish Brigade swung the doors open, the matched white mares leaned into their harness, and Maude drew aside as the gleaming, polished, brass-and-silver-and-shining-lacquer fire wagon came out of station, pausing just long enough for Maude to point up the street and shout "The newspaper!"
Sean swung the black snake whip. "No Irish need apply! All hands on deck! Run, ladies, we've the Devil t' fight!"
The steam wagon, with the ladder wagon bouncing along behind, swung onto the main street and up the little grade, and the Irish Brigade tucked its elbows and raised its dukes.
The German Irishman and the English Irishman leaned out a little to see past the boiler.
"I've got sky glow!" the English Irishman shouted, and the Welsh Irishman swore, quietly, for he could see fire in the smoke.
The fire had a head start on them.
"Work to be done!" he yelled, and crossed himself with his free hand. "St. Florian, gi'e us good strength, we're goin' t' hell!"

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Mr. Box 11-6-08

 

I was sleeping pretty good but there seemed to be some kind of commotion outside. The unmistakable clatter of a galloping hitch of horses and some loud voices in the night. I pulled on some pants and shoes and went downstairs. I looked out into the street in time to see the Irish fire brigade pulling up to the newspaper office. I charged upstairs and grabbed some more clothes and ran down the street dressing on the way! I don't know what I can do but you can bet I'm not getting between those big excited Irishmen and their machine!

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Charlie MacNeil 11-6-08

 

Charlie's eyes snapped open and he stared at the ceiling, trying to make some sense of what his senses were telling him. Then the sights and sounds came together with a mighty crash, and he swung his feet to the floor while reaching for his pants. Fannie stirred beside him. "Whatsa matter, Sugar?" she murmured sleepily.

"Something's on fire!" Charlie exclaimed as he hurriedly shoved his feet into his boots, then whipped his shirt over his head. He jumped to his feet and out of habit, he slung his gunbelt around his waist, quickly checking that both pistols were loaded. He ducked and kissed Fannie on the cheek, jammed his hat on his head, took up his coat, and dashed for the door.

"You be careful, Sugar," she called after him.

Charlie raced for the stairs, shoving his arms into his coat sleeves and nearly upending Mister Baxter on the way. He jerked open the Jewel's front door and turned toward the flickering orange light and the bass roar of the fire. The Irish Brigade was already there, suction hose shoved into the water cistern across the street from the newspaper office and the engine's pump blasting a heroic stream of water into the heart of the blaze.

Charlie ran down the street to where Sean was standing with his hands on his hips, shouting orders. The German Irishman and the English Irishman were manning the hose, masterfully playing the gushing stream on the areas where it would do the most good.

"What started the fire?" Charlie yelled to make himself heard over the roar of the flames, and the hissing and growling of the pump engine.

"I'll not be knowin' the answer to that, Marshal," Sean shouted back. "But there was a strong smell of coal oil yon," he pointed with a thick finger, "when we pulled up here to set up."

"Damn!" Charlie said vehemently. "That means it's arson! Thanks, Sean!" But the big Irishman had already turned his attention back to the fire.

Charlie moved toward where Sean had pointed. In the flickering orange light of the flames he could see where something had spilled in the dust of the street. He knelt and pinched up a bit of the darkened dust and brought it to his nose. It was coal oil, alright. The blackened stump of a match lay nearby, and two sets of footprints led to an alley, and to two fresh piles of horse manure.

Dawg appeared like a great living shadow from the darkness. Charlie called him over and knelt by the tracks. "Here, Dawg!" Dawg lowered his massive muzzle and breathed in the scent of the men Charlie was sure had set the fire, then lifted his head and woofed quietly. He would know the scent if he encountered it again.

Dawg walked to where the horses had been tied, and drank in the scent. To men, all horses smell the same. To a Dawg, these horses were individuals. Individuals he could follow nearly anywhere. He had cataloged the scents of man and beast and was ready to take to the trail.

"We'll wait for Linn," Charlie told Dawg.

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

I heard a howling, distant, shrill ... a whistle ...
Urgent hands pulled at my arm.
Esther turned her head and I came awake.
Angela was standing beside my bed, tugging on my night shirt's sleeve.
I heard it again, and I knew the sound.
I was out of bed and across the room before the quilt settled back down to the bed. I was out of the nightshirt and into my Union suit before I remembered a little girl was behind me.
I turned my head, my face flaming with sudden guilt, but Angela had already crawled into my bed and was giggling under the covers.
It was too dark for her to have seen anything, anyway.
I was but a moment getting into shirt and drawers, vest and boots.
Esther came around the end of the bed, laid her hand light on my arm.
I ran an arm around her and pulled her into me, kissed her once, and was out the door in two long steps, my boot heels loud on the hardwood staircase.
I knew that high, shrill whistle.
The Irish Brigade had steam up, and that meant a fire!

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

"Now do ye keep yer line on the ceilin', that's a good lad!" Sean shouted. "How's the machine?"
The engineer gave him a quick nod, scooped another shovel of coal in the boiler.
Sean strode over to the second hose line and clapped his meaty hand on the red-shirted shoulder: "All right, lads, we're in for it now! Wi' me!"
They advanced on the doorway.
Sean kicked the lock free with one thrust of a polished black boot and they ducked as the hot breath of Hell flared out over their heads.
Sean swore steadily, methodically, profaning the conflagration in three languages, as the team crouched and made entry, swirling the straight stream in a fast spiral, shattering the high pressure stream off ceiling and walls, breaking the spray into smaller drops that went to steam almost instantly.
"She's a hot one!" a voice exclaimed, and Sean coughed agreement.
Sean looked up. "Lads, back!" His big arm shoved against the nozzleman's chest and the three retreated, duck-walking, covering their retreat with fast spins of the hose stream: they had just made the doorway when the ceiling groaned and then collapsed, sending a great waterfall of sparks high into the air.
There was the muffled rhythm of hooves on the dirt street, coming into the scene from the upper end. The Sheriff stood in the stirrups, taking it in, swinging his gaze to the rooftops, looking for opportunistic sparks that might take a taste of wooden shingles and find this to their liking.

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

"She's lost to us, lads," Sean shouted, defeat bitter on his tongue: he took fire as a personal enemy, every structure damaged, a personal defeat. "Protect the exposures! Water the roof adjacent! We canna' let it spread!"
The library was in the same building: it, too, was involved, and it too was damaged: by the time the Irish Brigade got ahead of the conflagration, probably nine-tenths of the books were ruined, and the building itself, a total loss. They'd managed to save the adjacent structures, and those across the street, but wooden buildings burn fast, especially wood dried and dessicated in the dry and rarefied Colorado air.
Willing hands had darted into the library before it got too hot; books had been carried by the armload, thrown carelessly on the boardwalk a little distance away, strewn to safety : now these precious volumes were stacked neatly and would be inventoried when time permitted.
Sean ground his teeth, his fists balled into hard knots.
"Someone will pay," he hissed. "St. Florian my witness, someone will pay for this!"

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

Charlie was in the alley, Dawg melting into a shadowed corner.
Smoke squeezed from between boards as the Irish Brigade fought the beast from within; occasional drops of water chased the smoke out, falling in bright drops to the alley below.
I led Hijo, scanning the ground.
"There, and there," Charlie pointed, and I saw the tracks.
Two men.
Charlie turned. "Two horses. They went out there" -- he pointed to the back of the alley, where the street went into open country.
"Arson?"
Charlie nodded. "Coal oil spilt yonder. Found the stump of a match."
There was a step behind them. "Sheriff?"
It was the German irishman.
He held what was left of an oil lamp, the chimney gone, its globe broken; it was black with combustion.
"Found this inside. Front window was broke when we got here. Broken low so it wasn't heat."
I looked at Charlie, and Charlie looked at me.
"You've got a weddin' right here shortly. I can take this."
"You're gonna stand with me at the weddin', friend," Charlie said with a grin, and his grin was not at all pleasant.
I don't reckon mine was either.
"The faster we find 'em the faster we get back and tie the knot!"
I nodded.
"They burnt the library too. Every man's hand will be ag'in 'em now," I said meditatively. "Every cowhand I know is starvin' for somethin' to read, and the library was the secont most popular place in town."
The precision of my speech had fallen away, whether from being roused prematurely from sleep or from being out and out boiling mad.
Someone had tried to set my town on fire.
I rather take exception to that.
Charlie said "I'll get m' horse. Dawg!"
Dawg rose silently and padded after the broad-shouldered Marshal.

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

Anxious eyes watched through window-panes, curtains drawn back: but as many as watched, acted: the Jewel was lit up and Daisy stoked her stove, for she knew fighting fire was hard work, and she'd seen her Sean eat three mens' meals and still be hungry: the Irish Brigade would be near to starved, once they got the fire out and overhauled, once the hose was cleaned off and strung in the drying tower, fresh hose loaded on the fire wagon, apparatus and tools and men alike cleaned and made ready for the next run, coal, coal oil and corn cobs replaced, the boiler watered and a fire banked: only then, only then would the Irish Brigade be able to let down from riding the Adrenalin Stallion; only then would they consent to sit down to a meal.
And when they did, they would eat, and eat well!!

Not far from town, young eyes regarded the clear and star-lit sky, breath fogging the window intermittently: Sarah marveled as she always did at the beauty of the nighttime sky, and remembered a night not long ago when Angela stayed over, and how she pointed out different constellations, and the Milky Way to her attentive pupil.
Angela had perhaps seen the heavens more clearly than she, for after listening carefully and solemnly to the older girl's knowledgeable lecture, Angela pointed and said, "Duzy!"
Now, alone, marveling at the nighttime sky, Sarah thought that the younger child could well be right.
She thrust her feet into slippers and carefully, silently, went downstairs: she'd been wakened because of a need, and the need would no longer be denied: Twain Dawg padded after her, toenails tik-tik-tikking on the painfully-clean floor.
Sarah drew the oiled latch back and eased the back door open.
Twain Dawg slipped out ahead of her, as he always did, and cast about with eyes and nose and a half-wild instinct; whether by accident or design, Sarah delayed long enough closing the door, silently, carefully, so as not to rouse her sleeping parents, that Twain Dawg was able to satisfy himself all was well.
Sarah walked fearlessly through the nighttime dark to the outhouse, as she had done countless times before, in the daylight as well as the dark; she modestly closed the door before tending necessary details, smiling at Twain Dawg's vigilance without. She could just see his eyes, and his teeth, and little else, but she knew he was there, and she was safe.
When she opened the door and emerged, Twain Dawg was bristled and growling.
Sarah followed his gaze.
There was a yellowish glow back toward town, and she smelled smoke.



Esther clapped her hands twice, like a schoolmarm getting the attention of a morning classroom: "Angela, let us dress, there is work to do!"
Angela tried to throw the quilt back as vigorously as had her Daddy, but lacked both strength, reach and leverage: nevertheless, the corner of the quilt flew up, and she giggled.
Esther stepped over to the bed and took the quilt in both hands; she fanned it up in the air and said "Whee!" and Angela giggled again, sliding out of the big Daddy-sized bed, wiggling her bare toes into the stiff hairs of the deerskin rug as she always did.
She ran quickly to her own room, and was dressed almost as quickly as her Mama: Esther made quick work of buttoning the little girl's high shoes, kissed the top of her head, and said, "The men will be working, and we must see that they are taken care of!'
"Yes, Mama," Angela said, not at all sure what her Mama meant, but ready for whatever fun thing her Mama was going to involve her with now!
Esther gathered up a change of clothes for her husband. She knew he would have the rig slung around his middle, she knew the engraved '73 rifle by now would be in its scabbard, the scabbard on the horse, the horse saddled, and the great golden stallion would likely be chafing for action.
She smiled. Sometimes her husband had the impetuosity of a boy, but she loved him for it.
She and Angela descended the stairs together at a considerably lesser velocity than had the Sheriff, and with Angela in the buggy, Esther harnessed up the mare.
They arrived in town from one end just as the family Rosenthal arrived from the other.

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Linn Keller 11-7-08

 

Esther and the Sheriff saw each other on the same moment: the Sheriff waved, obviously ready to ride her way.
Esther drew their buggy to a halt, put two fingers to her lips and gave a loud, shrill and most unladylike whistle.
The buggy-horse startled and danced a little, and Angela laughed and bounced on the tuck-and-roll upholstered seat. "Do it again, Mama!" she exclaimed.
The Sheriff and Esther approached one another. Behind him, she could see the gleaming throat of the steam wagon exhaling a steady column of coal smoke, which rose in the still air to mix with the great plume of glowing wood smoke, illuminated from the dying fire beneath: the newspaper buildling was a total loss, and the Irish Brigade were pushing in the walls, its total loss emphasized by the collapse of each wall in turn. Hose streams were watering rooftops and buildings adjacent; she could hear the steady clattering hiss of the steam pump, and Daisy was circulating among the firemen with a tray of coffee and sandwiches.
"You'll need these," Esther said, handing him a roll, wrapped in a towel and tied with two fresh wild rags.
The Sheriff dismounted, used the back of their buggy as a work table to unroll and re-roll the blanket from behind his saddle, safely containing the change of clothes his wife had so thoughtfully brought him.
He secured the roll behind the saddle, patted Hijo's flank and turned to Esther.
"My dear, how did you know?" he asked, reaching up to help her out of the buggy.
Esther smiled, emerald eyes luminous in the approaching dawn. "A wife knows," she murmured, tilting her head up.
They embraced and the Sheriff tasted long of his wife's lips, knowing he would be denied her comfort for a little while to come.
Angela scrambled out of the buggy, ducking under Hijo and running a few feet beyond.
Dawg grinned a toothy grin that would stop a warrior's heart in mid-battle, displaying a fine collection of dentistry that was in and of itself a plain advertisement of death, destruction and ruin.
Angela embraced the carbon-black Dawg around his great muscled neck, then patted him gently on the shoulders.
Dawg gave her a lick, washing her face with his impressive tongue, and Angela giggled, wiping her face with her sleeve.
Charlie held back for a moment longer.
He knew what it was to have the woman he loved in his arms, and he could give the Sheriff just another moment.
Besides, Dawg was busy washing Angela's ears, judging from the giggles.

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Mr. Box 11-7-08

 

I got to the fire after nearly being run over by Charlie. The fire was already threatening the library so I began helping grab books out of harm's way. I knew Miss Messman, I mean Mrs. Keller would be very upset to lose everything. The building can be rebuilt but the books would take time to replace.
It looks like the lawmen are going on another man hunt. This one will likely have a much different outcome. Without this fine fire brigade, this town would really be in trouble. I'll have to see to it they get a little special appreciation next time they're in. Even if I have to pay for it myself!

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Charlie MacNeil 11-7-08

 

Charlie's big buckskin horse wasn't impressed with being rousted out of a comfortable stall in the middle of the night, and he expressed his displeasure first with a great indrawn breath as Charlie was pulling up the cinch. With a smile, Charlie kneed him in the barrel and felt Buck's chest relax. Charlie pulled some more slack out of the cinch and tied off the latigo. "You old bandit, you oughta know you can't get away with that." Charlie slipped the bit between Buck's teeth and settled the headstall behind his ears then turned to lead him from the barn.

Outside, Charlie stepped into the leather in a hurry as he felt the big horse bunch his muscles. When Buck's head went down, Charlie tried to keep enough pressure on the reins to keep him from going too deep, and he almost succeeded. But not quite. Buck got his head between his knees and tried to head for the moon.

The big hooves threw up dust. Buck was a horse that liked to strut his stuff, even when he knew something was up. It was his way of letting Charlie know that they were partners. Dawg sat to one side with his tongue lolling out of his jaws, waiting for the festivities to end.

After just a few jumps, Buck's head came back up and he shook himself all over. "You done now?" Charlie asked him. The buckskin's ears swiveled back, then forward, and Charlie tapped him in the flanks with his spurs. Buck stepped out like a parade horse. As he rode, Charlie checked his guns then reached back to make sure his bedroll was still firmly attached. Ahead, Esther had just pulled her buggy up near Linn so Charlie held back, giving the couple some private time. Dawg had no such compunctions, and trotted down the street to the buggy in time for Angela to dash up for a hug and a quick tongue lashing.

Charlie looked up as he passed the Jewel. Fannie stood in front of their window, and she waved as he passed by. He waved back. He had taken some time to stop in and tell her where he was headed when he went for his horse. Linn and Esther parted, so Charlie rode up beside Hijo. "Ready when you are," he told Dawg, who still had Angela draped over his neck. Linn chuckled beside him.

"Maybe we need to just saddle Dawg," Linn commented.

"He's big enough, alright," Charlie said. "But I'm not sure Angela's quite ready for a horsey that fights bears." Angela scampered over to Esther, and Charlie told Dawg, "Find 'em." Dawg woofed and started up the alley where they'd found the fresh road apples.

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Linn Keller 11-9-08

 

Esther handed Angela up to me and I gave her a big hug and tickled her nose with my mustache like I always did. She giggled and hugged me back, then drew back a little, her hands still on my shoulders.
"Bears?" she asked, suddenly solemn.
I laughed. "No, sweetheart," I said, "no bears this time."
Her smile would have lit up the darkest night like a cloudless sunup. "Good!" she exclaimed and I handed her back down to Esther, receiving a cloth wrapped bundle in trade. I knew what it was without sniffing at it, and so did Dawg, for he looked back and in spite of the weak light struggling over the eastern horizon, I could still see him grin.
He knew food when there was some, and I put my travelin' meal in my saddle bag.
Hijo clattered at his bit and danced a little under me.
I lifted the reins and gave him some right knee and he turned, flowing along after Charlie with that butter smooth gait I'd come to appreciate.

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Linn Keller 11-9-08

 

Jacob saw the Sheriff and the Marshal, not far ahead: they were obviously heading out on some business, for the Sheriff was just handing his daughter back down to Esther, and then tucked something in his right hand saddle bag.
She's fixed him a bite, Jacob thought, enough for two men: she'd done as much when he and his father were on the trail together, knowing that a husband, just like an army, marches on his stomach.
Jacob grinned at the memory.
She makes a good travelin' meal, he reflected, his own belly glowing with contentment, for Annette had fixed him a good breakfast before he rode into town.
Heeling the Appaloosa into a gallop, Jacob closed the gap between himself and the two lawmen.
He drew quickly to the side at his father's quick motion, his stallion turning like a cutting horse: clods of dirt thrown from sharp-shod hooves betrayed the effort that went into the rapid change of direction.
Jacob reined his spirited mount and waited.
His father was looking down, looking for something: Dawg was not far ahead, trailing and trailing fast, ground-scenting and looking ahead. Jacob had watched Dawg trail before, and knew he ground-scented, air-scented and sight-trailed, making him probably the most effective trailer -- and the deadliest, he added silently -- he'd ever heard of, let alone seen.
His father dismounted, picked something up and remounted just as quickly.
Jacob saw him raise it to his nose, take a sniff, hand it to Charlie.
Jacob squeezed Apple-horse with his knees, walking him forward.
"Orders, sir?" he asked.
Charlie frowned. "Cheap stuff. They didn't buy this here."
"Nope," the Sheriff agreed. "No label."
"You can get that rot gut about anywhere."
"Yep. No help." The Sheriff handed the bottle to Jacob. "Give this honorable disposition in the town dump if you would, Jacob. I wouldn't want it broke out here. Glass doesn't rot and damned if I'll have a horse step on a broken bottle and cripple up."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said.
"You and Jackson Cooper keep a lid on things. Two fellows burnt the newspaper down and pretty well burnt out the library. They saved a few books but not many."
Jacob made a face. He knew his wife would be distressed to hear of the loss; she delighted in the ordered world she'd made of the library, and he knew how popular the place was.
Jacob looked up, remembering.
"Sir, Annette had an apartment over the press room. Was nothing saved?"
The Sheriff shook his head sadly. "I don't believe so, Jacob. It was a total loss."
"Yes, sir."
The Sheriff did not miss Jacob's hands tightening to fists on the reins.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Find 'em."
Jacob's voice was quiet, but there was a menace in his quiet.
The Sheriff nodded.
Jacob looked after Dawg. "Best catch up," he said, turning Apple-horse toward town.

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Mr. Box 11-9-08

 

I saw Jacob ride into town and go catch up with Linn. They talked a little and then he turned back toward town. It looked like Jacob would be holding the fort down again. He always handled the job well. If there were any problem, half of town would back him up without question. Guess I'd better get back to tending my own business. That Irish fire brigade does good work. We're plenty happy to have them around.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-9-08

 

Although it had been several hours, Dawg followed the arsonists' trail at a trot. At times his nose was in the tracks; at others it was in the air, as if an invisible ribbon connected canine and criminal. Behind him, Charlie rode with his own eyes glued to the trail, with an occasional glance around. While he focused on following the lowlife scum who burned the library, he trusted Linn to cover them both. It wasn't a conscious decision; instead it was the knowledge that if the shoe was on the other foot, Linn would do the same.

The tracks were slowly getting fresher. At first, the fire-starters had pushed their mounts hard, wanting as much space between themselves and the town as they could get in the shortest time possible. But now the hoofprints of one of the horses were showing that maybe the men had pushed too hard. Charlie pulled Buck to a halt for a short breather. "One of those horses is startin' to favor a hind foot," Charlie said. "He's gettin' tired, too. Them boys are starting to slow down." He smiled grimly. "We've got 'em, now."

Suddenly the trail veered to the left, into the mouth of a pine-shrouded canyon. "Dawg!" Charlie called. The big tracker stopped and looked back over his shoulder impatiently, as if to say, "What now?"

"I don't like the looks of that canyon," Charlie answered as if he had heard an actual question from Dawg. He stepped down and trailed his reins in the dust. "I'm gonna go have a look-see." He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a pair of knee-high moccasins. He kicked off his boots and slipped the heavy elkhide on his feet then looked up at Linn. "Don't wait up," he quipped. "Dawg, you wait here." He loosened his pistols in the holsters and moved up into the rocks on the south side of the canyon. Dawg laid down in the shade near Buck, who dozed on his feet. They were at least ten miles from town, and the afternoon sun slanting down held some heat here where the breeze didn't reach.

Charlie eased up through the boulders of the slope. He was listening hard, wanting to find an ambush if there was one. He slipped forward and looked down, expecting to see a pair of tethered horses just beyond where the canyon necked down, but all he saw was hoofprints. He moved on, following the contours of the slope. This particular canyon was just over a quarter mile long, and eventually petered out against a pine-covered slope. The trail went on around the mountain, so Charlie slid down to the sandy bottom then loped back to where Dawg waited with Linn.

"They suckered us!" Charlie declared in disgust.

"Meaning?" Linn asked.

"Meaning they went into that canyon knowing we'd have to stop and check it out, but they never slowed down," Charlie said. "They've gained back the time they lost! Dammit!"

"We'll get 'em," Linn said calmly, though he himself felt like cursing.

"Yeah, we will!" Charlie said emphatically. "Dawg! Find 'em!" Charlie tied his boots to the saddlestrings behind the cantle then stepped up on Buck and nudged him into motion as Dawg headed into the canyon.

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Linn Keller 11-10-08

 

"I wish I had me a drink."
"You drank enough already, soak!"
"I didden' even wet ma whistle good."
"Your whistle is so daggone wet you can't even whistle!"
"Can too!" Ten puckered his lips and blew, frowning, but succeeded only in spitting on his horse's neck.
Magee shook his head. "Damned idjut," he muttered. "Ya git drunk enough ya can't even tend yer horse right, he goes lame on us, we gotta duck down that canyon jus' to get some breathin' space --"
"Ain't no one gonna folla," Ten protested. "Ain't no one in Carbon kin folla a set dog acrost a clean floor!"
Magee drew up hard.
"What did you say?"
"I said," Ten repeated with exaggerated patience, "ain't no one in Carbon good enough ta folla us."
Magee turned to look down their back trail, then back to Ten.
"That wasn't Carbon, ya IDJUT!" he yelled.
Ten blinked, shrinking a little in his saddle. "What was it, then?" he whined.
"You ain't got the brains God give a rock!" Magee snarled. "You drunken bum, that-there was Cripple!"
"Cripple?" Ten blinked like a mole coming out of his burrow.
"Yes, Cripple! The law there ain't that good but hell they could have a posse up by now!"
Ten waved a dismissive hand. "Nah, that was Carbon." He fished around in his off saddle bag for the dozenth time. "I wish I had me a drink."
Magee shoved his horse up against Ten's and grabbed the sobering man by the shirt front. "We burnt the WRONG NEWSPAPER, YA IDJUT! NOW WE AIN'T GONNA GET PAID!"
"Well it was YOUR FAULT!" Ten whined.
Magee shoved him, releasing his grip on the man's unwashed shirt. "My fault?"
"It hadda be your fault. I knew what I was doin'!"
Magee had had enough. He grabbed his intoxicated companion and yanked, hard, dumping the man on the ground, his left foot still in the stirrup. His horse, being neither well trained nor well mannered, decided this was a good time to get some distance from the conflict.
Ten began flailing and grabbed his mount's hind leg, which caused the horse to kick, catching Magee's gelding just aft of the soft ribs.
The gelding twisted to get away from the sudden and unexpected pain, seized the bit between its teeth and tried to scrape its rider off against a convenient lodge pole pine.
Magee yelled and yanked the reins, hard, which earned him a quick appointment with Terra Firma as his saddle suddenly assumed a severe and rather steep angle.
Ten's mare circled back, moving at a rapid trot, taking the occasional kick at the swearing, screaming Ten, who was trying with no success at all to kick his foot free of the stirrup.
Magee rolled up on all fours just in time to hear the gunshot, then the mare's scream.
"Oh, hell," he groaned. "He shot his horse and mine run off!"

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Lady Leigh 11-10-08

 

"It's hard enouth ta sleep when yer old as dirt! What in the ..." Mac was jostled awake by assorted noises outside.

He swung his legs over the side of his bed and shuffled across the floor of his room. Once opening his bedroom door, he saw that Bill, too, was awake and heading toward the front door.

Bill looked over his right shoulder and gave a nod to Mac.

"Not a soul can sleep around here with all that noise, Bill"

"It's not the noise that aroused me. It's the smell"

"Smell?"

"You are old, Mac! Smoke"

Mac with an indignant face expression followed Bill out onto the front porch.

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Linn Keller 11-11-08

 

"It's all that was left, lad," the German Irishman said, laying a soot stained and sympathetic hand on Jacob's shoulder.
Jacob nodded, his bottom jaw thrust out.
"It was good of you to look. Thank you for that." Jacob shook the man's filthy hand without hesitation. "Do you reckon it's strong enough to carry out of the way?"
"I doubt it. When the floor let go the trunk slid down right into th' worst o' the fire. I don't reckon it'll stand another pick-up. It's a miracle the handles didn't pull out when we found it."
Jacob regarded the seared and blackened trunk, the sole salvageable remnant of Annette's apartment. It had been the last thing to be moved out, and he'd intended to get it later in the day, when Annette drove their carriage into town.
"We could ..." the German Irishman considered for a moment.
"It'll no' be in the road here on th' board walk. Do you leave it here, then, an' when the Mercantile opens might be you could fetch over a new one. I've no' opened this one t' see but it looks like this is intact. The contents could still be good."
Jacob nodded. "I'll do that, and thank'ee kindly." His nose caught a whiff of Daisy's labors and he looked upwind, toward the Jewel. "You fellows had breakfast?"
The German Irishman laughed. "Work t' be done, lad! Once we're ready t' go ag'in we'll worry about trivial things like breakfast!"
The Welsh Irishman shook a gloved finger at the pair, pausing to lean on his pike pole. "Now what's this about breakfast bein' a trivial thing? I've been smellin' that pleasant odor f'r an hour now an' I'm ready t' put me teeth marks in the nearest shin bone just to keep from starvin'!"
Jacob grinned. "I'll head down to the Sheriff's office and get coffee started. It's chilly enough the stove will feel pretty good."
The Irish Brigade had no problems with the cool weather; there had been no snow since the previous night -- or was it the night before? -- but they were laboring steadily, overhauling the fire scene, making sure there were no lingering pockets of heat to rekindle and call them back for further conflict. Working men are warm men and the Irish Brigade had worked up a bit of a sweat.
Jacob made a mental note to ask the girls to have plenty of water heated, for he reckoned the firemen would welcome a chance to get clean.

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Linn Keller 11-12-08

 

I shucked my rifle out of the scabbard.
Hijo eased to a stop when I dropped the reins. I'd knotted them so he'd not ground-rein and step on them if I needed him to move; he was descended from the Spanish war horses who carried armored knights into battle, and a man with a shield on one arm and an ax or sword in the other has no hands for reins: war horses are trained to respond to other signals, and Hijo took naturally to my training him to the same signals.
Charlie's head came up like a hound's at the sound: a single gun shot, and faintly, shouts, and a wounded horse's death-scream.
Dawg looked back, grinning, the fur between his shoulder blades starting to ripple up in an irregular, bristling crest.
Charlie made a gesture -- kind of like throwing a rock -- and Dawg was off like a shot, silent, swift, fast: Charlie and I flanked out some on either side, for we were approaching a stand of trees, and we fully expected to run right into a fight.
Charlie had rifle in hand as well, I saw, and the look on his face was what I reckon mine was: tight, eager, nostrils flared: we were both leaned forward in the saddle a little.
I gave Hijo my knees and felt him gather his strength, right before he shoved against the earth and we started racing after Dawg.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-12-08

 

When Hijo launched into a run, Buck did the same. Charlie's face was set grimly as he guided the big buckskin with his knees. Without a spoken word, Charlie and Linn separated, one hooking around to the west and the other to the east, while Dawg bore in arrow-straight up the middle. Dawg's ruff was standing up, making him look ever bigger and more formidable than usual. His silent rush carried him in on his unsuspecting prey.

Ahead of Charlie, a riderless horse burst out of the trees and galloped across the hillside, reins trailing, and its head raised to keep from stepping on the leathers. Buck turned to follow and quickly overhauled the smaller mount. Charlie grabbed the trailing reins and drew the frightened beast in a circle back toward the source of the gunshot. He burst through the brush into a clearing to find one man laying with his leg under his dying horse, and another shrinking back against the hindquarters of the weakly kicking mount and away from Dawg.

Dawg stood above the two men. A deep rumble like a mountain avalanche echoed through his chest and his lips were drawn back from his fangs, revealing a sinister smile. In the eyes of the two men, the great black canine looked like death incarnate; they weren't far wrong. Dawg waited with his eyes locked on his prey for Charlie's signal either to attack or stand down. Either one was fine with Dawg.

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Mr. Box 11-12-08

 

 

I was getting the bar set up for the day, but also keeping an eye on the street. I wanted to have a round of Irish whiskeys with beer chasers on the bar as the first one of them set foot thru the door! Those men weren't going to wait for anything if I could help it!

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Linn Keller 11-12-08

 

Like most good hearted folk there, Bonnie and Caleb weren't sure quite what they could do to help, so they did the best thing they could.
They stayed out of the way.
The Irish Brigade was still laboring at the scene of the fire, but it was plain the fire was out, and out for good: they plied with shovels and with heavy pitch forks, turning over charred lengths of what used to be timbers; they sought out and drowned any remaining sparks, any glowing embers: finally, satisfied, they rolled their hose and loaded the steam wagon and headed back for station.
Work was not yet done.
The Irish Brigade backed their rig into the tall, slender horse house, lining the yawning throat of the steam wagon with the chimney overhead: a necessary evil, for if they kept a fire banked in the boiler, its smoke had to go somewhere ... unfortunately in winter, so did heat from within, and cold winds could blow down the chimney and chill them further.
At the moment it was not a factor.
They unloaded hose into long wooden trays outside the station, bucketing water over them and scrubbing their woven linen jacket with long handled bristle brushes; the gutters were slanted, and filthy water cascaded into ditches cut for that purpose, conducting the fire-dirtied washwater away from the fire house so as not to make a muddy mess.
Each man had his job, each man knew his job, each man did his job: clean, dry hose was hoisted down from the drying tower and rolled for storage on the wooden rack; clean, dry, rolled hose was removed when needed, and laid on the steam wagon in neat accordion folds, layer upon layer upon layer.
Sean insisted on a surplus of hose -- "Ye must pull enough hose t' surround yer structure," he taught his lads back in Cincinnati, and that rule came West with them -- and so they had a generous hose bed, being freshly laid after cleaning off the fire's settled dirt from the lacquered wagon.
Coal was re-loaded, the coal buckets secured; the tin of coal oil was carefully refilled and replaced, and the batch of corn cobs that had been soaking for a week were stacked in their tin can, a little coal oil added lest they dry out. The boiler had been freshly watered, and the reservoir filled.
Between a good length of hard suction and plenty of discharge line, Sean was satisfied he could fight fire in any structure in Firelands. The cistern beneath the Jewel was filled by a spring, apparently, for try as they might, they'd never been able to pump it dry: they also knew the location of every last well in town, and every rain barrel.
Each man washed up. Bared to the waist, they tended their ablutions in the room built for that purpose: this time of year it could be chilly, but the pot belly stove waited with kindling laid, and soon was warming the goose pimpled firemen.
They slicked their hair down and changed clothes, taking special care to wash and scrupulously dry their feet: to a man, they put their boots on drying racks, upside down, and put on fresh, clean, dry socks and dry boots.
Every last Irishman smiled, or sighed, or closed his eyes for just a moment, for few things are more pleasant to a laboring man with wet feet, than to wash his wet feet, and dry them, put on dry socks, and dry boots.
Not until their mares were curried down, the harness hung up, the steam wagon made ready for the next run, did Sean look around.
"Lads," he called loudly, "fetch ye along yer smallclothes. It's a meal and a hot bath after, an' the beer is on me!"

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Mr. Box 11-12-08

 

I began to hear a commotion coming up the street. "Step right up here, Men, this is on me! We wouldn't have a town left if it weren't for you! You've saved us more than once! Have another one if you like! I'll tell the ladies I spilled it!"
Sean said, "They'll know it's a lie if Twain Dawg ain't a staggerin'!"
"Twain Dawg, Don't you think you've had enough?" He raised his head up and looked as I nodded towards the front of the bar. He got up and swaggered around the end of the bar and flopped over on his side right next to Sean with his head out flat and tongue laying out across the floor. The Irish brigade erupted in a roar and slapped each other on the backs. "Good boy, maybe next time I'll really give you a taste!"

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Linn Keller 11-13-08

 

The key to successful administration is delegation.
Sean split his forces: half upstairs, to avail themselves of the hot water waiting in the copper tubs; he and the remainder downstairs, for it would be unmannerly not to accept Mr. Baxter's hospitality.
After all, Sean was Irish, and he felt an ancestral responsibility to take a man up on such a kind offer, especially where it involved good drink!
Twain Dawg was relaxed and affable, having had a bit of a libation by the forward-thinking Mr. Baxter; this was seen as amusing, entertaining and worthy of further attention, and Twain Dawg found his pannikin never seemed to run dry.
He'd found the taste of beer most agreeable to his tongue, but he was getting a little full, and so took a few steps along side the polished brass foot rail.
His intent was for the back door, for there was a vague, nagging feeling that he really should go find a convenient spot, but he'd never had a load on, so to speak, and so decided that he should head that way anyhow.
Perhaps there was biscuit with gravy to be had.
For some odd reason the foot rail kept rocking out and pressing against Twain Dawg's off shoulder.
He turned and sniffed at the gleaming, metallic furnishing, his breath fogging it for a moment; there was a quiet clank as his teeth closed warningly about the brass rail, and Twain Dawg growled menacingly.
Well... as menacingly as he could, with the menace of his growl interrupted by a good rippling belch.
Sean pounded a meaty hand on the bar in approval. "Now there's a proper Irishman!" he saluted the midnight-hued canine, hoisting a shot in one hand and a foaming glass in the other.
Glasses were hoist in response, and the Irish Brigade celebrated.

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Mr. Box 11-13-08

 

"A few more of these and you'll be layin' there with him!"
Sean looked my straight in the eye and said, "You ain't got enough here ta make it happen!"
I sat a couple more full bottles of Irish whiskey on the bar and looked him back in the eye and said, "You wanna bet?" And it was on! I made it a point to never let his glasses get empty. The other two were cheering him on. They were putting away their share, too. I knew I'd started something I might regret, but there was no turning back now! I slipped the first empty bottle back to the kitchen and got it filled up with tea just in case he insisted that I drink with him. I didn't want them boys tucking me in tonight!

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