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Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 11-14-08


Twain Dawg may have had seafaring blood in his ancestry.
If viewed from his unique perspective, the friendly and familiar hallway was beginning to resemble the deck of a ship in a restless sea.
He'd made it past the treacherous foot rail that kept shoving powerfully against his left shoulder and flank; the bow of the ship, so to speak, seemed to be pitching upward, forcing him to labor against the incline, toenails slipping on the spotless floor: a wave thrust against the ship's hull, rolling it to port, and Twain Dawg assumed a sudden list to starboard to compensate, panting with the effort.
His labors were assuming a more urgent nature, for he was feeling Nature's more urgent call, and knew that he really, really needed to make it out the back door.
A friendly hand opened the door at his approach just as a rougue wave lifted the ship's stern, and Twain Dawg tumbled down the three steps, nose-over-tail, landing on all fours and wondering what just happened.
Then he remembered his mission and espied a convenient fence post.
Twain Dawg growled happily at this old and dear friend, the site of great relief in the past: with the rolling gait of a Salty Dawg, he approached this conforting beacon of natural relief.
The Irish Brigade was just sitting down to their first round of a good hot meal when they paused to hear a wavering howl from out back, an inconstant note of utter happiness, as expressed through a canine throat.

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Mr. Box 11-14-08


When it came time for the shift to change in the bath tubs, I sent a bottle up to keep Sean entertained. After all, I didn't want him to lose that head of steam he was building up! The first shift assumed the positions Sean and the other two had vacated and continued on the merriment. They weren't aware of what was going on but they knew something was in the air and that was fine with them. I'd pour myself some of my special brew once in a while and sip along with them. We could hear Sean laughing and singing upstairs. I was waiting for water to start running down the stairs!

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Linn Keller 11-15-08


Ten lay with his left leg under his dead mare.
Dawg was straight above him, as he lay there, midway between the two outlaws.
Magee cautiously gathered himself to try and get up.
Dawg swung a head the size of a bushel basket around and glared at the man. It was plain he would as soon bite the fellow's head off clear down to the waist as look at him.
Ten remembered the revolver still in his fist. He looked down at the six-shooter, then up at Dawg.
He never heard the click of a rifle's hammer going from half cock to full cock.
Ten saw Dawg's head swing over to look at Magee and brought the revolver around, earing back the hammer.
Beyond Dawg, Marshal MacNeil advanced, and to his right, Sheriff Keller.
Ten had done many foolish things in his life.
Raising a pistol toward a Dawg and two lawmen with rifles was the last foolish act of a brief and misspent life.
We will never know whether, in that moment, these paraded past his consciousness in the last cosmic review before the flicker of life is snuffed out, nor will we know whether he had taken the trouble to notice the gold of fallen aspen leaves, the scent of pines on the wind, or the texture of sunlight ripples as wind blew over the meadow.
We do know, however, the effect that came of his cause.
Whether the Sheriff's rifle spoke first, or the Marshal's, matters little.
Their combined effect was final and absolute.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-15-08


The echoes of two rifle shots rolled across the meadows and hills surrounding the little clearing, startling a pair of scavenging magpies into frantic flight. Magee flinched away from the sound; his flinch carried him away also from the spray of his late partner in crime's internal fluids. He went neither far enough nor fast enough to avoid it all; consequently his face and his ragged frock coat were decorated with red spots and blotches. His flinch also carried him toward Dawg. Magee's involuntary movement came to a sudden, equally as involuntary stop when Dawg's big front paws came down on his chest. Magee's breath burst from his lungs and the scream that had begun deep atop his diaphragm came out as a mere squeak of terror.

Dawg lowered his head toward Magee's face and yawned. Magee squeaked again as his entire misspent life passed before his eyes in the smallest fraction of a second; then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fainted.

Charlie cursed under his breath as he walked up to the corpses of man and horse. He would have very much preferred to bring both men in alive. The two bullets, his and Linn's, had blown through Ten less than a hand's breadth apart. Either wound would have been fatal; the two together were devastating. Charlie stepped up and carefully eased the still-cocked pistol away from the limp hand; he let the hammer down and slipped the short-barreled revolver into his jacket pocket then looked down at the dead arsonist. The man had never been huge, and death had somehow deflated him even further.

"Looks like his horse dumped him and ran off with him, so he shot her," Charlie said, stating the obvious. He looked over at Dawg. "Let him go," he said grimly. "When he wakes up, if he tries to run, he's yours." The big canine put his massive paws back on terra firma then stepped away and lay down. Charlie stepped up and kicked Magee ungently in the ribs. He received no response, so he looked over at Linn.

"Would you mind bringing this joker's horse over here?" he asked the Sheriff. "I do believe I'm ready to go home." Linn led the horse over and helped Charlie load the hapless arsonist belly-down across his saddle.

"What would you suggest we do with that?" Linn asked, indicating the torn body of Ten.

"I'd like to leave him for the coyotes, but we'd probably better not," Charlie said ruefully. "I 'spose we could tie him on with his pardner, here. Or we could bury him, but I'd rather not take the time. I reckon the two of them'll have to share a saddle." They drug Ten out from under his dead horse and tied him with Magee on the back of the latter's horse. Magee would soon be in for a rude awakening.

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Linn Keller 11-16-08


We didn't say much on the ride back to town.
The Irish Brigade had pretty well saturated what was left of the print office. The press was made of cast iron, and cast iron left to itself don't rust up much, but burnt like this was set the rust busy: it was orange where it wasn't scorched black, and my glare would have set the whole thing afire again if it hadn't still been wet.
Magee had come to a couple times.
The secont time he come awake he disccovered what was wet and bloody bearing against the back of his left calf used to be his partner.
I clobbered him a good one and he went back to sleep.
Never could stand a man screamin'.
Now, flexing my fingers and shaking my hand, I regretted the impulse that led me to belt a man's hard head with a fist.
Was I as flexible as a dancer I might have put my boot to his head instead, but I ain't that limber.
"Hand hurt?" Charlie asked laconically, his face carefully neutral.
"Naw," I replied, working it back into its glove. "Never better."
Magee wobbled a little in the saddle. I don't reckon his ride was near as comfortable as mine. As smooth as Hijo's gait was, his wasn't, and I reckon his hinder, one he come to again, would be pretty tender.
Won't matter much, I thought. He'll not be goin' anywhere for a while.
"Charlie, I can get this fellow into the hoosegow by m'self. Why'nt you check in with Miz Fannie. You've got another day before your weddin' an' I reckon she'll want to make sure your suit still fits or some-such."
Twain Dawg came dragging out of the mouth of the alley and gave us a mournful look, and we could hear Sean's voice raised in joyful song. The piano invited from within, merriment laughing from its ivory keys, and Charlie eased back on his reins with a grin.
"I reckon I'll just do that," he said, touching the brim of his Stetson with a forefinger.
He passed me the reins of the second horse and Magee and I headed the short distance to the Sheriff's Office.
Digger stepped out his front door, black stovepipe hat in hand. "Got some business, Sheriff?" he called helpfully.
"Ho," I spoke to Hijo, and he ho'd, as did Magee's.
I hooked a thumb at the deceased. "Got one for Potter's Field," I said. "Already gathered his effects but if you find anything else, I'll be along later on to collect."
"Bring him in," Digger invited. "I'll unlock the side door."
Hijo turned with my knee and we walked down the alley to the funeral parlor's side door.
Digger had a plain box laid out on two saw horses.
I set Ten in it easy as I could. The saw horses looked to be pretty cheaply made and I didn't want to break them down by just dropping him.
"Bill me same as always."
"Don't worry, Sheriff." Digger began tugging at Ten, arranging him in the box. "You always pay your bills, and right on time."
I winked at the man and went back outside.
Twain Dawg was walking across the street, looking like he'd either lost his best friend, or was pretty badly hung over.
I fetched Magee out of his saddle and over my shoulder, and packed him into the lockup: after a search to make sure he didn't have anything important hidden on him, I locked the cell door.
Twain Dawg had come in after me and as I banged the door shut, Twain Dawg flinched and near to fell over.
Puzzled, I turned the heavy key in the oiled lock; the bolt shot home with an authoritative klunk.
Twain Dawg flinched.
I motioned toward the outer office, and Twain Dawg turned, slowly, clearly not at his best.
The pot belly stove was warm; I fed it some wood, tapped the coffee pot with the back of my fingers. Warm but not drinkin' warm yet.
Twain Dawg was regarding me with an expression of utter and abject misery.
I eased down to one knee and extended the back of my hand, slow, letting him take a sniff: a formality, we both knew, but it was part of our ritual: I very carefully began stroking him, murmuring soft words, nonsense words, exploring for signs of injury.
Twain Dawg closed his eyes and dropped his head as if the gentle stroking of his hair hurt.
I caressed under his muzzle and found it wet ... as was his chest.
Puzzled, I brought my hand to my nose, sniffed.
I blinked.
"Twain Dawg," I said, "have you been into Mr. Baxter's supply?"
Twain Dawg looked mournfully toward the door and gave a quiet ow-wow-wow, as if to say yes he had.
We had a tin pannikin I'd used before, and laid it on the floor: I dippered some water into it, and Twain Dawg drank, gratefully, deeply.
Reckon the report can wait until I've et, I thought.
Twain Dawg followed me across the street, walking very quietly, as if his very footfalls were painfully loud; he crawled under the steps instead of bounding joyfully up them.
I went on into the Jewel.

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Linn Keller 11-17-08


Sean was leaning on the piano as if he were leaning on his best friend's shoulder, swinging his beer mug in time to some-or-another Irish ballad, sung with a surprisingly lovely voice: the drunker the man got, Mr. Baxter thought, the better he can sing, and if he puts away much more of Mr. Baxter's Finest, his voice will likely rival an angel's!
Mr. Baxter took a sociable sip of tea before setting his glass down to draw another beer for the Irish Brigade.
The firemen were intent on demolishing the fine meal Daisy had fixed on their behalf; they were dining well and wisely, and libating wisely indeed -- that is to say, each man intended to limit himself to one of Mr. Baxter's foam-topped mugs.
That was their intent.
Celebrations tend to be contagious affairs; the Welsh Irishman was plying the ivories with an amazing skill, his voice raised in joyful harmony with his great Irish chieftain's. The German Irishman and the New York Irishman decided to arm wrestle, and immediately money was laid on the outcome: as usual, the New York Irishman took the first one, the German Irishman took the second, each man allowed as the other was a worthy opponent and they mutually agreed on a draw.
Charlie walked into this happy confusion, his step light and a grin on his face that was not entirely due to the celebration. He was headed upstairs.
Sure enough, just as he reached for the door to knock, it swung open and Fannie gave him a saucy smile, one hand on her hip and her hip thrust out impishly. "Why hello, Sugar," she said, reaching out and caressing Charlie's stubbled cheek. "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

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Charlie MacNeil 11-17-08


"Yes, Ma'am, I believe you have," Charlie answered. He turned his head and kissed the soft palm that lay on his cheek, then he stepped inside the room. He wrapped his arm around Fannie's narrow waist and pulled her to him for a lingering embrace, pushing the door shut with his foot. His hat flew across the room to land on the upright post of a ladder back chair. There was heard the soft clunk of leather padded steel on Persian carpet, then the tinkle of jinglebobs and the swish of blanket-lined canvas sliding across chambray. A short time later the only sounds to be heard were occasional giggles and heartfelt sighs that were nearly drowned out by the cacophony from downstairs...

When Charlie and Fannie descended the Jewel's staircase, arm in arm, the singing had started to be a bit less coherent than was the case earlier. The singers appeared to be running down, like a music box that needs its clockworks rewound. The pair smiled at each other. "It sounds like Sean's about to the end of his rope," Charlie said. "His brogue's getting thicker."

"I do believe you might be right," Fannie replied. "We may have missed the party."

"Depends on which party you're talkin' about," Charlie told her with a leer.

"Why, Charlie MacNeil, that was terrible," Fannie laughed as she slapped him on the arm.

"That's not what you were sayin' a while ago!" Charlie declared. He grinned at the sudden rush of blood that colored her cheeks. She looked back at him seriously.

"It wasn't, was it?" Fannie asked softly. She stopped him on the landing above the last flight of stairs and turned to face him. "We're pretty darned good together any way you look at it, aren't we?"

"Yes, ma'am, we are," Charlie told her. His tone matched hers. He looked deep into her eyes, then said, "We've both taken for granted that there's gonna be a wedding, and we've discussed it, but I don't believe there's been a formal proposal." He dropped down on one knee, then he reached into the pocket of his vest and drew out a velvet covered box. He opened the lid and presented her with a diamond ring. "Miss Fannie Kickinshoot, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

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Linn Keller 11-17-08


Sean was a large man, a strong man, a man of remarkable constitution and fortitude.
Sean was a man who loved life: having lost his own, once, he knew better than to take it for granted -- nor to take it too seriously.
He also knew the value of celebration.
When his vision was no longer impaired by the uprising bottom of his beer mug, he beheld Charlie on one knee, holding Miz Fannie's lovely hand.
Sean saw a softness in Charlie's expression that few men ever saw.
He beheld the rush of color to Miz Fannie's cheeks as she laid her other hand delicately to her lips, then to her bosom, and he saw her extend her left hand to Charlie.
He saw the twinkle of something bright and shining as it was slid onto her finger.
All this Sean saw in the last few moments he stood upright.
When he removed his elbow from the piano, for some odd reason, the room began to tilt, and its tilt was surprisingly rapid: indeed, the floor was swinging up, at once swiftly, and yet in slow, slow motion.
In the few tenths of a second before the floor met his Irish chin, he remembered seeing the grain in the wood, the almost invisible gap in the carefully fitted flooring, and finally, finally, the very weave in the pillowcase that came out of nowhere, hiding the pillow that his dear and loving Daisy swung under his descending Irish-red face, a tenth of a second before he hit the floor.

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Mr. Box 11-17-08


Now that's a job well done! Sean deserved a good chance to let his red hair down after all the things he has done for this town since he got here! I'm pleased to say he has accomplished it! I hope he doesn't hold it against me! Now his men will have a chance to look after him for a change like he always looks after them and see that no harm comes to him until he is running under his own steam again.
I see that wedding is finally about to take place. That'll likely be a rip roaring night to rival this one! I'd better get busy and make sure we're ready to handle it.

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Linn Keller 11-18-08


Had there been any to see him, a viewer's heart would surely have ached, out of pity for poor Twain Dawg.
Flat on the ground, eyes screwed shut against the glare -- even the subdued light under the boardwalk was painful -- paws pressed against his ears, he groaned, and immediately regretted the change in air pressure in his lungs that was instantly reflected in the pounding within his canine skull.
Footfalls, laughter, the delicate trill of the piano, then the falling-timber thud of a body hitting the floor proved too much for Twain Dawg's tolerance.
Dragging himself out from under the boardwalk, he walked slowly and ever so carefully to where he could find surcease from his misery.
He made his way toward the livery.

Shorty was adding up a column of figures in an account-book when he glanced out the open door.
Twain Dawg looked absolutely awful ... as a matter of fact, Shorty stood and picked up the Zouave musket he kept loaded and ready to hand.
His eyes narrowed and his thumb was heavy on the big ear of that heavy musket hammer.
Sarah's pet or not, he thought, I won't have a rabid dog in town!
He hesitated as Twain Dawg stopped and sniffed at the perpetual leak in his horse trough, then his thumb relaxed and eased the hammer back down on the half cock notch.
Twain Dawg was drinking without difficulty.
"It ain't the hydrophobee," Mr. Baxter whispered thankfully, parking the old war veteran back in its place.
Twain Dawg found himself in capable hands, on a blanket with straw beneath, in a dark corner, quiet and away from the celebrations audible from even here.
Shorty was in one of the ideal places in town to hear things, and he'd heard how Twain Dawg had shown a remarkable and enthusiastic taste for things alcoholic.
Shorty himself had been known to imbibe on occasion.
Like Twain Dawg, Shorty had in his day dined wisely but not well, and wined well indeed and not at all wisely: as a matter of fact, his own expression afterward would probably have mirrored Twain Dawg's rather closely.
Unfortunately, Shorty was at the time a young man, living in a boarding house run by a straight-laced old woman with no sense of humor at all.
He remembered coming out of bed as she came in the room, and he remembered what it felt like to drive his fist into her middle.
She had come into his room banging on a kettle with a wooden spoon, shouting "Drunkard! Scalawag!" -- and when the dust settled, the constabulary had laid a sympathetic hand on the man's shoulder and advised him kindly, "You'll never win with that old bat. Best pull your freight and get out of town before she thinks of someone important to cry to," and Shorty had.
It was the only time in his life he ever hit a woman.
It was also an action he regretted not one little bit.
"It ain't so funny now, is it, fella?" Shorty whispered, pouring water into a bowl and easing it up close to Twain Dawg's nose.
Twain Dawg drank gratefully.

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Linn Keller 11-19-08


Sarah was nowhere near a woman: matter of fact, she was still a young girl: a lovely product of the West, apple-cheeked and with eyes that sparkled like sunlight on springtime icicles, melting in the sun, eyes that already held the ability to captivate a grown man's heart with feelings of fatherly affection and protection; eyes that, lovely now, would only become more so as she became a maiden.
Sarah was not a spoiled child. Bonnie saw to it that she and her sister were carefully disciplined, directed, guided in the way that they should grow. Sarah was given responsibilities, and though there were times when play would have been preferred, she was faithful and indeed scrupulous when it came to assigned tasks.
This day, though, Bonnie had failed to assign her anything in particular.
While her mother discussed matters with Maude, Sarah slipped out the front door and looked around.
One or two horses were tethered up and down the street, with perhaps a handful in front of the Jewel, along with the steam wagon.
Sarah skipped across the street, curls and ruffles bouncing in the bright Colorado sunshine: she got as far as the three-mare hitch, and stopped quite suddenly.
Sarah was not always a well cared for child.
Sarah had, as a matter of fact, a very unpleasant early childhood.
Smell is the most associative of the senses, and now, with the smoking remnants of an ashcan lending its odors of burnt tobacco and spit to the air, and with the smell of beer and alcohol and men's sweat, she gripped the hitch rail, panic seizing her stomach.
She remembered a time when the Jewel was not clean, and well tended; when men's voices were rough, and loud, demanding: she remembered hard and dirty hands snatching at her, voices shouting at her, and how she ran, and hid ...
Sarah ran now: blind flight, panicked flight, running from the memory, running as hard as her slender legs would carry her.
She turned down the alley beside the Jewel, trying to escape the taste of blood, the ringing slap across the side of her head, the rough, drunken voice of her father, intent on abusing the women upstairs yet again, and Sarah ran.
Blind though her flight was, she knew with some instinct where safety lay: she ran full tilt into the livery, whimpering, and Shorty's arms wrapped around her as she ran into his blocky frame.
Sarah struggled for a moment, then she clung to the liveryman, desperate, shivering, making the little sounds of distress that a child makes when she is beyond sheer terror.
Shorty saw her coming and went to one knee.
He had been a father, long ago, and knew trouble when he saw it, but he also knew fear: and the fear in Sarah's face would rouse any man to a warrior's readiness, prepared in that moment to face whatever horror had done this to a little child.
Shorty, like most men when confronted with a lady's distress, was quite at a loss as to exactly what he should do, so he did the only thing he could think of.
He held her, and rocked her a little, and made soothing Daddy-noises, his muscled arms firm around her.
A dam broke behind Sarah's eyes and she began to cry, further puzzling poor Shorty, but again -- with the instinctive wisdom of the gentleman born -- Shorty held her, and Shorty rocked her, and Shorty held her as she cried herself out, her face pressed against his collarbone.
Twain Dawg dragged himself off his rude bed and padded slowly over to the pair. Sniffing at Sarah, he made some comment deep in his chest, then turned and walked slowly up the alley, toward the street.
Bonnie was only just opening the door of the Mercantile when Twain Dawg stopped squarely in front. Bonnie was up on the board walk, Twain Dawg down at ground level; she saw the black brush of his tail and stepped closer to the edge.
"Why, Twain Dawg!" she said with a smile. "Where have you been?'
Twain Dawg looked decidedly unwell. If it's possible for a canine to have a hung-over expression, he did; even his eyes were sunk in a little, but he was a Dawg on a mission.
Twain Dawg raised one furry lampblack forepaw and made as if to paw at something, then gave a single woof.
Bonnie recognized the game that Sarah and Twain Dawg played: if Twain Dawg wanted her to chase him, he would paw at her skirt and woof.
"Twain Dawg, what is it?"
Paw, paw, woof.
Women are born with a deeper intuition than science would have us believe.
In this instance, Bonnie's womanly instinct told her it would be wise to follow Twain Dawg.
Bonnie lifted her skirts, just enough to avoid dragging in the dirt, and followed Twain Dawg's somewhat wobbly course toward the livery.
Twain Dawg stopped to drink, and drink deeply, at the perpetually leaking horse trough.
Shorty saw her approach, and stood, still holding Sarah.
"Why, Shorty," she greeted him, unsure whether to be alarmed, "whatever happened here?"
Shorty shook his head solemnly. "I've no idea, Miz Bonnie. She come a-runnin' in here an' run pell-mell right into me. Near to knocked me over. She was powerful upset, or maybe afeared."
Sarah squirmed a little. "Mama?" she asked in the voice of a child coming out of a nightmare, knowing the mother's comfort was imminent.
Shorty set her down, on her feet, and Sarah rubbed her red and swollen eyes.
Bonnie squatted down to put her eyes on Sarah's level, the state of her hemline be damned. "Sarah? What happened, baby?"
Sarah's eyes tracked back to the Jewel. "I 'membered, Mama," she whispered.
Bonnie gathered her in to her bosom.
There had been times when she, too, 'membered ... she was now a respected woman of the community, she ran her own business, she was known for the quality of garments her facility put out ... but at night, when one is utterly alone with memories and with the past, she also 'membered the dark days when she was one of "those women," peering out the cracked and filthy window at the world outside, wondering if she would ever again walk on the sunlit side of the street.
Twain Dawg's head hung low, as did his tail, as he crawled slowly, painfully, back onto the blanket bed Shorty had provided.

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Linn Keller 11-19-08


It took a four-man dead lift to get Sean off the floor.
The Irish Brigade hoisted the big Irishman to shoulder height.
Bearing him to the waiting ladder wagon was a feat in and of itself, for they carried their red haired chieftain face down. It would have been easier to have rolled him on a door, and carried the door, but this would suit their purpose.
The Daine brothers were industriously mining the burnt out newspaper office, havesting as many nails as they could find: though a nail making machine had been invented in the previous century, nails were still a precious thing, and buildings had been fired simply to recover the nails with which they had been built.
Seeing the Irish Brigade placing Sean face down on the ladder, the Daine brothers offered a few boards to lay on the rungs, to give Sean a less uncomfortable ride: their offer was met with smiles and thanks, and the assurance that the man had enough alcohol in him to kill any three normal men, he would no' have a bit of discomfort from the brief ride: and so, with the mares moving at a slow walk, they took their leader back to the tall, narrow horse house.
Manly hands would undress him, comradely efforts would go into rolling him into his bunk, and the Irish Brigade would take turns standing watch with the man, two buckets ready and nearby, as well as wet towels for the less than pleasant cleanup that was sure to follow.
Not a man among them complained, not even one word, for each of them had seen Sean's willingness to walk into Lucifer's playground to rescue a soul, or to drag one of them to safety. At one time or another his warning shout, or his intervening hand, had kept every one of them from some disaster or another.
Each of the Irish Brigade touched the rim of his hard leather helmet, or touched his forelock if his helm was hanging from the steam-wagon, as they passed Miz Bonnie and Sarah: had they not their hands full getting their great warrior-chieftain and the steam-wagon back to station, they would have offered to relive Miz Bonnie of the burden of carrying her child.
Sarah was growing, to be sure, and it was a bit of weight, but Bonnie bore her child in her arms without any great difficulty.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-19-08


Fannie brought her hand to Charlie's now clean-shaven cheek, her fingertips gossamer-light on his skin. Her lovely eyes glistened with unshed tears. Charlie took her soft hand in his rough and calloused fingers, and with the delicacy of a surgeon slipped the shining gold band onto her finger. "You know the answer to that question, Charlie MacNeil," Fannie said softly. She grasped his hand in both of hers and drew him to his feet.

Behind Charlie, there was heard the thump of a falling body and he whirled, his hand going to his hip where normally a pistol would hang. He grasped empty air, then remembered that he'd left his guns upstairs and cursed himself for the oversight. His gaze was drawn to the commotion in the bar and he and Fannie hurried in that direction, arriving in time to see Sean lifted bodily from the floor by his crew. Before Charlie could ask, the English Irishman said, "He lost a bet with yon bartender," indicating Mister Baxter with a thrust of his chin. "Sean bet he couldn't be served enough of the essence of the peat to take his feet from under him; Mister Baxter felt otherwise."

"I'd hazard a guess that Sean was mistaken?" Charlie asked.

"Aye, that he was," the German Irishman said. "He made quite a thump when he fell, didn't he?" Charlie hurriedly opened the door as the men bore their unconscious leader from the premises. He closed the door behind them.

Charlie stepped up to the bar. The hubbub as bets were settled and Sean's prodigious feat of alcohol ingestion was discussed was loud, but not as loud as the whistle that suddenly pierced the air and silenced the commotion. Charlie waited until the quiet in the room was complete, then looked around at all those gathered there. He raised his voice and Fannie's left hand at the same time. Her ring twinkled gaily in the lamplight. "There's a rumor going around that Miss Fannie and I are getting hitched this coming Saturday. Well, now it's official. Miss Fannie has consented to be my wife, and to celebrate, the next round of drinks is on me!" He lowered her hand to his lips, then bowed to Fannie. Applause filled the room and he had to raise his voice to speak to Mister Baxter.

"Mister Baxter, I'll stand the tab. Give these folks whatever they want." He grinned mischievously then said emphatically, "ONCE!"

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Mr. Box 11-19-08


Lucky I was drinking tea with the Irishmen! Charlie would be having to serve those drinks up himself! That livened the place back up with a round of applause and a roar of approval! I halfway expected to see Sean come dragging his men back in the the door they just carried him out of!

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Linn Keller 11-21-08


Little Sean laughed and reached for the wimmydiddle.
It was the simplest of toys: a stick; along its top edge, notches; at its end, a nail, and a cross piece, loose enough to spin.
By rubbing a second stick briskly back and forth across the notches, the vibration would make the end piece spin, for all the world like one of the new-fangled propellers, or "water screws" as they were called, that were being seen in naval circles for moving boats around in the water.
Here, of course, it was just a wimmydiddle, a toy for children.
Bill smiled as Little Sean tried with much fuss and inefficiency to make the wimmydiddle work.
Daisy was busy stacking goods in a basket. She needed a few more things for the kitchen: Maude had been kind enough to order in some canned goods and spices, and these had been carried over to the Jewel earlier, but there were just a few more things she needed.
Little Sean, of course, came along with her, one hand on her skirt, and taking three steps to the yard. Like any lad his age, his attention span was short, as was his patience, but the wimmydiddle vibrated and buzzed when he rubbed its back-notches with a stick, and it made a delightful noise, and the happy laughter of a child's discovery filled the Mercantile as the end of the wimmydiddle began spinning.
"'Tis a fine dinner we'll be havin' for Charlie an' Fannie's weddin'," Daisy said quietly. "I've no idea how many to expect, other'n for a small army. Charlie isn't the kind of man to brag, now, but he's the kind that has more friends than he realizes, I'm thinkin'."
Maude noted down Daisy's selections in the pad she kept for that purpose. She billed the Jewel monthly, and they paid immediately: indeed, the Jewel was perhaps her best customer, other than the mines. Her stock had changed with the coming of the mine: she carried miner's caps and the butter lamps they wore, she even had carbide lights and sealed tins of lumpy calcium carbide. Bib overalls, miner's boots, picks, shovels, single-jack hammers -- young sledge hammers they were, short-handled, intended to drive a star drill into the most obdurate of rock -- Maude had found a ready market in supplying the wants of mine and miners, and of their families.
Maude motioned Daisy closer.
Curious, Daisy leaned over and looked at the box Maude was opening.
Daisy's hand went to her mouth with delight and she stifled a squeal.
Maude's eyes shone as she brought the pocket watch out of its wooden box: it had a red enamel Maltese cross on the front, with a crossed pike pole and fire ladder; she drew the chain out, and showed Daisy the fob: it was a strike of St. Florian, patron saint of firefighters.
"In plenty of time for your anniversary," Maude whispered, unsure of how much Little Sean knew of such things, but not wanting to let anything slip.
Daisy couldn't help herself.
She bounced a little on her toes.
Little Sean grasped his Mama's skirt with one tight little fist, the wimmydiddle and its rubbing stick in the other, as the Welsh Irishman came into the Mercantile. He took off his wool cap and winked at Daisy.
"Sean is cleaned up, Milady," he chuckled, "and he's quite well asleep. I'll expect he will sleep until sunup tomorrow!"
"And he'll have a head as big as the steam wagon," Daisy sighed, "and an appetite to match! A dozen eggs he'll want, and a pound of bacon fried up, an' two gallons o' coffee to wash it down!" She winked back at the Welsh Irishman. "O'course, he'll need help eatin' all that. He'll want it but he won't have room for't!"
The Welsh Irishman struck a heroic pose, one hand dramatically on his bib-front shirt's breast, the other hand pointing to the rude ceiling: "The Irish Brigade to the rescue!"
They both laughed.
The Welsh Irishman held the door for Daisy and Little Sean: once they were safely outside, the Welsh Irishman came to Maude's counter, rubbing his hands together and grinning.
"Now I suppose you have something in mind," Maude said with a knowing smile.
"Indeed, my Lady, I have that!" the Welsh Irishman chuckled. "Sean, bless his great heart, tasked me that I should come and inquire after a purchase he'd made, summat he'd ordered in from back East."
Maude brought a small package out of its pigeonhole and unwrapped it. She laid its wooden box on the counter and wiggled the lid free.
The Welsh Irishman crossed himself and sighed out a wondering breath.
He drew the green-glass rosary from the box, running it between thumb and forefinger, marveling at the sight.
The main beads were green glass, each one a little bigger than a sweet pea; between these, grain-sized, jet-black beads were strung in, separating the green beads. Each tenth bead was as big as the green ones, and also of gleaming jet. The brightwork was pure silver, and hand engraved by a master of the art, back East, a man Sean had known for years.
If one were to do some detective work, one would discover this engraver ran the same shop Jacob had bought two cameos in, some time ago, there in another river town. Sean had known him when he first set up business in Cincinnati, and was genuinely sorry to see him leave: but the Welsh Irishman knew none of this: no, he knew only that this was an anniversary gift from Sean to Daisy, for she had given her prized rosary to a woman who was in need of its comfort, and Sean knew how great a gift this had been.
The Welsh Irishman paid for the package and chuckled, and they only just got the lid on it and wrapped again when the door opened.
It was Daisy, returning for one last item she'd forgotten.
She wondered why the Welsh Irishman had such a guilty look on his face.
Maude, on the other hand, looked utterly innocent.

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Linn Keller 11-22-08


Esther was a lady worthy of the name.
Esther was also a practical sort.
Esther had ridden sidesaddle, and was quite good at it: while still a maiden, she had,on a bet, jumped a Kentucky thoroughbred while riding sidesaddle, and plucked a ripe apple from a branch at the apex of her leap, casually biting into the ripe fruit as her mount galloped across the green and fragrant fields of the plantation back home.
Esther did not, however, particularly enjoy the side saddle, preferring instead to ride astride, and so had a good selection of riding-skirts.
Today she wore such a skirt, for she rode Edi, Duzy's paint mare, the mare that had borne her into town the first time she ever got her blood up here in Firelands.
Esther was taking the day off from managing the railroad. Affairs were in order, the new roundhouse and shop was busy; she had contracted to service locomotives and rolling stock from the big railroads who deemed it expedient to conduct repairs locally rather than deadhead back to their own shops. She'd bought into the new brick works, and it was proving profitable, successful, and indeed the first wagon-loads of brick were arriving at their firehouse.
The Irish Brigade had already given their approval to a new brick house; Esther had tried her best to hide an amused expression as the architect the town hired discussed, cussed, argued, shouted, threatened and finally acquiesced to the ideas and greater experience of the Irish Brigade.
The architect had built structures, but had never been a firefighter, and had absolutely no concept of what a fireman required of his house.
Today, though, Esther had left all that behind, shedding it like a cloak from her shoulders, and she was riding across the high country and into the mountains she loved, and Edi loved the attention.
Esther did not ride alone. She had a Colt's revolver on her belt, and her walking-stick under her leg; within the stick, a yard of Damascus steel: she practiced with her sword daily, but in private, keeping her wrists strong and her arms in practice: her skill with a blade had shown a certain German nobleman the folly of insulting a Westerner, and her skill with the smaller blade, hidden in a fan, had saved her very life and probably her honor as well.
Her husband loved a good horse, and a good run: Esther loved these as well -- why, she had been riding for more years than he! -- as a girl she was in the saddle nearly before she could walk, and her brothers said with a degree of envy that she could ride like an Apache.
That wasn't quite the case.
Esther was a most accomplished equestrienne, but she had never quite managed the trick of hanging off the side of her horse, shooting arrows from under the horse's neck, at a full gallop.

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Linn Keller 11-23-08


I'd just taken a tray of Daisy's good cookin' back to the prisoner.
Twain Dawg had come from somewhere and he looked ... well, he didn't look too good, and he was dry, dry as a salt horn, for he emptied the pannikin I'd put down beside the pot belly stove for him, and I ladled more water into it before I went back to feed the prisoner.
I am not a small man by any means, and the Almighty blessed me with remarkable speed at times.
Why, there are times when I have absolutely amazed myself with the speed in which I got myself into a situation that I had no idea what happened, nor how I was going to get out of it.
This time, though, I just stood there in front of the barred door as the prisoner allowed as I was a sheep herder and a scoundrel and several other things that would make a chipmunk fight, and I waited til he took a good breath and leaned just a little closer, and my good left hand shot between the bars and got him by the throat.
I didn't have to say a word.
I let my fingers do the talking.
Once he'd turned the color of a rotten strawberry I fetched him up against the bars, gentle-like, and shifted my grip to his shirt front.
Twain Dawg wandered back toward us and sniffed at that good meal tray Daisy had put together for me, then he kind of curled his lip and turned away.
"Now why'd he do that?" the prisoner sneered.
"He likes his meat bloody and screaming," I said quietly, and the color run out of this Jack Doe's face, and I let go of his shirt front and slid the tray under the barred door.
"He can eat two days on a man your size," I said, straight faced, and Twain Dawg chose that moment to yawn.
The prisoner considered the display of dental danger and allowed as not to say much more.
Twain Dawg laid down beside the stove and lapped at the shallow pan of water, and I went on over to the Jewel.
It was getting chilly out: I could see my breath, and it wouldn't be much longer before I would have to wear my heavier coat. The sun had pulled a heavy cloud curtain over its face and the sky was turning the color of lead.
"Snow comin'," I muttered, and my words puffed out in little steam clouds.
I couldn't help but smile when I stepped up the board walk and into the Jewel.
Ever notice how your boots are louder on a wooden surface when it's cold?
I opened the door and Daisy's kitchen grabbed me by the nose and fetched me inside.
If a man didn't have an appetite before he opened the doors, I thought, he'd have one after! -- I was about starved out, or so my stomach told me, and Mr. Baxter greeted me with a grin and a wave.
I waved back and nodded to Caleb McKenna across the room. He was bouncing a little blanket wrapped form in his arms and grinning like an idiot, or like a father with his fine little baby: I never doubted the man's ability, even though I'd never seen him in much but a Derby hat and suit and townie shoes, his inner decency made him a man worthy of the name, and I could not help but chuckle as he stood up and came over to me, carrying his precious bundle.
He handed little Jade to me and it was my turn to be the damned fool, making little oochie-woochie noises and marveling as she closed that little bitty hand around my great big finger.
She yawned and stretched and rubbed her eyes, and then she discovered my mustache, and it was a tug of war for a bit: being a gentleman, I could not just pull away, though once the skirmish was settled, I'll admit to a little water in my eyes.
"You're a natural at this, Sheriff," Caleb said with a knowing look.
I chuckled. "Ironic," I admitted. "I've never raised one from just-hatched."
"Speaking of which," he said, and then he spoke the words that just plainly dropped the floor out from under me.
"I understand congratulations are in order. How far along is Esther now?"

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Linn Keller 11-24-08


Esther looked down from her height.
Firelands lay some distance below, smoke from the chimneys laying close to the ground.
Rain coming, she heard her husband's voice say in her mind, and she smiled.
Linn might have come from the Yankee North, but he had a Southern eye for weather, and knew when the smoke quit rising, and turned down, that rain or snow was imminent.
Edi blew and shook her head, glad for the respite: time in the high country had helped acclimatize her to the thinner air, but she'd been shipped out from back East, from the Carolinas, where the air was heavier and easier to breathe.
Duzy's family had bought the paint and had it freighted to their plantation, where it had been saddle broke and trained: when Duzy went west, full of confidence and dreams, she'd taken the paint mare with her, and sure enough Edi, her mare, had proven a steady and reliable mount.
Esther lay a hand unconsciously over her belly, a protective move, an affectionate move, the expression of a mother anticipating young. She'd done it twice in her husband's presence: accidentally, of course, and she moved her hand quickly away, as she wanted to wait for just the right moment to tell him.
Bonnie knew, and Daisy -- in fact, it was Daisy who first noticed, even before Esther herself was certain.
Daisy had put her hands on her Irish hips and cocked her head a little to the side and said "Sure and you're carryin', are ye not?" and Esther pretended not to understand, at least until Daisy had walked up to her and taken both Esther's hands in her own and said, "Ye fairly glow wi' child! A boy, I'm thinkin', but it's early t' tell yet."
Time had proven Daisy right: when Esther's moon-time came around, and the woman's curse did not appear, she sat for a long time at her desk, one hand on her belly, her eyes far from the walls of her office in the second floor of the Jewel.
I will have to choose just the right moment to tell Linn, she thought. He will be worried for me -- oh, he won't show it, but he'll worry all the same.
She smiled at the thought that either he or Jacob would ensure no mules were on the street before allowing her out the door.
Shorty was in the habit of inspecting the horse flesh entrusted to his care; he paid particular attention to saddle sores, hooves, loose shoes and the like. When last Esther had brought Edi to him for a short stay, Shorty had come to Esther the next day with his hat in his hand and a long face.
Edi had been covered the night before, he admitted; a stallion had taken a liking to her, and would not be denied, to the extent of kicking his stall to splinters.
This was about three months ago, she recalled.
Leaning forward, she stroked Edi's neck.
"We'll deliver about the same time, won't we, girl?" she whispered.
Edi's ears swung back, swung forward again.
The clouds were lower and the wind was starting to bite: damp and cold, and she realized she was getting chilled.
She lifted Edi's reins and clucked to the paint mare.
"Come on, girl," she said. "It's warmer at home."

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Linn Keller 11-25-08


Sean winced at the sound of his own voice.
A cool, damp cloth was wrapped around his face.
He reached up and wiped his neck and around back of his neck and scrubbed his face with its welcome coolness.
Sean swung his muscled legs out of the narrow bunk and set his sock feet gingerly on the floor.
Elbows on his knees, he rested his forehead on the heels of his hands.
He felt a hand on his shoulder.
Eyes still shut, he reached for the dipper he knew would be there, and drank.
When the dipper was empty and he came up for air, Sean spoke quietly, for he did not wish to disturb the demons drilling the inside of his skull.
"Flanagan, did we steal the piano?"
"No, Sean, the piano is safe."
There was the sound of water being dipped again, and Flanagan laid his hand on his chieftain's shoulder: Sean reached for the dipper and took another long drink.
"Did we break any skulls?" Sean flexed his fists experimentally, seeking any new injury.
"No, Sean, we didna break any skulls."
"Help me up."
Sean came unsteadily to his feet, Flanagan's hand against his chest, the other in the middle of his back.
"Point me toward the door, lad."
Flanagan aimed his chieftain toward the side door and the Welsh Irishman opened it wide.
Sean made it outside before his rebellious stomach relieved itself of its soured contents.
Sean downed most of a bucket of good well water before he'd purged himself of the evils of the night before: after a hurried trip to the Crescent Moon out back, he came staggering back into the firehouse.
Sean swayed a bit, steadying himself against a wooden post. Squinting, he tried to take a head count.
"Aye, Sean!"
"Was anyone hurt?"
"Nae, Sean, we're all good."
Sean groaned again, both hands against the side of his head.
"Lads, I'll be takin' a bath in cold water, an' then we need breakfast."
As it was near to nine o'clock and the morning almost gone, breakfast did not seem quite the appropriate meal, but the Irish Brigade had learned to appreciate Daisy's cooking, whether it was Daisy herself running the skillet, or one of the other ladies; the Jewel had a well deserved reputation for good food, and any meal they saw fit to throw on the table, the Irish Brigade would see fit to consume.
Sean's ablutions took a little longer than usual, owing to his post-revel state, and also the coldness of the water: as was his habit, he bathed out of the rain barrel, perhaps to punish himself for too much revelry, perhaps as a show of manhood: still, the Irish Brigade looked with sympathy toward the wall when they heard the bellow of a man dousing himself with water that felt like fresh snow-melt.
When finally the Irish Brigade trooped into the Jewel, Sean's hair was slicked back, his mustache fiercely curled and his clothes clean; even his boots were polished and gleaming, as were those of every red-shirted brother-in-arms present.
Daisy came out and kissed him delicately, assessing the state of his eyes and his breath, pressing her hand briefly against his forehead, his red cheeks.
"Daisy, me dear," Sean said hoarsely, "I'm a starvin' man. I'll need a dozen eggs fried up, a loaf of good bread an' a pound 'a' bacon fried for starters. An' a pot of coffee." He looked around, turning his head carefully, for the drillers had abandoned their efforts in favor of attempting to sledgehammer their way out of his poor pounding gourd.
"I don't know what all everyone else wants, but that'll do me."
Daisy fetched up on her tip-toes and kissed her dear Irishman, and skipped back to the kitchen.
She knew Sean was still feeling decidedly unwell when his quick swat at her retreating backside, missed.

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Mr. Box 11-25-08


I had finished breakfast and was enjoying another cup of vanilla coffee when the Irish fire brigade came thru the door. Sean's uniform was fit for inspection but Sean was a little fuzzy around the edges! After he ordered a hearty breakfast I said, 'Good morning, Sean. How are you feeling?"
"Never better!" as he gently laid the palm of his hand along side his head. "What went on last night?"
"Just some old friends celebrating a job well done." I told him.
"So how would you be feeling?" Inquired Sean.
"A little rough around the edges." I decided I'd better not make it sound like I was too chipper!

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Charlie MacNeil 11-25-08


Charlie sat with Parson Belding in that gentleman's quarters at the rear of the church. Missus Belding had poured them each a cup of coffee, then excused herself to "tend to my knitting", or so she had said. The pair sat in silence for a while, the Parson waiting for Charlie to say what was on his mind, and Charlie trying to decide how to put what he came to say. After several minutes of quiet broken only by the chiming of the clock striking the hour of ten in the sitting room of the house, Charlie sighed and took a sip of his coffee.

"I reckon you know that Miss Fannie and I have been "seein'" each other for quite a while now," he began. "She's had her singin', and I've had my law work, and those two paths haven't crossed very often at times, so we've made the best of the times we've had." He scrubbed his fingers through his thinning hair. "What you may not know is that she used to be a territorial deputy."

"Surely you jest!" the Parson declared.

"Nope. Kinda hard to believe, ain't it?" Charlie asked with a grin. "Matter of fact, that's how we met. I'd just rode into town, and she was in the middle of a gun fight. I ended up guarding her back, and she ended up stealin' my heart." He stopped there, unwilling to share some of the memories he had from those days, both good and bad. There were some of both locked up in the cobweb-covered cupboards in the back of his head, and he only let them out on special occasions.

"How did she become an entertainer, then?"

"Long story short, it was what she'd always wanted to do," Charlie replied. "When the deputy job folded, she went to California. I didn't hear from her for several years, durin' which time I went to work as a US Marshal. Then one day, out of the blue, a handbill caught up with me, sayin' she'd be in the town I was headed for. I went back stage after the show, and here we are." He smiled ruefully. "I reckon I shoulda proposed a long time ago, but I don't think she would have said yes. She was having too much fun singing. And I don't think I was ready, either. Too much law work to do..." His voice trailed off.

Softly, the Parson asked, "What changed?"

Charlie answered without looking up. "I did," he stated. "I suddenly realized that part of my life was missing, and seeing Fannie here in Firelands reminded me of what that part was." He grinned suddenly. "I guess it takes some of us longer to grow up than others, eh, Parson?"

Missus Belding voice drifted in from another room. "And some of you never grow up at all. Isn't that right, Abraham?"

"That's right, Martha," the Parson replied in a bantering tone. "Being a kid is much more fun."

"So anyways," Charlie said with a smile, "I just wanted to let you know what kind of heathens you'll be speaking the words over in a couple of days."

Parson Belding looked at Charlie, and the teasing was gone from his voice when he spoke. "Charlie, do you love Miss Fannie? Are you willing to put her welfare before yours, if need be? Are you ready to settle down in one place, and build her the home that I don't believe either of you has experienced in a wealth of years? Are you ready to spend your remaining time on God's good earth with her?"

"Yes sir, I believe I am."

"Then welcome, my friend." He held out his hand and Charlie took it.

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Linn Keller 11-25-08


I closed one eye and regarded the boot in my right hand.
A man ought to know how to black his own boots, my Pappy had told me at a very tender age, and I'd taken that to heart: I was good at it, and I'd taught Jacob, and now I was putting that know how to good use.
The other boot was on the floor, laid over on its side, but gleaming and freshly buffed, ready for wearin' with my good suit.
I'd taken the suit out and hung it up and brushed it off, meticulously, carefully, then I'd brushed my good hat. I went so far as to try the suit on -- not really necessary, I'd not put on any weight, but daggone it now, Charlie was gettin' married and he'd asked me to stand with him, and darn if I was gonna look like some bum standing with him on that fine day!
I frowned at the boot in my hand and picked up the horse hair brush. The curve of the arch didn't suit me and I started to work on it some more.
There was a tap on the door and I looked up as Esther came floating in the room.
I'll swear that woman could move like she was on wheels, and this was one of those times. I'd been told plantation ladies were taught when they were little girls how to take little bitty steps so it looked like they floated, rather than walked, and Esther tended to do that sometimes.
Now was one of those times.
I set my working tools down and stood, smiling, and bundled her up in my arms.
She looked at me with those big green eyes.
Mein Gott! I thought, I could swim in the ocean of those eyes!
She pressed herself against me, all warm and all woman, and a young man's fire lit in my belly.
I knew she had something on her mind, so I give her a kiss, and she give me one, and neither of us said a word for a bit.
Her eyes were troubled, but only momentarily: I could tell by the way she looked down and bit her bottom lip a little.
"Am I interrupting?" she asked in a voice that could melt a man's heart -- She could melt a glacier with that voice! I thought -- and I steered her toward one of the exquisitely comfortable chairs she'd gotten for my study.
"I'd just finished," I said, holding up one boot in each hand. "Think these will do?"
Esther lit up the room with that smile. "I think they will do fine, dear."
I set the boots down and eased my own self down in a chair, kind of carefully. Ever since I fell on the steps there in the Jewel, and broke the end of my tail bone, my backside ached with a change in the weather, and at times I had to sit kind of careful. Today was one of those times.
Esther's chin came up: her hands were in her lap, her feet flat on the floor, and she turned her head very slightly, the way she did when she was about to declare something.
She had my full attention.
I had a notion what she was about to say.
Esther dropped her eyes, then raised them again, and opened her mouth to speak.
We heard the knob turn, and the study doors opened, and Angela came strutting into the room, her rag doll locked in the bend of her left elbow.
She came up to me, half shy and half giggly, one little finger uncertainly at the corner of her mouth: then she blurted, "Daddy, can I have a baby sister?" -- spoken just as plain as day.
I'd not heard her string that many words together at one time for quite a while.
I picked her up and set her on my lap, and brushed the hair back from her forehead, which caused another batch of giggles. "A baby sister?" I asked, and I know the look on my face was one of skulduggery and merriment.
Angela nodded briskly, her curls bouncing with her.
"A baby sister would be a big responsibility," I said. "That would mean you would be the Big Sister."
Angela giggled again and nodded, her hair vigorously agreeing with her response.
"Big sisters have to teach little sisters lots of stuff, you know."
Angela nodded solemnly.
"Do you think you're up for the job?"
Angela threw her arms wide, her rag doll spinning in her grasp, held by one limp arm: "Yes!" she shouted joyfully, her head thrown back, her pronouncement directed at the ceiling above.
I looked over at Esther.
"My dear, might we grant this fine young lady this most blessed wish?"
Esther's face turned red, and it turned redder, and she laid one hand on her belly.
"We may," she said, and her voice caught, and Angela bounced off my knee and scampered over to her Mama.
Esther lifted her up into her lap and cuddled her, and Angela closed her eyes and leaned her head against Esther's bosom, safe in her Mama's arms.
Esther looked over Angela's curls, her eyes luminous.
"My dear," she asked softly, "how did you know?"
I smiled.
"I'm a lawman," I said. "I find things out."

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Linn Keller 11-27-08


Parson Belden had followed the Lord's urging when he and his pack horse came to Firelands.
Not long after, his wife also arrived, and their household goods, what few they had: between a sparse and frugal life, and an untimely fire, they had but little, but their needs were quite modest, and they lived comfortably in the cozy quarters assigned the whitewashed church.
The Parson was a thoughtful and meticulous man, not given to loose conversation: he believed firmly in being "quick to listen, slow to speak and low to anger" ... which made him an excellent, and a trusted, listener.
He'd heard confessions from good men and bad, from the hale and from the dying, secrets that would curl a bald man's hair, secrets he would carry to his grave.
He had never, ever betrayed a confidence, and in that he took a forgivable pride.
He'd spent the day cleaning the Church, as if it needed it; he and his wife kept it nearly spotless, or as near to it as they could, for they believed their flock deserved surroundings that reflected an order, an organization, a place that showed respect toward the Almighty.
Each pew was summarily dusted, the floor was mopped where it was needed and dusted where it wasn't; the windows were washed, the Parson's longer arms, and a handy step stool, sparing his dear wife that particular labor. She'd washed the windows in the past, but she'd taken a dizzy spell and fallen: her dignity was bruised and her backside pained, to no other injury, but the Parson forbade her from any ladder work from that day forward.
They took their time, moving slowly, if one were to issue a critical appraisal of their performance: still, they moved steadily, and had their little church clean and ready for the wedding before mid-afternoon.
The Parson went outside with a broom and a bucket and a scrub brush, and made sure the steps and the hand rails were likewise presentable.
Jackson Cooper saw the Parson bent over and scrubbing the stone steps, top to bottom, rinsing them carefully, then straightening, one hand to his lower back, for bending over and laboring is hard on even a young man's back.
"Now if he goes to scrub off that hitch rail," Jackson Cooper muttered to himself, "I'm leavin'!"
Parson Belden went around back, and Jackson Cooper could hear the squeak of the hand pump and the gush of cold well water into the wooden bucket, then the Parson came laboring around the building again and began scrubbing off the hitch rail.
Jackson Cooper shook his head and closed the door to the Sheriff's office.
"Coffee," was his only comment.

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Linn Keller 11-27-08


"Now hold still!" Annette admonished Jacob, frowning a little as she took a turn around the standing end of the necktie.
Jacob crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue and made a horrible gagging sound, and Annette tried really hard not to laugh, and they both ended up holding each other and uttering sounds of general merriment.
Jacob kissed his beautiful bride and drew her firmly into him, gazing deep into her sparkling eyes.
"Jacob," Annette protested, "do you want to look good for Charlie's wedding, or don't you?"
Jacob sighed and released his grip around Annette's slender waist.
Annette drew the half-knot out, smoothed the tie and started over.
"I am so very glad you got my brother's things," she said quietly.
Jacob's eyes flicked briefly to the other side of the room, to the new trunk that sat there, not yet placed, just brought in and set down against the wall.
He'd retrieved the charred trunk from the Irish Brigade, and they from the dead heart of the inferno; he'd gone across to the Mercantile and lucky enough Maude had one -- just one! -- trunk left, and he bought it.
Annette had heard about the fire and she'd been really quiet afterward, so much so that Jacob came up behind her and rubbed her shoulders, slow and gentle.
She reached up and laid her hand on his and he felt her shake a little.
Jacob was new to the storms of a young bride's feelings, and so the tempest of tears that followed took him rather by surprise, but again he followed his father's example, and held her, and let the storm blow itself out; there were tears again when he opened the lid of the new trunk, and Annette saw her brother's things within, safe, undamaged.
Jacob knew this meant a great deal to her, for it was all she had left in the world of her brother. With her own family gone, she'd felt like a ship with its anchor ripped away, but Jacob had provided her with a new one.
Annette stopped short of sticking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth -- it was a habit she'd had as a little girl -- cute in a child, but she felt it was annoying and tried hard to break herself of the habit.
The necktie submitted to her persistence and finally formed a neat, squared Windsor knot, the kind Jacob preferred, and had such difficulty tying.
"There!" she exclaimed, pleased, patting and smoothing the lapels of his tailored suit coat.
Jacob's remaining preparation was to reach for his hat: he would settle it on his head when he crossed the threshold: the carriage was without, the dapple mare harnessed up.
"I'll be outside, my dear," he said to his bride, and Annette smiled and swept in front of the mirror and settled her own hat in place, preparing to skewer it with needles as long as a good dagger.
Jacob shivered and went out the door.
A few pats, a tuck and a twist, and Annette's preparations were complete.
Well, almost.
She felt in her bodice and smiled, then went to the trunk.
She opened the lid and lifted a folded pair of trousers.
She withdrew her brother's Derringer and slipped it into the holster between her ... well, near to her heart.
Concealed by garments and ... well, concealed -- the Derringer rode securely.
Annette took a final look in the mirror.
Satisfied, she joined her husband outside.

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Linn Keller 11-29-08


The Lady Esther, a Baldwin 2-4-0 mistake, thrust against the rails on the last grade before breaking over and making the last ten miles to Firelands.
She was a mistake because, due to an error at the factory, she'd been fitted with an outsized boiler and firebox, giving her more steam and higher pressure steam -- therefore more speed and more pulling power.
She was a diamond stacker, normally the signature of the wood burner, but she was happier being fed coal, and Esther, her namesake and owner of the Z&W Railroad, saw to it she had a steady diet of the best coal that could be had. She'd fired on wood when necessary, but she and her sister engines, the freight hogs that hauled ore from the gold mine, were coaled as a matter of routine.
Back in his private car, Judge Hostetler knotted his tie, scowling in the mirror at the offending length of garmentage: he was firmly of the opinion that the man who invented the necktie should be strangled with its prototype, and the prototype buried with the dead inventor: still, he manged to tie a passable knot, and reached for his coffee cup.
They'd stopped to water not long ago and were accelerating again.
His Honor smiled a little as the hot liquid scalded down his swaller pipe.
He always enjoyed his Firelands visits. Cases there tended to be straightforward, witnesses were plain spoken, and there was a minimum of attorneys and their sleight of hand shenanegans.
Besides, he'd been told Charlie MacNeil was marrying Miz Fannie, a union of which the Judge heartily approved: as a matter of fact, when word reached him, he slapped the table with the flat of his hand and declared stoutly, "Whatever took the man so long!"
Bill, the engineer, was leaned out the window, scanning the track ahead, listening with more than just his ears to the Lady Esther's regular, powerful chant as she pulled the grade.
You can pick out any song in the world to that chant, he thought, listening to the quickening cadence of pistons and drivers in perfect rhythm.
There were no obstructions on the tracks ahead, no bull elk to challenge their right-of-way -- he'd made the mistake once, but once only, of whistling at a bull elk on the tracks, higher on the run.
The elk took this as a challenge and lowered his head to charge.
The elk and the Baldwin rammed one another head-on.
The elk came out in second place.

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Linn Keller 11-29-08


Twain Dawg was the product of both breeding and upbringing: that is to say, by both nature and nurture, he was inclined to stay right where he was.
By now his system had rid itself of nearly all the ill effects of the Irish Brigade's largesse, and he was left with a general feeling of fatigue, but as he was feeling so very much better than he had been, he offered no protest at all to Sarah and her insistence that he climb into the wooden tub on the back porch.
Twain Dawg laid his muzzle on the edge of the tub and closed his eyes in absolute contentment as the chattering little girl worked sweet smelling bath salts into the water and into his fur, carefully but thoroughly washing the furry canine, managing to scrub out an incredible amount of dirt and unidentifiable material that she probably was happier not identifying.
Twain Dawg, for his part, closed his eyes, as had his sire in a similar moment, and groaned in sheer and absolutely complete bliss.
Twain Dawg did not care that a pile of soap suds on his head made him look like a Babylonian king with a pointed crown.
Right now, in a tub of nice hot water, with strong little fingers working into his aching muscles, he felt just pretty darn good.

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Linn Keller 11-30-08


"Well, dear, what do you think?"
I turned and looked at Esther.
I could not have stopped the grin that split my face open if I'd had to.
"Mrs. Keller," I said, looking her up and looking her down with the admiring frankness of a husband, "you are a fine looking woman!"
Esther turned, then turned the other way, giving me the full benefit of Bonnie's stitchery. "You don't think it's too much?"
I shook my head. "My dear, Miz Fannie's gown will compliment her figure, her height, her hair and her very personality. We know this. She and Bonnie have spent enough time working on it!"
Esther laughed.
Her office was on the floor below Miz Fannie's room, and every time Bonnie went up or came down, she stopped in to say howdy.
Daisy more often than not was waiting with a pot of tea, and the ladies would talk: Esther knew the value of information, Daisy was in a good place to acquire it, and Bonnie added what she could, and gave fresh-eyed perspective to the information contributed by the other two.
Matter of fact, it was through Daisy's good offices that I'd found Esther was with child.
Bonnie told me later, red-faced and unsure whether to giggle or apologize, that Daisy had set down the tray with teapot and bone-china cups and a pot of honey, and she'd said, "Esther, stand up!"
Esther did, and Bonnie had tilted her head a little to the side, interested, for this was unusual for Daisy to address Esther in any such manner.
Daisy took Esther's chin delicately on one finger and turned her head a little to the side, then pulled down and eyelid and frowned.
She laid a hand on Esther's cheek.
"Ye're carryin' a boy," she said gently, in that glowing voice that a knowing woman has.
Esther's eyes got as big as Bonnie's and their mouths opened in surprise.
Esther admitted her moon-time was late, but she'd thought this could just be ... well, late ... then she laid a hand on her belly and Bonnie said she had such a hopeful look in her eyes, and her other hand went to her mouth, and she let out an absolutely undignified squeal, and the ladies began to hug and bounce and chatter as women do in such moments, and for the rest of the day, the Z&W Railroad was pretty much on its own, for Esther's thoughts were nowhere near business at hand.
Now, in the privacy of my study, still with the firm, slender figure of a horsewoman, Esther turned and showed off the excellence of Bonnie's gown.
I stepped up to my wife, and kissed her, and ran an arm around behind her: I took her off hand with mine and we danced, with the music of our hopes, of our dreams, while the big Regulator clock kept time with the bright, steady swings of its polished brass pendulum.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-30-08


Charlie had rolled out of bed this morning, his own bed, and grimaced when his back twinged just a skosh. It's pure hell gettin' old, he thought to himself. He'd also spent the night by himself; he was just old-fashioned enough to believe that the night before the wedding was not the time to be celebrating the honeymoon, so to speak. And besides, tradition had it that on the day of the wedding, he was forbidden to see the bride until she walked down the aisle on Caleb's arm. Today was that day.

Charlie had looked across the room to where his carefully-pressed suit hung on the closet door. It was brand new, unworn except when he'd tried it on to make sure of the fit; it had also had some tailoring by Bonnie in a spare moment. Charlie grinned, thinking about Fannie's reaction when he'd stood in front of the mirror and his bride-to-be, dressed in the black broadcloth; that wolf whistle was maybe a bit undignified, but it had apparently summed up her feelings, not to mention stopping traffic on the street for a moment...

And now the time was rapidly approaching. His hat was brushed, his boots were polished, his tie was tied straight, and he was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Here I am, a US Marshall, known, respected, and occasionally feared throughout the territory, and I'm shaking like a schoolmarm on her first outing with the town dandy, he thought to himself jokingly. He was sitting in the Parson's kitchen, staring down into a cup of coffee cold enough to have icebergs floating in it and listening with half an ear to the murmur of the crowd gathering in the church. Martha Belding was playing softly on the organ; she was playing no particular song, just some soft background chords that Charlie didn't hear while his thoughts drifted back down the years.

"Yer too purty to be awearin' that star," the slovenly drifter said with a leer. "Why don't you come on over hyar, an' you an' me'll have us some fun." He leaned toward the buxom redhead. His lips were puckered and his breath was foul. Fannie's back was against the wall, and her flashing eyes told the same tale as the words that hissed between her tightly-clenched teeth. "Back off or die, mister," she snarled.

"Well, now, darlin', what kind of a way is that ta talk?" the man in front of her asked roughly. "I'm just offerin' a little fun-" His words cut off abruptly and he felt something unusual in his nether regions, then he heard the four clicks of a Colt revolver's hammer ratcheting back. The barrel of the Colt prodded him where his britches legs joined and he froze.

Behind the drifter, three men dropped from their horses and strode forward. They ignored the dusty figure on the buckskin horse who had stopped to observe the festivities. He hadn't planned on lending a hand, figuring the pretty female lawdog could handle the yahoo confronting her just fine; he was impressed with the fire snapping from her eyes. Then the other three decided to butt in, and he couldn't let that slide. He turned Buck sideways in the street and eared back the hammer on his Winchester. "You boys just stand right where you are," he growled. "The lady don't need any help with the likes of him."

One of the men wheeled to face Charlie and his hand dropped toward his holstered gun. "We wasn't fixin' to help that b..." The Winchester boomed and the man dropped to the dust of the street, clutching his shattered hand. Charlie racked another round into the Winchester's chamber.

"I'll not tolerate that kind of language regarding a lady," Charlie snapped. He turned the Winchester on the other two men. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the lady on the boardwalk drop her attacker with a swift knee to an area of his anatomy that snatched his breath and sent him crashing to the pine at her feet, where he lay groaning with his hands clasped between his legs. She reached down and slipped the man's pistol from his holster then stood and tucked it behind the belt of her suede riding skirt and waited to see what would happen next.

"You boys drop them belts in the street, and walk away," Charlie ordered the two men in front of him. Both men were holding their hands up so high it looked like they were trying to snag a V of passing geese and pull them down out of the sky. "Now!" he snapped when they didn't move fast enough to suit him. Two gunbelts hit the dirt simultaneously then the men turned toward their horses. "I didn't say anything about ridin', boys!" Charlie snarled. "I said walk!" He turned to the lady and tipped his hat with his left hand. His right held the Winchester steady. "That is, if it's alright with you, ma'am."

"I don't care about them, mister," Fannie said. "But I'll need to talk to you about that." She pointed at the man who lay groaning and cursing in the street. Without the slightest murmur of protest, the dirt and blood covered drifter's companions began trotting in the direction of the city limits.

"It'll be my pleasure, ma'am," Charlie said. A crowd had gathered by this time, and another lady with a Greener in her hand and a star on her vest, and a big man wearing a star and a bushy mustache, had come up alongside the redhead. "Now if y'all will excuse me, I'll go find somewheres to stable my horse."

He tapped Buck with his spurs and moved on down the street. Behind him, Angel asked, "Who in the name of heaven is that?"

"I don't know, but I intend to find out," Fannie answered. Her eyes glinted green fire and Angel laughed.

"You don't even know his name, but I've seen that look in your eyes before!" Angel declared merrily. "Whoever that cowboy is, he'd better look to his hole card!"

And now Charlie and Fannie were about to become husband and wife. It was funny sometimes the way life twisted and turned. Who'd have thought a chance encounter in a dusty cowtown street could lead, however many years down the trail, to Miss Fannie Kickinshoot making that dusty cowboy on the buckskin horse the happiest man on the face of the earth.

The door opened and Parson Belding stuck his head inside the kitchen. "It's time, Charlie."

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Linn Keller 11-30-08


I'd had a lot of practice moving fast and quiet and now was the time.
Esther and Angela were settled in their pew and I'd kissed them both and then long legged it towards the door leading to the Parson's quarters.
I went the round about route, back toward the back of the church and across behind the hind most pew, for the place was near to full, and I did not want to go moving fast and purposeful in front of everyone.
Sean gave me a wink and a nod, his face otherwise solemn, and I noticed his watch fob, with the Maltese cross and a crossed ladder-and-hook on it. I'd seen that insignia before and recognized it as a custom job. I winked back at him, trying not to look too stern, for I wasn't happy.
I gritted my teeth and made a mental note to ask prayerful forgiveness later, as I was calling myself a number of things that weren't terribly Christian.
I should have allowed more time for the ladies to get ready, I snarled silently.
I should have figured little girls have a bladder the size of a walnut.
I should have figured Judge Hostetler would wring my hand and be as full of hot air as I'd remembered him.
Hell, why didn't I just have Maude order me up a crystal ball and then I could anticipate all these things?

I stopped in front of the Parson's door and took a long, deep breath.
At least I parked a rifle behind the altar rail, I thought.
I drew back a foreknuckle to rap gently on the middle panel of the door when it swung open and Charlie and I was eye to eye of a sudden.

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Charlie MacNeil 11-30-08


"My, my, my, if it ain't the late Linn Keller," Charlie said with a grin.

"Himself," the sheriff grumbled. He stuck out a paw and they shook, then Charlie wrapped him in a hug.

"You don't know how much this means to me, brother," Charlie said solemnly. "You're the only family I've got left." The two men stepped away from each other. Linn gave him a startled look. He hadn't known Charlie had no family left alive. "I'll explain some day," Charlie told him.

The Parson held the door open wide, and Charlie stepped through, followed by Linn. The Parson stepped up in front of the small altar and stood with his hands folded over his Bible. Charlie stood at his side with Linn to his left, all three as alike as three penguins on an iceberg, except for the Parson's white collar.

Bonnie floated gracefully up the aisle and took her place to the right of the Parson, Missus Belding started to play the Wedding March, and the whole unruly crowd rose to its feet. Fannie appeared in the wide doorway at the back of the church beside Caleb, and as she started down the aisle toward him, Charlie felt his heart melt once again as it had that long ago day in that dusty street.

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Mr. Box 11-30-08


I had been getting the bar set up and ready for the festivities that were sure to follow, but now it was time to join the rest of the community and be sure we all had a reason to celebrate. Everyone was at their absolute best! There was more new clothes on display in that one little church than I had ever seen in one place. When this thing is done, I'd better hot foot it back over to the Silver Jewel or I'll never make it up to the bar!

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Linn Keller 12-1-08


If Charlie was nervous he didn't show it.
I recalled back to when Esther and I came here for this joyous purpose and I recall I was nervous as a politician during a recount.
I'll bet Charlie would play a hell of a game of poker, I thought, glancing side-on to the man.
He saw my glance and tipped me a wink.
We both looked to the back of the church, eyes and ears drawn to the rapid patter of little flat-heel shoes on the polished wood floor, and we both leaned a little to one side to see what was going on.
Now what happened is hearsay, you understand: Charlie and I were up front and this happened way in back and though we could hear a little of what transpired, we could not see what was happening.
This is given to me on good authority, so here goes:
Sarah must have been Baptist for she had dunked Twain Dawg and got him all sweet smellin' and clean and she'd tied a pink ribbon around his neck for the occasion.
I don't know how well he tolerated this dandified decoration, but knowing Sarah, she could charm old Nick hisself into wearing a flower in his hair, was she inclined to do so: I reckon Twain Dawg took it with good grace.
Being the get of Dawg, Twain Dawg tended to wander as he saw fit.
Dawg, now, was in the back, taking a marked disinterest in everything. Matter of fact, he was snoring a little whilst everyone else was set down and paying attention to us up front.
Twain Dawg came padding by, and Dawg raised his head to take a look.
Dawg curled his lip in contempt at the sissy ribbon around his progeny's neck.
Twain Dawg took affront at the curled lip and growled in response.
Dawg snarled in reply.
Twain Dawg bristled.
Dawg got up and furred up fiercely.
Their combined rumble we did hear, way up in the front, and that's when Angela's little slippers went pitty-patter down the aisle, taking her with them, all giggles and curls.
A grown man would have hesitated to come within a hundred yards of either Dawg or Twain Dawg, for each looked and sounded like he was going to rip the immortal soul out of a sizable carnivore, and each approached the other stiff-legged, for neither was the kind to back down from a challenge, even if it was a misunderstanding.
Angela took them each around the neck and declared in her high, little-girl voice, "My fayvit Dawgs!"
Again -- this is hearsay -- but I am told the look on each Dawg's face was one of utter surprise.
Fur went down, growls abated, and Angela giggled as two big pink tongues gave her ears a good scrubbing.
Charlie and I looked at one another again.
I shook my head and so did he, and about that time the door opened, and the ladies came in.
This time Charlie did respond, and I heard it.
"Great God Almighty," he sighed reverently, and though I did not say it, I surely thought it.
"Charlie, she's beautiful," I whispered.
"I know," he whispered back, and only then did he show the first slight sign of nervousness.
He swallowed hard.

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Linn Keller 12-1-08


Mick would like to have gone over and spoken with Jackson Cooper, for he'd taken a liking to the big lawman, but he and his troop had arrived just in time.
Organ music sounded a fanfare.
"We're just in time, men," Mick said in a low voice that carried perfectly to the farthest man.
They dismounted and secured their mounts, formed up, and marched with silent tread into the church.
Jackson Cooper watched from the Sheriff's office doorway. He was slouched against the frame, a double ten bore in one hand, a steaming blue granite cup of genuinely awful coffee in the other. Here directly, he thought, I'll go sojourn through the Jewel.
He was determined nothing untoward should interrupt the wedding.
Inside, the cavalry, having prepared in their dress uniforms, marched in silent step, on either side of the aisle, positioning themselves at the end of the pews: as if drilled for years, they moved as one man, stopping in unison at an easy and natural and perfectly correct military attention.
As one, they turned to face inward: the ladies had come across the back of the church, and Mick winked at Bonnie as she made her turn and started up the aisle.
Bonnie winked back, thinking, How thoughtful of Charlie to arrange this! Fannie will be so happy!
Twain Dawg sniffed at one tall leather boot, grunted with disinterest, and padded back up the aisle, to curl up under Angela's swinging feet.
Mick winked and nodded to Charlie and Linn, barely able to suppress a grin, but the delight in his ruddy Irish face was plain to see.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-2-08


Charlie's heart was in his throat as Fannie floated down the aisle. Her gown surrounded her in gossamer waves, and Charlie was reminded of the summer clouds that puffed like cotton balls across the azure of the Colorado sky in late summer. Through her veil, Fannie's eyes flashed green fire, and Charlie felt their impact as a palpable connection between her soul and his. Her chin was high and her back straight as she passed regally between two lines of cavalry troopers, accepting their nods of respect as accolades due a queen. The troopers in their turn stood ramrod straight, thumbs aligned with britches seams, as serious as palace guards, but a smile flitted across each man's lips as the vision that was Fannie passed by.

The soft murmuring of voices followed her footsteps. Such beauty could not pass without comment, no matter how polite the crowd. "She's so pretty!" a little girl piped up. The young lady was shushed by her mother, but not before a ripple of agreement passed through the assembly.

Caleb handed Fannie up the two steps to the altar, then released her arm and did an about face that would have done the Queen of England's guardsmen proud. He stepped to the first pew, then turned again to face the altar as Fannie handed her bouquet of blood-red roses to Bonnie and took Charlie's calloused hands in hers. She faced him and winked, then gave him a saucy smile that promised much for the future.

Charlie felt the softness of Fannie's fingers in his own work-roughened paws, and he thought his heart would burst from his chest. He swelled with pride, still unable to believe, after all the years that they had been first friends, then lovers, that this angel whose hands he now held could have chosen him above all others to share her life with. Her eyes, her touch, her very carriage, told him that he was the man she wanted to share her life and her fortune with, "until death do you part". The Parson cleared his throat, then began to say those words that had been spoken over men and women for so many years, yet still held the same magic as the first time they were heard.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God to unite this man and this woman in the bonds of Holy Matrimony..."

The ceremony was a blur for Charlie as he lost himself in Fannie's eyes. He was sure that there was a silly grin on his face, but the townsfolk seated in the pews were themselves impressed by Charlie's solemn demeanor.

He obviously loves her dearly, one matron whispered to another.

My, Marshal MacNeil is taking this seriously, another said to her husband.

Their vows were exchanged, but the traditional "...love, honor, and obey..." had been changed to "...love, honor, and cherish...", because Fannie was too independent to vow to obey anybody, and Charlie would not have wanted her any other way. The "I do's" were said, and rings exchanged, and at long last the Parson said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." It was only as Charlie was raising Fannie's veil to kiss her sweet lips that the reality of what had just taken place came home to him, and he realized that his life had changed irrevocably. And for the better.

They parted and turned to face the assembly. Bonnie handed Fannie her bouquet, then Parson Belding addressed the townsfolk. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you Mister and Missus Charlie MacNeil!"

The pews erupted in cheers and clapping as everyone stood and applauded the newlyweds. Charlie blushed bright red, but his grin was as bright as the sun reflecting off a Rocky Mountain snow field. As Fannie took his arm to step down from the altar, Mick's voice rang out above the hubbub.

"Atten, Hut! Troooppperrrs, present arms!" The ring and hiss of cavalry sabers, and the thud of boots polished down to the soles and beyond, was loud in the sudden silence as the cavalry troops sprang to attention and drew their swords. The polished steel formed an archway over the aisle in the center of the church. Charlie and Fannie stepped down from the altar and strode across the gleaming pine floorboards and toward the door.

As they passed the last trooper, there was a swish and a splat!, and Fannie let out a genteel, lady-like yelp and jumped ahead a half step. Charlie whipped his head around in time to see the trooper swing his saber back into the air with a grin and a nod. Fannie's face was red but she kept her eyes front and kept walking. Charlie grinned even wider and hurried to keep pace with Fannie's suddenly accelerated gait. He could tell that she wanted to rub her behind in the worst way, but was too much the lady to give in to the impulse. Then they were outside, where Shorty waited in a polished buckboard to carry them to the Jewel for the reception.

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Mr. Box 12-2-08


I was in the rear of the church so I could get out ahead of the crowd and also because that was the only room left by the time I got there. I slipped away as crowd began spilling out and gathering around them and the buckboard. The ladies had been decorating the Silver Jewel earlier. Now it was time welcome the happy crowd. By the smells coming from the kitchen it was quite evident that Daisy was ready for anything!

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